Archives for November 2018

Blind Date: all dates should include this much kindness

Who wouldn’t want to date—or maybe be—Mimi? (Photo of Tess Degenstein by Little Blue Lemon Photography)

Watching Blind Dateis so much like falling in love that it feels a bit like the real thing is happening.

The concept for the show is fantastic. Rebecca Northan had the idea nine years ago and the performance I saw on Wednesday night was number 712. In the hetero form of Blind Date—there’s also a queer version—Mimi, a female red-nosed clown (Tess Degenstein on opening night) picks a man from the audience, having chatted with folks in the lobby and sussed them out beforehand. Then, for the duration of the 75-minute performance, Mimi goes on an improvised date with the guy.

Doing this much improv with an audience volunteer is the theatrical equivalent of skydiving—with a borrowed parachute. [Read more…]

Hir: rhymes with “here”, as in “here and now”

Pi Theatre is producing Taylor Mac's Hir at The Annex.

And you thought your family was dysfunctional. (Deb Williams, Victor Dolhai, and Andrew Wheeler in Hir. Photo by Tim Matheson)

Taylor Mac’s Hir celebrates diversity while simultaneously exposing the underside of identity politics.

And it’s a comedy, although its humour is dark—like blood-encrusted dark.

A US Marine named Isaac comes home after three years of overseas duty. He’s been working in mortuary services, picking up the body parts of personnel who have been blown to bits. And he returns to a family that’s been blown apart by the gender wars, or, as many would phrase it—as I would phrase it—the struggle for gender liberation.

Isaac’s father Arnold has suffered a major stroke. Arnold was a racist, sexist asshole, the domestic embodiment of the evils of the patriarchy. But his stroke has erased his power and Isaac’s mom Paige has taken over. Paige clothes Arnold in a woman’s nightgown and slathers his face in make-up, making him look like a literal clown. Paige also feeds Arnold hormone-laced smoothies, explaining that “The estrogen keeps him docile.” Isaac is so stunned by his dad’s transformation that it triggers his PTSD and he pukes in the sink.

He also pukes in the sink when he finds out that his little sister is now his trans little brother, Max. [Read more…]

Soul Samurai: enough with the backstory already

Affair of Honour is presenting Soul Samurai at Studio 1398

Soul Samurai is vampire lesbian a-go-go—but it go-gos on too long. (Photo of Jackie T. Hanlin and Nathania Bernabe)

Before the show, a company member from Soul Samurai lets everybody know that there’s a crisis line that audience members can call if they find anything too upsetting. The script is so awful I very nearly dialed it up. And, in one significant way, this production makes things exponentially worse. But here’s the thing: there are also a number of stellar elements in this mounting.   [Read more…]

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Send your regrets.

The Arts Club Theatre is producing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

In Christmas at Pemberley, you see this moment coming from miles away. Leagues. Light years. (Photo of Kate Dion-Richard and Matthew MacDonald-Bain by David Cooper)

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is going to do very well at the box office—but not because it’s good.

Co-written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the play is a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. With her husband, the dashing Darcy, Lizzy now presides over a grand estate called Pemberley. But the script focuses on Mary, the middle of the five Bennet sisters. As the siblings—minus Kitty, who is written out—gather for Christmas at Pemberley, the bookish Mary moans, “I shall never find a husband!”, so we know immediately that she will. And, when Darcy mentions that his cousin Arthur has just come into a huge inheritance, it’s clear exactly who her groom will be. (In stories like this, money is always a central player.)

The predictability is relentless. Mary has been going on about how she lives in her mind and how she loves to take imaginary journeys through the atlas. When Arthur finally arrives, he goes straight for that book of maps. “Much like you,” he tells Mary, “I travel on paper and in ink.”

Then the play tries to pretend that their marriage isn’t inevitable. [Read more…]

Mortified: smells like teen girl spirit

Studio 59, in association with Touchstone Theatre, is presenting Mortified.

Isaac Mazur and Emily Jane King are two of the excellent young performers in Amy Rutherford’s Mortified (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This might seem like an odd thing to say but, to me, Mortified feels whole and perfect in the same way that a body can feel whole and perfect: it’s just that organic, sensual—and complicated.

And, like being embodied, Mortified is more than a touch surreal. Playwright Amy Rutherford has set the action in the dreamlike space of an empty swimming pool. That’s where Woman conjures up Girl—herself from 25 years earlier—because Woman is so fucked up about a sexual relationship that Girl had with a guy named Ty, starting when she was 13 and he was 21, that, in her adult life, Woman is frozen. [Read more…]

The Enemy…is too easy to spot

The Firehall Arts Centre is presenting The Enemy, which is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People.

