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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Red Light Winter at the U of A - Media Room Show

Last night, Mark and I went to Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp at the University of Alberta.  It was  MFA Directing Candidate Chris Bullough's Media Room show. I had seen a small section of the play a few years ago and had heard about it, but had never seen it before.  The play is dark and gritty and speaks to toxic friendships and people both worthy unworthy of love.  It also touches on themes of depression and looking to people to anchor us to the world.  It's a challenging piece, with nudity and strong themes and language, but I was really impressed with how this production handled it all.  Overall, the tone was very realistic, which I loved.  Feeling that these people might possibly be real made it easier to deal with behaviour that was abhorrent or self-destructive. The nudity and sexual scenes were handled so well.  I usually find myself self-conscious on the part of the actors, but there was just the right amount of discretion and reveal that it never felt gratuitous. I commend the three actors, Ben Stevens, Chris W. Cook and Gabby Bernard as well as director Chris Bullough for their sensitive delivery of this piece.

There are a few challenges with Rapp's play.  It's very fascinating and Mark and I talked a lot about it afterwards, both about the motivations of the characters and what Rapp was trying to say.  I do think that the character of Davis (Cook) is written a little too ugly.  It's hard to find a reason why Matt (Stevens) would still be friends with him and why Christina (Bernard) would fall for him. But I think that the problems were with the scripts.  I read somewhere that there is an autobiographical component to the script.  Perhaps Rapp didn't want to humanize the real Davis too much as a form of punishment.  It's hard to say and that is my own idle speculation.  I do think, however, that Cook was a good choice as his natural charm seeps through enough to smooth out Davis at least a little bit. Bernard is lovely and luminous and it's easy to see why she would be an object of fascination for Matt. And as Matt, Stevens manages to pull off the intellect and insecurity and the fragility required.  Overall, a great trio onstage.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who Knew Romance was So Funny? The Invention of Romance by Conni Massing...

Last night I took in a World Premiere of a Brand New Alberta Play by Conni Massing.  The Invention of Romance is the latest production in Workshop West Playwright's Theatre 2013/14 Season.  It opened last night to a sold out house and runs until April 13th. I had a wonderful time watching this piece.  I had read a bit about it before and knew that it was inspired by real events in Massing's life.  Her mother had rekindled a romance with a former sweetheart after 60 years.  But this is not just about a romance between two seniors, this is a play for everyone.  It's about finding the romance in our lives at any age, and while we might think it is easier for the young to find love, our world and our expectations often complicate things so much that we miss what might be right in front of us.

Valerie Ann Pearson and Lora Brovold in The Invention of Romance
But this isn't a sappy, sweet love story.  We laugh at heroine Kate's missteps (Lora Brovold) and imaginations as she engages in dating and dreaming to help her curate her museum display on the Invention of Romance.  Living in the world of today, trying to be rational and practical, but seduced by the sensibility of rom-coms and Jane Austen's (or is it Colin Firth's) Mr. Darcy, Kate is everywoman making every mistake in her search for love. I think we laugh so much at Kate because we recognize ourselves in her.  Her second-guesses and over-planning feel very familiar.  We laugh with mother Luisa (Valerie Ann Pearson) as she is an absolute delight.  We all know this woman and we love her.  She is all-knowing and not hampered by the expectations of the world, and what a wonderful romance she has! Pearson herself is so incredibly real onstage - Why haven't I seen her before? We laugh the most, perhaps, at Mat Busby, who has the fun job of playing a multitude of roles - from a variety of internet-dates, to Kate's fantasy man, to the very real James, her co-worker.

This is a piece that I think speaks to a lot of people, and in some ways is a nice change from some of the darker pieces that I have seen lately.  Although I like that we can use theatre to look at the darker corners of the world, I'm glad that we can also have a play like this that focuses on joy in our world - it's important to tell all the stories.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


There are a lot of shows you can see in town on this World Theatre Day - Mary Poppins at the Citadel, Death Trap at the Mayfield, The Light in the Piazza at Grant MacEwan, Blood Wedding at the University of Alberta, The Invention of Romance at Workshop West, and Queen Lear at Shadow Theatre.  I have probably missed some... but you certainly have choices! Links to all of them are on the right...

I am sick, so I sent my husband with my oldest son to Mary Poppins.  I might try and see it again later in the run since it's so lovely...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3 Nights - 3 Shows - Is this a great city for Theatre, or What??!?

