Review From The Seat

Vancouver: BC. Two years ago I was in New York for a week with my family to hear my granddaughter sing with a youth choir in a program at Carnegie Hall. While they were occupied with rehearsals, I took the opportunity to see a matinee performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Based on Mark Haddon’s extraordinary book, it tells of a singular coming of age event in the life of Christopher Boone,  a young autistic boy.   I remember being blown away by the acting, the extraordinary athleticism of the choreography and by the stunning technicality of that production, telling my kids that this was among the best theatre productions that I had ever seen. But now, two years later what I chiefly remember of the Broadway production is the manifestation of a sensory overloaded mind created by the staccato lighting and videography effects on the black cube set. 

Vancouver, BC:  When Zee Zee Theatre's Artistic Director Cameron Mackenzie and playwright, Dave Deveau, welcomed the opening night audience, they pointed out that this was the 10th Anniversary both of the company, and of the beginning of the script development of My Funny Valentine - a play suggested by the 2008 murder of  a young teenage boy by another male student that he had asked to be his Valentine.

Vancouver, BC: A successful Broadway musical with the entire cast as well as the band made up of teenagers?  Seems an unlikely scenario, and yet that was the situation when 13 opened on Broadway in October of 2008

Vancouver, BC:  Some years ago I was standing at the edge  of the elegant ballroom floor of the Queen Mary II cruise ship, enjoying the vocalist singing with the dance orchestra when out of the blue I felt a overwhelming wave of sadness wash over me and tears welled up.  I had no idea what it was about the refrain he was singing that provoked this emotion. The song was only vaguely familiar. Later that night when I returned to my cabin, and with only the few words of the refrain in my head, I searched the internet for the title of the song.

Vancouver, BC: I read a lot and my literary addiction is to thrillers so I anticipated with spine-tingling enthusiasm, the staging of The Hunger Room, a new play by local playwright and actor, Scott Button. This turned out to be an excellent event to end my 6 month hiatus from theatre reviewing and recharge my enthusiasm for seeing works by the many small independent theatre companies that have sprung up in the Vancouver scene.

Vancouver, BC: The  Laboratory Theatre Group is one of the year-long, pre-professional theatre training programs of Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella. For students aged 13 to 19 the mandate of this program is, over the course of a year, "to create, produce and perform an original theatre piece to tour to Metro Vancouver schools.” The presentation at the Expressions Festival is the culmination of the year-long creation and performance, including the school tours.

On multiple media lists for performance invitations from around North America, it is rare that I find myself in a city on the same night for which I have an invitation. Despite my lifelong love of different forms of dance, both doing and watching, reviewing contemporary dance is way outside my comfort zone.

Vancouver, BC: Twelve Angry Men was first conceived by Reginald Rose in 1954 as a play for television, later adapted for the stage, and then in 1957 made into a film, ranked by the American Film Institute in 2008 as the second best courtroom drama ever made (The number one selection was To Kill a Mocking Bird!). It has been adapted and staged in different formats countless times since - as Twelve Angry Women with an all female cast, and Twelve Angry Jurors - with men and women on the jury panel.

Vancouver, BC: "Does the end justify the means" is a question that has been debated in many different situations but when the context is the crazy Vancouver condominium market it gives this question an intriguing twist.

Vancouver, BC:  Pericles is one of the plays in the Shakespeare canon that has until now not made it to my list of "must read" Shakespeare plays. The first of the four romance or tragicomedic plays of the latter part of Shakespeare's career, (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest), Pericles introduces the theme of past injuries or injustices that are redeemed through magical or supernatural dramatic devices.

Vancouver, BC:  In my review of the Bard on the Beach 2009 production of Othello, I commented that Othello ranks as number one favorite on my list of Shakespeare's tragedies. Despite some pushback from those who champion Macbeth or Hamlet, I still favor Othello because the complexity of the characters of Iago and Othello leave so much room for interpretation and debate. With a stellar cast on Amir Ofek's intricately tiled stage, enhanced with lighting by John Webber, Mara Gottlieb's distinct costumes, and the directorial theme of the play, this 2016 production was for me as engrossing as the earlier production.

New York Theatre:  I am so happy that I picked this play to see when a time slot opened up on my New York  Week with Kids trip. I see a lot of really good theatre but this production was a standout in every aspect. The script adaptation from Haddon’s novel was very well done, the acting was superb and the technical production aspects stunning.

