Saturday, October 08, 2011

counting loonies, trying not to say

Summer of My Amazing Luck
- Sage Theatre

I guess it really shouldn't have come as a great surprise that the audience was packed with Manitoban expats. I ran into three in the lobby alone.

When you stage Miriam Toews' well-loved first novel of luck (in all its forms), friendship, and finding community in a Winnipeg public housing project, people are going to come in droves. And when you are Sage Theatre, an institution with a reputation for producing thought-provoking and brave theatre, you will find yourself with sold-out houses, as has been the case with Summer of My Amazing Luck.

Part road trip, part buddy act, part vaudeville revivalist revue, Summer of My Amazing Luck is narrated by Lucy (Caley Suliak), a teenaged single mother who lives in the Have A Life housing project, where she and her best friend Lish (Myla Southward) struggle to find creative solutions to the boredom of poverty while dealing with a soul-destroying welfare system.

With only three actors and one musician (Chris Gamble), this play is a masterpiece of split-second timing. Particularly impressive is the chameleon-like ability of Graham Percy to portray a vast array of characters, carrying all the male roles and several female parts. The resourceful use of screens and lighting facilitates the often lightning-quick changing of roles, while also serving as Lucy's memory, where characters from her past reside.

The set for Summer of My Amazing Luck is simple, a table and chairs pressed into service as a bathtub, a bed, and famously, a rundown van with a toilet plunger as a stick shift. The ramshackle piles of kids' toys that line the entrance to the theatre and festoon the sides of the stage area serve as a reminder that this is a world peopled with women and young kids. Lots and lots of kids (many of them played with unsettling precision by the versatile Graham Percy). These toys also serve as some of the most creative stage props I have ever encountered.

Men in this world are peripheral - distant fathers, unknown lovers, hostile case workers - but those brave enough to hesitantly approach the borders of this female world often find themselves accepted with good humour. For, despite the truly poignant underpinnings of this story - moments of loss and isolation, of death and desperation - this is a story filled with humour; the sold out crowd laughed aloud throughout the two-hour play the night I attended.

Miriam Toews, of course, is dead funny, and much of the humour in this play can be attributed to her clever words. But much of it is also due to the sketch comedy nature and the rollicking pace of the production. I had concerns about how such a sprawling novel would translate into a stage production, but needn't have feared. Toews' words have not just been adapted to the stage through the gifted vision of playwright Chris Craddock (BASH'd!: a Gay Rock Opera), they have undergone metamorphosis. And in the capable hands of the talented young cast, under the direction of Kelly Reay, they have come to life.

Summer of My Amazing Luck ends its run at Sage Theatre with tonight's sold out performance. But if you run, you can still make this afternoon's matinee.


mister anchovy said...

this reminds me that it has been ages since I've seen a play!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You need to get yourself to a play, Mr Anchovy. They're good for the soul.