2020 Wildside Recap: ‘Chattermarks’

Special Festival Coverage

Meagan Schroeder, Roxane Loumède, Jillian Harris, Benita Bailey and Alex Petrachuk in Cabal Theatre’s Chattermarks (Photo Credit: Anthony Kennedy)

After first appearing at the Centaur’s Wildside Festival in 2018 with the remount of Tragic Queens, the Montreal English Theatre Award-winning Cabal Theatre returns to the fest for its 23rd edition with another cutting edge World Premiere, Chattermarks, which runs at La Chapelle until January 22nd.

There is something of an intellectual and physical rigour in theatremaking – a deliberate artistry of a higher order – that, when combined with feral intrepidity in creation, makes for a constant in excellence.

“Experimental” and “provocative” are the often recycled descriptors tethered to Cabal, who, since presenting their inaugural production of Mary Stuart in 2016, have been a boundary-bulldozing force at the fore of the avant-garde movement in Montreal theatre (numerous META wins and nominations for Tragic Queens and La Somnambule back the statement.) The work is deviant, exploratory, brazen – singular. And quintessentially Wildside.

But “audacious” is not to be interchanged with “reckless”, for there is here a meticulous, almost machinal method to the madness that is seldom highlighted in critique. Cabal consistently rises to transcendence, and it is only a rare breed of process-oriented work ethic in craft that can yield similar results time and time again.

Photo Credit: Maude Blais

Chattermarks is the distinguished new addition to the lineage of Cabal masterworks birthed from such labour. Brainchild of playwright Joseph Shragge, director Anthony Kennedy, and dramaturg Kyle Croutch, it draws from the performance ensemble’s singular sense of aesthetics and its militant precision in execution to devise an original œuvre on the residues of war.

Summoning the central question of how we memorialize pain, the piece transports audiences to an antarctic wasteland fractured by chatter marks – gauges chipped out of glaciated rock surfaces. On the scarred landscape, two sisters contend with their own trauma and healing post-conflict. A paramilitary unit is on a marauder’s mission through the storm to unearth the siblings’ snow-buried truth. The dust of crime sits preserved in the frigid haze, but can history be fully traced and brought to recovery, order, and justice?

It’s, in most simplistic terms, a story of how people move on, even after peace has seemingly already been made.

Photo Credit: Maude Blais

The trilingual theatrical text takes heightened flight through the sterling performing conduits of Jillian Harris, Alex Petrachuk, Meagan Schroeder, Benita Bailey, and Roxane Loumède. (And, despite its German passages and poetic quality, the script is one of Cabal’s most accessible in their ever-expanding canon of postdramatic works.) The tragedy is nuanced, even in its grandeur; the acting, potent in its restraint.

Striking visuals (BP Houle is credited for the set design; Jon Cleveland delivers on lighting) and chilling audio (Devon Bate) play to the austere, thoroughly conjuring a hostile winter wilderness in the La Chapelle black box. Sophie El-Assaad’s exquisite costumes (per custom) are a marvel in their luxurious, layered textures drawing from the Edwardian and Victorian styles. The classical and the contemporary converge in word and wear, making for an anachronistic piece that is as refined as it is rebellious.

Particular production elements of mention include the prerecorded vocals – which were mouthed by Petrachuk to great effect – and a curious pulley contraption – which had the potential of being a sui generis feat in stage craft, but eventually turned out to be somewhat underwhelming in its rickety functioning on the media premiere night.

A proper nod, as well, is extended to Michelle Rambharose for the polished movement choreography, which makes its most prominent appearance in the show’s bellicose opening sequence.

Photo Credit: Maude Blais

Audiences returning to revel in the hallmark seductive elegance of Cabal will again be stimulated by this sophisticated work.

First timers will only have the regret of not discovering its intricate delights sooner.

Riveting in its rigour, Chattermarks is my personal highlight of this year’s Wildside – a most invigorating start to a new season of theatregoing in Montreal. The production runs at La Chapelle – the first time the festival presents a show outside Centaur walls – until January 22nd.

The 2020 Wildside Festival presents Cabal Theatre’s
January 12-22, 2020
La Chapelle | 3700 Saint-Dominique Street
$18.50 – $33.50 | (514) 843-7738 | www.lachapelle.org

For more 2020 Wildside Festival Recaps, visit: 

Camila Fitzgibbon

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