You hear people grumbling these days about getting timely medical attention.
As we learn in Robert Chafe's Tempting Providence, opening tonight at Factory Theatre, the situation was more dire on Newfoundland's desolate west coast 90 years ago.
Directed by Siminovitch Award winner Jillian Keiley, it's the tale of British nurse Myra Bennett, who arrived in Newfoundland in 1921 for a two-year contract and stayed for the next half-century.
"Instead of telling the story from Myra's viewpoint," says Keiley, artistic director of Newfoundland's Artistic Fraud, "Robert presents it from the perspective of Angus, who became her husband. Having a third-person observer/narrator gives the telling a Brechtian element, so we go through him to watch the events."
Bennett was a pretty amazing woman, a Londoner who worked during the war and then moved to Canada. She found herself, as Keiley phrases it, "on the moon."
"She thought the landscape was beautiful, but she arrived in the summer at Daniel's Harbour. Then winter hit.
"She had to travel up and down the coast to various communities reachable only by footpaths; when the ice settled in, you couldn't travel by boat. But she still managed to get from one village to another during the six months of winter."
Bennett handled everything from childbirth and dentistry to veterinary medicine, though it took the locals a while to accept a woman who didn't hold with their folk remedies.
"It's a play about hope, a subject not often dealt with these days," adds Keiley. "It demonstrates that people sacrifice and sometimes win. That's important to our hearts, I think. If our audiences cry at the end, it's because they're happy, not sad.
"The story might sound like a variation on Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, but don't be fooled," laughs the director. "Myra didn't have the time to do up her hair or put on makeup."
See Opening, page 80.
Here's the Place
How do twin sisters work out the anger rooted in infidelity? That's the question in The Place Between, a dance/text piece that involves fire, spilled blood and letting go of wrongs that reach across three generations.
Created in 2004 by the Vancouver-based Chëyikwe Performance and presented here by Native Earth Performing Arts, the show's directed by Lisa C. Ravensbergen (who appeared in The Unnatural And Accidental Women) and choreographed by Michelle Olson.
"In remounting the piece, we've found that we can tighten it, using movement to present things that previously were verbalized," says Native Earth's Yvette Nolan, the production's dramaturge. "We've also created new duets that involve simultaneous moving and speaking."
It's been a different sort of experience for writer/director Nolan, who admits to being "a texty playwright."
"Chëyikwe is a company like Spiderwoman in the States or the Turtle Gals here in Toronto; it's less word-dependent than many troupes."
Nolan has programmed multidisciplinary works such as The Place Between and the earlier production of Uqquaq in Native Earth's season because "Toronto audiences need to see all sorts of theatre by native artists."
As part of the theme of purging in The Place Between, the company will set up a "burning board" in the theatre lobby. Audience members can write down a wrong they've experienced and put it on the board; at the end of the run, the papers will be burned to free everyone from these past deeds.
Factory Theatre's using Tempting Providence (see above) as the focal point for its first Performance Spring, a mini-fest highlighting works from across the country.
Tempting Providence comes from the East, and its Western counterpart is One Yellow Rabbit's Sign Language, written and performed by Calgary artist Denise Clarke. As expressive with her body as with her words, Clarke's wowed us for years in Rabbit productions both here and in Calgary. This new piece uses a dance salon motif to open up a two-way communication with her audience.
The local entry is Yes Yoko Solo, Jean Yoon's trimmed version of her earlier hit The Yoko Ono Project, a multidisciplinary look at "the most famous undiscovered artist in the world." Marion de Vries directs.
Sign Language runs April 11 to 15, and Yes Yoko Solo follows it, from April 18 to 22. See Opening on the theatre listings page.
American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is one of the most exciting writers around. In past years we've seen his Jesus Hopped The A Train and a scintillating, award-winning version of The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot (a remount soon, please?).
Column 13 Actors Company tackles him for the first time with In Arabia We'd All Be Kings, an ensemble piece set in New York City's Hell's Kitchen during the gentrification of the 90s.
Its characters – prostitutes and junkies, winos and con men – speak a poetic, visceral language that we can't help but listen to attentively. Most of them have a tough exterior that covers various hidden fears, and Guirgis is skilful at showing how those two aspects of his characters feed each other.
Director Jonah Allison creates a sense of community in his cast of 13, though not all the performers are of equal calibre. Some need to be more menacing, and at times the tough, electric dialogue could use tightening.
But there's powerful work here, notably scenes involving Angela Hanes as Chickie, a crackhead dreaming of the high life at the Betty Ford Clinic, and Jennifer McEwen as Demaris, a wannabe prostitute trying to learn the trade from Chickie. McEwen's impressive Demaris showers other characters with caustic words yet suggests the compassion buried within the young woman.
There's real threat in Luis Fernandes's bar owner Jake, and Andrew Badali creates a nuanced Skank, the needy actor/junkie who tries to live on his former film glories but finds he has to sell out in an unexpected way. The final scene between Skank and Lenny (J. Gilbert), a recent ex-con who feels he has to prove himself to his girl, is the production's most moving episode, an eloquent look at the hollow lives shared by these two men.