Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol—is a long title for an excellent show

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol is playing at The Cultch

The character Schnitzel embodies the essential innocence of this wacky undertaking.

This is the sixth year running that Ronnie Burkett has done a Christmas show at The Cultch. Sometimes they’ve been blindingly good and sometimes they’ve been a little ragged around the edges—a bit repetitive or sloppy—but one thing never changes: in terms of sheer skill and charisma, Burkett is one of the most extraordinary performers you’ll ever see.

This year’s show, Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol, was also last year’s show and, once again, Burkett was flying by the seat of his under-rehearsed pants on opening night—but I didn’t care. He was so upfront and so giddy about getting lost in the sequence sometimes—he was having such a good time and everything was so fresh and electric—that I just sat back and let the whole thing roll over me in waves of pleasure. [Read more…]

Three Winters: my chilly response

The Cultch is presenting Three Winters in its Historic Theatre

As a director, Amiel Gladstone creates arresting stage pictures in Three Winters (Photo of Julie Siedlanowska by Emily Cooper)

There seem to be at least a couple of good stories in the source material for Three Winters, but writer and director Amiel Gladstone hasn’t figured out how to tell them.

Gladstone based Three Winters on his grandfather’s memories of being a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III, the camp where the breakout happened that was dramatized in the 1963 movie The Great Escape. Apparently, those prisoners also performed plays using scripts supplied by the Red Cross.

In Three Winters, the narrative lines about the escape and the performances overlap and compete for space, but neither is developed in a satisfying way. [Read more…]

SmallWaR: sustained passages of theatrical brilliance

Check out the texture of this piece. (In Vancouver, SmallWaR is being performed in English).

There are passages in SmallWaR that are as exquisite as anything I’ve seen. The opening is a stunner.

Valentijn Dhaenens, the Belgian artist who created SmallWaR, also performs it by himself—although he is fragmented. When we first see him fully lit, he is dressed as a female military nurse circa WWI. She pushes a hospital bed onstage and, upright on that bed, there’s a video screen on which we see Dhaenens again—as a man this time, a soldier. The way the video is framed, his torso is truncated. In voiceover, the soldier wonders why he can’t see or hear and why his legs are so light.

Then a phone rings and the soldier wonders why nobody is answering it. A telephone appears on a screen that takes up the entire stage. A spirit rises from the soldier’s image, then transfers full-bodied to the screen, walks across the stage, and answers the ringing phone. The soldier talks to his sweetheart. She tells him she doesn’t want him go to war, but he says he must fight for democracy. [Read more…]

The Believers Are But Brothers: See it, believe it, and think really hard

The Cultch and Diwali in BC are presenting The Believers Are But Brothers at The Cultch.

For the (very) full experience, leave your phone on during The Believers Are But Brothers. (Photo by The Other Richard)

The Believers Are But Brothers is about the internet and it’s like the internet: it’s bursting with information and I’m not sure how to make sense of it, but I find it really fucking stimulating.

In The Believers Are But Brothers—the title comes from the Quran—writer and performer Javaad Alipoor is particularly interested in those areas of the internet where young men, politics, and violence overlap. [Read more…]

Backbone: this show has plenty of it

Gravity & Other Myths is presenting Backbone at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Fly, my beauties! Fly!

Backbone made me really, really happy in my body. Another way of saying that is that, for about the first ten minutes of the show, I was moaning and gasping and—let’s face it—talking as if I was having sex with the entire company of ten acrobats and two musicians.

With Backbone, the Australian circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths sets out to explore strength. And, as they climb up one another until there are two four-person towers on-stage—each acrobat standing on another’s shoulders—and, as they hurl each nother through space (at one point, two pairs of men swing one woman each back and forth before releasing them and sending them flying into the arms of a couple of other guys), there’s a lot of muscle power on display.

But there’s also something deeply erotic in the subtext—both in the Freudian sense that Eros is a celebration of life and in the Jungian sense (Sorry, I’m getting a bit heady) that Eros is about personal relatedness in human activities. I mean, the evening unfolds in distinct movements—there’s a whole section about rocks and weight, for instance—but nothing feels even vaguely like a solo act. And, on the fleshly level, it feels so good to witness the ease and the effort, the trust and the skill with which these gorgeous humans respond to and support one another’s bodies. Hand to head, thigh to waist, foot to foot, it’s all about charged physical contact, and who couldn’t use more of that? [Read more…]

The Ones We Leave Behind: Leave this one behind

Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre is presenting The Ones We Leave Behind at The Cultch.

