theatre review

by Joey Tremblay
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
October 26-30

This solo show by Joey Tremblay from Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre stars Chris Craddock as a big-city crime scene photographer named Joe who is haunted by his memories of a childhood summer spent with small-town Aunt Lou and his sweet-sexy little friend Carmen Angel, murdered on her eleventh birthday. The fragmented narrative, as reported and enacted for us by Joe, blurs memory and nightmare as it shifts back and forth in time and incorporates Joe’s frequent, vivid dreams of death. Though probably not intentionally, this is a great show for Hallowe’en.

The convoluted story is full of Gothic elements as well as suggestions of DaVinci’s Inquest, CSI, and Six Feet Under. Joe’s childhood is marked by his abusive father, Carmen’s eccentric, Faulknerian mother, a village idiot and a grotesque “eunuch” undertaker. As an adult, Joe frequents murder scenes and morgues when he’s not replaying his childhood terrors in dreamland. And through it all shimmers the ghostly memory of precocious Carmen, “a blonde movie Venus in the body of a wee, wee lass,” who talked of Persephone and pomegranates. At the end it becomes clear that Joe’s story-telling is also his exorcism.

In many ways Carmen Angel reminds me of Daniel MacIvor’s monologues, though Tremblay’s writing isn’t quite as tight or evocative. The story in fact turns out to be somewhat conventional in an “Ode to Billy Joe” small-town Gothic way. That doesn’t detract from the pleasures of its telling, however, which are considerable. Craddock has a wonderful talent for creating instantly recognizable characters with his body and voice, the latter often electronically manipulated in spooky, echo-y ways. Ironically, he’s less effective as Joe, a character he never seems entirely to inhabit.

But ultimately this is not so much an actor’s piece as a director’s and designers’. Its effects are dependent on the entirety of its mise en scène—the combination of all the elements on the stage. The set is a wall with five door frames, one covered with a stylized spider web. Joe weaves his way through the other four which become entrances into and exits from his various scenarios of memory and nightmare, always accompanied by dynamically shifting lighting, moody music and an array of exaggerated sounds: doors creaking open and slamming shut, camera flashes popping, and those amplified, distorted character voices. Full marks to Wade Staples’ sound design, Bretta Gerecke’s lighting and set, and the direction and original music of Jonathan Christenson, Tremblay’s long-time collaborator.

Edmonton's reputation as an exciting theatre town is usually associated with its amazing Fringe. Here's further evidence that something pretty special is going on there. Definitely recommended.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:08 PM
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