The Unmentionables by Bruce Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Playing until August 27, 2006 in the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, Chicago
CHICAGO, IL. Steppenwolf is arguably one of the best known independent theatre companies in Chicago so I was very excited to obtain tickets to their current production. "The Unmentionables" is a new play by Bruce Norris, who has had four previous plays commissioned and produced by this company.
"War! Now In Its 4th Smash Year!"
The Second City Chicago
CHICAGO, IL. Although The Second City has clubs in other major cities including Toronto (the second oldest venue, running since 1973), Chicago was where it all started in the early 1950s. The list of notable alumni of the Chicago Second City troupe is a who's who of comedy, theatre and film so how could I leave Chicago without catching the newest show at the Second City Mainstage Theatre?
We were lucky to get tickets and planned to get there early but when we arrived the lineup was already snaking down the steps and out the door. The temperature outside was sizzling- Chicago was in the middle of the heat wave that swept across the country. Inside was mildly cooler. The place was packed solid but we had good seats with a great view of the stage.
The comedy now running is the 93rd revue, "War! Now In Its 4th Smash Year!" The theme is "everybody lies". With digs at everything from parenting (The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny) to the War in Iraq (WOMD!!), the three guys (Joe Canale, Ithamar Enriquez and Brian Gallivan) and three gals (Molly Erdman, Maribeth Monroe and Claudia Michelle Wallace), kept the house in stitches. There were so many great scenes that I can't possibly describe them all but one of my favorites was performed by the three women wearing Middle Eastern garb, heads covered, comparing what they would wish for. Another favorite was the obligatory dig at Canada - ice-fishing, illegal immigrants, health care, pot laws multilingualism and all. They did not miss a thing.
Spinning into Butter by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Anish Jethmalani July 21 - September 3, 2006 Victory Gardens Theater Studio, Chicago Eclipse Theatre Company
Chicago, IL. - When your personal demons are about to consume you there is only one thing you can do to survive. Just as Little Sambo conquers the greedy tigers by spinning them into an edible pool of butter, so must you engulf your demons, subsume them and then move on with life. Dealing with demons is what Dean Sarah Daniels must do when racism becomes a dominant issue in a small private college in Vermont. At least that's how I understand the metaphor.
Rebecca Gilman's play is the kind of play that reminds me again why I love theatre so much. It's a funny, sadly realistic take on the culture of political correctness that resulted in much animated discussion and serious soul searching as we drove home from the theatre. The Victory Gardens Theatre Studio is an intimate 60 seat space, ideally suited to this type of work. The play is set in Dean Sarah's office and the proximity of the playing space is such that at times I almost felt as if I was sitting in on one of the faculty meetings.
Excellent performances made for a very enjoyable production despite some minor quibbles with the play, in particular a disappointingly mundane ending. I enjoyed the portrayal of Dean Sarah (Kerry Richlan), who earnestly tries to be sensitive, politically correct and effective at the same time, demonstrating that it is an almost impossible task. Also Larry Baldacci's Dean Burton Strauss who protests so strongly about racism that he almost convinces himself that he is no bigot. There is very little subtly or ambiguity about the characters in this play; we know exactly where each stands.
It took the passengers less than a minute to catch on to the answer to the rapid fire questions posed by the shuttle bus driver taking us to the McCormick Place Convention Centre.
"What city has the greatest number of tall buildings of any place in the US?"', he asks. "Chicago" piped up the perky brunette who had obviously already had her first jolt of caffeine. "And what city in the US is home to the first planetarium built in North America?" - "Chicago", the rest of us chorus dutifully. We haven't had our coffee yet but hey! We are not slow learners. Over the next few minutes we learn, through this adapted Socratic Method, innumerable facts about this vibrant architecturally rich city of skyscrapers, water and greenery.
But the most tantalizing bit of information I learn actually comes from Arlene, the helpful woman behind one of the information desks at the Convention Centre. Somehow our conversation drifts onto the subject of theatre in Chicago - are you surprised? I mention that I had read that Chicago and Los Angeles were only second to New York in the range and variety of theatre opportunities available. She replies that Chicago now has overtaken New York. Ever the skeptical sleuth, I ask for sources or statistics. She refers me to the "League of Chicago Theatres" - which I assume is like our Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance. So I boot up my lap top and go surfing.
Troilus and Cressida Directed by David Mackay July 12th to September 21 Bard on the Beach
Vancouver, BC. It's five-thirty on a clear, still Vancouver morning. I watch the rising sun spotlight the boats anchored in the waters of False Creek while gulls swoop and cry. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee complements the fragrance of dew-laden air entering my window. I breathe deeply and contemplate Shakespeare's depiction of the warring "heroes" of Greece and Troy, and their women.
The Shoes That Were Danced To Pieces Reviewed by Gillian and Amanda Lockitch
Directed by Sherry J Yoon July 12th to 30th Prospect Point, Stanley Park, Vancouver: Boca Del Lupo
VANCOUVER, BC - The fine Vancouver drizzle that began as we followed the "shepherds" along the trail to the grassy meadow in Stanley Park could not dampen the enthusiasm of the preview night crowd. And from the opening moments of Boca del Lupo's The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces this show enchanted adults and children alike.
