Archives for October 2016

Kick yourself some Butt Kapinski

In 2013, solo artist Deanna Fleysher brought Butt Kapinskito the Vancouver Fringe. It contained some of the best clowning I’ve seen.

Butt, the title character, is a detective with a reclusive R, the style of the show is clown noir—Butt lights the whole thing with a desk lamp that’s strapped to his back—and, although Butt Kapinski is nominally solo performances, the entire audience gets involved in hysterically immersive ways.

Now the Fringe is bringing Butt back in a new show called Butt Kapinski: Dick on the Loose. It runs November 3 to 5 at the BMO Theatre Centre.

What’s going to happen this time? Who the fuck knows? That’s part of the fun. And don’t worry; you’ll be in good hands. Fleysher has won awards at the Hollywood, Edmonton, Calgary, Orlando, Adelaide, and Vancouver Fringe Festivals.
Jump. Go for it. Just jump.

BUTT KAPINKSY: DICK ON THE LOOSE, by Deanna Fleysher. In the Grant D. Burnyeat Rehearsal Hall from November 3 to 5.

Recommended. Get tickets here:

Bakersfield Mist: mediocre script, strong production

Bakersfield Mist is about a painting that Jackson Pollock might have created.

Nicola Cavendish’s role in Bakersfield Mist might have been custom-tailored for her. She looks fantastic in it

Bakersfield Mist is raucously funny sometimes and even moving in moments, but the script isn’t as smart as it pretends to be.

LA playwright Stephen Sachs drew inspiration for Bakersfield Mist from real-life characters and events. The stakes are high. In the early 1990s, a retired long-haul truck driver named Teri Horton bought a big painting as a gag present for a depressed friend. She found it in a thrift store in San Bernardino and paid five bucks for it, having talked the owner down from eight. Her friend thought the painting was ugly and she couldn’t get it into her trailer anyway, so Horton tried to hawk the canvas at a garage sale. That’s when a local art teacher told her she might have a Jackson Pollock on her hands. Horton’s response, “Who the fuck is Jackson Pollock?”, inspired the title of the 2006 documentary made about her adventure, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? The trucker quickly found out who Pollock was. She also discovered that, if her “Pollock” was authentic, her five-dollar purchase could be worth fifty million. [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…]

Empire of the Son also rises

Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre has produced a hit. Big credit to Donna Yamamoto.

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son is one of the best shows ever to have come out of Vancouver.

I’m telling all the people I love most to see this show.

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son is exquisite. It’s also painstakingly honest. In his script, which Shigematsu performs solo, he explores his relationship with his father, Akira. In a talkback after the performance the night I attended, Shigematsu summoned the idea that artists are caught in the tension between wanting to hide and wanting to communicate. That may be the same tension that makes so many stories about fathers and sons so moving.

The Japanese-Canadian household of the writer’s youth magnified the emotional restraint that many cultures put on males. Akira never stated his love for Tetsuro, but, in unfolding the story of his father’s childhood and its wartime traumas, Shigematsu discovers the transformative power of compassion. And, in the process of exploring his dad’s career humiliation—he went from being a broadcaster at the BBC and CBC to delivering mail in the CBC corridors—he redefines male success.

Shigematsu’s script includes a central conceit: he has never cried as an adult, but his dad died on September 18, and he wants to weep without self-consciousness at the funeral—so these performances are an opportunity to rehearse. Within that container, the storytelling is poetic, associative—and often funny. One charming anecdote involves the author’s young son, who is decidedly less self-conscious than his forbearers: “Daddy, will you wipe my buttinsky?” When Shigematsu obliges, he observes his child: “For him, it’s like a day at the spa.” The associations can also be searing. Akira witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima; his granddaughter writes a story for elementary school in which she skates with her family on Grouse Mountain for one last time before the Earth is destroyed by a solar flare.

Physically, the show, which was directed by Richard Wolfe and produced by Donna Yamamoto, is stellar. Shigematsu often uses a camera turned on toys and other miniatures to tell his story. Those mini movies are projected live onto a screen behind him. In the Grouse Mountain sequence, his two fingers skate in the open space between mini snowdrifts.

With its vertical narrow strips of wood, Pam Jonson’s set conjures Japanese elegance, then explodes into a freeform arrangement of straight lines at the top. And Gerald King’s lighting is downright musical in its multiplicity of textures and its combination of subtlety and drama.

I can’t say enough good things about Empire of the Son. It’s bound to be one of the best shows of the year. You should see it.



By Tetsuro Shigematsu. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production presented by the Cultch.

The 2016 run is at the Vancity Culture Lab November 1 to 13.


Highly recommended. Get tickets at 604-251-1363 or

Straight Jacket Winter: major charm, minor disappointment

Vancouver's Théâtre la Seizième is presenting Straight Jacket Winter.

