by Tommy Smith
directed by Ben Ratner
The Shop Theatre, 125 E. 2 nd St.
A White Hot Equity Co-Op production
May 8 -17, 2014
Vancouver, B.C. One of the things I love about my job as a theatre reviewer is the opportunity to see off-mainstream shows by small independent theatre companies. It is also often an opportunity to learn about small funky theatre spaces which these independent companies find to use for their productions. And that's how on a rainy Vancouver night I found myself driving round the vicinity of Main and Québec Streets, trying to find a a street parking space reasonably close to The Shop Theatre, which I discovered is in the old production space of the now sadly defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.
I do not use the F-word, at least in my writing, so I will simply say instead that Tommy Smith's play is about some seriously M-essed up characters. Lil (Loretta Walsh) and Sis (Stefania Indelicato) are sisters, the yin and yang of a manic-depressive persona. Sis is a manically crazy nymphomaniac who kicks off the play with a superbly articulated, warp-speed monologue about her sex-driven, violent but empty life. “I love when people lie to me. I love the moment when I figure it out. I’m like, there, I got white hot justice on my side.”
Watching Glory Die
Written and performed by Judith Thompson
Directed by Ken Gass
Canadian Rep Theatre
Historic Theatre at The Cultch
April 23 to May 3rd, 2014.
Vancouver, BC: A fourteen year old girl sent to juvenile detention for throwing an apple at a postman was incarcerated for five years until she ultimately asphyxiated herself in her cell while being watched by on duty correctional officers. The correctional officers were "following orders not to intervene until she stopped breathing." It is hard to believe that this tragic and horrific real-life story could happen in a country like Canada. Four months ago, almost 7 years after the death of Ashley Smith, an inquest jury found that her death was a homicide - in other words that the actions of others contributed to her death. No criminal or civil liability was assessed through the inquest but recommendations were made to prevent such future tragedies.
Playwright Judith Thompson chose to tell this sad and perplexing story through the perspectives of three representative characters. Glory is the troubled 19 year old girl who has spent 5 years, much of it in "therapeutic quiet" or isolation, in institutions of Corrections Canada. Rose is Glory's adoptive mother, who raised her from a 5 day old infant, and who, towards the end was kept away from Glory by the Corrections system. Gail represents the correctional officers or prison guards. A rough working-class woman, she is fearful of losing her job, follows orders not her conscience and is clearly not trained nor qualified to be responsible for the type of self-destructive prisoner that Glory has become. In this premiere production of Watching Glory Die, Thompson herself bravely returns to the stage after 35 years, to play all three roles.
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Book and additional lyrics by Tina Landau
Directed and choreographed by Peter Jorgenson
Vancouver, BC: Long time readers of ReviewFromTheHouse may remember my stories of having to overcome my sometimes incapacitating claustrophobia to undergo magnetic resonance imaging (Claustrophia and your MRI) and to stay calm on being trapped in a New York elevator. What I have never disclosed is that my first experience of severe claustrophobia occurred as a child, crawling through a confined tunnel like Floyd Collins, but in the Cango Cave system near Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape of South Africa. Like the caves of Central Kentucky, the Cango Caves are an extensive system of cave and tunnels formed in the ancient limestone strata in the foothills of the Swartberg (Black Mountain).
Merely reading about the horrific end of the real Floyd Collins, trapped in a space eight inches high, evoked the same terrifying sense of suffocation and panic that has stayed with me since that long-ago nightmare. Even though, while watching the story unfold, my rational self acknowledged that these were actors on stage, and the "dark cave system and confined space" where Floyd Collins (Daren Herbert) was "trapped" was a construct of Amir Ofek's clever representational set and Jeff Harrison's somber lighting, this sense of unease coloured my entire experience of this dark work.
Written and directed by Christopher Morris
A Human Cargo production at PuSh Festival 2014
Jan 24-26, 2014
Vancouver, BC: The events of Night that take place over 24 hours of polar darkness, are precipitated by the unexpected arrival in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, of Daniella (Linnea Swan) a cultural anthropologist who works at the museum in Toronto.
Prompted by a letter she received, purportedly from a young girl Piuyuq (Tiffany Ayaluk) asking about her grandfather, Daniella decides to repatriate the bones of the grandfather to his family - his son (Jonathan Fisher) and grand-daughter. Daniella's arrival awakens old traumas in Piuyuq's father, and Piuyuq's best friend, Gloria (Reneltta Arluk), the real writer of the letter sees that her desire to help her friend has unintended bad consequences.
Seeds by Annabel Soutar
Directed by Chris Abraham
A Port Parole Production
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Theatre at UBC
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC Jan 22-26 th, 2014
Vancouver, BC: I must confess that as I drove out to UBC through a thick eerie fog to see Seeds, I was gearing myself up for the usual rant against big business and corporations. But what a surprise. This docu-theatre piece of verbatim theatre ("where every word spoken onstage is a verbatim quote from court transcripts and interviews") is a fascinating, provocative and compelling presentation of a complex and multi-faceted issue.
