Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Castle at the Storefront

It seems I am emerging from the fog of work more or less unscathed.  Though I was so exhausted last night that I didn't use one of my Black Friday coupons.  C'est la vie.  Even though I longed to take a catnap on Friday after work, I pressed on and made it up to the Storefront to see The Castle on its opening weekend.  (There are two weeks to go, and I suspect there will be a fair bit of buzz about this play, so you might want to go here and find out more about it and perhaps book early.  There is even a coupon code for $10 tickets the rest of the weekend, but you'll have to go there to get the code.)  I'm glad I went, as it was definitely a charged play that kept me fully awake and engaged with the material, though then I crashed like a complete zombie after I got home. 

There is a fair though somewhat unsympathetic review in Mooney's already, and I suspect Now and the Star will weigh in soon.  I am quite impressed that they managed to snag actors with a wide range of experience, both from the Toronto independent theatre scene and the Stratford crowd and somehow it hangs together.  I agree that the script is challenging.  It has many moments that are just ludicrous, and it is approaching Monty Python and the Holy Grail territory.  Then there are more serious discussions of power, including the military architect who says, quite accurately in this play at least, that building a castle will eventually attract people who will attack it.  I really loved the theological discussions between the lord of the manor -- who was nonplussed on his return from the Crusades to find that his wife had basically turned the place into a feminist commune -- and the priest who had abandoned the church (figuratively and literally) and had to be press-ganged back into service (starting with mucking out the church, as it had been turned into a kind of barn or stable).  The scenes between the lord and the priest, as well as the architect, the lord and the lord's right-hand man were absolute highlights.  They had a bit of wackiness to them, but then real meaning (or perhaps a steeliness of purpose) underneath.  The castle builder was droll, but more comic relief than anything.  I thought Claire Burns was good as the witch, but the role itself was sometimes a bit unsatisfactory.

As the Mooney reviewer indicates, this is a difficult script, and I'll try to get my hands on a copy soon (it appears Robarts has a copy).  Barker is mostly working out different issues related to power, sex and religion, and there isn't much of a through-line to follow.  I enjoyed it a lot, and I think it was one of the more interesting things to hit the Toronto theatre scene this year.  (In terms of sheer enjoyment of a "difficult" play, The Castle is somewhat edged out by Albertine in 5 Times.)  But it isn't for everyone.

Just as a head's up, there are two weeks to go for the King Lear at Theatre Passe Muraille where the play is set in Canada in 1837.  An interesting choice for sure, and some of the reasoning behind it is discussed in this preview.  Anyway, for theatre lovers in Toronto, this is going to be a busy couple of months as the year winds down and we head into winter.  Hopefully I will end up refreshed, rather than drained, by seeing some of these moving yet often difficult productions.  And perhaps I can actually carve out a bit of time this weekend to do some creative writing, since there has been so much to inspire me lately (even though I didn't make it into the Fringe, which would have been an extreme wake-up call...).

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