Written and directed by Sally Stubbs
Playwrights Theatre Centre Studio
May 16-26, 2007
Vancouver, BC. I really enjoyed "Wreckage." As playwright, director and producer, Sally Stubbs writes in the director's notes, the original idea came from a story about survivors of a train wreck who used the opportunity to escape from their old lives. In exploring such questions as why one might chose to walk away from life and how such a disappearance might affect those left behind, Stubbs has created an engrossing, if occasionally confusing play.
The manipulation of time as the action switches back and forth between the 1920s and 1949, and of identity, with Tosh Doiron playing Rose and her daughter, Violet, overlays the work with a filmic quality...sort of Memento meets film noir.
Rose, is a would-be Lillian Gish runaway from Kamloops who has landed up in Vancouver "en-route" to seeking stardom in Los Angeles. A dramatic train wreck occurs: Rose walks away from the wreck, clutching her red suitcase, and disappears. Twenty-five years later the red suitcase mysteriously comes into her daughter's possession and Violet is determined to learn the truth about her lost mother. The play gets going with a bang - literally. Niki Boyd's set evokes both railway tracks and the compartments of a train. Catalin Ursu's sound design aided by Darren Hales lighting was particularly effectively in creating the sensation of a major train wreck.
Right up front I was drawn in by the teasers. Who is the young woman pounding away at a typewriter? What's with the red suitcase? Who is the Lillian Gish wanna-be? You'll find out over the course of two hours, but the play unfolds more like a piece of origami than the rippling opening of a fan.
Time: early afternoon on Mother's Day: Place: Granville Island Revue Theatre. I am here with my daughter to see "My Mother's Story", a piece derived from essays written by twenty Vancouver women actors in response to a challenge posed by Marilyn Norry, affectionately introduced by Patti Allen, as the "mother", of this project. From these twenty stories, Jenn Griffin skillfully wove a verbal collage to be read by the actors at this one-time Mother's Day performance.
The small foyer is buzzing; women are everywhere, from pre- teenagers to grandmothers, talking, hugging and sipping tea. Circulating through the crowd are women carrying trays of cookies, cupcakes or fruit. I recognize some of them - they are the performers whose stories we will hear.
I fixate on the tray of cupcakes, and flash back to my mother, baker par excellence, and the brightly coloured cakes I and my friends used to wolf down in the days when I did not have to worry about calories. Later that afternoon as I board the Aquabus to Hornby Street, I allow myself to feel proud of a little foodaholicism victory. I resisted the cupcake temptation. Hallelujah.
The doors to the theatre open. To the strains of familiar tunes supplied by Dorothy Dittrich on keyboard and Twyla Brooks on bass, we take our seats. The buzz of conversation grows louder and women circulate offering more fruit and cookies. Words pop into my mind: warm, nurturing, communicative, empathetic, sharing.
On the stage are twenty chairs. I wonder how Griffin could possibly make an entertaining 90 minute piece out of twenty diverse stories. I soon find out.
They say that daughters become their mothers and I am starting to see that phenomenon in my own life: I fret about where I'm going to park hours before I leave the house for an event, I love music and dancing, and I have a strong belief that things work out for the best. However, while my mother dutifully came straight home and started working on her Rants, Raves and Reviews article, it took me three or four days to get to write. I like to think it's because my brain needs to stew for days before the writing comes out relatively smoothly. Nonetheless, I have finally gotten to it --
Nothing says Mother's Day like tears and cupcakes and judging by the abundance of both, it seems that the organizers of My Mother's Story know this simple truth.
My mom is one of the coolest people I know. How else can you describe someone who leaves a lifelong medical career to become a writer -- and a theatre writer at that? Unlike many people I know, I can spend countless hours with my mom and still be ready for more. It's because she is pressure free (unless I need some), guilt free (unless I need some) and unconditionally supportive (always need some).
This year, I am lucky enough to be in town for Mother' Day as well as my mother's birthday. And she was lucky enough to get the last two tickets to the sold out Mother's Day event My Mother's Story, conceived of, directed, and produced by Marilyn Norry.
Vancouver, BC. One of the only pleasant aspects of air travel is the fact that for a few precious hours you are stuck in your seat with nowhere to move to, no household chores to take care of and no phone calls to interrupt your train of thought. A perfect time to meditate about heartbeats, music, growing up and growing older - or Upintheair Theatre's site-specific production about the West Coast Rave scene.
