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…]

The History of the World (Based on Banalities): theatrically hot, emotionally cool

In The History of the World (Based on Banalities), actor Titus De Voogdt aims a rifle over his shoulder.

The History of the World (Based on Banalities) does an excellent job of taking aim. Sometimes, it hits its mark.

The History of the World (Based on Banalities) is a monologue for a boy about his failed connection with his mother. And that’s ironic because Phil’s Mom Martine, a physicist, was fascinated by the Higgs boson particle, which physics tells us connects everything—and all of us.

In the everyday world, Martine wasn’t so good at connecting. When Phil was still very young, she abandoned him in their home in Belgium and followed her career to the CERN facility in Switzerland. When she returned, years later, she had Alzheimer’s. As we watch The History of the World, Phil is caring for Martine, who is in the back room. All we see is her blanketed feet at the end of a hospital bed.

Texturally, this show is fantastic. Titus De Voogdt, who co-wrote the text with director Johan De Smet, plays Phil with pre-adolescent vitality, scampering around the dirty-kitchen set like a monkey, clambering up the cupboards, leaping onto the table. He’s so frank and scruffy that you can almost smell his socks. [Read more…]

Butcher: Go vegetarian

Peter Anderson and Daryl Shuttleworth both act in Butcher, which is about ongoing ethnic violence.

Peter Anderson and Daryl Shuttleworth appear in Nicolas Billon’s problematic Butcher.

Nicola Billon’s Butcher exploits real suffering to create gimmicky entertainment. I hated it so much that I wanted to boo.

On Christmas Eve, an old guy in a military uniform has been dropped off at a police station. A butcher’s hook was tied around his neck and the business card of a lawyer named Hamilton Barnes was impaled on the hook. There were two words scrawled on the card: “Arrest me.”

In the opening scene, a cop named Inspector Lamb is trying to interrogate the old guy, whose name is Josef and who speaks a made-up language called Lavinian. (In the play, Lavinia is a real country.) Lamb has also called in Barnes to figure out why his card was on the hook. And, before long, a Lavinian translator named Elena arrives.

Whatever is going on, it’s about ethnic violence. Josef and Elena are from different ethnic groups within Lavinia. When Elena sees Josef’s military uniform, she reacts with horror and fury. When he finds out the she is not of his ethnicity, he spits on her.

Lavinia could be all sorts of places. For me, the most immediate reference point is the former Yugoslavia.

Here’s the thing: Butcher takes very serious subject matter, including extreme physical torture and child rape and, rather than giving that material the thoughtful attention that it deserves Butcher uses the energy of horror to drive a superficial and mechanical plot. [Read more…]

The After After Party is a banger of a night out

The Cultch is presenting The After After Party in the Vancity Culture Lab.

Cheyenne Mabberley (Jules) and Katey Hoffman (Fiona) open a Pandora’s box of comic free association in The After After Party. (Photo by Helena Boden.)

The day after seeing The After After Party, I’m still laughing as I describe it to friends. The laughter is uncontrollable. Like I’m being tickled. By unseen hands. That belong to somebody that I like but can’t identify. If you’re up for an audacious good time, The After After Party is the show for you.

In the story, it’s 2006. Jules and Fiona have one month to go before they graduate from high school. They’re losers, but they are determined to become popular before the school year ends, and they have decided to up their status by partying hard. But the night has been so wild that, when we first meet them, sitting on a park bench, they can’t remember the pre-party, the party, or the after party, which is making it challenging for them to find the after after party. They’re also a bit concerned that they might have murdered somebody, so they decide to time travel by snorting Ritalin. [Read more…]

Pss Pss: Why so old-fashioned?

Pss Pss is playing the York Theatre.

Yep, this takes skill. Maybe I’m just greedy. (Photo of Pss Pss by Pipo Gialluisi)

It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s kind of charming. But that’s not enough.

In Pss Pss, Swiss artists Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari play mute clown characters who meet, struggle for possession of an apple, and, through increasingly challenging acrobatics, end up on a trapeze.

It takes too long for things to get going, though, and, even at this show’s high end, the skills aren’t that dazzling. [Read more…]

No Foreigners delivers less than it appears to offer

Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre are presenting No Foreigners at The Cultch.

There is a whole lot of blank space in No Foreigners.

No Foreigners is extremely stylish. Unfortunately, that style is rarely theatrical.

