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THEATRE REVIEW

may 2018 | Volume 167

 

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  Cast of Bears. Photo by Alexis McKeown.

BEARS
by Matthew MacKenzie
Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre
The Cultch Historic Theatre
May 8-12
From $22
www.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
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Bears advertises itself as an “unapologetically political” play. And it is that, a ferocious attack on the oil sands and the Kinder Morgan pipeline, co-produced by two Alberta companies, playwright/director Matthew MacKenzie’s Punctuate! Theatre and Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts. But it’s also very funny, theatrically fresh and delightful, a change from the kind of pro-environmental work we’ve come to expect on our stages.

Sheldon Elter, a large, lithe and sensational Métis actor, plays Floyd, an oil fields worker involved in an unexplained workplace accident, who flees Alberta and the pursuing RCMP for a journey through the BC wilderness along the Kinder Morgan pipeline route. In the course of narrating his journey, Floyd tells us about the environmental degradation of his work place and finds BC, with its clearcuts and mine tailings, no better.

Floyd is also a great fan of grizzlies. As his journey progresses, he becomes more and more like a bear himself. This trope is supported by the play’s wonderful use of a chorus: seven women dancers in Brianna Kolybaba and Monica Dottor’s excellent white costumes, who play a wide range of animals—from butterflies to sheep, birds, fish and otters—and provide funny choral commentary, almost always punctuated by an f-bomb. Dottor also choreographs, superbly, the dancers swirling around Floyd who gets into the action himself, including in a great pas de deux with a female grizzly.

MacKenzie’s writing is wry and offbeat. After the chorus of chickadees saves Floyd from a landslide, he says, “Chickadees were something a guy could count on, like caffeine and momentum.” When Floyd, standing in a clearcut, observes female grouse failing to respond to the mating ritual of a male, the chorus says, “Nothing kills the mood like a fucking clearcut.”

T. Erin Gruber’s lighting and set—textured rocks and mountains on flats—are nicely effective, as is Noor Dean Musani’s symphonic hip hop sound design. Playing Floyd’s mother, Christine Frederick stands off to the side, dispensing soft-spoken wisdom and protection. Frederick is fine but the part is underwritten.

It’s great to see another Aboriginal company delivering such fine work, and it’s exciting to know that the Resistance is alive and well in Alberta.

Jerry Wasserman

 

 

 

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