Friday 4 October 2019

BLR must close its curtain for the rest of the season  
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Regrettably BLR must close the curtains on its site for the balance of the current Vancouver theatrical season.

This difficult decision was taken due primarily to the post-retirement launch of a labour relations consultancy a year back. That added atop ongoing personal and family obligations meant simply this : too many things were being attempted, each in a sub-optimal way.

To not have proper time to do the deep-dive analysis of plays that is my preferred style necessitates this caesura dramatis. Should circumstances permit BLR to once more provide readers its long-read review forum, no question we will be in touch anew.

In the meantime do accept my humble and grateful Thanks! for the 100,000 hits on the site's 300 reviews since its kick-off back in 2012. 

Until curtain call, readers, Break a leg! in all you do.


Friday 20 September 2019

1,000 Splendid Suns is oppressive, difficult & smart  
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Religion. Taken apart, the word derives from the same Latin root as "ligature" -- namely  "a thing used for tying or binding tightly". Add the prefix "re" and that favourite Western funeral hymn "Blessed Be The Tie That Binds" takes on whole new meaning. Repeat-repeat-repeat the theme over the ages, ad nauseam.

Now add male domination and patriarchy coupled with repression and violence, still somehow all of this is meant to point to a future in Kabul of "1,000 splendid suns" that "hide behind her walls" and promise to shine on life's wreckages there. So the poet wishes.

As a stage production, Suns is as the above hed suggests : "difficult, oppressive & smart". And it is the last adjective that informs the ACT / Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre collaboration to render the show, to this eye, a triumph of nuance and sensitivity -- an elaborate tragic display of light, dark, colour, and haunting soundscape across the Stanley Theatre's 60-odd feet of proscenium stage.

Ken MacDonald's impressionistic set with multicoloured scrim sequences joined composer David Coulter's rich soundscape to imagine Afghanistan in a not-to-forget marriage of sight & sound.
Photo credit : David Cooper
The tale that is told is of the Sunni Talib in Afghanistan, the vindictive tribal "victors" in 1996 of what nearly 25 years later seems like perpetual civil war there. Luckily for us, Irish-Indian playwright Ursula Rani Sarma felt a compulsion to adapt Afghan-American Khaled Hossein's second novel of this sad time and place. Lucky, because regardless how desperate and oppressive this culture is, there is always hope in the shadows.

Rasheed is the neighbour of young Laila who is the only survivor when her family's home in Kabul is bombed just as they were planning their escape to Pakistan. Rasheed takes Laila in as a foster daughter. She grieves not only her dead family but also the loss of her childhood friend and teen-age love Tariq. 

Hearing from a friend of Rasheed that Tariq has been killed during his own flight to Pakistan, Laila succumbs to Rasheed's insistence she become his second wife. He does so in order that no shame befall his family by her continuing to live under his roof. Just 15, she has her own motives. But still she joins his other wife Mariam in bondage to Rasheed -- Mariam, meanwhile, old enough to be Laila's auntie.

Their ages are not their only contrast. While Laila has a jaunty intellect inspired by a university prof father who loved poetry, Mariam is untutored but instinctual. Laila knew love as a child, while Mariam was discarded and outcast by Dad after her illegitimate birth. Ultimately she in turn abandons her mother "for love", an arranged (paid-for) marriage to Rasheed the shoemaker. 

Laila's daughter Aziza is born shortly after her marriage to Rasheed, and at first childless Mariam is seethingly jealous. Her five or so miscarriages have, understandably, jaded her. The essence of Suns is how Mariam and Laila ultimately form a survival bond in response to Rasheed's abusive and violent temperament. They learn from Mariam's Nana that "There is only one skill, tahamul. Endure."

Indeed the endurance bond that grows between Mariam and Laila is the at heart of their struggles, despite the gaps in their age and psyches. The baby Aziza is a large catalyst here. But in this life in this place there can be no triumph, ultimately, only escape, whether alive or dead.

As Rasheed points out, rural Afghanistan villages have thrived on fundamentalist Islamic practices like Sharia revenge-laws for centuries.  And just this week The Economist declares "Violence against civilians in Afghanistan stands at near-record levels" -plus- 
"The Taliban are slowly gaining ground and control much of the countryside."

