"The sun came into the world like a red fist at the end of Ste. Catherine Street," the Greek chorus says at the beginning of "Sainte-Carmen of the Main." The street-people of the Main think the sun comes up for Carmen, the country singer they idolize. Those two images are telling in "Sainte-Carmen," a contemporary tragedy that provides these University Theatre actors with a dramatic opportunity probably unlike anything they've tried before.
The play opens tonight at the Rose Theatre.
Carmen (Meagan Edmonds) is a country music singer adored by the hookers, pimps, junkies and alcoholics at home in the run-down Montreal entertainment district called the Main. She has just returned from six months in Nashville able to yodel but most importantly determined to tell the denizens of the Main the truth about themselves in the tunes she sings at the Rodeo bar.
They love hearing someone tell them how strong they are, but that is not music to everyone on the Main.
If Carmen is the queen of the Main, Rodeo bar owner Maurice (Adam Rutledge) is its ruthless king, and the villainous Toothpick (Dan Frierdich) is his henchman.
Rutledge imbues Maurice with an imposing forcefulness of will as he swaggers up and down the street. Frierdich, down to the haircut, is the definition of a weaselly underling.
Directed by Dr. Robert Dillon Jr., "Sainte-Carmen of the Main" probably isn't a play for very genteel tastes. The street language is entirely appropriate but still has the power to shock coming from the Rose Theatre stage.
Dillon has expertly choreographed and orchestrated the movements on the street like a dance. Little by little you are reminded that some dances end badly.
The street people are led by the good-humored, cross-dressing Rose Beef (Courtney Jackson) and the seductive prostitute Sandra (Katie Stricker). The actors include: Casee Hagan, Adam Leong, Natasha Toro, Mike Culbertson, Donna Harmon, Lauren Neilson, Rachel Stork, James VonDielingen, Dan Boughton and David Whitlock.
The chorus' vividly various costumes by Rhonda Weller-Stilson achieve the trick of timelessness. C. Kenneth Cole's abstract set has the same effect. The vertical and horizontal pipes evoke both prison and playground.
"Sainte-Carmen of the Main" is affecting, although some portrayals suffer from the fact that these young actors and actresses can't be as knowing and street-wise as the people they are portraying.
In her first lead role for the University Players, Edmonds dresses in Dale Evans duds, makes revelations about a man's privates and claims to be doing what's best for the Main. In Greek tragedy, it's hubris that ultimately damns the hero.
Edmonds handles the spotlight well and makes Carmen understandable as someone everyone on the street at least hopes to protect.
Becky Wolverton plays Harelip, Maurice's sister and Carmen's dresser. Wolverton makes this pathetic character human.
Dana Hahn also gives a memorable performance as Gloria, the performer who once ruled the Main as Carmen does and wants her place in the sun back.
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