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 a revenge murder 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). 

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Hot Brown Honey is a hip-hop pitch to pump up the world's matriarchs 
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)

Start with six women of colour from various offshore indigenous cultures -- Oz, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian and South African. Dress them up in burlesque mode and get them to strut their stuff vaudeville-style. All to an omnipresent pounding hip-hop back beat. What better combination to capture sexism, racism, and patriarchal repression than a theatrical format with a title that is both self-descriptive and self-satire : hot, brown, honey's.

The Hot Brown Honey troupe is nothing if not a cheeky look at aboriginal women's power with tongues hissing forth sarcastic barbs even as they bury themselves deep in the actors' cheeks at the same time.
Photo credit Chrissie Hall

The brainchild of Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafi, HBH uses a giant honeycomb of whirring, whizzing coloured lights to help pound out a show that is at once dance hall delirious and town hall serious in its intent. If you can't hustle folks with ear-crashing song-&-dance, you'll never seduce their brains to reflect honestly on their oppressive privilege, HBH suggests. "Make some noise!" Queen Bee Beatz repeatedly cajoles the crowd from her perch as cheer squad coach and pontificator from on high. 

Wiki tells us "hivemind" is shared or swarm intelligence, a kind of collective consciousness. Bowers liked linking the concept of matriarchal wisdom and order via the honeycomb stage set but at the same time get the place buzzing by doing burlesque, doing circus, doing a tonne of hip-hop kramping. 

Taken together the aim is to tickle and sting both the ego and the conscience of the ticket-buyers. "It's all about decolonization -- from structural oppression, racism, stereotpyes and micro-agressions that follow us -- that, and moisturizing -- because self-care is key," a winking Bowers told The Courier two years back. (The silver confetti bits to signal orgasms were just choice.)

Sexy is as sexy does, but, um, "Don't touch my hair!" the women cry out in a vaudeville revue format. 
Photo credit Dylan Evans
Lots of historical send-up at play here, starting with a feathery circular strip-tease sequence (old wax 33 1/3 LP's hold the feathers together). But costumes are soon flung off and the cast all pop out in maids' clothes as Beatz intones : "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete. You are not the maid!" she shouts at each of them, one-by-one : "You, we! are the new matriarchs -- matriarchs-in-the-making!" is the reigning refrain.

The audience is quickly brought into play through traditional call-&-response : "When I say Rise! you say Up! When I say Stand! you say Up! When I say Wake! you say Up!" Indeed, for viewers of every age and gender, to be woke is the primary goal the script drives at. 

Co-writer / director / designer Lisa Fa'alafi is chief choreographer of the troupe and uses her mischievous eyes to beguile and tease : "You can't have a revolution without child care!" she says, promising her phantom babysitters she'll be home soon. Later she does a wild woman dance with tropical fronds that she refers to as a tribute to "dusky maiden phantasies". The crowd cheered their acclaim at her trad goddess schtick.

But it was performer Crystal Stacey who truly wow'd the house. First with her take-off on an Oz tourist in Bali in a flag bikini who chugs 2 L. plastic jugs of sugary all-inclusive booze. Five, six, seven hula hoops she flings and twirls about symmetrically to the whoops of delight from the audience. There's a parallel to the Harlem Globetrotters here, not sure we're to laugh at or with or in spite of.

Later she does a Cirque du Soleil soliloquy on silk ropes depicting a rape scene. The backdrop is a 9-1-1 dispatcher trying to figure out why she can't answer his blueprint of scripted questions. A breathtaking, teary sequence whose length and power never let us loose. 

Ever heard of a "beatboxer"? Hope Haami has some moments of sheer inventiveness as she makes rhythmic beats with her mouth that are imperative and commanding. (She and Inuit throat singer Janet Aglukkaq could do beautiful music together -- even better if the ageless Buffy Ste. Marie were along to tunesmith their percussion.)

Who gonna like all this, you ask? A septuagenarian friend always open to change and new cultural experiences chimed at show's end : "This is aimed at the over-16, under-40 crowd...!" It certainly targets the "Make some noise!" fans who crowd into DJ clubs and scream themselves hoarse into the wee hours making small talk. 

