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Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the Haze of Illness, I forgot to reflect on this year's Skirts AFire Festival!

No, it's true.  I was hit with a horrible cold/flu (I never know which - I only know the suffering) in March and totally forgot to write about the Skirts AFire Festival! 

The illness was descending when I took in The Mothers in the days before the festival actually started. A one woman show by Nicole Moeller, starring Annette Loiselle and directed by Glenda Stirling, The Mothers explored how the mother of a child gone wrong deals with her guilt, confusion, sadness and anger over the actions of her child. The script raised a lot of interesting things about how little we know about how a dangerous child might be created. We think there must be a straight line from the baby to the teenager with clear indicators and inciting incidents and predictive behaviour, but the truth is a lot more complicated.  Loiselle has many fine moments in the piece which is as times an archaeological examination of the past and at other times an emotional exploration of her perceived failure as a parent.  I was challenged a bit by the arrangement of the script as the build was more up an down, and there were a lot of details about the mother-child relationship that seemed inconsistent.  I wondered if that was deliberate, though, in that a parent might look back and see both good and bad jumbled together and have trouble separating truth from guilt.

Then the illness struck and I was out for over half a week.  However, I dragged myself out of bed and medicated myself so that I could make it to Peep Show, where 4 new plays were given 10-15 minutes of exposure to a first audience.  Peep show is where The Easy Road started 2 years ago which led to the full reading and workshop last year at Skirts AFire 2014.  I was looking forward to hearing the 4 pieces on display this year. We heard scripts from Michele Vance Hehir, Leslea Kroll, Hayley Moorhouse and Anne Marie Szucs.  I enjoyed hearing these four new plays and the new female playwright voices.  So pleased that Skirts AFire has provided the opportunity for more new work development.

I'm looking forward to seeing what is on the docket for next season and hoping that I am not sick so that I can see even more!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Happy World Theatre Day!

Okay, for me, pretty much every day of the year could be Theatre Day, being that I work at one, volunteer at several and I watch a heck of a lot of it.  But for those of you who are more moderate in your approach to theatre, today is THE day! Luckily, there are a lot of shows you can see right here in Edmonton this weekend!

Shows that close this weekend:

Vigilante at the Citadel Theatre.  This rock opera with an edge is being presented in the Maclab Theatre.  It's a show ideally suited to the thrust theatre space and re-imagines the story of the Black Donnellys, an Irish immigrant family who were brutally murdered.  It's also the latest work from Catalyst Theatre (Nevermore, Frankenstein, Hunchback), and has the same level of excellence in concept and execution, and a very talented 8 person cast who can sing some amazing celtic and rock inspired musical theatre.  We've had people respond so well to it that they've come back and seen the show three times! It only runs until Sunday, March 29th, so I recommend catching it quick.  For those on a budget, there are still a few $30 seats left and because they use the thrust space so well, there really are no bad seats.

First Time Last Time  at Shadow Theatre. A new take on the romantic comedy what turns the premise on it's side as it pairs two commitment shy people who go to outrageous lengths to maintain a non-relationship/ relationship.  I wrote about it more here.  It is at the Varscona Theatre  until Sunday, March 29th.

Shows that opened this week:

Arcadia at the Citadel Theatre. This is currently my new favourite play.  Other than when I am directing a show, I rarely want to see a play more than twice.  With this Tom Stoppard work I am so excited to be seeing it for the third time on Sunday (and I am trying to figure out if I can justify going again on Closing).  It's complicated and simple at the same time.  A mystery and a romance and full of sparring academics and the quest for truth and knowledge.  It takes place in two times 200 years apart in the same English manor.  Though separated by time, the parallels between the two stories are fascinating and Stoppard has managed to intertwine them with humour.  There's some heady content, but there's also many moments of deliciousness for the audience when they know more than the characters do. This opened last night and runs to April 12th.

A Dream Play at Studio Theatre.  This is a Strindberg piece and the U of A has cast all 5 women in the graduating BFA class as the only female character in the piece.  I haven't seen it yet, but I am hoping to book tickets soon, as they have reconfigured the Timm's seating so that there are far fewer seats than usual and as a result they already have some Sold Out performances. It looks like a challenging piece and I trust that the U of A has done their usual solid work.

