In Joanna Rannelli’s autobiographical solo show, she shares her deepest, darkest secrets, but a lot of them aren’t that deep or dark, so Private Parts gets off to a slow start. And, because she shares so many secrets, the weightier material, which does show up eventually, is undermined, because she hasn’t left enough room to develop it. Rannelli’s stories are low on metaphor, including theatrical metaphor. (There’s no overarching convention to contain them.) Still, she is a charming performer and I have no doubt that her life challenges will speak to many people. Largely because of her presence, I was reasonably engaged by this show, but I feel it would be stronger if it were more focused and theatrical.

At Ballet BC. Remaining performances on September 9 (4:15 pm), 10 (4:30 pm), 12 (8:50 pm), 14 (5:00 pm), and 16 (6:45 pm). Tickets

THE CHAIR ON THE DOOR (Fringe review)

Yeah, baby! This is how you do it. Travis Abels’s autobiographical solo show is about growing up in a doomsday cult. His church had particularly stringent prohibitions about sex but, when Travis was 12 — I’m going to refer to the theatrical character as Travis in this review — he started getting feelings “like a bottle of Sprite being shaken up inside” him. His dad was a preacher in the church and could deliver the brimstone, but Abels does a great job of showing his father as fully human: his dad laughed at crows; his dad and mom would shout “Emergency!” to one another whenever they needed a snuggle. Great details like this help to build great stories. And The Chair on the Door is a story that belongs in the theatre. In a central metaphor, Travis stuffs his sexual feelings into his bedroom closet. A monster grows ever bigger in there — and it demands to be fed. Abels has created an excellent soundscape, so we hear the slathering beast, creaking doors, and even an ironic narrator. The script is bursting with resonant imagery. Even when Travis is 22 and has been living a sexually adventuresome life in LA, he goes home to Indiana to find that his dad’s hug is a relief, “like homeostasis.” On meeting a romantic interest: “I hear this wild laugh. It sounds like a drunk saxophone.” And a kiss is “like early summer.” Abels is a freely physical, funny, openhearted performer. Go see this one.

At The Nest. Remaining performances on September 9 (9:30 pm), 10 (2:15 pm), 13 (9:15 pm), 15 (5:00 pm), and 16 (4:45 pm). Tickets

Goblin: Macbeth — The press photos are as good as it gets

press photo for Goblin:Macbeth

All of these things are just like the others.
(Photo by Tim Matheson)

Presales for Goblin:Macbeth were so strong that Bard on the Beach extended the show’s run before it opened. But Goblin:Macbeth is a waste of time. [Read more…]

All Good Things Must Begin

sculpture: "Year 7: Cedar Window"

Cody Chancellor’s sculpture “Year 7: Cedar Window” is part of The Only Animal’s project “Thousand Year Theatre”.

In last week’s edition of my e-letter, FRESH SHEET, I invited readers to share knowledge about their favourite environmentally themed plays and theatrical resources. Dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty came through big time.

She turned me on to Climate Change Theatre Action. Launched in 2015 by playwrights Chantal Bilodeau and Elaine Avila among others, this international initiative commissions 50 playwrights every second year to write short scripts — five minutes is the goal — about the climate crisis. These scripts are then available to folks to present, royalty-free, during the time period of a virtual festival. This year’s festival runs from September 17 to December 23. Its theme is “All Good Things Must Begin”.

Climate Change Theatre Action has also produced three anthologies of work drawn from previous festivals.

Kathleen also reminded me of Sunny Drake’s international podcast series of short plays, Climate Change and Other Small Talk. She particularly recommends Drake’s Absolutely Nothing of Any Meaning, Carmen Aguirre’s Rolling Hills, Green Pastures, and especially Ram Ganesh Kanatham’s Nothing Happens, in which a nuclear submarine in the Indian Ocean receives bizarre new orders and two sonar operators face existential threats.

On a roll, Kathleen also sent this link to Vancouver playwright Jordan Hall’s audio piece The Split, a proposed pilot episode for a science fiction podcast.

The Split is produced by The Only Animal, which is also associated with the Artist Brigade, “a leaderless national movement” dedicated to bringing “imagination, vision and the heart of artists into the telling of the climate story in order to mobilize a society paralyzed by climate anxiety and grief.” These are the folks behind the green-heart placards that made such an impact at Greta Thunberg’s Vancouver rally.

The Only Animal imagines another of its initiatives, The Thousand Year Theatre, enduring for a millennium. Here’s a video about a couple of the projects embedded in that undertaking. This set of offerings is situated in the proposed expanded area of Mt. Elphinstone Provincial Park.

Kathleen’s mention of Jordan Hall reminded me of Hall’s Kayak, an earlier climate-related script. The play’s environmentally conservative central character, Annie, sits in a kayak for the entire performance, lost, dehydrated and sunburnt, remembering and hallucinating scenes with her beloved son and his (to her) annoyingly activist girlfriend. Here’s my review from 2013. This play deserves more productions.

Many thanks to Kathleen for her informed response!

Matilda the Musical: an excellent production of one of my favourites

publicity photo for Matilda the Muscal at TUTS, 2023

Sing out, young star!
(Photo of Siggi Kaldestad on Brian Ball’s set by Emily Cooper)

During the intermission at Matilda the Musical, my partner and I took a little stroll down towards the orchestra pit. And we noticed something: a bunch of the kids in the audience were already writing their reviews of the show — with their bodies. I saw a very little girl turn a somersault, then beam with delight — and surprise. A slightly older girl was turning cartwheels for her astonished relatives, who were saying things like, “I had no idea you could do that!” And another kid was frog-hopping through the crowd just because. That’s what inspiration looks like. These kids were running on the high of seeing young ‘uns like themselves on the stage, dancing acrobatically, performing their socks off, and loving it.

