THE ROCHDALE PROJECT written by the collective along with director Simon Heath (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to March 19. $10-$30. 416-504-7529. See Continuing, page 82. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Must be something in the air, or maybe it's a reaction to the war in Iraq and North America's political shift to the right. Later this month, CanStage revives that flower power musical Hair; meanwhile, Theatre Passe Muraille continues its run of The Rochdale Project till the end of the weekend. Peace, love and see ya at T.O.'s non-profit theatres.
The Rochdale Project is a collective creation about the failed education experiment that lasted from the late 1960s to the mid-70s. It offers up snippets of information and a thin story concerning half a dozen tenants who are, variously, searching for new models of education and ways of living.
After making the audience stand up for an electric guitar version of the national anthem (cute), the piece begins amusingly with then-journalist Adrienne Clarkson taking us into the building itself. Although there's ample use of screen projections throughout, it's too bad we don't get to see the real footage of Clarkson, which is included in Ron Mann's smart (and more illuminating) documentary about the subject.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a young woman named Ruth ( Melissa Good ), who shows up at the college mysteriously and soon finds her life intersecting with residents like the earth-mothery Angel ( Aviva Armour-Ostroff ), the idealistic architect Emerson ( Greg Thomas ) and the entrepreneurial Daddio ( Jamie Robinson ).
Like many collectively created works, the play is frustratingly loose and episodic. An administrator reads out memos charting the college's progress; the house lights come up for a raucous meeting of the governing council; there's a theatricalization of an acid trip.
The elements are hit-and-miss, more hit in the first half and miss in the second. Using a breathy voice, Armour-Ostroff creates a sympathetic figure out Angel, and director Simon Heath makes good visual use of her pregnancies, both real and fake. Good has the most challenging arc in the play, journeying from disturbed and alienated loner to idealistic believer with integrity.
But the show collapses in on itself by the end, and I'm not sure it's because the artists are trying to simply simulate Rochdale's chaos. Characters resort to mouthing homilies, and we're asked to care about people we never really get to know. There's a flurry of projections of newspaper clippings that tell but don't show.
The result feels laboured over and patched together like you guessed it a school project.