Review From The Seat

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.

To exercise restraint  during my first time outing to shop at the Las Vegas North Premium Outlet Mall I set myself three rules of operation. 

Number one, I needed to keep in mind the maximum allowable duty free allowance coming back into Canada - and this would keep me within budget. Number two, to achieve rule one, was that I had to stick to my pre-written list of items - no random purchases.  Number three - if an item wasn't absolutely perfect for what I had in mind, it had to stay on the shelf - no buyer's remorse allowed.

Vancouver, BC: Carousel Theatre's James and the Giant Peach is a visual feast to delight everyone from wide-eyed six year olds to their misty eyed grandparents. The design team of Al Frisk (Set), Lights (Gerald King), Puppets (Annett Mateo) and props (Heidi Wilkinson) have created an playing space filled with a riot of bright bold colours and objects,  in which Barbara Clayden's charming and imaginative costumes still succeed in standing out. The John Fluevog shoe junkie sitting beside me was casting looks of envy at the feet of the Bugs, clad in gorgeous Fluevog footwear.

Vancouver, BC: Why, you might ask, would a screenwriter turned indie film producer write scorching sex scenes starring his wife, and then cast his longtime "best" friend to play her leading man? That's the starting premise of Wide Awake Hearts, a witty, fast paced play, that opened Friday night in the very intimate theatre space at Little Mountain Gallery, just off Main Street. It's just one puzzle posed by this metatheatrical work, in which "real life" and film making intertwine.

If you like the idea of clever wordplay and ironic jibes delivered by a killer cast in  a satirical comedy about the Indie film industry, get your tickets for Brendan Gall’s “Wide Awake Hearts” opening next Friday, December 5th at Little Mountain Gallery (26th and Main).

Right now, in November 2014, the High Roller giant Ferris wheel in Las Vegas, Nevada holds the record for being the highest in the world.

As two new visitors to Las Vegas to attend a FoodWriting Conference, we spent the day before the conference exploring the lavish and luxurious public spaces and lobbies of the huge hotels along The Strip. Distracted by the lavish displays and the incredible art in many of the hotels, we did not see half of what we had intended to do.

Vancouver, BC: From their opening lines, Aaron Craven and Craig Erickson take off with the hypermanic intensity of Mamet's fast moving script. Bobby Gould (Erickson) is the recently promoted Director of Production in  a major Hollywood studio, headed by Richard Ross. Bobby's long time friend Charlie Fox (Craven), who has been waiting for ever for his own big break, bursts into his office with news that a big Hollowood name from another studio wants to "cross the street" and make a prison film of a script brought to him by Fox. But they have to get the project green-lighted by Ross before 10 am the next day.

Vancouver, BC: Take a biologically impossible premise, add songs with clever, funny lyrics, thrown in brilliant choreography with parodies of top hit musicals, provide a big bad corporate CEO in cahoots with corrupt cops and conniving politicians... call it Urinetown: The Musical and you have a hilarious satirical show that adults love, even though they are eons past their preschool bathroom-humour phase.

Vancouver, BC: What a delightful treat this was on a chilly Halloween night in Vancouver. "Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook" weaves songs from American composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz and others into a love story chronicling the lives of Dan and Sue through old pictures found in their attic. 

Vancouver, BC: Wow! This is among the most outstanding productions I have seen in Vancouver. Direction, performance, technical design and implementation  - flawless. Don't think I moved a muscle throughout the play, except to give Meg Roe a standing ovation, something I don't take at all lightly.

Vancouver, BC: I really enjoyed the work of this young theatre company, Staircase Theatre in their previous show Cocktails at Pam's.   Hunter Gatherers by contemporary San- Francisco based playwright, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb was an equally great  choice. Director Ryan Gladstone's finely honed comedic touch and perfectly pitched performances from all four actors, did full credit to  the dark humour of the script. So much so that I made a mental note to myself to read more of Nachtrieb's plays.

Vancouver, BC:  Carmen Aguirre is a true powerhouse of a performer. With minimal set or props, just her intense delivery softened by an engagingly sly smile as she zaps her audience with another provocative anecdote, she kept me riveted to her story. And what a tale she weaves!

