Friday, 23 June 2017

Winter's Tale a chilling, warming snap on anger
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 :  Regal jealousy that descends not unlike the onset, almost spontaneously, of a catatonic or schizoid fit. From charm and good cheer to extended bouts of rage, revenge, repulsion in an Augenblick as the Germans would say -- the blink of an eye. But finally through magic and Fate, reconciliation and restoration. Most academics lump this in as one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. Others call it a "problem play" -- unresolved tragic elements of hubris leading to mayhem and death -- but overall a cheery outcome. 

Leontes (Kevin MacDonald) is King of Sicilia. His boyhood chum Polixenes (Ian Butcher) is King of Bohemia that WS conveniently fronts on the Adriatic to provide the play a shoreline with desert behind. Bohemia has been visiting Sicilia for nine months but is anxious to get back home. Sicilia entreats him to hang on another week. No go. So Sicilia asks his wife Hermione (Sereana Malani) to bid him stay. A coupla chipper & comely comments from her and Bohemia succumbs. He'll stay after all. Instantly Leontes rages : "Too hot! Too hot!" He flies into a frantic frenzy all because Polixenes denies his own offer of more hospitality but capitulates in a heartbeat to his wife's nudges. They must be canoodling and cuckholding him, Leontes immediately concludes. 

Shepherd (David M. Adams) and son Clown (Chris Cochrane) delight to find infant Perdita + a bag of gold.
Photo: David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel
Thus is Leontes precisely positioned by WS to set all of his royal entrourage aflitter and aflight in his obsession : the hugely pregnant Hermione to prison; daughter born and left in the desert -- abandoned to the wolves and bears and ravens; Prince Mamillius (Parmiss Sehat) to die in grief at all the familial losses. It will be way down the line before bucolic, sensuous Bohemia reconciles with what Chamber of Commerce brochures call the classic, reasoned and civilized Greco-Roman enclave of Sicilia.

Plot twists & turns :  Shakespeare is well known for creating mad behaviour in his villains, normally among royalty or wannabe royalty. (Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth leap instantly to mind.) But what astonishes, quite, is the sustained vehemence and wanton rage attacks Leontes suffers from. Even when disabused of his reasons by Apollo's priestly oracle from Delphos whom he promised to abide by : "There is no truth at all i' the' oracle...This is mere falsehood," he spits contemptuously. He obviously had not learnt the ancient warning : "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."

NYT critic Ben Brantley cleverly pointed out six months back that while Othello had the evil Iago to goad him on and inspire his murderous meltdown, Leontes "is his own undermining Iago". Hermiones' most favoured lady Paulina (Lois Anderson) labels him a tyrant for the deaths of his son the Prince and of Hermione, too, upon learning of Mamillius's passing. Only then does a spark of insight shine through Leonte's egotistical carapace : "Apollo's angry; and the heavens themselves / Do strike at my injustice."

Heidi Wilkinson & Frances Henry's puppet sheep are nearly as clever as the bear that ate Antigonus.
Photo : David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel

From this point forward the play turns its eyes to the arcadian sheep pastures of Bohemia. Which turn starts, however, with a shipwreck followed by Antigonus being given the most-famous-of-all WS stage directions : Exit, chased by a bear. After this the stage action and dialogue become more lyrical, playful and sensuous.
Production values that shine through : As in years past, once again the magical music-making of Malcolm Dow is a treasure to hear. Electronic bass drone underneath, English handbells, chapel chimes, medieval chants, kazoo, baby's cries, &c. &c.

In sync were both the astonishing modernist masques for the choir, primarily, as well as a mix of rich tapestry silks for the royals and perfect lumpy burlap for the shepherd crowds by Carmen Alatorre.

Predictably, Vancouver movement-&-choreography wunderkind Tracey Power once again worked her stage magic. Good decision by Director Dean Paul Gibson to let her expand the chorus sequences as he did. The opening was sheer crisp delight to watch and hear.

Scenery designer Pam Johnson used five Ionic pillars to suggest the law-&-order conceit of Sicilia. They were moved about in various creative formations, then pushed right off stage altogether when Bohemia's sheep-shearing village scenes took over. 

