by Joey Tremblay
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
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
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.