Shorts: The Numbers Game, Mouthpiece and Quiver

by Lynn on November 3, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


The Numbers Game, A theatrical Miniseries.

At the Storefront Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by: James Schultz, Claire Burns, Meghan Swaby, Baharia Watson, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, Beau Andrew Dixon.
Set by Christine Urquhart
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Sound and composition by Miquelon Rodriguez
Lighting and projections by Melissa Joakim
Cast: Celia Aloma
Jamie Cavanaugh
James McDougall
Ngabo Nabea
Karine Richard
And 11 more.

A really bold, daring project that is film noirish but totally theatrical.

Imagine it, a theatrical miniseries of six episodes stretched over several weeks with two episodes a week, with each episode written by one of six playwrights (James Schultz, Claire Burns, Meghan Swaby, Bahaia Watson, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, and Beau Andrew Dixon) who kept the mood, language and story racing along at a breathless pace.

James Schultz’s Pilot episode, The Numbers Game, sets the tone; establishes the story and the players; and creates a sense of high stakes. We are in New York City in the 1930s where organized crime is pervasive and the mobsters dress really well. Leading the pack is Dutch Schultz, quietly dangerous, easily roused and the best dresser of them all. I don’t believe that he and James Schultz, our lead playwright, are related.

Queenie St. Clair is a stylish woman in her own right who ‘runs’ a numbers game in Harlem. Dutch Schultz wants in on Queenie’s action. She doesn’t want to share. It’s a clash of two titans. Over the course of the series people in both camps will be killed in retaliation for some slight or other; one will be jailed; the police will be on the take; snitches will snitch and then be found out.

One of the many beauties of this huge endeavor is that all the playwrights have created episodes that follow naturally in the story, tone, crunchy language and pace but still have an individuality about them.

Another beauty is Benjamin Blais’ direction. With the simplest of sets (thanks Christine Urquhart)—a few platforms, a chair or two and screened backdrops—the whole of New York and Harlem are created. Melissa Joakim’s lighting is moody and her projections establish place. The sense of this being a film as well as theatrical is established when a person is machine gunned and you see the silhouette of the body on a white sheet/screen, writhing with each shot. The production is filled with such touches, but you are never in doubt that this is hugely theatrical.

As always Holly Lloyd’s costumes say everything about the 1930s in gangster-New York. Sharp creased pants, fitted jackets, wide ties, hip-clinging dresses—clothes to make you sit up in your seat and pretend you are well-dressed.

The acting from top to bottom is dandy with standout performances from Jamie Cavanagh as a dashing, dark-eyed, dangerous Dutch Schultz and Karine Richard as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan Queenie St. Clair.

The story and Blais’s direction has you sitting on the edge of your seats until “To Be Continued..” flashes on the screen, you exhale in exasperation, desperate to know what happens next. What happens next is that you go again to find out.

The one quibble is that with so much theatre happening in the city it’s hard to keep up and while it’s all worthy sometimes things fall through the cracks. I will not be able to see the final episodes because if all the other theatre. Kudos to the always daring Store Front Theatre for yet again, redefining theatre.

The Pulp Collective in Association with Storefront Arts Initiative:

Began: Sept. 29, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 6, 2016.
Cast: 16, 10 men, 6 women
Running Time: 40 minutes per episode.


At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken
Directed by Amy Nostbakken
Movement direction by Orian Michaeli
Lighting by André du Toit
Sound by James Bunton
Music composed by Amy Nostbakken

An emotionally gripping piece of work about a writer named Cass who is trying to find her own voice and being able to find the true nature of her difficult mother. The production is just as vibrant and creative as the play.

The Story. Mouthpiece is presented by Quote Unquote Collective which is comprised of Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken who created and perform the piece. Nostbakken also directed and wrote the evocative music.

From the program: “Mouthpiece follows one woman, for one day, as she tries to find her voice.” The woman is Cass. She is a writer, a feminist and in control but then her mother dies and there are things to arrange such as her mother’s eulogy. Cass does not think she can speak at her mother’s funeral she is so angry at the kind of woman her mother was.

