New-Fangled Fibs: I like ’em old-fangled

Publicity photo for New-Fangled Fibs

Paul Strickland is a charming guy, but he needs to find his groove in this electronic format for that to come across.

The most interesting thing about watching New-Fangled Fibs: Tall Tales by Paul Strickland is trying to figure out why it doesn’t work.

It’s not like Strickland, who specializes in tall tales, isn’t a talented guy. His show, Ain’t True and Uncle False, which I saw at the Vancouver Fringe in 2017, is one of the highlights of my long theatregoing career.

And, even in New-Fangled Fibs, there are moments of charm. In the story “Chansonaille, Louisiana”, for instance, locals trap “tune bugs” in jars: every bug sings its own note and the goal is to catch a quartet that harmonizes in a major key — not a minor key because that’s unlucky.

So what gives? [Read more…]

Cock: I like it

Publicity photo for Mike Bartlett's play Cock

Three smart actors: Nathan Witte, Troy Mundle, and Lee Tomaschefski (Screen grab)

Let’s talk about sex. That’s what Cock is all about — well sex, love, and identity.

In Mike Bartlett’s Olivier Award-winning script from 2009, John has left his male lover M when he meets W and has sex with a woman for the first time. He thinks W’s vagina is “amazing” and he falls for her — sort of. John wants to get back together with M, but he also wants to stay with W. So the three of them have dinner together to hash it out — the sort of thing that happens all the time in the theatre and almost never in real life.

Stylistically, the cool, cool thing about Cock is that the action all spills out in a circular playing area — like a cockfighting ring. Other than the circle, there’s no set, there are no props, and, although the characters serve and consume food and drinks, there’s no mime. This keeps the focus on the “cockfights” — the headliner is the throwdown between M and W — on the war of words. [Read more…]

The Here and This and Now: Is that all there is?

promo photo for The Here and This and Now (United Players production)

Pharmaceutical sales reps gettin’ crazy (Photo of Evangela Kepinski, Jessica Wong, Ishan Sandhu, and Matt Loop by Doug Williams)

Skip to the epilogue: the last five minutes of this production are by far the best.

There are two earlier sections. Each unit is distinct.

In Part 1, we witness a training session in which a sales manager named Niall coaches three pharmaceutical reps on how to make a sales pitch for a questionable liver-spot treatment. Theatrically, there are a passel of problems here. Number 1: the pitch is ridiculously long and its manipulativeness is so transparent that nobody in their right mind would fall for it. Number 2: The pitch is repeated, with slight variations, four times. Everybody onstage gets a crack at it. Time threatens to go backwards. Number 3: The criticism of big pharma in particular and sales in general is simplistic.

Two of the sales reps also have a philosophical discussion of sorts in Part 1. Robbie, who’s been with the company for a while, keeps saying that, in life, nothing changes, things never get any better: “I just don’t think anything makes much of a difference.” Gemma, who’s new and who’s falling for Robbie, offers counterarguments: She invites Robbie to imagine the impact of having a baby, for instance. Then Robbie repeats himself and the two of them go in circles.

Fortunately, both Ishan Sandhu (Robbie) and Jessica Wong (Gemma) deliver appealing performances. Sandhu’s Robbie is playful and responsive. Wong’s performance as Gemma is grounded and honest — persuasively straightforward. She also has a velvety voice. [Read more…]

Someone Like You: Cyrano de Bergerac but more on the nose

Politically, Christine Quintana’s new audio play Someone Like You is busy: it takes on fat phobia, racism, misogyny, and the capitalist commodification of human longing. That’s a worthy line-up of targets. Too worthy, as it turns out. Thematically, Someone Like You becomes a checklist — and it goes on for more than two hours. [Read more…]

yellow objects: an adventure

Poster for Derek Chan's yellow objects

There’s a lot going on here — and a good deal of it is engaging.

Playwright Derek Chan’s yellow objects is about Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which was crushed in 2020 — although its spirit lives on. Artistically, yellow objects is adventuresome. Ten audience members at a time move through an experience that’s staged on the Firehall Arts Centre’s playing area and in its outdoor courtyard.

The event’s loose narrative straddles two timelines: 2019, when demonstrators protesting against the Communist Party of China’s antidemocratic impositions on Hong Kong are being beaten, rounded up, tortured, and sometimes disappeared; and a period about 50 years after that in which a young Canadian woman named Sandra Wong arrives in Hong Kong to find a resting place for her grandmother’s ashes. [Read more…]

The Boy in the Moon: gazing at him

Publicity photo for The Boy in the Moom

Ian (Marcus Youssef) with a photo of Walker. (Photo by Mark Halliday, Moonrider Productions)

Theatre for grown-ups. I’m grateful.

