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The Monument offers intense, rewarding production, brilliant performances
Does the truth set you free?
That’s a theme running through The Monument, a searing drama set in a broken country in the aftermath of war.
And at the end of an ultra-intense 90 minutes, the audience is left grappling with as many questions as at the start.
Stewart Legere and Martha Irving — both winners of Mayor’s Awards, Legere for emerging theatre artist in 2009 and Irving for achievement in theatre in 2011— vividly bring to life Colleen Wagner’s Governor General’s Award-winning drama.
The setting brings to mind Bosnia after the ethnic feuds in the early 1990s, though no location is ever given.
Legere is Stetko, a young man about to be executed for war crimes — raping and murdering 23 young girls.
In a powerful opening monologue, Stetko ponders his crimes, reflecting on a watery-eyed virgin, the psychiatrist sent to discover what lies inside and his relationship with his girlfriend, among other topics.
He runs through emotions from bravado to listlessness, sometimes offering up a defence, at other times becoming angrily defensive at the charges levelled against him. Every now and then a crack appears — glimpses of the 17-year-old youth forced to join the army through circumstance and to commit crimes through peer pressure.
As the moment of his death draws closer, a mysterious woman appears, dimly lit to the bright spotlight on Stetko. He wonders whether she’s a doctor, an executioner, a mother, but Mejra replies she’s his saviour.
They strike a deal: Mejra will get him released if he agrees to do whatever she orders him to for the rest of his life. Desperate to escape his fate, Stetko agrees.
And so begins their journey, on a set that suits the drama to perfection — a bleak stage covered roughly in brown canvas, heaped with dirt and tiny pieces of straw, large rocks and small hills.
Mejra doesn’t share her plans for Stetko, frustrating a man already on edge. By turns she is cordial, even compassionate, at others coldly calculating or filled with murderous rage. She is convinced this man killed her child, but she has no proof and he won’t name his victims.
She plays mind games with the truth, pushes and prods and manipulates as an increasingly humanized Stetko, who she calls Stinko, to his great irritation, accedes to and rejects her demands.
Ultimately the play, directed with a sure hand by Mauralea Austin, raises questions about the toll exacted by war.
Are soldiers victims too? Is the oft-repeated ‘I was just following orders’ a more valid defence than it seems? Will people do anything to escape death if given the chance? What is the role of hope in a war? Given the chance, will everyone seek revenge? Can there be forgiveness or redemption in the aftermath of bloody conflict?
Both Legere and Irving are mesmerizing in a play that is compelling, challenging, distressing and worthwhile. Legere creates sympathy for Stetko — a fact that seems impossible at the beginning of the play — and Irving’s quiet fury seems more lethal and deep-seated than anything the raging soldier can summon.
Sets and lighting by Evan Brown are wondrous, particularly a chilling tableau that accompanies the final scenes. Sound designed by Austin, with nicely selected pre-show music by her son Shaylor Austin-Campbell, sets a perfect tone.
The Monument, produced by LunaSea Theatre Company, of which Austin and Irving are founding members, is onstage till Sunday at The Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St., Halifax. A talk-back session will be held after tonight’s performance. Visit www.lunaseatheatre.ca for ticket information.
Yesterday, I left the dark, earth-strewn confines of the Bus Stop Theatre feeling completely destroyed. I had just experienced ninety minutes of distressing, heart-wrenching theatre. And despite the tears I’ve shed since then and the nightmares that woke me last night, I’m going to tell you why you should experience it, too.
The Monument is the story of Stetko (Stewart Legere), a young soldier who played a despicable role in an unnamed conflict. At the very moment of his execution for war crimes, he offered a chance to live by a mysterious and forbidding woman named Mejra (Martha Irving). It comes as no surprise that Mejra has kept Stetko alive in order to exact revenge on him for the atrocities he has committed. Her capacity for hatred and brutality is both understandable and sickening.
And that is the point of this play. Even the difference between good and evil is not black and white. The innocent victims could be our daughters, but the aggressors could be our sons.
Powerful performances, an eerily effective set and expert direction make this a must-see. You’ll leave feeling bruised and battered, but infinitely grateful that for most Canadians, the dilemmas in this play are purely theoretical.
March 1-4, 8pm
March 3 & 4, 2pm
Ticket prices start at $15. Tickets to The Monument are available by contacting the LunaSea Theatre Box Office at 902.423.8202 or online at www.lunaseatheatre.ca.
