Saturday, April 13, 2013

Theatre For Thought, April 13, 2013

joel fishbane

The world lost Roger Ebert, Margaret Thatcher and Annette Funnicello this week, but Canada lost its own luminary with the sudden passing of actor / director / playwright / bon vivant Greg Kramer. It was impossible to work in Montreal English theatre without tripping over Kramer, who seemed to be everywhere. Among his many hats, he was a novelist, songwriter and magician who was often called in to provide instruction on theatrical illusions – he was a consultant on the musical Houdini and on Stratford’s production of The Tempest. 

Kramer left in dramatic fashion: he was discovered on the first day of rehearsals for his new play, an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes set to open at the Segal Centre in less than a month. Paul Flicker, the Artistic Producer of the Segal Centre, has announced that the production will go on, but the tragedy has raised what will always be a thorny theatrical problem: the politics of producing a new play when the playwright leaves in medias res.

With sentiment running high, it becomes difficult to separate the needs of the artists from the needs of the play.

It’s a delicate problem, as deadly as walking barefoot on broken glass. True, there is no finer way to honour an artist’s memory then to showcase their work; on the other hand, there’s the moral quandary as to whether an artist wants their incomplete work to be seen. Did Charles Dickens want people to read Edwin Drood? What would Hemingway have thought of us publishing A Moveable Feast or True at First Light?

Then there’s the emotional challenge. With sentiment running high, it becomes difficult to separate the needs of the artists from the needs of the play. The production becomes both theatre and memorial, but the two are not necessarily compatible. The challenge is not just to honour the fallen artist, but to also honour the art that he stood for: to produce a play that is a testament to the sort of art he spent his life trying to create. 

There is no one answer to the problem and it always comes down to context – the state of the script, the relationships of the people involved and, yes, all those crass questions about money. Cancelling any show this close to opening night is an expensive proposition and slaps hard against our addiction to that cardinal of all theatrical principles – the show must go on, a philosophy that was almost certainly invented by theatre producers. 

Even so, the folks at Segal Centre should be commended for their bravery in moving forward. Kramer was an integral part of Anglo-Montreal’s theatrical scene, so the next few weeks are going to be hard ones for the cast and crew. The great challenge will be to remain objective throughout the rehearsal process. The play will be a catharsis for some, but for those that didn’t know Kramer, opening night will just be another night at the theatre. It’s the audience who never knew Kramer who deserve, more then anyone, to experience the sort of theatre Kramer wanted to write. 

It’s a daunting task but we are fortunate in the collection of artists Kramer left behind. Director Andrew Shaver is one of the finest in the country, with a past that includes Stratford and more than a dozen significant productions with Sidemart Theatrical Grocery, including the world premiere of Morris Panych's Gordon. A sharp theatrical mind, he already seems aware of the tough road ahead. “The production has taken on extra weight,” Shaver told the Globe and Mail. “These are Greg’s last words as a playwright.”

Paul Flicker told CBC that Kramer “has left us an amazing piece of work” and it’s likely part of their decision to move forward is based on their faith in the script Kramer left behind. Such faith is probably well-deserved. Kramer was a tremendous talent and it’s entirely possible he left us content in the knowledge that his work in this world was done.

Sherlock Holmes by Greg Kramer will run at the Segal Centre in Montreal from May 5 – May 26, 2013. For tickets and more information visit

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.