Author Archive for Colin Thomas, Vancouver Editor

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.

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…]

David Petersen’s memorial

Here’s some information about David Petersen’s memorial that I didn’t get in time to include in this morning’s FRESH SHEET.

It will be held on Sunday, November 25, at PAL (581 Cardero Street) starting at 4:00 p.m.

David’s family is asking folks, if they’re able, to bring sweet or savoury finger food on a dish that doesn’t need to be returned. They’re also asking people to bring any of David’s art or photos of David that they would like to display.

Here’s the link to today’s FRESH SHEET, which includes a fuller acknowledgement of David’s passing: https://us16.campaign-archive.com/?u=10eee373d5220b310ec51adb9&id=37d2de3b62

Red Birds: twitter-brained

Western Gold Theatre and Solo Collective Theatre are presenting Aaron Bushkowsky's Red Birds at PAL.

There’s something going in in Red Birds but, trust me, you won’t care. (Left to right: France Perras, Gerry McKay, and Anna Hagen. Photo by Emily Cooper)

Aaron Bushkowsky’s new script Red Birds is flat-out dumb and—very occasionally—funny.

It’s tricky to talk about this play without giving away major plot points, but I’ll do my best. In Red Birds, Carol, who has just turned 50, contacts her birth mother Hannah for the first time. The other major characters include Carol’s adoptive mom Red and Carol’s daughter Ashley. A heterosexual love triangle emerges in which the apex is a guy named Derek.

Derek is a douche. He says things like, “You’re sure rockin’ those army boots! Sexy!” and, even more appealingly, “Everybody uses everybody when it comes to relationships.”

To be fair, Bushkowsky has deliberately made Derek a douche: Derek also says, “You can trust me despite how obviously shallow I am.” But this intentionality doesn’t rescue the heart of the play from meaninglessness. Derek is no prize, so nothing’s at stake in the romantic part of the love triangle: as an audience member, you just sit there for two acts waiting for the playwright to get rid of him. [Read more…]

The Believers Are But Brothers: See it, believe it, and think really hard

The Cultch and Diwali in BC are presenting The Believers Are But Brothers at The Cultch.

For the (very) full experience, leave your phone on during The Believers Are But Brothers. (Photo by The Other Richard)

The Believers Are But Brothers is about the internet and it’s like the internet: it’s bursting with information and I’m not sure how to make sense of it, but I find it really fucking stimulating.

In The Believers Are But Brothers—the title comes from the Quran—writer and performer Javaad Alipoor is particularly interested in those areas of the internet where young men, politics, and violence overlap. [Read more…]

Backbone: this show has plenty of it

Gravity & Other Myths is presenting Backbone at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Fly, my beauties! Fly!

Backbone made me really, really happy in my body. Another way of saying that is that, for about the first ten minutes of the show, I was moaning and gasping and—let’s face it—talking as if I was having sex with the entire company of ten acrobats and two musicians.

With Backbone, the Australian circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths sets out to explore strength. And, as they climb up one another until there are two four-person towers on-stage—each acrobat standing on another’s shoulders—and, as they hurl each nother through space (at one point, two pairs of men swing one woman each back and forth before releasing them and sending them flying into the arms of a couple of other guys), there’s a lot of muscle power on display.

But there’s also something deeply erotic in the subtext—both in the Freudian sense that Eros is a celebration of life and in the Jungian sense (Sorry, I’m getting a bit heady) that Eros is about personal relatedness in human activities. I mean, the evening unfolds in distinct movements—there’s a whole section about rocks and weight, for instance—but nothing feels even vaguely like a solo act. And, on the fleshly level, it feels so good to witness the ease and the effort, the trust and the skill with which these gorgeous humans respond to and support one another’s bodies. Hand to head, thigh to waist, foot to foot, it’s all about charged physical contact, and who couldn’t use more of that? [Read more…]

Sex With Strangers: not as much fun as it sounds

It’s not you, Loretta Walsh and Markian Tarasiuk. It’s the material.

Sex With Strangers is boring. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

In Laura Eason’s drama, 39-year-old Olivia is holed up in a writers’ retreat/B & B in Michigan when 28-year-old Ethan bursts out of the snow and through the door. Olivia is a novelist who makes her living teaching. She was wounded by critics’ tepid reception of her first novel, but she has nearly completed her second. Ethan, on the other hand, is an internet sensation. He wrote a series blog posts in which he recounted having sex with at least one new woman every week for a year. Then he turned those posts into a book that spent half a decade on The New York Times best-seller list. Now he’s working on the screenplay.

Ethan is freaked out when he discovers there’s no internet access at the retreat, but he’s an accomplished seducer—a fan of Olivia’s published novel, he quotes it to her—so he and Olivia are soon having sex.  [Read more…]

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