Saturday, 27 June 2015

Love's Labours Lost a Bard romp 20's style

Backdrop to the current show :  As often the case in shows at the Howard Family stage at Bard on the Beach, WS's Folio script is merely a launching pad for some wild-&-crazy shenanigans designed strictly for the fun of it. And so it is with Love's Labour's Lost -- a rollicking musical romp -- that won't give viewers much of the bard's 1593 scheme of things but provides a hoot of a time anyway judging by the opening night crowd's enthusiasm.

The script was written as an amusement for WS's Elizabethan patrons and friends as a Sunday afternoon's diversion before supper. A script that lends itself quite naturally to doffing the sonnets and poetic flights of its original and creating instead a cheeky, chirpy spoof on Al Capone and Prohibition circa 1920. Put to music to boot -- some 20 flapper-era classics, mostly ballads -- with lots of trumpet and honky-tonk piano. 

The Capone-clone, one Ferdinand, decides to give up women and liquor for three years. His saloon Navarre will become a scholarly celibate retreat instead (!). Not wanting to risk offending The Boss, his lieutenants Berowne and Dumain sign on for the no-fun-fast as well. (In the original, Berowne was written not only by & about Shakespeare himself, but his part played by Billy Bard, too.) 

Amusement for these newby ascetics is left to a bloviating buddy of Ferdinand's, Don Armato plus his imp of a companion Moth. One Costard joins these two as the show's slapstick goof and clown of an emcee. They're to be the diversion from the boys' fasting, studying and meditation. Said monk-ish abstemiousness is to last a full 36 months supposedly. Until Day 2 or 3, that is, when a certain Princess arrives on the scene with her two playmates Rosaline and Katherine. 

Instantly Ferdinand is smitten by Princess, so prohibitions be damned, by rights he'll have to relax the rules a bit for his henchmen, too. And they comply eagerly, getting all googly-eyed for the two playmates. And so the inevitable boy-meets-girl chases begin. It's gifts and poetic letters professing undying love in short order from each of the three. But the lasses are no speakeasy floozies easily charmed. They've got a couple of deuces up their sleeves as well to deal out to their horny pursuers. 

"There's no such sport as sport by sport o'erthrown / To make theirs ours and ours none but our own / So shall we stay, mocking [their] intended game / And they, well mock'd, depart away with shame," Princess coaches her teammates prophetically in WS's classic rhyming iambic pentameter. 

In the end the boys will be subjected to lustus interruptus for 12 months before the gals entertain their fancy anew. The candle of love must first survive 8,760 unrequited dark hours before it can be respark'd, the women all demand.

WYSIWYG : Director Daryl Cloran declares in his program Notes that his goal is to mimic "falling in love for the first time" but make it au courant. "Ultimately, that's what's so exciting to me about adapting a script -- the process of exploring, shedding and inventing to get to the heart of the story and find a way of telling it so that it resonates with a contemporary audience."

"Shedding", in this case, meant his scissoring fully 50% of the original LLL script and interpolating not just 1920's Chicago gangsters and flappers but some Pythonesque WWI French pilot dudes into the mix as well.

Cloran's primary aide de camp in this exercise is Musical Director Ben Elliott whose serial song selections supplanted the Shakespeare poetry Cloran snipped out so vigorously : "Ain't Misbehavin'".  "Someone To Watch Over Me".  "I've Got A Crush On You".  "Blue Skies".  "It Had To Be You". "Paper Moon".  "Dream A Little Dream Of Me." "When You're Smilin'" -- to name the most familiar and popular.

Production values WS would applaud : The night's frolic works on many levels. The fact that the music chosen by Elliott is all of a genre -- Jazz Age balladry -- ties the show together melodically in a particularly crowd-pleasing way. We're all suckers for Gershwin et al regardless of age. Add to that the crisp and clever Gene Kelly-ish choreography by Valerie Easton whose ever-excellent intuition and hard work pay off admirably. Couple those features with the knock-your-socks-off 1920's costume wizardry by Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup and the visual \ audial electricity gets the tent zapping with energy, no question. All of this aided and abetted by Marshall McMahen's speakeasy set on risers and floor-level surrounded by tiers of playgoers : the result is an immediacy and intimacy brought to LLL that the Howard venue always inspires. 

Player performance high-lights :  As Don Armato, Andrew McNee brings a robust silliness to his pompous part, mirrored nicely by Dawn Petten as Jaquenetta, the ditzy flapdoodle femme who's got him all hot and bothered. Best twosome across the night, however, had to be Josh Epstein as Berowne and Luisa Jojic as Rosaline : their duet "If you were the only girl and I were the only boy / In a Garden of Eden made for two" is simply lyrical : rich, sonorous, touching. Anna Galvin as Boyet, Princess's chaperone, brings an engaging Brooklynesque touch to Chicago, while Andrew Cownden as the boffo Costard is a quick-step howl the night through. Solid stuff from each of the rest of the cast for the most part -- young Lili Beaudoin as Moth a real giggle. 

