Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Dining Room grabs at mostly fond memories

From the footlights :  In 1982, American playwright A. R. Gurney from Buffalo, NY was 52 years old when off-Broadway produced his 18 overlapping vignettes about the 20th century dining room. When the dining room was special, when it was the centerpiece of the house. Often called a "memoirist of the vanishing WASP", Gurney's world transcends such an artificial limit. E.g. across the years I've known many folks of Jewish, Irish, Italian, South Asian, Central American, Indonesian descent among others -- all of whom have dining rooms that get used robustly as family gathering places. Like ghosts revisiting favourite haunts, the 57 characters played here by just six actors range in age from cheeky grammar school kids to aging fading seniors. They remind us of times past and present, lit.& fig. "Present" we put aside our iPhones and the filters of Facebook or FaceTime : instead we engage one another on a flesh-&-blood footing. Gurney's 18 vignettes are wrought with clever sentiment, and Western Gold executes them lovingly & crisply.

How it's all put together :  Imagine you're the "third eye" viewing 70 years of meals at various peoples' dining rooms (all performed, serially, on the same set). Here's how the back cover of the Dramatists Play Service script describes what you'll see:

"The action is a mosaic of interrelated scenes -- some funny, some touching, some rueful. The actors change roles, personalities and ages as they portray a wide variety of characters from little boys to stern grandfathers and from giggling teenage girls to Irish housemaids. Each vignette introduces a new set of people and events : a father lectures his son on grammar and politics; a boy returns from boarding school to discover his mother's infidelity; a senile grandmother doesn't recognize her own sons at Thanksgiving dinner; a daughter, her marriage a shambles, pleads to return home, etc."

I.e. some 100 minutes of stage-time, 18 scenes, on average just over five minutes each before the next dissolve-&-fade-out into another snapshot. You see dining room moments lived up close and personal over 3/4 of a century -- from roughrider Teddy Roosevelt's fin de siecle America still using horse-drawn carriages to shortly after the fall of Saigon as engineered by Dick Nixon when Toyotas were kicking Chevy butts all across the land.

The gist of the gab :  Carl Jung famously said that in dreams, rooms in a house reflect symbolically various aspects and levels of consciousness. If true for dreams, equally so, why not, for fictional "I Remember Mama" type shows on stage. The dining room : a seat of sentimental recall, your "happy times" place; a site for clashes, when a kid's hyperactive amygdala smacks up against Father's prefrontal cortex that responds sternly; a set-to spot, where cognitive debates descend into affective hissy-fits with family members or guests ginned up on drink or hubris.

Mr. Gurney's script runs through the century in these regards. From references to "instant coffee on Eastern Airlines" [Sc.1] to "But it's just the tour cast -- Katharine Cornell isn't playing Saint Joan" [Sc.4] to "At boarding school he'll just get mixed up with women who wear lipstick and long pants" [Sc.8] to "I'm doing a classroom project for my Amherst anthropology class on the eating habits of a vanishing culture -- a slide-show on the WASPs of the U.S. northeast" [Sc.13] to "Uncle Henry's 'bachelor attachments' were called out by Binky Byers down at the Club", Dad announces, and son responds "Oh, you mean he's a fruit?" [Sc.15]. 

Post-show chat reveals insights : At a talk-back tonight I asked cast member and Western Gold Artistic Director Anna Hagan whether she thought Gurney was being sentimental or wistful or just ironic in writing such a clever but extended schtick around dining room manners, dottering but doting maids, polished silver and Waterford crystal, snippets and sniggers of chit-chat shared at the table. 

She responded : "Eating is such a basic, primitive thing, whenever people love one another they sit and eat together." In a word, all-of-the-above did Gurney intend. 

Fellow actor Adele Noronha, meanwhile -- she raised in her youth in India post-Brit but whose parents still patterned her upbringing thus  -- Noronha said Gurney was addressing "the illusion of culture" : peoples' beliefs that their nano-second on earth and all the social niceties they subscribe to have core importance. 

