Review of One Yellow Rabbit's Calgary, I Love You, But You're Killing Me; January 12 - January 23, 2016 at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary, AB.

Calgary, I Love You, But You're Killing Me, is an amusing perspective on YYC life 

One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo presentation features highly talented artists, but falls short near the end. 

The 30th annual High Performance Rodeo is in full swing and with over 20 creative theatrical pieces taking place in various venues around town, this year’s rodeo is heating up our cold Calgary weather. One Yellow Rabbit (OYR) is the driving force behind this iconic Canadian arts festival, and as such, much is expected every year from the piece OYR brings to the Rodeo. This year, OYR’s Rodeo production is Calgary, I love you, but you’re killing me, a quirky, distinctly YYC flavoured musical performance piece that many Calgarians will find highly amusing and entertaining.

Featuring Calgary theatre talents Denise Clarke, Andy Curtis, Karen Hines and Jamie Tognazzini, this clever menagerie of monologues, songs and skits is the written work of Blake Brooker, OYR’s Artistic Director. The show is simple – it discusses the aspects of Calgary that we appreciate, dislike, fear, are annoyed by and everything else in between.

For example, the show asks the question, “Where’s your favourite place in Calgary to have a panic attack?” For one character, their answer is the parking lot of Chicken on the Way, while eating corn fritters with gravy and a variety of other dipping sauces. For someone else, their answer is the STI clinic waiting area at the Sheldon Chumir Centre. Another character states their favourite panic attack venue is Shoppers Drug Mart.

I have actually seen firsthand a panic attack at the Shoppers Drug Mart in Chinook Centre (it was during renovations – the entrance was cramped and one woman was very disgruntled). I will not comment on any possible experiences I’ve had at Chicken on the Way or Sheldon Chumir Centre, but the point is, I could relate to not only this aspect of the show, but many other topics throughout the show. If you are a Calgarian, or have at least lived in Calgary for a few months, I guarantee you will pick up on much of the witty commentary on YYC.

Members of the creative team of Calgary, I Love You, But You're Killing Me. Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee.

The show also introduces us to an interesting array of characters that represent typical Calgarians you likely encounter on a daily basis. For example, we see Tognazzini portray a Calgarian feeling the bite of the recent job layoffs. She desperately tries to return her already used MacBook Air to the Apple Store because she needs the money back. When her first two plans don’t pan out, she resorts to negotiating with a sketchy sounding prospect off Craigslist.

One of my favourite character portrayals is performed by one of the show’s musicians, Kris Demeanor. He delivers a standout monologue from a character who discusses the women he hooks up with, his work experiences at a liquor store (including one of his personal relief sessions in the liquor store’s bathroom), his drinking adventures, and his frustration with high rollers who seem to always get everything they want, including the women. Demeanor completely nails his character portrayal and adds superb comic relief to the production.

Other characters include a jaded Grey Goose martini drinking woman, played by Denise Clarke, who reminisces over her younger days; and a senior executive at an oil and gas company, played by Andy Curtis, who has to regularly go through the tough process of laying off employees at his company. Another memorable character is a transplanted Ontarian, played by Karen Hines (she actually is a transplanted Ontarian!), who shares with us what the Ontario school system teaches about Alberta, and who mistakenly believes Calgary’s Bow Building, home to gas corporation Encana, is a swanky residential condo building.

From left to right: Jamie Tognazzini, Blake Brooker and Denise Clarke. Photo courtesy of Trude Lee. 

Director Brooker has wisely incorporated collaborative input from his performance team, and the production thrives from the rich and diverse creative juices involved. The intimate nature of this production adeptly suits its performance space at the Big Secret Theatre. Clarke, who has been doing double duty staging the production as well as acting in it, has done a marvelous job staging the production so that audience members from both sides of the theatre can thoroughly enjoy the action onstage.

So is this production a ten out of ten? More like a 7.5. The first act is wonderful. It flows very nicely and there is a great blend of humour and grimness. The griminess of course, correlates to the fall of the oil industry, a reoccurring theme throughout the show.

The second act starts off well, but then trickles downhill somewhat. It’s almost as if writer Brooker ran out of material for a full second act. At one point, there’s a scene where the actors portray animals such as a golfer and magpie, and at one point, Clarke brings musician Jonathan Lewis onstage to help her portray a horse, of whom she is the backend. It's all very bizarre. 

There’s eventually a song where we see Curtis use a toy truck to emulate a truck travelling across the prairies for some reason that escapes me. Finally at the end, the ensemble performs a song that is beautiful, but makes little sense. From what I think I deciphered from it, it asks you to remember those who came before you and to keep them in your presence. However, the overall effect is a little odd and it’s a shame, because the first 75 per cent of the show was very nice.

For the most part, Calgary audiences will find Calgary, I Love You, But You're Killing Me, amusing and fondly relate to many of the topics discussed in the show. Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee. 

Overall, Calgary, I love you, but you’re killing me is a great, entertaining piece of theatre and is a nice piece to showcase during the Rodeo. Among the multitude of national and international voices presented during the festival, Calgary, I love you, but you’re killing me, has a distinct and genuine Calgarian voice and represents us at a more than satisfactory level. Unfortunately, the show does fizzle out in the last quarter and will likely confuse many audience members.

However, it’s a treat to see theatrical geniuses Clarke, Curtis, Hines, Tognazzini and Demeanor share the stage for two hours. The price of a ticket to Calgary, I love you, but you’re killing me, is more than worth it to spend a delightful two hours with these talented artists. 

Calgary, I Love You, But You're Killing Me runs at the Big Secret Theatre in Arts Commons, as part of the High Performance Rodeo until January 23. Visit One Yellow Rabbit's website for tickets and more information on the High Performance Rodeo.