Thursday, 28 April 2016

Facing East musical challenges LGBTQ biases
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  "Musical", the word, makes one think of Cats, Fighting Chance Production's last lyrical effort that commanded repeat sold-out houses at Jericho late this winter. As follow-up, by contrast, put the following four concepts together and some cognitive dissonance will instantly clang forth : Mormonism. Gay. Suicide. Musical.

But such is the stuff of Facing East. It uses percussion, piano, cello and guitar to provide instrumental backdrop to a libretto based on 4th generation Mormon Carol Lynn Pearson's play of the same name. The title relates to the Judaeo-Christian tradition for worshippers to face east when praying : to greet the end of darkness (evil) as the sun's light heralds re-birth (salvation).

A middle-age couple are graveside at the funeral for their 24-year-old son Andrew who suicided because he is gay. Andrew's lover attends the gravesite to mourn his fallen mate. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) does not smile benignly on such couplings. When Mom and Dad circle by one last time, together they trigger through flashback how the social / personal / religious cacophony of values were being played out in Salt Lake City in the 00's of this century.

How it's all put together :  Mormon policy on homosexuality is, arguably, an offshoot of the U.S. Military's old "Don't ask, don't tell" doctrine of suppression. As in : "We know it's out there. But it's a sin. Still, God loves sinners, too. And so we love them as well -- as long as they don't interact sexually. They'll be excommunicated from LDS if they do. But if they just hang in there with God, they'll find release from what possesses their souls."

Thus not hard to see how anyone gay trying to remain a practicing Mormon would of necessity be morally conflicted to their core. Andrew (Jesse Alvarez) has sought both real and symbolic escape by suiciding in the garden outside Temple Square that surrounds the iconic Mormon Tabernacle. His lover Marcus (Matt Montgomery) absented himself from the funeral to not offend his parents Alex (Francis Boyle) and Ruth (Mandana Namazi). 

Through sung dialogue, the exclusion of gays in LDS is explored across the show's 85 minutes of solos, duets, & trios. Ruth stands by her church : better dead, son Andrew, than him solemnize his love for Marcus. Alex is not so sure : maybe LDS should be forsaken, not his son. Marcus has his own revelation : "I don't do it much but when I pray, I know God loves me and I am gay!" Unlike wretched Andrew who is not welcome in the Tabernacle choir. Relegated instead to the closet where the choir's robes are shut away.

What this show brings to the stage :  As described by musical directors Steven Greenfield and Clare Wyatt, what you will hear is not a show styled after traditional fare like Sound of Music. Instead, they say, "Facing East is effectively a musical without songs, but rather a musical (dialogic) rhapsody on the theme of love and reconciliation" that is taken from "a world of complexity and chromaticism", i.e. where all 12 white + black keys in an octave are brought into play creating a series of semi-tones that are not harmonic in the usual sense. (Though some baroquish and Sondheim-y sounds as well.)

The theme and sub-text are not overtly anti-Mormon. The dramatic tension comes from one's upbringing in a particular belief-system that dominates the local culture. And if that community is gay-averse, regardless what the abiding ethos is -- Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Zamboni -- a gay person is going to be utterly isolated and cut adrift from all their neighbours' more comfortable and secure moorings.

Ruth blames Alex for causing her to cling too tightly to Andrew as her youngest child which, she concludes, "made" Andrew gay. Alex does a popular radio show a la "Father Knows Best" entitled "One Minute Dad" where he doles out syrupy banalities and bromides about how to be a gooderer parent. [E.g. slip a note in your kid's lunch. It is to say -- gag me with a spoon had I ever got such a one -- "Do you know how proud I am of you just the way you are?"] At the start Alex confesses "I'm a picture of confusion at the end of the day" over his son's death. By show's end he realizes he's been a classic hypocrite : worrying more about writing radio pepsins for parents rather than being a true Dad to Andrew.

Ruth evinces some of the most poignant singing / lyrics of the night. She used to play cello, but can no more due to a car accident. Early a.m. she sends Alex off to work, then finishes the day late p.m. next to him in bed : "We kiss in silence, then I close the door -- and live in silence all the day... / He turns away, I click the light and sit in darkness, another perfect ending to another silent day." 

Production values that hi-lite the action : Clearly it's the mix of libretto by Mark-Eugene Garcia coupled with the composition by David Rigano that drive the dramatic tenor,  krappy pun acknowledged, of the play. The characters are in a way stock : the overly-strict mother, the somewhat aloof father adrift in his world of words, the happy-snappy siblings in whose shadow the conflicted, depressing, liberating and light world of youngest son Andrew in love with Marcus becomes "something bad that was closing in" that no one seemed to see, quite.

Producer Nathan Gardner revealed that original playwright Carol Lynn Pearson is plumping to have Facing East / a new musical have its professional debut in Salt Lake City, not, say, San Francisco where the culture would surely embrace the show's themes robustly. F.w.i.w. I agree with Pearson : as my daughter pointed out with great insight on the drive home, "Andrew was utterly isolated. He grew up in a culture that excluded him. There was no society of others like him to support his needs. And Marcus, whose family did support and embrace his lifestyle, he didn't know how to respond to Andrew's isolation."

The 800 square foot Jericho Arts Centre stage was plenty big for this show. Set designers Tim Driscoll and [FCP artistic director] Ryan Mooney created a series of mini-sets to represent a swack of sites : the McCormick family kitchen; Andrew's bedroom and cello rehearsal space; dad Alex's radio booth; upcountry cabin; graveyard; Marcus's crash-pad; local coffee house.  Lighting designer Nicole Weismiller used mostly spots to focus on the individual actors as they performed their solos, but also well-aimed floods when the folks grouped. 

As for the orchestrations, oh this is quite the music to be treated to. An absolute sucker for the melancholic strains of the cello, I found the arrangements & orchestrations of same by Adam Wright plus Daniel Klintworth grabbed my ear all night long thanks to the excellence of Alex Hauka on that heavenly instrument. But strong well-tempered performances by all!

Acting pin-spots : Daughter's take was Andrew was "best". She empathized with his utter isolation in Salt Lake City's culture. She "hated" Mom Ruth. I challenged whether that might be because of compelling acting. She thought maybe so. Both Dad Alex and Marcus gave terrific voice to their also-lonely, isolated selves, we agreed. In a word, fine capable performances by each and all even if trying to keep in pitch with the chromatic stylings was surely a challenge.