Naw, she implied, they're just polite & hypocritical but well-meant customs going ka-bump! ka-bump! ka-bump! down the steps of history until new customs supplant them.

Production values abound at PAL : Glenn MacDonald's set and props and the staging arrangements are what grab the viewer instantly. The action occurs in a quasi-theatre-in-the-round mode, with an omnipresent and ever-seeing dining room table at centre. A double-pedestal highly varnished affair with inlaid carvings, it is a piece of furniture quite to die for. Visually and contextually, the whole set is designed to be as if snatched from a museum -- red velvet ropes on brass stanchions encircle the stage at its start and are quite a brilliant visual underscore of the play's themes.

Around the edges of the set, pedestal tables hold goblets and silver serving pieces high-lighted by pin spots. Upstage three rich stained glass transoms harken back to earlier decades and their various accoutrements we admire and pine for in our plastic culture. WGT is particularly indebted to Leslie Madsen of Mount Pleasant Furniture -- prop maven for Hollywood North -- for her eager and sumptuous supplies.

Adding to all this richness is Sound Designer Matthew MacDonald-Bains' varied musical score of classics and more modern cuts that match each scene delightfully.

Acting hi-lites : Part of the fun of the staging set out by playwright Gurney is that the six actors each play roles out-of-age : the younger actors depict hobbled servants while the older ones play birthday party kids in short pants with abandon and glee. 

To single out any one of the six performers as superior to the others would be, I think, unfair to them all, although the "repair the broken table" sequence [Sc.9] was just priceless : Kate Dion-Richard and Keith Martin Gordey writhing and twisting under the table to discern its faulty bits that -- like them -- need some serious t.l.c. 

On a personal note the Thanksgiving scene [Sc.10] with Anna Hagan as Grandma gripped by such senility she doesn't know her own sons was particularly touching. My mother always had failing elders at our multi-leaf'd dining room table that sat some two dozen folks. (To this day while everyone holds hands, I sing "Come Ye Thankful People, Come" a capella by way of pre-dinner grace with guests at our Cariboo cabin each Thanksgiving. Then we tuck into the turkey that was roasted in our ancient word-burning McLary.)

Shortly after there's daughter (Dion-Richard) who bewails her failed-marriage followed by failed-lover followed by failed lesbian liaison [Sc.14].  She entreats Dad "I want to start all over again, I just can't go back!" Dad responds "Neither can !" A fist of scotch in hand and two under the belt, he begrudges her and her three kids just a week or 10 days max. back "home". Yeah, no question, tears welled up.

Finally, the three women's ultra-slo-mo setting up of the dinner table -- while Pop blueprints for Richard, the eldest son, how he wants his obit written up including his lowest golf score and an Ernest Hemingway fishing moment in Florida [Sc.17]. This scene was simply a delicious! bit of theatre blocking and stage business. Then came the closing snapshot : Gatling gun yakkety-yak & jibber-jabber with all six actors talking at once over one another as they sat down for the last supper. Brilliant! work by Director Chelsea Haberlin in its contrast to the just finished slo-mo table set-up scene.

Who gonna like : Gurney's The Dining Room is not great literature of the calibre of John Updike, Walker Percy or John Cheever who specialized in chronicling the demise of tradition & custom & good breeding, as it was called back in the day, in what many complain is now a callous and crude au courant USA. TDR is a comedy of manners with its various sentiments and wistfulness and ironies as previously noted. TDR is for people who delight in small theatre in an embracing and rewarding venue. There is much to laugh at and relate to. Six actors give flat-out Bonkers! energy during their performances of 57 parts in 18 overlapping scenes that tie together thematically very well indeed. Sound to you like a night's worthy alternative to rom-com Netflix movies or the Canucks or the Kardashians? Just 10 days left !

