Saturday, 13 April 2019

Richard III is no prettier a villain today than back then
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)

The women of Shakespeare have often been backlit. Their parts written as if looking out a window into the direct sun. His men, meanwhile, all seem to bask under spots and fresnels in sharp relief.

Not so in Camyar Chai's self-named "allegory" out-take on WS's Richard III. Chai (wrongly) names his piece King Richard and His Women.  It should by rights be called The Women of King Richard : because it's they who utterly dominate Chau's scripted re-write of The Bill's original.

One of the bard's early and longest scripts, imagine Richard III distilled down from its original 50+ cast to but five. Also reduced from probably three hours-and-more to just 65 minutes. Sixty-five minutes of hisses & spits shot forth venomously, unremittingly. In cascades.

Ex-queen Elizabeth (Leanna Brodie), ex-Queen Margaret (Linda Quibell) and Richard's mother The Duchess (Sandra Ferens) all call out Richard III for the dastardly coward and family-killer he was.
Photo credit Seven Tyrants Productions

Never having read or seen Richard III, its battles between the English houses of York and Lancaster in the mid-15th Century were a challenge to follow at times. Two queens, Margaret and Elizabeth (not Good Queen Bess, but another, a century earlier, by marriage). Richard's mom The Duchess. His wife, sort of, Lady Anne. 

The connections are all too subtle to explain. But suffice to say Richard was a scheming, conniving, betimes charming -- but mostly cynical -- power-hungry thief. Like certain others in the current realm, dignity, integrity, honesty were far-flung concepts. Which is why Mr. Chai stitched all this together to begin with.

Two quotes sum it up. When attempting to call him out on his various murders, his mother The Duchess and he exchange thus :

D : Oh, let me speak.

R : Do then, but I'll not hear...

D : Thou came'st on earth to make the earth my hell.  A grievous burden was thy birth to me : Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy; Thy school-days frightful, desperate, wild, and furious...Thy prime of manhood daring, bold and venturous; Thy age confirm'd, proud, subtle, sly, and bloody, More mild, but yet more harmful-kind in hatred. What comfortable hour canst thou name That ever graced me with thy company?

Death impending, Richard, as if bi-polar, laments :

Richard loves Richard : that is, I am I.  Is there a murderer here? No -- yes, I am. Then fly. What, from myself?  Great reason why -- Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself.

King Richard 
is cleverly-wrought and acted in exemplary fashion by each in their role. Not sure the strip-to-naked killing scene that ends it all -- somewhat mechanically done, as if collecting laundry for the weekly wash -- not sure it was dramatically necessary, but it is what it is.

A woman beside me wept openly at show's end. I know not why but doubt not her pain from whatever source. As always, Seven Tyrants produces a powerful script. To single out indivudul actors for excellence here would be unfair to the others as well as redundant. Except perhaps to remark how consistently Daniel Deorksen carried off Richard's deformity by hoisting his right shoulder, constantly. My rotator cuff strain ached mightily in sympathy and honour. 

Suffice to say each and every actor on stage looked utterly drained & exhausted & spent after Saturday's matinee. This is rife stuff for Shakespeare aficionados (and English monarch history buffs). You will have a weary ride home as you contemplate all the misery you have just seen acted out so compellingly by the cast. 

Particulars : Script by Bill Shakespeare, as adapted by Camyar Chai.  Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre.  At the Tyrants Studio stage, top floor, The Penthouse Club on Seymour @ Nelson. On until April 19, 2019.  Run-time 65 minutes, no intermission.  Tickets & schedule information @ Tyrants

Production team :  Director Camyar Chai.  Lighting Designer David Thomas Newham.  Sound & Music Designer Daniel Deorksen.  Stage Manager Victoria Snashall. Publicist Marnie Wilson.  Front of House Manager Cobra Ramone.

Performers :  Leanna Brodie is “Elizabeth”, Ghislaine Dote is “Anne”, Sandra Ferens is “The Duchess” and Linda Quibell is “Margaret”. 7-Tyrants co-founder Daniel Deorksen is “King Richard”. 


