Short reviews: CRAWLSPACE and BUTCHER

by Lynn on March 31, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Karen Hines
Set by Michelle Tracey
Lighting by Sandi Somers
Sound by Anton de Groot
Musical composition by Greg Morrison
Onstage performance associate

Crawlspace, conceived and performed by Karen Hines, is based on a true story that is a cautionary tale involving real estate and racoons.

was conceived and performed by Karen Hines, a terrific theatre artist who relocated to Calgary from Toronto, so any time she’s here performing is cause for celebration.

The program says it’s based on a true story, which should put the fear of God in anyone. It’s about a woman who was an actress who put her whole life savings into buying the smallest house in Toronto in 2007. It was so small that she could not assemble her bed in the bedroom because there was no room to do it. She did not want a fixer-upper because she did not have the money to fix it up should it need it. She describes it as a coach house. We love those.

The real estate agent told her that an inspection was done and all was ok. Proper permits etc. had been done.

And she didn’t want a basement. The agent said that there was just a crawlspace under the house. The problem was she couldn’t find the entrance to it. This was one of the mysteries of the house. That crawlspace seemed to be the place where all manner of animals, racoons (!!!) went to die and flies went after them. She discovered drafts where there shouldn’t be any then found the reason why.

Slowly but surely Hines draws a picture of a woman going down the rabbit hole of owning property that she does not anticipate.

Hines does not just stand and deliver her monologue. She’s too clever for that. We enter the theatre with the floor plans of the house drawn on the floor. There is a blackboard with the floor plan as well. An “on stage associate” redirected me to another seat and gave me a sheet of paper about the rules of engagement of the Real Estate Board. It listed rules about fairness, civility, ethical treatment of the customer and to adhere to the rules of the Board etc. The associate is played with great seriousness by Sasha Cole. She carries one of those machines used by exterminators to get rid of critters we don’t want anywhere, let alone our crawlspace. She also said to read the sheet of paper carefully because there might be a test. Fear of God so I read it very carefully. We see that these rules are wonderfully ironic by the end of the show.

When Hines enters her character is very prim and proper, in a black dress, black tights and shoes, square glasses, . She is almost inexpressive but never boring. Her voice is tempered and soft. The delivery almost seems just a touch coy at time. During the course of the play Hines backs up her descriptions with illustrations done in chalk on the blackboard that will show us where the crawl space is and from where various smells emanate.

Crawlspace is beautifully written in an almost formal style. Occasionally Hines mixes the formal dialogue with a scatological reference that is delivered as seriously as the regular dialogue. The result is hilarious. What is humour if not the juxtaposition of the incongruous—so formal language is placed next to a scatological reference. Results? Hilarious.

And as she describes going down the rabbit hole with this story and it gets more and more Kafkaesque and she gets more and more into debt with this house, you are put in that world of worry, depression and debt; it’s a world that is claustrophobic and airless and leaves you gasping. The saving grace is that we can go home to places one hopes that don’t have smelly dead animals in the crawlspace causing flies to invade the house.

Crawlspace is also a wonderful piece of theatre created and delivered by a master of understatement to great effect.

Soulpepper Presents:

Opened: March 29, 2017
Closes: April 15, 2017.
Running Time: 85 minutes


At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Set by Yannik Larevee
Lighting by Kimberley Purtell
Costumes by Joanne Yu
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Fight director, Simon Fon.
Cast: Miranda Calderon
John Koensgen
Andrew Musselman
Tony Nappo
Kasey Nugent

A chilling remount of the 2015 award-winning production now with two replacement actors (one is a silent child). It’s a play about war crimes, revenge and justice.

The Story. It’s Christmas Eve. An old man was brought into a police station by two young people. He is wearing a Santa hat, a military uniform of some sort, black boots and he’s unconscious, but occasionally rambles in a foreign language. There was an old butcher’s hook hanging around his neck and the business card of a lawyer was also found on him with the words, “arrest me” written on the back. Hamilton is the lawyer. He’s British and doesn’t know the old man at all. Detective Lamb has called a translator to come in and try to decipher the accent.

The play is concerned with who that old man is and what his secrets are and certainly why someone has to arrests him.

The Production. This is such a gripping production. Nicolas Billon’s tight script starts off almost leisurely and then the pace becomes relentless as more information is revealed and the tension is ramped up. Coupled with that is Weyni Mengesha’s chilling production that so beautifully establishes the relationships here. There is violence and it’s made all the more heightened because the audience doesn’t actually see it. They just imagine what it is they aren’t seeing. When a person is lying on the floor, perpendicular to the stage and another person is sitting on him in which the back is to the audience, all one sees is a flexing back and hears various screams and heightened music and sees twitching legs. The imagination does the rest and it’s gripping. Kudos to Simon Fon, the exemplary fight director, responsible for the fights and slow motion prop work. When a scene is done in slow motion in almost darkness with flickering lights for illumination, the audience doesn’t quite see what they are looking at and again the imagination takes over.

As Detective Lamb, Tony Nappo is that stereotypical laid back guy, easy-going, family proud, anxious to show picture of his family to Hamilton the lawyer whose card was found on the old man. Nappo is methodical, accommodating (he warns Hamilton about the coffee before he gives it to him) and seemingly in the crossfire of what’s going on. The old man is played with a stern look and steely back-bone by John Koensgen. A complete language was made up for this character and it’s to Koensgen’s credit that we get a clear sense of the dangerous anger of the old man, identified as Josef Džibrilova. The translator, Elena, played by a compelling Miranda Calderon, knows the language as well and is as formidable as Džibrilova.. Andrew Musselman is a courtly Englishman who is mystified about why he is at the police station and why this old man has his business card. He doesn’t know the man and appears lost when the man is speaking to him in that language. Information is slowly revealed as Detective Lamb paces his stationhouse trying to put all the clues together. When the secrets begin to be revealed the pace ramps up considerably.

Comment. Butcher is a really challenging, beautifully written play. The subject matter of revenge and justice grab you and that tight grip is relentless. The play poses questions about war crimes and when revenge and justice and getting even are justified.

Kudos to Mirvish Productions for putting this in their more challenging Off Mirvish offerings. That said, I got the sense from some people around me on a recent Wednesday matinee they were completely surprised by the subject matter and how challenging it was. One wonders if they do any research or check the information Mirvish Productions provides that explains the plays or productions.

Over heard behind me…a man talked to his date and hoped that the cast would not be amplified with body microphones. He said: “They’re actors and should be able to project their voices so that people can hear.” Sure enough, when the play starts there is that unmistakable sound of the amplified voice coming from the stage. All goes smoothly until Miranda Calderon as Elena arrives. We can hear her fine but we can also hear a frequent cracking and static from her body microphone. It gets so frequent and the sound cuts out so often that finally the amplification is stopped and Calderon just uses her natural projected voice to fill the room. The audience does what it should always do, and did beautifully here—it listened hard. I assume the lack of rustling noises meant the audience was absorbed in the play. Why can’t one just let the audience do its job and listen hard. Do they really need that augmented sound? End of rant. Butcher is one meaty play.

David Mirvish present The Why Not Theatre production.

First Performance: March 25, 2017.
I saw it: March 29, 2017.
Closes: April 9, 2017.
Cast: 5; 3 men, 2 women (one a young girl)
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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1 Tony nappo April 4, 2017 at 12:55 am

We don’t have a choice about the microphones. They make you use them. Probably a decision made over time in that house that had more to do with the older Mirvish crowd’s hearing than anyone’s ability to project.