But back to the Stanley and "fiction". No question what perhaps compels the most -- straightaway -- is the unique blend of composer David Coulter's symphonic cacophony of strings and recorders and electro-pop drones-&-percussion. Add his audial brilliance to set designer Ken MacDonald's wizard backdrop of mountains and sun and rockery in every imaginable hue : red and orange and white and black and green and faint yellow. A better marriage of sight and sound I do not believe I have yet witnessed in eight years of doing BLR reviews.

Then there are the actors. Not a weak outing by any of the eleven who comprise the cast. But major major huzzah's are in order for Anita Majumdar as Laila : her facial modulation and delicacy and subtlety joined exquisite vocal projection and interpretation-of-role that simply stun.

Her foil, Deena Azia as Mariam, is nearly equal in power and punch, while Anousha Alamian as Rasheed betrays almost no redeeming human qualities as a culturally-bred and wholly conditioned male chauvinist bully. Which is what novelist Hosseini intended and playwright Sarma delivers compellingly. For her part, the hovering Nana, Arggy Jenati, is chilling as the ghost haunting her daughter Mariam.

With five minutes to go in Act 1 I was desperately hoping Intermission would rescue me from the weight and mass of the storyline. Act 2 didn't lighten up one iota overall -- though the playful scenes between teen Aziza (Aiyana Vasaya) and her spoiled but charming little brat of a brother Zalmai (Shaheem Fathhi) at least brought a wink or two of comic relief.

Men and religion are often a toxic match. 1,000 Splendid Suns does nothing to neutralize such a poisonous concoction. That Afghanistan and the Taliban are the chosen vehicles to propel this theme forward is as much coincidence as design -- the template has existed for centuries and continues cancerously across much of today's world. For a peek at what true courage looks like, by contrast, the women of Suns are a breathtaking and heartbreaking mix simply not to be missed.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre in partnership with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.  At Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  On until October 13, 2019.  Run-time 130 minutes including intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.  

Performers : Anousha Alamian (Rasheed), Abraham Asto (Tariq/Driver/Militiaman), Deena Aziz (Mariam), Shaheem Fathhi (Zalmai/Boy), Arggy Jenati (Nana/Fariba/Doctor), Anita Majumdar (Laila), Shekhar Paleja(Jalil/Abdul/Sharif/Wakil/Talib 1), Veenu Sandhu (Ensemble), Munish Sharma (Babi/Interrogator/Mullah/Faizullah), Parm Soor (Ensemble), Ziyana Vasaya (Aziza/Girl) 

Creative Team : Haysam Kadri (Director), Carey Perloff (Original Staging), Stephen Buescher (Choreographer), Marc R. Bondy (Assistant Director), Ken MacDonald (Set Designer), Linda Cho (Costume Designer), Alison Green (Costume Coordinator), Robert Wierzel (Lighting Designer), Andrew Griffen (Associate Lighting Designer), David Coulter (Composer/Original Musician), Jake Rodriguez (Sound Designer), Verne Good (Associate Sound Designer), Caryn Fehr (Stage Manager), Geoff Jones (Assistant Stage Manager), Sharon Wu (Apprentice Stage Manager) Michael Paller (Original Dramaturg), Jonathan Rider (Original Fight Consultant), Humaira Ghilzai (Original Cultural Consultant)


Wednesday 10 July 2019

All's Well is Bard at its artistic, imaginative best  
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Critics and PhD candidates who have a difficult time slotting a Shakespeare play as a history play or a comedy or a tragedy are betimes inclined to call it a "problem play". Traditionally the moniker has meant "What is the problem to be solved?" But not this show as directed by Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright. 

Because no one can "solve" ongoing gender politics. No one can "solve" centuries of cultural & religious & class clashes. No one can "solve" history that unfolds -- often unravels -- before us. What is but fake news to some is perhaps truth or possibly a risible, demonic fairytale to others.  All's Well is the last of these at Bard this 30th year anniversary season.

Once again Will Shakespeare's women better their men who are usually awash in their customary bath of testosterone and ego tumescence. The women, to counter them, must be more discerning : reveal wit and grit and cleverness and a canny wisdom to carry them through. Just so in the hands of Chokhani & Wright. 

The “right stuff” formula of WS is executed smartly and stylishly with unrelenting creativity. Instead of 17th century France and Italy, the show is struck in 1946/47 India. The British colonials are exiting stage left after 350 years. The country is being partitioned in two : the so-called Radcliffe Line splits the provinces of Bengal and Punjab, the former to become Pakistan.