Dance has always been my preferred fitness activity even though I dutifully do my daily 45 minute workout on "the machines." 120 beats per minute, apparently the optimal tempo for rave music is exactly double my target resting heart rate. A fearful symmetry at work here. My feet had to be firmly tucked under the chair or I might have embarrassed myself by becoming part of the action. Dance dissipates inhibitions, stimulates endorphins, relieves stress and contrary to expectation, should actually have a calming effect. Unless the physiological benefits are counteracted by other chemical effects "“ alcohol and drugs.
Life of Galileo
by Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Howard Brenton
Directed by Tariq Leslie
Western Front, till April 14th.
Intelligent Ape Equity Co-op
Vancouver, BC: Bertolt Brecht's "Life of Galileo" is a powerful play that poses important questions about moral choices under circumstances where the options are life, if you recant what you know to be true, or torture and death if you hold true to your principles. The character of Galileo and his renunciation of the science in which he so passionately believed, obviously struck some deep chord in Brecht, who reworked the play several times over a sixteen year period, producing three versions, in 1938, 1945 and 1947. This version, directed by Tariq Leslie, was adapted and translated in1980 by British playwright, Howard Brenton, for the National Theatre in London
This was my first visit to the Western Front. It is located in a Vancouver Heritage structure, built in 1922 by the Knights of Pythias, an international fraternity whose stated aim is the "promotion of understanding among men of good will as the surest means of attaining Universal Peace." It seemed a most appropriate place to host this production, with its message of the abuses that result from bigotry and intolerance. The simple playing space of the "Grand Luxe Hall" lent itself well to minimalist staging, with benches, a table, and a chair, indicating Galileo's relocation from Padua, to Venice, Florence and a country villa where he lives till his death in 1642. The play certainly does not need an elaborate set. Its message comes through loud and clear.
Bigger than Jesus by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
March 28-April 7, 2007
Wyrd Productions and Necessary Angel Theatre Company
Vancouver, BC: Unbeliever though I may be, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to confess my sin - I believe that Rick Miller IS bigger than Jesus. A charismatic, high energy performer with a warm voice and an engaging smile, he held my attention so strongly that for most of the 70 minutes (no intermission) I forgot to take notes. But not to worry, the script is for sale in the lobby after the show, and I couldn't resist getting my own signed copy. It's worth it for the seven pages of the Teacher's rant, alone.
Using the liturgy to tell his own "Jesus Story", Miller whizzes us through 2000 years of "Christory", first as the Teacher Jesus, then as the Jesus Preacher in the Church of Me. As fast talking as any preacher I've ever seen on television, he actually had me nodding my head in agreement like those bobbing dolls that people used to hang from their car mirrors. Bet if he had passed a plate around he could have collected enough money to fund a bunch of small emerging theatre companies for a year.
The set, lighting, sound and video for Bigger than Jesus earned Dora nominations for Ben Chaisson and Beth Kates, and Kates won the 2005 Dora Award for Outstanding Lighting for this show. Their use of video projection and especially the "Last Supper", created with action figures ranging from Darth Vader to John Lennon, was cleverly done.
Greek mythology has fascinated me since I first received a children's version of the myths. At high school we studied "The Iliad" and I read "The Odyssey." And then of course the dramatic tension, moral and ethical conflicts, and clash of destiny with self-determination in the dramas of Sophocles and Euripides raise many issues that are as valid in today's world as they were in Ancient Greece. Hence the many appropriations, adaptations and translocations of stories such as Antigone, Medea, Oedipus.
The tale of Theseus and Ariadne was one of my favorites; at least the first part in which he slew the Minotaur and escaped the Labyrinth by following the thread that Ariadne had given him. I think the children's book left out the bit where Theseus dumped her on Naxos. So when I read that Vancouver Opera was presenting "Ariadne auf Naxos" by Richard Strauss this season, I had something dark and dramatic like "Elektra" in mind. But of course I did not know my Strauss operas as well as I knew the Greek myths.
Far from being a dark and dramatic opera, Ariadne auf Naxos is more like "Kiss Me Kate" meets "Noises Off," set to glorious music. Although I love the music of "Kiss Me Kate" too. At least I can sing Cole Porter's songs in the shower.
