I go to a lot of theatre. I get depressed by all the mediocre scripts that are performed. But Theatre 4.669’s production of Un-Countried at the undercurrents festival has restored my faith in Canadian theatre. It’s not often Ottawa audiences get to see a world premiere of such a well-crafted play. Rarer still that the playwright is a local. Stéphanie Turple has had several of her plays performed in Ottawa, but her Un-Countried is the best I’ve seen.
Turple introduces us to two East German border guards. One is an eager-beaver lad who claims to be 23 but looks 15, the other a sarcastic old cynic whose soldiering experience dates back to the Nazis. “Not so long ago, I went to bed a Nazi and woke up a Communist.” The lad is played with true-believer intensity by Jon Dickey, a theatre major at the University of Ottawa. The old soldier is played very convincingly by Michael Hanrahan, a Toronto-based actor who is a founding member of the esteemed Soulpepper Theatre Company.
The lad is appalled by everything the old guard says. “Any advice?” he asks. “Get another job!” he’s told. He keeps needling the old guy as to whether he’s ever shot someone. The old guy says, “They pay you extra if you shoot someone,” and it’s kinder to shoot to kill rather than just to wound someone. After all, a wounded escapee will be imprisoned. Then the old guy makes coffee and goes back to reading a banned (!) book, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. What gives?
The play begins on a very important day – November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall was opened by a bureaucratic blunder. The two guards have standing orders to shoot to kill if anyone tries to cross the border into West Germany without proper papers. But earlier that day some apparatchik from the Politburo announced that it was OK for East Germans to cross the border into West Germany. The announcement electrified the East German populace. What to do? After struggling with the unthinkable, the lad wants to start shooting into the oncoming crowds but the old guy wants to throw open the gates.
What happens next, and what happens six months later – well, you’ll have to see for yourselves.
Theatre 4.669’s production of Un-Countried at the undercurrents festival has restored my faith in Canadian theatre. It’s not often Ottawa audiences get to see a world premiere of such a well-crafted play. Rarer still that the playwright is a local.
Kudos to all those involved in this production – Kevin Orr the director, the actors, John Doucet the set designer, and Thomas Sinou, the sound designer. I particularly liked the elegant way in which Orr handled the scene change midway through the play.
There are only four performances of Un-Countried. Be sure you get to one of them.
Un-Countried is playing until Saturday February 18 at Arts Court Theatre. Tickets cost $20–25 available online at www.undercurrentsfestival.ca and at the door. Students PWYC at the door.