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…]

Mamma Mia! is LOUD (with good bits)

In Mamma Mia! the groom and his friends perform a can-can while wearing swimming flippers.

The swim-flipper can-can these dudes do is one of the highlights of Mamma Mia! (Photo by Davi Cooper)

This production of Mamma Mia! is selling the show so hard you’d think it was the last used car on the lot.

Mamma Mia! is a ridiculous—but extremely amiable—jukebox musical. Catherine Johnson, who wrote the book, has strung a bunch of hit songs by ABBA into an unlikely story. A young woman named Sophie lives on a Greek island with her mom, an ex-pat American named Donna, who runs a taverna. Sophie’s getting married and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle, but she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites to her wedding the three most likely suspects: Harry, Bill, and Sam, who all had sex with Donna at about the time of Sophie’s conception. Sophie figures she’ll know her dad when she sees him. She doesn’t.

The ABBA songs never quite fit the storyline, but, if the musical is treated with a light hand—as a lark—nobody really cares. It’s just fun—like a bunch of kids putting on a show in their backyard, but with a large budget. Under Valerie Easton’s direction, however, the first act of this Arts Club production comes out punching. It’s loud. A lot of the acting is broad. And Easton and her players lard scenes with so much comic business that they groan under the weight. [Read more…]

Me and You is charming, gorgeous, and a little wobbly

Playing Liz, Patti Allan embraces her younger sister, Lou (Lois Anderson) in Melody Anderson's Me and You.

Patti Allan’s Liz protects Lois Anderson’s Lou in Me and You—or is that a stranglehold? (Photo by David Cooper)

Melody Anderson’s new play Me and You is sweetly soulful. And it could be better built.

In Me and You, Anderson logs exemplary moments in the lifelong relationship between sisters Liz and Lou. The first time we see them, Liz, who is four years older, is outraged when she realizes that Lou has coloured the elephant in one of their picture books blue. “Mom!” And that sets the dynamic: Liz is literal, controlling, and scientific, and Lou is a free-spirited artist. They also love one another. [Read more…]

Misery: more like a bad cold

Playing Annie, Lucia Frangione attacks Andrew McNee's Paul with a sledgehammer in Misery.

Despite internally consistent performances from Andrew McNee and Lucia Frangione, the Arts Club’s production of Misery fails to hit home(Photo by David Cooper)

The Arts Club’s production of Misery is a journey straight to heck and back.

It’s not scary, which is a flaw in a thriller.

William Goldman, who wrote the play, also penned the screenplay for the1990 movie. Both are based on a book by Stephen King. In the story, a romance novelist named Paul Sheldon has just finished a more artistically ambitious—possibly pretentious—manuscript, when his car careens off the side of a mountain during a Colorado snowstorm. Suffering a dislocated shoulder and severely broken legs, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who takes him back to her house in the woods, tends to his injuries, and declares herself his number-one fan.

Annie promises to get Paul to a hospital the moment the roads clear, but it soon becomes apparent that she’s obsessed and she plans to keep him captive. When Annie discovers that Paul has killed off her favourite character, she becomes enraged—and psychotically sadistic. A whole lot of the “entertainment” in Misery derives from the suffering that she inflicts on Paul. [Read more…]

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