TOUGH! by George Walker/DREAMS (REVES) by Wajdi Mouawad (ENSEMBLE Canadian Youth Theatre/Théatre Jeunesse). At the Citadel, August 9-20. canadianrep.ca. Rating: NNNN
Judging from the pair of inaugural shows mounted by ENSEMBLE Canadian Youth Theatre recently, the future of Canadian theatre acting looks sunny.
Ken Gass and his Canadian Rep Theatre put together a talented team of young artists who recently graduated from professional theatre training programs and, for a short run at the Citadel, featured them in two Canadian works: George F. Walker’s much-performed Tough! and Wajdi Mouawad’s lesser known Dreams (Rêves).
Partly because Walker’s play features characters close to the ages of those in the company, it worked better. Teenage Bobby is breaking up with his girlfriend, Tina, but she, supported by her protective friend Jill, has some news of her own: she’s pregnant.
Gass’s brilliant idea is to cast four actors as both Bobby and Tina, and three as Jill. Besides letting us see ethnically diverse actors play these roles (the company beautifully represents the city’s makeup), the concept underlines the universality of the situation, and the sense that one couple’s drama is reflected in the larger community.
The show is performed in the round, with all actors within sight. So even when one is talking, your eye goes to the other actors playing that role to see their reactions. And Gass gets some astonishing effects in climactic moments, having all the actors playing Jill, for instance, gang up on a single Bobby to get information.
Walker’s funny and psychologically nuanced script is as relevant today as it was when it premiered in the 80s.
Mouawad’s script is a tougher piece to make work. Written in 2000, just before the author’s acclaimed Scorched (made into the film Incendies in 2010), it’s a surreal play about a young writer named Willem (Neil Babcock) who holes up in a hotel room to write. His characters literally come alive in the room. Meanwhile, the -hotel’s landlady (Carmen Kruk) has her own complex history involving a son and some other ghosts who inhabit that very room.
It’s a complex, multi-layered play that explores internal and external turmoil, and I’d prefer to see more seasoned actors take it on. But there are some fine things in it, particularly the use of musical instruments and the intriguing, fragmented set (by Orly Zebak).
Gass, Canadian Rep and his ENSEMBLE take part in a production of Mouawad’s Governor General’s Award-winning play Tideline, next month as part of Hart House Theatre’s season.
Don’t miss the chance to see some fiercely talented young actors in one of Mouawad’s stronger works.
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