By Colm Magner
There seems to be a great deal of change blowing through the Confederation Centre of the Arts – a new CEO, a new Chairman of the Board, some new lights and sets. But if recent press is any indication, the autumn winds don’t appear to have picked up any radical new ideas on their travels — nor, apparently, even an original one.
Behind the curtains, the dust seems to have barely moved since 1964; and so consequently, as you’ve probably heard, the Swedish are coming the Swedish are coming!! Again.
Two years ago, I had the audacity to ask why they were doing Mamma Mia, and I made a few very gentle observations about certain weaknesses in the production. The next day, the clearly shocked Island theatre community exploded from their shells, and a tiny hurricane of outrage spilled into public.
But I was merely trying to make a simple point, and I will try to make it again— the theatre produced at the Island’s premier arts centre should never be mediocre — it should never be old, recycled, or designed merely to make a few bucks. It should always be dynamic, current, and challenging.
So I was watching, and hoping, as they announced the 2019 season. And here we have it: The return of Mamma Mia seems to me to be a purely cynical act (if cynicism can ever be pure). In light of the MeToo Movement, shouldn’t the leadership be asking questions like: Is the play not a bit of a dinosaur? Are there not far better stories and plays about modern women and their current challenges?
Kronborg, the second old extravaganza they’re dragging back into the lights, is Hamlet dressed up to be tragically hip. Due to a strange genetic mutation caused by the passage of time, Shakespeare’s young Dane has miraculously learned to belt out a Rock tune. Yes, the Dane has become a Dude. Let’s hope that over 40 years of rewrites will help it avoid the fate it had on Broadway- in its original incarnation, it closed after 7 performances at the Minskoff Theatre.
And how does HamletDude fit in with MeToo pray tell? Isn’t he really a bit too male and self-absorbed for this moment? Wouldn’t a new musical about, say, The Maid of Orleans have been a more inspired choice? Wouldn’t it be nice if, in an age of resurgence of women’s rights, we saw Joan of Arc slicing her way through a bunch of bleeding male chests, looking downright dangerous in black leather and tattoos?
There are over 80,000 women on the Island. It’s a missed opportunity.
The fact they picked up Tara MacLean’s “Atlantic Blue” provides a glimmer of hope; but why on earth is the main stage still, in 2019, largely inhabited by old musicals? It’s as if those in charge of making the big decisions put on their high school jacket every Friday night, eat popcorn, and watch Golden Girl reruns. Instead they should be listening, reacting, and responding, through their programming, to current events. And the biggest current event in contemporary culture, in case they’ve missed it, is a dramatically unfolding public and private reexamination of the complicated messy drama involving men, women, power, and sex.
In light of the seriousness of that pronouncement though, I’ll also ask this: What could possibly be wrong with mounting a few fabulously written, expertly directed, and finely acted comedies on the main stage? They are cheaper to produce than musicals; there are always plenty of people willing to fill seats to have a good guffaw; and Canada happens to be literally overflowing with very talented comic actors. Some live right here on the Island.
In doing only musicals on the main stage, the CCOA is limiting their talent pool, and cutting a large percentage of the country’s finest actors— to say nothing of our finest writers— out of the game. That’s unfortunate. Perhaps it’s time to have an open discussion about changing their mandate.
Colm Magner is a member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association and has worked as a playwright, actor, director and teacher for more than 30 years.