Sondheim on Sondheim at MacEwan University. For those who love musicals and more specifically Sondheim this would be a great show to catch.  It's in the Theatre Lab space so tickets are tight for it as well, but it would likely be a great show to catch if you love Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd. It closes next Thursday, April 2nd (probably due to the Easter weekend) so don't get complacent and figure on seeing it next weekend! It was also directed by Kate Ryan who was wonderful earlier this year singing with Susan Gilmour in a Sondheim Cabaret at the Citadel, so you can be assured that it's been well steered.

These are just a few you could see.  I am sure there are others you could check out.  Tix on the Square is great for seeing what's out there.  Make this your World Theatre Day and see a show!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oh yeah! This happened... My second #yeggies nomination!

Thank you so much to whoever nominated me for the #yeggies again. The #yeggies are the Edmonton New Media Award created to recognize and celebrate outstanding social media content creators in the capital region. It was very exciting to receive the email letting me know that I had been nominated in the Arts & Culture category for the second year in a row. I always feel strange filling out the "tell us why you should win" part of the process, especially when I saw who else was nominated with me. We are lucky to have the Arts Scene we have in Edmonton, and doubly blessed to have so many avid supporters and champions of that scene.

For the complete list of Nominees, click here.

In my category, I thought I would share my fellow nominees so that you can all start following them as well!
There's a variety there - from theatre, to dance, to books, to nerd culture, to comics based art. I recommend you check them out and follow what appeals to you! I'm thrilled to be nominated with them all and had a good time checking out the ones I was unfamiliar with.

The Main Event (Awards Ceremony) is on May 9th at La Cite and I will be there with bells on!

First Time, Last Time - Redefining a relationship by refusing to define it...

This past weekend, I took in First Time Last Time by Scott Sharplin at Shadow Theatre with my good friend @catharooni.  We had a lovely evening in the Strathcona area, starting it at The Next Act for dinner and then taking in the show down the street.  I used to be in the area so much more than I am lately, so there is always a wonderful feeling when I have a good reason to go there!

The play is about two people who meet each other in the familiar pick-up place of a nightclub and both being inexperienced sexually (but wanting not to be), they decide to hook up as long as the first time is the last time.  The two, Ben (Mat Busby) and Airlea (Madeleine Suddaby), are very different in personality and type, but find themselves compatible and they find a unique way to modify the initial verbal contract so that the non-relationship extends into years.  It's a very funny exploration of how far a couple might go to construct a non-relationship out of what is clearly a relationship.  It seems to primarily be Airlea who is over-reluctant to define the nature of what they live-in. The situations and responses are humorous, complete with changing wigs and outfits and 'new first times' as time passes. I found the two actors to be quite engaging onstage and they seemed to have a real rapport. Busby is quite charming and Suddaby is a bubbly ball of energy that draws you in. And, although I found it hard to believe that a couple could stretch the contract so long, it was interesting. It made me think a lot of friends that I have who insist on bizarrely labeling their own relationships unconventional in reaction to some societal 'norm'.  I have to admit, I do a bit of internal eye-rolling when labels are just exchanged for other labels when all it comes right down to is that the only person who cares about how you define the relationship is the one you are in it with. I wish I understood more about why the two of them push against commitment, particularly Airlea, because I think Ben does want the relationship.

Overall though, the play makes for a fun night out at the theatre.  It gets a little serious towards the end but in a heart-touching way, and there is some wonderful theatre magic when the audience gets to participate.  The framework of the piece contains some direct audience address, which bothered me until the audience pull-in made me forgive it.  It takes a while, but it does earn it in that magical moment towards the end. I recommend this show, for there is a lot to think about, and it's a lot of fun.  It might make you understand why someone didn't commit to you, or why you are with the one you are with. And while I don't recommend this kind of contract, there is something to be said for avoiding a routine in a relationship... a few 'firsts' when things get stagnant are never a bad idea!

First Time Last Time runs at the Varscona Theatre until March 29th.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Theatre Cup Runneth Over... February...

