theatre

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.

For those of you who been asking whether I have stopped "Sipping and Supping" or enthusiastically checking out the Vancouver "Theatre Seen", and those others who have asked why my saga of the Autumn East Coast Dance Cruise  seemed to drop anchor temporarily in Bar Harbor, Maine - here is the explanation and a cautionary tale.

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.

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:   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.

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.

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.

Well here I am back in Vancouver after a fantastic 7 nights of dance, food, wine and meeting new friends on board the Sapphire Princess. The cruise was a great success - I had a blast! My feet may need a week to recover from dancing till midnight most nights. But on the other hand, despite eating great food and not stinting on the wine, i did not put on any weight! Ballroom dancing is the key!
 

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.

Vancouver, BC: It is 1990 and Jon (Brandyn Eddy) is a promising young composer living in Manhattan. Jon is about to turn thirty and he is agonizing about his career in music and theatre, and fretting that  he is over the hill. This premise for the show would ordinarily be a trifle irritating to me. I left 30 behind some years ago (alright, many years ago) yet I still feel that I am on the way up  to the summit of a career hill.  Albeit a different hill from the one I was climbing at 30. No existential angst is allowed in my mind. To safeguard  myself  against the upcoming angst, I booked for dinner at DB Bistro Moderne on Broadway: Our Broadway of course!

One of the exciting aspects of seeing theatre in a versatile, performance space like Performance Works, is that as you enter the space you never quite know what layout to expect. For  Touchstone Theatre's world premiere of Victoria playwright Janet Munsil's play, Influence, set designer David Roberts  has re-created the room of the British Museum in which the collection of statues and metopes known as the Elgin marbles are displayed.  The audience sits corridor style, on either side of a long rectangular space with doric pillars at either end. Displayed on marble stands are large realistic renditions by Heidi Wilkinson, of  some of  the original Greek sculptures, including the Selene horse head from the Parthenon.

Spectral Theatre Society boldly declare in their program that they make "theatre for people that hate theatre. " Hmmm...     I have not seen any of their previous productions so I sought further clarification in the program small print. It said  "To breathe new life into the fetid rotting corpse of live theatre by thrilling and chilling audiences with fantastic stories delivered in unpredictable and innovative ways." Well, okay.  I thought  would perhaps ignore the comment on the state of live theatre - and ask if there was a single phrase that could encapsulate Spectral's niche. I got it - "theatre of the macabre." 

When you are twenty, if you give any thought at all to death, it  is merely something that happens to old people. In the opening song in Billy Bishop Goes to War, newly minted Cavalry Officer, Billy Bishop (Ryan Beil) and Piano Player et al (Zachary Gray) reflect the naive anticipation of  generations of young men who never made it home to die of old age.

Who needs Halloween candy when Solo Collective's local playwrights serve us up such a treat of  three diverse and thought-provoking monologues? On a cold, drizzly evening when most  of the Lower Mainland's female population were streaming into BC Place to watch the world's hottest and fittest 50 year old perform, Todd Thomson, high on acid (My Acid Trip by Dennis Foon, directed by Chamyar Chai) and Jennifer Clement, burning with pseudo-religious fervour (Hope and Caritas by Ian Weir, directed by Rachel Ditor) heated up the Waterfront stage with steaming performances.

In high school, for my third language (English and Afrikaans were compulsory courses), given a choice between Latin and French, I picked French. A smart choice. However the French teacher and I got off to a bad start.  I lost interest in her class and did the minimum work needed to scrape a passing grade.  Ultimately that would have been a huge problem, as I needed top grades in all subjects to be admitted to medical school, but  being young and foolish, I sat at the back of the classroom surreptitiously doing crossword puzzles and reading Crime and Punishment, while she tried to drum French grammar into our adolescent skulls.