A plethora of princesses (one plus nine equals ten) in long Victorian-style gowns enter quietly and in perfect synchronicity tap their croquet game into the meadow floor, a delightfully quirky moment. Enter our narrator, The Cobbler (Andy Thompson), soaring in from among the trees, fearing the wrath of The King (Ari Solomon). Solomon's deadpan delivery provides a low key counterpoint to the frenetic concern of the cobbler who each day must produce ten new pairs of shoes, that mysteriously fall to pieces over night.
The story follows the adventures of a poor suitor who has come to solve the riddle of the shoes. As several previous men found to their horror and the loss of their heads (Harsh!) this was no easy task. And the princesses were no help -as they state repeatedly "if they did not have to sing this song, you would see their lips were sealed". So how to solve the riddle? Of the several performance sites, our favorite is the princesses' bedroom in the trees, a giant hammock, from which each princess fearlessly rappels down in her own unique fashion. However the "boats" harnessed to each actress and the doorway in the path are fantastic design elements. Another standout is the dance sequence, with the exquisite greens and browns of the costumes drawing from the forest colours.
The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare Directed by Michael Shamata June 29 - September 22, 2006 Vanier Park, Vancouver Bard On The Beach
VANCOUVER, BC - I first saw The Winter's Tale more than a decade ago at Maynardville Open Air Theatre in Cape Town. It was a warm summer night and as the sunlight faded to dark and the moon rose, a gentle breeze rippled through the trees surrounding the stage evoking the ambience of pastoral Bohemia. The image of Hermione, frozen in time, holding on to her belief in the oracle's prediction of her daughter's return, and my emotional response to Hermione's "resurrection" and her reunion with Perdita, have stayed with me over the years.
Unlike that balmy evening in Cape Town, on the opening night of Bard on the Beach's production of The Winter's Tale, a chill wind blew through the tent, twice toppling a statue from its pedestal. But despite nature doing its bit to enhance the dark psychological drama unfolding before us, this production was no less magical and emotional for me. The image of elegant and graceful white clad Jennifer Lines as the Hermione statue coming back to life will also stay with me for a long time
ROMANCEby David Mamet, Directed by Irene Poole, Presented by Pilot Theatre until June 10, 2006 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). 416-368-3110.
TORONTO, ON - “May we not have peace?” Thus proclaims The Judge, high on an overdose of his new allergy pills. Is he referring to the heated exchange between The Prosecutor, angry and frustrated in his attempt to get a straight answer from The Defendant? Or to the noisy pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protestors parading outside the courtroom? Can world peace ever be achieved if agreement can’t even be reached between one or two people?
Irony is rampant in “Romance”, a new play by David Mamet that had its Canadian premiere last night at the upstairs Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. We realize within minutes that Mamet’s courtroom setting complete with American flag, where everyone is supposed to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is in fact inhabited by liars, cheaters and people with deep dark secrets and thinly suppressed prejudices. “Why did you go to law school if you don’t want to lie?” the bemused Defendant asks his lawyer.
VANCOUVER, B.C. - Until recently I hadn’t realized just how many small independent theatre festivals there are across Canada, an indication of the vast pool of writing, producing, directing, acting and technical talent waiting to take their turn on stage. Of course like most people I know of the Fringe festivals, although I hadn’t realized that the first Edinburgh Fringe dates all the way back to 1947. The Fringe site archival notes attribute the Fringe title to a 1948 comment by Robert Kemp of the Evening News who said “Round the fringe of the official Festival drama there seems to be a more private enterprise than before…I’m afraid that some of us are not going to be often at home during the evenings”. Over the next ten years fringe events in Edinburgh increased and in 1958 the official Festival Fringe Society was constituted to administer the Festival.
According to the Canadian Theatre Society web site, “Canada has more Fringe Festivals per capita than any other country in the World”. Edmonton led the way in Canada, organizing the first Edmonton Fringe in 1982. Current listings on the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) site show eighteen Fringe Festivals across Canada from Victoria, British Columbia to Dartmouth Nova Scotia. And this only lists festivals who want to use the word “Fringe”.
Then there are the New Play Festivals, the New Playwright Festivals, and myriads of other independent festivals with names ranging from the conventional like Summerworks Theatre Festival (Toronto) to attention-grabbing like Mutton Busting (Calgary) or the festival that prompted this column, the aptly titled Walking Fish – theatre evolution (Vancouver).
VANCOUVER, B.C. - Over my 35 years as a physician (of course I was a mere teenager, 17 to be exact, when I started medical school), I can’t begin to count the number of times people have said to me “I always wanted to be a doctor but…” and then would follow one of several common excuses: “All that studying, it’s too hard” or” six more years in school is way too long” (actually counting 2 residencies it was 14 years) or my favorite, “but I can’t stand the sight of blood”. Actually I don’t much like the sight of blood either – rather ironic for a laboratory physician. But that’s another issue, so what’s my point?