Who gonna like : Slicing-&-dicing Shakespeare's original dialogue radically and subjecting what's left to a 20's Broadway cabaret format runs the risk of doing two things badly. 

Purists who pine for WS poesy and classic interpretations -- even when whittled back somewhat for length -- will likely find themselves a bit estranged from this imaginative and phantastic spin on things. 

As well, some sight gags were unnecessary and slightly patronizing, viz. Costard's dead chicken Lucille schtick + the gratuitous bra bit that was paired with it. Or the glacial pace when each of the women announce in turn the details of their particular 12-month purgatory to their lovers at play's end. 

But in all Bard's LLL is a buzzy mix of olde-&-new that brings people to their feet and puts their hands together with cheers and laughs that only proves, once again, how versatile a Shakespeare script can be when the right folks are brought in to give it the right stuff.

Particulars :  Now on until September 20 at the Howard Family stage at Vanier Park. Run-time 130 minutes plus a 20-minute intermission. Tickets & schedules for the repertory performances with Bard's three other plays via or by phoning the box office at 604.739.0559.

Production crew :  Artistic Director Christopher Gaze.  Director Dayrl Cloran.  Costume Designer Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup.  Scenic Designer Marshall McMahen.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Musical Director Ben Elliott.  Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Fight Director Nicholas Harrison.  Production Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Lorilyn Parker.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn.  Apprentice Director Melissa Oei.

Peformers :  Lindsey Angell.  Lili Beaudoin.  Andrew Cownden.  Daniel Doheny.  Ben Elliott.  Josh Epstein.  Anna Galvin.  Jeff Gladstone.  Jay Hindle.  Luisa Jojic.  Sereana Malani. Andrew McNee.  Dawn Petten. 


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Godspell is clever choreography & staging

Personal backdrop, confession :  In January, 1971 as a senior high school English teacher I used my ancient iron Underwood to type out on the old mimeograph stencils (that smelled vaguely of iodine) some 53 pages of the libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar. Without hesitation I violated the copyright restrictions from the book that accompanied the vinyl 2-record set their studios released the year before.

Not only was the title of the rock opera avant garde, but its name and raunchy lyrics struck the world as downright blasphemous just 10 years after the first Catholic President was elected in USA. So for both of those reasons I delighted as a lapsed-Baptist to inflict JCS on my English class students in Grades 11 & 12 : to be experienced and discussed as drama, literature, religion and music. In those days in Newton, BC one could get away with such teachable moments. The late Superintendent Jack M. Evans welcomed rebels with a cause. No longer, alas.

Thus I found myself midway between shocked & gobsmacked to discover that until today I had never seen or heard the musical Godspell (from the olde English word meaning "gospel" or "good news"). Nudging 70, I am pleased to be, on occasion, an ingenue. Which is what I am with this script, and thus able to view it with eyes that are at once myopic and fresh.

Given my JCS experiences 44 years back, I entered the Granville Island main stage of Arts Club with some curiosity about the timeliness of the script that was originally a Master's Degree thesis project by its creator the late John-Michael Tebelak in 1970 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 

After a show involving his fellow drama majors, the original two-week, 10 performance public run took place at the famed experimental Cafe LaMama in Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1971. About the same time Stephen Schwartz, another Carnegie Mellon grad, was hired to write a new song score. All but one song from the original ("By My Side") were scrapped in favour of Schwartz's mix of folk, gospel, rock and pop done vaudeville style.

Nostalgia re-mount, or...?  : What relevance a musical about the Jesus story mostly from the Gospel of Matthew when fewer than one-in-three Canadians professes to be a practicing Christian these days (Maclean's, April 13, 2015), thought I. Director Sara-Jeanne Hosie issues her own explanation in the show program : "Godspell was never intended to be a story about religion; it was meant to be a story about community. When I set out to cast this piece I did not have a specific gender, age or race in mind for any of these roles -- particularly Jesus (Jennifer Copping). I was looking for a cast of multi-talented actor-singer-dance-musicians...who had the right spirit to carry this story."

A ginormous hit 45 years back, Godspell enjoyed some 2,000 performances before being made into a movie in 1973 and then virtually mothballed by big-city professional theatre companies until it was re-mounted on Broadway in 2011. Having said that, its continued production over the decades by high school drama clubs, community theatre groups and local churches continued apace, meanwhile, according to the show's archives. So what do Hosie (who also choreographed the piece) and her troupe achieve in the current production that will attract summer crowds in Vancouver?

For some, it's Godspell's music. Many of the tunes quickly become an earworm -- not unlike the music of the Swedish group ABBA in its mega-hit Mama Mia. Once the worm gets in your ear you can't expunge the tune by an act of will, it seems -- only time, sleep and other divertissement to take your mind off it (think of "Day By Day" that the 5th Dimension covered in 1973).

