Reviews: Alphonse with Alon Nashman and Romeo and Juliet

by Lynn on September 9, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Written by Wajdi Mouawad

Directed by Alon Nashman

Translated by: Shelley Tepperman

Sound by: Verne Good

Set and Costume by: Lindsay Ann Black

Cast: Kaleb Alexander or Alon Nashman

NOTE: I reviewed Alphonse a few weeks ago with Kaleb Alexander in Memorial Park. Kaleb alternated the role of Alphonse with Alon Nashman. The production moved to Dufferin Grove Park for a few days and I saw it again with Alon Nashman. While the production has closed I thought it important to comment on Alon Nashman’s work as well in these lean theatre times.

Alphonse is a perfect play for these times of isolation and uncertainty. Alon Nashman gives a multi-layered, vibrant performance. The production is pure joy giving the audience a wonderful opportunity to applaud.

The Story. The play is about Alphonse, a lost boy wandering a road who spins a series of stories, all while various people are looking for him. There are worried parents and siblings; school friends who are concerned; a cop who looks for him and Pierre-Paul René, Alphonse’s fragile, loyal, (imaginary) friend. Each character has a story and a connection to Alphonse and eventually to each other.

The Production.  Alphonse was written by Wajdi Mouawad and published in 1996. Alphonse is a play about isolation, uncertainty and finding ones way in a confusing world, so it’s perfect for these weird times we are going through.

It’s about 14 -year-old Alphonse who was on his way home but lost his way, so was wandering a road for two weeks. He has a vivid imagination and spins a lot of tales.  He conjures an imaginary friend named Pierre-Paul René in whom he confides. Mouawad seems to query is Pierre-Paul René imaginary or is he Alphonse’s alter ego. We can ponder that. In Alphonse there are worried parents and siblings; school friends who are concerned; a cop who looks for him and a cab driver who takes Alphonse home when he is found. Each character has a story and a connection to Alphonse and eventually to each other.

While I did see Kaleb Alexander do the part in Memorial Park and now Alon Nashman playing the part in Dufferin Grove Park. I am not going to compare the performances because both performances are different and each actor brings a different interpretation and his own individuality to the role.  Both are right. That’s the beauty of theatre.

Again, the audience seemed eager for live theatre. We all wore masks and respected the proper distance.

The area in Dufferin Grove Park where the production played already had various structures in place (for kids to play on) which seemed perfect for the purposes of this production. Alon Nashman makes vibrant, impressive use of these structures as he plays the 27 parts of the play.

Nashman has been playing Alphonse all over the world for about 20 years so he knows the characters down to their toes. Yet there is nothing stale or bored-feeling about his performance.

He’s microphoned so not one precious word is lost.  He is agile, climbing up onto the various structures and choosing often to do a backward jump up to a higher level. That was quite impressive.

Of the 27 characters Nashman plays there are: the fit adult Alphonse remembering that time when he got lost on his way home; the diminutive, young Alphonse who keeps walking home and not knowing or worried that he’s lost; his worried mother and his not so worried father; his school friends including a young girl who is his girlfriend; the almost waif-like Pierre-Paul René, the strapping, deep-voiced, caring police officer who goes out looking for Alphonse; the cab driver who takes him home and so many others.

Alon Nashman gave an energetic, engaging performance as Alphonse.  He’s both serious and whimsical.  He segues beautifully from character to character, and each character is clear and distinct.  This is a charming, vivid, multi-layered performance in a play that is multi-faceted.  

Playwright Wajdi Mouawad has created a play that is a journey of discovery, a playful adventure for children and a deeper exploration of life, the world and the universe for adults.  It asks simple but challenging questions: where are you going? Why do I exist?  His play is full of wild adventure, dazzling imagination, joyful revelations and community.  I loved the open-hearted aspect of this production and everything surrounding it.

Co-presented by Theaturtle and Shakespeare in Action.

For details about further Theaturtle productions to to:

Romeo and Juliet

NOTE: This show also close last weekend but deserves to be noted so you can catch the company’s next adventure.

Written (of course) by William Shakespeare

Adapted and edited by: Bruce Horak (who did the initial cutting), Kevin Kruchkywich, Ijeoma Emesowum and Rebecca Northan.

Directed, designed and performed by Bruce Horak, Kevin Kruchkywich, Ijeoma Emesowum and Rebecca Northan

A rousing, smart, thoughtful 75-minute rendering of Shakespeare’s classic set in Stratford, Ont. with local references. Beautifully performed in every way.

The Story and Production. It was created, adapted, acted and directed by a talented group of four actors who played all the parts: Bruce Horak, Kevin Kruchkywich, Ijeoma Emesowum and Rebecca Northan.

