Archives for May 2018

Macbeth Muet: Eggs are harmed

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embrace with blood-stained hands.

In this telling of Macbeth, the absence of dialogue emphasizes the visceral. (Photo by Sophie Gagnon-Bergeron)

Bloody. Good.

In Macbeth Muet, two actors from the Montreal company La Fille du Laitier tell the story of Macbethin about 45 minutes. Although they don’t do it wordlessly, as advertised, they do it without speaking. (At various points, the performers hold up cards, like silent-movie titles, to keep the audience oriented.)

The staging is inventive—sometimes delightful and sometimes thrilling. [Read more…]

The Only Good Indian wanders (in this incarnation)

The Only Good Indian is playing as part of the rEvolver Festival.

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard is one of the four actors taking turns with the solo The Only Good Indian at the rEvolver Festival. (I saw Adele Noronha.)

You know that expression about shooting fish in a barrel? Reviewing The Only Good Indian is like trying to shoot a fish in the ocean from an airplane. At least in the performance I witnessed, The Only Good Indian is hard to get a bead on.

Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard created this solo show for Toronto company Pandemic Theatre, and they are three of the four actors who are performing it in rotation here at the rEvolver Festival. The fourth is local artist Adele Noronha.

Every actor who takes on The Only Good Indian draws on their personal history to create about sixty percent of the text. The forty percent that stays constant deals with multiple issues including occupation, colonization, indigeneity, and otherness. In the framing device, the actor/storyteller—Noronha the night I saw it—dons a suicide vest and tells the audience that she’s going to blow herself up in 30 minutes and take a bunch of us along with her. [Read more…]

Geologic Formations: the overly abstract title is a clue

In Geologic Formations, the company uses fabric to represent myofascia.

The physical imagery in Geologic Formations delivers less than it promises.

Geologic Formations is a show about embodiment, but it is rarely viscerally embodied.

In Geologic Formations, mia susan amir explores the multigenerational psychological and physical effects of trauma. Her saba (grandfather) survived the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland during WW II. But “survived” is a relative word. After the war, amir’s saba threw a knife at his wife’s head while their daughter, amir’s mother, looked on. Amir’s mother terrified the writer by, apparently, trying to strangle her when she was a child. In the text, amir tells us that she suffers physical pain, which she associates with her family’s multigenerational disturbance.

That’s intense material to start with. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this project retreats to heady abstractions. [Read more…]

Les Filles du Roi: a sumptuous reimagining of our history

Julie McIsaac and the chorus in Les Filles du Roi (Photo by David Cooper)

Julie McIsaac and the chorus in Les Filles du Roi (Photo by David Cooper)

Corey Payette and his collaborators are reinventing the story of Canada—in ways that respect First Nations and women. It’s thrilling.

In last year’s musical, Children of God, Payette took on the residential school system. He wrote, directed, and composed that piece, which changed the way I see the world—and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. In Les Filles du Roi, which is also a new musical, Julie McIsaac joined Payette in writing the book and lyrics. Once again, Payette composed the piece and directed it.

Les Filles du Roi features three main characters: Kateri, a young Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman who has been chosen to become Clan Mother; Kateri’s older brother Jean-Baptiste, who trades with the French colonists in their fort; and Marie-Jeanne, a sixteen-year-old woman who has arrived in New France as a fille du roi or nominal daughter of the king. (Between 1663 and 1673, about 800 young women immigrated to New France in a program sponsored by Louis XIV. The idea was to increase the population of the French colony. It worked.)

In Les Filles du Roi, Kateri befriends Marie-Jeanne, Marie-Jeanne falls in love with Jean-Baptiste, and all hell breaks loose. That hell includes violence against both women and the Kanien’kéha:ka. [Read more…]

Mamma Mia! is LOUD (with good bits)

In Mamma Mia! the groom and his friends perform a can-can while wearing swimming flippers.

The swim-flipper can-can these dudes do is one of the highlights of Mamma Mia! (Photo by Davi Cooper)

This production of Mamma Mia! is selling the show so hard you’d think it was the last used car on the lot.

Mamma Mia! is a ridiculous—but extremely amiable—jukebox musical. Catherine Johnson, who wrote the book, has strung a bunch of hit songs by ABBA into an unlikely story. A young woman named Sophie lives on a Greek island with her mom, an ex-pat American named Donna, who runs a taverna. Sophie’s getting married and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle, but she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites to her wedding the three most likely suspects: Harry, Bill, and Sam, who all had sex with Donna at about the time of Sophie’s conception. Sophie figures she’ll know her dad when she sees him. She doesn’t.