And, of course, respect for kids is what Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, which is how the piece is formally known, is all about.

In the story, nine-year-old Matilda’s parents are relentlessly mean to her because she’s a girl and because she reads.Matilda’s dad, Mr. Wormwood, insists on calling her a boy. And her peroxided mom complains, “It’s not normal for a girl to be all thinking.” Fortunately, Matilda finds allies in the local librarian Miss Phelps, and in a teacher at her new school, Miss Honey. But there’s also a new villain, the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, a former hammer thrower who refers to children as maggots.

Yes, there’s horror in this. But it’s the delicious kind. The girl sitting with her dad in front of us — about nine years old and clearly a Matilda connoisseur — was relishing every minute of it. And with good reason. The evil characters are so broad that they’re fun. When Miss Honey tries to stop Miss Trunchbull from pulling a little guy’s ears, for instance, Trunchbull replies, “I have discovered, Miss Honey, that the ears of small boys don’t come off. They stretch.” And, onstage, they do stretch — like Silly Putty. Kids love grossness and cartoon monsters. And, like adults, they need to master fear. Besides, we all have faith in Matilda.

[Read more…]

The Prom: a tearjerking good time

publicity photo for The Prom

Brianna Clark and Anna Pontin (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Anna Pontin could well become a star. Let’s establish that right off the top. The second thing to say is that, if I were rating this piece on a teardrop scale, it would score a solid five. This production of The Prom ain’t perfect, but it is undeniably moving.

The Prom tells the story of four out-of-luck Broadway performers. The biggest stars, Dee Dee and Barry, are accused — in print — of being narcissists, which they are, so they all decide to make themselves look good by lending their “celebrity” endorsements to a worthy cause. Scrolling through Twitter for “some small injustice we can drive to”, they find Emma Nolan, a high-schooler from Edgewater, Indiana, who has been refused access to her prom because she wants to bring her girlfriend as her date.

Slyly, The Prom takes the piss out of its own good intentions, so it rarely comes across as condescending: arriving in Edgewater waving placards, the four do-gooders declare, “We are liberal Democrats from Broadway!”, as if the Hoosiers will be instantly awestruck into submission.

[Read more…]

Henry V: an awful rewrite

publicity photo for Henry V at Bard on the Beach

It looks good, it just doesn’t feel good. That’s Kate Besworth on Amir Ofek’s set. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

Director Lois Anderson hasn’t just adapted Shakespeare’s Henry V for Bard on the Beach, she has attempted to rewrite it — and the results are a mess.

In Henry V, the reckless young Prince Hal of Henry IV, turns into a warrior whose troops slaughter the French at the Battle of Agincourt. The original play has disparate threads. Viewing it from one angle, we see the emergence of a military hero. Played from this direction, Henry V can be patriotic, even warmongering. But the play is also very clearly a critique of war. Its title character can be seen as Machiavellian and ruthless.

That is the richness of Henry V, which Anderson flattens into a simplistic anti-war statement. I’m an anti-war guy, but the words Anderson puts into Chorus’s mouth are painfully sophomoric. “War never ends,” Chorus solemnly informs us in newly minted text. “That’s how war begins,” Chorus adds after Henry’s advisors convince him he has a rightful claim to territory held by the French. And, if we’re curious about the machinations, we’re told to “Follow the money.”

“Toxic masculinity” is also on Anderson’s hit list: that’s what Anderson’s Chorus accuses the French prince, the Dauphin, of. I can’t remember if that’s before or after we see him shadowboxing pugnaciously. “Boys will be boys,” Chorus sighs.

[Read more…]

Million Dollar Quartet: artistry and marketing

publicity photo for Million Dollar Quartet at the Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver

The video design is the coolest thing.
(Set by Patrick Rizzotti. Actors: Emma Pedersen and Jay Clift
Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Director Bobby Garcia’s production of Million Dollar Quartet is so slick. His direction is tight, the design is fantastic, and the cast has talent pouring out of them. But I also felt like I was being marketed to and that significantly cut into my enjoyment. It might not cut into yours.

In Million Dollar Quartet, book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux fictionalize a real-life event. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins converged on the Sun Records recording studio run by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee — and they jammed.

All the singers were signed to Sun Records at some point, which places Phillips, their mentor, at the centre of this story. Lewis is desperate to be signed by him. Others may be moving on.

[Read more…]

Julius Caesar: splendid

publicity photo for Julius Caesar at Bard on the Beach

Publicity photo of Jennifer Lines as Mark Antony.
(Photo and image design by Emily Cooper)

Director Cherissa Richards’s production of Julius Caesar for Bard on the Beach is riveting from start to finish. I have never experienced such a successful interpretation of this play.

Part of the credit has to go to Stephen Drover’s driving adaptation, which cuts away extraneous text and exposes such a high-stakes drama that, when I glanced around the audience, I saw folks leaning forward in their seats, hungry to know what was going to happen next.

[Read more…]

Rotterdam: I liked its inhabitants

publicity photo for Rotterdam

Kai Solano Miranda and Clara Nowak in Rotterdam

This production of Rotterdam from the new queer company Under His Lyre features good work by emerging actors in a script that’s pretty bad.

In Rotterdam, playwright John Brittain tells the story of Fiona and Alice. They’re a couple, and Alice is just about to send a coming-out email to her parents when Fiona blurts, “I think I’m meant to be a man.” As Fiona starts filling out their trans identity — and takes a new name, Adrian — Alice struggles with her sense of herself as lesbian.

[Read more…]

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