Raquel Duffy, Ins Choi, Mike Ross & Ken MacKenzie. Photo by Jason Hudson
Revied by James Karas
Three years ago Soulpepper produced Civil Elegies, a one-man show by Mike Ross and Lorenzo Savoini based on the poetry of Dennis Lee. Lee was Toronto’s first Poet Laureate and an evening of theatre based on poetry about Toronto deserved respect if not love.
Dennis Lee’s poetry is back on stage but with significant differences this time. The evening is based on Alligator Pie, a book of children’s poems published in 1974. The creators and stars of the show are five Soulpepper stalwarts, namely Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross. Note, they are listed in alphabetical order.
The raw materials for the evening are Lee’s wonderful children’s poems that range in length from several lines to a couple of pages. As becomes the genre, they are humorous, fast-paced, thoughtful, sometimes silly and heavy on rhyme. The title poem speaks of alligator pie, alligator stew and alligator soup and the child in us states that we are willing to give away our hockey stick but not our alligator pie, soup etc.
The five actors have taken Lee’s poems and cooked up a one-hour show that kept the audience enthralled and amused. Some of the poems are recited, others are set to music and many have entire routines created around them.
There are a number of musical instruments played by the actors; in fact they create a small band with them at times. We have guitars, a clarinet, brass instruments, percussion, and sundry other “noises” to keep the hour running quickly.
The Michael Young Theatre is turned into a theatre-in-the round and the actors perform on a stage with relatively few props. They do put on some humorous costumes and other paraphernalia but some of it is almost unnecessary. It is so because they create so much energy and so much fun, the props are almost superfluous.
They use a large number of poems and if there are any links or “plot” I did not grasp it and was too engrossed to look for it. The actors sing, dance, recite, horse around and keep the audience in the palm of their hands. They performed as an ensemble or solo.
Opening night audiences are notorious for their excessive zeal and enthusiasm and are not a very trustworthy gauge of the reaction of more “objective” observers, i.e. those who pay to see a play after opening night.. But the opening night audience for Alligator Pie may be an exception. There were a lot of younger people including children and they are not known for false enthusiasm.
In the opening scene, an actor sticks hos head out of a trap door in the middle of the stage. The reaction is immediate laughter and joy and it set the pace for the rest of the hour. Throughout the performance the youngsters were engaged, entertained and enthusiastic. At the end there was a standing ovation by young and not-so-young. That’s how every performance of every production should end.____
Alligator Pie created by Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross based on the poetry of Dennis Lee, opened on November 6 and will run until November 25, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 944-1740