Archives for June 2018

Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua: a haven in troubling times

Pearle Harbour sings a song in Chautauqua, with her accompanist, Mr. Gantry.

Pearle Harbour prepares to take flight in Chautauqua.

Pearle Harbour’s Chautauquais like a revival meeting for liberals—and a lot of us could use reviving these days.

Chautauquas were a kind of tent meeting popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that offered a combination of entertainment and inspirational lectures—sort of like Tony Robbins, but with a band.

In her chautauqua, Toronto drag queen Pearle Harbour invites us into a little cotton tent that seats 40. Her hairstyle and trimly tailored jacket refer to the period around WWII but, in her tent, Pearle offers refuge from current sources of anxiety. She fleetingly refers to ice caps melting. She knows what it’s like when “the only light in your life is the screen in your pocket.”

And she offers solace in the form of communion. The venue and the size of the gathering are already intimate. Pearle asks us all to breathe with her and, near the top of her show, she personally greets every member of the audience. As a theatregoer, I’ve never spent so much time gazing directly into a performer’s eyes. [Read more…]

Once: not twice

The Arts Club is presenting Once at the Granville Island Stage.

Gili Roskies as Girl and Adrian Glynn McMorran as Guy in Once. Kiss one another already. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Once is more than enough.

Yes, Once won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical in 2012, along with six other Tonys. And it has hauled in a bunch of other prizes, too, but man it’s boring!

Here’s the plot: boy meets girl; they dither endlessly. To be more specific, in working-class Dublin, a young Irishman who’s identified only as Guy meets a young Czech immigrant whom the script calls Girl. Guy is depressed—he’s just been dumped—and he has given up on his dreams of having a musical career. Then, through her sheer perkiness, Girl lifts Guy out of his funk. A musician herself, she presses Guy not to abandon his music. As this is going on, Girl and Guy waver about whether or not to act on the romantic feelings they obviously have for one another. They waver. And waver. Then, after the intermission, they waver some more. This kind of romantic indecision is just fine in friends but when you go to the theatre, you don’t want to feel like you’re spending the night stuck in a stalled car. [Read more…]

As You Like It: you’ll love it

Bard on the Beach is presenting As You Like It.

A little less eye make-up might have made Lindsey Angell’s Rosalind a more androgynous match for Nadeem Phillip’s Orlando.

It could have been a stupid gimmick. Instead, it’s transcendent

In this Bard on the Beach production of As You Like It, director Daryl Cloran has excised about half of Shakespeare’s text and replaced it with Beatles songs. Cloran sets his production in British Columbia in the 60s. The court scenes play out in Vancouver and the Forest of Arden becomes the Okanagan. All of these choices work well—sometimes spectacularly so. [Read more…]

Macbeth: bloody loud

Lady Macbeth (Moya O'Connell) and Macbeth (Ben Carlson) confer intensely.

Lady Macbeth (Moya O’Connell) and Macbeth (Ben Carlson) confer intensely.

Macbeth! All shouting! All the time!

Okay, they’re not shouting all the time, but there is a heck of a lot of hollering in director Chris Abraham’s take on the Scottish play and all of that volume keeps us on the surface of the text.

Moya O’Connell’s Lady Macbeth is a case in point. The first time we hear her speak, she is reading a letter from her husband—as if she were the town crier. As she is seducing Macbeth to murder King Duncan and clear his own way to the throne, Lord and Lady embrace—and she shouts in his ear. Don’t get me wrong: O’Connell fills the role with feeling but, under Abraham’s direction, she does so on such an operatic scale that it’s alienating.

In his program notes, Abraham says, “Macbethis a play that asks its audience to form a unique bond with its protagonists” but, for me, Ben Carlson’s Macbeth is also distancing. He’s loud, but strangely lacking in vitality. Yes, Lady Macbeth has to egg her husband on, but Carlson Macbeth doesn’t give her much to work with. The pronounced passivity of this characterization discourages engagement. [Read more…]

Slime: beautifully designed, tangentially told

Playing a character named Godfrey, Teo Saefkow manipulates a fish puppet that's made out of plastic bottle.

Godfrey (Teo Saefkow), who may be part fish, encounters one of his potential relatives in Slime. (Photo by Donald Lee)

She never steps onto the stage, but Shizuka Kai is the star of Slime. Kai designed the set, props, and puppets and her vision is one of the major forces that holds this production together.

In Slime, playwright Bryony Lavery imagines the third international conference on slime. In the world of the play, environmental degradation has created the opportunity for an aggressive type of slime to take over most of the ocean—and this slime is wiping out species as it rampages around the globe. At the conference, all sorts of creatures—mammals, fish, and birds—come together to strategize survival. Human interns fluent in everything from dolphin to sea bird dialects, provide translation. [Read more…]

Victim Impact: an alienating take on a devastating crime

Rashida Samji (played by Name Kanji) takes a phone call in Victim Impact.

Nimet Kanji’s thorough, subtle performance is by far the best thing about Victim Impact. (Photo by Chris Randle)

I could see a couple of doors that promised access to Victim Impact, but I couldn’t open either of them.

