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Friday, July 03, 2015

A Man of No Importance a moving celebration of community...

Last night I took in Opening Night of A Man of No Importance at Walterdale Theatre. It's a musical version of the 1994 movie starring Albert Finney, about a bus conductor Alfie (played with subtley and charm by Morgan Smith) in Dublin in the 1960s who finds a happy life leading a local amateur theatrical troupe in the local church and living with his older sister who is just waiting for him to get married.  He is deeply closeted as it is a time in the very Catholic Ireland when homosexuality is both a crime and a sin. When he decides to produce Salome by Oscar Wilde the resulting scandal turns his well-ordered life upside-down and he decides to confront the truth of who he is.

It's a wonderful piece of theatre.  It celebrates and it mourns. It celebrates the community of community theatre, really of any theatre collaboration.  All the members of the troupe come together to be something more than what their lives are.  As directed by Lauren Boyd, this cast does a lovely job of staying in the world.  The staging is fluid and dynamic and engaging, drawing us into these ordinary people's lives. We recognize ourselves and others on the stage and we also see the passion and love for creating art. It fits perfectly upon Walterdale's stage and you believe that you are watching this encapsulated world.  Joan Hawkin's simple but ingenious set does part of that, but so does Boyd's direction and the ensemble's commitment to the world.  There are imperfections, but those are owned as they would be by the actual characters of that 1964 Dublin.

The play also has sad and touching moments, without over-dramatizing we see the struggle for Alfie as he hides who he is and who he loves, finding consolation in his love of theatre. When that is taken from him and he sees so many other people in his world sinning without repercussion, and he decides to be he who truly is, the results are heartbreaking. A great deal of that goes to Smith's delicate delivery of Alfie and his anguish.  So many wonderful moments communicated internally subtly and honestly.

Smith is supported by a thoughtful and dedicated ensemble. The songs, though not particularly memorable, are well sung and tuneful, and if I had one criticism it was that volume of some of the solos was a little low and the use of mics or some muffling of the orchestra in places might help with that. My favorite was the ensemble piece,Art, but though that song says "in a week and a half, it'll be art," I beg to differ.  This show is Art right now.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Double Header Saturday - Saint Albert and Calvin Berger!

On a day like today, it was quite delightful to spent the afternoon and the evening in air conditioned theatres, particularly since my van's AC has crapped out (great timing...).  Anyhow, it's even better when the theatrical fare is entertaining and well done!

I took in Teatro la Quindicina's newest offering, Saint Albert, in the afternoon.  A last minute cancellation of my original date combined with great timing on behalf of my husband meant for a surprise afternoon date.  He'd never seen a Teatro show before so it was nice to finally introduce him. He had fun and I think he'd go again. The show is a bit hard to describe without spoilers, but provided quite a few laughs especially from Jeff Haslam as the mysterious Magnus.  There's also a terrific song, Onion Bun, evidence of the Europop success of Desi played by the bright and perky Rachel Bowron. I am hoping that we might be able to download it eventually.  It was super-catchy in the spirit of ABBA and Aqua! Following the show, my husband and I had a terrific chat about various historic Alberts and we felt a sequel with Albert Einstein could be a lot of fun! Saint Albert runs until July 4th at the Backstage Theatre. 

Then we went home, had a great steak dinner off the BBQ and gathered the boys and took them to see Threeform Theatre's Calvin Berger, a modernized musical version of Cyrano set in high school. The boys are getting to the age where real children's theatre is too young for them and I was pleased to take them to this.  They both had a great time and Oliver in particular found it hilarious.  He's almost 14 so the activities and emotions of high school students was particularly compelling.  All four of the actors (Matt Graham, Mackenzie Reurink, Sydney Williams and Kirkland Doiron) in this show were terrific. The score demands big, competent voices that soar and there was no problem with that.  We really have some talent in this city.  These are young up and comers that I expect we'll see more of in years to come.  They were also quite funny and worked well as an ensemble.  It closed tonight, but keep an eye out for more Threeform Theatre work as I have been impressed with everything of theirs that I have seen. 

Tomorrow I am back at rehearsal for both my Fringe shows, SHOUT! and Double Double.  I'm pretty sure that part of me will be wishing I was back in an air conditioned theatre, but the rehearsing is going very well and I get  bit of a break from Canada Day through the weekend. It's summer folks! 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Trip to Runyonland... ELOPE presents GUYS AND DOLLS at the Timm's Centre

I have a fond attachment to ELOPE Musical Theatre.  When I moved to Edmonton in 2005, the first how I auditioned for (and got in) was ELOPE's Fiddler on the Roof. There I met many good friends who remain part of the core of my friends today.  A few years later I was in Baby with ELOPE which added many more terrific people to my friends list and a few years later I directed The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which was an amazing experience.

