Bust hits close to home for Theatre Network

Bust Theatre Network GigCity EdmontonFor a company dedicated to presenting local productions, it’s hard to imagine a more Albertan show than Theatre Network’s current offering, Bust.

At the Roxy on Gateway until Feb. 26, Matthew MacKenzie’s play takes place in Fort McMurray just after the great fire in May of 2016. It features two couples trying to cope with the aftermath of “The Beast.” There is also a mysterious event in their lives that hangs over the play like set designer Cory Sincennes’ huge looming moon, seen through the shadows of a scorched forest. Sincennes’ brilliant set is rimmed by blackened, leafless trees and contains two distinct areas in a forest.

This funny, dark, blue collar play is not a documentary – it is not fashioned from specific events or interviews with survivors. It is the author’s vision and a work of fiction. The city of Fort McMurray, the fire, the boom and bust economy, the dichotomy of life in the bush pulling the unwilling oil from the sand while living the high life in town are all woven into the story.

The story begins with two sisters and hockey moms, Laura (Lora Brovold) and Carmell (Louise Lambert), nibbling on Timbits while on a hike in the bush. Their set is rocky and they spend a lot of time climbing over it. Something is wrong. Stress is in the air. Laura, particularly, is barely making sense. Even simple conversations seem to be saying much more than you hear in the words.

Bust Theatre Network GigCity EdmontonOn the other half of Sincennes’ set, Ty (Brandon Coffey) and Barry (Christopher Schulz) arrive at an opening in the woods and proceed to dig what looks very much like a grave. They talk, fight and share intimate details of their lives, while digging energetically. Between climbing and digging, Bust is certainly a physical production.

Carmell is married to Ty but she threw him out when he became addicted to cocaine. Barry and Laura have moved into her house after theirs was destroyed in the fire. The closeness of the arrangement only adds to the stress.

After a rambling start, the layers begin to peel away. MacKenzie is not going to make it easy for us. The pressures seem straightforward, but each time you think you understand what’s going on, he pushes his plot onto a whole different level. And then there are the nagging questions. Why are the boys digging in the woods? What happened that night at the Peewee hockey tournament? Cryptic observations salted throughout the play are really clues. As events move toward the climax one becomes more and more involved in the characters’ lives.

The payoff is dramatic and unexpected but vaguely disquieting as it seems to go against what the rest of the play has been telling us about love, family, community and acceptance.

The casting is faultless as all four actors give their role a unique spin. MacKenzie has allotted each of them their own voice. They take his words and run with them. Brovold has a powerful moment as she describes Laura’s great sense of loss when her home burst into flames.

Perhaps that explains the power and sensitivity director Bradley Moss brings to the work – his beloved Roxy Theatre burned to the ground on Jan 13, 2015 and, he tells us in his program notes of the shock, displacement and pain that comes when “the stuff that had a life of its own and was intertwined with our lives” was consumed. Much of that enduring sense of melancholy suffuses this small, affecting and well realized production.

Photos by Ian Jackson