par Yanik Comeau (Comunik Média)
Montreal’s Wildside Festival, hosted by Centaur Theatre and La Chapelle, has been a total joy since its inception as far as I am concerned. Centaur Associate Artist and festival curator Rose Plotek, who often blindly has to trust her instinct since the shows she chooses to make up the festival are often only a script or a description when she actually puts together the yearly event, certainly hit it out of the park this year as Scapegoat Carnivale’s Ricki clearly shows.
Joseph Shragge and Alison Darcy’s theatre company is a no-brainer for the Wildside as its productions are always deliciously off, queer in the classic sense of the word (not the LGBTQ+ reappropriation of the word), wild indeed. Shragge’s newest piece Ricki, which was developed as part of Infinithéâtre’s Big Bang Artist Laboratory, is a surprisingly (or is it really, if we are familiar with Scapegoat’s work?) delightful, absurdly amusing and troubling play delivered by a stellar cast in the perfectly intimate Centaur 1.
Although the play is set in Montreal, a much less exotic setting than Scapegoat’s Yev or Sapientia, Ricki’s apparently traditional story of the single mother who is forced to abandon the family farm to move to the big city in hopes of making a better life for her 10-year old son quickly takes a strange turn when said son (played by the fantastically talented, nimble and sweet-looking Gabe Maharjan) starts repeating the name “Ricki” over and over like he’s talking to the dead (in his sleep? In a transe?) and meets an odd scrappy, scraggly drugdealer/hobo/amusing-all-around-weirdo played so convincingly by Jon Lachlan Stewart whom I only knew from his writing (Jonathan: la figure du goéland) and directing (Madame Catherine prepare sa classe de troisième à l’irrémédiable). The mother (splendid mama bear Julie Tamiko Manning) must manoeuver and rein in her son who, because he is bored silly inside their little apartment, can’t wait to sneak out and hang out with his new male role model in front of the depanneur!
The play takes an even wilder turn when the mother, who’s managed to push the drug-dealing hobo out of the nest, has to deal with a strange furry creature that looks like a cross between an anteater and a football team mascot, who comes crawling into her home like a stray cat and feeds on beer like the alcoholic Ricki (the drifter... although everybody calls everybody Ricki at this point!) until all hell breaks loose.
Like with most of Shragge’s plays, if the audience is looking for a clear, logical explanation to all this fantastical zaniness, it won’t find it. Is the Thing the disguised drifter pulling a Mrs. Doubtfire situation? Is it just a fable creature living in the boy’s imagination (then how come the mom can see it?)? Maybe it’s like Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus who seemed to exist only in Big Bird and the young audience’s imaginations until the rest of the residents finally see him?
No matter. Ricki is a fun, entertaining piece of absurd theatre that audiences should just sit back and enjoy with a silly grin.
Ricki by Joseph Shragge Co-directed by Alison Darcy and Joseph Shragge Starring Julie Tamiko Manning, Gabe Maharjan, Jon Lachlan Stewart Dramaturg: Deena Aziz Stage Manager: Charlie Cohen Set, Costume and Prop Designer: Marie-Eve Fortier Creature costume designer: Sophie El-Assad Lighting Designer: Paul Chambers Sound Designer: Troy Slocum Choreographer: Andrew Turner Produced by Scapegoat Carnival Presented in partnership with La Chapelle and Centaur Theatre Company for the Wildside Festival From January 30th to February 3rd, 2024 (Time: 60 minutes, no intermission) Centaur Theatre, 453, St. François-Xavier Street, Montreal Reservations: 514-288-3161 Information: https://centaurtheatre.com/shows/ricki/ Photos: Helena Vallès