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…]

The Events will keep you riveted

Pi Theatre is presenting The Events as part of the PuSh Festival

Douglas Ennenberg and Luisa Jojic pour themselves into The Events.

I suspect that, on some level, many liberal Westerners are experiencing a more or less perpetual state of grief and dread. Donald Trump is in the White House. Institutions including the press and democracy itself are being eroded. On the political right wing and on the left—where we once looked for allies—tribalism is in vogue.

What’s a liberal to do? In a way, that’s the central question in playwright David Greig’s The Events.

Greig drew much of his inspiration for The Events from a mass shooting in Norway. On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik set off a car bomb outside government buildings in Oslo then went on a rampage at a summer camp for the youth wing of the ruling Labour government. He murdered 77 people—hunting teenagers down on the island of Utøya, where the camp was taking place—and injured 319 others, many seriously.

Greig sets his play in Scotland, although the story is so broadly applicable in the West that the location barely matters. Claire is a local priest who also leads a community choir that’s made up largely of marginalized folks including immigrants. Claire is one of the few survivors of an attack in which a character identified only as The Boy opened fire on the group. In the aftermath, Claire feels that she has lost her soul: nothing makes sense anymore. [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…]

Above the Hospital: millennial angst, some promising writing, and one excellent performance

Beau Han Bridge wrote and directed Above the Hospital.

Tristan Smith’s Cameron (L) is the putative protagonist of Above the Hospital, but Mira Maschmeyer’s Lauren steals the show. (Photo by Chris Cho)

Above the Hospital is kind of like a rummage sale: there are treasures on offer, but you’ve got to sift through some junk to get to them.

This new script, which was written and directed by Beau Han Bridge, is about the confusion and despondency some millennials seem to be experiencing. A couple whose names are Lauren and Cameron moved to Vancouver from a small town in Ontario four years ago with dreams of making it as artists. But their aspirations haven’t panned out. Having realized that she is a mediocre filmmaker, Lauren has quit film school and is studying to be a nurse. Cameron’s dreams are dying harder. He is working as a furniture maker, but he still really wants to be a musician—although he’s doing sweet nothing about it. [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…]

Not my Christmas Carol

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Gateway Theatre.

Russel Roberts gets wheeled around as Scrooge and Emily Jane King floats as Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at the Gateway. (Photo by David Cooper)

Nobody likes to rain on a parade—especially not a Christmas parade—but the Gateway Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is so vacant that I have no choice. [Read more…]

Beauty and the Beast: this holiday entertainment could be more generous

The Arts Club is presenting Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

It takes a while for Jonathan Winsby to find his Beast but, when he does, it’s a thing of beauty. (Photo by David Cooper)

You want a big show like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to be lavish and dazzling but, in crucial ways, the Arts Club’s production is stingy and incomplete. Fortunately, there are also some excellent performances in the mix and the story itself is strong. [Read more…]

How Star Wars Save My Life gives witness—and could save lives

Some Assembly Theatre Company is presenting How Star Wars Saved My Life.

In his solo show, Nicholas Harrison confronts forces more evil than the Death Star.

How Star Wars Saved My Life is an important personal witness. Structurally, it could be stronger, but that almost doesn’t matter.

Nicholas Harrison is a well-known Vancouver fight choreographer. He’s got a PhD in directing from UBC. He lectures at Capilano University. And, for four and a half years, starting when he was in kindergarten, he was brutally physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by several priests and a lay teacher at the Catholic elementary school he attended.

In this solo show, Harrison makes a compelling case that it really was Star Wars that saved his life. Starting when he was nine, the movie franchise gave him a way to understand his experience: the black-robed priests became the black-robed Darth Vader; as Luke Skywalker learned how to channel his fear, anger, and aggression, so did the little boy from northern BC; and, very movingly, Harrison carried a toy version of Luke’s loyal friend, R2D2, around in his pocket. [Read more…]

On Criticism

(This is a repost of an essay that I wrote a while back.)

A few years ago, I was talking with a local director in a theatre lobby. I had recently given a show of his a mixed review and, as we spoke, he became so enraged that I braced myself for a blow to the head. He and I had already had an extended and difficult conversation that morning and I could feel myself running out of rational resources, so I said, “Let’s just drop this for now. It’s not a discussion anymore, it’s a battle.” He replied, “Fuckin’ right it’s a battle, man. It’s gonna stay a fuckin’ battle. You better remember that.”

Another director was so furious about a review I gave him that he tried to bar my entry to his next production—although he allowed that maybe I could come in on the understanding that I would publish a review only if I liked the show.

Some readers tell me that they make all of their theatre-going decisions based upon my critiques. An actor who was mortally sick informed me that my public words of praise for his performance made the prospect of his impending death easier to bear.

By casting me as saviour, savant, publicist, or antagonistic career-killer, all of these folks are missing the point of criticism. As I see it, my job is to contribute an informed opinion to the discussion of theatre, and my primary responsibility is not to the consumer or to the artist, but to the art itself. [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…]