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”. 


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Glory makes magic out of Depression women's hockey
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)

In the hands of Canadian theatre wunderkind Tracey Power, the show Glory is a wizard concoction where Hayley Wickenheiser channels Billy Elliot and the crowd cheers and dances in delight !

It is a bio-pic snapshot of the 1930's semi-professional women's hockey team the Preston Rivulettes. Their town, near Waterloo, is where the Speed and the Grand rivers converge. Fittingly. 

Because speed and grand are what Power and director James MacDonald draw compellingly out of their five member team. Four hockey ruffians who happen to menstruate are led by an irascible 40-something coach whose formative years were spent in a WWI German-Canadian internment camp in Kapukasing.

He is now the local rinkmeister at the Lowther Street Arena in Preston. He floods and freezes the sheet and sets the local teams' practice times. Just a cover for his wistful dreams about the Cyclone Taylor superstar he never became despite some early promise.

The Grrrlllls! for their part start out as a clutch of summertime teen-age baseball buds : the Ranscombe sisters Hilda and Nellie and the Schmuck sisters Helen and Marm. Hilda is chief jock here. A bit dyslexic, she stays away from work in retail where she fears her trouble with numbers may deep-6 her. 

But ice skate she has since a tot. She's a whiz. She convinces her buds to find winter divertissement for themselves by forming a hockey team to compete in the Ontario women's league.

Coach Herb Fach  tries to let his team down gently about future Olympic greatness that surely would be theirs but for the wee detail of World War II killing that dream. 
Photo credit Chiknskratch Productions
And compete they do. A few hundred league victories plus provincial and national championships in seven short years along with the predictable broken teeth, black eyes, busted pride and side-stepped dreams all trip across their path along the way to the Canadian history books.

As an immigrant Canadian from NFL country, hockey has always been a "new" gig for me, even 50 years on. But I could watch over-&-over the Power-MacDonald choreography of hockey-dance -- with its ritual ceremonies of skate, stickhandle, pass, shoot \ backhand, wrist, snap and slap! -- with no dialogue or background sound whatever. Like Sports Centre on mute. No question -- could watch again-&-again-&-again and be magnetized-&-mesmerized each and every time. 

Because the "routines" stepped-out by the four women on stage are a wonderful mix of stop-action hockey shots and blocks done in sync with au courant ballet moves. No real skates, just lace-up boots feigning a life as skates. No ice, just a lit dance surface whose chill you can almost feel.

Most effective of all, perhaps, was the near military-precision and constancy of the faux skate-stops each player pulled off each time they came to a halt or skipped off-ice. Brilliant ! in conception and execution both. 

Victory over the Toronto Ladies (sic) after defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Rustlers some years back brings on hope for Olympic glories that would not happen until the 1990's and Hayley Wickenheiser's reign. 
Photo credit Chiknskratch Productions

Tough times -- the Depression and Hitler both;  all the customary discrimination against this "bunch of dolls" told by Coach Fach to "Man up!";  troubles trying to hustle up money to travel to tourneys across the land. 

Power includes a chunk of social commentary in her script. "Welcome all, except dogs and Jews!" a sign declares outside one arena. A Mackenzie King immigration officer at the time the MS St. Louis with its 900 Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler was heard to remark after being denied a berth in Halifax harbour : "Even one is too many." 

Women's suppression under patriarchal tradition is given plenty of resentful air-time. "I'm unfit to play hockey," the commentators claim, "not because of my talent but because of my vagina!" 

But in the end -- despite being one-down or two-down -- these women and their 2019 actors nevertheless bring the full force of the "new feminism" to the fore honestly and forthrightly -- not just pay it lip service the way the political sycophants-&-cynics then-&-now so delight to do.

Probably not enough can be said about the Narda McCarroll set and lighting design. The hockey rink boards cum kitchen back walls and funky locker rooms worked very slick at the hands of the actors who flipped them to-&-fro. The metal-shaded incandescent dropsy-lights were trick. 

And so while the denouement of Act 2 perhaps dragged a bit, in all this is a dance delight about hockey whose images will stick with me for years to come, lit.& fig. I'd go see Glory two or three times more and no doubt be breathless after each sighting -- that's how fresh and clever in conception and delivery it truly is. Not too many periods left in this team's season : grab your seats now!

Particulars : Script by Tracey Power. Produced by Western Canada Theatre / Alberta Theatre Projects. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until April 13, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 140 minutes including intermission.

