Gore Bay Theatre bringing an absurdist tour de force to QUONTA

The Gore Bay Theatre Company takes to the QUONTA stage with Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist drama ‘Exit the King’ on March 17. The play features Jack Clark, left, as The Guard, Lori Evans as the long-suffering pleb Domestic Help, Tara Bernatchez as the vivacious and struggling with denial Queen Marie, the failing King Berginger, played by a far from any kind of failing John Hawke (in fact this is one of the most compelling roles Mr. Hawke has tackled in his long and storied theatre career) and the nowhere near failing in any shape or forml Shannon McMullan as Queen Marguerite.

GORE BAY—The Gore Bay Theatre Company, under the veteran co-direction of Walter Maskel and Andrea Emmerton, has become synonymous with great theatre productions and this year’s QUONTA Theatre competition entry goes even further in driving this rule.

It takes guts to step outside of the safe world of Norm Foster comedies to tackle a play like Eugene Ionesco’s ‘Exit the King.’ The timing and chemistry required to bring an absurdist drama that “satirizes modern society with outrageous comedy,” as was put forward by the New York Times, is one thing, but the play tackles some of the most serious challenges facing society today, and it does so by following the descent of the imaginary King Beringer the First through the familiar stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Lead John Hawke rose to the challenge with aplomb, in fact he threw the whole fruit basket into play, barrelling onto the stage as an almost-still larger than life figure in full denial of his too-obvious impending fate and over the next hour and a half of the play, flickering through the range of emotions with all of the skill he has garnered from a lifetime of dedication to the stage, not to mention a significant number of physically slapstick moves that must have left him smarting after every performance despite his considerable skill.

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Shannon McMullan was a force to be reckoned with from her first appearance, her character of Queen Maguerite refusing to be drawn into the phantasies of the sycophants around her. Speaking truth to power might have made her seem a harridan, but her character (and Ms. McMullan’s considerable stage presence and grasp of the craft) took the last half hour of the play firmly in her hands.

Tara Bernatchez’s Queen Marie, the king’s younger wife, played a strong supporting and sympathetic role, supporting her husband the king even in the face of the obvious decline of her lover.

The doctor/executioner, played by John Robertson, had just the right blend of haughty quack and astute astrologer in his portrayal. As supporting roles go, his was as solid a pillar as you could ask for.

Juliette, the domestic help, was played to a peach by Lori Evans. Her world-weary plebeian provided comic tragedy and all while bringing forth the phlegmatic fatalism of the working classes.

Meanwhile, Jack Clark’s military background may have proven a great asset in his portrayal of the loyal-onto-death Guard. His staccato announcements of what was obviously being said or happening on the stage (rather like margin notes or little headlines) helped knit the production together while offering a comedic tragedy of their own.

Lighting, sound and set were of the high calibre normally anticipated of a Gore Bay Theatre production and the period costuming worked well in setting the tone of the imaginary kingdom not so far away.

This will be the company’s QUONTA competition entry, stacking up against the best on offer from across Northern Ontario. There is little doubt the production will do well.

Between March 14 and 17, Elliot Lake is hosting the QUONTA Drama Festival this year at the Lester B. Pearson Civic Centre Theatre. Theatre companies from Elliot Lake, Espanola, Sault Ste. Marie and, of course, Gore Bay will be showcasing their talents. 

On Wednesday, March 14, the Elliot Lake Amateur Theatre Ensemble will stage ‘Tempting Providence’ by Robert Chafe. The lead in this play is also performing in her first lead role and pulls it off remarkably well. “This true story and elegant tale recounts the life of a courageous woman who became known as the Florence Nightingale of the North and a true Newfoundland legend.”

On Thursday, March 15 it is Espanola Little Theatre’s turn onstage and they will present ‘Problem Child’ by George F. Walker. “The play portrays a desperate young couple whose daughter is taken away from them. They work hard to get her back from a system that seems to want to keep them down.” Watch for the lead Angie Scheel; this might be her first time on stage, but she literally knocks the role right out of the park.

On Friday, March 16 the Sault Theatre Workshop will stage ‘Hilda’s Yard’ by Norm Foster. “This play is a poignant and funny look at how family dynamics don’t really change much over the years.”

Last, but far from least, on Saturday, March 17 it is the Gore Bay Theatre’s turn and they will be showcasing the aforementioned and reviewed production of ‘Exit the King’ by Eugene Ionesco. “Exit the King is an absurdist masterpiece. It tells of a fading ruler at the helm of a world in decline who is having trouble accepting his fate. A funny and moving look at the end of it all.”

Tickets are $20 for each night of the festival and can be purchased at the box office at Alpine Flowers and Gifts located at the Paris Plaza, or by calling 705-848-5657.