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Glory makes magic out of Depression women's hockey
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)

In the hands of Canadian theatre wunderkind Tracey Power, the show Glory is a wizard concoction where Hayley Wickenheiser channels Billy Elliot and the crowd cheers and dances in delight !

It is a bio-pic snapshot of the 1930's semi-professional women's hockey team the Preston Rivulettes. Their town, near Waterloo, is where the Speed and the Grand rivers converge. Fittingly. 

Because speed and grand are what Power and director James MacDonald draw compellingly out of their five member team. Four hockey ruffians who happen to menstruate are led by an irascible 40-something coach whose formative years were spent in a WWI German-Canadian internment camp in Kapukasing.

He is now the local rinkmeister at the Lowther Street Arena in Preston. He floods and freezes the sheet and sets the local teams' practice times. Just a cover for his wistful dreams about the Cyclone Taylor superstar he never became despite some early promise.

The Grrrlllls! for their part start out as a clutch of summertime teen-age baseball buds : the Ranscombe sisters Hilda and Nellie and the Schmuck sisters Helen and Marm. Hilda is chief jock here. A bit dyslexic, she stays away from work in retail where she fears her trouble with numbers may deep-6 her. 

But ice skate she has since a tot. She's a whiz. She convinces her buds to find winter divertissement for themselves by forming a hockey team to compete in the Ontario women's league.

Coach Herb Fach  tries to let his team down gently about future Olympic greatness that surely would be theirs but for the wee detail of World War II killing that dream. 
Photo credit Chiknskratch Productions
And compete they do. A few hundred league victories plus provincial and national championships in seven short years along with the predictable broken teeth, black eyes, busted pride and side-stepped dreams all trip across their path along the way to the Canadian history books.

As an immigrant Canadian from NFL country, hockey has always been a "new" gig for me, even 50 years on. But I could watch over-&-over the Power-MacDonald choreography of hockey-dance -- with its ritual ceremonies of skate, stickhandle, pass, shoot \ backhand, wrist, snap and slap! -- with no dialogue or background sound whatever. Like Sports Centre on mute. No question -- could watch again-&-again-&-again and be magnetized-&-mesmerized each and every time. 

Because the "routines" stepped-out by the four women on stage are a wonderful mix of stop-action hockey shots and blocks done in sync with au courant ballet moves. No real skates, just lace-up boots feigning a life as skates. No ice, just a lit dance surface whose chill you can almost feel.

Most effective of all, perhaps, was the near military-precision and constancy of the faux skate-stops each player pulled off each time they came to a halt or skipped off-ice. Brilliant ! in conception and execution both. 

Victory over the Toronto Ladies (sic) after defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Rustlers some years back brings on hope for Olympic glories that would not happen until the 1990's and Hayley Wickenheiser's reign. 
Photo credit Chiknskratch Productions

Tough times -- the Depression and Hitler both;  all the customary discrimination against this "bunch of dolls" told by Coach Fach to "Man up!";  troubles trying to hustle up money to travel to tourneys across the land. 

Power includes a chunk of social commentary in her script. "Welcome all, except dogs and Jews!" a sign declares outside one arena. A Mackenzie King immigration officer at the time the MS St. Louis with its 900 Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler was heard to remark after being denied a berth in Halifax harbour : "Even one is too many." 

Women's suppression under patriarchal tradition is given plenty of resentful air-time. "I'm unfit to play hockey," the commentators claim, "not because of my talent but because of my vagina!" 

But in the end -- despite being one-down or two-down -- these women and their 2019 actors nevertheless bring the full force of the "new feminism" to the fore honestly and forthrightly -- not just pay it lip service the way the political sycophants-&-cynics then-&-now so delight to do.

Probably not enough can be said about the Narda McCarroll set and lighting design. The hockey rink boards cum kitchen back walls and funky locker rooms worked very slick at the hands of the actors who flipped them to-&-fro. The metal-shaded incandescent dropsy-lights were trick. 

And so while the denouement of Act 2 perhaps dragged a bit, in all this is a dance delight about hockey whose images will stick with me for years to come, lit.& fig. I'd go see Glory two or three times more and no doubt be breathless after each sighting -- that's how fresh and clever in conception and delivery it truly is. Not too many periods left in this team's season : grab your seats now!