Colourful scarves and costumes festoon this production of All's Well That Ends Well set in the final moments of Britain's 350 colonial occupation of India in the late 1940's. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

From this it is both a small jump and a giant leap to colourful Bollywood-style dance sequences straight out of the popular flik Monsoon Wedding. For important soliloquies being delivered in the Punjab tongue by All's Well principals. For sitar and drumbeats and flute that exude straight from Indian soil and soul both.

The outgoing Viceroy is sick unto death. The military establishment doctors have written him off. Enter Helena, daughter of a recently deceased Bombay doctor. He has bequeathed her magic potions derived from folk medicine. Young, Helena has been informally adopted by the Countess, whose son Bertram she is utterly smitten by. Helena makes a blood-bond with the Viceroy : if she fails to cure him, she dies. If she does, he will bless whomever she chooses to marry. She gets Bertie, all right, but he's horrified at her lower caste status than his aristocratic one. He schemes to not consummate the marriage and hies off to the north to do battle with insurgents. Shortly Helena is in hot pursuit.

Serena Parmar as Helena gives the failing Viceroy Bernard Cuffling potions and salves to reverse his current deathwatch and win herself a husband, Count Bertram, who spurns her and plans sexual infidelities. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

When Helena in peasant-disguise arrives north, she meets a widow and her daughter Diana. Diana giggles how Bertie, a bachelor as far as she knows, has the hots for her. Helena reveals that she is Bertie's lawful wife, and in finger-snap widow and Diana and Helena plot how to save Diana from Bertie's lustful advances and get Helena pregnant by him in the process. WS's Elizabethan audiences were about to witness ye ol' "bed trick" once again.

Pam Patel as Diana dances seductively for Edmund Stapleton's Count Bertram in a clever market cart that morphs into the maiden's bed-trick-room surrounded by flashy flimsy curtains. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

This Bertram is said by his mom the Countess to be but a "brash and unbridled boy". He tries to snare Diana with such lines as "Give thyself unto my sick desires!" even after he admits to being already married to Helena. She tricks him into a midnight visit under blindfold.

In all his schemes and machinations, Bertie is aided and abetted by the script's chief clown, his foppish friend Parolles who lives a cross-dressed life sporting wildly-coloured gossamer scarves to offset his military-issue puttees. Jeff Gladstone's turn as Parolles is a droll and arch grifter of the first order. He manages to escape with his life despite his treasons against his army comrades, but just barely. "Simply the thing I am shall make me live," he declares with a classic, ambiguously gay wink.

The countless visual and audio surprises in this production make it possibly the cleverest re-write of a WS script yet performed by Bard. When Widow (Veenesh Dubois) and Helena (Serena Parmar) share their life secrets together -- speaking Hindi -- the effect is compelling indeed.  Add the lights, the period costumes, the wild temptress Indian dances by the ensemble and, no question, all's well that ends well.

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the Howard Family stage, Vanier Park. Performances : On until August 11th. Schedule & ticket information @ Run-time 165 minutes including intermission.

Cast of Characters : Bernard Cuffliing (Viceroy). Veenesh Dubois (Rinaldo; Widow). Lucia Frangione (Countess). Jeff Gladstone (Parolles). Nathan Kay (Spurio). David Marr (Lafeu). Ashley O'Connell (Sebastian). Sarena Parmar (Helena). Pam Patel (Diana). Nadeem Phillip (Younger Dumaine brother). Munish Sharma (Elder Dumaine brother). Edmund Stapleton (Bertram). Ensemble : Andy Kalirai; Shannon Karan; Gunjan Kundhal; Priya Pranjivan; Talia Vandenbrink.

Creative Production Crew : Directors Rohit Chokhani & Johnna Wright. Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre. Set Designer Pam Johnson. Lighting Designers Alan Brodie & Conor Moore. Sound Designer & Composer Ruby Singh. Choreographer Poonam Sandhu. Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews. HiNdi Dialect Coach Nutan Thakur. Stage Manager Joanne P. B. Smith. Assistant Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart. Apprentice Stage Manager Zoe Bellis. Apprentice Director & Creative Cultural Consultant Paneet Singh. Assistant Costume Designer Sophie Wallace. Assistant Lighting Designer Sophie Tang. Assistant Set Desginer Kimira Bhikum.