Can change come from 75 minutes of sarcastic shout-outs played against deafening hip-hop drumbeats ? The show ends by quoting feminist elder Audre Lorde, a matron saint of matriarchs. She famously said "We are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't."  Hot Brown Honey is a roomful of noise that wants to prove that Lorde's time has come.

Particulars : Presented by The Cultch in collaboration with Australia's Briefs Factory theatre in partnership with Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafiProduced at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive. On until March 30, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.251.1363 or hit The CultchRun-time 75 minutes, no intermission or respite.

Production team :  Director Lisa Fa'alafi. Musical Direction Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers.  Production Design / Costume Design Lisa Fa'alafiOriginal Composition & Sound Design Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers. Choreography Lisa Fa'alafi.  Additional Choreography in 'The Privilege Test' by Samantha Williams. Lighting Designer Paul Lim.  Set Designer Tristan Shelly.  Graffiti Art Libby Harward a.k.a. Mz. Murray Cod.  Technical Manager Jake JoblingCompany Manager Colleen Sutherland. 

Performers :  Lisa Fa'alafi (The Game Changer).  Ofa Fotu (The Myth Slayer). Hope Haami (The Beat Boxer).  Elena Wangurra (The Truth Sayer). Crystal Stacey (The Peace Maker). Busty Beatz (The Queen Bee). 

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Redpatch = dance, poetry, native legend in WWI fatigues
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)

One doesn't expect magic to be sad & melancholy. But such is Redpatch. Its final preview performance this afternoon left us almost breathless with marvel and hope and wonder at the unique slice of Canadiana from WWI that is on show.

Told through an indigenous perspective (Indian; first nation; aboriginal; native) by a character named Half-Blood, it portrays Canada's contributions in Europe during The Great War. And does so through dance and poetry and native legend that are brought to life through constant hazer smoke, tom-toms and criss-crossing spotlights on the intimate BMO stage. Together it all dazzles and sparks with ingenious impact.

The play is wrought by Hardline Productions, ACT's first-ever resident theatre company for the season. Its principals, Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver, evolved their performance art / play script across a half-dozen years : Calvert is the lead -- Rock Head, as his Nana lovingly calls him -- while Oliver is the show's director.

Co-creator and lead, Raes Calvert as Half-Blood / Rock Head is surrounded by gas masks that serve dual purpose as native ceremonial masques to celebrate the role indigenous Canadians made to the WWI war effort..  
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

The all-indigenous cast of six play not just native persona but also soldiers having French Canadian, Anglo, and Scots-Irish roots. The playwrights openly acknowledged during talkback the debt they owe to Joseph Boyden's first novel Three Day Road for the show's inspiration.  

Fact is championing the contributions of the indigenous warriors is foremost in their minds : "By the end of The Great War, many First Nations soldiers had achieved near-legendary status as scouts, trench-raiders, and snipers, drawing on their pre-wartime experience in hunting and wilderness survival," Hardline's show notes tell us. Some 4,000 of their brethren joined up and faced the same kinds of discrimination that remain at play today given the myriad unresolved issues still quite alive between Canada's 630 bands vis-a-vis ROK [rest of Kanata]. 

The intrigue of this play about war's horrors occurs on many levels. The best bit is the recurring flashbacks between Half-Blood and his Naniqsu or grandma (Odessa Shuquaya). She tells him time and again about the legend of the blackfish Kaka'win who is harpoon-hunted by a young man who wants to become a warrior. 

When Kaka'win drags hunter under water until he nearly drowns, the raven Qu?usin tells him he must "Let go!" to be free and find his true self.  To become the warrior within he must first be a mensch.  Ms. Shuquaya does repeated swoops and turns as Qu?usin the raven, while the rest of the troupe are often an accompanying murder of crows.

