Saturday, 21 July 2018

42nd Street is tippity-tap
fun for  tense & taught times
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)

From the footlights : The southeast corner of Times Square, New York City. Where 42nd Street meets Broadway. Where the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station form a colourful backdrop not only for live theatre houses but in years past also for "grindhouse" picture shows that played sextacular soft porn. "Where the underworld can meet the elite / Naughty, gawdy, bawdy, sporty 42nd Street!" according to the show's final musical stanza. 

This is playback to the Dirty 30's, well before the #metoo epoch Hollywood is now shaming us through. When the notion of a small town girl who makes it on Broadway was a throbbing romantic leitmotif in the American exceptionalist myth. Precisely the kind of myth that many folks in these distempered times will find just what their therapist ordered. And precisely what TUTS delivers with pizazz and style and panache at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

Mashing it up in rehearsal of "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me", the chorus girls rehearse their song-&-dance while fading diva Dorothy frets.
Photo credit Lindsay Elliott

How it's all put together : Allentown, Pennsylvania -- in the heart of what is now America's industrial rust belt -- is where Peggy Sawyer (Paige Fraser) hails from. She's trekked 90 miles east to the Big Apple in high hopes to be a chorus girl in the show Pretty Lady whose lead is the dimming luminary Dorothy Brock (Janet Gigliotti). A juvenile performer in the show, Billy Lawlor (Blake Sartin) spots Peggy and is smitten with heart throbs. 

Billy's dance chums help convince director Julian Marsh (Andrew Cownden) to give Peggy a chorus line shot. All's good to start, but during rehearsal Peggy crashes into Dorothy who -- as if taking the invocation literally -- will break-a-leg when she plops unceremoniously onto the stage. Julian promptly fires Peggy. Until -- miraculously, mythically! -- he has an epiphany and is talked into pulling her back, embarrassed and deflated, from slinking back to Allentown. 

Surprise surprise, Peggy gets the nod to be Dorothy's replacement with just 36 hours to go before Pretty Lady opens : "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" Julian cheers her with the show's most-quoted line : she's near beswarmed with doubts she can learn six songs, 10 dances and 25 pages of dialogue in a day-&-a-half and has a wee breakdown. But then rises, refreshed, and blooms to save the day, save the show, save a bunch of people's ability to make rent and loan payments.

Alone on stage after Peggy's roaring success, Julian sings to himself, smugly : "Come and meet those dancing feet / On the avenue I'm taking you to...42nd Street!" as only the janitor's clean-up floor lamp is lit.

No end of tippity-tap and flashy costumes when the popular glitzy tune "We're In The Money" makes its appearance.
Photo credit Lindsay Elliott
Production values that describe the show : So if you hadn't guessed 42nd Street is a play-within-a-play built around the Pretty Lady show in rehearsal-mode but not actually doing it. It's a staged remake of the 1933 Warner Brothers film that first found its way onto the Broadway boards in 1980 where it turned out some 3,486 shows during a hearty 8 1/2 year run there. 

One could almost call it a jukebox musical because it steals numbers from the back catalogues of both Warren and Dubin (13 here in all) to pump up the original four from the old movie. (The show's most famous chart, "Lullaby of Broadway", won an Oscar in '36 for Best Original Song. But from an utterly unrelated film called, subtly, "Gold Diggers of 1935".  "Lullaby" was interpolated into the 1980 42nd Street David Merrick-produced stage play to sexify it for the sentimentals out there.)  

A major distraction the night through : Malkin Bowl's c.30 X 30 metre stage -- i.m.h.o. -- is too deep by half, too wide by a third -- even for such a big-number musical production as this. 

Despite terrific guidance of cast and crew elsewhere, Director Robert McQueen somehow misread how to make the Bowl stage enhance Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt's exceptional footwork and blocking and dance routines of her company (her riding-the-train and suitcase travel sequences with all the opera chairs for the company were inspired and enchanting).  

But. Much of that exciting action regrettably occurred behind the faux proscenium arch pictured above, i.e. halfway back to the stage rear exit doors. To compare, think of ACT's Granville Island stage : with judicious use of side-stage curtain legs and tighter downstage traveller scrims, the cavernous Malkin platform could have been made much more cozy, intimate and involving for the audience.

Doubly regrettable this fundamental fault is because beside over-&-above the excellent choreography created by Ms. Hunt, Christina Sinosich's costumes were nonpareil for their variety in pattern and colour, even the rehearsal togs. The production costumes for their part were full-on prismatic in brilliance and glitter, just a delight to see. To need binoculars to appreciate all this splendiferous rainbow and twinkle just shouldn't be.

Acting pin-spots : Following his excellent turn this past spring as Joel Grey-pedigree-Emcee in RCMT's Cabaret, Andrew Cownden as the imperious director Julian Marsh in this piece was its devilish and delightful driving force. 

He was aided neatly by Lucy McNulty who created a consistent witty sorority-Mom piece as cast whip Maggie Jones. Colin Humphrey's choreography dance captain Andy Lee was just the right mix of impish, lithe and cheeky. 