Sunday 30 June 2019

Shakespeare in Love is truly a love song to live theatre 
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

The flik Shakespeare in Love won a fistful of Oscars back in '99 for writers Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. But if you haven't already, don't watch the celluloid until you have first drunk Bard's smackulus cool-aid stage version by Lee Hall, no vodka required.

Its central gag-line launches when stumblefooted Rose Theatre owner Henslowe tries to explain live drama to his impresario Fennyman : "Let me explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster...but it always works out in the end." Fennyman balks : "How?"  "I don't know, it's a mystery..." Henslowe flips back.

What is no mystery about this Bard show is Daryl Cloran's fully requited love letter to the art of stage acting in his production. A total celebration of the line made famous by Buffy Ste. Marie oft-cited by BLR.  "God is alive / Magic is afoot!" Because Cloran utterly delivers on the many concepts of the script : Theatre is community. All artists need a muse. Love is an infection -- "like sickness and its cure together" as Will puts it.

Will shakespeare doesn't lack for moral support to urge him past his writer's block -- all the local townspeople are eager to digest any of his immortal sonnets or new plays and encourage him mightily. .
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Pure fantasy -- all fake news -- the script has a local wannabe thespian Viola de Lesseps audition for a show-in-the-making with the risible working title "Romeo & Ethel, Daughter of the Pirate King".  She's dressed in drag, of course, because the Queen's moral guardian Tilney ensures no woman can be "on display" as an actor in public theatre. She masquerades as "Thomas Kent", replete with peel-off moustache. Young Shakespeare, meanwhile, suffers hugely from writer's block. He whines to Henslowe "My quill is broken, my well is dry, the proud tower of my imagination has collapsed!"

Ostensibly estranged from wife Anne Hathaway, he soon meets Viola wearing aristocratic gowns at a family party. They dance. He flat-out swoons. Viola's / Thomas's joint fakeries take awhile to consummate, but in time Bill and she are truly in love. She also gamely acts as muse to inspire in him the poetic soliloquies of his ultimate script Romeo & Juliet. His most deathless lines he pens for her to recite. "I write them to make you immortal," he romanticizes.

As Viola, Ghazal Azarbad is enchanting and coquettish and at the same time a delightful naif who doesn't fail to charm even for a second. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

As The Guardian's ever-clever critic Michael Billington reminded folks half-a-decade back, anyone who's ever been involved in a theatre production knows that pandemonium and mobocracy are always at play. Egos tumesce, the writer is 2nd-guessed with every re-written line and scene they spit out, the coin needed to fund the show is always scarce -- in short there is a crisis-mentality that threatens to Stop! any production at any second.

And so it is with this series of plays-within-a-play. Bits of Will's sonnets get quoted over and over, as do take-off lines that are offered up with a wink from his countless plays to come. And, as if conjuring Chilliwack rocker Bill Henderson, Cloran reminds the crowd repeatedly "If there ain't no audience, there ain't no show." He titillates us not only with the endless Billy Bard quotes but with the larger-than-life characters of that time and place : not just Marlowe, but Richard Burbage of the rival company cross-town, The Curtain, not to mention Queen Elizabeth herself "Oh for God's sake, I know my own name, don't wear it out!" she scolds the troupe.

Charlie Gallant's Will Shakespeare plays the gender cards cleverly : one doesn't know if Ghazal Azarbad here as cross-dressed Thomas Kent is to play the part of Romeo or the part of Juliet or none-at-all when the show finally launches. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Can theatre with all its charades and pretence capture the true nature of love? Will bets his final version of R & J can do just that. That is the 50-quid wager from Lord Wessex the Queen must adjudicate. Can Will pull this off, with or without Viola who's about to emigrate with her new hubby -- the same Lord Wessex -- to the colonies to grow tobacco?

The staging of the final scenes are done in the manner of Michael Frayn's riotous 1982 Noises Off thanks to set designer Cory Sincennes' brilliant lazy-suzan centre stage. It rotates dizzyingly between the action front-of-house and all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that threaten to kill the show dead in its tracks. 

Charlie Gallant as Will and Ghazal Azarbad as Viola are choice and sexily a just-right fit, Scott Bellis's Henslowe manages to steal the show altogether more than once, Anton Livopletsky's Lord Wessex is impuissance at its best, Susinn McFarlen's Nurse is duplicitously delicious, and, as always, Jennifer Lines brightens the entire room even when she frowns -- to name but a few favourites from this cast of 18 who play 26 roles, plus Spot the dog : "Next time write something funny!" Queen Liz commands Will as she hands him the bag of ducats he's won, adding "And don't forget the dogs, I love dogs!"

