At Waterfront Theatre until May 17
Posted May 8, 2014
There’s a problem with RIP! It doesn’t know whom it’s for. It’s not for adults: it’s too broad, too exaggerated. It could be for little kids: they’d enjoy the physicality, the puppetry and the fairytale quality – but it’s two hours long and the little ones would get twitchy. And it’s definitely not for tweens who are, I think, far too sophisticated for this style of presentation. While they might get off on the idea of someone falling asleep and waking up years later to meet their own great-great grandson, it’s too ‘kiddie’. This production just falls through the cracks.
Not for lack of trying or talent. Simon Webb (whose Polonius in Honest Fishmongers’ production of Hamlet was one of the best I’ve ever seen) is reduced here to mugging. Tara Travis (whose one-woman show Til Death Do We Part: The Six Wives of Henry VIII was nothing short of brilliant) has to stoop to eyelash batting. Annette Devick is obviously a fine circus performer but RIP! isn’t a circus. Stefano Giulianetti plays, more or less, the straight man (Randall a.k.a. Rip) and does it well.
The Rip Van Winkle story derives from a short story of the same name by American writer Washington Irving in 1819. It was set in the years before and after the American Revolution. Kindly old Dutch-American farmer Rip Van Winkle helps a strange fellow carry a keg of moonshine into the woods and then joins him for a drink. Rip falls into a deep sleep and when he awakens, the war is over, his wife is dead and many friends have been killed in the fighting. His dog, Wolf, has vanished, too.
Similar stories have cropped up over time including the one about Epimenides by Diogenes Laertius, an Epicurean third century philosopher. It seems to be part of our collective unconscious: avoidance through sleep, ‘a little death’. In many of the variations, the protagonist has gone off to avoid a nagging wife, meets some otherworldly character, drinks a magic potion and sleeps for however long it takes his wife to die. Don’t try this at home.
Axis brings the familiar story into the present tense. Randall Irving Parson (R.I.P., get it?) wakes up to a world with cellphones, movies and ‘selfies’.
Naomi Sider’s set – a magical landscape bathed in blue light (designer Darren Boquist) and twinkling with stars – creates a fantasy world. And Bob Buckley’s music, sounding faintly Theremin-like, adds to the mystical, enchanted quality of the show.
Wayne Specht and Kathryn Bracht co-direct.
One of the best parts of this show? Dusty Hagerud’s dog puppet: a life-sized Husky that bounds across the stage or sits demurely, it’s paws sweetly crossed. Good looking dog.
Conceived and written by KC Brown with the RIP! Creative Collective, RIP! is produced by Axis Theatre Company that mounted, remounted and toured the extraordinarily successful The Number 14; the company has produced over fifty-five original works and won sixteen Jessie Awards.
Wayne Specht’s tenure at Axis Theatre Company is coming to an end. His has been a splendid career and under his artistic direction, Axis has been recognized as one of the most innovative theatre companies in Canada – incorporating mime, dance, clowning, puppetry and acrobatics – for thirty-eight years. Winning the Jessie award for Lifetime Career Achievement in 2002, Specht leaves an impressive legacy.