Review From The Seat

Vancouver, BC: I really enjoyed United Player's production of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov, although I did find myself wanting to hand Nickolay Ivanov a strong dose of some psychotropic  medication and a referral to a psychotherapist. But that's the infuriatingly hapless self-absorbed character that Chekhov created.

Vancouver, BC:  As a computer-nerd/technophile of long-standing I was intrigued by the concept of taking the multi-player video game concept into the theatre and eagerly anticipated the experience of my personal avatar interacting with some 200 other avatars to conjure up  a new society in BestLand.

Vancouver BC: My insanely busy life living and writing on theatre, food, travel, and of course dance - the doing of it , not the writing about it, leaves me little time to go to music events but when I read about Sõ Percussion in the PuSh brochure, I could not resist going to this performance.  Rhythm is what my life's about at the moment - I feel the beat - all the time. Maybe a different kind of beat. I'm talking samba, chachacha, waltz, tango but rhythm trumps melody when dance and dance music plays all the time when I am at thome. 

I was especially looking forward to going to see this show  because I anticipated that for several reasons it would be a bit of an adventure . Firstly this would be the first production I would see in the new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in the Simon Fraser University complex, newly built on the old Woodwards site. As it turned out it is still so new that I was directed by a security man to an entrance to the theatre complex through a gap in the construction fencing that still surrounds much of the area.

In a unique and rare conjunction, within a four day period, I saw two newly created theatrical works, dealing with similar themes but approached very differently - Beyond Eden and The Edward Curtis Project. After seeing The Edward Curtis Project, I stayed to hear the talk back session in which members of the cast succinctly summed up the common themes of these plays as "obsession and  appropriation".

Vancouver, BC:  Just imagine. You dream  an "impossible dream" for 25 years and finally one exhilarating night, your dream explodes into  reality in a visually and musically stunning production. Beyond Eden had  its world premiere last week on the Vancouver Playhouse stage as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and it is  a "tour de force".  Bruce Ruddell  and his creative collaborators, cast and crew can truly be proud of how his dream has been actualized.

Vancouver, BC: Acclaimed Canadian playwright, Wajdi Mouawad was born in Lebanon and moved first to France and then to Montreal, arriving in Canada  at the age of fifteen.  From 1975 to 1990 Lebanon was ripped apart by a devastating civil war in which hundreds of thousands of Lebanese died, and massive atrocities were committed by the Syrian-backed PLO Muslim militias and Lebanese Christian militias alike.  Beirut, a once beautiful city known as the Paris of the East, was in ruins. For a brief time in his childhood, Mouawad lived in a country at war, and both of his plays that I have seen, Scorched and Tideline, reflect his overwhelming concern with the lives of those who lived through the events of that time.

Vancouver, BC:   I loved this show. From the minute the "sunlight" of a new day began to brighten Pam Johnson's meticulously detailed set, the spacious kitchen and dining area of an obviously well-to-do family's home, I was drawn into the unfolding routine of daily life in the Dexter home. The design team, Johnson, Marsha Sibthorpe (lighting) and Philip Clarkson (Costumes) gave director Marti Maraden an attractively authentic environment which the characters created by Fiona Reid as Edith Dexter and Nicola Cavendish as Peggy Randall, the "daily", really seemed to inhabit.

Vancouver, BC:  Start with a script written by one of Canada's iconic playwright/actors and directed by the playwright himself. Feature two compelling powerful female actors with hugely synergistic on-stage chemistry in a small theatre setting where every nuance of  their performance can be seen. And focus on the ebb and flow of an intimate relationship between these two women, from casual meeting, to sexual encounter, touching on friendship, love, attraction, trust and mistrust. My expectations were high - I was expecting truly to be blown away by this play. But I confess I just did not get it.

Vancouver, BC: Led by two Studio 58 alumni, director Anita Rochon, and Mike Wasko as the insanely jealous  Sicilian king Leontes, the student cast succeed in presenting a interesting and entertaining production of  The Winter's Tale. I use the word succeed deliberately because as I look back on my  reviews of other  productions of this play (Winter's Tale, Summer's Storm), I note that this play in more ways than the conventional meaning for me is a problem play, and it is a real challenge to pull it off well.

