Archives for March 2018

Rent: I didn’t buy it

This is the poster for Renegade Productions mounting of the rock musical Rent.

Rent is a difficult musical. Renegade Productions’ mounting shows just how difficult.

This Renegade Arts mounting of Rent gets so much so wrong. There are talented people in the cast, and some elements of the show work, but fundamental errors undermine the production.

A rock musical, Rent features a group of young-adult friends who are living in New York’s Alphabet City in the late 80s or early 90s. An aspiring filmmaker named Mark, who keeps shooting footage of his pals, acts as the narrator. Mark lives in an illegal loft with Roger, a musician who has been sideswiped by HIV. Early on, Mark meets an exotic dancer named Mimi who is also living with the virus. Altogether, four of the seven main characters are infected. The other two are Collins, who is a philosophy professor, and Collins’s drag-queen partner, Angel. A lesbian couple—lawyer Joanne and performance artist Maureen, who used to be Mark’s girlfriend—rounds out the group. [Read more…]

The Humans is like Death of a Salesman (with more laughs, plus the potential of monsters)

At Thanksgiving dinner, the character Aimee lets her family have it in The Humans.

Aimee (Briana Buckmaster) lets her family have it in The Humans. (Photo by David Cooper)

The Humans is the real thing. Scripts like this are why I go to the theatre.

Playwright Stephen Karam starts with a standard set-up: the Blake family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner. Young-adult daughter Brigid has just moved into an apartment in New York’s Chinatown with her older partner Richard. Brigid’s parents, Erik and Deirdre, have driven in from Scranton and they’ve brought Erik’s mom, Momo, who has advanced dementia. Brigid’s sister, Aimee, a lawyer, has arrived from Philadelphia.

The moving van hasn’t come yet with Brigid and Richard’s belongings, so their new place is looking pretty grim. Even though it’s on two levels, the lower level is a windowless basement. The top floor has one window, which looks out onto what Deirdre describes as “an alley full of cigarette butts”, although Brigid prefers to call it “an interior courtyard.”

The Humans starts off like a dark sitcom. Deirdre’s daughters are tired of their mom’s endless communications, for instance: “You don’t have to text every time a lesbian kills herself.” But there’s a pugnacious affection within the family that keeps things buoyant. Relatively. [Read more…]

In Bar Mitzvah Boy, faith sneaks up on you

Playing Rabbi Michael, actor Gina Chiarelli stands at a synagogue lecturn in Mar Mitzvah Boy.

Playing Rabbi Michael, Gina Chiarelli radiates faith in Bar Mitzvah Boy—some of the time. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Emotionally, Bar Mitzvah Boy is a sweetly stealthy play.

It takes a while for the script to find its feet. In the set-up, we find out that Joey, a successful divorce lawyer, wants to be bar mitzvahed before his grandson is. Somehow, Joey missed out on the ceremony when he was a youth. When the female rabbi, Michael, refuses to let Joey buy himself a quickie ritual, he insists on private classes with her and, for some reason—perhaps because she senses that there is something unspoken at stake—she agrees. [Read more…]

Butcher: Go vegetarian

Peter Anderson and Daryl Shuttleworth both act in Butcher, which is about ongoing ethnic violence.

Peter Anderson and Daryl Shuttleworth appear in Nicolas Billon’s problematic Butcher.

Nicola Billon’s Butcher exploits real suffering to create gimmicky entertainment. I hated it so much that I wanted to boo.

On Christmas Eve, an old guy in a military uniform has been dropped off at a police station. A butcher’s hook was tied around his neck and the business card of a lawyer named Hamilton Barnes was impaled on the hook. There were two words scrawled on the card: “Arrest me.”

In the opening scene, a cop named Inspector Lamb is trying to interrogate the old guy, whose name is Josef and who speaks a made-up language called Lavinian. (In the play, Lavinia is a real country.) Lamb has also called in Barnes to figure out why his card was on the hook. And, before long, a Lavinian translator named Elena arrives.

Whatever is going on, it’s about ethnic violence. Josef and Elena are from different ethnic groups within Lavinia. When Elena sees Josef’s military uniform, she reacts with horror and fury. When he finds out the she is not of his ethnicity, he spits on her.

Lavinia could be all sorts of places. For me, the most immediate reference point is the former Yugoslavia.

Here’s the thing: Butcher takes very serious subject matter, including extreme physical torture and child rape and, rather than giving that material the thoughtful attention that it deserves Butcher uses the energy of horror to drive a superficial and mechanical plot. [Read more…]

I Lost My Husband: I lost a couple of hours

Meghan Gardiner's character Evelyn sings karaoke in I Lose My Husband

Meghan Gardiner gets down—sort of—in I Lost My Husband (Photo by David Cooper)

I Lost My Husband is boring. Why waste time, talent, and money on it?

In the story, Evelyn loses her spouse Peter in a bet with a bartender named Melissa. Peter, whom we never meet, obligingly moves right in with the younger woman.

There are a couple of almost-interesting wrinkles in the script’s gender politics. For both Evelyn and Melissa, Peter is a trophy husband, a success object: he owns a BMW dealership. Melissa even admits, at one point, that she is a “car whore.” And, although the script is deliberately progressive—in a mild way—when Evelyn describes herself as “a hardcore feminist”, her claim is an obvious and manipulative exaggeration. So, in these instances at least, the script has a sense of humour about its politics. [Read more…]

Colin Thomas was the theatre critic for The Georgia Straight for 30 years.

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Forget About Tomorrow: Get to the point

Tom (Craig Erickson) sings a song of love—on video—in Forget About Tomorrow. (Photo by David Cooper)

When I was returning to my seat after intermission, I had virtually no interest in what was going to happen next. That’s not a good sign.

In Forget About Tomorrow, playwright Jill Daum tells the story of Jane, whose husband Tom develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. The main problem with the play is that most of Act 1 is redundant. Virtually everyone entering the theatre will know that the script is about Alzheimer’s disease, but, for almost its entire length, the first act avoids the inevitable central drama. [Read more…]

The After After Party is a banger of a night out

The Cultch is presenting The After After Party in the Vancity Culture Lab.

Cheyenne Mabberley (Jules) and Katey Hoffman (Fiona) open a Pandora’s box of comic free association in The After After Party. (Photo by Helena Boden.)

The day after seeing The After After Party, I’m still laughing as I describe it to friends. The laughter is uncontrollable. Like I’m being tickled. By unseen hands. That belong to somebody that I like but can’t identify. If you’re up for an audacious good time, The After After Party is the show for you.

In the story, it’s 2006. Jules and Fiona have one month to go before they graduate from high school. They’re losers, but they are determined to become popular before the school year ends, and they have decided to up their status by partying hard. But the night has been so wild that, when we first meet them, sitting on a park bench, they can’t remember the pre-party, the party, or the after party, which is making it challenging for them to find the after after party. They’re also a bit concerned that they might have murdered somebody, so they decide to time travel by snorting Ritalin. [Read more…]