All of this together produced a joy of sight and sound that enwrapped the action of the principals in a style that was all of crisp and grand and funky, too.

Acting pin-spots : Personally I am a huge fan of Shakespeare's women. I find their roles, generally, more compelling theatre than the villain men they play opposite. TWT in the end is Paulina's play, not Leontes' or Polixenes'. 

While Leontes decompensates into a psychotic fit, it is Paulina masterfully executed by Lois Anderson who has the play's best lines, no question. 

What better than this to her liege Leontes : "Thy tyranny / Together with thy jealousies / Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle / For girls of nine -- O think what they have done, / And then run mad indeed, stark mad : for all / Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it." My my my what stuff.

Lois Anderson as Paulina leads Perdita (Kaitlin Williams) and Chorus in triumphant cheer at play's end.Photo: David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel
Anderson was matched by Laara Sadiq's interpretation of Camillo. Her execution was equally powerful stuff both in her anger and in her romantic heartedness toward the characters Leontes and Polixenes wished harm to.

Delightful turns by all on stage, but particular shout-outs to the three funnest characters across the night, David M. Adams as the old Shepherd (Perdita's foster dad) and Chris Cochrane as Clown, his son. Ben Elliott's Autolycus goof was sheer treat to watch, though Director Gibson still alas! seems unable to resist some farty stage business. Cheap sight gag that cheapens the show.

Who gonna like : Winter's Tale appeals in part because unlike Lear, kingly royal rage attacks in this case don't kill off the entire family, just one. The fun of what here is Act 2 -- the Bohemian sheep fluffery, the whimsical wizardous bear by creators Heidi Wilkinson & Frances Henry, the daffodil songs, the romance between "Doricles" (Adam Eckhart) and Perdita (Kaitlin Williams) -- oh such juicy wonderment all.

Taken together -- the casting, the acting, the sets, the music, the costumes, the choreography, the puppets -- this is about as big a bang for a Bard buck as I've seen on the mainstage in the five years I've been reviewing their shows. 

Want some Othello-lite mixed with a splash of the whimsy of Merry Wives? You can't go wrong here!

Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Christopher Gaze Artistic Director. At the BMO MainStage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : 40 shows between now and its September 22nd close. Schedule & ticket information @  Run-time 2-hours, 45-minutes including intermission.

Production crew :  Director Dean Paul Gibson.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Composer / Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Puppet Design & Construction Heidi Wilkinson, Frances Henry.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Choreography Tracey Power.  Physical Theatre Choreographer Wendy Gorling.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Apprentice Stage Manager Tanya Schwaerzle.  Directing Apprentice Robinson Wilson.

Performers :  Lois Anderson (Paulina).  Ian Butcher (Polixenes).  Kevin MacDonald (Leontes).  Serena Malani (Hermione).  Parmiss Sehat (Mamillius).  Laara Sadiq (Camillo).  Amber Lewis (Emilia).  Ashley O'Connell (Rogero).  Andrew Wheeler (Antigonus).  Julien Galipeau (Cleomenes).  Amber Lewis (Dion).  David M. Adams (Shepherd).  Chris Cochrane (Clown, Shepherd's son).  Austin Eckert (Florizel).  Kaitlin Williams (Perdita).  Ben Elliott (Autolycus).  Amber Lewis (Dorcus).  Permiss Sehat (Mopsa).  Members of the Company (Sicilian lords, ladies, officials, guards, gaolers, mariners, bohemian shepherds and citizens).


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Much Ado is rich silly rom-com froth @ Bard
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 :  Trickery. Knavery. Mistaken identity. Scheming. Masques and miscues. All elements of both live theatre and film-making. Such stuff informs the set, lit.-&-fig, for Bard on the Beach's premiere 2017 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

The characters of Benedick and Beatrice are two of the Bard's favourite lovers. Their sarcastic thrusts & parries back & forth seem tailor-made for 20th Century Fox's Liz and her twice-to-be hubby Dick, he of Eddie Fisher cuckold fame back in the time of Cleopatra.

But eight-season Bard vet John Murphy mounts the current set not in Hollywood, rather in Frederico Fellini's world of 1950 Rome instead : all the Billy Bard characters Murphy directs are filmmakers, studio chiefs, actors and assorted hangers-on in a mock-up mime of Marcello Mastroianni's celluloid La Dolce Vita.

