Yellow Fever: oddly conceived, well performed

publicity photo: Yellow Fever

Agnes Tong and Hiro Kanagawa get INTO it in Yellow Fever. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

There’s some very nice work in the Firehall Art Centre’s production of Yellow Fever, but, under Donna Spencer’s direction, the production always feels slightly out of focus.

Rick Shiomi’s film-noir style script is about Sam Shikaze, a classically hardboiled detective who works on and around Powell Street. It’s 1973 and the recently crowned Cherry Blossom Queen seems to have been kidnapped. Sam’s on the case and a pesky young newspaper reporter named Nancy Wing is tailing him looking for a scoop. At least Sam treats Nancy like she’s pesky — but then the romantic sparks start to fly.

First question: Why is director Spencer presenting this theatrical script as a radio play complete with visible foley (sound effects) artists? In her program notes, the director attempts an answer. Spencer says that she initially envisioned the piece when theatres were in lockdown; she thought she’d do it online as a staged radio play. Okay. Maybe in Zoom squares … But, when she realized she could mount it in a theatre, she writes, “we decided to go forward with the radio play concept still in mind.” Okay, but why? The circumstances have changed. “Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting in a comfy chair,” Spencer suggests. But I don’t go to the theatre to spend the evening with my eyes closed! And Spencer doesn’t really want us to keep our eyes closed, either: the evening she presents has a lot going on visually. Her foundational choice looks fuzzy headed to me. [Read more…]

White Noise: my contribution

promo photo for White Noise

Columpa Bobb’s character Tse’kwi catches up on some essential reading.
(Photo: Moonrider Productions)

White Noise is just another pop culture, truth-and-reconciliation comedy: same old, same old … I’m kidding! How many of those have you seen? Taran Kootenhayoo’s White Noise is completely frickin’ original. It has a vision. And it comes with the slap of urgency.

When Microsoft buys an app from an Indigenous teenager named Windwalker — for a breathtaking amount of money — he decides to move with his mom and dad from their community near Edmonton to West Point Grey. (The indoor pool was a big selling point.) Jessika, the teenage daughter of the white settler family next door, is just 10K short of her goal of 100,000 Instagram followers. So we view this story largely through the lens of online culture.

When Jessika’s parents invite Windwalker and his family over for dinner, Indigenous realities bump up against settler assumptions — and the windstorm whipping up outside gets ever more furious. [Read more…]

yellow objects: an adventure

Poster for Derek Chan's yellow objects

There’s a lot going on here — and a good deal of it is engaging.

Playwright Derek Chan’s yellow objects is about Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which was crushed in 2020 — although its spirit lives on. Artistically, yellow objects is adventuresome. Ten audience members at a time move through an experience that’s staged on the Firehall Arts Centre’s playing area and in its outdoor courtyard.

The event’s loose narrative straddles two timelines: 2019, when demonstrators protesting against the Communist Party of China’s antidemocratic impositions on Hong Kong are being beaten, rounded up, tortured, and sometimes disappeared; and a period about 50 years after that in which a young Canadian woman named Sandra Wong arrives in Hong Kong to find a resting place for her grandmother’s ashes. [Read more…]

The Amaryllis takes a long time to bloom

 

 

publicity shot for The Amaryllis

(Photo of Shawn Macdonald and Amy Rutherford in The Amaryllis by Emily Cooper)

Michele Riml’s script is a screwball comedy. But director Mindy Parfitt’s production is lacking a screwball: Amy Rutherford is miscast. [Read more…]

I Walked the Line: Solidarity, sisters and brothers!

I Walked the Line, Allan Morgan, Firehall Theatre

Allan Morgan really did walk the line when his union was locked out in Burnaby.

Allan Morgan is a big ol’ homo. That’s a big part of why his solo show I Walked the Line is such a glorious celebration of resilience, compassion, and belonging. [Read more…]

House and Home: a recommended short-term rental

The Firehall Arts Centre is presenting Jenn Griffin's House and Home.

Jillian Fargey and Andrew Wheeler both rock in House and Home (Photo by Reznek Creative)

It’s kind of a shapeless bag of jewels, but it’s still a bag of jewels. [Read more…]

Fado: The Saddest Music in the World — is just a bit sulky

 

Puente Theatre and the Firehall Arts Centre are presenting Fado: The Saddest Music in the World

Gotta love the Portuguese tiles in Emma Dickerson’s set. (Photo of Lucia Frangione, Natasha Napoleao, and Pedro M. Siqueira by Jam Hamidi)

Fado: The Saddest Music in the World is an odd title for a play that evokes so little feeling.

The problem is the script. [Read more…]

The Enemy…is too easy to spot

The Firehall Arts Centre is presenting The Enemy, which is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People.

Against all odds, Jenn Griffin keeps a naturalistic performance alive in The Enemy. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

God save good art from simplistic politics.

Donna Spencer has adapted Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which premiered in 1882, to create The Enemy—and by “adapted” I mean “shrunk”.

In Ibsen’s story, Dr. Stockmann, the medical officer for a new spa in southern Norway, has discovered that the spa’s supposedly healing waters are contaminated with bacteria that are causing typhoid and other gastrointestinal illnesses. But the town’s economic development depends on the success of the spa and, so the townspeople gradually turn against him, declare him an enemy of the people, and do everything in their power to discredit and silence him.

It’s easy to see the contemporary relevance and appeal: environmental concerns, economic greed, fake news.

But in Ibsen’s telling, Stockmann is a flawed human being, which allows for complex dynamics. Spencer’s Stockman, on the other hand, is much more purely heroic, so Spencer’s version of the story is black-and-white, predictable—and dull. [Read more…]

Shit: strong performances emerge from a distancing script

Increasingly, Sharon Crandall, who plays Bob in Shit, is making her presence felt as a dramatic actor. 

For a script with such an earthy title, Shit is oddly abstract.

In Shit, Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius presents us with three incarcerated women. Billy, Bob, and Sam have all grown up in foster care and they have all been brutalized sexually, emotionally, and physically. They have also committed a serious crime together, which is why they’re in jail: exactly what they’ve done becomes clearer as the play unfolds. “Do you think someone’s going to save us?” Sam asks. “We’re way past saving,” Billy replies.

Cornelius has constructed her text musically. It begins with an overture of fucks. All three women spew the expletive as if they’re gleefully shooting bullets at machine-gun pace. They compete to see if anyone can get through a sentence without saying “fuck”. They criticize one another’s facility: “You’re not usin’ it well.” And they revel in the energy of fuck and cunt: “The life in them words!” [Read more…]

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth: How much fresh light does this revered play shine?

The Firehall Arts Centre is producing Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Janice (Chelsea Rose Tucker) and Barb (Ashley Chartrand) ‘working their differences out’. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This is a guest review from Deneh’Cho Thompson.

The Firehall Arts Centre first brought Drew Hayden Taylor’s Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth to Vancouver in 1997, and now it’s back.

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth follows a pair of sisters as they grapple with the death of their mother. The difficulty: they were separated as children during the Sixties Scoop, a period in which governmental organizations stole thousands of aboriginal children from their families and placed them in the foster care system. The effects of these forced adoptions are still playing out across Canada. [Read more…]

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