Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Orchard seeks to reconcile B.C. racial history with politics and the marketplace
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)

Ambitious. That is the salient, compelling quality behind Sarena Parmar’s script The Orchard (After Chekhov). With a panoply of characters as diverse as OK's countless fruits, Parmar harvests decades of Canadian immigrant history to tell her tale. 

Timely, it's another cut at Eurocentric patriarchy, greed, eco-villainy, racism -- but also good intentions that sometimes will only rot on the vine.

The scene is set in the OK Valley of B.C. around the time of Premier Dave Barrett’s Agricultural Land Freeze. A 3rd generation of the Basran family is struggling to make their hardscrabble orchard turn a decent profit for once. Its modest yield of cherries and peaches are dependent on bees and Spring blossoms -- which are currently frost-bitten. 

Eldest daughter Loveleen (Laara Sadiq) has just returned from a five year escapist junket back to India after the drowning death of her 7-year-old son Griesha and her husband's passing shortly thereafter. She abandoned 12-year-old daughter Annie (Risha Nanda) to be fetched up by brother Gurjit (Munish Sharma) and cousin Barminder (Adele Noronha) plus her dad, Baba-ji (Parm Soor).

Sister Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) returns from self-sought exile in India after five years to mediate between brother Gus (Munish Sharma) who is a die-hard dirt farmer and childhood chum Michael (Andrew Cownden) who's become a wealthy if shady land speculator in the Okanagan Valley. 
Photo credit David Cooper
Now she's returned after daughter chased her down in Mumbai. She'd been shacked up with a Russian hustler who since has taken sick. Now from him she escapes, too, trying to make sense of her world(s), her gods, her karma.

The stage is a ginormous OK farmhouse (Marshall McMahen, set designer) where everyone seems to have a room, and all the rooms have ghosts after 50 years of Basran blood, sweat and tears. Enter a childhood chum, Michael (Andrew Cownden), a nerdy overachiever.

Michael hustles real estate and has googly eyes plus a puffy red face. He slavers over Loveleen, urging her to convert the orchard into an RV park, ALR be damned. Fruit farming is poor business, he argues. His big worry is that the Pandosy brothers will snatch up the land if it goes to auction in four months — which it will if the Basrans have a krappy harvest and must forfeit title to the bank.

Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) is close to her cousin Bartender (Adele Noronha) who is the family's true grit -- chief homemaker as well as mentor for Loveleen's daughter Annie. Loveleen for her part is happier in silks than denims and that drives her to make sketchy and dubious choices on behalf of the family. 
Photo credit David Cooper

There is, of course, a waft of inevitability that blows through the house this breezy Spring. Loveleen has come home to run the farm business but she's enjoying socializing with friends and parading about in her glittery lehengas and saris.

Other alienated outsiders playwright Parmar pops into view : an indigenous rodeo cowgirl named Charlie (Andrea Menard), a Japanese gofer named Yebi (Kai Bradbury) who's all thumbs and klutz plus his sister? cousin? friend? Donna (Yoshie Bancroft) who is trying to suppress her history and dress up like Little Orphan Annie. She spends most of her time flirting with boy toy Yash (Praneet Akilla) whom Loveleen brought back from India. Best character bit of all is aging longtime farmer friend Paul : Tom McBeath's narcoleptic turn in omnipresent bib overalls is pure delight.  

As noted up top, this is ambitious drama that tries to give outsiders a glimpse of what challenges non-whites faced both before and after Trudeau pere cranked open the country's immigration flood-gates back in the 70's. Are Loveleen's roots truly back in India after all? Is love of dirt enough to hold a family together when filthy lucre looms ever larger on the OK real estate horizon? Nadeem Phillip as the communist dreamer poet aching to take everyone back to the "new world" of modern India focuses the issues at play with f 1.4 acuity.

The Orchard is Chekhovian for certain in its detailing of life's characters and in stitching together the intricate interconnected webs that come with them. Playwright Parmar will no doubt have many more stories to tell us. 

