ALPHONSE, by Wajdi Mouawad, directed and performed by Alon Nashman. Presented by Theaturtle and the Bloor JCC at the JCC Playground (750 Spadina). July 6 and 12 at 6:30 pm, July 7 and 13 at 7:30 pm, July 9 at 2 and 5 pm, July 10 and 14 at 8 pm, July 11 at 7 pm, July 16 at 3 and 6 pm.
Free-flowing imagination and its outer manifestation -- also called play -- is what inspires kids. And, in the best of circumstances, it's what inspires actors, too.
Alon Nashman has understood the connection since his primary school days, when he admits to having been a daydreamer and class clown. Since then, he's channelled his imagination into professional performing -- with outstanding work in such pieces as Easy Lenny Lazmon And The Great Western Ascension, Howl and The Song -- and now hopes to appeal to audiences both young and old with Alphonse, a multi-character, one-person show about a momentous, fairy-tale-flavoured coming-of-age quest.
Written by Montreal's Wajdi Mouawad (Wedding Day At The Cromagnons), the piece presents both the adolescent title figure and Pierre-Paul-Rene, his invisible friend and alter ego, who must travel to a mysterious land and battle Flupan, its gluttonous ruler who turns his enemies into popcorn.
Too cutesy for adults? Not a bit. There are even touches of Kafka and Shakespeare.
"It's the story of a 40-year-old guy going through an internal crisis," says Nashman. "He's a success in the material world, but there's a deep sense of dissatisfaction in his life. Wandering into a schoolyard on a particularly difficult day, he falls asleep in a sandbox, and the play begins. It's a chance for him to reawaken, with the help of the ghosts of an old playground, a part of himself that was buried long ago."
Nashman is resolute that his outdoor "theatre" -- the Bloor JCC playground, filled with toys that prod the action along -- provides a special atmosphere, a dramatic magic, for the show.
"It's the biggest challenge I've faced onstage," adds Nashman, "creating 28 characters with different personalities and characteristics. They're all seen through Alphonse's eyes, but each has an essential integrity, an internal life. If I get that right, the audience will understand when a new character appears, whether I have a hat on or walk with a limp."
He hopes for mixed audiences, children nine and up and their elders, to give tension to the performance.
"The play is about what kids have to give up in order to grow up, and there's a piece of every grown-up who wishes they were a kid again. It hovers in the transition between childhood and adulthood. And the script unabashedly lets me put in front of an audience that part of myself that indulges the childhood wisdom that's called play.
"Children have an internal bullshit metre that goes off when a production doesn't work for them. They'll tell you right away if something isn't true onstage."