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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Final Move in a Long Game... Chess at Walterdale opens Wednesday!

Where have I been? Well, for the last 11 weeks or so, I have been in rehearsal for Chess at Walterdale. It's a complicated show with a lot of moving pieces, gorgeous but challenging music, and a cast of 23+3 (we have 3 young ladies playing Young Florence). I have been blessed with a wonderful cast - I do not know how many times the creative team has said to ourselves, "We really cast some very nice people" - and that doesn't always happen (but I will not tell any tales now). Tonight is the 2nd and final Preview, with Opening Night on Wednesday, July 6th. Last night proved that they just needed an audience as it came even more alive with the reactions from the house. 

Chess is a show that I have wanted to do for a long time. I probably wasn't ready until a few years ago. The music is some of my all-time favourite and we have been blessed with a terrific cast who can really do it justice. I can thank Sally Hunt, our Music Director, for making sure that's looked after. She has also assembled a tight, talented band, to accompany our cast. We also have a cast who is not only super-nice as I mentioned earlier, but they are talented and dedicated to telling this story as excellently as possible. They have embraced everything asked of them, from Bethany Hughes' inventive choreography to the challenging score to caring about a fictional game or 3 of chess! I feel blessed as a director. 

Why Chess? The music is first and foremost why I wanted to do it. It is what brings most people to this story initially. But the story is also compelling.  Perhaps it's because I was a child of the 80's - a teenager during the worst of the Cold War - that I get what these global politics are about. Perhaps it is the comment made about excusing the bad behaviour of the supremely talented that made me think it's still a very relevant story. Perhaps it is because I think we still draw so many invisible lines between countries today - maybe not US vs. USSR, but we certainly see the xenophobia alive and well today directed at cultures that are different. I love that Chess shows us the humans behind the labels.  It asks us to look beyond our prejudices and national identities and see the people. At least that's what it does for me. 

Anyhow, it has been a joyful journey and I am so excited to share it. Hopefully you will be able to check it out. Chess runs July 6th - 16th at Walterdale Playhouse (shows at 8 pm and 2 pm on Sunday). You can get your tickets at or 780.420.1757 or gamble at the door 1 hour prior to show start. Several nights are already very close to selling out so don't wait!

Florence (Lauren Pearson) and Anatoly (Todd Hauck)
Freddie (Matt Boisvert) and Anatoly (Todd Hauck)
Photo Credit: Jessica Poole

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Weekend of Song and Dance! City of Angels, West Side Story (AGAIN), and Hair!

This past weekend, we took in not one, nor two, but THREE musicals all within the span of about 27 hours! We also squeezed in a meeting with a contractor and piano lessons so we really maximized our time!

We started on Friday with ELOPE's production of City of Angels.  This is one of my all-time favourite shows to sing and I was very pleased with the production I saw.  It's a show that suggests a huge proscenium with flys and trucks and revolves as it switches from real life to the story of film so I was curious how it would play on the Faculte St. Jean stage. They did marvelous job making it all work. Kudos to the cast for handling the challenging music, particularly the super tight Angel City Four and the stellar leads - Jason Hlus, Trevor J, Monica Roberts, Andrea Graham, Erin Vandermolen-Pater and James Toupin. It was great to see the show on stage again (I haven't seen it in over 20 years) and have it live up to my memory.

On Saturday afternoon, I finally made my way back for a second viewing of West Side Story at the Citadel.  I had seen it Opening Night and was blown away by it! The Singing! The Dancing! The Momentum! I cried twice and spent a good deal of the show in awe of the talent onstage.  Pamela Gordon as Anita is literally as-good-as-it-gets! Eva Tavares as Maria is both fierce and delicate with a voice that cannot be more perfect.  George Krissa as Tony has a charm that emits like a strobe light from the stage. The whole cast is incredible particularly when they dance.  The direction and choreography is flawless. Choreographer Laura Krewski has worked some true stage magic that makes you think this show should ALWAYS be done on a thrust stage, and director Bob Baker has amped the testosterone levels so that it's terrible end feels tragically inevitable. Going again on Saturday confirmed for me how fabulous the show is.  I cried, again, but in totally different places. And oh, to her Pamela Gordon and Eva Tavares sing together in their heart-breaking duet... just fabulous! Only one week left for this one as it closes on May 22nd.  You can get tickets by calling 780.425.1820 or going online to

Finally, we grabbed a bite to eat and settled in at The Mayfield for a groovy evening with Hair. The show was a lot of fun with great voices delivering the catchy, rambunctious songs of the hippie-love-in show. I am not as familiar with the show, but found the ensemble cast quite entertaining. I really liked the comic character bits, especially those portrayed by Sheldon Elter and Amber Bissonette. The show runs until June 12th at The Mayfield and you can get tickets here. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Series of Anti-Heroes...

Sometimes theatre lifts you up and makes you leave inspired and joyful... sometimes the people on the stage are a cautionary tale about what 'not to do'... I had a little streak of theatre that was more the latter.  So odd that it all clumped together.

