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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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Wild Bus Ride, An Evening of Sondheim, and A Very Sexy Audition... Just another #yegtheatre weekend!

If you look at the weekend I just have, you can get a pretty good idea of the variety of theatre opportunities that Edmonton gets to experience all the time.  It's why I like living here. 

Friday night, Gibson and I took in Promise Productions' Birdie on the Wrong Bus, about the perfectionist Birdie who, after a first with her sister, hops on the wrong bus and takes a wild ride around the city.  Over the course of the ride she meets a variety of people who tell her about the city and she sees parts of the city she never knew existed.  Gibson and I had a terrific conversation on the way home about all the places Birdie went and we made plans to go check out the ones that we hadn't seen before. Gibson's favorite character was Birdie's Philllip-Phillips-obsessed older sister played by Lana Michelle Hughes and his favorite part was the sing-a-long section. He was concerned that at some points no one was driving the bus, but relaxed when I said we just had to use our imagination. It was overall a great night out for the two of us and while it would have been a little young for Oliver, it was perfect for Gibson. 

Saturday night, we took in a phenomenal night of Sondheim as performed by Kate Ryan, Susan Gilmour and Liz Han in It Takes Two.  I had bought these tickets way back in September and was glad to finally see the show!  It was simply wonderful.  Sondheim is one of my favorites and he's tricky, but these ladies were up to the challenge.  A friend of mine called it a masterclass in interpreting a song. Not only did they have fine voice, but it was funny and sad and they crafted an evening that made you feel that you got your money's worth, but still left you wanting more! It was in The Club at the Citadel and it felt perfectly placed there.  I hope that they might be able to remount this cabaret as it was a real treat and I think that any musical theatre lover would be in heaven! 

And then last night, it was off to see Venus in Fur at the Citadel. I had been to the dress rehearsal, but I was looking forward to seeing it again and to bringing Mark along. AM also joined us for the night.  I remain totally in love with the script and this production.  What I love is how the humour allows you to see the audition situation and the shifts in power back and forth from director to actor without pushing you into a place of outrage. You can think about those things - afterward - but the play doesn't let the power politics get in the way of seeing the show. Alana Hawley as Vanda is brilliant and Jamie Cavanagh the perfect foil for her.  I love how it twists and turns on a dime and the changes to the ending from dress to performance were spot-on.  It's funny how something didn't seem wrong before, but the new choices seem so much more right!  You can still catch Venus in Fur until February 8th and I highly recommend! 

Anyhow, what a weekend.  Ahead for me is another theatre filled week with the opening of Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story, teaching an Audition Workshop, and catching some of the Canoe Festival! What a great city we live in! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Venus in Fur... I wouldn't miss it, if I were you...

I got to take in the Dress Rehearsal of Venus in Fur at the Citadel on Friday night.  I cannot wait to go see it again (actually, I will have to wait, but I have the tickets and it's marked on the calendar). It's so funny.  Alana Hawley blew me out of the water and Jamie Cavanagh is the perfect counter-part to her roller coaster ride.

I was captured from start to finish and laughed so much more than I expected.  I read the script. I knew it was funny - smart funny - but I had no idea how much I would laugh seeing it live on the stage.  It's very sexy, very clever, and it will catch you off-guard. It caught me off guard and I even knew what was coming.

It's a 90 minute wild ride - I suggest you book now and be prepared to buckle up...

How Many Times Do We Reinvent Ourselves? Circle Mirror Transformation at Shadow Theatre

Last week I took in the charming and funny Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker at Shadow Theatre.  It's a very cool little piece that takes place over several weeks at an adult drama class.  The structure was very familiar.  I have taken AND taught those classes so for me it was a unique look in from the outside.  The class is small, yet diverse, and though the participants come to learn drama and acting, the events of the weeks teach them all, including teacher Marty (Coralie Cairns), something very different.  Each leaves changed, a new person, not so much from the exercises but from their interactions with each other.

I really enjoyed the evening.  Theresa (Lora Brovold) is a luminous and reflective surface, seeking healing after a break up, and unintentionally wreaking havoc on the men in the class. They like seeing themselves through her eyes. Schultz (Declan O'Reilly), recovering from his own break-up,
tries to be what he needs to be in the mirror, but constantly tries too hard, failing to see what the reflection really is. James (Dave Brindle) and Marty (Cairns) are the perfect couple, until the mirror reflects the flaws they never really saw before. Lauren (Mikaela Cochran) is not there to learn about herself, but to learn to act, and she pushes against the irresistible path of change.

As an ensemble, the five actors are delightful. It's as though they have spent their rehearsal in their own drama class, doing trust exercises and sharing personal monologues.  They work together as a well-oiled machine.  Each finds the unique humour in playing their character and the situation.  I know that some of the situations where more humorous to me because of my background in drama, but sometimes it's very nice to go to the theatre and see yourself and life reflected back at you.  I understand why some of the exercises seem silly, but I also know what they are for, and as someone who has reinvented myself a few times in my life (I am a very different person now than I was 10 years ago), I could really relate to the theme of reflection and reinvention... Circle. Mirror. Transformation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ups and Downs... Last week in Edmonton Theatre

It's weird to look back to the last week.  It was such an up and down in Edmonton Theatre and for me personally.  The weekend saw the close of SHOUT! and I was riding a high that comes from performing for audiences that are laughing and enjoying the show you are doing.  So many strangers smiling and complimenting me after the show.  Your friends will always love it (or at least tell you they do), but when strangers stick around to say nice things you tend to believe them. A quick Strike (like, amazingly quick) and the show was packed up until the summer when we remount it for the Edmonton International Fringe.  We left ebullient with plans for a cast get together in a couple of weeks.

Then the week started.  I planned my theatre week.  It was to be Cheerleader on Wednesday, Circle Mirror Transformation on Thursday and dress rehearsal of Venus in Fur on Friday - what a fabulous line-up.  When I woke up Tuesday morning to my radio alarm I heard people reminiscing about the Roxy Theatre.  I thought, "What a cool way to promote the theatre for their 40th season!", then I woke up for real.  A fire.  The Roxy Theatre was on fire and completely destroyed.  I was in shock. Having just produced a show, I knew exactly what went in to that and where the artists involved in Cheerleader would be at emotionally.  I couldn't fully imagine what it would have been like to have woken up to the news.  And Theatre Network had a tremendous amount of programming to complete.  What would happen to that?  What would happen to Nextfest? What about the city as a whole?  We are in dire need of more mid-size and smaller theatre spaces and here was another one lost. I could offer my condolences to Theatre Network, but all I really wanted to know was, "How can I help?"

And that is what it seems everyone else was seeking.  The tremendous show of support of the greater Edmonton theatre community was and continues to be inspiring.  Freewill Players, still recovering from their challenges last season, offered a portion of the proceeds from their upcoming fundraiser to aid Theatre Network.  Rapid Fire Theatre offered up proceeds from one of their upcoming shows. The Artistic Directors and Executive Directors of Edmonton's theatre community got on the phones and started looking at the calenders to try and figure out how to help Theatre Network keep their programming for the rest of the season.  People shared and shared and shared the Canada Helps Donation page and people donated and are continuing to do so. I heard today that the U of A is hosting a reading of Cheerleader on the Timm's Centre Mainstage on Sunday evening.

So from high, to low to high again... it's been a very interesting week. Tonight I will be attending Circle Mirror Transformation at Shadow Theatre because the other thing I know we have to do is to keep going to local theatre. And I remain ready to help in any way I can should Theatre Network put out the call.