Sweeney Todd: a murderous tale to die for

The Snapshot Collective is presenting Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at a site-specific location on Water Street.

Colleen Winton and Warren Kimmel command the (fantastically small) stage in Sweeney Todd.

Watching this production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, I felt ridiculously lucky. The show is so strong and its storefront location in Gastown so intimate that I felt like a cast of stars had shown up in my living room to perform a masterpiece.

The story is wicked and the music wickedly difficult. Sweeney has returned to London from court-ordered banishment to Australia and he is hell-bent on avenging himself on the corrupt Judge Turpin. Turpin framed Sweeney because the judge lusted after—and eventually raped—Sweeney’s wife Lucy. Lucy is out of the picture—suicide, apparently—and Turpin has become the guardian of Lucy’s 15-year-old daughter Johanna. Turpin is now creeping on Johanna, too.

When Sweeney meets up with Mrs. Lovett, whose pie shop is failing, inspiration strikes her: maybe Sweeney should use his razor to slit throats—judges’ throats, for instance—and she should bake the corpses into meat pies. “You know me,” she says. “Sometimes ideas just pop into my head.” [Read more…]

A Brief History of Human Extinction: barely a whimper

Upintheair Theatre is producing A Brief History of Human Extinction at The Cultch.

Ommie the otter, Ever, and Adam boldly face the future—kind of. (Photo by Matt Reznik)

You’d think that a play about the last days of the human race might have some kind of tension, some kind of stakes, but nope, not this one. In A Brief History of Human Extinction, which was created by Jordan Hall and Mind of a Snail (Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner), nothing much matters—for a bunch of reasons.

For starters, the premise doesn’t make sense. We’re in the year 2178. Unleashed by climate change, a fungal plague has apparently wiped out all other forms of life on earth, except for two humans named Ever and Adam, an otter called Ommie, and the farm animals and crops that Adam tends. These surviving life forms are all sequestered in a locked-down biosphere.

Ever is determined to launch a rocket called The Ark, which will carry viable DNA from all sorts of earthly creatures—including Homo sapiens—to a distant planet, which they will then populate. When we first meet Ever, she is recording a video message for the human spawn, who will be 12 years old when they arrive on Kepler-186f. But who will have raised this unlucky band? Ever and Adam will not be accompanying them. [Read more…]

Krapp’s Last Tape: the reel thing

This is a guest review by David Johnston *

Krapp (Linden Banks) unspools a smart performance in Seven Tyrants Theatre’s production. (Photo: Seven Tyrants Theatre)

It’s as frustrating as hell. Except that’s a feature, not a bug.

Honestly, I think most Samuel Beckett scripts, if done right, are going to occasionally frustrate the hell out of audiences. The Irish modernist combines absurdism and monotony to create singular dramatic cocktails. Seven Tyrants Theatre has unearthed one of his works for the season opener at their new Tyrant Studios.

We meet Krapp (Linden Banks) in a spotlit room with a desk and a tape recorder. Tonight he will both listen to an audio tape of himself from 30 years prior, and record a new tape. Neither of these will go off without a hitch. Sounds like a good dramatic structure, right? It is. [Read more…]

Incognito Mode: not stealthy enough

Studio 58 is presenting Marcus Youssef Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn

Lauchlin Johnston’s pixelated set is the star of Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn.

Incognito Mode examines porn—while wearing rubber gloves. Amazingly, given the subject, there isn’t a millisecond of eroticism and there’s no real immersion in shame. This might be a dangerous thing to say of a show about porn, but I wanted it to go deeper.

To create the script, writer Marcus Youssef worked with the fifth-term students at Studio 58, who helped to devise the show and who are appearing in it. The script is loosely structured on the relationships among a group of friends who graduated from high school not that long ago.

In that bunch, there’s a couple whose names are Jason and Jasmine. He’s addicted to porn. But all we really see in this narrative thread are Jason’s fruitless attempts to address the dreaded subject and Jasmine’s understandable frustration at his inability to do so. What people seem to forget in stories about addiction is that there’s a lure: pleasure. There’s some kind of overwhelming intoxication. Abandon. And that’s the point. Until your self-loathing slaps you in face and makes you long for oblivion again. [Read more…]

A Vancouver Guldasta: welcome nuance

The Cultch, SACHA, and Diwali in BC are all involved in A Vancouver Guldasta at the Vancity Culture Lab.

Rani (Arshdeep Purba) hugs her mom Niranjan (Gunjan Kundhal) in A Vancouver Guldasta. (Photo by Paneet Sing)

It was like meeting real people. And they took me places I’d never been.

In A Vancouver Guldasta, playwright Paneet Singh introduces us to the Dhaliwals, a Sikh Punjabi family living in South Vancouver in 1984. It’s June. Sikh militants who want to create a new nation called Khalistan have occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site of Sikhism. Then, on the orders of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Indian army storms the temple with the stated purpose of removing the militants.

According to Wikipedia, the army’s invasion resulted in the deaths of over a thousand activists, soldiers, and civilians.

In A Vancouver Guldasta, Chattar, the dad in the Dhaliwal family, is desperately trying to make phone contact with his brother, who lives near the Golden Temple, but telephone communication with the Punjab has been cut off and, like many families in Vancouver, the Dhaliwals twist in uncertainty. [Read more…]

Testosterone: not the hormone bath I’d hoped for

The Cultch and Zee Zee Theatre are presenting Testosterone at the York Theatre.

