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).


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.


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…]

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…]

The Courier just booted Jo Ledingham

Jo Ledingham was the Vancouver Courier's theatre critic for almost 30 years.

The Vancouver Courier’s Jo Ledingham is the latest Canadian theatre critic to get booted out of print.

I was walking my dog yesterday morning when I got a call from Jo Ledingham. She was phoning to let me know that the Vancouver Courier newspaper had just told her that they no longer require her services as a theatre critic. Apparently, a new editor is cutting back. Although staffers may sometimes review in the future, Ledingham will not be replaced by another dedicated critic.

The ongoing loss of theatre critics across the country has serious implications. Without informed, experienced critics—Ledingham has been at the Courier for almost 30 years—the standard of discussion goes down, consumers and funding bodies look in vain for reliable opinions, and artists are denied the benefits of publicity and candor.

In a press release, Ledingham expressed her appreciation of the many entertainment editors she has worked with over the years—most recently, Michael Kissinger, who paid her the respect of calling her personally to deliver the news.

She will continue to review online at

If this development concerns you, I suggest writing letters to the editor. I think there’s a reasonable chance that the Courier will publish some of them. The mailing address is: 303 West 5th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V5Y 1J6. The email address is



What do editors learn from writers?

Editors learn from writers during the editing process, and vice versa.

Don’t worry; if you work with me, I won’t use a red pen. Because that’s just rude.

In this article, Random House editor Anna Pitoniak talks about what she’s learned from the editing process.

This pieces contains some excellent advice for both writers and editors.

Check it out:

Cuisine and Confessions is food for the soul

Melvin Diggs and Sidney Bateman perform a hoop-diving routing in Cuisine and Confessions.

In Cuisine and Confessions, Melvin Diggs and Sidney Bateman fly through portals in space.

Friends, don’t even read to the end of the review before you book tickets for Cuisine and Confessions. Do it now. Here’s the link:

Having done that, you should know: Cuisine and Confessions is one of the most sublime acrobatic performances you’ll ever see. Québec company The 7 Fingers has gathered performers from around the world. In Cuisine and Confessions, these artists share their considerable skills as well as personal stories about what food has meant in their lives. While doing that, they also cook. At the end of the performance, you can share in the meal.

I defy you to see this show and not shout out in joy and wonder. [Read more…]

Long Division: a metaphor run amok

Long Division, Pi Theatre, Gateway Theatre, Vancouver theatre

The cast of Long Division gets posey in front of Lauchlin Johnston’s elegant set. (David Cooper photo)

There should be laws—similar to child labour laws—that prevent the overworking of metaphors.

Playwright Peter Dickinson buries the heart of his play, Long Division, beneath a series of monologues that declare and develop the metaphor of mathematics so academically that almost all of the extended speeches feel more like lectures than stories.

This much is clear early on: the play’s seven characters are all connected to a traumatic event in the past. Although we don’t meet him, they refer to a male high-school student who was both bullied and mathematically gifted. As the characters reveal slivers of their memories, it seems that somebody ended up dead. [Read more…]

I’m getting a gut feeling about O’wet/Lost Lagoon

In O'wet/Lost Lagoon, Quelemia Sparrow will explore some of the complexities of her identity.

In O’wet/Lost Lagoon, Quelemia Sparrow will explore some of the complexities of her identity.

Sometimes you just get a vibe about a production. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m getting a vibe about Quelemia Sparrow’s solo performance, O’wet/Lost Lagoon, which is playing the Firehall June 22 to June 25.

In shows such as Our Town and Where the Blood Mixes, I’ve enjoyed Sparrow’s work as an actor for a long time. And the subject matter here is potentially fascinating: it explores Sparrow’s identity as a mixed-race aboriginal woman, including her career as an international model, her fishing trips with her dad, and her relationship to intergenerational trauma.

I don’t know Sparrow’s work as a playwright, but here’s the thing: she has attracted a stellar team of artists to work with her—and that’s telling. [Read more…]

Go, Jovanni Sy!

Jovanni Sy, Gateway Theatre

Jovanni Sy, seen here in his solo show, A Taste of Empire, knows how to prepare a fish—and program a season.

Artistic directors who claim that they don’t know where to start with inclusive programming should check out the 2016/2017 season that Jovanni Sy, artistic director of the Gateway Theatre, has announced: it’s loaded with artists of colour and features many women in key artistic positions.  [Read more…]

Congrats on your nomination, Aaron Cully Drake!

Do You Think This Is Strange? Brindle and Glass, Aaron Drake, Colin Thomas

Aaron Drake’s new novel is a thing of beauty.

A book that I edited has been nominated for the First Novel Award! Hooray for author Aaron Cully Drake!

Aaron’s book, Do You Think This is Strange?, is narrated by an 18-year-old autistic boy named Freddy. Freddy remembers everything—except for the circumstances surrounding an event ten years earlier: his mother walked him to a train station, kissed him on the forehead, and disappeared from his life forever.

The novel is often very funny: Freddy notes that his father often addresses him by a name that’s not his own, Jesus Christ. And, as Freddy starts to figure out what happened around his mom’s disappearance, the book is sob-inducingly moving.

As soon as I started reading Do You Think This is Strange?, I knew it was the real thing. Congratulations to Aaron, and all the best to him on May 26, when the winners are announced!