Archives for May 2012

Find me another hotel

I seem to be the only person who dislikes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In my view, excellent actors, including Judi Dench do much better work than the script deserves.

I mean really. A died-in-the-wool racist played by Maggie Smith suddenly sees the light and gets all kindly? A gay man survives unscarred for decades in India’s homophobic culture? None of it makes sense, except perhaps as a slipshod fairytale.

Yes, the performers deliver. Dench’s character cries when she realizes that her life could have  been richer if she had been more honest with her husband, who is now dead. But the script tells us virtually nothing about that relationship; Dench makes the moment work all on her own.

And what about that weird bit of dialogue in which one of the women who has had sex with one of the elderly men crows that she substituted aspirins for his ED medication because she didn’t want the sex between them to “be like that.” What the hell is “like that” supposed to mean? Is sex that involves medication supposed to be less meaningful?

In my view, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel biggest triumph is that it has identified an underserved market. I wish it served that market with more intelligence.

All the buzz on Hive: the New Bees 2

I went to see Hive: the New Bees 2 at Chapel Arts, the converted funeral home at Dunlevy and Cordova last night, and I highly recommend it.

The original Hive started at Chapel Arts a number of years ago and featured alternative companies that already were or have since become stalwarts in Vancouver’s progressive scene—troupes such as electric company theatre, Felix Culpa, and The Chop.

That event was so exciting that I thought I was going to pass out. This one doesn’t reach that frenzied height, but it’s still very good.

Twelve 10-minute shows run simultaneously between 8:00 and 10:00, and you’ve got to figure out how to get into them—for one show, a handful of sand becomes your ticket—so you’ve got to work a bit to catch the good ones.

My full review will be up on this afternoon. Here, let me just give you my top recommendations.

Of the shows I caught, I particularly liked Troika Collective’s opera about Chernobyl, Tyler and Brad’s show in the darkened van, and Resounding Scream Theatre’s riff on dating.

There were also a couple of shows that got great buzz, but that shut down before I got a chance to see them: Psyche Theatre’s piece in the coat check, and Hardline Productions’ piece in the upstairs bar. (In that one, you watch through the window as action unfolds across the street.)

Overall, Hive: New Bees 2 is a trip—and my pick of the week.



Tips from an emerging playwright

Shelter from the Storm

My interview with emerging playwright Peter Boychuk (pictured above) will appear in next week’s Georgia Straight (Thursday, May 31).

Peter’s new show, Shelter from the Storm goes up the next day (June 1) at the Firehall, where it runs in a Touchstone production until June 9. It’s about the relationships between a Vietnam draft dodger, his daughter, and a US soldier who has fled to Canada to avoid a second tour of duty in Iraq.

In the version of the interview that will appear in the Straight, Peter says all sorts of interesting things about Canada’s changing cultural values. We welcomed draft dodgers in the ’60s. So why is Canada—or at least our federal government—so hostile to war resisters now?

Peter also said some interesting things about what he’s learned about writing from his instructor  Joan Macleod at UVic, where Peter did his masters in playwriting. I want to share some of those thoughts here. Here we go.

Exploring character through monologues

Peter said: “I feel like almost everything I’ve learned about writing I’ve learned from Joan. I had an undergraduate degree [in playwriting, from Concordia] going in, but this was like a master class. I really feel like I learned the craft of writing from Joan: active dialogue, how to move a plot through character, voice. Voice was huge. Joan’s character voices are so authentic and so detailed. That’s her big thing: don’t start writing until you have an authentic voice for the character. She starts all of her plays with monologues. So I wrote a lot of monologues for this play. Some of them I ended up using; some of them just became lines.”

Getting the job done 

“She doesn’t pull a lot of punches,” Peter said of Joan.

And Peter seems to have learned a no-nonsense approach from his forthright mentor. “I try not to be precious with my writing,” he says.  “It’s work. And you do the work. I’ve written, at this point, probably a thousand pages of this play that you just have to say, “Gone! Gone! Okay! Cut that.” Find the one line that’s perfect. Joan’s big on compression. She came from a background as a poet, so her big thing is compress, compress, compress. Find the most active part of the line and just get rid of everything else. What’s pushing the story forward? What’s revealing character in the most interesting way?”

Words to live by, I say!

If you don’t know Joan Macleod’s work as a playwright, do yourself a favour and read some of it. The Shape of a Girl is masterful.


Commit to Conflict

Some novelists and screenwriters that I work with are shy about conflict.

My sense is that’s partly because they don’t want to dumb their stories down with meaningless action or fall into the traps of popular culture, which features a lot of gratuitous—and sexist—violence. I hope I’m not being sexist myself when I say that, in my experience, more female than male writers are wary of conflict.

But conflict is essentially to storytelling and, if you want your story to be well-shaped and exciting, you’re going to want to ramp up it up at crucial points, including the Act 2 Culmination and Act 3 Climax.

And remember: if you’ve prepared the reader for these encounters—if you’ve created a credible emotional world, high stakes, and a fully-fleshed protagonist and antagonist—then these encounters will feel neither meaningless nor gratuitous.

Nice Box


It’s so skillful.

Carmen Aguirre’s autobiographical solo show, Blue Box, is not only exploding with hot content—Aguirre chronicles both her relationship with a wild Chicano lover who first appeared to her in a vision and her years in the Chilean underground resisting Pinochet—it’s also delivered with huge technical control.

Aguirre is a massively confident performer. And Brian Quirt has directed her extremely well. Aguirre has multiple narrative threads on the go and, with simple turns of the head and changes of intonation, she flips from one to the other—sometimes covering several within the space of minutes—and you never get lost. Very impressive.

That’s why Blue Box is my pick this week.

If you want to see some excellent acting, including from newcomer Chris Lam, check out 100 Saints You Should Know at Pacific Theatre.

Full reviews of Blue Box, 100 Saints, and Grey Gardens will all soon be on


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