Particulars : Script by Tracey Power. Produced by Western Canada Theatre / Alberta Theatre Projects. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until April 13, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 140 minutes including intermission.

Production team :  Director James MacDonald.  Choreographer Tracey Power. Set  Lighting Designer Nada McCarroll. Costume Designer Cindy WiebeComposer and Sound Designer Steve Charles. Stage Manager Jan Hodgson.  Assistant Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan.  Tour Technical Director Liam Befurt.

Performers :  Kate Deon-Richard (Helen Schwartz). Katie Ryerson (Hilda Ranscombe). Advah Soudak (Margaret [Marm] Schwartz).  Andrew Wheeler (Herb Fach). Morgan Yamada (Nellie Ranscombe).


Thursday, 4 April 2019

Tashme : The Living Archives tells another sad tale of racism & repression
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)

Tashme. The name sounds, vaguely, as if it could be Japanese. And though I taught high school social studies 50 years back in Surrey, never once did I even hear of it. What is now Sunshine Valley RV Park just east of the Hope Slide was a Japanese-Canadian war internment camp from 1942 - 1946. Tashme housed nearly 2,700 souls who had been forcibly uprooted from their home communities around B.C. and herded there. They were officially called "enemy aliens" under the War Measures Act. Even if they were Nisei -- second generation Canadians of Japanese heritage.

Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa pore over a Nisei journal from one of the 2,700 Japanese-Canadian detainees in Tashme, the internment camp just east of Hope, literally and figuratively. Ottawa created a 100-mile on-shore protectorate after Pearl Harbor, and Tashme was as close to Vancouver as these "alien enemies" were permitted. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Creators and actors Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa are offspring of Tashme detainees. Their two-hander is a loving memory play -- a verbatim documentary that attempts to be what its subtitle suggests : "The Living Archives" of this time and place so its memory does not fade forever from us. 
The script is culled from more than 70 hours of interviews with 20 Nisei from across the land. They act it out through the voices and stories of these elders : their memories as kids in Tashme; what detention looked and sounded and smelled and felt like; what life was like after war's end and the Tashme people's next diaspora to the Prairies and Toronto. That occurred as a result of the efforts of a certain Ian Mackenzie, federal Minister of Pensions, who proudly announced his post-war slogan and diktat : "No Japs from the Rockies to the seas." [sic]

The James Lavoie set and George Allister projections render the memories a mix of f.1.4 intimacy and blurred detail from the times spent at Tashme and after for Japanese-Canadians during World War II. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Albeit a somewhat sullied expression these days, "truth and reconciliation" are always admirable goals -- whether among siblings, spouses, or society's various races and strata. And because truths are elusive and personal, what better way to approach them among Nisei than in sharing stories around a kitchen table made by Julie's grandpa. Backed up by simple opaque screens upon which images of people and sites at Tashme are flashed, including the shot immediately below:

A farm truck loaded with "dispersed" Japanese-Canadians freshly released from the cattle barns at Hastings Park PNE grounds in Vancouver arrives in Tashme. 
Photo credit UBC Archives / Wikipedia

The script put together by Manning and Miwa is a rainbow of colours, of intensities, of emotional hues. Indeed, what strikes the viewer perhaps most of all is the stoicism of most of the Nisei when remembering all the thunderclouds from those days. In Japanese the expression is Shikata ga nai, meaning "it cannot be helped". 

One would expect, probably, considerable anger at the whites, the Haku-jin, who subjected their fellow citizens to these indignities. Whites who wrested all men from 18-45 from their families and sent them out to build BC's highways as gang labour, such as one of myriad Yellowhead Highway crews pictured below put together from the 21,000 individuals chased away from the Pacific shores. 

Photo credit : Wikipedia, original source unknown
Bitterness writ large from some -- a grandpa who sizzled angrily about a teacher in Toronto calling him and a buddy "Japs". But others remembered folks in BC's Slocan valley -- where eco-hero David Suzuki and his family were sent -- talking about how "the Japs planted that tree" : but their memories now claiming the Haku-jin said it "not in a derogatory way, just normal talk from them."