Cass believes she is totally different from her mother—she thinks her mother was a doormat who didn’t make waves, always tried to please. Her mother was also always beautifully, perfectly dressed; gracious, feminine, which are other ways a woman tries to please—to dress in the way that’s expected of them in polite society. Cass is nothing like that and perhaps a bit envious in that small regard.

The play explores the relationship between mother and daughter; how we differ from but are firmly bound to our mothers. It also explores how a woman needs to find her own voice.

The Production. Nora Sadava and Amy Nostbakken play alter-egos of Cass with Sadava generally the thoughtful part of her and Nostbakken being the more emotional, excitable part of her. They both sit in a white bathtub, wearing white bathing suits. Cass has said that she would show up at her mother’s funeral wearing white. Perhaps Sadava and Nostbakken consider the white bathing suits as a riff on the white dress. Cass’s mother said there was no problem that couldn’t be solved with a hot bath.

Sadava and Nostbakken begin by singing softly in unison. Their movement, both in and out of the tub, is intricate and in synch (kudos to Orian Michaeli for the movement direction). The movement is almost balletic, graceful, supporting and of course, looks effortless. It’s a world in which Cass is conflicted and frustrated in trying to figure out what she thinks about her life and her attitudes towards her mother. Ideas, thoughts, doubts and opinions are shared.

The picture of Cass’s mother is not too flattering but as the day of the funeral comes closer, Cass’ attitude towards her mother changes. She realizes who her mother was and subsequently Cass realizes who she is. The question of talking at her mother’s funeral is resolved.

Comment. I loved this piece when it was first done in 2015 as part of the Riser Project and love it again for its story-telling; its layers, depth of thought and feelings about such a fundamental subject, our mothers and ourselves. I love the creativity of it; the emotional power of it and the movement that spoke volumes in silence. Sadava and Nostbakken pack so much power and detail in the one hour of the show, it’s breathtaking. Productions as good as this are why we go to the theatre.

Nightwood Theatre and Quote Unquote Collective present:

First performance
: Oct. 21, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 6, 2016.
Cast: 2 women
Running Time: 60 minutes.


At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.

Written and performed by Anna Chatterton
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Sound by Mike Rinaldi
Lighting by André du Toit
Set by Kelly Wolf

The dubious triumph of technology over substance.

The Story. A dysfunctional family tries to find its way, no matter how much they lurch from bad decision to bad decision. Maddie is 14. Her sister Bea is 16. Their mother is divorced from their father and has gone off with a former boyfriend because of something Bea has done. Maddie has taken up archery, hence the mention of a quiver. It could also refer to the unsteadiness of all of them in their lives and relationships.

The Production. Creator/performer Anna Chatterton stands behind a complex setup of computers on tables, with wires sticking out of them. Another table contains a glass of liquid with ice cubes and a mug also with some kind of drink. On the table is the script, the pages of which Chatterton flips as she occasionally reads. Often she ‘performs’ the text but still flips the pages as the performance progresses.

Chatterton plays all the parts. When she flits from character to character she presses a button on one of the computers and when she speaks as a new character the sound of the voice is altered. While Maddie speaks in a high, light voice that up-speaks, Bea has a deeper voice without up-speak. This is all done with the press of a finger. Occasionally Chatterton (as a character) reaches for the glass of liquid or the mug of liquid, drinks and there is a sound effect of slurping, swallowing and if it’s the glass, the sound of clinking ice-cubes. What doesn’t change as Chatterton flips from character to character, as far as I can tell, is the facial expression or body language that would differentiate characters. The result is a sameness to the performance. The story is not gripping enough to overcome this odd production.

I say “odd” because I don’t know what it is. Is Quiver really a radio play done before our eyes with Chatterton doing all the characters as she reads the script and provides the sound effects? Then present it as such on the radio. This does not work as theatre if there is mechanical manipulation of a voice without any change if the facial expression or body language that would differentiate characters.

Comment. Both Anne Chatterton and director Andrea Donaldson are generally wonderful theatre creators, inventive, edgy, thinking outside the norm. They usually produce stories and theatre that are compelling. Quiver, however, is a disappointment.

Nightwood Theatre presents:

First performance: Oct. 21, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 6, 2016.
Cast: 1 woman
Running Time: 65 minutes.

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