This year will be bookended by fire: in January, actual flames destroyed a landmark Edmonton theatre; in December, Theatre Network’s final performance of 2015 will feature the resurrection of six burnt performers.
The Roxy Theatre burned to the ground right around the time that Dave Horak was searching for a script. Burning Bluebeard was too fitting to pass up: Jay Torrence’s script is based on the infamous Iroquois Theatre fire, which has the dubious reputation of being both the deadliest theatre fire and deadliest single-building fire in US history. Over 600 people died while at a matinee performance of the Drury Lane musical Mr Bluebeard in December of 1903, due to a combination of shoddy construction and criminally negligent cover-ups, as well as improper evacuation procedures. Burning Bluebeard was first performed by Chicagoan experimental theatre troupe the Neo-Futurists, which has since made it an annual holiday hit in its hometown.
“With this piece I’m keeping an eye on tone—are we walking the fine line between the com[ic] and tragic subject matter?” Horak writes in an email. “With a piece that [has] so clearly been created with a specific company in mind, we need to find our own take on the material while staying true to what [Torrence] is intending.”
Burning Bluebeard features six performers, who dabble in clowning, vaudeville, lipsyncing, dance and magic while attempting to finish the original Christmas pantomime that was interrupted by fire. It’s undoubtedly a macabre sort of balancing act, and one that might feel at odds with the cheery holiday season—though Horak points to that most famous of Yuletide tales, A Christmas Carol, as evidence that ghost stories aren’t out of place at this time of year.
“The play is actually about competing forces—pain and pleasure, comedy/tragedy, darkness and lightness, and I could go on … there are some scenes when both competing forces are happening at the same time,” Horak writes. “I think anyone who has suffered loss and has searched for the light after the grief will connect to this piece.
“There is something about us reminiscing about the past, thinking about our ancestors at this time of year that has universal resonance,” he continues. “Burning Bluebeard contains this feeling—the beautiful and tragic all wrapped up together.”
Until Sun, Dec 13
(8 pm; Sunday matinees at 2 pm)
Directed by David Horak
The Roxy on Gateway
(Formerly C103), $21