Archives for December 2016

Art as resistance—and the best Vancouver theatre of 2016

Vancouver theatre

Keep going to the theatre: it’s a survival strategy.

It’s true: in many ways, 2016 has been terrifying. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States promises concrete horrors for years to come.

But, the way I see things, theatre provides an alternative to the values and impulses that will soon put Trump in the Oval Office. It’s no accident that the orange man went all Twitter-apeshit when the racially diverse, queer-trending cast of the musical Hamilton asked Mike Pence to assure Americans that the incoming administration would treat minorities fairly: theatre, especially deliberately progressive theatre like Hamilton, which tells the heroic story of immigrant Alexander Hamilton, is in direct opposition to everything that Trump and Pence stand for.

Trump’s Twitter-verse is superficial and reactive. The unscrupulous showman built his campaign on fear of the other, on selfishness and hatred.

By its nature, theatre is uniquely positioned to oppose all of that. At its core, theatre is compassionate: playwrights and actors imagine themselves into the souls of other people, and audiences reflect—don’t miss that word reflect—in real, shared time and space, on how we know ourselves and treat one another. 

That celebration of common humanity is a crucial form of resistance. And that resistance, which is a kind of love, is one of the things, these days, that gives me hope.

Here, in chronological order, are ten theatrical experiences from the past year that are particularly precious to me.

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Jacob Marley gets a rewrite—and a reprieve

Check out Linden Banks's Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol—and Chengyan Boon's lighting.

Check out Linden Banks’s Marley in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol—and Chengyan Boon’s lighting. (Guy Fauchon photo)

The pleasure is in the storytelling—and in everything from the words to the light that’s used to spin the tale.

In Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, playwright Tom Mula examines the motivation—and metaphysical placement—of Jacob Marley, who is a bit player, the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, in Charles Dickens’s original telling of A Christmas Carol.

In the Dickens version, Marley instigates Scrooge’s redemption but, once that transformation is complete, he is left to drag his chains through lonely eternity. Mula gives Marley a break: if Marley can redeem Scrooge, the dog-sized chair-shaped Record Keeper tells him, he will be “free to pursue his greater joy.” [Read more…]

The Music Man’s sweetness is best tasted with a grain of salt

Meghan Gardiner and Jay Hindle cut a rug in The Music Man.

Meghan Gardiner and Jay Hindle have fun in the odd and effervescent musical, The Music Man.

It’s antique, but it’s charming and it’s tightly produced.

Weirdly, The Music Man endorses lying. In Meredith Willson and Frank Lacey’s story for this musical, a con man who calls himself Professor Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa with plans to sell the townsfolk the instruments, uniforms, and lessons that will allow them to form a children’s marching band. The scam is that Harold, who can’t play a note, will skip town without teaching the kids how to use their instruments.

Marian Paroo, the town librarian and music teacher, sees through him but, when Harold lures her traumatized little brother out of his shell, she starts to fall for him—and is lured out of her own prim shell in the process.  [Read more…]

Mary (occasionally contrary) Poppins

Kayla James, Mary Poppins, Arts Club

Kayla James rehearses for her fresh take on Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins is back and she’s kicking butt.

The Arts Club first mounted the musical in 2013. It was solid holiday entertainment then and this latest iteration is as strong as the first.

The stage musical is significantly different from the 1964 movie, although the basic story, which is set in Victorian London, remains the same. Mary, a magical nanny, flies in on the wind to help stabilize the financially prosperous but emotionally struggling Banks family—essentially by opening the heart of George Banks, the father, to the needs and love of his young children, Jane and Michael. [Read more…]

Ride the Cyclone and Betroffenheit: on top of the world

Kholby Wardell knocks New York on its ass singing "Dirty Girl" in drag in Ride the Cyclone.

Kholby Wardell knocks New York on its ass singing “Dirty Girl” in Ride the Cyclone.

Local artists are standing on top of the world in New York and London.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times named Ride the Cyclone one of the best shows to open in the Big Apple in 2016. And the Guardian’s Luke Jennings chose Betroffenheit as one of the year’s top ten dance performances.

Ride the Cyclone, which is a musical, started life as an Atomic Vaudeville production in 2011 and played a short run at the Arts Club’s Revue Stage before being reworked and moving on to a Chicago mounting in 2015. The Chicago interpretation, which is directed by Rachel Rockwell, opened off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on December 1st this year.  [Read more…]

Creeps: smart script, smart production, big impact

Adam Grant Warren as Jim and Aaron Roderick as Tom in Creeps: these guys killed me.

Adam Grant Warren and Aaron Roderick knock it out of the park in Creeps. (Tim Matheson photo)

It’s a stealth operation. I was watching Creeps, admiring the performances and considering the structure of the play when, all of a sudden, the emotional impact hit me and I was choking back sobs.

Creeps, which premiered at Toronto’s Factory Theatre Lab in 1971, introduces us to five guys with cerebral palsy who are labouring in a sheltered workshop. Humiliated by the menial tasks they get paid a pittance to perform—sanding blocks, folding boxes—they hole up in a washroom for the afternoon and refuse to go back to work, despite threats from a Nurse Ratched-like supervisor who keeps banging on the door. [Read more…]

Holy Mo! A Christmas Show!: find the point

Lucia Frangione, Anita Wittenberg, and Jess Amy Shead play together in Holy Mo! A Christmas Story

Lucia Frangione, Anita Wittenberg, and Jess Amy Shead play together in Holy Mo! A Christmas Show!

I wrote a whole other version of this review before I realized that Holy Mo! A Christmas Show! actually has a point. I suspect that’s because playwright Lucia Frangione is speaking an almost private language.

In her new script, Frangione retells the story of the birth of Christ using clown characters. The playwright herself plays Follie, the leader of a little troupe that also includes the depressive Guff, and Buffoona, an innocent who really wants to believe in Santa.

The storytelling is quirky. As the three clowns spin their tale, Herod becomes Santa Claus, complete with a Santa hat. Herod’s estranged partner Madge calls herself the Magi, which she explains by saying, “I no longer go by the singular. I go by the plural.” [Read more…]

The Day Before Christmas: in a seasonal miracle, Act 2 improves slightly

The Day Before Christmas, The Arts Club Theatre

Strong performances can’t save the characters in The Day Before Christmas from the script’s shallowness. (David Cooper photo)

God, I hate these people—okay, these characters.

Act 1 of The Day Before Christmas digs itself into a deep hole artistically. Act 2 displays moderate improvement.

This new script by local writers Stacey Kaser and Alison Kelly features Alex, a busy Vancouver caterer—and Christmas obsessive. Every Christmas, Alex decorates her home in a new theme: last year it was “Christmas on the Orient Express”; this year, it’s “Russian fairytale”. Alex has photos taken of the final, perfect effect and uses them to promote her business. [Read more…]