Even the creators / interviewers Manning and Miwa came away somewhat bemused and in wonder : "I'm shocked by all the things they told us but never asked us to ask them : who are we to them after all?"

This show is a prime example of how powerful oral history can be when dialogue is stitched together to tell a tale from numerous elders' perspectives and memories. How some remember the fun and play they enjoyed as kids just being kids at Tashme, the breathtaking beauty of the Coastal mountain range whose sparkling rivers the Skagit and the Fraser are the flowing parentheses that bracket it all. Others recall more the hardships, the ice on the floor of their shacks in winter, the wrenching separation from their families, the wanton theft of their homes and fishboats and cars and artworks, the burning of their kids' toys. 

Both actors emote forcefully and faithfully. Mr. Miwa works hard to re-create the broken cadences of Nisei English from the crippled old men he was interviewing. Ms. Manning provides most of the show's warmth and comedy and forgiving sentiments. He perhaps represents the harder "truth" of the time, while she the one more "reconciled" to the Shikata ga nai impulse.

Fittingly, the West Coast premiere of the show takes place in Vancouver's former Japanese neighbourhood. Just up the block on Alexandra Street the Japanese Hall last year celebrated its 90th anniversary. The Firehall Theatre itself was Vancouver's original fire house from 1906 and also witnessed all this history first-hand. 

Across from Oppenheimer Park in what used to be called "Little Tokyo", Tamura House pictured below has been restored and renovated and is now run by the Lookout Society to provide housing for people in challenged personal and social circumstances.

People with a yearning to fill in some important gaps in their knowledge of where this country is -- and where it has come from -- will find the experience richly rewarding through the many poignant insights it brings to life.

On at the Firehall Arts Centre, Cordova at Gore in DTES. On until April 13, 2019. Schedule and ticket information via phone @ 604.689.0926 or at the internet site
Creation & Performance by:  Julie Tamiko Manning & Matt Miwa
Direction by:  Mike Payette
Video Design by:  George Allister
Sound Design by:  Patrick Andrew Boivin
Head LX:  Jon Cleveland
Technical Direction by:  Tristynn Duheme
Stage Management by:  Isabel Quintero Faia
Movement Dramaturgy by:  Rebecca Harper
Set & Costume Design by:  James Lavoie
Assistant Set & Costume Design:  Laurence Mongeau
Lighting Design:  David Perreault Ninacs

Addenda : From Ann Sunahara's The Politics of Racism : the Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, Toronto, J. Larimer, (1981) as reported by Wiki :

On January 14, 1942, the federal government passed an order calling for the removal of male Japanese nationals between 18 to 45 years of age from a designated protected area of 100 miles inland from the British Columbia coast. The federal government also enacted a ban against Japanese-Canadian fishing during the war, impounded 1,200 fishing vessels, banned short-wave radios, and controlled the sale of gasoline and dynamite to Japanese-Canadians. 

From a September 24, 1988 interview in the Toronto Star with Ken Adachi as reported by Wiki :

"Born in Canada, brought up on big-band jazz, Fred Astaire and the novels of Henry Rider Haggard, I had perceived myself to be as Canadian as the beaver. I hated rice. I had committed no crime. I was never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Yet I was fingerprinted and interned."

Tashme, the name : Not of Japanese origin in the least. Originally the B.C. Securities Commission wanted to name the internment camp "Hope Mile 14 Ranch", but the Royal Mail bureaucracy for some reason would have none of it (despite having approved "100 Mile House" in the Cariboo and "Six Mile Ranch" on Kamloops Lake). So BCSC members Austin Taylor (Vancouver businessman), John Shirra (B.C. Provincial Police) and Fred John Mead (RCMP) took the first two letters of each of their surnames and created "Tashme" -- as reported on the Tashme website.

Tamura House at Powell and Dunlevy was a "Little Tokyo" rooming house fully restored that Lookout
Society now provides homes for the hard-to-house folks in Vancouver's Downton East Side. 

Photo credit : Merrick & Merrick Architects