Despite her 13 characters on stage, meanwhile, most of the audience at the final preview performance Wednesday afternoon found the script demanded a tighter, more intimate room : horseshoe staging at the BMO a la the Onegin show would have worked better. As well, probably 15-20 minutes of staging and dialogue could be cut, particularly in the painful partings brought on in the closing scenes. 

Those reservations aside, some of Vancouver's best South Asian acting talent populates this performance. Each delivers their characters' idiosyncrasies with energy and insight. As a somewhat-too-long trip down memory lane, The Orchard is nevertheless filled with empathy and intuition that touch the heart. Its set and lights and soundscape enhance the show's moods richly.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  On until April 21, 2019.  Run-time 130 minutes including intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Jovanni Sy (Director), Marshall McMahen (Set Designer), Barbara Clayden (Costume Designer), Sophie Tang (Lighting Designer), Joelysa Pankanea (Sound Designer), Angela Beaulieu (Stage Manager), Peter Jotkus (Assistant Stage Manager), Gavan Cheema (Assistant Director & Cultural Creative Consultant), Stephanie Wong (Assistant Set Designer), June Fukumura (Japanese Dialect Coach), Danny Virtue (Lasso Coach), Guillermo Verdecchia(Dramaturg), Gurpreet Chana (Punjabi Translator), Aya Ogawa (Japanese Translator)

Performers :  Praneet Akillia (Yash), Yoshié Bancroft (Donna/Boy), Kai Bradbury (Yebi), Andrew Cownden (Michael), Tom McBeath (Paul), Andrea Menard (Charlie), Risha Nanda (Annie), Adele Noronha (Barminder), Nadeem Phillip (Peter),Laara Sadiq (Loveleen), Munish Sharma (Gurjit), Parm Soor (Baba-ji Kesur)

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Gross Misconduct is an apt descriptor of men's sexual predator tendencies

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)

Not everyone buys in to the feminist assertion that the West, particularly, is a "rape culture". Or that the heart of our troubles is a "patriarchal" system of men always on top, women beneath. Or believes the glib metric that men think of sex once every seven seconds.

Meghan Gardiner's script Gross Misconduct lays these precepts down as the sine qua non starting point for her taut and timely take on what she calls sexual assault. ("Assault" implies physical attack : assault can, however, be but a look, a whistle, a snort.) Her plot line is contrived and coincidental. Almost closing in on a kind of cognitive coercion. Still, the play qua play is brilliant in its impact. Its character(s). Its staging & blocking. Its themes.

Set in Canada's most notorious max. security prison -- Millhaven -- it ravels the lives and tales of seven people, only four of whom are on stage. Two rapes in "polite society" bring the four stage folk together. Then there are the acts of sexual assault and rape inside Millhaven. Then two revenge murders, each by plastic toothbrush, just to round it all out.   

The biggest victim of all is not the murdered rapist or his murderer, but rape victim Abigail / "Shorty" (Sereana Malani) whose PTSD from the summertime Halliburton Beach attack by her "Crush" Kevin has scarred her for life. 
Photo credit David Cooper

The staging is a style too seldom seen. Actual full-on theatre-in-the-round : not a horseshoe arrangement, not Havana Theatre bleacher intimacy inches from the stage -- no, a boxing ring -- this time a prison cell, smack dab in the centre of Gateway's Studio B blackbox room surrounded on every side by viewers. As blocked by Director Kayvon Khoshkam, the play pierces the fourth wall continually. Particularly rape victim Abby (Sereana Malani).

She circles and cycles and surrounds the centre stage prison cell continuously. Even plunked herself down next to this reviewer and handed me her empty 16 oz. Coors Light can. By play's end her agony and the echo of the No! No! No! No! she yelled dozens of times as she is being raped envelop both brain and heart. She induces an empathy unimaginable were this staged on a typical proscenium deck. When she describes how ten years later she can remember "every bit of sweat that landed in my eye, my ear, on my hair", the impact is breathtakingly chilling and sad. 

Speaking to her unseen brother, prisoner John (Ian Butcher) with whom she has a spiritual relationship, she shrieks the true essence of her pain when referring to her rapist : "He became a victim, you became a hero, and I just disappeared!" 

