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.
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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).
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.
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?
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.
Mary Poppins: A Musical based on the stories of PL Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New songs, music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drew
Directed by Bill Millerd
Musical Director Bruce Kellet
Choreographer Valerie Easton
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Nov 7, 2013 to Jan 5, 2014
Vancouver, BC: If I were to pick my number one musical guaranteed to light up the holiday season it would be Mary Poppins. Who could fail to love P.L. Travers Practically Perfect Nanny who makes a magical world out of the ordinary, everyday events of life? Add a song list that charms everyone from the youngest child who can say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, to his granny who loves the joyful precision of Step In Time and the sweet poignancy of Feed the Birds, and it's a show for all ages to enjoy.
I applaud the Arts Club for this ambitious undertaking. The technical demands of this production were impressive. The collapsing kitchen table and cabinet shelves, magically restored by Mary Poppins, worked flawlessly, and Mary Poppins soared across the theatre as if she really did it all the time. The production is a visual treat with Alison Green's beautifully designed and executed backdrops, highlighted with rain, lightning and flying flocks of birds, courtesy of Craig Alfredson's projections. The backdrop of the rooftops of London was stunningly beautiful and my favorite part of the scenic design.
On this Black Sea journey on the MV Aegean Odyssey, the big treat of the stop in Odessa, Ukraine was a private ballet performance by the State Academical Opera and Ballet Theatre for the travelers of the MV Aegean Odyssey, at the Odessa National Opera House. The two-part show consisted of a classical ballet – Les Sylphides (Chopiniana) and The Carmen Suite, a ballet set to a modern adaptation of Bizet’s music.
Les Sylphides is described as a short non-narrative ballet choreographed by Michael Fokine to music of Frederic Chopin. It premiered in St. Petersburg in 1908 as Chopiniana or Reverie Romantique: Ballet sur la musique de Chopin. In 1909, named Les Sylphides it was first presented at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. For this production, the backdrop of the stage was black with a white circle depicting the forest glade where white–clad sylphs dance with the poet in the moonlight.