A Little Art for Your Palette

Sometimes you just don’t want to go to the theatre. I know that’s a strange way to begin a review, but it’s the truth. Sometimes we’re simply not in the mood to trundle down to that well-known place where we sit in quieted darkness and commit 60-150 minutes of our lives to a journey into one specific entity. Sometimes we’d no doubt like to dabble into a number of different things, and to be able to come and go as we pleased. Sometimes we’d like to sit and socialize and eat good food and have drinks. Well, if sometimes we just don’t want to go to the theatre, what if the theatre came to us? And not in a brash and aggressive way either (we do, after all, like being able to sit and socialize). No, what if the theatre came to us on our own terms?
Such is the genius of Garry Williams and the Café DaPoPo. The last Thursday of every month, upstairs, in a coffee shop/bar called Menz Bar on Gottingen Street in Halifax, is a little theatrical haven waiting to be discovered. Upon entering, guests are presented with two menus. One is a typical restaurant food-type menu, while the other lists a selection of theatrical treats (including scenez, songz, shtick, sonnetz, soliloquiez, show tunez, Shakespeare, sock puppetz, sweet dessertz, rantz, lecturez, happeningz, and surprisez) that can be ordered by individuals or by entire tables. Like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, the guests of the Café decide what sorts of theatrical meals will quench their artistic hungers this particular evening. The actors (who rotate a bit each month) prepare an impressive spread of possibility, but only perform the choices of their audience on that particular evening. It’s an intimate arrangement, if you have ordered a piece the actors stand close, sit at your table, sock puppets sing over your shoulder and you are thrust into the center of the action. You become a scene partner, a character yourself in this magical world, or at the very least, a cohort in the kookiness. What is even more fascinating, however, is the theatre that you are not quite privy to. The monologue that is performed just beyond your earshot suddenly looks fascinating. A scene plays out like a silent movie across the room. And, as performer Keelin Jack states, “if you see something that looks interesting, you can always get up from your chair and go take a closer look.”
The huge appeal for me in Café DaPoPo is that it presents its theatre in succinct smatterings with wide variety. Essentially, you get to dabble. It’s like buying a platter filled with selections of Hors D’oeuvres; you can have a little bit of Shakespeare, one scene from a Brad Fraser play, a song from Into the Woods, and a few pages read aloud from a Charles Dickens novel all in one night (and for cheap!). This way the audience gets introduced to an array of different theatrical and literary works without the concern of being bound to something lengthy that doesn’t suit its tastes. Like at the finest restaurant, everyone is offered the potential to walk away with something new to explore more fervently.
Some highlights from the Café last evening (Thursday, May 28th, 2009) were; Andrew Chandler’s beautifully tender, simple and earnest rendition of “What More Can I Say” from William Finn’s Falsettos (about which Haligonian actor and audience member Kathryn McCormack said, “it was queer, and I liked it!). Chandler and Kristi Anderson’s performance of “Therapy” from Jonathan Larson’s tick…tick… BOOM! was especially hilarious. The show-stopping moment of the evening was the ensemble number, performed by the company spread throughout the entire space. It was a parody of “One Day More” from Les Misérables entitled “One Play More,” a revolutionary call to arms for independent theatre to stay true to art and love rather than surrendering to the artistic perils of the commercial theatre. This proved a rabble rousing anthem, especially since Menz Bar was filled with many of Halifax’s most well known theatre artists. The song was pointedly relevant, witty, hilarious, and especially showed off the lovely vocal talents of Garry Williams and the impressing belting skills of Amy Reitsma. It was greeted by an eruption of cheers and audience members leaping to their feet with pride.
The Café reminds me of a mixture of Commedia Dell’Arte and Vaudeville; a space where theatricals are thrust toward its audience with swiftness and diversity, but not always as meticulously perfected as you would see in an entire production. The result is that sometimes the treats are a little rough around the edges, but in this roughness comes the freedom to explore with the audience and to learn through practice and most importantly, the freedom to play. If something doesn’t work, it can be thrown away, if something magical emerges organically, it can become incorporated into future shows. I am not sure how the DaPoPo cast rehearses, but I do think that some of the scenes may benefit from a stronger directorial voice, as a few that I saw had a tendency toward hesitant and aimless movement.
In all though, Café DaPoPo is a perfectly entertaining way to spend a Thursday evening. And in a city where full-scale productions of celebrated Canadian plays and complex, contemporary musical theatre are rarer than flying pigs, DaPoPo may be just the evening needed to satisfy your hunger for Independent Theatre.

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