This was my third Village of Small Huts/Video Cabaret experience and it was a reminder of how distinct their performances are and how much underknown I think the whole thing is.
As a reminder: Video Cabaret is a theatre troupe that incorporates audio and visual elements into their productions. The Village of Small Huts is a 21-play series about the history of Canada; the plays use tableaux and exaggerated makeup and props to tell a loose narrative that is like snapshots of Canadian history. The dialogue is humourous and cynical. We’ve seen Confederation Parts 1 and 2 and now we’ve seen this.
This is not an era of Canadian history I know well and at least some of what was covered was a surprise to me. (However, because I recently listened to Uncover: Brainwashed, I was more familiar than I otherwise would have been.) In some ways that made the play less effective at first than Confederation but it also gave the whole thing a little more sense of mystery.
Like the other plays, this one is fairly funny. Our experience was lessened a little by a man behind us who, initially, laughed at seemingly every line and every mannerism. He got less awful as the play went on but it was truly bizarre. We couldn’t decide if he was drunk or if he was related to someone in the cast or crew and was trying to show his appreciate. (My brother used to do standup. I understand the impulse to laugh louder when your family member is up there.)
My favourite parts of this one were John Diefenbaker – it’s just a wonderful caricature – and the hep cat who just waltzes into a few scenes. (That hep cat made me laugh about as hard as I did during the entire play. Oh man…)
This remains a tragically underknown, uniquely Canadian artistic achievement. I don’t know why high school students aren’t shown these plays. I can only assume ignorance. Read a textbook and then take the kids to the theatre. They’ll like everything a hell of a lot more.
And why people haven’t tried to turn this into something more, I don’t know. (I can imagine a touring company performing this at high schools around the country. It would be a great public service.)
Video Cabaret have their own theatre now. But it is small. And we both worry that fewer people will be aware of them now that they are no longer at a major Toronto theatre venue like Soulpepper. I wish more people knew about it.