Remaining indifferent to Bernardo/Bluebeard, the Concordia Theatre Department's latest production, would be difficult. The play, which examines gruesome popular legends, including one terribly real tale of twisted sexuality, is so potentially disturbing that the production is off-limits to those under 18.
Rest assured, this is not a theatrical bloodbath. However, director Eleanor Crowder hopes the play will prompt audiences to question society's centuries-old fascination with grisly stories -- like the legend of Bluebeard, who killed his wives and stuffed them into a closet -- or the fact that Canadians were riveted to their TVs during the trial of Paul Bernardo, who, with Karla Homolka, brutally killed three teenage girls and raped dozens more.
"I was horrified by the amount of media coverage of the Bernardo trial," Crowder said from a backstage dressing room of the D.B. Clarke Theatre. However, that same trial served as the impetus for her play, which was mostly written by her student actors.
"At the time of the Bernardo trial, I couldn't help thinking it was similar to the Bluebeard legend," she said. "Both had fairy-tale elements and I thought [juxtaposing] the two would be an interesting way to question why the public is so interested in gory stories."
Crowder said she waited six years for the public to be desensitized to the Bernardo trial before examining it in a play, but she feels she could never have treated the subject in southern Ontario, where the events unfolded, since it could upset too many people -- "the same way you couldn't do a play on the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, because it's too soon and too close."
To bring the Bluebeard, Bernardo and other similar stories together on stage, Crowder has her actors simply retell the tales to one another as urban legends. While none of the tales are recreated per se, shadow puppets, video images and projections are used to emphasize certain points.
Crowder decided to have the play unfold in a bar, a standard meeting place for the sexes, to emphasize the male/female power struggles found in the stories. She has transformed the D.B. Clarke stage into a 60-place drinking den, where the audience will be seated among the actors. This setup provides for some humorous interaction between the audiences and actors. The bar is made more authentic by having music, a dance floor and real beer service (another reason for the play's age restriction).
The play unfolds in about one hour, with scenes unravelling sometimes simultaneously at an often dizzying pace. That too, is part of the plan. Having the scenes overlap allows the audience to choose what they want to focus on. "It puts the audience in the middle of the action."
Bernardo/Bluebeard is playing at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. March 5, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. Additional performances at 10 p.m. on March 6 and 13. Tickets are $2 for students, $8 for seniors and $10 general admission. For more information, call 848-4742.