When this group is doing their improv work on the streets of Stratford they are known as Sidewalk Scenes.  But when they are doing serious work, such as Shakespeare with a twist, they are known as Parkade Plays. Romeo and Juliet was performed in the covered parking area of the Bruce Hotel in Stratford, Ont.

A masked Rebecca Northan checked the audience in and gave each of us a leaf of mint for the inside of our masks. LOVED THAT! We were seated by the rest of the cast. The seats were on either side of the playing area.  We were told that the cast would be moving in and around the chairs but would not linger—loved that care in case someone thought an actor was standing too close to them.

The production was given a decidedly local flavour. It was set in Stratford, Ontario and the grudge was not between two families but between to competing coffee bars in Stratford: Revel and Edison’s. The cast even had t-shirts with either Edison’s or Revel on it.

The play was certainly cut down but the story was told and respected.

The fights were full bodied and feirce (Bravo to Kevin Kruchkywich for creating the fights). Instead of swords, characters fought with wood ‘clubs’. There was nothing tentative and polite about it. A combatant sliced the air towards an opponent and it was blocked by the opponent’s club with energy and fury. The sound of the resultant ‘thwak’ was loud and sharp. It didn’t matter if the character was played by a man or a woman (Ijeoma Emesowum played Mercutio and Juliet for example), the fierceness of the fight was full-bodied and full of conviction.

Because the four actors played all the parts there was a dizzying amount of costume interchange. Often a one actor helped another on with his/her costume for a scene: a vest here, a scarf there etc. The various death scenes were almost choreographed ballet they were so exquisite. A jacket or shirt was removed when a character died as if he/she was separated from their spirit. Romeo (Kevin Kruchkywich) always wore a yellow scarf. When he died, his scarf was delicately place beside the sleeping Juliet. Loved the economy and poetry of the execution of that scene. There was no balcony of course (It’s a rather low parkade), so a rope suggested where the balcony was and we, the audience, just imagined that one side of the rope was the ground and the other was ‘up’ on Juliet’s balcony.

The acting from everybody, no matter what parts they played—and they played several—was terrific. Ijeoma Emesowum played a serious-minded Juliet full of whimsy and reason. She was also a feisty, impetuous Mercutio. Kevin Kruchkywich was a charming, boyish Romeo. He’s a character who flits from ‘true’ love to ‘true’ love. But with Juliet he was struck dumb. He found his mate and his match. Lovely playing between the two. Bruce Horak played the friar and the apothecary with equal seriousness and concern. The famous letter that had to be delivered to the banished Romeo had true resonance when it could not be delivered because of a plague in the city. Thus echoing our own restrictions because of the virus. Rebecca Northan played the Nurse with ditzy humour but not as a silly woman, but one who truly loved Juliet as a daughter. Northan also played a courtly Paris.  Rebecca Northan even supplied her own car as a prop—a police car—she drove it, with a blue police light blinking, screeching into the parkade to break up a fight between the warring sides. Loved that.

Bruce Horak did the sound design and it was wickedly clever. During Romeo and Juliet’s first night as a married couple had music playing quietly in the background—it was an instrumental version of “Tonight” from West Side Story, the Broadway musical based on Shakespeare’s play. Later Horak shook things up with an appropriate song by Lizzo. (sorry, I don’t know the title—I was just delighted to hear her sass in singing).

Comment. I thought this was a splendid production of Romeo and Juliet short though it was. It told the story with economy and wit. It was true to the spirit of Shakespeare and it was done with respect and seriousness. I asked Rebecca Northan about the cuts to the text, was this a company effort (they work so well together). Here’s her answer in her own words:

“Bruce Horak did the cut, then we each did more trimming or adding to our individual characters, making speeches even shorter, putting back lines we may personally have been in love with from the Folio. All done with respect, and a dash of cheekiness…always in favour of clarity. We chose as a group to go modern, and set it in Stratford.. We really wanted to strike a chord with locals. Each actor came to the table with a few “directorial ideas”….solutions to the deaths being to ‘shuffle off the mortal coil’ of our costume, making the spirit leaving the body as simple & elegant as possible. Kevin (Kruchkywich) did all the fights. Bruce (Horak) did the sound design. Ijeoma (Emesowum) kept us all emotionally on track. I suggested the notion of a rope in place of the height of the balcony. Most scenes were 2 handers, so the other two would keep an eye on blocking, story, and meaning. Our targets were: elegance, simplicity, clarity of story, give locals hooks throughout, look for levity & fun in the first third to contrast the tragedy. Play solutions, not problems.”

For me the result was pure joy. Loved it.

For future work look for Sidewalk Scenes:

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