Honour: this story of a Mumbai courtesan is well-intentioned but narratively weak

Dipti Mehta's Honour is at the Culture Lab as part of Diwali in BC.

In Honour, the textures of the characterizations—and fabrics—are stunning. (Photo by Kyle Rosenberg)

I have no doubt that writer and performer Dipti Mehta’s heart is in the right place, but she’s not a great storyteller.

In her solo show, Honour: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan, Mehta introduces us to Rani, whose mother, Chameli, is a sex worker in Mumbai’s “Fuck Lane”. Rani has just turned 16 and Chameli has decided that it’s time to sell her daughter’s virginity, her “honour”. Chameli loves Rani, but she sees her decision as pragmatic: Chameli and Rani are so outcast, she reasons persuasively, that there is no way for either of them to enter mainstream society. [Read more…]

1 Hour Photo is underdeveloped

Empire of the Son was a success. 1 Hour Photo may be a success or a failure.

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s 1 Hour Photo needs more focus.

There are exquisite elements in 1 Hour Photo. There are also significant problems with the storytelling.

For almost its entire length, 1 Hour Photo doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. Writer Tetsuro Shigematsu, who performs the show with musician Steve Charles, tells the life story of Mas Yamamoto, who is the elderly father of a good friend. So far so good. But what’s the core of Shigematsu’s take on Yamamoto’s history? The playwright presents several major elements, including the incarceration of Yamamoto’s family during WWII, an unfulfilled romance, and the rocky development of Yamamoto’s career, which culminated in his owning a thriving photo-development business. [Read more…]

The Goblin Market: “She suck’d until her lips were sore.”

The Goblin Market, produce by Dust Palace, is bering presented by The Cultch.

In The Goblin Market‘s prettiest passage, Laura and Lizzie twine and untwine in a rotating hoop. “Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me./Never mind my bruises.”

Make no mistake: Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, which was published in 1862 and which inspired this circus performance, is about sex.

At twilight, sisters Laura and Lizzie are tempted by goblin men, who offer to sell them fruit. At first, Laura demurs: “We must not look at goblin men,/We must not buy their fruits:/Who knows upon what soil they fed/Their hungry thirsty roots?” But, when Laura lets herself go—“Like a vessel at the launch/When its last restraint is gone”—she is ravenous: “She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/She suck’d until her lips were sore.” [Read more…]

Little Red Riding Hood is the best East Van Panto so far

Mark Chavez wrote Little Red Riding Hood, this year's East Van Panto.

Rachel Aberle’s Red can sing—and she’s just a little bit sly.

The East Van Panto is now officially the best holiday tradition in Vancouver—in my Vancouver, anyway.

I started loving this year’s panto, Little Red Riding Hood, the minute I entered the theatre. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy being in an audience that has a whole whack of kids in it. Being swept along by their enthusiasm is like, I don’t know, surfing on bubbles. [Read more…]

The right night for Fight Night

The Cultch presented Fight Night by Belgian company Ontroerend Goed.

Belgians, including Angelo Tijssens, who is the referee/host of Fight Night, are a lot more fun than they look.

They were manipulating the hell out of me and I loved itIn Fight Night, which is produced by a bunch of companies led by Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed, politics becomes a literal game. Five actors vie for audience members’ votes and everybody in the crowd gets a little keypad that allows us to register our preferences in four elimination rounds.

Here’s the thing: as in Donald Trump’s presidential bid, none of the campaigns are based on policy. As in the Brexit referendum, the outcome could very well defy logic.
Mostly, the campaigns are based on likeability, on the ephemeral quality that we identify as trustworthiness. When we first meet them, the players are all wearing boxers’ robes; the set, like that on TV’s The Voice, is designed to look like a boxing ring. Wearing his robe, a contestant named Michai looked scruffy and I interpreted his gestures as defiant. But, when he doffed the robe, he was wearing a stylin’ cardigan that made me like him and see him as edgy. Taking advantage of that spin, he soon declared himself an underdog.

[Read more…]

Elizabethan drag with a South Asian twist

Piya Behrupiya is playing The Cultch's York Theatre.

In Piya Behrupiya, Twelfth Night takes a trip to India.

A loud yes and a quieter no.

In 2012, London’s Globe Theatre commissioned The Company Theatre of Mumbai to produce a desi (Indian or South Asian) version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Piya Behrupiya, which translates as “Lover Impersonator”, is the raucously charming result. [Read more…]

The innocence of Helen and Edgar

Helen and Edgar, Edgar Oliver, The Cultch, The Moth

In “Helen and Edgar”, raconteur Edgar Oliver is as still as a lugubrious scarecrow.

Its seams are showing.