The two other main characters are Gareth (Scott Bellis) as the scarred and sorry prison guard and wannabe warden -- enabler of sexual coercion in Millhaven's exercise yard. Not surprisingly he is a predator himself of all the vulnerable needy newbie young prisoners who come into his grip. He variously calls them goldfish, guppy, tadpole, puffer fish, little clamshell, angel fish, flounder. Chief flounder in the piece is Corey (Mike Gill), an Ivy League smart-mouth who is an accused child rapist. His dad -- whom he says he hates -- is nevertheless a wealthy and powerful fixer who will get him set free, he thinks. Spring him loose, maybe, but never again to be "free". 

Lifer John [Ian Butcher] has been given a "celly" [cell-mate] after years of isolation. Young Corey [Mike Gill] is a chippy Ivy Leaguer who lips off the guard Gareth [Scott Bellis] and seemingly "begs" for physical retaliation from his sadistic sexual tormentor guard. 
Photo credit David Cooperl
This is first-rate drama. Playwright Gardiner, herself a victim of sexual assault, lays out her aim clearly : "Calling sexual assault a woman's issue has taken the responsibility right off of men's shoulders." For his part, Artistic Director of SpeakEasy Theatre Kayvon Khoshkam said this resulting from his directing the play : "We are unlearning. For many men it is the environment we grew up in, the culture that encouraged us, and the media that built our perceptions of manhood."

Only four characters, this is perhaps the tightest casting and individual stage performance I have witnessed so far this year. Agnes Opel's valedictory song "Familiar" strikes up as lights snap off : "This love is gonna be the death of me... / We took a walk to the summit at night, you and I / To burn a hole in the old grip of the familiar true to life."  Burn a hole indeed -- this script, this performance, these actors together do it all with searing, blistering, incandescent insight. I would go again with nary a blink of hesitation.

Particulars :  Produced by SpeakEasy Theatre, Kayvon Khoshkam, Artistic Director. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until March 23, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 80 compelling minutes, no intermission.

Production team :  Director Kayvon Khoshkam.  Producer & Set Designer Markian Tarasiuk. Costume Designer & Stage Manager Victoria Snashall.  Lighting Designer Jillian White.

Performers :  Scott Bellis (Gareth). Ian Butcher (Deke /John). Mike Gill (Corey).  Serena Malani (Abby / Shortie). 

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Hot Brown Honey is a hip-hop pitch to pump up the world's matriarchs 
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)

Start with six women of colour from various offshore indigenous cultures -- Oz, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian and South African. Dress them up in burlesque mode and get them to strut their stuff vaudeville-style. All to an omnipresent pounding hip-hop back beat. What better combination to capture sexism, racism, and patriarchal repression than a theatrical format with a title that is both self-descriptive and self-satire : hot, brown, honey's.

The Hot Brown Honey troupe is nothing if not a cheeky look at aboriginal women's power with tongues hissing forth sarcastic barbs even as they bury themselves deep in the actors' cheeks at the same time.
Photo credit Chrissie Hall

The brainchild of Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafi, HBH uses a giant honeycomb of whirring, whizzing coloured lights to help pound out a show that is at once dance hall delirious and town hall serious in its intent. If you can't hustle folks with ear-crashing song-&-dance, you'll never seduce their brains to reflect honestly on their oppressive privilege, HBH suggests. "Make some noise!" Queen Bee Beatz repeatedly cajoles the crowd from her perch as cheer squad coach and pontificator from on high. 

Wiki tells us "hivemind" is shared or swarm intelligence, a kind of collective consciousness. Bowers liked linking the concept of matriarchal wisdom and order via the honeycomb stage set but at the same time get the place buzzing by doing burlesque, doing circus, doing a tonne of hip-hop kramping. 

Taken together the aim is to tickle and sting both the ego and the conscience of the ticket-buyers. "It's all about decolonization -- from structural oppression, racism, stereotpyes and micro-agressions that follow us -- that, and moisturizing -- because self-care is key," a winking Bowers told The Courier two years back. (The silver confetti bits to signal orgasms were just choice.)

