theatre review

Nicola Cavendish as Peggy Randall.  Photo by David CooperMrs. Dexter & Her Daily
By Joanna McClelland Glass
Directed by Marti Maraden
Co-production of the Arts Club Theatre Companys
and Canada's National Arts Centre
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Jan 7 to Feb 17th,  2010

Vancouver, BC:   I loved this show. From the minute the "sunlight" of a new day began to brighten Pam Johnson's meticulously detailed set, the spacious kitchen and dining area of an obviously well-to-do family's home, I was drawn into the unfolding routine of daily life in the Dexter home. The design team, Johnson, Marsha Sibthorpe (lighting) and Philip Clarkson (Costumes) gave director Marti Maraden an attractively authentic environment which the characters created by Fiona Reid as Edith Dexter and Nicola Cavendish as Peggy Randall, the "daily", really seemed to inhabit.

The script has an interesting and unusual structure, essentially consisting of two monologues about the intersecting lives of the two characters, who never actually appear together on stage. The first act belongs to 65 year old Peggy Randall, a indomitably optimistic charlady, who has worked for the wealthy Dexter family for about 10 years. We learn the sad details of her early life, see her soldiering on with her work despite aching joints and dental problems, and dealing bravely with her fears of ending her days alone and poor in social housing. Peggy has been a fighter all her life. She tackles adversity headlong and makes lemonade out of the lemons that life throws at her. She is smart and she can do anything from fixing broken electric fans to hanging curtains. But she can't fix her employer's shattered life and her attempts to communicate with the as-yet-unseen Mrs. Dexter,leave us admiring Peggy's spirit while feeling most unfavorably disposed towards the seemingly spoiled, and self-pitying Mrs. D.

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
Directed by Anita Rochon
Studio 58, Langara College
Nov 19 to Dec 13, 2009

Vancouver, BC: Led by two Studio 58 alumni, director Anita Rochon, and Mike Wasko as the insanely jealous  Sicilian king Leontes, the student cast succeed in presenting a interesting and entertaining production of  The Winter's Tale. I use the word succeed deliberately because as I look back on my  reviews of other  productions of this play (Winter's Tale, Summer's Storm), I note that this play in more ways than the conventional meaning for me is a problem play, and it is a real challenge to pull it off well.

White Christmas: The Musical
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Based upon the Paramount Pictures film written for the screen
by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank
Director Bill Millerd.
Musical Director Bruce Kellett. Choreographer Valerie Easton.
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Nov 12  to  Dec 27, 2009

Vancouver, BC: As those of you  who have followed my recent  theatre travels and cruise adventures dancing at sea to destinations from Bora Bora to Beijing to  Los Angeles to New York, know by now, I am delirious about dance, so how could I not love a show with a song titled "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing"?  Add some rapid-fire tap dancing, great ensemble work and music and lyrics that are embedded  in my memory bank from years back, and White Christmas makes for a delightfully sentimental evening's entertainment.

Irving Berlin wrote the song “White Christmas” for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. Sung by Bing Crosby,  it won the Academy Award that year and  was later used in  the 1954 film version of  White Christmas. In today's lingo it  went viral and today there can't be a person over the age of 1 anywhere in the world who does not know this song. Following the more recent cross-genre trend of going from film to musical (like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) rather than the previously more usual  musical to film, the musical version of  White Christmas was first produced in San Francisco in 2004. But it still retains its 1950s feel.

The story opens on Christmas Eve 1944 somewhere in Europe where two  US army soldiers, former Broadway entertainer, the reserved Captain Bob Wallace (Jeffrey Victor)  and extrovert philanderer, Phil Davis (Todd Talbot)  are putting on a show for the troops. Their respected General Henry Waverley (Rejean Cournoyer) is returning to the US for treatment of an injury.

Fast forward ten years. Wallace and Davis are now a successful entertainment act and they encounter the performing Haynes sisters, reserved Betty (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) and extrovert Judy (Monique Lund).  Phil and  Judy hit it off instantly, but  Bob and Betty - well, there has to be a down arc to the story for it all to be resolved happily in the end. 

Aided by various acts of "larceny'" they all land up at the inn in Vermont that just happens to be owned by the retired General Waverley, who is being visited by his young niece from California, Susan (Rachael Withers). Business at the inn is down, but the feisty manager, Martha Watson (Susan Anderson) is not letting the general know just how bad things are. Wallace and Davis decide to help out their general, but busybody Martha gets involved and things start to unravel.  But it is Christmas so of course all ends well.

Choreographer: Helene Blackburn
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
A Cas Public Production      
September 29th to October 3rd

This is dance theatre that you can take your husband to….and your teens…and anyone else you can think of.   The opening offering of the Cultch Family Series is a knock-out.  The re-furbished Cultch main stage was bathed in the light of a thousand candles being arranged and moved about by the seven members of the company, the men in jeans and the women in point shoes, as the audience entered the theatre. 

Frozen by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Renée Iaci
shameless hussy productions and Theatre at UBC
Dorothy Somerset Studio, UBC
Sept 22 to Oct 3rd, 2009.

