CONFEDERATION written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth, with Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Elizabeth Brown, Greg Campbell, Patrick Conner, Dylan Roberts, Ostap Soroka and Bruce Vavrina. Presented by VideoCabaret at the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Previews begin Friday (April 25) and opens Wednesday (April 30) for a limited run, Tuesday-Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$25, Tuesday pwyc, previews $10. 416-703-1725.
Actors Elizabeth Brown and Patrick Conner are obsessing about being in their proper lights, using oversize props and wearing costumes so big that Brown, for one, expects to have trouble making an entrance.Yep, Michael Hollingsworth's satiric cycle on the history of Canada is back in town. This latest segment is Confederation, focusing on John A. MacDonald and the Fathers of Confederation, with nods to young up-and-comers Louis Riel and Wilfrid Laurier, who will figure prominently in the next episode. Seven actors play more than two dozen people.
Drawn from writer/director Hollingsworth's award-winning The History Of The Village Of The Small Huts, the show takes potshots at our Canadian past in 45 fast-moving scenes that offer few compliments to those traditionally seen as heroes. Just about every character is power hungry, corrupt or stupid. Or a combination of the three.
"At first it's an exercise in mathematics," notes returning History-an Conner, referring to the Cameron House stage's 16 playing areas and the precise lighting plot the actors have to follow. "We have to figure out where in this crazy pool game of a production we can put the balls -- where to stand, how quickly we have to get onstage and off, how not to collide with others.
"And sometimes at first it doesn't work. But then someone shifts a few inches over and a scene comes together."
That's both the challenge and the payoff that comes from working in a black-box theatre where the lighting -- by Andy Moro, modifying Jim Plaxton's original design -- can illuminate anything from half a face to three figures leaning in to share an intimate place on the small stage.
"At times it feels like playing Twister with yourself," wails Brown, a novice to this peculiar way of performing. "At first I felt like I could never get my face in the light.
"I was taught, I guess in theatre school, to be delicate about how I present myself onstage with fellow actors. But in this play you can't be a shrinking violet. Sometimes you just have to muscle your way into a scene -- and into the light."
The two actors are relaxing after a tiring rehearsal day spent mostly in the dark. Conner plays the booze-reliant MacDonald ("power's his kick") and the lesser-known Eric Dorion, Laurier's rival in love.
Brown takes on four roles -- only one of them a woman -- among them Westmount businessman Alexander Galt.
"He's a big, big boy, a money bully, in a costume twice my size," laughs Brown, gesturing to the large tabletop we're leaning on. Though Confederation is her first Hollingsworth piece, she's a powerful actor whose credits include four years at the Shaw Festival and Toronto productions of Antigone and Stone And Ashes.
"Galt owned most of everything between Guelph and Lake Huron," continues Conner, who's demonstrated his intelligence as a director (Poochwater, Lemon Water) in addition to his fine acting. "He makes Paul Martin look like a shrimp."
With scenes as brief as 30 seconds and no longer than three minutes, all the actors have to learn to make succinct statements physically as well as verbally.
"I'm used to being in a 10-minute scene where if the first line doesn't work you can still fix it," says Brown. "Here there's no recovery time. You've got to get it right immediately." firstname.lastname@example.org