Theatre Seen

_0148878-w500-h500.jpgThe Seagull by Anton Chekhov, translated by Peter Gill
Directed by Kathy Duborg
Telus StudioTheatre
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.

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Uncle Vanya  by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Peter Petro and edited for performance by Errol Durbach and John Wright
Directed by John Wright

Blackbird Theatre Company
The Cultch Historic Theatre

until Jan 18 th 2014.

Vancouver, BC:  It's a grey, damp, rainy early morning in Vancouver.As I look out toward the ominous grey clouds over the skyline of the buildings across the waters of False Creek, I see small patches of blue sky peaking through and it reminds me of the faint note of hope on which Uncle Vanya ends.

As I have written before, on reading Chekhov, I have always struggled with the angst and depression of his characters (Playing Uncle Vanya: A Chat with Anthony Ingram) but after visiting the dacha in Crimea where he wrote The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard (Black Sea Cruise: Yalta, Anton Chekhov), I resolved that this would be the year when I finally figure out why his plays are so revered. Happily I think this production has done that for me.

In 3 days from now, December 27th,  Blackbird Theatre, Vancouver's premiere classical theatre company, opens Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at The Cultch. Uncle Vanya is one of the four major plays by this Russian playwright who is also considered to be a master writer of the short story genre. As well as a writer, Chekhov was a practicing physician, who died of tuberculosis at the early age of 44 years.

Two months ago on a cruise around the Black Sea, we called in at Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula of the Ukraine. I visited the White Dacha where Anton Chekhov wrote some of his best known work, including the classic short story "The Lady with the Dog" and two other of his major plays, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard

At ReviewFromTheHouse we are now using the Disqus comment system which permits you to comment either as a member, anonymously, or as a guest. In the latter 2 cases when you write a comment you do not need to provide your email  address nor a password but just click the box that says "comment as a guest." The comment section appears at the end of the full post. It's always great to get feedback whether you agree with my reviews or not, so this post links to my theatre, food, travel and dance blogs.

Becky Shaw  by Gina Gionfriddo
directed by David Mackay,
Studio 16
, 1555 West 7th Ave
Mitch and Murray Productions
Nov 20th - Dec 7th, 2013

Vancouver BC:  Right now the theatrical cornucopia of Vancouver is overflowing with an abundance of riches in the way of excellent productions . Mitch and Murray Production's Becky Shaw, is another example of fine theatre produced by a small independent company, with a interesting script,  tight direction and  first-class acting.

The black box space at Studio 16 was set up in a configuration that I have not seen before in this space.  The seats were arranged in a sort of hexagonal formation, with three playing spaces in the centre- used as a bedroom, sitting rooms,  a coffee shop, for the four locations of the scenes; New York, Boston, Providence and Richmond. I had always thought of this theatre as smallish but this in-the-round ( or in-the- hexagonal) seating revealed how surprisingly spacious this space actually is.

Gina Gionfriddo is an American playwright who has also written television episodes for shows such as Law and Order.  Becky Shaw, which garnered her a nomination for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama, tips  a hat to William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Like Thackeray's ambitious heroine Becky Sharp, Gionfriddo's Becky (Moya O'Connell) is a disturbing intruder into the already uneasy relationships of Suzanna (Meghan Gardiner), her dominating mother, Susan (Marilyn Norry), her new husband  Andrew (Charlie Gallant) and her "adopted" brother, Max (Aaron Craven).

 ppcap1_0.jpgPride and Prejudice
adapted by Janet Munsil from the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Stuart Aikins
BlueShore Financial Cente for the Performing Arts
Capilano University
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. 

Except In the Unlikely Event of War
by Sean Devine
Directed by Richard Wolfe
Pi Theatre and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre
Roundhouse Performance Centre
Nov 15 - 30, 2013 
Vancouver, BC: The world premiere of Sean Devine's play, Except in the Unlikely Event of  War, is currently running at the Roundhouse Performance Centre. I saw a matinee performance of this new work, and I loved it. It is clever, complex, comedic and confusing on so many levels, that it held my focused attention throughout. Yet despite the fact that I was riveted to the action on stage, the meta-theatrical playing with time and place had my mind whirling to try to keep up with what was real,  and what was the play within the play. I was accompanied at the show by an intelligent and intellectual friend who spends much of his days reading and thinking analytically about a range of complex subjects.  Yet as we tried to dissect what we had seen over a pleasant Italian  dinner at Yaletown L'Antipasto, it was evident that he too was more confused than not. So why, you may ask, did I enjoy it so much?

Hawksley Workman. Photo by Trudy Lee.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.

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