 Half Blood \ Rock Head (Raes Calvert) is comforted by his nana Naniqsu (Odessa Shuquaya) when he returns from Vimy Ridge suffering serious neurasthenia -- shellshock -- from months as a No Man's Land hunter and killer of German youth who were also dragged into the trench horrors of World War I. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

That legend underscores the whole show. From there it is the interplay of the ballet / choreography; the omnipresent drumming; the hazer smoke; the costuming; the lights; the movable rocks; the rifle props; the masques; and last but not least the acting of each cast member -- all of these elements are central to a performance that is mesmerizing.

Many Vancouver shows are noteworthy and exciting and memorable and what one is sure to mention to one's friends. This is performance art that transcends that norm by a significant margin. This show should somehow be mandatory viewing for every secondary school every November 11th every year. It is truth, it is reconciliation, it is simply stunning. 

The ensemble cast of Redpatch goes through its paces in one of myriad dance sequences depicting the chlorine and mustard gas attacks of the World War i European "theatre" as that ironic expression has it. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

Particulars : Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre -and- Edmonton's Citadel Theatre with theatre-in-residence Hardline Productions. On at ACT's BMO stage on 1st Avenue. Runs until March 31, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or www.artsclub.comShow-time 86 minutes, no intermission.

Creative  team :  Director Sean Harris Oliver.  Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier.  Sound Designer Mary Jane Paquette.  Lighting Designer Brad Trenaman.  Masque Designer Jenn Stewart.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson. Assistant Stage Manager Anthony Liam Kearns. Assistant Director Genevieve Fleming.  Associate Sound Designer Owen Hutchinson. 

Starring :  Raes Calvert (Half-Blood / Rock Head). Jenny Daigle (Bam-Bam). Taran Kootenhayoo (Howard Thomas).  Joel Montgrand (Jonathon).  Chelsea Rose (Dickie). Odessa Shuquaya (She Rides Between / Raven / Sgt. MacGuinty).


Saturday, 23 February 2019

Children of God is a triumph of dramatic ceremony
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 current news and controversy surrounding hereditary Kwakwaka-wakw MP Jody Wilson-Raybould has once more catapulted indigenous (Indian; first nation; aboriginal; native) issues onto the national stage. As did Gord Downie's 2016 concept album "Secret Path" about residential school runaway 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack.  In October 1966 he died from exposure and malnutrition while trying desperately to trek the 600 kms. from his Kenora "prison" back to the family's Ojibwe home on a reserve in north central Ontario.

Try to imagine blending such tales as Chanie's into a musical. Telling stories of the horrors and abuses and the traumas of the residential school system that for 150 years tried to colonialize and assimilate this country's native school children. The whippings. Water hosing. Rapes. Abortions. Suicides. 

Corey Payette's dramatic and powerful music script is an attempt to seek rapprochement and entente from this tragic chapter in Canada's history. But not, importantly, just by reaching out to the country's white churches to flagellate themselves anew with collective guilt. 

Also to speak truths to the native communities that continue to suffer cultural confusion, discrimination, and denial. Speak to them, too, about how compulsory it is for everyone to embrace Robert Frost's forest dictum : "The only way out is through." Himself of Cree-Ojibwe blood, Payette felt he needed to strike a unique pathway into, and out of, this tortuous thicket.

To demonstrate how serious he is about the need for truce and harmony, playwright Corey Payette closes his remarkable show with both native victims and churchy oppressors joining voice to sing of hope for a new future for all. 
Photo credit Emily Cooper
While the original 2017 version of God was by-&-large a blow-up of its original workshop version, the 2019 show now on at the York Theatre is, simply, stupendous. A visual and audial spiritual ceremony that is as much an expiation ritual as it is a stage musical with obvious roots that dig back dramatically and indebtedly to the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar and Jacques Brel.

The storyline is fundamentally simple. Local RCMP across the land rounded up native children with the persuasion of their sidearms and wrested them from their families. In Payette's version, mom tries to visit daughter-&-son at their segregated encampment, only to be turned away at the playground gate. The priest and the nun running the school never once tell the kids mom had come, time and again, to see them in the decade or more they were held there. 