Production team :  Director James MacDonald.  Choreographer Tracey Power. Set  Lighting Designer Nada McCarroll. Costume Designer Cindy WiebeComposer and Sound Designer Steve Charles. Stage Manager Jan Hodgson.  Assistant Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan.  Tour Technical Director Liam Befurt.

Performers :  Kate Deon-Richard (Helen Schwartz). Katie Ryerson (Hilda Ranscombe). Advah Soudak (Margaret [Marm] Schwartz).  Andrew Wheeler (Herb Fach). Morgan Yamada (Nellie Ranscombe).


Thursday, 4 April 2019

Tashme : The Living Archives tells another sad tale of racism & repression
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)

Tashme. The name sounds, vaguely, as if it could be Japanese. And though I taught high school social studies 50 years back in Surrey, never once did I even hear of it. What is now Sunshine Valley RV Park just east of the Hope Slide was a Japanese-Canadian war internment camp from 1942 - 1946. Tashme housed nearly 2,700 souls who had been forcibly uprooted from their home communities around B.C. and herded there. They were officially called "enemy aliens" under the War Measures Act. Even if they were Nisei -- second generation Canadians of Japanese heritage.

Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa pore over a Nisei journal from one of the 2,700 Japanese-Canadian detainees in Tashme, the internment camp just east of Hope, literally and figuratively. Ottawa created a 100-mile on-shore protectorate after Pearl Harbor, and Tashme was as close to Vancouver as these "alien enemies" were permitted. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Creators and actors Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa are offspring of Tashme detainees. Their two-hander is a loving memory play -- a verbatim documentary that attempts to be what its subtitle suggests : "The Living Archives" of this time and place so its memory does not fade forever from us. 
The script is culled from more than 70 hours of interviews with 20 Nisei from across the land. They act it out through the voices and stories of these elders : their memories as kids in Tashme; what detention looked and sounded and smelled and felt like; what life was like after war's end and the Tashme people's next diaspora to the Prairies and Toronto. That occurred as a result of the efforts of a certain Ian Mackenzie, federal Minister of Pensions, who proudly announced his post-war slogan and diktat : "No Japs from the Rockies to the seas." [sic]

The James Lavoie set and George Allister projections render the memories a mix of f.1.4 intimacy and blurred detail from the times spent at Tashme and after for Japanese-Canadians during World War II. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Albeit a somewhat sullied expression these days, "truth and reconciliation" are always admirable goals -- whether among siblings, spouses, or society's various races and strata. And because truths are elusive and personal, what better way to approach them among Nisei than in sharing stories around a kitchen table made by Julie's grandpa. Backed up by simple opaque screens upon which images of people and sites at Tashme are flashed, including the shot immediately below:

A farm truck loaded with "dispersed" Japanese-Canadians freshly released from the cattle barns at Hastings Park PNE grounds in Vancouver arrives in Tashme. 
Photo credit UBC Archives / Wikipedia

The script put together by Manning and Miwa is a rainbow of colours, of intensities, of emotional hues. Indeed, what strikes the viewer perhaps most of all is the stoicism of most of the Nisei when remembering all the thunderclouds from those days. In Japanese the expression is Shikata ga nai, meaning "it cannot be helped". 

One would expect, probably, considerable anger at the whites, the Haku-jin, who subjected their fellow citizens to these indignities. Whites who wrested all men from 18-45 from their families and sent them out to build BC's highways as gang labour, such as one of myriad Yellowhead Highway crews pictured below put together from the 21,000 individuals chased away from the Pacific shores. 

Photo credit : Wikipedia, original source unknown
Bitterness writ large from some -- a grandpa who sizzled angrily about a teacher in Toronto calling him and a buddy "Japs". But others remembered folks in BC's Slocan valley -- where eco-hero David Suzuki and his family were sent -- talking about how "the Japs planted that tree" : but their memories now claiming the Haku-jin said it "not in a derogatory way, just normal talk from them."

Even the creators / interviewers Manning and Miwa came away somewhat bemused and in wonder : "I'm shocked by all the things they told us but never asked us to ask them : who are we to them after all?"

This show is a prime example of how powerful oral history can be when dialogue is stitched together to tell a tale from numerous elders' perspectives and memories. How some remember the fun and play they enjoyed as kids just being kids at Tashme, the breathtaking beauty of the Coastal mountain range whose sparkling rivers the Skagit and the Fraser are the flowing parentheses that bracket it all. Others recall more the hardships, the ice on the floor of their shacks in winter, the wrenching separation from their families, the wanton theft of their homes and fishboats and cars and artworks, the burning of their kids' toys. 

