Theatre Seen

The Wars adapted by Dennis Garnhum from the book by Timothy Findley
Directed by Dennis Garnhum
Vancouver Playhouse
Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company
October 11 - November 10th, 2007
Vancouver, BC: I first read "The Wars" as an assignment in a distance education Canadian Literature course when I was working ten hour days, and studying three to four hours a night. Reading for pleasure was limited to ten or fifteen minutes before I could no longer keep my eyes open and drifted into sleep. The night I began "The Wars" was no different. In bed by eleven, I opened the slim paperback, determined to make a start on my next assignment.  Three hours later I closed the book. I lay awake thinking about Robert, a compassionate, sensitive 19 year old boy who was compelled to take on responsibilities no young person should ever have to face. The thought of the terror that he experienced in the moment when he realized that he and his beloved horses were trapped had me shivering in the warmth of my comfortable bed.  With an economy of words Findley had recreated a world of artillery barrages, poison gases and young men sent to die in futile attempts to capture a piece of ground. He also showed how tenderness can be nurtured in a young person and how he can be driven to desperate measures to protect the vulnerable.

His Greatness by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Linda Moore
Granville Island Stage
Arts Club Theatre Company
October 11 - November 10, 2007

Vancouver, BC: "People don't die at the end of his plays. They go on living. That's the tragedy."

And that tragedy is at the heart of Daniel MacIvor's insightful new play. In a "snapshot" inspired by the visit of Tennessee Williams to Vancouver shortly before his death in 1983, MacIvor shows us a man terrified that the talent that made him a great Playwright has deserted him. He clings to the hope, however faint, that his writing still has the "it" that the critics and audiences love because the reality is that he has to go on living though he is, to paraphrase another great playwright, "sans inspiration, sans love, sans everything."

Set in a suite of a Vancouver hotel, the play takes place on the opening night and following morning of a "new" play by The Playwright (Allan Gray). Addicted to alcohol and drugs, he is kept functional by his one time lover and Muse, The Assistant, played by David Marr.  The dynamic of the relationship between Playwright and Assistant changes when the  Young Man or pretty boy (Charles Gallant), hired by the Assistant  to be the Playwright's escort to the opening night of the play, contrives to be kept on in the employ of The Playwright.  

On my way back, gazing skyward to admire some of the buildings, I heard an urgent "pardon, mademoiselle". Delighted at the "mademoiselle" bit, rather than madame – well, people have been saying I look years younger since I retired – I stopped abruptly, just in time to avoid a huge pile of something I did not want to step in. After thanking the men for the warning, I kept my eyes on the ground on the way back to the hotel.

Apart from the occasional gastrointestinal doggie gifts, and the rather larger ones from the horses pulling the carriages near the square, the streets were remarkably clean.  But even more remarkable was the relative absence of cigarette smoke that had previously made visits to Quebec so unpleasant. Perhaps it was that I was in a very touristy area, but overall there was very little smoking.  A pleasant surprise.

"The Carpenter" by Vittorio Rossi
Directed by Gordon McCall
Centaur Theatre, Montreal
October 11th, 2007

"The Carpenter" is the final play in a trilogy by Montreal playwright, Vittorio Rossi, who became playwright-in -residence at Centaur Theatre in 1987. Based on the life of Rossi's father, embodied in the character of Silvio Rosato, the trilogy presents stories of an Italian family and the settings range from Italy to Chicago to Montreal. The two previous plays, "Hellfire Pass" and "Carmela's Table", each had their premieres at the Centaur Theatre, in the 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons. Although I did not see parts I and II, I figured each play has to be able to stand on its own, and so it would be worthwhile ducking out early from the conference reception and paying a visit to the Centaur Theatre.

By the time "The Carpenter" takes place, Silvio (David Calderisi), and his wife Carmela (Patricia Yeatman) have lived in Ville Émard, Montreal for almost 50 years. In flashbacks from Egypt, Italy and Montreal, we learn of the war experiences of young Silvio (Richard Zeppieri) and his marriage to the young Carmela (Anita La Selva) and his friendship with Dave (Guido Cocomello). The three Rosato children brought over by Carmela from Italy are now middle-aged adults. The unmarried Liliana (Giovanna Carruba) lives with them, while divorced mother and grandmother, Maria (Ellen David) and the son, Luciano (Andreas Aspergis) visit frequently. Luciano is a playwright with writer's block, who discovers that the story he has to tell is that of his family.  There seems to be more than a touch of poetic or dramatic licence with Luciano representing Rossi's autobiographic alter ego since he has written several plays and screenplays, teaches play and screenwriting and is an actor as well. Not much block there.