The kids thus felt they'd been abandoned by everyone other than themselves who surreptitiously cling together by sneaking out after curfew. In the adjacent field they laugh and cavort and picnic with scraps from the dormitory cafeteria plus fresh apples from the school orchard. Also plan, again and again, how they'd escape. Become "runners" as Fr. Christopher calls them. And speak in what the Bible calls "tongues", only this time not just nonsense words but syllables scrounged from memory of their homegrown Ojibwe. 

And such is what sustained them : their acts of rebellion, acts of truth, acts of reconciliation with their gruesome plight that Payette refers to repeatedly as "settler colonialism" [but, curiously, doesn't once mention its core vice : patriarchy.] 

So somehow all of this in a musical ? Payette explains about the "weird pairing" of residential school trauma stories with a songfest of choreography : "For indigenous people, that's the way we have always told stories. It's always been the case that musicals have a close link to indigenous culture, where you cannot share a story without a song, you cannot share a song without a dance, or with that dance telling a story. That beautiful circle is the same thing that's experienced in musical theatre."

Judging from earlier reviews from the Vancouver and Ottawa 2017 shows, the current mount has gone through remarkable transformations. This is now a blend of ballads redolent of Ann Mortifee in Jacques Brel to the soliloquy laments and torments of Jesus in Superstar. Also embracing all-group choral numbers, particularly the closing anthem that finds actors, stage crew and audience all holding hands singing Hi Yeah Hi Yeah Hi Yah Yah Yah together, an ersatz Ojibwe chant modernized and harmonized by Mr. Payette. 

As noted, there is power galore in this piece. As Mom Rita, Michelle St. John evinces both guilt and its alter ego dominance in her dealings with son Tom (Dillan Chiblow). He is now an adult back living at home, jobless, a drunk estranged from his wife and two sons. St. John's singing authority was compelling, particularly in the lengthy duet with Tom to lift up sister Julia's spirit at show's end. Altogether first-rate vocal choreography by the entire cast the night through.

Speaking of fancy footwork, there is a circle theme repeated centre stage throughout with all the actors doing whirligig twirls around one another. Often this scenario is used for costume switches between the epochs being acted out, also to demonstrate how we all must come full circle on our respective identities and join in the dance together if Canada (Kanata) is to survive as one, holistically, an amalgam of settlers and natives -- both -- whatever our true colours.

Production designer Marshall McMahen's backdrop scrim was a sculptural delight, morphing from moody black mountains and mists to bright orange sunrises. His visuals blended seamlessly with orchestrator Elliot Vaughan's direction of Mr. Payette's mostly minor-key moodiness of cello, viola, piano and guitar that underscored the stage action. Built upon native original music tropes, the score is harmonized to fall more gently on the suburban ear than the often high-pitched atonal choruses featured in many aboriginal arrangements. 

To single out excellence in the actors' performances would be superfluous and redundant. Sharp turns for each and every character both singly and in their joint routines (the Lone Ranger sequence to kick off Act 2 by the men of particular note).

Many remarked at the talk-back after the show how "the first step is to be witness" to this dark time stretching back since before Confederation, this misguided social engineering exercise to annul 10, 000 years and more of native tradition. 

The experience is not just Canadian. Whether it's the Rohingya in Myanmar or the Uyghur in China or name-any-other, whenever attempts are made to annul ethnic-cultural identities, particularly by conscription and detention, the results are grim and ugly.

Go see Children of God to witness how music weaves a tapestry of interconnectedness that words alone simply cannot. As noted above, it's as much a ceremony and a ritual cleansing as it is authentic musical drama of the first magnitude. This show is one that gives up a wallop of dramatic impact & musical variety & character nuance borne of abject pain. But ultimately it signals hope and healing and heartfelt intercultural union among all of Canada's myriad colours and voices whatever their origin.
Particulars : Presented by The Cultch as part of the Talking Stick Fesitval, in collaboration with Urban Ink (Vancouver) theatre and the Segal Centre (Montreal). Book, Musioc, Lyrics and Director: Corey Payette. Produced at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive. On untilMarch 10, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.251.1363 or hit The CultchRun-time two-and-a-half hours, including intermission.