While not "true" Billy Bard, this knock-off of his life and times truly shows us how live theatre productions can and do, ultimately, work on a whole different level than film.  How? You got it by now : "It's a mystery!"

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the BMO main stage, Vanier Park. Schedule & ticket information @ Run-time 145-ish minutes with intermission. 

Cast of Characters :
Ghazal Azarbad (Viola / "Thomas"). Scott Bellis (Henslowe).  Kate Besworth (John Webster). Andrew Cownden (Wabash; Valentine).  Victor Dolhai (Nol).  Austin Eckhert (Kit Marlowe).  Charlie Gallant (Will Shakespeare).  Ming Hudson (Mistress Quickly; Kate).  Warren Kimmel (Fennyman).  Jennifer Lines (Queen Elizabeth; Molly).  Anton Lipovetsky (Frees; Lord Wessex).  Susinn McFarlen (Nurse).  Andrew McNee (Richard Burbage).  Paul Moniz de Sa (Tilney; Sir Robert de Lesseps).  Chirag Naik (Adam; boatman).  Kamyar Pazendeh (Lambert; Ned Alleyn). Jason Sakaki (Sam).  Kingsley \ Porkchop (Spot-the-dog).  Joel Wirkkunen (Ralph; Catling).  

Creative Production Crew :

Costume Designer / Set Designer Cory Sincennes.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer / Musical Director Michelle Cuttler.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews. Choreographer Julie Tamaino. Fight Director Jonathan Hawley Purvis. Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Apprentice Stage Manager Heather Barr.  Directing Apprentice Kayvon Khosham.  Assistant Costume Designer Erica Sterry.  Assistant Lighting Designer Celeste English.  Assistant Set Desginer Kimira Bhikum


Wednesday 19 June 2019

Shrew! is satirical sauce on a spaghetti Western motif of fun   
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Bard on the Beach resurrects a 2007 Western Ye-hah! version of one of Shakespeare's most controversial scripts, The Taming of the Shrew. Its goofy mix of cowpokes and Elizabethan English is self-satire all on its own. Then Director Lois Anderson takes a magnifying glass to his characters in a show she happily riddles with slapstick pratfall silliness. 

Here is a redux Plot quicky just to remind readers what it's about : Younger sister Bianca Minola is a hottie and the lust in many suitors' eyes. But older sister Katherine (Kate) is not yet married. So la madre Baptista rules Bianca off-limits until older sis ties the knot first. Enter Petruchio. He has dowry in mind. So he marries the feisty Kate who is what rodeo folk might call "hard twist" : a strong, no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-lip kind of free agent. The rest of the play tracks their marriage. "Mad herself, she's madly mated!" is how one character puts it.

Going "nose-to-nose" is what Petruchio (Andrew McNee) and Kate (Jennifer Lines) are all about in this re-make of the 2007 Miles Potter slapstick spaghetti rendition of Shrew now on show at Bard.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson
Billy Bard’s piece has enjoyed no end of controversy and disparagement. Its title starts it : the very concept of a wife being one who needs “taming” because she is a “shrew” was offensive 125 years back to a wee talent named George Bernard Shaw who huffed : "No man with any decency of feeling can sit [the final act] in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed," he said, naming the show "altogether disgusting to modern sensibility". A 20-something actress friend said nearly 100% the same words to me just last week. 

Others see it more benignly. Less a paternalistic screed that champions the "rule of thumb" for a beating switch and the old "wife-as-chattel" nonsense. Many consider the Shrew script more like a tongue-in-cheek joust. The kind Earl of Leicester enjoyed with his sassy lover Elizabeth I. But still, while being the friend-with-privileges in HRM's boudoir was playful good fun for Leicester, maybe overall Petruchio had it more better and less worse...?

Director Lois Anderson played Kate in the 2012 Bard version. So she knew what she was about in snatching the ever-effervescent Jennifer Lines to wrassle with the subtle deadpan of a Petruchio as delivered by Andrew McNee. Together they make whoopee more like Dunaway & Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde than the stylized waspish stings of Taylor & Burton in dearly-departed Frederico Zeffirelli’s 1967 Shrew.

