Archives for April 2017

Mump and Smoot: dispatches from the battlefield of clown horror

Michael Kennard and John Turner are clown duo Mump and Smoot.

Like all of us, Mump and Smoot are trapped in mortality. But they’re funny about it.

It’s not you, Mump and Smoot. It’s me. Maybe.

I have loved the duo Mump and Smoot for decades. Really. Since the ‘80s. These self-described “clowns of horror” always charm me and always push me towards hysteria. Their latest offering, Mump and Smoot in Anything, is no exception.

In it, they are imprisoned in a kind of existential hell by a ghoulish, white-gowned female figure named Knooma. Off the top, it’s established that every time Mump and Smoot try to venture beyond the prison of the stage—into the wings say, or through the fourth wall—they get electrocuted. Throughout the evening, Knooma presents them with a number of trials, which, from another angle, are vaudevillian sketches. In “The Escape”, they must free themselves from a small, barred cage. In “The Romp”, they negotiate competition, in the form of an equestrian contest. (The existential hell concept gets a little loose at this point.) And, in “The Remedy”, they take turns giving one another psychiatric exams.

Mump and Smoot are related to Ronald Macdonald and happy-slappy parade clowns only in your nightmares. Their shows always feature blood, dismemberment, and, usually, some form of disembowelment. Mump and Smoot play with the horror—and the absurdity—of mortality. Don’t bring your kids. [Read more…]

Let Dorothy Dittrich’s The Piano Teacher break your heart

The Arts Club is presenting The Piano Teacher at the Goldcorp BMO Stage.

Catriona Murphy and Megan Leitch negotiate grief and music in Dorothy Dittrich’s The Piano Teacher.

The Piano Teacher is honest, smart, moving, and exquisitely performed.

Sometimes, when people write about artistic expression, they bullshit. I’m thinking about Stephen Sachs’s play Bakersfield Mist, for instance. In that script, an art expert almost has a literal orgasm as he describes painter Jackson Pollock “making love” to his canvases. That’s nonsense, a juvenile misrepresentation of the artistic process.

But Dorothy Dittrich, who wrote The Piano Teacher, knows what she’s talking about. Dittrich is a musician and composer. In her play, Erin, a concert pianist who has lost her husband and son to tragedy, comes for lessons with Elaine because “I can’t seem to play anymore.” Erin has the technique—her significant performing career is on hold—but she’s so deeply shocked and fearful that she hasn’t been able to touch a piano for two years. Erin comes to Elaine because Elaine has a gentle, accommodating way with her students. [Read more…]

Parade: not your average marching band

Fighting Chance Productions is presenting Parade.

Leo Frank gets an unwelcome visit from the police in Parade.

Parade is a dark musical. More importantly, it’s dramatically inert. But the amateur company Fighting Chance Productions is giving it a dignified, often impressive mounting.

Parade is based on the true story of Leo Frank. In 1913, Frank, a Jew living in Atlanta, was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who worked at the National Pencil Factory, where Frank was a director. Before the curtain rises on this interpretation, it’s clear how the story is going to turn out: nooses hang at the top of the proscenium and, when the curtain opens, there’s a giant tree made out of ropes—a tree suitable for lynching—towering stage right. [Read more…]

Submit your body to Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences

Vertical Influences, by Le Patin Libre, is at the Britannia Ice Rink

Vertical Influences is freedom on ice. (Thanks to Alex Waterhouse-Hayward for this fabulous photo.)

I used to have a partner who would cry sometimes after sex. Watching Vertical Influences, I teared up again and again, and my tears were coming from the same place: I was moved by the body’s beauty and its capacity for joy.

This performance from Québec company Le Patin Libre is modern dance on ice. Forget what you know or think you know about ice dancing, Ice Capades, Holiday on Ice, or any kind of competitive figure skating. Le Patin Libre is exploring the expressive potential of skating— freed from the restraints of sports and kitsch.   [Read more…]

The Max Wyman Award for Cultural Commentary launches tonight


The Max Wyman Award for Cultural Commentary has been established by Dr. Yosef Work.

Max Wyman being his handsome self when he was writing for the Vancouver Sun in 1971 (Deni Eagland photo)

Tonight, Max Wyman, Vancouver’s arts critic emeritus, will receive the inaugural Max Wyman Award for Cultural Commentary. Nobody deserves it more. As an esteemed writer on theatre and dance, Max’s influence on the Canadian arts scene—and the Vancouver scene in particular—is huge.

Max is more than erudite; he’s also a generous human being. When I first started writing about theatre, Max kindly gave me a collection of essays on criticism. One of the writers in that collection said that the most accurate way to read criticism is as autobiography. That concept has stuck with me.

Philanthropist Dr. Yosef Work has established the Max Wyman Award. According to a press release sent out by the BC Alliance for Arts and Culture, the award “celebrates writing that stimulates critical thinking, fosters an ongoing discussion about the role of arts and culture in contemporary society, and demonstrates the importance of creative commentary as a tool in our understanding and interpretation of the world around us. It will encompass the visual arts, theatre, dance, literature, all genres of music, film and television, as well as more general cultural commentary, in print, broadcast and online formats.”

