September 11: six fresh reviews from Deneh’Cho Thompson

Despite the byline above, which I can’t figure out how to remove, these reviews are by Deneh’Cho Thompson. – CT

Katharine Ferns is in Stitches is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Katharine Ferns does stand-up right: with elegance, simplicity—and depth.

KATHARINE FERNS IS IN STITCHES

It feels like Ferns and I have been best friends for years—and we have never met.

Katharine Ferns is in Stiches, an autobiographical stand-up show, is one of the most open and honest stories I have ever heard told—on-stage or off. Ferns covers a pile of dark topics, from domestic abuse to pedophilia. But it’s not all dark: “There are also jokes about kittens and cocaine. Something for everyone!”

Early in the show Ferns tells us, “I wanted to be perfect for everyone.” Then she explores the messed-up stuff that can happen to us when we strive to achieve perfection. This is a story of resilience, survival, and that all-too-human struggle to love oneself.

I have trouble with stand-up as a form, but this is how it is done right. Katharine Ferns in Stitches is very personal and it’s elegant in its simplicity. And what a journey! Even with all the truly awful things that Ferns has experienced, she ends the show with a beautiful transformation: “I don’t want to be angry anymore. I want to forgive myself for not being perfect.” 

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 10 (7:05 p.m.), 13 (5:20 p.m.), 16 (8:20 p.m.), and 17 (3:50 p.m.) [Read more…]

Nomadic Tempest is very, very bad

Paul Kirby wrote and directed Nomadic Tempest for Caravan Stage.

Children appear—in video—in Nomadic Tempest, but their dialogue is awful and the video is alienating.

Somebody’s got to say it: Nomadic Tempest is pretentious hippie gibberish.

Caravan Theatre started in 1970 in the BC interior and split into two groups in 1985. One bunch, Caravan Farm Theatre, has been producing shows on its land outside Armstrong ever since. Since 1993, Caravan Stage, the company that’s producing Nomadic Tempest,  has been sailing the world on its boat, the Amara Zee, which is currently moored on the south side of False Creek. Audience members sit in chairs or on bleachers on the shore to watch the show, which mostly takes place on the vessel.

It’s amazing to me that a company that’s been producing theatre for so long has managed to come up with a product that is so boring. [Read more…]

What is HAPPENING with my website?

I crashed my website.

Sorry, folks. Sometimes I’m not the sharpest tack in the pack—but I do have the sharpest hat.

What’s happening with my website?

Well you might ask.

Last week, just as I was heading off on a brief vacation, I crashed my website. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it was entirely my fault.

Thanks to the wizardry of Giorgio Riccardi at Sea to Sky Web Solutions, my site has been restored. THANK-YOU, GIORGIO!

Today, I’ve been repopulating the site with a bunch of material that wasn’t backed up by my previous web host. And I forgot to turn off my Facebook and Twitter notifications. That’s why I’ve been overwhelming these feeds. SORRY!

Sometimes I feel like the opposite of a genius.

A Christmas Carol reinvented—with delightful weirdness

Theatre Obscura is presenting A Christmas Carol at the Jericho Arts Centre.

Linden Banks stepped into Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol at the last minute—with ghoulish aplomb.

The pleasure is in the storytelling—and in everything from the words to the light that’s used to tell the tale.

In Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, playwright Tom Mula examines the motivation—and metaphysical placement—of Jacob Marley, who is a bit player, the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, in Charles Dickens’s original telling of A Christmas Carol.

In the Dickens version, Marley instigates Scrooge’s redemption but, once that transformation is complete, he is left to drag his chains through lonely eternity. Mula gives Marley a break: if Marley can redeem Scrooge, the dog-sized chair-shaped Record Keeper tells him, he will be free “to pursue his greater joy.” [Read more…]

Trump offended by Hamilton actor’s “harassment” of Pence

The artists of Hamilton asked Mike Pence to protect their rights.

When Mike Pence attended Hamilton on Broadway, maybe he didn’t know what the show was about.

Last night, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was met with boos and cheers when he attended a performance of the musical Hamilton on Broadway.

After the performance, Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the show, read a statement from the company that began, “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sirt. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

According to the New York Times, the statement was written by Miranda, Hamilton’s director, Thomas Kail, and its lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, with input from the cast.

You can witness the full statement in this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qn-IgTM3H08&feature=share

Late last night, Miranda tweeted: “Proud of ‪@HamiltonMusical. Proud of ‪@BrandonVDixon, for leading with love. And proud to remind you that ALL are welcome at the theater.”

Before 9:00 am this morning, Trump was on Twitter, complaining about the cast’s treatment of Pence. In his first tweet, he wrote: “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” He followed that up with: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

Hamilton celebrates diversity and the role that immigrants played in the American Revolution.