Particulars :  Playwright A. R. Gurney.  Production by Western Gold Theatre.  Performances at PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero Street, thru November 8th (schedules vary).  Run-time 100 minutes plus intermission.  Ticket & schedule information by phone at 604.363.5734 or over the Internet at URL

Production & artistic team :  Director Chelsea Haberlin.  Set Designer Glenn MacDonald.  Assistant Set Designer R. Todd Parker. Costume Designer Meredith Grantier.  Sound Designer Matthew MacDonald-Bain.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Stage Manager Anthony Liam Kearns.  Assistant Stage Manager Tanya Mathivanan.  

Performers :  Kate Dion-Richard.  Alen Dominguez.  Keith Martin Gordey.  Anna Hagan.  Adele Noronha.  John Prowse.  


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Redux of Red Rock Diner : this show jives 
& jams & jollies you big time!

What follows is an edited re-issue of the original BLR review of July 8, 2014 for this show that is now on tour by ACT. Due to other theatre obligations, I won't be able to catch up with it. But as many of the actors and production crew are the same, I have little doubt the values that played out in the original directed then, as now, by Valerie Easton, are once again evident on the various boards where it's being re-staged with the current cast [as noted below]. Schedules at the bottom.  \ WBB

Ed. note to readers : For a quick take on the show, read sections Here's what it's about, Cast highlights, Who gonna like.

Here's what it's about : RRD is not a "play" but a rock-&-roll musical revue that by and large is an excellently-executed song-&-dance jive-jam of 50's rock-&-pop. 

Local R-&-R d.j. giant Red Robinson is the hook in this reprise of the 1997 Dean Regan original creation. Robinson is the only d.j. on earth, we're told, to introduce to live audiences over the course of a decade or more each of Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Beatles. He put Vancouver on the rock map long before the largely-unknown backwater of YVR was discovered and bought out. Now you don't learn much about Red in RRD.*  Mostly he's a bit of a wise-ass radio personality on CKWX linking together some 20 pop hits and another couple dozen song-snippets on the night. 

But boy-oh-boy do you get energy and flashdance and great musical chops from RRD's performers as directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton and music'd by Steven Greenfield.

A bit of background on context : As a late WarGen kid growing up in the 50's USA midwest, I thought the music from that era aimed at us generally sucked. Not Sinatra and the Rat Pack group and their carryover of big band 40's sounds. No. But these, the likes of Bobby Vee. Bobby Vinton. Frankie Avalon. Ricky Nelson. Eddie Fisher. Pat Boone. To a person, to me, they were all Wonder Bread white. Hard to categorize any of their stuff as "rock-&-roll" I sniffed at the time.

There were exceptions. Some sourdough & rye with crust, no question. Elvis. And while "Jailhouse Rock" might have been a bit too raunchy for us northern Republican Baptists, his cover of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" was choice. [I actually owned a pair of b.s.s. in Grade 8 in '58 along with saddle shoes and penny loafers.] Other notables : The Everly Brothers. Buddy Holly. Richie Valens. The Big Bopper. Bobby Darin. (Little Richard? A whack-o orbiting his own planet, we Milwaukee suburbanites thought.) But at least these people rocked and we rolled along joyously with them in the back of Dad's Ford convertible.

Some of the sketchier ballads from that time, i.m.o., included "Little Star" with its obnoxious & maudlin "There you arrrrrrreee,  little starrrrr..."closing line. "Teenager in Love". "Venus" -- "Oh Veeeeenus, make my dreams come true!" [At least to that lyric we gyrated with our girlfriends in their flannel poodle skirts at the sock hop. Hope ever springs up.] But thin, v-e-r-y thin musically, this stuff. 

No, it wasn't until Roy Orbison's iconic "Crying" and another, "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King in the Kennedy 60's that ballads for teen-age ears were at last evolving, we hoped, into a wee bit of nuance and substance, away from AM radio's cotton candy we'd been force-fed for years.

Well, whatever I might have thought about that music back then, I can tell you this : RRD turns those three songs I hated back in the day and makes them a delight to watch and hear as part of pop music's varied history from that time. And it ends, appropriately, with the Roy and Ben numbers to signal the next chapter of rock's emerging identity.

