Forget tree planting for the moment. Let’s start with the divine smell of grilled cheese. The Theatre St. Catherine ups the ante with its new café and whatever they’re cooking in there (grilled cheese with caramelized onions and other such add ons) has me salivating. If you’ve not been to the theatre since its revamp, find an excuse to go. Like… Ogoki Nights?
Ogoki Nights. Once upon a time, it seems that the team behind the Theatre St. Catherine were treeplanters. This obscure right of Canadian-hippie passage is taken on by many 18-year-olds from across the country who want to work three months to fund the remaining nine. Some kids keep it up until they see their first seedlings grow mighty. Others quit the first day. Dropped in the remote North and faced with hard physical labor, crappy ground, and crew bosses, treeplanters are a culture unto themselves. Ogoki Nights is a glimpse into this world through the eyes of a man who did it himself, Alain Mercieca.
We become part of the treeplanting world through Tina Clark (the smiley Lise Vigneault), who leaves Ottawa and her future running a photocopy shop to join the team. She’s well prepared, though probably not for tree planting. Her mother stuffs her bag with an umbrella. Once there, she meets some de souche Montrealers (Catherine Moreau as Ouellet, an artist who has never heard of Arcade Fire, and Simon Chavarie as Louis, who would rather be en grève), a Westmount princess (Sandi Armstrong), a blinged out megaballer (Alain Mercieca), and a number of crew bosses who range from laid back to Neo-Nazi (Katie Leggitt as Marty). Tina learns to deal with swamps, bugs, rain, Macaroni pie, and fungus-covered seedlings.
Tina’s story is covered through a series of sketches and improvised scenes. This is an Mercieca work – and a vintage one at that — so count on it being both hilarious, absurd, and chaotic. There are scenes of comic genius. Without revealing too much, Marty running around with a head on a stick Lord of the Flies style is a highlight, as is crew boss Lark’s encounter with the moon.
Plot… well, not really. Sometimes I thought there was a consistent story, and very quickly, I realized… yeah, no plot. Perhaps in one of the several sequels those fungus covered seedlings cause health problems or there is an ideological war the crew bosses, but the TSC is not the place for anything conventional. That’s why I like their shows. Enter the madhouse. Embrace the spirit of the enterprise and enjoy the series of connected sketches and improvisations. Pick up some dogfucker lingo. Feel like a badass when your hear them open real cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon around the campfire. There’s cream behind the slashpile.
Catch Ogoki Nights at the Theatre St. Catherine until February 14. $12.