Rachael Johnston in Black Rider

Thursday Theatre Review - Black Rider


The production of Black Rider at Tarragon Theatre is an incredible, and bizarre, show. And, really, it's hard to expect anything else from a collaboration between William S. Burroughs and Tom Waits. In fact, Scott, my show-partner for this one, described it as "a hilarious nightmare". I think it's a pretty apt description actually. If I had been in a different head-space, or a kid, I would have been terrified.

Now, just because the show is initially developed by two icons, it doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to be a success. It sets up a lot of high expectations, a lot to live up to, but pulling it off requires a lot for a bunch of people who are not icons. Like any show, bad direction, bad acting, bad tech, and especially bad musicians all could have killed the piece. In this case we were treated to excellent direction, excellent acting, excellent tech (with the exception of some minor mic noise - but that's just the nature of technology and doesn't have to do with the sound person) and wonderful musicians (especially Corinne Kessel - I'm not sure there's anything that woman can't do - in this show she was on stage as the messenger and was also the Musical Director / Trombone, Accordion, Clarinet, Percussion player, and Managing Producer of the show - honestly, I'm exhausted just typing that).

The challenge in reviewing a piece like this is that even though I was left with a feeling of awe and wonder, and certainly loved the piece, it's very difficult to explain. So, lets cover the basics:

- This is NOT a 'traditional' play or musical, although it certainly has traditional elements woven into it.

- This is not for the faint of heart. It's intense. Intense movement, intense music, intense make-up - just generally, really really intense.

- This is not an 'easy' show. If you're looking for a night of light entertainment, this likely isn't a good choice for you. The music is sometimes angry and jarring, discordant and hard to follow. It's also sometimes hauntingly beautiful, with strange juxtapositions of light airy delightful music with dark lyrics.

- This is not a play everyone will love, in fact, I suspect the response will be polarized, this really does strike me as a love it or hate it kind of thing. For instance, I'm pretty sure my mum would love it, I'm also pretty sure my dad would hate it. They both really like Tom Waits (I have no idea how they feel about Burrows), so that alone will not be a deciding factor.

- This IS an amazingly beautiful show. Even when it's jarring, the music somehow manages to stay beautiful. The control the actors have over their body, especially Kevin Corey as Wilhem, is a sight to behold.

As you've gleaned by now, I loved it. Here's how much I loved it - I'm 6 months pregnant, I have a kid camped out on my bladder, I can often not even go more than 45 minutes without having to pee, and yet... This show was so engaging, and had me so enthralled, that even though it's more than 90 minutes without an intermission, I didn't notice that I had to pee until the show was done (at which point I realised and thought my bladder might explode...) Perhaps I've hit on a new rating system? Instead of stars it could be how many minutes until Megan feels like she's going to pee her pants. I'll give it some thought and get back to you. *grin*

When I first heard about the show, and even when I first walked into the theatre, I expected it to be mostly an aural show. I mean, poetry and music, seems pretty much all about the ears. But as I watched I found myself struck by the incredible visualizations. The contrast of intense costumes and make up with a very simple stage and simple props, the wonderful choreography, and the amazing movement from the actors.

Honestly, I wish I could just show you a clip of it so you could get a clear idea of what the show is like. Juxtapositions abound, intensity seems to be the raison d'ĂŠtre. It's different and unexpected. It's somehow simple and complicated at the same time. And, now I'll stop saying things that don't help paint a picture and more just muddy the water... I can tell you that Scott and I both enjoyed it immensely.

If you're not sure whether or not you'll like it, err on the side of checking it out. Because, if you hate it then it's a little over an hour and a half out of your life, if you love it then it's an amazing experience, and you'll keep going back to it again and again in your mind.

Details
- Black Rider runs until November 16 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Shows Tues - Sat at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30
- Ticket prices range from $19 - $38 and are available from the box office at 416-531-1827 or online

Photo of Rachael Johnston by Adam PW Smith


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