No Foreigners is a kind of fairytale, digitally told. In it, a young Chinese-Canadian man finds out that he can inherit his grandfather’s wealth, but only if he can tell the executor of his grandfather’s will what the password is. To determine that password, he has to become “authentically” Chinese.

To connect with his roots, this Canadian-born guy immerses himself in the culture of a mall in Richmond. The mall is fantastical and informed by the tropes of Chinese culture, including pop culture, so, not only must he master several Chinese dialects, he must also become adept at all sorts of martial arts, and visit a secret basement room filled with luna moths that are reincarnations of the dead. [Read more…]

Reassembled, Slightly Askew is deeply weird—and generous

Shannon Yee's Reassembled, Slightly Askew is playing The Culture Lab as part of the PuSh Festival.

Reassembled Slightly Askew: your treatment awaits. (Photo by Stephen Beggs)

Reassembled, Slightly Askew provoked one of the most intense theatrical experiences I’ve had: deeply disorienting, often frightening. Was it worth it? Probably.

Written and produced by Shannon Yee, Reassembled, Slightly Askew explores Yee’s experience of acquired brain injury: symptoms, crisis, hospitalization, coma, treatments, and reemergence—changed.

The wild thing is that it all takes place inside your head. When you go, you enter the Culture Lab as part of an eight-person audience. There are eight hospital beds waiting for you. You take off your shoes, lie down on one of the beds and give yourself over. A nurse (Stephen Beggs) sets you up with a blindfold and headphones. You can’t see anything. [Read more…]

Black Boys brings it home

Buddies in Bad Time is presenting Black Boys at the Cultch as part of the PuSh Festival

Thomas Olajide leaps in Black Boys. (Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh)

It gets better. And I don’t mean that in the Dan Savage your-miserable-queer-adolescence-can-turn-into-a-happy-queer-adulthood sense. I mean Black Boys starts haltingly but hits a solid and satisfying groove.

In Black Boys, three men explore what it means to them to be black and queer—in Canada, mostly Toronto it seems—right now. Their experiences are very different. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff grew up in foster care in the Toronto suburbs. Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy emigrated from Ghana. And Thomas Olajide started life in Vancouver, raised by his grandmother and aunt. [Read more…]

Hot Brown Honey starts hot then cools

Briefs Factory's production of Hot Brown Honey is at the York Theatre.

Lisa Fa’alafi lets loose in a magically transforming dress in Hot Brown Honey

Hot Brown Honey is a spectacularly well designed feminist pep rally. Over a span of 75 minutes, six Australian women of colour take on sexism, racism, and colonialism one vaudevillian act at a time.

Tristan Shelly’s set is phenomenal. It’s shaped like a beehive with emcee and queen bee Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers poised on its pinnacle, and its cells look like they have been constructed out of hexagonal industrial products—maybe honey buckets. All of those cells are individually lit and the lights are computer programmed. Watching this sculpture as words (POWER, NOISE) and shapes (hearts, smiles, geometrics) skitter across it, you feel like you’re in the best nightclub ever built, or at the best rave ever thrown. [Read more…]

The Realistic Joneses: a comedy about the limitations of language and the beauty of trying to speak

Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses is playing the Vancity Culture Lab.

Actor Tracy Letts exits on opening night of the premiere production of The Realistic Joneses. Why am I using this photo to illustrate my review of the Vancouver production? Read the Bonus Tracks and find out. (Photo by Walter McBride)

In The Realistic Joneses, playwright Will Eno behaves like a compassionate—and funny—palliative care nurse.

In the play, Pony and John Jones have just moved in next door to Jennifer and Bob Jones. Now they all live in the same small town. Bob has a degenerative neurological disorder in which a copper build-up affects the brain, especially the language centre.

Grounded in the inevitability of death, the play smells of body horror. “It’s a very personal thing, going blind,” John observes at one point. And, with existential dread, comes the untethering of meaning. Language, which is always frustratingly approximate, becomes even moreso.

The foibles of speech create discomfort. “Do you want to talk?” Jennifer asks her ailing husband near the top of the show. “What are we doing right now? Math?”, Bob replies. Embracing the absurdity of language Eno also creates lines that are knee-slappers. John gets two of the best: “I don’t know if a haiku is the best way to end a conversation,” and “I’d like to say something in Latin right now. Know what I mean, big guy?” [Read more…]