Centaur Theatre Scores Big
with Season 49
An “oh so Montreal” selection of plays – diverse, dynamic and timely
By Barbara Ford
Former Centaur Theatre Artistic and Executive Director, Roy Surette, now returned to his home province and firmly seated in the Artistic Director’s chair of Vancouver’s Touchstone Theatre, left us with a generous parting gift: an ‘oh so Montreal’ selection of plays – diverse, dynamic and timely – for Centaur’s 49th season.
The Season kicked off October 3rd with Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story, a high-scoring hit that has been taking the country by storm since 2012 when it was first adapted into a play from the best-seller of the same name, co-written by Mr. Fleury and top-shelf hockey biographer, Kirstie McLellan Day. Whether or not you’re a hockey fan or familiar with Mr. Fleury’s mercurial career, an epic journey he wryly refers to as that of “a sports superstar behaving very, very badly”, it is without a doubt the stuff of great theatre. A tumultuous childhood, drugs and alcohol, carousing and gambling, knock-’em-down brawls on the ice – the Métis spitfire’s life played out on the ice and in the headlines.
A furious tear through the remarkable life of the hockey legend, played with volcanic brio by Shaun Smyth.
Jim Burke, Montreal Gazette
Calgary actor, Shaun Smyth, doesn’t so much play the Olympic gold medalist who was told he was too small to play pro hockey, but becomes him in a physically demanding and emotionally inspiring solo performance. Put the actor on skates, set the show entirely on an ice-hockey rink with a different Montrealer singing the national anthem before each performance, and you’ve got a season opener worthy of the Stanley Cup! Theatre critic, Byron Toben, called it “an astounding show” in his Westmountmag.ca review.
Also featured in October is the ground-breaking Brave New Looks, Centaur’s invaluable contribution to the development of fresh ideas and the growth of local independent theatre. True to its mandate of taking innovative approaches to the classical theatre repertoire, Scapegoat Carnivale returns to Centaur with Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, Oedipus. In a new literal translation by Lynn Kozak, adapted by Scapegoat co-founder Joseph Shragge and directed by a familiar Centaur face, Andreas Apergis, this workshop production with only three presentations between October 20 and 22, is a unique opportunity for the curious to see inside the development process. The project has attracted the crème-de-la-crème of Montreal’s acting community: Chip Chiupka, Alison Darcy, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Gitanjali Jain, Marcel Jeannin, Julie Tamiko Manning, Leni Parker, Mike Payette, France Rolland, Harry Standjofski, Melissa Trottier, and Brett Watson.
Eda Holmes, former Associate Director of the renowned Shaw Festival, directs The 39 Steps in November. It is her first directing gig as Centaur’s new Artistic and Executive Director, however not her first time directing for Centaur. Having given up a successful career as a professional dancer due to a serious knee injury, Ms. Holmes was accepted in the directing program at the National Theatre School of Canada. In 1999, Ann Lambert’s Very Heaven was Centaur’s Season 30 finale but it was also Ms. Holmes’ directorial debut. Who would have guessed that almost 20 years later, she would be at the helm of Montreal’s English language flagship theatre!
The 39 Steps is a fast-paced send-up of Alfred Hitchcock’s take on the spy adventure by British novelist, John Buchan. Hitch spruced up the all-male thriller by adding a couple of femme fatale types and kick-starting the action in a crowded London Music Hall. Those familiar with the 1935 black and white classic will remember that the story winds its way around the UK with the hero, Richard Hannay, wanted by Scotland Yard for a murder he didn’t commit, handcuffed to a pretty young thing who’s convinced he’s guilty.
The sharp-witted parody, which casts the innocent, every-man Hannay as the only hope to scuttle a spy ring’s dastardly plan to smuggle military secrets to the enemy, is played mainly for laughs with ubiquitous puns alluding to several Hitchcock flicks: Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. The ingenious allure of Patrick Barlow’s Laurence Olivier and Tony Award-winning play, is the deft use of lightning-quick posture, prop, costume and voice changes by a skeletal four-member cast that inhabits more than a hundred roles and propels the plot forward at breakneck speed.
Andrew Shaver (Trad, Haunted Hillbilly, Stones in his Packets) is perfect as the dashing hero opposite the alluring yet determined female roles played by the talented Amelia Sargisson (The Madonna Painter). Lucinda Davis, recently seen at Centaur in the META-winning The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, and multi-season Stratford Festival actor, Trent Pardy, are the two ‘clowns’ portraying everyone – from policemen and innkeepers to spies and gangsters – in the cross-country romp. It’s clever, physical and funny, and a terrific introduction to live theatre for younger audiences or the uninitiated.
As December rolls around with the incumbent last-minute, mall-shopping madness, Centaur provides its unique holiday antidote, Urban Tales. Curated by Montreal theatre fixture, Harry Standjofski, Centaur I morphs into a cabaret-style venue to present this year’s theme: the first holiday season for new arrivals to our belle ville. If you prefer the Grinch to Santa and egg nog to milk and cookies, don’t miss an evening of eccentric, original tales told by some of Montreal’s best raconteurs, from December 7 to 16, 2017.
That wraps up the first half of Centaur’s 49th season, leaving the always surprising Wildside Festival, a.k.a. the hottest two weeks in winter, to christen the New Year in January, and four more main stage productions, including an outrageous puppet cabaret from the audacious Canadian puppet master, Ronnie Burkett; two world premieres from local playwrights, and a Michel Tremblay classic to top off the year.
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Call the Centaur Theatre Box Office at 514-288-3161 or visit centaurtheatre.com for full details and remember to sign up for the online newsletter to stay connected.
Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story, until October 29
Brave New Looks, October 20 to 22
The 39 Steps, November 14 to December 10
Urban Tales, December 7 to 16, 2017
Single tickets are also on sale now.
Feature image: Shaun Smyth as Theo Fleury by Photo Electric Umbrella
Read also: Playing with Fire shoots and scores
Barbara Ford is a free-lance media relations and PR specialist.