9/11 the musical… Seriously

By Simon Mallett

September 11, 2001 is to the majority of the current university-going generation what the JFK assassination or manned moon landing was to our parents–events forever etched into our collective memory. However, it is the ramifications of 9/11 and the series of events that followed–the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and a new-found level of paranoia over security that have made it such a landmark event, one with continued influence on the world we live in.

While Canadians are quick to place the blame on our neighbours to the south for the current state of the world, Ghost River Theatre’s new show X-Ray resists this simplistic solution.

“This show is inherently about Canada’s political response to this,” says David Van Belle, one of the show’s creators and performers. “What the hell are we doing?”

In what is billed as “a musical thriller for our time” co-creators Van Belle, Kira Bradley and David Rhymer, who also serves as composer, created a show exploring how world events trickle into all our lives. As Van Belle says, “I’d like to think we’re really good at hunting for the spirit of the times.” In dealing with today’s often-frightening social reality, it appears as though they’ve found what they were looking for.

Exploring current events through performance is what Ghost River Theatre does best, bringing about such a unique brand of entertaining and thought-provoking theatre. “There’s always that social consciousness in Ghost River’s shows,” says Van Belle. It’s not just a matter of placing blame, but rather asking the tough questions that makes the work so engaging.

“There are all kinds of ways to be political,” he explains, “I don’t think we’re interested in political theatre that wags fingers in an easily digestible way.” X-Ray explores its ideas through a story, revolving around Freakygirl, a young woman who witnesses a violent event outside of her apartment. If she opens the door, she’ll be sucked into a microcosmic war on terror.

This presents the character with a moral dilemma which allows the show to employ what Van Belle calls “a mixing and matching of personal and political.” This combination is implemented through the use of a number of what is referred to as X-Rays. “There’s a strong element of fantasy in the play, it’s like we take a bit of a journey inside of her mind. She’s already kind of obsessed with world events… the X-Rays peel back the layers and look underneath.”

Taking its name from Guantanamo Bay’s infamous Camp X-Ray, the play also explores the incidents in the Abu Ghrabi prison camp in Iraq and even features a scene between Barbara Bush and her son George W. which takes place in a church. It’s full of moments both powerful and hilarious, a combination Ghost River does exceptionally well. With Rhymer’s music and a series of full-on musical-style numbers, X-Ray is sure to be a very different kind of exploration into the unforgettable events of 9/11. “It’s a wild ride and a fun one, but it’s also thought- provoking at the same time.”

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