Vancouver, BC: I really liked this show; this is a play you do not want to miss. Albee's intriguingly crafted work is sensitively interpreted by the cast of Anna Hagan, Beatrice Zeilinger, Meaghan Chenosky and Matt Reznek.

Vancouver, BC: Many of Vancouver's successful independent theatre companies were started by the entrepreneurship of new grads or young actors to provide a vehicle through which they could practice their craft of theatre and gain practical  experience in performance, technical or production aspects. Springboard Theatre was founded a year ago by Capilano University Musical Theatre Program grads, Michelle Bardach, Kayla Heyblom and Katie Purych with the objective of putting on a musical that was youthful and provocative, and had not been done before in Vancouver. The musical they selected was Darling, the Musical written by Ryan Scott Oliver and  Brett Ryback in 2009.

Vancouver, BC: Two boys, Arya (Kayvon Kelly) and Jacob (Joel Bernbaum)  growing up in Saskatoon, meet at fifteen and become close friends; as close as brothers. Arya's family are Iranian Muslims.  Jacob's family is Jewish. Neither boy is devout, and the family's religious differences play no part in affecting their friendship. At times of stress such as parental illness, they are there for each other.

The 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival opened on Thursday Sept 4th. This event features 91 artists in more than 800 performances of over 80 shows in 11 days on Granville Island in theatre spaces and other odd sites as well as various off-island venues such as The Cultch, Studio 16, Havana and the Firehall.

I really enjoyed all five of these shows, each performed by a solo actor.

The Unfortunate Ruth was developed with the support of Vancouver's Playwrights Theatre Centre. This play received the 2014 playwrights Theatre Centre and Fringe New Play prize and after seeing this show, I agree this award was well deserved. The Unfortunate Ruth was one of my favourite plays so far at this year's Fringe. In this play Travis presents a fascinating look at two alternate universes and the way one can chose to view the world.

I should preface these two reviews by saying I am more into drama and big themes than comedy, and shows that have other people rolling in the aisles don't usually make me chuckle. However, I liked both these crazy comedic shows shows although I enjoyed one much more than the other.

Oscar Wilde, master of the epigram, might well have agreed that like Shakespeare’s great fallen hero, Othello, he had “loved not wisely but too well.” Wilde's affair with the young Lord Alfred Douglas led to his ultimate destruction  and the negation of all the fame and admiration his talent had achieved.

Earlier this year I saw Iceland by Nicolas Billon, also directed by Kathleen Duborg.  Iceland is one of the three plays that make up Billon’s award-winning trilogy published as “Fault Lines”, and in my review at the time I called Iceland a “gem of a theatrical piece.”

New York, NY.  Like the more than 25 million other fans of Carole King who bought her album Tapestry,  the songs of this album are embedded in my musical memory and I have been looking forward to seeing Beautiful: The Carole King Musical for months. But it wasn’t until I was actually in the theatre, relishing one superbly performed musical  number after another, that I realized just how many of the songs that I had danced to in high school and known only by the artists or groups that performed them, were written by King and/or Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. And the show covered only a fraction of their works.

Vancouver, BC: Cymbeline is one of the lesser known Shakespearean dramas with many characters taking on alternate identities. It is one of the few Shakespeare plays that I have never seen performed, studied or even read until now. In Cymbeline, the plot is rather convoluted and the Bard uses many of his familiar devices and characters - the poison that simulates death, disguises that are un-believably effective, lost royal heirs that are raised in poverty, the deceitful betrayer who besmirches the reputation of the virtuous heroine - and I honestly wasn’t expecting to be riveted to the stage as when I watch one of his great tragedies. 

Vancouver, BC: I really enjoy the opportunity to see a play with a Shakespearean “connection”  as the 4th play in a Bard on the Beach season. These plays such as Mark Leiren -Young's "Shylock" or Stoppard's "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern", that are not of the Shakespeare's writing yet complement the current productions, add a different dimension to the Bard on the Beach experience.

Vancouver, BC:  With my grandchildren (one a five year old) in town, this was a great opportunity to take them to see a Theatre Under the Stars musical at Malkin Bowl. The story of Shrek, the friendly ogre was more age appropriate than Legally Blonde, which I had enjoyed last year. Seven of us trooped off to Stanley Park for the opening night of Shrek,  hoping for a beautiful summer evening, and we got just what we hoped for, a warm, almost cloudless summer night and good family entertainment.

