Archives for November 2021

Everybody: Yes, including you

Publicity shot for Everybody at Studio 58

Few of us know when our number’s going to be up; in this production, actors don’t know what roles they’ll play.
(Photo of Kevin Nguyen by Emily Cooper)

I love this show about as much as I’ve loved anything in two years.

Early on in Everybody, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation of the fifth-century morality play Everyman, Death, who kickstarts the action, says, “You’re all dying, starting now.” Of course, we’re all dying all the time, we’d just rather not think about it — and, the script argues, that’s to our detriment: fleeing into distraction, we fail to live fully.

Because this is a morality play, the characters and situations are archetypal. When Death randomly picks Everybody for imminent demise, they beg to be allowed company on their journey. Death grants them a brief respite to try to find someone brave enough to go to the grave with them. (Because the casting of Everybody changes with each performance, I’m going to use gender-neutral pronouns throughout this review.)

One of the things I love most about Everybody is that it is so deeply theatrical. Jacobs-Jenkins sets the play in a theatre, which is, like life, an arena of illusion. (Scholars believe Everyman may be based on a Buddhist fable.) As the action progresses, Everybody recounts a dream to other characters, their fellow doomed, and there are constant questions about what’s real and what’s a mirage. (Theatre relishes the space for self-awareness and reflection that its artifice allows.) [Read more…]

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol: Happy slappy

Christmas Present (Andrew Wheeler) counsels Scrooge (David Adams). (Photo: Moonrider Productions)

Act 1 is weird. Technically, it’s slick, but it’s so aggressively entertaining and relentlessly uplifting that, watching it, I started to feel like I was on a ride in Disneyland — or maybe Dollywood. Are those real people on the stage or are they robots?

In Charles Dickens’s telling, A Christmas Carol is scary: it’s a ghost story. But, in Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, which is set in Jefferson County, East Tennessee in 1936, there’s little room for genuine darkness — and the adaptation is often flat as a result.

Marley doesn’t appear ghoulishly in Scrooge’s doorknocker, for instance, and, when he does show up, Marley an Irish song-and-dance man. In flashback scenes, the script refers to him as Old Man Marley, but, in this production at least, he’s as energetic as Jiminy Cricket. And, when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows Scrooge the aftermath of his own death, we don’t see the bleakness of impoverished women squabbling over Scrooge’s bedclothes, we see the town erupting in a hootenanny.

The breathlessness of director Bobby Garcia’s production exacerbates the sense of emotional impenetrability. Playing Scrooge, David Adams yells all through Act 1.

But … there’s lots to like and the source material is so strong that, even in this adaptation, eventually, it’s moving. [Read more…]

Alice in Wonderland: Join her


publicity photo for East Van Panto: Alice in Wonderland

Amanda Sum, Mark Chavez, and Raugi Yu in costumes by Barbara Clayden: you want to see this. (Photo: Emily Cooper)

Covid, climate change, and November are conspiring to deplete my capacity for joy. I know I’m not alone in my exhaustion and dread. So the East Van Panto comes as a sorely-needed gift this year, a celebration of life — of community and fun.

Now in its ninth iteration, the East Van Panto has earned its place as one of the best-loved holiday traditions in Vancouver — and this year’s show is a knockout.

In writer Sonja Bennett’s take on Alice in Wonderland, the ten-year-old title character sets off in pursuit of the White Rabbit, who’s wearing a sandwich board advertising free cellphones. When Alice finally meets the Queen of Hearts, she finds the Queen’s name is Jess Cheetos. The Queen runs a company very much like Amazon, which, of course, belongs to Jeff Bezos. As she runs amok in Grandview Woodland Wonderland, the Queen destroys local businesses, controls consumers through the use of cookies, and refuses to let her workers take pee breaks.

Political commentary is part of the stuff of pantos, which are also kid-friendly. That works here, too. What kid doesn’t love a good pee joke? And, in a piece of wordplay that will tickle every six-year-old brain, this Queen of Hearts is also the Queen of Farts.

