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Queen of Puddings Music Theatre has, in its first co-production with Canadian Stage, taken a new turn in its 17-year history of experimenting in and around the stage.
In Beckett: Feck it!, which runs at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until Feb. 25, Queen of Puddings has interwoven absurdly pointed observations on people’s timeless foibles by Irish-born playwright and poet Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) with music for voice and trumpet.
The combined effect, masterfully acted and effectively staged, uses the strange interplay of the comfortably familiar with the srikingly unexpected to create an engrossing, 75-minute show. Laughter mixes with pain, and darkness with light, reflecting in tidy little packages the borderless mess that is the human condition.
The music comes courtesy of rock-steady Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet Michael Fedyshyn, fearless Toronto-based classical soprano Shannon Mercer and three made-in-Ireland pieces: Trumpeter, by veteran composer Gerald Barry, Drei Gesänge (Three Songs) by Andew Hamilton and a 16th century a cappella ballad, Eleanór a Rún, by Cearbhall O Dálaigh.
Both contemporary pieces rely on familiar melodies and note patterns, arranged in unpredictable ways, especially in Hamilton’s Drei Gesänge, which sound like Schubert Lieder afflicted by Tourette’s Syndrome.
The pieces are woven between four short plays by Beckett: Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Play, (all from the late 1950s and early ’60s) and Ohio Impromptu (from 1980). Director Jennifer Tarver has followed the playwright’s staging suggestions, which remove all easily recognizable context as two or three characters walk an invisible tighrope stretched taut between meaning and meaninglessness.
The plays are acted out by Tom Rooney, Michael Grzejszczak, Laura Condlln and Sofia Tomic, with a spoken cameo by Mercer in Come and Go.
All of the performances are tight and energetic. Tarver and Queen of Puddings co-artistic directors Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess have pulled together a seamless show from a number of disparate elements, while designer Teresa Przybylski and lighting master Kimberly Purtell achieve maximum effect with a minimum of fuss.
Even though these plays have been around for several decades, they can still surprise as they turn a mirror at their audience — this time with a compelling soundtrack.
For show details and ticket information, click here.
This is Eleanór a Rún, sung by Róisín El Safty: