by Ellen Chorley
A World Premiere
A Co-Production of Promise Productions and Blarney Productions
Presented at the Westbury Theatre (Fringe Theatre Adventures)
Coralie Cairns, Alyson Dicey, Jesse Gervais
Timothy Dowler-Coltman, Evan Hall, Mathew Hulshof, Patrick Lundeen
Joelle Prefontaine, and Tatyana Rac
Directed by Wayne Paquette
Produced by Wayne Paquette and Ellen Chorley
Choreography by Amber Borotsik
Musical Composition and Direction by Joel Crichton
Set, Lights and Costumes Designed by Cory Sincennes
Mask and Props Designed by Tessa Stamp
Projection Designed by Elijah Lindenberger & T. Erin Gruber (Show Stages Collective)
Stage Managed by Al Gadowsky
Photography by Dave Degagne
Promise Productions: http://www.promiseproductionstheatre.com/
Nominated for 6 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards
Outstanding Independent Production (*Winner)
Outstanding Theatre for Young Audiences (*Winner)
Outstanding New Play (Ellen Chorley)
Outstanding Artistic Achievements – Theatre for Young Audiences (Wayne Paquette – Direction)
Outstanding Score for a Play or Musical (Joel Crichton)
Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction (Amber Borotsik)
VUE WEEKLY – Mel Priestley
There stands Murielle with her red balloon: a single image that captures the subversive whimsy in a new piece of physical theatre gracing Edmonton stages. Written by Ellen Chorley, directed by Wayne Paquette and staged by their two companies, Promise and Blarney Productions (respectively), Murielle treads a fine line between light and dark, playfulness and gravity. The story weaves together reenactments of the eponymous character’s earlier days: she wakens slumped in an armchair, her gestures and crone-like mask revealing her advanced age, and then six “geniuses” emerge from the curtains draped on either side of the stage to help her remember instances from her past love.
Clad head to toe in black, these figures are integral to both the narrative and visual form of the show. As the program describes, in ancient Rome the word “genius” represented a sort of guiding spirit, and so individuals who possessed amazing talents were understood to be in the possession of a genius, “an impish spirit who lived in their walls and guided them to create their inspired works.”
In Murielle, the six geniuses perform in a similar capacity. Both tangible and intangible, they bring Murielle the items that aid in her remembrance of the past while at the same time forming physical manifestations of objects and settings with their bodies. It’s a fascinating artistic device that gives the show a clear, easily comprehensible narrative; Murielle features no dialogue or verbal exposition, but even those audience members unused to physical theatre will not miss the lack of words.
As Murielle remembers, her younger self (Alyson Dicey) and her past lover (Jesse Gervais) take the stage to depict instances from their past together. The interplay of these characters along with the old Murielle (Coralie Cairns) and the six geniuses forms a highly evocative visual montage of scenes overlaid by a beautifully modulated live piano accompaniment by Joel Crichton. At once dark and moody, bright and lively, Murielle is a touching depiction of the workings of memory as one digs through a collection of life’s ephemera.
ST. ALBERT GAZETTE – Anna Borowiecki
A world where dreams and reality meet
Nary a word is spoken throughout Murielle. Only sounds. Yet it is probably one of the most eloquent productions of the 2012-2013 theatre season.
At its roots, this 70-minute production is connected to the beating heart of a forever love. Throughout it all there’s a sense of romantic absurdity that somehow turns out to be very poignant.
Written by Edmonton-based playwright Ellen Chorley, founder of the children’s theatre company Promise Productions, Murielle is a co-venture with artistic director Wayne Paquette of Blarney Productions.
Chorley is a master at reworking classic fairytales into edgy contemporary fare. In this memory play, she blends the whimsical make-believe world of children’s theatre into a darker, sadder adult variation.
To give this production a vision, she musters every tool at her disposal. Everything pops just a little bit bigger in her witty fusion of Greek masks, clowning, physical theatre, dance and music.
Cory Sincennes’ spare set evokes a dream world where characters weave in and out of destiny’s grasp. To make the magic come alive, he has tied six drop-down 28-foot silks to the ceiling grid. Lined up in two rows of threes like sentinels, they resemble pillars of a Greek temple.
A single shaft of light is directed on a white neoclassical sofa chair. A masked old crone (Coralie Cairns) sleeps fitfully on the chair, a crinolined skirt tucked under her splayed legs.
A large scarlet balloon heart bobbing in the air is tied to her wrist. Suddenly, from the dark lurid shadows a masked man garbed in black sneaks into the light. Silently, gently he strokes her head and steals the heart.
As the mystery man disappears into the night, six spirits spring from the silks. Attired in full body suits covering everything including face and hands, these impish spirits live in the walls guiding the old woman to relive her memories.
The team of ghostly companions, including Legal actress Joëlle Prefontaine, brings her a trunk packed with old letters. The “return to sender” letters stir puffs of memories from the past and a powerful inner life explodes.
A young Murielle (Alyson Dicey), a spunky, redheaded young girl emerges. Suddenly out of nowhere an airplane-loving young boy (Jesse Gervais) zooms into view noisily flying his wooden bi-plane.
Full of innocent glee and humour, the duo become close friends before war splits them apart. However, the fates reunite them. She is now an entertainer. He is an airplane pilot. This time nothing tears the star-crossed lovers apart until his plane is downed in an air raid.
Both Dicey and Gervais are technical powerhouses with personality plus. Using only fragments of sound and movement, they hold the audience’s complete attention. Gervais, in particular, has a huge charisma, a subtle force and a sense of invention that is completely believable whether portraying a boisterous little boy, a frightened soldier or a shy lover.
A special acknowledgement to choreographer Amber Borotsik for taking this off-centre indie experience and creating movement that spirals and swirls and ties this eccentric dream world together.
Murielle isn’t exactly about narrative. But it may leave you moonstruck and it completes what it set out to do – enchant and engage.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – Liz Nicholls
Murielle: a wartime love story in stage pictures and movement
An old woman sits slumbering in tall room, with only her heart (bright red and filled with helium) on a string. And she remembers.
Ellen Chorley’s Murielle, a new and inventive wordless collaboration between Promise and Blarney Productions, imagines memory as a kind of magical translucent chamber, in one of the loveliest designs of the season (Cory Sincennes). Images flicker across its surfaces – nearly recognizable faces that melt into shadow, leafy arbours that move, streaks of light (projection and video designer: Elijah Lindenberger)…. Shadowy characters emerge from behind the walls into the light, fade into pewter twilight, and disappear. So does Murielle’s graceful younger self, as the old Murielle watches and muses.
One memory triggers another: a letter drops into the room by tiny parachute, a helmet conjures a war, a paper airplane extrapolates into an era.
The charming hour-long production directed by Wayne Paquette is, it turns out, a wartime story about first love, and loss. Without words at its disposal, the love story emerges from Murielle’s own “Book of M” as dance, in exhilarating pas de deux of discovery and reunion, and sorrowful solos of separation and loss (choreographer: Amber Borotsik) , all accompanied by composer Joel Crichton at the keyboard. And the stylization of the storytelling is enhanced by masks (designer: Tessa Stamp), and a six-member chorus of anonymous black-clad figures who populate the scenes of Murielle’s remembering.
In a scene of maximum joy, Murielle and her young man find themselves floating on a cloud over the world, as the day fades into night and the luminous stars come out.
As Murielle, Coralie Cairns’s watchful body language sets her craggy mask in apparent motion, with curiosity and wonder. A strange sense of unreality about her own life seems to spread over the stage. That’s the magic of masks, of course; their fixed expressions seem to come to life and change with the storytelling, the emotions of the moment, the exact position of the head or a gesture of a hand. The young Murielle, impulsive and full of hope, is beautifully played by Alyson Dice. And the Boy who becomes a Man gets a performance of exuberant charm from Jesse Gervais.
