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.

Shit: strong performances emerge from a distancing script

Increasingly, Sharon Crandall, who plays Bob in Shit, is making her presence felt as a dramatic actor. 

For a script with such an earthy title, Shit is oddly abstract.

In Shit, Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius presents us with three incarcerated women. Billy, Bob, and Sam have all grown up in foster care and they have all been brutalized sexually, emotionally, and physically. They have also committed a serious crime together, which is why they’re in jail: exactly what they’ve done becomes clearer as the play unfolds. “Do you think someone’s going to save us?” Sam asks. “We’re way past saving,” Billy replies.

Cornelius has constructed her text musically. It begins with an overture of fucks. All three women spew the expletive as if they’re gleefully shooting bullets at machine-gun pace. They compete to see if anyone can get through a sentence without saying “fuck”. They criticize one another’s facility: “You’re not usin’ it well.” And they revel in the energy of fuck and cunt: “The life in them words!” [Read more…]

Jitters begs the question, “Why bother?”

The Arts Club is presenting Jitters, by David French, at the Stanley Theatre.

Robert Moloney (Patrick) and Megan Leitch (Jessica) have a wig-off in Jitters. (Photo by David Cooper)

There are a whole lot of skilled artists at work here and there are a couple of good laughs in the script. Mostly, though, David French’s Jitters is a waste of precious theatre time.

Jitters is a backstage comedy, a show about putting on a show. In it, a Toronto company rehearses a new script called The Care and Treatment of Roses, goes through opening night, and deals with the aftermath of reviews.

In the play proper, Jessica Logan is a Canadian actor who has had some success on Broadway. She wants to get back to the Great White Way and, based on her presence in The Care and Treatment of Roses, a Broadway producer has been enticed to attend the premiere. All of this terrifies Jessica’s co-star Patrick Flanagan, who fears that, if the show does go to New York, he will be exposed as the minor talent he thinks he is. Of course, because they are at one another’s throats in real life, Jessica and Patrick play lovers in the play they’re rehearsing.  [Read more…]

King Arthur’s Night opens the door to new worlds

Neworld Theatre is presenting King Arthur's Night as part of the PuSh Festival .

Niall McNeil plays King Arthur in this adaptation of the legend, which he co-wrote with Marcus Youssef. (Photo by Tristan Casey)

Theatre moves me to tears on a regular basis. But after watching King Arthur’s Night I flat out sobbed. This show speaks so concretely—and so skilfully—to isolation and inclusion.

The publicity material for King Arthur’s Night describes it as “radically inclusive”—and it is. Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef co-wrote the text, although, after an introductory scene between the two—McNeil plays Arthur and Youssef is Merlin—Youssef acknowledges that the rest of the play is in McNeil’s words. McNeil lives with Down syndrome and so do several other company members, including Tiffany King, who plays Guinevere. [Read more…]

Of all the shows that are on right now, The Aliens is the one to catch

Annie Baker's The Aliens is playing at the Havana Theatre in a production by Sticks and Stones.

Evan (Teo Saefkow) gazes at fireworks in The Aliens. (Photo by Matt Reznek)

This production of Annie Baker’s The Aliens is one of the best shows of the season. Go see it. I love virtually everything about it and the tickets only cost seventeen bucks.

Baker’s script is exquisite. In it, Jasper and KJ, a couple of slackers, hang out in the staff area behind a restaurant somewhere in Vermont. KJ admits to being 30. The only staff member who ever shows up is a 17-year-old named Evan.

Jasper’s girlfriend has broken up with him. KJ can’t drink anymore because the last time he did he went on a bender and stopped taking his meds. Evan thinks these guys are cool, partly because Jasper is working on a novel and he and KJ used to have a band—sort of; they spent a lot of time coming up with cool band names, including The Limp Wrists and The Aliens. Mostly, it seems, Evan likes Jasper and KJ because they include him. [Read more…]

Sleeping Beauty Dreams is a bit of a snooze—for this adult at least

Marionetas de la Esquina is collaborating with Presentation House to produce Sleeping Beauty Dreams.

In Sleeping Beauty Dreams, the Princess isn’t allowed outside. For a long time, she doesn’t even have a name.

The best fairytales don’t explain themselves or make arguments. They speak the more compelling and flexible language of symbolism. Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty Dreams reinvents the Sleeping Beauty story as a rational thesis.

In Amaranta Leyva’s version of the tale, Sleeping Beauty is the victim of overprotective parenting. Because the Queen’s daughter, the Princess, has been cursed by a frog, the Queen fears for her child’s life and refuses to let the Princess go outside the castle walls. And she invents a dragon outside those walls to keep the Princess compliant.

