LARRY (Fringe review)

publicity photo for Larry, Vancouver Fringe 2023A lucky mistake: I booked tickets to Larry, Candice Roberts’s solo clown show, thinking, for no good reason, that it was going to be a different Larry than I’d seen her do four years ago, even though it has the same title. Okay, okay, I’m a dope. It’s the same show, but I’m glad I get to tell you about it again because, of the thousands of productions I’ve seen, this one is an all-time fave. Roberts’s clown character Larry is a hoser dude who’s doing his best to get more woke because a potential date turned him down for being insufficiently sensitive, artistic, and empathetic. Roberts’s work is both loosely spontaneous and incredibly well-honed. She induces hysteria by piling on absurdities. Larry describes his would-be date as “prettier than sunlight … on a waterfall … full of kittens.” It doesn’t stop there. And a fantastic bit in which Larry describes being drunk using every slang word ever invented for the condition (pooched, soused) plus some insane originals (Hasselhoffed) had a guy behind me wheeze-laughing, gone, out of control. And … and … when Larry digs deep into the supposed gender binary — I won’t tell you how any of this happens — it’s so moving and substantial that it brought tears to my eyes. Long live Larry! If you want to get tickets to this one, book ‘em right now because they’re going to disappear.

At Studio 16. Remaining performances on September 10 (1:00 pm), 13 (7:15 pm), 14 (10:10 pm), and 16 (8:00 pm). Tickets


Matilda the Musical: an excellent production of one of my favourites

publicity photo for Matilda the Muscal at TUTS, 2023

Sing out, young star!
(Photo of Siggi Kaldestad on Brian Ball’s set by Emily Cooper)

During the intermission at Matilda the Musical, my partner and I took a little stroll down towards the orchestra pit. And we noticed something: a bunch of the kids in the audience were already writing their reviews of the show — with their bodies. I saw a very little girl turn a somersault, then beam with delight — and surprise. A slightly older girl was turning cartwheels for her astonished relatives, who were saying things like, “I had no idea you could do that!” And another kid was frog-hopping through the crowd just because. That’s what inspiration looks like. These kids were running on the high of seeing young ‘uns like themselves on the stage, dancing acrobatically, performing their socks off, and loving it.

And, of course, respect for kids is what Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, which is how the piece is formally known, is all about.

In the story, nine-year-old Matilda’s parents are relentlessly mean to her because she’s a girl and because she reads.Matilda’s dad, Mr. Wormwood, insists on calling her a boy. And her peroxided mom complains, “It’s not normal for a girl to be all thinking.” Fortunately, Matilda finds allies in the local librarian Miss Phelps, and in a teacher at her new school, Miss Honey. But there’s also a new villain, the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, a former hammer thrower who refers to children as maggots.

Yes, there’s horror in this. But it’s the delicious kind. The girl sitting with her dad in front of us — about nine years old and clearly a Matilda connoisseur — was relishing every minute of it. And with good reason. The evil characters are so broad that they’re fun. When Miss Honey tries to stop Miss Trunchbull from pulling a little guy’s ears, for instance, Trunchbull replies, “I have discovered, Miss Honey, that the ears of small boys don’t come off. They stretch.” And, onstage, they do stretch — like Silly Putty. Kids love grossness and cartoon monsters. And, like adults, they need to master fear. Besides, we all have faith in Matilda.

[Read more…]

The Prom: a tearjerking good time

publicity photo for The Prom

Brianna Clark and Anna Pontin (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Anna Pontin could well become a star. Let’s establish that right off the top. The second thing to say is that, if I were rating this piece on a teardrop scale, it would score a solid five. This production of The Prom ain’t perfect, but it is undeniably moving.

The Prom tells the story of four out-of-luck Broadway performers. The biggest stars, Dee Dee and Barry, are accused — in print — of being narcissists, which they are, so they all decide to make themselves look good by lending their “celebrity” endorsements to a worthy cause. Scrolling through Twitter for “some small injustice we can drive to”, they find Emma Nolan, a high-schooler from Edgewater, Indiana, who has been refused access to her prom because she wants to bring her girlfriend as her date.