Vancouver, BC: As those of you  who have followed my recent  theatre travels and cruise adventures dancing at sea to destinations from Bora Bora to Beijing to  Los Angeles to New York, know by now, I am delirious about dance, so how could I not love a show with a song titled "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing"?  Add some rapid-fire tap dancing, great ensemble work and music and lyrics that are embedded  in my memory bank from years back, and White Christmas makes for a delightfully sentimental evening's entertainment.

Vancouver, BC. If you have not already got your tickets to see this show pick up the phone or hit the keyboard soon because this is going to be another sellout holiday hit for the Vancouver Playhouse.

I applaud United Players for bringing this intellectually engaging play to the Jericho Arts Centre.  The work of David Hare is always good for  lively discussion on the way home from the theatre.  But this production is like having three really nice, interesting people over for dinner; and you discuss politics, doctors, psychiatry, war, relationships, sex, marriage; and they stay way too late.  There is a lot of talk about  what is really going on during the evening with very little evidence of anything but talk. 

Vancouver, BC:  Don't miss this production of  Ibsen's The Master Builder. Re-shaped with a surgical precision by Errol Durbach's concise adaptation and Gerald Vanderwoude's taut direction, it is a sharply focused portrait of a man at the pinnacle of his profession, brought down by his desire for a nubile young thing. The play may have been written in 1892, but the story is played out frequently in the media today as politicians,  business executives, perfomers and preachers publically beat their chests crying "mea culpa" as their wives file for divorce and half their assets. I tried to count on one hand such situations in the recent past but soon ran out of fingers!

The set is crappy (and very cleverly designed), the costumes are deliberately tacky, there have not been worse wigs since Dynel was invented, the props fall apart, the acting is over the top, and my cheeks ached from grinning through the whole show.  This is cheesy as an art form.  The evening is a riot of bad puns, brilliantly bad acting, great singing and fun choreography. 

Vancouver, BC:   For 75 minutes you could have heard a pin drop in the small space of the PAL theatre.  As the actors exited and the lights went to black, the words "brave, terrifying, sad"  competed in my head with "so that's the real Allan Zinyk".  I think this is the first time I have seen him playing a normal person in a straight as opposed to a comedic role, and it brought to mind a handsome Allan Rickman - as Steven Spurrier (Bottle Shock) not the infamous Snape, of course.

"We live our lives forward, but only understand them backward", says Anna (Medina Hahn) who then takes us on what becomes a waking nightmare, increasingly haunted by seemingly benign, Patrick (Daniel Arnold).  These two intensely talented actors, who are always surprising, are also the playwrights of this roller coaster ride of a play that explores the observer and the observed, the victim and the perpetrator, the dream and reality.

You take a brilliantly written script that turns the Judas Iscariot story inside out, set it in a court room, lace it with profanity, people it with some of the best actors in town, and you have a riveting evening of theatre. 

This is dance theatre that you can take your husband to….and your teens…and anyone else you can think of.   The opening offering of the Cultch Family Series is a knock-out.  The re-furbished Cultch main stage was bathed in the light of a thousand candles being arranged and moved about by the seven members of the company, the men in jeans and the women in point shoes, as the audience entered the theatre. 

Toronto, ON:   The Guardsman is a quick witted comedy about life in the theatre and acts of imitation and deception. The famous Hungarian actor, Nandor, fears that the coming of spring will prompt his famous wife Ilona to roam. To circumvent an affair with another man, Nandor performs the role of a soldier and tries to woo his wife. When she falls for him, the question becomes, who is the better actor? Did she really know after two minutes of his portrayal that it was her husband all along? 

Vancouver, BC.  Bryony Lavery 's play has all the elements that should make for  compelling theatre. An tragic situation connecting three characters - a serial killer, the mother of the girl he abducted and the academic who is studying him and others like him;   and issues that one can argue endlessly : is he evil or is he sick? Can he be forgiven,  should he be forgiven and what does forgiveness really mean?

Vancouver. BC:   The evening opened with a welcome from Brenda Leadley, the Artistic Director of Presentation House with a message about why we should protest damaging government cuts to grants for the arts, and then The Veil, written and directed by Shahin Sayadi proved to the audience why we should be taking to the streets. 

