Emily Deming On the Opening Night of Taking In Strangers
Taking in Strangers is an interdisciplinary “docudance”; a one woman show about the artist’s (Louise Moyes) time traveling back and forth between St John’s and Montreal, and about the rural communities through which she travels. It is told through the many views and voices of the people along the coasts of Quebec and Newfoundland whom she meets along the way. Moyes’ travels parallel those of Marilyn, a “bag lady” with “presence” (as Leonard Cohen once called her) well know in downtown St John’s. Their interactions serve to anchor the theme of the piece as an individual’s sense of place in the world, and what control (if any) we have over that.
Reaction to the Show:
In the spirit of Louise Moyes’s documentary style story telling, I am going to quote a woman who always says what I wish I had thought. In retrospect, that may be why I invited her to go to see this show with me. She once whispered “If there is one thing Newfoundlanders love in art, its Newfoundland” as we walked through an art auction. This friend is someone who won’t get swept up in a standing ovation if she doesn’t feel the pull of it directly from the show. Here is what she said as the lights went up after Taking In Strangers:
“Louise does a pretty amazing job of creating real characters instead of the jolly, pat, one dimensional images so often reflected back in theatre here. It’s very Newfoundland but also idiosyncratic.” It is true, Moyes is an observer, a listener, an artist that is not afraid of letting other people speak. You do not leave her shows feeling like you watched her working through, and projecting, her own ego. She works with integrity; cleanly.
Other People’s Stories:
This integrity is pivotal to her work as so much of it is based on collecting real people/stories/beauty/ugliness/histories/humour/characters and then bringing these to us in the focused setting of a theatre. A part of her art is in this curating of life. She takes these bits of the world she has gathered, interacts with them, adds highlights, lowlights, and her own reactions as she offers them up to the audience, but she never uses them. She does not manipulate. To quote my friend again, “It was nice to hear a real side to Marilyn’s story where she wasn’t used as some sort of mascot. It didn’t feel like Louise was laying a claim to her”.
The stories in Taking in Strangers are funny and revealing and never concocted. Some portrayals are not flattering, though they are always immensely entertaining and never insulting. All together, they work to make the audience think about what juxtapositions there are between individual identity and community coherence. The show is purposeful but not proscriptive or bossy.
The Bones of It:
The directing is thorough and done with an expertise that means it goes almost unnoticed. Moyes’ changes of attire, and cuts from one scene to another and integration of maps and projections are all made to look almost spontaneous. But, though the set is simple, there are many parts to play and leaps through space and through time and all of that working in such a simple and grok-able manner indicate a directing team worthy of some applause. So kudos to Lisa Porter, Valerie Dean, and John Moyes.
The tone of the show is more casual then some of Moyes’ other “docudance” pieces. The Choreography during many of the stories is done with a light touch. She discusses with the audience how the show itself has evolved over the years. It is like a conversation more than a play or a dance, but a conversation where we get to sit still and listen without the noise of thinking what we should say next.
There was a certain awkwardness in a few moments that felt like a rough seam where the well practiced original parts of the show rubbed up against the newer facets of this latest incarnation. Moyes’ fresh perspective gave more life to some moments of the show but also lent a whiff of staleness, by contrast, here and there. I suspect this will have evened out by the end of the week of performances. As the newer bits gain a slight patina of wear and the older bits are polished with renewed use they will meet each other in a comfortable place of full cohesion.
Engaging the Audience:
Even with the “direct address” style of the piece, Moyes does not over explain. We were allowed to notice things without being told. For instance, of all the different characters from the various outports, none are young people just starting out on families and careers. There is one small child and many middle-aged and older people represented. This “shows not tells” us the problems these communities are facing. What will happen ten, twenty years from now? I do not know. But I look forward to watching Louise Moyes interpret it for us.
I will conclude with one more quote from my friend that sums up my feelings about this show, “Louise is so talented and so natural in her approach that there is nothing to do but enjoy”. Lucky for you this show runs through Saturday March 21 at The LSPU Hall, so you still have a chance to enjoy it too.
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