Beware the flying soapsuds in site-specific play
Sidemart presents Morris Panych’s award-winning Canadian drama, The Dishwashers, in a dank basement
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.