As most of the theatre people in Edmonton know, February is the densest month for shows.  It is impossible to get to everything! A few weeks ago I saw 6 shows in one week.  So many I didn't have time to blog.  So here's a recap with some highlights!

The Threepenny Opera - Studio Theatre, Timm's Centre
I really enjoyed this production. Having played Mrs. Peachum a few years ago, I was very interested in seeing another production.  I quite liked the choices made.  It was a raunchier version than what we did but I felt captured the necessary roughness of the world.  Highlights were Kabriel Lilly as Polly Peachum.  Her voice was wonderful and she played the two sides of Polly perfectly.

Jeffrey - Walterdale Theatre
I wasn't sure what to expect with this show, but I enjoyed it and connected more than I thought I would ("a witty, romp about HIV+"). I felt that director Sarah Van Tassel did a good job with this slightly dated script and the world that set designer Leland Stelck designed for it was fabulous.  Highlights for me were the outrageous Catherine Wenschlag who played all the women's roles.  She made so many fabulous choices and I looked foward to seeing her in every new incarnation. Gerald Mason also had some of the most moving moments as Sterling, who loses his young partner to AIDs. I also very much liked the interaction between him and his partner Darius (played by Simon Müller).

The Laws of Thermodynamics - Workshop West/Theatre Yes
In a bleak February this new work by Cat Walsh about the end of the world was challenging.  It was well-acted and the premise was interesting but I left with more questions than answers. The highlight for me was the fascinating set designed by Nick Blais. I also was intrigued by the physics of this world where things and people disappeared into sand.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes - Theatre Network
The ladies of SHOUT! had a terrific night out at this feast for the eyes.  A terrific little piece from The Old Trout Puppet Workshop.  I liked this so much that I sent my husband and 2 kids to it the next night! It's got that macabre humour that you can deliver more easily with puppets. Hard to pick a highlight because I liked the whole thing, but I think the scene "Why I Hate My Little Brothers" and "Le papillon est mort" were my favorites.  It was also a great evening out with the ladies of SHOUT! We have puppets in our show too, but nobody dies...

Playing With Fire - Citadel Theatre
I had to take my husband to see this show and was totally up for seeing it again.  Was surprised to find myself crying at the end (just a little bit), but it was even better this time.

Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program Showcase - Citadel Theatre
At the end of the Program portion of their work, the participants give a little concert to show what they have been working on.  This was quite lovely.  It was terrific to see the personalities of the actors come out through their singing and I was told afterwards that many of them do not consider themselves singers, but I couldn't really tell. My personal favorite was Justin Goodhand singing Buddy's Lament from Follies, but I was also delighted to hear Jacklyn Francis sing and play guitar. I can't remember the name of the song, but it was funny.

And one more I just saw this weekend... 

Drat the Cat! - Plain Janes, Varscona
This show is actually still running, so you can check it out if you like.  I wasn't too sure about the script as it felt a little dated and hokey.  The cast does a fully committed enthusiastic attack of it and they are a pretty powerhouse group. Highlights of me were definitely Melanie Piatocha as the Cat and Chris Cook as the bumbling acting-police detective who is trying to catch the Cat while simultaneously being in love with her.  Kendra O'Connor is also pretty outstanding as Piatocha's mother. There is some great music and fun musical numbers and this show would be fine for audiences of all ages as it hearkens back to a musical theatre tradition of years gone by.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Pink Unicorn - Love Comes First in Parenthood

The Pink Unicorn by Elise Forier Edie
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
Starring Louise Lambert
Northern Light Theatre
PCL Studio, ATB Financial Arts Barns
Runs to February 28 - for tix

Last night, I was delighted to take in opening night of Northern Light Theatre's The Pink Unicorn. It's a show that has been on my radar for a little while. Northern Light's season this year is exploring gender identity and all it's complexities which is a topic I find fascinating and so relevant in our modern age. The Pink Unicorn, though, is a parent's story and I have often thought about who my children were growing into being and how I would deal with them as they emerged into their own selves separate from my expectations of who they should be. It also starred the wonderful Louise Lambert who has such a vibrant and electric stage presence that you are shocked at how tiny she is when you meet her offstage.  She was the Nurse in the Citadel's Romeo and Juliet last season and the hilarious Dolly in the Citadel's One Man Two Guvnors earlier this season. 