Who gonna like :  Harper / Trumpster / Calgarian Cruz-er troglodytes will happily give this a miss. Why waste insight and sensitivity on folks whose moral scar-tissue would resist the slightest balm from a script that preaches reconciliation over gay exclusion. [Though, trite to observe, they potentially could learn the most from it.] 

Theatre fans who want a challenging and compelling evening of music "rhapsody" whose strains are quite unlike normal stage musical fare to underscore the show's themes will delight in the complexities. This is a play destined for boutique stages across the land. LGBTQ issues are evermore complex : the "one step at a time" leitmotif of this show says it all [if, I might add, however, stated just ever-so-slightly too often].  

In all, Congratulations! deserved for further proof that creative! imaginative! challenging! theatre is in good hands in Fighting Chance Productions. The next generation of pro's out there are demanding all of us stretch our usual comfy boundaries. No question they are doing so with limitless zest & vigour & passion. 

Particulars :  Presented by Fighting Chance Productions in association with Nathan Gardner & Danny Brooke. At the Jericho Arts Centre. Through May14th. Show and season info @ Fighting Chance Productions

Production team : Director Ryan Mooney.  Producer Nathan Gardner.  Associate Producer Danny Brooke. Music Directors Steven Greenfield & Clare Wyatt.  Stage Manager Ziggy Shutz.  Lighting Designer Nicole Weismiller.  Set Designer Tim Driscoll & Ryan Mooney.  Orchestrations Daniel Klintworth & Adam Wright.

Orchestra : Conductor / Piano Clare Wyatt.  Cello Alex Hauka.  Guitar Adrian Sowa.  Percussion Jamison Ko. 

Performers :  Jesse Alvarez (Andrew).  Francis Boyle (Alex).  Matt Montgomery (Marcus).  Mandana Namazi (Ruth).  


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Don't Dress for Dinner is French 60's silliness
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  Written in 1962 when he was 39, Frenchman Marc Cimoletti's Boeing-Boeing was set in Paris at the time of Mad Men : lots of juiced-up romances by jet-setting young fellows and gals fooling around with each other. And somehow all this political incorrectness was still able to hit just the right funny bone when resurrected on Broadway in 2008 and here in Vancouver by ACT in 2013.

Written in 1987 when he was 64, question arises about Don't Dress for Dinner, can Cimoletti resurrect his schtick of stupide de vivre from those earlier mashed-up times? Especially when you eliminate the sexy stewardesses. And transpose the glamorous Paris skyline to the French countryside with converted farm outbuildings whose bedrooms are called The Cow Shed and The Piggery. Make the main character Bernard a wearying married guy not a feisty bachelor. Assign him a bimbette model as mistress. And also! put buddy Robert into an affair with Bernard's wife. 

Farce is as farce does, and the Gateway Theatre production of Don't Dress for Dinner has plenty of zing! and zip! and madcap nonsense. Whether all the breathless chasing about is equal in compelling silliness to its predecessor Boeing-Boeing will depend, no doubt, on how your DNA accepts such a force-field. 

How it's all put together :  Bernard (Todd Thomson) rubs his hands with glee. Wife Jacqueline (Alison Dean) is trekking off for visit with her mom. That means he can invite his lover Suzanne (Krista Colosimo) out for a dirty week-end. For cover and alibi when Jacqueline returns home, he also invites long-time buddy and Best Man at their wedding Robert (Kirk Smith). [The same randy characters we met in Boeing-Boeing : despite the 27-year hiatus between Cimoletti's two Bernard-&-Robert scripts, Don't Dress is meant to be Boeing's follow-up.] 

To liven up the week-end, meanwhile, why not bring in some catered food for l'affaire by a Cordon Bleu caterer Suzette (Tess Degenstein). Thanks to an intercepted phone call, Jacqueline learns that Robert is coming. Instantly she feigns that l'mama has taken ill and so she'll be staying home after all. Jacqueline, recall, is Robert's mistress : she tiddles at the chance to blow sweet nothings into his ear when Bernard isn't looking.

Not knowing this, of course, Bernard is in a panic that his own philandering will surely be found out. Bernard demands that buddy Robert name Suzanne as his girl friend when she arrives. Robert's not happy but gets snookered into the charade even though it means he is two-timing his real girlfriend (Bernard's wife) Jacqueline. Karma and comedy demand that it is the caterer Suzette who arrives at Bernard's first. Robert gets befused & confuddled by the similarity of names and promptly introduces Suzette (Suzy) as his girl friend, not Suzanne. And so when Suzanne arrives shortly thereafter, the fun begins in earnest!

What the show brings to the stage :  Farce is stupid antics writ large. It can be really stupid like Mall Cop. Or it can be ironic stupid like Fawlty Towers. Or it can be somewhere between like the Don't Dress script : not completely pratfall goofy, but some of that. Not all clever ironic dictional delights like John Cleese's Basil Fawlty, but plenty of that here, too. The key in all these examples is that none of this is to be taken as even a smidgeon believable or serious.

Given the former cowshed as his bedroom, when he's badgered into claiming "Suzy" as his lover, not Bernard's, he whimpers : "It's not so much a mess as a dirty great pile of farmyard poo-poo!"

Early on, Robert tries to console Jacquline who's found evidence of Bernard's infidelity. Robert's splainin' is completely reminiscent of the Abbott & Costello classic routine "Who's on first" : "We can't blame Bernie for having a lover who was pretending to be my lover so you wouldn't know she was his lover, while all the time I was your lover pretending to be her lover so that he wouldn't know you had a lover. Especially when his real lover was all the time pretending to be -- to be..." "Pretending to be what?" Jacqueline presses. "I've lost track of all the lovers..." Robert confesses. As does the audience. Self-included. But details in farce are never the point. 

In Don't Dress, the Big Fun of the night is watching Suzette take on ever-changing roles, each time demanding first 200 francs, later 400, for every one of the masquerades she's asked to pull off. And watching Robert, particularly, go into dizzying verbal flight trying to stay one word, one gag, one plot-twist ahead of the rest of the room.

Production values that highlight the action : Jung-Hye Kim's converted funky French farmhouse to Conde Nast vaulted-ceiling digs to die for sets the stage, literally, for the night's action. And the period square squat bright orange armchairs and chesterfield with bauhaus coffee & end-tables were all a mere 100% Yes!

