Dispatch: Castle in the Sky @ Sage Theatre's Ignite Fest

Stephen HUNT | Calgary Herald


That was the first word out of my mouth, after watching Castle in the Sky, a docu-drama revisiting the grisly 2006 Medicine Hat triple murder that forever changed that prairie city.

Castle in the Sky is a kind of theatrical documentary, created by stitching together 200 hours of interviews done by Francesca Albright and Jude Allen, then whittled down to 71 heart piercing minutes presented by a half dozen young performers (Aadila Dosani, Heather Falk, Andrew McKenzie, Matthew McKinney, Evan Medd, and Amy Sawka) who play the community — friends, former lovers, court clerks, newspaper reporters, and neighbors.

Each takes a turn trying to articulate their version of the truth behind the events that took place in April, 2006, when 23 year old Jeremy Steinke entered the home of his then 12 year old girlfriend, and murdered her parents and 8 year old brother Jacob.

It’s probably the most horrible murder story ever. There are scenes that play out in Castle in the Sky that are almost unendurable to listen to.

And yet, you also can’t not listen to the details, because there’s no escaping the fact that Castle in the Sky is a story about us, here, in Alberta, now, at this moment in human history.

We can’t escape the fact that what happened in Medicine Hat could happen here in Calgary. It was just a family trying to prevent an inappropriate relationship between their tweenage daughter and a young man, and took every prudent step to do that — just like any family would do, which is what makes it that much more ghastly to experience.

The form of Castle in the Sky is unconventional. Working with award-winning Calgary playwright and mentor Gordon Pengilly, Albright and Allen have manage to weave those 200 hours of interviews into a kind of fascinating, heart-rending hybrid.

It’s a little bit documentary, and a little bit poetry, and inescapably, hugely dramatic. You might even call it a Greco-Albertan tragedy. There are pieces of information that the playwrights have picked up that help fill in the blanks — a little — as to what might have happened , although at the same time, there is really no answering the why part of the mystery. The best they can offer are bits and pieces, anecdotes, like the purple bath balls lying in the back of Steinke’s pickup that a student noticed after watching Steinke and JR handcuffed and arrested outside school one day.

Instead, Castle in the Sky details the efforts of the community to put their lives back in the order following the trauma of an unforgettable incident.

The cast of six deliver stellar performances, particularly Heather Falk, who plays a variety of roles and somehow manages to emerge as the heart and soul of the community. While the murders are an inescapable part of Castle in the Sky, the story is basically set in the aftermath of the crime, and deals with the fallout experienced by the community following the event.

It’s a kind of oral history and forensic crime thriller all wrapped into one piece of sizzling theatre. It’s all directed with a wonderful sense of finesse by Valmai Goggin, who manages to turn a lot of one-on-one interviews into an interactive theatre piece that turns the six actors onstage into a community, rather than six solitary talking heads addressing the audience in isolation — no small feat in a theatrical framework that presents a real directorial challenge.

Alas, it closes after the 10pm show tonight, which is probably going up just as I hit publish on this blog, so you’ll have to catch it on the remount, which there certainly will be.

Walking out of the theatre to interview director Goggin, she was approached by a friend of hers who had been in the audience.

“Wow,” he said.

Too true.