Cookin' at the Cookery
Written and directed by Marion J.Caffey
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
August 2 to 26
Arts Club Theatre Company

After weeks away in the dry heat of California and then the cooler, thin-air mountains of Colorado, I am back in the saddle, or rather, the theatre seat again, for the remount opening night of Cookin' at the Cookery. And what a ride it was tonight. Under the direction of Bill Sample (keyboard), musicians Graham Boyle (percussion), David Sinclair (Guitar) and Rene Worst (Bass) produced swinging rhythms that I swear called out to me "get dancing, girl". But being a well trained theatre patron, I kept my hands and feet from tapping out the beat and my mouth from belting out the words. It was a struggle. But I loved the show.

The Shape of Things
by Neil Labute
Directed by Sabrina Evertt
Waterfront Theatre
August 22 – September 1
Twenty Something Theatre

Vancouver, BC: Take two seemingly unrelated questions - what moral values lead to destructive human relationships? And what aesthetic values define art? - combine through the unforgiving pen of playwright/ director, Neil Labute, and you get the edgy disturbing play, The Shape of Things, that previewed last night at the Waterfront Theatre, on Granville Island.

The setting for the play is a liberal arts college in a Midwestern town. Evelyn (Julie McIsaac) is an art student working on her thesis for her MFA degree. Adam (Joel Sturrock) is a shy, awkward, English literature student, working as a part-time security guard at a local museum jobs to get by. They meet when Evelyn, attractive and aggressive, challenges Joel to stop her from defacing one of the exhibits. This encounter leads to an affair during which Evelyn becomes the dominant figure in Adam's world, reshaping his person, his attire and his friendships. Phillip (Jon Lachlan Stuart) is Adam's ex-roommate, now engaged to Jenny (Lisa Aasebo). Jenny harbors an unexpressed attraction for Adam. Over time, Evelyn's machinations alienate Adam from Phillip and Jenny, and destroying their relationship as well.

Julius Caesar
Directed by Katrina Dunn
Studio Stage Vanier Park
To September 21st, 2007
Bard on the Beach

Vancouver, BC. I really enjoyed this performance of Julius Caesar, directed by Katrina Dunn, on the Studio stage at Bard on the Beach. Or more correctly, I should say I thought the first half had some of the most powerful performances I have seen in a while. It always seems to me that the high point of the play is the powerful funeral oration by Mark Antony while the second half of the play, armies clashing and men falling on their swords, comes somewhat as an anti-climax after the earlier dramatic scenes of betrayal and the power of rhetoric.

The play centers on the plotting, carrying out and aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Despite the eponymous title,Caesar is killed off early in the third act and the focus settles on Brutus, an "honorable man" who "did love Caesar when [he] struck him," and Mark Antony, whose masterful oratory and Iago-like manipulation shifts the mood of the populace against the conspirators.

by James Fagan Tait
Directed by Sherry Yoon
Squamish Reserve #6, under the Burrard Street Bridge B
oca del Lupo
August 10 - 25

Vancouver, BC: Viewed from the sandy, stone-strewn ground below the Burrard Street Bridge, the weathered concrete columns and supporting arches of the 75 year old bridge look as ancient as Notre Dame de Paris, the Gothic cathedral around which Victor Hugo centered his novel. The rumble of cars crossing overhead, punctuated by the occasional roar of motorbikes, did not suppress the excited buzz of the crowd, waiting for the start of Boca del Lupo's latest outdoor, roving spectacular, Quasimodo.


"The Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare
Directed by Miles Potter.
Vanier Park Mainstage
Till September 23rd 2007
Bard on the Beach

What a great start to the 2007 season at Bard on the Beach. Last night's opening of "The Taming of the Shrew" definitely ranks among the best productions I have seen at Bard. It's not just that Bob Frazer's Petruchio, even dressed in a grungy wedding cape, could turn the most committed feminist into a simpering romantic. Nor his commanding initial entrance as the "Lone Stranger," come to "wive it wealthily" in Padua City. Those jeans!  Katharine (Colleen Wheeler) clearly did not stand a chance of resisting him.

Although feminists have long decried The Taming of the Shrew as misogynistic, I have always read "Shrew" as one of Shakespeare's most interesting love stories; a battle between two smart, strong-willed adversaries. The key of course is how Katharina's "taming" is interpreted. And Wheeler's Katharina was as close to my ideal of the role as I could have hoped for.  


by Richard Rodgers (Music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (Book and Lyrics)
Directed by Shel Piercy Music Director Wendy Bross Stuart
Alternate nights till August 17th at Malkin Bowl

Oh what a beautiful evening, oh what a wonderful night. I love Oklahoma - the musical that is, as Oklahoma is one of the nineteen US states I have yet to visit. It's not that I've been swallowing happy pills but I just love musicals and this one is jam packed with tunes that make me wish I had the singing and dancing talent to be up there on stage having as much fun as the enthusiastic young cast seem to have. Add a mild dry Vancouver night after the threatened rain shower spattered by in the early afternoon, an appreciative audience with families and lots of young people and a great venue in Stanley Park - what could be more quintessential Vancouver than that?


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