Sunday 18 October 2015

For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again is a step back in time & place & temperament

From the footlights : This resuscitated 1998 script by Quebec's Michel Tremblay (trans. Linda Gaboriau) is a two-hander about a boy slowly morphing into manhood with mom his primary mentor & playmate. He recalls through narrative and dialogue the special bond he as her youngest son, the "artsy" one, had with her. Born of native Canadian stock in simple backwoods Saskatchewan, Nana is anything but simple. She's rich and round and robust. She's a storyteller, a chatterbox, a bristly critic of life and family, a dervish of love. This is a bigger-than-life Nana frozen in time as if in a 50's snow-globe. 

How it's all put together : Tremblay's alter ego and the show's Narrator, Kevin Loring, is mostly a foil for Margo Kane as Nana. Kane reprises her 2014 Talking Stick Festival performance, and the show is really an extended set-up for Kane to charm and bullyrag and kvetch over family snapshots starting with her son when he was in snowpants. Loring feeds Nana one-liners, and from there the result is a one-woman show of wit and charm and physical comedy reminiscent of what Nicki Cavendish would do -- did, some 17 years back -- with the script. Make, as it were, a valentine of loving remembrance. Everyone has a Mom or a Granny they'd like one last jawbone with. This was Tremblay's effort when he was 50-something to re-create Nana's trademark gestalt of blustery good cheer before cancer struck and took her during his 20's.

The script put me to mind of the late U.S. basketball coach Joe Valvano who offered up this Rx for life to his fans in a final emotional reunion. "Every day," he said, "do three things : Think! Laugh! Cry! And when you consider it," he added, "any day you can do those three things has been a really good day." And so it is with FTPOSHA, as if Tremblay is saying "Give it to us, Nana, one more time, give us all of it." 

The gist of the gab : Not coming from such a family, I try to imagine it : each day, hour after hour, son and mom talk about the low-brow novels she loves. They jibber-jabber over family foibles and frailties, about Aunt Gertrude's ability to cadge regular dinner invites at Nana's expense for burnt but otherwise undercooked weekly roast beefs. They engage in a lengthy exchange over what it must have meant to have been "blue blood nobility" across the pond in France without ever mentioning Robespierre or Napoleon. 

Occasionally insomniac, Nana is also a bit of a Platonic dreamer e.g. she notes actors "disappear" from the screen and her mind at each show's end and wonders whether t.v. audiences "exist" for the actors they're playing to.  But mostly she was a person who "never tackled important subjects directly -- she'd talk a blue streak trying to avoid her concerns," Narrator admits, including whether her son cavorts with homosexuals (as it might have been put at the time).  She also frets : "I worry you're not settled, that you'll spend the rest of your life dreaming about the life you want to lead."

Then, too, these two telling observations about his mom : "Sometimes she was the only one who understood the point of her stories" -and- "When a person starts talking to you there's no knowing where it will end."

One might easily conclude Tremblay thought his Nana a bit of a ditz or airhead. Anything but. As a nascent writer, he was charmed and thrilled to be "mesmerized by her words", Narrator tells us.

Acting hi-lites :  Of Cree heritage, Margo Kane as Nana nails her characterization delightfully. The facial nuances, the inflections, the bouncy Big Mama, she's got it all. She is also Director of the show and manages to block herself cleverly. Lots of fussy mama in housedress and kerchief stage business involving the perfect! chrome kitchen table & matching chairs, a wodge of fake flowers and the omnipresent floor mop. Clearly the scene-steal of the night was her satirical snap of niece Lucille's two-minute role as the fairy queen in a ballet performance of Cinderella. The house roared her every mocking eye-twitch and stumbly toe-point.

For his part Mr. Loring manages some very appropriate facial grimaces and voice modulations to match the various ages he portrays. His blocking, however, I found distracting : he was welded to a centre-left leather chair all evening, only jumping up when Nana doubles over in pain from cancer at play's end. His staging needed to be more kinetic, less static. Narrator's nervous notebook jottery was symbolically the right call, clearly, but a constant fussing-&-flipping through the stack of books at his feet would have been much more interesting to watch than him just sitzen.

Who gonna like : As the header says, this is a "step back in time & place & temperament". Born just a few months ahead of the Boomer crowd, I remember conversations particularly among my grandma and her friends akin to what Tremblay / Gaboriau set out in this piece. It was an epoch when family and neighbours gave each other more face-time, when sharing gossip and tall-tales was the stuff of days, not just moments. Folks born in the 30's and 40's who want a wee wink of what that time felt like at heart for a boy and his mom, well, FTPOSHA just might fill the bill.

Particulars :  Playwright Michel Tremblay. Translation by Linda Gaboriau.  Production by Full Circle : First Nations Performance. Performances at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert, Richmond through October 24th. Run-time 90 minutes, no intermission. Schedules vary daily. Ticket information via or by phoning 604.270.1812.

Artistic Team :  Director Margo Kane.  Original Director Glynis Leyshon.  Set and Costume Designer Pam Johnson.  Original Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Lighting Associate Graham Ockley. Composer and Sound Designer Bruce Ruddell.  Stage Manager Ingrid Turk.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn.  Production Manager Josef Chung.

Performers : Margo Kane (Nana). Kevin Loring (Narrator).  


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