Equal kudos to Costume Designer Cindy Wiebe for each actor's period threads, from suits and cocktail dresses to jammies. The "strip" of Suzette's Cordon Bleu caterer uniform to slinky l.b.d. onesy was terrific.

Between them Directors Corcoran and Cant do a fine job of blocking the characters and giving them tons of gesticular stage business to play with. The physical comedy bits worked, mostly, though the rough-&-tumble stuff when Suzette's husband George arrived was on the "much" side, no question. Too, the resolution \ denouement phase of Act 2 was overly long, a script problem requiring scissors. One other question, with respect : why but two actors feigning French accents (with greater and lesser success), Suzette & George. From all or none would have been my call.

Acting pin-spots : This show to this reviewer results in a toss-up between Kirk Smith as Robert and Tess Degenstein as Suzette for laugh-grabs. Degenstein was coy, peasant-y sexless and then sexy grande in her l.b.d. doing an utterly drunken tango with Smith whose askew tie and half-out shirt were priceless touches. Smith gave Robert a range of wincing mincing flabbergastery that was stunning.

Todd Thomson was choice as the franticly discombobulated Bernard ever ad-libbing roles and rules and rationales to purposely confuse who was doing what to whom and why.

Who gonna like : Mostly junior and senior retirees in the crowd last night who giggled and chortled and outright guffawed from Moment 1 in the show. My normal dramatic preferences are (a) for serious sardonic Mamet theatre, generally, and (b) in contemporary comedy for such verbal spinnery as the Monty Python troupe perfected. Thus I imagined I would come away from Don't Dress with a warmth of enthusiasm that was decidedly less than luke. 

Not so. Not so indeed! These actors, each and all, tore into Robin Hawdon's translation of the Cimoletti original with unchecked verve and gusto and imagination and enthusiasm. I found myself laughing louder, longer and spasmodically with the rest of the crowd both to my surprise and to my utter delight! 

Particulars : Produced by Gateway Theatre in co-production with Thousand Islands Theatre [Gananoque, ON] and Western Canada Theatre [Kamloops]. Written by Marc Camoletti. Translated & Adapted by Robin Hawdon. At Gateway Theatre MainStage. Through April 23rd. Schedules & ticket information at or by phoning 604.270.1812.

Production crew : Original Director Ashlie Corcoran. Revival Director Heather Cant.  Set Designer Jung-Hye Kim.  Costume Designer Cindy Wiebe.  Lighting Designer Oz Weaver.  Sound Designer Doug Perry.  Technical Designer Patsy Tomkins.  Stage Manager Nicola Benedickson.  Assistant Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.

Performer :  Krista Colosimo (Suzanne).  Tess Degenstein (Suzette).  Alison Deon (Jacqueline).  Beau Dixon (George).  Kirk Smith (Robert).  Todd Thomson (Bernard). 


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Fiddler strikes a merry sad chord in 2016
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Royal City Musical Theatre's remount of Fiddler on the Roof after a 16-year breather can't help but take on added poignance, significantly so. In 2000 when last performed by RCMT, 9/11 was still 18 months in the future. The occidental 1st-world knew precious little of the religion of Islam, not to mention Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden and would not even be able to conjure the utterly misnamed "Arab Spring" and its offshoot ISIL that has produced a worldwide diaspora of millions from the Middle East.

In 1964 when the original Jerome Robbins production of Fiddler hit Broadway, it was a time still three years ahead of the Six Day War in Israel. The show's energy, enthusiasm, and empathy for pre-WWI Tsarist Russian agrarian Jews suffering a pogrom from their village Anatevka fairly leapt off the boards of the Imperial Theatre thanks to its tuneful music and its choreography. But importantly, too, were its nods at that epoch's brave new world just emerging S. of 49 : VietNam, Betty Friedan's call-out of The Feminine Mystique, MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. 

Fiddler brought a wise dairy farmer Reb Tevye with all his ironies through his repeated "On the one hand \ On the other hand" soliloquies to God and the audience that ultimately would charm some 3,242 folks out of relatively few shekels -- around $10 in '64 -- during its original 8-year continuous run on Broadway. The state of Israel was but 16 years young, the Holocaust not even two decades dead. Fiddler gave Jews a sense of renewed community, identity, fidelity as a people.

How it's all put together : Locally RCMT's remount 16 years along under the ever-clever eye and hand of director [RCMT Artistic Director] Valerie Easton is just plain fun. Today was an afternoon's delight of delicious dance, song sequences and a tale all families can relate to : how we need to bend lest we break in the face of our children's and our world's changing social commands and cultural habits. In the words of the band Semisonic in their instant classic "Closing Time" : "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Given current events, its closing scene is an absolute heart-break that found my eyes wet indeed. 

All the usual suspects are trotted out to engage and amuse and beguile us once again as they did in the 1971 film adaptation starring Chaim Topol as Tevye : Tevye (Warren Kimmel). Golde (Jennifer Poole). The marrying daughters Tzeitel (Natasha Zacher), Hodel (Jenika Schofield) and Chava (Julia Ullrich). And of course the mischievous matchmaker Yente (Sylvia Zaradic).

Papa thinks he runs the show. He decides, with Yente's help, who his girls will marry. He thinks. Oh. How. Silly. They decide. They have succumbed to some notion called love. Pshaw and p-spit on the ground, Tevye responds, not on my watch he asserts repeatedly, vehemently, fruitlessly. 

Yes. "Tradition". Only in quotes because it's the opening number. But also its usual meaning -- the rusted, dented phenomenon that's equally embraced and laughed at and ignored generation after generation. The precision movements this troupe of 31 performers manage -- the youngest but in Grade 3 -- is of signal importance, an eminent feature throughout. In "Tradition", the show's breathtaking opener, that's 62 arms, 62 hands and 62 legs that have to do heavenly finger-points and angled Russian-peasanty side-steps called in dance parlance the "grapevine" -- all in crisp and crafty unison as they criss-cross and set the stage, literally, for the night. The fancy footwork could not have been performed more compellingly anywhere than RCMT presented people with this afternoon.

The plot is quite simple : it depicts 1905 day-to-day life in the village shtetl of Anatevka as Tevye's family and the townsfolk scurry about doing daily chores. Tevye's horse pulls up lame so he has to lug his milk cart about by hand (which of course spares the director a huge prop & character complication). The rest of it is the horny young men falling for the charming teen-age daughters and they them, the town gossiping gleefully, a wedding celebration,  a drunken outing at the pub, and then the fated pogrom. 

