Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cats revival will find fans meowing mightily

Backdrop to the show : T.S. Eliot in mid-Depression wrote this ditty about cats : "...Cats are much like you and me / And other people whom we find / Possessed of various types of mind. / For some are sane and some are mad / And some are good and some are bad / Some are better, some are worse / But all can be described in verse." It is from this simple observation that Andrew Lloyd Webber found tunes tumbling about in his head in 1980. Within a couple of years it would launch and become, ultimately, the fourth longest-running song-&-dance extravaganza hit on Broadway (Webber's Phantom the longest, next Chicago, next Lion King).

What more skilled lyricist to trip over your keyboard than the great English poet Eliot, he previously made famous by his existential laments The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Waste Land. Eliot's whimsical side was revealed to his godchildren Tom Faber and Alison Tandy in a series of birthday and special event poems for them and his family that by 1939 was collated into a collection titled Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. This was bedtime fireside fun for scads of Forties and Fifties parents reading to their kids in England. Of pedigreed stock, Webber grew up in London with cats underfoot, and when he thought of his pets and let Eliot's rhythms and cadences roll over in his head, he heard music aching to be born. (Old Possum was the nickname poet Ezra Pound gave to his chum Eliot, while to Eliot he was Ole Ez.)

How it plays out : Last time I saw Cats was at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre here in Vancouver in 1987 when a Canadian professional troupe spellbound audiences in sold-out houses for two-&-a-half months, pulling in some $8 million ($15M in to-day's equivalent coin). The current show at the chummy Jericho stage may lack in size and dazzle and spectacle what the QE was able to throw up, but Fighting Chance Productions' rumbustious performance is sheer escapist delight for fans of the show with its non-stop dance, cat idiosyncrasies lovingly sustained by the cast and of course Webber's earworm music. As Webber reflected to London's Telegraph last December : "Fifty per cent of the world loves cats and 50 per cent of the world hates them, and I am very happy to play to only 50 per cent of the world." Catlovers will adore this production, but even the dog crowd or animal agnostics will find much to cheer and clap about.

What makes Cats so different from normal musicals is there's no "book" or storyline as in Mary Poppins that just happens to be put to music. Instead it's a string of Eliot's original poems describing dozens of cat characters who Webber's collaborator director Trevor Nunn originally designed as a feral fraternity sloughing about a junk yard around midnight. There's fat ol' Gumbie cat; Rum Tum Tugger; Bustopher Jones; Old Deuteronomy; Skimbleshanks; Mr. Mistoffelees; and of course the show stealer Grizabella, the ex-Glamour Cat who belts out the iconic anthem "Memory" a couple of times (the only lyric not lifted directly from Old Possum).

Notionally these junk yard cats are gathering to choose one of their gang to ascend to "the heaviside layer". This is where good cats go to die but then return to earth reborn to live another round of nine lives : "Daylight / I must wait for the sunrise / I must think of a new life / And I musn't give in / When the dawn comes / Tonight will be a memory, too / And a new day will begin." Who doesn't know those words? 

Why cats, not dogs ? :  So what is it about cats that makes them just right for stage antics? Primarily because you can never tell them what to do. They don't pant and beg for strokes. They slink. They preen. They are coy and standoffish. They perform spontaneous jumpy tricks. They spin on a blade of grass then tear 90 degrees left across the garden at 30 kph for no apparent reason. They are curiouser and curiouser about stuff in cupboards or on the bookcase or even up the living room drapes. The knead their paws into your blue jeans. 

In the prologue "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" they brag : "We can dive through the air like a flying trapeze / We can turn double somersaults, bounce on a tire / We can run up a wall, we can swing through the trees / We can balance on bars, we can walk on a war." "Jellicle" btw is a compression from the expression "dear little cat" that in some British dialect or other back-in-the-day came out as "jea' li'l cat" which Eliot just squished together into the word "jellicle".

Dogs get mad or anxious and bark. Cats meowwww as if taking offence or from royal annoyance. But cats also purrrrrr. And rub against your leg. And nap on your shoulders while you read-&-doze of a Sunday afternoon. When they wake up, they stre-e-e-e-e-t-t-tch and then lick your hair with their scratchy tongue. Later they'll sneak along behind you in the roadside weeds when you take Bowser out on a leash for his nightly constitutional. 

The fridge magnet gets it right : "Dogs have owners. Cats have staff." Thomas Stearns Eliot and Andrew Lloyd Webber are simply staff put to the task of telling their masters' tales of derring do in song, dance and cat choreography. Or as director Nunn once observed : "We are fascinated by cats for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps most of all because in a mysterious way they allow us more clearly to see ourselves."

What Fighting Chance Productions brings to the stage : For whatever reason FCP in its website page for this show identifies it as an "amateur" production. Okay, so none of the twenty-something actors, both in age and in number, have an * after their name to identify them as performing courtesy of Actors' Equity. But this ain't junior league stuff by far. The cast and production crew are all seasoned performers on Vancouver stages in opera, drama, rock bands, dance, Rocky Horror, cabaret, burlesque, music vids. A slew of the performers and production staff are Cap College theatre program grads. So "amateur"? Hardly.

The primary highlites that one comes away from FCP's production are these : the choreography of 20 actors on some 1,000 square feet of stage, less than a quarter the size/depth of the QET playing field. The costumes. The chummy set of wooden pallets, farm fencing and LED Xmas lights. Couple those production values with a cast charged with vim and pizazz and you've got a winner of a show to embrace and enjoy.

Acting pin-spots : With 20 cats involved in all the Webber/Eliot antics, hardly fair to not acknowledge the entire bunch en masse. But of course that's never 100% fair either. 

Sunniest cat across the night is Sarah Seekamp as Jellylorum. Her intro of Asparagus was utterly rich and charming stuff. Remarkable too her excitement and merriment throughout the entire show.

As Rumpelteazer, Amanda Lau delivered dandy dance chops and in-character engagement without let-up.

Kyrst Hogan (Demeter) and Shayna Holmes (Bombalurina) are slick in their duet about Macavity (Kenneth Cheung) who not only "cheats at cards" but is at core crafty and malicious, a kind of mafia cat. He is ultimately subdued by tougher felines from the T S & E Scrap Salvage gang.

The entire troupe when doing back-up to the "Magical Mr. Mistoffelees" number was absolutely choice and precise and charming in both their singing and their choreography.

Grizabella (Lisa Ricketts) and Jemima (Lauren Trotzek) do a bang-up job on the crescendoing / decrescendoing full-verse version of "Memory" that brings on the show's denouement. 