Anderson plays with words ironically and joyfully : the cast points at Kate and yells out “Shrew! Shrew! Shrew!” at her with each sighting. And the variant “shrewd” is thrown in repeatedly as a staccato alt-term for Kate, too. Which of course she is as well : Petruchio only lasso’s her with a slip-knot in his rope. It is she who finally tackles & calf-ropes him by rodeo’s end. Or, more charitably, the two find that love can ultimately grip each of them. By the halter. Even as they constantly hustle to outmuscle one another in both word and deed.

Plenty of good cheer from the ensemble when it's time to hoist the Jack Daniels #7 to celebrate the consummation of Kate's corralling Petruchio in what promises to be a mad, long marriage.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Too large a cast to fairly single out performances, suffice to say both the familiar and not-so-familiar names below all were selected for the discrete talents they bring to their roles. Sort of like the Raptors basketball team -- a variety of skills in a whole-team effort oh-so-capably blended and maximized by Ms. Anderson and each of her support crew. 

Costumes by veteran Maria Gottler were choice : even in the top row I could smell both the Pinaud Clubman drift from the townspeople's fancy dress -plus- the mud-&-cowdung in Petruchio and Kate's horsey plains-drifter get-ups. 

Cory Sincenne's set worked in its variants as saloon scene and snooty parlour sequences, but maybe best in the campsite canvas and clothesline sketchy earthiness of the post-nuptial suite -- all dirt-&-stink-&-funk. Take a reception completely bereft of food and party favours or riotous raucous drunken debauchery. Ya-hoo! ain't this a grand and delirious memory to write home to la madre about, y'all?

No question, Billy Bard aficionados will find much to amuse and delight in this kick-off 30th year BotB celebratory show that continues to mock sensibility. Pure entertainment ever-so ebulliently delivered, it makes one laugh despite all of today's tut-tut finger-wags against its core 16th Century story-line.  

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the BMO main stage, Vanier Park. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 120-ish minutes with intermission. 

Cast of Characters :
Gazal Aarbad (Various one-down women). Scott Bellis (Gremio).  Kate Besworth (Bianca Minola). Andrew Cownden (Train conductor; pedant).  Victor Dolhai (Sheriff/Phillip).  Austin Eckhert (Cowboy; Pony Express rider).  Charlie Gallant (Cowboy; Bartender et al).  Ming Hudson (Biondella).  Jennifer Lines (Katherine [Kate] Minola).  Anton Lipovetsky (Hortensio; 'Lidio').  Susinn McFarlen (Le madre Baptista Minola).  Andrew McNee (Petruchio).  Paul Moniz de Sa (Mayor; Piano Player &c.).  Chirag Naik (Tranio; 'Vincentio').  Kamyar Pazendeh (Lucentio; 'Cambio'). Jason Sakaki (Priest; Cowboy etc.).  Joel Wirkkunen (Grumio).

Creative Production Crew :
Costume Designer Maria Gottler.  Set Designer Cory Sincennes.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Original Compositions (2007) Marc Desormeaux.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director / Choreographer Jonathan Hawley Purvis.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Apprentice Stage Manager Heather Barr.  Directing Apprentice Tai Amy Grauman.  Assistant Costume Designer Alaia Hamer.  Assistant Lighting Designer Celeste English.  Assistant Set Desginer Kimira BhikumN.B. from the program : "This production is inspired by Miles Potter's 2007 Shrew."


Wednesday 1 May 2019

The Great Leap : a USA basketball ballet that bounces thru Tiananmen Square 
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

The Tiananmen Square "slaughter of the innocents" ordered up by Chinese leader Li Peng in 1989 resulted in some 10,000 people or more -- mostly students -- being massacred, Wiki tells us. Thus to link that horror to a bit of buzz over a mere game of basketball -- a "friendly exhibition" game at that -- is a stretch, no question.

Until, that is, playwright Lauren Yee puts her deft hand to work on the script and then gives the show over to Meg Roe to design and deliver. 

The result on view at ACT's BMO stage in Olympic Village is as the header above calls it : "a basketball ballet". It's a seriocomic drama, a paean, really, to her dad's basketball fixation as she grew up in 'Frisco in the 90's. Mix those memories with a fanciful but believable tale of love, displacement and the tragedy of just being born in pre-modern China. Born in transit between times and cultures a world apart. 