Moonlight and Magnolias
by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by John Cooper
Playhouse Theatre Company
Vancouver,BC: The first thing I loved about the Playhouse production of "Moonlight and Magnolias" was Pam Johnson's set illuminated by Gerald King's lighting. The play takes place in the office of David O. Selznick, executive producer of "Gone with the Wind." This film, released in 1939 while Europe was at war, won 8 Academy awards and was one of the most commercially successful films ever made. It was based on Margaret Mitchell's book, panned by literary critics but loved by readers. Johnson' set re-imagines Selznick's office even to the colourful storyboards, and the Writers' building seen through the window blinds.
Based on an apparently true event in the three year course of the making of the film, the play deals with 5 days during which Selznick (Jay Brazeau), screenwriter Ben Hecht (Richard Newman) and Director, Victor Fleming (Stephen Miller) are locked in Selznick's office, trying to come up with a new version of the screenplay, and subsisting on bananas and peanuts, brought in by Selznick's secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Dawn Petten).
Hippies and Bolsheviks
by Amiel Gladstone
Directed by Katrina Dunn
Performance Works, Granville Island Touchstone Theatre
It's lucky I missed out on the Hippie era because I don't think I would have done too well in a commune. The rule of the majority is death to individualism. And all those beans and lentils, bell bottoms and incense.
And then of course there was Mary-Jane. I was a medical student in Cape Town In the sixties and the cannabis on the streets was a very potent form of marijuana known as dagga. Friday night in emergency was dreaded for the arrival of stoned violent men, who dealt with their enemies by ramming bicycle spokes into their cervical spines. Nice!
But though the Kits hippie subculture was probably a much gentler living environment than the slums of Cape Town it still managed to mess up many young people's minds, as was evident from Amiel Gladstone's new play "Hippies and Bolsheviks." Star, AKA Margaret, (Lara Gilchrist) is a 26 year old who drops out of university to join a commune in the BC interior, and gets herself pregnant. The father could be anyone of several men in the commune except the man she is supposed to be in love with, fellow would- be hippie, "Green Tree" AKA Allen (Andrew McNee). Star picks up Jeff, a very young, sexually naive, draft evader from the US at a Led Zeppelin concert and brings him back to her 4th Avenue pad (paid for by an unappreciated mommy and daddy back east). Things get complicated with the arrival of "Green Tree" who finds Jeff at Star's apartment.
The play is funny and the acting excellent. Gilchrist transforms instantly from seductive siren to petulant child as soon as she hears her mother's voice on the phone. Keegan conveys just the right amount of innocence and naive as Jeff while Mckee is hilarious as the ex-hippie lover, who really can't face responsibility after all.
On a surprisingly chilly Sunday evening in Southern California, one of the brighter spots of the Oscar show was the performance of Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (my favorite - didn't you love Mr Cellophane in Chicago?) bemoaning the fact that dramas usually win out over comedies for Oscar nominations. That got me thinking yet again about comedy and humour.
As I've written before, I generally prefer serious dramas to comedies. Maybe that is because even my kindest friends think my sense of humour is "different"; some say "odd, or even twisted." And it's true. Mistaken identity, hiding in closets, physical comedy - hold little appeal for me. But witty biting comments, double- entendre, even puns of the "hold your stomach and groan" type - resonate with me. I guess you could say I prefer word play to sword play! groan"...
Yet somehow all my recent theatre-going has been to comedies. In the past couple of weeks in Vancouver I saw three. Two were written more than 2000 years apart. "Thicker than Water" written by local actor/playwright, David Mackay, and directed by James Fagan Tait, premiered at Performance Works to reviews that for the most part found the play very funny. Certainly the acting was great. Mackay plays Tim, a depressed newly divorced man who mopes around his basement suite and is persuaded by his quick-talking younger sister, Amanda (Rebecca Auerbach) to invest in a get-rich-quick scheme which, being Vancouver, is of course, a grow op. The cast was rounded out by Dawn Petten playing a hilarious sexually aggressive cop and Derek Metz as Dan, the crook who rips them off. An amusing evening but not much to talk about on the way home; which was lucky as I decided at the last minute to see the show and had no one with me to share whatever profound thoughts I might have had.