The award also comes with an emerald pin. In 2019, a $5,000 cash prize will be added, and the award recipient will be able to choose an emerging commentator, who will receive a $1,000 prize.

In a time in which the arts, expertise, and reflection are all under attack—and in which print journalism, specifically arts journalism is disappearing—this recognition of the importance of cultural commentary could not be more timely.

Tonight’s ceremony will take place at 5:30 pm at the Vancouver Playhouse. Thanks you so much to Dr. Yosef Wosk and hooray for Max!


Mom’s the Word 3: theatre is love, baby

Mom's the Word 3 will be a hit for the Arts Club.

In Pam Johnson’s clever set, Deb Williams’ husband shows up on the toss cushions.

Theatre is the church of love. Don’t believe me? Head on down to the Granville Island Stage and take in Mom’s the Word 3: Nest 1/2 Empty.

As the title makes clear, this is the third installment of the Mom’s the Word series. The first hit the boards way back in 1994 when a bunch of Vancouver theatre artists who had recently become mothers decided to reignite their careers by writing and performing their own show. I remember sitting in that audience, charmed out of my mind by the artists’ stories and willing myself to ovulate. The original Mom’s the Word has gone on to become an international hit.

In this new offering, the kids who were babies then have grown up and left home—sort of, sometimes. Well, off and on. The writing in Mom’s the Word 3 is the strongest yet from this five-member ensemble. It’s generous. It’s honest—with some exaggeration. And it’s very, very funny. [Read more…]

Generation Post Script taps into climate-change anxiety

Mily Mumford's play, Generation Post Script, explores anxieties about climate change.

In Generation Post Script, young adults yearn to return to an environmentally devastated Earth.

Generation Post Script has some serious ambitions, but it gets stuck at the level of cleverness.

Mily Mumford who wrote and directed Generation Post Script, has said of this piece, “In short, it’s The Breakfast Club in space” and, to a degree, that’s accurate. Four deliberately stereotypical young characters—a nerd, a jock, a beauty, and an artist—are all assigned to the same therapy group. They are members of the first human generation to have been born in space. Their grandparents—us—allowed themselves to be distracted by buffoonish politicians while the climate crashed. That led to multiple crises, including pandemics and nuclear war. A small, privileged segment of the global population escaped and is now orbiting Earth in a space station. They miss the planet, but it’s uninhabitable. [Read more…]

Betroffenheit just won an Olivier Award!

Kidd Pivot and Electric Company coproduced Betroffenheit.

In Betroffenheit, actor Jonathan Young dances with some of the best dancers on the planet.

Sunday, April 9, 2017-04-09

In the Royal Albert Hall in London, Betroffenheit, by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, just won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE INVOLVED!

Pite began her dance career at Ballet British Columbia. Young was a founding member of the Vancouver-based theatre troupe, Electric Company.

Named after actor Laurence Olivier, the Oliviers recognize outstanding achievements in professional performance in London. In London, the company performed Betroffenheit at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

Using a combination of theatre and dance, Betroffenheit deals with addiction and the accommodation of apparently overwhelming sorrow.

Co-produced by Kidd Pivot and Electric Company, Betroffenheit enjoyed a brief, sold-out Vancouver run in July, 2015. DanceHouse is bringing it back to Vancouver in March, 2018.

The Watershed exposes alternative facts in Stephen Harper’s Canada

Porte Parole and Crow's Theatre co-produced The Watershed.

The Watershed looks great, but a show needs more than good looks to grab your heart and mind.

If you were to swipe right on The Watershed because it’s handsome, I think you’d be disappointed by the actual date. Despite its extraordinarily high production values, The Watershed is too dull to make anybody’s heart flutter.

It’s verbatim theatre, which means that Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar has stitched the text together using interview transcripts, recorded conversations, broadcasts, and so on. This form can be astonishing: for The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project interviewed residents of Laramie, Wyoming after Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was beaten to death there in 1998. The theatrical result is personal and powerful.

In The Watershed, playwright Soutar makes herself the central character and documents the process in which she, her husband, and two daughters set out to learn what they could about freshwater resources in Canada. Don’t roll your eyes just yet; there’s potential here. [Read more…]

The Train Driver reveals the strengths of United Players

Paul Herbert plays Roelf in the United Players production of Athol Fugard's The Train Driver.

A white South African sifts through the trauma of a suicide in Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver.

The production is detailed and gorgeous. The script offers less than I expected.

In The Train Driver, playwright Athol Fugard explores the guilt of a white South African named Roelf. Roelf was driving a diesel train when a young black woman carrying a child on her back stepped onto the tracks, committing both suicide and murder. Haunted by the face of the woman he calls Red Doek because of the headscarf she was wearing, Roelf tries to track down her body. His search leads him to Simon, a gravedigger who works on the periphery of a squatters’ camp interring the nameless. Simon knows it’s dangerous for the white man to stay in this area after dark, but Roelf refuses to leave and Simon takes him into his shed. [Read more…]