Beauty and the Beast: still a beauty

The Arts Club is presenting Beauty and the Beast at the Stanley Theatre.

Come on. Don’t try to tell me you don’t want to be at least one of the characters in this scenario. (Michelle Bardach as Belle and Jonathan Winsby as the Beast. Photo by David Cooper)

As I was watching the Arts Club’s production of Beauty and the Beast for approximately the ten thousandth time, I was struck by three things: actors’ jobs are weird; no matter how many times I see this show, it completely undoes me; and this year’s version is particularly charming.

Usually, I attend opening nights, which are such high-strung affairs that you forget the show won’t be quite so charged every night. But, sitting with a mid-week crowd for Beauty and the Beast, I had time to notice just how hard the performers were working at pretending, at manufacturing joy in themselves and others. I used to be an actor, but it’s been a long time and I’d forgotten.

Because I’m familiar with both the story and this production—the Arts Club has been mounting this show on and off since 2005—it took a while for the magic to kick in this year but, when the beastly Beast first tired to convince Belle, the beauty, to dine with him, despite his horns and fangs, I got hooked once again. And, by the time the two of them were falling in love, I was a puddle. After all, who doesn’t feel beastly to some extent—unlovable physically, emotionally or both? [Read more…]

It’s a Wonderful Life: It’s a boring show

Patrick Street Productions is presenting It's a Wonderful Life at the Gateway Theatre.

Clarence (Greg Armstrong-Morris) watches Mary (Erin Palm) and George (Nick Fontaine) canoodle. (Photo by David Cooper)

Adapter and director Peter Jorgensen gets a lot of things right in this musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Gateway.

The Arts Club has repeatedly trotted out Philip Grecian’s politically neutered stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, but Jorgensen’s script is every bit as political as the film.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a guy named George Bailey who becomes suicidal on Christmas Eve because it looks like his company Bailey Building and Loan will collapse and he’ll go to jail. But people who love George pray for him and an angel named Clarence is assigned to avert his death if possible. When George tells Clarence that the world would have been better off without him, Clarence shows George an alternate reality in which he never existed.

And here’s the thing: George has, in fact, made the world a much better place largely because, through his building and loan company, he has built decent housing for his poor and working-class neighbours—including a new immigrant family named the Martinis. George provided the framework through which the citizens of Bedford Falls could pull together for the common good. And, if that’s not socialist enough for you, the villain of the piece is the über-capitalist—and slumlord—Mr. Potter.

This core dynamic remains crystal clear in Jorgensen’s musical revision.

The problem, to a large extent, is the music—not because it’s badly executed, but because including it really slows things down. [Read more…]

Holiday Baking Time: sweet treat for little ones

I haven’t been able to find production photos for this year’s iteration of Holiday Baking Time, but this image kind of captures the tone.

Holiday Baking Time is designed for little kids—I’d say three to six is the core audience—and the only evening shows are on Thursdays, which are billed as “pyjama nights”. So the audience is insanely cute. I particularly liked the little girl in the giraffe onesie who worked her way down the aisle to get closer to the action, then happily frog-hopped her way back up the steps. Two stairs at a time. It was impressive.

There’s plenty of room for that kind of looseness in Presentation House Theatre’s generous production and Holiday Baking Time is an excellent fit for littles and their grown-ups.

It’s a show about—you guessed it—baking. And play. [Read more…]

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol—is a long title for an excellent show

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol is playing at The Cultch

The character Schnitzel embodies the essential innocence of this wacky undertaking.

This is the sixth year running that Ronnie Burkett has done a Christmas show at The Cultch. Sometimes they’ve been blindingly good and sometimes they’ve been a little ragged around the edges—a bit repetitive or sloppy—but one thing never changes: in terms of sheer skill and charisma, Burkett is one of the most extraordinary performers you’ll ever see.

This year’s show, Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol, was also last year’s show and, once again, Burkett was flying by the seat of his under-rehearsed pants on opening night—but I didn’t care. He was so upfront and so giddy about getting lost in the sequence sometimes—he was having such a good time and everything was so fresh and electric—that I just sat back and let the whole thing roll over me in waves of pleasure. [Read more…]

East Van Panto: The Wizard of Oz – Yes! Just yes!

Theatre Replacement is presenting East Van Panto: The Wizard of Oz at the York Theatre.

Go see this show if only to see Barbara Clayden’s chicken costumes. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

I want to live there. East Van Panto: The Wizard of Oz is my new happy place. I’m going to see if I can just rent out one of the seats in the York Theatre for the duration of the run.

This is the sixth year of Theatre Replacement’s East Van Panto, and this edition is one of the best.

You’ve got to hand it to the folks at Theatre Replacement: they mix things up. For the first time this year, Marcus Youssef wrote the show.