This season, ELOPE is putting on the classic Guys and Dolls at the Timm's Centre.  It's a fun world of gansters, gamblers, showgirls and salvation army misionaries in New York in a time long past. The songs are highly recognizable from the cutsey A Bushell and a Peck, to Sue Me, to I'll Know, to the title song Guys and Dolls. This cast handled the music well, particularly the leads.  Christina O'Dell and Stephen Allred as the mismatched Salvation Army Missionary Sarah Brown and Gambler Sky Masterson both had sweeping voices well equipped to handle their soaring love ballads.  O'Dell handled the challenging If I Were a Bell terrifically with a full sounding soprano and Allred's Luck Be A Lady was similarly well delivered. James Toupin and Karin Thomas as the more comic couple Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide had a real chemistry.  They've appeared as a couple onstage previously (The Full Monty) and their ease with each other really worked onstage.  Thomas was a lot of fun and made some terrific character choices to great comic effect.  Toupin's Detroit was a great foil and always believable.  They were great onstage separately and even better when they shared the stage together. Another highlight for me was Joe Garreck as Nicely Nicely Johnson.  He did a fantastic job on the show stopper Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat.  

If I had one criticism, it would likely be to clip a few of the dance numbers both in length and in people onstage.  Sometimes in the big numbers like the Havana scene and Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat it got hard to know what to look at because there was just too much going on.  With a show this length some of the dances originally put in to cover scene changes could have been shortened to move it a long faster.  But that's me... I'm sure someone else has a different opinion on that.

It's a fun show and one you leave humming the songs.  A little birdie from Tix on the Square told me that it is selling really well, so this might be one to buy your tickets in advance for.  It was certainly a packed house last night!

Friday, June 19, 2015

#yegbookclub Two Books for Summer Reading!

Like last year, this summer will be crowded with Fringe for me, so I have picked two books to read over the summer months in preparation for 2 consecutive weeks of #yegbookclub.  Hopefully you'll be able to join me for one or both of them!  I will be reading more than two books.  Someone mocked me last year for 'only' having 2 books on the docket.  It's just that in September I only have 2 weeks for the #yegbookclub!

First up will be Thomas Wharton's Every Blade of Grass. Here's the synopsis:
A novel of letters. A book of wonders. A story of love, loss, and life on Earth. The story begins in the pre-internet age with a letter left at the front desk of a hotel in Iceland. The recipient, Martha Geddes, is a neophyte journalist from New York, the sender, James Weaver, a rebellious young ecologist from Vancouver. Despite the fact that their lives couldn’t be more different, they feel a mutual attraction, the problem being that they live on opposite sides of a continent and one of them happens to be married to someone else. 

Wharton is currently an associate professor of writing and English at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and head of the creative writing department.

We'll partake in the #yegbookclub for Every Blade of Grass on Monday, September 14, 2015 from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Edmonton time on twitter! Hope to see you there.

The nest selection for the summer is Jennifer Quist's Love Letters of the Angels of Death.  Here's the synopsis: Love Letters of the Angels of Death begins as a young couple discover the remains of his mother in her mobile home. The rest of the family fall back, leaving them to reckon with the messy, unexpected death. By the time the burial is over, they understand this will always be their role: to liaise with death on behalf of people they love. They are living angels of death. All the major events in their lives – births, medical emergencies, a move to a northern boomtown, the theft of a veteran’s headstone – are viewed from this ambivalent angle. In this shadowy place, their lives unfold: fleeting moments, ordinary occasions, yet on the brink of otherworldliness.
Quist was born in northern mainland British Columbia and raised all over Maritime and western Canada. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta and is now based in the Edmonton area. 
We'll partake in the #yegbookclub for Love Letters of the Angels of Death on Monday, September 21, 2015 from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Edmonton time on twitter! Hope to see you there. 
So get reading everyone! 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

#yegbookclub Update! Book 2 in Ehrich Weisz Chronicles released this week!

Tomorrow night, June 4 from 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm playwright and author Marty Chan celebrates the launch of his 10th novel with a party. Infinity Coil is the second book of the Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, which features Harry Houdini (a.k.a. Ehrich Weisz) as the title character. The #yegbookclub discussed the first book in the series - Demon Gate - last fall and we are eagerly awaiting the second installment! This steampunk fantasy adventure follows the exploits of the soon-to-be great magician as he works alongside famous inventor Nikola Tesla to protect the citizens of New York from evil forces.
In honour of the series’ title character, magician extraordinaire Sheldon Casavant will take the stage to perform feats of wizardry and mentalism to delight the audiences before Marty unveils his latest novel.
Not only do you get a chance to see a live magician performing, but your ticket price also gets you a copy of Infinity Coil. Join in the celebrations as Marty Chan launches Infinity Coil.
Age restrictions - 5 & Up Only 
General – $24.15 (Includes Fees & GST)
Friends – $18.90 (Includes Fees & GST)
Doors Open at 7:00pm
To purchase tickets, click here. 

