11 for ’12: Theatre highlights of the past year

James Long and Marcus Youssef in "Winners and Losers, one of the best shows in 2012. And it's coming back in 2013.

James Long and Marcus Youssef in “Winners and Losers, one of the best shows in 2012. And it’s coming back in 2013.

This is the time of year when people choose top-ten lists. Just to be perverse—and because it’s my own damn blog—I’ve chosen my 11 favourite shows from the past calendar year.

It’s interesting to note that I saw three of those 11 at the Vancouver Fringe. And nine of them are original creations.

Here they are (more or less in the order in which I saw them):

Chelsea Hotel – Creator and director Tracey Power took an unlikely set-up, a writer struggling with the act of creation, and turned it into one of the most innovative, entertaining, and moving shows of the season. Terrific cast. And musical director Steve Charles deserves a special place in heaven for his arrangements of Leonard Cohen’s songs.

Flop! – In this solo show (with accompanist), Anton Lipovetsky demonstrated the depth of his talent. He’s always entertaining, but it’s his capacity for presenting innocence that kills.

The Bomb-itty of Errors – A rap version of a Shakespearean play sounded like theatrical torture, but this show was hilarious. In a strong cast, Niko Koupantsis knocked it out of the park playing the bimbo Luciana.

Craigslist Cantata – A bona fide artistic and commercial triumph from Veda Hille and Bill Richardson. When we’re reincarnated, I want to marry Veda Hille.

This Is Cancer/The Progressive Polygamists – Bruce Horak’s solo show about cancer is transgressively, lovingly funny. And I loved discovering the comic talents of Emmelia Gordon and Pippa Mackie in The Progressive Polygamists. If there’s anything more exciting than coming across young talent for the first time, I want to know what it is.

Underbelly – Okay, we’re into the Fringe Festival run here. Kathleen and I gave the Critics’ Choice Award to Jayson McDonald’s tour de force exploration of the life and work of William S. Burroughs because the writing and performance are sheer fucking genius. Interestingly, McDonald had a rough time on the Fringe circuit with this show, but he packed ’em in here. Just goes to show ya: Vancouver has the smartest, most discerning audiences in the country.

The Bike Trip – Once again, Martin Dockery (Wanderlust) showed us how to tell a story. This one is about the world’s first acid trip. It blew my mind.

Fear Factor: Canine Edition – In this show, the third of the Fringe offerings on my list, John Grady took the potentially maudlin story of his love for his Bernese Mountain Dog, Abby, and turned it into a sophisticated and genuinely moving meditation on love. The guy’s physical presence is like light.

Blind Date – Saw it three times. Improv genius Rebecca Northan picks a different guy from the audience every night—and goes on a date with him for 90 minutes. That’s the show. The risk is terrifying and exhilarating. The woman is a phenomenon.

Winners and Losers – Marcus Youssef and Jamie Long’s show about competition and self-worth. Simple, funny, smart, uncomfortable. Best news: you get another chance to see it; Winners and Losers will be at PuSh January 30 to February 2. And Marcus’s new show, How has my love affected you?, will be at the Arts Club’s Revue Stage March 26 to May 23.

Amaluna – Cirque du Soleil. Ticket prices are jaw-dropping, but the show is transcendent. Talent. Bodies. Crazy prettiness.

And that’s my list.

I also want to say that I loved the staging of Liz Bachinsky’s poems in The God of Missed Connections, which was part of The Electric Company’s Initiation Trilogy on Granville Island—so tough and beautiful. Under Anita Rochon’s direction, that whole evening was bracingly original. (Sorry, I overlooked this one when I first posted yesterday.)

I want to make a shout out to The Zombie Syndrome: the scene in the shipping container gave me nightmares. That’s a compliment.

And it was a pleasure to meet up with the talent of Sam S. Mullins in Weak Sauce at the Fringe. This guy is a charming storyteller and an emerging talent.

Yay, Vancouver theatre!

Thanks for 2012. Happy 2013. We’ve got PuSh coming up!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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