2013: Top shows and emerging artists

Ronnie Burkett, The Daisy Theatre, Vancouver theatre, top 10 2013

Despite being named after a douche, Esme Massengil is glamour incarnate in Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre

In this post, I’ll list my top ten from 2013, then I’ll pick out six emerging artists who are particularly promising.

BTW, no wonder I love the Fringe Festival: it consistently presents some of the most innovative work we see all season. It does so in the context of a celebratory festival. And tickets are affordable. Of the ten top shows I’m about to name, three were at the Fringe.

Okay, here’s the top-ten list, starting with the most recent:

–       The Daisy Theatre: Unrestricted by plot, marionette artist Ronnie Burkett was in full flight in The Daisy Theatre, delivering technical mastery, and transcendent—sometimes deliciously dirty—fun.

–       Becky Shaw: Gina Gionfriddo’s tough, smart script about the quid pro quo of love was beautifully realized—and exquisitely cast, by David Mackay—in this mounting from Mitch and Murray Productions. Every performer in this one deserves a huzzah.

–       Six Guitars: Chase Padgett embodies six different characters who play guitar in six different styles. The accomplishment is dazzling, which is why he won the Georgia Straight Critics’ Choice Award at the Fringe this year. From March 19 to 23, the Fringe is bringing Padgett back to perform Nashville Hurricane, another solo show, at Performance Works.

–       Butt Kapinski: LA artist Deanna Fleysher’s clown noir performance at the Fringe was dizzyingly out there. I can’t remember the last time I participated in a public S/M scene that resulted in so much hilarity.

–       Innocent When You Dream: Texan Zeb L. West examines a failed love affair by telling the stories of Don Quixote and Moby Dick—while trapped in the belly of a whale. West’s artistry is so lyrical, deft, and original that it made my heart feel lighter.

–       Legally Blonde: What an airheaded good time! Director Valerie Easton’s production is so deeply well cast and it was such a hit that Theatre Under the Stars is bringing it back in the summer of 2014.

–       Hamlet: You’ve got to love Jonathon Young. There’s something about his physical precision, the way he embodies text, that makes him compelling to watch. Young was also fantastic as Feste in Bard on the Beach’s Twelfth Night, but Kim Collier’s innovative, responsive direction of Hamlet, in which young took the lead, made that the better show.

–       Avenue Q: Director Peter Jorgensen’s take on this irreverent musical made for a seamless Arts Club production. Highlights: seeing Bard star Scott Bellis gleefully singing about porn with his arm up a puppet’s butt, and Shannon Chan-Kent’s delivery of “The More You Ruv Someone (the More You Want to Kirr Them)”.

–       “God of Missed Connections”: Part of an evening called Initiation Trilogy, which was produced by the Electric Theatre Company, this piece was a knockout, thanks to Elizabeth Bachinsky’s poems about her Ukrainian roots, the terrific performances by Colleen Wheeler, Haig Sutherland, and Wendy Morrow Donaldson, and the design by Cande Andrade, Jonathan Ryder, Owen Belton, and Pam Johnson.

–       Terminus: Pi Theatre’s production of Mark O’Rowe’s devilishly literate script—about Satan’s activities in contemporary Dublin—was one of the best shows Vancouver has seen in years. Emerging artist Pippa Mackie was joined by two actors who are new to Vancouver audiences, Leanna Brodie and John Emmet Tracy, both of whom I hope to see a lot of in the New Year. This show was exquisitely directed by Richard Wolfe (who, ridiculously, didn’t receive a Jessie nomination).

There you have it: ten excellent pieces.

Besides seeing great shows, one of the great pleasures of being a theatre critic is watching new talent emerge. Besides Stephanie Izsak and Josette Jorge, two young actors I profiled in the fall, here are six emerging theatre artists who caught my eye this year:

–       Playwright Sean Devine: As he demonstrated in his new script, Except in the Unlikely Event of War, Devine is a smartypants. He is also a funnypants. Smartyfunnypants.

–       Actor Claire Hesselgrave: She burst onto the scene playing the manic Diwata in Twenty Something Theatre’s production of Speech and Debate. Scott Button and Alex Rose rounded out the talented cast.

–       Director Matthew Bissett: I don’t think I’ve ever seen his directing work before, but Bissett did a masterful job with The Farnsworth Invention for the Ensemble Theatre Company.

–       Magician Travis Bernhardt: It was evident in Unpossible!, Bernhardt’s 2013 Fringe show, that this guy is deepening his quirkily charming stage presence, he knows how to build a performance, and his skills are way up there on the WTF scale.

–       Actor Sean Harris Oliver: The script isn’t very good, but Oliver was outstanding as a gay bimbo in Unstuck, which was presented by Screaming Weenie Productions in association with meta.for Theatre.

–       Playwright Jordan Hall: Hall’s Kayak, which is about love and idealism is smart, political, funny—and visually arresting: the main character spends the entire show in a kayak. Hall’s got it goin’ on.

Happy 2014 everybody!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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