March 30, 2012

Three Actors Walk Into A Bar...

Ross McMillan and Sarah Constible in Steve Ratzlaff's Dionysus in Stony Mountain (photo credit Leif Norman)

Ross McMillan and Sarah Constible are two mainstays of the Winnipeg theatre scene. They’re being directed by Bill Kerr in Theatre Projects Manitoba’s upcoming production of 'Dionysus in Stony Mountain’ by Steve Ratzlaff. I caught up with them (on behalf of The Uniter) having a break at Elephant and Castle between rehearsals.

SC:       Is it recording right now (leans in to Android) Hellloooooo?

BK:      Do you know the British hen party tradition? It’s like a stagette… what they do, Ryan Air flights are so cheap that they spend like $150 to get to Dublin and they spend 48 hours getting tricked there. So you see these mobs of drunken women throwing up and yelling and fighting. And it’s another weekend in Dublin.
SC:       Oh my god. I’ve got to go to this place called Ireland.

SC:       We were doing a line run the other day and there was an old Winnipeg Sun sitting there and I started flipping through it and there were two articles within two pages of each other about different offenders from Stony... It seems like the Winnipeg Sun is filled with all these sensationalist stories and I think the play we’re working on, a lot of it goes ‘Why is this the society we’ve decided to embrace?’

MT:     Does anyone here have experience with the justice system?
RM:     No!
SC:      Twenty years. Twenty years, yep. Killed that kid.

BK:      My foster brother has been incarcerated a number of times, though not here in Manitoba. So I’m fairly familiar with the failure of the justice system as a place that 'certainly didn’t rehabilitate him' let’s put it that way… it’s hardly a place of reform, yet somehow it’s claimed to be.
SC:       And Steve’s not only touching on the justice system, he was a teacher in the regular education system too.
RM:     I asked Steve what he was doing with this play, after seeing its earliest draft. And he said ‘Well, I just want to take some Nietzsche and shove it in the faces of the middle class just to see. Just to go ‘how do you like that?’’ If you take the quite persuasive argument of one of the main characters in the play, it really recommends that you don’t take the weak members of society and revere them as victims. The implication left hanging in the play is that you let them die… I think he wants to provoke a discussion. That’s quite a piece of provoking, I’d say.

BK:      We can get caught up in the sense that nothing ever gets better. But there has actually been real change. Whatever -ism you care to look at, like post colonialism – we were just talking about Ireland – yeah, a lot of the problems are replicated but there is a country there and there wasn’t before. Partitioned, but certain things have improved.
SC:       I can now marry a black man…
BK:      Yes, you can! Exactly. So there’s always a ying and yang, but there is genuine change.
RM:     Yes, true. But look at the States. Look at all the social advances that started in the 60s: feminism and the civil rights movement. A lot of people on the Right are now talking very openly about taking these away, about rolling these back. These changes aren’t necessarily permanent. And the British could invade Ireland again.
SC:       Well the only reason they have a platform is because of the Internet. Now we have this democratization of communication - that’s the only reason these nutjobs are getting a chance to say their point of view.
RM:     Not necessarily. Look at the Republican nomination race. These nutjobs are mainstream now.
SC:       What? You’re saying Santorum is a nutjob? What is your problem?
RM:     He’s a fine man… He’s a good-looking man. He gives me the horn.
BK:      (laughing) There’s the quote right there.
RM:     And he’s doing it on purpose!

RM:     One of the most forcefully put point of views in Dionysus in Stony Mountain is not just critical of boot licking liberalism, but scornful of it. And not just scornful of it, but pointing an accusatory finger of it being the sentiment that is sickening our society. And that’s what he’s presenting to an audience and asking them to consider.  That’s definitely not preaching to the choir.
SC:       He’s going to offend everybody-
BK:      You mean intrigue!
SC:       Intrigue - that’s the word.
BK:      It asks real questions.
RM:     And underneath all that, there’s grief. There’s real grief that comes as a surprise. As perhaps it always does. That after all the blaming and guilt and anger, sometimes what you find underneath that is grief. Beyond which there’s not much to say… sometimes when you let people give vent to what appears to be their most deeply held grievances and beliefs - when they finally get it all out - underneath it is something as simple as grief that can suddenly transfigure a person and make everything they’ve been saying, not irrelevant…
SC:       Enhanced?
RM:     Enhanced, yes. But you can suddenly see that underneath all the arguments and moral haggling, sometimes what really needs to be recognized is simple pain. And real pain can’t be dealt with institutionally; it can only dealt with between two people. And if you ever experience that, you’re lucky.

Dionysus in Stony Mountain runs March 29 to April 8 - details and tickets here.

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