Sexy is as sexy does, but, um, "Don't touch my hair!" the women cry out in a vaudeville revue format. 
Photo credit Dylan Evans
Lots of historical send-up at play here, starting with a feathery circular strip-tease sequence (old wax 33 1/3 LP's hold the feathers together). But costumes are soon flung off and the cast all pop out in maids' clothes as Beatz intones : "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete. You are not the maid!" she shouts at each of them, one-by-one : "You, we! are the new matriarchs -- matriarchs-in-the-making!" is the reigning refrain.

The audience is quickly brought into play through traditional call-&-response : "When I say Rise! you say Up! When I say Stand! you say Up! When I say Wake! you say Up!" Indeed, for viewers of every age and gender, to be woke is the primary goal the script drives at. 

Co-writer / director / designer Lisa Fa'alafi is chief choreographer of the troupe and uses her mischievous eyes to beguile and tease : "You can't have a revolution without child care!" she says, promising her phantom babysitters she'll be home soon. Later she does a wild woman dance with tropical fronds that she refers to as a tribute to "dusky maiden phantasies". The crowd cheered their acclaim at her trad goddess schtick.

But it was performer Crystal Stacey who truly wow'd the house. First with her take-off on an Oz tourist in Bali in a flag bikini who chugs 2 L. plastic jugs of sugary all-inclusive booze. Five, six, seven hula hoops she flings and twirls about symmetrically to the whoops of delight from the audience. There's a parallel to the Harlem Globetrotters here, not sure we're to laugh at or with or in spite of.

Later she does a Cirque du Soleil soliloquy on silk ropes depicting a rape scene. The backdrop is a 9-1-1 dispatcher trying to figure out why she can't answer his blueprint of scripted questions. A breathtaking, teary sequence whose length and power never let us loose. 

Ever heard of a "beatboxer"? Hope Haami has some moments of sheer inventiveness as she makes rhythmic beats with her mouth that are imperative and commanding. (She and Inuit throat singer Janet Aglukkaq could do beautiful music together -- even better if the ageless Buffy Ste. Marie were along to tunesmith their percussion.)

Who gonna like all this, you ask? A septuagenarian friend always open to change and new cultural experiences chimed at show's end : "This is aimed at the over-16, under-40 crowd...!" It certainly targets the "Make some noise!" fans who crowd into DJ clubs and scream themselves hoarse into the wee hours making small talk. 

Can change come from 75 minutes of sarcastic shout-outs played against deafening hip-hop drumbeats ? The show ends by quoting feminist elder Audre Lorde, a matron saint of matriarchs. She famously said "We are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't."  Hot Brown Honey is a roomful of noise that wants to prove that Lorde's time has come.

Particulars : Presented by The Cultch in collaboration with Australia's Briefs Factory theatre in partnership with Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafiProduced at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive. On until March 30, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.251.1363 or hit The CultchRun-time 75 minutes, no intermission or respite.

Production team :  Director Lisa Fa'alafi. Musical Direction Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers.  Production Design / Costume Design Lisa Fa'alafiOriginal Composition & Sound Design Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers. Choreography Lisa Fa'alafi.  Additional Choreography in 'The Privilege Test' by Samantha Williams. Lighting Designer Paul Lim.  Set Designer Tristan Shelly.  Graffiti Art Libby Harward a.k.a. Mz. Murray Cod.  Technical Manager Jake JoblingCompany Manager Colleen Sutherland. 

Performers :  Lisa Fa'alafi (The Game Changer).  Ofa Fotu (The Myth Slayer). Hope Haami (The Beat Boxer).  Elena Wangurra (The Truth Sayer). Crystal Stacey (The Peace Maker). Busty Beatz (The Queen Bee). 

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Redpatch = dance, poetry, native legend in WWI fatigues
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)

One doesn't expect magic to be sad & melancholy. But such is Redpatch. Its final preview performance this afternoon left us almost breathless with marvel and hope and wonder at the unique slice of Canadiana from WWI that is on show.

