Tuesday, 11 December 2018

It's A Wonderful Life set to song-&-dance wins cheers
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)

Morphing the iconic Frank Capra film into a sunny stage musical is, simply, an inspired artistic innovation. Like the advent of in-line hockey skates, the only question is "How come it took so long...?"  And as if on cue, Peter Jorgensen's adaptation wow'd the pants off the matinee crowd of mainly blue-rinsers + prep school teens, no question. [See Plot Quicky in Addendum.]

The original movie script is almost never referred to for what it really is as sociopolitical commentary -- a confrontation between Marx's humanist dictum and the social darwinist ethos of free markets. George Bailey espouses and lives out existentially as well a simple precept : "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." 

His building-&-loan association is akin to today's credit unions : the borrowers are its shareholders, not the stock marketeers who manipulate the strings. That bunch of God-fearing churchgoers is represented by Harry F. Potter's banker/gangster cadre in the show -- the powers-that-be klepto's who make up but one per cent [1%] of the world's population but control 80% of its wealth.

George Bailey and family consider the Huck Finn novel gifted them by Angel 2nd Class Clarence, up on the scaffold, when all the melodrama of the Frank Capra script adapted as a musical by Peter Jorgensen has, at last, passed.
Photo credit : David Cooper

A rough-&-tumble fisherman friend hauls out Capra's 1946 RKO Studios classic each Christmas for his family to embrace and enjoy anew both for and in spite of its lines they've all memorized. They are the joy that they are. But what makes the Jorgensen adaptation so special is the music that hi-lites those lines.

As director, Jorgensen hand-picked the actors to populate his cast. 100% fair dinkum! job as the Oz would say. George, played by Nick Fontaine, replicates the crescendos, the emotive whines & the sotte voce snivels that any fan of Jimmy Stewart in the movie can do take-offs on after a glasso vino or two. (My ear caught a mix : Jimmy Stewart as filtered through Stephen Colbert.)

Two others were utter crowd favourites. Jim Hibbard as the whisky-flask-fan Uncle Billy had his most hilarious moments in Act I. Angel 2nd Class Clarence by Greg Armstrong-Morris had a second act outing of sheer energy and wit and giggly-fit hilarity that followed a nuanced 1st act where he was mostly quiet but facially animated as The Observer of George Bailey's life-to-date.

Uncle Billy (Jim Hibbard) and nephew George (Nick Fontaine) do a tipsy-doodle stumble home after enjoying an outing that included more than a few nips of night air.
Photo credit : David Cooper

Sound, steady, sure acting by each of the others in the cast. Their blocking / footwork / choreography and facial expressions as directed by Mr. Jorgensen and Ms. Dunbar gave an altogether MGM feel to the show. 

Who suffers, ever, from a swack of the Gershwin Bros. music as backdrop intermezzos to the traditional Christmas carols? The repeated, lyrical and haunting renditions of "Keep The Home Fires Burning" war anthem and the superb reprise, a cappella, of "Heaven on Earth" at show's end were off-set deliciously by G.G's Rhapsody in Blue riffs that rhymed off musically throughout.

Often costuming is either a front-&-centre feature of a major production -- think Beauty and the Beast here -- or just somewhat taken for granted. But in this play Christian David Gauthier's selections for each character and the post-WWII epoch being portrayed were notable for how they stood out, understatedly, throughout the show. 

For his part, set designer Brian Ball executed a crisp and efficient and visually engaging set of scaffolding and doorways that were tricked out cleverly by Chris Hall's property designs that the cast manipulated cleanly. Nice twofer effort here.

As with most storybook episodic literature -- whether novels or movies or play scripts -- the opening exposition of character and backdrop events and dramatic build-up to the eventual climax and denouement can be a bit taxing on the butt-ism factor for any sitting audience. 

But the slick delivery and quickness of Act II events in this show made one forget the earlier drag-factor almost completely. A hearty cheering Huzzah! from the house for this oh-so-ingenious and smart and quick-witted new take on an old master. I joined in eagerly and joyfully!
Particulars :  New Musical Adaptation by Peter Jorgensen.  Based on the 1946 Frank Capra film [derived from the original story by Philip Van Doren Stern].  Orchestrations & Arrangements by Nico Rhodes.  Produced by Gateway Theatre with the support of Patrick Street Productions. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park. Runs until December 31, 2018Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 150 minutes, one intermission.