Come the Tsar's pogrom edict, the village break-up will send Tevye and Golde plus their two youngest daughters to America to camp out with Uncle Avram -- lucky them -- while two other daughters and their husbands head west to Poland (the 3rd in exile with her pre-Bolshevik agitator husband in Siberia).

What this show brings to the stage : Community. Among families. Among generations of families. Fiddler is a favourite in Japan. A Japanese journalist in America to interview for the current Broadway re-mount of the show broke into tears as she turned on her recorder : "We love this play because it tells the story of Japan," she insisted. Who would have thought? Or what about today's Syrian migrants. Perhaps equally for them? And ironic, too, given Vlad Putin's contribution to their flight paths.

But endless comparison with current events aside, what this show brings to the stage is a reminder what altogether smart and quick-witted contributions play when linked symbiotically : lyrics (Sheldon Harnick, now 91 and a central player in producing the current NYC re-mount), music (Jerry Bock) and book [storyline] (Joseph Stein).

Borrowing from my favourite theologian Marcus Borg, I would characterize the experience in 2016 as "Falling in love with Fiddler again for the first time." As both my wife and I did unreservedly & unhesitatingly. 

Production values that hi-lite the production : What strikes the eye from the get-go are Brian Ball's stage-wagons that flip 360-degrees and slide about effortlessly. Exterior peasant bungalow to interior kitchen \ larder. Village tailor shop to town pub. 

Costume Designer Christina Sinosich had a delirious! go of it patching together all the fin de siecle Russian peasant wear, the Jewish wedding togs, the contrasting gentile townspeople costuming and the gendarmerie uni's. 

Gerald King's lighting design was particularly effective, isolating Tevye with pin-spots for his interior monologues and ironic chats with Chum God. Red pick-up for the ghost of Fruma-Sarah (Erin Palm) as she was hoist on cables above the townsfolk worked great.

In the end, however, what the exiting show-goer remarks and exults endlessly about is Valerie Easton's direction and unmistakable choreographic footprint on this show. The tavern scene of the two generations kibitzing and challenging and jousting with one another. Or Zach Wolfman's Perchik first introducing Hodel to social dancing from Kiev, then to the balance of the bunch at the wedding. Enough! of the traditional mano-a-mano stuff by men trying to out-macho one another (fun though it is to watch regardless). Then there's the bottle dance with wine bottles perched atop the men's fedoras. Priceless accomplishment against gravity, not one bit of dropsy, while the boys did Russian kazachok kick-out steps slo-mo. Just one more reason to go to live theatre rather than do Hollywood 2-D off the tube.

But also the songs under RCMT founder James Bryson's ever-so-capable musical direction. The faves : "Tradition". "If I Were A Rich Man". "Sunrise, Sunset". "Do You Love Me?" [which clearly owes its pedigree to Lerner & Lowe's "I Remember It Well" most famously performed by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the show Gigi]. And because she's been outcast for marrying a gentile Russian, Hodel's "Far From The Home I Love" is a particularly touching lament. 

Big voices abound : Kimmel and Poole first and foremost. The sisters' pipes too. And not an off-key note from the men, either. Add Zaradic's priceless monologues of yada-yada vocephilia and the moments of aural delight in this show tot up beyond count. 

(N.B. The memory of an earlier talent contest performance in Seattle of "Far From The Home I Love" inspired Director Easton to dedicate the show to her effervescent actress / songstress / dancer daughter Amy who was claimed, tragically, at but age 32 last year by leukaemia. Her time thrilling Vancouver playgoers was before BLR was launched, so I regrettably did not have the pleasure of seeing her perform. As a father of two generations -- pushing 50 the first, nearing 25 the second -- I ache at this news. Godspeed! to you Valerie and family.)

Who gonna like : My first excursion on the boards was in a high school rendition of Annie Get Your Gun in 1962. I've been a sucker for musicals ever since. Big-stage productions like this one that fill every nook-&-cranny of the Massey Theatre stage are still a thrill, as was the diminutive Jericho Theatre stage ebullience of Cats seen earlier this year or the even diminutive-er production of Bonnie & Clyde The Musical at Commercial Drive's Havana stage last month. 

Said it before, will say it again : Valerie Easton has an utterly unwavering eye and ear and touch for cadence, rhythm, choreographic interplay and timing whether she's doing incidental dance routines as part of a show or whole productions. 

You like big-stage music song-&-dance? Only through next Saturday to queue up and get mesmerized by this thrilling piece of work by all involved. This is entertainment writ large!

Particulars : Book by Joseph Stein. Music by Jerry Bock.  Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  Original New York Stage Director & Choreographer Jerome Robbins.  Original production by Hal Prince.  Based on original stories in Yiddish [1895 - 1905] by Sholem Aleichem.  At Massey Theatre, 8th Avenue @ 8th Street, New Westminster.  Run-time 175 minutes including intermission.  On until April 23rd.  Schedule information & tickets via RCMT  or by phoning 604.521.5050.

Production team :  Direction & Choreography Valerie Easton.  Musical Direction James Bryson.  Producer Chelsea Carlson.  Technical Director & Head Carpenter Don Parman.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Costume Designer / Costumer Christina Sinosich.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Tim Lang.  Designer, Specialty Costume Pieces & Masks Patrice Godin.  Associate Producer Allen Dominguez. Stage Manager Ingrid Turk.  Assistant Stage Manager Samantha Paras.  Assistant Stage Manager Gerri Torres.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronda Yuen. Rehearsal Pianist Patrick Ray. Cultural Consultant Naomi Taussig. 

Principal performers :  Jonathan Bruce (Lazar Wolf).  Maia Hoile (Shpritze).  Warren Kimmel (Tevye). Arta Negahpai (Bielke).  Kerry O'Donovan (Motel). Jennifer Poole (Golde). Fenika Schofel (Hodel).  William Tippery (Fyedka).  Julia Ullrich (Chava).  Zach Wolfman (Perchick).  Natasha Zacher (Tzeitel).  Sylvia Zaradic (Yente).