The Ones We Leave Behind is a kind of psychological whodunnit. But the script gives us little reason to care about the answers. (Photo of Agnes and Jimmy Yi by Ray Shum)

This script landed on the stage before it was ready. It’s in terrible shape.

In The Ones We Leave Behind, playwright Loretta Seto explores abandonment and belonging. On one of her first cases as a public trustee, Abby has to find anybody who might be related to Bernice, a 77-year-old woman who died without leaving a will—and whose body sat in her apartment for five months before it was discovered. If Abby can’t find any potential beneficiaries, the substantial funds in Bernice’s bank account will go to the state.

The central question is, “Why was Bernice so alone?”, but Seto gives us little reason to care about the answer. Abby reads aloud passages from Bernice’s journal, but that device is as unrewarding as it is artificial. Even though information is being handed to us on a plate, none of it makes Bernice a compelling or fully-fleshed character. Although she is at the centre of the story, Bernice remains a cipher. [Read more…]

A Brief History of Human Extinction: barely a whimper

Upintheair Theatre is producing A Brief History of Human Extinction at The Cultch.

Ommie the otter, Ever, and Adam boldly face the future—kind of. (Photo by Matt Reznik)

You’d think that a play about the last days of the human race might have some kind of tension, some kind of stakes, but nope, not this one. In A Brief History of Human Extinction, which was created by Jordan Hall and Mind of a Snail (Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner), nothing much matters—for a bunch of reasons.

For starters, the premise doesn’t make sense. We’re in the year 2178. Unleashed by climate change, a fungal plague has apparently wiped out all other forms of life on earth, except for two humans named Ever and Adam, an otter called Ommie, and the farm animals and crops that Adam tends. These surviving life forms are all sequestered in a locked-down biosphere.

Ever is determined to launch a rocket called The Ark, which will carry viable DNA from all sorts of earthly creatures—including Homo sapiens—to a distant planet, which they will then populate. When we first meet Ever, she is recording a video message for the human spawn, who will be 12 years old when they arrive on Kepler-186f. But who will have raised this unlucky band? Ever and Adam will not be accompanying them. [Read more…]

A Vancouver Guldasta: welcome nuance

The Cultch, SACHA, and Diwali in BC are all involved in A Vancouver Guldasta at the Vancity Culture Lab.

Rani (Arshdeep Purba) hugs her mom Niranjan (Gunjan Kundhal) in A Vancouver Guldasta. (Photo by Paneet Sing)

It was like meeting real people. And they took me places I’d never been.

In A Vancouver Guldasta, playwright Paneet Singh introduces us to the Dhaliwals, a Sikh Punjabi family living in South Vancouver in 1984. It’s June. Sikh militants who want to create a new nation called Khalistan have occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site of Sikhism. Then, on the orders of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Indian army storms the temple with the stated purpose of removing the militants.

According to Wikipedia, the army’s invasion resulted in the deaths of over a thousand activists, soldiers, and civilians.

In A Vancouver Guldasta, Chattar, the dad in the Dhaliwal family, is desperately trying to make phone contact with his brother, who lives near the Golden Temple, but telephone communication with the Punjab has been cut off and, like many families in Vancouver, the Dhaliwals twist in uncertainty. [Read more…]

Testosterone: not the hormone bath I’d hoped for

The Cultch and Zee Zee Theatre are presenting Testosterone at the York Theatre.

Kit Redstone leads the charge in Testosterone, a quasi-autobiographical show about maleness.

I wanted to like Testosterone so much more than I did.

Written by trans man Kit Redstone, the script declares early on that it’s going to examine what it means to be a man, but its exploration is so rudimentary that it could barely be called Maleness 101.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things to like in this loosely autobiographical show, including the set-up: having recently transitioned, Redstone enters a male locker room for the first time—and has no idea how to negotiate the inner sanctum. Often speaking directly to the audience, Redstone is a charmingly humble performer. There’s an excellent crisis, which I won’t give away, and a transcendentally moving resolution. But that ending doesn’t make what came before it any more interesting. [Read more…]

Bears is magical—until it’s not

Sheldon Elter stands in front of dancers in Matthew Mackenzie's Bears.

The performances and design elements in Bears work well, but the script repeats itself. (Photo by Alexis McKeown)

There’s only so far you can go on style and good intentions. Bears looks fantastic and its political heart is in the right place. But the script is badly built, so it gets boring.

Sheldon Elter, who plays Floyd, narrates his character’s journey in the third person. When Floyd becomes the prime suspect in a workplace accident in Alberta’s oil patch, he flees through the woods to the BC coast following the route of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. Floyd has always felt an affinity with bears and, as a travels west, he becomes suspiciously hairy and his haunches get more muscular. [Read more…]

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