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Doing Leonard Cohen

Performance piece by One Yellow Rabbit, adapted from the works of Leonard Cohen and directed by Blake Brooker; performed by Michael Green, Denise Clarke, Elizabeth Stepkowski and Andy Curtis. Premiered at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary, February 20, 1997.

The production begins with a warning to the audience about impending nudity and coarse language, candidly delivered by the nude Michael Green. He lists the kinds and numbers of obscenities to follow, and thanks the sponsors before he is silenced by the other three actors. The first act interprets about fifty poems from Cohen’s collections of poetry, Death of Lady's Man, The Energy of Slaves, The Spice Box of Earth, and other collections from the 1960s and 70s. Act Two is based on Cohen’s 1960s novel, Beautiful Losers, with the inventive and athletic choreographic contribution of Denise Clarke, who turns the words into dance.

Michael Green functions as a narrative centre for the performance. Following his disingenuous nude scene in Act One, he is clothed like a mannequin and set in motion by the other three performers. Their clever and amusing exercise in puppetry serves to demonstrate the problem of how to enact words. Each actor provides examples of what not to do: the stand and deliver approach, the histrionic style, the “method.” They opt to perform the words through a series of fluid and sensual images, as they dance through the poems and the prose while reciting the words.

Act Two condenses Beautiful Losers into frenzied sexual postures and movement. The narrator, an unnamed scholar of Canadian history, recalls the lives and deaths of his friend “F”, his wife, Edith, and a martyred Iroquois woman of the 17th century – Catherine Tekakwitha. “F” is a form of mystic maestro who orchestrates his sexual and psychological liberation by having an affair with Edith, and taking her to the extremities of sex to show that everything is connected. The narrator’s jealous response is often humorous, as he resists his sexual education into heterosexual and homosexual love.

Commentary by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

Last updated 2020-07-29