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.

The Realistic Joneses: a comedy about the limitations of language and the beauty of trying to speak

Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses is playing the Vancity Culture Lab.

Actor Tracy Letts exits on opening night of the premiere production of The Realistic Joneses. Why am I using this photo to illustrate my review of the Vancouver production? Read the Bonus Tracks and find out. (Photo by Walter McBride)

In The Realistic Joneses, playwright Will Eno behaves like a compassionate—and funny—palliative care nurse.

In the play, Pony and John Jones have just moved in next door to Jennifer and Bob Jones. Now they all live in the same small town. Bob has a degenerative neurological disorder in which a copper build-up affects the brain, especially the language centre.

Grounded in the inevitability of death, the play smells of body horror. “It’s a very personal thing, going blind,” John observes at one point. And, with existential dread, comes the untethering of meaning. Language, which is always frustratingly approximate, becomes even moreso.

The foibles of speech create discomfort. “Do you want to talk?” Jennifer asks her ailing husband near the top of the show. “What are we doing right now? Math?”, Bob replies. Embracing the absurdity of language Eno also creates lines that are knee-slappers. John gets two of the best: “I don’t know if a haiku is the best way to end a conversation,” and “I’d like to say something in Latin right now. Know what I mean, big guy?” [Read more…]

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre Presents A Christmas Carol – genius, with limitations

Little Dickens. Schnitzel. Ronnie Burkett

If it were legal to adopt marionettes, I would apply for guardianship of Schnitzel.

Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett is a genius. He just is. Another blunt truth: Little Dickens isn’t his best show—at least it isn’t yet.

As the full title makes clear, Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre Presents A Christmas Carol is yet another riff on Charles Dickens’s classic seasonal ghost story.

Burkett has been mounting evenings called The Daisy Theatre at The Cultch for four years now. The Daisy Theatre itself is kind of a rep company of marionettes: we see the same characters every winter. The idea behind this is that it allows audiences to spend more time with favourites and it lets Burkett put up an annual holiday entertainment without having to carve a whole new cast of characters every time.

In Little Dickens, the bitter old showgirl Esmé Massingill becomes Scrooge, the stout Prairie housewife, Edna Rural takes on the role of Christmas Present, and the irresistible fairy Schnitzel becomes Tiny Tim. [Read more…]

How Star Wars Save My Life gives witness—and could save lives

Some Assembly Theatre Company is presenting How Star Wars Saved My Life.

In his solo show, Nicholas Harrison confronts forces more evil than the Death Star.

How Star Wars Saved My Life is an important personal witness. Structurally, it could be stronger, but that almost doesn’t matter.

Nicholas Harrison is a well-known Vancouver fight choreographer. He’s got a PhD in directing from UBC. He lectures at Capilano University. And, for four and a half years, starting when he was in kindergarten, he was brutally physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by several priests and a lay teacher at the Catholic elementary school he attended.

In this solo show, Harrison makes a compelling case that it really was Star Wars that saved his life. Starting when he was nine, the movie franchise gave him a way to understand his experience: the black-robed priests became the black-robed Darth Vader; as Luke Skywalker learned how to channel his fear, anger, and aggression, so did the little boy from northern BC; and, very movingly, Harrison carried a toy version of Luke’s loyal friend, R2D2, around in his pocket. [Read more…]

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…]