Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) 33 (A Kabarett)

(photo by Toni Mustra)

Weimar Germany as seen outside of Cabaret
by Jim Murchison

’33 (A Kabarett) is billed as a cabaret of ghosts. It is loosely based on the demise of a real life cabaret called the Eldorado that was closed down by the Nazis and later operated as a Nazi headquarters. The only one left in the theatre as the play opens is the Master of Ceremonies. He has bittersweet memories of his friends and colleagues who were taken, a few clothes and his own fear. Everyone is gone.

Bremner Duthie is a powerful performer. 
Bremner Duthie and Dave Dawson share the credit for the design of ’33 (A Kabarett). It is just a suggestion of scattered possessions of lost performers. The bare floor is strewn with memories of the fallen, resistors to fascism; in short the artists and dreamers. Clothes lie in little piles. There are also suitcases, shoes and a clown’s nose. A microphone stands alone, stage left, badly in need of someone to speak into it. It is not an accident that there is no credit for a set design. There is no set for the play really; just shadows and recollections of what used to be.
The lighting design by Christine Hecker and Dave Dawson is perfect. It is bright and stark when the actor is at his most exposed and vulnerable. Spotlights focus tightly on the actor when the mood is intense and solitary. There is a warm and rich red glow on the curtains that makes them seem more opulent during the grander musical numbers. At times the house lights come up so the MC can speak with us more directly. 
Bremner Duthie is a powerful performer.  His entrance into the theatre is in darkness save for a flashlight. He is desperately seeking any of his cabaret’s company and his despair at finding that they have all been apprehended is a potent introduction to his Master of Ceremonies character. When the lights do come up, they reveal a face half made up, half melted away. It is a poignant reminder of the faces we put on, of our imperfections and the feeble facade that covers our darkest, most sinister secrets. 

He compliments our bravery at the same time that he urges us to run; leave the theatre and let him take the blame.
He is alternating between German, English, French and other languages trying to determine what language his oppressors speak when he spots us. This starts the direct dialogue with the audience that connects us to the action. The manner in which the MC addresses the audience is personal and intimate. He compliments our bravery at the same time that he urges us to run; leave the theatre and let him take the blame. Later he admonishes “theatre types” for their pretension and their wardrobes. Mostly what he does is live the Kabarett. He performs deprecating comedy that derides his audience and taunts them into becoming involved. He dances... and he sings; Mac the Knife, Falling in Love Again and most importantly Our Town is Burning which was the seed that inspired the play to be written. Duthie has a rich baritone and emotionally interprets the songs. He whispers, growls, hisses as the song requires.
Unfortunately, what makes the play good also keeps it from being great. It swells to a certain level and falls again. There are many times that Duthie gets to an emotional pitch that has nowhere to go but to collapse. The rhythm repeats itself like a pulse. It is important for theatre to have a pulse but in this case the repetition makes the emotional breakdowns become predictable. I think the blame for this is equally shared between Duthie’s writing and Dawson’s direction. A bigger audience would certainly help as the theatre was only one third full. Ultimately, it is worthwhile to see ’33 A Kabarett, but it falls short of being a triumph.

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