Kavalier’s Kuriosities: Review
Imagine a time when Christianity governed all aspects of social life: everything from how one dressed or looked, and where one went, to how one interacted with others. Those who did not conform to these rules were shunned. Those with physical afflictions were deemed to be possessed by demons and cast out as monsters. Thus the birth of freak-show carnivals, which provided much perverse entertainment for those wishing to view man and his deformities.
This is the world of Viktor Kavalier, the title character of Dead Unicorn Ink’s latest Fringe offering Kavalier’s Kuriosities written by Aaron Lajeunesse and Jeremy Piamonte. In it we see the unravelings of the infamous freak-show Kavalier’s Kuriosities when one member discovers that they don’t fit in with “acceptable” society or the other outcasts in the camp. Questioning the notion of acceptance in a time of intolerance, this show explores what it means to “blend in.”
Considering there is no summary given in the program (for this run anyways), it is hard to determine the exact context of this piece. There is no time period or place of setting explicitly stated (other than a brief line mentioning passing through Berlin) which makes it a little difficult to understand why these characters act the way they do, specifically why they’re so beholden to Christianity, in their current social milieu. Further, as a travelling troupe it would have added another interesting element if the different cultures of the characters had been developed and explored. However, despite these minor issues, the script itself is strong in its concept, and the dramatic style fits well with Dead Unicorn’s production aesthetics. Which leads me to my next point:
The set, designed by Robert Forbes, is very well executed and uses the space effectively. The screens on which we see the shadow puppets and the shadows of the actors are certainly the most visually engaging aspect to the stage and I wish they had been used even more! The shadow puppets themselves are absolutely beautiful in design and I think they could be exploited further, as they give the piece nice variety. The costumes, designed by director Patrice-Ann Forbes, suggest the historical setting of this piece, and the make-up, designed by Amanda Logan, is particularly well-done on Lajeunesse who also plays Kavalier.
Unfortunately, the acting in this show is a little strange, much like the wandering camp itself. Lajeunesse is strong as the ringleader, commanding attention any time on stage. Kyle Cunningham as Simon, Kavalier’s foil, is also commendable, embracing the role with his entire being. Lauren Cauchy has her moments, specifically any of her scenes with Cunningham, though completely threw away the climactic ending this time around. The dramatic character, I think, is ultimately her (unavoidable) downfall as Lilith is nothing more than a possession to be disputed about between the rest of the men in this play. Though accurate, perhaps, for the time, the character itself has no real arc, motivations, or desires and she is only defined by her relationship to the males around her. This static character is surely tough for any actress to portray when living in an increasingly feminist society. Sam McCarthy as Alexander the Priest, an explosive role to be sure, is not quite up to par with the others giving little to no variety in expression or tone of voice. Kathryn Reeves as the puppeteer of two of the cutest puppets I’ve seen in a while, certainly captured hearts. Reeves, like the shadow puppets she operates, could have been integrated into the piece slightly more (maybe as another freak-show character?).
The only other criticism I have is that I wish this freak-show were a trifle more freakish. Victor the sword-swallower fits in with his marred face and Simon’s epileptic fits are reason enough to be cast out from “normal” society, but with Lilith things are not so clear. It is not until half-way through the show that I notice that her eyes are different colours. The simple addition of a line referencing her eyes will certainly solve this, though I think this company has an opportunity in front of them to expand the cast ever so slightly and give us some super freaks, if you will.
Overall, I am happy to see DUI heading down the right track this time around. This is the strongest piece I’ve seen by them in a long while. I recommend this piece because, if not anything else, the shocking events at the play’s end will give you something to talk about.
Presented by Dead Unicorn Ink
BYOV C- the Courtroom
June 21 9pm
June 22 7:30pm
June 26 8:30pm
June 27 7pm
June 28 10:30