Vancouver, BC.  Bryony Lavery 's play has all the elements that should make for  compelling theatre. An tragic situation connecting three characters - a serial killer, the mother of the girl he abducted and the academic who is studying him and others like him;   and issues that one can argue endlessly : is he evil or is he sick? Can he be forgiven,  should he be forgiven and what does forgiveness really mean?

Yet when I left the theatre instead of being engaged in the tragedy of the story and the complexity of the issues, I found myself  instead wrestling with the question of what, for me is compelling theatre- the sort of show, specifically a dramatic play, that makes me walk away thinking - wow that was good.


The Veil by Shahin Sayadi
Directed by
Presentation House
 Sept 24 to October 3 , 2009

Vancouver. BC:   The evening opened with a welcome from Brenda Leadley, the Artistic Director of Presentation House with a message about why we should protest damaging government cuts to grants for the arts, and then The Veil, written and directed by Shahin Sayadi proved to the audience why we should be taking to the streets. 

This is a stunning piece of theatre that takes us on a journey into the uncharted perception of a world as seen and experienced by a Muslim grandmother.   I can't imagine this story being told anywhere but in a theatre.  And what imagination!  It is a history lesson, love story and the triumph of those mysterious veiled women that Westerners find so hard to understand.  

Jeff Meadows, Sasa Brown, Charlie Gallant and Julie McIsaac in Black Comedy. Photo by Emily CooperBlack Comedy by Peter Shaffer
and The Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Dean Paul Gibson
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Sept 10 to Oct  11, 2009

Vancouver, BC:  The Arts Club opened its 46th season with a riotously funny evening of  two plays by writers who would not at first come to my mind as writers of comedy. Peter Shaffer after all, is probably best known for Equus - a  intensely disturbing  psychological drama.   And I have never really found the Chekhov plays that I have seen or read to be exactly a bundle of laughs.

But as the curtain raiser to Shaffer's Black Comedy, Artistic Director Bill Millerd and Director Dean Paul Gibson chose Chekov's The Marriage Proposal.  And what an inspired choice.

Brilliantly performed by Sasa Brown as Natalia Stepanova, Simon Bradbury as Stepan Stepanovitch Chubkov and Jeff Meadows as Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov, it was clever and very funny.

Ivan, a lanky hypochondriac with palpitations and a dragging leg, comes to propose marriage to Stepan's 25 year old "on-the-shelf" daughter,  Natalia, but before he actually gets a chance to propose, they get into an argument about who owns a piece of land and he leaves inma huff. Natalia realizes that her "last chance for marriage" has just walked out the door and sends her father to get him back.

He returns but her argumentative nature gets the better of her and they get into another argument, this time drawing in her father. Both Bradbury and Meadows are hilarious but Sasa Brown's portrayal of a glowering, desperate, determined Natalia steals the show in this short farce.  I loved it.

Elizabeth Davis in Firebone Theater's  production of Emily
Emily by Chris Cragin
Directed by Steve Day
Firebone Theater
Theatre Row, 42nd St, NY
September 13, 2009

New York, NY:  I had only the vaguest knowledge about the life of Emily Dickinson, who posthumously came to be  considered one of America's major  poets.  I knew that in her latter years she had become reclusive and eventually did not leave her house but I knew little else of her history. So I  eagerly anticipated my visit to Theatre Row to see this new play by emerging playwright, Chris Cragin.

Theatre Row is a great asset for smaller theatre companies.  It houses 5 theatres ranging in seating capacity from 55 to 199 seats. I saw Ascension, an excellent production, in The Lion on my last visit,  and Emily is running in The Kirk. It is a long narrow  theatre that seats about 90 people and it was almost full. Nice  for a Sunday matinee of a new play.

Margarita Levieva (Anika) and Cristin Milioti (Dinchka) in The Retributionists. Photo by Joan MarcusThe Retributionists by Daniel Goldfarb
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Playwrights Horizons Theatre, New York
Through September 27th, 2009

New York, NY:  The World Premiere of  The Retributionists,  a new play by Daniel Goldfarb, is presently being staged at Playwrights Horizon, which like our own much smaller Vancouver Playwrights Theatre Centre, is dedicated to supporting and developing playwrights and their works.  The production offically opens Monday, September 14 when I will be back in Vancouver,  but I managed to catch it in preview. Goldfarb, who is originally from Toronto, obtained a BFA and MFA from NYU, and now lives in New York and teaches at NYU.

Sharna Burgess and Patrick Helm in Burn The Floor at the Longacre Theatre, NY. Photo Mark KitaokaBurn The Floor
Directed and choreographed by Jason Gilkison
Longacre Theater,220 West 48th St., New York
Till January 3rd, 2010

New York, NY:  As a reviewer, I think it important that my readers know the biases and foibles that influence my writing.  So before I write another word about the show itself,  I have two confessions to make.

Number one is that there is no way I can be even remotely objective about this production. I am an unrepentant  ballroom dance addict (doing as well as watching)  and my summary of this show is that  I loved it, loved it, loved it - yup, I really really loved it.


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