In Straight Jacket Winter, Julie Trépanier and Frédéric Lemay lounge in their underwear. It’s enough to give ennui a good name.

It’s charming. It’s innovative—even daring. And then it peters out.

In Straight Jacket Winter, co-writers Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis tell an autobiographical story about the alienation they felt when they moved from Montreal to Vancouver in 2011.

Duquette and Poulin-Denis have both worked a lot with Théâtre la Seizième and Duquette is the company’s new artistic and managing director but, as fresh arrivals to Vancouver, their on-stage counterparts complain bitterly about the state of theatre in Terminal City: “There’s no exploration of form!” [Read more…]

Exciting descent into Three Stories Up

Marisa Smith directed Three Stories Up for Alley Theatre and Level-Headed Friends.

To keep the actors’ identities secret, director Marisa Smith and playwright Mack Gordon are appearing in the publicity photos.

After I stopped panicking, things got really, really good.

Three Stories Up unfolds entirely in the dark. Ushers lead blindfolded audience members into the performance space in small groups. When the lights go out, everybody takes their blindfolds off, but it’s pitchy black in there: floating-in-space darkness. I’m claustrophobic and my first thought was, “How the hell did I get myself into this? ”Sweat formed on my brow. Then I recognized one of the actor’s voices, which was reassuring. And I remembered that the company has made it clear that you can leave if you have to. So, you know, if you’re an anxiety-ridden feline like I am, attending Three Stories Up might be challenging at first. But don’t worry; you’ll be fine. And you should catch this show because it’s very, very rewarding. [Read more…]

In Mamahood, Nicolle Nattrass doesn’t go deep enough to become Everymama

Nicolle Nattress's Mamahood is too generic to have much impact.

This is the only image I can find for “Mamahood: turn and face the strange”. So sue me; I’m a blogger.

I’m finding it impossible not to damn Mamahood with faint praise. There’s nothing really wrong with this show, but there’s nothing arrestingly right about it either.

In her solo work, Mamahood: turn and face the strange, writer and performer Nicolle Nattrass tells us about her first and only pregnancy—she conceived on the eve of her fortieth birthday—the delivery of her son, and her postpartum depression.

Nattrass is a warmly personable performer and some of her material is witty: in a section about a baby fair, I’m pretty sure I caught a reference to tot pole dancing. And Nattrass is willing to poke fun at herself: she admits that, when her baby was unable to sleep deeply for months on end, she and her husband engaged the services of “a medical intuitive lady who sends energy long distance.” [Read more…]

The right night for Fight Night

The Cultch presented Fight Night by Belgian company Ontroerend Goed.

Belgians, including Angelo Tijssens, who is the referee/host of Fight Night, are a lot more fun than they look.

They were manipulating the hell out of me and I loved itIn Fight Night, which is produced by a bunch of companies led by Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed, politics becomes a literal game. Five actors vie for audience members’ votes and everybody in the crowd gets a little keypad that allows us to register our preferences in four elimination rounds.

Here’s the thing: as in Donald Trump’s presidential bid, none of the campaigns are based on policy. As in the Brexit referendum, the outcome could very well defy logic.
Mostly, the campaigns are based on likeability, on the ephemeral quality that we identify as trustworthiness. When we first meet them, the players are all wearing boxers’ robes; the set, like that on TV’s The Voice, is designed to look like a boxing ring. Wearing his robe, a contestant named Michai looked scruffy and I interpreted his gestures as defiant. But, when he doffed the robe, he was wearing a stylin’ cardigan that made me like him and see him as edgy. Taking advantage of that spin, he soon declared himself an underdog.

[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…]

At Studio 58, Angels in America is angelic

Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, Studio 58, Prior Walter, Julien Galipeau

Prior Walter (Julien Galipeau) slaps on some lips. Pro tip: next time, apply your rouge under your cheekbones, not on them.

Yesterday, I saw the last performance in Studio 58’s run of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. Because the show is over, this isn’t really a review; it’s more of a shout out to some outstanding talent.

Let’s not forget what a work of genius Tony Kushner’s script is: Kushner’s examination of American culture and politics through the lens of the AIDS crisis is monumentally original—smart, moving, and hilarious. Congratulations to Studio 58 for producing it.

Rachel Peake’s excellent production featured a fantastically innovative set from Drew Facey: otherworldly figures spun around two parabolic walls on casters, revealing an endless succession of new scenes.

Elizabeth Barrett (Harper, a valium-addicted Mormon woman who is married to a gay man) and Julien Galipeau (Prior Walter, who has AIDS) ripped my heart out. Barrett’s performance was a fantastic combination of the understated and surprising. And Galipeau was heartbreakingly skinless. I can’t wait to see what these two are going to do next.


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