For Hosie, it was the thought of spontaneous encounters at a train station that provided the show's staging hook : "A train station is a transient place but it doesn't have to be. It can be a place where there are profound moments of community. Where strangers can come together and share joys, fears, music and laughter. If we can lift our heads and really see the other people with whom we share space on a daily basis, we can learn so much about how others exist in the world and, hopefully, make it a more welcome and colourful place to be," she states in her program Note.

Jesus, 2015  -- an unresurrected Jewish guru -- plus friends : The structure of the show is to take parables and sermonettes attributed to Jesus (e.g. the story of the prodigal son; the Beatitudes, &c.) and expose some uninitiated random folks to their messages. Through song-&-dance. As the show opens, a clutter of Jerusalem Station passengers, glued to their android and iPhone devices, repeat aloud various "words of the prophets (that) are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls" as S-&-G put it. They bump into one another rudely and generally live in their own preoccupied worlds. Until Jesus arrives and begins her messaging about folks' need to love their tormentors and through humility be exalted ever after. 

As has been done repeatedly with this script, current-trend ideas and icons give the piece an urgent presence : social media; Tesla cars; Darth Vader; student loan oppression; a Ted talk. These updates are obviously designed to appeal to younger theatre-goers who might have little grounding in formal Christian mythos and theology -- never learned any of it to begin with -or- any such teaching they might have had un-stuck itself as quickly as a 10-minute-back Instagram. How else to make room for the latest social media inputs that are forever zapping their device-screens and their brains? 

Production values compensate largely :  Albeit the theology is too dense and the show probably 20 minutes overlong, full credit to Director Hosie, the performers and the production crew for a visual and audial jamboree of clever choreography, tuneful charts to accompany Jesus's teachable moments, and a set and costumes colour-co-ordinated to provide some Wow! moments.

Ms. Copping as Jesus was a smart choice with her swirled shoulder-length locks, warm engaging smile, and powerful voice. But probably it was Lauren Bowler as the sex kitten Vamp -- particularly during the Lazarus number -- who grabbed the spotlight most effectively on the night. Her pipes and pizzazz are hard to top. As Judas, Andrew Cohen turned in a strong performance, though Matt Palmer as The Architect may have outshone him in the second act with some terrific acrobatic footwork and singing bravado.

Musical Director Danny Balkwill did double duty as The Cop of Jerusalem Station, also The Cop of the Aisles getting patrons to keep the stairs clear for all the action that roared up and down them all night. Doing "Day By Day", waitress Janet Gigliotti's voice was rich and sensuous and earned hearty applause. Lead Scott Perrie's vocal subtlety on "All Good Gifts" was a sweet and touching turn.

For their part, the sets, lighting and screen projections of Messrs. Alan Brodie and Sean Nieuwenhuis feature imaginative backlit coloured panels behind the train station platforms and staircases that taken all together were balanced and pleasing and co-ordinated well indeed with the coloured-shoe costuming schtick schemed up by designer Connie Hosie. 

Cleverest of all, however, was Director Sara-Jeanne Hosie's choreography and blocking of the 12-member ensemble on the train station platforms that tied the evening's jump and bounce and whirl-a-gig dance riffs together with the songs and sets. It is her energy and wit that give the show its final pleasing gestalt in spite of its off-the-shelf afterlife preachings by creator Tebelak back in the day. Can't be denied, however, that the Golden Rule theme that prevails is universal good advice any time. 

Who gonna like : Folks who remember Godspell from its earliest hippie-dippie days will no doubt get a buzz off their ol' fave tunes being re-struck by the many talented vocalists and instrumentalists who populate this cast. Similar to JCS in this respect, the contempo flip of Biblical language and story-telling in modern patois is fun for those who have such a hankering. As noted immediately above, meanwhile, surely the stand-out staging and choreography and visual zing! will please people the most regardless of their religious bent. 

Particulars : Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak. Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (whose Wicked is currently popular on Broadway). At the Arts Club Granville Island stage through August 1st. Schedules, curtain times and tickets for the 2 1/2 hour show (including intermission) via or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production crew : Director / Choreographer Sara-Jeanne Hosie.  Musical Director Danny Balkwill.  Set & Lighting Designer Alan Brodie.  Set & Projection Designer Sean Nieuwenhuis.  Costume Designer Connie Hosie.  Sound Designer Geoff Hollingshead.  Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Assistant to the Director Anna Kuman.  Musical Assistant Caitlin Hayes.  Apprentice Stage Manager Airyn Lancaster. 

Performers :  Danny Balkwill.  Lauren Bowler.  Andre Cohen.  Jennifer Copping.  Janet Gigliotti.  Aubrey Joy Maddock.  Matt Palmer.  Kale Penny.  Scott Perrie.  Katrina Reynolds.  Craig Salkeld.  Lindsay Warnock. 