Basketball-coach-protege Wen Chang a.k.a. "Sparky" (Jovanni Sy) poses with Connie (Agnes Tong), 3-point-master Manford Lum (Milton Lim) and the foul-mouthed University of San Fran coach Saul Slezak (Toby Berner) amidst the visual projections that hi-light this Meg Roe production.
Photo credit : David Cooper
A bunch of fun in the piece is centred on Coach Slezak, an emigrant divorced Bronx Jew with a lexicon of profanity to make even a San Fran sailor blush. He is all-male, all-basketball, 1/2-b.s.-artist and 1/2-doting father figure to his "boys". His Chinese-American superstar Manford Lum taunts him when they're in Beijing : "Fuck it, a guy who can't even talk to his own daughter -- and I'm family...?"

For his part, Manford ("rhymes with Stanford") is a hustler, lit. & fig. At 17 he hasn't even graduated from Galileo High in Oakland but he's relentless, relentless, relentless demanding a spot on the USF exhibition team. Turns out he has ulterior motives to want to go to China. All stemming from a reproduced 1971 Chronicle news photo showing Slezak shaking hands with greenhorn coach Wen Chang in China. 

Slezak had mentor'd Chang. Started instantly by nicknaming him "Sparky". One of their exchanges was absolutely priceless : the daunting driving Slezak is trying to coach Sparky on the fine art of trash-talk : "You have to get into their heads and fuck their shit up!" he says. An aghast Chang replies : "You mean you have to copulate on their feces...?"

A reproduced 1971 news pic of the two runs in 1989 next to an obit of Lum's mom who'd just died in Oakland. She was 6' 2" tall and loved playing hoop back in the day even more than Slezak. But never told son Manford. Still, her broken-English mantra to him was this : "Every game is a second chance to live your life all over again."  She loved the Warriors, sure, but her tricky ball-handler son was her all-time favourite player.

The coaches meet mid-court in 1971 and exchange handshakes and taunts : "A Chinese team will never beat a USA team..." Slezak asserts. Chinese coach Wen Chang tells him to never underestimate the power of people who survived Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" 3-year experiment from the early years in the 1960's and now suffer under the Communist leader Slezak calls "Deng Xiao-fucking-ping-pong-Ping". 
Photo credit : David Cooper
As the production photo immediately above shows, the magic of this piece is precisely that : its production. Its lights. Its soundscape. Its choreography. 

Doing research for the show, I came across the following description in TorontoNow by Kathleen Smith about a piece there a month ago called Revisor. Both TGL's director Roe and sound designer Alessandro Juliani were involved in this Crystal Pite / Jonathon Young dance-theatre hybrid  : 

"The physicality becomes intense and more reflective of internal struggles. Text remains, but is now all over the place as Owen BeltonAlessandro Juliani and Meg Roe’s aural design amplifies and distorts, the metre of the words becoming a beat that drives the movement. Single phrases are excised from the text and looped."

Quite so, too, in TGL. The John Webber lighting design and Chimerik director Sammy Chien's projections blended exquisitely with the soundscape. The imagined sequence of Lum's mom working out in a Chinese gym was a terrific mix of hip-hop electro-tom-tom with Tanya Tagak-style throat singing (Tagak's current duet with Buffy Ste. Marie "You Gotta Run" would have been priceless here.)

As for loops in this hoop story, dialogue from early in the show cycles back and pinches itself anew into the closing scenes. The final sequence with all four actors on the lit court as Manford does his version of a Steve Nash \ Steph Curry race for glory is pure treat to watch and hear and absorb.  First-rate performances by them all, but Toby Berner's Saul Slezak was no-doubt a front-of-the-line Jessie Award nominee performance.

Meanwhile, this : I could not help but hear echoes of the late North Carolina Tarheels basketball coach Jim Valvano ring in my ears watching TGL“To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think -- spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that's a heck of a day."

I had a heck of a day today during the final preview matinee performance of The Great Leap. If you go I can almost guarantee you will too.  

On at ACT's BMO stage on 1st Avenue. Runs until May 19, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or www.artsclub.comShow-time 120 minutes, one intermission.

Creative  team :  Director Meg Roe.  Set Designer Heipo C. H. Leung.  Costume Designer Stephanie Kong.  Sound Designer Alessandro Juliani.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Projection Design by Chimerik : Projection Design Director Sammy Chen.  Art Director Shang-Han Chien.  Assistant Projection Designer Andie Lloyd. Assistant Graphic Artist Ivan So.  Movement Coach Agnes Tong. Stage Manager Caryn Fehr. Assistant Stage Manager Geoff Jones. Assistant Director & Cultural Creative Consultant Jasmine Chen. 