Vancouver, BC: I eagerly anticipated that  British playwright, David Hare's "Stuff Happens", about  the road to the  Iraq war,  would be a fascinating and provocative  play. Unfortunately for me it wasn't. During the time that I used to write "Rants, Raves and Reviews" it was not often that I felt compelled to rant. This time I do. Despite some interesting performances I found this play  annoying, superficial and far too long.  It runs three hours and even in the first act  I was wishing that my watch had a luminous dial.  But I will point out that at least after the first 90 minutes as I walked out to the foyer mumbling irritably to myself, several of my friends were quite animated in their enthusiasm for what they had seen so far.

The third annual Prêt-a-Pour Tea in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation was held at Seasons in the Park on Tuesday. I had not heard about the previous two events but when a friend told me about this one I just had to go. It was not just that it was in support of  an important cause. How could a word game fanatic not support an event with such a great title?

Pacific Theatre opens their 25th season with Montreal playwright Emil Sher's powerful little gem of a play, Mourning Dove.  Don't miss it. Sher draws on the tragic Latimer affair to present two interwoven emotive and complex themes; the morality of love and the dichotomy of law and justice. I doubt whether there was a sentient adult in Canada in 1993 who did not have a strong opinion as to the right or wrong of Robert Latimer's motives in ending the life of Tracy, his severely disabled daughter. Some thought him principled and courageous - others labelled him the worst of murderers. We all see things through the lens of our personal life experiences.

Vancouver, BC:    As the subject for her new play, Vancouver writer and  director, Joan Bryans has chosen to focus on a  femme fatale with an early 20th century  British Columbia connection.  The story  certainly offers great potential for a play, as indeed Terence Rattigan found,  in 1977 writing his final play, Cause Celebre, about the Rattenbury murder trial. 

Vancouver, BC: At first glance it would seem that a story set in early 1980s Northern England, about preparing a class of grammar school boys to write university entrance examinations for Oxford and Cambridge would provide little target for heated debate on the way home. However as I and my companion for this evening, a teacher with a life-time of experience in special education,  have previously had many intense discussions on the pros and cons of standardized tests, school report cards and the politics of education politics, I was anticipating his take on the play with great interest and indeed there was much to discuss.

Vancouver, BC. Set between the time of Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 and the taping of the interviews, FROST / NIXON chronicles the attempts, ultimately successful,  by British satirist and talk show host, David Frost (David Storch) to engage Nixon (Len Cariou) in a series of interviews for television. Both men have much to gain from these interviews.  Frost, whose career seemed to be waning, was hoping to make a comeback as a broadcaster in US televsion. Frost's production support team of John Birt (Damien Atkins) and Bob Zelnick (Michael Healey) urged on by narrator/historian, Jim Reston (Ari Cohen), want to wring an open admission of wrong-doing from Nixon.  Nixon, supported by Jack Brennan (Tom McBeath) wants an opportunity to justify the achievements of his administration and make his own comeback to Washington politics.

Vancouver, BC: I first saw Doubt in New York in July 2005, the year this play won John Patrick Shanley the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Superbly performed, the production was riveting -the tension in the audience was tangible - absolute silence, audible gasps, a few "no nos". I loved the show and rushed off the very next day to the Drama Book Shop to pick up a copy of the published script. As I eagerly anticipated the Arts Club production I wondered whether the play would have the same impact on a second viewing. But even knowing the story line, last night I found the play almost as powerful as before.

Vancouver, BC: In the fifteen books of narrative poems that comprise Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid wrote of the creation of the universe, and the mythology of the gods that played havoc with humankind: “I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms. You, gods, since you are the ones who alter these, and all other things, inspire my attempt, and spin out a continuous thread of words, from the world's first origins to my own time.” (tr. Anthony S. Kline).

Vancouver BC: Ahead of the last long weekend of summer, the fall theatre season is kicking into gear: opening night invitations in the inbox, program announcements and subscription tickets in the mailbox. But though you may be thinking ahead to September, do not miss a theatrical treat that is playing for only a few more performances including a matinee on Saturday. The talented actors, musicans and technical team of Another Musical Co-op provide a beautifully paced, high energy production that kept me entranced through both acts.