This new documentary piece from Theatre Conspiracy explores the biggest Ponzi scheme in British Columbia history. Between 2003 and 2012, Rashida Samji, who is a former notary public, operated a fraud scheme that ripped off more than 200 people and involved over $110 million.

Throughout the evening, which is built on interviews, dramatizations, and verbatim transcripts, we meet: Samji; Arvin Patel, a former financial planner with Coast Capital Savings; and a handful of unnamed victims. [Read more…]

Anne Frank: a far better telling of the story

Fighting Chance Productions. Anne Frank. Havana Theatre.

Playing Anne Frank, Morgan Hayley Smith is disarmingly present.

I thought I didn’t need to see another production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I was wrong. This production from Fighting Chance deepened and revitalized the story for me and introduced me to exciting new talent.

Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 adaption, which is being used here, is vastly superior to the original 1955 stage play. In an effort to be universal, the 1955 version, which was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, largely stripped Anne’s story of its Jewish specificity—which is amazing when you consider that it’s one of the iconic narratives of the Holocaust. “We’re not the only people that have had to suffer,” Anne says in Goodrich and Hackett’s telling. “There have always been people that have had to. . . Sometimes one race . . . sometimes another.” And, in making Anne a spotless martyr, the 1955 play flattens the historical figure.

Kesseleman restores all of that. True to history, Kesselman’s Anne identifies strongly as a Jew and the residents of the attic honour Jewish traditions. True to her diaries, Anne is a complicated figure who is devoted to her father Otto but declares that she doesn’t love her mother Edith: “I can imagine her dying,” she says, “whereas Papa’s death is unimaginable to me.” Kesselman also restores Anne’s full sexuality, including her declaration that that she finds female nudes “so exquisite I have to fight to hold back my tears.” [Read more…]

For fun, visit Nell Gwynn

Player Charles Hart (Emmett Lee Stang) teaches Nell Gwynn (Charlotte Wright) how to act.

Player Charles Hart (Emmett Lee Stang) teaches Nell Gwynn (Charlotte Wright) how to act.

If you’re not having a good time onstage, you shouldn’t be there. Everybody in this cast of Nell Gwynn deserves to be onstage: they are having a fucking laugh riot. And their pleasure is infectious: the evening is infused with joy.

Playwright Jessica Swale shows us her version of Nell Gwynn, the most famous actress of Restoration theatre and the longtime lover of Charles II. Gwynn’s prominence is astonishing because she began her life not just in poverty but in the bawdy house where her dipsomaniac mother toiled. In Swales’s telling, Gwynn herself was a prostitute at one point.

And, of course, prostitution comes in many forms: as Charles’s favourite, Gwynn was no doubt one of the best-paid mistresses in Christendom. And she was unapologetic. In a well-documented historical incident that we see a variation of in the play, Gwynn was travelling through London in her coach when the crowd outside mistook her for a woman who was a rival for Charles’s interest and they started hurling insults. “Good people, you are mistaken,” Gwynn smiled and said. “I am the Protestant whore.” [Read more…]

C’mon, Angie!: ambition—and surprising humour

Reed tries to understand Angie in C'mon, Angie!

Reed (Robert Moloney) doesn’t have a clue and Angie (Kayla Deorksen) is enraged in C’mon, Angie! (Photo by Tim Matheson)

There’s no way to write this review that is both comfortable and honest.

In C’mon, Angie!, Reed and Angie have just had a one-night stand and we witness the fraught morning after—well, the fraught pre-dawn. In two significant ways, Reed failed to get clear consent from Angie. But, for me at least—I’m a cis man—Reed comes across in this production as far more likable and interesting than Angie does.(For the record, my female companion had a similar response.) [Read more…]

40 Days and 40 Nights: It’s personal

Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks embrace in 40 Days and 40 Nights.

In 40 Days and 40 Nights, Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks explore their love—and the concept of love.

I attended 40 Days and 40 Nights last night. It’s an exploration of love from theatre artists Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks, who are romantic partners.

I was going to review it but, after the show, Kim asked me not to, saying that 40 Days is intended as a gift. All shows are gifts, of course, but the larger context of our conversation brought me to the understanding that this is a particularly personal gift and a professional assessment wouldn’t be appropriate.

So I’m not going to review 40 Days and 40 Nights.

I will describe my favourite sequence, though. The audience is sitting around a rectangular playing space. It’s dark, but we all have little, candle-like lights that we can turn on and off. Kim and Daniel ask a series of questions. If our answer to the question is yes, we turn on our lights. If our answer is no, we leave them off.

Kim asks if we have ever yearned for a lifelong love. Everybody in the audience turns on their lights—including all of the young guys sitting across from me. Oh dudes! How tender. I guess I’m not used to men being so open in public.

40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS By Daniel Brooks and Kim Collier. Consulting director Jennifer Tarver. Co-produced by The Electric Company Theatre, Necessary Angel Theatre Company, and TheTheatre Centre. On Thursday, May 31. Continues at Progress Lab 1422 until June 2.

Tickets.