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…]

Above the Hospital: millennial angst, some promising writing, and one excellent performance

Beau Han Bridge wrote and directed Above the Hospital.

Tristan Smith’s Cameron (L) is the putative protagonist of Above the Hospital, but Mira Maschmeyer’s Lauren steals the show. (Photo by Chris Cho)

Above the Hospital is kind of like a rummage sale: there are treasures on offer, but you’ve got to sift through some junk to get to them.

This new script, which was written and directed by Beau Han Bridge, is about the confusion and despondency some millennials seem to be experiencing. A couple whose names are Lauren and Cameron moved to Vancouver from a small town in Ontario four years ago with dreams of making it as artists. But their aspirations haven’t panned out. Having realized that she is a mediocre filmmaker, Lauren has quit film school and is studying to be a nurse. Cameron’s dreams are dying harder. He is working as a furniture maker, but he still really wants to be a musician—although he’s doing sweet nothing about it. [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…]

Not my Christmas Carol

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Gateway Theatre.

Russel Roberts gets wheeled around as Scrooge and Emily Jane King floats as Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at the Gateway. (Photo by David Cooper)

Nobody likes to rain on a parade—especially not a Christmas parade—but the Gateway Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is so vacant that I have no choice. [Read more…]

Beauty and the Beast: this holiday entertainment could be more generous

The Arts Club is presenting Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

It takes a while for Jonathan Winsby to find his Beast but, when he does, it’s a thing of beauty. (Photo by David Cooper)

You want a big show like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to be lavish and dazzling but, in crucial ways, the Arts Club’s production is stingy and incomplete. Fortunately, there are also some excellent performances in the mix and the story itself is strong. [Read more…]

How Star Wars Save My Life gives witness—and could save lives

Some Assembly Theatre Company is presenting How Star Wars Saved My Life.

In his solo show, Nicholas Harrison confronts forces more evil than the Death Star.

How Star Wars Saved My Life is an important personal witness. Structurally, it could be stronger, but that almost doesn’t matter.

Nicholas Harrison is a well-known Vancouver fight choreographer. He’s got a PhD in directing from UBC. He lectures at Capilano University. And, for four and a half years, starting when he was in kindergarten, he was brutally physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by several priests and a lay teacher at the Catholic elementary school he attended.

In this solo show, Harrison makes a compelling case that it really was Star Wars that saved his life. Starting when he was nine, the movie franchise gave him a way to understand his experience: the black-robed priests became the black-robed Darth Vader; as Luke Skywalker learned how to channel his fear, anger, and aggression, so did the little boy from northern BC; and, very movingly, Harrison carried a toy version of Luke’s loyal friend, R2D2, around in his pocket. [Read more…]

On Criticism

(This is a repost of an essay that I wrote a while back.)

A few years ago, I was talking with a local director in a theatre lobby. I had recently given a show of his a mixed review and, as we spoke, he became so enraged that I braced myself for a blow to the head. He and I had already had an extended and difficult conversation that morning and I could feel myself running out of rational resources, so I said, “Let’s just drop this for now. It’s not a discussion anymore, it’s a battle.” He replied, “Fuckin’ right it’s a battle, man. It’s gonna stay a fuckin’ battle. You better remember that.”

Another director was so furious about a review I gave him that he tried to bar my entry to his next production—although he allowed that maybe I could come in on the understanding that I would publish a review only if I liked the show.

Some readers tell me that they make all of their theatre-going decisions based upon my critiques. An actor who was mortally sick informed me that my public words of praise for his performance made the prospect of his impending death easier to bear.

By casting me as saviour, savant, publicist, or antagonistic career-killer, all of these folks are missing the point of criticism. As I see it, my job is to contribute an informed opinion to the discussion of theatre, and my primary responsibility is not to the consumer or to the artist, but to the art itself. [Read more…]

The set and costumes star in East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Theatre Replacement is presenting East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Laura Zerebeski’s painting, Marina Szijarto’s costumes, and Ming Hudson as Snow White. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Every year, when I go to the East Van Panto, simply walking into the York Theatre is one of my favourite parts. Because of all of the kids in the audience, life suddenly becomes like bubble tea: sweet and devil-may-care. This year’s panto, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves isn’t as good a last year’s Little Red Riding Hood—Hey! It’s not my job to act like Santa Claus—but there’s plenty to like.

In the tradition of British pantomime, playwright Mark Chavez takes a familiar children’s story and twists it. In his telling, Snow White is being held captive in West Vancouver by her wicked stepmother, the Exercise Queen, who won’t let Snow White leave her room, just because her look is a little bit Goth. But Snow White catches glimpses of East Van from her window and dreams of living in a community where using crosswalks is optional. [Read more…]

Almost, Maine is almost enough

Pacific Theatre is producing John Cariani's Almost, Maine

Kim Larson and Peter Carlone in the visually stylish world of Almost, Maine

Almost, Maine is like the world’s best greeting card: it’s very, very clever, charming, and thin.

In the nine scenes of John Cariani’s script, we meet as many sets of lovers, would-be lovers, and former lovers. Aside from the couple who appear in the framing device, none of the characters show up more than once, so each of the scenes is a self-contained story.

In an ongoing joke—and it’s a good one—the script literalizes the language of love. A woman whose heart is broken carries the pieces around in a paper bag. And, in a truly hilarious sequence, when two characters fall in love, they stagger, stumble, and keel over. [Read more…]

The Shipment: brains, innovation, and a stylish production

Speakeasy Theatre is presenting The Shipment at the Culture Lab.

The Shipment is the kind of show that makes you ask, “What does Andrew Creightney’s bowtie SIGNIFY?” (Photo by Jens Kristian Balle)

It’s a mirror. And a prism. Also a workout. These are all good things.

In The Shipment, Young Jean Lee, who is Korean American, takes on the cultural representation of African American identity.

Structurally, she has assembled a surrealist collage. She combines a series of disparate elements—a stand-up routine, a dance sequence, a gangsta narrative, a song, and a quasi-naturalistic comedy—to create a piece of art that is allusive and unsettling.

The first part of this one-act is an examination of minstrelsy—of the ways that black experience is distorted by popular culture.

Consider the stand-up comic. His currency is outrageousness. He insults white people: “Seriously, you ever heard a white person whine? ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.’ ‘I hate feeling fat all the time.’” He insults black people. He even defends bestiality and incest: “Listen, if yo’ sister want you to fuck her in the ass, and your dick hard, GO IN!” [Read more…]