New York, NY:  After reading my little rant about the mind-numbing effect of excessive and unexpected profanity on stage, you may wonder why I would have chosen to see The Book of Mormon. After all it was written by the creators of South Park, the award winning animated comedy sitcom known for its shock value and crude language. The difference is that going into the theatre, I knew that this show described as a "bawdy, irreverent, hilarious" look at missionaries sent to Africa to convert the masses, would create  its comedy by using foul language and sexually explicit humour to shock. So in the context of the show, swear words were the least "offensive " aspect. Overall The Book of Mormon is entertaining and quite hilarious.

For the first pre-show dinner of my 2014 Spring New York Stopover I decided to try The Capital Grille. About a twenty minute walk from my hotel, it was just a couple of blocks away from the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where I was going to see The Book of Mormon.

New York, NY.   In general I avoid reading reviews of plays or musicals that I am about to see so as not to bias my enjoyment and opinion on the show. In the case of Satchmo at the Waldorf, I wish I had broken my rule as the play turned out to be very different to what I had been expecting.

For an early lunch before heading off to the 2 PM show of Kinky Boots, we decided to try DB Bistro Moderne. I had read  about the famous DB Burger that incorporated foie gras and truffle but I had had a latish breakfast and the thought of a burger was just too daunting. So I decided to take up the offer of one of my co-diners to have a taste of her burger and instead opted for the Alsatian Tarte Flambée.

New York, NY.   This is the second production of Kinky Boots I have seen. I first saw the show with the original Broadway cast  in June last year, and enjoyed it so much (specially the boots!) that on this return visit I thought my fashionista  friends had to see it too. Good decision because I confess I loved it even more the second time around.

On my way back to the hotel after picking up theatre tickets at the box office, I passed a plethora of eating establishments from pizzerias to fine dining. The menu outside Marseille caught my eye and I decided to drop in for a light lunch.

On visits to New York over the past few years I have been fortunate to have family living in Manhattan so its been a while since I tried out any mid-town hotels.  This time I decided to check out one of the Starwood Hotel Group's boutique hotels, prior to embarking on a cruise out of New York. For my 3 nights (actually more like 2.5 nights as I caught a red-eye into Newark) I chose the Element New York Times Square West. Interestingly, this was first suggested to me 2 years ago by one of my readers, in a comment on my New York in Winter 2012 story.

Vancouver, B.C. One of the things I love about my job as a theatre reviewer is the opportunity to see off-mainstream shows by small independent theatre companies. It is also often an opportunity to learn about small funky theatre spaces which these independent companies find to host their productions. And that's how on a rainy Vancouver night I found myself driving round the vicinity of Main and Québec Streets, trying to find a street parking space reasonably close to The Shop Theatre, which I discovered is in the old production space of the now sadly defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.

Vancouver, BC: It was a packed house last night for the closing performance of Nicolas Billon’s Iceland at Studio 16, and deservedly so. Iceland is a gem of a theatrical piece and it was sensitively directed and beautifully performed by Kathy Duborg and her cast of three. Iceland is one of three plays that make up the trilogy published as “Fault Lines” that won Billon the 2013 Governor  General’s Literary Award for Drama. The other two plays are Greenland and Faroe Islands.

Vancouver, BC:  A fourteen year old girl sent to juvenile detention for throwing an apple at a postman was incarcerated for five years until she ultimately asphyxiated herself in her cell while being watched by on-duty correctional officers. The correctional officers were "following orders not to intervene until she stopped breathing."

Vancouver, BC: I am an unabashed fan of Annie, the spunky, independent little optimist, and ANNIE has one of my favorite feel-good musical songs, Tomorrow. Valerie Easton and her large cast and crew have put on a polished and entertaining production and I enjoyed every minute of it.  This is the 25th Anniversary of the Royal City Musical Theatre, and this production is a worthy representative of the work.

Vancouver, BC: Wow! I really enjoyed this show. The multi-talented cast of Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler, Ben Elliott, Steve Charles, Marlene Ginader and Kayvon Kelly have strong  voices and great moves. I missed the premiere of Chelsea Hotel in 2012 so this was a completely fresh production for me and I was thoroughly captivated.

