Reassembled, Slightly Askew is deeply weird—and generous

Shannon Yee's Reassembled, Slightly Askew is playing The Culture Lab as part of the PuSh Festival.

Reassembled Slightly Askew: your treatment awaits. (Photo by Stephen Beggs)

Reassembled, Slightly Askew provoked one of the most intense theatrical experiences I’ve had: deeply disorienting, often frightening. Was it worth it? Probably.

Written and produced by Shannon Yee, Reassembled, Slightly Askew explores Yee’s experience of acquired brain injury: symptoms, crisis, hospitalization, coma, treatments, and reemergence—changed.

The wild thing is that it all takes place inside your head. When you go, you enter the Culture Lab as part of an eight-person audience. There are eight hospital beds waiting for you. You take off your shoes, lie down on one of the beds and give yourself over. Stephen, the guy who’s running the show, sets you up with a blindfold and headphones. You can’t see anything. [Read more…]

Black Boys brings it home

Buddies in Bad Time is presenting Black Boys at the Cultch as part of the PuSh Festival

Thomas Olajide leaps in Black Boys. (Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh)

It gets better. And I don’t mean that in the Dan Savage your-miserable-queer-adolescence-can-turn-into-a-happy-queer-adulthood sense. I mean Black Boys starts haltingly but hits a solid and satisfying groove.

In Black Boys, three men explore what it means to them to be black and queer—in Canada, mostly Toronto it seems—right now. Their experiences are very different. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff grew up in foster care in the Toronto suburbs. Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy emigrated from Ghana. And Thomas Olajide started life in Vancouver, raised by his grandmother and aunt. [Read more…]

Hot Brown Honey starts hot then cools

Briefs Factory's production of Hot Brown Honey is at the York Theatre.

Lisa Fa’alafi lets loose in a magically transforming dress in Hot Brown Honey

Hot Brown Honey is a spectacularly well designed feminist pep rally. Over a span of 75 minutes, six Australian women of colour take on sexism, racism, and colonialism one vaudevillian act at a time.

Tristan Shelly’s set is phenomenal. It’s shaped like a beehive with emcee and queen bee Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers poised on its pinnacle, and its cells look like they have been constructed out of hexagonal industrial products—maybe honey buckets. All of those cells are individually lit and the lights are computer programmed. Watching this sculpture as words (POWER, NOISE) and shapes (hearts, smiles, geometrics) skitter across it, you feel like you’re in the best nightclub ever built, or at the best rave ever thrown. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

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…]