What A Ride! The Bus Number 14

Par Alan Hustak le 6 mai 2013

AxisTheatre_Number14_0040.jpgAnyone who  regularly  depends on public transit can’t help but revel in the antics of The Number 14, the extravagantly theatrical stage  production running at the Centaur until May 26.  Staged by  Vancouver’s  Axis Theatre company,  a troupe of six masked  Commedia  dell’Arte  performers,  it  is a bus ride like no other.   Put together on the west coast 20 years ago by the Centaur’s artistic director Roy  Surette  (who originally directed) and Wayne  Specht,  the founding director of the Axis Theatre, (responsible for  this version),  The Number 14 basically illustrates the day in the life of a bus and its driver. 

 

 

 

AxisTheatre_Number14_0362.jpgThe stage picture could be Montreal’s bus number 55, which winds its way  through a cross section of the city.   Using  assorted masks and resorting  to an exaggerated acting style, the six performers become 60 characters.  The rules of conventional  stagecraft are suspended  in  favour of  improvisation,  a bit of slapstick comedy a dash of vaudeville  with some  calisthenics thrown in for good measure.  Even stilt walking is used to startling effect.  And all of it is folded into a musical framework.  Each actor has a virtuoso  moment  as every character imaginable steps on and off the bus.   Neil Minor, however,  gives the standout performance of the evening  as a little old lady who pulls out all the stops and she is  sent swinging by the hand-straps  down the aisle, slipping over and under the seats.   Morgan  Brayton  is hilarious as a  real-estate agent  who changes into her pantyhose on the bus while rushing off to an appointment.   Equally  funny   is Chris Adams,  the bug-eyed guy  who watches  her.   Especially  endearing   is a romantic interlude  in which  Tracey Power  and Stefano  Giulianetti  flip through magazine covers which they  use  to mask their inner selves.  There is the usual fumbling at the farebox, which is always good for a grin, and  an over-the top sketch which involves a dipsomaniac teacher taking five brats on a field trip; seconds before,  the same five performers were disguised as  geriatrics on their way  to a bingo game.  The transformation before your eyes is miraculous.  And  Scott Waters is terrific  in his moment as a rap performer.

The show owes a great deal to Melody Anderson, who created the magically surreal masks,  costume designer Nancy Bryant, and to the stage managers  Sarah Wallin and Anthony Liam Kearns who undoubtedly control the confusion backstage. The  choregraphy  of  the final whirlwind moments of the is simply mindboggling.

Any  two hour bus trip  is bound to have monotonous and repetitive stretches, and The Bus Number 14 is no exception.   In spite of that, the wheels never come off  so imaginative an evening.   Few theatrical collaborations are as fast paced and ultimately as slaphappy and  as satisfying as this one.


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