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L to R: Madeleine Hall, Mitchel Rose. Photo: David A. Jackson.

Theatre Review: Cardinal at undercurrents—until 02.15.20

By Brian Carroll on February 13, 2020



Are you stressed? LRT? Coronavirus? Snow shovelling? Hyper-partisan politics? You need a clown show. But not just any clown show. You need…

Cardinal, a clown show about Alzheimer’s!

No, seriously, hear me out. Honest! It’s right there in the program: “a clown show about Alzheimer’s.” undercurrents festival rates Cardinal as PG (parental guidance). I am pleased to report that children and adults will both find much to like about this show, in spite of its serious topic (though parents will want to plan for time after the show to talk about the content of the play.)

The clown techniques and humour are European rather than North American. Sight gags between the two clowns consist of gentle teasing rather than slapstick. This reflects the training in France of the two creator/perfomers: Madeleine Hall trained at L’École Philippe Gaulier; Mitchel Rose graduated from the Jacques Lecoq School.

Mitchel Rose plays Memory. Photo: David A. Jackson.

Mitchel Rose plays Memory: tall, upright, fastidious, and tenderly attentive to his master who is sleeping in the back room. Madeleine Hall plays Disease as an impish clown. She steals your heart, even as she steals his memories. Her interactions with Rose charmed the opening night audience.

We first meet Memory dressed in cardinal red, master of all in his domain: walls, door, chair, his clothes—all are red. Even the live music is completely under his control.

But then, behind Memory’s back, the mischievous imp Disease, dressed in stark white, sneaks around, upsetting his domain with her subterfuges. Disease makes objects disappear, reappear, change positions and colours mysteriously, leaving Memory disoriented and fearful.

Madeleine Hall plays Disease. Photo: David A. Jackson.

At first, it all seems mere teasing. But one thing is insidious. When Disease replaces Memory’s red objects with her own white ones, Memory’s easy facility with the objects turns to arduous struggle. Skillful mastery of his domain slowly turns into lumbering inadequacy.

Even his beloved music starts to evade his control under her trickery.

This is aided by the consummate charm and skill of the two actors and three on stage musicians (Julien Dussault, Scottie Irving, Angela Schleihauf). The opening night audience quickly warmed to the delightful physical humour so beautifully timed and paced before them.

The opening night audience quickly warmed to the delightful physical humour so beautifully timed and paced before them.

For example, perfectly timed with the musicians, Memory “plays” the chairs and Disease (hidden under his jacket) like a xylophone. The musicians play the notes associated with the chairs, while Hall’s voice is the instrument for her note in the sequence. This delighted the audience, who responded warmly to the scene.

Another example: unbeknownst to Memory, both he and Disease (behind his back) occupy his jacket. The interchange between their two arms in separate sleeves charmed the audience and elicited giggles. It was a masterful sample of skilled clown technique that draws in the audience and is a joy to watch.

L to R: Mitchel Rose, Madeleine Hall. Photo: David A. Jackson.

A masterful sample of skilled clown technique that draws in the audience and is a joy to watch.

Light, delightful and charming as the humour is, it hides a darker message. There comes a point where Memory at last recognizes the presence of Disease. Fear and confusion evolve as Memory learns new ways to cope with the tricks that Disease plays on him. But, playful though she is, Disease makes her own rules as she inexorably captures more territory from Memory.

This is no spoiler—it’s there in the online program: “Taking place in the imagined space inside a person’s mind, two performers depict an intimate battle between Memory and Disease as the latter lays her claim to the space, slowly transforming it from cardinal red to stark white.”

But it’s the sight gags, the musical humour, the aural comedy, the facial expressions that transcend and delight the audience in ways they never expected.

Opening night was well attended. If you missed the 2016 Ottawa Fringe award-winning version of Cardinal, don’t miss this new opportunity. If you did see that version with its recorded music, the live music makes Cardinal worth seeing again. Only two more shows. Get your tickets early.

Cardinal by Aplombusrhombus is playing at the undercurrents festival at Arts Court (2 Daly Ave) on February 14th at 9PM, and 15th at 3PM. Single tickets are pay-what-you-decide, $5, $20, $50 or $75, no questions asked. The performances runs approximately 55 minutes.