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. That’s why it is so interesting to see the staged readings of scripts that are work-shopped at Playwrights Theatre Centre, for example. It’s sort of like being allowed to read an early draft of the newest novel by your favorite author, and get a glimpse into the way he/she thinks creatively.

Vancouver, BC: It’s already midway through August, the end of summer is in sight and there are only two more performances of Annie Get Your Gun. So if you have not been down to Malkin Bowl to watch Annie Oakley (Meghan Anderssen) hitting her targets shooting backwards, upside down and blindfolded – get your tickets fast - you don’t want to miss this delightful production.

Vancouver, BC: It takes a deft touch to turn Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s gory tale of murder, mutilation and revenge into an excellent evening of theatre, but Kim Collier’s cast, stunningly outfitted by Christine Reimer, did just that. Despite the bloodiness, this is a production well worth seeing for outstanding performances.

Vancouver, BC: The Back Kitchen Release Party has evolved from a successful Fringe Festival play, workshopped in the ReAct series, into a production on the Arts Club Granville Island Stage. It is tantalizing to see a play that is so nearly there but not quite and trying to figure out why, despite enjoying the spirited and high energy performances of the ensemble, I left feeling that there is still something incomplete about this work.

Vancouver, BC: I first read King Lear as a high school student, more years ago than I care to count. It was my introduction to Shakespeare and the start of an enduring interest in his plays, the tragedies and history plays perhaps more than the comedies. I have seen several productions of Lear, studied the play in an undergraduate course and continue to find it one of his perplexing and interesting plays.

Vancouver, BC: I have been following the evolution of the Walking Fish Festival with interest since the first one was held at the Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island in 2003. The festival is billed as showcasing emerging artists, and the format is three sets, each consisting of 3 or 4 short one-act plays that can be staged with minimal technical needs. Although I usually like to attend on a day when all three sets are performed, this year I was only able to see sets A and C. Several plays were particularly successful in capturing my attention.
 

Vancouver, BC: The Arts Club continues its run of crowd pleasing musicals with The Producers. The version of this musical now playing has had an interesting and unusual evolutionary history. The screenplay for the initial 1968 film The Producers, written and directed by Mel Brooks, garnered Brooks an Academy award for screenplay. It starred Zero Mostel as Max Bialystok and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom. In a reversal of what usually happens, the film was developed into a Broadway musical, which opened in 2001 with Nathan Lane as Bialystok and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. Lane and Broderick recently reprised their stage roles in the 2005 film version of The Producers. This seems to be a new trend with Hairspray following suit.

Vancouver, BC: Pi Theatre’s world premiere production of The 8th Land, directed by John Wright, is truly stunning. Local playwright, William Maranda, melds Polynesian mythology, and cultural theories on the decline of the early Easter Island population with Aeschylean structural forms to create an eerily poetic sense of “other” place and time. Yet issues in this play will resonate with contemporary audiences: conflict between religious dogma and human needs; use of scarce natural resources; personal glory versus survival of a people.

Vancouver, BC: It is entirely understandable that a work like No Exit with its anti-life sense of alienation and hopelessness would be written at a time when Europe was mired in the hell of war with no obvious end in sight. Sartre’s three thoroughly unlikable characters, doomed to spend eternity together tormenting each other, have not a redeeming feature among them and a lesser production would make for a thoroughly depressing evening. But director Kim Collier and her strong cast dazzled in a technologically spectacular production that compelled attention.

Vancouver, BC: I don’t know who enjoyed The Hobbit more; I or the very young audience members whose occasionally audible comments revealed how completely they were caught up in the adventures on stage.

Vancouver, BC: It seems fitting that the inaugural review on this site should be the English world premiere of a new Canadian play. And what a play; apocalyptic, uncomfortably thought-provoking, weirdly humorous - but enthralling for 90 minutes without intermission.

