Ottawa event review: The Supine Cobbler by GCTC

What better way to spend a Saturday night in Wellington West than to see the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s season opener and then discuss the play over a pint at the Royal Oak? The answer: there is none!

The GCTC has opened its 2023/24 season with The Supine Cobbler: A contemporary clinical abortion in the spirit of a Western. Though the play’s subtitle does its best to sum up the premise of the piece, it’s impossible to succinctly describe how plot interacts with genre in this very unique play by local playwright Jill Connell. Ostensibly, it is the story of a woman who, while waiting to have an abortion, reflects on pivotal relationships in her life. That being said, the play is at times highly stylized and at others hyper-realistic, fluctuating between absurdism and realism, leaving me questioning whether I fully grasped the intricacies of the story.

Photo: GCTC Website

Julia Kim’s set is clean and effective, evoking the desert landscape of the Western genre with a nearly bare sand-coloured stage. Cleverly draped fabric suggests mountains in the distance and Emilio Sebastiao’s lighting is used to create different moods through changes in weather. Standard waiting room chairs situate us in the abortion clinic and offer an intriguing contrast to the otherwise natural hues and materials. 

The costumes, designed by award-winning theatre artist Vanessa Imeson, are *chef’s kiss* gorgeous. She has taken classic western staples, like fringed pants, cowboy boots, holsters and plaid, and made them both feminine and sexy. The earthy tones and rich textures compliment the set, and again, provide contrast to the blue nurses’ scrubs and clinical gown seen later in the piece. 

It was also a real treat to witness the live music and sound effects by designer and musician Sage Reynolds. What Western would be complete without the twangy sound of strings to punctuate the story?

I could go on and on about the outstanding design of this show, but I would be remiss not to mention the stellar cast, who shined under the nimble direction of local powerhouse, Emily Pearlman. Maryse Fernandes took on mythical proportions as the title character, a stoic lone ranger simmering with unresolved emotion. Tara J Patterson played the Dancer with skill and intensity. Deena Aziz somehow managed to infuse the terse Doctor with a real sense of warmth and care. Ellie Elwand, who played the Kid, delivered her character’s jumbled lines with remarkable finesse, often garnering big laughs from the audience. And Kelsey Rideout was a joy to behold as the Lover, balancing her character’s bluntness with great vulnerability.

In summary, this production is complex and demanding, like a fascinating puzzle you can’t put down. So, if you’re looking for something light and easy, this is not the show for you, but if you want to be intrigued, challenged, and amused, check out The Supine Cobbler at the GCTC from now until October 8th, with a relaxed performance on the 3rd, a post-show talkback on the 5th and an ASL performance on the 6th. 

Review by JB

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