Humanity takes flight on MRC stage
A philanthropist, wanting to strongly believe that what he’s doing is right, gives a homeless man in Victoria the coat off his back. The homeless man is then mugged and killed. But not completely.
The man’s consciousness lives on inside of the coat, a coat that also has thoughts of its own and who desperately wants to find her wearer. Together, although unwilling at first, the coat takes the beggar’s dead body and consciousness across Canada and around the world in search of the philanthropist. Along the way a conversation exploring the meaning of humanity begins between the coat and the dead beggar.
Certainly a fanciful idea for a book or perhaps a story better visualized on film with the marvels of special effects; however, it’s neither. It’s the ambitious play by Canadian playwright Sean Dixon, first seen last year at Alberta Theatre Projects playRites Festival and now being interpreted for the Mount Royal College theatre stage.
Directed by MRC instructor Glenda Stirling, the Canadian play is a different direction for the students in the theatre program. “It’s so relevant because it’s written by a Canadian voice, essentially, of their generation, of their time, of their place,” Stirling said.
Relying heavily on movement to tell the story, the two main characters, the beggar, Ned, (second year student Mathieu Bourassa) and the coat (second year student Angie Wong), travel across the stage in unison, essentially a choreographed dance.
“The hardest part is trying to be in unison because we’re both really different body types and we have really different vocabularies in terms of how we move and even how we walk so it’s just super hard,” Wong explained.
Her classmate for the last two years, Bourassa also shared his observations.
“It’s tricky because the characters are so different in the way that they would normally move. Ned’s character is dead so before he was dead he could move by himself and I think he moved very differently than the coat moves around him.
“It’s pretty challenging to think about, say delivering the lines in a certain way and not being able to move your body the way it wants to move as a character.”
Bourassa and Wong are carrying the show as their characters are on the stage for all but a few scenes of the play. Separately they are able to learn their lines on their own but the movement and the connection between the characters is something they have to explore together.
“Physically finding that connection to be in unison and also finding the emotional connection too — there’s such a journey in this play that I never thought would come, but it’s so weird, there’s such a journey in it,” Wong commented.
The five main characters of the cast are all second-year students, something that Stirling believes helps for both the students and the kind of play it is.
“It’s a huge undertaking for the actors so I think it takes until second year to be able to put all those pieces together really effectively.”
The rest of the cast is comprised of a chorus line, all first-year students. Unlike the version that played out last year at the ATP playRites Festival, with the number of students available, Stirling was able to use a chorus line to help illustrate some of the scenes of the play whereas the original relied on imagination to convey a scene such as the one with fighter planes.
“They just had two actors who had little toy planes in their hands; whereas I have six people coming on being the plane,” Stirling explained.
With a full course-load and rehearsals running Tuesdays to Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the students have little time for anything else besides getting ready for the final production of the 2008-2009 season.
The Gift of the Coat runs nightly at 7:30 p.m. Mar. 26 to 28 and Mar. 31 to Apr. 4 in the Wright Theatre. Visit mtroyal.ca/tickets for tickets.