Production team :  Director Peter Jorgensen.  Associate Director Kayla Dunbar.  Music Director Angus Kellett.  Lighting Designer Craig Alfredson.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier.  Assistant Costume Designer Julianna Franchini. Properties Designer Chris Hall.  Technical Director Theodore Sherman.  Apprentice Technical Director Evan Ren.  Production Manager Josef Chung.  Production Assistant Madelaine Walker.  Apprentice Production Assistant Kate Chubbs.  Stage Manager Yvonne Yip.  Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Harrison.  Apprentice Stage Manager Duston Baranow-Watts.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ashley Vucko. 

Performers :  Greg Armstrong-Morris (Clarence - Angel 2nd Class). Dave Campbell (Gower; Dr. Campbell).  Michelle Collier (Ma Bailey; Mrs. Thompson).  Nathan Cottell (Marty; Bert; Nick).  Cameron Dunster (Ernie; Goon; Angel).  Nick Fontaine (George Bailey).  Kenzie Fraser (Young Mary; ZuZu).  Imelda Gaborno (Violet; Angel).  Jim Hibbard (Uncle Billy).  Vanessa Merenda (Ruth; Mrs. Martini, &c.).  Erin Palm (Mary Hatch).  Nick Preston (Harry Bailey). Braden Saucy (Sam; Martini &c.). Alexander Sheppard-Reid (Young George; Pete Bailey).  Jovanni Sy (Potter; Peter Bailey &c.). 

Orchestra :  Derry Byrne (Trumpet).  Gregory Farrugla (Trumpet ).  Mark Haney (Bass).  Sarah Ho (Violin).  Graham Howell (Reeds).  Angus Kellet (Conductor; Piano).  Laine Longton (Cello).  Alicia Murray (Percussion).  Tawnya Popoff (Viola).  Chris Startup (Reeds). 

Addendum  Plot-quicky refresher for the forgetful : George Bailey from youth forward has been a do-gooder. Saves his kid brother Harry from drowning. Stops the grieving widower druggist Gower from accidentally poisoning a child who has diphtheria. Suppreses all his nascent adult desires to travel and go to university and have a lavish honeymoon -- because others' needs are greater than his own. Carries on Pop's sketchy building and loan association despite the Depression. Makes loans to blue collar day-jobbers. He's the ultimate altruist. Then his dipsomaniac uncle loses the Bailey business kitty. Bankruptcy, scandal, even jail face him he fears. He freaks out. Contemplates a jump off the Bedford Falls bridge.

Entre Clarence, Angel 2nd Class (after 298 years he has yet to earn his wings). Clarence tricks George into saving him from drowning, just like Harry 25 years before. But still George frets and broods. All right, says Clarence : Presto change-o! you're here in Bedford Falls, but I'll walk you through a day or two as if George Bailey had never been born. None of the good deeds you've done or the friends you've made or the family you love ever occurred. Seeing his community in complete tatters, George has an epiphany thanks to Clarence and realizes how "it's a wonderful life" he lives despite its disappointment and setbacks. A final chorus of good cheer, then Curtain!


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Beauty & the Beast returns for 6th holiday visit to ACT
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)

N.B. The following is an updated redux of BLR's  December, 2018 review of this show that I am unable to attend this year. Many of the actors have changed, but the production team is identical and its excellence will no doubt reoccur without missing a beat.

From the footlights : Likely no question my wife and I were the only viewers at the Stanley last December who had never seen Disney's iconic Oscar-winning 1991 cartoon flik. Neither any of ACT's four previous mounts of this show, the 2019 version makes six. Thus except for the movie duet with Peebo Bryson-&-Celine Dion, until last year its music was as foreign to us as its Grimm-like plot line.

For others equally dim about all this, a Plot Quicky helps and won't be too hairy to sum up : Snotty prince disses a witch. She curses him. Makes him into a bearded Minotaur. Gives him a magic rose whose petals will all fall off and petrify him forever in his beastliness. Unless he finds a way to give someone love and be loved in return. 

Michelle Bardache (Belle) and Jonathan Winsby (Beast) make googly-eyes at one another just before the transformation occurs not a moment too soon before the last rose petal drops off. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
The prince's household staff are cursed, too : in the ten years since the witch's visit they are all slowly being transmogrified into household objects like a teapot, a featherduster, a wind-up clock. Like Beast, their fate threatens to be permanent. Entre Belle, a beauty who gets caught up in palace politics saving her eccentric Dad from attacking wolves. Will she learn to love the Beast, and he her before the last petal drops?