Ensemble performers : Colleen Byberg.  Rachael Carlson.  Emma Ciprian.  John Cousins.  Lucas Crandall.  Darian Grant.  Tiffany Hambrook.  Jacquollyne Keath.  Kyle Oliver.  Erin Palm.  Matt Ramer.  Owen Scott.  Peter Stainton.  Michael Stusiak.  Tosh Sutherland.  Adam Turpin.  Jacob Wolstencroft.  Kaitlin Yott.  

Orchestra :  Katie Stewart. Kevin McDonnell. Jennifer Vance. Steve Prestage. Marni Johnson. Malcom Francis. Tom Walker. Peter Serravalle. Steve Torok. Paul Chan. Eva Ying. Mary Grace del Rosario. Lia Wolfe. Janice Webster. Ross Halliday. Monica Sumulong. Kevin Woo. Andrea Flello. Kerry Fraser. Patrick Ray.  


Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Valley chases real & elusive demons
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \  Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : It is said that every encounter between people, where there's a witness, has at least four truths to it. The "omniscient" truth -- what a 3-D sound-camera would capture. The protagonist's truth. The antagonist's truth. The witness's truth. Thus there is never but one truth. Nor will any truth be absolute. And none can be 100% discounted, either.

VPD gets a public disturbance call at the Joyce Street Skytrain station. Constable Dan attends. Encounters teenager Connor who is flailing a bat of some sort 'round and 'round his head as if scaring passengers away from his space. He looks delirious. Dan treats him like a common assaulter. When Connor lunges for his dropped baton, Dan overpowers him, cuffs him, and breaks his jaw in the process. Connor's mom insists it's police brutality and demands justice. The question : is a cop's Job#1 to restore public order? Or is there another "truth" or two when apparent mental illness is involved that need to factor in?

Any tour on Skytrain around Vancouver reveals the complex composition of people who crush its station platforms and cars. Lots of sketchy conduct at the Commercial Drive station or New Westminster station or Main Street station, which I frequent weekly in my travels. Since the closure of Coquitlam's Riverview and Tranquille in Kamloops in the early 80's, fact is thousands of people with mental health disabilities are elbow-to-elbow with the hoi polloi in metro Vancouver. Joan MacLeod in The Valley explores how peoples' everyday struggles intersect, how all their truths demand empathy. The ACT production at Granville Island through May 7th is a touching observation & disquisition about how these daily human encounters call out for our better angels to shadow us.

How it's all put together : Most plays proceed in a linear manner. As in beginning, middle, end. Exposition, rising action, climax, denouement. Such, playwright MacLeod seems to be saying, is not the case at all in life. Arrhythmia. Contradiction. Irony. Paradox. All these influences moment by moment for each of us. Else why would divorced and overprotective single-kid Mom Sharon Crane (Kerry Sandomirsky) ever think that being perky & chirpy & and ever-up-tempo & always crazy-praisy would do anything but further alienate and upset son Connor (Daniel Doheny) as his nascent schizophrenia develops and he struggles to get a grip. She is less mother than smother

Or take VPD Cst. Dan Milano (Robert Salvador). When he comes home to wife Janie (Pippa Mackie), she's an emotional smudgepot struggling with postpartum depression. An ex-cocaine drug addict with goof Jason, she now spends her day, all day, with a typical blubbering needy five-month-old. Janie wants to talk with Dan, share with him her angst and pain at being sequestered and cloistered. He just goes blah-blah-blah. All he wants is to zone out and decompress from the occasional gritty encounters he's had but more often days of uneventful boring drive-arounds with his partner Denise. (He is amused by how baby Zeke's feet are growing but never wants to snuggle him.)

These four characters criss-cross through circumstance. Sharon insists they meet to play out a hippie-version of indigenous healing circle\restorative justice. Ultimately mentally-troubled Connor and mentally-troubled Janie manage to connect : like seeks out like often enough. At one moment she counsels Connor against his own thoughts of suicide, then shortly she stumbles into just such an attempt herself. Another paradox in a world where brain chemistry is out of balance. (The tragic stories out of Attawapiskat need but be summoned for proof of same.)

In the end MacLeod provides no resolution to these various conflicts and tensions other than Sharon ultimately starts to let go of Connor. One can only hope she stops herself from her constant attempts to rein in life. Just let it be what it will be. For Dan and Janie it looks more of the same : likeable though he is, he will doubtless carry on trying to talk around Janie's mal de vivre instead of helping her through it.

What this show tries to bring front-of-stage : Numerous police incidents with mentally unstable folk have splashed across t.v. screens and YouTube in recent years. Starting with Vancouver Film School animator Paul Boyd in August 2007 shot nine times after waving a bicycle chain wildly overhead for some time in a stand-off. Then two months later Polish visitor Robert Dziekanski's taser gun death @ YVR by four RCMP. More recently the shooting of Phuong Na Du in November, 2014  after behaving erratically, shouting and waving a piece of 2 x 4 lumber in the air at Knight St. & 41st. MacLeod and countless others argue there is a need for more sensitivity and creative intervention when dealing with episodes involving mental imbalance whether drug-induced or psychotic. (Irony : rampaging bears are not destroyed. They are tranquilized and removed to safe environments. Not mentally ill people having an episode. Them we shoot to kill.)

Background stat : A 2012 survey commissioned by Ottawa known as the Canadian Community Health Survey, a.k.a. CCHS-12MH, provides these revealing metrics : "According to the CCHS-12MH, 18.4%, or approximately 5 million Canadians, reported coming into contact with the police in the previous 12 months. Of those 5 million Canadians who came into contact with police, approximately one in five (18.8%) met the criteria of a mental or substance use disorder." That is 940,000 disorder incidents. 2,600 per day. More than 100 per hour. Given such frequency, is overt force to restrain an acting-out individual "to restore public order" always the first and highest and best option? Maybe some strategies more subtle that might take longer would be more appropriate.

For her part, McLeod's web-page makes this claim about her focus on everyday people and their struggles : "Her dramas are profoundly rooted in real-life challenges to the human spirit, but always avoid sermons and transcend political viewpoints. She uses current events as a staircase to create universal narratives that search out and celebrate our strangenesses, excesses and redemptions."

Dramatic techniques at play : Earlier I used the word "disquisition" to describe this show. Purposely. As in these synonyms : Sermon. Address. Thesis. For try as it might, particularly in Act 1, Valley is less a "play" than serial monologues by the characters setting out their encounters with police in their lives. All in the noble pursuit of stitching together a storyline about how the Joyce Street Skytrain station event, and other related incidents, will ultimately make whole dramatic cloth.

