The Thursday Theatre Review: The Overcoat

I was talking to a friend about going to The Overcoat at Canstage and she said that she has a subscription to Canstage and never looks into what the shows are, she just shows up and lets herself be surprised by whatever it is.

This show will surprise her...

The blurb on the Canstage website says "Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol and set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, The Overcoat is a fascinating weave of movement, dance and storytelling."

From the very beginning it was unmistakable that this was going to be a visually stunning show, which is important, since it has absolutely no dialogue. Not a word is uttered, not a lyric is present - it's all physical, a feast for the eyes.

The show is not what people typically think of as a musical, or a dance piece, or a play. It's important to approach this show being open to something new, if you do that you might just have the experience of the audience member who said "It was so well done I often forgot there were no words."

I encourage you to check out the trailer on the Canstage web site and hopefully it will give you a taste of what I'm trying to describe.

With the intention of offering a couple viewpoints in this article I brought my friend Kathy to the show. This will be a pattern with my articles, just think of it as a 2-for-1 deal. To position Kathy, currently she is the head of technology at a local not-for-profit, but she actually started out her life as an actress (something I didn't know about her until we were sipping coffee and eating tiramisu and tartufo after the show and I was in full 'brain-picking' mode.)

Overall, both of us had similar feelings towards the production. There were aspect that we thought were so cool it was unbelievable, but then there were other parts that ended up almost grating. Opinions and preferences differ though, so things that irked me stunned others.

For instance, one of the things that I really didn't like was the opening credits (projected on a translucent screen with the action happening behind them). They may have annoyed me, but they really set the stage for someone sitting behind me. At intermission I overheard him exclaim that he loved the show - "Right from the credits it got me!"

For me this was a show full of 'moments'. I was fascinated by the fact that, without fail, the moments that stood out for me were the same moments that stood out for Kathy. One in particular impressed us to no end; it was watching the characters traveling at rush hour.

With no props a group of actors transformed the bare stage into the inside of a street car. The transformation is immediate and complete. There is no doubt what is happening or where these people are. It's such a clever idea, and so well done, it would be hard not to love.

I've already mentioned how stunning it is to look at and that was obviously what moved Kathy. The awe in her voice was unmistakable as she talked about it. However, her ravings of the visual aspect did seem to be countered by feeling as though, overall, the show didn't draw her in. She said to her the show felt like it was all "primary colours and lacked subtlety".

I'm pretty sure it evened out for her though, because right after commenting on the lack of subtlety she emitted a noise that was somehow a cross between a sigh and a moan and went back to talking about how amazing the set was, the make-up was, the costumes were...

I agree that the piece was visually stunning but that wasn't what affected me. For me it was the actors. This is an amazing ensemble piece filled with truly impressive performers.

When all was said and done, Kathy and I agreed that it was certainly a worthwhile way to spend and evening. Whether or not it was specifically engaging for us was not the point, it was impressive and interesting. We were both glad to have had the chance to experience this dynamic and important piece of Canadian theatre.

If you see the show drop a line or two in the comments and let me know what you thought, I'd love to hear about your experience.

The Details: The Overcoat runs at Canstage until March 10 in the Bluma Appel Theatre. Tickets will run you anywhere from $20 to $95, depending on the day you want to go and where you want to sit. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, you could try for rush seats which are half of the regular ticket price and go on sale one hour before show time, or you could go to a pay-what-you-can performance on a Monday where tickets can be bought (in person only) starting at 10am on the day of the performance (If you can, get your tickets early in the day because they go fast!)

Photo of Colin Heath, Peter Anderson and Allan Morgan - image by Emily Cooper

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