Archives for February 2018

An Almost Holy Picture should come with trigger warnings about bad parenting

Pacific Theatre is presenting An Almost Holy Picture.

Actor David Snider brings simplicity to An Almost Holy Picture. The script doesn’t always return the favour.

In An Almost Holy Picture, Samuel Gentle delivers a monologue about his relationship with his daughter Ariel. Samuel is such a bad parent that I wanted to stab him. To make matters worse, he is a bad parent in a very obvious way. The moral of the story and the action that Samuel needs to take were painfully clear to me soon after the intermission—but it took Samuel another long, meandering, homespun act to catch up. It’s not a good idea to let your audience get that far ahead of you. [Read more…]

Pss Pss: Why so old-fashioned?

Pss Pss is playing the York Theatre.

Yep, this takes skill. Maybe I’m just greedy. (Photo of Pss Pss by Pipo Gialluisi)

It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s kind of charming. But that’s not enough.

In Pss Pss, Swiss artists Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari play mute clown characters who meet, struggle for possession of an apple, and, through increasingly challenging acrobatics, end up on a trapeze.

It takes too long for things to get going, though, and, even at this show’s high end, the skills aren’t that dazzling. [Read more…]

Fun Home: talent galore—and lesbians centre stage

The Arts Club is producing Fun Home, the musical.

Alison times three: Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Jamie MacLean, and Kelli Ogmundson play the same character at different ages in Fun Home. (Photo by David Cooper)

It’s subtle, which is great. It’s queer, which is welcome. It’s also narratively unsurprising. But it’s still the best show in town.

The musical Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In both, Bechdel, who is lesbian, struggles to understand her relationship with her gay father Bruce, who committed suicide.

The musical is a memory play and, as in memory, several realities coexist. Alison is 43, the same age her dad was when he killed himself. She watches ten-year-old Small Alison as Bruce bullies her into being more girly and wearing her barrette. And she stands guard over Medium Alison as she goes away to college, comes out, and falls in love with a woman named Joan. [Read more…]

Next to Normal: more interesting for the local talent than the prize-winning material

Chris Lam has directed Next to Normal.

If you don’t have production shots, I guess a poster will do. 

The cast is talented and the production is musically precise, but Next to Normal is not a well-built musical—despite having won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.

Act 1 is mostly boring because the protagonist, a housewife named Diana who has bipolar disorder with psychotic features, is passive. Stuck in her own suffering, she ignores her teenage daughter Natalie. Diana’s relationship with her son is really all about her. Diana dismisses her husband Dan as boring and uncommunicative and, when he tries to help, she sings an angry song in which she tells him that he couldn’t possibly understand the pain she endures.

There’s not a lot to invest in here. Dan says that he was attracted to Diana’s wild spirit, but we never see the beauty and the love that were lost and may be recovered, so how can we care about Diana or her marriage? [Read more…]

No Foreigners delivers less than it appears to offer

Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre are presenting No Foreigners at The Cultch.

There is a whole lot of blank space in No Foreigners.

No Foreigners is extremely stylish. Unfortunately, that style is rarely theatrical.

No Foreigners is a kind of fairytale, digitally told. In it, a young Chinese-Canadian man finds out that he can inherit his grandfather’s wealth, but only if he can tell the executor of his grandfather’s will what the password is. To determine that password, he has to become “authentically” Chinese.

To connect with his roots, this Canadian-born guy immerses himself in the culture of a mall in Richmond. The mall is fantastical and informed by the tropes of Chinese culture, including pop culture, so, not only must he master several Chinese dialects, he must also become adept at all sorts of martial arts, and visit a secret basement room filled with luna moths that are reincarnations of the dead. [Read more…]

The Skin of Our Teeth: Maybe not this time

Studio 58 is presenting Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.

Can a temptress like Sabina bring about the collapse of civilization, or is that question flat-out sexist? (Photo of Erin Palm by Ross den Otter)

It’s easy to see why Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth was hailed as a great work when it premiered in 1942. And it’s easy to see why director Sarah Rodgers would choose to stage it in 2018. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth watching for two and a half hours.