Saturday, 20 June 2015

Comfort Cottages cute-&-comfy fun

Backdrop to the show : You are in grammar school. You and three chums put on a summer show for the folks that you wrote. They cheer, you're proud, the four of you traipse off to Camp Tikahana together for more adventures. One of you's an organizer, a future vice-principal. The second a steal-the-limelight type. The third more whimsical, a nature-lover. The last of your pals is the mediator, the healer, always sees the glass-half-full. You are "sisters" and stay that way all your lives.

Now freshly retired, single through choice or widowhood, you are facing the angst and lonelinesses. Not always well. Finding money for rent is a monthly struggle. Even living in your van is an option you are forced into. Then there's the "meaning" piece. "I thought the freedom of retirement would be liberating but I just feel unplugged," is the way vice-principal Katherine (Merrilyn Gann) puts it. 

Turns out Katherine's Aunt Kitty for 40 years ran a truck-stop brothel with six cottages where truckers and salesman would repair for a night's, uh, repair. The "No-Tell Motel" one of you quips. Kitty's lawyer says the place will be sold for condos and the profits assigned to the Truckers Benevolent Society unless Comfort Cottages continue to receive their habitual guests for a year. You three buddies convince Katherine you'll help her do just that by each of you making one of the cabins your own for 12 months. And deal with the visitors who come knockin'. If y'all last the year, Katherine promises she'll split the profits from any future sale of the motel property evenly among the four of you.

Such is the what and how of Western Gold Theatre's studio production of Comfort Cottages after only three days (!) of rehearsal starting this past Tuesday. Fully blocked and costumed and set, the production has its characters perform their parts scripts-in-hand. Their challenge is to make the folks in those scripts become real to playgoers through their characterizations. It's like looking in a mirror -- you're back in the backyard in the 50's doing a summer show, all over again, just for the folks, just for the fun of it.

WYSIWYG :  Dramatic and situational irony works throughout this original script written by career thespians Jane Clayton and Judy Ginn Walchuk. The play's fun is how The Four Chums greet and treat Aunt Kitty's former guests / clients who don't know Kitty has gone to geisha heaven. The women don't just kick the men out, of course, else there'd be no play. As the snoopy ex-mall cop widower next door notes : "These ain't girls here. They haven't been girls since Elvis left the building!" So it's the stories and expectations and surprise benign couplings among them all that develop that keeps the audience guessing how this new co-ed camp of Chums and its aging lothario men visitors can quite possibly survive.  

Dialogue, nuance & direction rule : In the hands of WGT's artistic director Anna Hagan, the cast of nine season'd pro's do a remarkable job of getting and projecting these characters who after 16 script re-writes over the past year are well-wrought characters indeed by Clayton and Walchuk (who were coached and assisted in that marathon adventure by both Hagan and dramaturge Dave Deveau). Were one to attend blindfolded, the play would seem a well-rehearsed radio script with quite distinct and identifiable persona who engage the imagination believably. But being able to watch them all interact, meanwhile, only heightens the fun. 

To single any performer out is perhaps unfair to the rest of the company, but Wendy Abbott as the ex-dancer / limelight-stealer Flo with her rolling rack of slinky shiny costumes was a giggle and a charm all night long. And when cross-dressing Simon (Terence Kelly) slips into Flo's gowns and becomes Simone, the outright guffaws cannot be stifled for a second. Marlee Walchuk as Belle, the mediator and cookie maven, was not only utterly convincing in her acting, her role particularly was nailed squarely by the writers.  Sgt. Tom, the camouflaged ex-mall cop (Keith Martin Gordey), was an impish goofy caricature who talked to his wife Ange's ashes in the silver urn he carried with him constantly as he snooped and spied and plinked his ukulele.

Who gonna like : If like me you are a lifelong lover of live theatre. If like me you appreciate the paths mapped and charted by live theatre's elders. If like me you are what the local civic fitness centre calls a "junior senior" and are fresh into the many unknowns of retirement. Regardless of your age, if any one of these criteria applies to you, you'll have a couple hours fun, sport and amusement -- as well as overt appreciation -- for what the WGT performers and production crew have managed to pull together in such an engaging way in just half-a-week's time. Two shows each tomorrow and Sunday to take it in.

Particulars : Original script by Performing Arts Lodge creators Jane Clayton and Judy Ginn Walchuk. A Western Gold Theatre production performed at the PAL theatre, 581 Cardero Street in Coal Harbour. Matinees June 20-21 @ 2 p.m.  Evening curtain @ 7:30 p.m. June 20-21. Box office 604.363.5734 or tix via 

Production crew : Director Anna Hagan.  Set Design Glenn MacDonald & R. Todd Parker.  Costume Design "The Cast".  Lighting Design Graham Ockley.  Sound Chris Allan.  Stage Manager Ashley Noyes.  Assistant Stage Manager Andy Sandberg.

Performers : Wendy Abbott.  Sean Allan.  Linda Carson.  Merrilyn Gann.  Jim Hibbard.  Terence Kelly.  Keith Martin Gordey.  Brendan McClarty.  Marlee Walchuk.  