The actual finale is "The Ad-dressing of Cats" that features the remarkable baritone tremolo of Doug Thoms as Old Deuteronomy leading everyone in a teach-in about cats "who resent familiarity and will condescend to have you as a friend" only if you bribe them with cream or caviar or pie.

Meanwhile Lyndsey Britten, dance captain, earlier pulls a nice doeppelganger turn at the end of Act I as the imagined / reincarnated Grizabella. That there was no reprise at the end of Act II was surprising and a bit confusing both -- another spin by Britten was necessary to tie off that bit of reincarnation detail.

Production values : FCP artistic director Ryan Mooney directs this show that brings a big-stage production down to living room size and warms viewers' hearts in so doing. His casting selections reveal insight and discernment and inclusiveness. Mooney's take of the Webber music atop the Eliot poetry is, to this eye anyway, about 90% flawless.

Between Music Director Adam Da Ros and Choreographer Rachael Carlson the energy & synergy of Webber/Eliot jumped off the stage lit.& fig. every second of the performance. Special kudos to Ms. Carlson who early in her professional career already reveals a deft touch for nuance and completion that are noteworthy. 

As might be obvious from above, I have been "staff" : to Zigi, Maynard, Sam, Sledge and Max over the course of many years. Carlson's incessant stage business for her catty characters was utterly engaging with all the cooing & paw swipes & nosey-huggles & fussiness & hissy fits that cats are all about. 

Fairlith Harvey, who also played cat Jennyanydots, did a simply stupendous job with the costumes. This was wonderful cloth indeed that she stitched together for FCP's production.

Rich make-up (Sharon Grogan) coupled with terrific music underscore (Adam Da Ros) and sound design (Peter Young) complete this compleat and welcoming production of what is now a classic of contemporary stage whose remount by FCP is champion stuff.

Who gonna like : Do you like song-&-dance theatre? Andrew Lloyd Webber's tunes? T.S. Eliot poetry that is both lyrical and lightweight? Cats, the animal? Small-stage venues?

If you answer "No!" to more than one of the above, maybe this isn't your go. But if like me you answer a resounding "Yes!" to all of the above, then this is a show you need to take in. Probably like us, it's been some 25 years since you've seen a version of Cats. No question FCP's production at Jericho will prove this is poetry that is just-plain-fun. The jaunty music arrangements that linger are pulled off by a crew of performers and production people who put on a show that is altogether enfolding in its charm and cuddle.

Particulars :  Presented by Fighting Chance Productions. At the Jericho Arts Centre. To March 12th. Show and season info @ Fighting Chance Productions

Production team : Director Ryan Mooney.  Music Director Adam Da Ros.  Choreographer Raehael Carlson.  Stage Manager Courtney Bettanin.  Assistant Stage Managers Lyndsey Baillie, Jillian Reynolds.  Costume Designer Fairlith Harvey.  Lighting Designer Nicole Weismiller.  Set Designer Tim Driscoll.  Make-up Designer Sharon Grogan.  Sound Designer Peter Young. Set Construction Crew Kevin Wilmott. Dave Carroll. Richard Smith.

Orchestra : Keyboard / Conductor Adam Da Ros.  Keyboard Patrick Courtin.  Guitar Peter Serravalle.  Bass Jazz Palley.  Drums NoeLani Jung. 

Performers :  Ian Backstrom (Mankustrap).  Daniel Bergeron (Trumblebrutus).  Lyndsey Britten (Cassandra).  Kenneth Chung (Macavity).  JD Dueckman (Alonzo).  Cody Fonda (Rum Tum Tugger).  Lucia Forward (Mungojerrie).  Hannah Gauthier (Victoria).  Fairlith Harvey (Jennyanydots).  Kyrst Hogan (Demeter).  Shayna Holmes (Bombalurina).  Damon Bradley Jang (Skimbleshanks).  Amanda Lau (Rumpleteazer).  Randy McCormick (Asparagus).  Lisa Ricketts (Grizabella).  Levi Schneider (Mr. Mistoffelees).  Sarah Seekamp (Jellylorum).   Nazanin Shoja (Exotica).  Doug Thoms (Bustopher Jones / Old Deuteronomy).  Lauren Trotzek (Jemima).

Addendum #1 :  From the web-page of Peninsula Youth Theater in Silicon Valley, California, USA -- no byline -- comes this interesting squib from and about ALW's efforts to secure funding for Cats in 1980, when the world was poised on the edge of a major recession :

"The business of financing loomed as the last hurdle and it looked insurmountable : Nobody wanted to invest in the show that had once been called Practical Cats. As the composer described it to an interviewer several years later : 'I can give you the objections, and they sound a convincing lot. Andrew Lloyd Webber without Robert Stigwood [the influential producer of his previous hits]; without Tim Rice [the lyricist with whom he'd written those hits Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita]; working with a dead poet; with a whole load of songs about cats; asking us to believe that people dressed up as cats are going to work; working with Trevor Nunn from the Royal Shakespeare Company, who's never done a musical in his life; working in the New London, the theatre with the worst track record in London; asking us to believe that 20 English people can do a dance show when England had never been able to put together any kind of fashionable dance entertainment before. It was just a recipe for disaster. But we knew in the rehearsal room that even if we lost everything, we'd attempted something that hadn't been done before.'

  In the darkest days of 1980, the 32-year-old Lloyd Webber mortgaged Sydmonton [family country estate near Hampshire] for a second time, and the tenacious [director Cameron] Mackintosh, then 34, placed an ad in the financial newspapers, inviting the general public to risk a stake. Nearly 250 did, one man gambling his life savings on the improbable success of the impractical project. The morning after the historic May 11, 1981 London premiere, the legendary producer David Merrick offered Mackintosh the British rights to his own current hit 42nd Street in exchange for the American rights to Cats; Mackintosh declined. By 1991, 42nd Street had earned $10 million; Cats had passed the $100 million mark to become the most profitable show in history [at the time], and there was no end in sight."

Addendum #2 : From a June 28, 1996 no byline interview by the Academy of Achievement []. In the interview the question was put to director Sir Trevor Nunn :

"Do you have any thoughts on the future of theater?"

TN :  I'm scared by this question. Live experiences are becoming increasingly a special occasion, or a treat, or a rarity. With the massive revolution in communication and entertainment that's taking place right now, it's time for everybody to emphasize that live things are vital.

     That sense of being at a living event is so exciting in itself. "This is happening now!" It can be recorded, but by the time it's recorded, it's become something different. Our sense of smell, our sense of fear, of atmosphere, of tension, our sense of scale, and most important of all, our sense of danger, all of those things come into play in a living event. It's like going to a live sporting event and experiencing it.