What the show brings to the stage : Fact is the premise of La Belle et la Bete (as originally scripted in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) is downright off-putting to literalists. Princeton University's WordNet dictionary links two definitions associated with la Bete : "the stupid brutal quality of a beast" and "unnatural attraction, including sexual, to a beast". So p.c. trigger warning called for : viewers have to overcome innate prejudicial distate for beastly conduct. 

The way to sidestep one's anti-beastie bias, however? Not hard at all with this theatre production. It'll happen just like magic through this magnificent Arts Club show, no question. Make the beast look less like a Frankenstein character and more like your hippie uncle Herbie who lives in the wilds outside Nelson. Put a suit on him and the possibility of true love flowering between him and Belle (syn : goddess, enchantress) soon takes root.  

Beast tries to "normalize" the relationship with Belle to woo her over by having her read to him. It just might work -- his Harry Rosen threads are trick, but he still needs to consult with his barber.
Photo credit : David Cooper
Production values that shine through : Spectacle is what the stage show is all about, and spectacle the Arts Club production delivers in spades. It's a roundhouse flurry of costumes, music, lights, sets, staging and absolutely eye-popping choreography.

Alison Green's set with its numerous fly's and scrims and scenery wagons results in a compleat envelopment of the sumptuous Stanley stage. Coupled with Gerald King's richly inventive lighting design the effects are dazzling and enchanting.

Then there's Barbara Clayden's captivating and bewitching costumes dozens and dozens over for the 20 characters who roam and romp and rollick up, down, over-&-around the kinetic sets from castle to townsite to woods for two mesmerizing hours.

Gaston leads the local pub-rabble through a hearty beer-toast as they party it up hoisting brewskis in hopes the arrogant, tumescent hunter will win the intellectual Belle's heart instead of that ugly mortal Beast. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
Mesmerizing in large measure because of choreographer Scott Augustine's re-do for the show of local wizard Valerie Easton's 2008 fancy footwork. First there's Gaston's beer stein swillery antics pictured above. Then comes the "Be Our Guest" caper of the troupe with knives & forks & plates & platters busting out of them all over not to mention their folies bergere kick-up that was clockwork perfect. Truly a hoodoo of wonder and amazement to watch and cheer to.

Absolutely terrific co-ordination of the off-stage orchestra with the on-stage action. Of the band, Henry Christian's trumpet, once again, proves how crisp and heavenly that horn can be.

And speaking of sound, Chris Daniels' sound design was not just notable but embracing. Never in any ACT performance has the amplification of singers' voices with live orchestra been more stunning on the ears : every lyric and word heard perfectly, no drowning out by the band. 

Acting pin-spots : Fewer "pin spots" to note than full-on kliegs and floods for the whole ensemble. As the muscly bully Gaston, Kamyar Pazamdeh does a reprise of the role this year. No doubt his acting will once more be buff writ large in a role made the more spoofy his sidekick LaFou, played this season by Ali Watson. 

Those characters are magnified deliciously by the skippery scantering Shawn Macdonald who appears this year once again as chief-of-staff Cogsworth. His riffs are pure hoot and hilarity. Bernard Cuffling as Maurice, well, septuagenarian Bernard Cuffling could don the greasepaint and play Othello and the crowd would giggle-&-cheer-&-stomp their approval of him, no question.

Who gonna like : Must say I don't believe up to December 2018 I had ever heard an opening night audience so robust and spontaneous and eager in their joy! at what they saw unfold as musical comedy theatrics in front of them. And while a Standing O! is commonplace among Vancouver audiences -- too often knee-jerk -- on last year's opening night it was wellwell! well! deserved. 

Faithful readers of BLR know that personally I tend toward the intense and gritty small-stage stuff of a David Mamet or Anosh Irani or John Patrick Shanley more than I do big-stage musical theatrics. 

But this, this! was a night to remember. Truly a spectacle that treats eye-&-ear-&-funny-bone-&-heart in equal measure. This is a romantic comic circus of fun that every generation will get a seasonal buzz from without any doubt. 

Particulars Original Disney Theatrical Productions (1994) : Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman-&-Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Produced by Arts Club Theatre at its Stanley stage. On until January 6, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644or www.artsclub.comRun-time two-and-a-half hours, including intermission.

Production team :  Director Bill Millerd.  Musical Director Ken Cormier.  Original Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Production Choreographer Scott Augustine.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Chris Daniels.  Projection Designer Joel Grinke.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Assistant Stage Manager April Starr Land.  Apprentice Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan. Fight Directors Mike Kovac with Ryan McNeill Bolton. 

Orchestra :  Ken Cormier (Director; Keyboard).  Henry Christian (Trumpet).  Martin Fisk (Drums, Percussion).  Sean Bayntun (Keyboard).  Sasha Niechoda (Keyboard).  Andrew Poirier (Trombone).