The ABBA songs never quite fit the storyline, but, if the musical is treated with a light hand—as a lark—nobody really cares. It’s just fun—like a bunch of kids putting on a show in their backyard, but with a large budget. Under Valerie Easton’s direction, however, the first act of this Arts Club production comes out punching. It’s loud. A lot of the acting is broad. And Easton and her players lard scenes with so much comic business that they groan under the weight. [Read more…]

Wet—is pretty much all wet

A female soldier sits at a kitchen table with an automatic weapon behind her.

In Wet, Genevieve Fleming plays a Canadian soldier who comes home from Afghanistan messed up.

This play is vulgar.

I’m going to start off with a major spoiler and I’m going to keep dropping spoilers because there’s no way to say what I want to say about Wet without doing so.

In Wet, playwright David James Brock tells the story of Burns, a Canadian soldier who serves in Afghanistan, suffers a traumatic incident, and comes home good and fucked up. Back in Chilliwack, Burns can’t speak, move on her own, or feed herself, but her husband Sweetie does his best to trigger her memory of language and to wring some financial support out of the feds. Burns’s injury may be more psychological than physical.

I’ve heard about numerous cases in which Veterans Affairs has been accused of failing to adequately care for injured and traumatized troops. A lot of this criticism has focused on accusations that VA doesn’t adequately address soldier’s mental-health issues. So Brock’s subject area is rich and worth exploring.

But the playwright treats this material as it he’s constructing a ride at the PNE, creating one hyperventilating, sensationalistic moment after another. There’s a fair bit of erotic Skyping in Wet, including a virtual conjugal visit when Burns is still overseas. Fair enough. But when Sweetie tries to rape his disabled wife, the moment is pure, souped-up melodrama. And it vapourizes any sympathy you might have had for Sweetie to that point. [Read more…]

Tolkien: less than mythic

Tolkien explores the friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Ian Farthing plays C.S. Lewis in Ron Reed’s new script, Tolkien.

Tolkien feels like academic Christian fanfiction. If that’s your thing, by all means go for it—all three acts and almost three hours of it.

In his new script, playwright Ron Reed explores the friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (the Narnia fantasies).

Tolkien starts off promisingly. When they meet, both men are lonely. Lewis is a new faculty member at Oxford, where Tolkien is teaching linguistics, and Tolkien is still grieving the loss of his comrades in WWI several years earlier. As Reid frames it, Tolkien is known on the campus as an eccentric and a bore but, when Tolkien recites a portion of Beowulfto Lewis in the original Icelandic, Lewis is smitten. The men discover in one another a common passion for heroic myths and for the numinous beauty with which those tales tremble. The shared excitement and vulnerability of the two men are touching.

But Reed seems to have fallen in love with his research so, rather than going deeply into one aspect of their relationship, his play ranges widely—while maintaining a kind of journalistic neutrality—and never fully satisfies. [Read more…]

Bears is magical—until it’s not

Sheldon Elter stands in front of dancers in Matthew Mackenzie's Bears.

The performances and design elements in Bears work well, but the script repeats itself. (Photo by Alexis McKeown)

There’s only so far you can go on style and good intentions. Bears looks fantastic and its political heart is in the right place. But the script is badly built, so it gets boring.

Sheldon Elter, who plays Floyd, narrates his character’s journey in the third person. When Floyd becomes the prime suspect in a workplace accident in Alberta’s oil patch, he flees through the woods to the BC coast following the route of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. Floyd has always felt an affinity with bears and, as a travels west, he becomes suspiciously hairy and his haunches get more muscular. [Read more…]

The Cherry Orchard: the perfect theatrical meditation for Spring

Corina Akeson is playing Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard.

Corina Akeson is a serious—and seriously underused—talent, as she proves once again playing Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard.

Spring aches. So does this delicate production of The Cherry Orchard.

Spring is about beauty—cherry blossoms, for instance. It’s also about ephemerality: those blossoms don’t last and neither do our lives, loves, or ways of being.

It’s no wonder that playwright Anton Chekhov sets the opening scene of The Cherry Orchard in the early spring. The glamorous, aristocratic Ranevskaya is returning to her family’s estate in the country. She and her brother Gaev can’t afford to pay the mortgage and may lose the ancestral property. Lopakhin, a successful businessman whose father was a serf, suggests a way out: the family should cut down the estate’s wondrous but only fitfully productive cherry orchard and lease the land so that members of Russia’s growing middle class can build summer cottages on it. Ranevskaya’s response will lead to her downfall: “Summer cottages. Summer people. Forgive me, but it’s all so tawdry.” [Read more…]

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