Boblo, with Andrew Penner (centre), provides boffo entertainment.
BOBLO by Erin Brandenburg and Andrew Penner (Kitchenband). At the Great Hall Black Box (1087 Queen West). To December 2. $20-$25. 416-538-0988. See listing. Rating: NNNN
If you grew up in the Windsor/Detroit area, chances are you remember taking the ferry to Boblo Island, where a small amusement park operated between 1898 and 1993. Now shuttered and sold off, the park is the subject of another stunning rural Ontario history project by Kitchenband.
Helmed by writer Erin Brandenburg and composer/musician Andrew Penner, Kitchenband combines live music and theatre to create shows that function as living scrapbooks, preserving and propagating the memory of near-forgotten communities, including Reesor, Pelee and Petrichor.
In Boblo, they weave together threads of the island's and residents' history and the lively culture of leisure that flourished there for nearly a century. Rather than a linear narrative, Brandenburg's fluid script offers glimpses of life on the island in which stories, songs and artifacts surface, swirl and sink away.
Penner's moving folk- and rock-inspired songs are another highlight. Ranging from haunting ballads to feel-good foot-stompers, they wonderfully evoke the raucous energy of the massive dance hall, the nervous thrill of the flume ride and the bittersweet feeling that comes at the end of a summer day trip (or an era). If the soundtrack were available, I'd have snapped it up on the spot.
Director Steve McCarthy and designers Jung-Hye Kim (set), Rebecca Picherack (lighting) and Elysha Poirier (video) provide a string of dazzling visual tricks involving live actors, lights, projections and old TV ads that inspire the sort of childlike wonder that a stroll through the Boblo midway must have sparked.
Although stylistically quite different, Kitchenband's plays have earned them a spot next to VideoCabaret's storied Canadian histories, and are already playing a pivotal role in what we remember about rural Ontario.