Production team :  Production Designer Marshall McMahen. Original Music Director Alan Cole.  Production Musical Director David Terriault. Orchestrator Elliot Vaughan.  Associate Director Julie McIsaac. Lighting Designer Jeff Harrison.  Associate Lighting Designer Bryan Kenney. Original Sound Designer Kris Boyd. Projection Sound Designer Kyra Soko. Stage Manager Chantal Hayman.  Assistant Stage Manager Jethelo E. Cabilete.  Production Fight Director Mike Kovac.  

Performers :  Michelle Bardach (Joanna/Secretary).  Sarah Carle (Sister Bernadette). Dillan Chiblow (Tom/Tommy).  David Keeley (Father Christopher). Jacob MacInnes (Vincent). Cheyenne Scott (Julia). Michelle St. John  (Rita). Aaron M. Wells (Wilson). Kaitlyn Yott (Elizabeth / Fight captain). 

Orchestra : Piano / Music Director David Terriault.  Cello Doug Gorkoff.  Viola Elliot Vaughan. Guitar Martin Reisle.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Much Ado About Nothing rings out in classic, clever Classic Chic style
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)

Whether as in Billy Bard's time men play women or in 2019 women play men, certain tell-tale Shakespearean memes are an "evermore, evermore" proposition : Trickery. Knavery. Mistaken identity. Scheming. Masques and miscues. 

And whether done razzle-dazzle in an ersatz Frederico Fellini set (Bard, 2017) or stripped to the bare essentials as Classic Chic does in 2019, the storyline changes not : men are fickle souls, their prospective spouses victims of whim, instant jealousy and rage. Soldiers they may be, but their tough hides mask skin that is thin indeed. 

On view is the fourth production by this troupe of women whose tag-line is "Chicks bringing class to the classics." Now that slogan may not meet 3rd gen. feminist standards, but its tongue-in-cheekiness reflects why they are one of my local favourites. 

Director Rebecca Patterson's largely barefoot version at The Cultch Historic Theatre accomplishes lots with little : virtually no set at all other than scalloped floor-to-ceiling curtains and an Ikea coffee table. That's it. (So little not even a Set Designer credit in the program.)

Cousins Beatrice (Christina Wells Campbell) and Hero (Sereana Malanai) do a whirligig garden caper as the men who will chase them till the women catch them come home from war and have their eyes on a lasting peace. 
Photo credit from CC files
What strikes one instantly is how having such limited visuals to distract (amuse, engage, catch) the eye allows, nay, Demands! that the viewer pay particular attention to the dialogue and all its 17th century intrigue & playfulness. 

Parallel love stories unfold. Teen-age chums who survived on sarcastic spittle back and forth -- Benedick and Beatrice -- are now 20-somethings orbiting anew around one another. They still mock and tease and jibe back and forth ceaselessly. Until they run so fast away from one another they crash together on the roundabout. As BLR has noted previously of these two  characters, it is classic Liz Taylor meets Richard Burton stuff. 

Co-founders of Classic Chic, Christine Wells Campbell and Corina Akeson, are Beatrice and Benedick. What struck this viewer particularly in CC's version is how more-than-equal Beatrice is in wit and cunning and verbal swordplay to the macho and vain Benedick. (His Latin-root name was surely not chosen by that clever scamp BillyB by accident.) 

Don Pedro (Kayla Deorksen), dad Leonato (Barbara Pollard) and Claudio (Adele Noronha) conspire to get Benedick to believe the elusive Beatrice has the hots for him.
Photo credit from CC files
They have a "merry war" between them. He predicts that should he ever fall he will be "horribly in love". By play's end he says "I suffer love in spite of my heart." And Beatrice responds : "You and I are too wise to woo peaceably." They wind up dragged to the altar still hissing their charmed reluctance that presages a life of endless spicy dialogue.

