Redpatch tells a worthwhile story too earnestly

Hardline Productions has produced Redpatch

Raes Calver and Deneh’Cho Thompson play First Nations WWI soldiers in Redpatch

Redpatch doesn’t work—at least it doesn’t work for me. I’m a white guy and Redpatch deals with the experience of a Métis soldier during WWI, so some might feel inclined to dismiss my criticism. But the company invited me to review the show, so here goes.

Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver’s script introduces us to a young guy who goes by the name of Half-Blood. He is determined to enlist and fight for Canada in “the war to end all wars”. Half-Blood’s grandmother, She Goes Between, warns him not to sign up. “War doesn’t make men brave,” she says. “It doesn’t make men heroes.” But Half-Blood ignores her and he is soon on the battlefields of France. There, his skills as a tracker and hunter prove useful—and lethal. He turns into a killing machine, venturing into no man’s land under the cover of darkness and slaughtering scores of German soldiers.

Was Half-Blood’s grandmother right? Of course. Does war make Half-Blood a hero? Of course not. As it turns out, Half-Blood has to untangle a trauma involving his childhood best friend before he can release himself from his compulsion to slaughter. [Read more…]

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.

* Yesterday (March 12, 2018), I did some research at the library—microfilm is tedious—and found out that I wrote for The Straight for 28.5 years, not 30, as I had thought.

Just in case you were taking the Jessies too seriously…

WIPE-OUT!

In August of 2017, I crashed my website because sometimes I am the opposite of a genius.

Thanks to the genius of Giorgio at Web Hosting Canada, I got my site back and I have been able to restore most of my content.

Unfortunately, the content from May and June 2016 seems to have been permanently wiped out.

Congrats on your nomination, Aaron Cully Drake!

Do You Think This Is Strange? Brindle and Glass, Aaron Drake, Colin Thomas

Aaron Drake’s new novel is a thing of beauty.

A book that I edited has been nominated for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award! Hooray for author Aaron Cully Drake!

Aaron’s book, Do You Think This is Strange?, is narrated by an 18-year-old autistic boy named Freddy. Freddy remembers everything—except for the circumstances surrounding an event ten years earlier: his mother walked him to a train station, kissed him on the forehead, and disappeared from his life forever.

The novel is often very funny: Freddy notes that his father often addresses him by a name that’s not his own, Jesus Christ. And, as Freddy starts to figure out what happened around his mom’s disappearance, the book is sob-inducingly moving.

As soon as I started reading Do You Think This is Strange?,I knew it was the real thing. Congratulations to Aaron, and all the best to him on May 26, when the winners are announced!