Thursday, 23 December 2010

Birth and death

So I'd noticed there was a Tuesday matinée for nativity at the National Arts Centre this week, and the Resident Fan and I took gross advantage of younger daughter's student status and between that and my subscription discount, got three tickets for the price of one. In the front row.

Browsing through his programme, RFB asked me what a "production dramaturg" was. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed Peter Hinton, the artistic director of the NAC, wandering through the aisles, clutching his coffee mug and making small talk which seems to have been his habit since taking over the position. I hopped up and waylaid him and he said she was a person that kinda drew every aspect of the production together. I guess it's something like one step out from being the director. He said it was an interesting question, but I bet he says that to all the theatre patrons.

Back in my seat, I glanced over to the seats rising to our right and noticed a really pregnant lady. I didn't want to stare, so quickly averted my eyes. Peter Hinton did his usual quick intro to the play, asked the audience to turn off cell phones and unwrap their candy now and got a huge round of applause for forbidding texting and blogging during the show. He then strolled out a side door, mug in hand, and I briefly wondered where he'd go before I heard raised voices a few feet to my right.

Two ushers were loudly questioning the really really pregnant lady and her husband about their tickets, and they said the box office had lost them and the ushers said that was shame but there was no room in the theatre. And the play had begun.

It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be, for younger daughter's sake: a musical, animals, about Christmas. We launched into a modern slant on a medieval mystery play with shepherds complaining in verse, a trio of angels doo-wopping in the background, and songs ranging in style from bossa nova to Stephenish Sondheimish, pulled off by a rather frighteningly talented cast. One of the shepherds, just for an example, was Diane D'Aquila who, among other things, created the role of Elizabeth I in Elizabeth Rex. Many of the other actors in a sizeable cast (even when doubling and tripling up on roles) had CVs that resembled encyclopedia entries, and, oh look... there was Peter Hinton. I learned later that for the final week of the run, he'd taken over the roles for Marcel Jeannin (another fabulous actor, by the way) who'd had to bow out for personal reasons.

The guy who seemed to be having the most fun was Réjean Cournoyer (one of the lengthier CVs) who was playing Herod as something like a cross between Captain Hook and J. Pierpont Finch. And then. And then the play veers from slapstick and camp into medieval mystery territory again with the slaughter of the innocents. The Angel of Death stalks the stage, and Herod turns into that most terrifying thing of all, the pragmatic politician, sending those who did his dirty work from the banquet to the place of execution. The heart-broken mothers sing the dissonant harmonies of the Coventry Carol. Because Christmas has myrrh in it. Christmas also has loss.With the enraged Herod sprawled dead beside the banquet table, we were back into the spirit slapstick and pantomime with the "Coyote Christmas, which I suspect was a separate play at some point. Three starving coyotes invaded the audience, looking for something to chomp. They debated over the five-year-old sitting next to the Resident Fan Boy (a modern kid who didn't seem the least bit frightened by the prospect of being eaten by coyotes), before figuring out the audience was comprised of humans and not sheep. So, as you can imagine, when the angel told them about the Lamb of God, they got the completely wrong idea. In the mayhem that followed, younger daughter, the RFB and I had to keep pulling our feet in to avoid tripping up the Holy Family in hot pursuit of three coyotes tossing Baby Jesus like a football.

It turns out for the best though. (How else could you conclude a Christmas play?) When the Roman soldier (Peter Hinton again) comes looking for a baby to impale, the coyotes continue to insist they've got a lamb, and Jesus is saved. The joyful musical finale was complete when the lady who'd been about to be tossed out the theatre in the beginning announced: "It's a girl!"

Back at home, still glowing from the show, I posted a link to the review in the Ottawa Citizen at Facebook, but couldn't get an appropriate photo to come up. (The pictures in this post were taken by Andree Lanthier.) Instead, I kept getting a thumbnail of a group of men in orange jumpsuits kneeling by what appeared to be the Rideau Canal. I later learned they were at the Rideau River. About the same time that younger daughter, the Resident Fan Boy and I were settling in to enjoy the play, a nine-year-old boy slipped into the Rideau River not far from where we live. Because Christmas has myrrh in it. Christmas also has loss.

Oh sisters two, how may we do
To preserve this day?
This poor Youngling for whom we sing
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

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