Benedick (Kevin MacDonald) spins filmmaker Don Pedro (Ian Butcher) an arty tale or two.
Photo : David Blue    Image Design : Jason Keel
How it's all put together : Meanwhile Wiki tells us that "nothing", in Shakespeare's time, was a near homonym for "noting", which meant to overhear plus gossip plus rumour as well as "to take note of". And so it is with MAAN : a mostly comic romance with hints of Iago-style evil as well as countless references to horns & cozening & chicanery that Shakespeare loved to tittle his Elizabethan fans with. To make "much ado" about romantic love that is nothing if not paradox. E.g. how prescient and wise that church vows mention "for better" only a wee breath away from "for worse".

So here we have Leonato (Andrew Wheeler) as a film studio head. His headstrong niece Beatrice (Amber Lewis) loves to snipe at the famous actor Benedick (Kevin MacDonald) who has arrived in town with filmmaker Don Pedro (Ian Butcher) and rising star Claudio (Julien Galipeau). Claudio is instantly smitten with Leonato's daughter Hero (Parmiss Sehat). But Don Pedro's sister Dona Johnna (Lara Sadiq) hates her brother and sheerly-for-sibling-spite sets chins to wagging with doubts about Hero's virginity. The Claudio-Hero nuptials collapse. A funeral ensues. At least for awhile. Lest it be Much Ado About Something.

Beatrice (Amber Lewis), Hero (Parmiss Sehat) & Margaret (Kaitlin Williams) share disbelief at what Hero's betrothed Claudio reveals as their wedding starts.  Photo : David Blue    Image Design : Jason Keel
Production values that shine through : Shakespeare's often "ambiguous gender" characterizations may have been borne of his all-male-only casts. Or he was 400 years ahead of current feminism. In MAAN, Beatrice constantly cries how she yearns to be a man and teach that gender a thing or two about toughness and taking charge.

Other familiar tropes of the Bard present themselves, too. Lear's suffocating snit at daughter Cordelia had fatal consequences family-wide : all died. So Leonato's rant after her canceled wedding ceremony is nowhere near equal. Still, instantly he forsakes Hero over murmers of her "foul, tainted flesh" fed him by Claudio. And says with all the force of Lear, though, happily, not the same result : "Hence, let her die!" This is where suspending disbelief comes in handy with WS.

For his part, W. H. Auden in a 1946 lecture is reported to have said of Benedick and Beatrice : "They are the characters of Shakespeare we'd most like to sit next to at dinner." Hmnnn. For me it would be identical to the choice of sitting next to Frank and Claire Underwood of House of Cards fame : to her, assuredly, to him not as eagerly so.  Beatrice's smart put-downs & quips remind me of facing nightly dinner table conversations with a Phi Beta Kappa mom + three National Honor Society older sisters at home in the 50's.

The fun WS intended is grasped by Director Murphy and his choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg admirably. Playful blocking on an imagined movie sound stage -- minimalist scenery and props but maximum pirouettes and playground whirligig as the cast moves the stage stuff whimsically & spontaneously & purposefully all about. Costumes by Christine Reimer were striking : black-&-white like a Fellini movie of yore until the prospect of love, marriage and sex take more serious hold in the script. Then lots of sporty colours on jaunty casual bistro-type threads.

Acting pin-spots :  This show is about Beatrice and Benedick.  Amber Lewis as Beatrice quite grabbed the limelight as between the two with her waspish gibes and taunts throughout. But Kevin MacDonald as Benedick had his own charming zingers, too : "Thou and I are too wise to love peaceably," he suggests at the end. A portent, not doubt, of their future.

The "early Iago" treachery of Dona Johnna is rightly, I think, given almost flip treatment by the director. (Have to say I did find Laara Sadiq somewhat shrill and shouty and not altogether easy on the ears.)

As Leonato's brother Antonio, David M. Adams had numerous choice moments, while Ashley O'Connell's Constable Dogberry was precisely the malapropist delight WS designed. His repeated "He called me an ass!" protestations to Leonato were choice.

