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.

On Criticism

(This is a repost of an essay that I wrote a while back.)

A few years ago, I was talking with a local director in a theatre lobby. I had recently given a show of his a mixed review and, as we spoke, he became so enraged that I braced myself for a blow to the head. He and I had already had an extended and difficult conversation that morning and I could feel myself running out of rational resources, so I said, “Let’s just drop this for now. It’s not a discussion anymore, it’s a battle.” He replied, “Fuckin’ right it’s a battle, man. It’s gonna stay a fuckin’ battle. You better remember that.”

Another director was so furious about a review I gave him that he tried to bar my entry to his next production—although he allowed that maybe I could come in on the understanding that I would publish a review only if I liked the show.

Some readers tell me that they make all of their theatre-going decisions based upon my critiques. An actor who was mortally sick informed me that my public words of praise for his performance made the prospect of his impending death easier to bear.

By casting me as saviour, savant, publicist, or antagonistic career-killer, all of these folks are missing the point of criticism. As I see it, my job is to contribute an informed opinion to the discussion of theatre, and my primary responsibility is not to the consumer or to the artist, but to the art itself. [Read more…]

The set and costumes star in East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Theatre Replacement is presenting East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Laura Zerebeski’s painting, Marina Szijarto’s costumes, and Ming Hudson as Snow White. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Every year, when I go to the East Van Panto, simply walking into the York Theatre is one of my favourite parts. Because of all of the kids in the audience, life suddenly becomes like bubble tea: sweet and devil-may-care. This year’s panto, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves isn’t as good a last year’s Little Red Riding Hood—Hey! It’s not my job to act like Santa Claus—but there’s plenty to like.

In the tradition of British pantomime, playwright Mark Chavez takes a familiar children’s story and twists it. In his telling, Snow White is being held captive in West Vancouver by her wicked stepmother, the Exercise Queen, who won’t let Snow White leave her room, just because her look is a little bit Goth. But Snow White catches glimpses of East Van from her window and dreams of living in a community where using crosswalks is optional. [Read more…]

Almost, Maine is almost enough

Pacific Theatre is producing John Cariani's Almost, Maine

Kim Larson and Peter Carlone in the visually stylish world of Almost, Maine

Almost, Maine is like the world’s best greeting card: it’s very, very clever, charming, and thin.

In the nine scenes of John Cariani’s script, we meet as many sets of lovers, would-be lovers, and former lovers. Aside from the couple who appear in the framing device, none of the characters show up more than once, so each of the scenes is a self-contained story.

In an ongoing joke—and it’s a good one—the script literalizes the language of love. A woman whose heart is broken carries the pieces around in a paper bag. And, in a truly hilarious sequence, when two characters fall in love, they stagger, stumble, and keel over. [Read more…]

The Shipment: brains, innovation, and a stylish production

Speakeasy Theatre is presenting The Shipment at the Culture Lab.

The Shipment is the kind of show that makes you ask, “What does Andrew Creightney’s bowtie SIGNIFY?” (Photo by Jens Kristian Balle)

It’s a mirror. And a prism. Also a workout. These are all good things.

In The Shipment, Young Jean Lee, who is Korean American, takes on the cultural representation of African American identity.

Structurally, she has assembled a surrealist collage. She combines a series of disparate elements—a stand-up routine, a dance sequence, a gangsta narrative, a song, and a quasi-naturalistic comedy—to create a piece of art that is allusive and unsettling.

The first part of this one-act is an examination of minstrelsy—of the ways that black experience is distorted by popular culture.

Consider the stand-up comic. His currency is outrageousness. He insults white people: “Seriously, you ever heard a white person whine? ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.’ ‘I hate feeling fat all the time.’” He insults black people. He even defends bestiality and incest: “Listen, if yo’ sister want you to fuck her in the ass, and your dick hard, GO IN!” [Read more…]

The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonious: Just how dark do you want it?

Rumble Theatre is presenting The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius at The Cultch.

Peter Anderson (Titus) should not be allowed to play with dolls. (Photo by Steven Drover)

At the beginning of The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, I was so stimulated—so shocked, laughing so hard—that I was afraid I was going to start shouting things. Unplanned, random shit. You’ve got to love a show that makes you feel like you might lose your mind. [Read more…]

The New Conformity: juggling as an exploration of bullying—and, compellingly—physics

Cause & Effect Circus is performing The New Conformity at Presentation House.

The New Conformity tells a story. It’s also about the wonder of the physical world.

There is so much physical beauty in The New Conformity that, watching the show, I found myself moaning.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the three jugglers who perform The New Conformity—although Chris Murdoch, Ryan Mellors, and Yuki Ueda are all handsome, which doesn’t hurt. I’m talking about sculptural beauty. These guys don’t just juggle, they virtually dance. And when they manipulate objects—balls, clubs, and hoops—there’s something profoundly pleasing about the physics. [Read more…]

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth: How much fresh light does this revered play shine?

The Firehall Arts Centre is producing Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Janice (Chelsea Rose Tucker) and Barb (Ashley Chartrand) ‘working their differences out’. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This is a guest review from Deneh’Cho Thompson.

The Firehall Arts Centre first brought Drew Hayden Taylor’s Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth to Vancouver in 1997, and now it’s back.

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth follows a pair of sisters as they grapple with the death of their mother. The difficulty: they were separated as children during the Sixties Scoop, a period in which governmental organizations stole thousands of aboriginal children from their families and placed them in the foster care system. The effects of these forced adoptions are still playing out across Canada. [Read more…]

Wilderness is a thicket of good intentions and overstatement

Studio 58 is producing Wilderness.

Playing Cole, Nolan McConnell-Fidyk understands the strength delivering his lines like a person, not an actor.

This production makes a weak script worse.

The subject matters. Wilderness is about young adults who are struggling with mental health issues, including addictions. Against the young people’s will, in many cases, their parents have sent them to a therapeutic camp in the Utah wilderness.

Playwrights Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger—the latter sent her son to a wilderness camp—developed their script based on interviews with other families who have firsthand experience. But the results are choppy. With multiple characters and two timeframes, the script contains very few sustained scenes and precious little narrative development. Characters often stand and spew the content of their interviews, and the result feels more like disjointed reportage than compelling theatre. [Read more…]

Satellite(s): this new play spins on wonky orbits

Solo Collective is producing Aaron Bushkowsky's Satellite(s) at Performance Works.

Mason Temple, seen here with Sharon Crandall, delivers a breakout performance in Satellite(s).

What a wasted opportunity.

Foreign home ownership in Vancouver is a huge and complicated issue. With its threads of racism, self-righteousness, entitlement, greed, and privilege, it’s ripe for theatrical treatment. But, in his new script, Satellite(s), playwright Aaron Bushkowsky manages to find almost nothing of interest in it. [Read more…]

Coming Up For Air: skilled work from Bernard Cuffling

Leslie Mildiner has directed Coming Up For Air for the Kay Meek Centre.

Bernard Cuffling slips effortlessly into the hear of George Bowling in George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air.

A huge part of the reward in Coming Up For Air is the depth that it finds in an ordinary life.

Both George Orwell’s 1938 novel and Leslie Mildiner’s stage adaptation begin with the immortal line: “The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.” That’s George Bowling speaking. Fat and middle-aged, he lives in the suburbs with his fretful, narrow-shouldered wife Hilda and their two demanding children. Feeling trapped by domesticity and by his work in the insurance business, George describes his neighbourhood on Ellesmere Road as “a line of semi-detached torture chambers.” [Read more…]