A raked, faux cracked-granite oval stage (Amir Ofek, Set Designer) slants the action toward the crowd, as if cut, roughly, from a random square satellite hurtling through space, its cut-out resembling what we might imagine a black hole to look like. A couple of homely metal school gym chairs + a duffel bag or two are the balance of the set.

When not centre-stage, the actors stand, back-to-audience, upstage left and right (Mindy Parfitt, Director) as if indifferent or offended by what their antagonists are saying stage centre. The visual effect -- the isolation, the bemusement, the anger, the stubbornness -- works well.

Lighting Designer Itai Erdal throws delightful electrical impulses up at the granite rectangle while Daniel recites from his teen-age novel about his hero Vasselon, about to die in the Valley of the Clouds : "Vasselon looked over at his beast. She understood him in a way no one ever had. He'd been trapped in the Valley of the Clouds as long as he could remember."  [N.B. This quote threw me instantly back to Hannah Green's semi-autobiographic novel I Never Promised You A Rose Garden that I was required to inflict on Grade 11 students in Newton, B.C. in 1969. In 1970 I boycotted Green and flipped the kids One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey instead.]

From common commentary upon show's exit, which aligns with my own view, Act 2 gives The Valley its dramatic punch. These previously caricature-characters who've monologue'd their stories in the first act now begin to interact. Mom Sharon reaches out. Connor, after multiple antipsychotic Rx experiments, begins to gain equilibrium. Cop Dan embraces wife Janie track-side despite her suicide attempt abandoning Zeke in his stroller.

Likely much change, really? Can't imagine it from Sharon who at the pinnacle of son Connor's decompensation and schizo-delerium dissertates : "I want you to imagine being well again. I want you to think of your whole life. This is just a bad chapter in the life of Connor. You need to visualize the end of this time." 

Also this exchange : Janie tells Dan about Zeke and herself. "I want to make him feel all warm and fuzzy but I can't somehow." Dan responds : "Go make yourself feel better!" "I don't know how to feel better...". "You've got me." "I guess so. Are you sure?" "You've got Zeke." "You're a good man, Dan, you're my anchor." Hmnnn.

Who gonna like : Despite my reservations about the dramatic arc of Joan  MacLeod's script, I would go see this show again primarily to watch the ACT debut performance of Daniel Doheny as Connor. Plus Mr. Salvador's well-developed character of Cst. Dan Milano, who has redeeming moments. Doheny's capture of a young man's descent into the maelstrom of despair and confusion that schizophrenia brings on is really quite superb and a marker of future performances to anticipate from this actor. Playwright McLeod's desire to raise our consciousness about whether we as a society are asking our police protectors to do too much -- or giving them a bye and asking them to do too little -- is no question a valid dramatic issue to pose.

Particulars :  By Joan MacLeod.  At ACT's Granville Island stage.  Run-time 110 minutes including intermission.  On until May 7th.  Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production team :  Director Mindy Parfitt.  Set Designer Amir Ofek.  Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Lighting Designer ltai Erdal.  Sound Designer Owen Belton.  Projection Designer Jamie Nesbitt. Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs.  Assistant Stage Manager April Starr Land.

Performers  : Daniel Doheny (Connor).  Pippa Mackie (Janie).  Robert Salvador (Dan).  Kerry Sandomirsky (Sharon).  

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Invisible Hand strikes head-&-heart
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \  Les Miserables, 1985)

Quicky version

Another creation of American playwright Ayad Akhtar (whose script Disgraced won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2013), The Invisible Hand considers the religious fundamentalism of not only radical Islam but of capitalism, too, and how the fervors that infect each of these belief systems are not just parallel but in fact intersect.

With the arrival of what I have coined "jihadislam", North American audiences owe Akhtar Thanks! for his efforts to decryptify the Muslim religious / social / military / outlaw phenomena that daily blast their way into our psyches over the airwaves.

With comic riffs and layers of irony like layers of an onion -- the more you peel the worse it smells and the more it brings tears to your eyes -- this show doesn't mince words or sentiments. Our belief systems are built on words and driven by emotions. Emotions that have meaning to us but not necessarily any obvious or inherent moral superiority on the face of the earth. Akhtar lightens up his tale with humour and empathy and softness, but the underlying thriller aspect, the chance of the hero's brutal sacrifice at the hands of The Other, keeps you riveted to your seat.

Wordy version

From the footlights : Nothing like the potential for a bayonet beheading by hooded assassins to grab our attention. Or at least to operate metaphorically as "the invisible hand of fate" the audience imagines lurking behind Nick Bright. As a WASP investment capitalist working for NYC's mega-Citibank in Pakistan, Bright and his colleagues are all marked. In this case not yet marked to be a trophy for the local cult Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the violent Islamists who videoed the cruel and methodical and slow execution of journalist Daniel Pearl. For the moment, anyway, Bright is simply marked for a $10 million ransom by an imam who claims his intent is to use the money to improve his flock's living conditions in hopelessly corrupt Pakistan.

Another creation of American playwright Ayad Akhtar (whose script Disgraced won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2013), The Invisible Hand considers the religious fundamentalism of not only radical Islam but of capitalism, too, and how the fervors that infect each of these belief systems are not just parallel but in fact intersect.

Bristling with tension, the play takes place in a couple of residential holding cells as Bright tries to win his release by making his captors millions through stock market speculation. Along the way it's a seminar on how gazillionaires play the market, literally, with all its options, puts, calls, futures, short sells, long sells and the like that are 100% wizardry to arts majors like me. The Pi Theatre troupe producing the show at The Cultch is absolutely true to its slogan of Fearless Theatre.

How it's all put together :  The title is taken from 18th century laissez faire capitalist theorist Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) who posited that the bread on the family table gets there not by any beneficence on the part of its producers but by the economic self-interest of the farmers and the bakers who sell their product to said family. Thus, he said, "the invisible hand" of free markets will self-adjust through supply-&-demand dynamics : government need not get hamfisted with intervention, thanks.

Akhtar is less a propagandist than a provocateur, he would insist. A novelist and screenwriter as well as playwright, he disclaims advocating any single social, political or religious perspective. Summoning the classic dictum of the ancient, Horace, in Ars Poetica, he says his art aims to teach and to please, both. He told Alexis Soloski of The Guardian for a NYT feature piece in 2012 his goal in all his outputs artistically is that his work "be deeply engaging and alive and vibrant".

