The World Premiere of February
Photographs by Dave Howells
February by Laura Kaminsky & Lisa Moore
Reviewed by Deepesh Paudel
On a wintry Valentine’s night in 1982, Ocean Ranger, then the world’s largest semi-submersible oil rig, was rocked and battered by rogue waves and violent winds, eventually sinking. This tragedy claimed the lives of all eighty-four people aboard. The reports I have read and watched discuss the overwhelming struggle battled offshore and the irreplaceable loss endured onshore. Dozens of lives were never the same. Forty-one years after the tragic night, the story is being recounted as an opera.
Based on Lisa Moore’s novel of the same title, February tells tender tales of the people left behind. It houses a mix of emotions, including the struggles of grief-stricken families coming to terms with their loss, the feelings of void in everyday lives, and the steady accrual of resilience to begin anew, all packed into a two-hour show. February strings together nostalgia, life experiences, and hope into a cohesive structure, allowing the overarching narrative to dictate the flow.
The performance opens with a celebration of love. Helen (Katherine Pracht) and Cal (Matthew Dalen) are getting married. All attendees wear their splashiest clothes. They sing joyously, dance emphatically, and celebrate candidly. For the newlyweds, it looks as if everything is falling into place: a job on the rig, a baby on its way, and the dream of a big house. A couple of scenes later, the story takes a tragic turn. Miles away off the coast of Newfoundland, the Ocean Ranger sinks with Cal onboard, and with it sinks the new family’s dreams of building a life together. As Cal drifts into the cold, inky abyss of the Atlantic, Helen remains onshore, wrestling with a mountain of unfathomable questions. After losing her husband, Helen’s life cocoons within. Routine tasks like leaving the house, fitting in with others, or even enjoying peppy music become a labour. Over the next two hours of the show, February projects onto the stage this innermost imbroglio of Helen’s heart and mind.
Not only is Helen caught in the whirlwind of confusion and uncertainty. Her son, John (Leroy Davis), struggles to accept his father’s absence. He is resentful, oblivious, and insensitive. He misses his father but is reluctant to talk about him. Holding on to the past seems futile for him. John has no qualms about pursuing a career in the oil industry, the same industry that took his father’s life. When confronted with the task of facing the frigid waters, John transcends his fear and builds bridges with his father’s life. In a scene leading up to the intermission, an evocative composition of sound, light textures, costumes, and blocking brings years of pent-up emotions to the fore.
Watch out for this scene. It is cathartic.
February never lives in just the sum of its parts. The ensemble is immaculate. The scenery transports you. In one moment, the stage is bathed in blue, echoing the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, and in the next, it emanates amber, radiating the warmth of the family as they grieve and heal together. What holds these striking visuals and splendid performance together is Laura Kamisky’s masterful music. As in most operas, the music here is the spine. It is a portal to that world. It mirrors what transpires between the characters: moments of joy, melancholy, and hope. A special shout-out goes to the director, Ruth Lawrence, for never losing sight of the broader arc while designing smaller, power-packed scenes.
February is all about love, loss, and longing. It is about the little triumphs in an otherwise unfathomable life. It is about picking up the pieces. It is about accepting your past and embracing your future. Simply put, it is about people and life. That said, the gestalt of the performance cannot be shoehorned into these few lines. The best way to savour it is by experiencing it. Only in the assemblage of incredible music, deft performances, and stunning aesthetics can we fully appreciate the aura of February.
February is produced by Opera on the Avalon. It is having its world premiere at the Arts and Culture Center in St. John’s from October 13-14, 2023. Showtime: 7:30 pm
Deepesh Paudel (he/him) is a theatre practitioner currently living in St. John’s. Originally from Nepal, he relocated to Canada in 2022 to pursue a Ph.D. in Management at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. His academic focus centers on the intersections of theater, society, and business.