Nocturnal percussions

Fall Major Drums In the Night presents a passionate foray through love and war with cabaret

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Photo: 
Brecht’s Drums in the Night comes alive with a visceral enthusiasm.
Brecht’s Drums in the Night comes alive with a visceral enthusiasm.
Photo: 

My affair with Queen’s Drama, like most of my affairs, has traditionally been torrid at best and abysmally anticlimactic at worst. While Drums in the Night figures somewhere between these two extremes, it offers up some rousing nocturnal percussion capable of rivalling even the most ardent of lovers.

And ardent love is exactly what this passion-filled play is about—well, sort of.

Drums in the Night is about making big decisions between love and ‘luv,’ between individuals and ideologies. For Anna Balicke (Nicole Buscema), a young, fertile, bourgeois ragdoll of a character, this decision is between capital-L Love for her missing-presumed-dead lover, Andy Kragler (Steve Schadinger) and capital-J Jerk, Friedrich Murk (Aidan Payne), who is seductively financially secure even if he’s emotionally abusive enough to squirt Vaseline on your face and then tell you it will cure what ails. For Andy, who returns home from war spiritless and unwelcome, this decision is between fighting for a revolutionary ideology and living his life in some semblance of peace.

The passion-filled play—one of Bertolt Brecht’s first dramatic works—was widely acclaimed when it was first published in Germany during the 1920s. Much like later Brechtian plays, Drums attempts to force audience members to criticize contemporary political ideology based on analogous ideas which take shape on stage.

“The 20th century has been filled with wars fought for ideology,” said Craig Walker, director of Drums. “[Drums] is about going back to the original ideas and not distorting your lives for ideology.”
These ideas are the simple ones; namely, love and the effect of war. For a redeeming idea, however, love does a hack-job of selling itself as the only viable option at the end of the play. Sure, knocked-up Anna and jacked-up Andy—it simply must be stated that Schadinger does indeed sport some delicious AK47s that are shamelessly flaunted during the climactic fight scene—exit the stage presumably to go make love and not war, but this is no happy ending.

Perhaps the character of Anna contributes most to this lack of belief in love’s ability to promote resolution over revolution. Anna’s no Juliet or Cleopatra or Desdemona. She’s limp as a greasy J-Cloth and while, sure, it takes some pluck to chase after your long-lost love into the throes of the Spartacist revolution, Anna generally flickers and sputters like a candle drowning in its own puddle of wax.

Andy, on the other hand, seems to have an inexhaustible reservoir of trigger-happy passion, raised for any cause whatsoever: war, love, revolution, sex and bar-brawler-y all seem equal to the soldier who ejaculates purple poetry at every turn. Anna is just one outlet among a host of others for Andy’s ardour. When Andy and Anna stroll off stage at curtain-down, they merely perpetuate a delusive mythos of “luv” masquerading as “love.”

These unconvincing characters, however, lend themselves to Drums’ metatheatricality—pardon the jargon. The play’s theatricality brands itself into the forefront of the audience’s minds. This is an essentially Brechtian aspect that Walker reworks to make the play scream of contemporary relevance.

The most delightful of these reworkings is the addition of a cabaret thread to the story, featuring some Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits tunes to name but a few. A bizarre puppet show that reiterates the play’s events is also performed. This play-within-a-play motif consciously highlights Drums’ own artifice.

The script itself also underlines that we’re not looking at reality. At key moments, characters say things like “it’s all a lot of make-believe” and “it’s not a performance, it’s political realism.” These features, combined with unconvincing—though well-performed—main characters and a set and costumes that degenerate over the course of the two acts demand that we question how we, the audience, live our lives.

Drums in the Night is a well-produced and topical piece of drama. The gems of the performance are undoubtedly Rob Bril as Karl Balicke (Anna’s father) and Dana McNeill, a cabaret-singer-slash-newspaper-woman. Bril’s patronizing persona has never been so enjoyable and McNeill out-sasses even the most sultry of songstresses. See Drums, even if your affairs with Queen’s Drama have also been typically lacklustre.

Drums in the Night runs until Nov. 8 at the Rotunda theatre. Tickets are $8 for students and seniors and $12 general admission.

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