How easy it is to write a good or a bad review. A good review will write itself listing praises and a bad one pointing fault. But when theatre leaves you cold, leaves you feeling nothing, there the challenge comes. And I am so challenged after seeing Studio 180's production of Parade tonight.
Studio 180 is possibly the best small theatre company in Canada right now, with a mandate to produce "socially relevant, provocative theatre".
The problem in telling a story is it quite often helps to have an angle. I was thinking of "To Kill a Mockingbird" another story of a kangaroo court in the deep south, and how that story uses Scout, a small girl, to bring us in. Studio 180's last play, the Overwhelming, the best contemporary play I have seen in five years, also used an English family of outsiders to show the struggle between the Hutus and the Tutsis. So the challenge in tackling this story head on is how do you make it relatable? And staging it as a musical, which lends itself to over-dramatization, how do you make it relatable for an audience of today?
Well, the short answer is you don't. The entire cast, with the exception of the accused, could be called "Redneck #1" and "Redneck #2" and so on. No effort is made to understand these people's motivations. We know from history that fifty years after the civil war it must have been difficult for a Jewish man from the north to get a fair trial, and that's all we're really left with.
I must say here that Michael Therriault as the accused is handsome and sings well and does all he can, but who casts a heroic lead as a mousy Jew with hook-rim glasses? All problems intrinsic in developing this story for stage.
The songs are overall mediocre with the exception of the rousing "That's What He Said", brilliantly performed by Daren A. Herbert. It's what's needed more of, some exposition, and the song whips the town into a frenzy of bloodlust for the accused. It should also be said that the second last song, "All the Wasted Time" between the accused and his wife, while supposedly presented as one final heart-felt goodbye falls totally flat and had everyone grabbing for their coats.
Finally Jeff Irving, who I last saw as Rolf in The Sound of Music, is very handsome and a great singer but I didn't feel the emotion all the time, for tonight's performance anyway something didn't quite click. Mark Uhre stood out from the Ensemble for his strong singing voice and stage presence.
A note, it is a smaller theatre and the actors are not miked. If you sit on the left hand row of seats you will have the band in front of you and they will COMPLETELY drown out the actors voices, you will end up hearing less than 50% of the dialogue. I've seen musicals at the Berkeley Upstairs before and had the same problem. The band needs to play much quieter, the actors need to be miked, or the venue needs to be changed. Either way, don't sit on the left!
Overall I'm glad I went to support Studio 180 but an average play. It should be noted this was a co-production with Acting Up! Stage Company