Canada

Theatre: Harmony and hard times combine in The Times They Are A Changin’

The sound of silence gives way to the sounds of the ’60s at the Segal next week, as a musical show starring husband-and-wife team Louise Pitre and W. Joseph Matheson moves in just as the silent-retreat drama Small Mouth Sounds moves out.

The Times They Are A Changin’, which plays from March 1 to 22, and which originated at Toronto’s Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company in 2017, is a celebration of protest songs from songwriters of Jewish heritage such as Carole King, Paul Simon, Mama Cass, Arlo Guthrie and, of course, Bob Dylan.

Segal audiences will still have searing memories of four-time Dora Award-winning Pitre’s astonishing portrayal of Édith Piaf in The Angel and the Sparrow a couple of years ago. That show also featured Matheson, as most of the men in Piaf’s life. The two also performed together in Could You Wait?, a musical written by Matheson based on the wartime romance between his parents.

But The Times They Are A Changin’ offers more than a stage reunion featuring fondly remembered hits expertly sung. The songs have been carefully chosen to run the gamut from ‘60s idealism to disillusionment and anger.

Says Pitre, joining Matheson on a phone call with the Montreal Gazette: “When the Harold Green theatre asked us to create the show, and when Joe and I got to researching, I think what surprised us the most was how heartbreaking it was that a lot of these songs could have been written today — that they still apply.”

Matheson agrees that some of the content “can be a bit more sombre than how people expect,” but adds “we still feel there’s a lot of hope” in the show.

In addition to a five-piece band, Pitre and Matheson will be accompanied by video imagery from Dan Bowman. “We really felt we didn’t want to just stand there singing songs,” says Pitre. “So there’s a fair bit of video, which is a huge part of the show.”

“That became our accessory,” says Matheson, “in the sense that we could sing what everybody thinks is a lovely, hopeful song, but the video shows you the other side. (You get) what could have been and where we actually are.”

Summing up a decade’s worth of classic protest songs in 90 minutes naturally presented a logistical challenge for Pitre and Matheson. Inevitably, many favourites fell by the wayside. For Pitre, the most painful omission was Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer. But the choices they made are by no means obvious ones. I confess I had to Google the three songs Pitre cites as the ones she feels most encapsulate the themes of the show (One Tin Soldier, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream and Save the Country).

As the show arrives at the Segal, one question that might be on an audience’s mind is how many songs, if any, are we going to get from the rich catalogue of Montreal’s favourite son. As it happens, there is a Leonard Cohen component, though perhaps not so much as the performers would have liked.

“Part of the issue,” says Matheson, “was that Avery Saltzman, one of the artistic directors of the Harold Green (and the director of this show), was particularly determined not to go outside the lines. He’d say, ‘That’s an incredible song, but it’s not really a protest song.’ I love Leonard Cohen, but unfortunately a lot of his songs didn’t fit in. But we do reference him throughout the show as one of the voices of the ’60s.”

Keeping within the lines also meant that the songwriters had to be of Jewish heritage to qualify, though, as Pitre and Matheson point out, this in no way led to a narrowing of the field. Like the Golden Age of Broadway that came before, the ’60s boasted an astonishing abundance of Jewish songwriters and singers, especially ones who raised their voices in protest.

“There’s an inherent sense of activism in that community,” says Matheson. “On the one hand they support one another, but they move that sense of activism in the community to the world at large.” Jewish songwriters of the era, he adds, “had a gift for expressing the difference or otherness of people in general. Which is why their songs are so universal.”

AT A GLANCE

The Times They Are A Changin’ is presented from March 1 to 22 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd. Tickets: $67; student and under-30 discounts subject to availability. Call 514-739-7944 or visit segalcentre.org.

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The puppet shows presented by the Festival de Casteliers include Giraffe, the tale of a special money box that changes hands with surprising results. Hop Signor

Next month sees the opening of the Festival de Casteliers (March 4 to 8), a feast of puppet shows from around the world for adults and children alike, now in its 15th year.

As an early taster, the festival’s traditional exhibition Marionnettes en vitrines! has already taken up residence in shop windows on Bernard and Van Horne Aves., and at Théâtre Outremont (1248 Bernard Ave. W.) and the Maison internationale des arts de la marionnette (30 St-Just Ave.). This year it features the work of Louis Bergeron, whose company Marionnettes du bout du monde is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

As well as the 10 shows in the festival, there are talks, exhibitions, workshops, a puppetry playroom for toddlers (at the Gesù, 1200 Bleury St.) and screenings, including a version of Mulan from the Shanghai Puppet Theatre (at Théâtre Outremont), which had to cancel its visit because of the current situation in China.

Finnish company Livsmedlet explores the migrant crisis in Invisible Lands, using a combination of body parts, miniature objects and video trickery. Pernilla Lindgren

Pick of the festival: five shows with puppet power

Giraffe (March 5 to 7, 11 a.m., Petit Outremont, 1248 Bernard Ave. W.): Greek company Hop Signor brings its story of a giraffe-shaped money box that passes from hand to hand with surprising results. Age five and up

Invisible Lands (March 5 at 8:30 p.m., March 6 at 5 and 9 p.m., March 7 at 1:30 p.m., Maison internationale des arts de la marionnette): Finland’s Livsmedlet uses miniature objects and projections of body parts blown up to look like landscapes in this wordless exploration of the harrowing experiences of migrants. Age 13 and up

High Water (March 6 at 3 p.m., March 7 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Oboro, 4001 Berri St.): Macromatter, from Vancouver, uses a slowly filling fish tank and startling effects to create an epic drama about historical civilizations. Age five and up

Anywhere (March 7 at 8:30 p.m., March 8 at 1 p.m., Théâtre Aux Écuries, 7285 Chabot St.): This francophone show from France’s Théâtre de l’Entrouvert includes a gradually melting ice puppet representing the daddy of tragic heroes in a version of Henry Bauchau’s novel Oedipus on the Road. Age 12 and up

LoveStar (March 8, 3 p.m., Théâtre Outremont): The festival’s closing show is a collaboration between Laval’s Théâtre Incliné and Bonaventure, Que.’s Théâtre de la Petite Marée, and is a wordless dystopian love story about birds, a scientist and her troublesome assistant. Age eight and up

AT A GLANCE

The Festival de Casteliers runs from March 4 to 8. For more information, call 514-270-2717 or visit festival.casteliers.ca.

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