Vancouver, BC: Long time readers of ReviewFromTheHouse may remember my stories of having to overcome my sometimes incapacitating claustrophobia to undergo magnetic resonance imaging  (Claustrophia and your MRI) and to stay calm on being trapped in a New York elevator. What  I have never disclosed is that my first experience of severe claustrophobia occurred when crawling through a confined tunnel lke Floy Collins, but in the Cango Cave system near Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Vancouver, BC: Although I have laughed my way through my copy of Time Flies, a collection of very funny, very short plays by David Ives, I have neither read nor seen any productions of his longer works and the unexpected complexity of this play took me by surprise. Rapid changes of character and switching power dynamics kept me on the edge, alert to the varying nuance of posture and voice so as not to miss a beat of the performance. Sexy and provocative - who knew that the act of guiding a long leather boot onto a leg could be so erotic? Kinky comedy indeed, this is no average guy-meets-gal comedy.

Disembarking in New York after 12 weeks of travel in South America and South Africa, I had two days to catch some theatre before traveling home. Unlike my usual systematic approach approach, this time I had not booked any tickets. So on Saturday morning I ventured into the theater district with a list of possibilities and the objective of seeing one drama and one new musical. I was lucky enough to get good last minute seats for both Kinky Boots and The Assembled Parties.

New York, NY. My dilemma: a one day stopover in  New York en route to a dance cruise; only one time slot open to see theatre, and the usual cornucopia of tempting on-stage offerings. But when I saw that Manhattan Theatre Club was staging a version of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of The People”, this play became the instant pick for my one theatre spot.  Some years ago I had the privilege of studying Ibsen’s 12 realist prose play cycle with an Ibsen scholar. My favorite  was not any of his rather depressing  plays, where the protagonists shoot themselves or fall off a bridge or a tower (can you name the plays?) or even the ambiguously optimistic  "A Dolls House"  but it was in fact "An Enemy of The People." The thematic thread of holding steadfast to scientific fact and principle despite massive pressure to sugar-coat the truth appealed to me. 

Vancouver, BC:  Under the able direction of Amiel Gladstone, with a luminous Megan Follows leading an accomplished cast of actors, Melissa James Gibson's  This sparkles with humour while touching on the internal angsts and troubled relationships of this group of thirty-something friends.

Vancouver, BC:  Yesterday I found myself on the opposite side of an interview - interviewee rather than interviewer. I was checking in for my last shift in the Main Press Centre and unbeknownst  to me, lurking around the check-in desk was one of the volunteers who write the daily Volunteer Newsletter. On hearing that this was the last of my 15 shifts he begged, pleaded and cajoled (alright I exaggerate) until I agreed to have a picture taken for the newsletter. 

Vancouver, BC: This production of The Vic is an ambitious undertaking by the young Terminal Theatre company which staged its first production in the summer of 2009. For this, their third production, they might have been better served had they chosen a less convoluted play.

Tucked away on the corner of Venables Street and Victorian Drive, a block east of  buzzing Commercial Drive, the creaky old Vancouver East Cultural Theatre had a quaint charm for theatre lovers despite its uncomfortable seats and awkwardly located washrooms.  Originally an old abandoned church that was developed into a theatre space some thirty-seven years ago, the facility suffered from structural and technical limitations and uncomfortable working conditions for casts and crews and has now been extensively renovated.

Vancouver, BC:  Three cheers for the new Wine Bar  at The Cultch. The Olympic road-closures are at the stage where part of Pacific Boulevard and both the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are closed to traffic so to get from my place anywhere involves ferreting out new routes.  To make sure we were in time for our Micro-Theatre adventure, we set off early along the E. Hastings route to Commercial. Although until just beyond Main Street traffic moved at a snail's pace, after that the pace picked up and we were actually at The Cultch with a good half an hour to spare after collecting our tickets. So we settled down comfortably in the Wine Bar to enjoy a glass of wine while we waited to be called for our show.

Vancouver, BC:  When I initially read the description of The Passion Project as "video art installation- meets theatre" I wasn't sure what to think about it other than that it would be novel and different. After seeing it, I concluded that think is the wrong word. It is more a sensory experience than a cognitive experience.  And what on earth do I mean by that?  Let me try and articulate my experience.