Archives for April 2022

Invisible: Or just empty?

Publicity photo for Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Melissa MacPherson (centre) and the cast in Brette Gerecke’s design
(Photo: DB Photographics)

Get a writer already. Jesus. The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare is gobsmackingly well designed by Brette Gerecke and you could hardly ask for a more talented or committed cast. But Jonathan Christensen’s script for this musical is a disaster.

Virtually nothing happens in Act 1; it’s an hour-long set-up that could probably have been handled in 10 minutes. We’re in England in 1941. Hitler is winning World War II and Evelyn Ash, who works in England’s wartime spy agency, is trying to convince her spymasters to send female secret agents to France. She will succeed, of course — otherwise there wouldn’t be an Act 2 — which is why we don’t need to sit through separate backstory interviews with the six candidates or watch them training for weeks in Scotland. We know how all of this is going to turn out, so none of it qualifies as story.

When the narrative finally arrives in Act 2, it finds new ways to be clunky. The crisis has been so deliberately planted in Act 1 that all we can do is age while we wait for it show up. And the big reveal, the most important plot point, is not credible.

And let’s talk about the World War II fantasy thing. Female secret agents did serve during the Second World War, but notes on the production admit, “To our knowledge there was no ‘all-female’ cell”, which is what forms here. The Invisible isn’t about specific historic events or individuals, it’s a work of fiction. Fair enough, but it’s a dumb work of fiction, superficial and self-serving. It stylizes and glamourizes the real suffering of World War II. That’s particularly hard to take, given the horrors of Russia’s current war of aggression against Ukraine. Christensen pastes a feminist statement on top of this frippery, which makes it even more offensive. Heading into enemy territory, the women sing, “Most of all, we’ll fight for all the girls who never got a chance.” Really? That’s at the top of their agenda? Obviously, if your subjects are women and war — including women as warriors — there’s a huge amount of experience to explore, but doing so impactfully would involve thinking about it rather than giving us cartoon Nazis and a barely-there plot. [Read more…]

White Noise: my contribution

promo photo for White Noise

Columpa Bobb’s character Tse’kwi catches up on some essential reading.
(Photo: Moonrider Productions)

White Noise is just another pop culture, truth-and-reconciliation comedy: same old, same old … I’m kidding! How many of those have you seen? Taran Kootenhayoo’s White Noise is completely frickin’ original. It has a vision. And it comes with the slap of urgency.

When Microsoft buys an app from an Indigenous teenager named Windwalker — for a breathtaking amount of money — he decides to move with his mom and dad from their community near Edmonton to West Point Grey. (The indoor pool was a big selling point.) Jessika, the teenage daughter of the white settler family next door, is just 10K short of her goal of 100,000 Instagram followers. So we view this story largely through the lens of online culture.

When Jessika’s parents invite Windwalker and his family over for dinner, Indigenous realities bump up against settler assumptions — and the windstorm whipping up outside gets ever more furious. [Read more…]

‘da Kink in my Hair: admittedly, not MY hair

publicity photo: Arts Club Theatre's production of 'da Kink in my Hair

Playing Novelette, Alana Bridgewater anchors this production —
but the script doesn’t bother to give her a story.
(Photo: Moonrider Productions)

There are reviews I’ve been more eager to write. ‘Da Kink in my Hair is almost entirely about the experience of Black Canadian women. I’m a white guy — and I don’t think this musical is well constructed. So boo hoo me; or shut up me: I get the legitimacy of both responses. But I’ve been invited to review this show and I’m going to do it because I think the artistic discussion is worth having.

There is no overarching plot in ‘da Kink in my Hair, which is set in Novelette’s hair salon, which seems to be in Toronto. A series of women sit in Novelette’s chair, and she intuits their traumas and life crises by touching their hair. This triggers a monologue — in song and/or prose — from each of them and Novelette brings closure through forgiveness, inclusion, compassion, or solidarity.

Trey Anthony’s script brings up all sorts of issues: the murder of young Black men, the pressure on Black women to be perfect, colourism, sexual abuse … The list goes on. Obviously, every one of these issues is worth exploring. My argument is that they’re worth exploring in more depth. [Read more…]

Collected Stories doesn’t ask a hard question

publicity photo for Collected Stories

Ruth (Jennifer Fahrni, R) tells Lisa (Avery Crane) not to pay too much attention to her reviews.
Always solid advice.

It’s impossible to talk about this script in a meaningful way without revealing its central twist. I hope to talk about it in a meaningful way, so … you’ve been warned

Written by Donald Margulies and premiered in 1996, Collected Stories asks a question I already know the answer to — not for everybody, of course, but solidly for myself.

The script is about the relationship between renowned short story writer and longtime writing teacher Ruth Steiner and her student, then protégé, Lisa Morrison. The question is if it’s okay for one writer to cannibalize another’s life in their fiction — without permission. I’m a firm no on that. Life is more important than art; love is more important than ambition. The notion that every writer is somehow compelled to betray a friend — by a vague higher calling to art or by an obligation to the story magically bursting within them — is self-aggrandizing, romantic nonsense. [Read more…]

In Wonderland — some of the time

publicity photo: In Wonderland

Sarah Roa, Graham Percy, and Natascha Girgis at the Mad Hatter’s tea party
(Photo: Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that’s run so hot and cold. There are elements and passages in Alberta Theatre Projects’ In Wonderland that are transporting — and long stretches in which nothing fires.

In this two-act adventure, playwright Anna Cummer offers a three-actor riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

In several instances, director Haysam Kadri’s production rises to the challenge of its source material with astonishing visuals. In the introductory scene, Alice, her sister Lory, and a man named Charles — presumably a stand-in for Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson — paddle on a meandering river. To represent their journey, the three actors sit in a steamer trunk, pretending it’s a boat, and behind them, on the gigantic scrim at the Gateway Theatre, we see a gorgeous, antiquely brown-and-black watercolour video that represent the riverbanks they’re passing.

In a completely different visual style — the projection designs are all by Jamie Nesbitt — when Alice pops down the rabbit hole, we first see her in a pre-recorded video way up at the top of the proscenium, making her way through an angular, geometric passage. Then she falls, and the live actor (Sarah Roa) is suddenly illuminated behind the scrim, tumbling and tumbling through space. It’s trippy. [Read more…]

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls — and the rest of us

publicity photo for Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls

Rae Takei, Valeria Ascolese, and Matheus Severo in costumes by Christopher David Gauthier
(Photo by Sarah Race)

I have no doubt that Dave Deveau’s Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls is a force for good in the world — and by that I mean a force for love. And the resolutions of this story about a trans boy, his friend, and family moved me to tears. My fuller response is more complicated. [Read more…]

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!