The Halifax Herald Limited 06/21/2014
Copyright © 2014 The Halifax Herald Limited 06/21/2014 June 22, 2014 7:26 pm
MAGNETIC NORTH REVIEW
ANDREA NEMETZ firstname.lastname@example.org ARTS REPORTER
Many people dream of flying, but if you see Halifax Theatre For Young People’s Two in the Coop, you’ll want to climb into the nest. The 40-minute show that tells the tale of two young birds exploring their exciting, and sometimes frightening, world played Friday morning and repeats on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth as part of Stages Theatre Festival, running in conjunction with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Ron Fromstein’s comedy, described tongue-in-cheek as “Waiting for Godot for Birds,” is directed by Halifax Theatre for Young People co-founder Tessa Mendel, and stars Tom Lute and Taylor Olsen as Pete and Brad, respectively.
Brad, who hatched first and is therefore older, bosses around the enthusiastic, optimistic Pete. He proudly says he’s nearly a bird, while Pete is merely a hatchling. Brad is more cautious and he’s protective of his younger brother, both physically and emotionally, trying to shield Pete from the fact that snakes and hawks that inhabit the jungle are predators and might eat them.
Their relationship, with the competition and familiar sibling fights, is delightful and symbiotic, proving that together they are stronger than one. Their love is palpable.
The set, designed by Garrett Barker, and the costumes by Emlyn Murray, are fantastic. The giant nest, a circle of sticks and greenery, which the birds stick their heads through, or perch on to view their world and watch out for their mother, elicits gasps. And the feather-covered costumes in beiges, with a touch of blue, are whimsical and realistic at the same time.
Both Lute and Olsen are believable as birds, occasionally squawking, flapping and munching on worms. Olsen tenderly tucking Lute under his wing is a particularly sweet moment.
Two in the Coop occasionally drags, but is ultimately a touching and heartwarming piece of theatre.
Halifax Theatre for Young People presents two very grown-up plays about the pain of growing up.
Innocence is lost, tough choices are made and the world becomes cold and confusing in In The Fall, a lush and lyrical adaptation of an Alistair MacLeod short story, for ages eight and up, and In This World, a play about two urban high school girls caught up in a minefield of race, class and a date gone terribly wrong. It’s aimed at Grade 9 and up.
In This World, by hot young Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, is a remarkable play that leaves its audience stunned after a terse, tense and revealing encounter between Neyssa and Bijou.
Neyssa, portrayed with humour, honesty and depth by Bermudian actor and recent Dalhousie theatre grad Helena Pipe, is the brash and vulnerable daughter of a Jamaican single mother. Neyssa’s high marks have gotten her into an elite private school, which director Tessa Mendel makes the Grammar School. Neyssa lives in north Dartmouth.
Bijou, played with precision, honesty and strength by Dalhousie theatre studies student Kristin Slaney, is a pretty white girl who has befriended Neyssa. She lives virtually alone in a huge house while her parents work in demanding professional jobs. She is dating Neyssa’s cousin and is unaware of Neyssa’s culture and the pressures in her life.
When Neyssa punches Bijou in the school hallway, the two girls are sent to a classroom to await a teacher. They spar verbally, revealing the terrifying, complex territory of date rape.
Staging the play simply with chairs, a projected photograph of an empty hallway and a sparse use of sound, director Tessa Mendel lets the power come through the strong dialogue.
In This World, commissioned in 2010 by Montreal Youtheatre, is a complex, thought-provoking play. It would make a good starting point for discussion. While there is not much bad language or graphic detail, the issues are serious and the answers about how to behave are left up to the audience.
While In This World is gritty and low-tech, In the Fall is rich in design. It casts a spell through storytelling magic with dramatic photographs on three screens, a pungent use of sound and two actors taking on multiple voices and characters.
The story is a sad one set in Cape Breton in the 1950s, in a home on hardscrabble land on the seashore. The father is about to go to Halifax for the winter to work as a stevedore and the mother insists his old, beloved pit pony be sold for slaughter instead of fed all winter.
The heartache in this story is like an accelerating train. The photographic image of a large horse’s head in black with a halo of white is branded in the audience’s mind.
