Thanks for Giving: thanks for the ambition

Margo Kane is in Thanks for Giving at the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage.

This image of Margo Kane looks playful, but there’s a lot of darkness along with the laughs in Thanks for Giving.

It’s as if playwright Kevin Loring has tried to cram half a dozen Greek tragedies—plus a couple of episodes of The Honeymooners—into one evening. His new play, Thanks for Giving, is inspiringly ambitious, often funny, sometimes beautiful, and structurally scattershot.

Like a Greek tragedy, Thanks for Giving tells a story of family trauma, but this time, instead of the House of Atreus, it’s the Bear Clan. And it starts off with Pa, the settler grandfather, shooting a grizzly sow and her two cubs. When Pa’s wife Nan finds out about this over Thanksgiving dinner, she is furious: her grandmother taught her that the grizzly is a healer—and a relative. [Read more…]

Perestroika, which means “restructuring”, is faultily structured—and sometimes transcendent

The Arts Club is producing Perestroika, which is part of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

Lois Anderson makes one heck of an entrance as The Angel in Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika.

Like a fever dream, this production of Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika comes and goes. Sometimes, I was completely in its thrall. At other times, I popped out of the experience and thought, “Oh. I’m in a theatre. And not much is happening.” [Read more…]

Mary Poppins kicks butt

The Arts Club's Mary Poppins is solid holiday entertainment.

Kayla James offers a flintier Mary Poppins than Sara Jeanne Hosie gave us. Both approaches work.

Mary Poppins is back and she’s kicking butt.

The Arts Club first mounted the musical in 2013 and they’ve been reviving it as holiday entertainment intermittently since then. This latest iteration is as strong as the first.

The stage musical is significantly different from the 1964 movie, although the basic story, which is set in Victorian London, remains the same. Mary, a magical nanny, flies in on the wind to help stabilize the financially prosperous but emotionally struggling Banks family—essentially by opening the heart of George Banks, the father, to the needs and love of his young children, Jane and Michael. [Read more…]

The Day Before Christmas is this year’s most annoying holiday entertainment

The Day Before Christmas (Arts Club) is awful.

If your own family isn’t sufficiently annoying, you might want to consider spending the holidays with this bunch.

God, I hate these people—okay, these characters.

Act 1 of The Day Before Christmas digs itself into a deep hole artistically. Act 2 displays moderate improvement.

This new script by local writers Stacey Kaser and Alison Kelly features Alex, a busy Vancouver caterer—and Christmas obsessive. Every Christmas, Alex decorates her home in a new theme: last year it was “Christmas on the Orient Express”; this year, it’s “Russian fairytale”. Alex has photos taken of the final, perfect effect and uses them to promote her business. [Read more…]

Bakersfield Mist: mediocre script, strong production

Bakersfield Mist is about a painting that Jackson Pollock might have created.

Nicola Cavendish’s role in Bakersfield Mist might have been custom-tailored for her. She looks fantastic in it

Bakersfield Mist is raucously funny sometimes and even moving in moments, but the script isn’t as smart as it pretends to be.

LA playwright Stephen Sachs drew inspiration for Bakersfield Mist from real-life characters and events. The stakes are high. In the early 1990s, a retired long-haul truck driver named Teri Horton bought a big painting as a gag present for a depressed friend. She found it in a thrift store in San Bernardino and paid five bucks for it, having talked the owner down from eight. Her friend thought the painting was ugly and she couldn’t get it into her trailer anyway, so Horton tried to hawk the canvas at a garage sale. That’s when a local art teacher told her she might have a Jackson Pollock on her hands. Horton’s response, “Who the fuck is Jackson Pollock?”, inspired the title of the 2006 documentary made about her adventure, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? The trucker quickly found out who Pollock was. She also discovered that, if her “Pollock” was authentic, her five-dollar purchase could be worth fifty million. [Read more…]

Arts Club double whammy

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This week, I have two shows to recommend: Good People and Onegin. Both are from the Arts Club.

If you haven’t already seen Onegin, buy your damn tickets! The run is selling out—partly because people are seeing Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone’s vivacious adaptation of Pushkin’s verse novel three and four times.

The regular run of Onegin continues until April 10. And the Arts Club has been able to add three more shows: Tuesday, April 12, at 7:30, and Wednesday, April 13, at 1:30 and 7:30.

So grab yourself some seats. Don’t let those piggy repeaters suck them all up.

And Good People has just opened at the Stanley. The Act 1 set-up is laboured, but Act 2 catches fire.

Set in Boston, largely in a poor neighbourhood called Southie, Good People examines the stories that we tell ourselves about economic class.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s script asks nuanced questions and it’s often funny.

Laughlin Johnston’s set is superbly cinematic. Just wait till you see those rooms sliding together like puzzle pieces.

And there are some terrific performances, especially from Colleen Wheeler, Scott Bellis, and Jenn Griffin.

Vancouver theatre artists often diss the Arts Club. It’s a big commercial theatre, so it’s a large target, and it’s good for producers, large and small, to be held to account. But, right now, let’s give the company credit for two solid shows, one of which is an original local creation.

Onegin: more

Onegin, Arts Club, Andrew McNee, Lauren Jackson

Andrew McNee and Lauren Jackson are having an excellent time in Onegin. Mind you, dressed in Jacqueline Firkins’s fabulous costumes, I’d be having fun, too.

When I write reviews, I try to cram in as much information as possible—but there’s almost never enough room, so, right here, I’m going to cram in a little bit more about the Arts Club’s production of Onegin.

Director Amiel Gladstone has done a fantastic job.

A couple of images spring to mind. One is Gladstone’s staging of the duel. I’ll leave the moment for you to discover. Let me just say that it works because it’s so  understated.

The other image is of actor Lauren Jackson running across the stage. This is kind of a random memory, but it’s telling, I think. Jackson’s character, Olga, is happy in that moment, but, so, I think, is Jackson. And that’s emblematic of the palpable sense of JOY that saturates this production: everybody on-stage seems to be having a REALLY GOOD TIME. That joy comes from the company, of course, but, in to setting the tone, the director is hugely important.

And, of course, under Gludstone’s direction, the whole frickin’ thing is insanely stylish and vivacious. But I’ve said that already in my review, which is on straight.com.

Go see Onegin. It is, hands down, the best show on this weekend.

The coolest thing about the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre

Bill Millard, Christopher Gaze, Goldcorp Stage, BMO Theatre Centre

Proud papas Bill Millerd and Christopher Gaze pose outside the newly completed BMO Theatre Centre, which houses the Goldcorp Stage

The coolest thing about the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre is that the stage can be wherever the hell you damn well want it to be.

After the opening of Peter and the Starcatcher, designer Ted Roberts very kindly gave me and my friend Don a tour of the new facilities that the Arts Club and Bard on the Beach are sharing at 162 West 1st.  [Read more…]

Two things the Arts Club does that bug me

Arts Club Theatre, Les Misérables, Nicola Lipman, Andrew Wheeler

Actors should ALWAYS be having a good time onstage. Watch Nicola Lipman and Andrew Wheeler to see how it’s done.

I love the Arts Club. For decades, Bill Millerd has kept multiple stages running, employing hundreds of artists and technicians, and entertaining thousands. The Arts Club is committed to developing new scripts, too, so more power to ’em.

That said, I wish they’d admit that previews are rehearsals and charge a reduced rate for them, like Bard on the Beach does. As far as I’m concerned, if a show’s not ready for the press, it’s not ready for the public to pay full price for it, either. And we all know that shows grow a lot between the first preview and opening night.  [Read more…]