Bard’s secondary characters at centre stage
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/01/2020 (1159 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s ShakespeareFest is in full swing, with more than 20 different shows written or inspired by William Shakespeare being performed around the city.
Several shows opened over the weekend, including Saucy Gal Productions’ O(phelia) and Impel Theatre’s I, Malvolio.
O(phelia), a new play written by Winnipegger Leigh-Anne Kehler, is an imagining of a missing scene in Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies.
This 45-minute two-hander is a conversation between Queen Gertrude (Kehler) and Ophelia (Melissa Langdon) that takes place by the river where Ophelia — at least in Shakespeare’s opinion — meets her demise.
Kehler, however, has other ideas about Ophelia’s fate, one that is more hopeful, even if its overarching impact isn’t clear. In Kehler’s version, Ophelia lives, which is great for her but sort of underwhelming within the context of the whole.
Kehler has penned the script in a quasi-Shakespearean style that is largely effective, though the occasional word sticks out as being pseudo-intellectual (“elucidate,” for instance), and it is gamely performed by the competent Kehler and the gifted Langdon, whose poise and elocution elevate the experience to something worth watching.
The direction and design by Matthew Paris-Irvine complements the material as well as the performances, while adding a pleasing esthetic flair to the proceedings, even if it’s never clear what the takeaway of the piece is meant to be.
I, Malvolio is a one-man show by Tim Crouch that is hot off a well-received run at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Performed by former Winnipegger Justin Otto and directed by Kendra Jones, this production brings Crouch’s acerbic and informative writing to life in a 90-minute whirlwind inspired by one of Shakespeare’s famous fools, Malvolio from Twelfth Night.
I, Malvolio is a special brand of theatre. It’s not by definition theatre of cruelty, although it is rather cruel if you hate any of the following: clowns, fart jokes, one-man shows or spending time with actors. Luckily — just like hanging out with actors — this play is also a lot of fun and a wild ride from start to finish.
See, Malvolio hates theatre and people and he really, really hates theatre people. He’s trapped within an art form he hates. There’s a plot, of course, and it relates to Twelfth Night in most ways, but that storyline is secondary to the pressing issues at hand — bullying, cruelty and audience agency within the institution of theatre — which are told in an entertaining, chaotic-neutral way by Otto, giving a career-best performance.
There are some stunningly abrasive moments that could have held out longer and some uncomfortable moments of eye contact when participants are sought in the audience, but I, Malvolio is by far one of the most interesting shows of the festival… perhaps even the past few years of Royal MTC’s Master Playwright Festival.
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Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.