This version of The Boy in the Moon is playwright Emil Sher’s adaptation of Ian Brown’s memoir about raising Walker, his severely disabled son, with his wife Johanna Schneller.

It’s tough. Describing Walker at birth, the character Ian says, “His body doesn’t want to live.” Walker is eventually diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC), a rare genetic disorder that leaves him unable to speak or to toilet or feed himself. When he gets a little older, Walker starts to hit himself so hard that his body is black and blue.

The great strength of The Boy in the Moon is that it is relentlessly clear-eyed, not sentimental or magical in the manner of so many popular entertainments about milder forms of disability. Both parents love Walker tenaciously and endure endless sleepless nights and marriage-corroding stress to care for him. In the play’s opening, Ian’s description of tube-feeding Walker and changing his diaper is enough to banish any expectations of romanticism.

The fundamental tension in the play is between love and survival, love and the capacity to go on. “I began to ask myself if it wouldn’t be braver to kill myself,” Ian says, “and take him with me.”

There is also brightness, much of it involving Walker’s big sister Hayley. Walker delights in her dancing. In one of the most moving passages in the script, Hayley challenges the underpinning of her dad’s book and, by implication, the play. She doesn’t want her father or anybody else to presume to speak for her brother. “No one can speak for Walker,” she says. In this production, actor Synthia Yusuf delivers that simple line with such protectiveness she left me with the sense that Hayley may be the one who sees Walker most clearly. [Read more…]

Post-Democracy: argument instead of discovery

publicity photo for Post-Democracy

Actors Kristian Jordan and Alicia Johnston on Brian Perchaluk’s set. (Photo by Leif Norman)

Strong acting. Taut dialogue. Handsome set. But there’s no thematic revelation.

In Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy — which is receiving its world premiere at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange — a Chief Operating Officer named Lee is trying to convince his boss, Bill, to purchase a company in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country. But Bill’s daughter Justine, who is his Chief Financial Officer, can’t stand Lee and the sleazy male-dominated culture of harassment he embodies. [Read more…]

Alice in Wonderland: Alice unchained

publicity photo for Alice in Wonderland

Tess Benger plays a modern Alice in Wonderland. (Photo by John Holosko and Robert Metcalfe)

All alone in my office, I was laughing out loud and clapping my hands.

Bad Hat Theatre’s Alice in Wonderland is streaming online, but it does what theatre does best: it activates the concrete imagination. Without resorting to illusion, it uses sounds, bodies, and materials — clearly in a theatre, clearly in an artificial space — to create three-dimensional creatures and fully-fleshed worlds. It’s about pretending. That’s what I’ve been missing. [Read more…]

Silent Sky: a good night under the stars

publicity photo for Silent Sky

Henrietta (Jenna Hill) and Peter (Karthik Kadam) pretend to talk about the cosmos. (Photo by Doug Williams)

 

Writing this review of United Players’ production of Silent Sky isn’t as challenging as, say, astrophysics, but it’s still tricky, okay?

I enjoyed the show a lot. Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s script about the turn-of-the-twentieth-century career of pioneering astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt is witty and moving.

Leavitt’s task as a “computer” at the Harvard College Observatory was to record information from photographic plates about the brightness of stars. As a clerk — and, crucially, as a woman — she wasn’t allowed to look through the telescope. But, working from her observations of the brightness and pulsations of certain stars, Leavitt became the first to understand how to measure the distance to faraway galaxies. It was a watershed achievement. [Read more…]

Night Passing: You can give it a pass

Poster advertising the Arts Club Theatre's production of Scott Button's Night PassingWell-intentioned and over two-hours long, the audio play Night Passing is, unfortunately, boring.

Set in Ottawa in 1958, playwright Scott Button’s script explores the entrapment of gay men and lesbians by the RCMP. Fueled by anti-communist hysteria south of the border, the force was trying to “cleanse” the civil service of queer folk who were, presumably, easier to blackmail.

Entrapment is, of course, blackmail by the establishment.

Just after he moves to Ottawa from a small town, Button’s protagonist, Elliot, is seduced into making out in an alley with a creepy undercover cop who insists on being called Dad. Photos are taken. Dad pressures Elliot into informing on other gay men. [Read more…]

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