Told through an indigenous perspective (Indian; first nation; aboriginal; native) by a character named Half-Blood, it portrays Canada's contributions in Europe during The Great War. And does so through dance and poetry and native legend that are brought to life through constant hazer smoke, tom-toms and criss-crossing spotlights on the intimate BMO stage. Together it all dazzles and sparks with ingenious impact.

The play is wrought by Hardline Productions, ACT's first-ever resident theatre company for the season. Its principals, Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver, evolved their performance art / play script across a half-dozen years : Calvert is the lead -- Rock Head, as his Nana lovingly calls him -- while Oliver is the show's director.

Co-creator and lead, Raes Calvert as Half-Blood / Rock Head is surrounded by gas masks that serve dual purpose as native ceremonial masques to celebrate the role indigenous Canadians made to the WWI war effort..  
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

The all-indigenous cast of six play not just native persona but also soldiers having French Canadian, Anglo, and Scots-Irish roots. The playwrights openly acknowledged during talkback the debt they owe to Joseph Boyden's first novel Three Day Road for the show's inspiration.  

Fact is championing the contributions of the indigenous warriors is foremost in their minds : "By the end of The Great War, many First Nations soldiers had achieved near-legendary status as scouts, trench-raiders, and snipers, drawing on their pre-wartime experience in hunting and wilderness survival," Hardline's show notes tell us. Some 4,000 of their brethren joined up and faced the same kinds of discrimination that remain at play today given the myriad unresolved issues still quite alive between Canada's 630 bands vis-a-vis ROK [rest of Kanata]. 

The intrigue of this play about war's horrors occurs on many levels. The best bit is the recurring flashbacks between Half-Blood and his Naniqsu or grandma (Odessa Shuquaya). She tells him time and again about the legend of the blackfish Kaka'win who is harpoon-hunted by a young man who wants to become a warrior. 

When Kaka'win drags hunter under water until he nearly drowns, the raven Qu?usin tells him he must "Let go!" to be free and find his true self.  To become the warrior within he must first be a mensch.  Ms. Shuquaya does repeated swoops and turns as Qu?usin the raven, while the rest of the troupe are often an accompanying murder of crows.

 Half Blood \ Rock Head (Raes Calvert) is comforted by his nana Naniqsu (Odessa Shuquaya) when he returns from Vimy Ridge suffering serious neurasthenia -- shellshock -- from months as a No Man's Land hunter and killer of German youth who were also dragged into the trench horrors of World War I. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

That legend underscores the whole show. From there it is the interplay of the ballet / choreography; the omnipresent drumming; the hazer smoke; the costuming; the lights; the movable rocks; the rifle props; the masques; and last but not least the acting of each cast member -- all of these elements are central to a performance that is mesmerizing.

Many Vancouver shows are noteworthy and exciting and memorable and what one is sure to mention to one's friends. This is performance art that transcends that norm by a significant margin. This show should somehow be mandatory viewing for every secondary school every November 11th every year. It is truth, it is reconciliation, it is simply stunning. 

The ensemble cast of Redpatch goes through its paces in one of myriad dance sequences depicting the chlorine and mustard gas attacks of the World War i European "theatre" as that ironic expression has it. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

Particulars : Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre -and- Edmonton's Citadel Theatre with theatre-in-residence Hardline Productions. On at ACT's BMO stage on 1st Avenue. Runs until March 31, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or www.artsclub.comShow-time 86 minutes, no intermission.

Creative  team :  Director Sean Harris Oliver.  Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier.  Sound Designer Mary Jane Paquette.  Lighting Designer Brad Trenaman.  Masque Designer Jenn Stewart.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson. Assistant Stage Manager Anthony Liam Kearns. Assistant Director Genevieve Fleming.  Associate Sound Designer Owen Hutchinson. 

Starring :  Raes Calvert (Half-Blood / Rock Head). Jenny Daigle (Bam-Bam). Taran Kootenhayoo (Howard Thomas).  Joel Montgrand (Jonathon).  Chelsea Rose (Dickie). Odessa Shuquaya (She Rides Between / Raven / Sgt. MacGuinty).