Thursday, 18 June 2015

All-women Glengarry Glen Ross excels & excites

Thematic drift :  In 1967 US novelist Norman Mailer published a 224-page potboiler about a Texan and his son hunting grizzly bears, from a helicopter, in Alaska. The name of his book was Why Are We In Vietnam ?

David Mamet's script Glengarry Glen Ross could easily be Mailer's thematic sequel. Knowing that in 2001 it was 15 terrorists from Saudi Arabia plus a few others from Lebanon and Egypt who hijack'ed some passenger aircraft and suicide-bombed New York City's Twin Towers, Why Are We In Iraq ? is the obvious follow-up title that comes to mind.

One need but peel back the onion-skin of metaphor : when you get right down to it, Glengarry Glen Ross is one of America's more brilliant representations of men and their self-pleasuring, self-loathing egomania. The insufferable hubris & cowardice that form the core of much of Western politics and Western capitalism and Western military adventurism are as omnivorous as they are omnipresent. The American feminist icon named bell hooks (sic) captures all of that in one word : patriarchy.

Fast forward. When as theatre troupe Classic Chic you have the nerve and character and insight and guts to stage GGR with an all-female cast, the chance for theatrical magic to occur simply explodes with its inherent intrigue and clever possibility. 

As the show's Director Rachel Peake puts it : "Glengarry Glen Ross examines the way men relate to one another, score points, buoy each other up, and sacrifice each other to get ahead. By casting women in these male roles we seek to study the nature of men's relationships and to fit them into a broader dialogue on masculinity and femininity as divorced from male and female. Glengarry Glen Ross is a period piece, planted firmly in the eighties, but our vision of the piece provokes an examination still relevant today : how do men mask their true intentions and emotions?"

Plot backdrop : The plot is pretty straightforward. The story of four hucksters shilling swampland in Florida at outrageous prices to gullible, fast-frozen northern Midwesterners from Illinois. All for a crack at the 10% commissions they hope will tot up. And because cold-calling names randomly from a phone book is futile, these slick-talking rip-off hustlers rely on the coveted leads provided for them by their employers. That would be two dubious off-stage characters named Mitch and Murray. They vouchsafe the leads to office manager John Williamson to tease out like papal dispensations.

Mitch and Murray have recently devised a "sales motivation" scheme : top salesman of the month will win a Cadillac. Worst two performers of the four will be fired. A chalk board tallies up the sales. Top-seller Roma is cocksure he'll be strutting in the Seville come next month. The other three -- Levene, Aaronow and Moss -- are also-rans to Roma and understandably twitchy. Levene is particularly desperate as he has a seriously ill daughter at home and needs extra cash for her medical bills.

Act 1 takes place in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago and focuses on Levene who bullyrags and bribes Williamson into giving him more leads so for once in a blue moon he can actually close out a deal rather than just add another tired verse to his career song : "The older I get, the better I was." Act 2 has blips of climax, but its power comes mainly from being an extended denouement following the office burglary foreshadowed in the first act. A detective has been assigned to ferret out the culprit from what looks and smells like an inside job. 

How might bell hooks look at all this ?  Feminist hooks is not an off-the-shelf misandrist (man-hater). She challenges women to discern that men do not simply victimize women either for spite or gratuitous amusement. When it occurs, their victimizing -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- comes from their being emotional eunuchs. As such, hooks says, they deserve women's empathy if not outright pity.

Hooks writes in The Will To Change : Men, Masculinity and Love :
"There is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger. Real men get mad. Their mad-ness, no matter how violent or violating, is deemed natural -- a positive expression of patriarchal masculinity. Anger is the best hiding place for anybody seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit... Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture, males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved."

Clearly Glengarry Glen Ross was written as a kind of Eunuch Pride parade. In that delightful expression "where the truth lies", it is anger that lies most in GGR. Lots of it, peppered incessantly with the eff-word. So what nuances or insights or creative juices do the Classic Chic company of women bring to Mr. Mamet's famous male chauvinist script?

What they bring, collectively, (1) is proof positive that women adopting men's worst traits are as disquieting and disgusting as any XY chromosome jerk uttering the same dialogue, (2) that David Mamet's capture of American English rhythm and cadence and repetitions and eruptions is not gender-specific, and (3) for all the vaunted genius of the cult 1992 film version starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey, Classic Chic's Vancouver cast in 2015 on the intimate 5th Avenue Beaumont stage is equal word-for-word and gesture-for-gesture to what Hollywood's men threw up on the screen some two decades back. 

