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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dionysus in Stony Mountain

Last Saturday, I decided to reward myself after a tough week by sleeping in, getting a massage, going for a nice dinner, and taking in a play.

The play was Dionysus in Stony Mountain, written by Steven Ratzlaff and presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba. It was shown at the Rachel Browne Theatre, a cozy little spot on the second floor of one of the historic buildings of Winnipeg's Exchange District.

Given the relaxed feel of my day, I was not ready to be challenged. I was not ready to think. Dionysus forced me to take notice, to activate those atrophied brain muscles that hadn't been in use since I took Critical Theory in second-year university.

This was not a bad things, by any means.

The two-actor, two-act, two-hour play covered everything from religion, philosophy, and the nature of crime and the justice system. An impressive feat to be covered in only two hours, but even more impressive were the two actors who carried the show.

Photo from CBC.ca, by Leif Norman.

Ross McMillan played two roles: James Hiebert, a manic prisoner of Stony Mountain in the first act, and Eric, a nihilistic, wealthy uncle in act two. McMillan was captivating, particularly in the first half, which consisted almost entirely of Hiebert's Nietzschian diatribes against society and our notions of good and bad.

Equally captivating was Sarah Constible's Heidi Prober, a prison psychiatrist assigned to get Hiebert back on his meds in order to be eligible for parole. Prober had scarcely any lines in the first half, only piping up now and then to prompt Hiebert, yet her calm, controlled presence was just as powerful as Hiebert's frantic mania.

The second act took place in Prober's ramshackle West End house. When her uncle Eric comes to visit, it becomes clear she's quit her job at the prison and is rebuilding herself as a person while she renovates her Maryland Street house. Gone is the self-assured psychiatrist from act one; Prober is now agitated and angry, yet still recognizable as the intellectual therapist from the prison (a testament to Constible's great skill).

Dionysus in Stony Mountain wasn't easy to watch. But it was important. In two hours, it tackled topics many Winnipeggers will never think about in a lifetime. While its themes were universal, it felt especially localized. Walking home after the show, I was greeted by a fleet of cop cars in my backlane, sirens blaring. The newspaper the next day said a dead body had been found. I couldn't help but think - what will Stony Mountain make of this?

Smog - Justice Aversion