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Monday, May 14, 2018

Collin Doyle Makes Me Cry Again - Terry and the Dog at Edmonton Actors Theatre

Collin Doyle likes to make me cry. I am pretty sure that's what he think about when he sits down to write a play. Well, maybe not me in particular, but someone like me. Someone like you, probably too. When I saw Let the Light of Day Through I was sobbing at the end. While I was not sobbing at the end of Terry and the Dog, I was softly crying, and he did it in a way that literally snuck up on me...

It's a beautiful piece of theatre. A solid play. A real play. The kind of play I think we've gotten away from with projections and political messaging and ticking boxes. It's about real people. People who are not perfect, but ones that you can imagine living next door, or being in your family, or even possibly being you. The script is the starting point, and add in the truthful performances of Robert Benz, Maralyn Ryan, and Kyle Humeny under Dave Horak's direction and you have real magic.

I don't want to get into too much, because I don't want to give anything away, and I want you all to experience the Terry's story the way I did. It is about addiction, particularly alcoholism, so be prepared for that. It made me think a lot about how difficult it is for an alcoholic to live in our world and stay sober, and how we might judge someone in their most vulnerable time when really that is the time they need the most understanding. I'm going to be thinking about this for a long time.

It's here now and we can see it. It's a pretty perfect little play. I hope to see it get produced across Canada. It deserves to be.

Terry and the Dog runs at the Studio Theatre at Fringe Theatre Adventures until May 19. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

All Shook Up at the Mayfield is a Super Fun Night Out!

Last week Mark and I caught All Shook Up at the Mayfield. It's a juke box show based on Elvis music so we expected it to be a little silly and it sure was, but the cast and direction (Kate Ryan) attacks it with such a great sense of fun that we had a wonderful time. The music is great and, for the most part, the cast has exceptional singing and dancing skills. Vocal stand-outs were Adam Charles (Dean), Jameela McNeil (Lorraine), and Jason Hardwick (Dennis). We also saw the understudy Jill Agopsowicz as Natalie (Ed) and she was wonderful! It was hard to believe she hadn't been playing the role for weeks! The dancing is super fun (choreography by Cindy Kerr) and the ensemble carries it off joyfully. I also enjoyed the comedic attack on the script.  Robbie Towns as the Elvis-esque Chad, Paul Morgan Donald as Jim, and Melissa MacPherson as Miss Sandra made me laugh the most with their commitment to embracing big choices!

A fun night out!

All Shook Up runs until June 10th. Click here for more information.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Those who self-destruct and those who try to help... Pretty Goblins at Workshop West...

I took in Pretty Goblins by Beth Graham presented by Workshop West Playwrights Theatre last night. It tells the tale of sisters, fraternal twins, Lizzie (Miranda Allen) and Laura (Nadien Chu), and their battle through life. One twin is wilder and self-destructive and an addict who cycles in and out of functional and dysfunctional existence. The other, calmer and more rational, but equally tortured as she is unable to 'save' her sister time and time again. It's told in flashback, and episodes, so we see how these two incredibly close children with the same parentage and opportunity can veer into vastly different adult lives. It's hard to leave the play without a discussion of nature vs. nurture as there are contributing factors from both. It's also hard not to leave the play with an incredible amount of empathy for those who have a self-destructive loved one in their lives. The struggle to support, and try to help after being pushed to the breaking point time and time again is heartbreaking.

This production has all the right components. It is skillfully and sensitively directed by Brian Dooley whose direction never confuses us as to where and when we are and which handles the gruesome parts honestly but with incredible respect for the script, actors and audience (there is one section that is particularly tough). The performances of Allen and Chu are layered and believable even as they zig-zag from past to past to present, and each has an evolution which feels inevitable but you wish wouldn't have to happen. Interestingly, I think that it's easy to imagine these actors in the other role, underscoring the nature vs. nurture discussion. The world that production designer Megan Koshka has created is both beautiful and ugly - depending on what it needs to be - a squalid room, a child's bedroom, a wedding reception...

Pretty Goblins runs to April 29 at the Backstage Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

More than tea and scones in Going to St. Ives...

Sometimes you completely have the wrong assumption about a play and you are wonderfully surprised when that is turned on its ear... That was me tonight at Going to St. Ives at the Varscona Theatre presented by Altas Theatre Company. I hadn't read too much going into the show so all I knew was that it was about two women meeting for tea. There was so much more.

The two women could not be more different. May N'Kame (Patricia Darbasie), the mother of a despotic African 'emperor', has come to England to receive eye surgery from Dr. Cora Gage (Belinda Cornish). Prior to the surgery Dr. Gage has something to ask of her patient - a favour. There are of course, complications and consequences to this request.

The script by Lee Blessing is wonderfully complex, and skillfully directed by Julien Arnold. Each of the women is brilliant and articulate and they each have a very good understanding of their world. They are however both somewhat prejudiced with how they see the other's world. Their cultural differences mean that each steps on the other's toes at times - sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally. Both Cornish and Darbasie give complex and layered performances. This is not their first time in these roles as the play was presented a few years ago with the same cast, and I think because of that they both really know these characters they are playing. There is a real investment from both of them and each has their moment of raw and exposed truth.

