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…]

A Little Night Music is swoon-inducing—sometimes

Patrick Street Production is presenting Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

Arinea Hermans’s 18-year-old Anne is in a sexless marriage with Warren Kimmel’s middle-aged Fredrik in A Little Night Music.

Because creators like Stephen Sondheim set the bar so high, you always want interpretations of their work to be excellent. Patrick Street Productions’ mounting of A Little Night Music isn’t quite excellent, but it is very good.

Musically, the piece itself is swoon-inducing right off the bat. In the opening sequence, members of the company enter doing ravishingly operatic vocal warm-ups that transform into snatches of upcoming songs—“Remember”, “Soon”, “The Glamorous Life”—and finally culminate in “Night Waltz”. Seduced by the swaying three-quarter time that is the hallmark of this musical, we in the audience give ourselves over to a musical and theatrical dream. In this production, director Peter Jorgensen adds a level: the performers start off in contemporary street clothes, strip down to period undergarments, and re-clothe themselves as characters from early twentieth-century Sweden. Transformation is essential to the nature of theatre and the fluidity of this particular immersion gave me goosebumps. [Read more…]

String of Pearls: 4 actors, 27 parts. How well does it fill 90 minutes?

Tomo Suru Players is presenting Michele Lowe's String of Pearls at Studio 1398.

String of Pearls doesn’t have production photos, so here’s the poster.

String of Peals is a sentimental, well-intentioned fairytale.

In Michele Lowe’s play, a necklace of perfectly matched pearls passes from one woman to another. They are bequeathed, lost, stolen more than once, and, in the ultimate fairytale touch, they are swallowed by a fish.

Beth, the first character we meet, received the jewelry from her husband a few years after she asked him for a pearl necklace in bed one night. Although she was unaware of the sexual connotation of her request, it sparked an erotic revival that saved her marriage: overnight, her husband went from ignoring her completely to lavishing her with deep, sincere love—and, eventually, a gift of real pearls. The husband’s sudden turnaround is pat, of course. It’s unrealistic. And that’s the nature of magic. [Read more…]

Welcome to FRESH SHEET: theatre recommendations and news from yours truly

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

Welcome to Fresh Sheet, the newest feature on my blog!

This week’s Fresh Sheet features: news about the success of Come from Away in New York, recommendations for two local shows (The Piano Teacher and Mom’s the Word 3: Nest 1/2 Empty), a foretaste of Corey Payette’s new musical Children of God, and an item about Stephen Fry, who is being investigated for blasphemy—and who’s coming to the Shaw Festival.

Enjoy!

Come From Away has won five Outer Circle Critics Awards.

The deeply Canadian “Come from Away” is rocking Broadway.

FROM OAKVILLE TO BROADWAY

 The Canadian-content musical Come from Away has won five Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Broadway Musical, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Orchestrator, Outstanding Sound Design, and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. The acting award went to Jenn Colella, who is playing American Airlines pilot Beverly Bass.

The show is set in Gander, Newfoundland in the week following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which necessitated the unexpected landing of 38 planes in the small town of Gander. [Read more…]

La Merda is the shit (and that’s mostly a good thing)

Cristian Ceresoli's La Merda is playing at The Cultch

Silvia Gallerano embodies the ferocious, wounded anima in La Merda

She’s mesmerizing.

When you enter the theatre, solo performer Silvia Gallerano is sitting on a high, black stool. She’s naked and she mumbles, intermittently, into a hand-held microphone.

When the lights dim and the show starts, her body, lit from above at this point by Giorgio Gagliano, appears starkly sculptural. And as the text, which was written by Cristian Ceresoli, starts to spill from Gallerano’s mouth, you can’t take your eyes off her lips, which are painted bright orange. Her mouth is slack, but incredibly mobile—almost trembling. And her tone is nasal and querulous. [Read more…]

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…]