Like A Bucket of Spilled Paint: One Yellow Rabbit’s ‘Calgary, I Love You’ is Colorful, but a Total Mess

Members of the Ensemble in One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, But You Are Killing Me. Part of the 30th High Performance .jpg

Members of the Ensemble in One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me. Part of the 30th High Performance Rodeo. Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

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

Paddle Song Stages Life of E. Pauline Johnson

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Cheri Maracle stars as E. Pauline Johnson in Paddle Song, written by Dinah Christie with Tom Hill. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

If any famous Canadian deserves a Heritage Minute, it’s poet E. Pauline Johnson.

The daughter of a Six Nations Mohawk Chief and an English mother, Johnson toured across North America and England in the late 19th century, earning recognition everywhere she went. Audiences and literary critics, both contemporary and modern, praised Johnson’s poetry for its evocative imagery and urgent voice. Through her poetry, Johnson brought attention to the struggles of women and First Nations people.

Johnson’s life is chronicled in Paddle Song, written by Dinah Christie with Tom Hill. From her childhood days spent on the Grand River to the early days of her prosperous career, and beyond, the one-woman show stages an elegant presentation of the poet’s life. Canadian actress, singer-songwriter Cheri Maracle stars as Johnson, delivering a performance best summed as genuinely captivating.

The set-up is fairly straightforward, as most biographical plays are. Paddle Song takes the audience through the poet’s upbringing, her inspirations, and most importantly, her insecurities. Johnson’s insecurities stem from her entering into a field historically dominated by (white) men. The praise written about her in the papers is uplifting, but also the cause of much anxiety as she feels burdened with expectations (magnified by her status as a woman of mixed heritage).

Johnson also deals with the difficulties of touring, specifically the physical strain on her body. Perhaps fueled by a desire to prove herself, Johnson continues touring despite her body telling her otherwise.

Maracle’s wonderfully nuanced performance makes clear the magnitude of Johnson’s accomplishments. In Maracle, we see a young woman who is both excited, but also terrified at the revolutionary path she has set herself on. From Maracle’s performance, the audience gains a sense that Johnson truly appreciated every moment of her fame, as maybe she thought it might disappear at any moment – fearing she might be a fad in the literary world.

Maracle’s performance also sees lots of sharp quips and asides that radiate confidence. Her stage presence is marvelously magnetic. Her performance is a true delight.

Over the course of the play, Maracle recites a selection of Johnson’s poetry, including one of her most well-known works The Song My Paddle Sings. Maracle performs Johnson’s poetry with tremendous grace and power. The emotion in her words during A Cry From An Indian Wife is volcanic. Her talent brings Johnson’s poetry to life, and will undoubtedly lead many in the audience to seek out more of the poet’s work.

Christie’s energetic direction sees this humorous, touching play move effortlessly. The director goes for simplicity here, following the adage of ‘less is more’. Johnson’s canoe is nothing more than a bench, and that’s all Maracle needs (besides her paddle) to transport us to the river.

Often the literary contributions by women are overlooked or obscured by those made by (white) men. And so, staging plays like Paddle Song is critically important to the task of exploring and establishing a well-represented canon of Canadian literature. (Which is why the Heritage Minutes were mentioned, as they shape and influence the public’s cultural knowledge bank).

Co-presented by One Yellow Rabbit and Lunch Box Theatre, Paddle Song is a beautiful production that audiences should make every effort to see at the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo.


Paddle Song runs Jan 11 – 23 at Lunchbox Theatre , as part of the 2016 High Performance Rodeo. Paddle Song is a co-presentation by One Yellow Rabbit and Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including ticket information, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/paddle-song

For more information about Cheri Maracle, visit her website: http://www.cherimaracle.com/

 

Radioheaded Three Rocks The Big Secret Theatre

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The Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) watch carefully over Denise Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists. Photo credit: Diane + Mike Photography.

Created and directed by Denise Clarke, Radioheaded 3: A Listening Party to Watch stages a vivid, politically charged interpretation of Radiohead’s 2003 album Hail to The Thief.

In its first few minutes, the show makes clear who its opponents are. Its opponents are the Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) – a trio of “capitalist assholes” in suits. Before he takes his seat, the group’s leader calls the audience a bunch of hippies “who probably voted for the NDP.” Yes, the three men are not far removed from the current political landscape.

A mad frenzy ensues as Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists enter the theatre. Almost immediately, the artists rush the audience in an effort to sell Happiness. “I need to fill my quota,” says one of the desperate artists in her sales pitch.

Corporate greed, social injustices, they are all fuel for rebellion, but no such uprising takes place here. Worked to the bone, the artists have no energy to revolt. Control and routine have subdued their anger, a fact the Authorities cherish.

Although, one man (Thomas Poulsen) holds out hope that change is possible. Trying to revive their spirits, he asks the artists not to give up and give in to the powers at hand. His efforts, however, are in vain. The one artist who rises up (Pamela Tzeng) is swiftly hammered down.

As the full album plays, the lyrics to every song are typed out on a large projection screen. Designed by Wil Knoll, the projected transcriptions feature typos, corrections, and other imperfections which complement the production’s overall raw qualities.

Though raw, the production never feels too loose, or out of control. Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists are a tight ensemble who demonstrate fearless commitment to the movement. (At one point, Poulsen’s bed spins wildly in circles centre stage with Tzeng hanging on one of its sides).

Where the production is weak is in its neon/glow-in-the-dark effects. The tape used to illuminate/outline the artists and props during one particular scene works only for a few, leaving some artists in the dark entirely. (Think of a series of bulbs where a handful are burnt out). So, while the idea is interesting, its execution leaves something to be desired.

Nonetheless, Radioheaded 3 is a visually exciting show that explores Hail to The Thief’s dread towards the future. Clarke holds a mirror to the audience and asks us to reflect on the conditions that make young people today feel so apprehensive about their futures.

Clarke’s Radioheaded 3 holds a tight grip on its audience from start-to-finish with its inspired movement that calls for action.


Produced by One Yellow Rabbit as part of Sled Island 2015, Denise Clarke’s Radioheaded Three: A Listening Party to Watch runs June 24 – 27 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: http://oyr.org/