By Megan Mooney
If you’re looking for a fun night out then Tracey Erin Smith’s play Burning Bush playing at the Young Centre may be just the ticket. It includes several fun characters, a quick stripping lesson, and a quick lesson in Kabbalah. With so many options you’re bound to find something you like.
Like many one-woman shows, this one started out as a one-act. It was a successful Fringe offering. Then a second successful Fringe offering, a sequel, made it’s way onto the scene. This show, now two acts, is a combination of these two shows. On one hand, this means that there’s more bang for your buck, on the other, in some ways it feels like two shows that have been combined into one.
I think this could be solved by having a 3rd party who has had nothing to do with the previous incarnations of the show involved in this production. I’d like to see someone neutral offering some feedback and suggested staging. I would say a brand new director, but that would imply that I didn’t like the direction of Anita La Selva, which certainly isn’t the case. I enjoyed her direction. I just think that given the fact that this is now a different piece, but made up of two familiar pieces, it needs someone who can look at it without knowing it’s history. Otherwise we end up with the challenge of it feeling a bit like two shows smooshed together into one. (Smooshed is highly technical theatre language by the way, just in case you were wondering…)
Kathy, my show partner on this one, said that the show was good, it didn’t blow her away, but she also wasn’t wishing she was doing something else with her time. The script was great, the story very engaging, charming and well-balanced. The performance of some of the characters swept her away, but some left her cold. That’s the kind of situation that brings you to a “good” show, but one with a great deal of potential.
Every show I go to I ask my show-partner “what was your favourite thing?”, but with this one I didn’t have to. As soon as we sat down to talk Kathy rushed to tell me about her favourite moment, the one that was most powerful for her. There is a moment when the main character says “Best teacher I ever had.” Kathy said that felt so real, so heartfelt, that it was really incredible. Suddenly it was a person on stage, not a character.
Dancers are, of course, vital to any show that includes stripping. In this show there were a few dancer characters, but our favourite was Christy. Kathy pointed out that she always traveled along the edge of genuine and a caricature, but never fell totally into a caricature. It’s a pretty beautiful place to be, because caricatures are often really fun, but the edge of genuine makes them so much better. I was trying desperately to figure out who the character reminded me of, and I finally realised it was Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors. Definitely a fun character.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. Smith has a beautiful voice and sings several songs, but the one that stuck with me is a wonderful rendition of ‘Wade in the Water’ that I would love to hear again and again. The live accompaniment of an accordion and violin on stage (and sometimes two violins) add a nice touch. Kathy and I were musing about who did the klezmer arrangement of Madonna songs, it’d be fun, but would take a special talent.
The last thing I’m gonna do is share a few things I’d have liked to seen done differently, and a few of the things I loved:
- The pole (yes, for pole-dancing…) was very effectively used in the first act, in fact, Kathy said for her it almost felt like a character in the first act. Unfortunately, in the second act it mostly seemed to get in the way. It was only used once, and just because it was there, it wasn’t *necessary* for the piece. It also meant that a big chunk of the stage was not used in the second act. We would have like to see the pole removed, or pushed off the side with a big black piece of material over it for the second act. We suspected that it was a remnant from when there was no intermission meaning no opportunity to remove it.
- Except for one moment in the show when she said “Best teacher I ever had,” the main character ended up feeling more like a narrator than a character. It’s possible this is on purpose, but I would have like to have seen the same attention given to her as a character as there was to characters like Christy.
- The show would have been much more powerful for Kathy and I if it had ended just a bit sooner. There was an incredible moment that would have been the perfect ending that happens at the Grand Canyon. I’d love to give more detail, but I also don’t want to give it away.
- I loved the use of a screen to show silhouetted costume change. It meant that changing in the wings, one of those necessary things in theatre, became a part of the show, instead
- The writing was full of cleverness, a couple of my favourites were the ‘tit for tat strip club’, and the explanation of how churches and strip clubs have a lot in common. This is one of those comedies that mixes things up a bit with flashes of poignancy against the backdrop of funny clever words.
- I loved the (likely unintentional) perfect illustration of cognitive behavioural therapy with the conversation with Jackie Mason about why not to go on stage. The one where the conclusion is that going on stage for 3 minutes may lead to her death. Perfect.
- Tracey Erin Smith has possibly the best boobs I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what that would have to do with a review of the show, but I just felt it had to be said. Seriously. Best. Boobs. Ever.
So there you have it. A very very long review of a show that was a lot of fun, and, apparently, even though I didn’t notice it at the time, gave me a lot to think about.
– Burning Bush is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Art (Distillery District, 55 Mill Street) until June 27
– Showtimes are Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm; Wednesday matinees at 2pm (although, the matinee is sold out already…)
– Prices Wed & Thurs $30 ($20 seniors, students, arts workers), Fri & Sat $35.
– Tickets available online or through the Young Centre box office: 416-866-8666