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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Once - Better after I saw it Twice...

Last night I took in Once at the the Jubilee as part of the Broadway Across Canada tour.  I had seen it earlier this summer in Toronto and although I liked it, I saw it at the end of a very, very long day and it was just okay. I was very glad to see it again last night as the experience was a lot different. Perhaps I was more refreshed and less tired and that helped. Perhaps my seats were better. Perhaps the connection of this cast was just a little but stronger.  Perhaps, having seen it *once* already I was able to relax into it better. In any case, I really liked it last night. It doesn't follow a traditional musical theatre format. I remember that catching me off-guard the last time. All the actors onstage not only sing and act, but they also provide the instrumentation for the show.  That is one talented cast up there onstage. Some play guitars, the piano, some the violin, there's a bass, a drum kit, a mandolin, banjo, and accordion. Most of the time they are both singing and playing and sometimes they are also dancing, as well. More than triple-threat.

The story itself is interesting - small, and personal and yet at the same time it has an epic quality to it (isn't creating art always epic?). You connect because these people could be you and you can relate to the things that push and pull them.  Who hasn't had challenges in love and career and life.  Who hasn't wanted someone when they are with someone else? I like it because it casts aside the idea that there is only one soul mate for each of us, and suggests that there are more than one and that you can't always have all that you want but sometimes you can get enough to be happy. Maybe I am taking that too far?

Anyhow, the music is wonderful and the show is compelling - it's funny and sad and beautiful.  I'm just glad that I saw Once more than once, because the second time was better!

A Thrilling Opening Night! The Duchess has Set Sail at the PCL!

Last Thursday night, to a packed house (only 3 empty seats!) Wind in Her Sails opened and was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation! The ovation was as much for the play and the performance as it was for the playwright, Elizabeth Bowering, who spearheaded the whole project and it was an overwhelming moment for me. I was more nervous than I realized so it was indeed a wonderful feeling to hear the response from the audience and above-all hear that Elizabeth herself was pleased with the show. Unlike other projects, where I have simply been able to interpret the work to my own satisfaction, there was an added layer of expectation that this show not only fulfill my artistic vision, but that the playwright also be happy with it. I do not think the two visions were at odds, but this is a business fraught with insecurity and doubt. The script was an excellent guide - well-written with 4 well-rounded and interesting characters, as well as a charming narrator skilled in story-telling and fiddling! The work is definitely easier when the script is solid. I also enjoyed that despite being set in 1907, the themes of the piece were still very relevant in today's world.

I have been blessed with a terrific cast - Halee Pierog, Kris Loranger, Morgan Smith, Murray Farnell and Larissa Pohoreski - as well as a wonderful creative team - Kirsten Jensen (SM), Erin Foster-O'Riordan (Sound Design), Geri Dittrich (Costume Design), Janine Hodder (Fight Choreographer), and Joan Hawkins (paint). As there were a number of things I was looking out for that fall outside the purvey of directing, it was wonderful to have such hard-working and talented and generous friends to join on to make the whole thing come to fruition.

The show runs until November 21st in the PCL Theatre. It is more than just a show.  It's also a Fundraiser and Awareness project for MSA (Multiple System Atrophy), a rare and so-far incurable disease.  Proceeds from the production go to research into new treatments for MSA and you can also find out more about it and what you can do to help. You can also find out more here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So Much Seen and Heard... No Time to Write...

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind!  Between shows and rehearsals I have been hard-pressed to write.  Some of the things I saw are done, so sadly you cannot still see them, but some are still running so make the time, if they interest you!

In Reverse Order!

Most recently I saw The Last Five Years, the first show in Theatre Network's season and in their new space. L5Y is one of my favourite musicals and I have also directed it before so it was very cool to see it staged by someone else in a very different way.  Jeremy Baumung (Jamie) and Patricia Zentilli (Cathy) are lovely singers and well-suited to their roles in this show which is a series of monologues about a relationship.  His is told from beginning to end and hers from end to beginning, all set the beautiful music of Jason Robert Brown. Director Bradley Moss staged the show in an alley which was interesting and helped take me out of comparing it too much to my own production. For fans of this show, you won't be disappointed and for newcomers, I think it's an excellent introduction to the piece. I would recommend sitting on one side or the other instead of the middle as we found the mics a bit high being right under the speakers, but those who were on the ends of the rows said they found the sound really good.

Last Thursday, I saw Opening Night of Evangeline at the Citadel (full disclosure - I work there). It was a fantastic evening! The show has being fabulously received by audiences and critics alike. I alsoreally enjoyed it.  I teared up quite a few times as the show took us through the 40 year long journey of Evangeline, Gabriel and the rest of the Acadian people who were ejected from Canada by the British. Josée Boudreau as the title character is a powerhouse vocal performer.  Her voice is both strong and gorgeous and she sings Ted Dykstra's music like she was born to do so.  When she and Jay Davis (Gabriel) sing together it is electric. I am going back to see it again this next weekend and taking the family.  Evangeline runs until November 22nd at the Citadel. Just a head's up - ticket sales have been incredible.  This is one to buy early rather than risk buying later. You do not want to be disappointed.