Now or Later: shiny but nonsensical

Christopher Shinn's Now or Later feels like an undergraduate seminar.

In Now or Later, things get rocky for a potential First Son, who is gay—and, more importantly, clueless.

On its surface, Now or Later is a shiny political object. But, at least in this interpretation, the play doesn’t make sense.

This mounting from Fighting Chance Productions is beyond timely. The story takes place on the eve of an American presidential election. We’re in John’s hotel room. He’s the son of the Democratic president-elect and John Sr.’s staff is desperately trying to put out a political fire. John started it. On the Internet, fuzzy pictures have surfaced of John and his friend Matt at a party at their Ivy League university. John is dressed as Mohammed and Matt as a popular evangelical Christian preacher named Pastor Bob. The staff members and John’s parents all want John to issue an apology, but he refuses, insisting that doing so would restrict his freedom of expression. [Read more…]

Suitcase Stories (un)packs a punch

Pacific Theatre is presenting Maki Yi's Suitcase Stories.

Maki Yi’s Suitcase Stories feels like a very personal gift.

Sometimes, when you see a show, you know that an artist is offering you a personal gift. That’s what it’s like with Maki Yi’s Suitcase Stories. The script isn’t perfect, but both the play and production are important, skilled in many ways—and heartfelt.

In her solo text, Yi recounts her experience as a would-be immigrant from South Korea to Canada. The opening movement, in which she documents her first impressions of our country—including her perceptions of what race means here—is disarming. When she arrives at Pearson International Airport, she is shocked: “I thought I came to the West, and the West means to me white people” she admits, before acknowledging that she also expected to see some people of colour, but they would be servants and gang members. Admitting that she has learned most of what she thinks she knows about Canada from American movies, Yi turns a fun-house mirror on us. [Read more…]

Walt Whitman’s Secret finally releases itself into storytelling

The frank theatre company is producing Walt Whitman's Secret.

Kamyar Pazendeh and Tom Pickett in Walt Whitman’s Secret. Guess what it is.

Watching Walt Whitman’s Secret is a bit like eating paper—but the paper is often tasty.

In Sean O’Leary’s script, which he based on Vancouver author George Fetherling’s novel, the celebrated nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman is nearing the end of his life. Horace, his devoted amanuensis, takes care of him, and Anne, who is in love with Horace, joins the circle. While these three meet in the concrete world, Walt is also visited by visions of a handsome young man named Pete, who was once his companion. [Read more…]

Fired from The Georgia Straight

I just got fired from the Georgia Straight. Thirty years. No warning. No compensation.

Last Tuesday, I emailed arts editor Janet Smith telling her what shows I thought I should review. Instead of the usual confirmation from Janet, I received an email from editor Charlie Smith saying that he and Janet would like to meet with me to discuss “some things that are happening here [at the paper].”

“Jesus,” I thought. “I’m getting the boot.”

As we sat at a table outside the Be Fresh market and café on West 1st Avenue, Janet and Charlie took pains to explain that letting me go was not their decision. The pressure came from unnamed “higher ups.” They had fought the decision to release me, they said, but lost. Charlie was particularly kind about saying how much he appreciates my work as a critic. He also told me that I could be public about anything that was said in that meeting.

“Was there a problem?” I asked. They said the reason I was being let go wasn’t clear to them, but there may have been a confluence of factors.

Charlie pointed out that the paper is experiencing financial challenges and that it was probably easier to get rid of me than a staff person.

Janet said that there’s a lot of pressure on editorial to find fresh ways to do things.

Janet also said that “there have been complaints from some companies.” “What complaints?” I asked. “You know: that you never like anything,” she answered with a laugh. I replied that it’s very hard to do good theatre and that I figure, if one show in three is worth recommending, that’s a good average. Then she added that some unnamed complainants feel that I am sometimes too hard on younger artists. (There is nothing I enjoy more than championing younger artists.) She gave an example. It was one of the worst shows of the year.

Janet said she thought that the door was only closed on reviewing, that I might still be able to write previews or other articles. Charlie said that he would gladly give me a recommendation or connect me with potential employers. I asked if I could have a couple of months before being laid off so that I could have some time to adjust to the loss of income. In the meeting, Charlie said he’d ask. Two days later, in response to an email inquiry, he wrote: “As Janet indicated, the company is not going to purchase reviews.” He confirmed that I would still be welcome to pitch previews and other articles. Writing previews for the Straight has become an increasingly minor part of my job there and is no longer significant in terms of income.

But I’m not going away. I love the theatre and I love writing about it. I’ll be launching a new initiative. Watch for it. Until then, I will continue to post reviews on this blog.

See you at the theatre.

Just in case you were taking the Jessies too seriously…