Author Archive for Colin Thomas, Vancouver Editor

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.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning! traps itself in an analytical mode

In this chunk of the show, live performers provide lower bodies for Laurey and Dream Laurey from the movie version of Oklahoma!

In this chunk of the show, live performers provide lower bodies for Laurey and Dream Laurey from the movie version of Oklahoma!

Oh What a Beautiful Morning! feels like the most sophisticated Powerpoint presentation the world has ever known, but it still feels like a Powerpoint presentation.

My point is that it’s illustrative. Created and presented by Fight With a Stick, Oh What a Beautiful Morning! is a theatrical deconstruction of the 1955 movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!

From what I remember of director Alex Lazaridis Ferguson’s notes, which are posted on the lobby wall, the idea is to examine some of the less obvious elements that contribute to our experience of the film—the gestural language, the settler assumptions about space, and so on. So Oh What a Beautiful Morning! tosses out the narrative and zooms in on these details. [Read more…]

Cinderella couldn’t be better

Cinderella (Mallory James) and Tré Cotton (Topher) embrace in Cinderella at Theatre Under the Stars.

Mallory James and Tré Cotten help us to reimagine Cinderella and her Prince.

It’s perfect. I’ve never seen a more seamlessly well-produced show at Theatre Under the Stars.

The musical itself isn’t the greatest, although it’s friendly and serviceable. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote Cinderella for television in 1957—when it starred the newly discovered Julie Andrews—and the score is pleasant but forgettable. Douglas Carter Beane has done an excellent job of updating Hammerstein’s book, however, taking direct aim at the story’s sexism and classism. This Cinderella doesn’t passively lose a slipper at the ball, she darn well places it there. And that ball is held for familiar political reasons. Sensing discontent among the abused peasantry, Sebastien, the Prince’s corrupt regent, suggests a distraction: a royal wedding. It works like a dream, he says. Every time. [Read more…]

42nd Street: in the right neighbourhood, but not at the exact address

Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin dance in the Theatre Under the Stars production of 42nd Street.

At its best, the TUTS production of 42nd Street is ecstatic. (Photo of Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin by Lindsay Elliott)

Yes, 42ndStreet will give you goosebumps—it gave me goosebumps—but that’s because it’s manipulating the heck out of you.

In the book, which was written by Michael Stewart and Michael Bramble, it’s 1933. Peggy Sawyer, who has just stepped off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania, races in—late—to audition for the new musical Pretty Lady. The chorus parts have all been cast, but gosh Peggy is talented! And she’s so pretty! And nice! And Billy Lawlor, the juvenile lead, already wants to date her! Does Peggy stand a chance of making it into Pretty Lady? Would she be crazy to dream—holy tap shoes!—of Broadway stardom? Guess.

There’s nothing wrong with clichés per se; I’m big fan of camp. But there is something wrong with predictability and 42ndStreet carries a heavy load of that. There is only one surprising plot turn in the book. It’s a good one, but it’s not enough.

To give material like this any chance of success, you’ve got to make sure that its surfaces are all polished to a blinding gleam: that the pace never relents, that the production numbers are dazzling, and that the stock characters are brought to life by prodigiously charismatic performers.

Under Robert McQueen’s direction, this Theatre Under the Stars production comes surprisingly close to getting a lot of this right—especially considering that it’s a largely amateur undertaking. [Read more…]

The Jessies 2018: three companies take most of the hardware

Pippa Mackie and Peter Anderson perform a death scene in Titus Bouffonius.

Pippa Mackie and Peter Anderson got good and grotesque in Rumble Theatre’s Titus Bouffonius, which was one of the big winners at the 2018 Jessies.

At the 2018 Jessie Richardson Awards, which took place in the Bard on the Beach mainstage tent for the first time this year, the juries heavily favoured three companies: Rumble, the Arts Club, and Green Thumb.

There are three main categories at the Jessie Awards: small theatre, large theatre, and theatre for young audiences.

In the small-theatre stream, Rumble’s production of The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius nabbed six prizes, including outstanding production.

Other laurels that went to Titus Bouffonius include those for performance by an ensemble (Sarah Afful, Peter Anderson, Craig Erickson, Pippa Mackie, and Naomi Wright), lighting design (Sophie Tang), set design (Drew Facey), costume design (Drew Facey), and direction (Stephen Drover).

Accepting the ensemble prize, Craig Erickson and Pippa Mackie assumed the grotesque bouffon characters they inhabited in Titus Bouffonius—and delivered the most enthusiastically received thank-yous of the night, including Mackie’s “We’d like to thank all of the people who walked out when I pulled out a bloody tampon.” [Read more…]

Lysistrata: still funny after thousands of years

Two characters wear Barbara Clayden's improvised hats in Lysistrata at Bard on the Beach.

Mophead meets baghead by starlight. (Photo of Quelemia Sparrow and Luisa Jojic by Tim Matheson)

Let’s all just agree to see everything that Lois Anderson directs from now on, okay? Two years ago, her reinvention of Pericles for Bard on the Beach was a revelation. And this year she has brought us a Lysistrata that’s so fresh I feel younger after seeing it.

Lysistrata isn’t Shakespeare; it was written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C, and two thousand and twenty-nine years later, it’s still hilarious.

In the story, the Greek city states are engaged in an endless series of wars, so an Athenian named Lysistrata convinces all of the women of Greece to go on a sex strike until the men stop fighting.