Performers :  Susan Anderson (Mrs. Potts).  Michelle Bardache (Belle).  Keiran Bohay (Ensemble).  Sierra Brewerton (Ensemble, Dance Captain). Graham Coffeng (Lumiere). Bernard Cuffling (Maurice).  Caleb Di Pomponio (Ensemble). Austin Eckert (Ensemble). Elizabeth Ford (Chip).  Meghan Gardiner (Madame de la Grande Bouche).  Erik Gow (Monsieur D'Arque).  Shannon Hanbury (Babette). Caleb Lagayan (Ensemble).  Jennifer Lynch (Ensemble). Shawn Macdonald (Cogsworth).  Makayla Moore (Ensemble).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Gaston).  Ali Watson (LeFou).  Jonathan Winsby (Beast). Synthia Yusuf (Ensemble).


Friday, 7 December 2018

  Bombay Black is a dark tale of cultural cruelties
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)

No question the movie Slumdog Millionaire was many people's introduction to contemporary India as viewed through a Bollywood lens. Not so Anosh Irani's 12-year-old script Bombay Black. The story is a tale of flawed, disfigured victims of cultural compulsions and energies that populate the sub-continent. It is a metaphor wrapt in a myth, a fable, a legend, a Freudian fairy story, a concise epic of life as it may once have been, perhaps still is, in vast complex India.

Start with an exploitive, vengeful money-mad mom who forces her teen daughter to dance privately for men. For 3,000 rupees (Cdn$60 today) on the condition the men do not touch her. Now enter a blind man. His tale from an Indian village from 15 years past unearths secrets that not only scare the women but cause their lives to trip, punishingly, into and over one another. It is as if Shiva's wrath has been unsheathed.
Munish Sharma as the mysterious blind villager Kamal breaks all the rules with dancer Apsara (Arshdeep Purba) when she allows him to touch her, contrary to her controlling, rapacious mother's rules of engagement. 
Photo credit : Raymond Kam
There are fundamentally three aspects of Iranian-Canadian Anosh Irani's play that magnetize the viewer in Diwali Artistic Director Rohit Chokhani's clever re-imagining of the script. Light/dark and chiaroscuro visuals. Terrific soundscape. And the acting. Oh the acting.

Rarely on a regional stage like Vancouver's Firehall is one treated to such commanding and captivating performances by each of the three principals. Of Nimet Kanji's mother, Padma, an acquaintance put her forceful nuanced expressionism succinctly : "She could be brushing her teeth on stage and I would be mesmerized." Her facial contortions match Padma's loving, treacherous soul with this daughter she loves and despises both.

Nimet Kanji as her daughter's "promoter" and jailer tries to tell Aspara (Arshdeep Purba) the "truth" about why her daughter must dance enticingly for men to appease the gods as well as earn rupees so she can buy meet to feed the Bombay eagles out of her hand off the studio balcony.  
Photo credit : Raymond Kam
Perhaps not enough can be stated without abject hyperbole about Munish Sharma's turn as a blind man on a mission, Kamal. For 90 minutes he captured stunningly both the inward and outward essence of being blind, or "always in black" as he put it. Eyes half shut the entire time, his gentle persistent phantasy-weave in efforts to find and win back his child bride was hypnotic. He spins a dizzying tale again and again about warring gods, a dancer and a lotus flower -- a story he wants to make real.

Daughter Apsara -- named for a Hindu goddess / temptress / assassin -- was given a bold and embracing turn by Arshdeep Purba. Her Bhangra/Bollywood-inspired dance techniques that she started learning as a grammar school kid were spellbinding : not just charming but bewitching. The story of how and why she was afraid even as a late-term teen to venture out into the local neighbourhood market without clutching mom's sari makes for a breath-taking bio-sketch involving her never-seen priest of a father who banished her and her mother from their village of Badu for being demons.

Sound Designer Rup Sidhu faces the prospect of Jessie Award inevitability for his tour de force production. He starts with 120 decibel soundscape of Bombay street scenes with their incessant horn toots, scooter exhausts, random voices and bells and dogs and general din. The audience is invited to wear a scarf over their eyes to imagine Kamal's world prior to the show starting. And start it does -- with a percussive bang! of light and sound : absolutely astonishing music to open the show, a trad seductive wedding dance serenade called "In Aankhon Ki Masti" by Asha Bhosle. [See goo.gl/zMzTXL].