Professional Halifax actor Doug MacAulay, originally from New Waterford, and Glen Matthews, nominated for a 2010 Merritt for outstanding actor in Logan & I, have to shift seamlessly from telling the story to acting within it, and from being young boys to a haggard mother, a stern father and the nasty man who’s come for the horse.
The style works, particularly as the story gains steam and the actors gain strength inside their imagined world. MacAulay is strong as the mother and the horse driver.
Halifax Theatre for Young People co-artistic director Chris Heide decided to adapt MacLeod’s short story only using the author’s words. He maintains MacLeod’s distinctive rhythm and sea-steeped nostalgia.
In the Fall, like In This World, is also very real. Eight-year-old animal lovers might find it too much. However, this half-hour play also deeply examines difficult, adult choices and demands within the bonds of family.
In the Fall has a great metaphoric set by lighting and set designer Evan Brown, as well as vivid design elements by Terry Pulliam on sound; Nick Bottomley on projections and Jennifer Coe on costumes.
HTYP is pairing these two provocative, finely produced plays for youth as a 90-minute show and also staging them separately at Alderney Landing Theatre.
The plays run together Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 15 to 19, 7:30 p.m. They run separately with talkbacks today and Sunday and Nov. 19 and 20: In the Fall at 2 p.m. and In this World at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 per show; $15 and $10 for the double bill and are at ticketpro.ca or 1-888-311-9090.
The Halifax Theatre for Young People’s dynamic duo
The Halifax Theatre for Young People—you know what kids are cool with? Rebranding!—presents a pair of two-handers best seen together. Glen J. Matthews and Doug MacAulay ably and sensitively anchor In the Fall as James and David, brothers barely in their teens in Cape Breton in the ’50s, while Kristen Slaney and Helena Pipe are Bijou and Neyssa, two contemporary teens, in In This World. The former was written by Chris Heide, adapting too faithfully from an Alistair MacLeod short story—the actors narrate more than converse, the precise, dense, evocative language sometimes pulling focus from director Tessa Mendel’s simple but clever staging. But it’s a compelling story, as we see the moment the boys’ innocence is stolen by a perfect storm of poverty and greed. In This World was penned by Toronto rising star Hannah Moscovitch, and here the staging is even more efficient: two chairs inside a box, no breaks. They once were friends but now Neyssa’s punching Bijou out. While waiting in the principal’s office the girls work back to the moment of betrayal, and to the surprise of all, it’s much bigger than the usual teenage tiff. Slaney and Pipe are excellent, switching Thelma and Louise-style from victim to aggressor, over and over, until they come to an understanding, shared and grown-up and terrible.
The Gravesavers: Magical Theatre for Young and Old.
I try really hard not pre-judge shows, but I had read Sheree Fitch’s YA novel The Gravesavers, and it seemed to me that the new theatre company, Halifax Theatre for Young People, was being overly ambitious in mounting it. It just didn’t seem possible that a play could convey the time shifts between 1873 and present-day in an easily understandable way, or that it would be able to capture Fitch’s lip-slippery language and offbeat characters.
Spooky, Spunky and Smart: There’s Nothing Dead About These Gravesavers!
Growing up in Halifax it was a rite of passage to have this poem by Sheree Fitch imprinted on your heart. Indeed, Sheree Fitch was as much a part of a complete childhood as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Sesame Street and sleepovers. It seems quite appropriate then that Halifax’s newest theatre company, Halifax Theatre for Young People, should choose another Sheree Fitch classic, the novel The Gravesavers, as the basis for its first play.
The Gravesavers Well-Told, Well-Made
The Gravesavers leaves you with a shiver. Halifax Theatre for Young People’s first production is an intense, 90-minute journey into a present-day teenager’s distress and into the 18th century shipwreck of the S.S. Atlantic not far from Halifax. Adapted by Chris Heide from Sheree Fitch’s novel for young adults, the play crackles with poetic and insightful writing, credibility in its young characters and an affecting, spooky atmosphere of time past and present. There are lost souls here and the play’s overall message is one of forgiveness and remembrance.