"Action" works in lieu of plot : In its two acts over two hours we first find young DJ Red [Jesse Martyn] spinning discs in the CKWX broadcast booth for his 7-Up sponsored Teen Canteen after-school show while the cast of high schoolers jive it up to the tunes he plays. Second act features Red doing a dance and talent show at King Ed High on Grad Night, 1957. 

There is no fleshed-out story-line or narrative arc -- just 12 wizardly antic souls singing and strumming and tooting and dancing their hearts out. 

RRD amounts to a serial review of songs from those times with verbal and visual Vancouver reference points thrown in casually, almost willy-nilly, such as a note about homes selling for $15,000 in Kitsilano that year or call-ins about a Robinson radio prank over whales allegedly beached at English Bay. Billboard ads flash above the set that feature the Vancouver Mounties and White Spot. '57 Fords and Buicks. Trev Deeley Harleys. Texaco Sky Chief Supreme. Doublemint.

To some, the lack of "what-ness" that stage plays usually provide may detract from the evening's success. Not to the majority, however. There's hollerin' and clappin' and cheerin' and stompin' and laughin' from the cheap seats up top to front row downstage centre and through all the rows between. 

Cast highlights : This was first rate work by the troupe. But there were three primary standouts : as Johnny B, the Red Rock Diner soda jerk, Colin Sheen for me nearly stole the show single-handedly (double-foot-edly...?) with his dance and choreography and stage business moves. Faster more subtler feet in red sneaks I don't believe I have witnessed on a Vancouver stage in years. And the boy can sing, oh can he sing. His cut at Johnny Ray's "Cry" brought down the house. [Played by Sayer Roberts, 2015.]

Vying with Sheen for top dance moves (and an absolutely wild! hula hoop display) is Anna Kuman as Connie. She makes her crinolines bob-&-bounce with breathtaking speed and variety. And she can belt out tunes with gusto as well as croon sweetly with Robyn Wallis as Venus.

Zachary Stevenson is well-known to ACT audiences for his regular redux as Buddy Holly. He transports his signature leg-hop / knee-lift / guitar-banging stretch-out routine to his role here as Val, where he also adds some clever sax riffs to his customary 6-string prowess and big big voice. [Played by Daniel James White, 2015.]

Of the five instrumentalists, clearly Brett Ziegler on sax was the crowd favourite in his hefty but light animation throughout the night. He sings lustily and with good cheer, too. (And does a mean chime.) Overall, leader Steven Greenfield's hand-picked mates earn kudos for being truly a band, not just some accomplished players riffing. 

Production values prominent : Ted Roberts' excellent set of checkerboard flooring, chrome red-stool and diner counter, Ward's Music storefront, and the twin two-storey perches for Red's d.j. booth plus a dress shoppe opposite were clever, as were the warm lighting and timely spots on stage. 

Costume designer Darryl Milot captured to a thread the range of clothes sported back then from over-bright pedal-pushers to Fonzi leathers to Converse canvas. 

Andrew Tugwell's sound design filled every corner of the house with richness and clarity. 

But it is Valerie Easton's blocking, her customary choreographic excellence that captures the zeitgest so perfectly, her stage business such as Johnny B's chrome polishing and counter-cloth routines -- these are what make this revue sparkle in spite of its lite storyline. 

Who gonna like : To be exposed to so many snatches and whole cuts of songs from both the ditzy stuff of the 50's as well as its full-on rock songs serves to remind WarGen's and Boomers how far we've traversed from the carefree kick-the-can Howdy Doody 1950's. When people leave this show they have no doubt why they came to see it. So if "Do the Hucklebuck" and "Chantilly Lace" and "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Wake Up Little Susie" compel you to shake your booty, this one's definitely for you. 

* In recognition of his early promotion of the emerging phenomenon known as rock-&-roll, Red Robinson was the sole Canadian inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995 along with a slew of Yanks. 