The core of the plot, however, involves wartime buddy Claudio (Adele Noronha) who falls instantly arse-over-elbow for Beatrice's cousin Hero (Sereana Malani) upon returning from the wars with battalion chief Don Pedro (Kayla Deorksen). They are so smitten they are to be married in a heartbeat. But Don Pedro's bastard brother Don John (Sara Vickruck) is wracked by bile, poison and vengeance. Anything remotely happy he feels an obligation to spoil.

And spoil he does with malevolent chicanery and deceit : soon Claudio and Don Pedro think she's a cheap tramp. Her dad Leonato (Barbara Pollard) wishes her dead. But at the urging of the kindly Friar Francis (Bronwen Smith), her death is faked until Hero's trumped-up infidelity can be found out. Soon she is "redeemed" and resurrected just in time for her and her cousin to dance down the aisle with their men in a double wedding.

An interesting wee twist at show's end : Billy cuts it all quick with a messenger announcing how the treacherous Don John has been captured. Don Pedro moves instinctively to intercept his judas brother. Benedick restrains him : "Think not of him till tomorrow, I'll devise thee brave punishments for him." As the pipers pipe and the wedding parade proceeds to the wings, director Patterson's version, however, has Don Pedro and Don John share a substantial and forgiving hug downstage.

So. Two primary takeaways at least from this CC production. Beatrice is no flippant glib lighthead in the least -- as her part is often directed to be -- and revenge is not high virtue, rather forgiveness is.

Perhaps most fun schtick in Patterson's staging is having Benedick crawl up the aisles and across three rows of seats as he listens to Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato scheme with a tale they know he hears hiding in the garden. They succeed :  albeit somewhat quizzically, he now is led to believe Beatrice actually loves him. Which is a classic factoid : it stands a 50% chance of being, or not being, true.

But equally fun is when Beatrice squirms squeezing and squinched under the Ikea bench in the garden while Hero and maidservant Ursula (CK Kaur) sit on it and blithely spin a tale about how crazy and bewitched Benedick has become for her in recent daze. Turnabout is fair play.

As Leonato, Pollard delivers a powerful performance, while Kayla Deorksen's Don Pedro was across the night a delight of facial gesticulation. Ever-expressive and slick in delivery, both Akeson and Campbell impressed their ample talents on the crowd. Sara Vickruck's twin turns as the craven and pusillanimous Don John -- plus her priceless delivery of constable Dogberry with his endless thesaurus of malapropisms -- were each notable for her precise and clipped projection. 

On the production side of the ledger, special mention to costume designer Sherry Randall's inspired choice of Nova Scotia sou-wester gear for Insp. Dogberry's night watch crew. As perfect as it was surprising!  For her part, CJ McGillivray chose "world music" numbers that were fresh, accessible and various in style. A more unique cover of The Animals' 1965 classic "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" [see Addendum] cannot exist anywhere. And what an understatement for the MAAN script to boot.
That I am an unapologetic and shameless fan of the Classic Chic clique is obvious. They always deliver their stuff with pizazz and punch and poignance. If Billy B. had men do women, these women do men even badder than him. This show I would go see again with neither tittle nor jot of hesitation. Brava! all.

Particulars :  Written by Bill. Adapted by Rebecca Patterson. Produced by the Classic Chic theatre troupe. Performed at The Cultch. Through February 16th, 2019.  Run-time two hours -plus- intermission. Tickets by phone 604.251.1363 -or- via the internet at the Cultch.  CC's website https:www.classicchic.ca. 

Production crew :  Director Rebecca Patterson.  Composer and Sound Designer CJ McGillivray.  Lighting Designer Jillian White.  Scenic Painter Omanie Elias.  Costume Designer Sherry Randall  Fight Director Rachel Scott.  Choreographer Lisa Goebel.  Stage Manager Ingrid Turk. Assistant Stage Manager Victoria Snashall. Technical Director Nicole Weissmuller.  