Vancouver, BC:  The Arts Club opened its 46th season with a riotously funny evening of  two plays by writers who would not at first come to my mind as writers of comedy. Peter Shaffer after all, is probably best known for Equus - a  intensely disturbing  psychological drama.   And I have never really found the Chekhov plays that I have seen or read to be exactly a bundle of laughs.

New York, NY:  I had only the vaguest knowledge about the life of Emily Dickinson, who posthumously came to be  considered one of America's major  poets.  I knew that in her latter years she had become reclusive and eventually did not leave her house but I knew little else of her history. So I  eagerly anticipated my visit to Theatre Row to see this new play by emerging playwright, Chris Cragin.

New York, NY:  The World Premiere of  The Retributionists,  a new play by Daniel Goldfarb, is presently being staged at Playwrights Horizon, which like our own much smaller Vancouver Playwrights Theatre Centre, is dedicated to supporting and developing playwrights and their works.  The production offically opens Monday, September 14 when I will be back in Vancouver,  but I managed to catch it in preview. Goldfarb, who is originally from Toronto, obtained a BFA and MFA from NYU, and now lives in New York and teaches at NYU.

New York, NY:  As a reviewer, I think it important that my readers know the biases and foibles that influence my writing.  So before I write another word about the show itself,  I have two confessions to make.

New York, NY.  Two men seated on an otherwise empty stage - the playing space surrounded by black drapes, briefly opened to reveal tall buildings on either side of a dark alley, or briefly   lluminated to create the illusion of a forest. No props, no fancy set, nothing to draw our attention away from the two Chicago beat cops, relating the events of a summer when the rain poured incessantly and  the world as they knew it  came crashing down on them. 

New York, NY:  As I took my  premium seat, center  in the 4th row orchestra ( the only way I could get a last minute decent seat to this play), the contrast between the childlike cartoon figures of  a boy standing betweeen his mom and dad, depicted on the scrim, and the play title, God of Carnage, promised an interesting show. 

Vancouver, BC:  William Congreve certainly had a way with words and is justifiably referred to as  "the English Moliere".  The United Players has chosen to open it's 50th Anniversary Season with his most famous comedy.  It is an inspired choice. The Way of the World minced into the Jericho Arts Centre last night and gob-smacked the crowd with wit, repartee, epigrams, raillery, cant and delightful double-dealing.

One of the interesting things about on-line reviews is the capacity for rapid rebuttal of comments and discussion.  I encourage people to comment on any aspect of my posts that they like or dislike. Occasionally they do.

Vancouver, BC:  Almost exactly a year ago  I watched a staged reading of an early version of Via Beatrice at the Playwrights Theatre Centre. At the time I commented on my Works in Progress page commentary that  " It is always a privilege to get a peek into the creation of a new work, and then, hopefully, to see a full production of the finished version." And it really was exciting to see the polished production that this work has become in a year.

Vancouver,BC:  One would have to have a heart of steel, or maybe no heart at all, not to adore feisty little orphan Annie and her unshaken belief that her parents will return to take her away from Miss Hannigan and the orphanage.  The story of Annie and Daddy Warbucks, however implausible (it was based on a comic strip after all) taps into the dream of  any lonely, lost or abused child; namely that someone big and strong and loving will come to rescue them. And then as well as its optimism and emotional appeal,  the musical is jam-packed with well known songs that stay in your head, long after the curtain falls. Annie  is great family entertainment.

Summer in Vancouver means lots of theatre out of doors. I have seen seven al fresco productions and all are currently still running for you to enjoy.

Vancouver BC:   The stage musical of Thoroughly Modern Millie was adapted from the 1967 film musical movie with Julie Andrews in the title role.  In the stage version Millie is from Kansas and has come to New York to find herself a millionaire to marry. New music was added for the stage version and  other changes made but for fresh-into-town Millie, a modern woman in the Prohibition era, it is still money not love that matters.

