katie swift and stewart legere
As a young theatregoer in Halifax, Nova Scotia even a decade ago, it never even occurred to me that theatre did not have to be something that was written in some faraway time and some romantic place. Now, however, with new theatre venues such as the Bus Stop and the Plutonium Playhouse which are dedicated to nurturing and developing new work, some of Nova Scotia’s most insightful, provocative and inspired productions are ones conceived in this very time and place. A Rescue Demonstration running at the Plutonium Playhouse until June 5th, 2010 is one of the best examples of this new and exciting wave of stunning Haligonian theatre.
A Rescue Demonstration was conceived and devised by Stewart Legere and Katie Swift with director Ann-Marie Kerr and together these three powerhouses of the Nova Scotian theatre submerge their audience into the twisting journey of two rescuers who are searching for meaning and anchoring amid their feelings of insignificance and helplessness. “What happened here?” asks Mary, a nurse, to a Paramedic named Edward at the site of a fire, and from this seemingly routine question is launched a heart rendering tale about a small boy named Ezekiel whose fate is both tragic and nauseating and a powerful unlikely union between two heroes victimized by their own compulsion to save others.
The play is constructed in a series of vignettes that keep its audience continually piecing the aspects of the narrative together while still becoming utterly engrossed and moved by each individual moment. It builds steadily toward a logical, and beautifully poetic, conclusion, but the play is not about any one revelation dominating the arc of the story. The dialogue at times has a briskness to it which heightens the theatricality of the interactions between Mary and Edward and distorts the audience’s perception of whether these characters’ lives are unfolding for the first time, or whether these events are being remembered, dreamed or imagined. Edward and Mary speak with a solemn candour about their innermost thoughts and feelings, which make these characters and the story they weave immediately compelling and a rich relationship develops nearly instantly not just between these two first responders, but also between the characters and their audience.
Ann-Marie Kerr has presented this play in the round, with audience members on all four sides of the playing space, so Legere and Swift are entirely enclosed and the intensity of the viewers is concentrated strongly on the middle of the room. This construction also means that the audience is privy to seeing the action from various interesting angles and proximities, and it is sometimes limited in what access it has to the performers. Kerr keeps the play very dark and the use of fire and swinging light bulbs is very evocative of secrecy, nightfall and desolation, all themes existent in this journey, but the continual swinging bulbs are also reminiscent of the precarious light that we all scamper toward in the hope of it leading us out of our nebulous tunnels. There is much swinging in A Rescue Demonstration and Legere and Swift, along with Kerr, also capture a delightful sense of fun and humour amid some sombre and serious themes. There is a beautiful scene that evokes the bright blitheness of childhood giggles and a hilarious sex romp that embraces its own awkward, strange uninhibitedness with perfect panache.
Katie Swift and Stewart Legere both give beautifully sensitive performances which are the essence of this play’s vividly beating heart. Swift is utterly endearing as wide-eyed bespectacled Ezekiel, as her portrayal cements this boy firmly in our hearts within seconds of being introduced. Her Mary is strong, methodical and does not mince time or her words, which gives each word she speaks greater significance. Mary’s longing for someone to love and her fear of losing control over someone she feels for so deeply is beautifully communicated from Swift’s heart to ours and she sings with a voice like a classic Disney Princess. Stewart Legere’s Edward is more wistful and it is clear that he struggles to cling to his idealism even as days of continual tragedy threaten to wash it away. Legere is earnest and filled with integrity in this role even as Edward loses control of his ability to save himself. He also gives a spirited performance as a befuddled 911 Operator, sings gorgeously, and rivals Swift in his ability to recapture the innocence of youth.
“Who knows what the world is gonna be now; it could be most anything,” this line from the play emphasizes the ultimate precariousness of our lives. This is a fact that first responders like Edward and Mary must confront continually as they react to situations that they were powerless to prevent or control. A Rescue Demonstration is a celebration of love and our desire to protect what is precious to us, but it is also a celebration of surrender and of the magical power allocated to us in our ability to choose.
A Rescue Demonstration plays Wednesday June 2nd, Friday June 4th at 8pm, Saturday June 5th at 2:00pm and Sunday June 6th at 8:00pm at the Plutonium Playhouse (2315 Hunter Street, Halifax). Please note that the performance on Thursday June 3rd is SOLD OUT. Tickets are flying and seating is limited so I strongly suggest that you call the box office at 902.423.4653 to reserve your tickets right this very moment. The Box Office is open daily from 4:30pm to 7:30pm and tickets can be purchased by cash or credit only.
Keep your eyes and ears open, Toronto audiences, the world holds a production of A Rescue Demonstration in your not-to-distant future. Stay tuned for more concrete details!