Vancouver, BC:  Shakespear's tragic tale of young love doomed by outside forces they are powerless to control, is a timeless drama beloved of diverse audiences around the world. The Vancouver rain was pounding on the big tent in Vanier Park as we listened to Artistic Director Christopher Gaze tell us that this pair of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, will soon take their lives. An interesting choice to have Gaze start the play proper seamlessly from his welcoming statements, and joined for the last lines of the Chorus by the complete ensemble.  As Juliet and Romeo, Hailey Gillis and Andrew Chown, both newcomers to Bard on the Beach, took comand of their roles with a breathy vigor.

Vancouver, BC:  I just spent a delightful couple of hours with a friend at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island watching the students of the  Arts Umbrella Musical Theatre Troupe perform The Drowsy Chaperone. Teens from 13 to 19 enrolled in the year-long Intensive and Pre-Professional  Musical Theatre programs get to showcase their work as in the current 2016 Expressions  Festival. This Festival also features work by the Theatre  Troupes of various ages.

Vancouver, BC:  Although I enjoy almost every form of theatre I most love plays that leave me with an idea or question to mull over on my way home. In Good People there were two words that echoed in my mind as I drove home. The first was choice; the second was perspective.  These two concepts resonated strongly within me partly because  the conflict between the protagonist, Margie (Colleen Wheeler) and her one-time boy friend, Mike (Scott Bellis), perfectly illustrated points made at a workshop on behaviours versus beliefs that I had been at two days earlier. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Planning a theatre visit to London this summer? If so be sure to see Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, playing at Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, from June 25 to September 3rd, 2016.  I loved the show when I saw it in New York shortly before it closed in 2014. Audra McDonald is reprising her role as the jazz singer Billie Holliday.

Vancouver, BC: Blackbird Theatre company celebrates its 10th anniversary of producing classical theatre with a sparkling production of The Rivals. From their first production, Schiller's Mary Stuart starring Gabrielle Rose (tonight AKA Mrs. Malaprop), their shows have always maintained a high professional standard with excellent performances and strong technical values and this production continues in that tradition.

Vancouver, BC: There are only three performances left of this excellent production of an Ibsen classic so get out to Jericho Arts Centre and catch an evening performance tonight or tomorrow or a 2 PM matinee (Saturday).  It is beautifully staged, the costumes are gorgeous and the performances uniformly excellent. Nora is a dream role for an actor and Genevieve Fleming does it justice.

Vancouver, BC:  Less than a year after my husband succumbed to cancer,  I saw "Wit", in which Seana Mckenna played Dr. Vivian Bearing, a solitary, career-driven English Professor, undergoing treatment for terminal ovarian cancer. Despite the brittle humour and sardonic wit  which sustained the self-contained Dr. Bearing through several courses of aggressive chemotherapy, the sense of absolute solitariness in which each of us, like her,  will ultimately face death, permeated the play; and I remember that I cried silently throughout the play.

Vancouver, BC: This is the second time I have sat in the darkened Stanley Theatre caught up in the heart-wrenching stories of Les Miserables, and wishing I had used a tear-proof mascara. I loved the Arts Club 2009 production (ReviewFromTheHouse: Les Miserables).

Vancouver, BC. The two theatrical happenings that annually signal summer in Vancouver are the Theatre Under the Stars musicals at Malkin Bowl and  Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.  This year's musicals are Hairspray and Oliver (which I have still to see). But with this delightful and funny production of Hairspray, TUTS has a definite winner - don't miss it.

Performing to a wildly enthusastic crowd that filled Main Street's Fox Cabaret venue, internationally renowned dancer/choreographer, Vancouver's Joel Hanna, and fellow tap dance artists Danny Nielsen and guest artist Jason Samuels Smith from New York, presented an outstanding evening of dance, music and song. 

Vancouver, BC:  For some reason this production of King Lear sparked an unusual and different emotional reaction in me than I usually experience in response to this play. I thought it was one of the better productions of Lear that I have seen and when intermission came, I couldn't believe that an hour and a half had passed.

Vancouver, BC:  This Arts Club production of Godspell has  everything going for it, to make it a runaway success. The multi-talented ensemble members are strong vibrant singers, lively dancers and play a variety of musical instruments. Director Hosie's  concept of setting this in a railway station afforded set, lighting, projection and sound designers Alan Brodie, Sean Nieuwenhuis and Geoff Hollingshead the opportunity to develop a creative and novel set. I loved the way through projection and sound that they believably replicated split flap arrivals and departures.

