Archives for May 2017

FRESH SHEET 4: theatre as healing, Trump as Lear, you making money, and Mamet being a dick

FRESH SHEET: This week’s theatre recommendations and news from Colin Thomas 

In Fresh Sheet 4, you can find: a more personal response to Children of God, an argument that Donald Trump is King Lear, an opportunity to make some money, and yet another chance to find David Mamet annoying. You can also find my Besties (my picks of the week).

FRESH SHEET 4

Children of God is playing at The Cultch's York Theatre.

Cory Payette’s Children of God tries to cover too much ground—and it will still rip your heart out.

THINGS BETTER LEFT SAID 

In the first draft of my review of Children of God—the musical is about healing after the tragedy of residential schools—I wrote and then edited out a chunk of material because it was too much about me. I want to share that information now, as a testament to how powerful Children of God is.  

When I was little, my dad was in the RCMP and he was not racist in his dealings with First Nations folks. In the late 50s, that was remarkable. Years after our family left Dad’s last rural post, which was in a Manitoba fishing village called Winnipegosis, a minister from the community visited us in Vancouver and said that the Native folks from around there still talked about Dad as the only fair cop they had ever dealt with.  

And my father had to apprehend kids whose parents were trying to keep them out of residential schools. I know it sickened him. I remember him saying, “It’s not right.” But, in the military context of the RCMP, he felt that he had no choice.  [Read more…]

Last Train In: What do you do when you’re stranded in an elevator-free train station with your wheelchair?

Rice and beans theatre presents Last Train In at the Vancity Culture Lab.

In Last Train In, Adam Grant Warren looks at the ways in which we craft narratives about disability to serve our own needs. (Photo by Bold Rezolution Studio)

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair posted on Facebook about a recent tenting adventure: “When we go crip-camping, we like to yell out things to each other like: ‘It’s so nice to see you get out’ and ‘You’re so inspirational’, and then we laugh and laugh.”

My friend was having fun with the heroic disability narrative, which involves, among other things, the cultural tendency to define the disabled almost exclusively in terms of their challenges and to demand that their stories be presented as triumphant. For the able-bodied, disabilities become metaphors for emotional states—and we like happy endings.

That narrative is what writer and solo performer Adam Grant Warren is taking on in Last Train In. Warren, who was born with cerebral palsy, also explores his complicity, as a physically challenged guy, in that heroic narrative. He asks, “What’s in it for the disabled?” [Read more…]

The Hunger Room whets the appetite but leaves you undernourished

Staircase Theatre is presenting Scott Button's The Hunger Room at PAL.

Raylene Harewood and Camille Legg are part of a strong cast in the high-school thriller, The Hunger Room.

In his new script, The Hunger Room, which is billed as a dark thriller, emerging playwright Scott Button does an excellent job of creating characters and exploring thematic nuances. But crucial elements of the genre—a specific threat, increasing tension, and a coherent climax—are missing. The surfaces are lovely. The core is empty.  

In a suburban high school, girls are receiving notes written in blood. These notes are sexual and threatening, and they refer to a mysterious “hunger room”.  

From square one, the identity of the note writer was obvious to me, but Button deftly casts suspicion on almost all of his characters. Caitlin, the only friend of sweet, geeky Anna, who receives one of the creepy missives, lies. Caitlin’s boyfriend Tyler, a moody rebel, is traumatized by the recent death of his parents and seems obsessed with mortality. The kids in the school refer to the photography teacher Mr. Milette as Mr. Molester—possibly with reason: he’s awfully fretful about possible accusations. And the girls all have crushes on Mr. Richards, the acting vice principal. Might Mr. Richards be a bit too hip? Too friendly? [Read more…]

The Princess Show: the glories (and pitfalls) of camp

Aaron Collier plays Princess Edward in The Princess Show.

Princess’s hair isn’t always blue.

The Princess Show is overflowing with texture: it’s like a truckload of tinsel, marbles, and fish. Its heart feels hollow, though.  

The heroine of the tale is Princess Edward, a bearded, blue-haired performance artist who was in the middle of presenting her piece Go Kabuki Yourself when storms began to ravage planet Earth. Now, ten years later, Princess Edward, her partner Abel, and other survivors are hiding out in a mountaintop refuge. Princess hasn’t been on-stage since Kabuki, but morale in her community is low and she has promised to put on a show. Princess herself has been depressed, however, and, when she goes for a walk to clear her head before her comeback concert, she meets a monster.    [Read more…]

JESSIE NOMINATIONS: looking beneath the numbers

Every actor will tell you that, in dialogue, there’s speech and there’s subtext. I think you could say the same thing about Jessie nominations: there’s the obvious story about the numbers (who got how many nominations) and then there’s the more interesting story behind the numbers (what kinds of shows are being rewarded with nominations this time around).

Angles in America received the most Jessie nominations this year.

Damien Atkins starred in the Arts Club’s Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.

It looks to me like this year’s juries in the Large Theatre, Small Theatre, and Young People’s Theatre categories are celebrating political content, artistic risk, and, in some cases, the work of previously unknown or marginalized artists and groups.

Going into the thirty-fifth annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, the Arts Club, which is often a favourite, is looking strong with a total of 24 nominations spread over eight productions. But look where those nominations have gone. Nine of them are for director Kim Collier’s production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. Millennium Approaches premiered in 1991, but, with Donald Trump’s buddy, corrupt lawyer Roy Cohn as one of the main characters, the play’s complex portraits of gay men, and—in this production—full frontal male nudity, it’s still a challenging and relevant work. [Read more…]

FRESH SHEET 3: Albee controversy, housing artists, Indigenous awards, and 2 must-see shows

FRESH SHEET: This week’s theatre recommendations and news from Colin Thomas

This is the third edition of Fresh Sheet. I feel like we’re really getting to know one another.