I also took in Shadow Theatre's The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor at the Backstage Theatre. I'm an uber MacIvor fan and hadn't seen or read this show before and this was a great way to be introduced to it.  As two brothers dealing with the death of their mother, Andrew MacDonald-Smith (Kyle) and Garrett Ross (Hamilton) are wonderful contrasts on the stage. It's a comedy that deals deftly with grief and the complicated and varied relationships that children have with their parents. There's also a third, furry sibling, who complicates things between the brothers. It's a really nice piece, well-presented and well-acted. I think if you are a dog person it might be even more. The Best Brothers runs until November 15th.

I caught the cabaret performance of Ted Dykstra and Friends in The Club at the Citadel as part of the Beyond the Stage Series a few weeks back.  It was a thrilling night of music. That space is so terrific and it was hard to believe that we were sitting there so close to the caliber of performers that were up on the stage.  It was a terrific preview of what we'd be seeing later in Evangeline. It was all terrific but Brent Carver blew me away.  He is similarly amazing in Evangeline as Father Felician, but up close in The Club was so incredible. This was a two night only performance, but you can check out other Beyond the Stage events for the rest of the season.  There are some great shows coming.

I had never been to Dead Centre of Town before, although I heard a lot about it.  I wasn't really sure what it was. I think I thought it was just a haunted house, but this was actually quite a bit different.  It was in Fort Edmonton Park this year and it was an interesting immersive theatre experience. This was a good thing for me, because I was a little stressed about going as I don't do scary well.  But the presentation was more macabre than jump-out-at-you scary and I could handle that better.  There were terrific special effects and lighting and they used the old fort really well in their tour.  It also opened my eyes to the fact that there is  heck of a lot happening at Fort Edmonton Park for Halloween that I had known nothing about.  We're hoping to go back next year and bring the boys!

Edmonton Opera's The Merry Widow was also on my list of things I've seen.  It was delightful and beautiful both aurally and visually. Lots of cool cinematic references that the old move buff in me really appreciated and none of it felt pasted on. I loved the throw-back to Marilyn Monroe from Diamonds are A Girl's Best Friend (the younger peeps will think Madonna in Material Girl), and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers moments. The music was also wonderful. I do have to say, Jason Hardwick practically steals the third act. He was absolutely hilarious every time he was onstage! The use of humour was so engaging and the pace did not lag.  I had so much fun. See, opera doesn't have to be so serious!  It can be a lot of fun too!

Well, that was the last couple of weeks.  In between shows I have been in rehearsal for Wind in Her Sails. I have really enjoyed working on this project and with so many new people. It's also for such a good cause and it is great to make art that is also doing something more beyond telling the story. Whether it makes people more aware of MSA or raises more money for research, I'm glad to have been a part of the project for that reason alone. We open tomorrow and we've had a great couple of days adding the lights, sound and costumes to the mix. I'm hoping to see you all out for that!  It runs November 12-21st in the PCL Theatre.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What is going on? Ravenscroft (Walterdale) and Les Blues des Oubliées (L'Uni Theatre)

This week I saw two very different plays.  One, Ravenscroft, was a mystery where the truth was slowly unraveled as lies and exaggerations were discarded.  The other, Les Blues des Oubliées, was a french-langueage play with sur-titles. So in both,I had to work hard to figure out what was going on!

Ravenscroft, currently running at Walterdale Theatre until October 24th, is a who-dun-it with a surprise twist at the end. Inspector Ruffing (Dan Fessenden) interrogates the 5 women of Ravenscroft Manor to try to discover exactly what happened the night the footman was killed.  It's a clever play with juicy characters set in an English Manor in the early 1900s.  I did the props for the show and due to my busy schedule this was first opportunity to see if the worked.  They did! It was great to see the show up on it's feet. The cast does a nice job creating the world and for me it was great to see 5 of the 6 cast members are newcomers to Walterdale. I also liked that they each were clearly defined characters - the beautiful and icy Governess, Marcy (Melanie Bahniuk); the silly and imaginative daughter of the house, Gillian (Sohpie Healey); the not-so-bright and clumsy housemaid, Dolly (Brittany Hinse); the stern and disciplined cook, Mrs. French (Rebecca Bissonnette); and the naughty but imperious Lady of the house, Mrs. Ravenscroft (Catherine Wenschlag). The whole cast works well together, but highlights are the hysterical and saucy Wenschlag and Bissonnette has some absolutely terrific dead-pan moments. They are all supported by a marvelous set (Leland Stelck) and to-die-for costumes (Geri Dittrich).  I was glad to see my few little props measure up.

