madonnanera presents WRING THE ROSES, part of the Why Not Theatre‘s 2019 RISER Project at the The Theatre Centre. Written by Amanda Cordner and David di Giovanni (directed by di Giovanni), this kinetic and playful production highlights aspects of Italian-Canadian identity, as well as the strain on friendship and family bonds that comes from dynamic, fluid identities. The performances and aesthetic are so buoyant and persuasive, and the overall atmosphere so giddy, you barely notice how deeply invested you become in its story.
Stephanie (Brefny Caribou) is engaged and her bridesmaids, the “Roses”—Rosanna (Amanda Cordner), Rosalicia (En Lai Mah) and Rosemary (Eric Rich)—have made a pact to show her one final, wild night before the wedding. At a club, hilariously named Cadaver Electrico (I’m still giggling), they run into four Italian party boys, the same actors in dual roles as: Andrea (Cordner), GianFranc (Caribou), Marco (Mah) and Massimo (Rich).
The first half has a dizzy, carefree charm as each set of characters prepares for their night on the town. There is some light-hearted silliness as they argue over outfits and plans. They seem, at first, a little cartoonish and the situation feels almost too familiar, echoing any number of popular wedding party comedies. But just like real life, unpleasant truths surface as alcohol and hormones wreak havoc on their pent-up frustrations.
Before things get too real though, there is a masterful sequence that jump-cuts us from moment to moment as everybody becomes increasingly drunker on the dancefloor. With a heavy fog hanging in the air, the music throbbing and the lights pulsing, it’s sometimes hard to know who is who at any given time, but that’s entirely by design. For me, that sense of fluidity is this show’s greatest achievement.
Over simple leotards, the actors switch from their male to female characters with minimal yet defining costume elements like jackets, wigs, and jeans. There is a whimsical sense of dress-up here. The costume changes, though highly stylized and efficient, are never polished to rigid perfection. As scenes unfold, outfits are still being fastened or loosened or discarded. And as the play progresses, you realize that these tokens of identity, of gender and persona, though meaningful, are transient and ambiguous.
This wild night takes us to a place of melancholy and emotional catastrophe, but the play doesn’t leave us in the lurch. With nuanced writing and performances, this messy and downbeat conclusion makes it clear that life does find a way, all of us striving to make sense of who we are, both to ourselves and to the people we love.
Also, there is a moment in this show, during a sweet and hilarious scene of clumsy flirtation, when I got a lump in my throat from the simple gesture of removing a wig. Of course, in WRING THE ROSES, nothing is just a wig. Christine Urquhart and Victoria Banjavcic‘s props and accessories carry significance; when they are removed, we catch sight of the vulnerable humanity quivering underneath.
WRING THE ROSES runs May 6 to May 14, 2019
at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
see website for info and tickets