Forgiveness: Why isn’t it more moving?

publicity photo for Forgiveness

Yoshie Bancroft and Kevin Takahide Lee (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Considering the emotional nature of the material — the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and the abuse of prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps — Forgiveness falls surprisingly flat.

Playwright Hiro Kanagawa’s stage adaptation is drawn from Mark Sakamoto’s memoir. The story is about Sakamoto’s grandmother Mitsue, a Vancouverite who was forced to labour with her family on a sugar beet farm in Alberta, and his grandfather Ralph from Québec’s Magdalen Islands, who spent most of the war in ruthlessly cruel POW camps.

According to the GoodReads website, Forgiveness is 272 pages long. Maybe that makes it unadaptable — at least without cutting more material. In his stage version, Kanagawa has crammed in so many plot points that, even with an almost three-hour running time, the play feels frantic, like it’s skittering across the surface of a deeper story. Director Stafford Arima’s loud, busy production exacerbates the problem. [Read more…]

Little Willy is a big hit

publicity photo for Little Willy

Who wouldn’t love Schnitzel
(pictured here with their creator, Ronnie Burkett)?

I had almost forgotten what helpless laughter feels like. It’s good for the soul.

In Little Willy, marionette master Ronnie Burkett is working a new premise, using many of the familiar faces from his “repertory company” of puppets and even doing one of his most … shall we say “time honoured” bits of schtick.

At first, I wasn’t sure how well it was going to work. The premise of Little Willy is that the Daisy Theatre, a traveling group of marionettes, has been booked into a venue that has mistakenly advertised them as a Shakespearean troupe, so they decide to improvise Romeo and Juliet.

The show starts off with Dolly Wiggler doing her familiar striptease. In terms of technique, it’s undeniably virtuosic, but I’ve seen it a bunch of times. And then Burkett trots out a series of beautifully crafted marionette characters — who don’t do much. The major general. The major general in drag. A librarian who’s an unfortunately stereotypical old maid.

The best jokes in this section are metatheatrical. Burkett’s only got two hands so, when he’s dealing with three puppet characters, one of them has to just hang there. This leads to some great gags about diva Esmee Masengill’s extraordinary technique, the discipline of her stillness.

And then Little Willy suddenly gains depth. Schnitzel arrives. Schnitzel is a little fairy with twisty ears and a flower growing out of their bald head. Schnitzel makes the pitch that they should be allowed to perform the balcony scene all by themself: they are, after all, gender fluid. The pitch itself is moving and, when Schnitzel launched into “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Schnitzel/Burkett delivered the speech with such innocence and feeling it was like I’d never heard it before. By the time Schnitzel got to “Romeo, doff thy name,/And for that name, which is no part of thee,/Take all myself”, I was in tears.

[Read more…]

Flowers of the Rarest: More thematic development would make it rarer

publicity photo for Flowers of the Rarest

Gabrielle Rose as Biddy in Flowers of the Rarest

On one level, I was seduced by the understatement of this production and the fine acting it contains. But, about halfway through watching Flowers of the Rarest, I wrote in my notebook, “I’m ready for some plot development” and, a bit later: “Besides plot, what is there to think about?”

Gerrard Plunkett’s new script is set in a Magdalene laundry in Ireland in 1923, the last year of the Irish Civil War. The Magdalen laundries were vicious institutions that imprisoned first prostitutes, then unwed mothers, and even women and girls who had never had sex — under the guise of reforming them. Incarceration could go on for life. These women and girls were abused and exploited for their labour by both Protestant and Catholic churches.

In the small group of women we meet in Flowers of the Rarest, Biddy is determined to help young Rose escape. Mother Anne, the mother superior, is sexually assaulting Rose.

[Read more…]

Instantaneous Blue: The full effect isn’t instantaneous, but it gets there.

Publicity photo for Instantaneous Blue

This is heartbreaking: Patti Allan and Tom McBeath in Instantaneous Blue.
(Image by Shimon Photo)

Aaron Craven’s new script Instantaneous Blue rings with the authority of personal experience. And director David Mackay is working with extraordinary actors. The play is moving. The production works. And, not to be a nerd or anything, but there are things to be learned here about structure.

Mitch and Murray Productions, the producing company, is billing Instantaneous Blue as a semi-autobiographical story. In 2016, both of playwright Craven’s parents were diagnosed with cognitive decline: Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the play, that’s what happens to Edward, who struggles with his new responsibilities to his parents, the shock of their transformations, the demands of his acting career and status as a new dad, and the temptation to take it all out on his wife.

Throughout Act 1, there are quiet moments of truth. As Judith and Bob, Edward’s mom and dad, are getting increasingly addled and anxious, music plays and they suddenly, instinctively gravitate to one another, embrace, and dance: for a moment at least, they’re safe. Edward is auditioning for a film role and he can’t remember his fucking lines: you can feel the floor falling away beneath him. And the look on Edward’s face as he watches paramedics forcibly restrain then sedate his raging mother is pure, silent tragedy. When Edward’s wife Sara finally speaks after being endlessly put down by Edward’s knee-jerk sarcasm, it’s a gut punch: “I want to tell you everything, my love,” she says.