As the fading diva Dorothy Brock, Janet Gigliott's contralto was rich and sensuous, while her protege Paige Fraser as Peggy Sawyer had fast and fancy footwork well in command. 

Strong performances from the rest of the cast, and a particular Huzzah! to the young Ensemble who executed Ms. Hunt's curlicue dance designs not only with cheery eagerness but also skill and finesse that promise each of them a future on Canadian musical theatre stages should they wish it.

Who gonna like : It is almost impossible not to like a TUTS production at Malkin Bowl in Vancouver's soft-edged seaside sanctuary Stanley Park on a summer's evening. 

The extensive kvetches noted above about overall staging @ Malkin to the contrary notwithstanding, 42nd Street is good ol' song-&-dance tap-estry from an age that only the cast's grandparents and great-grandparents were lucky enough to have witnessed first-hand either live or on film. 

Thus the fact there’s a  copyrighted title for a show called That’s Entertainment!, the expression applies to this script and this TUTS performance, no question, even if the storyline is contrived and mushy and USA-trite as only USA-trite can be.

Still, as noted, the show's choreography and costumes coupled with the cast's zest-&-gusto-&-zing make for an altogether cheery night in the city that fans of musical big-show comedy can't help but find funny and fun.  

Particulars : Produced by Theatre Under the Stars. Performances until August 17, every other night in tandem with Cinderella.  At Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park. 
Tickets & schedule information via or by phone 604.631.2877 from 9-5, Monday thru Sunday.

Production crew : Music by Harry Warrens.  Lyrics by Al Dubin.  Book by Michael Stewart and Michael Bramble, based on the final chapters of the novel by Bradford Ropes.  Director Robert McQueen.  Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt.  Music Director/Conductor Christopher King.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Costume Designer Christina Sinosich.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk.  Properties Designer Heidi Wilkinson.  Stage Manager Collette Berg.  Assistant Director Lucy McNulty.  Assistant Choreographer Colin Humphrey.  Assistant Stage Manager Victoria Porter.  Assistant Stage Manager Cat Main.  Choreography Intern Matisse Quaglia.  Dance Captain Colin Humphrey.

Orchestra :  Piano / Rehearsal Pianist Arielle Ballance.  Bass Monica Sumulong.  Drums Colin Parker.  Reed 1 Lawrence Woodall.  Reed 2 Kevin Wool.  Reed 3 Julie Holden.  Reed 4 Zach Mozel.  Reed 5 Miranda Wheeler.  Horn Malcolm Francis.  Trumpet 1 Lindsay Goldberg.  Trumpet 2 Jonathan Kury.  Trumpet 3 Alex Song.  Alternate Trumpet Justin Kury.  Trombone Andrew Radke.  Trombone Angus Lam.

Cast : Jolene Bernardino (Ann Reilly).  Andrew Cownden (Julian Marsh).  Matthias Falvai (Pat Denning).  Tyler Q. Felbel (Abner Dillon).  Paige Fraser (Peggy Sawyer).  Janet Gigliotti (Dorothy Brock).  Colin Humphrey (Andy Lee).  Lucy McNulty (Maggie Jones).  Michelle Morris (Mac).  Blake Sartin (Billy Lawlor).  Joscelyne Tamburri (Lorraine Flemming).  Julia Ulrich (Phyllis Dale).  Understudies : Dylan Floyde (Male).  Julia Ullrich (Female).

Ensemble :  Charlene Bayer, Sylvi Booth, Sarah Cantuba, Justin Daniels, Alexandra Ewert, Elliott Flockhart, Dylan Floyde, Kyra Leroux, Michael Murphy, Tiana Pazdirek, Jaime Piercy, Rachel Scheibel, Melissa Sciarretta, David Underhill, Marco Walker-Ng, Emma Wiehe.

Songs (alpha order)
42nd Street 
About a Quarter to Nine
Getting Out of Town
Go Into Your Dance
I Know Now
Lullaby of Broadway
Shadow Waltz
Shuffle Off to Buffalo
There's a Sunny Side to Ev'ry Situation
We're in the Money
Young and Healthy
You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Beauty Queen of Leenane is either wholly sardonic or a sorry sum of rural Irish affairs
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)

From the footlights : For perspective, it doesn't hurt to know that in an October 2004 overview by of English/Irish l'enfant terrible playwright Martin McDonagh, McDonagh remarks of his own work : "It's brilliant, and if you don't like it -- you're wrong!" (McDonagh's most recent reach in that direction was his movie script of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.) 

Meanwhile he set his early plays in Galway in northwest Eire, where his parents originally hailed from. Grim, harrowing, claustrophobic, violent, his works are redolent of Mamet, Scorsese, and James Dickey (he of "Deliverance" pedigree). Designed to be wholly in-your-face, McDonagh claims his examination of the human condition is self-explanatory : his reliance on sardonic, warring family characters merely reveals and exposes the dark underbody of rural Ireland. Interestingly, though, the town of Leenane in Connemara is a place he only visited on summer holidays, he never lived there. His roots are in Camberwell, a district south of London reportedly home "to some of London's most elegant and well-preserved Georgian houses" according to Wiki. 

