Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

Catalyst Theatre, through the vision of Jonathan Christenson, attempts to understand what happened with the infamous Donnelly family through the eyes of the deceased, looking back almost 200 years to that gruesome night when vigilante justice came calling and five Donnellys lay dead.  Though reverential with the theatrical creation you will witness, it's likely that you're not going to leave a performance of VIGILANTE dancing the jig.  This is a dark story, steeped in bile, bitterness, and unfulfilled retribution.

I woke up the morning after watching the opening night performance, the second show in Keyano Theatre Company's TELUS Drama Series, realizing that it was a night of dreams, decidedly more violent and disturbing than normal.  The vibrations of the family, through the Catalyst aesthetic, the talented ensemble and the story, penetrated deeply and had an immediate effect on my nocturnal adventures.

In chatting with Eva Cairns, managing director of the company, this 9-performance run of VIGILANTE is the first phase of its development as a piece of work that will premiere in Edmonton in 2015.  The partnership Catalyst has generated with Keyano Theatre Company gives them an extraordinary opportunity to nurture the show in a first-class facility, with a generous audience and the freedom to explore and change things as they go along.

It is conceivable that the show we saw last night could be remarkably different by the time VIGILANTE closes next Saturday.  They are rehearsing 5 hours during the day AND running the show at night. It is an immersive schedule, one that many of these actors have experienced before in the previous Catalyst endeavours.  The results of this tried and true process - the company leveraged this arrangement three times before with Frankenstein (2006), Nevermore (2008) and Hunchback (2011) - are indisputable.

Donnelly patriarch, James, made the torturous 6-week dirge across the big pond with his wife Johanna with promises of better times in Canada, of casting generational bitterness aside in exchange for the peace and tranquility of their 100 acres in Biddulph Township in Ontario.  There is a beautiful scene, magically punctuated by the exquisite lighting of Jennifer Goodman, between James (Kris Joseph) and Johannah (Kate Ryan) when they first arrive on their patch of land and begin imagining the house they will build: kitchen facing the east to catch the morning light, bedroom with a four-poster bed.

Each character carries their unresolved anger in their bodies, completely unique, recognizable and consistent through the show.  So, when Scott Shpeley snaps out of Tommy Donnelly into the body of Patrick Farrell, it is immediate and effective.  All of the actors slip in and out of their primary characters, altering their postures and voices, thanks to great coaching work from choreographer Laura Krewski and voice, speech and text director Betty Moulton.

I was particularly impressed with the narration of Garett Ross, who played Will Donnelly.  I've seen him two different times, most recently in The Soul Collector and in Nevermore.  His voice is a powerful instrument, and the style he's developed is perfectly suited to the task of filling in the canvas with colour and detail.

The impassioned speech by Jenny Donnelly (Ellie Heath) near the end of the show, the final plea to her dead brothers to let go of their anger and move on with their….afterlife... is very powerful.

Lucas Meeuse (Johnny Donnelly) returns to the Keyano Theatre stage for the first time since Beauty and the Beast (2006) and delivers a strong performance.  Born and raised in Fort McMurray, Lucas joins a growing cadre of actors from here who are successfully working as professionals.  He celebrated his 25th birthday yesterday, opening VIGILANTE on the stage of his youth.  That had to feel pretty good.

The cast, rounded out by Christopher Cook (Bobby Donnelly) and Benjamin Wardle (Mikey Donnelly), is exceptionally strong and cohesive.  I'm guessing that this is not an easy show, nor an easy process, but this ensemble seems to relish the opportunity to work in this creative space.  That personal enjoyment, juxtaposed against the penetrating and inescapable anger of the characters, provides an intoxicating elixir that obviously worked its magic on the opening night crowd, resulting in an exuberant and sustained standing ovation.

Congratulations to entire Catalyst Theatre team, and best of luck with the continued evolution of VIGILANTE.  Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!


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