Wednesday, January 16, 2019


LEFT TO RIGHT - Louise Lambert as Carmell, Jesse Gervais as Ty, 
Kaitlyn Riordan as Laura, Sheldon Elter as Barry
A fire started 15 kilometres southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on May 1st 2016. At its peak the fire covered 85,000 hectares and displaced the entire city. 2579 homes were destroyed by the disaster, which had a total financial impact estimated at $10 billion - easily the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. Though officials say that humans most likely started the fire, a definitive cause has never been determined.

* from the program notes for AFTER THE FIRE

The current production of Matthew Mackenzie’s AFTER THE FIRE is, forgive me, a blazing success. The aftermath of such a tragic event is not the place where one might expect to discover great comedy. Nevertheless, by turning catastrophe into a domestic dramedy of sorts, the playwright continually goes for the laughs and succeeds at every turn. Even the simple and effective set/props landscape has its comic moments as mounds of dirt, truck nuts, and hockey innuendoes surface with great power, creating cross narratives and bold imagery that both sadden and lighten the impact of a recurring environmental apocalypse. Global warming smoulders beneath the questions being raised as four characters in search of no real answers make their way through a disturbingly hilarious and predictably terrifying predicament.
The cast is skilfully blocked by director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett as the performers race around the playing space with breakneck pacing and rapid-fire dialogue, giving the play a frantic tone of desperation and reflective conflict. On opening night some of the detailed dialogue went missing as extreme physicality frequently interfered with crisp vocal delivery. Nevertheless, a standout performance by Louise Lambert as Carmell, marked by clear powerful enunciation and emotional diversity, reveals the requirements of a script hell bent on rapidly wringing humour, hostility, and poignancy from a complex and tyrannical mixture of greed, mystery, camaraderie, and tragicomic mishap.
Jesse Gervais as Ty delivers a mixed performance that finds its strength in a fine sense of vocal delivery and a wryness of facial expression and physical clumsiness that casts him as the haphazard manboy trying to atone for his at times misidentified, at times toxic behaviour that contributes to the greater issues at hand - when will a collective reconciliation between 'man'kind and all its cohorts begin to reign in our increasingly reckless behaviour? Who is responsible for the fire and how long will communities in the midst of apocalyptic turmoil live within a kind of social and cultural denial about the effect of industry, technology, and out of control consumerisn that destroys the land? As Ty, Gervais represents a skilled mixture of loveable buffoonery and frightening out of touch social and cultural behaviour, symbolizing the greater activity of a global 'civilization' that simultaneously builds and destroys.
Sheldon Elter as Barry adds a stabilizing poignancy to the overall tone of the performance narrative as he delivers speeches about a strange bird that simultaneously make him the butt of a symbolic joke, as well as a spiritual harbinger of great insight and wisdom. His connection to the land both alienates and magnetizes his presence as he attempts to make sense of the natural world he loves - a world that is being destroyed at an ever increasing rate.
Kaitlyn Riordan’s Laura provides another stabilizing element as she takes on the role of Carmell’s conflicted confidante and invaluable friend. Her final scene with Lambert - and an agonizingly absurdly hilarious prop - give the final moments a shocking ad satisfying punch. We may leave the theatre without a final resolution regarding the fire, as there may never be one, but we do leave with the memory of a playwright's incredible knack for taking the worst of times and finding domestic strife and humour all within the same blazing chaos of a planet under siege by its own hapless inhabitants.
Opening night provided a moving and extended land acknowledgement that framed the narrative with spiritual guidance that contributes to an ongoing testament to the ways in which we may try to find forms of solace and reconciliation in the midst of environmental chaos.

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