If the city of Calgary has a soul, it’s a strange one. If nothing else, that’s what audiences can expect to take away from One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me.
Written and directed by Blake Brooker, ‘Calgary, I Love You’ is a musical journey through the soul of a city largely defined by oil and the frontier. The show sets out to paint a broader, more detailed picture of Calgary, from both the inside and outside. And while fun and insightful at times, the production is ultimately like a bucket of spilled paint, colorful but a total mess.
One Yellow Rabbit was founded in 1982, and the performing ensemble has called the Big Secret Theatre home since the late 80’s. In other words, the company has been around a long time, so if any group knows a thing or two about Calgary, it’s the Rabbits. Here, Denise Clarke and Andy Curtis are joined onstage by guest artists Karen Hines and Jamie Tognazzini. The artists are accompanied by musicians Kris Demeanor, Jonathan Lewis, and David Rhymer.
The show opens with various stories surrounding Calgary’s origins, starting with a creation myth told by Clarke. Curtis dismisses the fanciful story for something a little more ‘textbook’. He tells a story about early settlers – led by Joseph Tomato, a Mormon-inspired figure – who
took were given the land by the native people. Hines’ account claims that aliens first populated Calgary – which would explain the politics.
No matter how the city was founded, there is no denying that Calgary has become a “city of ideas,” a magnet for many in search of opportunity. Sometimes, though, life throws us curveballs.
Tognazzini plays Kyla, a young woman who lives in a condo, but can’t afford her most recent purchase, a MacBook. She tries returning the computer to the store, then later selling it online, but with no luck. The credit card bill is fast approaching, and Kyla is in serious need of funds. The ensemble tell Kyla, through catchy song and dance, to “get a job” and that she shouldn’t ashamed of moving back in with her parents. There’s a strong sense that Kyla’s Calgary dream has burst as a result of the recent economic turmoil, and that her damaged ego is specific to someone who migrated out west from, let’s say, the maritimes. (Migrating out west has almost become a rite of passage for young people out east).
The ensemble stage a hilarious scene where different residents share their favourite places in Calgary to have a panic attack. The scene is fitting given that Calgarians are reported to work the longest hours in Canada, and also binge drink more than other Canadians. (The show’s title is perhaps more literal than anyone expected).
Hines offers a different and humorous perspective of Calgary as a Torontonian. As Hines sees it, the frontier spirit has escalated to beautiful wealthy hipsters living in lavish condos where they enjoy all sorts of ridiculous luxuries. Are they happier than the rest of us? Probably, she says.
Somewhere in this show that runs 120 minutes (with a 15 minute intermission), there lies a great concept, waiting to be executed with much more precision. The few scenes highlighted above feel as though they serve a purpose, that they say something about the character of Calgary and the complicated relationship its citizens have with their city. And then, there are scenes that outright miss the mark. For example, why do we need to hear about some guy, played by Demeanor, who avoids being robbed at the liquor store he works at because he was busy masturbating in the bathroom? Sure, the scene’s crassness is funny, especially with the way Demeanor tells it, but how does it serve the greater narrative?
Calgary’s nuisance animals later take the stage in a rather unusual scene. Clarke and Curtis play a magpie (misunderstood birds, by the way) and squirrel, respectively, and Hines plays a gopher. And that’s about it, really. The scene wins howling laughter from the audience, and then just keeps on going, not satisfied until its milked every bit of Clarke’s screeching magpie – “I’m a positive magpie!”
The audience is later subjected to a scene where Curtis plays a horse whisperer, and a horse, played by Lewis, sings his inner monologue to the audience. Also, Hines plays a landscape, and Clarke is the horse’s bottom half. The scene feels better suited for a David Ives play, than this show that tests the audience’s patience.
At least the ensemble present these scenes with a lot of zest and commitment to the silliness. Even so, the gallery of scenes feel inconsequential, fit for the cutting room floor.
One Yellow Rabbit had the chance to say something meaningful about Calgary, a city that they have called home for over thirty years, but instead they have chosen to squander it on cheap laughs. The disappointment is made greater by the fact that there are glimpses of brilliant wit and humour that run through the show. Unfortunately, the production suffers from a significant lack of polish, resulting in a lengthy, disjointed mess of ideas, each clamoring for attention.
Theatre goers at the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo can skip One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me.
One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me runs Jan 12 – 23 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons), as part of the 2016 High Performance Rodeo.
For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/calgary-i-love-you-but-youre-killing-me