Amphitruo: Wait for it …

publicity photo: Amphitruo, United Players

Ah, comic strangulation! (Photo of Claire deBruyn and Camryn Chew by Nancy Caldwell)

For a long time, there is virtually nothing entertaining in this production of the comedy Amphitruo by the ancient Roman writer Plautus (254-184 BC). Then, in a kind of miracle, it gets very funny — and more or less stays that way. [Read more…]

Vancouver Fringe online: BLINDSIDE

publicity photo: Blindside

Stephanie Morin Robert has a couple of tricks she’d like to show you.

I watched this show online but, when it ended, I clapped anyway. Stephanie Morin Robert’s autobiographical solo is about growing up with a glass eye — and turning that perceived vulnerability into a superpower. Formally, Blindside is taut and inventive. Directing her own monologue, Robert keeps shifting the frame. When it starts, we see her off to one side, speaking into a camera; the projected image of her face takes up most of the screen. Then we see her without this device as the camera views her full body in a straightforward recording of her performance. And she flips into dance sequences: “You didn’t think the dance section would happen just once, did you?” The material combines vulnerability and resilience, with wit forming the bridge between the two. We hear about her violent parents — “For some, throwing a microwave across the kitchen seems like a good way to cope” — and about the chance encounter at summer camp that allowed her to fully access her defiance. Once she has passed that point, she pushes audience members’ potential squeamishness, daring us not to embrace her reality. This gets a bit repetitive, so I could have done with a little less of it, but it does contain a jaw-dropping “puppet” sequence. Blindside is worth watching.

Vancouver Fringe Festival online. Available until September 19. Vancouver Fringe Festival tickets.  

Vancouver Fringe: SOMETHING IN THE WATER

publicity photo: Something in the Water

Photo of S.E. Grummett by Kenton Doupe

Yay trans identity! Yay queer idenity! Yay polymorphous perversity! Yay … squid sex? Sure! Yay squid sex! In this playful solo show, which they wrote and perform, S.E. Grummett explores gender through a clown character named Grumms. Grumms uses Barbie and Ken as props in a lesson on normative dating. (Barbie and Ken do so much gender-themed work in Fringe shows they could retire on the royalties.) Then Grumms finds out that, after slow dancing with a squid, they have developed squid-shaped genitalia. There are advantages: a hole, plus a lot of tentacles. Grummett is a charismatic performer, Grumms an innocent, low-status clown and, in its inventive use of an overhead projector, the physicality of Something in the Water is satisfying. Dramaturgically, things don’t entirely pay off, though: after the parody of normativity and the release into freer possibilities, Grumms becomes a hero, but the terms of their heroism are loosely defined. (What causes the crisis? Who is Grumms’s antagonist? What’s the showdown?) Something in the Water doesn’t fully sustain itself, but much of it is fun.

Vancouver Fringe Festival at the Revue Stage. Remaining performances: September 15 8:45 p.m., September 18 5:15 p.m., and September 19 at 7:00 p.m. Vancouver Fringe Festival tickets

Vancouver Fringe: HI, MY NAME IS JAI

publicity photo: Hi My Name is Jai

Jai Djwa spent a long time looking for his new name. 

When I heard that this autobiographical solo show was about the performer changing his first name, I thought, “So what?” But Hi, My Name is Jai is engaging for most of its 60 minutes because writer/performer Jai Djwa brings so much richness to it. Djwa’s dad was an ethnically Chinese Indonesian and his mom is a white woman from an East Coast fishing community, so naming and identity are complex for him; at one point on his quest to find a name that fits better than the one he was assigned at birth, Djwa consulted a mystic in Indonesia. In performance, he takes on the personae of folks he interviewed — including queer activist Luke Sissyfag — who changed their names with purpose. And director Raugi Yu keeps things physical, giving Djwa poses and actions. Djwa is an engaging performer, warm and confident. But the script doesn’t have a strong enough structure. There are a couple of potential narrative anchors — Djwa’s trip to Indonesia with his dad, and Djwa’s uncertain relationship with his wife — but neither is strongly developed. When the script left the story of the Indonesian trip and went on a long tangent, it lost me. But I was having a good time until then — and that was most of the show.

Vancouver Fringe Festival at Performance Works. Remaining performances: September 16 8:45, September 18 7:00 and September 19 5:15. Vancouver Fringe Festival tickets

Vancouver Fringe: IAGO VS. HAMLET

Iago vs. Hamlet publicity photo

Jon Paterson and Rod Peter Jr. (Photo: Jon Paterson)

Especially in these tough times, I don’t want to give anybody a bad review, but Iago vs. Hamlet didn’t work for me. The premise of playwright Jayson McDonald’s two-hander is simple: in a mix-up, Iago and Hamlet have rented the same rehearsal space for an hour. After bickering, they agree to share, but it takes too long for the central conflict to emerge: each is plotting to kill the other. Even then, there’s more filler than plot: the two characters run through a list of schemes for killing Hamlet’s father Claudius, for instance, then they run through a list of ways they might commit suicide together. None of this is funny. And playwright McDonald wastes pages in humour-free imitations of Shakespearean dialogue. Problematically, the two actors, Jon Paterson as Iago and Rod Peter Jr. as Hamlet, are in different stylistic worlds. To his credit, Paterson straightforwardly inhabits Iago’s reality, speaking from a place of motivation. Peter’s performance, on the other hand, is artificial. His Hamlet has a British accent and he’s physically mannered. Peter is letting us know that he’s acting, in the mistaken assumption — for me at least — that we’ll find this funny. Playwright McDonald also directed this show; as a director, one of his main duties was to set a consistent stylistic tone.