For reasons that are less clear, the Queen’s overworked servant Octavia conjures a dragon inside the walls to prevent her son Mateo from following her to her job. [Read more…]

Topdog/Underdog: How does this American play about race resonate on Canada’s West Coast?

The Arts Club Theatre is presenting Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks.

In Topdog/Underdog, Michael Blake plays an African-American Lincoln impersonator named Lincoln. (Photo by David Cooper)

Big chunks of this play about African-American despair are boring. Said the white critic.

In Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog, brothers Lincoln and Booth—their father gave them their names as a joke—share a single room. The toilet is down the hall. There is no running water. Lincoln works at an amusement park, where he puts on whiteface and dresses as Abraham Lincoln. Patrons pay to shoot blanks at him and watch him pretend to die. Booth, who is younger, doesn’t have a job, but he’s desperate for Lincoln to teach him a street hustle called the three-card monte. Lincoln was a genius at the three-card monte before he gave it up and sought “legit” employment.

These guys are screwed. Topdog/Underdog is like Waiting for Godot—with more explicit social analysis. Domestically, Lincoln and Booth were abandoned. Their mother and father tried to make a home for them—even though the back yard was concrete and the front yard was full of trash—but their parents’ demons took over and the boys were on their own by the time they were 16 and 11. Socioeconomically they can’t win. As Lincoln says to Booth when he’s teaching him the card hustle and Booth is taking the role of the mark: “You may think you have a chance, but the only time you pick right is when the man lets you.” And, romantically, they are doomed. Sexually, they were scarred by their childhoods and now women are interested in them only as meal tickets. Referring to Grace, his ex, Booth says, “I had my little employment difficulty and she needs time to think.” [Read more…]

Reassembled, Slightly Askew is deeply weird—and generous

Shannon Yee's Reassembled, Slightly Askew is playing The Culture Lab as part of the PuSh Festival.

Reassembled Slightly Askew: your treatment awaits. (Photo by Stephen Beggs)

Reassembled, Slightly Askew provoked one of the most intense theatrical experiences I’ve had: deeply disorienting, often frightening. Was it worth it? Probably.

Written and produced by Shannon Yee, Reassembled, Slightly Askew explores Yee’s experience of acquired brain injury: symptoms, crisis, hospitalization, coma, treatments, and reemergence—changed.

The wild thing is that it all takes place inside your head. When you go, you enter the Culture Lab as part of an eight-person audience. There are eight hospital beds waiting for you. You take off your shoes, lie down on one of the beds and give yourself over. A nurse (Stephen Beggs) sets you up with a blindfold and headphones. You can’t see anything. [Read more…]

The Events will keep you riveted

Pi Theatre is presenting The Events as part of the PuSh Festival

Douglas Ennenberg and Luisa Jojic pour themselves into The Events.

I suspect that, on some level, many liberal Westerners are experiencing a more or less perpetual state of grief and dread. Donald Trump is in the White House. Institutions including the press and democracy itself are being eroded. On the political right wing and on the left—where we once looked for allies—tribalism is in vogue.

What’s a liberal to do? In a way, that’s the central question in playwright David Greig’s The Events. [Read more…]

Black Boys brings it home

Buddies in Bad Time is presenting Black Boys at the Cultch as part of the PuSh Festival

Thomas Olajide leaps in Black Boys. (Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh)

It gets better. And I don’t mean that in the Dan Savage your-miserable-queer-adolescence-can-turn-into-a-happy-queer-adulthood sense. I mean Black Boys starts haltingly but hits a solid and satisfying groove.

In Black Boys, three men explore what it means to them to be black and queer—in Canada, mostly Toronto it seems—right now. Their experiences are very different. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff grew up in foster care in the Toronto suburbs. Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy emigrated from Ghana. And Thomas Olajide started life in Vancouver, raised by his grandmother and aunt. [Read more…]

Above the Hospital: millennial angst, some promising writing, and one excellent performance

Beau Han Bridge wrote and directed Above the Hospital.

Tristan Smith’s Cameron (L) is the putative protagonist of Above the Hospital, but Mira Maschmeyer’s Lauren steals the show. (Photo by Chris Cho)

Above the Hospital is kind of like a rummage sale: there are treasures on offer, but you’ve got to sift through some junk to get to them.

This new script, which was written and directed by Beau Han Bridge, is about the confusion and despondency some millennials seem to be experiencing. A couple whose names are Lauren and Cameron moved to Vancouver from a small town in Ontario four years ago with dreams of making it as artists. But their aspirations haven’t panned out. Having realized that she is a mediocre filmmaker, Lauren has quit film school and is studying to be a nurse. Cameron’s dreams are dying harder. He is working as a furniture maker, but he still really wants to be a musician—although he’s doing sweet nothing about it. [Read more…]