The first was The Supine Cobbler presented by Maggie Tree. Excellent direction and acting, a terrific soundscape, and a really cool concept allowed for some laughter as the Western trope was played to the max in the most unusual of circumstances - the waiting room of an abortion clinic. I would have liked to have seen the concept applied to a more compelling situation as there never really seemed any obstacles to the outcome and the whole play seemed to serve more as public therapy. I left no more or less shaken in my belief that legal, safe abortions must happen but that they are not something to be rejoiced about. And there were attitudes expressed by the characters that bothered me: a trio of women laughing gleefully about 'not becoming a mother' (one twice in one year); and a defiant response to the question about using birth control, "sometimes it just isn't convenient". I personally don't judge those who've had to make that choice as I presume they have their reasons and that's good enough for me, but this play kind of made me want to...

Then I saw Gordon at Theatre Network.  It's in the tradition of those films where everyone is bleeding at the end of the film and the survival of anyone past the credits is questionable.  Filled with a quartet of unlikable people it was hard to really connect.  Again, the production itself hit all the markers - well cast and well acted with great gory effects in a perfectly constructed half-derelict kitchen. The soundscape seemed off as it wanted us to prepare for something funnier than the play actually was. I will admit, I had trouble with the script.  Lots of short cut scenes - written more like a movie than a play - which chopped up the momentum. A play like this needs to feel like an impending train-wreck and although it ends in a terrible place, complete with blood and an uncertain future, it never quite earned it. Too much lag, and not enough charm written into the characters leaving the actors with little to work with outside the ugly. I think if you are into that kind of Quentin Tarantino aesthetic, this would totally appeal to you - but I needed a little more.

Finally, there was Wish at Northern Light Theatre. This one is more complicated.  Certain aspects of it were fascinating and again, like the other two shows, it was very well executed. Up to about 2/3 of the way I was completely drawn in - I liked the story of the child of deaf parents finding teaching sign to be his calling and that leading him to teaching a gorilla to sign and developing a real connection with the animal.  It's tied up in animal rights and the concept of informed consent and it started several interesting thought progressions.  There are many layers. It takes a truly disturbing turn, however, when the relationship between the man and the gorilla becomes physical. I couldn't handle it. I shut down in the audience. It felt like pedophilia. I could find no justification.  I might have been okay with it if there was something in the play's ending that supported my feelings, but I might have been too shut down at that point to recognize it. There were more troubling things said in the talk-back but as they lived outside the play, I won't comment on what they were. However, I do know that those things said made it even harder for me to appreciate the show. It's hard for me, because there were so many well done things in this show: brilliant physicalization of the gorilla by Ainsley Hilliard; a complicated look at communication; committed acting and a beautiful looking production.

Theatre is so individual and each show does something different. They can't all make you feel happy, I get that. I have thought about all those these shows and the issues they raised several times since seeing them, so perhaps they did accomplish their goals...

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Pardon My French... Glengarry Glen Ross and The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux...

Over the last little while I went to two Opening Nights at local theatres. 

The first was The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux a co-production of Northern Light Theatre and L'Unit Theatre.  A unique experience as the play is performed by the same actors (Brian Dooley and Manon Beaudoin) on alternate nights in French and English. It's a lovely little piece about a widower Plumber who has set his sights on a recently widowed women who he has always been in love with. They are very different, but Narcisse Mondoux (Dooley) is doggedly persistent and flexible to achieve his goal. It's a script that subtly deals with preconceived notions of roles men and women and the power of "love" to allow those notions to bend and shift. The humour is familiar and sprinkled liberally throughout and the two actors convey a soft and believable affection for each other. The show runs until April 9th at La Cite.  Check the link above for which performances are in English and which are in French. 

The second was Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet playing at Walterdale Theatre until April 16th. This production is tight and engaging and fast-paced, as Mamet needs to be.  The cast of seven (Dale Wilson, Alex D. Mackie, J. Nelson Niwa, Cory Christensen, John Evans, Justin Deveau and Cale Baylen) embrace the coarse language and coarse tactics in the high pressure world of dubious land-sales in the 1980s. These guys, and they are "Guys", are cut-throat and hungry and they attack the language and dynamic with a fierceness.  The script is liberally laced with expletives but it all feels right in this world. It's quick and sharp and it's hard to look away. I was completely drawn in from start to finish. 

Some great options for you this week in #yegtheatre

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Looking Ahead to April for #yegtheatre

April bring with it Auditions for Chess, the show I am directing for Walterdale Theatre. So I had to take a little time to look ahead and plan my theatre options.  There are quite a few good options but fortunately not as many as the past two months.  Rehearsals make it hard for me to see stuff!

