September 18, 2019

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Bittersweet comedy plays out in the key of Coward

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/2/2015 (1682 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Emerging Winnipeg playwright Logan Stefanson has borrowed the title of the Noël Coward song You Were There for his modern update of the British playwright’s 1935 one-act drama Shadowplay.

The rest of his credible contribution to CowardFest is all his own and the musical fantasy is brought to dynamic life by a multi-skilled young cast and a harmonious style of presentation from director Tatiana Carnavale.

This is not the Coward of such sophisticated comedies as Private Lives or Blithe Spirit, but the work is Cowardesque in the way Stefanson’s dialogue reaches beneath the surface in search of deeper emotions. It is fitting, as Coward’s most repeated line in Shadowplay is “Small talk, a lot of small talk, with other thoughts going on behind.”

You Were There introduces two unnamed former lovers who find themselves thrown together again in some undefined state, where they are compelled to watch pivotal moments in their relationship repeated. She (Dorothy Carroll) immediately resists the romantic replay. Her onetime beau (Aaron Pridham) suggests hopefully that fate has a way of bringing people together. “Not for us,” she says sourly.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/2/2015 (1682 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Emerging Winnipeg playwright Logan Stefanson has borrowed the title of the Noël Coward song You Were There for his modern update of the British playwright’s 1935 one-act drama Shadowplay.

The rest of his credible contribution to CowardFest is all his own and the musical fantasy is brought to dynamic life by a multi-skilled young cast and a harmonious style of presentation from director Tatiana Carnavale.

This is not the Coward of such sophisticated comedies as Private Lives or Blithe Spirit, but the work is Cowardesque in the way Stefanson’s dialogue reaches beneath the surface in search of deeper emotions. It is fitting, as Coward’s most repeated line in Shadowplay is "Small talk, a lot of small talk, with other thoughts going on behind."

You Were There introduces two unnamed former lovers who find themselves thrown together again in some undefined state, where they are compelled to watch pivotal moments in their relationship repeated. She (Dorothy Carroll) immediately resists the romantic replay. Her onetime beau (Aaron Pridham) suggests hopefully that fate has a way of bringing people together. "Not for us," she says sourly.

The night of their first meeting begins to play behind them in shadows on a large sheet and they watch with varying degrees of discomfort. The flashbacks are acted out by the super supporting cast of Emily King and Elliot Lazar, who also play other characters, sing the opening and closing numbers, and move set pieces on and off the makeshift stage at the MAP Studio. Their versatility favourably augments virtually every scene.

He and she meet at open-mike night at a nightclub, where he tries out a new, angst-ridden ballad that doesn’t go over well with the audience, although she is a fan. The 20-somethings slowly progress to holding hands, arguing about whether they are a couple, becoming intimate and a public humiliation.

They don’t seem well-suited for each other and are never quite on the same page. She is aloof, unsentimental and forever correcting his grammar, while he is emotional needy, clumsy and intent on making some grand gesture to her that always ends badly.

They don’t even agree on the accuracy of some of the memories. The only emotion they share at the same time is embarrassment — they both cover their eyes with their hands — when they relive their first sexual encounter, amusingly executed in shadows.

Carroll and Pridham are promising performers who have no trouble representing a typical couple seeking a connection. They project an emotional honesty and create a real chemistry that makes them highly watchable.

There is a melancholy tone of loss that hangs over You Were There. The people in the audience are voyeurs, eyewitnesses to a relationship doomed by romantic illusion. Stefanson, in his first full production, reveals the uncomfortable underbelly of love, in which masks are worn to make us more desirable but only succeed in concealing our true selves.

The many transitions between past and present are seamlessly achieved by director Carnavale. She and Stefanson both leave the audience guessing as to where the couple are meeting each other again. The beeps and disembodied voices suggest one of them is in hospital and they have been brought together in the realm of the unconscious.

The evening ends on a bittersweet note with Lazar singing a lovely rendition of You Were There, which concludes with the line, "The earth became heaven, for you were there."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

 

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