In many ways this piece seems very timely, particularly in light of the recent political discussions regarding GSAs in our public schools, but it is the personal story of Trisha, a young single mother of a gender queer identified daughter that resonated with me. Trisha is not a radical.  If anything she is part of the mainstream, conventional Texas community.  She has always done what is correct and right and from her pink cardigan and floral skirt to her perfectly coiffed hair she is the image and spirit of a proper southern lady.  And like most of us, with our teenage children, she is confused by her daughter Jolene as Jolene has grown into someone that Trisha did not expect.  Trisha, however, loves Jolene unconditionally, so she pushes aside her confusion and lack of understanding and does what needs to be done.  It's a wonderful testament to the love of a parent for a child. At the heart of it is the idea that even though we do not understand our children, we still love them and that is what matters. Trisha's love for Jolene pushes her into situations that she never imagined herself, but she serves coffee and cinnamon rolls and smiles despite her apprehension and we wish that we could all have her grace if we were in the same situation. 

The show is hysterically funny. In the beautiful white picket backyard with it's pinterest inspired quilted backdrop (Set Designer - Trevor Schmidt),  Lambert channels the entire cast of characters of small town Texas from the pompous school principal, to Trisha's over-bearing mother, to the members of the Lesbian Underground Railroad, to tell us the story of what happened.  We are part of the town as she whispers to us conspiratorially, "I know", as we giggle and laugh at her descriptions. She is honest about her own prejudices and confusion about what is going on and what her daughter is telling her.  "Nothing in my life had prepared me for gender queer." But she is prepared because at the core of it she loves her daughter and that is what is most important, and at the core of it she knows that what is happening is wrong, and at the core of it she knows that to 'smack it out of her' as her mother suggests is not an option nor should it be.

This is a play for every parent and child.  If my son were a couple years older I would take him. In fact, I think everyone with a child 15+ should think about taking them to it. It's for the parent who couldn't understand their child as they grew and the child who didn't realize what their parent was going through.  And I don't just mean parents of gay or gender queer children, it's for every parent because your children are going to be who they are and you can't control that, but you can accept them regardless of what they turn out to be. 

I highly recommend.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Playing With Fire - Theatre for the theatre-junkie and non-theatre-person alike!

Last Thursday night, after I got all the people into the theatre I got to stay and watch the show, Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story.  This doesn't always happen.  Sometimes I'm just too brain busy to enjoy watching a show and Thursdays are also my youngest's drama class so if my husband can't pick him up I have to.  But, a bad cold kept the wee one home form class and a relatively smooth ticket distribution meant I could go in and enjoy the show.  And I did.

I wasn't sure if it would be my thing.  Although I grew up in a very hockey family I was always the odd one out, preferring the arts to the ice. I was worried it would send me into flashbacks of my childhood spent running around at ice arenas while my brothers played when I'd rather have been somewhere else. But I needn't have feared.  The show was clearly about hockey, but it was more than that.  The story itself is truly engaging.   is Fleury on that synthetic ice surface - charismatic and in-your-face.  A friend of mine called it a master-class in acting and I think that is true.  You never 'see' the actor, only Fleury.  You can tell Smyth knows this story inside and out, as though he lived it himself. The direction and design is also terrific.  This is no solitary actor on a bare stage with a chair - he's skating the whole show, whipping pucks in the nets, fighting and reliving his moments with true action. The soundtrack is rock and roll and wonderfully appropriate for this life. At times you feel you are sitting at the bar listening to the bravado of the superstar, at other times you are witness to the raw vulnerability of the young hockey player in the more horrible of circumstances.  It's surprisingly uplifting considering all he goes through, but at the end you see that it's really a story of survival against the odds, and that makes you happy.
Fleury's journey with it's ups and down reaches both incredible highs and low. It doesn't hide his flaws, it's honest and bare.  Shaun Smyth is a big part of what makes it so compelling.  He

For the hockey fan, I can only imagine it's even more.  For the theatre fan it's more than enough. If you can get to this show, you should go see it. It runs until February 15th.