     It's a completely different experience when you are watching on television. The sense of danger is missing. That extraordinary visceral connection that happens with the live event itself.

   A huge potential audience is saying, "The number of times I go to a really bad movie is far less than the number of times that I wind up at some live event that's terrible and I'm very bored with it and I have to leave." There's a large element of chance in theatrical entertainment. "It only costs this to take me to the movie house. It costs me only this to watch cable. It costs me very much more to watch live actors."

     ...When [theatre] works, when it really works, then it can change your life for good, and all. There are things that can happen to you in a theater, things which can be to do with performance, to do with understanding elements of the human condition, which can be to do with ideas, can be to do with uncomfortable ideas, abrasive ideas, revolutionary ideas. But, there are things that can change you more extremely and stay with you longer because of that live visceral contact...

     The basic condition of the theater actually requires no technology. All it requires is that fire last night and those costumes and the human voice and people gathered together. That's all that's required for something to happen that is life changing. Of course, there are countless sophistications of it. Keeping [those] things is what's going to make entertainment, and expression, and communication so much more rich in the next century, in the next millennium.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Winners & Losers is a glad, mad, sad fling

Quicky version

Scripted and improv'd by indie artistic directors Marcus Youssef of Neworld Theatre and his long-time buddy James (Jamie) Long of Theatre Replacement in Vancouver, Winners and Losers is a gong show of serious smart-ass verbal rivalry. The two actors spar wittily and waspishly over whether various people, places and objects in life -- Bernie Sanders, Canada, microwave ovens, their fathers -- are either winners or losers. After each actor's riposte, they ring a bell and conclude with a final boast of who won, who lost. Some exchanges are just seconds long, others take a few minutes or more. And all of the dialogue spit out at mach speed.

The arc of the show -- most of it pre-scripted, the rest of it seemingly spontaneous -- sees the men start off jocularly, waggish. Pub talk and bravado. But inexorably the spunk turns acrid and sardonic as they squabble over personal foibles, social status, whose success in life is more tumescent. 

The actors play themselves, or play at playing themselves. Regardless. Any 1st-world person who has had One. Good. Friend. in life who cuts to their core right quick but still, somehow, remains a confidante to think and laugh and suck back a beer with, well, they will smile and wince with pained delight at this remarkable and timely concept piece with all its verbal splash. 

Wordy version

Preliminary context : Just the title Winners and Losers sparks a wee metaphysical jolt. Ours is a world where countless jihadislam cults compete nightly for the news cycle. Followed by news of another cult figure, Donald Trump, whose name implies a wily card-shark. Speaking of trumpery, the Pope last week challenged whether such a xenophobe can even claim to be Christian. Can there be a clear winner from such a passel of news flashes like these? Is the Western notion of winning-vs-losing passe, an oxymoron, or just redundant in the Instagram world of the 21st century?

From the footlights : Scripted and improv'd by indie artistic directors Marcus Youssef of Neworld Theatre and his long-time buddy James (Jamie) Long of Theatre Replacement in Vancouver, Winners and Losers is a gong show of serious smart-ass verbal rivalry. The two actors spar wittily and waspishly over whether various people, places and objects in life -- Bernie Sanders, Canada, microwave ovens, their fathers -- are either winners or losers. After each actor's riposte, they ring a bell and conclude with a final boast of who won, who lost. Some exchanges are just seconds long, others take a few minutes or more. And all of the dialogue spit out at mach speed.

The arc of the show -- most of it pre-scripted, the rest seemingly spontaneous -- sees the men start off jocularly, waggish. Pub talk and bravado. But inexorably the spunk turns acrid and sardonic as they squabble over personal foibles, social status, whose success in life is more tumescent. 

The actors play themselves, or play at playing themselves. Regardless. Any 1st-world person who has had One. Good. Friend. in life who cuts to their core right quick but still, somehow, remains a confidante to think and laugh and suck back a beer with, well, they will smile and wince with pained delight at this remarkable and timely concept piece with all its verbal splash.

How it's all put together : To get to the moral heart of Winners and Losers one need but summon a synonym or two. Winner = victor, champion, conqueror. Loser = dupe, scapegoat, schlemiel. From Green Bay Packers iconic coach Vince Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!" to the more vernacular "Winning isn't everything, but losing sucks!

Throw in a dose of testosterone and braggadocio about their one-hand prowess and one soon wonders whether what Youssef and Long are about is less on the level of "the courage to grapple with some aspect of morality or ethics" -- as Youssef's Neworld Theatre website proclaims -- than it is about pure-&-simple machismo, that scourge of patriarchal cultures NSEW that has prevailed over the centuries.

Like a contemporary update on the Laugh-In riffs of the 70's, Winners and Losers provides spitfire verbal antics and laughs galore to kick the night off. Later, if the ping pong match seems mildly contrived, the subsequent Andy Kaufman-esque faux wrestling match between the chubesque Youssef and weightlifter Long is a schtick that only works -- oddly and satirically -- because of the non-stop one-up, one-down jousting they carry off breathlessly for 90 minutes. 

Youssef is the spawn of an Egyptian dad who's been a rich RBC V-P in USA for decades. Lots of hand-outs still being gifted, and a fat inheritance down the road guaranteed. By contrast, Long is from macho Welsh/Irish working class roots whose dead ex-RCMP dad means he has but the usual initials to face at retirement : RRSP, CPP, OAS. 

Two actors, longtime friends, acting as actors but acting as friends, too -- where does the "acting" end, the "rehearsed" morph into "improv" or start to descend into core personal unrehearsed put-down? Not to mention how a friendship could ever survive night after night of new visceral zingers tossed at one another. 

Albeit quite a blurry gestalt, all this, Youssef maintains the show is "rooted in a presumption that in all of our lives, the choices we all make are meaningful and have real consequences." To marry their artistic dreams and do this show together is, of course, just one such choice, for better or for worse. Then Youssef adds with impish flip : "We also like to make people laugh."

What the show brings to the stage : Since its featured spot at the PuSh 2013 festival after premiering at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in 2012, W&L has toured not only across Canada and in New York, but also the UK, Germany, Ireland, Denmark's Aarhus Festival, Italy's INTERsection fest in Terni, and in Iceland. Of all this exposure Neworld's website proclaims : "This (international travel) is leading to new opportunities, (but) we are also thinking a lot about maintaining our connection to Vancouver, that beguiling teenage city we call home...We believe that it is not the voices of the big or powerful or corporate that ultimately matter; it's the stories of the people around us, in our multiple communities and neighbourhoods, however we might define them."

Quick abbreviated check-list of winner-loser yak-yak topics :

> Mayor Greg's bike-sharing scheme and helmet kiosks.

