Nassim is a retread

Nassim Soleimanpour's new show Nassim is playing The Cultch in Vancouver.

In Nassim, Nassim Soleimanpour reuses his mystery-script device. (Photo of the playwright by Studio Doug)

Nassim feels like an endless set-up for an experience that barely arrives. [Read more…]

New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken—homemade okayness

The Cultch is presenting New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken at the York.

The sing! They peel potatoes! (Photo by Charles Frédérick Ouellet)

New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken is inventive but not dazzling, an intermittently engaging form of theatrical folk art.

In the show, a cast of six prepares a meal of chicken and mashed potatoes as well as appetizers—all while performing popular American songs from the 30s. The music involves a lot of yodeling and harmonies from the two female performers, who are billed as the New Cackle Sisters. And the instrumentation includes everything from kazoos to a tuba and percussion achieved by slapping raw poultry.

The meal prep is just as eccentric. When the New Cackle Sisters peel the potatoes, for instance, one of them skewers a potato with a hand-held drill, then turns it on, rotating the potato at speed while the other runs a peeler along it as if she were working a lathe. Potato skin and chunks of potato go flying. [Read more…]

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party: accept this invitation

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I feel revived. So many things in the world these days are so depressing and alienating—the endless Trump news, for instance. Grounded, personal, and celebratory, Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is the perfect antidote for all of that. I don’t know when I’ve left the theatre feeling so refreshed and renewed. [Read more…]

Dakh Daughters: lots of texture—and bafflement

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Don’t make the same mistake I did and go toDakh Daughtersexpecting an evening of theatre; it’s a concert by a Ukrainian band.

There are theatrical elements to be sure. Dakh Daughters is an all-women ensemble and their costumes (designed by director Vlad Troitskyi) are a trip; the musicians start off wearing green smock dresses that make them look like factory workers, but they’re also wearing whiteface make-up and they have blood-red flowers in their hair. The combination is kind of Soviet-brutalism-meets-Frida-Kahlo. [Read more…]

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…]

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