Theatre Seen

Vancouver, BC. "The evil that men do lives after them." For me the standout show at this year's Vancouver International Fringe Festival was "Timekeepers" from Ocean of Sugar Productions, Tel-Aviv, Israel. A well crafted, beautifully performed 70 minute drama, it moved me to tears at several points. Set in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Nazi Germany, Timekeepers tells the story of three men whose lives intersect at a point in time when men in a supposedly cultured and civilized country committed unspeakable acts of evil against other human beings. Benjamin is an elderly, Jewish horologist from Berlin. He has survived so far through his skill at repairing watches, but does not know the fate of his wife and his young son and daughter. He wears the yellow star that brands him as a Jew. Benjamin is a conservative family man. Hans is a young German homosexual, who has been deserted by his lover who managed to get out of Germany. Hans wears the pink triangle that brands him as a homosexual, another group targeted by the Nazis. Thanks to a new lover with some influence in the camp and lying about his skill as a watch repairer, Hans is assigned to work in the repair shop alongside Benjamin. The third man is a Kapo, a brute who terrorizes the other two men while they remain under his control. He wears the green triangle that brands him as a criminal.

Timon of Athens
Directed by James Fagan Tait
Studio Stage Vanier Park
To September 20th, 2007
Bard on the Beach

Vancouver, BC: Timon of Athens is one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays and not often seen on stage. This production directed by James Fagan Tait is innovative and compelling in its use of choreography and sound. Tait adopts a minimalist approach to staging. A giant white tablecloth covers the stage for Act I and chairs are the only props. In Act 2 the stage is bare and the surface is unbroken save for Timon's cave.

The striking opening sequence with the cast in dark business suits sets the tone for this excellent production. Timon is an oddity among Shakespeare's plays in that it has a single uncomplicated storyline and a protagonist who has been described as more cartoon than character. Timon is a wealthy Athenian gentleman who is so "generous" that he gives away all his wealth. Finding himself in debt, he expects that the "friends" who have enjoyed his patronage will help him out. Surprise, surprise - they don't. Bereft of everything, he leaves Athens and goes off to live in a cave outside the city.

Vancouver, BC: Well it is two for two so far for Bard on the Beach Main Stage this year. Both Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew provide great evenings of entertainment. Director Dean Paul Gibson's contemporary view of Romeo and Juliet had some really interesting interpretations both in character and in staging so there was plenty to talk about on the drive home – always a sign of good theatre to me. 

For example, I have often wondered in other productions why Juliet's nurse, usually played as a staid, grand-motherly type, would aid and abet Juliet in her headlong rush to marriage. Those actions of her nurse usually require a major suspension of disbelief. To digress for a minute – Friar Lawrence's wonder drug that allows

Juliet to feign death so realistically that no one suspects she is just in "hibernation," has also always required firm suppression of my scientific thoughts. Does such a drug exist? Anyway if it did, today with electroencephalograms, electrocardiograms, echocardiography and blood gas analyzers, it would be pretty difficult to fool anyone by playing dead.  

Review by Amanda Lockitch

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
Directed by Ben Barnes.
June 3 - September 2, 2006.
Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Building 49
Ph: 416.866.8666

TORONTO ON. - “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” Oscar Wilde

First produced in 1895, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest hinges on Wilde’s extraordinary use of language. Marriage and mistaken identity, unknown parentage and social mores abound in this farcical romp where everything ends in a happy, neatly coiled bow. The humor comes almost exclusively from the way these characters manipulate and embrace conversational cleverness.

Soulpepper delivers an admirable production, but somehow the awe that I have come to expect from a Soulpepper show seems lacking. Despite being over two hours (with two intermissions) the play clicks along quite speedily, yet it comes just shy of the speed necessary for such rapier wit.

Review by Amanda Lockitch

Ten Days On Earth by Ronnie Burkett
CanStage at Berkeley,
26 Berkeley St., Toronto
to June 24, 2007

TORONTO, ON - When I saw my first Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes production I quietly asserted that I never wanted to miss another of his shows. And, happily, I haven't.

While 10 Days On Earth, textually, does not pack quite the punch for me that, for example, Provenance did, Burkett's mastery is undeniable. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, he not only writes and performs; he designs, sculpts, constructs, costumes, speaks for and physically manipulates dozens of marionettes per show. But this is not children's theatre. Far from it.

10 Days On Earth follows Darrell, a mentally challenged young man who does not realize that his mother is slowly decomposing in her bedroom of the house they share. For ten days he goes through his routine of work and daydreams until he begins to question the truth.