Slyly, The Prom takes the piss out of its own good intentions, so it rarely comes across as condescending: arriving in Edgewater waving placards, the four do-gooders declare, “We are liberal Democrats from Broadway!”, as if the Hoosiers will be instantly awestruck into submission.

[Read more…]

Henry V: an awful rewrite

publicity photo for Henry V at Bard on the Beach

It looks good, it just doesn’t feel good. That’s Kate Besworth on Amir Ofek’s set. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

Director Lois Anderson hasn’t just adapted Shakespeare’s Henry V for Bard on the Beach, she has attempted to rewrite it — and the results are a mess.

In Henry V, the reckless young Prince Hal of Henry IV, turns into a warrior whose troops slaughter the French at the Battle of Agincourt. The original play has disparate threads. Viewing it from one angle, we see the emergence of a military hero. Played from this direction, Henry V can be patriotic, even warmongering. But the play is also very clearly a critique of war. Its title character can be seen as Machiavellian and ruthless.

That is the richness of Henry V, which Anderson flattens into a simplistic anti-war statement. I’m an anti-war guy, but the words Anderson puts into Chorus’s mouth are painfully sophomoric. “War never ends,” Chorus solemnly informs us in newly minted text. “That’s how war begins,” Chorus adds after Henry’s advisors convince him he has a rightful claim to territory held by the French. And, if we’re curious about the machinations, we’re told to “Follow the money.”

“Toxic masculinity” is also on Anderson’s hit list: that’s what Anderson’s Chorus accuses the French prince, the Dauphin, of. I can’t remember if that’s before or after we see him shadowboxing pugnaciously. “Boys will be boys,” Chorus sighs.

[Read more…]

Million Dollar Quartet: artistry and marketing

publicity photo for Million Dollar Quartet at the Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver

The video design is the coolest thing.
(Set by Patrick Rizzotti. Actors: Emma Pedersen and Jay Clift
Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Director Bobby Garcia’s production of Million Dollar Quartet is so slick. His direction is tight, the design is fantastic, and the cast has talent pouring out of them. But I also felt like I was being marketed to and that significantly cut into my enjoyment. It might not cut into yours.

In Million Dollar Quartet, book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux fictionalize a real-life event. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins converged on the Sun Records recording studio run by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee — and they jammed.

All the singers were signed to Sun Records at some point, which places Phillips, their mentor, at the centre of this story. Lewis is desperate to be signed by him. Others may be moving on.

[Read more…]

Julius Caesar: splendid

publicity photo for Julius Caesar at Bard on the Beach

Publicity photo of Jennifer Lines as Mark Antony.
(Photo and image design by Emily Cooper)

Director Cherissa Richards’s production of Julius Caesar for Bard on the Beach is riveting from start to finish. I have never experienced such a successful interpretation of this play.

Part of the credit has to go to Stephen Drover’s driving adaptation, which cuts away extraneous text and exposes such a high-stakes drama that, when I glanced around the audience, I saw folks leaning forward in their seats, hungry to know what was going to happen next.

[Read more…]

Rotterdam: I liked its inhabitants

publicity photo for Rotterdam

Kai Solano Miranda and Clara Nowak in Rotterdam

This production of Rotterdam from the new queer company Under His Lyre features good work by emerging actors in a script that’s pretty bad.

In Rotterdam, playwright John Brittain tells the story of Fiona and Alice. They’re a couple, and Alice is just about to send a coming-out email to her parents when Fiona blurts, “I think I’m meant to be a man.” As Fiona starts filling out their trans identity — and takes a new name, Adrian — Alice struggles with her sense of herself as lesbian.

[Read more…]

As You Like It (most of the time)

publicity photo for As You Like It at Bard on the Beach 2023.

You go, buddy! Oscar Derkx shakin’ it as Orlando in As You Like it.
(Photo: Tim Matheson. Costume: Carmen Alatorre)

It’s wonderful. There are holes in it. But it’s still wonderful.

