Archives for July 2018

Dark Road: don’t feel compelled to go down it

In Dark Road, Isobel (Rebecca Walters) and Alfred (Paul Herbert) duke it out in the murk of moral ambiguity.

In Dark Road, Isobel (Rebecca Walters) and Alfred (Paul Herbert) duke it out in the murk of moral ambiguity.

A crime thriller, Dark Road feels much more suited to television than the stage. And, if it were on television, I’d turn it off. (The production is strong, but that’s not my point.)

In Dark Road, Isobel McArthur, the first female Chief Constable in Scotland, is about to retire after 30 years on the police force. She’s considering writing a book about the case that made her career 25 years earlier. Isobel helped to convict Alfred Chalmers of murdering four young women who received abortions at the hospital where he worked as an orderly. Alfred has been incarcerated ever since, but Isobel is not convinced that he is guilty; Alfred was convicted on the basis of flimsy forensic evidence—and that evidence has gone missing. [Read more…]

The Beauty Queen of Leenane: impressive performances in sensationalistic script

Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) and Mag (Tanja Dixon-Warren) duke it out in The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) and Mag (Tanja Dixon-Warren) duke it out in The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

It’s a nasty play well performed.

In Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, it’s the early 90s and Maureen is caring for her mother Mag in the claustrophobic Irish village of the title. The two women hate each other. Forty-year-old Maureen is a virgin who has kissed only two men. For this, Mag declares Maureen a whore. Mag wheedles and demands. Every morning, she empties her bedpan into the kitchen sink—and she has a urinary infection. When Mag says, “I’d die before you’d put me in a home,” Maureen replies, “Aye. Hopefully.” [Read more…]

This, Here: a good place to visit


David Bloom, Olivia Hutt, and Sara Vickruck are the three performers in Babelle Theatre's This, Here.

In This, Here, David Bloom, Olivia Hutt, and Sara Vickruck explore work, identity, and egotism.

In This, Here, the central character struggles with the alienation and egotism of making a living from your feelings, which is one of the downsides of being an artist

Alison, who is an actor, has lost her joy in performing. And her partner Maddie is just about ready to give up on the catering business she’s been building for five years: it’s going well, but only because Maddie is still putting in 60- and 70-hour weeks. To get a breather from their career crises, Alison and Maddie are visiting Alison’s father Brian on the Sunshine Coast, where he has moved and where he hopes to finish the play that he’s been working on for six years.

With Maddie in the mix, This, Hereis obviously about more than artistic angst: it’s about professional struggle and the ways that we define ourselves through our work. But the juiciest material is about artists—and narcissism.

Brian is a flaming asshole. If you don’t know what solipsism means, watch this guy: everything is about him. When Maddie speaks openly and painfully about her struggles with her business and tears well up in her eyes, Brian’s response is to suggest they read a play of his because Maddie’s dilemma made him think of it. When Brian’s wife died, the big crisis for him was how long it took before he could write about it. [Read more…]

Oh What a Beautiful Morning! traps itself in an analytical mode

In this chunk of the show, live performers provide lower bodies for Laurey and Dream Laurey from the movie version of Oklahoma!

In this chunk of the show, live performers provide lower bodies for Laurey and Dream Laurey from the movie version of Oklahoma!

Oh What a Beautiful Morning! feels like the most sophisticated Powerpoint presentation the world has ever known, but it still feels like a Powerpoint presentation.

My point is that it’s illustrative. Created and presented by Fight With a Stick, Oh What a Beautiful Morning! is a theatrical deconstruction of the 1955 movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!

From what I remember of director Alex Lazaridis Ferguson’s notes, which are posted on the lobby wall, the idea is to examine some of the less obvious elements that contribute to our experience of the film—the gestural language, the settler assumptions about space, and so on. So Oh What a Beautiful Morning! tosses out the narrative and zooms in on these details. [Read more…]

Cinderella couldn’t be better

Cinderella (Mallory James) and Tré Cotton (Topher) embrace in Cinderella at Theatre Under the Stars.

Mallory James and Tré Cotten help us to reimagine Cinderella and her Prince.

It’s perfect. I’ve never seen a more seamlessly well-produced show at Theatre Under the Stars.

The musical itself isn’t the greatest, although it’s friendly and serviceable. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote Cinderella for television in 1957—when it starred the newly discovered Julie Andrews—and the score is pleasant but forgettable. Douglas Carter Beane has done an excellent job of updating Hammerstein’s book, however, taking direct aim at the story’s sexism and classism. This Cinderella doesn’t passively lose a slipper at the ball, she darn well places it there. And that ball is held for familiar political reasons. Sensing discontent among the abused peasantry, Sebastien, the Prince’s corrupt regent, suggests a distraction: a royal wedding. It works like a dream, he says. Every time. [Read more…]

42nd Street: in the right neighbourhood, but not at the exact address

Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin dance in the Theatre Under the Stars production of 42nd Street.

At its best, the TUTS production of 42nd Street is ecstatic. (Photo of Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin by Lindsay Elliott)

Yes, 42ndStreet will give you goosebumps—it gave me goosebumps—but that’s because it’s manipulating the heck out of you.

