Reviews: NEWFIE ELECTRA and MUSIC FOR THE CHANGING VOICE

by Lynn on April 30, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Two reviews from Talk Is Free Theatre.

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Newfie Electra

Written and performed by Allison Basha

Co-created and directed by Mary Ellen MacLean

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Vera Oleynikova

Note: This is the background of the Greek story of Electra: Electra’s father Agamemnon was killed by her mother (and his wife) Clytemnestra, in revenge for Agamemnon sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods in exchange for good winds so the Greeks could fight the Trojans and get Helen back. Electra and her long lost brother, then plotted to kill Clytemnestra in revenge. It doesn’t end well, to put it mildly.  

Whimsical and inventive.

In Newfie Electra Electra runs the local fish store in Dildo, Newfoundland. If you’re Canadian you know that this is the actual name of the town in Newfoundland. If you are not Canadian then you just learned another wonderful thing about those odd Newfoundlanders who take their irreverence even to naming their towns weird names. (“Come-by-Chance, Newfoundland anyone?). She’s worked there a long time but has a nagging task. She must revenge the death of her father.

Years before Electra entered a competition but needed something she forgot at home. Her father, a fisherman on his own boat, offered to go and get it for her. He never returned and there is much speculation about what happened to him. She vowed to find out with her brother’s help. Then he lost his life. Electra was alone to solve the mystery.

Joe Pagnan’s set it all rough wood, two fences with irregularly placed boards on it. Above the set is a v-shaped structure from which hang several fish. A typical Pagnan set that establishes the world and the humour of the place. Maritime/Celtic music plays and establishes the rhythm and melody of the place.

Allison Basha as Newfie Electra is in boots, work clothes a yellow wig and a winning way. A clever, funny prop is a mop with the stick in a wellington boot. She has the humour of course of the Newfoundlander, since she is one, the accent and expressions are terrific. Basha has a keen sense of humour.

Mary Ellen MacLean directs with a sure hand. The movement is easy, fluid and unfussy. I do wish that there was more information about the father and what had happened, more detail as to why someone would want to do him harm. A body was never found. If you want to hook on to the name of Electra with all her baggage from the Greek story, then the Newfie Electra should also have more details too. The ending seems abrupt and a tad hollow since we don’t know where she’s going to do her revenging. Still, it is a whimsical piece of theatre.

Music for the Changing Voice

Created and performed by Alyssa Wright

Directed by Rae Smith

Set and Lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costume by Vera Oleynikova

Piano and vocals by Leslie Arden

Musician, Ray Dillard

Brave but problematic.

Alyssa Wright grew up under the shadow of her celebrated musician, composer mover and shaker grandfather Don Wright. He wrote a prominent work on the changing voice titled appropriately enough: “Music for the Changing Voice”. Whole music departments were named for him. He introduced his granddaughter Alyssa to music and the cello in particular. He also introduced her to the kind of cruelty both overt and subtle that can ruin a person. He called her a hussy for dressing inappropriately. She was four years old. He illuminated her mistakes and rarely praised her. While she tried to live up to his impossible expectations there were other demons in her family. We learn late in the play, from her diary, that she was being raped by a family member when she was a young girl.  No one believed her. She lived silently with these demons for years. (And what does it really say about a damaged soul wanting to get out from under her grandfather’s shadow that she titles her show after his master work?)

Music for a Changing Voice needs to be re-examined and heavily edited and serious dramaturgy applied. The shift in who was physically abusing Alyssa Wright comes almost from no where without warning should be re-examined. That her grandfather might have known about this and subtly set her up to be disbelieved really needs more attention as well.

Rae Smith has directed a production that is very fussy when clarity and simplicity is needed. Do we really need any more percussion besides the piano (played by the excellent Leslie Arden)? No. Please cut the xylophone, tambourine etc. Various prominent things in Wright’s past are on pedestals and are illuminated: her grandfather’s book, “Music for a Changing Voice: an ice-cream dish, a cello, a bust of her grandfather, although it does look like some Grecian god with a scarf around the throat.  They are illuminated at various times over the course of the show. Added to that Alyssa Wright moves frequently from pedestal to pedestal, to playing her cello, to singing her songs about life.

Alyssa Wright is an assured cellist when playing. It’s easy to see she is transported by the music. But she is an insecure performer of her words and appears very awkward in the telling. I can appreciate that telling the story is cathartic for her, and being critical about the theatricality nature of the performance and production might be churlish, but one must say when the work is lacking.

Produced by Talk is Free Theatre

Began: April 25, 2019.

Closes: May 4, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

www.tift.ca

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