Acting highlights are many : While all seven of the cast perform well indeed, particular kudos are due to Colleen Winton, especially, as the groveling has-been Shelley Levene. Her spitfire interruptions of office manager John Williamson (Marci T. House) over lunch to open the show betray a rich and remarkable capture of Levene's poor pathetic soul. Even more nuanced brush-strokes from Winton in Act 2. Not to be outdone is Corina Akeson as burglary conspirator Dave Moss. Her facial subtleties when urging poor George Aaronow (Suzanne Ristic) to commit the crime were superb. As Richard Roma, Michelle Martin turned in a bemusingly low-key soliloquy in Act 1 trying to seduce James Lingh (Chic's artistic director Christina Wells Campbell) to have a look at his brochures and maps. But she absolutely stunned this reviewer with every word and line in Act 2 with Roma's implosion / explosion first at Lingh for bowing to his wife's pressure to kill the deal, and then at Williamson for queering the sale altogether by lying about the down payment cheque.

Director Peake deserves a verbal standing-o for the tight-tight-tight blocking and rapid-fire dialogue she demanded of her cast -- just 37 minutes for Act 1, 47 minutes for Act 2 -- with not a smidgeon or iota of Mamet's powerful playwriting sacrificed along the way. The north-south tier seating aside the centre Beaumont stage leant an intimacy to the action only small-stage rooms can achieve. Good simple period piece design and furniture by Sarah Mabberly, while Sherry Randall's costumes captured perfectly the vestments of the day I remember wearing.

Who gonna like : Followers of this blog know my affinity for the work of David Mamet. Classic Chic's production wrings every second of sizzle and smoke from these abusive and sorry Chicago hustlers. It simply is not possible to snag character and meaning from largely unearned and undeserved wealth at the expense of the dignity (and the wallets) of their victims. The cautionary words of bell hooks about men behaving badly are taken to dizzying heights by this cast of women. They exhibit no vertigo whatever in launching such a breathtaking glimpse into the souls of Mamet's most famous schmucks

Particulars : Written by David Mamet. A Classic Chic production performed at the Beaumont Studios, 326 West 5th Avenue. Through June 27th, 7:30 curtain, 84 minutes run-time plus intermission. Festival seating. Cheap, plentiful refreshments available. Website :  Hashtag #classicglengarry. Tickets $25.

Production crew : Artistic Director Christina Wells Campbell.  Director Rachel Peake.  Set Designer and Props Mistress Sarah Mabberley.  Costume Designer Sherry Randall.  Lighting Designer Jaylene Pratt.  Sound Designer Joelysa Pankanea.  Technical Director Taylor Janzen.  Production Manager Corina Akeson.  Marketing & Communications Producer Michelle Martin.  Assistant Director Jessica Ross-Howkins.  Stage Manager Jasmin Sandhu.  Assistant Stage Manager Victoria Snashall.  Associate Producers : Keara Barnes. Laura Drummond. Bronwen Smith. 

Performers :  Corina Akeson.  Christina Wells Campbell.  Catherine Lough Haggquist.  Marci T. House.  Michelle Martin.  Suzanne Ristic.  Colleen Winton.  


Saturday, 13 June 2015

A true Comedy of Errors kicks off Bard '15 season

Background & plot tidbits :  In his Annotated Shakespeare of 2,461 pages, Professor A. L. Rowse asserts that Comedy of Errors is not just WS's first comedy, but indeed his first published play altogether. Often dismissed as superficial, CoE has as its central conceit not just one set of twins, but two, and moreover, the twins from each set have identical names. Two high-born Antipholus's, and two low-born Dromio's who were bought-at-birth to be manservants to the A's. They're all 30-somethings now -- but paired-off since their early diaper days.

A shipwreck when they were all babes utlimately finds one pair of A-&-D in Ephesus (Greek-ruled Turkey), while the other pair found their way back to their original birthplace in faraway Syracusa (Sicily). The two cities are currently in a trade war, and death awaits any Syracusa merchant found in Ephesa.

Dad Aegeon from Syracusa has been desperate to find his lost twin son all these years. He has scoured Greece endlessly in search, landing at last in Ephesus quite by chance. Because he is on enemy turf, however, he will be put to death unless he can come up with 1,000 ducats by way of trade-war-tax. He has until sundown. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have accompanied Aegeon on his quest and are central to the comic action. It turns out the same-named Antipholus Son #2, meanwhile, has lived with his manservant Dromio in Ephesus since the shipwreck decades back. (In the text their lines are noted thus : Ant. E, Ant. S, Dro. E and Dro. S respectively.)

How the sets of twins came to have identical names is "just one of those things". Elizabethan audiences likely wouldn't think it absurd despite being a wholly gimmicky contrivance. But it is that single stroke that allows Shakespeare to manufacture scene-after-scene of mistaken identity, confused partnerships and alliances and all the slapstick physical comedy such a goofy scenario provides for.

