Review: Alien Creature, a visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen

by Lynn on January 18, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

Toronto, Ont.

Written by Linda Griffiths
Directed by Jani Lauzon
Music and sound design by Deanna Choi
Lighting and set by Trevor Schwellnus
Projection design by Melissa Joakim
Costumes by Amanda Wong
Cast: Beatriz Pizano

A well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing production because of overly busy direction and design.

The Story. Alien Creature a visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen is not a direct invocation of the life and death of Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, rather it’s an almost mystical look at a woman driven to write poetry, while living a messy, troubled life. The late playwright Linda Griffiths conjures a life full of poetry—MacEwen’s poems are woven throughout the play—brooding darkness (MacEwen was an alcoholic), failed relationships (she won’t even name her first husband (Milton Acorn) other than to say he was smelly) and the many and various demons that bedevilled her.

The Production
. Alien Creature a visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen is a densely written play packed with illusions to MacEwen’s darker side; many moments of self-deprecating humour and magic. This complex play cries out for simplicity in the production so as to realize the inner points. Sadly, one does not get simplicity in Jani Lauzon’s overly-busy direction. Instead we get billows of smoke that mark the character of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s entrance and final exit; we get ghostly lighting effects on the sides of the dark set, the point of which are mystifying; we get shimmering lighting effects on areas of Gwendolyn’s body that obscure other business; we get wonderful magic tricks that are often not well lit to get the full benefit.

Trevor Schwellnus is generally a wonderful Scenographer, a wizard in some cases. But something has happened here and the results are disappointing. While the play references that Gwendolyn often lived in basement apartments, Schwellnus’ dark set of jutting panels looks more cave-like than basement. His lighting is also problematic in that too often you can’t actually see what is meant to be illuminated,

Amanda Wong dresses Gwendolyn in billowy harem pants, solid shoes, a low-cut, frilly blouse over which is a one-button vest of sorts. Rather than making Gwendolyn look like an exotic ‘alien creature’ Wong makes her look simply dowdy and earthbound.

Through all this is the valiant Beatriz Pizano as Gwendolyn MacEwen. Her makeup and hair do make Gwendolyn look exotic, indeed Pizano does look like the exotic MacEwen. At times Pizano is fiery, brooding, darkly humorous and a woman consumed with the poetry that pours out of her.

. I so wish this production was better.

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille

Opened: January, 17, 2017.
Closes: February 5, 2017.
Cast: 1 woman
Running Time: 80 minutes

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