Regrettably, I think, there's a bit of "brag factor" at work in Dean Regan's scripted lines for Red's character in RRD that detracts from the show just a smidgeon. E.g. to have met and emcee'd the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly and the Beatles does not make them "friends" except in the most casual or flippant sense of the word possible. Bad descriptor used more than once. But that's a mere quibble aimed at creator Regan more than at the venerable and charming Red Robinson himself who was in the house Monday night. 

As a member of the BC Entertainment Walk of Fame (outside the Orpheum), the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, and -- my favourite -- the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Red Robinson has a pedigree that is huge and genuine : his contribution to the music and entertainment scene now spans some six decades here in Greater Vancouver. That's a Wow! factor well-earned indeed.

Update : Just yesterday, October 20, 2015, Red on his afternoon show on AM650 made an ironic and self-deprecating comparison between his recall of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" -vs- Harry Chapin's "Taxi". Most listeners would not even be aware of any but two songs of my main man the late great Harry : "WOLD" & "The Cat's In The Cradle". Huzza-buzza Big Red!!

Production : Script by Dean Regan.  Director & Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Musical Director Steven Greenfield.  Set & Lighting Designer Ted Robers.  Costume Designer Darryl Milot.  Sound Designer Andrew Tugwell.  Stage Manager Allison Spearin.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.

Performers : Tafari Anthony.  Mat Baker.  Todd Biffard.  Steven Greenfield.  Anna Kuman.  Jesse Martyn.  Scott Perrie.  Sayer Robers.  Robyn Wallis.  Daniel James White.  Brett Ziegler. 

Venues, dates & phone ticket office contact numbers :

Surrey Arts Centre,  October 14-24,  604.501.5566

Clarke Theatre,  Mission, October 25,  1.877.299.1644

Evergreen Cultural Centre,  Coquitlam, October 27 - November 1,  604.927.6555

Kay Meek Centre,  West Vancouver,  November 2-3,  604.981.6335

The BlueShore @ Cap,  North Vancouver,  November 4th,  604.990.7810

Chilliwack Cultural Centre,  November 6th,  604.391.7469

The ACTS Art Centre,  Maple Ridge,  November 7th,  604.476.2782

Shadbolt Centre for the Arts,  Burnaby,  November 9-10,  604.205.3000

Kelowna Community Theatre,  November 12th,  1.877.299.1644

Key City Theatre,  Cranbrook,  November 14th,  250.426.7006

Capitol Theatre,  Nelson,  November 17th,  250.352.6363

Cowichan Performing Arts Centre,  Duncan,  November 20th,  250.748.7529

Sid Williams Theatre, Courtenay,  November 21-22,  250.338.2430, ext. 1


Sunday, 18 October 2015

For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again is a step back in time & place & temperament

From the footlights : This resuscitated 1998 script by Quebec's Michel Tremblay (trans. Linda Gaboriau) is a two-hander about a boy slowly morphing into manhood with mom his primary mentor & playmate. He recalls through narrative and dialogue the special bond he as her youngest son, the "artsy" one, had with her. Born of native Canadian stock in simple backwoods Saskatchewan, Nana is anything but simple. She's rich and round and robust. She's a storyteller, a chatterbox, a bristly critic of life and family, a dervish of love. This is a bigger-than-life Nana frozen in time as if in a 50's snow-globe. 

How it's all put together : Tremblay's alter ego and the show's Narrator, Kevin Loring, is mostly a foil for Margo Kane as Nana. Kane reprises her 2014 Talking Stick Festival performance, and the show is really an extended set-up for Kane to charm and bullyrag and kvetch over family snapshots starting with her son when he was in snowpants. Loring feeds Nana one-liners, and from there the result is a one-woman show of wit and charm and physical comedy reminiscent of what Nicki Cavendish would do -- did, some 17 years back -- with the script. Make, as it were, a valentine of loving remembrance. Everyone has a Mom or a Granny they'd like one last jawbone with. This was Tremblay's effort when he was 50-something to re-create Nana's trademark gestalt of blustery good cheer before cancer struck and took her during his 20's.