Starring :  Toby Berner (Saul Slezak). Milton Lim (Manford Lum). Jovanni Si (Wen Chang - "Sparky").  Agnes Tong (Connie).  

Saturday 13 April 2019

Richard III is no prettier a villain today than back then
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

The women of Shakespeare have often been backlit. Their parts written as if looking out a window into the direct sun. His men, meanwhile, all seem to bask under spots and fresnels in sharp relief.

Not so in Camyar Chai's self-named "allegory" out-take on WS's Richard III. Chai (wrongly) names his piece King Richard and His Women.  It should by rights be called The Women of King Richard : because it's they who utterly dominate Chau's scripted re-write of The Bill's original.

One of the bard's early and longest scripts, imagine Richard III distilled down from its original 50+ cast to but five. Also reduced from probably three hours-and-more to just 65 minutes. Sixty-five minutes of hisses & spits shot forth venomously, unremittingly. In cascades.

Ex-queen Elizabeth (Leanna Brodie), ex-Queen Margaret (Linda Quibell) and Richard's mother The Duchess (Sandra Ferens) all call out Richard III for the dastardly coward and family-killer he was.
Photo credit Seven Tyrants Productions

Never having read or seen Richard III, its battles between the English houses of York and Lancaster in the mid-15th Century were a challenge to follow at times. Two queens, Margaret and Elizabeth (not Good Queen Bess, but another, a century earlier, by marriage). Richard's mom The Duchess. His wife, sort of, Lady Anne. 

The connections are all too subtle to explain. But suffice to say Richard was a scheming, conniving, betimes charming -- but mostly cynical -- power-hungry thief. Like certain others in the current realm, dignity, integrity, honesty were far-flung concepts. Which is why Mr. Chai stitched all this together to begin with.

Two quotes sum it up. When attempting to call him out on his various murders, his mother The Duchess and he exchange thus :

D : Oh, let me speak.

R : Do then, but I'll not hear...

D : Thou came'st on earth to make the earth my hell.  A grievous burden was thy birth to me : Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy; Thy school-days frightful, desperate, wild, and furious...Thy prime of manhood daring, bold and venturous; Thy age confirm'd, proud, subtle, sly, and bloody, More mild, but yet more harmful-kind in hatred. What comfortable hour canst thou name That ever graced me with thy company?

Death impending, Richard, as if bi-polar, laments :

Richard loves Richard : that is, I am I.  Is there a murderer here? No -- yes, I am. Then fly. What, from myself?  Great reason why -- Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself.

King Richard 
is cleverly-wrought and acted in exemplary fashion by each in their role. Not sure the strip-to-naked killing scene that ends it all -- somewhat mechanically done, as if collecting laundry for the weekly wash -- not sure it was dramatically necessary, but it is what it is.

A woman beside me wept openly at show's end. I know not why but doubt not her pain from whatever source. As always, Seven Tyrants produces a powerful script. To single out indivudul actors for excellence here would be unfair to the others as well as redundant. Except perhaps to remark how consistently Daniel Deorksen carried off Richard's deformity by hoisting his right shoulder, constantly. My rotator cuff strain ached mightily in sympathy and honour. 

Suffice to say each and every actor on stage looked utterly drained & exhausted & spent after Saturday's matinee. This is rife stuff for Shakespeare aficionados (and English monarch history buffs). You will have a weary ride home as you contemplate all the misery you have just seen acted out so compellingly by the cast. 

Particulars : Script by Bill Shakespeare, as adapted by Camyar Chai.  Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre.  At the Tyrants Studio stage, top floor, The Penthouse Club on Seymour @ Nelson. On until April 19, 2019.  Run-time 65 minutes, no intermission.  Tickets & schedule information @ Tyrants

Production team :  Director Camyar Chai.  Lighting Designer David Thomas Newham.  Sound & Music Designer Daniel Deorksen.  Stage Manager Victoria Snashall. Publicist Marnie Wilson.  Front of House Manager Cobra Ramone.

Performers :  Leanna Brodie is “Elizabeth”, Ghislaine Dote is “Anne”, Sandra Ferens is “The Duchess” and Linda Quibell is “Margaret”. 7-Tyrants co-founder Daniel Deorksen is “King Richard”.