Review: The Story (Theatre Columbus)

As a Jew, I am usually exhausted with The Christmas Imperative at this point in December, and cross with all its trappings. I mention this so that when I say that I unreservedly adored The Story at Evergreen Brickworks, readers will understand how really, very, exceptionally good it is. I would use more superlatives if I thought the editors would let me.

The Story is a funny-but-not-mocking, fast-paced, broadly-played, and surprisingly tender treatment of the nativity story. The conceit is that we’re experiencing it as it’s happening, with all the foibles and flaws of humanity (and regents and archangels) exposed – before it all gets smoothed down and polished up. The Wise Men are lost and bickering, King Herod is a preening pissy swot, Joseph is stupid with love, Mary is understandably concerned about a variety of issues, and the Angel Gabriel isn’t quite sure how he’s going to explain this…development.

It’s a good idea, the script is well done by Martha Ross, and director Jennifer Brewin obviously really gets outdoor theatre. The action is broad and crisp, actors have plenty of voice and know how to use it. The nighttime troop through the Brickworks building and adjacent park is all stark light, shadows, and open fires. It lets the audience fall a little more easily into the story, and Brewin works us like a champ, down to the distances traveled between scenes. A different choir sings the audience along each night – ours were the Humber Heralds, and they were a little on the quiet side, but quite nice.

The ensemble cast of five are all great, tip to tail. Everyone plays multiple parts except Mary (so well-played at the corner of faith and self-preservation by Haley McGee), which seems only fair. It all gets done with a couple of robes and hats apiece. Somehow, there’s a ‘we’re-all-in-this-together spirit’ that prevents us caring when one of the players hares off across a path at top speed post-scene, just in time to pull on a different robe at the next stop. There’s never the sense of a break in continuity.

Strong performances from the whole case, who include fu-GEN co-founder Richard Lee and Sanjay Talwar, who recently (and deservedly) earned raves in Brothel #9. Rylan Wilkie gets all the great histrionics as both Herod (constantly complaining and threatening by turns) and Angel Gabriel (just…oh, just so full of things, you have to see it). And Lisa Karen Cox, a totally solid performer with a grounded air, amazed us all at one point when she opened her mouth and a gorgeous coloratura soprano came out. Oh. Hello, there.

I could go on, but I won’t. Some practical notes:

Wear warm clothes, and a jacket, and a hat, and mitts, and warm socks, and throw a flashlight in your pocket too. You’re really out-of-doors almost the whole time, and the wind will blow (I suspect Jennifer Brewin of ensorcelling it, but I can’t prove anything). It gets cold. The walk isn’t too challenging (clocking in at just under 1km broken up into short walks of mostly under 100m each), but it is brisk, and slower movers might miss things. There’s nowhere to sit most of the time; if that might be hard on you I think one of those walking-stick chairs would work.

I would guess that someone in a manual wheelchair could manage just fine with perhaps one assist; I’m not sure about a power chair but maybe so, with outdoor tires. There were a good handful of children at the show I attended, including my nearly-two-year-old son, and they all seemed rapt (my little dude didn’t utter a peep for the first forty-five minutes, and he is a champion chatterbox). Lots of fast-paced action, music, and some humour really make it go quickly, even in the cold.

Especially, perhaps, if Christmas is not your holiday – it was unexpected lovely to have a Christmas experience that was about freedom, hope, and the joy of a new baby (rather than consumer excesss, blinky lights, and making children afraid of being judged ‘naughty’). It’s more than worth the money, the time, and the chilly ears. Go see this.

Details 

The Story plays at Evergreen Brickworks (550 Bayview Ave) till December 30, 2011
– Performances run to Dec 30, Tue-Sun 7:30 pm (no show Dec 24, 25, 26) mats Dec 21, 23, 28 at 4:30 pm
– Tickets are $25, $20 students and seniors, and $10 for children
– Tickets are available by phone at 416.504.7529 (Arts Box Office, at Theatre Passe Muraille) or online.

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