The script put me to mind of the late U.S. basketball coach Joe Valvano who offered up this Rx for life to his fans in a final emotional reunion. "Every day," he said, "do three things : Think! Laugh! Cry! And when you consider it," he added, "any day you can do those three things has been a really good day." And so it is with FTPOSHA, as if Tremblay is saying "Give it to us, Nana, one more time, give us all of it." 

The gist of the gab : Not coming from such a family, I try to imagine it : each day, hour after hour, son and mom talk about the low-brow novels she loves. They jibber-jabber over family foibles and frailties, about Aunt Gertrude's ability to cadge regular dinner invites at Nana's expense for burnt but otherwise undercooked weekly roast beefs. They engage in a lengthy exchange over what it must have meant to have been "blue blood nobility" across the pond in France without ever mentioning Robespierre or Napoleon. 

Occasionally insomniac, Nana is also a bit of a Platonic dreamer e.g. she notes actors "disappear" from the screen and her mind at each show's end and wonders whether t.v. audiences "exist" for the actors they're playing to.  But mostly she was a person who "never tackled important subjects directly -- she'd talk a blue streak trying to avoid her concerns," Narrator admits, including whether her son cavorts with homosexuals (as it might have been put at the time).  She also frets : "I worry you're not settled, that you'll spend the rest of your life dreaming about the life you want to lead."

Then, too, these two telling observations about his mom : "Sometimes she was the only one who understood the point of her stories" -and- "When a person starts talking to you there's no knowing where it will end."

One might easily conclude Tremblay thought his Nana a bit of a ditz or airhead. Anything but. As a nascent writer, he was charmed and thrilled to be "mesmerized by her words", Narrator tells us.

Acting hi-lites :  Of Cree heritage, Margo Kane as Nana nails her characterization delightfully. The facial nuances, the inflections, the bouncy Big Mama, she's got it all. She is also Director of the show and manages to block herself cleverly. Lots of fussy mama in housedress and kerchief stage business involving the perfect! chrome kitchen table & matching chairs, a wodge of fake flowers and the omnipresent floor mop. Clearly the scene-steal of the night was her satirical snap of niece Lucille's two-minute role as the fairy queen in a ballet performance of Cinderella. The house roared her every mocking eye-twitch and stumbly toe-point.

For his part Mr. Loring manages some very appropriate facial grimaces and voice modulations to match the various ages he portrays. His blocking, however, I found distracting : he was welded to a centre-left leather chair all evening, only jumping up when Nana doubles over in pain from cancer at play's end. His staging needed to be more kinetic, less static. Narrator's nervous notebook jottery was symbolically the right call, clearly, but a constant fussing-&-flipping through the stack of books at his feet would have been much more interesting to watch than him just sitzen.

Who gonna like : As the header says, this is a "step back in time & place & temperament". Born just a few months ahead of the Boomer crowd, I remember conversations particularly among my grandma and her friends akin to what Tremblay / Gaboriau set out in this piece. It was an epoch when family and neighbours gave each other more face-time, when sharing gossip and tall-tales was the stuff of days, not just moments. Folks born in the 30's and 40's who want a wee wink of what that time felt like at heart for a boy and his mom, well, FTPOSHA just might fill the bill.

Particulars :  Playwright Michel Tremblay. Translation by Linda Gaboriau.  Production by Full Circle : First Nations Performance. Performances at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert, Richmond through October 24th. Run-time 90 minutes, no intermission. Schedules vary daily. Ticket information via or by phoning 604.270.1812.

Artistic Team :  Director Margo Kane.  Original Director Glynis Leyshon.  Set and Costume Designer Pam Johnson.  Original Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Lighting Associate Graham Ockley. Composer and Sound Designer Bruce Ruddell.  Stage Manager Ingrid Turk.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn.  Production Manager Josef Chung.