> Mexico zapatistas compared to Canadian indigenous people.

> Street smarts : West Hotel beer glass crunching natives or COPE / Green cocktail parties.

> Goldman Sachs 2008 (bust) -vs- 2015 ($10B bonuses to staff).

> Occupy Movement / Bernie Sanders.

> Assisted living / mentally challenged / Joe's Cafe on Commercial.

> DTES gentrification.

> Vancouver Metro real estate instant millionaires. 

Acting pin-spots : A more complementary pair of characters could not likely be found or produced. Jamie the nervous-tic footy and arms-behind-the-head \ throw them forward, hands-up wonderingly and aggressively... a fully animated Alpha -vs- Marcus the sit-back leg-crosser and musing Rodan (though by far the more deft and subtle ping-ponger -- nice wrist english).

What's both intriguing if at the same time slightly troublesome about Winners and Losers is precisely the conceit that makes it compelling. The audience is not dumb. We conclude convincingly, to ourselves, when the lines are rehearsed, when there's spontaneity. This theatrical dichotomy creates a bit of cognitive dissonance : where does "real" start, if ever, amidst so much rehearsed familiarity?

But in the end I think what I raise is but a quibble. This theatre performance is creative. Original. Inspired. Clever. Touching. Perhaps nothing quite like you may ever have experienced before on the local stage. Not to oversell it. But it is unique, no question, and kudos to Messrs. Long & Youssef for their vision to put this together.

Who gonna like : This is theatre for folks who like experimentation. The social values debates that the companies want to encourage are a central part of this production package, surely. But mostly the show engages and embraces and involves the head-&-heart on a personal level as between friends who hold grudges because they come from quite different backgrounds. Financial as well as emotional. They push back against one another gustily but lovingly, too. Smart stuff up close and personal. 

Particulars : Written by Marcus Youssef and James Long. Co-produced by Theatre Replacement with Neworld Theatre in association with Crow's Theatre (Toronto). At the Historic Theatre \ The Cultch. On through February 27th. Run-time 90 minutes, no intermission. Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning the box office after 12:00 noon @ 604.251.1363.

Production team :  Director Chris Abraham.  Lighting Designer Jonathan Ryder.  Production Manager Elia Kirby.

Performers : James Long. Marcus Youssef.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

4000 Miles probes matters of the heart

N.B. This is a redux review of this play due to BLR's inability to cover each and every production in Metro Vancouver, nevermind those taking their show on the road.  4000 Miles "On Tour" by ACT will play in the towns listed below. Because the principals in the production are the same as in the Fall of 2014, I am re-issuing the comments made when I saw this remarkable script and performance at that time. 

Script overview : 4000 Miles puts me to mind of T.S. Eliot's 1917 assessment of  the human condition in his Essay on Hamlet 

"...[T]he ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. [He] falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet, these are always forming new wholes."

Life, for most of us, is a series of rather mundane day-to-day activities punctuated by the odd "significant event" : a DUI conviction; loss of our job; cataclysmic illness; the suicide of a loved one, those sorts of events.

4000 Miles is not, in Eliot's lens, "poetry" by a long shot. But it does succeed in sparking our interest in two of its four characters. A 91-year-old ex-Communist fellow traveler and her 21-year-old wide-eyed ingenue of a grandson who's cycled to Greenwich Village from Seattle. He shows up unannounced at Granny's at 3 a.m. His biking companion is absent, somewhat spookily. Mom Jane is mad at him -- he's been incommunicado since Minneapolis, no cell-phone, thanks, I'm a greenie. Girl friend Bec in Manhattan is aloof and distant and spinning toward break-off. 

Mundane? Absolutely. Still, one hopes the play will explore "the gap" -- that wondrous space where truth lies between the words, between the generations, between the neediness of a newby adult and the wise perspectives of the wizen'd family matriarch who mentors him.

On surface, this is cliche stuff for sure. No "forming new wholes" here, rather a stereotypical Jewish bubbeh playing off her neurotic and spoilt grandson, and he her. But as both Lao Tzu and musician John Cage have taught us, maybe we'll learn from the silences that give notes their meaning, or the dark that reveals the purpose of the moon as Tom Robbins mused. Perhaps this will be a play that lacks dramatic arc but compensates for it in some Pinter-esque scenes of commonplace jabber set off by sighs and pregnant silences. 

Caveat emptor : Perhaps, you will note, is what I suggested. Well, it turns out not so much. While very capably directed by Vancouver favourite Roy Surette, this 2011 script by Yale MFA grad Amy Herzog is a two-person character study. No sense mincing words. As grandma Vera (Latin root : truth), Vancouver stage maven Nicky Cavendish has laser-perfect comic timing. 

Famous across the land for her Shirley Valentine and It's Snowing on Saltspring pedigree, Cavendish is reason alone to head to the ACT On Tour venues just to watch her bust her chops on this role, far and away Herzog's most capable character in the piece (based, she freely admits, on her own bubbeh).

Grandson Leo (Nathan Barrett) commands the majority of lines, perhaps, but as a character his is nearly 100% a caricature of a person instead due to Herzog's depiction. While one might have expected a charming "growing up / growing old" dynamism to unfold, instead we get an extremely capable and competent and engaging Nathan Barrett playing out a neo-hippy role that is one-dimensional throughout : a 21-year-old narcissist who is not only self-absorbed, he utterly lacks insight; a rationalizer; a blamer; an "I'm the way I am because of..." other people who annoy me, events I think control and offend me, anything but because "I choose to be this way because I'm an out-&-out schlub.

E.g. this is a schlub whose cycling partner and long-time friend Micah gets killed in Kansas and Leo doesn't even bother to make it to his funeral in Minnesota. He cycles on, in his own space lit.& fig. A brother of an adopted Chinese sister, Lilly, he has serious sexual urgings toward her that he acted on while under peyote's grasp but later dismisses. She's a sister, sure, but she doesn't share my DNA markings so I'm free to wonder during a curious Skype moment with her why she might be in therapy over my lust for her. A night club hustler who brings home a Chinese party-girl because she reminds him of his sister. This Leo is no lion. Er ist kein mensch is how it might be said in Yiddish. And he's pretty well 98% cub, still, by play's end.

Don't get scared off !  Now if all this sounds like advocacy to not go see 4000 Milesthat is far from my intent. The Herzog script is rich in its depiction of Vera who sports a host of delicious idiosyncracies : she's at war with her neighbour Ginny but they call each other nightly to check in; she believes in community, but forgives men and their flawed role in it "because men do things out of stupidity more than anything else, not maliciousness"; she loves grandson Leo desperately even as she chides him : "You should listen to yourself because you really sound very stupid, you really do!" 

