The Artshow

A play about the life of Daphne Odjig
Review by Chris Little

Behold a wonderful tale. Full of vitality, warmth, laughter and triumph, such is Alanis Kings’ play “The Artshow”.

                “The Artshow” resides in the realm of fantastical biographies as it retells the life of well known Odawa/Potawatomi artist Daphne Odjig. While biographical information exists for most important individuals, written facts and dates cannot compare to the same information presented dramatically. Over the duration of “The Artshow” we learn not only of the events within Daphne Odjig’s life, but we are given the opportunity to understand her as an individual through the suburb acting of Jani Lauzon. Iconic figures often become mythical, more of a creation then actuality. The fact that they are exceptionally talented in specific areas, but very normal in most other areas, is often overlooked. Yet in “The Artshow” we see Daphne Odjig as a very real person. We hear her laughter, see her tears, feel her pain. While we are awestruck by her incredible paintings, we understand that they have been created by a real person, not by a myth like Michelangelo.

Each of the actors in “The Artshow” does a superb job of finding the essence of each character whom they portray. Each actor plays multiple roles, yet each character is an individual. In the Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan plays many key roles in the Land of Oz., such as the gatekeeper, the Wizard of Oz, the carriage driver. Yet each of these characters seem to be the same character in a different outfit. This takes away from the magic of the story and confuses the audience, breaking down the boundaries of fantasy. It would be very easy for “The Artshow” to repeat this mistake, but each of the actors is a master of their acting craft, and we believe that the play has some 25 actors employed in different roles.

                The Artwood Theatre has a relatively small stage area and seating arrangement. But this is a bonus as the setting makes for a more intimate setting for the audience. As if we can reach out and touch each cast member, we want to consol them as their bodies quiver and tears stream down their faces. Each corner of the stage area is used to the fullest in the play, with a studio, a gallery, and even an intimate balcony/patio all sharing the same stage area.

                The “Artshow” has a vast story to tell that is, geographically, very diverse. We are whisked away from Northern Ontario to Toronto, Winnipeg, even Paris. Yet the stage never changes, the familiar goes to foreign destinations, but never losses its familiar appearance. In a burst of creative excellence, the painted works themselves are our transitional apparatuses that magically take us to the various cities of the Western World. Not only is this more subtle then moving around large sets, but it allows a greater focus on the work of Daphne Odjig which is what caused the world to take notice of her to begin with.

                Can Bonnie Devine be given enough credit for her work within this play? Without her magical artistic touch, this play would have naked actors walking amongst a blank canvas backdrop. As if possessed by the spirit of Daphne Odjig herself, Bonnie Devine has recreated the style of the renowned Odawa/Potawatomi artist. Organic shapes, lively colours and tangible textures bring the background to the foreground, screaming for attention, “pay attention to me!”. Artistic works will always transcend their creator, and the works created by Bonnie Devine, become the unacknowledged sixth actor inhabiting the stage.

                Overall, the “Artshow” is successful in not only telling a story, but providing entertainment for a paying audience. Drama, Art, Song and Dance, this is an all-in-one cultural experience. There is one nagging flaw however, this being the short duration of the play. Such an enjoyable experience, this play deserves a larger audience and a longer run. Short may be sweet, but in this case long is deserved.