SummerWorks: Capsule Reviews (Piano Tuner, Gilgamesh, Parrot/Tennessee, Apricots)


I’m pretty behind in my reviews and SummerWorks is nearing completion. I’m also getting burned out on plays after seeing four plays yesterday (I was scheduled to see Doppleganger and Underneath today but am passing on both from theatre over-exertion, so I apologize to those shows and to SummerWorks for cancelling on them) and 15 in just 7 days.

I’m also getting a little tired of writing full-length reviews of shows I didn’t love. Contrary to what some might think, I really do wish I could write rave reviews of every show. It sucks to write poor reviews, it’s way more fun to write good ones. As such, I’ll have full-length reviews of Greenland and the Sunparlour Players show shortly, and here’s some quick thoughts and capsule reviews of four shows I’ve seen since Friday: The Piano Tuner, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Under the Parrot/Over Tennessee, and Apricots.

The Piano Tuner [Twinwerks] – The venue, Cameron House at Queen and Spadina, really killed any affection I might’ve had for this show. In the small stage area in back it was ridiculously hot, conversations of people going to the bar’s kitchen or bathroom and noise from the bar nearly overpowered the actor’s voices during a few segments, and some guy, with about ten minutes left in the show, pulled the curtain back, stared at everybody for a few seconds, then pulled it back again.

Most SummerWorks shows are under an hour, but Piano Tuner came in at a hefty 75 minutes, perhaps explaining why the offsite venue was necessary. And they make nice use of the cramped space and the two actors in the show have fine chemistry. But frankly, the show is at least 25 minutes too long, and just RELENTLESSLY bleak. Every new scene seems mostly about why the two protagonists, who are twin brother and sister that are trying desperately to avoid their feelings of attraction for each other, have such shitty lives. The subplot about their parents murdering an opera singer isn’t bad, but it develops way too slowly, and their own story could use some judicious editing. 75 minutes of two people talking about how much they’re suffering and trying to avoid their incestuous sexual desire for each other in a cramped, hot, noisy venue was just too much for me. Shows this bleak require air conditioning.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (up until the part where Enkidu dies) [Groundwater Productions] – I felt a little sorry for people in the audience who didn’t know the story of Gilgamesh, my favourite epic poem from antiquity. It’s not a bad adaptation, it just comes across as overly complicated. It may just be too much story to fit into an hour-long show; even though it’s really just the first half of the traditional Epic, there’s an awful lot going on. That’s why I found it so surprising to see the play spend so much time on what I thought were some pretty minor plot points. The choice to dress the cast in a manner you might expect to see in a Mad Max-type post-apocalyptic story is a little strange too. Still, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio (pictured above) is terrific as Enkidu, the most well-written part, and the presentation of the monster Humbaba is pretty interesting. But the battle with Humbaba gets short shift because of all the time spent back in Uruk, with Gilgamesh acting like a jerk and screwing all the women in town. To my mind Gilgamesh is a great story, but one you can distill into a few strong themes to focus on, like the power of friendship, fear of one’s own mortality, and abuse of power. This adaptation emphasizes the power abuse, then seems to get bogged down in the details, but to be fair, I can understand that; I’ve tried to talk more than one person into reading the Epic (Stephen Mitchell’s translation is very good) and I’d probably want to present as much of it on stage as I could too.

Under the Parrot/Over Tennessee [Theatre in Exile] – Oh boy. This review is one I was dreading.

I really don’t want to be dismissive or mean. But the friend I saw this with and I were just confounded by Under the Parrot/Over Tennessee. It’s too bad, because even in a show as incomprehensible as this one it’s clear that the two actors/playwrights are very talented performers who’d be captivating in any number of things. But the material they’ve written is just…baffling. Val Campbell plays a boy, presumably homeless, who runs afoul of an old man, Gail Hanrahan. They mostly speak to each other in an unintelligible language, as theatre clowns are wont to do (the front of the program labels this an “Adult Clown Show”). Eventually they bond with each other over a book of Tennessee Williams plays, which they perform scenes from. And that’s it, really. The old man/little boy clown thing seems to be little more than a bizarre framing sequence for Campbell and Hanrahan to do some select Williams scenes. There’s a few parts that are just bewildering and I’m not even sure how they fit in to the overall story, and at one point Campbell and Hanrahan call each other by their first names and criticize each other’s acting, and I don’t know why. I wouldn’t hesitate to see these two in something else. But I didn’t enjoy this show at all.

Apricots [QuipTake] – I know what Apricots is trying to do: it’s a play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that tries, as the English say, to take the piss out of it. There’s a valid point to be made about seeing this conflict from the perspective of the people involved rather than from a geopolitical perspective, or the “our suffering is great than yours” contest that Jewish-Arab debates sometimes devolve into, which is actually where the play gets it’s funniest scenes from, of which there are all too few.

Yes, there is humour to be found in this kind of stuff. Yes, it is helpful to humanize these sorts of matters with it.

But Apricots doesn’t really accomplish that because the jokes mostly fall flat. There’s impressions of the Prime Ministers of Israel and Palestine and the president of the US, but they’re not recognizable as parodies of real people. There’s some other broad caricatures, like a couple of Hamas bombers, an Israeli plumber, an Arab farmer, and a Rabbi who speaks in unintelligible Hebrew-like mumbling. But how can jokes about the female Prime Minster of Israel being a lesbian and who the Rabbi says dresses like a whore be funny when there hasn’t been a female Prime Minister of Israel since Golda Meir in the 70’s, and I really don’t think that’s who this is supposed to be? Where’s the comedy in one of the Hamas bombers taping worms to rockets and naming them “jihad” before he launches them, then singing songs about them feasting on the dead?

There’s a plot about the Jews wanting to build sewage pipelines through a valley where the Arabs are growing apricots, but all it really produces are some pee jokes and people onstage throwing apricots at each other and giggling about how they have a lot of fibre (which makes you POOP! HA! AMIRITE?). There are other one-liners that are pretty clearly calculated to be as offensive as possible and don’t arise from the plot at all (including one comparing an apricot to a Chinese woman that had me scratching my head).

It’s been a rough couple of days for shows.

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Summerworks, Theatre