Quality theatre for the poor peanut gallery

By Anne-Marie Bruzga

By blending the classics with lesser-known, groundbreaking dramas, Dr. Barry Yzereef has made this Department of Drama’s season the most promising in recent history.

Newly appointed as the department’s artistic director, Yzereef played an important role in constructing the new season by weighing the different objectives of the department.

"It’s a really delicate balance of satisfying the subscription base along with satisfying the educational needs of our young artists," says Yzereef.

And it is the young artists that make the Department of Drama unique within Calgary’s theatre scene. Audiences attending these productions get a sneak peak at future Canadian artists.

"You can see them developing, you can watch their process as it evolves," says Yzereef. "And in this instance, you get to see them working with other challenging material–Greek tragedy, 18th century plays–they won’t being doing later in their careers."

For Yzereef, success will be easy to measure.

"A successful season would consist of plays that actors are thrilled to be doing, that audiences can respond to immediately, that [allow] the audience to experience a marvelous event," says Yzereef. Odds are good that the season will deliver everything, he anticipates. On a base level, he’s chosen great dramatic works.

The season opens with an English translation of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs. Groundbreaking, this was the first Canadian play written entirely in joual, the Québécois’ French, as opposed to formal Parisian French.

"There was a sense of identity being shown upon the stage," he says of initial reactions to the work. "It was all Québécois situations and slang. People could really relate to the lives of all these women on the stage."

From there, the department will move to an Elizabethan classic penned by, not Shakespeare, but Christopher Marlowe. A Shakespearean contemporary, Marlowe often gets overshadowed by the Bard, so Yzereef is very excited to present Marlowe to an audience that may be unfamiliar with his writing. In his most famous play, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, Marlowe tells the story of a professor who sells his soul and the resulting consequences of that transaction. An excited Yzereef describes it as "one of the most beautiful, poetic versions of this play."

And then enters what Yzereef describes as "the dark horse" of the season: Hubert Henry Davies’ The Languid Lady, or The Mollusc.

"This is the story of a woman who dominates her home and holds power by doing absolutely nothing," says Yzereef. "It pokes fun. It’s a more realistic viewpoint of 19th century family troubles, done in comedic form."

The season closes with Antov Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Those who may be intimidated by Chekhov’s work should take heed–Chekhov always described his own work as comedic. This play deals with generations as they live and die.

"[Chekhov] investigates the small things in life," explains Yzereef. "The subtext is the real treasure of Chekhov. It’s not just what’s being said, it’s what’s not being said that’s important."

Also included under the umbrella of the season are free events called Interludes. On the first two "dark Tuesdays" during the run of a show, a lecture is given in relation to the play. On the third, they show a one-act play that is thematically linked to the production.

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