And just so TIH is. Nick Bright (Craig Erickson) has been held captive some three weeks when the show starts. Handcuffed, he's established amiable relations with his gaoler Dar (Conor Wylie) who clips Nick's fingernails. He's taught Dar to corner the south Pakistan farm market on cheap potatoes, stockpile them, wait until there's punishing demand up north, then sell his supply dearly. Oh, and do not confuse patriotism and money. Ditch your rupee profits, immediately buy $USD instead as it is the world's dominant currency.

Enter Imam Saleem (Shaker Paleja). He can't understand why Citibank (slogan : "Citi never sleeps") hasn't coughed up the ransom right smartly. One reason is Saleem's sect has been named a terrorist cell by the U.S. so ransom negotiations are forbidden by the State Department. Saleem's enforcer comes on as menace personified. 

Bashir (Munish Sharma) is a radicalized Brit national who's returned to his family's cultural roots to advance "the cause" once he latched on to Imam Saleem as his avatar. He threatens Nick with death at the hands of Lashkar. 

With Saleem and Bashir's patience at an end! over how Citibank has "gone cold", now there's but deafening silence from New York about Nick -- i.e. no talk of cash & no chat about Nick's safety -- just in time Nick convinces his captors if he can get his hands on a Mac he will do a workaround the ransom demand to Citibank. Instead he will access his personal Grand Cayman tax haven purse worth some $3 million. And parlay that offshore stash into millions more. For them. To buy his freedom. 

Let the fun begin.

What the show brings to the stage :  With the arrival of what I have coined "jihadislam", North American audiences owe Akhtar a big Thanks! for his efforts to decryptify the Muslim religious / social / military / outlaw phenomena that daily blast their way into our psyches over the airwaves.

Of Pakistani-American parents, both doctors -- and raised in Wisconsin just outside Milwaukee, as was I -- Akhtar is a bit of an obsessed artist these days. He's pumping out a play a year or more. TIH is to this viewer, anyway, considerably more compelling than was the plot and characterization of Disgraced that I accused of being just too-too in its myriad levels of coincidence. (Noting in my review, of course, that obviously the Pulitzer Prize judges disagreed with me in spades.)

Akhtar's obsession in this particular script about "the Muslim experience" is the nexus in moral compulsion between disparate groups of true believers. Wall Street hustlers on the one hand. On the other the Imam Saleem sect that professes to be all about doing good works for needy people. "We are prisoners of a corrupt country that is of our own making," Saleem admits to Nick. "You kidnapped me so you can fix your roads!" Nick responds incredulously. Quite so, apparently.

A racist himself, Bashir tells Nick he came "home" to Pakistan from the family flat outside London, like many of his generation, because "we are giving up our soft lives in the West to do something useful" for needy Muslim brethren back on old sod.

Nick is not allowed to handle the Mac laptop himself, so he mentors Bashir on how to play the market game : figure out an angle of political consequence; capitalize on it lit.-&-fig; create new and other conditions to maximize opportunity and results; repeat; repeat; repeat.

Along the way a kind of "reverse Stockholm Syndrome" occurs, Bashir admits, as he comes to befriend Nick as a person, not just as a mentor who is making him and Imam Saleem millions despite the fact that Saleem pays lip service to the notion that money, not religion, is the opiate of the masses as Marx had averred.

Which, TIH asks implicitly, is the greater cancer on society? Islam or capitalism? While it's clear the secular Muslim Akhtar doesn't favour jihad -- of Lashkar, Saleem remonstrates with Bashir : "They are not Muslims, they are animals!" -- he certainly does not kiss the capitalist blarney stone, either. 

Production values that hi-lite the show : Akhtar gives the play a kind of potboiler ending -- a bit of role reversal irony that had patrons around me chortling. Personally I find nothing risible whatever about that other Marxist tenet "the end justifies the means". But overall the show examines cleverly indeed how blind people can be when they conflate ideas such as market economy with democracy with freedom with religion (as the wild misnomer The Arab Spring attests to so profoundly). Or when folks cleave to social darwinism : survival of the fittest as a "fact of life" to accept, unquestioningly, whether on Wall Street or the sands of the wannabe caliphate in the Middle East.

Director Richard Wolfe [Artistic Director of Pi Theatre]  mined Mr. Akhtar's script well indeed. He and his actors utterly "got" the various levels of cognitive confusion and dissonance that arise world-wide. Americans don't see how they mix up democracy and money as one piece of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that their famed Declaration of Independence promises. Many Muslims disparage the capital system but do all they can to get a piece of it for themselves. Distrust and fear are rampant. Exclusions abound. Violence is inevitable when frustrations mount past the tipping point. On a lighter note, Bright reminds Bashir : "Very few wars have been fought between countries that have McDonald's...".

Musical Director & Composer Gordon Grdina's work along with Sound Designer Christopher Kelly's finessing are worth going to hear even if one were masqued. With Fathieh Honiara's haunting cultural vocals and their appropriate wind accompaniment -- as well as the street soundscape of cars and dogs and overhead drones buzzing angrily above, bombing regularly -- this was all impressive. The set by David Roberts is imaginative and convincing Pakistan urban parched rockery-&-plaster with a rendition of the city's labyrinthine streets rising up cleverly behind the mainstage cloisters for prisoner Bright.

Acting pin-spots : The script focuses on two characters, Nick Bright and Bashir. And they each are terrific. Craig Erickson simply adds to his other recent Vancouver outings that were excellent as well : in the Mitch and Murray Mamet script Speed The Plow -plus- ACT's Scar Tissue. His execution, ugly pun acknowledged, of the staged pistol assassination scene to end Act I was utterly embracing frightening theatre. 

Munish Sharma as Bashir was a wholly engaging and genuine gestalt of emotions : bully-boy London tough with a great low-brow accent coupled with boyish nuance learning the stock market game. "What the fuck is a future?" he asks -- which in its normal meaning, not stock-market-ese -- is at the end what this show is fundamentally about. Solid performances by Messrs. Paleja and Wylie, too, both with delightful subtlety at key moments.

