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Smart, not smothered

May 12th, 2012 · 1 Comment


SMOTHER, an hour-long dark comedy show, was held at Unit 102 (376 Dufferin St.) in late March. Courtesy Michael Orlando.

By Mickal Aranha

For three consecutive days in March, Unit 102 (376 Dufferin St.), a tiny theatre space in Parkdale, shook from the Theatre Lab’s experiment in storytelling.

SMOTHER, an hour-long dark comedy, written and directed by Omar Hady, was slowly developed by a small group of artists who explored aspects of Commedia Dell’Arte, Italian improv comedy; Bouffon, a form of satire; and the Laban Efforts, a study of human movement, to bring a short story to life. What resulted is a funny, dark, and inventive piece that although simple in its narrative, is wonderfully rich.

SMOTHER takes place long ago, somewhere in Eastern Europe, and tells the story of a man named Mitri (played by Rory de Brouer) who spends his days singing and selling vegetables in the market.

His elderly mother, Mama Beata (Alexandra Baczynsky), takes advantage of her sweet-natured son, and although she loves him dearly, constantly reminds him that she suffered a great deal in raising him alone—having had her husband drop dead while she gave birth (this is actually a scene in the play), and having to reconcile her husband’s debts.

Burdened by guilt, Mitri does not pursue his dream of having a family of his own, and instead puts all of his energy towards caring for his mother. Then one day, he falls in love.

True to the tradition of Commedia Dell’Arte, the staging for SMOTHER is minimalistic. In the opening scene, we see Mitri walking in place, singing with all of his heart and describing the imaginary lush landscape around him and the sounds of birds chirping. It is enough to transport the audience to his village life.

The costumes are also simple, and with the use of a few small props, characters are believable. The audience sees Baczynsky’s character transform from a happy, carefree, vibrant young lady, to an increasingly resentful, pregnant one, to a bitter old woman weighed down by the slings and arrows of life. This occurs within a few minutes with only the help of a few scarves.

The light mood of the Commedia comes from the slapstick humour, witty dialogue, dancing, and music.

The actors are multi-talented, bursting into song one minute, and in full acrobatics the next. The accordion, played by Canadian music icon Bob Wiseman, underscores the piece, helping to set the mood and add emphasis to the dialogue when necessary.

Influence of the Bouffon satire is evident in a couple of the actor’s bold, exaggerated contortions of the face and body to achieve a dark effect. Especially adept at this is Lea Russell, who plays Mitri’s love interest—and a few other small roles. She surrenders most wholeheartedly to this energy for what sometimes seems like endless moments.

This is perhaps the most interesting part of the play. The actors are able to escalate and sustain sounds of gibberish and grotesque bodily contortions in a way that conveys feelings of despair, pain, and anger in a way that I have never seen before.

What stands out are not the words being said, which are often indiscernible, but the depth of emotion behind them. The fact that the scenes in which Mama Beata reacts to Mitri’s mere mention of the thought of marriage, or his love interest’s encounter with Mama Beata at the dinner table, are still etched in my mind is proof of this method’s power.

The mood of the play, characters’ moods, and costume changes change strikingly throughout the play. This feat is successful not only because of the music, simple lighting techniques, and props, but also of the use of Laban Efforts. This thorough study in movement allows the actors to transition suddenly from one emotion to the next with authenticity, and gives each separate character an identifiable body language uniquely their own. Mama Beata’s hunched over stance and slow walk is one example.

SMOTHER has the captivating tension of the pushover son and the overbearing mother archetype versus the budding new love story that prompts the son’s coming of age. What makes this production stand out is the experimentation with acting methods, and the new and unexpected story arc.

The play leaves you feeling shaken up, in the best way possible.

Tags: Liberty · Arts · General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Smother | // Oct 16, 2012 at 10:18 am

    […] “The actors are multi-talented, bursting into song one minute, and in full acrobatics the next…The play leaves you feeling shaken up, in the best way possible.” – Mickal Aranha, Gleaner Community Press read the full review here […]