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, translated by Peter Gill
Directed by Kathy Duborg
Theatre at UBC
Playing till Feb 8th, 2014
Vancouver, BC: So after immersing myself in Kathy Duborg's evocative production of The Seagull, and earlier in John Wright's insightful production of Uncle Vanya, at last I find myself moving beyond my antipathy to the fatalistic hopelessness of Chekhov's plays to glimpsing the Chekhovian genius for creating complex psychological characters that confound and perplex long after the final curtain. In her Director's notes Duborg writes that performing as a student in The Seagull with Chekhov's "beautiful and heartbreaking characters", opened her to a greater understanding of how to inhabit a character. The student and experienced actor has clearly become a great teacher judging by the powerful performances she has drawn from these BFA Acting students.
Pride and Prejudice
adapted by Janet Munsil from the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Stuart Aikins
BlueShore Financial Cente for the Performing Arts
November 15 to 23, 2013
Vancouver, BC: In the 200th anniversary year of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the theatre programs at Capilano University and the University of British Columbia both chose to stage plays adapted from the novel. I had the opportunity to see Theatre at UBC's Pride and Prejudice, and the Capilano University production, in the same week, affording an opportunity to compare the productions, which used adaptations by American playwright, John Jory and Canadian playwright, Janet Munsil, respectively.
Janet Munsil (Influence) is Artistic Director of Victoria's Intrepid Theatre. Her adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was commissioned in 2012 for a co-production by Theatre Calgary and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The professional production premiered in Calgary in 2012 and then ran in Ottawa. I was present at the penultimate performance of the student production at Capilano, which was followed by a talk-back with Munsil and the student cast, moderated by director Aikins. Munsil described how she had immersed herself in the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice by reading and rereading the text, listening to audiotapes of the book, and viewing various production such as the television series. Her script as interpreted by director Aikins, led to a production that was overall presentational in style, with a realistic, conventional setting and a sweetly romantic ambience.
Decorations on the proscenium arch surrounding the closed curtains, with a male and female cameo profile on either side, evoked "Jane Austen's England at the turn of the 19 th century.” The curtains opened to a backdrop of large flowers, and moving set pieces were used to indicate the interior or exteriors of house at Longbourn, Netherfield Park or Pemberley.
Pride and Prejudice
by John Jory, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Lois Anderson
Theatre at UBC
Frederic Wood Theatre,
November 13 to 30, 2013
Vancouver, BC: I first lost my heart to Mr. Darcy when I was sixteen. Pride and Prejudice was our assigned novel for matriculation English. King Lear was our Shakespeare tragedy assignment, and together these works instilled in me a love for English Literature that will last a lifetime.
I retrieved my heart from Austen's hero when I gave it over to my real-life sweetheart although I confess, like women and girls around the world, I nearly lost it again to Colin Firth in the 1995 television mini-series. Jane Austen's feisty Elizabeth, sweet Jane, charming Mr. Bingley and strong, silent Mr. Darcy have been enchanting readers since Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813.
The God that Comes
Starring Hawksley Workman
Conceived and directed by Christian Barry
Created by Hawksley Workman and Christian Barry
2b Theatre Company
Historic Theatre at the Cultch,
Nov 13 to 24, 2013
Vancouver, BC: In a non-stop 75 minutes of narration, music and song, this virtuoso performer presents the story of Euripides' The Bacchae as a one man rock opera. Since the cast list of The Bacchae consists of 8 characters not to mention the 15 person Greek Chorus, it's quite a feat that he undertakes.
The setting is Thebes, a city in ancient Boeotia in central Greece, ruled by Pentheus, grand-son of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Cadmus has four daughters: Agave is the mother of Pentheus. As legend tells us, Agave's sister Semele is fancied by Zeus, who gets her pregnant, much to the fury of Hera, Zeus' long suffering wife. Semele gets blown up by Zeus' lightning flash (that's another story) but Zeus saves her unborn son, who becomes Dionysus, God of Wine and orgies and other fun happenings. Incidentally a third daughter is Ino, who is the wicked stepmother from whom Helle and Phrixus are rescued by the Golden ram - connecting to the naming of the Hellespont and the story of Jason and the Argonauts. (See my story of the Black Sea Cruise: Batumi, Georgia). All right then; I do love the ancient myths but that's more information than is needed right now, so back to Pentheus.
Cocktails at Pam's
by Stuart Lemoine
Directed by Stephen Heatley
Staircase Theatre Equity Collective
Studio 1398 (3rd Floor Festival House, 1398 Cartwright St)
Nov 13 to 30th at 8 Pm, Nov 30th at 2 PM.
Vancouver, BC: I hate cilantro. I am in a very select minority of around 15% of humans who are genetically programmed to detest that soapy green herb that chefs and party hostesses in the not-similarly-afflicted 85%, love to use as garnishes or flavourings. I hate the taste so much that in my Sipping and Supping food blog over a two year period, I ranted about cilantro in at least eighteen different stories until I realized "enough already".
So when Estelle, an unexpected guest at Pam's cocktail party, rants about her distaste for green peppers and the presence of green peppers on all the canapés being served, I didn't know whether to feel bad for hostess Pam or to cheer Estelle on.
A rude guest with an anti-green pepper fixation is just one of the disasters that disrupts the perfect party that Pam has so painstakingly planned. In Cocktails at Pam's, originally written in the mid-eighties, playwright Lemoine, a master of the one-act comedy, sets this situation up neatly.
When Pam (Maryanne Renzetti) first appears in her living room to reassure herself that everything is set out just perfectly for her party, anyone who has ever hosted a similar gathering can't help empathizing with her. But slowly you realize that this is not just an ordinary gathering of friends and Pam is not just a normally anxious hostess.