Monday, 9 April 2012

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Stephen Weir in costume as the Greek Chorus
A Review About My Toronto Stage Debut At Harbourfront

Pictured I am on stage at Toronto's Harbourfront, in the midst of my acting debut.  My wife and I and 4 of our friends were 20% of the Greek chorus in two short plays Ajax and Little Iliad. The mask was integral part of my costume.
The pair of plays were written and performed by hometown guys Eban Webber and Frank Cox-Connell. They had a 5-performance run at the Enwave Theatre as part of Harbourfront’s annual World Stage Theatre. 
The two short plays took a 21st century Social Media generation approach to the telling of one the (mostly) lost Greek epic plays, which chronicled the Trojan Wars.  What is left of the Little Iliad is thought to been written in the middle of the 7th century BC.
Webber and Cox-Connell's first short play frame their take on the Little Iliad by portraying two friends talking on Skype.  Eban Webber (playing himself) is on stage while the Cox-O'Connell appears as a Skype transmission projection on a piece of clay sitting main stage.  
It is the night before Cox-O'Connell is set to be deployed in Asia and he is talking to his friend while a girlfriend's family barbeque a farewell meal. They joke. They fight. They muse about Afghanistan and how Canada's conflict has many similarities with the ancient questions of morality and war that are raised in the Little Iliad. Meanwhile the SRO audience of just 30 people listens to the back-and-forth dialogue through headphones.
Wednesday was opening night, and we the audience was treated to free beer during the intermission.  Of course in the theatre world, nothing is free.  Along with cans of Bud we received white masks and were asked to wear them for Ajax, the second play.
We were sitting on the stage, facing an almost empty theatre. There was but one person sitting in the theatres and he is wearing the outfit of a Trojan warrior. The warrior looks up tells us we, the audience, are the faceless Greek chorus and that we have now switched roles with the cast.  After two beers, it was an easy role to accept.
Before long, another Greek soldier sits down and the two men joke and kibitz about Ajax and the Trojan War.  The story tugs at long forgotten high school history class’s lessons.  I vaguely remember that Ajax is Greece's most accomplished warriors, yet, as the soldiers' tale reveals, he is about to rebel against his own leaders because they have betrayed him on the battlefield. He might be good in hand-to-hand combat, but, as a mutineer, he is hopeless and ends up deciding to kill himself.
The action, such that it is, is shown to we, the members of the Greek chorus by the two toga-wearing actors playing with clay figurines. The action is swift, the clay arms and heads are lopped off and the soldiers joke as they come in-and-out of character.
The play ends with the cast and crew inviting the audience to beer and a real barbecue post party.  My wife and I have brought four friends, and, represent about 20% of the ticket buyers.  The old 80/20 rule worked -- 20% of the audience drank 80% of the beer and ate 80% of the hamburgers and hot dogs (I am fasting today to make up for my excess).
You probably have never heard of this play. It has been and gone.  Aside from a preview story in the Now and a Friday review in the Globe and Mail, the arts media gave it all a pass.
Want my  brief review? The two actors were good. The story line was interesting even though it involved two actors playing with clay puppets.  As for the Greek chorus - they were top-notch. I was spectacular. Feeding free burgs and beer the auidence is a concept I hope most theatres will adopt.
Would I go back and see it again? Of course ... they had me at the free beer!

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