Vancouver, BC: Mercifully when I did my Survey Course in English Literature, I was only required to read three relatively short poems by Geoffrey Chaucer - Middle English does not make for an easy read - so I confess that what little I know about The Canterbury Tales comes from reading summaries in contemporary English, the lazy student's friends - Spark Notes and Cliff Notes. But ignorance of the original Chaucer material did not at all diminish my enjoyment of this romp through Queen Elizabeth Park. As author Sebastian Archibald points out in his playwright's notes, he has chosen to use Chaucer's techniques of satire and social commentary, to adapt - very loosely - five of the tales into somewhat more "modern" versions. So not to worry - Middle English is not required here.

Vancouver's Bard on the Beach Company has undertaken as a "noble goal" to stage Shakespeare's entire dramatic canon by the 25th anniversary of the company, five years hence. As part of this ambitious objective, Bard will be presenting a cycle of Shakespeare's History Plays through the 2009 to 2011 seasons as discussed in my How They See It  Chat  with Bard Artistic Director, Christopher Gaze.This year's staging of Richard II starts this series of plays. While most people have some familiarity with the more frequently produced story of Shakespeare's  twisted, malevolent, murdering Richard III, I suspect that, like I until recently, they don't know too much about where Richard II fits into the whole English kings / Wars of the Roses saga.

Vancouver, BC:  All's Well that Ends Well is all about Helena, a young woman, in love with a man who is above her social class and can't see beyond her lower status to appreciate her many virtues. With a plot that incorporates common theatrical  devices of disguised identities, token rings,  and  a buffoonish braggart who gets his come-uppance,  Lois Anderson's vibrant portrayal of  the intelligent, resourceful, though lovesick Helena provides the  tensile strength that holds the play together. With every emotion, from adoration to pain, expressed with subtlety through eyes and  voice, she brings an innate dignity to Helena that makes it clear why she is adored by everyone except the foolish Bertram.
 

Beginning with this summer's production of Richard II, opening Saturday, July 11 2009, Bard on the Beach will present the 8 plays of Shakespeare's history cycle that deal with the political intrigues and civil wars that occurred as the various descendants of Edward III fought to take and hold the crown of England. Over the next two seasons, we will be able to follow the story of the convoluted passage of the crown of England back and forth between the houses of York and Lancaster through seven different kings (Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII). The Douglas Campbell Studio Theatre will be the setting for the 2010 production of Falstaff (a conflation of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2) and Henry V. In 2011, we will see The War of The Roses (a conflation of the three parts of Henry VI) and Richard III.

Vancouver, BC: Matthew  (Jeremy Crittenden),  Mark  (David Hurwitz),  Luke (Jak Barradell),  Juan (Vincent Tong) and Abraham (Geoff Stevens) are the Altar Boyz, members of a boy band who are playing the final concert of their "Raise the Praise"  tour - at the Granville Island Stage - and, according to their impressive digital electronic device, the  Soul-Sensor DX-12,   they have several hundred heavily burdened souls in the audience to save, by the end of the concert. That's the premise of the show.  A thin story-line to be sure, but that is all that is needed to thread twelve high-energy  song and dance routines into a swinging, toe-tapping non-stop 90 minutes of  pure entertainment.

Among the many excellent productions in Vancouver in 2008, Pacific Theatre’s staging of Emil Sher’s Mourning Dove touched my heart and mind most deeply. I loved the play and the restrained sensitivity with which the writer addressed the unfolding of a tragedy that no parent should ever have to experience. When I realized that Sher was also the author of Hana’s Suitcase, another very moving play that I had recently read, I was compelled to read more of his work. These experiences raised a whole lot of questions that I wanted to pose to the playwright. To my delight, Emil Sher generously agreed to be interviewed for “Creators and Communicators,” the section of  Theatre Seen that highlights the creative artists that “make theatre.”

Last night I made my way gingerly along a dusty, construction-damaged Granville Street, to the Commodore Ballroom where Vancouver's theatre community gathered to celebrate another year of amazing theatre.  It is always interesting to see how the nominations and the final award winners stack up against what I thought during the year of play-going, and  what details I can remember of the many productions. As well, the productions nominated are only a portion of the many shows staged here - Vancouver has a great theatre scene, and often I find that there are more things available to see than hours to see them in.

