Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) The Walworth Farce

l-r Toby Hughes, Bill Kerr, Andrew Cecon   (photo: Caroline Wintoniw) 

Three Irish Gentlemen and an Ebony Fox
Waiting for Godot done in real time
by John Herbert Cunningham

Bill Kerr is an associate theatre prof at the University of Manitoba. His speciality is Irish Theatre. Thus, it was no surprise when he took his 2006 sabbatical in Ireland to examine the archives of the Irish playwright about whom he'd written his dissertation.

What was a surprise, both to him and to us, occurred when he attended a theatre to see a play the playwright of which was a relative unknown to him. Imagine Vladimir and Estragon at a lunch counter where they are served actual bacon and eggs, and eat them, while waiting for Godot. This is the nature of the play Kerr brought back to Winnipeg with him.

And is the audience glad he did.

It is totally completely 100% absurd.

Can you imagine absurdist realism? And yet, there is no other way to describe this play. The roast chicken is real. The sausage, probably garlic given that this is Winnipeg, is real. The Ryvita smeared with Cheez Whiz is real. The only thing that isn't real is the play itself. It is totally completely 100% absurd.

The story is simple. An Irishman moves from County Cork to London, England accompanied by his two sons. They move into a dilapidated 15th floor walk-up from which they never emerge. From there, all hell breaks loose.

Dinny (Bill Kerr) and his two sons, Blake (Andrew Cecon) and Sean (Toby Hughes), spend their time rehearsing a play. Over and over and over, they rehearse the same play, but not quite. As the storyline is retold, the story slowly evolves until the truth is revealed.

During each of the rehearsals, Blake and Sean transform into different characters through the use of different wigs and a fake beard. Sean becomes Paddy through the latter. He also becomes Peter through the removal of a fake moustache. Blake becomes Vera, Maureen, Eileen...through the different wigs. If some of the female characters are to be onstage simultaneously, then one of the characters will merely hold up the wig signifying their presence.

Each day begins with Sean going to the grocery store to pick up a roast chicken, bread, Cheez Whiz, 10 packets of pink wafers, etc. As he goes at the same time each day, he is served by the same cashier Hayley (Kimiya Yussef).

Sean is so flabbergasted that he picks up the wrong grocery bag, the one with the sausage that is thrown against the wall.

Over time, Hayley, the ebony of the title, a tall, shy Ethiopian who immigrated to Canada only 11 years ago and who used theatre to get over her shyness and to help her learn English and who transforms on stage into a seductress, develops a crush on Sean. This leads, on the day during which the action takes place (Aristotelian or what given that it takes place during a 24-hour period and all in the same location (two of the three unities) to Hayley inviting Sean to join her on a day trip to Brighton Beach. Sean is so flabbergasted that he picks up the wrong grocery bag, the one with the sausage that is thrown against the wall.

This allows Yussef to make her introduction into the play at the end of the first act. She, as Hayley, delivers Sean's correct grocery bag up to the 15-floor walk-up on her lunch break. She is invited in and then asked by Dinny if she can cook. She is then ushered/escorted/shanghaied into preparing dinner. While this is going on, Dinny puts the locks on the door. The lights go out.

Even though the lights are turned on when we return, the stage is still plunged into darkness by the play. Hayley is held prisoner, physically assaulted and even tied up at one point. Sean and Blake attack each other a couple of times. Dinny attacks everyone. Slowly, the storyline reveals that Dinny had murdered his brother and his wife while at their cottage in Ireland. The children's mother is still alive and back in Ireland after advising Dinny to flee and sending the boys after him. Talk is of either Sean or Blake or both escaping out of the flat by killing Dinny. Blake does in fact kill Dinny and then orchestrates his own death at Sean's hand in order for Sean to escape to the outside. Hayley eventually escapes. You will have to see or read the play in order to determine whether Sean follows. Prepare to be surprised.

The play took place in a building in what was formerly Winnipeg's skid row not that far over from the Sally Ann. Run down, it was revived by an artists' collective after which it was given the moniker The Atomic Factory. The stage and the seating were makeshift and had a capacity of 60-80.

The Walworth Farce was ably directed by Arne McPherson who has directed both theatre and opera in the past.

Enda Walsh is a new wave of Irish playwrights. His claim to fame is the Tony he won for the Broadway production of Once for which he wrote the  book.

The play is about two hours long. 

It is performed by The Incompletely Strangled Theatre Company.

It is not to be missed.

To April 7

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