New play explores meaning of theatre

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Since fringe festivals have been rife with one-man Hamlet productions over the past few years, it may be necessary to clarify that The Player King, a new play by Ron Pederson, is not that.

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Since fringe festivals have been rife with one-man Hamlet productions over the past few years, it may be necessary to clarify that The Player King, a new play by Ron Pederson, is not that.

Mind you, the premise lends itself to it. A panicked actor (Rodrigo Beilfuss), searching for his absent castmates, comes upon an audience and tries to work through how he got there. His only stagemate is an ominously spectral musician (Cuinn Joseph) who limits himself to a running musical commentary to the nameless actor’s story.

A show must go on, if not the intended Hamlet show. So the actor tells his own story, interlaced with lines from the Bard to illustrate when appropriate, that is: frequently.

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO The Player King, written by Ron Pederson, runs until July 2.

It emerges that the actor comes from a background that may not be rogue but certainly qualifies as peasant slave, a young 19th century farm worker electrified by witnessing a performance by a ragtag itinerant troupe. He quickly becomes obsessed, even after finding that the author of these works is long gone. (“The same week I learn about Shakespeare, I learn he’s dead,” he laments.) Nevertheless, he finds his own way to the stage courtesy of a failed actor named Roger, found in a pub doing recitations for drinks.

They join forces, and then expand their troupe with the addition of Izzy, a nun who secretly worships at the shrine of Shakespeare. (Both Roger and Izzy are represented by a pair of makeshift mannequins.) After toiling in obscurity, he finally convinces his cohorts to let him play Hamlet.

Between the memories and flashes of agony (brought on by the shaking of a metal “thunder sheet” offstage), the actor slowly comes to the truth of his situation.

With a running time of a little more than an hour (without intermission), the show deviates from the usual SiR show in that it foregoes the promenade format to seat the audiences in a single location in the easternmost courtyard of the Trappist Monastery’s ruins in St. Norbert. And of course, Pederson is a very-much-alive scribe whose own influences, one infers, encompass non-Bard properties such as The Twilight Zone.

Directed by Pederson, the tone is fanciful and often humourous. But it’s not entirely a comedy. At its heart, it is a serious exploration of the meaning of theatre, and a timely treatise it is, given that live theatre is effectively rising from the dead after two and a half years in a pandemic-induced coma.

The casting is key. Rodrigo Beilfuss, the Brazilian-born artistic director of SiR was himself electrified by Shakespeare when studying English in a Winnipeg high school. So who better to aptly mirror the character’s passion for the playwright? Beilfuss does this with his characteristic ebullience.

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO Rodrigo Beilfuss, the Brazilian-born artistic director of SiR was himself electrified by Shakespeare when studying English in a Winnipeg high school.

The play is ultimately a celebration of stumbling through misery and darkness and finding light and joy in the unlikeliest of places.

randall.king.arts@gmail.com

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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