Anyhow, here are a few things I am looking forward to:

Northern Light Theatre's The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux: Narcisse Mondoux (played by the always excellent Brian Dooley) retired Master Plumber, sets out to woo the recently widowed Laurencienne Robichaud — at her husband's funeral. This is a co-production with L'Uni Theatre and will alternate between performances in English and French - how cool is that?! I'll be taking in the English show for sure, and I hope to fit in the French version. 

The Citadel Theatre's Other Desert Cities: A sharp, smart comedy-drama about family secrets unearthed. When I read this script a few years ago I wished I could be in it - it's so well-written and unwraps in a way that stabs you in the gut (playwright: Jon Robin Baitz). It's also incredibly current as the family has liberal/conservative (democrat/republican) divides complicating the parent-child relationships. 

Mayfield Dinner Theatre's Hair: Let the sun shine! I imagine this is going to be a groovy show, filled with peace and love. I've been enjoying the shows at the Mayfield this season and am looking forward to their take on the Age of Aquarius! 

The Citadel Theatre's West Side Story: I've been walking around the office snapping my fingers and singing Tonight and America.  I think I am ready to see this show! I was also blown away by the Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program Cabaret a couple of weeks ago and can't wait to see this group of extremely talented triple-threat actors onstage in the Maclab. I'm particularly looking forward to Melanie Piatocha singing Somewhere. 

Walterdale Theatre's Glengarry Glen Ross: Mamet. There it is.  More f-bombs per page than any play has a right to. A strong cast of some of my favorite actors.  It opens next week and I am really looking forward to seeing it.  It may not have the Alec Baldwin speech from the movie, but I've watched that a few times in preparation so I think I'm good! 

Theatre Network's Gordon: Brian Dooley as a grumpy old man with criminal intent.  I think that works for me. I'll be interested in seeing the contrast with Narcisse Mondoux and I willbe book-ending the month of April with Dooley! Should be fun! 

Well, this week you could/should go see... A Picasso or The Realistic Joneses...

Well, those are my recommendations..

Shadow Theatre's A Picasso is a wonderfully sharp, funny, intelligent piece about Picasso in Paris during World War II. It's themes centre around censorship and art as a political weapon and compromising values in the face of the horrific power of the Nazis. Julien Arnold as Picasso and Alana Hawley as a German cultural attache go toe-to-toe in this two-hander. I saw the play at the Fringe a few years ago with Shannon Blanchet and Arnold and loved it then. This remount is just as sharp and the new dynamic between the actors makes it worth seeing a second time. A Picasso runs to April 3rd at the Backstage Theatre.

In the Roxy Performance Series, Wild Side Productions presents The Realistic Joneses. I did't know what to expect and I think that is the best way to see this show, because it is truly unexpectedly and unpredictably funny. Two couples, both Joneses, live on the same street and deal with illness and each other. You will laugh out loud and you won't see it coming. It's absurd and realistic at the same time. The cast (Belinda Cornish, Robert Benz, Amber Borotsik and Jesse Gervais) is stellar. The Realistic Joneses runs to April 3rd at C103.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Checklist... What I saw just before I was out of town...

Hey, so I was away for the last week of February.  Immediately before that, I saw a few shows but had no time to write about them before I left, so I thought I would do a quick re-cap.  All of them have closed, but that doesn't mean you can't check out the next show from these companies!

The Early Bloomer by Jana O'Connor presented by Concrete Theatre
I didn't bring my sons to this, because I thought it was for little, little kids but I wish I had.  This was truly a show that could have the moniker 'suitable for ALL ages'.  The story deals with a group of young buds in a garden who are all worried about how they are growing - too fast, too slow, not the right away.  It's applicable to the little ones because of the wonderful physical comedy and silliness, but it's also really timely for those pre-pubescent and those in the thick of it.  The line about their stems getting fuzz would have made my boys hysterical! And for adults, particularly those with children, it was bang-on! The cast of four, Jenny McKillop, Mark Sinongco, Patricia Cerra and Troy O'Donnell, were terrific - funny, physical and totally committed!

La Voix Humaines presented by L'Uni Theatre and Carmen presented by Edmonton Opera
I saw two operas this month and both were in french. Both centered around emotional irrational woman, however in very different ways. I was blown away by the solo performance of Whitney Leigh Sloan in La Voix Humaine - challenging music and singing and SOLO singing for 75 minutes - never mind that it was an extremely emotional journey to sustain supported only by an unheard voice on the end of a phone. With Carmen, I commented on FB that I figured it was the source for the phrase, "Bitches be crazy!" because she definitely was. Great singing all around, fabulous sets and costumes and it was so wonderful to hear so many songs I was familiar with actually in context of the story. My favourite onstage was Lida Szkwarek as Micaela - there's definitely a huge talent there and man-oh-man, what a voice! I'm definitely enjoying seeing shows in French.  I still have to use the surtitles to get everything, but it was fun discovering that I understand more than I think I will! I guess I learned something in my grade 6-12 french classes!

I'm busy this week and next with the crop of indie theatre that is on and going to both high school and junior high open houses... stay tuned for notes about those shows!