Performers :  Corina Akeson (Benedick, Verges).  Christina Wells Campbell (Beatrice, George Seacoal).  Kayla Deorksen (Don Pedro).  CK Kaur (Conrade; Balthasar; Ursula); Nancy Kerr (Antonio, Hugh Oatcake, Sexton).  Serena Malani (Hero, First Watchman).  Adele Noronha (Claudio).  Barbara Pollard (Leonato).  Bronwen Smith (Borachio, Friar Francis).  Victoria Snashall (Boy).  Sarah Vickruck (DonJohn, Dogberry).

Addendum :  Queried by BLR on the subject, Composer & Sound Designer CJ McGillivray had this to say about the musical backdrop to CC's version of MAAN :

These songs were our starting inspiration point for some of the music as they were sourced from Rebecca's immense collection of world music. I then sourced a mix of contemporary music across a broad range of cultures and contrasting genres to flesh out the overall sound design. 

Opening Number:
Ya Gle Bey by Dania Khatib
(a Lebanese singer)

Cover of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood:
Lolole by Radio Tarifa
(a Spanish world music ensemble combining Flamenco, Arab-Andalusian, Arabian, Moorish and Mediterranean music.)

The Haunting Ballad:
Shir Ha’keshet by Alabina
(a French group that performs a mix of world music including Middle Eastern, Arabic, French, Hebrew and Spanish music)


Saturday, 9 February 2019

Yoga Play plays on heart, soul, money themes
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)

Anyone who has done a community centre class in yoga or pilates or yolates or spynga (spinning & yoga succotash) will find much to laugh about, self-consciously, in Yoga Play. Always in such classes there's a host of outfits made of spandex and lycra and cotton and nylon. Always in various colours atop variously shaped bodies in various states of fitness. Cut-off jeans and Belichek hoodies and worn-out Wigwam sox are nowhere, because who would dare be seen on the scene stitched out like that ?

But cult clothing is only part of the marketing magnetism that reaches powerfully into the pockets of devotees : then there's the mats; the water bottles; the gym bags; the headbands and on-&-on.

Newcomer COO Joan (Lois Anderson) challenges her hot-shot marketing Ivy Leaguers Fred (Derek Chan) and Raj (Chirag Naik) to come up with a marketing scheme to launch some new threads called Joyon. Both Fred and Raj hail from Delaware but rely on their ethnic roots for speedball comic effect.
Photo credit Tim Matheson
All this to serve the main master : a hydra with heads of hope and guilt and fear and belief and doubt and desire -- desire to be, as Dipika Guha puts it, more "authentic". I want a me that that I like better physically, and maybe a piece or two of personal peace in my noisy head and troubled heart. When the Buddha-pose hands-together valediction comes that closes each class -- "Namaste!" -- when we chime it back, reverently, I want to feel "truth" in that moment.

Yoga Play riffs on these social constructs that are central to our age. Its conceit or hook is to filter all of this through the lens of shamelessly grasping corporate greed and its bottom line, its shareholders, its price-to-earnings ratios, its marketing and public relations ploys.

When the pressure mounts, Joan tries to remember some yoga breathing techniques that she drags Raj and Fred into practicing with her as she threatens Raj with dismissal if he doesn't fake some authenticity and truth as a phoney guru. 
Photo credit Tim Matheson
But first, a wee history lesson. Vancouver's Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, went on Bloomberg TV, a business channel, in the Fall of 2013. At issue was the quality of luon, they key fabric in LL's yoga clothing line. People that year complained that the fabric soon became see-through. "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs -- some women's bodies just don't work for it," Wilson remarked with nary a wink or hint of irony. As the expression has it, fat-shaming, size XXL.

In her script, meanwhile, Guha centres the action around a company called JoJomon that also manufactures what the buzzword merchants call "athleisure" clothing. They, too, have had a public relations implosion when their former COO named Brad was quoted widely saying "It was the size of women's thighs that were making the Kayala fabric transparent, not the fabric itself." Scripted 3-4 years after real-life Wilson's gaffe, make-believe Brad's comment was perhaps just artistic coincidence. At worst, faux-plagiarism. Whatever : it is what it is.

