CATALPA by Donal O’Kelly (Blood in the Alley). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To February 2. $20, matinee pwyc. See Continuing, page 48. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NNN
Donal O'Kelly's nautical-themed solo shwow Catalpa is so vividly performed, you can practically taste the salt in the air at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. So it's a shame the work's structural device doesn't fully pay off.
Andrew Musselman plays Matthew Kidd, a failed screenwriter who, bottle of whisky open on his desk, takes us through each scene of his rejected script. It concerns the real-life story of George Anthony, a seaman who, in the 1870s, captains the eponymous whaling ship to travel to an Australian penal colony and rescue six exiled Irish political prisoners.
Musselman, leaping around the small stage, expertly evokes the
voyage, complete with squawking seagulls, crashing waves and, in the quieter moments, creaking doors and hushed conversations in hallways.
O'Kelly's poetic script is beautifully detailed, and Musselman effortlessly transforms himself into a few dozen characters. Geoff Gould's clever direction makes astonishing use of ordinary props like desk lamps and hole punchers for vivid effects.
But why the screenplay conceit? Anthony's story, including his absence from his wife and daughter, seems strong enough material for a play. We get few glimpses into Kidd's life and have to intuit why he's written this work and feels the need to deliver a glorified pitch session for us.