Cavendish commands the stage with every pat of Leo's laundry, every tap of her barefoot toes, every kick at some bag or shoe carelessly left in her way by the self-absorbed Millennials underfoot. Watching her work is a seminar in classic character immersion and you can't help but love her and want to take her home.

Meanwhile go see Leo to provide yourself a check-list of nearly every quality you don't want your children or grandchildren to wind up with. Because still it is a clever schtick of all those "qualities" that Mr. Barrett delivers, after a shaky opening scene, with wonderful control : he leaps and pirhouettes and hand-flutters and races about and cross-legs himself on Granny's couch or floor with utter and convincing buy-in. To come away disliking this persona as much as I did speaks volumes of the character's (possibly unintended) success.

Other production values :  Set and costume designer Barbra Matis deserves well-earned kudos for her dress-up of granny Vera -- straight from Jones Tent & Awning. Her set is redolent of mothballs and mold -- befitting a 1960's rent-controlled NYC apartment -- replete with crocheted patchwork afghan, worn velvet rocker and ottoman, pedestal dining table and great wall phone with a 5-meter springy cord.

Lighting designer Conor Moore provides terrific illumination, spot-on "pensioner" 40-watt table lamps plus back-lit floor-to-ceiling curtain'd windows.

My only kvetch with sound designer Peter Cerone is his choice of an up-tempo and chirpy version of Bob Dylan doing Like A Rolling Stone to open the show, rather than the more edgy existential original. He should have taken the recording from a scratchy vinyl version off the landmark "Highway 61 Re-Visited" album i.m.o. Fun to hear all those other "commie" cuts from back-in-the-day, though.

One directorial glitch : Not only in Roy Surette's direction here, but in a majority of main-stage productions in Vancouver I discern a tendency on the part of directors / actors to put undue emphasis on swear words. Not sure why. Here's a generic example : if in irritation a character's scripted line is "Would you just get the fuck out of my face ferchrissakes?", it likely as not will come out as "Would you just get the fuck out of my face ferchrissakes?" Except for Ms. Cavendish, actors Barrett (Leo), Ella Simon (Bec) and Agnes Tong (Amanda) are each guilty of this minor syntactical niggle. Please. Let the ear render speech as it's sung on the street, folks. 

Who gonna like :  My 21-year-old daughter who joined me loved Nicky Cavendish because she reminded her of her own late Nana who was also 70 years her senior, same as Vera and Leo. And she didn't "like" Leo much, but she thought his acting was first-rate. The majority of seniors in the crowd hooted and clapped and cheered at all the comic Vera lines and clearly marvel'd at the Cavendish performance. Lots of standing-o folks at the end. 

Particulars :  Written by Amy Herzog.  An ACT's On Tour production.  Run-time 120 minutes including intermission.  On at the noted venues / dates until March 12th.  Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning the theatres listed supra.

Production team :  Director Roy Surette.  Set & Costume Designer Barbra Matis.  Original Lighting Designer Luc Prairie.  Adapted Lighting Designer Conor Moore.  Tour Lighting Designer Ted Roberts.  Stage Manager Rick Rinder.  Assistant Stage Manager April Starr Land.

Performers : Nathan Barrett (Leo).  Nicola Cavendish (Vera).  Ella Simon (Bec).  Agnes Tong (Amanda).

Venues, dates & phone ticket office contact numbers :

Maple Ridge, The ACT Arts Centre,  February 13th.  604.476.2787

North Vancouver, The BlueShore at Cap, February 16th.  604.990.7810

Surrey, Surrey Arts Centre, February 17-27.  604.501.5566

Coquitlam, Evergreen Cultural Centre, March 1-5.  604.927.6555

West Vancouver, The Kay Meek Centre, March 7-8th.  604.981.6335

Burnaby, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, March 10-11th.  604.205.3000 

Mission, Clarke Theatre, March 12th.  1.877.299.1644


The (Post) Mistress sings small-town vignettes

Quicky version

Tomson Highway is the 11th of 12 Cree children from northern Manitoba. He was born in a tent on a snowbank, son of a caribou-hunting dad and a quilter mom. Highway unabashedly credits the Roman Catholic Guy Hill Indian Residential School in Clearwater, MB near The Pas with his becoming both tri-lingual and a piano-playing musician during his nine years there. Playwriting he took up when he turned 30-something, and cabaret-style shows are what he seems to favour most these days. The current show has also been produced in Cree, Kisageetin as well as in French, Zesty Gopher s'est fait ecraser par un frigo (that sings the song of a man & his wife & their fridge that's in transit to new digs).

The (Post) Mistress brings to life Marie-Louise Painchaud ("hot bread"), postie-extraordinaire in the town of Lovely, ON near the copper mining mid-size city of Complexity an hour away at the northern tip of Lake Huron. Through what seem to be cosmic & heavenly juices in her veins, Marie-Louise absorbs all of Lovely's inhabitants' secrets just by holding the townsfolk's mail in her hand.

Subtitled "The Small-Town Musical of Sealed Secrets", the show is a single-actor piece that features a dozen songs with English, French and Cree lyrics. The layered stories of Lovely's residents are filtered through Marie-Louise's yeasty and risible imagination. Neither cabaret pastiche nor full-on musical, The (Post) Mistress engages musically what it might lack a bit by way of compelling dramatic arc. Still, anyone who's lived small-town rural life and who remembers how the expression "You've got mail!" once meant receiving an actual paper envelope with a 6-cent stamp on it -- not just a Ding! followed by cybertext on a "device" -- will surely relate to this engaging throwback to a recent kind of "once upon a time".

Wordy version

From the footlights : Accomplished dancer, performer and singer, Patricia Cano is Marie-Louise (though Cailin Stadnyk will do the Wednesday and Saturday matinees and replace Cano altogether for the show's final week). Cano has long accompanied Highway as  singer/performer in the various cabaret shows he's traveled around the world. Brazilian guitarist and composer Carlos Bernardo is her long-time friend, meanwhile, and in 2008 she spent six months absorbing the Carioca sound scene in Rio with him. Thus cross-pollination being what it is with creative folk, quelle surprise Mistress features tango and bossa nova beats along with a couple of South American storyline detours. But also a host of Berlin cabaret stylings -- Highway once jokingly referring to himself as the Cree version of Kurt Weill -- as well as French cafe chanson and pop renderings to boot. 

What the show brings to the stage : For BC viewers this is a singular piece because of all the Central Canada native Cree, French-Canadian, and Metis influences that converge in a uniquely Lovely time and place.

