In Wonderland — some of the time

publicity photo: In Wonderland

Sarah Roa, Graham Percy, and Natascha Girgis at the Mad Hatter’s tea party
(Photo: Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that’s run so hot and cold. There are elements and passages in Alberta Theatre Projects’ In Wonderland that are transporting — and long stretches in which nothing fires.

In this two-act adventure, playwright Anna Cummer offers a three-actor riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

In several instances, director Haysam Kadri’s production rises to the challenge of its source material with astonishing visuals. In the introductory scene, Alice, her sister Lory, and a man named Charles — presumably a stand-in for Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson — paddle on a meandering river. To represent their journey, the three actors sit in a steamer trunk, pretending it’s a boat, and behind them, on the gigantic scrim at the Gateway Theatre, we see a gorgeous, antiquely brown-and-black watercolour video that represent the riverbanks they’re passing.

In a completely different visual style — the projection designs are all by Jamie Nesbitt — when Alice pops down the rabbit hole, we first see her in a pre-recorded video way up at the top of the proscenium, making her way through an angular, geometric passage. Then she falls, and the live actor (Sarah Roa) is suddenly illuminated behind the scrim, tumbling and tumbling through space. It’s trippy. [Read more…]

Straight White Men: Aliens

Men 2 Boyz. (Photo of Carlo Marks, Daniel Martin, and Sebastien Archibald by Tim Matheson)

The motto of Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company is “Destroy the audience!” and the Village Voice has crowned her “the queen of unease”. But Itsazoo’s production of Lee’s Straight White Men left me disappointingly untroubled and unimplicated. [Read more…]

Gross Misconduct: the writer overplays her hand

SpeakEasy Theatre is presenting Gross Misconduct at the Gateway Theatre.

Ian Butcher, Mike Gill, and Scott Bellis engage in Gross Misconduct (Photo by David Cooper)

This play could have been more than it is.

In Meghan Gardiner’s Gross Misconduct, Deke, who’s been in jail for a long time—and who, incredibly, seems to have had a two-bunk cell to himself for years—finds out that he’s got a cellmate all of a sudden: a young guy named Corey who’s scared shitless and won’t shut up. Deke is reading a book in which a woman named Abby recounts how she was raped as an adolescent. [Read more…]

Yoga Play: steady that pose

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Dipika Guha's Yoga Play.

Christine Quintana and Chirag Naik in Yoga Play (Photo: Gateway Theatre)

 

If only it had a middle. Yoga Play has an enticing beginning and a meaningful conclusion. But, in between, it gets lost in low-stakes plotting.

In Yoga Play, American writer Dipika Guha takes aim at the commercialization of an ancient ascetic practice. Think Lululemon, that’s what Guha does: she invents a Lululemon-like company called Jojomon and, right off the top, she tosses in a reference to Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who tried to say that some of his company’s yoga pants became transparent only because the thighs of the women wearing them were too big.

The large and small details of Guha’s writing are effervescent in their inventiveness. A guy named John, who owns Jojomon, calls his dog Sappho. And Jojomon has just come out with a new fabric that features the slow release of organic lavender—and was inspired by Marie Kondo. [Read more…]

It’s a Wonderful Life: It’s a boring show

Patrick Street Productions is presenting It's a Wonderful Life at the Gateway Theatre.

Clarence (Greg Armstrong-Morris) watches Mary (Erin Palm) and George (Nick Fontaine) canoodle. (Photo by David Cooper)

Adapter and director Peter Jorgensen gets a lot of things right in this musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Gateway.

The Arts Club has repeatedly trotted out Philip Grecian’s politically neutered stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, but Jorgensen’s script is every bit as political as the film.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a guy named George Bailey who becomes suicidal on Christmas Eve because it looks like his company Bailey Building and Loan will collapse and he’ll go to jail. But people who love George pray for him and an angel named Clarence is assigned to avert his death if possible. When George tells Clarence that the world would have been better off without him, Clarence shows George an alternate reality in which he never existed.

And here’s the thing: George has, in fact, made the world a much better place largely because, through his building and loan company, he has built decent housing for his poor and working-class neighbours—including a new immigrant family named the Martinis. George provided the framework through which the citizens of Bedford Falls could pull together for the common good. And, if that’s not socialist enough for you, the villain of the piece is the über-capitalist—and slumlord—Mr. Potter.

This core dynamic remains crystal clear in Jorgensen’s musical revision.

The problem, to a large extent, is the music—not because it’s badly executed, but because including it really slows things down. [Read more…]

I Lost My Husband: I lost a couple of hours

Meghan Gardiner's character Evelyn sings karaoke in I Lose My Husband

Meghan Gardiner gets down—sort of—in I Lost My Husband (Photo by David Cooper)

I Lost My Husband is boring. Why waste time, talent, and money on it?

In the story, Evelyn loses her spouse Peter in a bet with a bartender named Melissa. Peter, whom we never meet, obligingly moves right in with the younger woman.

There are a couple of almost-interesting wrinkles in the script’s gender politics. For both Evelyn and Melissa, Peter is a trophy husband, a success object: he owns a BMW dealership. Melissa even admits, at one point, that she is a “car whore.” And, although the script is deliberately progressive—in a mild way—when Evelyn describes herself as “a hardcore feminist”, her claim is an obvious and manipulative exaggeration. So, in these instances at least, the script has a sense of humour about its politics. [Read more…]

Not my Christmas Carol

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Gateway Theatre.

Russel Roberts gets wheeled around as Scrooge and Emily Jane King floats as Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at the Gateway. (Photo by David Cooper)

Nobody likes to rain on a parade—especially not a Christmas parade—but the Gateway Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is so vacant that I have no choice. [Read more…]

The Pipeline Project delivers the (complicated) goods

Itsazoo and Savage Society are presenting The Pipeline Project at the Gateway Theatre.

In The Pipeline Project, Kevin Loring calls his truck the Chief: “I get to say that because I’m Indian.”

Probably the best thing about The Pipeline Project is that it’s a sincere invitation to dialogue. In this age of social media, so many are so eager to establish their political bona fides—and superiority—that it’s often impossible to have a vulnerable, complicated conversation in public. It’s good to know that real, human interactions can take still take place in the theatre.

In The Pipeline Project, three writers/actors—Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring, and Quelemia Sparrow—explore their relationship to oil. [Read more…]

The Music Man: buoyant songs, antique perspective

The Gateway Theatre is producing The Music Man.

Meghan Gardiner is both sensible and vulnerable as Marian Paroo in The Music Man.

It’s charming. It’s tightly produced. And it’s antique.

Weirdly, The Music Man endorses lying. In Meredith Willson and Frank Lacey’s story for this musical, a con man who calls himself Professor Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa with plans to sell the townsfolk the instruments, uniforms, and lessons that will allow them to form a children’s marching band. The scam is that Hill, who can’t play a note, will skip town without teaching the kids how to use their instruments.

Marian Paroo, the town librarian and music teacher, sees through Hill but, when he lures her traumatized little brother out of his shell, she starts to fall for him—and is lured out of her own prim shell in the process. [Read more…]

Peter Dickinson’s Long Division is trapped in its head

Pi Theatre is presenting Peter Dickinson's Long Division at the Gateway.

Lauchlin Johnson’s set for Long Division is a beauty.

There should be laws—similar to child labour laws—that prevent the overworking of metaphors.

Playwright Peter Dickinson buries the heart of his play, Long Division, beneath a series of monologues that declare and develop the metaphor of mathematics so academically that almost all of the extended speeches feel more like lectures than stories. [Read more…]

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