Thursday, 21 June 2018

Once will charm your sox off with its Irish lilt 
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 : Once is a musical charmer set in Dublin that is based on a 2007 low-budget indie-flik of the same name written and directed by John Carney. Musicians Glen Hansard (Irish) and Marketa Irglova (Czech) did both the tunes and lyrics, their ballad "Falling Slowly" winning an Academy Award for best song.

But unlike themselves, a real-life couple, the show's protagonists don't fall in love and live happily ever after as in most rom-coms. Their reach for one another as lovers finally exceeds -- or more accurately, evades -- their grasp. But not before they've made some very sexy music together.  (Sidebar : Their script names are neutral, just “Guy” and “Girl”. Slightly off-putting “universal pretentious” i.m.o., but no matter.)
Gili Roskies and Adrian Glynn McMorran charm their instruments, each other, and the audience the night through with a string of touching ballads. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
Guy (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a down-on-his luck busker in Dublin. Girl (Gili Roskies) is an immigrant Czech pianist who is eager, serious and earnest to make her mark musically. She along with a passle of friends makes that happen, but other loves in G-&-G’s lives, off-island, spook them still. So in Enda Walsh's book for the show, each of these two wind up as "the one that got away".
How it's all put together : Some cultures produce a striking and remarkably high percentage of artists in their midst. Think Coast Salish carvers here, or Celtic musicians both on Canada’s eastern seaboard and on the Irish rock out in the Atlantic. To drive the latter point home, the show's twelve actors all play not only their own characters but each is a performing musician as well who fill the seats and jam together in the down-to-earth pub set. (It is a "working pub" to boot -- audience are invited up pre-show and can buy a beer while mingling and dancing with the troupe.)

Nearly a dozen instruments are brought into play, lit.-&-fig., including violins, banjo, mandolin, cello, Peruvian drum box [cajon], accordian, uke, tinwhistle, clarinet and piano and a couple more. One conjures a scene where talented performers spill over in their enthusiasm to share pints and tunes and dreams and disappointments all. What one pundit called "the third place" : a social focal point that is almost as central to their lives as their home and where they work. 
Rousing tunes from night after night jamming in an Irish pub is the fun of this show. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
The story is simple : Girl talks Bank Manager (Caitriona Murphy) between BM's bouts on cello and violin to front the money for Guy to do a demo album. Girl's Czech friends band together to make it happen and along the way perform stunning music singly, duet, in trio and a cappella as a chorus. 
Production values that enhance the show : This is a “Where do you begin…?” proposition. Three values primarily drive the sense experience that is Once : longtime Arts Club set designer Ted Roberts obviously pulled out all the stops for Director Bill Millerd’s swan song as artistic director of ACT. Having not yet made it to Eire — despite two futile tries and $1,200 in cancellation fees in four months — I can’t vouch for the verisimilitude of the interior of an Irish pub. But having been a life-long saloon aficionado world-wide, I have to speculate that Roberts’ visually grabby set and lighting are outright religious in their mimic as relics of real-time Irish 3rd places.
Alison Jenkins, John Murphy, Gili Roskies and Sarah Donald all throw their talents at this clever and engaging evening's tale of heart-&-soul. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
Then there’s the team of Steven Charles as musical director, Ace Martens as sound designer, and Scott Augustine as choreographer : absolutely World Cup pedigree in every note, every crescendo and pianissimo, every jig & reel by the cast. Kirsten McGhie’s costumes are funky and unpretentious just as they should be for this emigre entourage (Marlene Ginader’s Reza with black hot-pants and torn stocking the most perfect of all) .

The music, the dramatic arc, the pull of it all : The show has been called “bittersweet” by more than one critic, and indeed the closing line of the show’s headliner hit “Falling Slowly” suggests that : “I played the card too late / And now you’re gone” Guy sings, ostensibly written back when about his girlfriend. But really, everybody knows, a tear shed about real-time Girl who he’s leaving behind to try once more with Ex in NYC.

When Girl and Guy sing in duet, one can’t help but make comparisons with what i.m.o. is the only aspect of the t.v. soap opera “Nashville” that really resonated —that of the on/off love as sung between the characters Gunner Scott and Scarlett O’Connor. As with them, McMorran’s multiple octaves and Roskies’ sweet but insistent harmonies compel the ears and snatch the heart.

This is, as said before and always will be, a very simple story of life in a new land — “I’m always serious,” says Girl, “I’m Czech”. Of a crew of Girl’s homies who share a flat and are trying desperately to scrabble their way to blend in to the local scene but stay unique, too. Of how blind the eye can be to love — however fleeting and futile it may happen — even over just a handful of days. 

Acting pin-spots The team of McMorran and Roskies is, as suggested above, utterly dynamic and delightful as they circle and dance about both their record-demo deal and their nascent romance. Smitten they are, as is the audience -- from Moment 1 to Guy's last lingering minor key lament -- all night long sharing their stories. 

Of the supporting crew, three particularly stand out though each and every is a core support and convincing. As the music store owner Billy, Chris Cochrane is ever and always a robust and chummy presence. Marlene Ginader’s Reza — reminiscent of her chops in Chelsea Hotel — is a force of nature to be reckoned with : her fiddle playing is wholly in-the-groove while her Czech accent and tough-girl demeanour are consistent fun. Long-drink-of-water Alexander Nicoll as Svec is not only a multi-talented musician, his Me-Czech-learn-Irish schtick were both worth the price of admission.

Who gonna like There is a quaint innocence about Once that not only charms but magnetizes. Anyone who’s been an immigrant — a stranger in a strange land — will relate viscerally, intuitively. Obviously to like the pulse of Irish music and not be tone deaf to its nuances will boost one’s enthusiasm for this simple musical heartfelt tale. 

No question. As a summer evening’s divertissement from all the usual goings-on of visiting family and friends and endless BBQ’s and then tripping about chasing one’s own vacation adventures, this is a fun holiday night snatched out of Ireland right here on Granville Island that simply should not to be missed.

Particulars : Produced by Arts Club Theatre at its Granville Island stage. On until July 29, 2018. Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or Run-time two hours, including intermission.

Production team :  Director Bill Millerd.  Musical Director Stephen Charles.  Choreographer Scott Augustine.  Set and Lighting Designer Ted Roberts.  Costume Designer Kirsten McGhie.  Sound Designer Ace Martens. erald King.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr. Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes. Apprentice Stage Manager Alannah Korf.

Performers :  Chris Cochran (Billy, playing guitar, penny whistle, clarinet, cajon, melodian, tambourine, drums).  Sarah Donald (Ex-girlfriend playing violin, cajon).  Vera Frederickson (Ivanka, Girl's daughter).  Marlene Ginader (Reza playing violin, cajon).  Erik Gow (Eamon / Emcee playing piano, guitar, banjo, cajon).  Alison Jenkins  (Baruska, playing accordian, piano, percussion, penny whistle).  Adrian Glynn McMorran (Guy, playing guitar). Caitriona Murphy (Bank Manager playing cello, violin, guitar).  John Murphy (Da, playing mandolin).  Alexander Nicoll (Svec, playing mandolini, banjo, cajon, drum kit, ukelele, guitar).  Scott Perrie (Andrej, playing bass, guitar).  Gili Roskies (Girl, playing piano).  


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