nicolas di gaetano and emily pearlman
Sometimes I see plays that are so whimsical and charmingly magical that I am immediately struck with a feeling of kindred spirit, as though this story tumbled forth from some long forgotten sock I once lost in childhood, or bubbled in a brook I once dreamed about while at summer camp. Countries Shaped Like Stars, presented by MiCasa Theatre at the Theatre Centre as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, is one such show.
Co-created and performed by Emily Pearlman and Nicolas Di Gaetano, Countries Shaped Like Stars is vividly as it was first described to me by the very astute and knowledgeable Jessie Fraser, “children’s theatre for adults.” Together, Pearlman and Di Gaetano tell the story of Gwendolyn Magnificent and Bartholomew Spectacular and with winsome acoustic songs, quirky poetic narrative and dialogue and beautifully evocative direction from Patrick Gauthier, this love story is artfully woven and dramatically performed to delight and enchant its audience.
Emily Pearlman’s imaginative language spins a web reminiscent of a bedtime story invented by a very clever child, inspired by the works of Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne and Roald Dahl. Gwendolyn Magnificent lives in a country shaped like a star, and spends her days tending to the dragon fruit trees, for dragon fruits have magical anti-oxidant properties. Her life changes at the marketplace, amid the fish popsicles, when she meets the most extraordinary of boys, Bartholomew Spectacular. This is a place where allegories are knitted into toques and orphanages of words you wish you’d thought of at the time inhabit the pockets of the chosen. This is a place where love wears a fake moustache and speaks in colonial accents, and the birds and the constellations are invited to the same party and jokes are solicited from audience members and are greeted with pure, delighted rapture, regardless of how lame they may seem to the incredulous.
As Gwendolyn and Bartholomew respectively Pearlman and Di Gaetano immediately conspire with their audience to draw everyone into their world of wonder. With the help of their director, Gauthier, they strike the perfect balance between narrating and immersing themselves creatively in every ounce of the story they are telling, whether through dance, with flashlights, a tin can telephone or a red balloon, the imagery that is created onstage is always a perfect companion for the audience’s imagination. Together, Gwendolyn and Bartholomew stare at one another with wide-eyed happiness, a grin so big, Gwendolyn is nearly crying with the joy of it. They watch each other with such intent fascination, the audience is mesmerized and hang on to their every movement, the intense affinity between these two characters is nearly too much for them to handle so they struggle to catch their breaths. Gwendolyn and Bartholomew are utterly resplendent, larger than the world, and just as cosmically beautiful. Yet, ultimately, even these two rapturous creatures cannot remain immune to reality’s tumultuousness, and the ending of this play is astutely heartrending and powerfully tragic because our wish, that to remain so Magnificent and Spectacular were possible, is so ardent.
Countries Shaped Like Stars is a joyful work of simplistic genius. In this play words are understood by the spaces in between them and anticipation grows on trees… the anticipation of magic, of wonder… of the sort of fascination that often only children experience at the theatre. It is all there for us in this work, under the ladder, with a ukulele and in a pair of rainbow knee socks.
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