Q&A: All But Gone

Opera star Shannon Mercer on her role in Necessary Angel's new Beckett rhapsody

A Necessary Angel Production in Association with Canadian Stage
Featuring short plays by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Musical direction by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra

Shannon Mercer, Paul Fauteux and Krisztina Szabo in All But Gone. Photo by Faisal Lutchmedi.

Following Queen of Puddings' sold-out hit Beckett: Feck It! (2012), Necessary Angel and Canadian Stage present All But Gone, a contemporary musical exploration of the absurd and evocative imagery of Samuel Beckett. Now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre, the production reunites Canadian director Jennifer Tarver (Venus in Fur) with musical director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra for an elegiac and provocative evening of theatre and song featuring performer Jonathon Young (Betroffenheit), and Canadian opera stars Shannon Mercer (Beckett: Feck It!) and Krisztina Szabó.

All But Gone features one piece from Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s rare work From The Grammar of Dreams (1988) the text of which is derived from two books by Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar and fragments of the poem "Paralytic" from the poetry collection Ariel, as well as one piece from Garrett Sholdice’s Organum on Viderunt Omnes.

Here, we chat with soprano Mercer about returning to work with Tarver and Ní Mheadhra on this innovative show.

Theatromania: How would you describe All But Gone in a few sentences? 

SM: How about a few words? LOL. Absurd, funny, profound...the list goes on. A theatre piece that really hits you between the eyes and makes you delve into your own questions about life, your purpose on earth and your fears (if you have any) about life after death.

Theatromania: The production juxtaposes Beckett's short plays with operatic musicwhat would you say is the common thread connecting these different works together?

SM: In both the music and the plays there is always a struggle. A kind of quest to answer the unanswered questions in hopes of finding some relief. The text of the Saariaho pieces are poems of Sylvia Plath and describe how she's haunted by memories of things in the past. Sometimes random, sometimes direct connections to her current state of being. The fourth song is a drowning, the gasping for air and how her heart beating drives her determination to live. It's all very dark but there is also that tiny glimmer of hope of better things in the future. It's always about light and dark. How do they complement one another?

In contrast, the third Saariaho piece is very lyrical with vocal lines that overlap and loop. At this point one of the male actors is questioning (without words) whether it was all a dream or if it's his reality. As if the dream keeps repeating and repeating, never able to awaken. The vocal music is sometimes aggressive, pointed and percussive and sometimes lulling and lyric. Beckett's plays have all of these qualities, the bite of PLAY, the repeatitveness in Act Without Words II, it all fits together rather seamlessly. There is a beautiful flow between plays and music.

Theatromania: What have you learned from working with director Jennifer Tarver and musical director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra so far?  

SM: I have the privilege of a long working relationship with both Jen and Dairine in many awesome projects. Jen being a Beckett specialist and Dairine understanding the voice and great contemporary composers. Both are extraordinarily talented and gifted at what they do. I think our relationship is one built on trust and because we have history together and they know my strengths, they are always committed to helping me give the best performance. They are both detailed workers and never let anything go which really keeps you on your toes so the notes never stop coming which I actually enjoy. It keeps you striving for better and more commitment.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this experience?

SM: Well, it's an intense evening and some may find it puzzling. But, I dare them to just try and find something in your their own lives that they can relate to what they are experiencing. Perhaps its the monotony of your routine or the stress of being stuck in a situation you can't get out of which is both terrifying and hilarious on some level. Because really life isn't all roses for most of us. As Beckett knew, life IS hard, absurd, comic, profound and sometimes, we hope, even a little awesome.

See Shannon Mercer in All But Gone, on stage until November 6 at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sat, 2016-10-15 - Sun, 2016-11-06


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