Invisible: Or just empty?

Publicity photo for Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Melissa MacPherson (centre) and the cast in Brette Gerecke’s design
(Photo: DB Photographics)

Get a writer already. Jesus. The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare is gobsmackingly well designed by Brette Gerecke and you could hardly ask for a more talented or committed cast. But Jonathan Christensen’s script for this musical is a disaster.

Virtually nothing happens in Act 1; it’s an hour-long set-up that could probably have been handled in 10 minutes. We’re in England in 1941. Hitler is winning World War II and Evelyn Ash, who works in England’s wartime spy agency, is trying to convince her spymasters to send female secret agents to France. She will succeed, of course — otherwise there wouldn’t be an Act 2 — which is why we don’t need to sit through separate backstory interviews with the six candidates or watch them training for weeks in Scotland. We know how all of this is going to turn out, so none of it qualifies as story.

When the narrative finally arrives in Act 2, it finds new ways to be clunky. The crisis has been so deliberately planted in Act 1 that all we can do is age while we wait for it show up. And the big reveal, the most important plot point, is not credible.

And let’s talk about the World War II fantasy thing. Female secret agents did serve during the Second World War, but notes on the production admit, “To our knowledge there was no ‘all-female’ cell”, which is what forms here. The Invisible isn’t about specific historic events or individuals, it’s a work of fiction. Fair enough, but it’s a dumb work of fiction, superficial and self-serving. It stylizes and glamourizes the real suffering of World War II. That’s particularly hard to take, given the horrors of Russia’s current war of aggression against Ukraine. Christensen pastes a feminist statement on top of this frippery, which makes it even more offensive. Heading into enemy territory, the women sing, “Most of all, we’ll fight for all the girls who never got a chance.” Really? That’s at the top of their agenda? Obviously, if your subjects are women and war — including women as warriors — there’s a huge amount of experience to explore, but doing so impactfully would involve thinking about it rather than giving us cartoon Nazis and a barely-there plot. [Read more…]

Alice in Wonderland: Join her

 

publicity photo for East Van Panto: Alice in Wonderland

Amanda Sum, Mark Chavez, and Raugi Yu in costumes by Barbara Clayden: you want to see this. (Photo: Emily Cooper)

Covid, climate change, and November are conspiring to deplete my capacity for joy. I know I’m not alone in my exhaustion and dread. So the East Van Panto comes as a sorely-needed gift this year, a celebration of life — of community and fun.

Now in its ninth iteration, the East Van Panto has earned its place as one of the best-loved holiday traditions in Vancouver — and this year’s show is a knockout.

In writer Sonja Bennett’s take on Alice in Wonderland, the ten-year-old title character sets off in pursuit of the White Rabbit, who’s wearing a sandwich board advertising free cellphones. When Alice finally meets the Queen of Hearts, she finds the Queen’s name is Jess Cheetos. The Queen runs a company very much like Amazon, which, of course, belongs to Jeff Bezos. As she runs amok in Grandview Woodland Wonderland, the Queen destroys local businesses, controls consumers through the use of cookies, and refuses to let her workers take pee breaks.

Political commentary is part of the stuff of pantos, which are also kid-friendly. That works here, too. What kid doesn’t love a good pee joke? And, in a piece of wordplay that will tickle every six-year-old brain, this Queen of Hearts is also the Queen of Farts.

There’s absurdity for grown-ups, too: in a stroke of genius, the Mad Hatter’s tea party becomes a COPE meeting: at the drop of a hat, they’re ready to protest anything. [Read more…]

The Boy in the Moon: gazing at him

Publicity photo for The Boy in the Moom

Ian (Marcus Youssef) with a photo of Walker. (Photo by Mark Halliday, Moonrider Productions)

Theatre for grown-ups. I’m grateful.

This version of The Boy in the Moon is playwright Emil Sher’s adaptation of Ian Brown’s memoir about raising Walker, his severely disabled son, with his wife Johanna Schneller.

It’s tough. Describing Walker at birth, the character Ian says, “His body doesn’t want to live.” Walker is eventually diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC), a rare genetic disorder that leaves him unable to speak or to toilet or feed himself. When he gets a little older, Walker starts to hit himself so hard that his body is black and blue.

The great strength of The Boy in the Moon is that it is relentlessly clear-eyed, not sentimental or magical in the manner of so many popular entertainments about milder forms of disability. Both parents love Walker tenaciously and endure endless sleepless nights and marriage-corroding stress to care for him. In the play’s opening, Ian’s description of tube-feeding Walker and changing his diaper is enough to banish any expectations of romanticism.