The various masters and servants, their women, the town's bureaucrats and common folk alike all caterwaul like a herd of cats in a barn as they jump and hiss and slap their paws at one another. At each turn they think the "one" they're dealing with is actually the "other" they know, and that confusion drives the mania and angst that unfold. The town quite clearly, everyone thinks, is overrun with witches, mountebanks and "Lapland sorcerers" because of the ongoing betrayals and behaviour outrages caused by the neverending hall of mirrors involving all four twins. Until play's end. When "all is revealed" and "all's well that ends well" -- familiar Billy Bard tropes for sure. (Somehow Mom [Anna Galvin] has become the local nunnery Abbess and knows not of her local son. Until the "reveal". Ah, yes. "Willing suspension of disbelief" is what we must bring to drama, always, according to English poet & aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge 200 years back.)

Rollicking rampant madness afoot : 'Tis not often I find myself in fits of willful LOL's when madly scribbling notes for a review during a performance -- this one the final preview June 12 before its official opening June 13. In the case of CoE, however, I took precious few notes because I was so fixated on the rollicking mainstage spectacle unfolding 10 rows below.

Director Scott Bellis elected a "steampunk" motif as the play's backdrop : imagine the wizard ship in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meeting up with Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times clockwork cogs all taking place in Quasimodo's bell tower. That should give you the feel of Pam Johnson's wizard set.

Not to be outdone -- and complementing immensely Johnson's set -- costume designer Mara Gottler brought her A-game for sure : championship designs for each and every character. Victorian ruffles & velvets & leathers meet hussy-striped cocktail corset get-ups & gartered stockings meet 1930's sci-fi headgear replete with space guns that blow bubbles. Add constant hazer smoke and faux cannons used as poofter weapons and the nutty design antics are complete.

Bellis coached his principals well indeed in the need for Pace, pace, pace! to keep the madcap nonsense clipping forth mirthfully. Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg blocked her charges with split-second entrances, exits and mock beatings that fight director Nicholas Harrison helped the troupe execute crisply throughout the night.

Character hi-lites galore : Huzzah's and Shazam!'s to the entire cast for an evening of delightful carrying-on, no question, not one weak link in the chain of 14 actors scurrying about.

But for this reviewer it is the pairing of Luisa Jojic and Ben Elliott as the Syracusa pair who drive the action, particularly Jojic as the increasingly put-upon Dro.S who is pummelled mercilessly Keystone Cops style by her master. Her sassy snap-backs and double-takes toward Ant.S are simply superb.

Andrew McNee triple-bills as executioner, Balthasar the coke-snorting friend of Ant. E (Jay Hindle), but best of all as the disgustingly greasy and "spherical" Nell, cook to Ant. E's wife Adriana (Sereana Milani). Nell's hot hot hot for Dro.S who finds her gross and dodges each grab artfully. [In the end Dro.E (Dawn Petten) saves her sister from further torment by a timely smooch.]

Mention is necessary of Ant. S's gap-mouth'd drools over Adriana's sister Luciana (Lindsey Angell), too. They are priceless as they seduce one another under the watchful eye of a carnivorous Venus fly-trap on the garden trolley. At play's end, meanwhile, Hindle's Ant. E exculpatory pleadings to the Duke (Jeff Gladstone) in a lengthy and lugubrious soliloquy earned him hearty and deserved handclaps, his most compelling moments of the night. For his part, Andrew Cownden as the goldsmith wins the elocution and projection prize, hands down.

Who gonna like : Judging by the responses heard in the exits, no one not gonna like. As a general caveat, Shakespeare does work best when one has the time and luxury to read the script ahead-of-time rather than face his Elizabethan tongue and imagery and poetic tale-spinning utterly unprep'd. Still, the sheer visual richness and antic acting of this performance will bridge most language or comprehension gaps and make them largely irrelevant.

Also, it's not a plot spoiler to know in advance that Ant. S sports a white shock of hair on the right side of his scalp, while Ant. E has a matching one but on the left side. Same idea with the Dromios : Dro. S has a leather knee patch on her left knee and hoists a messenger bag on her right shoulder, while Dro. E's patch and bag are the opposite. These clues help unclutter the scattergun rapid-fire Billy Bard dialogue and identity mix-ups that are the core of all the nonsense.

Professor Rowse tells us: "We happen to know that [CoE] was performed at a Grand Night at Gray's Inn on 28 December 1594, amid much rowdy junketing that added more confusion to that presented in the play." Learning that, Director Bellis-&-Crew deserve an extra shout-out and a round of snaps because I have to imagine WS's Gray's Inn production was no less goofy and silly and just-plain-fun than this re-mount now some 420+ years after the first partyers drank it all in back then. Sheer giggly refreshing fun for sure !

Particulars :  Now on until September 26 at the BMO mainstage at Vanier Park. Run-time approx. 140 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission. Tickets & schedules for the repertory performances with Bard's three other plays via or by phoning the box office at 604.739.0559.

Production crew :  Artistic Director Christopher Gaze.  Director Scott Bellis.  Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg.  Fight Director Nicholas Harrison.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Kelly Barker.  Apprentice Stage Manager Alexandra Shewan.  Apprentice Director Amanda Lockitch.  Set Design Apprentice Elizabeth Wellwood.