Vancouver, BC:  Ironically, sitting in the darkness of the Scotiabank Dance Centre black box performance space watching a metaphorical dance/theatre piece about choices and human values, my mind wandered to pondering the relationship between theatre and dance... and then to thinking about what exactly defines dance. The usual first dictionary definition of the verb "to dance" goes something like "to move rhythmically to music" but clearly since I have seen exquisite dance routines performed with no sound accompaniment, music is not an essential component for the action of dancing. 

Vancouver, BC:  Before I say just how much I liked this fast paced, high energy, steampunk version of The Comedy of Errors, I should declare that I had the unusual pleasure of vicariously experiencing the evolution of this production as my daughter, Amanda, enjoyed the privilege of being Apprentice Director to the ingeniously creative director, Scott Bellis.

Vancouver, BC. While a thunderstorm rages over an isolated log cabin deep in a forest, siblings Bobby and Betty, come together ostensibly to clear out a tenant's property from the cabin. But this is no Hansel and Gretel story of innocent siblings threatened by a mean step-mother and a cannabilistic witch with a fairy tale happy ending. Instead it is a dark exploration of the truth and lies  behind the emotions of an big sister-baby brother relationship, now connecting as adults.

Vancouver, BC: The premise of this show had me hooked from the beginning. It's early 17th century England and theatre abounds. Companies of players are performing comedies and tragedies with meaty roles for the players to tackle - but only if the players are men. Women are not allowed to perform and if they risk it and are caught on stage, they are subject to shaming by the church. This gender-based prohibition does not sit well with Miss Judith Shakespeare (Amanda Lisman) the feisty younger daughter of The Bard.  She gathers together her band of female friends in the basement of  The Cave Tavern and persuades them to rehearse with her to perform a play which she writes.

Vancouver, BC: I was happy to get a chance to see this show as I missed it on each of my New York trips and I really enjoyed it a lot. I liked the musical variety with Latin rhythms, salsa, merengue and rap,  the energy of the salsa and hip-hop dancing. Not so sure about the overall storyline though.

Vancouver, BC: I have always been bemused by the terms "fairy tales" or "children's stories" used to describe the collections of German folk lore compiled in the 19th century by the appropriately named Brother's Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. Although sanitized and glamourized into gentler, happier and pretty versions  as in the animated Disney films that even young children love to watch, the actual stories tell of violent acts and cruelty that don't always end with the protagonists living "happily ever after."

Vancouver, BC: Who would have thought that a 65 minute play about an imagined conversation between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis could be as spell-binding as I found this show to be? I was enthralled.

Vancouver, BC:  Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe is a tough, hardboiled, private detective, who operates in the seedy underworld areas of 1940s Los Angeles. First appearing in The Big Sleep, his second appearance as protagonist was in Farewell My Lovely, the novel that is the basis for this adaptation.

Photographer, sculptor, poet, dancer, Tatiana Rivero Sanz, has a solo exhibition of her work - onceuponatimetana -at The Blank Tank Art Gallery, 148 Alexander Street in Gastown.

Vancouver, BC: Everything was Blasted ! The protagonists, the set... and I. Knowing what was about to explode on stage before my eyes, I fortified myself with a pre-show glass of wine but that in no way softened the impact of this play. The anger, fear, acts so violent that I closed my eyes, hit me like the ton of the rubble that fell from the ceiling.  Yet Kane's characters are so appallingly grotesque that mercifully I felt emotionally distanced from the pain I was observing.

Vancouver, BC: What a joy and a privilege it is to be witness to the premiére of a haunting, beautifully written and performed Canadian play. The impact of Hiro Kanagawa's sensitive adaptation of Ibsen's play was evident by the momentary electrically-charged silence of the audience before applauding, at the end of both the first and second act.

Vancouver, BC:  I missed last year's run of PROUD at The Firehall so I was happy to be able to get to the opening night of this 2015 run of PROUD. Although, knowing it was a political comedy about Stephen Harper, and being far more of a fan of Harper than a detractor, I confess I was a bit apprehensive that this would be a carping diatribe against our Canadian PM and his policies.

Vancouver, BC:  If the names did not already tell you that Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is intended to be a comedic homage to Anton Chekhov, the bust of Chehkov in Alison Green's wonderful book-lined sitting-room set would be a strong indication.

Vancouver BC: On a miserably cold, rainy night we took the Skytrain from downtown Vancouver out to Douglas College in New Westminster. We went to see a student production of Charles Mee's adaption of Euripides' The Women of Troy. I was overjoyed to experience a production that was so much a visual and auditory delight that it made our sodden trek out to New Westminster more than worthwhile.