Performers : Margo Kane (Nana). Kevin Loring (Narrator).  


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Poignance & theatrics galore in The Waiting Room

From the footlights :  Chutzpah! and courage are kissing cousins in the dictionary. No wonder. How else to explain playwright Morris Panych doing up a script about Spirit of the West frontman John Mann's fulsome fight with colorectal cancer that caught him in 2009. Panych's script "The Waiting Room" is a collaboration built around Mann's 2014 solo bluegrass & folk & r-and-b album of the same name. The show and the songs are about fate, fear & family, health horrors & triumphs. It's a fete that features many of the moody flippant zingers Panych is so famous for. Unlikely theatrics you say? Fear not : the songs, the band, the choreography, the lights and the set are an absolute treat even though cancer clearly is anything but.

How it's all put together : Jonathon Young is J., the John Mann clone in the piece who gives life to Panych's dialogue. (As for the songs, Mann does his own vocals with a back-up band from behind a backlit scrim of floor-to-ceiling gauze.) As the lights come up, J. rhymes off the show's leitmotif about waiting : "Waiting to be famous / waiting to be gracious / waiting for inspiration / waiting for the perfect chord to end a song / but when you're waiting for bad news, nothing else exists", he cries, a la Leonard Cohen and/or Robert Penn Warren*. This he spiels to a patient from the kids' ward, C., who had leukemia (Matreya Scarrwener). She's a sprightly wise 10-year-old spirit sent to guide J "over" should that be how this chapter of his life ends. Together they commiserate about "all the endless possibilities, the waiting, the dread". 

Soon the stage is populated with four other actors who among them perform 10 hospital-related roles : admissions clerk; doctor; nurse; technicians; bed-mates &c, also J's wife L (Jillian Fargey). 
Spouses who've been through such events as these will recognize the symptoms. Shouts J, "I feel so diminished, so insubstantial!" to which L replies, almost coyly : "I like it when you're vulnerable, it makes me feel strong."

From initial diagnosis through the endless test phases, the pre-op prep and its drugs, the surgery, until ultimately his final "clean" designation after more than a year, ten songs by Mann relate the tale, the endless waiting "just to say it's gone". And even now J. doesn't realize it, truly, until his wife reminds him "a nightmare is still a dream" and touchingly re-works the traditional marriage vow of "for better or for worse" : "The people who love us suffer with us, and believe it or not it's part of the joy of loving!" To which the credo of the show at its end adds tellingly : "There's no reason for any of it, and we shouldn't wait for one." Carpe diem! indeed.

Production values quite astonishing !  When I asked my 20-something daughter K. what she liked best, she didn't hesitate : "The chairs, all the chairs, especially when the play opened." Oh my. Quite agree. A more imaginative staging (Ken MacDonald) I think I may never have seen on the boards in Vancouver. Twenty-two chairs on the floor lined up as in a typical BC hospital waiting room with all its classic floor markings and arrows : each of the chairs white, of mixed vintage and variety and decidedly Sally Ann-y, clearly gifts from the Hospital Auxiliary. But above the floor arrangement, strung from wires, another 50-odd white chairs that descend from the fly gallery. At first they're all aligned and neat, one group forming the sign of the cross, but throughout the show they drop down higgledypiggledy -- all askew and awry and akimbo, a farrago & jumble wholly analogous to how hospitals seem to operate -- and how cancer does, too. Simply brilliant in conception, design and execution. Bravo!

Meanwhile it didn't take daughter K. long to add : "But I also really liked the music, so bluegrassy, not like musicals at all." Credit Allan Rodger as musical director for that, along with John Mann's creative juices flowing underneath of course. But without Ace Martens as sound designer, the work of both Mann and Rodger would be sotte voce. Striking projection, volume and balance throughout. Like in a night club, I was told, not quite as boom-y as EDM but not far off either. Terrific chops from all the band, no question, not one underplayed note from any of them.

