Attending the dress rehearsal performances of the Cape Breton Stage Company’s outdoor theatre festival as an audience member, director of one of the productions, and reviewer for WGO, the first question I have to ask myself is: What do I wear?
The weather this year has been unpredictable: cloudy, drizzly, and then sunny and warm.
I declined to wear a jacket or sweater which was a mistake; while the late afternoon start was not plagued with the torrential downpours of the first festival four years ago, it was also not the hot, dry heat of two years ago. It was cool and misty with a wet breeze blowing through Wentworth Park when we assembled by the splash park to watch Calvin and Lisa and The Fairy Queen by Kristen Woodford, a young playwright with a huge talent for comedy and boldly conceived characters.
The Connolly family has the unique problem of their male offspring being the source of power for an evil witch. Calvin’s father and twin brother have both been kidnapped to have their life essence sucked out of them. With Lisa, his brother’s girlfriend (and, to Calvin, the Typhoid Mary of “cooties”), and their dog (who suddenly develops the ability to talk—more rationally than the human characters, in fact), Calvin goes to find his brother and encounters a wood elf, a naiad, an ogre, and two of the cutest little fairies ever to scamper among the evergreens. All of the performers caught the genial spirit of the script and they made a sincere attempt to connect with their audience and encourage participation in the action of the play (hard to do with a dress rehearsal audience of mostly family, friends, and fellow theatre people).
The script and direction made good use of the park setting but it could have been more effective if it was set entirely in the “woods” without trying to replicate indoor locations in a outdoor setting. But still it’s a great family show with fun and many opportunities to interact with the characters that held our interest for the full 50 minutes.
Then it was up the street through the murk and drizzle to the parking lot between the Scotia Bank and the Finishing Touch Centre on Charlotte Street.
First up at this location was The Curse of The Violent Village, a send up of fairy tales written and directed by Nicole MacDougall. As a grumpy grandmotherly narrator tells it, an evil witch curses a happy village by making the villagers scrappers. A fairy godmother shows up and says the only solution is true love—a rather random solution after several others have been discarded. (The narrator has other things on her mind, like a leaky kitchen sink).
The mostly high school-aged cast were all in top form. With minimal costuming, they made their audience believe in their characters through voice work and their physicality. The play was hilarious, full of surprises, but may have been a little shorter (or maybe that was my hypothermia talking). And MacDougall’s direction made intelligent use of her outdoor location.
The second production at this location is actually two monologues of which I could only stay for one (I had to hie myself to the Bargain Shop to buy a loaf of bread, a prop for the play I directed).
Waiting for Nobody Really, written and performed by Anna Spencer, was about Samantha, a teenaged girl who gives up a punk persona to become an “ordinary” teenager so her parents will buy her a car. As “Sammi”, she discovers “ordinary” has its advantages like making eye contact with other people in a non-threatening way. But when she discovers a boy she wants to be with, she’s faced with a choice between being Sammi and Samantha.
This is one of the most perceptive, wise, and self aware scripts I’ve seen in a long time, and Spencer gave a touching, engaging performance. What might have slipped under the audience’s radar was here was a teen girl, immersed in the rush of hormones and the pressures of family and school life, who still took responsibility for her own decisions-no whining, no hipper than thou ‘tude. The dramatic conflict of the character felt real and urgent, but was told with humour and charm.
I arrived at the third venue, the parking lot behind the Canada Post outlet on Charlotte Street, just in time to hand the bag of bread to Jonathan Collins, the male half of my cast of Wesley Colford’s The Collector, while the female half, Kate MacMullin waited to get going. I am the director so it would be wrong of me to tell you how wonderful I think they did.
After our play, Two Interesting Facts, written by Jame FW Thompson and directed by Jason Burke, told the story of a forest accident that reveals two interesting facts. To say more would ruin the comedic twists of this David Ives-like sketch-play. Almost every line was a laugh line and the cast, especially the chap playing the doctor, captured the inspired silliness of the script.
Closing off the evening, just before I lost the feeling in my ear lobes, was The Teacher Monologues, compiled and directed by Mindy Carier, and a more energic and enthusiastic cast could not be found anywhere. They were engaged in every second of the play, vocally and physically, and the kinetic direction took advantage of this (but I have a quibble in how spread out the action of the play was; visually, it could have benfitted from a smaller performing area).
The play presented a mostly upbeat examination of the struggles of teachers to communicate their joy of learning to their students. While teachers (like actors, as one monologue) suffer low appreciation of their career choice, the piece was mostly a celebration of these professionals who contribute so much to our society.
And then dress rehearsal evening was over: it started at 4:30 pm and it was barely past 7 pm. As street festival dress rehearsals went, a relatively short day. Two years ago, there were five venues, a lot more plays, and the dress finished up after 10 pm.
The festival runs from Thursday, August 4, to Saturday, August 6, and all shows start at 6 pm at their respective venues. Admission is pay what you can with the proceeds going to Cape Breton Transition House.