It is said his first play The Beauty Queen of Leenane took him just eight days to write. He was but 27. It is the first in a late-90's blitz of scripts known as The Galway Trilogy. Its third offering The Lonesome West was produced by Pacific Theatre in November 2017. Whereas the latter features two brothers in a Freudian war of wills after they kill their father, Beauty Queen finds 70-year-old mother Mag (rhymes with "nag") who is being ministered to by her 40-year-old spinster daughter who betimes is given to emotional implosion and sadism.

Daughter Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) stands above her bitter and controlling mother Mag (Tanja Dixon-Warren) : their expressions betray all the lilt and joy of their Leenane life together.
Photo credit : Derek Fu 

How it's all put together : Daughter Maureen is the youngest of three sisters. She was released from a "nut house" [sic] in London after a mental breakdown a couple decades back only on the condition her mother become her legal guardian and she, by extension, her mother's keeper. Disconnected from the comforting cheats of urban centres, Leenane is a town that Fr. Welsh in Lonesome West lamented : "Seems God has no jurisdiction in this town. I'd have to murder half me feckin' relatives to live here!"

Boring repetitive day-to-day routines. Constant rehearsal of personal grievances and spite. Slights and interferences that smack of will and intention. Jealous that her virgin daughter might at last go on a date with a local construction worker home from London named Pato Dooley, Mag declares "Young girls should not be out gallivanting with fellas...!" Maureen shrills : "Arsing me around, eh? Interfering with my life again? Isn't it enough I've had to be on beck and call for you every day for the past twenty year? Is it one evening out you begrudge me?"

What the script brings to the stage : McDonagh's rural Irish milieu and the constant cabin fever people suffer there are often equated to the social realism of alienated UK urban young men known as "kitchen sink drama". Perhaps the link is made here because in Beauty Queen mother Mag has a particularly disgusting daily habit of emptying her bedpan contents into the kitchen sink. Their hovel thus reeks of urine. No wonder dreams founder here. 

T.v. has replaced social gatherings, people rattle about in their heads in dismal mutual isolation. Small acts of cruelty seem the characters' only escape. Except that Pato longs to take Maureen to USA with him. Despite his failure to launch their first night together, he still considers her the beauty queen of Leenane. To Boston he's headed. Home of the Kennedy brothers, a cheap paint-by-numbers litho of whom graces the farmhouse entrance wall. But when Mag destroys Pato's plaintive invitation in the fireplace, the play's ineluctable climax is foretold. 

Redux observation. Englishman McDonagh is privileged, no doubt, obviously well-heeled and well-schooled. When he appeared to slag his parents' countrymen by showing them up as belligerent hicks, London polite society went strange. They ostracized him. Vilified him. Called him nasty names and disparaged his talent.

In last November's review of the sibling script The Lonesome West I observed as follows about McDonagh's Leenane : 

"No question, this is a brand of rural Eire that's nowhere identifiable on Trip Advisor, Yelp or AirBnb sites. It has none of the charm of the Irish Rovers chumminess we for decades have associated with the place. Which is precisely why, of course, playwright McDonagh was persona non grata among the liberal London intelligentsia. For their part, the homegrown Galway folk roar'd their butts off according to writer Sean O'Hagan that he reported in his Guardian interviews with McDonagh. Today's locals weren't buying the bucolic blighted cheery peasantry doing jigs and singing gustily while flailing guitars and mandolins. They saw winks of truth from McDonagh and guffawed mightily in their Thanks be!"

Production values that contributed to the show : Jericho's typical thrust stage facing its 20 X 20 set is perfect for the single farmhouse scene on display. A side-view midway along was most intriguing. Pure functional Sally Ann recyclables with spindle rocker, chrome / Formica kitchen set and cylinder woodburning heater. Javier Sotres' sound design with pounding rain squalls punctuated by squawky a.m. radio of old Irish favourites set precisely the right tones. Regrettably the auditorium blower above the centre top row all but drowned out much of the early dialogue. Efforts to get it turned off made by various audience members obviously failed.

Acting pin-spots : Each character had moments that not only convinced but compelled. While Kirsten Slenning betrayed a daughter gone mad, lit. & fig., her precise diction was never projected forcibly or loudly enough to allow full appreciation of her acting talent. Mom Mag by Tanja Dixon-Warren was projection personified, by contrast, exuding a quiet and persistent malevolence toward daughter Maureen that quite chilled.

As Pato Dooley, Ashley O'Connell's soliloquy to start Act 2 -- a reading of the letter he wrote to Maureen asking her to join him in Boston -- was utterly poignant and gripping.

Younger brother Ray (Francis Winter) came into his own in the play's final scenes : his "Feck! Feck! Feck! Feck! Feck! Feck! Feck!" frustration at Maureen's tardy arrival to be handed Pato's letter was foreshadowing for certain, particularly when he added the quatrain of "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here...!"