February 28, 2012
Martha Irving, as an enraged women demanding answers, grips the throat of Stewart Legere, in the role of a young soldier convicted of war crimes, in Colleen Wagner’s play, The Monument, a LunaSea Theatre production at the Bus Stop Theatre Wednesday through Sunday. (INGRID BULMER / Staff)from the Chronicle Herald
Loving actors explore ‘the really dark side in all of us’ in Monument
Director Mauralea Austin wanted really nice actors to star in a play about brutality.
She chose Martha Irving and Stewart Legere to tackle Canadian playwright Colleen Wagner’s 1996 Governor General’s Award-winning play, The Monument, opening Wednesday at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax.
“They’re two fundamentally beautiful, wonderful loving people,” Austin says of her Halifax actors, “and it’s good to have that at the core as we explore the really dark side, which is in all of us.”
Legere plays a solider convicted of war crimes, specifically of rape and murder. He is saved from execution by Irving’s rage-filled woman who is desperate for answers.
“It terrified me,” says Irving. “That’s one of my criteria for accepting things. If they terrify me, it’s worth doing.”
Austin chose this play. “Colleen wrote it as a passionate response to the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s. It poured out of her like a cri de coeur. It can be applied to many other conflicts and many other wars.”
It has been performed around the world, notably in Rwanda. “They did it as written, with black actors, and it resonated amazingly with them,” says Irving.
Austin wants people in the audience to have “strong responses.”
“It’s important for all of us to have an emotional sense of what’s going on in the world. It’s not sanitized and safe. For one hour and 15 minutes you’re living in this world.
“For me it’s very important because it connects me to the wider world. I have to see myself in context with bigger issues,” says Austin, who reads the paper every day. “It makes me feel part of the human race. And I hate complacency.”
Irving says she feels “humbled” playing this part.
“Mejra is a woman who gives him the choice of dying in the electric chair or coming with her, and their dynamic is embattled and reveals the depths of both characters and what brought them to this situation.
“It’s a very uncomfortable piece to do — to explore what hatred does to us as human beings, how it twists us into something unrecognizable.”
Stewart Legere plays Stetko. “The thing that scares me is not playing a bad person but playing a person who’s done bad things and how can that be real and not a caricature,” he says.
“You rarely see shows like this. We’re not used to talking about really horrific things. We are gentle with each other. To do a show that says pretty horrific things is exciting.”
Austin, who has a son, says the play spoke to her through both characters.
“I find my heart is being pulled into the woman’s world and into the young man’s world and that’s such a powerful way to tell a story.
“The way the play is written helps in that you know what Stetko has done is bad and we accept (that) this kind of evil happens, but as the play unfolds we see why it happens, how it happens and there are no easy answers like good and bad, heroes and villains. There’s a lot of humanity in this.”
She brought in Karen Bassett as fight director.
“We want the violence to have a real edge and a sense of danger but we don’t want it to take an audience out of the story. For us it is important that the violence be visceral for an audience and that’s a really tough balance.”
LunaSea Theatre is producing this play for seven performances on a “shoestring,” with only a 12-day rehearsal process and lots of help from friends and family. Three recording students at Centre for Arts and Technology — Justin Petersen, Ben Schow and Cameron Laurence — are doing the sound.
LunaSea co-founder Mary-Colin Chisholm’s daughter, Emlyn Murray, is doing the costumes and Chisholm has been dropping off cookies to rehearsal.
“My son is recording the pre-show music,” says Austin. “Yeah, we use and abuse our family.”
All the hard work to produce edgy theatre is worth it if just one person responds, says Irving, recalling an enthusiastic email sent by a Sheet Harbour woman after she saw LunaSea’s production of the black Irish comedy Woman and Scarecrow.
“This is for people who like to go to theatre to be moved by it.”
LunaSea Theatre presents The Monument, Canadian playwright Colleen Wagner’s response to war crimes in Bosnia, at the Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St., Halifax. The Governor General’s Award-winning play examines the repercussions of violence when a young soldier convicted of war crimes is saved from execution by a rage-filled woman desperate for answers.
STARRING: Stewart Legere and Martha Irving.
CREATIVE TEAM: director Mauralea Austin, set and lighting designer Evan Brown, costume designer Emlyn Murray, props designer Wes Daniels, fight director Karen Bassett and stage manager Sylvia Bell.
SHOW TIMES: Wednesday to Sunday, 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $15 for students, seniors and arts workers but $25 opening night. Call 423-8202 or go online ( www.lunaseatheatre.ca).
A talk-back session is held after Friday’s performance. Pay-what-you-can show is Saturday, 8 p.m.
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