Unwrap Your Candy by Doug Wright
Directed by Gregory Scott Campbell
Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, Philadelphia
Oct 18 to Nov 12 2006
Luna Theater Company
Philadelphia, PA: For at least the past twenty years whenever I visited a city where there was a Children's Hospital, I always made a point of arranging a tour of the laboratories. It was endlessly fascinating for me to see how practices differed from our own pediatric laboratory at Children's in Vancouver. And since yesterday I was here to visit the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia it was great to have the chance to see around their impressive facilities. But in keeping with transitioning my life from science to the arts, for the next twenty years when I travel I plan to make a point of visiting theatres instead of labs! That's why over the past year you have seen Rants, Raves and Reviews from Chicago, London, New York, and now Philadelphia.
Thanks to one of the pathologists who is a music and theatre lover, I had the chance to see an evening of four short plays by Doug Wright at the Walnut Street Theatre. Vancouver theatre goers will remember the recent Playhouse production of "I Am My Own Wife" by Wright. The stunning set design still stands out clearly in my memory. Incidentally the Walnut Street Theatre is apparently the oldest continuously-operating theatre in the English speaking world, having been founded in 1809.
The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl Directed by Steven Schipper Vancouver Playhouse Oct 21-Nov 11 2006.
VANCOUVER, BC: I'll admit my bias right up front. I thought Lane was the only character in this play with any semblance of integrity. And it is not just because she is a female doctor at a "very good" hospital who has devoted her life to her patients. Or because I wished I could look as gorgeous and "together" as Susan Hogan did after a grueling day at work. Or because I really loved her house and her elegant modern furniture. Nice set, John Thompson, it's my kind of home.
Here's the story. Lane (Susan Hogan) is a doctor, married to Charles (Andrew Wheeler), a surgeon, whom she met while still a medical student. They both work long exhausting hours at a major hospital. Lane employs Matilde (Sarah Henriques) a young Brazilian girl, as a live in house cleaner. Matilde does not house clean- she prefers to spend her time inventing the perfect joke. Since her mother died laughing at the perfect joke invented by her father, who promptly shot himself, I am not quite sure why she wasn't turned off from humour for life.
Ascension by Edmund De Santis
Directed by Marc Geller
New York, NY: I always find the audience demographics an interesting pointer to the nature of a play. A few weeks ago I was at the opening night of "Take Me Out" at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver. The male to female ratio was probably around 8 to 1, certainly not the usual preponderance of women and older couples. This afternoon in the 88 seat black box Lion Theatre, one of six theatres in an interesting complex on 42nd Street, men outnumbered women in the audience at about the same rate.
Ascension is set in the office of Father Calvin Porter in a rectory of an Ohio town. The scarlet rear wall is dominated by a unusual crucifixion painting, rightly if inappropriately described as "this Christ has a nice body". Father Porter (Stephen Hope) is a "good man" who has done so well since becoming the priest at St. Michaels that he is about to be made a bishop. Or so we learn from Agnes Sabatino (Lucy McMichael). Agnes has been away from the church for several years, but is now back and has volunteered to help with food for the church festival. Agnes drops a bombshell on Father Porter by accusing him of molesting her son, Lorenzo, some years earlier. In the next scene Lorenzo (Brandon Ruckhdashel) appears in Porter's office, almost feminine in his beauty, a look emphasized by his long blonde hair. The "did he or didn't he" doubts begin.
Butley by Simon Gray
Directed by Nicholas Martin
New York, NY: Ah, New York city. In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's words "How I do love thee, let me count the ways." It's not just the never ending sense of life and energy that pulsates in the air night and day; nor the plethora of restaurants around every corner, nor the fact that there are so many theatrical events on right now that I can't even sample more than a tiny fraction. It is just the most exciting city in the world and every time I come here I wish I could stay here for longer than a week or two. Anyway this time I thought I might combine my theatre impressions with restaurant reviews when appropriate. Sort of like dinner and a show.
Today thanks to TKTS I got a half-price last minute ticket to Butley, by the British playwright Simon Gray. And it would have been worth the full ticket price. Nathan Lane, who I have only previously seen in comedic roles in film, was brilliant. Lane plays Ben Butley, long time professor of English Literature who, desperately fearing to be left alone, uses his sharp biting intellect to further drive away everyone important to him, his estranged wife Anne (Pamela Gray) and his former student and lover Joseph (Julian Ovenden), who is anxiously awaiting for his academic promotion.
Written and directed by Gordon Pascoe
Norman Rothstein Theatre
Nov 1 - 12, 2006
VANCOUVER, BC: A catalogue of horrors due to man's inhumanity to man would start in prehistoric times and continue into the unforeseeable future. Despite slogans like "lest we forget" and "never again", evil continues to thrive. Yet even in the darkest of circumstances some people are able to retain their humanity and not be drawn into perpetuating the cruelty they see all around them. In "Gonzo", Gordon Pascoe pays tribute to one such man, a Japanese guard in the prison camp where Pascoe lived during World War II.
In December 1941 after Pearl Harbour was attacked, European and American ex-patriots living in the international city of Shanghai, China were interned by the occupying Japanese forces. The men were detained in Civilian Internment Centres and separate centres were set up for the women and children. As a young boy in Shanghai during this time, Pascoe was imprisoned in a civilian internment camp, "Ash Camp", a prison camp for women expatriates and their children.
Pascoe frames the play through the memories of the narrator. Ailing in hospital sixty years after his time in the camp, he remembers Ash Camp and wonders what happened to Gonzo. Although we never learn what happened to him his fate and that of his family is implied by the revelation that Gonzo's home town is Nagasaki.
