East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast — such a beauty

publicity photo for East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast

(Photo by Emily Cooper)

Year after year, almost without fail, Theatre Replacement’s East Van Pantos are some of the most innovative, entertaining productions we see all season. Beauty and the Beast is one of the best.

Co-writers Jivesh Parasram and Christine Quintana have modeled their script very loosely on the Disney version of the story. In the Parasram/Quintana telling, Belle wants to pursue a degree in finance so she can address the injustices of capitalism. In a refreshing touch, everybody she talks to about her (sound) analysis finds it so boring they fall asleep.

The frankly stated theme of this panto is that it’s important to be able to change your mind. The Beast in this version is a wealthy, intransigent young man from West Vancouver: “I don’t flip for nobody!” When he tells an Enchantress who’s disguised as a beggar that, if she can’t afford sushi on her own, maybe she should examine her life choices, she transforms him into a mattress. If you’re familiar with the huge Mr. Mattress sign at the corner of Clark and Venables that advertises “No No-Flip Mattresses!”, you’ll get the joke. And, if you don’t, who cares? The surrealism of Jason Sakaki bouncing around as a baby-blue twin still works.

Everybody who was in Fujiya at the time of the transformation — that Japanese food store is another East Van landmark — is simultaneously turned into staples. So Mrs. Potts from the Disney story becomes Miso Potts, and a brown businessman from next door becomes a piece of sushi: Salman Roe.

I’ve been repeating these goofy jokes to my partner all morning and chortling like a kid. There’s a gang of skunks. They have a musk cannon. [Read more…]

Hurricane Mona: downgraded to tropical storm

Just a simple family meal with a frog (Photo by Augusto Meza)

I’m grateful to every artist who takes on climate change and there are striking elements in Pippa Mackie’s script. Overall, though, Hurricane Mona is a mostly unfunny comedy and its structure sucks.

That said, there are some excellent performance and production elements. I’ll get to those as soon as I give you the lay of the land.

In Hurricane Mona, a 29-year-old climate activist named Mona has attacked a police car and is placed under house arrest in her well-heeled parents’ home. When it comes to the small-scale (and essentially meaningless) climate actions, Mona is a self-righteous pain in the ass. She berates her mom about coffee pods and, when an Amazon delivery comes to the front door, she throws it away. In the bigger picture though, Mona is undeniably correct: unless we take drastic action right now, we’re fucked, and it’s infuriating that so many people still behave as if that’s not the case. [Read more…]

Memorial Services for Duncan Low

Photo of Duncan Low

Duncan Low and Norman Young both died on Sunday. I wrote a brief memorial piece in this morning’s FRESH SHEET , and I promised to share details about funeral services.

Next Thursday, November 30 at 2:00 p.m. Duncan will be buried at the Royal Oak Burial Park. That’s at 4673 Falaise Drive in Victoria.

Following the graveside service, there will be a reception at the Sequoia Room of McCall Gardens, which is next door.

If you can’t make it to Victoria on November 30, there will be an event in Vancouver sometime in March.

A Doll’s House, Part 2: I got plenty and wanted more

publicity photo for A Doll's House, Part 2

(Photo of Melissa Oei and Tom McBeath by Javier Sotres)

There’s a knock on the door. How else could it start?

In Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 script A Doll’s House, Nora, the heroine, leaves her suffocating marriage, her husband Torvald, her three young children, and her bourgeois life. And she slams the door on the way out. Famously, that slam echoed around the world. Ibsen’s protofeminism was considered so scandalous that A Doll’s House was banned in several countries. But the play was a sensation.

In A Doll’s House, Part 2, American playwright Lucas Hnath dares to create a sequel to this classic.

In it, Nora returns after 15 years and knocks on the very door she slammed. She’s back because she needs something. [Read more…]

Elf, the Musical: hits within a miss

publicity photo for Elf, the Musical

Can’t get enough of this guy: Andrew McNee as Buddy (Costume by Christine Reimer, photo by David Cooper)

This might sound weird but Andrew McNee is playing Buddy the elf in this production and, when I was watching him, I had a sudden — glorious — flash of his mortality. And mine. I was suddenly aware of how lucky I was, in that unique moment, to be witnessing this inspired performer hurling himself into Buddy who was hurling himself into a jazzy number called “Sparklejollytwinklejingly”. I even thought, “Will they speak of the legend of Andrew McNee one day?” I mean probably not, but he is that good.

There’s a less enthusiastic context for this: I don’t think the musical itself works. But let me celebrate more successes before I get into that. [Read more…]

The Wizard of Oz — again, but well done

publicity photo for The Wizard of Oz (CTORA Theatre)

Don’t make me cry, you two, I’m going to rust. (Photo of Preston Wilder and Camryn Macdonald by Canna Zhou)

I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz approximately one million times, so there weren’t a lot of surprises for me in this CTORA Theatre production. But CTORA Theatre itself is surprising and there’s some very nice work in this show.

CTORA, which once stood for Children’s Theatre of Richmond Association but is now, I’m told, just an acronym — I don’t get it; the company needs a better name, right? — has been around since 2017. They’re into championing “young and emerging artists” while “delivering quality performances.”