Against all odds, Jenn Griffin keeps a naturalistic performance alive in The Enemy. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

God save good art from simplistic politics.

Donna Spencer has adapted Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which premiered in 1882, to create The Enemy—and by “adapted” I mean “shrunk”.

In Ibsen’s story, Dr. Stockmann, the medical officer for a new spa in southern Norway, has discovered that the spa’s supposedly healing waters are contaminated with bacteria that are causing typhoid and other gastrointestinal illnesses. But the town’s economic development depends on the success of the spa and, so the townspeople gradually turn against him, declare him an enemy of the people, and do everything in their power to discredit and silence him.

It’s easy to see the contemporary relevance and appeal: environmental concerns, economic greed, fake news.

But in Ibsen’s telling, Stockmann is a flawed human being, which allows for complex dynamics. Spencer’s Stockman, on the other hand, is much more purely heroic, so Spencer’s version of the story is black-and-white, predictable—and dull. [Read more…]

Beautiful: the Carole King Musical is solid jukebox—and that’s okay by me

Beautiful: the Carole King Musical is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver

I’m a sucker for girl groups and pretty dresses. (As The Shirelles: DeAnne Stewart, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Alexis Tidwell and Marla Louissaint)

There are only about fifteen minutes of plot in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical: it’s more of a themed concert than a musical play. And the rotation of hits is relentless. But the songs are fantastic and the production is as slick as can be.

The set-up is simple. We start with Carole King at the piano in Carnegie Hall. Her smash-hit solo album Tapestry has been released and her career is at its peak. Then we flash back to find out how she got there. Mostly, this involves taking a perfunctory look at her marriage to her writing partner Gerry Goffin, who put lyrics to King’s music, helping to create a string of hits that includes “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”, and “The Loco-Motion”. [Read more…]

Bacio Rosso: what price entertainment?

This guy, Jimmy Gonzalez, creates the most compelling moments in Bacio Rosso.

There’s some good fun to be had at Bacio Rosso, the cabaret circus that’s playing in a tent in Queen Elizabeth Park. But you have to pay for your fun in more ways than one.

I’ve never been to an event like Bacio Rosso before. It’s more intimate than some circus-style entertainments, there’s a meal included with your ticket, and patrons are allowed to drink at their tables.

The line-up includes some excellent performers. My favourite is a guy named Jimmy Gonzalez who juggles clay. He starts with one big ball of it, then splits it into ever smaller and more numerous clay balls. The soft, slightly slimy texture of the clay makes this act extraordinarily sensual. Gonzalez gets filthy as he juggles his mud balls and catches them on various parts of his body—and he takes his shirt off, which is a bonus. Gonzalez is extremely skilled—as much of a dancer as a juggler—and there’s something about that combination of earthiness and precision, not to mention the originality of the act, that’s transporting. [Read more…]

Three Winters: my chilly response

The Cultch is presenting Three Winters in its Historic Theatre

As a director, Amiel Gladstone creates arresting stage pictures in Three Winters (Photo of Julie Siedlanowska by Emily Cooper)

There seem to be at least a couple of good stories in the source material for Three Winters, but writer and director Amiel Gladstone hasn’t figured out how to tell them.

Gladstone based Three Winters on his grandfather’s memories of being a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III, the camp where the breakout happened that was dramatized in the 1963 movie The Great Escape. Apparently, those prisoners also performed plays using scripts supplied by the Red Cross.

In Three Winters, the narrative lines about the escape and the performances overlap and compete for space, but neither is developed in a satisfying way. [Read more…]

SmallWaR: sustained passages of theatrical brilliance

Check out the texture of this piece. (In Vancouver, SmallWaR is being performed in English).

There are passages in SmallWaR that are as exquisite as anything I’ve seen. The opening is a stunner.

Valentijn Dhaenens, the Belgian artist who created SmallWaR, also performs it by himself—although he is fragmented. When we first see him fully lit, he is dressed as a female military nurse circa WWI. She pushes a hospital bed onstage and, upright on that bed, there’s a video screen on which we see Dhaenens again—as a man this time, a soldier. The way the video is framed, his torso is truncated. In voiceover, the soldier wonders why he can’t see or hear and why his legs are so light.

Then a phone rings and the soldier wonders why nobody is answering it. A telephone appears on a screen that takes up the entire stage. A spirit rises from the soldier’s image, then transfers full-bodied to the screen, walks across the stage, and answers the ringing phone. The soldier talks to his sweetheart. She tells him she doesn’t want him go to war, but he says he must fight for democracy. [Read more…]

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