The Current Theatre

December, 2006

The Anorak
written and directed by Adam Kelly
McGill University Players' Theatre

"As the days passed, I saw the media take the story and turn it into an isolated case. For me it wasn't an isolated case, it was the violence I live with every day, that other women live with every day, but an exaggerated violence, violence pushed to the extreme, but with the same, exactly the same intentions, the same form. But all of a sudden, the media was saying it was isolated, the guy was crazy, he had a bad childhood, they started looking for reasons to justify a supposedly psychotic act." - from After the Montreal Massacre, NFB prod.,Gerry Rogers, dir.

This remounted work from Montrealer Adam Kelly, subtitled A play about the Montreal Massacre and the life and death of Marc Lépine, made a brief run at Players' Theatre in McGill beginning December 6 - the 17th anniversary of the Polytechnique Massacre - in a production Kelly has performed several times at schools in Ontario and Quebec since 2002.

But just prior to that run, Kelly returned to the tiny Zeke's Gallery on the Main, two years after the play's Montreal premiere, for an intimate performance in front of media types.

Adam Kelly And what a performance it was. In tackling this most controversial topic, Kelly's writing and delivery were nothing less than astonishing. A daring bit of staging established the unnerving atmosphere of the evening even before the play began as we learned that the audience was to be split up: women on one side of the room, men on the other. Then, in a tale told from limbo, Kelly as Lépine began to tell his story.

Drawing on the contents of Lépine's suicide note, the testimony of friends, and the mass of media coverage surrounding the killer's background and upbringing, Kelly's take on the mass murderer shows a bland and depressed little man, consumed by self-obsession and paranoia, following the narrow thoughts of his brief life and limited cognition into a terminal spiral.

Kelly perfectly captures the accent and syntax of a Québecois with shaky English, steering clear of exaggerated caricature. His commitment to the role was unflinching and total, a too-rare combination of text and performance that reminds one just how powerful a piece of theatre can be.

Kelly refuses to offer obvious judgements about Lépine, indeed even having his character anticipate such analyses: his abusive upbringing, his failures at finding any form of acceptance, whether into the Armed Forces (a psychological screening found him "antisocial") or a place in engineering program at the École Polytechnic; the lack of any sustained human connection in his few and fleeting relationships - none of these, the character says, can explain him. All we are left with is the parting comment that "...they will remember my name."

And though there may be the desire for more on the ongoing and depressing realities of the status of women in Canada, the lingering hostility expressed by many, teachers among them, towards "feminists" even today, the play remains an ink blot for our assumptions.

"I don't have any answers," Kelly has repeatedly said, "but I want to keep posing the questions." Through this reiteration, we don't know what caused him to kill women, or what really creates the Marc Lépines in this world. But a look at why is surely more important than the end product. By the time we see him, Lépine has already become the image of all serial killers. It is a reflection of a void, and when we gaze upon it, there is no there.

The Satchmo' Suite
by Hans Böggild and Doug Innis
directed by Hans Böggild
The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre

When jazz guitarist and cellist Doug Innis teamed up with writer-director Hans Böggild, like the great musician-lyricist teams of old Broadway, it was a match made in heaven.

An idea for a tribute and fantasy about Louis Armstrong is something the Toronto-based pair had been rewriting and rearranging for years, the production growing in size and sophistication with each version. In its current incarnation at the Saidye we're seeing a charming story and a lovingly crafted slice of musical theatre.

satchmo_suite It's a Dickensian tale with a jazz twist that has uptight classical cellist Hubert Clements, played by actor and playwright Andrew Moodie, struggling with a solo of Bach music on the eve of a make-or-break performance in a touring classical symphony. As he wrangles with the suite, getting more frustrated and less confident at each attempt, he inadvertently summons the ghost of Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Sparks) from his mirror.

What ensues is a high energy back and forth between the two as Armstrong tries to break through Clements' resistance and denial to find the true cause of his misery.

Jeremiah Sparks made a magnificent Armstrong, his performance bubbling with humour and energy, one that seemed to channel the expansive Satchmo.

Andrew Moodie sparkled as the indignant cellist in dire need of a mental enema. Clements here was the fussy Felix to Sparks' Oscar, sneering that Armstrong was only a good-natured and smiling Uncle Tom.

More impressive still were the collaborative fruits of Böggild's and Innis' work, where the great dialogue and interplay of the two characters was matched by live music from a band at the edge of the stage. Included were a suite of twelve songs written with a nod to Armstrong's legendary work in his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens combos.

Great music, great singing, great theatre.

- Neil Boyce

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The current theatre - November 2005