NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

Matchstick and Moscovitch: a winning combination at the Bus Stop Theatre

Zach Faye and Lesley Smith in Mexico City. (Stoo Metz)

Footnotes: An evening of 3 Short Plays by award-winning Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, at the Bus Stop Theatre through Sunday, is a not-to-be missed experience in professional, polished, provocative and playful theatre.

(However, sadly, all 10 shows, two a night, are sold out. To get on a waiting list in case of cancellations email matchsticktheatre@gmail.com. )

Matchstick Theatre imaginatively stages the three mini-plays of entirely different tones in three distinct environments. Essay and USSR are in the black box of the theatre with the audience moving around and sitting in pods of four. Mexico City is in the lobby with pre-ordered margaritas, hot lights and the fantastic, soulful voice of Cuban singer/guitarist Frederic Mujica.

Moscovitch is a master at the “short story” form of theatre. She pulls an audience immediately into difficult situations – here all rooted in cultural and gender stereotypes – with powerful characters, crisp dialogue and plot twists.

Essay, directed by Meghan Hubley, is an intense story of gender politics within a history department. Pixie asks her TA, the PhD student Jeffrey, if she can write her military history paper on a woman who is a footnote in history. The easily-addled, hamburger-eatting Jeffrey says no. He does believe women should be included more in history but not within the paper’s topic.

When the sexist, old-school. male department head – in a riveting performance by Ann-Marie Kerr – gets involved, the issues and emotions heat up.

Wayne Burns and Ann-Marie Kerr in Essay. (Stoo Metz)

Everything is spot on: the messy TA’s basement office full of papers and fast food garbage, the fluorescent lights flickering on and off, the positioning and body language of the actors, the intensity of the performances with Ursula Calder as Pixie and Wayne Burns as Jeffrey.

USSR is completely different as recent Dalhousie acting grad Ella MacDonald takes the audience on a deep dive into the fraught mind of a Russian immigrant to Canada. Directed by Anna Shepard (recipient of the 2019 Theatre Nova Scotia Chrysalis Emerging Artist Award), MacDonald seethes with a cold fury, missing Russia in spite of its flaws, frustrated by “Toronto persons” and steeped in a trauma that builds to a startling end.

MacDonald, who worked with dialect consultant Nina Rojkovskaia to get the right accent, acts with her cigarettes (herbal) stabbing at the space as she lurches forward toward a sink with a mirror where the audience often sees her reflection. It’s a powerful, involving performance.

Ella MacDonald as Elena. (Stoo Metz)

Mexico City is a comedy about a bickering couple in the early 1960s visiting Mexico City and looking for the “real Mexico.” Laura Vingoe-Cram directs Lesley Smith, sparkling and intent from her big, expressive eyes to her pursed lips as the uptight Alice, and Zach Faye, highly present as the ever-more-frustrated husband Henry. Vingoe-Cram does an excellent job directing, keeping the couple front and centre and side by side in expressive physicality. She worked closely with consultant Santiago Guzmán to help craft the vision for Mexico City and to focus on and reduce any harm the language in the play might cause.

This production has a top-notch design team setting each play apart and giving it a different design twist with set designer Wes Babcock, lighting designer Alison Crosby, costume designer Everette Fournier and sound and projection designer Jordan Palmer.

As the press release states the plays are “striking, early-career examples of Moscovitch’s ear for sharp dialogue, as well as the biting social commentary that sparked her career and made her one of Canada’s best known playwrights.” Only Mexico City has been staged here before.

Arts Nova Scotia and the Canada Council for the Arts supported the production. Matchstick Theatre is an emerging, professional, Merritt-nominated production company in Kjipuktuk/Halifax. It likes to stage classic Canadian plays and challenging contemporary theatre.

Tickets for shows at 90 minutes without intermission and nightly at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. are Pay What You Can with all proceeds donated directly to the Bus Stop Theatre’s Inclusion Fund.

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