It has always fascinated me to watch the process of creation. In theatre, in contrast to some other art forms, it is often possible to see a work early in its lifespan that evolves and changes as it interacts with its audience. One Yellow Rabbit has certainly become expert at this process over its 30-plus years with essentially the same core artists, and they are offering an opportunity to get a first glimpse of a work-in-progress at this year’s High Performance Rodeo.
The first half of Moon, Moon, No Moon is a cabaret-style performance of what is currently simply a series of songs inspired by the moon. The title, as you can hear in Mike Bell’s Scene in the Wild Podcask interview with OYR principal Denise Clarke, is a reference to the Gilgamesh, a 4000-year old Sumerian poem in which the cycles of the moon mark the passing of time. The songs range from a primal celebration of the werewolf to a reflection on Apollo 1, the disastrous first attempt at a manned lunar landing, and a meditation on lunar geography.
Over the next 18 months, the OYR ensemble will spend their time shaping these songs into a full production, and I will no doubt spend the next several weeks puzzling over what narrative thread could possibly tie them all together. At some point, thanks to the mysterious alchemy of playwright and OYR artistic director Blake Brooker and composer David Rhymer,
The second half of the evening is a retrospective of some of the high points in OYR’s musical history, and it’s a satisfying recap of the last 30 years in the Big Secret Theatre. Longtime fans of the ensemble will appreciate throwbacks to Mata Hari and Ilsa, two of the productions OYR is best known for on the international stage. For me, it’s the encore performance of “Mermaids of the Bow” (from Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me) that is worth the price of admission alone.
Composer David Rhymer on keyboard and violinist Jonathan Lewis go way back — all the way back to Mata Hari — and so they are a predictably tight duo. Frequent OYR collaborator Kris Demeanor joins them intermittently on guitar in between spoken-word performances, and they make for a consistently expert musical safety net for what are not consistently expert vocal performances. A highlight was the chance to see Mark Bellamy on stage with the Rabbits again — it’s impossible to take your eyes (or ears) off him when he’s featured. Denise Clarke has lost none of her spark over the years, and her staging takes full advantage of a small space and a varied movement background in the cast. Demeanor is always at his best with this ensemble, and his ease with both the text and the music are a solid anchor for the group.
Karen Hines’s composition in tribute to departed members of the OYR family was a sober but beautiful coda. OYR co-artistic director Michael Green, composer/sound designer Richard McDowell and filmmaker Narcisse Blood (who collaborated with the group on Making Treaty 7) all died within a few months of each other in late 2014 and early 2015, and a retrospective of the company’s work would certainly seem strange without acknowledgement of their part in Rabbit history. It was a gem of a piece, and a perfect ending to the evening.
Moon, Moon, No Moon runs in the Big Secret Theatre until Jan. 27 with a variety of special guests throughout the run. For tickets and the schedule please go to www.hprodeo.ca/.
Lori Montgomery is a former FFWD theatre critic who practices medicine to support her writing habit.