You couldn’t ask for better actors. Charlie Gallant (Edward) has the gift of transparency. Patti Allan fearlessly drives the out-of-control car of Judith’s mood swings. And Tom McBeath brings touching delicacy to Bob’s attempts to make everything okay. The kindness, generosity, and unadorned sense of presence that actor Olivia Hutt brings to Sara grounds the evening.

[Read more…]

Anne of Green Gables: The Musical — This production outshines the material

publicity photo for Anne of Green Gables

You’ve got to love these two: Kyra Leroux and Anthony Santiago.
(Photo by Ross Denotte)

Anne of Green Gables: The Musical is brainless but chipper and Gateway Theatre’s polished production includes a couple of remarkably strong performances.

In case you don’t know the story, the musical is based on L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 novel. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, unmarried siblings in their fifties and sixties, decide to house an orphan boy who will provide labour on their farm on Prince Edward Island. But young Anne Shirley arrives and, after some hesitation on Marilla’s part, they keep her. Much of the material is about how feisty and imaginative Anne is — although she despises her red hair. As the years pass, Anne wins over the entire town of Avonlea.

Ultimately, Anne of Green Gables is about self-acceptance and belonging, but its story is episodic and, because the musical telling fails to develop these episodes in any depth, it feels they’re simply being listed as quickly as possible and it’s hard to find a narrative focus. Anne tries to dye her hair black, but it turns green; within minutes, that’s all forgotten. Throughout the musical, Anne and her schoolmate Gilbert Blythe are obviously attracted to one another, but, on her first day of school in Avonlea, Gilbert teases her about her hair and she doesn’t forgive him — until a quick resolution near the end of Act 2 in which they’re suddenly arm in arm declaring their love in song.

Instead of well-developed relationships, the musical offers a lot of atmospheric material about an impossibly quaint version of historic PEI. No wonder it has become a major tourist draw in Charlottetown.

Thankfully, director Barbara Tomasic’s production is much better than the musical itself. [Read more…]

A Christmas Carol — straight up

publicity photo for a Christmas Carol

(Photo of Sanjay Talwar by Jam Hamidi)

For me as kid and even as a young adult, watching the annual TV appearance of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol was a religious experience. I watched it every year, preferably by myself so that others who might be less devout wouldn’t distract me. I have sucked the life out of that text, which makes me a less than ideal audience member for Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s one-man Christmas Carol. [Read more…]

The Wonderful is misnamed

The Wonderful publicity photo

This part of the Caravan experience is still great.

The Wonderful is not wonderful.

You can’t beat the venue, but Luke Reece’s script is bad.

A riff on the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wonderful is Caravan Farm Theatre’s winter show. That means it takes place outdoors on a farm near Armstrong in the north Okanagan. Members of the audience hop onto horse-drawn sleighs and glide through the snowy night to watch scenes that unfold on little stages set up in the woods. So far so gorgeous.

The Caravan member who was riding shotgun (keeping watch) on the back of my sleigh was terrific — firm but extremely amiable when he was dealing with a kind of out-of-control little guy who was sitting next to me. And the drivers of the sleighs guided their teams of Percherons into tight spots with incredible precision.

But, as I said, the script sucks. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie) becomes Georgia Brathwaite, a young Black woman living in a small BC community. She’s about to commit suicide. To convince Georgia to embrace her life, Terence, this version’s angel, shows her what her little town would have been like if she had never been born.

Not one of Reece’s variations on the suicide/redemption plot works. [Read more…]

Me Love Bingo!: Best in Snow — Save your money. Don’t waste your time.

publicity photo for Me Love Bingo!: Best in Snow

Leslie Dos Remedios and Kyle Loven (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

How did this show ever get programmed into the Arts Club’s season? The Arts Club is a professional company. Me Love Bingo!: Best in Snow is not of a professional standard.

For Best in Snow, set designer Ted Roberts has turned the Newmont Stage into a bingo hall, so most of the audience sits at long, bingo-style tables. The best thing about the evening is that it provides an opportunity to chat with your table mates. I want to thank the single gay man, the four female friends, and the handsome straight couple for being fun. I also want to thank my companion, who left at intermission and sent me a text saying, “I just couldn’t take anymore. I hope it’s over now.” [Read more…]

The Messiah: The silliest story ever told (That’s a compliment.)

publicity photo for Pacific Theatre's The Messiah

The happy couple: Peter Carlone as Mary and John Voth as Joseph
(Chelsey Stuyt Photography)

You have to be smart to be dumb. Or wily. Or at least have good instincts. Okay, I don’t really know how they do it, but, playing a couple of goofballs in Pacific Theatre’s production of The Messiah, Peter Carlone and John Voth are very funny and very engaging. [Read more…]

Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs: disappointing

publicity photo for The 3 Little Pigs

Tanner Zerr, Angela Chu, and Frankie Cottrell
(Photo by Tina Krueger Kulic)

Absolutely the best thing about going to a kids’ show is that you get to take a kid. My friend Mathias, who’s six, accompanied my partner and me to Carousel Theatre’s production of Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs. Mati had never been to the theatre before and, on the ride over, he was overflowing with questions and speculation, especially about how the theatre company might show the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the little pigs’ houses. And I’ve never seen anybody have such a good time walking — well, skipping and running — through a parking garage on the way to a performance. He was pumped.

And so was I: I love introducing kids to the theatre and I was confident we were heading into a strong show. But 3 Little Pigs massively underdelivered — at least for me. [Read more…]

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