The fundamental tension in the play is between love and survival, love and the capacity to go on. “I began to ask myself if it wouldn’t be braver to kill myself,” Ian says, “and take him with me.”

There is also brightness, much of it involving Walker’s big sister Hayley. Walker delights in her dancing. In one of the most moving passages in the script, Hayley challenges the underpinning of her dad’s book and, by implication, the play. She doesn’t want her father or anybody else to presume to speak for her brother. “No one can speak for Walker,” she says. In this production, actor Synthia Yusuf delivers that simple line with such protectiveness she left me with the sense that Hayley may be the one who sees Walker most clearly. [Read more…]

Mx: a mixed review from me

publicity photo for Mx at The Cultch

Lili Robinson wrote and stars in Mx. (Photo by Christache Ross)

I’m a white guy reviewing a show about mixed-race identity, specifically the reclamation of Black identity. The lack of diversity in criticism is a serious problem and I’ve been trying to find ways to address it, but I lack resources. I’ve recently had a conversation with a colleague who’s better at accessing money than I am. I hope something comes of that.

For now, I’m going to review Mx because The Cultch asked me to and because I hope that something I say might be helpful. Fair warning: I’m going to approach this more as a technician than as a member of Mx‘s target audience.

Within that context, there are all sorts of cool — and, for me, moving — things about this remount of Mx. I first saw it when it was presented at the Fringe in 2019. It won the Cultchivating the Fringe Award that year, a prize that offers further development and a remount.

Mx has come back stronger. [Read more…]

The Cave: Enter quickly (only two more shows left)

production photo from The Cave

Screen grab of Derek Kwan as Fox.

John Millard’s music for The Cave is glorious. And who couldn’t use some gloriousness these days?

The Cave is a musical cabaret with characters and a narrative. Pursued by fire, the animals of the forest are running for their lives. They take refuge in Bear’s cave, where they tell stories, struggle to breathe, and await their fate.

This both is and isn’t as heavy as it sounds. The Cave is almost ecstatically entertaining. [Read more…]

Little Volcano: plate tectonics

Veda Hille, Little Volcano, The Cultch

The power of counterpoint: Veda Hille in Little Volcano (Photo by Emily Cooper)

All alone in my living room, I applauded.

These are lonely times and getting to watch the livestream of Veda Hille’s Little Volcano for 90 minutes is like having the most fascinating person over for the most intimate of conversations. [Read more…]

Transform Cabaret Festival Opening Night Bash: Revolutionary. Joy.

#UrbanInk, #TheCultch, #TransformCabaretFestival

Drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat sent a performance from London Thursday night.

Last night’s Opening Night Bash at the Transform Cabaret Festival was … transformative for me. Moreso than last year’s.

I don’t think that’s because this year’s edition was artistically “better”, whatever that means; I think it’s because the overwhelming awfulness of our global crises allowed me to appreciate more fully the power of celebration as resistance. [Read more…]

Forget Me Not: Forget the script, remember the rest

The Cultch is presenting Ronnie Burkett's Forgeet Me Not.

In Forget Me Not, much of the beauty is in the physical craft. (Photo by Dahlia Katz)

Ronnie Burkett is a phenomenal performer. The puppets that he and his team creates are works of art. And he needs a whole lot more help with storytelling than he’s getting. [Read more…]

Unikkaaqtuat: a gift from the North

The Cultch and DanceHouse are presenting Unkkaaqtuat at the Vancouver Playhouse.

This raft doesn’t always stay afloat. (Photo by Alexandre Galliez)

Unikkaaqtuat, which is billed as a circus, is a sincere and generous gift from the rich traditions of several northern peoples. From my southern settler perspective, some of the show is gorgeous and some of it is boring. [Read more…]

Infinity: actually 90 (very mixed) minutes

Infinity by Hannah Moscovitch is at The Cultch

Annoyingly, this isn’t a production photo, but it does show you Amy Rutherford and Jonathon Young.
(Photo by Dhalia Katz)

Two of the three characters in Infinity claim that they can hear time. I listened very closely, but I couldn’t hear the play’s heartbeat. Hannah Moscovitch’s script is emotionally alienating and its ambitious themes are underdeveloped. But I enjoyed it — because the character voices are fantastic and, under Ross Manson’s direction, this production is exquisitely tailored. [Read more…]

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