With Western influences being a mix in recent years mostly of WASP, South Asian and oriental folk, to hear stories and tales that spring from post-contact native generations who mix and cohabit and populate with French immigrants and their descendent Quebecois is eye- and ear-opening in a rich and colourful way. 

Mistress may be called a "small-town musical" but really it's just a fleshed-out series of cabaret tunes starting with the Cree ballad "Taansi, Nimiss" (Welcome, sister!) that sets the stage for "songs we're going to sing". 

Eleven songs in all by the Highway / Cano collaboration that each tells a tale of love, loss and sizzling snatches of sex : "It was so hot in Rio de Janiero they wore nothing but dental floss to go shopping!" Cano sings of one such letter-writer's escapade. 

Letter after letter, story after story : widow Eva Pocket who hooked up, fatefully, with Marly Fitzsimmons from N'Awlins. Diane Gagnon who ran back to mom's in Lovely to escape her boring taxi dispatcher husband and the kids. He writes plaintive futile pleas for her to return. 

From a younger perspective there's eight-year-old Babette whose mom, madly estranged from dad, has 100% forbidden her to see him. So Babette writes instead "How long you have been playing in such a wondrous land!" This pain from a Grade 3 hand that cries out from back east as she gazes up at Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the song "Oh Little Bear". And aches.

Message behind the melodrama ?  Listening to Marie-Louise recite so many tales of marriages suffering loss, abandonment and bitterness, the words of the playwright from a 2015 interview are recalled pointedly (Highway at that time celebrating nearly 30 years with his life's love Raymond Lalonde, "the kindest man on the face of the earth") : 

"I always say I get treated better than the Queen. When I look at all these heterosexual men who have gone through these tortured marriages, with the hatred, the cruelty, the alimony payments, it's like a battle zone. I thank God every day that I'm not heterosexual. I thank God for that privilege."*

To wit. In the song "Love I Know Is Here", Marie-Louise tells the tale of a couple who live 10 miles outside of Lovely and write charming letters to one another. Only at the end do we learn "How can you not be happy even if they are two men living together in sin?" Marie-Louise asks ironically, winking at the crowd. The song, likes its successor to end Act I, is wholly reminiscent of the Kurt Weill style.

And that would be the other Weill / Jacques Brel look-alike "The Window". It tells of Rosalind Johnson, originally from an innocent town called Kirkland who ventures to TO. There she meets sexy car mechanic Gus Cassidy. And despite a bloody violent end to their marriage, Rosalind spends the next 60 years still pining for "the man of 20-something standing in the window" where she first laid eyes on him moonlighting as a sexy, coy department store model.

One final song that deserves a shout-out. "When Last I Was in Buenos Aires, Argentina" kicks off Act II with the randiest, raunchiest number of the night. It's a saucy tango titillater that Marie-Louise acts out demonstratively, hornily. All about a lover's summer there with Ariel "of the dark eyes and the flaring nostrils" and his suppers of el spaghet with a Sriracha style sauce flown in from Paraguay. Needless to say the affair with Ariel was more than equal to his el spaghet once the jungle jiggery-pokery factored in. 

Acting pin-spot : Patricia Caro as Marie-Louise Painchaud is a one-woman force majeure. While her original forte was as a dancer and then a community theatre player, singing she added to her repertoire through her connection with Carlos Bernardo plus a sojourn a decade back to South Korea to study with a voice master. 

Luxuriant in size, beauty and presence, Caro's blocking, choreography and inspired dance footwork hopping atop and around the various stations and platforms at the Lovely post office were all quite exhilarating to behold. Whimsy and humour and controlled exaggeration informed every step, every pirouette, every pounce. Caro's antic ballroom break-dance vivre is reason enough to see this show.

On the songstress scale, Caro is an accomplished cabaret balladeer with a rich and resonant contralto though not always equal to the higher register notes. But her dusky smoky basement blues joint sound -- sexy and edgy both -- brings out the best from Highway's tunes and lyrics. That a majority of the 3/4 house on opening night gave her a standing-o reveals the enthusiasm her performance attracted.

Production values of note : As suggested above, Director John Cooper and Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg grab top-spot honours for the rigour and inspiration they bring to Patricia Caro's Arts Club debut performance. Quick, clever, exacting stuff that utilizes all corners of the Goldcorp stage.

Ted Roberts turns in yet another superb set, lighting and visual design performance. Goldcorp stage is not easy to fill while making the audience cozy and involved. But 1000% more do-able here than at the old Playhouse Theatre at QE that failed on that score religiously.

Three-sided bleacher seats with coffee house tables at the downstage edge was a good use of space. The current Canada Post m.o. banality of countless mailboxes -- but done here rising to the infinity of space in a sworl design -- was effective. 

Music accompaniment limited to piano and sax/flute with Bill Sample and Bill Runge was crisp and lively and just-right subtle, too.

Two Hmnnnn...! script reservations. (1) The plot revelation at the end about Marie-Louise. Quite artificial and contrived and unnecessary to the stage magic. The mystery of her cosmic mind-reading would work better remaining a tease. (2) Preaching. Telling the audience straight-up "I hope people will learn to stop hurting each other and learn to laugh..." is flat-out patronizing despite its good intention. 

Who gonna like : This show is not the compleat stuff of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, but it has many comparable moments. Patricia Caro's vigour & enthusiasm & deft fancy dancework and singing prowess are a package of talent to leave viewers breathless. A broad mix of seniors and GenX and millennials at opening night -- and a high-pitched junior or two in the audience chirping in with gusto --  speaks to a show whose grins of enthusiasm and standing-o clappers from the seats will appeal to cabaret lovers for whom some Canadian history lessons put-to-music is on their list. 

Particulars :  Book & Music by Tomson Highway.  At ACT's new 1st Avenue / Olympic Village stage at the BMO Theatre Centre.  Run-time 140 minutes including intermission.  On until February 28th.  Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production team :  Director John Cooper.  Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg.  Set, Lighting & Video Designer Ted Roberts.  Costume Designer Kirsten McGhie.  Sound Designer Scott Zechner.  Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ashley Noyes.

Performers (music) :  Bill Sample (Piano).  Bill Runge (Saxophone).

Performer (actors) : Patricia Cano (Marie-Louise Painchaud).  Cailin Stadnyk (Marile-Louise Painchaud -- select performances noted infra).

Addendum :  Tomson Highway is outspoken on many fronts in ways that are often not politically correct. He does not, for example, subscribe to the liberal fuss over "appropriation of voice". In a September 30, 2013 interview with Maclean's magazine, he noted:

"I'm part of the first wave of native writers in this country and we had to be aware of political correctness; it was kind of forced upon us. For the next wave of native playwrights, they should be afforded the freedom to let their imaginations fly. And we all need to help them get there. If a black, Chinese lesbian ends up being cast as the chief of an Indian reserve, then that is the choice of the writer, director and producer and it's nobody else's business.