Together the individual acting parts when broken out were perhaps greater than the whole, but taken together created many fine moments. 

Who gonna like : Small-stage psychodrama has always been a favourite of mine. Others who prefer less visceral stuff will be waved off by McDonagh's harsh cut at Leenane's self-exiled pathetics -- a different kind of "basket of deplorables" but no less so. Director Kathleen Duborg hand-picked capable performers all, but the sound deficits noted above interfered and detracted from a very well-intentioned effort.

Still and all, that Martin McDonagh is said to have stitched this script together in just eight hours as a first effort may be an apocryphal tale or outright fake news. But believing it makes the evening's outing quite worth the effort to see such talent afoot.

Particulars : Produced by Ensemble Theatre Company.  [In repertory with Dark Road and A Few Good Men]. Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street.  On until August 15.  Tickets & schedule from the company website  Run-time 120 minutes, including intermission.  

Production team : Script by Martin McDonagh. Director Kathleen Duborg.  Assistant Director Shelby Bushnell.  Scenic Design Stephanie Wong.  Lighting Designer Patrick J. Smith.  Costume Designer Julie White.  Sound Designer Javier Sotres.  Stage Manager Samantha Paras. Fight Director Richard Meen.  Vocal Coach Erin Ormond.  Dialect Coach Brian C. Parkinson.  Assistant Stage Manager Li Zhou.  Props Josina de Bree.

Performers :  Tanja Dixon-Warren (Mag Folan).  Ashley O'Connell (Pato Dooley).  Kirsten Slenning (Maureen Folan). Francis Winter (Ray Dooley).  

Addendum :  Ensemble Theatre Company, in its sixth Vancouver summer repertory season, describes itself thus : "Vancouver-based Ensemble Theatre Company is dedicated to producing accessible and relevant theatre. The company sees theatre as an essential cultural force in leading and framing dialogue on current issues, and takes artistically innovative approaches to classics as well as mounting challenging modern and contemporary plays. The non-profit arts organization is devoted to nurturing both artists and audiences, creating a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas and dialogue."

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lysistrata resurrects 2,400 year old au courant grievances v. men
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)

From the footlights : The conceit of Lysistrata by the ancient Greek Aristophanes is simple. No more sex, men, until your arms of war go limp. Then we can all lie back and have a bit of peace just for the fun of it. Aristophanes was enjoying some pre-feminist political snickers here. Based on the Peloponnesian war that had been dragging on interminably. If the war tumesced much longer, he mused, soon the women of Athens and Sparta would have no men to roll in the hay with for years to come. So the feisty femme Lysistrata proposes why not stage a pre-emptive sex strike now when the soldiers come home on furlough all hot and horny?

Jennifer Lines, Quelemia Sparrow and Marci T. House have a giggle over plans to boycott the bedroom. "The war is over, if you want it!" they tell their men. 
Photo credit : David Cooper

How it's all put together : About her award-winning direction of Pericles for Bard in 2016, I said this : "Director Lois Anderson conspires with a variety of muses and consultants in concert with the show's creative design team to conceive and fabricate a fantasitcal version of the script." She and co-adaptor Jennifer Wise turned their efforts to that same task in 2018 with Aristophanes whose works preceded Shakespeare by two thousand years.

At present there's not an Iraq war triggered by phony WMD's to use as the launching pad for Lysistrata and its timeless jibes at men, their peccadilloes and erect pomposities -- we who occasion so much terror worldwide. But identity and gender politics never cease to pop up dramatic possibilities.

So Ms's Anderson & Wise gave their Lysistrata a unique hook : the play's staging has to appear as if it is a spontaneous and improvisational mounting of the Greek script by Bard's women actors. They say they're "on strike against Hamlet, apparently he's a snivelling bore". Hamlet is the piece they've been rehearsing for weeks and is about to open. But they learn that the patriarchal and privileged types who run politics want to convert Vanier Park into a major container port. They decide that Lysistrata will be a terrific protest statement showing strong-minded women at work rather than present a dithery Dane who can't decide whether he wants to be or not to be.

Quelemia Sparrow, Ming Hudson and Jennifer Lines do a spontaneous rehearsal of their protest performance of Lysistrata.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson 
To pull off being an impromptu and unrehearsed show, the program notes tell us, costume designer Barbara Clayden and set designer Drew Facey "...have chosen to work only with things you'd legitimately find at the Bard site : cardboard boxes, water bottles, a Sharpie, a curtain, old cans of paint, steel wool, the actor's street clothes, and a few unexpected discoveries..." like 38 discarded toilet paper tubes painted gold for the magistrate's headgear; errant broom heads for the soldiers' helmet brushes; mops for wigs;  countless beer can tops stitched in a row for jewel'd belts.

The play's the thing : The show is really three plays within one. The Hamlet troupe that morphs into the Lysistrata cast, then there's the Bard ensemble qua Christopher Gaze employees for the summer who come to grief with the VPD over some graffiti tagging and other Vanier Park vandalism when off-duty from their Lysistrata show rehearsals.

