Review: Catalpa (Blood in the Alley Productions)

Catalpa comes to Toronto theatre with one man and a lot of talent

To say that one-man shows make me nervous would be an extreme understatement. In fact, I sat down with my show partner, Shirdil, in the backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille and audibly groaned when I opened my programme for Catalpa and saw only one actor listed. I’m pleased to report, however, that this is one of two circumstances when my fears of one-man shows were completely unfounded.

Catalpa is being presented by Blood in the Alley Productions after having been performed in England, Ireland, Belgium, and Atlantic Canada since 2002. The play has received much praise in its various productions and not without good reason.

Catalpa is the story of the rescue of six Irish prisoners from Western Australia by the captain of a whaling ship. What makes the story unique is that it’s told by a present-day screenwriter, fresh from having his screenplay of Catalpa rejected by a production company.

Now, for those of you that don’t know me, I’m notorious for taking first-time theatre-goers to daunting or difficult productions – throwing them in the deep end, as they say. My trip to see Catalpa was no exception. I’m fairly certain that neither the seats of Theatre Passe Muraille’s backspace, nor a 10+ character play performed by one man were what Shirdil was expecting from his first trip to the theatre. With that in mind, I was delighted when he articulately quipped after the production, “It’s amazing that a show containing so many characters had such a clear narrative.” That’s the best compliment you can give a show in this style, and I think it’s completely merited.

Andrew Musselman is a force with which to be reckoned, and I couldn’t help but imagine how exhausted he must be by the end of each performance. With consistently high energy and an incredible ability to submerge the audience in the world of the story with sound effects and fabulous accents, Musselman could probably have performed this show in the middle of a parking lot and it still would have been a huge success.

Catalpa runs until February 2nd. I strongly encourage you to check it out before it leaves! And bring a cushion to sit on.

Details:

  • Catalpa is playing through February 2, 2013 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $20
  • Tickets are available online