Archives for February 2023

The Woman in Black: Entertainment with goosebumps!

publicity still for The Woman in Black

Bernard Cuffling in a publicity still for The Woman in Black
(Photo by Bill Allman)

The Woman in Black is a good ol’ yarn and I am for that.

On one level, Stephen Mallatratt’s script, which he adapted from Dame Susan Hill’s novel, is a straight-up ghost story — and it scared the bejeezus out of me a couple of times. (Fellow critic Jo Ledingham, who was sitting beside me, said she felt my chair lurch.) [Read more…]

Teenage Dick: Everything I try sounds like a double entendre, so you fill in this headline

publicity photo for Teenage Dick

Cadence Rush Quibell, Christopher Imbrosciano, Jennifer Lines, and Marco Walker-Ng in Teenage Dick
(Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Although it contains things to admire, this production of Teenage Dick feels too much like an afterschool special or not great theatre for young people.

Teenage Dick is playwright Mike Lew’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III as a high school drama. Shakespeare’s Richard is a murderously ambitious “bunch-backed toad.” (The historical figure’s recently discovered bones testify he probably had scoliosis.) In Lew’s retelling, the junior class secretary, seventeen-year-old Richard Gloucester, who has cerebral palsy, has his eye on the “throne” of the school presidency. A hated outcast by his own account, Richard sets out to improve his social standing — and chances of election — by dating Anne Margaret, who used to go out with Eddie, the stereotypically dim-witted football player and current president, who bullies Richard. [Read more…]

Starwalker: Less than starry

Publicity photo for Starwalker

Dillon Meighan Chiblow and Jeffrey Michael Follis in Starwalker
(Photo by David Cooper)

Corey Payette’s new musical Starwalker is going to be meaningful to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. And there’s significant talent on the stage. I don’t mean to deny any of that when I say that, from a craft perspective, especially the craft of storytelling, it fails big time.

As well as directing Starwalker, Payette wrote the book, music, and lyrics. In his book, a drag performer named Levi picks up Star, an Indigenous sex worker, on Lee’s Trail in Stanley Park. And that sets up a story that is predictable on virtually every level. Within seconds of their meeting, we know Levi and Star are destined for lasting romance. Star has never done drag, but they’re interested, so we we’ve got a pretty good idea what the Act 1 finale is going to look like. And when Mother Borealis, who heads Levi’s drag family, the House of Borealis, coughed in the first act, I felt like calling a hearse just to have one on standby for the end of Act 2.

[Read more…]

Clementine: A (True) Story – tenderness that could be better shaped

publicity photo for Clementine: A (True) Story

Laura (Anaïs Pellin) and Clementine (Isabelle Bartkowiak) take a ride to the beach.

Watching a tender kids’ show is a very pleasant way to spend 45 minutes on a Sunday morning.

Writer Anaïs Pellin started her process with Clementine: A (True) Story during a workshop in Belgium, where she’s from. (Pellin is now based in Vancouver.) The workshop was about memory and the show is about how a little girl named Clementine and her younger sister Laura negotiate their parents’ divorce.

Clementine uses a technique called object theatre: the show’s two actors (Pellin as Laura and Isabelle Bartkowiak as Clementine) use toy-like props to tell their story: a tiny yellow cab for Dad to drive away in, little pairs of shoes to represent their friends at school. This technique amplifies the pure imagination — and innocence — of kids’ play.

Pellin and Bartkowiak also voice and embody other characters, including Mom (Martina) and Dad (Pierre).

Within this style, I enjoyed the company’s inventiveness. The actors perform from behind a raised table that’s covered in black fabric. Bartkowiak takes out a toy sand pail and pours a perfect line of sand across the blackness, creating a road by a beach. Pellin “drives” a tiny red car along that road. We know it contains the whole family and we can hear Mom and Dad fighting. When the scene is over, the actors flip the fabric and the road disappears.

It’s pretty great. And it’s pretty great watching how completely this style of theatre engages kids. [Read more…]

The Cull: revelatory design and direction

publicity photo for The Cull

I wasn’t expecting this stylized staging of The Cull. (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Not to take anything away from the actors or anybody else, the real stars of this premiere stage production of The Cull are director Mindy Parfitt and set designer Amir Ofek. Their treatment of Michelle Riml and Michael St. John Smith’s script elevates it spectacularly.

As written, the play is naturalistic. In their 12,000-square-foot home, Nicole and Paul are hosting a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary dinner for their friends, the decidedly less wealthy Emily and Lewis. Lynne, another friend from their high school years, is also there to celebrate, along with her super-rich husband, John.

I first heard The Cull as an audio play in January of 2022. (Covid had scuttled the Arts Club’s plans to stage it.) Back then, I couldn’t tell what kind of world the play was trying to inhabit. Was it a sitcom? A melodrama?

But, with a stunning set of decisions, Parfitt and Ofek have established stylistic coherence. As I said, the baseline of the written script is naturalism: there are all sorts of references to food prep (slicing, tasting) and specific props, including bamboo napkins. But Parfitt and Ofek have discarded physical naturalism.

Ofek’s set is a gigantic square that looks like a thick, stylized slab of wood. The only other set piece is an enormous, exquisite chandelier: it looks like a collection of simple, delicate seashells.

On the slab, the actors sit on white, modernist chairs.

The characters still talk about tasting the food and folding the napkins — but they don’t do any of those things, which adds a revelatory level of abstraction. We can suddenly see how their conversations are rituals of dominance, alliance, and information seeking.

Parfitt’s setting of the actors’ movements, including their arrangements of the chairs, is satisfyingly choreographic. And the slab spins! It’s on a revolve, which makes the choreography feel even more sophisticated.

[Read more…]

An Undeveloped Sound: an overwritten script

publicity photo for An Undeveloped Sound

An enigmatic figure called The Little One (Photo by David Cooper)

Exquisitely directed and designed, and responsively acted, An Undeveloped Sound is, nonetheless, thematically repetitive and therefor dull.

Jonathon Young has set his new script in a call centre located in a crumbling, repurposed commercial outlet near an ocean. In my mind, it was in an abandoned strip mall.

There, four characters stonewall angry callers who have invested in a development. The callers want to know what’s happening with their units and when they’ll be able to move in. The employees cheerfully reassure the callers that they can see the investors’ non-existent units from where they’re sitting and, when the questioning gets insistent, they put the callers on hold.

So the set-up is about a false narrative — and that quickly expands into a larger thematic statement about the fallibility of all narratives, all ways of understanding, of attempting to connect. A newcomer named Heidi is seducing a hapless worker named Wade, but is her interest sincere or malign? Bell, once the star spokesperson for the project, desperately clings to the performance of a hope she no longer feels. A parent-child relationship has fallen apart. One’s fellow workers are not to be trusted. Language itself is suspect, a poor approximation of meaning. And, underlying all of this is a critique of the manipulativeness of capitalism.

[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!