Vancouver Fringe Festival at the Revue Stage. Remaining performances: September 16 8:45 p.m., September 18 7:00 p.m., and September 19 8:45 p.m. Vancouver Fringe Festival tickets

Beneath Springhill: excellent performance, dull material

publicity photo for Beneath Springhill, Arts Club Theatre

Jeremiah Sparks is terrific in Beneath Springhill,
but the material doesn’t support him.(Photo by Moonrider Productions)

When does a pile have no depth? When it’s a pile of clichés.

I can understand why programming Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story might have looked like a good idea. This solo musical is based on the real-life experience of Maurice Ruddick, a Black Canadian miner who was trapped underground for nine days in a mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1958. Apparently, his singing helped to keep a small group of fellow survivors alive.

With Covid and climate change, the world is going to hell, so I can understand why the Arts Club’s artistic director Ashlie Corcoran would be attracted to a story of endurance and triumph. And, given the uncertainties of the pandemic and the financial hit that theatres have taken, it makes sense to program a one-person show.

But there are no ideas in Beneath Springhill and there’s virtually no dramatic tension. [Read more…]

Done/Undone: half done

publicity photo for Done/Undone (Bard on the Beach)

Charlie Gallant and Harveen Sandhu in Done/Undone (Photos by Emily Cooper)

For me, the two most personalized passages in Done/Undone, screenwriter Kate Besworth’s new film about the current relevancy — or irrelevancy — of Shakespeare’s work, are also the most successful.

In Done/Undone, which was initially commissioned by Bard on the Beach as a stage play, Besworth offers a series of vignettes. Two actors, Charlie Gallant and Harveen Sandhu, play all the roles. The core characters are a pair of academics who are engaged in a formal debate. They are defined through their ideas.

The characters who are the most compelling are defined by their lived experience. In the first, Gallant plays a neurosurgeon who has just joined the Board of a Shakespeare festival. Giving a toast on an opening night, he talks about how he had nowhere to process his grief after losing a patient during surgery — until a friend took him to a production of King Lear. Although he hadn’t been a theatregoer until that night, Cordelia’s death unexpectedly afforded the surgeon the release he needed. “I don’t give myself the space to feel out here,” he says. “But when I go in there and I sit down in the dark, there is a space that’s made for me.” [Read more…]

Gather: Stories in Nature — room to grow

publicity photo for Gather: Stories in Nature

Sharing stories outside is a good idea.
(Photo of Shayna Jones and Cameron Peal by Kathryn Nickford)

Maybe the best way to see these two short scripts is as seedlings.

In Gather: Stories in Nature, Shayna Jones and Cameron Peal both perform solo plays they’ve written about their relationships to the earth. In a (mostly) productive decision, their work is being presented beneath the trees in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Jones’s work is currently the sturdier of the two. It’s about a woman named Miriam who’s struggling in an oppressive marriage to a guy named Clinton. Early on, Clinton complains that Miriam is getting too independent: “That’s what I get for letting you discover yourself.” [Read more…]

The Magic Hour: It really is

promotional image for The Magic Hour at Presentation House

The library is just one of the trippy sites in The Magic Hour. (Photo by Clayton Baraniuk)

The Magic Hour opened me up and rearranged me. It was extraordinary.

The Magic Hour offers an immersive experience that audience members go through one at a time — or in pairs if you need to. The idea is that you’re finishing a dog walk and re-entering your home during the Covid pandemic.  But, when you pass through the first door, you find out that your home is an extraordinary maze of interconnected installations — the entire interior of Presentation House has been repurposed — and every installation offers opportunities to reflect on Covid and climate change.

This isn’t grim; in fact, it’s often transcendentally poetic. [Read more…]

I, Claudia: Welcome home

publicity photo for I, Claudia

Claudia knows she’s a goof. Sometimes she doesn’t care. (Photo of Lili Beaudoin by Moonrider Productions)

I cried with other people and laughed with them. We shared the space with a skilled and responsive performer. Together, we all slipped into the land of deliberate artifice and came out the other side with our hearts bigger and, in my case at least, more relaxed. Last night, I was in the audience for a live performance of I, Claudia at the Arts Club’s BMO Theatre Centre. It’s the first show I’ve seen in a theatre in months. It was good to be back.

Kristen Thomson’s title character is 12 and three-quarters years old. Her parents have separated and her dad, her hero, is about to be remarried. Claudia struggles to stay buoyant, but she does not approve. [Read more…]

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