by Lucy Allen
On Sunday morning, slightly bleary eyed and wandering the streets of Toronto, I managed to get caught in a torrential downpour of rain on my way to see Faustwork Mask Theatre’s Carnival Knowledge, currently playing at The Theatre Centre as part of the Summerworks festival. I sat down, damp and cold, cursing my umbrella sitting dry in my apartment and prayed that the show would be worth the shower. Thanks to some clever and mesmerizing mask work, I had quite forgotten my misery by the end of the hour.
Carnival Knowledge isn’t so much a play as it is a tribute to writer/performer Rob Faust’s childhood memories of New Orleans Mardi Gras culture. Through a series of monologues, movement pieces and mask work, he travels through his own experiences of New Orleans with a particular focus on carnival culture.
Anyone going expecting a conventional play might be disappointed. There is a narrative of sorts, but it’s loose and at points slows down to a crawl. Faust’s main character, if he can be called that, is a mask salesman attempting to sell his wares during Mardi Gras. For the most part, though, Faust’s various monologues are engaging, ranging from the silly to touching sometimes within the span of a minute.
The real joy of the show comes from the anticipation of watching Faust select another mask, his back to the audience, and waiting to see what character will emerge from the pantheon of faces hanging behind him. Faust works seamlessly, giving each character a unique voice and shape and practically melting into the masks themselves. There are times when it is difficult to remember that a man stands under the seemingly simple strip of leather.
All of this paints a vivid picture of New Orleans. Kevin Barrett’s sound design completes the picture beautifully, transforming the almost bare stage into a crowded parade area full of life. Rob Faust also makes it clear that he is presenting only one side of New Orlean’s life, and his last number provides a touching glimpse into the complex world.
Carnival Knowledge is fascinating to watch and Faust will keep your eyes glued to the stage with his incredibly breathtaking masks and dances. If you happen to be a fan of audience participation, be sure to get a front row seat. You may get to be a part of the action, as I did (for those of you at the Sunday performance, I was the unsuspecting idiot who got the granny mask). There is no point in trying to describe it anymore: go see it for yourself. It’s well worth the trip.
August 10th– 8:00pm
August 14th– 8:00pm
August 15th– 2:00 pm
August 16th– 4:00pm
-Tickets are $10.
-Advance tickets can be bought in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille), online at www.artsboxoffice.ca, or by phone at 416-504-7529.
Photo provided by Summerworks website