Vancouver BC:  Columbia University professor Wallace Sayre famously quipped in reference to competition in the academic realm, that "competition in university politics takes the most vicious and bitter forms because the stakes are so low."  The same concept, that the smaller the stakes the fiercer is the competition, has been promulgated by many others including educational guru, Laurence Peter of The Peter Principle ("In hierarchical organizations every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence").

Vancouver, BC:  In Vancouver, September is synonymous with Vancouver Fringe Festival month. Over a couple of weeks, venues on and off Granville Island are crowded with people. Some love to cram in as many shows as they can, while others come to see a friend perform and the Fringe Festival may be their first exposure to theatre.

Vancouver, BC: I was really happy that I got to see one of the PUSH Festival performances of The Road Forward as this show only ran for three nights. Described as a "multi-media rock musical inspired by BC's ground-breaking  newspaper Native Voice", The Road Forward chronicles significant events and landmarks in the recent history of the native peoples of British Columbia, traced through newspaper articles and photos from the 80 year archives of Native Voice.

Vancouver, BC:  Theatre is an evanescent art. Unlike the static permanent nature of a filmed performance, each live performance of a play exists only as a moment in time, a unique connection between actors and audience that remains only as a memory in the minds of the participants. This Staircase Theatre production of Love Letters  amplified the singular nature of live performance by featuring a different local theatre couple in the play each night of the four night run.

Vancouver, BC:  One Man Two Guvnors is an English adaption by UK playwright Richard Bean, of  Carlo Goldoni's 1743 play, The Servant of Two Masters, with the setting transposed to the seaside resort town of Brighton in 1963. Derived from the early Italian performing practices of commedia dell' arte, the play is packed with physical comedy with improvisation and key stock characters. The prototypical rascally Arlecchino servant to whom the title refers, is represented here by Francis Henshall,  brilliantly played by Andrew McNee.

On an cold snowy night five people check in to a small town motel, just off a provincial highway. Stephen (David Bloom) and Simone (Jennifer Lines) are a married couple, with memories of a previous stay  at this motel years before. Matthew (Scott Bellis) is a tormented man, estranged from his wife and son,  who just wants to end it all.  Stephanie (Dawn Petten) has come to party with  Simon (Chirag Naik), who she picked up after attending the lecture he was giving about his message-in-a-bottle project.  She has only one thing in mind - adultery - but he can't stop talking about his work.

American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History is a visually seductive, engagingly written, encyclopedic review of dance in America. From the ritual tribal dances of 16th century Native Americans to the present day boom in popularity of dance fueled by shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, Fuhrer traces the growth and development of Tap, Ballet, Modern and Post- Modern dance highlighting the ideas and achievements of iconic performers and choreographers.

Vancouver, BC: The internationally renowned Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a New York based company of "professional male dancers performing ... ballet and modern dance including classical and original works in faithful rendition of the manners and conceits of those dance styles."

Vancouver, BC: The infamous, occasionally lethal Bullet Catch is an illusion or magic trick in which the performer "catches" a bullet fired directly at him/her in the mouth or hand. Using the story of one such lethal performance told through notes from the man who unwittingly fires the fatal shot, Rob Drummond has created a performance piece for two people.

Ruby Slippers Theatre production of two plays by contemporary Francophone Quebec playwrights, Jennifer Tremblay and Christian Begin, opens January 28th at Studio 16. (Preview January 27).

Vancouver, BC:  The stage is bare save for a chalkboard, a chair, a slide projector and a large trunk covered with travel labels. A slightly disheveled man wanders in and out of the playing space, fussing with the projector, a cassette player and a too-high projection screen.
This is The Librarian (Nathan Schmidt), and he is preparing to share with us some startling discoveries. As a retired professor, I watch the fidgeting with his not-quite right audio-visual equipment with much amusement. Been there, done that ...  a lot. 

Vancouver, BC: In Annie Iverson and Julie Daniels, local play wright Jordan Hall has crafted two powerful female characters who engage in an epic battle for the heart and soul of Annie's son Peter. Annie (Susan Hogan) is a regular middle-class mother. She is concerned  about the environment enough to recycle her trash but her mind is far more occupied with making sure Peter (Sebastian Kroon), finishes his business degree and gets a decent corporate job. Imagine her dismay when her normally compliant son falls for Julie (Marisa Smith), an aggressive, single-minded activist nutcase who is obsessed with the idea that humans are destroying the earth and charges off at the drop of a hat to join protests around the world.