by Lynn on August 8, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following plays were reviewed on Friday, August 8, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. Summerworks roundup of four shows: Kafka’s Ape, The Container, Antigonick, Graceful Rebellions. All playing at various theatres until August 17.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning, it’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn. What’s up this week?

‘Morning Phil. This week it’s all things Summerworks. It’s a wonderful 10 day festival of about 42 one act plays that opened yesterday and continues at various locations until Aug. 17.

With so much to choose from how do you decide what to see?

In some cases it’s really easy—if there is swearing in the title or anything I can’t say on the radio, I won’t go near it. There are a few like that this year. But I will usually pick something original if at all possible. If the story is interesting or it’s written by a writer I like or stars or is directed by people whose work I admire, then I pick them.

I was particularly ruthless about the plays I picked for this broadcast. I saw four; one was a media preview I saw on Wednesday. They are: >Kafka’s Ape, The Container, Antigonick and Graceful Rebellions.

What attracted you to these in particular?

I saw Kafka’s Ape at a media preview Wednesday. Based on Kafka’s Report to an Academy—anything by Kafka will be challenging. This piece is that and more so.

An ape named Redpeter is captured in Africa and realizes to escape he must ape the ‘U-mans’ who have captured him. So he learns English and becomes adept at the ‘U-man’ ways—violence, intimidation, conquest. He climbs up the ladder of an organization that has branches in several countries requiring mercenaries and a war machine.

It’s a chilling allegory for countless instances from the notion of work makes freedom (Arbeit Macht Frei –the phrase over the gate at Auschwitz), to any conquering nation over another.

It’s adapted by Guy Sprung who also directs it with flare. It almost has the poetic lyricism of Tennessee Williams. With an impressive performance of Howard Rosenstein as Redpeter who adds to the poetic aspect by doing it with a southern drawl.

Then The Containerr by Clare Bayley, directed by Zachary Florence, fine work in both cases. It takes place in a shipping container. It puts the audience in the container along with several refugees who are fleeing their countries for whatever reason, hoping to get to England. I found that intriguing.

The audience sits on benches inside the container, joined by the various refuges. They bicker, angle for food, tell their stories to a point, keep secrets and try to keep their cool in terrible situations. At one point the agent, who is the go between, says that the driver of the truck transporting the container wants more money. They have all given their savings for the initial journey. They don’t have more, so they say.

It’s gripping how they manipulate and manoeuvre each other to help come up with the funds. I thought that perhaps the audience might have been approached in the container to donate money, but reasoned that since the audience hadn’t been approached other wise then they wouldn’t be in this instance.

Is it claustrophobic in the container?

There is a warning about that for those who are claustrophobic. It’s a container large enough for an audience of 19 and 4 refugees along with the agent who occasionally opens the door of the container to deal with those inside. It gets warm in there. We are given a bottle of water as we go in. When the door is slammed shut, we are in darkness. Any light comes from a crack along the door edge, from flashlights and the occasional light bulb.

We can never fully understand the trauma, drama and angst these people have to endure to run to freedom but The Container gives us a taste of it. I think it’s important to feel uncomfortable and unsettled occasionally—in this case, an hour.

The writing is sharp. The acting is terrific. It’s a fine piece of unsettling theatre—the best kind of theatre.

And what about Antigonick. What the story on this one?

I saw this because it is written by poet-writer Anne Carson and has a cast of a lot of first rate actors. It’s based on the Greek myth of Antigone and her two brothers who fought the Theban war on opposite sides. Both brothers died fighting each other.

King Kreon, the new Theban King, decreed that one brother should be buried with pomp and ceremony because he was on the ‘right’ side and the other brother should not be buried because he was on the other side. Antigone is irate and is determined to bury her brother. The King is incensed. It ends badly for a lot of people.

As for the title, a character comments on the phrase “the nick of time” and what it means. I looked it up. It means that something is done when there is no other time to possibly do it. Antigone buries her brother when there is no other time to do it. Hence I think the title is a combination of Antigone’s name and ‘nick’. Perhaps this is a reach on Carson’s part.

How does Anne Carson treat the material?

She gives it a contemporary treatment as does the director Cole Lewis.The language is both esoteric and contemporary.

Of the four shows this is the weakest. I think the play is ponderous in its efforts to be provocative. The production has some interesting ideas—for instance, Kreon cuts his way through a cardboard wall for his entrance. But overall the pace is slow and that’s deadly to a show that should be full of heightened emotions. And there is a character who throughout the show holds up bits of red string as he looks at the audience or measures a character, cuts the string then tapes it to the back wall making patters. I find that totally mystifying.

And Graceful Rebellions. What’s it about?

It’s about some of the best theatre I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a stunning piece of theatre. It’s written by a new playwright named Shaista Latif who also performs it. It’s directed by Evalyn Parry who is also responsible for its development through Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

This is what grabbed me when I read the description in the Summerworks brochure: “Can a queer Afghan woman identify herself in an occupied land?” That’s almost too simplistic. We hear this story through four voice, with Ms Latif changing costume and persona in front of us. First a giddy girl of 14 is telling us of the engagement party for her older sister that her mother is arranging. She also tells us how her mother has taught her that Afghan women speak in a whisper; are obedient; don’t go out of the house without a male member of their family to accompany them; always appear covered up. It’s said without irony.

The girl’s friend is another girl who is different. She asks that her hair be cut like a boy’s. The girl’s mother doesn’t like this friend. The next voice we hear is the friend who wanted her hair cut like a boy’s. Her family is killed so she dresses like a boy and enters the world of men, opium dealing and fighting. In a sense she disappears from her previous life. The voice here is deep, serious, focused and almost chilling in its deliberate lack of emotion.

Then we move to Canada where a young Afghan woman, 17, is in the principal’s office for fighting. She was defending herself against a bully. She is gay but daren’t tell her mother and pleads not to be expelled because the shame would be great. She and her mother came to Canada for a better life. The young woman is hip, confident with a bit of sass and very funny.

The last voice is another mother preparing for a wedding. Her world has exploded open since she came to Canada from Afghanistan. Her world is also changing when it comes to gender issues; the nature of marriage and how women should act. This voice is grace itself, open-hearted and embracing of a world that is strange and so different from what she expects.

All these women with their different voices are performed by Shaista Latif, with nuance, subtlety, compassion and dazzling ability. She writes beautifully about a very difficult and tricky subject and certainly gives us a vivid look into an Afghan world.

Shaista Latif is a new, vibrant voice in the theatre in this city and I want to hear it again. I would see her next play in a shot. This is what I have to say to her: More please, soon.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com twitter @slotkinletter

Kafka’s Ape, The Container, Antigonick and Graceful Rebellions play at various venues as part of Summerworks until Aug. 17. Check the website for details.

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