“It’s easy to find what you’re against but difficult to find what you’re for.”
This is a paraphrase of one of the memorable lines in Prairie Theatre Exchange’s opening play, Souvenirs. This is the world premier of the play written by Michele Riml and directed by Jennifer Brewin.
The quotation belongs in that proverbial book of proverbs that contains others like “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The latter doesn’t apply to this play, however. It’s broke and needs repair.
But let’s step back for a moment. The Winnipeg theatre-goer must realize that there are three tiers of theatre in Winnipeg. The premier is the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Because of its stature, it focuses on the mainstream. Anyone interested in the more challenging, and newer, plays will seek out the other tiers. The second tier is occupied by the PTE and The Warehouse. Here, risks are taken, and new works, such as this one, often receive their premiere.. There is a focus, as well, on Canadian plays. The third tier, including the U of M’s Black Hole Theatre and the U of W theatre group, focuses on plays that are outside the mainstream such as those by Ionesco, Brecht and Beckett.
It is the risks that PTE takes that sometimes lead them to presenting less-than-stellar plays. But we must applaud PTE, even in their failures, because they have the courage to take those risks, which often provide exciting and new experiences.
Souvenirs involves an estranged father and daughter getting back together briefly. The father, Gustav, was born and raised in Czechoslovakia coming to Canada shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has decided to pursue a dream of building a guest-house beside what would seem to be an isolated lake. It is this passion that has driven away his wife and led to the estrangement of his daughter, Maggie.
The play opens with an intruder breaking into the shack where Gustav lives. Gustav hears this, grabs his shotgun and confronts the thief only to discover that this is his daughter.
Gustav is played by Ron Lea who is very convincing in his role. Maggie, played by Rachel Aberle, is not so convincing mainly because she is called upon to play a 16-year old who, at times, exhibits a maturity far beyond those years.
Intermixed within this framework of reconciliation is a dastardly banker who doesn’t have the same vision as Gustav. Thus, the banker turns Gustav down for a loan to complete his dream guest-house. Gustav breaks into a soliloquy about an eagle’s nest.
There is also the intrusion of a bear Gustav is attempting to shoot. However, he can never find the bear in the dark. This appears to be some sort of metaphor.
Maggie learns that Gustav is dying from cancer — or so the audience is led to believe.
All of these sub-plots — and there are others — divert the audience’s attention from the main theme: father-daughter reconciliation. This main theme has the potential of becoming a cliché if the playwright is not careful. And Riml was not careful. She allowed her focus to stray into irrelevancies and sub-plots. You also have to watch out for that kitchen sink, as Riml attempts to throw everything in.
Another disconcerting aspect was that, although the play really concerned only one day — Maggie arriving during the evening of the previous day — the actors kept going to sleep. Part of this was as a result of both father and daughter smoking the medical marijuana that the father had been given for his cancer — another diversion, but at least this time, leading to some humorous situations.
Despite these problems, the audience still left the theatre having enjoyed the spectacle of unrestrained risk.
Souvenirs runs until Nov. 1 at the Prairie Theatre Exchange.