duel of ages
Let’s be honest, Toronto, it’s snowy, it’s cold, it’s Wednesday night, we’re still nursing our post-Christmas hangovers, but, incredibly, for some reason, amid all Mother Nature’s very persuasive arguments that we should be inside hibernating, the toasty, heated tent at the Next Stage Festival is packed with joy and excitement and the audience for the True Edge Production of Duel of Ages is close to capacity. Thankfully, this is the perfect show to fill audiences with joyful glee and make them happy that they crawled through Winter to get there.
Duel of Ages, created by Todd Campbell, is a series of vignettes, each written and directed by an array of very talented theatre artists, that tells the history of the duel, from the earliest known sword fights to mobs of ninjas, fraught with silliness and mirthful energy that makes the voyage both a treat and a delight.
Firstly, the performers, each one magnificently skilled in the art of stage combat, are visually stunning to watch. There is something so simultaneously beautiful and adrenaline pumping about watching a finely executed sword fight and this show is entirely filled with them! Yet, this show is also given its spark by the hilarity of its writing, which often stands in contradiction to the conceit of an “honourable duel,” which, amid its ridiculousness, actually raises some pertinent questions about this violent practice and how respectable, civilized or chivalrous such a thing could have been.
Standouts in the show include “Le Duel Des Mignons” written and directed by Michael Rubenfeld, with fight direction by Todd Campbell, “One” directed and conceived by Campbell, “The Pistoleers” written by Mike McPhaden and directed by Dean Gabourie, “Two Swords” written by Scott Leaver and directed by Rosanna Saracino with fight direction by Simon Fon and “The Pen and the Gun” written and directed by Daniel Levinson.
Rubenfeld’s scene centered around two parties, one of whom was accused of sleeping with the other’s wife, whose bantering leads them to a duel, which then implicates their friends, leaving the stage a mess with bodies. The strength of this scene lies especially in Rubenfeld’s writing, which reminded me of the opening scene from Romeo and Juliet, exchanges just as witty and sexually charged, only written for a modern audience. In Levinson’s scene we are taken to the Wild West of America and challenged by Bat Masterson to change our perception of this particular aspect of history. He introduces us to Wild Bill Hickok, a real historical figure known for engaging in a number of well known shootouts. Stuart Constable as Masterson and Christopher Mott as Hickok give great performances which help to captivate the audience amid a loud and steady stream of gunshots. Campbell’s “One” is a brilliant ninja sequence that combines fight choreography with gymnastics, tumbling and rock music to create a high-energy finale for the piece designed to impress. “Two Swords” is the most emotionally riveting and unsettling of the scenes, focusing on a father teaching his son the art of becoming a samurai just as the West was beginning to infiltrate their country and their culture. Olaf Sham gives a beautiful performance as the young son, capturing perfectly a sense of his youth, naivety and his hesitancy. “The Pistoleers” reminded me very much of a Looney Tunes cartoon, focusing on four best friends who have become divided after a drunken romp, and decide to settle their offended hearts with a shooting duel. This scene boasts of some great character work by Todd Campbell, M. John Kennedy, Matt Richardson and Andrew McMaster.
Although there is not a weak link among any of the vignettes offered, or among the performances themselves, the most stunning scene is Campbell’s “La Maupin,” based on the true story of Julia d’Aubigny, a French opera singer and duelist who was known for her wild lifestyle and dalliances with both men and women until her death in 1707. This scene dramatizes a dance where d’Aubigny, played by the seductive and fierce Casey Hudecki, attempts to court a young lady (Adrienne Kress), when she is challenged to duel with three young gentleman (Simon Fon, Christian Feliciano and Kevin Robinson), who also want to win the lady’s hand. The result is a mesmerizing combination of duel and dance, overlapping with precision and intricacy and a heart pounding intensity. This piece alone is worth attending this play.
Fight chorographers and those who are masters of stage combat are often called upon for particular scenes in the theatre, especially historical works or ones dealing with explicit violence, but these are still usually isolated bits of a larger picture. It is really wonderful to have the opportunity to see a huge cast filled with exorbitantly talented individuals having the chance to make these skills the very heart of the art of the piece.
Duel of Ages plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) as part of the Next Stage Festival at the following times:
Thursday Jan. 13 9:00pm 10:30pm
Saturday Jan. 15 9:00pm 10:30pm
Sunday Jan. 16 7:15pm 8:45pm
TICKETS are $15.00 and you can purchase them in advance by calling going online to http://www.fringetoronto.com/ or by calling 416.966.1062 or 1.866.515.7799. Tickets can also be purchased at the McAuslan Beer Tent (in the Factory Theatre Courtyard) before the show.