The Ones We Leave Behind: Leave this one behind

Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre is presenting The Ones We Leave Behind at The Cultch.

The Ones We Leave Behind is a kind of psychological whodunnit. But the script gives us little reason to care about the answers. (Photo of Agnes and Jimmy Yi by Ray Shum)

This script landed on the stage before it was ready. It’s in terrible shape.

In The Ones We Leave Behind, playwright Loretta Seto explores abandonment and belonging. On one of her first cases as a public trustee, Abby has to find anybody who might be related to Bernice, a 77-year-old woman who died without leaving a will—and whose body sat in her apartment for five months before it was discovered. If Abby can’t find any potential beneficiaries, the substantial funds in Bernice’s bank account will go to the state.

The central question is, “Why was Bernice so alone?”, but Seto gives us little reason to care about the answer. Abby reads aloud passages from Bernice’s journal, but that device is as unrewarding as it is artificial. Even though information is being handed to us on a plate, none of it makes Bernice a compelling or fully-fleshed character. Although she is at the centre of the story, Bernice remains a cipher. [Read more…]

Sweat: don’t sweat it

The Arts Club and the Citadel Theatre are co-producing Sweat by Lynn Nottage.

Anthony Santiago and Marci T. House play Brucie and Cynthia, an estranged couple, in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat. (Photo by David Cooper)

It takes too long for the plot to hit the fan.

Playwright Lynn Nottage has set Sweat in a working-class bar in Reading, Pennsylvania. A local steel-manufacturing plant defines the lives of everybody associated with the place. The central trio of women—Cynthia, Tracey, and Jessie—all work on the factory floor and their mutual friendship spans decades.

There are a few variations in this portrait of the working class. Locked out of his job at another plant, Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie has hit the skids and is struggling with drug addiction. Their son Chris hopes to become a high school teacher, although few of his friends and mentors can figure out why he would want to work in such a low-paying job. And, when Cynthia, who’s black, gets promoted to management, her white friend Tracey, who also wanted the position, starts to spread the idea that Cynthia only got it because she’s black.

But nothing much happens. Act 1 of Sweat feels like a long, leaden, deliberate meditation on working-class America: job losses fuel the drug epidemic; economic disenfranchisement feeds white racism. [Read more…]

The Wolves: they shoot, they score, they stupefy

This is a guest review by David Johnston *

The Wolves by Sara DeLappe is currently playing at Pacific Theatre.

The Wolves cluster in a densely-concentrated ball of soccer skills and acting talent. (Photo by Ron Reed)

It begins by throwing the audience to the wolves.

We are thrust unceremoniously into a gaggle of chattering teenage girls in identical soccer jerseys. They’re stretching for a match, but that’s only discernable from context clues, as is everything in Pacific Theatre’s clever production.

They don’t get names — just jersey numbers. And the girls never line up and introduce themselves. This is extreme show-don’t-tell storytelling, full of cross-talk and freewheeling banter on everything from high school dating to the political situation in Cambodia.

It’s disorienting to newcomers. We know this because one of the girls is a newcomer, thus creating the first discernible group dynamic. At the outset, #46 (Paige Louter) becomes a quasi-protagonist as the others literally revolve around her. (This also gives Louter a chance to conduct a clinic in physical comedy with her silent attempts to follow the stretches.)

But gradually, as the pregame practices wear on, #46 — and, by extension, the audience — gets to know the team, and our initial conceptions about the squad members are challenged repeatedly. The Wolves demands that we become hyper-keen detectives: picking up on subtle costume differences, scanning for micro-expressions that are rarely spotlit. [Read more…]

Kill Me Now: death-defyingly great

This is a guest review by David Johnston *

Jake (Bob Frazer) and Joey (Adam Grant Warren) deliver killer performances (too much?) in Kill Me Now.

Kill Me Now is a play that’s smart enough to pretend to be the boring version of itself for awhile.

That’s a rather complicated compliment, so let’s break it down. We open with single father Jake Sturdy (Bob Frazer) giving teenage son Joey (Adam Grant Warren) a bath. Joey has physical disabilities but is mentally sound.

All of the opening plot points feel predictable. Joey and his dad argue about Joey’s day at school. Aunt Twyla (Luisa Jojic) shows up with a new tablet so Joey can be more independent! Jake is worried about his Joey’s independence! The sun rises in the east! Water is wet! This is, essentially, a setup for a paint-by-numbers Very Special Episode where everyone learns an important lesson about handicapped people.

This is not that story.

But Kill Me Now dares to play out predictable beats for an admirably long time. We get to know the members of Jake and Joey’s ecosystem. We learn to understand Joey’s distorted speech patterns. We see snapshots of their routine. We are lulled into security.

Understand: this is not a story about how hard it is to have a disabled son. Honestly, Joey winds up one of the most grounded characters, without ever betraying his key traits or transmuting into a mystic sage whose purpose is to fix others.

What Kill Me Now becomes is an exercise in emotional stacking: how much cosmic tragedy can a family take before snapping? Much of it falls on Jake, whose twinges of back pain eventually become a spinal stenosis diagnosis, which I suggest you avoid googling. [Read more…]

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…]

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