The purpose of Yoga Play is more "play" as in riffing and laughing at ourselves over life's myriad ironies than "play" as a dramatic event to be taken seriously. It is satire, slapstick, silliness run riot with a wee hint that a "piece of peace" can be had, too. With a couple of throwaway shout-outs for feminism along the way.

Albeit the cast is four men and two women, it is the women who do the heavy lifting most of the night. As the new JoJomon COO, Joan (Lois Anderson) is an MBA whiz-kid with a head that buzzes from data overload, growth schemes, and hypoventilation that brings on fainting and panic attacks.

Early on we learn of a BBC expose that the Bangladeshi factories used to manufacture its new miracle fabric Joyon are a sea of child labourers, girls aged 9-12 who are little more than slaves. 

Product chief Fred (Derek Chan) screeches to JoJomon's brand rep in Dhaka, Lucy, that "BBC has proof that a lot of those women are twelve, did they look twelve to you? Lucy?!?".  Her response made the whole house feel guilty even as we laughed : "I mean, every one here is quite small...and they cover their heads, a lot of them!"

Soon Joan and her other product marketer Raj (Chirak Naik) are off to L.A. to find a genuine yoga person to become JoJomon's public face. They find 25-year-old Romola (Christine Quintana) who is all effervescence and chipper confidence but just doesn't click with Joan. As Joan stomps out of her studio, Romola loses her cool and spits out "Namaste! you bitch" as the crowd roars.

Shortly the play takes a turn -- a slow, painfully slow turn -- as Guha sends her troupe to India to find a real Yoga master. They find one, a 15-year ascetic bivouac'd on a mountaintop. Turns out he's a Yankee pilgrim from Santa Monica formerly known as Bernard Brown (Shawn Macdonald).

Raj, all Hindu DNA but fetched up in Delaware, is frog-marched into the "real" Yoga master role instead, while Fred feeds him pidgin Hindi. It's all quite a mish-mash of antic nonsense. Best line of the night comes from Raj : "Is there a special place in Hell for those who appropriate their own culture?" he asks rhetorically. "Authenticity" and "truth" for JoJomon are threadbare, it turns out. Regardless, their stocks shoot up. Joan can b-r-e-a-t-h-e ! at last.

Lois Anderson dives headlong into her role as Joan with rapid-fire neurosis at the ready. As Raj, Chirag Naik demonstrates an ever-more-skilled comic presence each Vancouver stage outing, while Christine Quintana as the wannabe enlightened yoga entrepreneur from L.A. was sheer hoot. Shawn Macdonald's video clip of JoJomon president John Dale came close to stealing the show. Throughout, all the cast's footwork and verbal shenanigans were richly supported by Chengyan Boon's lighting and screen projections : his work certainly helped bring together the otherwise almost-too-wide Gateway proscenium stage for this production. 

This mix of corporate promotion of  yoga "class", lit. & fig., blends ironically with people's genuine desire to be more nimble and fit physically and spiritually. It's a paradox that plays itself out through well-threaded gag lines and byplay. While not standing-o fare and a middle that sags, athleisure types of every persuasion will surely jiggle their giggle over Yoga Play.

Particulars :  Produced by Gateway Theatre, Jovanni Sy, outgoing Artistic Director. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until February 16, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 125 minutes, one intermission.

Production team :  Director Jovanni Sy.  Set Designer Sophie Tang.  Costume Designer Amy McDougall.  Sound Designer Mishelle Cuttler.  Lighting / Video Designer Chengyan Boon.  Yoga Consultant Scheherazaad Cooper. Technical Director Mac Macleod. Technical Director Theodore Sherman. Production Manager Joseph Chung. Stage Manager Susan Miyagishima. Assistant Costume Designer Melissa McCowell. Assistant Sound Designer Sara Rickrack. Production Assistant Madelaine Walker. Props Master Carol Macdonald.  Assistant Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan. Wig Designer Marie Le Bihan.

Performers :  Lois Anderson (Joan). Harundi V. Bakshi (Guruji). Derek Chan (Fred).  Shawn Macdonald (John Dale / Bernard Brown).  Chirag Naik (Raj).  Christine Quintana (Romola).