Tag Archives: Theatre Inconnu

A triumph of battlefields and bed sheets


 At Theatre Inconnu

 Starring Clayton Jevne

 Adapted by Clayton Jevne from Robert Nye’s novel

 Oct. 4 – 19th


Reviewed by Leah Callen


 Sex!  And now that Falstaff has your attention, let the laughter guide you somewhere unexpectedly divine.  Clayton Jevne is incredibly authentic as he fills the boots of John Fastolf, a lusty English knight who is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Falstaff.  As he tells us tall tales about his wars and whores in rich detail, this one-man confession had me laughing, blushing, and crying.  With characters such as Pistol and Shallow, you’re bound to crack a smile. 


This storytelling is unapologetically profane, but surprisingly sacred and poetic at the same time. As Fastolf relives every sexual exploit of his life from the cradle to old age, we hear episodes that are both pornographic and beautiful – from a young woman’s creamy breasts and cherry nipples, to the butterflies that magically burst out of a bishop’s hand.   Just when one may get too uncomfortable with all the innuendo about his “soldier,” “in a flash of sack” the story takes a soulful turn.  Don’t let the prim music at the start fool you, though.  Hold onto your seats!  I felt my cheeks glowing in the dark.


Fastolf shares an intriguing point of view on some of the most famous medieval battles, witnessed from the edges of history. Audience members can get a little lost on this history map if they don’t have a built-in compass for it, but the accounts are so vivid that it doesn’t matter. While he miraculously conquers the French by throwing jewels and herrings at them, philandering Fastolf is conquered by chaste women. The saints slay his heart. Jevne paints a stunning image of Joan of Arc that is beyond human and, to me, the most bewitching part of the narrative. 


Jevne’s full costume reminded me of a naughty Puss in Boots.   The character certainly tries to spin his life in magical proportions, moving from the mindless thrusts of youth to the far sight of age.  But Fastolf travels a touching arc from a hyperbolizing hedonist to one humbled.  We see both a public and private persona in this play – a man embellished with bravado and the bare soul hiding inside him.  As he spins these far-out tales, Jevne creates an iconic pose, his lower half leading the way.  It suggests a character led by his worldly appetites.  But he is reduced to his knees before God, turning away from the audience.  The faceless humility of that pose is striking. 


Though the protagonist is larger than life, Jevne’s masterful acting never fell into caricature.  There was a natural flow to all his facial expressions and gestures that made the whole show feel genuine.  It was enthralling, watching him light up with lust and melt gently into tears.  Perhaps this play’s final wish is for us to be more promiscuous in our compassion and love for other human beings.  When our lives fade out, which will be the most powerful memories left behind: our selfish joys or our random acts of humanity?


Leah Callen is an MFA student at UVic.




Play cures sweet tooth

The Golden Dragon
Theatre Inconnu until May 18, 2013
Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Clayton Jevne

Reviewed by Leah Callen

When I sat down in the theatre, I had a bag of sugar-coated Fuzzy Peaches in my purse–candy that I sucked on as I walked to Fernwood. Little did I know the challenge my vice was about to undergo. The Golden Dragon is an avant-garde fable featuring industrious, ant-like workers in an Asian restaurant where everything is always served hot–whether it’s the Thai soup or the sex slave. Shiny woks and dark holes dot the abstract set as the cooks stir up trouble inside and around the Golden Dragon, a place where humanity hungers but is never satisfied. At times, the actors bang the woks with percussive force that is both dynamic and jarring: beware if you have hearing aids!

The story starts with a young Asian man howling with a fierce toothache. His whole mouth is black, perhaps because of his lifelong craving for candy or for home. His fellow chefs decide to yank out the tooth no matter what the consequence; we are quickly shown how all the little choices we make in life add up like ingredients in a recipe. A series of exploitative relationships play out as people will accept almost anything to relieve their emptiness. There are three kinds of patrons at this metaphorical restaurant: those who dish out pain to subdue their own, those who walk away from it, and those who swallow it.

An inventive retelling of Aesop’s fable of the hardworking ant and the carefree cricket takes such a dark turn that your mind will spin. It could even go so far as to represent capitalism’s exploitation of art. The Golden Dragon’s menu comes with a warning: beware of people who will chew you up like a cherry and spit you out like a stone. It’s all point of view: one man’s rotten tooth is another’s lucky dragon; someone’s pain tastes delicious to another.

