THE RAT KING by Maggie MacDonald, directed by Stephanie Markowitz and MacDonald (Markowitz). At Alchemy Theatre. January 19-22. Rating: NN Rating: NN
I'm all for DIY-style theatre and opera, and I'm sure the (mostly) non-theatre types involved in The Rat King are all good at what they normally do. But the squeaky, muddled and badly executed work - I'm loath to call it a "rock opera," which is what's on the program - needs more than its hipster cast of indie music types and its long list of good intentions to make a piece of decent theatre.
Maggie MacDonald 's script, written entirely in verse, is a confusing mix of ecological warnings and socialist rants, all delivered in a faux naive style like a children's parable.
The thing about parables, however, is that they're supposed to be simple and clear. After a catchy opening chorus about the eventual decline of wealth and social class, the show careens from one lifeless, head-scratching scene to another, with names (Oppenheimer), things (the Enola Gay) and events (Hiroshima) barked out with regularity.
There's a rickety plot about a tyrannical patriarch ( Jeremy Singer ) who's looking for a mate for his daughter Carlyn ( Magali Meagher ) so the species can continue, but the story gets bulldozed by ghosts and rats, none of whom are properly introduced or explained.
Yes, there's a tradition of rats in fairy tales, but it's not clear what their function is here. When MacDonald, in the show's most theatrical section (it involves an extended shadow play sequence), finally decides to fill us in on the background of some of her characters, we've already lost interest.
The production doesn't take itself too seriously. The lighting looks put together by a gifted junior high school team, but the occasional bit of choreography isn't clever enough to pull off parody. Bob Wiseman 's score is occasionally affecting, although MacDonald's lyrics don't match up well with the music.
A new conservative government in power means there's definitely room for grassroots political musical theatre. But it's got to be clearer and more artfully constructed to impart its message.