Andrew Musselman’s storytelling skills make us see and feel every scene.
CATALPA by Donal O’Kelly, directed by Geoff Gould (Blood in the Alley). At Diesel Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). To October 5. Pwyc-$28. 416-971-5656. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
Think an adventure film that involves a mysterious mission, a whaling expedition, a last-minute prison escape and a special-effects storm can't work on the stage?
It does, thanks to Andrew Musselman's performance in Donal O'Kelly's Catalpa, a solo show about the factual 1870s rescue of six Fenian soldiers from an Australian prison by a whaling ship from Massachusetts.
Musselman plays Matthew Kidd, a screenwriter who can't peddle his screenplay of the tale and ends up recounting it for himself - after a stiff drink - to convince himself of its worth. His voice blends with that of the story's central figure, George Anthony, a seaman who's promised his dying mother-in-law that he'll never sail again but is persuaded to captain the Catalpa in the name of freedom.
Both Kidd and Anthony go unrewarded for their work, but the audience reaps the benefit of the tale. Musselman's storytelling, shaped by director Geoff Gould, never lets us down.
Voicing more than 15 characters, including a seabird that takes us on this seemingly fantastic journey, Musselman evokes the magic in O'Kelly's descriptive, poetic script, with its internal rhymes, ear-catching alliteration and onomatopoeic suggestiveness. He deploys a whole bag of sound effects, makes surprising use of a desk and two chairs and supplies us with visual clues by describing camera shots.
At one level this is a piece about the seductive women in Anthony's life: his wife Gretta, his demanding mother-in-law, a woman he meets in Australia and even the sea itself. Woven through the text, too, is the image of mother and daughter, a metaphoric duo who constantly pull at Anthony.
Musselman does this so clearly that we can picture every scene of the story, including a thrilling whale hunt and a brief walkabout in the outback accompanied by didgeridoo.