In the book, which was written by Michael Stewart and Michael Bramble, it’s 1933. Peggy Sawyer, who has just stepped off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania, races in—late—to audition for the new musical Pretty Lady. The chorus parts have all been cast, but gosh Peggy is talented! And she’s so pretty! And nice! And Billy Lawlor, the juvenile lead, already wants to date her! Does Peggy stand a chance of making it into Pretty Lady? Would she be crazy to dream—holy tap shoes!—of Broadway stardom? Guess.

There’s nothing wrong with clichés per se; I’m big fan of camp. But there is something wrong with predictability and 42ndStreet carries a heavy load of that. There is only one surprising plot turn in the book. It’s a good one, but it’s not enough.

To give material like this any chance of success, you’ve got to make sure that its surfaces are all polished to a blinding gleam: that the pace never relents, that the production numbers are dazzling, and that the stock characters are brought to life by prodigiously charismatic performers.

Under Robert McQueen’s direction, this Theatre Under the Stars production comes surprisingly close to getting a lot of this right—especially considering that it’s a largely amateur undertaking. [Read more…]

The Jessies 2018: three companies take most of the hardware

Pippa Mackie and Peter Anderson perform a death scene in Titus Bouffonius.

Pippa Mackie and Peter Anderson got good and grotesque in Rumble Theatre’s Titus Bouffonius, which was one of the big winners at the 2018 Jessies.

At the 2018 Jessie Richardson Awards, which took place in the Bard on the Beach mainstage tent for the first time this year, the juries heavily favoured three companies: Rumble, the Arts Club, and Green Thumb.

There are three main categories at the Jessie Awards: small theatre, large theatre, and theatre for young audiences.

In the small-theatre stream, Rumble’s production of The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius nabbed six prizes, including outstanding production.

Other laurels that went to Titus Bouffonius include those for performance by an ensemble (Sarah Afful, Peter Anderson, Craig Erickson, Pippa Mackie, and Naomi Wright), lighting design (Sophie Tang), set design (Drew Facey), costume design (Drew Facey), and direction (Stephen Drover).

Accepting the ensemble prize, Craig Erickson and Pippa Mackie assumed the grotesque bouffon characters they inhabited in Titus Bouffonius—and delivered the most enthusiastically received thank-yous of the night, including Mackie’s “We’d like to thank all of the people who walked out when I pulled out a bloody tampon.” [Read more…]

Lysistrata: still funny after thousands of years

Two characters wear Barbara Clayden's improvised hats in Lysistrata at Bard on the Beach.

Mophead meets baghead by starlight. (Photo of Quelemia Sparrow and Luisa Jojic by Tim Matheson)

Let’s all just agree to see everything that Lois Anderson directs from now on, okay? Two years ago, her reinvention of Pericles for Bard on the Beach was a revelation. And this year she has brought us a Lysistrata that’s so fresh I feel younger after seeing it.

Lysistrata isn’t Shakespeare; it was written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C, and two thousand and twenty-nine years later, it’s still hilarious.

In the story, the Greek city states are engaged in an endless series of wars, so an Athenian named Lysistrata convinces all of the women of Greece to go on a sex strike until the men stop fighting.

Anderson and playwright Jennifer Wise have added a framing device in which an all-female company is performing Hamlet at Bard on the Beach. But when the acting company hears that Vanier Park is about to be turned into a shipping terminal, they decide to stage Lysistrata instead. “Why do a play about a man incapable of action?” they ask, when they could be doing a play about kick-ass women. [Read more…]

Timon of Athens gives you too much time to look at the shoes

Playing Timon of Athens, Colleen Wheeler rages against duplicity.

Colleen Wheeler goes full throttle as Timon of Athens, but director Meg Roe’s take undercuts her efforts. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

As a script, Timon of Athens has problems. Director Meg Roe’s production for Bard on the Beach doesn’t help it out.

There are good reasons why Timon doesn’t enjoy a lot of productions. The play, which Shakespeare probably co-wrote with Thomas Middleton, features a wealthy Athenian who showers his friends with more gifts—jewels and horses—than he can afford. When Timon inevitably goes bankrupt, those supposed friends turn their backs on him. The script is repetitive and obvious: it’s clear from the get-go that Timon is a spendthrift and he’ll pay for it. And Timon gains virtually no insight—he plummets directly from naiveté to embittered rage—so there’s little sense of thematic accumulation or satisfaction.

Still, Timon of Athens can be moving—as it was in director James Fagan Tait’s production for Bard in 2007. In Timon’s worldview, material support is the currency of intimacy. In an early party scene, Timon says to his guests: “Why, I have often wished myself poorer that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do benefits. And what better or properer can we call our own than the riches of our friends?” The guy is fucked up. He mistakes money for love. If a production allows us to see this vulnerability, the play’s heart opens and it becomes an affecting tragedy.

Under Meg Roe’s direction, that doesn’t happen. [Read more…]

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