Along the way there are hilarious dialogue moments, no question. In denying their Greek husbands sex they promise not to perform "a head-butt followed by a reverse Spartan leg-wrap" or the favourite "lion and cheese-grater" manoeuvre.  

Lysistrata (Luisa Jojic) cajoles the women. We must stick together like birds of a feather, she demands. "If the swallows start squabbling and start wandering away from their nest they will be called the biggest sluts that ever lived". Still miffed that her feminist Hamlet has been knackered, Colleen Wheeler snarks : "This is the stupidest play I've ever seen. Do you realize you've just called swallows 'sluts'?" Laughs over that for 1/2 minute or more.

Quelemia Sparrow and Louisa Jojic conspire how to thwart the old men guarding the money at the Acropolis that funds the Sparta / Athens war. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson 
A pastiche of performances : When the play sticks to its slapstick moments a la Monty Python or its Christmas panto mode bringing audience members on to the stage to join the fun, this creative piece is pure hoot to watch. Even the interjections by Musqueam native Quelemia Sparrow about the park's indigenous history back 10,000 years and more is made into a running joke. Every time the cops refer to "Vanier Park" she interjects that its Coast Salish traditional name is "Snauq!" instead. The riffs and sight-gags back-&-forth on this bit grabbed countless laughs.

In the second act some live music is introduced. A ballad about how Greek women would knit coats for others to wear instead of beating ploughshares into swords was rich & subtle. Redolent of Chris Martin, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ann Mortifee all in a piece. Nice work indeed by composer Mishelle Cuttler and performers.

But then the play started to change focus from its largely comic lens. More straight Aristophanes dialogue than satire and snigger. From panto and Pythonesque silliness the audience was asked to jump-shift to a lengthy, utterly serious side trip extolling native reverence for the land and the sea that consumed the final 15-20 minutes of the show. Dramatically this failed for me. But I may have been alone : a nearly 100% unanimous standing ovation greeted the cast when the lights were doused.

Acting pin-spots : Much silliness and risible performances from the cast. Colleen Wheeler protesting the cancellation of her Hamlet role : she repeatedly reports for duty in her all-black shroud to emote and shout and finally spit out her "to be" lines in the faces of front row patrons. Marci T. House as one of the hunchy old men and as chief magistrate. Ming Hudson fretting "I'll never work at Bard again!" thanks to the Hamlet troupe's bit of spontaneous anarchy at play here telling Mr. Gaze to pound sand. The 3-men, 3-women nude wrestling match : no question the show's slapstick highlight what with all those nylon mammaries and gonads being slung about at random and then the geezers dropping fitfully but embracingly in a dog pile. The deadpan ambiguously gay cop Sebastien Archibald who ultimately warms to this bunch and weeps. Just plain fun one and all.

Who gonna like : This ambitious and inventive script is a wholesale reimagining of the Aristophanes original. Personally I had doubts the hook of a container dock protest would work as a no-sex-for-you gambit. And the costuming / staging bit of "the lethal one-eyed pool snake" for the Greek soldiers suffering from long-term sex denial carried on quite quite quite too long. 

But fans of this troupe -- most of whom are also doing Timon of Athens -- will cheer the energy and imagination and dedication they all put into creating this homegrown mini-spectacle. The standing-o the crew got at show's end took a bit to rise up but ultimately did with appreciative vigour in their claps and cheers.

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the Howard Family Stage, Vanier Park. Performances : 18 shows between now and the September 13th closer. Schedule & ticket information @ Run-time 120 minutes with intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Lois Anderson. Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Set Designer Drew Facey.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Musical Director / Sound Designer/Composer Mishelle Cuttler. Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews. Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg. Fight Director Josh Reynolds.  Indigenous Consultant Quelemia Sparrow. Stage Manager Joanne P. B. Smith. Assistant Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart. Apprentice Stage Manager Zoe Bellis.  Directing Apprentice Joel Wirkkunen.  Costume Design Apprentice Hannah Case.  

Performance Ensemble :  Sebastien Archibald. Sharon Crandall. Michelle Fisk. Marci T. House. Ming Hudson. Luisa Jojic. Jennifer Lines. Joel D. Montgrand. Adele Noronha. Quelemia Sparrow. Colleen Wheeler. 


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Truth, yes, but no chance of reconciliation in Timon 
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)

From the footlights : A few decades back Vancouver's Howe Street was infamous for its penny mining stock instant millionaires. Along with a hefty cohort of swindlers at play, too. Many of them ultimately found their beds at B.C. Pen far less snuggly than their long-lost cribs at the Four Seasons. Tales of endless riotous evenings at the Cave and Isy's and the Georgia during the good times were duly reported by Jack Wasserman. All of this and more makes Timon of Athens an excellent script choice for Vancouver's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival.

