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…]

Forget About Tomorrow: Get to the point

Tom (Craig Erickson) sings a song of love—on video—in Forget About Tomorrow. (Photo by David Cooper)

When I was returning to my seat after intermission, I had virtually no interest in what was going to happen next. That’s not a good sign.

In Forget About Tomorrow, playwright Jill Daum tells the story of Jane, whose husband Tom develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. The main problem with the play is that most of Act 1 is redundant. Virtually everyone entering the theatre will know that the script is about Alzheimer’s disease, but, for almost its entire length, the first act avoids the inevitable central drama. [Read more…]

Fun Home: talent galore—and lesbians centre stage

The Arts Club is producing Fun Home, the musical.

Alison times three: Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Jamie MacLean, and Kelli Ogmundson play the same character at different ages in Fun Home. (Photo by David Cooper)

It’s subtle, which is great. It’s queer, which is welcome. It’s also narratively unsurprising. But it’s still the best show in town.

The musical Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In both, Bechdel, who is lesbian, struggles to understand her relationship with her gay father Bruce, who committed suicide.

The musical is a memory play and, as in memory, several realities coexist. Alison is 43, the same age her dad was when he killed himself. She watches ten-year-old Small Alison as Bruce bullies her into being more girly and wearing her barrette. And she stands guard over Medium Alison as she goes away to college, comes out, and falls in love with a woman named Joan. [Read more…]

Jitters begs the question, “Why bother?”

The Arts Club is presenting Jitters, by David French, at the Stanley Theatre.

Robert Moloney (Patrick) and Megan Leitch (Jessica) have a wig-off in Jitters. (Photo by David Cooper)

There are a whole lot of skilled artists at work here and there are a couple of good laughs in the script. Mostly, though, David French’s Jitters is a waste of precious theatre time.

Jitters is a backstage comedy, a show about putting on a show. In it, a Toronto company rehearses a new script called The Care and Treatment of Roses, goes through opening night, and deals with the aftermath of reviews.

In the play proper, Jessica Logan is a Canadian actor who has had some success on Broadway. She wants to get back to the Great White Way and, based on her presence in The Care and Treatment of Roses, a Broadway producer has been enticed to attend the premiere. All of this terrifies Jessica’s co-star Patrick Flanagan, who fears that, if the show does go to New York, he will be exposed as the minor talent he thinks he is. Of course, because they are at one another’s throats in real life, Jessica and Patrick play lovers in the play they’re rehearsing.  [Read more…]

Topdog/Underdog: How does this American play about race resonate on Canada’s West Coast?

The Arts Club Theatre is presenting Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks.

In Topdog/Underdog, Michael Blake plays an African-American Lincoln impersonator named Lincoln. (Photo by David Cooper)

Big chunks of this play about African-American despair are boring. Said the white critic.

In Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog, brothers Lincoln and Booth—their father gave them their names as a joke—share a single room. The toilet is down the hall. There is no running water. Lincoln works at an amusement park, where he puts on whiteface and dresses as Abraham Lincoln. Patrons pay to shoot blanks at him and watch him pretend to die. Booth, who is younger, doesn’t have a job, but he’s desperate for Lincoln to teach him a street hustle called the three-card monte. Lincoln was a genius at the three-card monte before he gave it up and sought “legit” employment.

These guys are screwed. Topdog/Underdog is like Waiting for Godot—with more explicit social analysis. Domestically, Lincoln and Booth were abandoned. Their mother and father tried to make a home for them—even though the back yard was concrete and the front yard was full of trash—but their parents’ demons took over and the boys were on their own by the time they were 16 and 11. Socioeconomically they can’t win. As Lincoln says to Booth when he’s teaching him the card hustle and Booth is taking the role of the mark: “You may think you have a chance, but the only time you pick right is when the man lets you.” And, romantically, they are doomed. Sexually, they were scarred by their childhoods and now women are interested in them only as meal tickets. Referring to Grace, his ex, Booth says, “I had my little employment difficulty and she needs time to think.” [Read more…]

Beauty and the Beast: this holiday entertainment could be more generous

The Arts Club is presenting Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

It takes a while for Jonathan Winsby to find his Beast but, when he does, it’s a thing of beauty. (Photo by David Cooper)

You want a big show like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to be lavish and dazzling but, in crucial ways, the Arts Club’s production is stingy and incomplete. Fortunately, there are also some excellent performances in the mix and the story itself is strong. [Read more…]

King Charles III: It’s stylish but is it relevant?

The Arts Club is presenting Mike Bartlett's King Charles III at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

Costumer Christoper David Gauthier knows what he’s doing in King Charles III. (Photo by David Cooper)

Who gives a toss?

In Mike Bartlett’s 2014 script, Queen Elizabeth II has just died and Charles has become King, although his coronation is a few months off. In one of his first acts as monarch, he refuses to give his assent to a bill that would restrict the freedom of the press, although that bill has been passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Before long, there are riots in the streets as opposing groups clash, and power plays start to metastasize within the royal family. [Read more…]

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