That evening I asked Barry and Carole to join me at another dinner theatre show downtown. The venue was a club called On Broadway. It’s a long room with a row of tables on a raised dais lining each long wall and many more tables in the central well of the room. We were about three tables back from the raised stage and had an excellent view. The show was called “Strictly Come Jazz”, a play on the title of “Strictly Come Dancing” which is the UK and SA version of our “Dancing with the Stars”.

London, UK: Timing is everything! Pass it on. For several reasons including airline bookings, the timing of my four day stopover in London ended up with me arriving on Saturday Tuesday. While perfect for New York where it would mean I could see a matinee and evening performance on Sunday, in London virtually all the theatres are dark on Sundays. From the hordes of people in and around Leicester Square and Covent Garden it seems a somewhat unbusinesslike way of doing things.

Woke at the very respectable hour of 8 am (maybe my jetlag plan is working) to the sound of wind driving rain against the window. My breakfast assignment was for 9:40 so I took my time getting dressed while working through the mechanics of signing up for wifi internet service from my room. The cost is horrendous but then London is extraordinarily expensive – more later about that! They charge 6 pounds an hour or 15 pounds for 24 hours but the 24 hours runs only from 12 to 12.

I decided to pick up some fruit and go back to the hotel before heading out to the show so called in at Sainsbury to pick up oranges and nuts - loading up on vitamin C and E. On my way I stopped at the Wyndham and picked up a ticket for The History Boys for Monday night.

As my once excellent memory now needs regular tune-ups and then still does not work too well, I found that checking some information from my last blog of travel to London and France came in quite helpful. I decided it was worth making a few notes for future travel.

Vancouver, BC: I think our enduring fascination with Greek tragedies written around 2500 years ago lies in their fundamental questioning of human behaviour and morality through themes that still resonate with contemporary audiences.  The issues of justice, revenge and free will, of power, honour, guilt and innocence that permeate these plays cry out to us to examine our personal ethics and the moral choices we make in our own lives. Blackbird Theatre's production of Euripide's Hecuba, elegantly and sparely directed by John Wright, spotlights many of these ethical issues with pin point precision.

Vancouver, BC: Saturday, December 1st, was not shaping up to be one of my favorite days. Despite driving in Vancouver for many more years than I drove in Cape Town I still don�t feel comfortable taking my precious little Audi out in snow. I had a ticket to Seussical on Granville Island for the evening so my chionophobic anxiety was high. Drive and risk my car sliding all over the icy roads, or walk to the Aquabus at Hornby, and risk me slipping on icy pavements: good bye dancing!

Vancouver, BC: It is a week since I saw this play and I have had great difficulty in coalescing my reactions into a coherent form.  So armed with the very real excuses of a schedule crowded with deadlines and electronic crises such as crashed computers, I did what I do best - procrastinate.  Ironically, what jolted me into sitting down at my newly repaired computer to finish these thoughts was my going last night to the opening of Seussical: The Musical. Of the Seuss titles, the one I love the best is Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.� Because after all the capacity to think is what distinguishes humans from other species. So here are my "thinks" on Eugene O'Neill's  "A Moon for the Misbegotten," at the JAC. 

Vancouver, BC: In Stephen Greenblatt's introduction to Richard lll in the Norton Shakespeare, he relates a story about Shakespeare and the play, said to have been recorded in 1602 in the diary of a London law student. The gist of it was that a woman was so impressed with Richard Burbage in the title role that she invited him to visit her that very night as Richard lll. Shakespeare contrived to arrive before Burbage. When the announcement came that Richard lll was at the door, WS sent a return message that William the conqueror was before Richard lll.  True or not, as Greenblatt points out, the story illustrates that despite Richard's physical deformities and anti-heroic villainy, this protagonist has exerted a compelling attraction on generations of playgoers.