Both actors emote forcefully and faithfully. Mr. Miwa works hard to re-create the broken cadences of Nisei English from the crippled old men he was interviewing. Ms. Manning provides most of the show's warmth and comedy and forgiving sentiments. He perhaps represents the harder "truth" of the time, while she the one more "reconciled" to the Shikata ga nai impulse.

Fittingly, the West Coast premiere of the show takes place in Vancouver's former Japanese neighbourhood. Just up the block on Alexandra Street the Japanese Hall last year celebrated its 90th anniversary. The Firehall Theatre itself was Vancouver's original fire house from 1906 and also witnessed all this history first-hand. 

Across from Oppenheimer Park in what used to be called "Little Tokyo", Tamura House pictured below has been restored and renovated and is now run by the Lookout Society to provide housing for people in challenged personal and social circumstances.

People with a yearning to fill in some important gaps in their knowledge of where this country is -- and where it has come from -- will find the experience richly rewarding through the many poignant insights it brings to life.

On at the Firehall Arts Centre, Cordova at Gore in DTES. On until April 13, 2019. Schedule and ticket information via phone @ 604.689.0926 or at the internet site
Creation & Performance by:  Julie Tamiko Manning & Matt Miwa
Direction by:  Mike Payette
Video Design by:  George Allister
Sound Design by:  Patrick Andrew Boivin
Head LX:  Jon Cleveland
Technical Direction by:  Tristynn Duheme
Stage Management by:  Isabel Quintero Faia
Movement Dramaturgy by:  Rebecca Harper
Set & Costume Design by:  James Lavoie
Assistant Set & Costume Design:  Laurence Mongeau
Lighting Design:  David Perreault Ninacs

Addenda : From Ann Sunahara's The Politics of Racism : the Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, Toronto, J. Larimer, (1981) as reported by Wiki :

On January 14, 1942, the federal government passed an order calling for the removal of male Japanese nationals between 18 to 45 years of age from a designated protected area of 100 miles inland from the British Columbia coast. The federal government also enacted a ban against Japanese-Canadian fishing during the war, impounded 1,200 fishing vessels, banned short-wave radios, and controlled the sale of gasoline and dynamite to Japanese-Canadians. 

From a September 24, 1988 interview in the Toronto Star with Ken Adachi as reported by Wiki :

"Born in Canada, brought up on big-band jazz, Fred Astaire and the novels of Henry Rider Haggard, I had perceived myself to be as Canadian as the beaver. I hated rice. I had committed no crime. I was never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Yet I was fingerprinted and interned."

Tashme, the name : Not of Japanese origin in the least. Originally the B.C. Securities Commission wanted to name the internment camp "Hope Mile 14 Ranch", but the Royal Mail bureaucracy for some reason would have none of it (despite having approved "100 Mile House" in the Cariboo and "Six Mile Ranch" on Kamloops Lake). So BCSC members Austin Taylor (Vancouver businessman), John Shirra (B.C. Provincial Police) and Fred John Mead (RCMP) took the first two letters of each of their surnames and created "Tashme" -- as reported on the Tashme website.

Tamura House at Powell and Dunlevy was a "Little Tokyo" rooming house fully restored that Lookout
Society now provides homes for the hard-to-house folks in Vancouver's Downton East Side. 

Photo credit : Merrick & Merrick Architects


Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Orchard seeks to reconcile B.C. racial history with politics and the marketplace
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)

Ambitious. That is the salient, compelling quality behind Sarena Parmar’s script The Orchard (After Chekhov). With a panoply of characters as diverse as OK's countless fruits, Parmar harvests decades of Canadian immigrant history to tell her tale. 

Timely, it's another cut at Eurocentric patriarchy, greed, eco-villainy, racism -- but also good intentions that sometimes will only rot on the vine.

The scene is set in the OK Valley of B.C. around the time of Premier Dave Barrett’s Agricultural Land Freeze. A 3rd generation of the Basran family is struggling to make their hardscrabble orchard turn a decent profit for once. Its modest yield of cherries and peaches are dependent on bees and Spring blossoms -- which are currently frost-bitten. 

Eldest daughter Loveleen (Laara Sadiq) has just returned from a five year escapist junket back to India after the drowning death of her 7-year-old son Griesha and her husband's passing shortly thereafter. She abandoned 12-year-old daughter Annie (Risha Nanda) to be fetched up by brother Gurjit (Munish Sharma) and cousin Barminder (Adele Noronha) plus her dad, Baba-ji (Parm Soor).