Last night, I took in my first ever french language play,  Les Blues des Oubliées (The Blue of Forgetting), at L'Uni Theatre.  It was a very cool experience.  Like with Opera or Shakespeare, it took me a few minutes to adjust to reading the surtitles and adapting my brain to deal with the language differently than I do normally, but once I settled in, it was very interesting.  The play is more of a performed poem with dance and song, as a woman recalls her own life and the life of her grandmother.  One theme of the piece explores language as it comments on being a French speaker in Alberta, as well as how that language translates when visiting other French speaking provinces and countries.  That section was very meta for me, being an English speaker in the audience with all those layers of translation.  Other themes were motherhood, childbearing, religion, and culture.  It was non-linear and fragmented and beautifully augmented with projections and dance, as well as sound created by a live musician sitting amidst the audience.  Les Blues des Oubliées runs at La Cite until October 24th.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Teatro closes their season with warmth and humour in The Hot House Prince

I never know quite what to expect with Teatro la Quindicina.  That's a good thing.  I've learned to go into their shows with a spirit of "let's see what happens" because you never quite know what their show will be about.  The Hot House Prince was certainly that for me.  With references to Three Sisters (all played by the delightful and multi-faceted Kendra O'Connor) the play takes us to Russia during the revolution and a young Prince Dmitri Romanov-Orsk (Luc Tellier) must find a way to survive by fleeing the country.  It's a cautionary tale about entitlement and how that doesn't prepare us for the real world, but it tells it's story in a charming, humour-filled way. What saves Dmitri is his irrepressible hope and willingness to adapt and work hard.  The Hot House Prince left me feeling all warm inside!  The cast is terrific, led by the charming Tellier. I found the cast refreshing and engaging, and highlights for me were Jayce MacKenzie as Dmitri's doomed sister, and Evan Hall and Mari Chartier as the funny-speaking Canadians. Overall though, the cast was a tight ensemble that deftly created the crazy world that Dmitri must negotiate.

The Hot House Prince runs until October 17th at the Backstage Theatre.

Reflections on Bone Cage, Theatre Yes...

I admit it. I had reservations about Bone Cage before I saw it. This was heightened when I read the Director's Notes which indicted the Oil Sands industry and it's toxic sludge of tailings ponds and the suggestion that if we really thought about what we were doing to make a living we would be sickened by it.  I've heard that rhetoric before and having spent most of my life in Fort McMurray I couldn't help but bristle a bit, but I was determined to view the play with an open mind.

I was expecting a rhetoric laden piece about the environment, with blame laid here and there... but that's not what I saw.  Instead, I didn't see much of the environmental message earned. It was there, but it felt pasted on as a convenient scapegoat for the unhappiness of the people in the play. What played out was that these people were screwed up because of past tragedies - a lost son/brother, a wayward mother, a missing father, bad parenting, poor choices in school, or general immaturity. Do people stay in jobs that they don't like because of the money - yes - but people do that all the time. I know former teacher colleagues who I could tell hated teaching, but they would never leave the field because the money was good. I know friends who don't leave jobs they dislike (because they have no passion for it) because they are scared of not knowing what else is out there. This is not something unique to resource industries.  I think Jaime, played with intensity by Neil Kuefler, tries to blame the work for his unhappiness, but he'd still be destroying ecosystems if he got his dream job in B.C. He'd just thinks he'd be happier if he was piloting a helicopter.  It is not the environment he cares for. He just wants something outside himself to blame for why he's unhappy, but really he has a myriad of things to blame for that.  With all the characters, the solution would be to take responsibility and change themselves, but no one seems to keen to actually do that. Their personal inaction and lack of true communication with each other gets somewhat irritating.  Why don't they just leave? I don't know how many times I asked myself that question...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

New Projects... I think I have a problem with Down Time...

Back in the spring of this year, I got a phone call from Elizabeth Bowering.  I had heard of Elizabeth because she had been quite busy at Walterdale over the years, but I had never met her. She explained to me that we had a mutual friend, David Kirshner Sr., and that she and David suffered from the same illness, MSA (Multiple System Atrophy).  I remembered when David was diagnosed and this terrible illness swept into his and his family's life.  A once vibrant and active man was suddenly stilled. Elizabeth was in the same boat. She went on to explain that she wanted to produce one of her plays, Wind in Her Sails, as a fundraiser and awareness project for MSA and she wondered if I might consider directing it. So I asked her to send me the script so that I might read it.  I read it and I was immediately in. It's a beautiful piece in tribute to her grandmother telling a story on a trip on a 60 ft. schooner in the early 1900s full of East Coast music.

Well, now it's fall and the show has been cast and we have started rehearsals.  The cast is terrific:

Narrator/Fiddler - Larissa Pohoreski
Mavis - Halee Pierog
Captain - Morgan Smith
Pike - Kris Loranger
Purdy -Murray Farnell*

No doubt I will regale you with more stories from rehearsal.  So far we have been having fun singing Lukey's Boat and learning a few other East Coast songs (Feller From Fortune, Killgrew's Soiree), as well as embracing the accent! As a former resident of Fort McMurray, it is fun to be surrounded by the accents of the rock and the script is peppered with the Newfoundland sense of humour I love. Whether you are an aficionado of all things from Newfoundland and the East Coast or whether you want to support this terrific cause, I hope to see you out!

The show runs November 12-21st at the PCL Theatre at the Arts Barns. Tickets can be purchased through Tix on the Square online or by phone 780.420.1757.

* appears with permission of Equity