Beyond the performances, what I liked was that it challenged me and how I think about the world. I don't know if it gave real answers and solutions, but it certainly says that there aren't a lot of easy ones out there.

Going to St. Ives runs to April 14 at the Varscona Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Going Undercover with Spontaneous Theatre at the Citadel...

It's really fun watching a murder mystery when even the actors onstage don't know how it will be solved... solving it is almost entirely up to an audience member turned Rookie Detective (on our night - Jason, a trainer at a tech company), who is brought into the story and who literally guides the investigation.

The first act is primarily the set-up. The cast (six gifted improvisers playing multiple roles) meet for a private art auction (the rookie detective is sent in 'undercover' for police business) in a remote country home. There are obvious tensions between certain characters, conversations to be overheard, snooping to be done, and clues discovered, and then... there's a theft and a murder! The second act is where the rookie detective must lead the investigation - they choose who to question, which rooms to explore, what questions to ask and inevitably reveal 'who done it'.

For the rest of the audience, it's like watching a person solve an escape room, and even when they miss important clues it's hilariously fascinating. A smugness when you see or notice something they didn't and lots of laughs when they do something totally unexpected and you watch as the group of six gifted improvisers literally make it up on the spot to deal with what's thrown at them.

Now, our guy didn't get it right - he got part of it, but not all of it - but it was sure fun watching him and the cast. My husband was very happy, because apparently he did solve it (he saw a lot more than I did), and even though he 'knows what happened', he's heading back with our son this weekend to watch it again with a new rookie detective. He's hoping he'll get to see some of the scenes we missed out on the first time and he wants to see if our son can solve it.

Undercover runs to April 29 at the Citadel Theatre. Click here for tickets.

A couple of plays about women getting fed up with what other people want them to be...

You wouldn't think there would be much in common between SLUT at Northern Light Theatre and Blue Stockings at Walterdale Theatre, but at their core they really deal with the same thing - people telling women what they can and can't do and those women pushing back. 

SLUT tells the tale of Matilda whose sexual activity has gotten her into some undeserved hot water due to the judgement of her neighbours. Matilda, played by the facile Michelle Todd, is in a situation she's unprepared for. The situation itself is laugh-producing and Todd's retelling of the circumstances that have led up to it is wonderful. In addition to Matilda, she deftly conjures a handful of other characters who help tell the story. Layered under it all is a conversation we likely never have (but should) about differing expectations for women and men in sexual relationships, or rather about presumptions (incorrect ones) about those differing expectations. It's not gratuitous - it's funny, smart and human. I really liked Matilda and her honesty about where sex fits into her life, and I like the softness of her in contrast to her bold outfit. The lights (designed by Beth Dart) are like another character in the play, commenting and maybe even judging a little - It lights could wink or roll their eyes, this is what it would look like. 

SLUT runs to April 14th at the Studio Theatre at Fringe Theatre Adventures. Click here for tickets.

Blue Stockings at Walterdale (full disclosure: I worked on the show as Mentor Director) is about women seeking educational equality in England at the turn of the century. It too is layered with assumptions about what women want and need and articulates the complexity of what the reality is. It also has humorous moments, primarily when we are confronted with the rhetoric of the age in contrast to our modern day beliefs (the theory of the wandering uterus always makes me laugh - where is it now? in my throat? In my armpit?!). Sadly, there are still people in the world (even in our own country) who still adhere to some of this outdated thinking. It's well worth checking this show out to see how far we've come, and to reflect on how far might still need to go. 

Blue Stockings runs to April 14th at the Walterdale Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Betroffenheit - So. Good. So. Incredibly. Good.

There's something so wonderful about seeing a show that not only lives up to the hype but actually exceeds it. I see A LOT of theatre. I can't tell you the number of times a show has been described to me as "awesome" or "amazing" or "incredible"... I've likely overused those words myself...

When I went to Betroffenheit I was hopeful for a good solid show, what I saw was awesome, amazing, incredible and so much more than I expected. It's hard to describe as it's really a show about a state of being - the state of being after an incredible loss or trauma - and the cycle of trying to get through that and be normal and perhaps the realization that normal will never be normal again. Capturing that seems like an impossible task but somehow they have. The execution is so incredibly precise you feel like like what you are watching can't possibly be live - but. it. is. And while so precise, the performers are also at all times 100% present - nothing feels false - it's surreal in many ways, but always right there in a very honest and real way.

I could talk about the incredible physical ability of all of the 6 performers - it's mind-blowing. I could talk about the incredible choreography that communicates so much bot emotionally and physically. I could talk about the super-human way they move around the stage - are they coated in teflon? I could talk about how they flawlessly use a voice recording as a score and how the merest movement of a finger communicates so much. I could talk about the incredible lighting and use of set in a way that made both feel alive themselves.

Really, you just have to go see it. And then when you next see me, just say "Betroffenheit" and we will nod at each other and say, "yeah... "

Betroffenheit has only 2 more performances - Saturday, March 31st at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 1st at 2:00 p.m. Click here for tickets.