Shadow Theatre is a small but mighty company, one that portrays bitter truths about how humans are masters at deceiving themselves.
The company’s latest incarnation is playwright Karen Hines’ All the Little Animals I Have Eaten. This dark comedy focuses on heavy topics from modern feminism and liberalism to capitalism, consumerism and unattainable dreams.
Set in an ultra-modern bistro of an all-women's condominium, a sleep-deprived, burned-out server (Dayna Lea Hoffmann) tries to get through a hellish night of work. Frankie is putting herself through graduate school and hasn’t slept in several days. Her thesis is incomplete and overdue, but she doesn’t want to ask for an extension.
As Frankie works through her dilemma, four nameless guests dubbed A (Coralie Cairns), B (Noori Gill), C (Elena Porter) and D (Sophie May Healey) play all other individual parts. They bring to life a series of feminists, or to be more precise, the ghosts of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Frida Kahlo, Qiu Miaojin and May Ayim. Each of these feminists committed suicide.
Tackling the 90-minute production is St. Albert-raised director Alexandra Dawkins, a dynamic thespian unafraid to take risky moves requiring bold choices.
“The ghosts communicate what is wrong with patriarchy and what can’t be wrapped up neatly and parsed. They show the past and how far we’ve come, and how it’s affected women. It’s a meditation on giving space to women in a patriarchal society,” said Dawkins.
As a director, she’s always on the lookout for plays meeting Shadow Theatre’s contemporary mandate. Dawkins, who studied clowning after obtaining a BFA from the University of Alberta, was drawn to Hines. The playwright and cult-comedienne has written award-winning scripts for both stage and screen.
Dawkins was familiar with Hines’ Pochsy Plays, a trilogy of monologues buttressed by absurdist theatre and clowning. Pochsy is described as “Beckett meets Betty Boop ... a nasty, vapid, utterly charming vixen,” whose toxic musings on modern life both horrify and charm audiences.
“She (Hines) creates massive, complex ideas and makes them palatable. She twists the knives in your back and removes them gently,” Dawkins said.
Hines has directed the clowns of horror, Mump and Smoot, and Dawkins reached out to Michael Kennard co-founder of the clown act, for support in obtaining a Pochsy script. Instead, he directed her to All the Little Animals I Have Eaten.
Dawkins was then tasked with finding five women to interpret the monster show.
“It was a matter of creating an ensemble of strong women that had been through the trenches and were all excellent performers. I had to balance the energies. There had to be diversity in looks, age, how they moved and what they could bring.”
Dayna Hoffmann, 24, as Frankie is the youngest cast member.
“She brings a vibrant and unique energy. She’s grounded and makes bold choices. Ultimately, she was offered the role because she had an understanding and connection to Karen Hines.”
Coralie Cairns, a seasoned actor and longtime contributor to Shadow, brings familiarity and gravitas.
“She’s incredible. She’s a mentor at her craft.”
While Dawkins had acted with Cairns in Bloomsday, Noori Gill was a new face.
“She blew my socks off. She just got how the text is meant to be handled. The biggest trap in the dialogue is if you dig your heels in the traditional way. And her comedic ability is so good.”
Elena Porter worked with Dawkins several times and this production built on their easy-going rapport.
“She has a beautiful way of connecting poetic text. She brings a beautiful, grounded weight to her performance that helps anchor the show.”
Dawkins believes the world is in a frightening place and hopes this production will prompt individuals to consider the direction we are headed.
“We are destroying Mother Nature and resources we don’t need. We are heading into a future of climate change. Is it possible to come together and find solutions?”
All the Little Animals runs at Varscona Theatre, 10329 - 83 Avenue until April 2. Visit www.shadowtheatre.org for ticket information.