Shadow Theatre & Northern Light Theatre: “Meat Puppet”

On Saturday, Mack and I took in a matinee performance of Meat Puppet at the Varscona Theatre, a show put on jointly by Shadow Theatre and Northern Light Theatre (speaking of which, NLT has such striking poster designs this year – the use of dolls is eye-catching and inspired, though I suppose the poster for Pervert may not be embraced by all).

This show will be the introductory production for many to the work of Leif Oleson-Cormack, though he has also written shows for the New Works and Fringe Festivals. That said, Meat Puppet’s dark nature, exploring the motivations behind a fictional television program similar to NBC’s much-maligned series To Catch a Predator, is a departure from his previous two Edmonton shows. Meat Puppet is billed as a comedy, however, so I still expected it to highlight Leif’s wit and penchant for snappy dialogue.

The banter was enjoyable, particularly between the show’s host, Chuck Dalmer (John Hudson) and his plucky producer Deb (April Banigan). On the other hand, the tone of the play was perplexing – it tried to straddle the line between comedy and drama, but probably would have been more successful if it had chosen one or the other. I suppose for me, anyway, shows like To Catch a Predator always seemed to lure viewers with a morbid curiosity, rather than those looking for a cheap laugh – so the downfall of the “predators”  always seemed more tragic than funny.

I did like the connection of this kind of train wreck journalism with the internet sensationalism that continues to gain momentum today, however – it might be even more dangerous than television because of its instantaneity and ease to be shared.

If anything, Meat Puppet was a thought-provoking play, especially in this age of reality programming, where producers and editors can manipulate – and sometimes create – the “truth”.

Meat Puppet runs at the Varscona Theatre until February 6, 2011.

Theatre: “Urban Tales”

On Friday night, I went with a friend to watch Northern Light Theatre’s Urban Tales 9: Night Nurses in an Insane Asylum at the Third Space. Four separate playwrights wrote anecdotes for each of the four characters, which were then edited together to form one coherent play. From the program:

“On a dark and stormy Halloween night, an electrical storm unleashes the inmates, and perhaps a few ghosts, to terrorize Dorothy, Midge, Betty Ann and Vivian.”

This was my first Urban Tales experience, so unfortunately I don’t have any past productions to compare this one to, but what I did not expect was a glorified reading. Yes, there were costumed actresses, sound and music effects, and lighting design, but the actors for the most part read from the script! Each actor even had their own music stand, which made for quite the awkward commute between the very-small stage and an additional stand set up just in front of the stage to showcase the individual monologues.

That said, Annette Christie, who played Dorothy, was by far the standout for me, as she had to voice her lines entirely in the stereotypically “giggly girl” nasal, and provided many comedic moments with her doe-eyed delivery. There was also some interesting work with a projector that flashed a variety of images onto a makeshift curtain screen just to the right of the stage. An image of a catatonic patient with vacant eyes was particularly spooky, and did much to set the mood for that scene. In addition, the sound technician has to be singled out – the necessary timing involved with inserting a *lightning flash* here, and a *creepy howl* there seemed more taxing than in other productions I’ve seen. In all, although I jumped a few times, and my imagination was exercised, Urban Tales 9 pales in comparison with Marty Chan’s The Bone House, my benchmark for chilling theatre.