Meanwhile, I am about halfway through A Wake for the Dreamland which is our next #yegbookclub book.  We'll be discussing that one on twitter on June 10th!  Hope to see you then! 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Steady Rain... fine, layered, complicated performances

I took in Blarney Productions' A Steady Rain last night, at C103.  It's a dark and gritty story of two cops, friends from kinnygarden, in Chicago.  The show explores the grey area morality of Joey (Jesse Gervais) and Denny (John Ullyatt) as they tumble through re-telling the events of a summer in Chicago where everything goes wrong and the rain never stops.

Both actors give layered performances as they take turns telling the events of their shared history.  As beat cops aiming for promotion to detective and getting overlooked each tries their own way to cope and try to get ahead. Denny (Ullyatt) is married with the perfect wife and two young children.  He's the alpha of this relationship but despite his perfect looking life he is also the more corrupt. Joey (Gervais) is the worrier and the peace-maker, he sees the the wrong in what Denny insists is right, but he is challenged by his own hesitancy and the pattern of their relationship to push for what is right. The tale is told back and forth, and interspersed with dialogue between the two. Narration is often a challenge, but both are born story-tellers and the twists of the story and it's horrible inevitability are handled deftly. It becomes particularly interesting when each presents the details of the same events.  There is significance in the differences.

Director Wayne Paquette has wisely cast the eminently likable Ullyatt to play the more reprehensible Denny - his natural charisma bleeds through in a way that makes you not hate him, and which makes you understand how he has gotten away with what he has.  Gervais' emotional connection is also quite wonderful when he is stuck in Joey's inertia and helplessness as some of the more horrible things play out.  Although on opening night some moments felt a touch under-rehearsed, overall it made for a compelling and engaging 90 minutes.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Look Into Different Worlds - The Photo and Tribes

I missed a lot of first weekends while I was away so I caught the final weekend's offerings last night and Friday.

Friday night, I finally got to see The Photo by Dana Rayment.  It was presented as a workshop reading at Skirt's AFire Festival 2 years ago, but was on a Saturday afternoon and my Mom-Duties prevented me from getting to it, so I was pleased to hear that it would be presented as a full production by Theatre of the New Heart at C103.  My lovely friend Lisa was in town from Calgary so I also got to share with her a little of the #yegtheatre I am so proud of. It's a piece that probably needs trigger warnings as it was about a couple (Elena Porter and Michael Peng) dealing with the immediate aftermath of an at home stillbirth.  Each deals with it differently, Gina (Porter) fragmenting into a defense mechanism of denial and fantasy as she tries to take the perfect photo of her child's imagined life.  Mark (Peng) is hip deep in grief and confusion about how to help his wife and how to deal with the physical realities of the situation, not knowing whether to pander to Gina's fantasies or shake her into facing the truth of what has happened.  The script is well-crafted, giving us a little mystery about what exactly has happened at the beginning and building with inevitability to the final acceptance of both Gina and Mark.

Last night I took in Closing night of Tribes presented by Studio Theatre at the Timm's Centre as the MFA Production of Directing Candidate Amanda Bergen. Tribes was a fascinating look into what it is to be deaf within a hearing family.  The family (Ashley Wright, Judy McFerran, Mathew Hulshof, and Zoe Glassman) is loud and argumentative and at times a little unbearable, and deaf son Billy (Connor Yuzwenko-Martin) is often left out of parts of discussions as they make little effort to ensure he is able to see their faces to read lips.  When he asks for clarification, they summarize or brush off the details as unimportant. They have also kept him from the Deaf Community, having him learn to read lips and learn to speak and not learn to sign.  When he meets Sylvia (Bobbi Goddard), a girl with deaf parents who can sign and who is also going deaf, he falls in love and also learns to sign himself and it opens up a world of communication for him.  He struggles then to make his family meet him half-way in communication by learning to sign as well. It was a fascinating night.  We also went, by chance, on one of the two interpreted nights where four interpreters dressed in black and purple graced the stage alongside the action and signed all the speaking parts. The audience was roughly 50-75% deaf or hearing impaired and it made for a fantastic experience. The places that drew laughs were different for those who were hearing and those who weren't, sometimes because of the signing and sometimes because of what things actually meant to someone who was hearing vs. someone who was deaf.  It seemed to me, particularly with the piece, that the additional layer of interpreters onstage made it richer. I worried it would be distracting, but it was not, it was enriched. It has made me think about how we make theatre accessible for everyone.  I am not sure how to tackle it myself, but costs and staging for each show is so unique, but it would be interesting to look into how theatres could make their shows more accessible even when the shows are not specifically related to deaf issues. Wouldn't it be cool to see Shakespeare signed? Just thinking...

As a companion piece I recommend this article by Curious Arts about Tribes and Accessibility. There's also a link to a fundraising page where you can help pay for the the many interpreters who worked on the project.