There’s absurdity for grown-ups, too: in a stroke of genius, the Mad Hatter’s tea party becomes a COPE meeting: at the drop of a hat, they’re ready to protest anything. [Read more…]

The Pillowman: not a sleep aid

poster for the Untold Wants production of The Pillowman

You think your relationship with your siblings is complicated? Just wait for The Pillowman.

I wasn’t bored by this two-and-a-half-hour production, which is saying something. But I wasn’t horrified either — and I should have been.

In Martin McDonagh’s 2003 script, a writer named Katurian is being interrogated by “good cop” Tupolski and “bad cop” Ariel. Katurian has written several short stories that feature extreme violence against children, and two kids from the local town have been murdered in ways that Katurian described. A third child is missing.

Many see The Pillowman as playwright Martin McDonagh’s defence of free imagination: after all, censorious voices have criticized the darkness of McDonagh’s work (including the Leenane Trilogy and the Aran Islands Trilogy), and the apparently innocent writer in The Pillowman is targeted by the agents of a totalitarian regime. Even Tupolski the cop says, “The only duty of a storyteller is to tell a story.”

But that’s only half the equation. When Katurian’s brain-damaged brother Michal also becomes a suspect, the writer must face the possibility that he has influenced Michal. Morally, that would make him an accessory to his sibling’s crimes. [Read more…]

Paddle Song: E. Pauline Johnson deserves better

publicity photo for Paddle Song

Cheri Maracle in Paddle Song

I acknowledge that I’m saying this as a settler: in my opinion, Paddle Song, the play about Canadian Mohawk/English poet E. Pauline Johnson, isn’t very good. In my view, this nineteenth century woman who toured across Canada, the US, and the UK reciting her poems while wearing a buckskin dress, is an intriguing cultural figure — and she was a literary star. She deserves better. [Read more…]

Emilia: the embodiment of solidarity

photo from United Players' production of Emilia

Emilia boasts a large and talented cast. (Photo by Nancy Caldwell)

There’s a force blowing off the stage in director Lois Anderson’s production of Emilia. It feels like a stiff, invigorating wind. In fact, it’s a combination of confidence and fury.

Emilia, which was commissioned by London’s Globe Theatre, is a fantastical history that centres real-life characters. Emilia Bassano (or Lanier) was the first Englishwoman to become a professional poet. Some see her work as proto-feminist and some believe she may have been the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Shakespeare is a character in the play too, but you already know who he is — and that’s kind of the point: Emilia is about the silencing of women’s voices.

The rights to produce Emilia come with a note from playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: “This play was written to be performed by an all-female cast of diverse women.” Anderson has run with that notion to excellent effect: her production features players who are diverse in terms of race, age, ability/disability, neurology, sexual orientation, gender identification, and so on. That sense of inclusiveness, that sense of community, is, I suspect, a significant source of the confidence that’s flowing from the stage: these players know that they have one another’s backs. [Read more…]

The Ballad of Georges Boivin: subtle and rewarding

production photo for The Ballad of Georges Boivin

John Innes: onstage for the first time in seven years (Photo by Javier Stores)

The premise is a cliché, but the execution is poetic and the insight genuine.

I used to sit on screenwriting juries and I was surprised by how many of the stories dealt with feisty codgers escaping from long-term care facilities. There wasn’t much of a pay-off in those scripts, but Martin Bellemare’s The Ballad of Georges Boivin is smarter.

The title character, who has been a widower for a year, sets off from his care facility in Québec with three pals: grumpy Gérard, tremulous Clement, and Jean Pierre, whom Georges describes as “my lifelong friend, a deaf old man who barely says a word.” But the quest belongs to Georges: he’s in search of his first love, Juliet Chacal, who moved to Vancouver decades earlier. The address he has for her is 50 years old. [Read more…]

Paddle Song

Out of respect for the death of Lee Maracle, the opening night of Paddle Song has been postponed from November 11 to November 12. I will now see it on Saturday night (November 13) and post my review on Sunday afternoon.


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