Some things work better than other. In a rare heavy-handed moment, Murielle scarcely seems to require a set of newspaper front pages to convey in large-size print what everyone senses has happened, for example. The point of view – i.e. the past through Murielle’s eyes – gives way once or twice to scenes that seem imagined by someone else. But as a way to explore the past and its remembered joys and devastations, Murielle is eloquent without being heavy. Sincennes’ stunning lighting speaks directly to that sense we have of watching our lives coalesce as a story.
The production is a rare chance to see what artists of different stripe and strengths get up to when they collaborate on telling a story without exposition or words. There’s a kind of poetry in that.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – Liz Nicholls
STAGE VET WRITES ONE FOR ALL AGES
Chorley`s Murielle tackles darker themes than her kids-only fare
In a scruffy, booted age, she wears sparkly strapless party dresses and high heels to opening nights. She`s buoyant and blond, not averse to judicious back-combing, and she loves pink. She once spent most of a year as Cinderella (an honorary tiara would not go amiss). But there`s something subversive about Ellen Chorley just the same.
In the course of a theatre career that`s already take odd and whimsical turns, Chorley might just have become this town`s most surprising artist. She runs a kid`s theatre company, Promise Productions, for which she writes repurposed fairy tales, and acts from time to time. She`s the instigator and curator of the Snow Globe Festival of Children`s Theatre. She`s also a founder, along with her friend Delia Barnett, of a sassy nouveau burlesque troupe called Send in the Girls, which teasingly discards princess party wear to discover the corsetry beneath.
The show that premieres Thursday night, Under the joint banner of Promise and Blarney Productions, involves “the biggest group of people I`ve ever worked with,” as Chorley says cheerfully of a collaborative nine-actor enterprise, with its own playwright (Chorley), director (Blarney`s Wayne Paquette), choreographer (Amber Borotsik), composer (Joel Crichton), set/costume designer (Cory Sincennes), projection designer (Showstages.com), and mask/props designer (Tessa Stamp) – in short, everything but words. Murielle defies the usual classifications, as you might reasonably expect of a joint venture between a theatre outfit devoted to kid audiences (The Fairy Catcher`s Companion) and one with a bent for probing adult dramas (Orange Flower Water, The Good Thief).
“There are darker, sadder things about this one, for sure,” Chorley says of the new entry in the Promise ledger. Things that make Murielle more clearly a play for grown-ups and kids alike. For one thing, it`s heroine isn`t a kid; the title character is an old lady. Murielle wakes up one morning to discover, on her porch, a mountain of memory. It`s a waist-high stack of letters, every letter she`s ever written in a long life, all marked Return to Sender. Which certainly explains why Chorley is coddling her paper cuts as she makes time for a chat earlier this week. She`s just folded 120 paper airplanes.
With Chorley, versatility started early, and grew topsy-turvy. “I trained as a ballerina,” she says of her younger self, dreaming of pink tutus and pointe shoes. “At age 11, I wanted to be a writer-slash-Broadway dancer. At 14, a veteran of countless Stage Polaris shows, I decided I liked theatre even better.”
The teenage Chorley penned the obligatory angst plays, but she was besotted with musical theatre. “I listened to musicals instead of pop music; it was fun to discover I had a voice!” Grant MacEwan University`s theatre arts followed, then her first pro outing, in the chorus of Grease at Calgary`s Stage West. After many musicals in Calgary, Chorley found herself in 297 performances of Alberta Opera`s musical version of Cinderella.
When she threw over the idea of writing more teen angst plays – they just didn`t suit her – it was to do her own cheeky, humorous version of the fairy tale, Cinderella. The Wizard at the 2007 Fringe. Promise Productions was born. “I like to play with familiar, staple tales, twist them, make them surprising,” she says of a canon that includes The Twelve Dancing Princesses, a hip-hop riff on Hans Christian Andersen, and an ingenious version of Aesop`s fable The Tortoise and the Hare involving corporate takeovers. “If I can, I do like to have a strong girl onstage, someone who can take control of the situation.”