Whether parable or morality play or outright tragedy, Timon causes us to reflect on what true friendship looks like when the party's over. Timon is a classic "high flyer". He loves Gatsby-esque parties with lavish tables, wines worth their talent, and hob-nobbing with local artists and poets who see themselves as up-&-comers. They ask for loans, Timon digs deep. Expensive baubles he truckles on others. In truth, of course, they're but sycophants and lickspittles and spongers who when Timon's luck and money go Poof! they do, too.

Isidore (Adele Noronha) and Timon (Colleen Wheeler) yuk and suk it up gaily during Timon's heady days as a mover & shaker on the big city scene. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

How it's all put together : From the get-go, Director Meg Roe gives Billy Bard's Jacobean ear a really hard twist by casting the chief 10 roles all as women. And whether male or female, most in Vancouver know today's maths by heart : in the average household folks owe $1.70 in debt servicing for every $1 of disposable income they have. Worse still, the cost of housing alone now eats up over 80% of after-tax earnings here -- no question we live atop an inverted pyramid financially. 

When her tipsy pyramid crashes, Timon (Colleen Wheeler) beseeches her friends to bail her out with generosity equal to what she's effused on them over the years. They demur, defer, and depart right smartly. So she throws one last party for them. A feast of hot water in bowls on charger plates under silver domes. After a splashdown table-smash of epic proportion, she then hies herself off to the wilderness to become a hermit for the rest of her days. Even refuses to return triumphant to the Big Smoke despite discovering gold -- by the handful -- while digging for roots to eat.

Timon's assistants Flaminius (Ming Hudson) and Flavius (Moya O'Connell) share a final bit of Instagram mirth just before their mistress's house is rent asunder, literally, by Timon who now rages at her former, fickle fair-weather friends. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

What the show brings to the stage : There are four elements in a typical Shakespeare drama that resurface constantly : foreshadowing; hyperbole; shameless scheming; wrath that is rung down clamourously. 

In Timon, that last aspect is heightened once her friends scorn her collectively and offer up but a few hundred quid to soften her bankruptcy. Director Roe puts it thus : "It is difficult to pin down its themes. Working on it, I've been wondering about redemption, greed, agency, capitalism, friendship, altruism, generosity, societal obligation, nihilism, money...about the rotten systems at work in Timon's world. I think of Timon as a parable, but I'll leave you to fill in the moral at the end. In my opinion that is the most difficult part."

Clutching her last grasp of filthy lucre dug out of a wilderness cave, Timon (Colleen Wheeler) lets the world know exactly what she thinks of about honesty, fidelity and friendship when money comes into the picture.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Production values that enhance the script :  In the 50's the staging conceived for this performance would be called avant garde. Experimental. Unorthodox. All this it surely is on many levels. Starting with the all-women principals. Who are outfitted in contemporary yacht club lounge get-ups. Acting on Drew Facey's functional, elegant warehouse-loft set that morphs, violently, into a dirt-filled cave. These scenes join an electro-rapture of cacophony in the final anarchistic moments while lights crackle ominously atop simulated gunshots.

Add to all that, this : in its original the script is five acts in eleven scenes. Almost precisely the length of an uncut Macbeth. This troupe's Timon is done in but one continuous act, its scenes linked intimately, all executed in but 90 minutes -vs- the 150-minute run-time across the Bard campus portico for Macbeth. Original? Twenty-eight named characters plus ensemble, just twelve actors here (in 15 truncated roles).

Star production performance is without doubt the Facey set of square'd patchwork floorboards and support joists in Timon's home that Ms. Wheeler systematically rips up and throws aside in piles ringside. This wild scenario creates the cave that ultimately becomes Timon's chosen sarcophagus. [I was exhausted watching her huck all this weighty lumber to-&-fro, no question, while she ranted, raved and sobbed vociferously throughout.]

Acting pin-spots : No question Colleen Wheeler executes a profound and compelling and thunderously well-wrought Timon. Not unlike Lear, this is another of Shakespeare's seemingly bi-polar tragic characters who don't "fall" so much as "switch" from a decent, normal, copascetic adult into a wrathful, vengeful monster-god. Her soliloquies in the final chapter of the cave scenes could, however, have been sliced up a bit further -- there's a drag factor at play. Doing so would result in little loss to the script's focus on the horrible hypocrisies that infect people when the love of money transcends almost all other drivers and values in their lives.

As Timon's ever-loyal servant Flavius, Moya O'Connell was to this eye flawless : crisp efficiency, empathy run riot, loyalty-from-love her driving ethos. 

How not to like Apemantus (Marci T. House) who from Moment 1 questions Timon's Big City modus operandi : "What purpose these feasts, pomps and vain glories?" She calls out the Rich Housewives syndrome that Timon surrounds herself with as phony and cruel and exploitive. Curious how many critics call her role cynical when in fact it is these grasping charlatans who are the true cynics in the piece.

Who gonna like : In this adaptation of the Bard by Director Roe, cast and crew, perhaps the above question is better framed this way. If you are a Shakespeare traditionalist. If you want far more original Bard than adaptation. If wholesale gender-switches don't, as a rule, appeal to you. Well then this will not be your preferred outing to Bard in 2018.