Playing Margaret, Kaitlin Williams' cheeky ironic call-out & flirtation with Benedick in Act 2 was choice & cheery character control + delivery. Brava! for an utterly fun bit. 

David M. Adams (Antonio) leads the troupe in a bit of Hey! Nonny, nonny shots at men's inherent peccadilloes & shortcomings that was fun indeed.     Photo : David Blue   Image Design : Jason Keel
Who gonna like : One critic I read gushed that MAAN is his favourite of all favourite Billy Bard scripts. Personally I find Merry Wives more consistently funny and without the faux-Iago piece that interjects an anger & solemnity into the silly goings-on that others, too, might find a bit jarring and off-stride.

But the casting of this show was smart and mostly spot-on. That,  coupled with choreography that is catchy, there's a spare minimalist set of klieg lights, muffled boom mic and garden trellis the main features. With all the projected movie posters behind, it's visually another Winner! for Bard.  MAAN lives up to its title for sure, and it drew vigorous and deserved applause, cheers & whistles at its blustery, Juneuary ON tonight.

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Christopher Gaze Artistic Director. At the BMO mainstage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : 65 shows between now and September 23rd closing night. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 2 hours, 40 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director John Murphy. Costume Designer Christine Reimer.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  Josh Reynolds.  Composer / Sound Designer Murray Price.  Projection Designer Corwin Ferguson.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill. Apprentice Stage Manager Tanya Schwaerzle.  Directing Apprentice Nicole Anthony.  Directing Apprentice Toby Berner.

Performers :  David M. Adams (Antonio / Seacoal).  Lois Anderson (Ursula, Sexton : June 1 - Aug. 6).  Ian Butcher (Don Pedro).  Chris Cochrane (Verges, Friar, Messenger, Gravekeeper).  Austin Eckert (Hugh Oatcake, Page).  Ben Elliott (Borachio, musician).  Julian Galipeau (Claudio).  Amber Lewis (Beatrice).  Jennifer Lines (Ursula, Sexton : August 8 - Sept. 23).  Kevin MacDonald (Bennedick).  Serana Malani (Conrade).  Ashley O'Connell (Dogberry).  Laara Sadiq (Dona Johnna).  Parmiss Sehat (Hero).  Andrew Wheeler (Leonato).  Kaitlin Williams (Margaret). 


Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Game of Love and Chance = fun nonsense
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 : Is it possible for two people to fall in love in spite of the fact they purposely set out to deceive & manipulate one another from the get-go? This is the conceit of Pierre de Marivaux's 1730 commedia dell'arte bit of flimflam being rekindled by the United Players. PdM's style became known as maurivaudage -- one that "signifies a flirtatious bantering tone". Comedy of manners is a related term : style-&-panache triumph over substance.  

With dad Orgon's permission, the about-to-be betrothed Sylvia switches character with her feisty servant Lisette in order to better observe her dad's choice of hubby for her, Dorante, in action. Dad knows -- but she doesn't -- that he has done the same, for the same reason, with his harlequinesque manservant Arlequino. Dorante is introduced as Arlequino's valet "Bourgignon". So it's snobs trying to act like servants and servants having to fake being their sophisticated mistresses & masters.

Arlequino (Matt Loop) & Rebecca Husain (Lisette) clearly delight in the task of acting like their upper class bosses.  Nancy Caldwell photo.
When Dorante ultimately reveals his noble DNA to Sylvia, thinking she is a servant girl, Sylvia being headstrong decides to test how genuine his love for her actually is. Will he risk his inheritance to marry her thinking she is of lesser pedigree ? What fun teasing the lovelorn Dorante she will have. Not hard to see where all this might lead.

How it's all put together :  This is pre-revolutionary France, not to forget. Fifty years on one imagines Dickens' Madame Defarge knitting up orders for Robespierre to march all of the characters, aristos and servantry both, straight to the Place de la Concorde to part company with their heads. But in 1730 the more innocent funnery is whether characters from underclass downstairs can find true love with someone from upstairs. Will passion triumph over reason, sacre bleu ?

Dad Orgon (Peter Robbins) dishes out no end of his considered fatherly advice to his daughter Sylvia (Elizabeth Willow).  Nancy Caldwell photo.

