by Lynn on September 18, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, Crow’s Theatre presents Festival Players at the Studio Theatre, Streetcar/Crowsnest, until Sept. 25, 2022.

Created by: Frank Cox-O’Connell

Beau Dixon

Hailey Gillis

Marni Jackson

Raha Javanfar

Andrew Penner

Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Set by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Sound by Steáfán Hannigan

Performed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Beau Dixon

Hailey Gillis

Raha Javanfar

Andrew Penner

Al Purdy, the celebrated Canadian poet is certainly having his share of accolades and praise this year. There was the play (among men) by David Yee (Factory Theatre), that illuminates his friendship with Milton Acorn and their poetry, while they built the A-Frame house Purdy would live in near Belleville, Ont., later becoming a writer’s retreat, and now this exuberant show, The Shape of Home, Songs in Search of Al Purdy.

When busy, creative artists are forced to stop performing because of a pandemic, it is a startling experience. It leaves them discombobulated, as it did Frank Cox-O’Connell, Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Marni Jackson, Raha Javanfar and Andrew Penner. What to do? They communicated with each other and decided to put music to the poems of Al Purdy. Deciding which poems to include was a daunting task since Purdy wrote about 39 books of poems among others. He just never stopped writing and chronicling what he was seeing and experiencing.  The same can be said of the six creators of this show The Shape of Home, Songs in Search of Al Purdy, they just never stop creating.

Over the course of the show’s 90 minutes there were snippets of Al Purdy’s biography: his two marriages, his sons, (one ‘lost’ one quiet), his friendship with other poets (Milton Acorn, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood), and his poems that celebrate herons, nature, being alive and trying to find what home is. The narrative also expressed the difficulty the group had of setting some poems to music, but when they did it was lively, raucous, sometimes mournful and joyful.

Instruments are hung on the wall for efficiency (guitars, a banjo etc.). A long table is the central point. The five performers often sit around the table, lean on it or even dance on it. They are all microphoned. The cast of five: Frank Cox-O’Connell, Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Raha Javanfar and Andrew Penner are all multi-talented in that they all play several instruments and they sing. Frank Cox-O’Connell plays the drums and also directs. Hailey Gillis plays several kinds of guitars and smiles through all of it. Raha Javanfar plays a mean violin while stomping her foot as she stands on the table and she also plays guitar and some kind of horn instrument that looks like a trumpet, but probably is something more exotic. Andrew Penner plays guitar and drums among others. Beau Dixon—is there anything more joyful than watching the music pour out of Beau Dixon as he leans over playing the guitar and singing? He plays piano, guitar, tuba, banjo, harmonica and probably several more. Even the beer glasses they were drinking from are used as musical instruments.

But we are also there for the poems of Al Purdy and here things get a bit sticky. The cast is having such a great time jamming for each other, sometimes even facing in on a circle playing for each other, it seems as if the audience is an afterthought.  Such a talented cast.  I just wished they would realize that WE were in the room too and that perhaps they could tone down the raucousness and leave the tuba, the horn, the drums, the sax and many of the other instruments at the door so we could actually hear the words they are singing, clearly. Too often the words are drowned out because of all that musical creativity. How can we ‘find’ Al Purdy if we can’t hear all his words clearly?

Crows Theatre presents Festival Players

Plays until: Sept. 25, 2022.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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