When I first saw director Daryl Cloran’s Beatles-inspired adaptation of As You Like It in its premiere at Bard on the Beach five years ago, I was smitten. Cloran has cut half of Shakespeare’s text and inserted Beatles songs. I thought that was a terrible idea when I first heard about it, but I was quickly won over in the flesh.

For most of the first act of this reworked remount, I was, once again, unabashedly delirious. I kept thinking to myself, “Actors are such transcendent creatures!”

In the story, the power-hungry Dame Frances — she’s usually a duke, but Jennifer Lines is playing the part here — has banished her sister Dame Senior from the court. In Cloran’s telling, the court is Vancouver in the 60s and the Forest of Arden, where Senior and her retinue seek refuge, becomes the Okanagan.

When Dame Frances also banishes Dame Senior’s daughter Rosalind — on threat of death — Rosalind and her beloved cousin Celia (Frances’s daughter) also hightail it in the general direction of the peach orchards. Hearing the news of his brother’s plot to kill him, so does Orlando, a disinherited young courtier, shortly after he and Rosalind have locked google-eyes with one another.

Because this is Shakespeare, Rosalind disguises herself as a youth named Ganymede and, when Ganymede meets Orlando in the Okanagan, he offers to teach Orlando how to cope with the vicissitudes of women.

Oscar Derkx’s Orlando is the stuff of dreams: all innocence, but possessed of precise comic timing — just wait till you see him struggling to find words when he’s first trying to converse with Rosalind. With emotional fearlessness and musical skill, Derkx hurls himself into numbers, including “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. And, in one of the evening’s most extraordinary moments, you can see his Orlando choosing to take the plunge into the sexual unknown of courting the boy/girl Ganymede.

[Read more…]

Beautiful (in some ways): The Carole King Musical

publicity photo for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Daniel Curalli and Kaylee Harwood on Cory Sincennes’s set (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

There are so many great songs in this show. And there’s so much talent on the Arts Club stage. But there’s so little story in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical that it often feels more like a concert than theatre.

Douglas McGrath’s slim book follows the legendary singer/songwriter from 1958, when she was 16 and sold her first song, to 1971 and the Carnegie Hall concert that followed the release of her smash-hit album Tapestry. The personal story is about King’s troubled marriage to her song-writing partner, lyricist Gerry Goffin, who had bipolar disorder. In this musical, as it did in life, this marriage serves up a bunch of hits, including “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “The Loco-Motion”, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. King and Goffin’s pals, song-writing team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, are also part of the story, which allows Beautiful to share their hits too, including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

It’s a phenomenal song list. And it’s huge. There are 17 musical numbers in Act 1, and 11 in Act 2. Because there’s so little time left for storytelling, in the first act, the characters feel like figures in a rudimentary video game, mere types with limited functions. King’s mom Genie is a bitter divorcée. King is gifted and self-effacing. Her pal Cynthia is a wisecracker.

Interpersonal conflict is minimal and career success comes so easily that nobody needs to work very hard, which means there’s no narrative depth. When King’s marriage to Goffin falls apart in Act 2, it’s predictable, but at least there’s struggle, so the characters start to look more like human beings.

Okay. That’s what’s wrong with the material. Under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, there’s a whole lot right with this production.

[Read more…]

Unexpecting: You’ve been warned

Unexpecting publicity photo. Zee Zee Theatre

Rahat Saini and Jessica Heafey in Carmen Alatorre’s costumes on Lachlin Johnston’s set
(Photo by Tina Krueger Kalic)

I hated this show so much that thinking about writing this review gave me a stomach ache. I don’t want to be cruel but, if I’m not frank, I’m not doing my job.

I first encountered playwright Bronwyn Carradine’s Unexpecting in early 2021 when it was an audio play produced by the Arts Club. Back then, I wrote that the script “skips along at a snappy sitcom pace”, but complained that “the piling on of obstacles often feels arbitrary and insubstantial.” Having gone through a couple of workshops since then — presumably with Zee Zee Theatre, the company producing this fully staged version — the script is now massively worse. And it’s been very badly directed by Cameron Mackenzie.

Within that, there are a couple of strong performances and Lachlan Johnston’s set is exciting.

Let’s get into it.

[Read more…]

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!