Similarly, Chengyan Boon's lighting composition was a lyrical mix of starburst explosions mixed with oblique half-lights and purposeful all-dark moments to reflect freshman Director Chokhani's totality of vision.

Irani's script reflects Canada's intercultural, raw-cut sights and sounds and flavours that are thrown together mulligatawny-style across the land. Almost impossible to imagine this piece attracting much notice in USA, by contrast, except among the most earthy Greenwich Village or Berkeley bunch. The story told is lyrical and horrifying and uplifting, literally, at the end. For its composite strengths in acting, sound, light, dance, & mythos it surely is a not-to-be-missed event of stage imagination cut loose and set free that utterly and wholly engages both brain and heart.

Particulars : Script by Anosh Irani (that won a Dora Moore Award in Toronto for Outstanding New Play, 2008). Produced by Firehall Arts Centre, Donna Spencer, Artistic Producer.  At the Firehall Arts Centre, Gore at Pender. On until December 15, 2018.  Run-time 120 minutes, one intermission.  Tickets & schedule information @ Firehall

Production team :  Director and Producer Rohit Chokhani.  Set and Costume Designers Tanya Schwaerzle & Rohit Chokhani.  Sound Designer Rup Sidhu.  Lighting Designer Chengyan Boon.  Dance Coach Gunjan Kundhal.  Voice Coach Alana Hawley. Stage Managers Tanya Schwaerzle & Emma Hammond.  Publicist Teresa Trovato.  Associate Producer Shanae Sodhi.  Production Associates Ayush Kathuria & Ashley Rose.

Performers :  Nimet Kanji (Padma).  Arshdeep Purba (Apsara).  Munish Sharma (Kamal).


Saturday, 1 December 2018

Doubt, A Parable is a lesson about populist black-white ideas 
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)

Deny doubt. Project certainty. Berate unbelievers as infidels. Such is the nature of populist trends world-wide. Whether in America, Hungary, the UK, Saudi Arabia or in German districts formerly under the Soviet thumb. 

Interestingly, however, this life-view as created by John Patrick Shanley's 2004 script heralds the Pope Pius XII epoch of WWII. It is not a reaction against 21st century democratic liberal thought that populism these days hisses at. No question. What goes around comes around.

The source is a self-righteous nun who heads a grade school in Kennedy-epoch Bronx of the early 60's. Pope John XXIII's Vatican II loosening of the church's strictures is apostasy to her. She is a traditional Bible thumper. Terror grips her students and her soul as she espouses conformist, prescriptive doctrines of good-&-evil. They reel off her lips like epigrams. 

Sister Aloysius kicks off the show's action by insisting to a naif junior nun at her school that another teacher, Father Flynn, is molesting the only black student in their ranks. Why have doubt when you know -- and it's all you need to know, you believe -- that the student emerged from the priest's office with wine on his breath and a wrinkle across his brow. "I think it -- thus its truth must be a certainty!" is the drift of her solitary, cloistered brainwave.

Talulah Winkelman portrays Sister Aloysius who has all the certainty and confidence of moral rectitude that the traditional church was able to drive into her over the years. No need to harbour doubts when truths are self-obvious, she believes.
Photo credit : David Thomas Newham

This is not, however, a monochromatic bit of characterization by Mr. Shanley. Stage sophomore Olivia Lang as Sr. James projects a sympathetic and empathy-wrapt new Grade 8 teacher. Her joyful lack of artificiality is in studied contrast to the smug-seeming Sr. Aloysius (Talulah Winkelman), the school principal. Speaking of one oft-truant student Sr. Aloysius says "He has a restless mind." "But that's good!" Sr. James proclaims. "No, it isn't," retorts Sr. Aloysius. "Boys are made of gravel, soot and tarpaper. Don't be charmed by competence, because satisfaction is a vice. Innocence is a form of laziness," she coaches her junior colleague.

One could not help but think of Maggie Thatcher as a role model for the principal. Hard-edged decisiveness is the only antidote to moral relativism she suggests over-&-over. 

The primary doubt in the piece comes from Sr. Aloysius's belief, based on circumstantial 2nd-hand evidence, that Fr. Branden Flynn (David Thomas Newham) -- the boys' basketball coach -- has seduced the school's only black student, 12-year-old Donny Muller, after plying him with sacramental wine. When confronted, Fr. Flynn denies denies denies. Of course. Set in 1964 in the Bronx, the "old boys club" in the church will have half-a-century to go before they start looking at the man in the mirror and seeing their true skin, not make-up. 