Kit Redstone leads the charge in Testosterone, a quasi-autobiographical show about maleness.

I wanted to like Testosterone so much more than I did.

Written by trans man Kit Redstone, the script declares early on that it’s going to examine what it means to be a man, but its exploration is so rudimentary that it could barely be called Maleness 101.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things to like in this loosely autobiographical show, including the set-up: having recently transitioned, Redstone enters a male locker room for the first time—and has no idea how to negotiate the inner sanctum. Often speaking directly to the audience, Redstone is a charmingly humble performer. There’s an excellent crisis, which I won’t give away, and a transcendentally moving resolution. But that ending doesn’t make what came before it any more interesting. [Read more…]

Les Belles-soeurs: not so belles all the time

Ruby Slippers is producing Michel Tremblay's Les Belles-soeurs at the Gateway Theatre.

In Les Belles-soeurs, Germaine (France Perras) clings to the dream of material safety. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

As I was watching this production of Les Belles-soeurs, I kept trying to fill in the holes. There are a lot of them, especially in Act 1.

In Michel Tremblay’s 50-year-old play, Germaine Lauzon has just won a million trading stamps. (Stamps like these were part of an early customer-loyalty scheme: you could redeem booklets of them for prizes.) Germaine figures she has enough stamps to refurnish her run-down house and she has her eye on exotic items such as Chinese velvet paintings and ashtray lamps. But the labour involved in sticking a million stamps into booklets is daunting, so Germaine invites over a gang of her female friends and relatives, who are all at least as poor as she is, to help her out—and, perhaps, so that she can gloat. [Read more…]

A CRITIC’S DOZEN: 11 must-see fall shows

The theatre season we’re in promises to be thrilling.

As you’ll see, six of my 11 top picks will be playing at Cultch venues. So, if I were looking for season’s tickets, that’s where I’d buy.

Here we go!


Les Belles-Soeurs

Tabernac! The cast! This Ruby Slippers/Gateway co-pro features an avalanche of talent that includes Patti Allan, Eileen Barrett, Lucia Frangione, Pippa Mackie, Melissa Oei, France Perras, Kerry Sandomirsky, and Beatrice Zeilinger—and that’s only about half of them! Michel Tremblay’s 50-year-old classic introduces us to a group of women in 1960s Montreal who get together to stick savings-stamps into books. But that premise is just the fuse in this incendiary comedy about class, religion, and gender.

September 28 to October 6. Co-produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre and the Gateway theatre. At the Gateway. Tickets.


Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn

Marcus Youssef knows how to collaborate. Peter Panties and King Arthur’s Nights, which he created with Niall McNeil, and Winners and Losers, which he wrote with James Long, are among the best shows I’ve seen. The guy won the Siminovitch Prize for playwriting for God’s sake. That’s huge—like $100,000 huge. And this time out, he’s collaborating with students at Studio 58 about what it’s like to be the first generation to have grown up with constant and easy access to porn. What could be more intriguing?

September 29 to October 14. Produced by Studio 58 and Neworld Theatre. At Studio 58. Tickets. [Read more…]

Mustard: Don’t let this put you off condiments

The Arts Club is producing Kat Sandler's Mustard at the Granville Island Stage.

Andrew McNee’s performance as Mustard helps to ground this production. And Heidi Damayo is solid as Thai. (Photo by Mark Halliday)

Hold the Mustard.

On paper, it sounds like playwright Kat Sandler might have created an engaging world. Sixteen-year-old Thai has an imaginary friend, Mustard, whom she can see and talk to. Thai’s getting sick of Mustard hanging around all the time, but Thai’s mom Sadie soon starts seeing Mustard, too, and she needs him: Sadie’s husband Bruce left her a year earlier and she is brutally lonely.

Watching Mustard in the theatre, though, the storytelling feels incoherent. The script contains elements of naturalistic grit and fantastical darkness that never fully mesh with its whimsicality. Early on, Sadie attempts suicide, for instance, thinking that Thai is in the house. Sadie describes her attempt as a “cry for help.” Still, she’s selfish enough to risk her daughter finding her corpse? And I’m supposed to like this woman? In terms of storytelling, Sadie’s suicide attempt feels like a convenient and under-motivated plot point—and it blocks my emotional access to the piece. [Read more…]

Kim’s Convenience: shop here

Lee Shorten and James Yi are in Kim's Convenience at Pacific Theatre.

Director Kaitlin Williams’s blocking helps to make the relationships in Kim’s Convenience resonant. (Photo by Jalen Saip)

Ah, the appeal of an almost-racist joke! In Kim’s Convenience, the play that spawned the TV series, writer Ins Choi finds the sweet spot as he tickles the edges of transgression.

Appa (Dad) and Umma (Mom) run a convenience store in Regent’s Park, Toronto. Appa regards the store as his legacy and he wants his 30-year-old daughter Janet to take it over when he retires, but Janet considers herself a photographer. Appa hit Janet’s bother Jung so hard when he was 16 that Jung was hospitalized for several days. He left home and hasn’t spoken to Appa since, although he still sneaks conversations with Umma at their church. [Read more…]

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