Sister Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) returns from self-sought exile in India after five years to mediate between brother Gus (Munish Sharma) who is a die-hard dirt farmer and childhood chum Michael (Andrew Cownden) who's become a wealthy if shady land speculator in the Okanagan Valley. 
Photo credit David Cooper
Now she's returned after daughter chased her down in Mumbai. She'd been shacked up with a Russian hustler who since has taken sick. Now from him she escapes, too, trying to make sense of her world(s), her gods, her karma.

The stage is a ginormous OK farmhouse (Marshall McMahen, set designer) where everyone seems to have a room, and all the rooms have ghosts after 50 years of Basran blood, sweat and tears. Enter a childhood chum, Michael (Andrew Cownden), a nerdy overachiever.

Michael hustles real estate and has googly eyes plus a puffy red face. He slavers over Loveleen, urging her to convert the orchard into an RV park, ALR be damned. Fruit farming is poor business, he argues. His big worry is that the Pandosy brothers will snatch up the land if it goes to auction in four months — which it will if the Basrans have a krappy harvest and must forfeit title to the bank.

Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) is close to her cousin Bartender (Adele Noronha) who is the family's true grit -- chief homemaker as well as mentor for Loveleen's daughter Annie. Loveleen for her part is happier in silks than denims and that drives her to make sketchy and dubious choices on behalf of the family. 
Photo credit David Cooper

There is, of course, a waft of inevitability that blows through the house this breezy Spring. Loveleen has come home to run the farm business but she's enjoying socializing with friends and parading about in her glittery lehengas and saris.

Other alienated outsiders playwright Parmar pops into view : an indigenous rodeo cowgirl named Charlie (Andrea Menard), a Japanese gofer named Yebi (Kai Bradbury) who's all thumbs and klutz plus his sister? cousin? friend? Donna (Yoshie Bancroft) who is trying to suppress her history and dress up like Little Orphan Annie. She spends most of her time flirting with boy toy Yash (Praneet Akilla) whom Loveleen brought back from India. Best character bit of all is aging longtime farmer friend Paul : Tom McBeath's narcoleptic turn in omnipresent bib overalls is pure delight.  

As noted up top, this is ambitious drama that tries to give outsiders a glimpse of what challenges non-whites faced both before and after Trudeau pere cranked open the country's immigration flood-gates back in the 70's. Are Loveleen's roots truly back in India after all? Is love of dirt enough to hold a family together when filthy lucre looms ever larger on the OK real estate horizon? Nadeem Phillip as the communist dreamer poet aching to take everyone back to the "new world" of modern India focuses the issues at play with f 1.4 acuity.

The Orchard is Chekhovian for certain in its detailing of life's characters and in stitching together the intricate interconnected webs that come with them. Playwright Parmar will no doubt have many more stories to tell us. 

Despite her 13 characters on stage, meanwhile, most of the audience at the final preview performance Wednesday afternoon found the script demanded a tighter, more intimate room : horseshoe staging at the BMO a la the Onegin show would have worked better. As well, probably 15-20 minutes of staging and dialogue could be cut, particularly in the painful partings brought on in the closing scenes. 

Those reservations aside, some of Vancouver's best South Asian acting talent populates this performance. Each delivers their characters' idiosyncrasies with energy and insight. As a somewhat-too-long trip down memory lane, The Orchard is nevertheless filled with empathy and intuition that touch the heart. Its set and lights and soundscape enhance the show's moods richly.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  On until April 21, 2019.  Run-time 130 minutes including intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Jovanni Sy (Director), Marshall McMahen (Set Designer), Barbara Clayden (Costume Designer), Sophie Tang (Lighting Designer), Joelysa Pankanea (Sound Designer), Angela Beaulieu (Stage Manager), Peter Jotkus (Assistant Stage Manager), Gavan Cheema (Assistant Director & Cultural Creative Consultant), Stephanie Wong (Assistant Set Designer), June Fukumura (Japanese Dialect Coach), Danny Virtue (Lasso Coach), Guillermo Verdecchia(Dramaturg), Gurpreet Chana (Punjabi Translator), Aya Ogawa (Japanese Translator)

Performers :  Praneet Akillia (Yash), Yoshié Bancroft (Donna/Boy), Kai Bradbury (Yebi), Andrew Cownden (Michael), Tom McBeath (Paul), Andrea Menard (Charlie), Risha Nanda (Annie), Adele Noronha (Barminder), Nadeem Phillip (Peter),Laara Sadiq (Loveleen), Munish Sharma (Gurjit), Parm Soor (Baba-ji Kesur)

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Gross Misconduct is an apt descriptor of men's sexual predator tendencies

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)

Not everyone buys in to the feminist assertion that the West, particularly, is a "rape culture". Or that the heart of our troubles is a "patriarchal" system of men always on top, women beneath. Or believes the glib metric that men think of sex once every seven seconds.