The play starts and ends with examination of doubt, first by Fr. Flynn recalling "the secret of alienating sorrow" of folks upon JFK's assassination a year back. Sr. Aloysius calls his sermon "poetic", but she is 100% put off by community outreach efforts and his palsy-walsy coziness that are all the rage under Pope John. She instructs Sr. James : "I want to see the starch in your character being cultivated. You must be the students' fierce moral guardian. Stand at the door, you are the gatekeeper : they should be uncomfortable in your presence." 

In the end -- in Mr. Shanley's worst line of the play -- Sr. Aloysius echoes the doubt motif. Expressly. More effective had she said through her tears, "I feel adrift here; I only wish God would speak to me more plainly." 

The words "sexual politics" and "patriarchy" were virtually unknown expressions in 1964. But in Sr. Aloysius's realm they are raised pointedly, if obliquely. Fr. Flynn challenges her to "out" him if she dares : she will lose her prestigious job in the bargain, he declares. Later, young Donny's mother (Liza Huget) is summoned to the principal's office to be cross-examined about her son's relationship with Fr. Flynn. She tells of her son being beaten regularly by her husband because Donny "is that way" and Dad is apoplectic to learn this as the boy hits puberty. But, defiantly, Mom insists : "You can't hold my boy responsible for what God made him. Sometimes things are not black and white!" she shouts. 

Ultimately Sr. Aloysius seems to get her way. Fr. Flynn's chummy pulpit parables lose out when she tricks him into requesting a transfer to another parish. Earlier he explains his story-telling sermon technique to Sr. James by saying "The truth makes for a bad sermon. It tends to be confusing and have no clear conclusion." To Sr. Aloyisius, however, suspicion is less confusing. By directing how it will run its course, she brings about a clear conclusion even though it is based on a fairy tale she made up for the occasion.

Doubt, A Parable is black box theatre finely wrought by Seven Tyrants and its remarkable production crew. How a 450 square foot stage on the top floor of the Filipponi's notorious Penthouse strip club can embrace an audience so grippingly is a tribute to all concerned. Terrific delivery by all four actors amidst a compelling minimalist set by Lynda and Gary Chu lit "spot on" by Philip Schulz. 

Playwright Shanley states "Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite; it is a passionate exercise." 

The truth of his observation is being played out not just in The Vatican, but around the world on so many political stages. For a dramatic foray through dialogue about where the truth lies in today's world, this show is designed and delivered with precise, passionate performances that will deserve more than just one nod at next year's Jessie Awards.

Particulars : Script by John Patrick Shanley.  Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre.  At the Tyrants Studio stage, top floor, The Penthouse Club on Seymour @ Nelson. On until December 14, 2018.  Run-time 90 minutes, one intermission.  Tickets & schedule information @ Tyrants

Production team :  Director Bill Devine.  Set and Prop Designers Lynda and Gary Chu.  Sound Designer Daniel Deorksen.  Slighting Designer Philip SchulzStage Manager Samantha Pauliuk. Costume Design The Company.  Publicist Marnie Wilson.  Front of House Manager Cobra Ramone.


Monday, 12 November 2018

Empire of the Son grabs ever-so tightly at the 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)

From the footlights :  Autobiographical shows that involve dying or dead parents are extremely difficult to pull off. Simply because the playwright is so close to their material. Thus being able to make their story come alive in some sort of universal sense without being mawkish or slightly irrelevant is truly a challenge.

Tetsuro Shigematsu's diary Empire of the Son is his ironic title about Shigematsu's Japan-born father, Akira. Not only did Akira not cry sentimentally over his son, he never found a way to tell Tetsuro outright that he loved him. Or his son him. This even though Akira had been a radio personality on both the BBC and the CBC in his time. And the fact Tetsuro was a CBC voice for a bit, too. Son's subtitle is : "Two generations of broadcasters and the radio silence between them." 

In a word, Son is Tetsuro's solo attempt to make sense of his childhood in the final year of his dad's life (Akira died September 18, 2015.) In the writing and performing of his material, Tetsuro hopes to overcome his own learned inability to cry.

How it's all put together : Dad Akira was a youth who witnessed his neighbourhood in Kagoshima incinerated by Allied incendiary bombs in June, 1945. Later he would witness the aftermath of the horror of Hiroshima while passing through on a train. (Modestly, he occasioned his ensuing nausea to be from food poisoning, not atomic radiation sickness.) Emigrating to England, Tetsuro was born there before further migration to Canada for the family. 
Tetsuro Shigematsu uses a beaker of water to demonstrate a truth about relations between himself and his father -- all sons with all fathers -- how fluid and changeable they are constantly. 
Photo credit : Raymond Shum
It is stories that tell the story in Son. A granddaughter's apocalytpic phantasy nightmare woven into a grammar school story. A grandson's easy flippancy with Tetsuro that would have been utterly unimaginable with Akira. A camera focuses on miniature toys and other memory pieces and blows them up to assist in the telling of this tale -- a compelling visual effect.

