Revisiting the New Classics for the first time

2006 New Classical Theatre Festival

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Gayanashagowa: The Great Law of Peace, and
Au-delà de la Ville
written and directed by Anthony Kokx

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
by Moises Kaufman
directed by Zach Fraser


The Gravy Bath-hosted New Classical Theatre Festival has been a great capper to the summer theatre season for last three years, and their 4th edition offers a typically bold series of plays: we have one company mounting two simultaneous shows - one English, one French - two daring solo shows, and a reprise of sorts for an inspired actor with a great part.

Gayanashagowa: The Great Law of Peace

Drawing inspiration from Native Canadian culture Anthony Kokx-Palermo reworked Romeo and Juliet, crafting a new interpretation and discarding much of Shakespeare's text while leaving the core story intact, also adding several Bath-ian flourishes that followers of this company will recognize, including a striking sound design tightly bound to the performances.

Gayanashagowa emphasizes the cultural over the familial in the clash between the warring Capulets and Montagues. These are two tribes in contention, the mutual suspicion and hate seem borne from a primordial place.

The large cast of 25 actors in this Gravy Bath/Montreal Young Company coproduction are squeezed into the small, narrow Studio Hydro-Québec space at the Monument-Nationale. Musical passages drift over the drama. Angela Galuppo made a wistful Juliet, but her lovely voice was overwhelmed by the jumble of action on stage—the drama alternating between flatness and frenzy, rarely hitting the right note.

Ultimately, cast and director aren't able to make the story come alive. For the audience it began to be an endurance test and, common to all unconvincing stagings of Shakespeare, soon collapsed under its own weight.

Au-delà de la Ville

Paired with the above production, and using the same 25 actors, Au-delà de la Ville shows Gravy Bath bouncing back with apparent ease. At their best, this company have always shown a marvelous dexterity in juggling realism, the absurd, and the fantastic in their productions. That, and possessing the daring to keep trying new ideas and new ways to stage them. In this spirit, Au-delà de la Ville offers a freewheeling valentine to Montreal and Montrealers in all their ugly-beauty.

yann Yann Bernaquez is at the center of the large cast as Marc, the wide-eyed wanderer tasked with documenting images "of perfection" to support a nebulous and mysterious cultural event that all are involved with, whatever it might be. Founding company member Bernaquez is engaging as always; he's the calm center here to the frenzied hurricane around him.

The rest of the cast function as caricatures, mainly, of types involved in the creation and dissemination of the "event"—all of whom whirl about the stage and interact with Marc.

Writer-director Kokx conducts the large cast beautifully, jumbling elements together then creating order from chaos as we watch the progress of our Everyman.

Alex McCooeye in particular is hilarious and menacing as the volatile John Brandy, an Anglophone so traumatized by his language and past that he only communicates in accented, angry French.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

This is an exhilarating retelling of the Oscar Wilde scandal arising from his relationship with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas and the subsequent involvement of Douglas' lunatic father, the Marquis of Queensbury.

Wilde The story which follows the events of the trial and Wilde's brief and tragic later life is now nearly as well known as the work and repartee of the man himself. Don Anderson, who portrayed Wilde in the earlier solo Gravy Bath show, De Profundis, reinvigorates the role, taking us now to the events immediately preceding Wilde's incarceration and decline.

Mainline Theatre, the new venue initiated by the Montreal Fringe, is a sympathetic if overheated space with seating on two sides of the stage, perfect for this production and for a company that loves to get away from two dimensional staging.

Moises Kaufman's multiple award-winning play uses the fragmented style he would amplify in his later work, The Laramie Project, but at what a pace in this production! Under Zach Fraser's taut direction, scenes from Wilde's life and trial proceedings are presented as a series of rapid-fire tableaux by the cast of nine who assume multiple roles. Characters jump up and shout at the audience at key points in the trials, the quickly shifting scenes matched only by the actors' line delivery.

Mike Hughes as prosecutor Edward Carson and David Potter as the maniacally homophobic Queensbury highlight a prodigiously talented cast.

And then there is Don Anderson. There's a parallel I've long wanted to make: If founder-director Madd Harold was the Orson Welles of Gravy Bath and Anthony Kokx its Herman J. Mankiewicz, then Don Anderson, as long as I'm overextending the analogy, is surely the Joseph Cotton of this mercurial company: Anderson's a wonderfully talented actor of considerable range, able to shift seamlessly between supporting and leading roles, always bringing a lovely restraint to his performances. In Wilde, Anderson seems to have found a signature role, so vividly has he marked his characterization.



The New Classical Theatre Festival continues with Gross Indecency and Last Call to September 2, and Hamlet Solo to September 9

Full schedule available here.

info/tickets: call 514-540-0774 or email tickets@gravybath.com

- Neil Boyce

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