Arts Theatre

The Jazz Mother

A musical mama // Mat Busby
A musical mama // Mat Busby

Teatro La Quindicina seems to thrive as a company of performers that all share a nuance for irrepressible energy. But even among that particular fleet, there are those that seem to pass each other in proximity only, never quite sharing the stage. Kristi Hansen and Mat Busby, for two: being part of the Teatro circle (and, more generally, having ongoing acting careers in town) hasn’t actually translated to any stage time together in more than a decade.

“This is the first piece Mat and I have worked together on since 1998,” Hansen begins, perched beside Busby in a coffee shop on Whyte Avenue. Back in the pre-millenium, both grew up in Saskatoon, acting in that city’s Walterdale equivalent; both were eventually drawn to Edmonton, ended up in school (“in different classes,” Hansen opines), and then carved acting careers out in the city’s creative ether. They just never did in the same shows, at the same time (with the exception of both doing reading at a Teatro fundraiser, but that hardly counts).

“It’s funny that it took so long for us to do a show together,” Busby adds. “Because we’ve been doing shows with Teatro, both of us, different shows during the season, shows here and there. Lots of stuff that almost connects, and doesn’t.”

The show that’s bringing them back together hasn’t been seen in almost as long: The Jazz Mother, which premiered back at the now non-existent Phoenix Theatre in 1991, is seeing its first revival as Teatro’s 2014 season opener. It sets up in a boarding house in Badger’s Bluff; Busby plays the Polish landlord—”It’s a new accent for me,” Busby says, grinning—and Hansen, a mysterious nurse living in his residence. Both lives are thoroughly shaken up with the arrival of the titular mama (Jocelyn Ahlf), a lady whose taste and delivery of music are somewhat at odds with the Badger’s Bluff status quo.

It’s not a musical, though there is singing. And nestled in among the music-rooted hijinks, Hansen and Busby note a particularly affecting air lingering around the script’s core.

“I was in Calgary, and I was sitting in my billet’s house, and luckily she wasn’t there,” Hansen says, of her first read-through. “The Lemoine suckerpunch, for me—it’s a lovely play, so beautiful, so well-crafted, and then all of a sudden, just this one line, and I just started sobbing. And I was like, on the floor sobbing. … I wasn’t expecting the suckerpunch. In the beautiful plays, they happen.”

“I love that term,” Busby notes. “It’s the first time I’ve heard it recently: the ‘Lemoine suckerpunch,’ where he starts out so brilliantly funny, and witty, and then there’s a certain set of his plays that just hit you in the stomach.”

“It’s just so true,” Hansen continues. “This little moment of truth that echoes for you. And I think we have different ones. For me it was just the line I needed to hear at that particular moment.”

“This one’s got a nice piece of heart at the centre of it,” Busby adds. “It’s a shorter [play], so it kind of comes right at you: lots of fun, a little bit of pathos, right back to the fun.

Until Sat, Jun 14 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Saturday matinee)
Directed by Stewart Lemoine
Varscona Theatre, $16 – $30



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