With some clever, unexpected casting, actors express nontraditional gender. Michael Romano’s fragility as a stewardess and The Woman in the Red Dress was truly touching (he has a lovely voice). Mily Mumford straddled both innocence and arrogance as the Young Asian Man and the Barbie-Fucker. Blair Moro was the epitome of pathos as the pitiful cricket, his chopstick feeler ripped out by the unfeeling. Bingdon Kinghorn and Catriona Black spiced up the story with enjoyable Yang energy. It was curious how characters punctuate their dramatic speeches by announcing each short pause. It’s both comedic and heartbreaking, as characters hesitate to construct their truth. Is all life a script where we speak the lines we think we should or are we always genuine?

At first fragmented and unrelated, the scenes link eventually in heart-stopping ways. The real and surreal mix as the playwright heats everyone up in his paper wok. I just wish there was more of a hook at the beginning. The deceivingly prosaic set-up tries the patience somewhat. At first the fable came across as cute when it was anything but; the production builds up to beautiful choreography that is physical poetry.

Theatre Inconnu productions always stir up the audience emotionally and psychologically. The Golden Dragon challenges us to ask ourselves: are you a caged, self-destructive cricket or an angry, sadistic ant? It’s a warning to not fall into either of those holes. And after watching what happens to those who indulge their cravings, I think this play cured me of my candy addiction. For now.

Leah Callen is a poet-playwright-screenwriter graduating with a BFA any second now at the University of Victoria.

An ode to bodies electric

In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play)
@ Theatre Inconnu until March 2/13
Directed by Naomi Simpson
Written by Sarah Ruhl

Reviewed by Leah Callen

Sparks fly in the 1880s when Dr. Givings electrifies women with his revolutionary therapy for hysteria–a vibrator. His wife, Mrs. Givings, is a live wire desperate to plug in to her husband’s secret practice in the next room. But the good Dr. turns her off and turns on the sensitive Mrs. Daldry instead, with a prescription of casual pleasure to put the roses back in her cheeks. Tension builds when Leo, a passionate painter, a robust Mr. Daldry, and a black woman named Elizabeth are drawn into the undercurrent. The play warns: be careful not to over-pet a cat or it might burst into flames.

Watching In the Next Room causes fits of laughter. The actors’ paroxysms were so refreshingly real and unabashed when struck by erotic lightning. Emma Conde hit the high note perfectly as the delicate Mrs. Daldry undressing dutifully. Elizabeth Marsh delivered an emotional climax as the wet nurse, as natural as rain. I was torn by her character being more comfortable in her own skin than the two uptight, white ladies–both touching and stereotypical. James Roney was one hundred percent Bohemian as Leo who wants to immortalize the down-to-earth Elizabeth with a painted halo. Celine Richmond gave a magnetic performance as the midwife, Annie, while Jason Stevens was a forceful whirlwind as Mr. Daldry, who just wants his appetite satisfied. Odile Nelson was a bit of a caricature as the intense Mrs. Givings, but she drove the plot forward with a firm reign and growing pathos. All the while, Julian Cervello basks in the electric halo of his table lamp as Dr. Givings. In a clever lighting maneuver, each time a patient finds sexual enlightenment, they too achieve a golden halo.

I enjoyed the sense of humour in the simultaneous staging. Mrs. Givings pours cups of tea for guests in her rosy living room while her husband strips them down to their basic anatomy in his clinic. When the power goes out, both husband and wife must resort to old-fashioned methods to get by. While Dr. Givings examines an uncomfortable patient in his office, people finger a piano in the living room.

Sarah Ruhl’s wordplay is often hilarious, but she also gets downright poetic. The play questions soulless, mechanical sex. Leo muses that a light without a flame is not divine, and Mrs. Givings prophesies that future fireflies will be electric. The lyrical dialogue of In The Next Room gave me playwright envy. The plot has a darkly comical edge. There’s a fine line between being electrified and electrocuted, between delight and discomfort. These characters marvel at the literal electricity passing between them. However, the true charge comes from within, or as Walt Whitman once dubbed it in his poem I Sing the Body Electric: “the charge of the Soul.” Science has yet to unlock that mystery.

Loosen your corset strings before you go to the theatre: I’m sure you’ll get a buzz out of this daring production.

In the Next Room runs until March 2 at Theatre Inconnu, 1923 Fernwood Road (across from The Belfry). Tickets available for purchase online or over the phone at 250.360.0234.


Reviewer Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter studying at the University of Victoria.