By Bill Richardson and Veda Hille. Directed by Amiel Gladstone. An Arts Club Theatre production presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Revue Stage on Tuesday, January 22. Continues until February 11
Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata puts the want back in want ads. It’s terrific. And make no mistake: this musical entertainment has “touring hit” written all over it.
The tone of Cantata is approximately two parts absurd hilarity and one part potent loneliness. CBC Radio host Bill Richardson, who wrote the show with songwriter Veda Hille, combed Craigslist for oddities, and he’s come up with some doozies: “Need Sarah Palin look-alike for adult film”; “Children’s guillotine… Only been used once.” Without losing the characters’ eccentricity, Richardson and Hille also reveal the posters’ humanity. Take the woman trying to give away her collection of cat hats, for instance. They belonged to her pet, Snowman, who is now deceased. As the poster sings, in absolute earnestness, about how some of the hats are cute and some are more formal, it’s impossible not to laugh—especially when Snowman’s ghost starts to sing back. But Craigslist Cantata isn’t about ridicule. The woman is nutty, but she’s also grieving.
And she’s lonely—like a lot of us. That’s the genius of this piece: it recognizes that in a culture in which we’re trained to believe that we’re primarily consumers rather than citizens or members of a community, when we reach out for connection, many of us do so in the language of commerce.
Hille is an expert at finding the poetry and musicality in mundane speech. Sometimes that exploration is bare-bones: she speaks one passage while accompanying herself on piano, accentuating the rhythms and melody of her words. And sometimes Hille expands the musicality of speech into full, fantastic numbers, including “Hi, My Lady”, in which performer Dmitry Chepovetsky sings an intoxicatingly rhythmic song about being infatuated with a black-clad woman. Hille also layers her musical motifs beautifully: snatches of songs—and therefore stories—float up in other pieces, reminding us of the commonality of their themes.
The performers rock. I’ve never seen her before, but I’m smitten with Toronto artist Selina Martin, who plays the cat lady, among other characters. Her presence is intriguingly still and raw. At one point, she throws herself around on a ladder like a pole dancer. Her gestures are full, but somehow she’s emotionally held back—kind of like she’d be willing to do anything, but she might have to be on morphine to do it. Her combination of irony and vulnerability is perfect for this show.
Chepovetsky is wonderfully hip and sexy, and he covers a lot of varied terrain in his characterizations. J. Cameron Barnett, who plays Snowman as well as a number of humans, is showier, in the standard tradition of musical theatre, but he’s a charmer, and in one of the highlights of the evening, he blows a mean sax. Bree Grieg is pitch-perfect. The charismatic Hille and drummer Barry Mirochnick round out the cast.
Director Amiel Gladstone and his assistant Shane Snow have shaped the show lovingly. With the exception of a dull ballet sequence, the choreography is seductively playful, as is the blocking, which sometimes has the actors popping up in the audience.
See Craigslist Cantata in its first run and be part of Vancouver theatre history.