Since I started writing these columns I have developed a healthy respect for writers who have to meet publication deadlines. Often when I get home from the theatre and begin to write my column, the words don't flow easily and as the time creeps up to midnight, I think how hard it will be to get up for work next day and decide to finish the following evening. Which is fine provided I am not seeing another play the following evening or am not badly jet-lagged.
The consensus among my traveler friends is that they experience much less jet lag when flying west than east. In London I was into a regular sleep cycle by the third night so on my return to Vancouver after a week in London and two weeks in France, I figured two days max and I would be back to normal. Quelle surprise! It was nearly a week before I actually slept through till 5:30 am, my usual waking time. Then my best writing time, weekends, after the usual household chores are done, were taken up by two writing conferences. Compound lack of time with jet-lag and suddenly I find that I am five plays behind. So this is a brief catch-up column to get me back on track.
"Antony and Cleopatra" by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
September 13 2006
LONDON: England: The difficulty I had with Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" when I first studied it about five years ago was not resolved when I saw a Vancouver production that same year, and today's production at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in fact exacerbated the problem.
The problem I have is with the character of Mark Antony. I can certainly appreciate the overwhelming passion he has for the sensuous and bewitching Cleopatra, and how this would convince him to ditch Rome for the glories of Alexandria. What I don't understand is how this honorable mighty Roman hero suddenly turns into an amoral person and an obstinate fool. Mark Antony is the man who deals with Brutus and Cassius in the aftermath of their assassination of Julius Caesar. Together with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus he is one of the Triumvirate that rules the Roman Empire, and therefore effectively the world. And yet he goes and marries poor Octavia, knowing that he is going to desert her to fool around some more with Cleo and royally piss off her brother, Octavius Caesar. This, Mark Antony, is the man who says "If I lose my honor, / I lose myself". Right! Then while everyone is saying to him "don't fight at sea, fight on land where you have the strength" he promptly says "I'll fight at sea" and gets thrashed.
Original concept, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Witty
Directed by Jason Moore
Noel Coward Theatre, London September 15 2006
LONDON: England: I chose to end my too brief sojourn in London's West End Theatreland with a musical, "Avenue Q" and what a great choice. From the moment the high energy music jolted the audience to silence and the first song began I knew this was going to be a fun evening. When the first question raised in song is "what do you with a B.A. in English?" and the inhabitants, new and old, of Avenue Q agree of that "it sucks to be me" you know that nothing is sacred and no one will be spared in this irreverent fast paced show.
Apart from the three human characters of Brian (SiÃ´n Lloyd), who wants to be a comedian, Gary (Giles Terera), whose career peaked playing Willis and who now manages the rentals, and Christmas Eve (Ann Harada), the world's most useless therapist, the stars of the show are hand puppets skillfully manipulated and voiced by Julie Atherton, Clare Foster, Jon Robyns and Luke Evans.
Atherton was a standout as both Kate Monster, who wants to open a Monsterssori School, and Lucy the Slut. Harada was hilarious as Christmas Eve, the Japanese therapist with two masters degrees and no patients who came back after the first hour appointment because she was too efficient, fixing them in one appointment. And then there was Rod, the closet gay man who protested that he had a girlfriend, Alberta in Canada, in Vancouver who..ooops, can't really write it here.
"A Voyage round my Father" by John Mortimer
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Wyndham's Theatre, London,
September 14 2006
LONDON: England: Voyage round my Father" is an autobiographical play by John Mortimer, English barrister turned prolific novelist and playwright, and probably best known for the books and TV series "Rumpole of the Bailey". I really did not know what to expect but was interested to see that the audience was significantly different in age from that at the two previous productions that I saw. Not surprisingly the memoirs of an older man about his relationship with his father would hold little appeal to a younger crowd to whom ageing and death is something that happens to other people.
Well, the first act held little appeal for me either and frankly I wished I was somewhere else. I just could not relate to the dynamics of the mother, father and son, the school scenes or the humour. I guess perhaps you have to be British because around me people were laughing quite a bit. But I was just plain bored.
Then suddenly in the second act the play came alive. Perhaps it was when the son, who in his adult form had merely been present as narrator in the first act, became the focus of the play. As we learn about the father through his son's experiences as a barrister, and then in the way he related to his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren, he became more than just an unpleasant old curmudgeon.
VANCOUVER, B.C. - Today's "fringeing" had an added fun dimension for me. Introducing a new audience member to the pleasures of live theatre and hopefully starting her on the road to many more entertaining theatre experiences.
I met Julie recently at a writing course out at UBC. She sat at the table just behind me and I was impressed by the vividness and power of her writing. Over the week of the class we chatted about travel and blogs and theatre. I was intrigued to hear that though she often goes to concerts and movies, and loves most kinds of music except country music (something we have in common) she had not been to a play since leaving high school. In fact her last experience of theatre was stage managing her high school play.
So, knowing the Fringe was coming up soon I thought that would be a great re-introduction to the live theatre scene for Julie, because of the variety of performances we could see in one day. Today was the day and we got to see three great shows.
We started of at Playwrights Theatre Centre with "This May Feel a Little Funny". Randy Rutherford tells, sings and plays a heart warming story about falling in love with a "hummingbird woman." Loved it, highly recommend it.
Next up at the Waterfront was "Colossus". Mike Mathieu and Andre Connor presented a series of sketch comedies that demonstrated their incredible versatility. The 90m minute show went by in a flash. Again, a show really worth seeing. They have a show coming up soon in the Comedy Festival which are apparently a different series of sketches. Sounds like fun.
Finished up at the Arts Club for "Jesus Christ, The Lost Years", presented by Monster Theatre. A funny irreverent speculation about what would have happened when Jesus found out Joseph was not his father. Also recommended.