Now for some completely
different Xmas tales…
Urban Tales 2018 campaigns against cloying seasonal sentimentality
By Byron Toben
Christmas ’twas the season to be jolly, but after a diet of zillions of sugary songs day and night beginning after Halloween, some find respite in dark tales of seasonal woe.
That taste is served each winter at the Centaur Theatre’s Urban Tales.
Originally created on the French side by Yvan Bienvenue as Contes Urbains, it was later adapted for the English side by Harry Standjofski. This is not just a translation of the French entries, although the odd one is, but original short sketches by local talent, some read by the authors, the majority by a who’s who of local performers. Viewers may get a good taste of past years from my Westmount Magazine reviews of 2017 and 2016.
This year’s version, subtitled Feathers was, as usual, curated by Mr. Standjofski and introduced by his superb guitar playing. He also told the first of the six monologues, Exterminating Angel by Mr Bienvenue. In this, the teller encounters an angel in the form of a homeless man in a psychiatric ward. Later, someone shoots, wings and kills swans in a public pond but spares the teller because he’s not a bird.
Wonderful to see frequent Urban Tales teller Danette MacKay back again, in telling L.M. Leonard’s The Women’s Christmas. Here, a single woman balances two frustrations.
One is another woman in an apartment across the courtyard who undresses frequently without closing her curtains and mistakes the teller’s wavings to stop as a friendly gesture. The other is dealing with her mother who is suffering from dementia, claiming Christmas is actually January 6 at a party with various insufferable relatives.
My own favourite of this year’s sextet was A Christmas Caroller both written and told by Laurent Pitre. The antisocial teller has a special distaste for Christmas carols and is happily busily working on his computer late one evening when, like Poe’s raven, a mysterious knocking persists at his door. After much hemming and hawing, the door is flung open to reveal a bedraggled homeless man who joyfully sings a carol, continuing even after a neck wound from a frozen icicle falling from above.
At the intermission, where tasty eggnogs were available, the audience was treated to an un programmed song by Ms MacKay accompanied by Mr Standjofski’s guitar. This brought back fond memories of her popular Kiss My Cabaret variety show at La Sala Rosa some years ago.
Nice too, to see Montreal-bred Joanne Sarazen back in town from her Toronto residence with a new play, Motherless Milk. Last time at Urban Tales (2014), her Sum Of My Parts as told by Joanne Noyes, involved a blow-up doll used as a sex toy. This one, as told by Alarey Alsip, involves a real person.
Mr Standjofski wrote the final two sketches. Douai is told by Mr Pitre. seven last words (all in lower case), told by himself, starts out with discussing the monthly journey of one human egg through a feathery passage to oblivion should it not link up with one of 100 million sperms seeking to be “the one”.
I had flashes of Woody Allen’s 1972 film Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex enacting that search, when the tale switched to unexpected often tragic events in life. In one, a man, upon hearing that he had just become a grandfather, promptly died face first into his bowl of corn flakes.
Harry attests that all the related incidents are true from real life, involving people he knew or friends did, and he had been saving them up for some years until now.
Urban Tales continues at the Centaur on December 14 and 15.
Feature image: Harry Standjofski
All images by Yvan Bienvenue
Read also: Old Stock, a lively dark cabaret about immigration
More articles from Byron HERE