Zastrozzi, Bar Karpra and Bus Stops

3 Plays in 3 nights – color me Crazy! And color me lucky that I live in a city with so much relatively inexpensive live theatre! What fun it is to be able to pay under $15 to see great theatre.

And I’m not even a professional reviewer.

A statement that some of my readers might find disingenuous at the least. But marching on as always – I will attempt to both tease and torture my readers into keeping their eyes peeled for any of these to show up at a theatre near you!

First stop – Bar Karpra the Squirrel Hunter – which is a fringe winner trying way to hard to be a real piece of theatre. Cute for fringe, and not badly acted, and certainly well produced and staged – it’s a play in search of a strong story line. Unfortunately for the audience – it doesn’t find it. I read a review of this play that tried to defend this lack of point by describing it as a poem – well – it’s a badly written one then.

The staging however was quite cool – and I loved how the flowing side screens filled the darkened space with just the hit of forest green and white as the seasons changed. I also found some of the physical tricks appealing – not realizing until the very end that two of the ‘flat’ surfaces in fact were padded. Neatly done. But good staging does not a great play make.

Fast forward 2 nights to Bus Stops. Put on by one of our professional theatre groups – and costing the viewer significantly more than Bar Karpra – it suffered from many of the same ills. And given that the same set designer created both productions – I suppose it makes sense that both should be more about glorious set design than about story.

Too bad I care more about story.

Bus Stops – being far more polished and professional – is perhaps the bigger disappointment. If we pay more – we expect more. And Yes – Bus Stop delivered more – more tumbling, more special effects, more surprising bits and pieces – but still the lack of directed story line was so distracting that it took away from the whole.

Too often I was left wondering – why did that actor just do that? Why does that one seem so angry, that one so bored. We know from the start that there has been a tragedy – but we don’t know until the end exactly what happened – altough there is plenty of opportunity to guess.

And then there were the cute bits of switching clothing. Neatly done and very interesting – but how does dancing with shirts contribute to the story line? Are we to understand that each person is representing several other people? Ok – I get that. But did they have to dance with the shirts to prove it? Weird.

The set of course is another story. It’s a bus that has been bombed – and the frame work provides the actors with places to swing, hang, fold, fall, and pose. As time goes by – parts of the bus are dismantled – I’m guessing to show how the story is unfolding. Neat stuff – but just not quite enough to make up for the lack of a clearly developed and fully realized story.

Ah – but then we have Zastrozzi. Stunning, fabulous, intriguing, stimulating, challenging, exciting, fun, entralling, exciting, and well worth paying to see. As you probably guessed – I loved Zastrozzi.

It is primarly a fight fest – the 5 actors (3 men, 2 women) fight with everything on stage – bottles, fists, palms, whips, rapiers, and knives. There’s sexual tension – including a ‘rape’ scene where the two participants are sitting near each other – but never touch. There are several extended sword duels – with plenty of dramatic flourishes to keep the result of the duels in questions.

The set itself is almost completely empty – a trunk is dragged from side to side to represent various pieces of furniture – but that is all the set there is. And yet the lack of a set is not a problem. It doesn’t distract from the play – it actually contributes to the feeling of emptiness that all the actors suffer from.

And yes – there is a story. It’s not an easy simple story, and I’m not going to even attempt to summarize it. Enough to say that all the fights make sense within the larger pictures. And isn’t that what we want – things to make sense when seen as a whole.

Zastrozzi is not a new play – it was first performed in 1977 – so I suspect that it is likely to end up being staged elsewhere. But for now it’s on at the Mainline until March 20th, 2016. If you miss it – you will be missing something grand.

Signing off to see even more theatre – The Soup Lady.

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