What the show brings to the stage : Pauses, silences, word-gaps -- "Shiggy" as his website nicknames him -- employs these techniques both as dramatic Pinteresque style but also to give the audience pause. Pause to grasp that each of us has a personal and family apocalypse in our hearts that we need deal with, for better or worse. 

Not all men probably suffer the extent of estrangement and distance young Tetsuro the lippy skateboarder did with his dad. His estrangement was only overcome when Dad's Parkinson's and diabetes and strokes rendered him a 100 pound invalid whom his son would carry like a puppy to the loo for b.m.'s. 

While thankful, Dad all the while would protest "Gomen-nasai!" -- I am sorry, I am sorry!  This is regret suffered in Japanese culture when an obligation is placed on others. Particularly an obligation occasioned by "mendo--naa" -- one's needy situation. Japanese suffer pain if they feel they are being troublesome or a bother to one's family or neighbours.

Best symbol of the show was the headset of hazard-yellow noise-canceling earphones Akira wore when he was demoted by the CBC due to program funding cuts by Brian Mulroney. From his prestigious announcer's job at CBC Montreal, his union seniority meant he would drift down to a lowly mail room clerk position. "Do not call me 'Akira!'" he shouted randomly at folks greeting him during his daily rounds lugging the mail cart. The miniature toy captured by camera depicting this fall from grace was the show's most poignant moment.

Who gonna like : Regularly punching through the 4th wall to interact with the audience, Tetsuro makes this material engaging no question. Him sitting on the St. Paul's bed patting Dad's knee -- after his sisters had all-three actually climbed into bed together and caressed their ailing father -- this anecdote just about said it all about us men and our intimacy issues.
Meanwhile the central conceit the playwright focuses on is the question of whether he will actually cry when Dad's ashes finally come home. The question is, at end, irrelevant. Carrying Dad to the loo hour-by-hour for weeks on end says more than a mere tear -- or even a total sobbing catharsis -- ever could, should, might or would.

Love is doing. Love is now. Love as memory is a sad second best.

Particulars :  A remount of its successful 2015-2016 runs at The Cultch, once again Produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (Vancouver) in collaboration with Richmond's Gateway Theatre. At Gateway's Studio B. Until November 17.  Run-time 75 minutes without intermission. Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.com

Production crew : Writer / Performer Tetsuro Shigematsu.  Artistic Producer Donna Yamamoto.  Director / Original Concept Dramaturgy Richard Wolfe.  Dramaturge Heidi Taylor.  Set Design Pam Johnson.  Lighting Design Gerald King.  Costume Design Barbara Clayden.  Sound Design Steve Charles.  Audio Dramaturge Yvonne Gall. Technical Director Andrew Pye.  Props Master Carole Macdonald.  Video Design Remy Siu.  Production Manager Adrian Muir. Stage Manager Susan Miyagishima.  Documentary Audio Yoshiko & Akira Shigematsu.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Red Birds tweets out a sweet-&-sour tale : a "sort-of-discovery" 
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 : You were adopted. You're turning 50. You hunt down your birth mom. Your 30-year-old wannabe actress daughter still lives at home, also your adoptive mom in the basement. Enter the only guy in the piece, birth mom's boyfriend. There's a catch : but to tell it would occasion a big plot spoiler. 

The peccadilloes of these five characters are the eager, embracing premise of Solo Collective artistic director Aaron Bushkowsky's Red Birds in a Western Gold production now on show at the PAL Studio through November 18.

Carol (France Perras) has turned the corner into her 6th decade of life. She not only meets her birth mother Hannah (Anna Hagan), but also Hannah's dubious boy-toy Derek (Gerry MacKay). She does her best in this sit-com of three generations of women to try to find a path through the thicket of circumstances at play here. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
How it's all put together : Bushkowsky relies on considerable coincidence to underscore both his humour and his stab at pathos in this script that is both post-Oedipal and post-Freud in its romp of characters. Carol (France Perras), her Mom named Red (Christina Jastrzembska) and daughter Ashley (Gili Roskies) are roommates because they're all, in Cohen's immortal term, "beautiful losers", at least economically.

