Firehall Arts Centre: May 2001

The Shooting Stage

By Michael Lewis MacLellan

Venue:The Firehall Arts Centre

Dates: 19 April-12 May HELD OVER!< BR>

There are so many interpretations of the simple words "the shooting stage." Michael Lewis MacLellan offers several in this exploration of relationships, friendships, photographic images, and adolescence. Shooting has lethal connotations. In this well written, well crafted play, not only a shotgun may prove to be a weapon of destruction, but also a camera. This thought-provoking work won the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition for 1999.

In the opening scene a thirty-year-old photograph is the instrument destructive of friendship when the photographer defends himself in court against charges of pornography. The subject of the youthful photograph, now a lawyer, then a child actor with his shutterbug buddy, wants his controversial portrait withdrawn from exhibition, fearing that the anonymous image of the young Adonis may be recognized and thus endanger his present image as a successful legal advisor, shooting down all his hard earned prestige. The lawyer's teenage son covers up his insecurity by bullying his classmates. With his friend this boy victimizes an effeminate, lonely student who is a bird watcher.

This gentle boy, Elliott, is entranced by the beauty and strength of the endangered trumpeter swan that he endeavours to photograph. The three boys are growing up, discovering what excitements and perils life may hold for them and growing physically, in what grandmothers used to call "the shooting stage." They are all volatile and vulnerable but willing to try almost anything. Elliott, preparing for his first appearance in a drag show in town, is discovered by Ivan, the sycophantic friend of the bully, Derrick, who falls for the attractive image.

While Elliott is trying to shoot the swan with his camera Ivan and Derrick appear with a shotgun. For Derrick, this becomes an instrument of power, and he seizes the weapon from Ivan and threatens to shoot both his companions before going off to shoot the swan. Terrified by the sudden reality of what he has done by wounding and not killing the swan, Derrick is confronted with the loss of innocence and its inherent consequences. Ivan takes the gun to finish the destruction. Together Ivan and Derrick bind the swan's wings to Elliott, and Ivan threatens to shoot Elliott if he cannot fly.

In the resolution, the photographer, Len, is exonerated of the charge of pornography, claiming that the controversial picture is art. Yet the experience of trial has undermined his self-confidence, and he is ready to abandon his profession. Derrick's father, Malcolm, faces the problems of his son's craving for respect satisfied by means of physical power. He has no recourse to stability in his home where the father rules by his hectoring and selfish behaviour. Ivan has to stand on his own feet and not follow the leader. Elliott, though injured physically and mentally, recognizes the power of the visual image, the need for tolerance and understanding, and the largeness of the world around.

As the two older men, Malcolm (Gerry Mackay) and Len (Eric Breker) give excellent, well realized characters. The contrast between the intellectual artist and the ambitious lawyer is well emphasized as is their adult reconciliation. As Elliott, Clarence Sponagle gives a brilliant performance, never overdoing the comic though poignant scenes of adolescence.

Derrick (Paul Anthony) and Ivan (Kevin MacDonald) are young and inexperienced actors. While their youthfulness is apparent and their behaviour on stage fittingly immature, they lack the skill to bring the necessary tension to some scenes. Derrick is never a frightening bully, and consequently his awakening to the lethal destruction of m isplaced power is not convincing. Ivan is never really in thrall to Derrick, nor is he devastated at the revelation of his secret homosexuality.

Director Stephane Kirkland of this excellently written play a thoughtful and well developed realization. The background of a blown up portion of a portrait sets the stage for the development of the whole picture. The set designer is Yvan Morissette, and the light and sound are by Adrian Muir and Dorothy Dittrich, respectively.

The Shooting Stage runs at the Firehall Arts Centre 19 April-12 May at 8 pm. Tickets: Tuesday, 2 for $18; Wednesdays and Thursdays, $16/14; Fridays and Saturdays, $18/16; Matinees and Sundays $14/12. Tickets available at the Firehall Arts Centre box office at 689-0926.

© 2001, Jane Penistan

top / back