As a relatively new Calgarian (hailing originally from Toronto), I was both intrigued and a bit nervous to check out the One Yellow Rabbit production of “Calgary I Love You, But You’re Killing Me”. The show is part of the 30th Season of the High Performance Rodeo, a Calgary theatre festival that I legit mistook for a cowboy and horses rodeo my first year in the city (not terribly proud of that).
Suffice it to say, my Toronto brain did not understand the concept of a rodeo being focused around theatre, music, dance and the arts – but I figured I couldn’t call myself a Calgarian until I started experiencing what I’ve been told is an incredibly important facet of the local arts scene.
I went in with low expectations, mainly because I was concerned that I wouldn’t understand a lot of the references since Calgary hasn’t been my home for very long. Thankfully, I was wrong and found myself laughing out loud far more than I could have ever expected (does this mean I’m turning into a Calgarian???).
“Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing” me is a song cycle presented by a diverse and talented group of performers (Denise Clarke, Andy Curtis, Karen Hines and Jamie Tognazzini) who are accompanied by an on-stage ‘band’ comprised of Kris Demeanor, Jonathan Lewis and David Rhymer.
My fear of not understanding the production was quickly put at ease in the opening number, when the quartet poked fun at Calgary being mistaken for America, and then each told their own story of how the city came to be discovered. Curtis had me in stitches with his Mormon-esque story of fictional Joseph Tomato who arrived in Calgary and ‘took….was gifted’ the land from the Natives, and Hines tells the story from the point of view of a Torontonian who naturally assumes Calgary was formed when aliens descended from above, impregnated horses and gave birth to paisley wearing hipsters.
I found myself laughing and breathing a sigh of relief when I realized that while the show would have a lot of inside jokes for native Calgarians, it would also examine how the city is seen from outsiders. Side note, I think Tognazzini had the best possible line for getting more East Coasters to consider migrating west as she proudly proclaimed ‘come for the skiing, stay for the beaver!’
Other highlights for me included band member Kris Demeanor’s take on a drunken former gym employee who nailed the egotistical, self centered and self-absorbed Calgary male (sorry guys, surely it was the booze talking), and Denise Clarke’s ‘positive magpie’. She flits and floats around the stage screeching her way through a portrayal of the city’s unofficial bird with a level of commitment I haven’t seen on stage in quite some time.
My biggest issue with the show lay in its length – it runs just over two hours with one intermission and at times it felt like it was dragging and slightly confused. Overall it seems to know exactly what it wants to be – a love letter to an incredibly unique city that also includes the requisite number of jokes at the city’s expense – and at times I felt the production lost sight of that goal and strayed into unfamiliar territory.
I think if the show was tightened and a few numbers cut, “Calgary I Love You But You’re Killing Me” could really be onto something. The best thing it has going for it is its abillity to both skewer and praise a city that sometimes struggles to find its identity, and yet is beloved by most people who live there. It’s a balancing act that The Rabbits handle incredibly well, and I’m thrilled that I got to spend an evening feeling (at least a little) like an honourary Calgarian.
When and Where?
Calgary I Love You But You’re Killing Me
The Big Secret Theatre
Part of The High Performance Rodeo – on now until Jan 29th, 2016. For more information, tickets and to see the entire line up please visit https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/calgary-i-love-you-but-youre-killing-me