Premiere of Ricki part of
Centaur Wildside Festival
Scapegoat Carnivale presents Joseph Shragge’s darkly absurd fable
By Irwin Rapoport
January 30, 2024
The award-winning Scapegoat Carnivale is premiering Joseph Shragge’s darkly absurd fable, Ricki, on January 31 as part of the Centaur Theatre‘s annual Wildside Festival, a highlight for many Montreal theatre aficionados. The play runs from Wednesday, January 31 to Saturday, February 3.
“The play is about the trials of a woman who, with her ten-year-old son, moves to Montreal to rebuild their lives after the loss of her husband and home,” states the press release for the play. “A bittersweet examination of the conflicts between parents and children as they struggle against monsters, both real and imaginary.”
My mom said there was nothing we could do because all we are is the sum of our memories and our ability to form new ones.
Shragge penned the drama to explore his fascination with how children use fantasy to help face instability. In Ricki, the mother/son relationship is tested by a mysterious arrival at their doorstep. The show explores the shifting power dynamics between parent and child, exaggerating the search for parent substitutes.
Ricki draws on horror movie tropes and the bizarre to offer a portrait of resilience.
“The play is definitely on the weirder side,” said Shragge. “I was surprised we were accepted to the festival, but appreciated Wildside Festival curator Rose Plotek’s encouragement that this fit with their vision.”
The nuclear family is ever shape-shifting. Changes, voluntary or not, whether they be in family structure, moving homes, or oncoming adolescence, can be overwhelming.
“Transformations can be emotional and psychological, but they can also be physical,” said co-director Alison Darcy. “They can reveal the beasts inside. I am captivated by the inventiveness, humour and humanity of the show.”
The award-winning cast consisting of Gabe Maharjan, Julie Tamiko Manning, and Jon Lachlan Stewart, is co-directed by Shragge and Darcy, Scapegoat Carnivale’s co-artistic directors.
Darcy has forged a remarkable independent theatre career with Scapegoat Carnivale, and no wonder she comes from a well-loved theatre legacy in Montreal. The Centaur Theatre would hardly exist without her father, Maurice Podbrey, founding member and first artistic director, as one part of his illustrious career. Darcy’s mother, Elsa Bolam, founded Geordie Theatre, among other remarkable initiatives in the Montreal theatre scene.
‘First, I was a person, then I became a thing. Now, I’m the beast.’
Jon Lachlan Stewart plays the drug dealer/creature, the most demanding physical stage work he’s ever done. A single parent himself, he relates to the tension arising from watching your child grow and gain autonomy. “It’s mysterious to see a personality develop, and their individual will become apparent,” said Stewart.
Julie Tamiko Manning, who portrays Woman, has been in several Scapegoat Carnivale shows. “I’m drawn to the writing, which is always so sharp, and the challenging work,” she said. “What speaks most to me is the re-creation of what the idea of family is post-family.”
The son is played by Gabe Maharjan, who has enjoyed developing the piece over time with the company.
The cast is enthusiastic about the play: “It’s a treat to perform Shragge’s play. Ricki will have people laughing, and it will definitely get audiences thinking.”
Performed on a raised stage, the scenography comes together to highlight the surreal character of the piece that is brought to life thanks to the efforts and imagination of set, costume and prop designer Marie-Eve Fortier, lighting designer Paul Chambers, and sound designer Troy Slocum. Choreographer Andrew Turner harnessed the monster’s movement and interaction with the actors. The stage manager is Charlie Cohen, and dramaturgy is courtesy of Deena Aziz.
Don’t make big decisions and think you can always change them later. Don’t assume you’ll be who you are now, forever.
Sophie El-Assaad designed the monster, a zoological chimera. She is excited to expand her artistic practice with this, her most elaborate costume challenge so far. For El-Assaad, the monster is all of us. “It is a representation of humans’ innate greed, selfishness and inability to change; what every child unfortunately becomes to survive the world,” she said.
A moderated talkback will be held on February 2 with eminent American scholar Michael M. Chemers, whose work focuses on monsters in theatre history. “The monster can be a powerful cultural tool for the expression of social tensions. In some cases, no better lens exists for deciphering a society’s greatest hopes and darkest fears,” wrote Chemers in The Monster in Theatre History: This Thing of Darkness.
Centaur Theatre’s annual Wildside Festival, which features some of the most exciting, ground-breaking independent theatre-makers in Montreal, concludes on February 8.
In the following Q&A, playwright Joseph Schragge and co-director Alison Darcy discuss the play, their careers in the theatre and what drives them:
WM: What inspired you to tell this story?
Shragge: I wrote it during the months before my daughter was born in 2018. I figured it would be a while until I had much time to write again, so I gave myself the exercise of completing a draft quickly, with the only rule being that time in the play goes forward. Everything else was up in the air – style, character integrity, the form of address, whatever. The piece dramatizes a conflict between a woman, her son, and her son’s newly found mentor. I think it captured, in an absurd way, some of my anxieties about becoming a parent.
WM: The visuals convey the feeling of magical realism. Is that an apt assessment of the themes and aesthetics of the show?
Shragge: Yes! The play takes surreal shifts and turns. It needed a lot of creation and development to figure out how to stage. I worked with Alison, Sophie El Assad, Deena Aziz, Gabe Maharjan, Julie Tamiko Manning and Jon Lachlan Stewart to workshop how some of the ideas could be realized.
Darcy: We play with many forms and styles throughout the piece, and magic realism/absurdism is definitely one of them.
‘The piece dramatizes a conflict between a woman, her son, and her son’s newly found mentor. I think it captured, in an absurd way, some of my anxieties about becoming a parent.’
– Joseph Schragge
WM: How do you choose the subjects of your plays and how would you describe your writing style?
Darcy: Coming from acting massively informs my directing choices. Actors bring the philosophies and themes of the play to life by inhabiting their characters with authenticity, empathy and technique. If the actors aren’t able to transmit the text’s intentions clearly, the story will fail to make contact with its audience. Knowing how to translate the intentions of the writer and the vision of the designers (and that of mine and my co-director) to the performers using their same language puts me at a great advantage. I know their process and can help guide them through this one.
WM: Your parents’ careers in Montreal theatre are wonderful legacies familiar to Montreal audiences. Was a career in theatre a natural step for you, and what influences have your parents given you as an artist?
Darcy: Absolutely. Despite their best efforts to warn me off it, I was addicted to theatre since I was a tiny child – watching my parents act or direct, looking at the lights from the back of the theatre, playing in the costume department or being entertained by professional actors on their breaks.
Ricki, at the Centaur Theatre until February 3
Irwin Rapoport is a freelance journalist with Bachelor’s degrees in History and Political Science from Concordia University.