Archives for May 2018

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…]

Join FRESH SHEET! Support independent theatre criticism!

Yesterday, I launched a Patreon campaign. It’s all about creating an alternative funding source so that I can keep writing about theatre. 

The video explains it all.

And, when you’ve been thoroughly convinced by the video, here’s where you can join the revolution by supporting my campaign.  

It’s really important to create momentum, so please share this post FAR and WIDE!

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Oh, and the Patreon template is a little confusing, so if you’d like to make a pledge, here’s how to do that:
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The Money Shot: Save your cash

Four actors pretend to fight behind a velvet rope. Publicity still for The Money Shot.

In The Money Shot, playwright Neil LaBute mocks obvious Hollywood targets

I started checking my watch about a half hour in. And time slowed down after that.

Supposedly, Neil LaBute’s The Money Shot is a comedy.

Set on the Hollywood terrace of an Oscar-winning lesbian actor, LaBute’s script features three movieland airheads and one bitter intellectual, who is, presumably, LaBute’s stand-in.

Karen, the homeowner, is starring in a movie opposite Steve. Karen’s career has flagged since she came out and Steve is an aging action star. Their edgy European director has suggested that they try something boundary-pushing during the sex scene they’ll be shooting the next day and, because Karen and Steve are both desperate to reestablish their careers, they are considering it.

It takes forever for LaBute to name what Karen and Steve are debating, which is a tedious tease: he has named his play The Money Shot for fuck’s sake. [Read more…]