Meghan Gardiner's script Gross Misconduct lays these precepts down as the sine qua non starting point for her taut and timely take on what she calls sexual assault. ("Assault" implies physical attack : assault can, however, be but a look, a whistle, a snort.) Her plot line is contrived and coincidental. Almost closing in on a kind of cognitive coercion. Still, the play qua play is brilliant in its impact. Its character(s). Its staging & blocking. Its themes.

Set in Canada's most notorious max. security prison -- Millhaven -- it ravels the lives and tales of seven people, only four of whom are on stage. Two rapes in "polite society" bring the four stage folk together. Then there are the acts of sexual assault and rape inside Millhaven. Then two revenge murders, each by plastic toothbrush, just to round it all out.   

The biggest victim of all is not the murdered rapist or his murderer, but rape victim Abigail / "Shorty" (Sereana Malani) whose PTSD from the summertime Halliburton Beach attack by her "Crush" Kevin has scarred her for life. 
Photo credit David Cooper

The staging is a style too seldom seen. Actual full-on theatre-in-the-round : not a horseshoe arrangement, not Havana Theatre bleacher intimacy inches from the stage -- no, a boxing ring -- this time a prison cell, smack dab in the centre of Gateway's Studio B blackbox room surrounded on every side by viewers. As blocked by Director Kayvon Khoshkam, the play pierces the fourth wall continually. Particularly rape victim Abby (Sereana Malani).

She circles and cycles and surrounds the centre stage prison cell continuously. Even plunked herself down next to this reviewer and handed me her empty 16 oz. Coors Light can. By play's end her agony and the echo of the No! No! No! No! she yelled dozens of times as she is being raped envelop both brain and heart. She induces an empathy unimaginable were this staged on a typical proscenium deck. When she describes how ten years later she can remember "every bit of sweat that landed in my eye, my ear, on my hair", the impact is breathtakingly chilling and sad. 

Speaking to her unseen brother, prisoner John (Ian Butcher) with whom she has a spiritual relationship, she shrieks the true essence of her pain when referring to her rapist : "He became a victim, you became a hero, and I just disappeared!" 

The two other main characters are Gareth (Scott Bellis) as the scarred and sorry prison guard and wannabe warden -- enabler of sexual coercion in Millhaven's exercise yard. Not surprisingly he is a predator himself of all the vulnerable needy newbie young prisoners who come into his grip. He variously calls them goldfish, guppy, tadpole, puffer fish, little clamshell, angel fish, flounder. Chief flounder in the piece is Corey (Mike Gill), an Ivy League smart-mouth who is an accused child rapist. His dad -- whom he says he hates -- is nevertheless a wealthy and powerful fixer who will get him set free, he thinks. Spring him loose, maybe, but never again to be "free". 

Lifer John [Ian Butcher] has been given a "celly" [cell-mate] after years of isolation. Young Corey [Mike Gill] is a chippy Ivy Leaguer who lips off the guard Gareth [Scott Bellis] and seemingly "begs" for physical retaliation from his sadistic sexual tormentor guard. 
Photo credit David Cooperl
This is first-rate drama. Playwright Gardiner, herself a victim of sexual assault, lays out her aim clearly : "Calling sexual assault a woman's issue has taken the responsibility right off of men's shoulders." For his part, Artistic Director of SpeakEasy Theatre Kayvon Khoshkam said this resulting from his directing the play : "We are unlearning. For many men it is the environment we grew up in, the culture that encouraged us, and the media that built our perceptions of manhood."

Only four characters, this is perhaps the tightest casting and individual stage performance I have witnessed so far this year. Agnes Opel's valedictory song "Familiar" strikes up as lights snap off : "This love is gonna be the death of me... / We took a walk to the summit at night, you and I / To burn a hole in the old grip of the familiar true to life."  Burn a hole indeed -- this script, this performance, these actors together do it all with searing, blistering, incandescent insight. I would go again with nary a blink of hesitation.

Particulars :  Produced by SpeakEasy Theatre, Kayvon Khoshkam, Artistic Director. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until March 23, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 80 compelling minutes, no intermission.

Production team :  Director Kayvon Khoshkam.  Producer & Set Designer Markian Tarasiuk. Costume Designer & Stage Manager Victoria Snashall.  Lighting Designer Jillian White.

Performers :  Scott Bellis (Gareth). Ian Butcher (Deke /John). Mike Gill (Corey).  Serena Malani (Abby / Shortie).