Kinky Boots: Say yes to the heels!

publicity photo for Kinky Boots

Jeffrey Follis, Joshua Lalisan, Stewart Adam McKensy, Ryan Maschke, and Andrew J. Hampton
(Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Star power, baby! Stewart Adam McKensy, who plays Lola, the drag queen at the centre of the Arts Club’s mounting of Kinky Boots, has so much of it he’s like a constellation. And McKensy isn’t alone: there are many, many bright lights in director Barbara Tomasic’s tight, celebratory production. [Read more…]

‘da Kink in my Hair: admittedly, not MY hair

publicity photo: Arts Club Theatre's production of 'da Kink in my Hair

Playing Novelette, Alana Bridgewater anchors this production —
but the script doesn’t bother to give her a story.
(Photo: Moonrider Productions)

There are reviews I’ve been more eager to write. ‘Da Kink in my Hair is almost entirely about the experience of Black Canadian women. I’m a white guy — and I don’t think this musical is well constructed. So boo hoo me; or shut up me: I get the legitimacy of both responses. But I’ve been invited to review this show and I’m going to do it because I think the artistic discussion is worth having.

There is no overarching plot in ‘da Kink in my Hair, which is set in Novelette’s hair salon, which seems to be in Toronto. A series of women sit in Novelette’s chair, and she intuits their traumas and life crises by touching their hair. This triggers a monologue — in song and/or prose — from each of them and Novelette brings closure through forgiveness, inclusion, compassion, or solidarity.

Trey Anthony’s script brings up all sorts of issues: the murder of young Black men, the pressure on Black women to be perfect, colourism, sexual abuse … The list goes on. Obviously, every one of these issues is worth exploring. My argument is that they’re worth exploring in more depth. [Read more…]

Redbone Coonhound: FIRE! (and misfires)

playwright photos: Redbone Coonhound

Playwrights Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton

Written by married couple Omari Newton and Amy Lee Lavoie, Redbone Coonhound isn’t always subtle or precisely focused, but it’s got force!

It’s about Michael, who’s married to Marissa. As in the Newton/Lavoie marriage, he’s Black, she’s white, and they live in Vancouver’s West End. The story gets triggered when Michael and Marissa meet a Seattle couple who are jogging on the seawall with their dog, which is a Redbone Coonhound, an American breed used for hunting racoons and other large game.

Michael is incensed by the casual use of the breed’s name, which, in his view, contains two racial slurs. The term “redbone” can refer to light- or reddish-skinned people who are a mix of Black and other races. When used by Black people, “coon” refers to other Black folks who may suffer from racial self-hatred. It can be used to insult Black men who only date white women, for instance.

The central storyline in Redbone Coonhound concerns Michael, Marissa, and their friends in present-day Vancouver but, with the help of a narrator (artfully voiced by Tom Pickett in the Arts Club’s audio presentation), it leaps into fantastical dimensions that exist in the space “between white fragility and Black fatigue”. When the Coonhound chases Michael into Stanley Park, for instance, he transforms into his great-great-grandfather, who’s trying to escape the American South and get to Canada via the underground railroad in 1840.

I’m a white guy: keep that in mind as I try to articulate my response. [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…]

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…]

Buffoon: Read this review and watch the show (not necessarily in that order)

illustrates review of a play called Buffoon

Andrew McNee is performing with a broken arm. (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

It’s story time. And you could hardly ask for better storytellers than playwright Anosh Irani and actor Andrew McNee. (McNee and Kayvon Khoshkam are alternating in this solo show.) [Read more…]

The Sound of Music: decorative Nazis, delirious music

The Arts Club is presenting The Sound of Music at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre

Houston, we have lift-off!
Maria (Synthia Yusuf) and the von Trapp children sing “Do-Re-Mi”.
(Photo by Emily Cooper)

Going into the Arts Club’s production of The Sound of Music I could hardly have been more resistant. I doubt you could find a more conventional, less adventuresome Christmas show. And the politics of The Sound of Music are weird: it tells the story of the Nazi invasion of Austria — without so much as an oblique reference to the persecution of Jews or any of the other groups the Nazis were rounding up and terrorizing at the time. The Sound of Music examines the Anschluss from the point of view of the Baron von Trapp, a nobleman of extraordinary inherited wealth who seems to object to the Nazi presence primarily on the basis of territoriality — and the Nazis’ rudeness.

So, you know, I was grumpy.

But I’ll be damned if director Ashlie Corcoran’s production didn’t win me over. [Read more…]

The Matchmaker: when it all lines up, it’s fantastic

In The Matchmaker, Nicola Lipman’s wig sets the tone for the evening. (Photo of Lipman and Ric Reid by David Cooper)

I went from thinking, “This is going to be a very long night,” to laughing uncontrollably. That is an excellent trajectory. [Read more…]

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Send your regrets.

The Arts Club Theatre is producing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

In Christmas at Pemberley, you see this moment coming from miles away. Leagues. Light years. (Photo of Kate Dion-Richard and Matthew MacDonald-Bain by David Cooper)

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is going to do very well at the box office—but not because it’s good.

Co-written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the play is a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. With her husband, the dashing Darcy, Lizzy now presides over a grand estate called Pemberley. But the script focuses on Mary, the middle of the five Bennet sisters. As the siblings—minus Kitty, who is written out—gather for Christmas at Pemberley, the bookish Mary moans, “I shall never find a husband!”, so we know immediately that she will. And, when Darcy mentions that his cousin Arthur has just come into a huge inheritance, it’s clear exactly who her groom will be. (In stories like this, money is always a central player.)

The predictability is relentless. Mary has been going on about how she lives in her mind and how she loves to take imaginary journeys through the atlas. When Arthur finally arrives, he goes straight for that book of maps. “Much like you,” he tells Mary, “I travel on paper and in ink.”

Then the play tries to pretend that their marriage isn’t inevitable. [Read more…]

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: curiously, it both works and doesn’t work

The Arts Club Theatre is producing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Daniel Doheny’s thorough performance centres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Because its heart is simple but pure, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is both boring and moving.

Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, Simon Stephens’s play follows Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, as he tries to figure out who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s standard poodle, with a pitchfork. Christopher’s dad, Ed, who is raising his son on his own, tries to discourage him, but Christopher persists and his sleuthing leads him to taking a solo journey by train from Swindon to London, which is a heroic quest for somebody so prone to sensory overload.

The relationship between Ed and Christopher is complicated. Ed loves his challenging boy furiously—sometimes too furiously: at one point, he smacks him in the face. And there are other transgressions. The scene in which Ed begs Christopher to trust him again is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the story is disappointingly straightforward, however; you can see its conclusions coming from light years away. [Read more…]

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