A CRITIC’S DOZEN: 11 must-see fall shows

The theatre season we’re in promises to be thrilling.

As you’ll see, six of my 11 top picks will be playing at Cultch venues. So, if I were looking for season’s tickets, that’s where I’d buy.

Here we go!

 

Les Belles-Soeurs

Tabernac! The cast! This Ruby Slippers/Gateway co-pro features an avalanche of talent that includes Patti Allan, Eileen Barrett, Lucia Frangione, Pippa Mackie, Melissa Oei, France Perras, Kerry Sandomirsky, and Beatrice Zeilinger—and that’s only about half of them! Michel Tremblay’s 50-year-old classic introduces us to a group of women in 1960s Montreal who get together to stick savings-stamps into books. But that premise is just the fuse in this incendiary comedy about class, religion, and gender.

September 28 to October 6. Co-produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre and the Gateway theatre. At the Gateway. Tickets.

 

Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn

Marcus Youssef knows how to collaborate. Peter Panties and King Arthur’s Nights, which he created with Niall McNeil, and Winners and Losers, which he wrote with James Long, are among the best shows I’ve seen. The guy won the Siminovitch Prize for playwriting for God’s sake. That’s huge—like $100,000 huge. And this time out, he’s collaborating with students at Studio 58 about what it’s like to be the first generation to have grown up with constant and easy access to porn. What could be more intriguing?

September 29 to October 14. Produced by Studio 58 and Neworld Theatre. At Studio 58. Tickets.

 

Testosterone

As Lyn Gardner explains in this composite review in The Guardian, trans man Kit Redstone’s autobiographical show Testosteroneis more than just another heroic story about triumph over adversity—what Redstone calls tales of “brave little trans soldiers”. It’s about maleness: “…the focus is on the cocksure rituals, the preening and signals that masculinity wraps itself in as Redstone finds himself in the male changing rooms facing a cowboy-style showdown over a towel.” Gardner calls Testosterone“a refreshing, genuinely smart piece of work, full of undercutting humour.” Trust Gardner, I say.

October 2 to 13. Produced by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and Kit Redstone. At the York Theatre, presented by The Cultch and Zee Zee Theatre. Tickets.

 

A Brief History of Human Extinction

In a world rendered uninhabitable by a fungal plague, the last man, last woman, and last otter prepare to launch the Ark and carry what’s left of our planet’s benign DNA to a new home. Playwright Jordan Hall’s Kayak, which also features environmental disaster, is one of the best—and smartest—scripts I’ve seen by a local playwright. This time around, she’s collaborating with Mind of a Snail Puppet Co, whose Multiple Organism is so stylistically inventive it made me drunk with pleasure. We’re facing the apocalypse anyway. Why not face it with these very, very clever people?

October 11 to 20. An Upintheair Theatre production. In the Historic Theatre at The Cultch. Tickets.

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Warren Kimmel is playing Sweeney Todd. That sentence alone should be enough to convince you to buy tickets. Kimmel is one of this town’s biggest talents and Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd is a dark masterpiece. To top things off, director Chris Adams is setting this production in an actual pie shop, where you can order real meat pies. Yuck! But cool too.

October 12 to 31. Presented by The Snapshots Collective at Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, 348 Water Street. Tickets.

 

The Wolves

One of the most produced scripts in the English-speaking world this season, The Wolves is also one of the most critically praised. It’s about an under-17 girls’ soccer team. In The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote: “The scary, exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence emanates from every scene of this uncannily assured first play by Sarah DeLappe, and at times your instinct is to shade your eyes.” In the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones praises the complexity of the play’s dialogue:“The ability to talk about the Khmer Rouge and Hermione Granger in the same sentence is at the core of DeLappe’s writing.” Bonus: Emerging director Jamie King is helming this Vancouver production.

October 19 to November 10. Produced by with a spoon theatre in association with Rumble Theatre. At Pacific Theatre. Tickets.

 

Sweat

Playwright Lynn Nottage won her second Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sweat, which introduces us to a group of friends in a steel-town bar and invites us to watch as economic pressures break them apart along the fault lines of race and class. In his review in The New York Times, Ben Brantley said, “Sweat is the first work from a major American playwright to summon, with empathy and without judgment, the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House”—and, one could argue, Doug Ford in Queen’s Park. Bonus: this Arts Club/Citadel co-pro allows us to revel in the talents of local actor Marcie T. House and set designer Shizuka Kai.

October 24 to November 18. Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre and Citadel Theatre. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Tickets.

 

Backbone 

In 2015, the Australian acrobatic company Gravity & Other Myths blew into town with A Simple Space, which was so viscerally thrilling that it had me moaning, whimpering, gasping, and cheering. Now they’re back with Backbone, which, in their press release, promises a “frenetic celebration of human interconnectedness [that] will test the limits of strength: physical, emotional, individual, and collective.” I don’t know exactly what that means, but I’m going to be there to find out.

October 30 to November 3. Produced by Gravity & Other Myths and presented by The Cultch. At the Playhouse. Tickets

 

The Believers Are But Brothers 

The Believers Are But Brothers, which takes its name from a line in the Quran, is about men, politics, and the internet. So, clearly, it also involves extremism, anonymity, and hate speech. Javaad Alipoor’s tech-savvy solo—audience members sign on to a WhatsApp group for the duration of the show— won a Fringe First Award in Edinburgh. And, as this piece in The New York Timesexplains, it takes on both jihadism and the American alt-right.

October 30 to November 10. Produced by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley. Co-presented by The Cultch and Diwali in BC and supported by Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio, UK. Tickets.

 

SmallWaR 

In this piece from Belgian writer and performer Valentijn Dhaenens, we enter the hospital room of a dying soldier. In a utilitarian brown smock, Dhaenens plays the female nurse. On a series of screens, he also plays the male soldier. In this review from The Guardian,Jane Howard writes, “We hear a voice asking: ‘Where are his arms and his legs? Why can’t he see? Why can’t he hear?’” In this video on The Cultch’s website, Dhaenens explains, “I didn’t want to do fighting or anything on a stage..I wanted to make the theatrical equivalent of a war monument…I wanted to stress the trauma, the standstill of war much more than the action.”

November 6 to 16. Produced by SKaGeN, Richard Jordan Productions & Theatre Royal Plymouth. At the York Theatre as part of the Ceasefire Series. Tickets.

 

Three Winters 

Art is a means of survival. Personally, I know that’s true. And, as the madness of the alt-right spins us closer to all sorts of hell, including climate Armageddon, I pray that principle applies on a larger scale too. In this new play from writer and directorAmiel Gladstone(co-creator of the remarkable Onegin), men in WWII POW camps perform Shakespeare. They’re doing it to stay alive. And, in a neat set of twists, the roles of those men are played by actresses impersonating mid-century women.

November 8 to 17. In The Cultch’s Historic Theatre as part of the Ceasefire Series. Tickets.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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