Directed by Mark Carter, this production is slick and, although CTORA is a non-profit, this Wizard is clearly well funded. A team of six — count ’em!* — costume designers, has created scores of costumes to clothe the multiply-cast ensemble of 25, and a lot of them are terrific. Lion’s costume, with its flowing dreadlocks and pattable chest ruff springs to mind, and so do the parasols made of giant single blossoms that the Munchkins carry. Then there are the poppies with their Elizabethan collars of scarlet petals, and Glinda’s cloud-like gown, which twinkles more than the Milky Way. These explosions of colour and light take place on Brian Ball’s effectively minimalist set. Ball uses an elegantly framed circular screen to set the scenes, which he does with a sepia palette. [Read more…]

How Black Mothers Say I Love You: slowly

publicity photo: How Black Mothers Say I Love You

Kerën Burkett and Alisha Davidson deliver solid performances. (Photo: Kimberly Ho)

Playwright Trey Anthony’s How Black Mothers Say I Love You is about the experiences of three Black women — four if you count the ghost. More specifically, it’s about immigration. I’m a second-generation-Canadian white guy so, in writing this review, I’m speaking from an outside perspective. Although this show mostly didn’t work for me, I have no doubt it will be more meaningful to others.

In Anthony’s story, the mom, Daphne, is dying of cancer. She has quit chemo because it made her feel so rotten and, as her daughter Claudette suggests, Daphne may be eager to join another daughter Cloe, who died of a respiratory illness at a young age.

Cloe is the ghost that haunts the family. She’s also the last-born and only Canadian-born of Daphne’s three girls. When Daphne emigrated to Canada from Jamaica, she left her other two kids behind with their grandma. Claudette was seven and Valerie five. Daphne didn’t send for them for six years, a perceived abandonment from which the adult Claudette has not recovered.

Claudette (aka Claude) is lesbian, which is another source of friction with her mom. Claude hasn’t been home in three years.

On opening night, two huge problems announced themselves in the first scene. As written, Daphne is obviously a Character: a wheedling, commanding, outrageously colourful church lady who loves the biggest hats. Playing her, Celeste Insell barely begins to fill in that outline. Daphne has a lot to say and it should spill out of her, but Insell’s delivery is slow and hesitant. Insell finds some emotional depth later in Act 2 but, for the most part, the dynamics of this frank theatre production are off-kilter.

That first scene is also badly directed. As Daphne stands at the kitchen table and pretends to prepare dinner, director Fay Nass has given Claude (Alisha Davidson) sweet nothing to do so she just stands there and listens to Daphne’s monologue. It’s painfully static. [Read more…]

Assembly Hall: Motion to Dissolve

publicity photo for Assembly Hall, Kidd Pivot

Renée Sigouin in Assembly Hall (photo©Michael Slobodian)

Gosh. So many great things.

Assembly Hall, the latest creation from choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright Jonathon Young, is so narratively eccentric it will resonant in different ways for every person who sees it. Let me tell you a bit about what it meant to me.

First, the container. In the set-up, we realize we’re watching the annual general meeting of a medieval re-enactment society, the General Assembly of the Benevolent and Protective Order. The society has fallen on hard times — rising costs, dwindling membership — and they’re going to vote on whether to dissolve the organization. They’ve tried it before and have always ended up tabling the motion.

But we’re not in a literal reality. Like other works from Pite and Young, this is a dance/theatre hybrid. So the eight characters’ voices are recorded and, when we hear that speech, the onstage performers, the dancers, don’t just lip sync the words, they embody them with exaggerated postures and flamboyant gestures. The effect is simultaneously operatic and camp.

The text isn’t mundane either, although it’s concerned with mundanity. When the chair of the society asks if they have quorum, the vice chair notes that every member contains three, including one who leads and one who comes after. She says something like, “In the one, there is a multitude. And, in the multitude, there is one.” So they have quorum. [Read more…]

Peace Country: Go there

Publicity photo for Peace Country

The stellar cast of Peace Country: Angus Yam, Sofía Rodríguez, Manuela Sosa, Kaitlin Yott, and Sara Vickruck.
(Photo by Pedro Augusto Meza)

Peace Country is a huge accomplishment. I love its urgency, its complexity, its humour — and its weirdness.

Its weirdness — well, its eccentricity — lies in the play’s structure. Pedro Chamale’s new script is set in an area also known as Peace River Country, an aspen forest that stretches from northwestern Alberta to the Rocky Mountains in northeastern BC. Rather than being driven by plot, as most scripts are, Peace Country offers immersion in the relationships of a group of friends who grew up in the Peace and mostly still live there.

It’s set in the near future. A new political party, the British Columbia Environmental Alliance, has swept to power provincially and it’s working to limit the impacts of climate change. The party has canceled the pipeline project that helped to keep the friends’ town afloat. Canfor, the logging giant, has left. Oil-and-gas company Suncor may be next.

So Peace Country is about the tension between the urgent need for long-delayed environmental action and the economic impact of that action on resource-based communities that are too often ignored or demonized in the discussion. [Read more…]

Someone Like You: predigested

publicity photo for Someone Like You

(Photo of Steffanie Davis and Praneet Akilla by Moonrider Productions)

There are things I liked in Someone Like You, but so many more that I didn’t that it’s going to take a while to get there.

Mostly what bugged me is that I felt like playwright Christine Quintana was cutting my meat for me. So much of her script is predetermined and prescriptive that there wasn’t a lot of room left for me to engage with its ideas as a freethinking grown-up. [Read more…]

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