In Fresh Sheet 3, you can find items on: a race-related casting controversy, the high cost of being an artist in Vancouver, and a local boy winning big. If you’re impatient, skip to the end to see my picks of the week.

There is a casting controversy over Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

When he was alive, Edward Albee blocked some non-traditional casting, including making the couples in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” gay.

WHO’S AFRAID OF EDWARD ALBEE?

When the Edward Albee Estate learned that Portland director Michael Streeter had cast a black actor in the role of Nick in his proposed production of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, they pulled the rights. Streeter posted on Facebook that he was “furious and dumbfounded”, and the Estate promptly issued a statement pointing out that Nick’s “blonde hair and blue eyes are remarked on frequently in the play”, and that, during his lifetime, Albee argued against mixed-race casting in Virginia Woolf, reasoning that a mixed marriage would not have gone unacknowledged in the circumstances and time period (the 60s) of the play. 

 So far, the exchange hasn’t reached the heights of the script’s dialogue, in which George claims that his wife Martha is “the only true pagan on the Eastern seaboard” and that she “paints blue circles around her things.” [Read more…]

Outside Mullingar will make you happier about being alive

John Patrick Shanley's new script, Outside Mullingar, is playing at Pacific Theatre.

In Outside Mullingar, one of the characters says, “Maybe the quiet around a thing is as important as the thing itself”—but they talk a lot.

Watching playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar opens your heart and makes you giddy. The experience is kind of like falling in love. It’s as if you can smell the spring leaves more keenly on your way home from the theatre. You’re more hopeful and awake. And you want to kiss somebody.

In the story, we meet 42-year-old Anthony and his harsh, widowed father, Tony. They’re farmers. They live next door to Aoife Muldoon and her daughter Rose, and they’ve just returned to their kitchen after the funeral of Aoife’s husband, Chris: in this romantic comedy, death’s shadow is never far from the door, reminding the characters—and us—to get on with it. [Read more…]

See Corey Payette’s Children of God. And stay for the conversation afterwards.

Children of God is an Urban Ink production, in collaboration with The Cultch and the National Arts Centre.

An ecstatic dance is one of the successful movement sequences that Raes Calvert contributes to Children of God.

Just entering the theatre for the premiere performance of Children of God, you could tell what a monumental opening this was going to be.  

Corey Payette’s new musical speaks from the heart to one of the most important subjects facing all inhabitants of the territory that we now call Canada: the impact of the residential school system. And it does so at a critical moment. We are in the midst of a wave of cultural change that has been energized by First Nations activism and by Senator Murray Sinclair’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Canada and the many First Nations within the country are no longer simply reeling from the legacy of residential schools; many parties are now actively working towards healing.  [Read more…]

Million Dollar Quartet: calculated entertainment, smokin’ talent

The jukebox musical Million Dollar Quartet is playing the Arts Club's Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

Record producer Sam Phillips (Graham Coffing) remembers meeting Jerry Lee Lewis (Steven Greenfield) in Million Dollar Quartet. (David Cooper photo)

On one level, Million Dollar Quartet feels like a terrifying vision of the material they’ll be amusing me with in my old folks’ home. On another, it’s a reasonably slick, joyous entertainment that showcases some significant talent.

This jukebox musical reimagines a historical event: on December 4, 1956, Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, hosted a recording session that included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. All four were Sun recording artists at various times, and Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, who wrote the book for Million Dollar Quartet, create drama by presenting rivalries—especially between the hotheaded upstart Lewis and the insecure former sharecropper Perkins. There’s also a thread about who among them will renew their contracts with Phillips. The storytelling is fluid, with flashback scenes—of Phillips’s first meetings with the mostly shy young hopefuls, for instance—emerging casually in the middle of songs.

And, of course, you can’t beat those songs. The sampling in Million Dollar Quartet includes “Blue Suede Shoes”, “I Walk the Line”, “Hound Dog”, and “Great Balls of Fire”. [Read more…]

FRESH SHEET: Diversity, youth, and other wonders of life in the theatre

FRESH SHEET: This week’s theatre recommendations and news from Colin Thomas

Welcome to the second edition of Fresh Sheet! This week, I’m offering an item about diversity and representation, and another one about young talent. (Why are there so many more young people than there used to be?) In the longstanding tradition of Fresh Sheet—well, two weeks—you can find this week’s picks at the end.

Diversity in Canadian theatre.

Jovanni Sy, artistic director of the Gateway Theatre, says, “‘The private sector figured out that it was good for business and good for society to have a more diversified workforce and to try to promote change at all levels of leadership. It seems like we’re just figuring that out now [in theatre].”

I GOT SCHOOLED

In April of 2016, I wrote an ignorant and insensitive post about diversity and representation. Thankfully, I got schooled. Many folks, including Crystal Verge, Omari Newton, and Valerie Sing Turner helped me to understand how damaging my white privilege can be when it’s unexamined. I want to thank them all again for their rigor and their patience.

The discussion about diversity is ongoing, of course. And artists and others continue to explore strategies for broadening representation.

To celebrate the UN-sanctioned World Day for Cultural Diversity, which is this Sunday, May 21, Alley Theatre is presenting a public reading of Wolfram Lotz’s radio play The Ridiculous Darkness. A satire of both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, this reading will feature Miranda Edwards, Amanda Sum, Munish Sharma, Daniel Arnold, Carmen Aguirre, and Sam Bob. [Read more…]