theatre review

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:  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:  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:   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: 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.

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. 

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.

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.

For my last two nights of  this trip to Chicago I was booked into the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers on E. North Water Street. The hotel is located on the north side of the branch of the Chicago River that once drained into Lake Michigan.  This was the headquarter hotel for the Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists and next day's Canada Party would be hosted in one of the Sheraton ballrooms. 

Chicago is one of my favorite US cities to visit - a feast for the eyes, the heart and the mind.  Stunning architecture and man-made green spaces complement  the natural beauty that comes from its location on the south-west shore of Lake Michigan.  As I wrote on my last visit to the city in 2006, Chicago has a  theatre scene that rivals New York or London - (Why Chicago dominates American Theatre, Part I  and Part II) - and it is also a paradise for foodies. Reluctant as I was to leave Vancouver at this glorious time of year, I was anticipating my five day trip to Chicago with excitement. 

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.
 

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.

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.

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." 

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.