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April, 2004 - Nr. 4


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KW and Beyond

  by Irena Syrokomla

How I Learned to Drive
at The Theatre & Company

Paula Vogel’s play How I Learned to Drive was the winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama .It is a difficult play restricted to an audience aged 16 or over. The director Stuart Scadron-Wattles has chosen this play dealing with a subject not much mentioned or publicly presented: incest, how it occurs and develops in a typical family, step by step, line by line, and gradually involves in the play, - not only the actors but the audience as well.

Theatre & Company's "How I learned to drive" features Carly Street as Li'l Bit and Richard Quesnel as Uncle Peck  [photo: Kate Holt]The background is so classic, family gatherings, grandma and grandpa functioning in the background like a Greek chorus, an aunt making comments on how a young girl should act, an uncle struggling with his alcoholism, a young girl for whom no one has time. The lonesome girl is willing to offer companionship and attention to the uncle, who begins to struggle with his sexual feelings for her, each of them playing a game of " setting the limits" and " there is nothing wrong" and " it is our secret". Uncle Peck’s part is acted by Richard Quesnel, seductive, manipulating, persuasive, at the same time gentle, a so well known type. The part of the girl, Li’l Bit is played by Carly Street, confused with her own budding sexuality, curious, frightened, in many moments torn between her defensive instincts and social requirements to be polite to an authority figure, to behave as told and not to offend an adult family member. What is happening in front of our eyes is so familiar, a game of double-meanings, layers of socially acceptable behaviour, little secrets, good-intentions, roads leading to one of the most disgusting family secrets: how incest develops, how is it possible, who is the instigator, is the victim simply a victim, or is it all more complex than that. At the end of the play the audience sits in dead silence – we all know uncles and young girls just like them, they live among us, or do we?

The play accomplishes still more: it makes us question the norms and values of the society, how do we treat little girls, and how do we teach them to behave, what do we encourage, what do we praise and then accept. How blind are we to affections between uncles and nieces, stepfathers and stepdaughters, family friends and young girls. Are they all unhealthy and dangerous? How can we tell? Or in our own insecurity not to offend anyone, not to imply the unspeakable, we rather stay silent and blind? In the society where little girls are dressed up in sexually provocative costumes, taught how to move their hips in dance, encouraged to compete in beauty contests, eager parents wishing them to be like Jon Benet Ramsay – why are we surprised that adult males find them sexually attractive? Why are we outraged at the increasing trend in pedophilia and Internet porno-sites showing young children – aren’t we all, as a society, allowing and even adding to it?

It is a difficult play. It is a difficult subject. At the opening night the house was full, the audience showing appreciation for deeper subjects and better theatre. The snacks provided by Art Bar in the foyer were delicious. How I Learned to Drive is running at Theatre & Company downtown Kitchener till April 17. Box office number is 519-517-0928.

Man of La Mancha
at The Waterloo Stage Theatre.

For the uptown Waterloo theatre Man of La Mancha, as directed by Lezlie Wade, is a large and ambitious production. It is a musical engaging a total of 17 actors/singers plus a 4 piece live band. Having a live band makes it much more pleasant than it would have been with canned music. The stage setting (by Stephen Degenstein) is quite elaborate and, if I am not mistaken, the theatre is equipped with a professional voice support system. Thank God and modern technology for that! Costumes by Traudie Kauntz Rea are also pretty amazing and fit the historical period.

Chris Wilson as Don Quixote and Andrew Scanlon as Sancho in "Man of La Manncha"  [photo: Courtesy of Waterloo Stage Theatre]The story – or rather two stories told on two levels – is that of Miquel de Cervantes, a poet by vocation and tax collector by trade, who is imprisoned at the time of the Spanish Inquisition for being too diligent in his job and foreclosing on a church. While in jail awaiting his fate he and his servant are being set up for a mock trial by other prisoners determined to rob him of his few possessions. In order to defend himself he proposes to act out his story of an errant knight Don Quixote de la Mancha. The story of his fantasies and madness, initially naïve and laughable, gradually develops into a world of its own, grabbing the audience and carrying everyone through to the final conclusion. The well-known melody of " The Impossible Dream" and other songs tug at your heart, so well known, thankfully so well performed and coming alive in this production.

Christopher Wilson is a dream come true in the role of Cervantes/Don Quixote with his operatic trained voice and powerful presence. I have always found it amazing that the actors are expected to possess voices and sing some of their roles. In this production all of the leading voices are amazing, professionally trained, others worth mentioning in this limited space are Andrew Scanlon as Sancho Panza, Theresa Noon as Aldonza/Dulcinea and Allan Gillespie as Padre.

The theatre was sold out to the last seat and the bar stools. The audience was appreciative and offered a standing ovation. What can I say, the theatre is coming into its own, the production team has matured and is capable of putting together a really good play, more than four actor comedies. Good luck in the future and let us know your plans for the next season!

We are really lucky to have two good professional and affordable theatres staging plays through the winter and entertaining us year after year.


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