R. Jeanette Martin
TRUE written and directed by Rosa Labordé, with Layne Coleman, Shannon Taylor, Ingrid Doucet, Sabrina Grdevich and Scott McCord. Presented by Criminal Theatre and Aluna Theatre at Citizenry Café (982 Queen West). Opens Wednesday (September 3) and runs to September 13, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm. $24. criminaltheatre.com
Sometimes you have to declare autonomy, not be dependent on the views of others, to make your art.
That's the intention behind Criminal Theatre, founded by writer/director/actor Rosa Labordé and actor/musician Scott McCord.
The pair have worked together in the past - in shows like Labordé's Marine Life - and discovered their shared interest in respecting everyone involved in the artistic process. They founded the company, and their first production was the Fringe hit True, a sellout last July - and not just because its audience numbered only 30 people per show.
"I see us as partners in crime," says Labordé, "because we get each other artistically and communicate with a lot of care and love. We intentionally break out of the usual way of creating and do it our own way.
"I wanted more autonomy over my own work; I've faced the challenge of someone telling me to make changes in my creation and my not feeling that those changes were right. You'll never be rewarded for that kind of compromise."
"The company intends to cultivate the artist's vision in its purest form," continues McCord, who's also worked on voice animation and is frontman for the band Scott McCord and the Bonafide Truth.
"The result is an inclusive environment where every artist on a project is part of its collaborative expression."
True is a testament to the success of the process, and those who didn't manage to see it at the Fringe - and there were many - now have another chance.
The site-specific production is set in a café, with the action happening inside and outside the space. Labordé uses both the street and the patio out back of Queen West's Citizenry Café to great effect.
It's a family story, with three sisters, Cece, Marie and Anita, dealing with the return of Roy, the father who abandoned them long ago. Marie's married to Franco, a man she met in rehab, and is the daughter most opposed to the reappearance of the alcoholic, sometimes abusive parent.
But the family also has to recognize that Roy is now dealing with Alzheimer's.
There's more than a touch of King Lear in the script, with an irascible father and the daughters he mistreats. One of them even quotes Shakespeare's line "Nothing will come of nothing."
"‘Roy,' of course, is ‘king' in French," smiles Labordé. "That's my nerd side coming out, the writer who likes those little tiny links.
"But the quote also echoes in another aspect of the play, which has to do with quantum mechanics and the idea of the multiverse," she says. "The idea of alternate universes and ways of changing our reality is something that Franco is constantly talking about."
The scene between Franco and Roy as they make guacamole is one of McCord's favourites. "It's rich with what they give each other and discover for themselves. True is in some ways a memory play, and somehow the two men ground themselves in the present, where they are now, by talking about the past.
"Franco is a lost-potential guy, someone with a well-nurtured musical ability" - the talented McCord plays piano frequently during the show - "and lots of promise that never went anywhere when he sank into drugs and alcohol. He's obsessed with multiverse theory, trying to get a perspective on it and change his life."
The piano is part of the café setting, a location that gives the show some of its intimacy and magic. While the site-specific production has wowed audiences, there have been some glitches.
At the first Fringe performance, the house manager had never met Layne Coleman, who plays Roy. Roy makes his entrance from the street about 10 minutes into the show, and, following Fringe rules, the house manager initially refused to let a patron enter the venue once the show had started.
Happily, things got sorted out quickly.
"Several years ago, someone told me that my writing merged melodrama and slapstick, a style that didn't work," recalls Labordé. "But that's my experience with life, with who I am. Not only do the two go together, they often need each other for a work of art to be human and real.
"That's why True is a comedy with a few tears."