Birth mother Hannah (Anna Hagan), meanwhile, grew up a money'd snot who did, however -- like three generations of her family's men -- become a successful lawyer. In her best mimic of Stephen Harper shaking 9-year-old son Ben's hand at the grammar school gate, she chimes "Nice to make your acquaintance..." to Carol when first meeting her. Later, asked to describe for Carol her birth father, all she can say is "An asshole, a dead asshole." 

For his part Derek (Gerry MacKay) at least has a soup├žon of insight into his own soul when he admits "You can trust me despite how obviously shallow I am." Or, later, "I am not what I appear, but at least I'm honest, sort of...". From such you can pretty well plumb the dialogue's depth.

Production values that enhance the script : What Mr. Bushkowsky may lack in plot or character-depth Director Scott Bellis overcomes deftly through his cast selection. To a person an excellent match-up of actor's skills with each of the characters' foibles and idiosyncrasies.

It was Polish Mom Red who with her drunk hubby Igor adopted and raised Carol. She cluck-clucks at her 30-year-old granddaughter Ashley because Ashley has just announced she's targeting an in vitro implant. Wants to take her mind off her failed-to-launch acting career, don't you know. While Mom Carol freaks and shrieks, Red says : "If you want to be a lesbian be the best lesbian you can be!" -- her thick Polish accent just right. Or, when Carol whines about not knowing who she is or where she's going in life, sez Red : "Do not believe everything you think : what good would it do?"

A typical WGT thrift shoppe set with costumes to match fronts on to a minimalist ersatz bird sanctuary downstage : no question the set in the show works considerably better than Mr. Bellis's blocking of scenes there. (Blocking. A bad word for the activity of drama. To block in football is to hold rigid against another's movement. A block in the garden is a heavy concrete brick designed to just sitz and do nothingz. Enough said about the bird sanctuary scenes.)

Acting pin-spots :  To this eye, the mom-daughter tag-team of France Perras / Gili Roskies had both the best lines and the most convincing relationship. Particularly when daughter Ashley becomes her mom's moral compass as Act II plays out. Of the two, both dipsomaniacs addicted to cheap box wine, Roskies had some punchy dialogue : "Wine helps me to drink, except sometimes weird things come out of my mouth...when I drink I get crispy." She's crispy a lot.

Mom Carol (France Perras) and 30-year-old daughter Ashley (Gili Roskies) have an alcohol jones they share as each tries to figure out what the future holds for them. 
Photo credit : Javier Sotres
As Hannah, Anna Hagan's dialogue was as if lifted directly by the playwright from the lawyer Glen Close in the t.v. show "Damages" : snippy, direct, analytical. "Carol, tell me something about yourself, tell me about your deficiencies," she says at the first of their reunions. Or her best line, about a recent Europe vacation : "I didn't laugh once on that whole trip and I was hoping to." Every time I re-read that it just kills me.

No question Mr. Bushkowsky had the most fun, however, with the character Derek, a cocktail lounge waiter who declares "I'm not full of myself, I'm just confident and good looking." Polish Mom Red loves him : "I prefer the rascal to the decent man!" she chirps.

Who gonna like : While a clever shot at sit-com style one-liners and whack-a-mole interpersonal scenarios, still and all it is another script whose "sum of parts is greater than the whole". But in this case that is more praise than criticism. Again, it is the casting -- and each cast member's role interpretation -- that is the wind beneath the wings that lifts Red Birds above its somewhat contrived plot-line. The characters' bruised personalities, as they evolve, overcome the show's numerous uber-coincidences.

Viewers are not going to gain much insight about "the human condition" or witness any true existential growth here, but many chuckles to be had watching this flock of losers take flight.

Particulars : Produced by Western Gold Theatre in collaboration with Solo Collective Theatre.  At PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street.  Through November 18, 2018. Tickets via WGT website -or- through the ticket agency on-line Brown Paper Tickets or by phone to box office @ 604.363.5734.

Production team :  Director Scott Bellis. Producer Glenn MacDonald.  Artistic Producer Christine Reinfort.  Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Assistant Stage Manager Emily Doreen Wilson.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Costume & Props Designer Alaia Hamer.  Set Designer Stephanie Wong.  Wound Designer Ben Elliott.  Dramaturge Lauren Taylor. Web/IT/Print Joseph Emms.  Photography Emily Cooper.  Graphic Design Sean Anthony.  Production photos Javier Sotres.  

Performers :  Anna Hagan (Hannah).  Christina Jastrzembska (Red).  Gerry MacKay (Derek).  France Perras (Carol).  Gili Roskies (Ashley).