"I don't particularly want to work with people who are scared, for whatever reason. And people who think that way [about appropriation of voice] are scared, they're chickens! I feel most comfortable with people who are brave and courageous. Who are politically incorrect, for goodness sake. I love politically incorrect. I mean, it's essential for art."

On the subject of residential schools, Highway told Huffington Post's Joshua Ostroff two months ago : "All we hear is the negative stuff, nobody's interested in the positive, the joy in (Guy Hill Indian Residential) school. I learned your language, for God's sake. Have you learned my language? No, so who's the privileged one and who is underprivileged?

"You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) process that were negative. But what you haven't heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school."

Highway cites two primary influences on his artistry : his remote northern upbringing with his family on the Barren Lands Indian Reservation and on the "cosmology" of mainstream native thought : "The most privileged boys in Rosedale and Forest Hill are lucky if they get 20 metres of lakefront for two weeks every summer. We had 50 lakes for two months year; we had entire islands to ourselves, just us. It is unbelievably beautiful up there and nobody sees it but us because it's inaccessible. The older I get, the more I realize what a spectacular childhood it really was. My father was the king of this enormous domain; we grew up as princes of the north. This country has royalty, too," he asserted to Ostroff in December.

As for his spiritual underpinnings, in his Maclean's 2013 interview he declared : "I like to convey joy. I want to convey that our primary responsibility on planet Earth is to be joyful : to laugh and to laugh and to laugh. I do not believe what I was taught as a child by Roman Catholic missionaries that the reason to exist is to suffer and repent and that the more of that we did, the more deserving we became of happiness in the afterlife. I mean, depressing, or what? I'm of the opposite opinion : the way the my native culture works is that it teaches that we're here to laugh, that heaven and hell are both here on Earth and it's our choice to make it one or the other."

In a similar vein in a December 10, 2015 interviewwith Martin Morrow of, Highway related the following : "Highway agrees that writing about [women] has been a lifelong obsession; but it has nothing to do with modern social movements and everything to do with his ancestral beliefs. 'Pantheism, which is the basis of native mythology and cosmology, sees God in nature. And the centre of native cosmology, certainly in Cree culture, is feminine. So I write obsessively about that. For Highway, the root of our problems is monotheism, the belief in one God, particularly since that God is perceived to be male. 'It's a patriarchal superstructure and it leads to fascism : 'If you don't believe in my God, I'll kill you, I'll destroy you...' Why did [God] come alone? Where was his wife? Where was his girlfriend? And the answer to that question is that she was here all the time. Our father art in heaven, but our mother is here on this planet. And if we don't recognize that, and that we need to preserve this planet, we're doomed.'"


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Pride & Prejudice captures Austen remarkably !

Quicky version

You have to start at the beginning, at the very first line Jane Austen wrote as the opener to her novel then-named First Impressions that a decade later would publish as Pride and Prejudice. "It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Austen's tongue had to be lodged squarely in her cheek when she wrote that in 1799. Because what she surely meant by way of accurate reflection on how matrimonial transactions worked in her life and times would read thus : "It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of no money must be in want of a husband with a good fortune." But the irony infecting Austen's nuanced voice is what makes her original sentence vastly more appealing and whimsical -- her "playfulness" to use Austen's own descriptor -- than my prosaic and boring re-write.

For its part, the Arts Club production of this adaptation by Victoria playwright Janet Munsil is cheeky, bright, clever, snappy, original, silly, fun, zippy -- downright brilliantly conceived, well cast and embracingly performed. Artistic Director Bill Millerd claims that this 576th production of ACT "is one of the largest and most lavish plays we have produced". Yes, lavish in the senses of unstinted, wild and abundant, not lavish to mean heavy droopy Regency-era furniture, rugs, brocaded drapes and stuffed shirts. 

And as for doubters who are progressive, even vigorous feminists I know are fans of the Edwardian dramedy Downton Abbey with all its pomp, circumstance and manorisms. Similarly in this piece from 100 years earlier still : snobs and their pretensions have always intrigued democrats because we see them through more egalitarian prisms. We laugh both with them and at them. Just like Jane Austen herself did so wistfully and smartly with her waspish zingers at her society's foibles.

Kudos! and Huzzahs! to all the creative talent so vigorously and plentifully on display at The Stanley.
Wordy version

From the footlights : Confession. I have never read Pride and Prejudice. Thus only through research did I discover that the Bennet family comprises Dad, Mom and five sibling sisters. The girls are all of marrying age in that time and place. Mom is fixed in the thought they each must secure marriage commodity rights right smartly for their future well-being. The play begins at the family's modest estate of Longbourn. A certain Charles Bingley has arrived to rent the nearby estate of Netherfield. He has his good friend with him, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, visiting from the grounds of his princely principality called Pemberley some three days' carriage ride to the north. (In today's world Darcy's wealth would number some $15 million -vs- poor Mr. Bingley's net worth of about only half that.)

Dad Bennet thinks second daughter Elizabeth would make a fine catch, while Mom is certain eldest and prettiest daughter Jane might make the better chattel at market. When they all meet, Darcy presents to Lizzie as vain and abrupt and haughty (the Pride piece) and she takes an instant dislike to him (the Prejudice piece).

Throw in the following : cousin Collins who will eventually inherit the Bennet property -- he's a goof and a boor and a bit of a local joke, but he has friends in high places. Darcy's aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh who thinks no one's sufficiently snotty to meet her standards. A randy young soldier named Wickham who catches young sister Lydia's eye and more. Bingley's snobby sister Caroline. Lizzie's friend Charlotte Lucas whom Mom worries is going to snag Bingley away from any grasping Bennet finger. Oh and add one or two others just for the heck of it -- some 17 actors in all including eight newbies in their first Stanley Theatre ACT outing.

With merry and ironic twists and turns, there's an "all's well that ends well" outcome and feel to the storyline that Jane Austen wanted to tell. In a letter to her niece Fanny in 1814 she wrote : "Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection." Or, similarly, as she is quoted elsewhere : "Nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love, bound to one, and preferring another." Ironic perhaps, Austen herself never married before she died at just 41 years of age.

How it's all put together : Simple crisp elegance is how I would describe Director Sarah Rodgers' delivery of Janet Munsil's script. Between them what they realized is that they must capture the core of Austen -- whose voice through dialogue and narration in her book is what makes her so prominent a literary force -- these qualities are what make P&P either the second or the fourth most favourite English novel of all time, depending on your factoid source. And these qualities need to be acted out. 