If, on the other hand, you think you might be up for a clenching -- nay, accosting -- theatre experience, this is your Summer '18 toke for sure. It is excitement writ large in originality and chutzpah and braveness that will linger in memory for years to come. 

And all the layers of leitmotif themes Meg Roe itemizes above jump out not just convincingly but hauntingly. "Are we done in? What of this House?" Flaminius demands of Flavius at show's end. Who can possibly predict in a world such as we find ourselves. 

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the Howard Family Stage, Vanier Park. Performances : 33 shows between now and the September 9th closer. Schedule & ticket information @ Run-time 90 minutes, no intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Meg Roe. Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Set Designer Drew Facey.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Sound Designer/Composer Alessandro Juliani. Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews. Choreographer Amanda Testini. Fight Director Josh Reynolds.  Stage Manager Joanne P. B. Smith. Assistant Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart. Apprentice Stage Manager Zoe Bellis.  Directing Apprentice Cherissa Richards. 

Performers :  Patti Allan (Sempronius).  Sebastien Archibald (Help 2).  Kate Besworth (Painter).  Michelle Fisk (Lucius).  Marci T. House (Apemantus).  Ming Hudson (Flaminius).  Jennifer Lines (Poet).  Joel D. Montgrand (Help 1).  Adele Noronha (Isidore).  Moya O'Connell (Flavius).  Quelemia Sparrow (Ventidius).  Colleen Wheeler (Timon). 


Saturday, 23 June 2018

As You Like It is a whimsical wonderfest of Beatles songs
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)

From the footlights : Shakespeare scholar A. L. Rowse declares AYLI to be "pure comedy, with a pastoral background, and a few touches of more serious intent". In the hands of Director Daryl Cloran it retains those qualities. But it jumps from the Elizabethan woodlands of Warwickshire to Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley in the 60's. Its primary conceit is that it includes 25 Beatles's songs. Says Mr. Cloran, "I have cut a lot of Shakespeare's text to make room for the songs. The Bard's story comes alive through song, as the characters find themselves in the woods where emotions can no longer be contained by words alone." 

AYLI is a tale of two sets of brothers (in each, one is squarely on the outs with their mendacious sibling), two girl cousins born the same day who love each other like twin sisters, a clown, some hippie lamb shepherds, omnipresent Billy Bard cross-dressing that kick-starts a bit of accidental homoerotica, and the end where four couples are joined in matrimony by Hymen, the god of marriage.

The troupe of As You Like It belts out "Love, Love, Love" to close the show.
Photo credit : Tim Mathewson

Who gonna like : Faithful readers will observe that this is normally the final section in a typical BLR review. But not for this show. This is truly My Oh My! theatre that Vancouver is blest to have. While the gruesome but crisply-engaged Macbeth has 25+ performances left in its run into September, AYLI with mainly all the same actors has 50 shows remaining after last night's opening. I heard one patron (avec Bard nametag) allow as how this was his 3rd trip already : the dress rehearsal + one preview before last night. No wonder.

Since BLR's launch in Spring 2012, I have had the pleasure to see more than 250 Greater Vancouver performances. With not even a soup├žon of hesitation, I say AYLI is the most imaginative and awesome big-stage musical production I have seen over these past years. 

Its creator Daryl Cloran has done an astonishing job of rendering Shakespeare 100% accessible, even to folks who don't generally prefer the Bard's oblique and often-tricky dialogue. As a prim octogenarian ordering up a tea at intermission properly noted to me, meanwhile, Cloran has captured the "pith" of the original script while blending in a rich array of Beatles' songs performed gustily and lustily by the mainstage Bard troupe. 

We both remarked how Act 1 had been just about the fastest 90 minutes of stage fun we perhaps had ever witnessed. Act smartly. Tickets will evaporate overnight I have no doubt!

How it's all put together : A key scene in the original 1598 script is a wrestling match. Cloran snatches the leitmotif of wrestling, sets it in Vancouver's 1960's popular All-Star Wrestling milieu, and the show starts its smackdown silliness instantly.

During a pre-performance "spontaneous" All-Star Wrestling re-do, Kayvon Khoshkam plays the role of ring announcer then quickly segues into leading the audience in a rousing round of "We All Live In A Yellow Submarine". Once the "pith" of Billy Bard commences we find him, fittingly, in the role of Touchstone the clown. 

Younger son of the late patriarch Rowland de Boys, Orlando (Nadeem Phillip) manages to defeat Duke Frederick's itinerant bone-crusher Charles (Austin Eckert) and meets the winsome Rosalind (Lindsey Angell) in the bargain. They both swoon. But do so to the the Fab Four's "She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand!" that are sung out by all on stage, backed by a 4-piece rock band with Gerald King's lighting quick-stops an exceptional add. 