Peformers :  Lindsey Angell.  Lili Beaudoin.  Scott Bellis.  Andrew Cownden.  Daniel Doheny.  Ben Elliott.  Josh Epstein.  Anna Galvin.  Jeff Gladstone.  Jay Hindle.  Luisa Jojic.  Sereana Malani. Andrew McNee.  Dawn Petten. 


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Imaginary Invalid takes long look back 350 years

Plot backdrop : French comic playwright and actor Moliere died in 1673 doing this satirical play that has currently been resurrected at the Jericho Arts Centre, produced by the United Players of Vancouver.  Dad's a devout and dedicated hypochondriac who believes in quack doctors. He wants his daughter to marry just such a one so he can continue to get 24/7 enemas, injections and potions galore, both at-hand and wholesale. She loves an artiste, meanwhile, and hates at first sight the nerdy doc-of-choice that Dad's decided on. Wife #2 wants Dad dead and her step-daughters hived off to a nunnery so she can grab the inheritance he's left them. Introduce a meddling and discerning and manipulative household maid, blend some period music and slapstick song-&-dance into the silly melange, and The Imaginary Invalid is what pops up with all the substance of a Sunday supper souffle.

WYSIWYG : Director Michael Fera says his troupe's intent and process involved "extensive research to clarify and flush out 17th century France" in what he termed "our enormous vision" whose participants both on-stage and off- wanted "to help create (Moliere's) world". And that the United Players succeed in doing in layers of talent coupled with visual and audial richness, no question. The script employed was, however, somewhat too flushed out and too enormous for a 25 C. Vancouver summer nite sitting on convention chairs in a small room with scant ventilation. Still, there's much to admire in the company's production, particularly for stage history afficionados.

Character hi-lites : As Dad Argan / Moliere, John Prowse creates a character who even as a mature adult is a risible naif with a basso profundo voice and a wicked cane that he helicopters about when not hobbling on it. "What I am afraid of is all those ailments I've never heard of!" he says, sounding like a 21st century ER frequent flyer. Maid Toinette (Maria J. Cruz) is cheeky and sly and punchy with her verbal jousts : "Real love and pretending are so hard to distinguish!" she teases Argan when he announces his marriage arrangement scheme. 

In the commedia dell'arte tradition, Invalid has stock characters like Punchinello who's a harlequin-inspired bit of comic relief with a hunchback and codpiece who jiggles his bits at the front row patrons while he belts out a goofy but tuneful soliloquy. Brad Bergeron executes the part with zest and vigour and leering scampers plus a commode interlude that was positively Pythonesque. Also playing Argan's brother-in-law Beralde, Bergeron had the best timing, pace and cadence of anyone over the night's shenanigans. Victoria Bass did double duty as the wicked witch stepmom Beline but also had some tasty licks on a baroque cello with a voice to match.

Costumes dandy and randy : Costume designer Jackie Talmey-Lennon worked creatively with Tapestry in Westwood Village. Between them they produced period costumes with laces and stockings and shoes and aristocratic coats and pantaloons that were simply stunning. Choreographer Jessie Au, like her surname, gave a gold medal performance in the staging of the troupe's choral movements, particularly their freeze-frame poses and heavenly finger-points. Todd R. Parker's set with asymmetrical door frames, brocade purple walls and outsize decorative coloured water urns gave a hint of the Palais Royale, Paris circa 1763, though the armchairs stage left were a bit more Sally Ann than high society. Music director Pat Unruh spliced together music researched from the Moliere original plus added some complementary contemporary riffs for baroque cello, bass recorder, alto recorder and harpsichord that were a delight on the ear.

Who gonna like : As indicated above, French theatre history buffs will likely be charmed by this contemporized period piece of Moliere's. Everyone likes to poke at health care's sore spots and bruise points, and Moliere's play probes and prods with familiar honesty in those respects nearly 350 years after he wrote it. Have to note that the first act particularly needed some judicious script amputation, about 15 minutes worth, and another 5 digits lopped off the second act wouldn't hurt either. But for a taste of the styles and themes and gestalt of Moliere's world, the United Players' production might be just the ticket for you.

Particulars : A United Players of Vancouver production at the Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street. Two hours, 15 minutes run-time including intermission. Through June 28th. Tickets via or phone 604.224.8007, ext. 2.

Production crew : Director Michael Fera.  Executive Producer / Artistic Director United Players Andree Karas.  Technical Director Graham Ockley.  Music Director Pat Unruh.  Choreographer Jessie Au.  Assistant Director Seamus Fera.  Set Designer Todd R. Parker.  Lighting Designer Randy Poulis.  Costume Designer Jackie Talmey-Lennon.  

Performers : Victoria Bass. Brad Bergeron. Maria J. Cruz. JD Duckman. Bronwyn Henderson. Cody Kearsley. John Prowse. Olesia Shewchuk. David Wallace.