"And then there was the lighting," K threw in, "it was so neat!" Veteran Gerald King gets the kudos for that piece, his use of follow-spots and fades done to a T.

For Papa, meanwhile, Movement Collaborator Wendy Gorling's choreography of Panych's staging directions grabbed me as wholly original and slick. A sort of Keystone Cops series of chase sequences with lots of Charlie Chaplin pirouettes thrown in. The company was ever playing tag with Ken MacDonald's dancing bedside privacy screens and operating gurneys and, of course, the omnipresent (omniscient?) chairs that oversee all the krankenhaus mayhem underfoot. To co-ordinate seemingly spontaneous syncopation and make it rhythmic takes some doing. Huzzah! is all I can offer toward such skilled work as this.

Antic acting abounds : As J., Jonathon Young turns in yet another exuberant and excitable and effervescent performance that Vancouver has come to expect from him. And Matreya Scarrwener as C., well she quite took my breath away two years ago in her debut for ACT as a 12-year-old girl scout in Armstrong's War. I'm thrilled to report I'm breathless once more. More subtle finesses two years on, to wonderful effect. For her part, delightful spouse nuances by Jillian Fargey and lots of chuckle & dash from the rest of the cast. 

Who gonna like : As noted supra, cancer is obviously no laughing matter. But when the story of one man's passage through such an experience is given the lifeblood of John Mann's musical muscle and a narrative by Morris Panych, those virtues coupled with the show's utterly creative staging make this an early candidate for Front-runner! in the Fall Vancouver theatre sweepstakes. Maybe not exactly for teen-age Glee! fans, but a sure bet for anyone whose life fortunes have taken them to health care waiting rooms as patient or family or friend. This is definitely Go! time. Touching, compelling, convincing, entertaining : you can't ask for more.

Particulars :  Book Morris Panych. Music and Lyrics John Mann. Performances at the Granville Island Theatre through October 31st. Run-time 85 minutes, no intermission. Schedules vary daily. Ticket information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Artistic Team :  Director Morris Panych.  Set and Costume Designer Ken MacDonald.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Ace Martens.  Movement Collaborator Wendy Gorling.   Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Assistant Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.  Dramaturge Rachel Ditor.

Performers : Jonathon Young (J.)  Jillian Fargey (L.)  Matreya Scarrwener (C.)  Bonnie Panych (Nurse A, Doctor F, Nurse C, Mrs. C)  Chris Cochrane (X-Ray Technician, Nurse F, Prasad, Orderly)  Peter Anderson (Doctor D, Neil).

Band ensemble : Voice John Mann  Banjo Brad Gillard  Guitar Eric Reed  Keyboards Allan Rodger  Violin & Harmonies Shari Ulrich.

*Addendum : If Messrs. Mann & Panych never read the following poem, it would be a wonder as the themes they parse are so similar.


by Robert Penn Warren

You will have to wait. Until it. Until
The last owl hoot has quavered to a
Vibrant silence and you realize there is no breathing
Beside you, and dark curdles toward dawn.
Drouth breaks, too late to save the corn,
But not too late for flood, and the dog-fox, stranded
On a sudden islet, barks in hysteria in the alder-brake.
Until the doctor enters the waiting room, and
His expression betrays all, and you wish
He'd take his goddamn hand off your shoulder.
The woman you have lived with all the years
Says, without rancor, that life is the way life is, and she
Had never loved you, had believed the lie only for the sake of the children.
Until you become uncertain of French irregular verbs
And by a strange coincidence begin to take
Catholic instruction from Monsignor O'Malley, who chews a hangnail.
You realize, truly, that our
Savior died for us all,
And as tears gather in your eyes, you burst out laughing,
For the joke is certainly on Him, considering
What we are.
You pick the last alibi off, like a scab, and
Admire the inwardness, as beautiful as inflamed flesh
Or summer sunrise.
Until you
Remember, surprisingly, that common men have done good deeds.
Until it
Grows on you that, at least, God
Has allowed us the the grandeur of certain utterances.