Three cheers for Niagara’s intrepid theatre companies. It’s not many communities that can offer work as challenging and diverse as Albertine in Five Times (cross-reference below) and Possible Worlds in the same intimate venue within a few weeks of each other. Even better, both on and off stage, the companies’ actors and production staff frequently appear or assist in still more productions (Stray Theatre, Suitcase in Point, Carousel Players, Theatre in Port to name a few) providing much experience and a reason to stay put even as their talents may, necessarily, send them to bigger opportunities elsewhere.
With the potential of a full-service arts centre now more than a glimmer in the eye of well-meaning, not-for-profit boards, every performance can be seen as a stepping stone to the larger prize that will reward the tireless personnel who have cobbled these works together and the current (as well as largely unseen fence sitters who should more often be cheering these troupes on in person) patrons and volunteers who realize the potential for greatness.
“It’s always you in every world,” confesses George (Jason Cadieux) to one of several incarnations of Joyce (Stephanie Jones). Over the span of John Mighton’s fantastical play, the recurring love story intrigues at every encounter: an on-again/off-again relationship that personifies the old line, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” until the happy pair seem to be truly out of this world. Cadieux and Jones bring their considerable acting skills and life-sharing experience to these central parts, excelling in the playful aspects if, occasionally, at the expense of the darker moments.
What, intentionally, slight dramatic plotting there is revolves around Detective Berkley (Mac Dodge) and his ever-eager sidekick, Detective Williams (Miles Coverdale), who are hot on the trail of a serial lobotomist. Similar to Belle Moral: A Natural History (in that case, the ear of the family freak, cross-reference below), the brutally harvested body parts are drowned with life-preserving balm—all the better for The Doctor (Aaron Berger, doing extra duty as Penfield and The Janitor) to study the brain’s reaction to various stimuli.
All of these situations combine—on paper—into a truly marvellous look at how we variously present ourselves and how others perceive those disparate personas.
Unfortunately, director Peter Feldman gave his production staff a little too much rope, which left Mighton’s and the actors’ lines competing for dominance. Erica Sherwood’s sound design was full of good intention but soon became tiresome (notably the “trumpet noire” cool jazz that heralded the next cop conclave) or just too darn loud (once a scene has been established—be it the beach or a busy restaurant—a fade to barely audible would be appreciated by those on either side of the footlights).
Pat Rocco’s set and costume design was—on the one hand—too tame (the gruesome horror of discovering the latest victim of brain robbery was considerably muted by the pastel red of the head-covering sheet) or—on the other—too strident (extra-wide masking tape panels worked well on the rear wall but lost their metaphorical/structural potential on the floor). Similar to the soundscape, the slide show of medical renderings of human anatomy (the cerebral cortex making much more sense than the full-body frames) soon lost its punch, hugely overshadowing the all-important “blinks” coming from the caged gray-matter.
Over time, the carefully crafted subtleties of speech delivery (notably from Cadieux as he matter-of-factly conceded his criminal past) and body language were no match for the secondary supports of sight and sound. Enforcing the timeless adage “less is more” behind the scenes could lift this production out of a merely ordinary orbit and demonstrate Mighton’s brilliant possibilities as originally imagined. JWR