Anderson and playwright Jennifer Wise have added a framing device in which an all-female company is performing Hamlet at Bard on the Beach. But when the acting company hears that Vanier Park is about to be turned into a shipping terminal, they decide to stage Lysistrata instead. “Why do a play about a man incapable of action?” they ask, when they could be doing a play about kick-ass women. [Read more…]

Timon of Athens gives you too much time to look at the shoes

Playing Timon of Athens, Colleen Wheeler rages against duplicity.

Colleen Wheeler goes full throttle as Timon of Athens, but director Meg Roe’s take undercuts her efforts. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

As a script, Timon of Athens has problems. Director Meg Roe’s production for Bard on the Beach doesn’t help it out.

There are good reasons why Timon doesn’t enjoy a lot of productions. The play, which Shakespeare probably co-wrote with Thomas Middleton, features a wealthy Athenian who showers his friends with more gifts—jewels and horses—than he can afford. When Timon inevitably goes bankrupt, those supposed friends turn their backs on him. The script is repetitive and obvious: it’s clear from the get-go that Timon is a spendthrift and he’ll pay for it. And Timon gains virtually no insight—he plummets directly from naiveté to embittered rage—so there’s little sense of thematic accumulation or satisfaction.

Still, Timon of Athens can be moving—as it was in director James Fagan Tait’s production for Bard in 2007. In Timon’s worldview, material support is the currency of intimacy. In an early party scene, Timon says to his guests: “Why, I have often wished myself poorer that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do benefits. And what better or properer can we call our own than the riches of our friends?” The guy is fucked up. He mistakes money for love. If a production allows us to see this vulnerability, the play’s heart opens and it becomes an affecting tragedy.

Under Meg Roe’s direction, that doesn’t happen. [Read more…]

Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua: a haven in troubling times

Pearle Harbour sings a song in Chautauqua, with her accompanist, Mr. Gantry.

Pearle Harbour prepares to take flight in Chautauqua.

Pearle Harbour’s Chautauquais like a revival meeting for liberals—and a lot of us could use reviving these days.

Chautauquas were a kind of tent meeting popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that offered a combination of entertainment and inspirational lectures—sort of like Tony Robbins, but with a band.

In her chautauqua, Toronto drag queen Pearle Harbour invites us into a little cotton tent that seats 40. Her hairstyle and trimly tailored jacket refer to the period around WWII but, in her tent, Pearle offers refuge from current sources of anxiety. She fleetingly refers to ice caps melting. She knows what it’s like when “the only light in your life is the screen in your pocket.”

And she offers solace in the form of communion. The venue and the size of the gathering are already intimate. Pearle asks us all to breathe with her and, near the top of her show, she personally greets every member of the audience. As a theatregoer, I’ve never spent so much time gazing directly into a performer’s eyes. [Read more…]

Once: not twice

The Arts Club is presenting Once at the Granville Island Stage.

Gili Roskies as Girl and Adrian Glynn McMorran as Guy in Once. Kiss one another already. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Once is more than enough.

Yes, Once won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical in 2012, along with six other Tonys. And it has hauled in a bunch of other prizes, too, but man it’s boring!

Here’s the plot: boy meets girl; they dither endlessly. To be more specific, in working-class Dublin, a young Irishman who’s identified only as Guy meets a young Czech immigrant whom the script calls Girl. Guy is depressed—he’s just been dumped—and he has given up on his dreams of having a musical career. Then, through her sheer perkiness, Girl lifts Guy out of his funk. A musician herself, she presses Guy not to abandon his music. As this is going on, Girl and Guy waver about whether or not to act on the romantic feelings they obviously have for one another. They waver. And waver. Then, after the intermission, they waver some more. This kind of romantic indecision is just fine in friends but when you go to the theatre, you don’t want to feel like you’re spending the night stuck in a stalled car. [Read more…]

As You Like It: you’ll love it

Bard on the Beach is presenting As You Like It.

A little less eye make-up might have made Lindsey Angell’s Rosalind a more androgynous match for Nadeem Phillip’s Orlando.

It could have been a stupid gimmick. Instead, it’s transcendent

In this Bard on the Beach production of As You Like It, director Daryl Cloran has excised about half of Shakespeare’s text and replaced it with Beatles songs. Cloran sets his production in British Columbia in the 60s. The court scenes play out in Vancouver and the Forest of Arden becomes the Okanagan. All of these choices work well—sometimes spectacularly so. [Read more…]

Macbeth: bloody loud

Lady Macbeth (Moya O'Connell) and Macbeth (Ben Carlson) confer intensely.

Lady Macbeth (Moya O’Connell) and Macbeth (Ben Carlson) confer intensely.

Macbeth! All shouting! All the time!

Okay, they’re not shouting all the time, but there is a heck of a lot of hollering in director Chris Abraham’s take on the Scottish play and all of that volume keeps us on the surface of the text.

Moya O’Connell’s Lady Macbeth is a case in point. The first time we hear her speak, she is reading a letter from her husband—as if she were the town crier. As she is seducing Macbeth to murder King Duncan and clear his own way to the throne, Lord and Lady embrace—and she shouts in his ear. Don’t get me wrong: O’Connell fills the role with feeling but, under Abraham’s direction, she does so on such an operatic scale that it’s alienating.

In his program notes, Abraham says, “Macbethis a play that asks its audience to form a unique bond with its protagonists” but, for me, Ben Carlson’s Macbeth is also distancing. He’s loud, but strangely lacking in vitality. Yes, Lady Macbeth has to egg her husband on, but Carlson Macbeth doesn’t give her much to work with. The pronounced passivity of this characterization discourages engagement. [Read more…]