As noted above, the tale is about estranged brothers and cousins and banishment of the losers. Truly it's more like escape, a Shakespeare "back to the land" motif where the stuffy values of big city parlours are scoffed at. In transit and while resettling upcountry, Rosalind masquerades as a man named Ganymede partly for safety, partly because "This is Shakespeare!" as the cast smirks teasingly elsewhere on the night. 

Harveen Sandhu as Celia / Aliena and Lindsey Angell as Rosaline masquerading as Ganymede-the-youthful-male share news about Ros's heartthrob Orlando.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Her beloved cuz Celia (Harveen Sandhu) joins her and adopts the name Aliena to reflect her outlaw status with Dad. Orlando heads upcountry as well when he learns that estranged older brother Oliver (Craig Erickson) wants him not just dispossessed of their father's inheritance for him, but dead, full stop.

Production values that enhance the script :  Easy to indulge in plot-spoiler mode here, more than I have already. But I shan't ruin all the surprises in store for lucky viewers. Suffice to say the following : never mind the Beatles music that was just plain trick, the hippie-dippie costumes stitched together by Carmen Alatorre were absolutely an ace throwback to the day. One could almost smell the cannabis implicitly embedded in the tie-dyes and brocades and paisleys and loud stripes and outlandish shoes the cast sported. ("If you remember the 60's you weren't there!" was a popular slogan for that time.) 

Set designer Pam Johnson's wrestlemania opening scene carried the stage for over half-an-hour, backed by scrims reflecting Vancouver's human-scale neon downtown look before the highrise horrors that shortly would take hold. Her Okanagan orchard follow-up with the upstage VW bus declaring Peace and Love and adorned with gaudy flowers was a terrific touch.

But it is the choreography and blocking and stage business and in-character nuances throughout that capture the imagination the most. Credit Director Cloran, of course, but huge kudos to Choreographer Jonathan Hawley Purvis as well for his blocking prowess. Taken all together, a more effective blend of Billy Bard 17th Century dialogue with Beatles-era music that followed it by some 350 years on cannot, probably, be imagined, duplicated or improved upon.

Acting pin-spots : This script is all about Rosalind and Orlando, without doubt. But Lindsey Angell's excellence in her role as mirrored by Nadeem Phillip in his would by themselves not have been enough to take the show over the top the way it did do. As the clown Touchstone, Kayvon Khoshkam was an Elton John lookalike with his outsize glasses, garish striped suit and non-stop histrionica that absolutely charmed the audience the night through.

As Touchstone the clown, Kayvon Khoshkam was pure scamp and slapstick tease, here with his earthy "country wench" (as Shakespeare described her in the script's original  Dramatis Personnae), Emma Slipp playing a randy Audrey. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson
Simpleton shepherd Silvius by Ben Elliott and his breathless panting after Phoebe (Luisa Jojic) was constant good fun, their slapstick pratfall routine to "Like No Other Lover" a highlite. Harveen Sandhu as Celia / Aliena and Andrew Wheeler as the aging manservant Adam plus stoned-out lay preacher Martext were always fixing to watch. 

From the tortured / murderous Macbeth, Ben Carlson as the wittily ironic, melancholic Jaques in AYLI brought just the right edge to the part. His "All the world's a stage... / ... His acts being seven ages" soliloquy was commanding : subtle and poignant, neither over- nor under-stated.

Fact is my seatmate and I agreed there wasn't a weak performance anywhere ! As well as some fine strumming and singing of these old Beatle favourites spanning the band's full playlist spectrum, everything from "Help!" to "Across the Universe".

Final thoughts : As among Mamma Mia, Once and As You Like It, this is the most robust swack of musical comedy afoot at one time in Vancouver than ever before. I have no hesitation in recommending each and every one of these shows and would happily, eagerly, go see all three all over again. Each is decidedly different from the others, but quite deliciously so. If you have budget for but one, choose carefully, or maybe make your choice with random abandon. You can't go wrong either way.

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the BMO Mainstage, Vanier Park. Performances : 50 shows between now and the September 22nd closer. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 150 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Daryl Cloran.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer/Musical Director Ben Elliott.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Choreographer / Fight Director Jonathan Hawley Purvis.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebeca Mulvihill. Apprentice Stage Manager Jenny Kim.  Directing Apprentice Kim Senklip Harvey. Costume Design Apprentice Emily Fraser.

Performers :  Lindsey Angell (Rosalind).  Scott Bellis (Duke Senior; Duke Frederick).  Ben Carlson (Jaques).  Sharon Crandall (Duke Frederick's Attendant; Corin).  Nicco del Rio (Second Lord; William; Jacques De Boys).  Austin Eckert (Charles the Wrestler; Amiens).  Ben Elliott (Silvius).  Craig Erickson (Oliver De Boys).  Jeff Gladstone (Le Beau; First LordHymen).  Louisa Jojic (Phoebe).  Kayvon Khoshkam (Touchstone). Nadeem Phillip (Orlando De Boys).  Harveen Sandhu (Celia).  Emma Slipp (Audrey).  Andrew Wheeler (Adam; Sir Oliver Martext).