Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dionysus In Stony Mountain: Play Review

I was lucky enough to attend quite a few plays when I was in University.  My Intro to Theatre course required me to see some over the school year and critique them.  That's why this blog reminds me of writing a University paper again.

Dionysus in Stony Mountain is a two act play featuring two actors: Sarah Constible and Ross McMillan.  Sarah plays Heidi, a psychiatrist at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary and Ross plays James a prisoner who is close to making parole in act one and Eric, Heidi's uncle, in the second act.

The first act is gold.  You can tell that the two actors are very familiar with each other and the scene, considering they performed it at the Fringe Festival a few years ago.  Questions are brought up that make the audience think.  Are we helping the mentally ill?  Is throwing them in prison a worthy decision?  Does this really heal them?  Or make them worse?  In the first act, James decides not to take his medication and actor Ross McMillan does an an excellent job of acting the part.  Playwright Steven Ratzlaff writes the part beautifully.  James focuses on German philospher Friedrich Nietzsche.  His words become the bible for him.  

The second act expands.  It features Heidi, who has now quit her job at the facility, just like she promised James if he agreed to start his meds and make parole.  Her life has taken a downward spiral and she questions what the purpose of our prison system is. Uncle Eric tries to convince her to visit her parents in Florida.  At first she is hostile, but as the act progresses, Eric reveals that her mom once attempted suicide.  In return, Heidi tells Eric that James committed suicide in the worn down apartment where the act takes place.  The two start to bond, and the play ends with the two working on fixing the apartment walls together.

The second act is more of an afterthought than anything else.  I like sequels, because I want to know how things end for characters.  But this didn't set well with me.  The two acts have completely different tones and feel like two separate plays. One questions the system we live with, the other one does show the results, but in a very dark and dramatic tone.  Perhaps this was the best way to tell it, and I might not have gotten the full grasp of the production.

Regardless, the second act grabbed my attention, and made me think about a lot of our values.  Mission accomplished on their part.

I appreciated the local setting.  When I would come to Winnipeg with my family as a kid, we'd pass that very penitentiary every time.  I was able to place a visual on where it was all taking place.  Even in the second act that takes place in an apartment building on Maryland north of Portage.  I live just a few streets away from there.  I was able to take the locations and turn them into visuals.  However, I didn't think it was necessary to name drop the Liquor Mart and Safeway in the plays.  As amusing as it was for the audience, it didn't add anything to the play.

Overall, it was a good production.  You can tell the entire crew put a lot of time and effort into the play, which is what you expect from all of the theatre you see.  I give a lot of credit to Ross McMillan and Sarah Constible.  They played their characters excellently, and you could tell they knew who their characters were.  I could imagine this would be difficult for Sarah too considering she does play the same character in both acts, but both with very different mindsets. 

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