Cantata is a brand new play running at Sage Theatre. The show deals with mental illness, caregiving, healthcare, loss of control, and the sense of overwhelm and guilt when you are in the middle of it all. The show is directed by Sage Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jason Mehmel. Cantata is running April 28 until May 7, at the cSpace King Edward in Marda Loop.
The show is written by Calgarian playwright Clem Martini, and is both a dramatized and fictionalized representation of Martini’s own experiences acting as caregiver for both his mother with dementia and his schizophrenic older brother. As such, the play is very heavy and can feel overwhelming, but it is also incredibly well done.
Cantata is a four person show, with a live musician next to the action. All five of these roles were beautifully filled and performed, and images of all of them will stick with me for quite a while.
The role of Martin (the fictionalized version of Martini), who is our primary narrator and caretaker, is played by Duval Lang. Lang offers an entry point for most audience members to experience and understand the sense of guilt and how fully overwhelming it can be when you become a caretaker for a family member. Brian Jensen played the role of Dennis, Martin’s schizophrenic brother, with such compassion and warmth, who offered an entry point to Cantata for audience members who have struggled with mental illness. The role of their mother, Irene, is played beautifully by Valerie Campbell, beautifully portraying her character’s loss of independence and cognition. The final cast member is Precious Akpoguma, who fills all other necessary roles, with most of them being medical personnel. Watching these four interact onstage and bring Martini’s story to life was beautiful.
As stated earlier, there is also a live musician onstage throughout the show, Rod Squance. Squance composed the music that he plays throughout the show, with a marimba as his instrument. Throughout the show, the marimba is used to create the noise of a phone ringing, medical devices beeping, conversation and arguments, and many other background sounds, as well as background music.
The set and lighting design for this production were wonderful, and I absolutely loved the way they were used throughout the show. Designed by Callum Maunier, the set allows for complete versatility, moving constantly to create new locales, while also allowing characters to come together and move apart easily. The lighting was something I found particularly impactful. As seen in the photo above, each member of the family had their own “window” of light, giving us a glimpse into their personal thoughts and inner monologues. The fourth stool, by the marimba, was occupied by Precious Akpoguma between her multiple roles.
The use of the marimba combined with the shaking of Dennis’ pill bottle and breath work at multiple points in the production combined beautifully to give the audience a soundscape on which to understand the story. The breath work was something I found particularly impactful. Each time there was breath work, and especially when the lights were off, I felt myself and the rest of the audience matching the breaths of the actors, connecting us even further to the story and characters, regardless of which character each audience member uses as their entry point into the story.
This play is absolutely beautiful and necessary, portraying the difficulty of situations like this from all perspectives, with no good solution or tidy ending. That said, because of the heavy subject matter, this play is definitely not for everyone. I found myself crying more than once during the show, and noticed some of the audience members in front of me dabbing at their eyes as well.
All in all, this show is beautiful, impactful, and meaningful, but should also be approached cautiously by audience members who have experienced mental illness, or being a caregiver.