So. Marry rapid-fire clever dialogue with Choreographer Julie Tomaino's combination playground frivolity / drill team precision footwork routines for the cast, and what you get is 123 minutes of acting that never slows or abates in its energy and whim and delight.

No question the "premise" of P&P grates. Women positioning themselves to be the men's selected choices in the marriage marketplace. But still, Jane Austen delivers a sling of righteous one-liners, some of which were borderline scandalous for fin de siecle 1799, others just clever repartee that would work in any era :

"We must be blind to the nonsense and folly of others."

"Few men have heart enough to fall in love without encouragement."

"Tease at him, laugh at him, you must know his weaknesses."

"I am not a respectable female."

"My courage always rises with every attempt to provoke me."

"Why did we come here -- if only I had my headache like I'd planned!"

"It is my duty to stand by my husband even when he is narrow-minded and foolish."

"I do not think too little can be said of your marriage."

"The purpose of our lives is to make sport for our neighbours." 

Production values of note : Sparse minimalist but wholly effective staging. Oversize impressionist paintings across the upstage scrim and 35 X 50" paintings on wheeled dollies with individual scenes to tell us we're in the country; we're looking at one estate or another; we're indoors at Pemberley.

Furniture for the set is wheeled in by the actors in grey-light dimness, the primary technique a kind of military march of the big furniture lineally across the upstage scrim and then briskly brought forward and plopped precisely mid-stage where it belongs. Most delightful of all was the actors' dervish whirling of the armchairs up, down over and around each time before the cast set them around the appointed table.

And all the while downstage left, Daniel Deorksen on guitar and Sarah Donald on violin providing delightful stringed accompaniment to the merriment on stage.

Costume Designer Christine Reimer aced it throughout. The "lesser wealthies" the Bennets had functional village dress but managed rich and subtle ball-gowns for the dances. Lady Catherine's dowager queen outfits were supreme. Given the purposely minimal stage stuff, the costumes hit the eye strikingly. Nice! pay-off.

Acting pin-spots :  To this viewer's eye, one starts with veteran Scott Bellis as the insipid cousin Mr. Collins. Every moment he is on stage he simply delights with his wimpy grating boffo pastor routine slathering after Lizzie, to no avail. And then marries the security-conscious, frigid Charlotte Lucas (Georgia Beaty), Lizzie's BFF.

But a mere 1/2 step behind with her constant breathlessness and hypochondria -- all her "tremblings, flutterings, spasms, beatings of the heart" -- would be Katey Wright as Mrs. Bennet, nicely foiled by the deadpan irony of husband Mr., yet another rich outing by Vancouver favourite David Marr.

Naomi Wright as Elizabeth (Lizzie, Eliza), Jane Austen's protagonist, delivered breadth and insight into her character's role. She was every bit of "obstinate, headstrong, impudent and insolent" that Shirley Broderick as Lady Catherine accused her of, wonderfully, with all those pointed thumps of her octogenarian cane to punctuate each adjective, each pejorative.

As Mr. Darcy, Eric Craig was just the right mix of arrogant bully and semi-soft-hearted appreciator of Lizzie's wit and and snipes. (And gotta say, I have never witnessed two more compelling end-of-show kisses than Craig and Wright gave each other. Wowza !)

Both Daryl King as Charles Bingley and Kaitlin Williams as his love Jane Bennet charmed oh-so-sweetly, while Amanda Lisman as sister Caroline Bingley was a snob caricature writ large. 

Of the newcomers, Raylene Harewood as Lydia and Kayla Deorksen as Kitty, the two playful younger sisters scampered and skipped and romped around the stage wonderfully. Delightful turns not only by them but by all the young performers, no question.

And to this eye it was precisely all the scampering and skipping and romping across the stage in-&-out, up-&-down, over-&-back throughout the night that is the best tribute of all to Director Rodgers and Choreographer Tomaino and, of course, to the actors themselves. For it was this feature perhaps more than any other that made the show so entertaining from Moment #1 to Moment #End.

Who gonna like : Normally I do not exude quite as much enthusiasm for a show as I have for this one. Frankly I went to The Stanley a bit of a skeptic how Jane Austen could appeal to me, a semi-quasi-feminist in 2016. [Or given the transcendence of transgender folk, maybe we truly are in a post-feminist epoch. But I am utterly insufficient about where such stuff sits these days.] 

This is the point : it is precisely the joyful abandon with Austen's novel that Janet Munsil captures in her script while not forfeiting any of the key plot or character elements that are so enticing. Along with the directing / choreography matched to the minimalist set and props. 

Said it above, will end by saying it again :  This adaptation by Victoria playwright Janet Munsil is cheeky, bright, clever, snappy, original, silly, fun, zippy -- downright brilliantly conceived, well cast and embracingly performed. Artistic Director Bill Millerd claims that this 576th production of ACT "is one of the largest and most lavish plays we have produced". Yes, lavish in the senses of unstinted, wild and abundant.  

No question. Of the 130 or so productions I've seen in the last four years, ACT's P&P ranks easily among my top five (and j.s.y.k. the 7 Tyrants' production of Mozart & Salieri remains #1 on my list).

Again : Kudos! and Huzzahs! to all the creative talent so vigorously and plentifully on display at The Stanley. 

Go. See. This.

Particulars :  Script by Janet Munsil based on the novel by Jane Austen.  At ACT's Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre on Granville.  Run-time 150 minutes including intermission.  On through February 28th.  Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production team :  Director Sarah Rodgers.  Choreographer Julie Tomaino.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Christine Reimer.  Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe.  Sound Designer Daniel Deorksen. Production Dramaturg Veronique West. Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Apprentice Stage Manager Koh McRadu.  Assistants to the Director, Alen Dominguez & Laura McLean.

Performers :  Yoshie Bancroft (Georgiana Darcy).  Paul Barton (Mr. Wickham).  Georgia Beaty (Charlotte Lucas).  Scott Bellis (Mr. Collins / Mrs. Reynolds).  Shirley Broderick (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).  Eric Craig (Mr. Darcy).  Daniel Deorksen (Mr. Gardiner).  Kayla Deorksen (Kitty Bennet).  Sarah Donald (Mrs. Gardiner).  Raylene Harewood (Lydia Bennet).  Daryl King (Charles Bingley).  Amanda Lisman (Caroline Bingley).  David Marr (Mr. Bennet).  Sarah Roa (Mary Bennet).  Kaitlin Williams (Jane Bennet).  Katey Wright (Mrs. Bennet).  Naomi Wright (Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Bennet).