Who gonna like : With comic riffs and layers of irony like layers of an onion -- the more you peel the worse it smells and the more it brings tears to your eyes -- this show doesn't mince words or sentiments. Our belief systems are built on words driven by emotions. Emotions that have meaning to us but not necessarily any obvious or inherent moral superiority on the face of the earth. Akhtar lightens up his tale with humour and empathy and softness, but the underlying thriller aspect, the chance of the hero's brutal sacrifice at the hands of The Other, keeps viewers riveted to their seats.

Mr. Akhtar achieves his objective noted above thanks to Director Wolfe and the actors themselves, not to mention the insightful and incisive Akhtar script :  to "be deeply engaging and alive and vibrant". This is small stage theatre at its most relevant. Miss this and you miss insights that no number of news reports could ever provide.

Particulars : Presented by The Cultch as Produced by Pi Theatre (Vancouver). At The Cultch Historic Theatre, through April 23rd. Run-time 120 minutes, including intermission. Schedule information & tickets via or by phoning the box office after 12:00 noon @ 604.251.1363.  

Production Crew : Written by Ayad Akhtar.  Directed by Richard Wolfe [Artistic Director, Pi Theatre].  Set Designer David Roberts.  Costume Designer Christine Reimer. Lighting Designer Alan Brodie.  Musical Director & Composer Gordon Grdina.  Sound Designer Christopher Kelly.  Vocalist Fathieh Honari.  Stage Manager Jethelo E. Cabilete.  Dramaturge Adele Noronha.

Performers :  Craig Erickson (Nick Bright).  Shaker Paleja (Imam Saleem).  Munish Sharma (Bashir). Conor Wylie (Dar)

Addendum #1 : As noted above, Ayad Akhtar grew up in the USA town contiguous to where I grew up near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He in Brookfield, me to the west in Waukesha. Like me, too, he also has a tremendous affection and connect with where he grew up. 

He has done four collaborations with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (the Rep) in the years since he graduated from Brookfield Central High. He took his play The Invisible Hand to the Rep two months back for a run.

Prior to its opening he sat down with Matt Mueller, the Pop Culture Editor of an e-zine OnMilwaukee for a chat. Excerpts that I think are relevant are included below.

OM : Do you believe capitalism is in a good place?

AA :  Capitalism is a religious ideology we believe because it's our's our ideological blind spot. We think that it's true. We think free market liberalism is true. We think that it makes the world a better place. It's just what we believe. There's no evidence for that. It's what we believe. In that way, it's religious ideology.

I think I've been suspect of capitalism for a long time. I'm not a bleeding heart liberal, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that getting rid of capitalism is the solution. One thing that's often not known is that a lot of militant political movements around the world have taken their lead from Marxism and have done so for many years. At the core of a strain of Islamist militant thought is the desire for a more just economic world inspired by Marx. So the discourse you see historically with a lot of militant Islamic movements is very similar to the discourse of Occupy Wall Street and very similar to the discourse that Bernie Sanders has right now.

That's something people don't necessarily know, but that's because there's a strong strain of anti-intellectualism in this country. Issac Asimov put it very well when he said, "In America, it seems sometimes as if my ignorance is as good as your knowledge." There's this sentiment out there that I don't know shit, but it doesn't matter because I'm right. I don't care what you say or what the facts are, and we are suffering the consequences of that environment in our political life.

OM : And the Internet has only exacerbated that...

AA : Social media is probably the worst thing that's happened to American democracy.

OM : Really?

AA : If my ignorance is as good as your knowledge, then me posting my ignorance is an act of self-expression that deserves to sit side by side with a cogent, factual articulation of reality. That way lies madness.

OM : Yeah, on Twitter, there's no value of argument. It's a level playing field.

AA : There's no truth value.

OM : A New York Times article can be next to a racist rant from somebody on the same feed.

AA : Or outright ignorance. I think the truth value of language has ceased to exist in the public sphere. That's a crisis. That's no joking matter, because we're walking ourselves right off a cliff. These are real things. When your language has no meaning, you cannot communicate any longer.

We've got pipes in Flint (Michigan) that have been corroded by the process of privatization. We've got problems in this country that are so severe and significant, but the conversation is about a bunch of identity politics, and the people who are trying to deal with things in a concrete way are shouted out by people who think that our biggest problem is that we've got abortion rights or gun control issues. Forty per cent of American thinks Obama is a Muslim Kenyan king. This is a crisis in the national consciousness...

I'm not saying that social media is not something that could be used in a productive way or that it hasn't been used in a productive way. But for the most part, it has become the scourge of our national consciousness. It's a cesspool, and it's dragging the national conversation down with it.

OM : In a show like this, where you're dealing with these weighty ideas about global economies and ideological extremism, how do you balance explaining that to an audience while also keeping them invested emotionally?

AA : That's the challenge. Tell a good story. If you tell a good story -- that's first and foremost -- and keep the audience's interest, there's room for you to say some things and explore some ideas. But you have to keep your finger on the narrative pulse. You gotta tell a good story.

OM : Look at Shakespeare. People remember his plays because of the stories and the characters...

AA : And the language!

...not because they're commentaries or statements about something at that time.

AA : They remember Shylock because of those speeches, because of the language, because of the depth of the intelligence, because of the poetic flourish and the human window that that language opens up. I think that's exactly right.

I'm not writing to correct some idea that non-Muslim whites have. I'm not trying to make Muslims more palatable. I'm not trying to defend Islam. Islam is a great tradition that has lasted 1,500 years; it does not need the meager defences of a sometime-playwright. You know what I mean? I'm trying to fry a different kind of fish.

But because of my Muslim origins, because of the fact that my specific -- my Yoknapatawpha County, the county that Faulker used to write about -- is Muslim experience in America, that's my particular to which I'm writing toward the universal, toward the human experience, toward the contemporary global experience. It's just that I'm writing from this particular. But the particular gets mistaken for the content. Why? Because of this rampant environment of identity politics, which I am writing about but which I am not writing to.

Addendum #2 -- Pi Theatre mission statement that clearly is reflected in this production of TIH :

Pi Theatre produces bold and uncompromising plays that explore modern life. We connect audiences with theatre that’s intellectually alive and emotionally charged.
Pi promises work that pushes hearts and minds to their fullest extent. We are concerned with creating social moments, community connections and artistic impact.
We believe in work that extends beyond the stage to challenge perceptions and get people talking.

Our values: