Beware the fly­ing soap­suds in site-spe­cific play

Side­mart presents Mor­ris Panych’s award-win­ning Cana­dian drama, The Dish­wash­ers, in a dank base­ment

Montreal Gazette - - Culture - MATT RADZ

What’s a nice Cana­dian play like The Dish­wash­ers do­ing in a dark base­ment un­der a wine bar? Mon­treal play­go­ers are about to find out as Side­mart com­pany’s pro­duc­tion of Mor­ris Panych’s kitchensink drama opens to­mor­row to launch the new sea­son with a most timely re­minder – theatre is not merely a build­ing, but an idea car­ried about by mot­ley char­ac­ters in per­pet­ual chase af­ter dra­matic space.

That’s why the Mon­treal pre­miere of The Dish­wash­ers, first staged in Fe­bru­ary 2005 by Van­cou­ver’s Arts Club Theatre un­der its au­thor’s di­rec­tion, has ended up un­der BU: Bar-à-Vin, a pop­u­lar wa­ter­ing hole on the up­per Main.

It’s “a dank and dreary place,” ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor Andrew Shaver, who at age 30 is among the new cadre of ded­i­cated, well-trained stage artists chang­ing the way Mon­treal’s English-lan­guage theatre op­er­ates and re­gards it­self.

Dank and dreary hap­pens to be per­fect for Panych’s modernist drama about pearl divers (plongeurs) toil­ing in what the stage di­rec­tions call “the cel­lar of a restau­rant.” The lowly toil over “piles of dishes im­pres­sively high,” Panych’s di­rec­tions con­tinue. “To one side a dumb waiter, bring­ing more dishes. Other wash­ing equip­ment; sprayers, scrub brushes etc.”

“The venue ex­ists within the re­al­ity of the play,” said Shaver who has done this sort of “en­vi­ron­men­tal theatre” be­fore. Side­mart en­tered the buzzing Mon­treal indie scene last De­cem­ber with an ac­claimed pro­duc­tion of David Mamet’s Amer­i­can Buf­falo. Di­rected by Shaver, it lit­er­ally blew the doors off Main­line Theatre. Play­go­ers be­came com­plicit in the drama as soon they hit the pun­gent back al­ley they were re­quired to nav­i­gate in or­der to en­ter the re­con­fig­ured space via Main­line’s back door.

Shaver fondly re­mem­bers the il­lu­sion cre­ated by the back-door gam­bit. “One per­son told me af­ter­wards, ‘I didn’t know you could do a play in a junk shop,’ ” he said. “Guess he has never been to a play at Main­line be­fore.”

The Dish­wash­ers’ de­sign team has found a pro­fes­sional dish­wash­ing unit with a work­ing power-spray hose but Shaver ad­mit­ted that the dumb waiter had him puz­zled un­til they came up with an in­ge­nious so­lu­tion to this par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge of “site-spe­cific” theatre.

“For a while we thought of hav­ing a silent ac­tor, Gra­ham Cuth­bert­son, play the ‘dumb waiter,’ but the con­cept wasn’t right.”

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, putting on a Cana­dian play con­tin­ues to be seen as a huge risk in an­glo theatre, but Side­mart’s dar­ing and in­no­va­tion don’t stop at choos­ing Panych. “In­ti­mate theatre” is also viewed as un­af­ford­able in main­stream cir­cles, so Side­mart is break­ing an­other taboo by putting The Dish­wash­ers in a hy­pe­r­e­al­is­tic space barely large enough to ac­com­mo­date 25 play­go­ers plus four hot­shot ac­tors with their tech crew.

In-your-face theatre? The base­ment au­di­ence will not only be able to see the “spackle,” it might have to duck fly­ing soap­suds.

“Spackle is the Achilles ten­don of dish­wash­ing,” ac­cord­ing to Dressler, the play’s philo­soph­i­cal lifer played by Alain Goulem. Only the hot sprayer will re­move spackle, Dressler in­structs his ide­o­log­i­cal foil, Em­mett, a.k.a. the New Guy, played by Pa­trick Costello. “Spackle. Know what I’m talk­ing about? Stuff that hard­ens on the plate. Tomato coulis, béchamel, pesto ... Parme­san. Get to know your en­emy.”

Also in the cast, Chip Chuipka as Moss, a Pin­teresque old man, and Kyle Gate­house as Bur­roughs, the next “New Guy” for Dressler to tyr­an­nize.

Side­mart, (the com­pany’s full name is Side­mart The­atri­cal Gro­cery) will put on two more pro­duc­tions this sea­son as the sec­ond-stage res­i­dent com­pany at the re­fur­bished Se­gal Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts.

Side­mart will in­au­gu­rate the Cen- tre’s new Stu­dio theatre Dec. 2-16 when Dubliner Bryan Quinn di­rects Trad, a new Ir­ish play about an un­usual fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship by Mark Do­herty. Shaver will join Costello and Cuth­bert­son in the cast.

The lat­ter is writ­ing the stage adap­ta­tion for the com­pany’s fi­nal of­fer­ing of the sea­son, next May, The Haunted Hill­billy, “a shock­ing and macabre re-imag­in­ing of both the life of Hank Wil­liams Sr. and the mod­ern mu­si­cal,” based on a novella by Toronto’s Derek McCor­mack. stag­ing of one of the most con­tro­ver­sial plays of the past decade – My Name is Rachel Cor­rie, Dec. 6-22 at Mon­u­ment Na­tional.

Cor­rie was a young Amer­i­can Jewish wo­man who joined a peace move­ment in Gaza com­mit­ted to us­ing non-vi­o­lent but di­rect ac­tion to re­sist the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion. She was crushed to death in 2003 try­ing to stop an Is­raeli bull­dozer about to de­mol­ish a Pales­tinian home. The play, based on en­tries from Cor­rie’s diary and her emails home, was writ­ten by ac­tor Alan Rick­man and jour­nal­ist Katharine Viner. It was orig­i­nally staged in 2005 at Lon­don’s Royal Court Theatre.

Hailed by the Pales­tini­ans as a hero and a Jewish an­gel of peace, Cor­rie was de­scribed by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment as an ir­re­spon­si­ble pro- tester invit­ing death in a com­bat zone.

Toronto’s CanS­tage, which planned to put on the play as part of its 2007-08 sea­son, can­celled it late last year, at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of In­ter­net “Zion­ist con­spir­acy” the­o­rists and con­cern about the ex­er­cise of po­lit­i­cal power by theatre board mem­bers seek­ing to con­trol reper­toire.

In 2005, the New York Theatre Work­shop, yield­ing to pres­sure from its board, dropped plans to pro­duce the play, a de­ci­sion that prompted charges of cen­sor­ship from Rick­man.

RICHARD AR­LESS JR. THE GAZETTE

Dish­wash­ers di­rec­tor Andrew Shaver (left) with ac­tors Chip Chuipka and Pa­trick Costello: The restau­rant-cel­lar venue will limit the au­di­ence to 25.

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