SummerWorks Reviews: Post-Eden, The Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smackheaded Peter, Ride the Cyclone

promo photo for Atomic Vaudeville’s
Ride the Cyclone

As SummerWorks winds down for another year, I’d like to thank the festival on behalf of the Panic Manual for accrediting us again. Here’s a few more reviews, hopefully you were all lucky enough to catch one of these or a different show from this great festival.

The posters for Suburban Beast’s Post-Eden call it a live film. This is an apt enough term for a show where two large video screens dominate the stage and the cast monologues and acts for a while in front of filmed scenes of themselves. The concept is interesting enough, and the presentation is certainly innovative. But the story lets the production down; it’s a bit prosaic, and much as it struggles to tie a few disparate story threads together, it doesn’t quite manage it.

Susan (Sascha Cole) and Robert (David Coomber) are a married couple trying to sort out their lives after a messy affair. Their teenage daughter Ashley (Jenna MacMillan) finds herself drawn to local brooding teen Jacob (Kevin Walker) who’s convinced that the world is about to end. And Eden (Lindsey Clark) is the family dog, who died of a protracted illness. The attention the sick dog got left Robert feeling unloved; Ashley, meanwhile, is convinced that the deceased dog is restless under the ground in their backyard and has cursed the family.

Having a person play the dog is not nearly the weirdest thing in this show; a couple of the images that come across the screen are very odd, like the one where Ashley and Jacob have rubber animal masks on and make out in the street. Stuff like that is way too abstract for this show’s good, as it’s hard enough to believably mesh live acting with filmed scenes without trying to throw in that level of bizarre too. For such a central plot point, the “curse” of the dead dog doesn’t really get much play. The parent’s storyline ends up being a fair bit more interesting than that of the two teenagers. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about wildlife in the area acting up, but it’s all talked about a lot more than it’s shown and mostly seems extraneous to the plot.

Still, the production wins points for creativity in presentation, and the cast is pretty good, with extra credit to Clark, who gets partially buried in sand on stage, something I’d sure not want to be doing every other night for a week and a half.

(after the click: Smackheaded Peter and probable fan’s choice pick Ride the Cyclone)

Hopefully all fans of Jesus allegories and Cockney accents caught The Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smackheaded Peter during it’s SummerWorks run. “He’s like Robin Hood…but with smack” reads the tag line on the program. This is apropos, I suppose, though with the number of times the protagonist refers to himself as a god he’d probably consider Robin Hood comparisons inadequate.

Did I like it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I left the theatre feeling a little disoriented, and I still haven’t really managed to sort out my feelings on it. There’s certainly some fertile story ground here; you might not think that the world would be a better place if heroin was cheap and plentiful, but it’s at least an interesting theory. Bryan Demore does a really nice job with the title character. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is almost always a pretty strong subject, and it remains so here, with Peter’s rise and fall within his drug-filled London ghetto a fine central theme.

But the attempt at a “play-within-a-play” is confusing. Having all nine cast members on or around the stage at all times, intently watching the action if they’re not in it, is distracting, and some of the roles are so small that it feels like having a separate actor for each is unnecessary. Peter pontificates more than he speaks to most people, which wears after a while, and the whole thing is probably at least ten minutes too long.

So, did I like it? Man, I dunno. Kind of?

Finally, Ride the Cyclone‘s production values are through the roof. This is probably why so many people were talking about it; going into a show at a festival like this where you have to set up and strike the set in under an hour evey time, you kind of expect most shows are just going to be one guy with a chair on an empty stage. This show, though, this show had a big backdrop and curtain, a big carnival wishing machine/mannequin like that one that granted wishes in Big, and a half dozen choreographed song & dance numbers.

It’s a tale of six members of a teenage chamber choir from Uranium, Saskatchewan who are killed in a roller coaster accident. Karnack is a machine that tells the dates of people’s deaths, and gives them one last chance to perform after the accident before they move on to the afterlife. It does this out of guilt because it read their palms just before they got on the roller coaster, but didn’t tell them they were about to die.

From there, we get a song cycle of pieces from each teen about who they were in life and their regrets after their untimely deaths. Comparisons to the TV show Glee have already been stated, but the feeling of a rather macabre and twisted version of that kind of bubbly high school choir stuff is unmistakable. It’s exceptionally well done, and sets a pretty high standard for what can be put together within the SummerWorks time constraints (though, to be fair, this show was done once before in Victoria).

However, a couple of tunes are quite a lot better than others; of the six song and dance numbers, probably two are very good, two are just ok, and the last two are kind of weak. Sarah Jane Pelzer has the most amazing voice among the six of them, but her character has probably the least interesting segment, which leaves her pretty underused.

But I liked it a lot; the parts with the date of death telling machine were especially great, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it won the audience choice award.

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Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks

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