That girl might be Chorley herself. For the first Snow Globe Festival two years ago, she acted, she wrote, she produced, everything. This past Christmas, she produced and designed the three festival shows, and wrote one of them (Birdie on the Wrong Bus). Time`s at a premium; only occasionally does Chorley still take roles in other people`s plays – Chapter Two at the Capital Theatre, for example, or the black comedy The Wedding Ruiner, or even more unexpectedly, the murderous Clytemnestra, in Human Loser`s version of Electra last summer. “It`s really fun to be so bad!”
As for her fascination with burlesque, Chorley says blithely that it all started “with my pole-dancing lessons, for fitness.” Her friend Barnett was “strippercize” and they concocted a political satire striptease about arts funding, for one of the Nextfest`s “performance parties”. The idea, says Chorley, was to take off a piece of clothing for every government cut. With Tudor Queen and A Bronte Burlesque, Chorley brings “a character-driven story arc” to a form that normally doesn`t aspire to such complications as character. “The first time I did burlesque,” says laughing, I was so nervous I couldn`t get my costume on. My hands were shaking too much… If acting is Red Bull, burlesque is Red Bull and vodka.”
What do burlesque and kids theatre have in common? Chorley doesn`t hesitate. “A Relationship with the audience. We know you`re there. It`s give and take.”
CTV – Graham Neil – Interview with Ellen Chorley, Timothy Dowler-Coltman, Evan Hall
MURIELLE ALL ABOUT LOVE, LOSS, HOPE
CBC RADIO – An Interview with Joelle Prefontaine (in French)
VUE WEEKLY – Mel Priestley
A QUIET HEART
The persistence of love through time and distance resides upon our faculty of memory, but even if we forget about our past loves, all it takes is one small trigger to experience it anew. A collaboration between Blarney and Promise Productions, Murielle places this dance between love and memory at the centre of its story: a very old woman remembering her past through a collection of returned love letters. As she reads them, they conjure memories from when she was young and in love.
Performer Alyson Dicey plays the young version of Murielle, acting out memories as they arise; she is joined onstage by an ensemble cast of her lover (Jesse Gervais) and six ‘geniuses’—aspects of herself and her memories which serve to flesh out and shape past events.
Murielle is a purely movement-based show, with no dialogue or spoken words, though it does feature a live piano accompaniment composed and performed by Joel Crichton. For those who are a little hesitant or unfamiliar with physical theatre, Dicey offers reassurance that the movement of the body is a universal language.
“The movement in the show is human expression. It’s not so much set choreography, but a feeling to our bodies,” she says. “It’s storytelling without words. This show is so relatable to all types of audiences. No matter what their background, their age or even their language, because the choreography, and the movement, and the masks in this show speaks to people in a language that’s accessible to all types of audiences.”
Murielle was initially conceived by playwright Ellen Chorley and director Wayne Paquette about five years ago, but Dicey explains that the cast was also heavily involved in the show’s creation. “They knew they wanted to make it a mask and movement show; they pretty much knew how it would look,” Dicey says. “But then as actors came on board, we helped create the show as well. The story is written by Ellen, but we all helped create, as an ensemble, to make it really fit with our bodies.”
In early October, Dicey and the other actors had a three-day workshop with Chorley, Paquette and choreographer Amber Borotsik to brainstorm some of the initial movements. “We made a big soup of things that were possible, that we could maybe put into the show,” Dicey explains.
Chorley then took these ideas away and worked on them over the next few months until the group rejoined in January; only in the last week or so has the show really attained its final form. Murielle opens on Valentine’s Day, a serendipitous occurrence that aligns perfectly with the show’s central themes.
“It’s almost a fable or fairy tale: a beautiful story of love, lost and found,” says Dicey. “It’s about memory for sure, but it’s also about true love and how it floats around but it’s never gone for good.”
by Joel Crichton