Helen & Edgar, which is raconteur Edgar Oliver’s account of the gothic Southern childhood he spent with his sister and their mentally ill mother, starts off spectacularly well. For one thing, there’s Oliver’s voice, which is simultaneously cavernous and fey: he sounds like Basil Rathbone’s gay uncle. His descriptions are gorgeous: within the fatherless family’s tumbledown, ivy-burdened house, there’s a cockroach-infested kitchen, in which the table is “like a barge run aground in a swamp.” Oliver finds humour in his mother’s eccentricities: “Eventually, the gypsy witch cards convinced Mother to go on a banana-split diet.” And Oliver’s prose often rises to the level of poetry: evoking a child’s odd sense of time, he says of his sister Helen, who was one and a half years older, “She was part of that eternity into which I was born.”

Physically, the storyteller is as still as a lugubrious, barely animated scarecrow: when he uses the middle fingers of both hands to tuck his thinning hair behind his ears, the effect is of a grand gesture.

For a while, this combination of personal eccentricity and linguistic fecundity is enough. But, in Act 1, the narrative structure is weak and things go slack. Too often, rather than accumulation, we get repetition, variations on the theme of Mother’s nuttiness: she was paranoid, obsessive, depressive, anxious, and sometimes hysterical. All of this information is important but because nothing really changes in Edgar’s life—both he and Helen remain passively in Mother’s thrall and she mostly repeats her cycles—the story stalls.

Helen & Edgar started life as a series of short monologues for the storytelling project The Moth and, in Act 1, the play fails to transcend its origins: vignettes line up like boxcars, but the train isn’t going anywhere. The one exception is a passage in which two apparently disparate episodes come together around a resonant image of watermelons. For most of the first act, however, I was bored. And the cadence in Oliver’s musical voice is so unchanging that it started to lull me to sleep.

Then, at the end of the first act, Edgar and his sister learn French, a language their mother doesn’t speak, and the possibility of solidarity—and change—emerges. The playwright has made us wait too long for it, but, when it comes, this narrative progression is welcome, and Act 2 is full of rewards. I won’t give away any of the plot’s payoffs, but they are considerable—and moving.

Throughout, projections of paintings, drawings, and sketches created by Mother—her name was Louise Gibson Oliver—provide textural variety and relief. I would have enjoyed more time with these images, which sometimes feel like lesser cousins to the works of Vincent van Gogh; their presentation feels rushed, but they are a joy to look at. And, as Oliver says, “There is an innocence to Mother’s work that is truly a form of revelation.” Helen and Edgar isn’t perfect, but the same could be said of this creation.

HELEN & EDGAR By Edgar Oliver. Directed by Catherine Burns. Produced by George Dawes Green. Presented by The Cultch at the York Theatre on Thursday, September 29. Continues until October 8.

[Read more…]

The best holiday show I’ve seen (so far) this year

Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto, The Cultch, The York Theatre, Allan Zinyk

Pink brocade turns Allan Zinyk into an evil stepmother in Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto. It does not have the same effect on me. (I’ve checked.)

Hands down, my favourite holiday show (so far) this year is Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto.

It’s original, it’s community-minded, it’s a little outrageous, and it’s got kids in it. What’s not to like?  [Read more…]

Heather Redfern: yay!

Heather Redfern, the Cultch

Vancouverites are lucky that Heather Redfern is at the Cultch

I want to give a shout-out to Heather Redfern, the executive director at the Cultch.

Already, this fall, I’ve seen three remarkable shows in Cultch venues.

The Australian acrobats who performed A Simple Space at the York reminded me of the wild joy of being in a body. Their work was like a deep, fresh kiss.  [Read more…]

Cock and Nirbhaya provide vastly different experiences

Cock, Rumble Theatre, Performance Works

In Cock, W (Donna Soares, L), and M (Shawn Macdonald, R) fight over John (Nadeem Phillip)

I’ve got two very different shows to recommend this week.

Mike Bartlett’s Cock is a comedy about an existential crisis of sexual identity. John has been living with M, an older man, but falls in love—much to his surprise—with W, a woman. John can’t choose, so he keeps saying “yes” to everybody.

To make M feel better, John says that W is “manly”, which leads to a running gag in which which M refers to W’s Yeti-like masculinity.

Duncan Fraser’s slyly understated take on F, M’s father, is a highlight of this Rumble Theatre production. (Sorry. When I first posted this, I got my Ws and Fs mixed up.)

Cock runs until November 8.

Nirbhaya, the Cultch, York Theatre

Rusher Kabir and Sneha Jawale share their stories of gender-based violence in Nirbhaya. Ankur Vikal helps to tell the stories.

At the York Theatre, until November 14,  you can have a completely different experience with Nirbhaya, which was inspired by the 2012 gang rape and torture of Jyoti Singh Pandey in South Delhi. Two weeks after the attack, Pandey died of her injuries.

Nirbhaya tells her story. Four of the women in the cast also tell the true stories of how they themselves were victims of gender-based violence.

The material is horrific and the telling is artful. Nirbhaya is a milestone, a show that people will refer to for years.