It is often the mistakes made which give live theatre its supercharged boost. When the strings got tangled on one puppet the night I saw the show, it turned into one of the loveliest and most unforgettable moments. Burkett paused, rubbed his face, laughed, and looked out at the audience with a "of course tonight" shrug. This was, of course, the night when the audience was filled with theatre academics, actors, writers and directors who were attending a conference at York University where Burkett had spoke just that afternoon. A more critical and perhaps understanding audience could not have been found.

Arabian Nights by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Del Surjik
Performance Works till June 2nd
Pi Theatre and Axis Theatre Company

Vancouver, BC: In the course of a recent, somewhat spirited discussion of contemporary theatrical genres, it was suggested that I was rather strongly Aristotelian in my appreciation of drama. That is for me, Mythos (plot), Ethos (character) and Dianoia (thought or theme) always trump Opsis (spectacle). Arabian Nights is the second play this month (the other being The Andersen Project - see Rants, Raves and Reviews May 21st) which kept me musing about the dichotomy of plot versus spectacle.

Arabian Nights is the work of a prolific young German writer, Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by dramaturge, David Tushingham. The play is a fantastical dance through the haunted dreams of Franziska Dehke (Sasa Brown) and the painful memories of Hans Lomeier (Kevin Williamson). Lomeier, is the caretaker of an apartment complex which mysteriously loses its water supply above the seventh floor, where Dehke and her room-mate, Fatima (Yasmin Abidi) share an apartment. Fatima awaits the arrival of her boyfriend, Kahlil (Craig Veroni) who, nightly, roars up on his moped to visit her, but is never seen by the sleeping Franziska. The fifth member of this odd assortment of characters is Peter Karpati (Peter Wilson) who is drawn into the apartment after spying Franziska in the shower and who ends up mysteriously inside a brandy bottle. An interesting note is that the brandy bottle which makes a dramatic appearance at the conclusion of the play, is the only prop used in this show.

The Andersen Project
Written, produced and directed by Robert Lepage
Vancouver Playhouse until May 27th
Playhouse Theatre Company
and Theatre la Seizia me

Vancouver, BC. Sometimes when I arrive home after a show and head for my computer to write this column, words flow easily regardless of the hour. At other times I feel blocked. I suspect that this occurs when the rational/ objective part of my head clashes with my emotional/subjective reactions. So it was with The Andersen Project. So here I am still thinking about it several weeks later.

I usually think of myself as reasonably articulate and possessed of a sizeable vocabulary but as I followed the buzzing throng out of the Vancouver Playhouse auditorium after the opening night performance of The Andersen Project, the word that kept bouncing around in my head was "wow". Not the most sophisticated commentary perhaps, but understandable. The "wow" factor was obvious all evening from the enthusiasm of Playhouse Artistic Director, Glynis Leyshon, as she introduced this North American premiere of the English version of The Andersen Project, to the lengthy standing ovation for Robert Lepage and his company. And the "wow" reaction was still with me when I got home, and I couldn't seem to get beyond it until now.

The Triumph of Love by Marivaux,
Translated by John van Burek
Directed by Johnna Wright
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
May 18-26th, 2007
Blackbird Theatre

Vancouver, BC: The Triumph of Love by 18th century French Playwright, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, is Blackbird's fourth production and continues their growing tradition of excellent shows. It is well worth seeing. In a very accessible translation by Canadian director, teacher and founder of the Theatre francais de Toronto, John Van Burek, an ensemble of seven consummate professionals under Johnna Wright's deft direction, deliver a charming comedy. I enjoyed Wright's evocation of the 1930s through Alexander Ferguson's sound design, featuring music of Cole Porter, whose songs have for years been the mainstay of my morning shower performances. Luckily I was not in the front row or I might have joined the dancing on stage.

Jennifer Lines is Leonide, Princess of Sparta, who disguises herself as a young man, Phocion, to woo Agis (Daniel Arnold) from the clutches of his teacher, philosopher Hermocrates (Simon Webb). Accompanied by Corine, her servant disguised as the youth, Hermidas (Luisa Jojic), Phocion wreaks havoc on the emotions of Agis, Hermocrates and Leontyne, (Mari Stillin), Hermocrates's shy, withdrawn sister. Harlequin (Andrew McNee) and Dimas, the gardener (Lee Taylor) have their own agendas that complicate Phocion's machinations. The play takes place in the garden of the philosopher, Hermocrate's estate. Elegantly designed by Karyn McCallum, green flower beds become covered with spring flowers as love becomes the foremost thought in everyone's minds, except perhaps for Dimas, who has money on his mind.

Wreckage
Written and directed by Sally Stubbs
Playwrights Theatre Centre Studio
May 16-26, 2007
Tightrope Productions

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.

Vancouver, BC:
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.

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