THE WAR OF 1812 written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). To May 18. $20-$50. 416-866-8666. See listings. Rating: NNNN
VideoCabaret's visually stunning and endlessly funny rendering of The War Of 1812 is a perfect fit for the Young Centre in the historic Distillery District, whose surrounding buildings date from a few decades after the American invasion of York depicted in the play.
Part of writer/director Michael Hollingsworth's celebrated and expansive Canadian history series, The History Of The Village Of The Small Huts, The War Of 1812 was revived last year for a sold-out run at Stratford as part of the bicentennial commemoration of the outbreak of hostilities between American, native and British forces. The war lasted until 1815 (so we're still within the bicentennial time frame) and famously resulted in the occupation of this city and the burning of the White House but no major changes in territory for the colonial powers.
Presented in VideoCab's colourful and engaging style of quick vignettes done as epic-theatre-meets-comedy-of-manners, the play features historical figures including U.S. president James Madison (Jacob James), Shawnee leader Tecumseh (Derek Garza), British General Isaac Brock (Richard Clarkin) and British settler Laura Secord (Linda Prystawska), among many others, through border skirmishes and military bombast.
The funniest performance in the uniformly strong ensemble has to be Paul Braunstein's turn as over-refined Governor-in-chief Sir George Prévost, whom he plays as hopelessly arrogant and effete, with hilariously superfluous vocal flourishes trailing every line of dialogue.
While the start-and-stop, advance-and-retreat pace of this war makes for less compelling content than some of Hollingsworth's other recently revived episodes, like The Great War (2010) and Mackenzie King (2011), VideoCab's richly coloured costumes, carefully crafted staging and Brent Snyder's haunting score keep the fog of war interesting and entertaining all the way through, easily trumping anything you'd catch on the History Channel.JORDAN BIMM