The Skin of Our Teeth is a deliberately allegorical—and often comic—examination of the perpetual human cycle of tragedy and resilience. And it’s chock full of anachronisms. Although the play’s vernacular places the action in the forties, Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus are clearly Adam and Eve. “Antrobus” is derived from the Greek anthropos, which means “human” or “person”. And, in a little aside, Mrs. Antrobus, whose name is Maggie, is slyly referred to as Eva. She’s not the only family member who has undergone a name change either. Her son Henry was called Cain until that unfortunate incident with Abel. [Read more…]

Ruined: Don’t look away

Dark Glass Theatre is producing Lynn Nottage's Ruined.

Makambe K. Simamba and Shayna Jones take you all the way there in Ruined. (Photo by Jalen Saip)

War is fought on women’s bodies. That truth is at the heart of Lynn Nottage’s Ruined.

Nottage sets Ruined during the war in Congo, which was officially over in 2002 but continues to rage. The action unfolds in Mama Nadi’s roadside canteen and brothel. Government and rebel armies are fighting for control of the country’s natural resources, which include coltan, a mineral essential to the production of cellphones.

Eighteen-year-old Sophie is expected to entertain fighters from both sides as well as miners. But Sophie isn’t a sex worker, she sings. She has been “ruined”, so brutalized by rape that she lives with chronic pain and infection.

For five months, Sophie’s friend Salima was a sex slave to rebel forces. Now she must work as a prostitute.

Watching Ruined, the first frightening realization is that Mama Nadi’s is the safest place for these women to be. Because they have been dishonoured, their families and villages want nothing to do with them.

Throughout the play, everybody tries to figure out how to survive—as the fighting gets closer. [Read more…]

Shit: strong performances emerge from a distancing script

Increasingly, Sharon Crandall, who plays Bob in Shit, is making her presence felt as a dramatic actor. 

For a script with such an earthy title, Shit is oddly abstract.

In Shit, Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius presents us with three incarcerated women. Billy, Bob, and Sam have all grown up in foster care and they have all been brutalized sexually, emotionally, and physically. They have also committed a serious crime together, which is why they’re in jail: exactly what they’ve done becomes clearer as the play unfolds. “Do you think someone’s going to save us?” Sam asks. “We’re way past saving,” Billy replies.

Cornelius has constructed her text musically. It begins with an overture of fucks. All three women spew the expletive as if they’re gleefully shooting bullets at machine-gun pace. They compete to see if anyone can get through a sentence without saying “fuck”. They criticize one another’s facility: “You’re not usin’ it well.” And they revel in the energy of fuck and cunt: “The life in them words!” [Read more…]

Jitters begs the question, “Why bother?”

The Arts Club is presenting Jitters, by David French, at the Stanley Theatre.

Robert Moloney (Patrick) and Megan Leitch (Jessica) have a wig-off in Jitters. (Photo by David Cooper)

There are a whole lot of skilled artists at work here and there are a couple of good laughs in the script. Mostly, though, David French’s Jitters is a waste of precious theatre time.

Jitters is a backstage comedy, a show about putting on a show. In it, a Toronto company rehearses a new script called The Care and Treatment of Roses, goes through opening night, and deals with the aftermath of reviews.

In the play proper, Jessica Logan is a Canadian actor who has had some success on Broadway. She wants to get back to the Great White Way and, based on her presence in The Care and Treatment of Roses, a Broadway producer has been enticed to attend the premiere. All of this terrifies Jessica’s co-star Patrick Flanagan, who fears that, if the show does go to New York, he will be exposed as the minor talent he thinks he is. Of course, because they are at one another’s throats in real life, Jessica and Patrick play lovers in the play they’re rehearsing.  [Read more…]

King Arthur’s Night opens the door to new worlds

Neworld Theatre is presenting King Arthur's Night as part of the PuSh Festival .

Niall McNeil plays King Arthur in this adaptation of the legend, which he co-wrote with Marcus Youssef. (Photo by Tristan Casey)

Theatre moves me to tears on a regular basis. But after watching King Arthur’s Night I flat out sobbed. This show speaks so concretely—and so skilfully—to isolation and inclusion.

The publicity material for King Arthur’s Night describes it as “radically inclusive”—and it is. Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef co-wrote the text, although, after an introductory scene between the two—McNeil plays Arthur and Youssef is Merlin—Youssef acknowledges that the rest of the play is in McNeil’s words. McNeil lives with Down syndrome and so do several other company members, including Tiffany King, who plays Guinevere. [Read more…]

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