WHEELWRIGHT: A COSMIC DOCUMENTARY written and directed by Peter Reitzel, with Lara Berry, Chris Cummings, Carlos Diaz, Dennis Frey, Adam Gaudreau, Randall Lanthier, Sean McMahon, Natasha Priest and Julie Reitzel. Presented by Canadia dell'Arte at Factory Mainspace. August 7 and 12 at 9 pm, August 9 at 5:30 pm, August 11 at 6:30 pm, August 15 at 11 pm, August 17 at 2 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Lever, the central character in Canadia dell'Arte Theatre's Wheelwright , has a simple but profound goal: he wants to reinvent the wheel. Lever belongs to a fictional society located somewhere in the Alps - marked by hints of Iron Age culture and Middle Eastern mythology - that defines itself and its citizens' status by the salt it mines. Lever's plan would disrupt this conservative, isolated group.
"I wanted to write a timeless piece with a touch of a futuristic, sci-fi culture," says playwright and director Peter Reitzel. "There's a Druid priest, a bard and a nymph named Nineveh. I've subtitled the piece a cosmic documentary and at a basic level see it as a slice of life about a man who wants to improve his society.
"The show is also about the society itself, about overcoming ignorance, dealing with oppression and standing up for your beliefs."
Wheelwright may seem a strange piece for the company, which most audiences know for its boisterous outdoor commedia dell'arte shows at the Fringe. The company has lots of other facets, though, as it's shown in intriguing indoor productions of Chekhov, Ibsen and dramatized Baudelaire.
Canadia's most striking piece, though, was Spirits, "an operatic vaudevillian tragedy" premiered in SummerWorks 1998 and remounted - garnering three Dora nominations - the next winter.
Wheelwright has the same quirky, experimental-but-full-scale feel, with a huge set - the society's elder spends the play embedded in the top of a salt hill, a sign of his power - and a large cast speaking a stylized language that grew out of a badly translated Chekhov script the company presented a few years ago.
"I wanted to create a dialect for the characters, suggesting a different culture and time, without the actors having to assume an accent," offers the playwright. "There's some comedic value to it also, for these larger-than-life people can say things with a straight face but take the material to an absurd level."
The company loves this kind of experimentation, relying on its roots in the playfulness of commedia and focusing on process and character.
"Every new show," smiles Reitzel, "adds to our toolbox."