Vancouver, BC: It's probably the quarter of a decade that I spent at the BC Childen's and Women's Hospitals that had me wondering what sort of whacky comedy the Bard could have constructed in today's obstetrical environment where twin births are  old hat compared to the birth of sextuplets, septuplets or even octuplets! Imagine the complications of mistaken identity that could ensue with sextuplets farmed out at birth - and they don't even have to be identical for their closest friends and lovers to be confused. Think of it. Folks couldn't even distinguish Viola from her twin brother Sebastian in Twelfth Night!

Vancouver,BC: Of Shakespeare's great tragedies. Othello ranks as number one in my list of faves, just ahead of King Lear. I think it is for me that the play is about an epic  battle between two larger than life characters - Iago, arguably Shakespeare's greatest villain, and Othello, the archetype "hero with a fatal flaw." The immense dramatic irony is that Othello, the great warrior General , doesn't even know he is involved in this battle, yet the audience knows that bit by bit he is losing the most important war of his life. As Harold Bloom puts it, it is Othello's tragedy but it is Iago's play. Iago, the master manipulator pulls strings like a puppeteer, weaving a web of deceit that ensnares everyone - including ultimately, himself. 

Vancouver, BC: This production of  Palace of the End is a simply stunning theatrical experience. Thompson has crafted three powerful monologues based on three real people each with a connection  to contemporary Iraq and  all three monologues are superbly performed. Although based on news stories and research,  as Thompson remarks in the playwright's notes  - "the persona ...of each speaker has been created by me."  And of course the words they speak spring from her imagination. Yet for me the authentic voices of  these three characters ring out  in a compelling and utterly believable way.

What a week! With no evening dance classes this week I was able to take full advantage of the treasure trove of theatre on in Vancouver at the moment. Starting with True Story last Sunday afternoon, I saw 36 Views at Jericho on Tuesday, Les Misérables at the Stanley on Wednesday,  Antigone Unbound upstairs at the Russian Hall on Thursday,  Palace of the End at PAL on Friday and finally caught Top Girls at the Playhouse on Saturday

Vancouver, BC:  One never knows quite what to expect in a production by this interesting group of artists, and this time was no exception. Climbing up the stairs to the performance space, I enter a small somewhat claustrophobic room. A narrow platform next to the walls runs round the room leaving a central square pit in which swivel office chairs are haphazardly crammed.   We take two seats at the back of the room just in front of the stage manager's table and watch as the place fills up rapidly.  It is warm and stuffy but there is a buzz in the air.  

Vancouver, BC: How can one not love Les Mis? The book  has everything - Sympathetic downtrodden characters who  either  triumph over adversity or die tragically with their dreams unfulfilled; a good guy chasing a bad guy  where the bad guy is really good at heart and the good guy 's obsession with his quest is bad;  student protests with dramatic deaths on barricades, and of course, the wickedly funny  innkeeper and his wife. Then there is the music - songs to make you cry, songs to make you laugh, catchy melodies that tumble over each other for a place in your head; and that you hum as you drive home after the show.  I first saw a touring production of Les Misérables in Vancouver probably twenty years ago  and still remember the intense post-show  family discussion about the students sacrificing their lives in a futile cause.

Vancouver, BC: Years ago, in Kyoto, I fell in love with a set of 4 paintings depicting the four seasons. With a few fine brush strokes, the artist was able to evoke a uniquely Japanese image of spring, summer, autumn and winter.  I loved  the beauty of the precise minimalistic images with not a single superfluous stroke. That's how I felt watching Naomi lizuka's perfect  gem of  a play, 36 Views. It closes on Saturday and I urge you not to miss it.

Vancouver, BC: It's a beautiful sunny day in Vancouver. Since I arrived home yesterday from my Dancing at Sea Cruise (three hours of dance each night and an average of 5 hours sleep) I have barely had time to unpack. I have 6 days of travel writing to finish and a busy evening ahead. But before I left two weeks ago I had committed to attending the 2 pm performance of this show so I hopped in my little car and cruised over the Georgia Viaduct to The Vancity Culture Lab at Venables and Victoria Drive. And I am glad I did.