In Youssef’s version of the story, Dorothy, who lives in Port Coquitlam, isn’t knocked out by a tornado; it’s an exploding oil pipeline that does the job. The Wicked Witch of Western Canada, the driving force behind the Raise the Seas Pipeline, is none other than Rachel Notley—described here as being “fake NDP”. And the Good Wiccan of North Vancouver is the CBC’s own Gloria Macarenko—which gives everybody the perfect opportunity to sing “Macarena” with altered lyrics. [Read more…]

Blind Date: all dates should include this much kindness

Who wouldn’t want to date—or maybe be—Mimi? (Photo of Tess Degenstein by Little Blue Lemon Photography)

Watching Blind Dateis so much like falling in love that it feels a bit like the real thing is happening.

The concept for the show is fantastic. Rebecca Northan had the idea nine years ago and the performance I saw on Wednesday night was number 712. In the hetero form of Blind Date—there’s also a queer version—Mimi, a female red-nosed clown (Tess Degenstein on opening night) picks a man from the audience, having chatted with folks in the lobby and sussed them out beforehand. Then, for the duration of the 75-minute performance, Mimi goes on an improvised date with the guy.

Doing this much improv with an audience volunteer is the theatrical equivalent of skydiving—with a borrowed parachute. [Read more…]

Hir: rhymes with “here”, as in “here and now”

Pi Theatre is producing Taylor Mac's Hir at The Annex.

And you thought your family was dysfunctional. (Deb Williams, Victor Dolhai, and Andrew Wheeler in Hir. Photo by Tim Matheson)

Taylor Mac’s Hir celebrates diversity while simultaneously exposing the underside of identity politics.

And it’s a comedy, although its humour is dark—like blood-encrusted dark.

A US Marine named Isaac comes home after three years of overseas duty. He’s been working in mortuary services, picking up the body parts of personnel who have been blown to bits. And he returns to a family that’s been blown apart by the gender wars, or, as many would phrase it—as I would phrase it—the struggle for gender liberation.

Isaac’s father Arnold has suffered a major stroke. Arnold was a racist, sexist asshole, the domestic embodiment of the evils of the patriarchy. But his stroke has erased his power and Isaac’s mom Paige has taken over. Paige clothes Arnold in a woman’s nightgown and slathers his face in make-up, making him look like a literal clown. Paige also feeds Arnold hormone-laced smoothies, explaining that “The estrogen keeps him docile.” Isaac is so stunned by his dad’s transformation that it triggers his PTSD and he pukes in the sink.

He also pukes in the sink when he finds out that his little sister is now his trans little brother, Max. [Read more…]

Soul Samurai: enough with the backstory already

Affair of Honour is presenting Soul Samurai at Studio 1398

Soul Samurai is vampire lesbian a-go-go—but it go-gos on too long. (Photo of Jackie T. Hanlin and Nathania Bernabe)

Before the show, a company member from Soul Samurai lets everybody know that there’s a crisis line that audience members can call if they find anything too upsetting. The script is so awful I very nearly dialed it up. And, in one significant way, this production makes things exponentially worse. But here’s the thing: there are also a number of stellar elements in this mounting.   [Read more…]

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Send your regrets.

The Arts Club Theatre is producing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

In Christmas at Pemberley, you see this moment coming from miles away. Leagues. Light years. (Photo of Kate Dion-Richard and Matthew MacDonald-Bain by David Cooper)

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is going to do very well at the box office—but not because it’s good.

Co-written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the play is a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. With her husband, the dashing Darcy, Lizzy now presides over a grand estate called Pemberley. But the script focuses on Mary, the middle of the five Bennet sisters. As the siblings—minus Kitty, who is written out—gather for Christmas at Pemberley, the bookish Mary moans, “I shall never find a husband!”, so we know immediately that she will. And, when Darcy mentions that his cousin Arthur has just come into a huge inheritance, it’s clear exactly who her groom will be. (In stories like this, money is always a central player.)

The predictability is relentless. Mary has been going on about how she lives in her mind and how she loves to take imaginary journeys through the atlas. When Arthur finally arrives, he goes straight for that book of maps. “Much like you,” he tells Mary, “I travel on paper and in ink.”

Then the play tries to pretend that their marriage isn’t inevitable. [Read more…]

Mortified: smells like teen girl spirit

Studio 59, in association with Touchstone Theatre, is presenting Mortified.

Isaac Mazur and Emily Jane King are two of the excellent young performers in Amy Rutherford’s Mortified (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This might seem like an odd thing to say but, to me, Mortified feels whole and perfect in the same way that a body can feel whole and perfect: it’s just that organic, sensual—and complicated.

And, like being embodied, Mortified is more than a touch surreal. Playwright Amy Rutherford has set the action in the dreamlike space of an empty swimming pool. That’s where Woman conjures up Girl—herself from 25 years earlier—because Woman is so fucked up about a sexual relationship that Girl had with a guy named Ty, starting when she was 13 and he was 21, that, in her adult life, Woman is frozen. [Read more…]

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