Identity, class, character, love everlasting, love-on-a-hunch -or- just plain idle foolishness? These are the cultural strains being played out in silly metier by Monsieur Marivaux. Director Brian Parkinson has elected to use Canadian Nicolas Billon's script translation. He notes, "We've set it in Canada in the 1920's, in the milieu of the French, so the French names make sense in that setting, and to a current day audience, the social issues have more relevance coming from the 1920's than they might from the 1730's."  

Production values that shine through :  While immensely popular among the hoi-polloi in France in pre-Revolution times, the philosopher Voltaire for his part was a constant harp and critic of Marivaux. Charles Spencer in The Telegraph a dozen years ago noted : "His plays about love, deception and the mysterious promptings of the human heart are seen as excessively precious, a view shared by Voltaire, who famously lampooned the Gallic gab of marivaudage as the art of 'weighing flies' eggs on scales made from a spider's web'." Arch and a bit pretentious in its reach, Voltaire's mixed metaphor is nevertheless a sentiment many might share today.

Wiki tells us the original script was a 3-act romantic comedy. Yipes. Rightly, brightly and wisely so, M. Billon in his translation has chopped probably 60% of the original and condensed the catchy foolishness to some 80 minutes in one act (whose opening exposition and final resolution could, however, still benefit from a bit of further diet and shaping). 

All that said, there is charm and tease and titillation in the show that are helped and enhanced by designer Sandy Margaret's stylish ersatz Mount Royal apartment replete with silver gramophone, granite floors bordered with polished oak effects plus period settees, armchairs and fashionable light fixtures. Costuming by Linda Begg fit the times nicely -- Arlequino's argyle particularly a choice nod to the harlequin history in theatre at play here.

Dorante (Callum Gunn) thinks Arlequino (Matt Loop) might be having just a bit too much fun playing aristocrat.   Nancy Caldwell photo.
Acting pin-spots :  In the original and earlier English translations, the role of Lisette (Rebecca Husain) is given immense prominence. In the Billon script, she has less air-time than Sylvia (Elizabeth Willow), but her Julia Louise Dreyfuss take-off opposite the prat-falling slapsticky Arlequino (Matt Loop) provided the show's most risible and enjoyable moments. As Dorante / Bourgignon, Callum Gunn brings into play some of the crispest, freshest dictional enunciation heard on local boards this side of Bard chief Christopher Gaze. 

Who gonna like : For a Colorado production in the Fall of '16, a certain critic Bill Wheeler noted : "The Game of Love is a belly laugher timed at 2.5 hours, including two (2) intermissions. It takes that long partly because of all the pauses required to let the laughter die down." Be thankful this isn't that

The dramatic irony / discrepancy-of-awareness schtick -- the audience & certain characters know all along the deceipts being played out that most of the players aren't aware of -- is one that is fun but not gripping or sustaining over the long haul. 

Still and all, these various reservations aside, the United Players production offers up some physical comedy & dialoguic double entendre that over the course of its one act will bring forth belly laughs and moments of glee -- even if, like Shakespeare's Shrew, the social / gender / class milieux of the script is hopelessly out-of-time. Worth a go for sure for an evening's divertissement from the usual inner-&-outer weather -plus- the bonus of a drive home in the dusky daylight of late June.

Particulars :  Produced by United Players of Vancouver.  At the Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street, Vancouver.  Until June 25. Tickets & schedule information 604.224.8007 x.2  CLICK HERE  for on-line tix.  Run-time two hours including intermission. 

Production team :  Director Brian Parkinson.  UPV Artistic Director Andree Karas.  Assistant Director Barbara Ellison.  Set Designer Sandy Margaret.  Lighting Designer Darryl Strahan.  Technical Director Michael Methot.  Costume Designer / Properties Designer Linda Begg.  Sound Designer Sean Anthony.  Stage Manager Jessica Hildebrand.  Production Manager John Harris.

Performers : Simon Garez (Mario).  Callum Gunn (Dorante).  Rebecca Husain (Lisette).  Matt Loop (Arlequino).  Peter Robbins (Orgon).  Elizabeth Willow (Sylvia).