I had a great, but crazy week.  The front half was leading up to Opening Night of Mary Poppins.  The week prior to Opening is the busiest in my calendar so it was kind of nice to actually be able to catch the show.  I usually don't as I am a little brain fried, but I think I am getting the hang of it because I felt up to going.  I took Gibson, because it is the kind of show you want to see with a kid. It was fabulous!  I was way up in the back and the sound was crystal clear and the show itself read wonderfully.  I think this is the kind of show that works well from anywhere in the house, but particularly so from a little further back because the dance numbers are so grand. I particularly loved SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC... and Step in Time, but really the whole show is so much fun.  It was wonderful seeing some of my favorites like Susan Gilmour, Kate Ryan and Kendra Connor along with new favorites Blythe Wilson, and Andrew MacDonald-Smith.  The whole cast is a wonderful ensemble and as the piece has a lot of moving parts they seem to work as one being to make it be magical.  It was also kind of cool to hear Gibson singing songs from the show the next morning at breakfast.

Friday I took in something very different.  I have a great husband who is the kind of guy that will say, "Isn't there a show you wanted to go to? Go!" So I headed out to Theatre Network for Little One.  It's a 180 degree turn from Poppins, the story of two adopted siblings who have very different beginnings resulting in very different beginnings.  It's a tangled story of guilt and tragedy.  It also speaks to love not always being enough to heal the wounds from an early traumatic childhood.  A script that leaves us with questions, not necessarily a bad thing, but not necessarily satisfying.  I think it was supposed to stir up stuff. Jesse Gervais, as the normal, good child, is particularly good in the present looking back.  Amber Borotsik is chilling in both present and past.  You can see why this girl grew into this woman. I was reminded of my grandfather telling me once about neighbours who had fostered children over the years and about one boy that they tried hard to help, but that there was something unfixable about him, no matter what they did.  I can't remember what happened to that boy, but I can't imagine it was good. Another thing that struck me was how much responsibility was placed on and felt by the older adopted sibling.  It was a terrible responsibility.  Something that he shouldn't have had to bear.

Finally, Saturday night, I took in the U of A Drama 457 final project, Welcome to Thebes in the Second Playing Space.  A modernized retelling of Greek myths weaving elements from Antigone, Lysistrata and Hippolytus but also commenting on current global situations.  It was cool to see several of my past classmates onstage telling this story and to see how much they have grown as actors.  Although the first act was a little slow due to the exposition required, it was overall a thought-provoking piece, and the second act moved much more quickly and was more satisfying.  I thought about many things - child soldiers, western-world arrogance, economics vs. empathy.  Replace Athens with the U.S. and Sparta with Russia and you have the situation in Syria.  So, despite being rooted in Greek mythology, it was actually very current, making me think more about what it takes to rebuild a country after war.  We are spoiled in our safe little Canadian cities.

Above all, the three shows in three days made me once again think about the depth of the theatre offered within our city.  These were just a few of the shows I could have seen, as there are also shows on at Shadow Theatre (Queen Lear) and Mayfield Dinner Theatre (Death Trap).  The key is having time to go and see them!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Everyone's Wild About Mary! Poppins, that is!

Mary Poppins

Tomorrow night is Opening Night for Disney's Mary Poppins at the Citadel Theatre, which means, for me, that this is an incredibly busy week.  In the midst of the preparations, however, I am really enjoying what I have been hearing from people who have seen the show in previews. 

A friend of mine wrote on FB today: Go see Mary Poppins at the Citadel Theatre! It's entertaining and magical (great use of stage and props)! I smiled, laughed, and applauded throughout the performance. You are never too old to have a happy childhood and Mary Poppins just might get you there. Small problems in moving complicated stage pieces around, but that happens in live theatre. 5/5

And on Twitter I've read the following:

Kevin Pennyfeather ‏@Legokid3000 1h       
The ’s Mary Poppins is a "practically perfect" show that should be required viewing for fans

mm diaz ‏@akomuzikera 16h 

Intermission at Mary Poppins. Ah the pure magic of live theatre. Really enjoyable show. This MP productn > WSS tour @citadeltheatre

It's very exciting to be getting ready for a show that already has so much buzz.  I have been lucky enough to see a few sections of the show and I am totally in love with the numbers Step in Time and SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC.  I can't wait to see them again!  It's a hot ticket folks!  The Box Office has been buzzing - I'd buy sooner, rather than later if I were you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

To Venice with Prejudice...

One of the results of my taking drama classes at the University a couple of years ago, is that I got to meet quite a few wonderful young actors both in the B.A. and B.F.A. Drama programs.  I will admit, that my favorites were those from my 257 class and this year I have revisited campus for some shows featuring the work of friends from that class.  Earlier I took in Much Ado About Nothing and some of New Works and this past weekend, I watched the 3rd year BFA class in The Merchant of Venice.  It was a stark show, in blacks and creams and hints of red. Pacing was sharp and the ensemble cast did a nice job with the piece. I have only seen the play once before (over 15 years ago in Regina) so had to work hard to remember the story. It took me a couple scenes to realize that the Merchant was changed to a woman, Antonia played with maturity by Bobbi Goddard, which added an interesting layer to the loyalty of Maxwell LeBeuf's Bassanio that probably doesn't exist when the Merchant is a man. LeBeuf makes a lovely suitor to Portia played by the luminous Kabriel Lilly. Lilly was delightful and my personal favorite in the play.  Her scenes with Nerissa (Nikki Hulkowski) are my favorites. The two of them are so comfortable onstage together that those scenes felt very truthful.  There are many moments of fun in the piece.  The first two suitors, played by Hunter Cardinal and Dylan Parsons, are quite funny as their characterizations are of the go-big-or-go-home variety.  Hunter, as Gratiano, and Hulkowski are also scene stealers when they pursue each other quite lustily in contrast to the more restrained courtship of Portia and Bassanio. I also quite enjoyed Zvonimir Rac as Lancelet, his quick energy and wit was brisk and clear.

It was good to have these bits of humour and romance as there are aspects of the play that do not wear well over time. The persecution and treatment of Shylock seems particularly harsh in light of our modern values.  They did not, however, shy away or soften it so it left the audience to deal with it. I also wish that Shylock did not seem so angry off the top.  He was a hard person to like.  Perhaps if he were more likable, if he showed more affection for his daughter, I might have had more sympathy with him.  As it was, he just seemed angry. Of course, when you consider the way he was spoken to, maybe I'd be angry all the time too...

In any case, I am looking forward to seeing this class on the main stage at the Timm's next season. I am not sure what plays will be chosen, but I think there are some really bright lights that will be great to see.

Next up at the Timm's is Blood Wedding by Lorca which is the final production by the 2014 BFA graduating class which will run from March 27 - April 5.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#yegBookClub - Off to a Great Start!

Last Monday night, I poured myself a glass of wine and prepared a small plate of cheese and crackers and settled in for the first #yegBookClub on twitter.  Our book was Todd Babiak's Come Barbarians, and it was a great start to what I hope will be an oft-repeated activity. 

I pulled some of the discussion and wrote a Storify - so if you are not on twitter and want to get a sense of what the discussion was like you can check it out here. Metro News also did a story on it and you can find that here.

For me, it was a great way to dive back into reading.  I read a lot, but lately I have been grabbing a snippet or two before I drift off to sleep and having a purpose at the end of the book made me have a much more engaged read.  I was in Book Clubs in the past (years ago) and always loved the opportunity to discuss and share my feelings and opinions about characters and events.
What was really cool about this was talking about books with complete strangers who I could connect to by the virtue of the shared experience of the book.  Wow!  What a way to use twitter for engagement.

I hope that more people join for the next one and that this can become an ongoing thing. The beauty of twitter is that anyone can engage in the conversation.  There is no membership beyond participation, and even if you just want to follow the discussion, that is still being a part of it.  I like that we are starting with Edmonton authors, too.  Isn't it great to have homegrown artists whose work can be shared in the community?  That is not to say that all the participants on twitter are from Edmonton.  I know I had one friend from Calgary and one from Toronto join in the discussion. 

So on to the next #yegBookClub:

Book: Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson
When: Monday, April 14th at 8 p.m.
How: Read the book.  Log on to twitter.  Use #yegBookClub to tag your posts and to follow the discussion. Bring questions and comments and have fun.  I will provide some moderator points to keep us going if the conversation needs a boost (it's the former English teacher in me!). Feel free to pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and please, DO NOT clean your house or dress up or even feel you need to put on make-up. Join the Discussion!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Setting My Skirt On Fire! Great Women Telling Stories!

This past weekend was the culmination of the work I have been doing on my script, The Easy Road.  I first wrote the piece in the first annual Play in a Day, 24 Hours Playwriting Contest held at the Edmonton International Fringe in the summer of 2012.  I submitted it that fall to Skirts Afire, a brand new festival celebrating women artists, for Peep Show and was selected to share a 20 minute selection at the inaugural HerArts Festival.  A couple of firsts and I was lucky to be a part of both.  Getting into Peep Show was the start of dramaturgical support from APN with Tracy Carroll and the evolution and growth of The Easy Road. Like any good journey, it wasn't over then.  The script was selected once again to be further dramaturged and presented as a complete piece in a staged reading at this year's Skirts Afire HerArts Festival.  What I got was three fabulous days of workshop with 8 amazing women artists and my script grew by leaps and bounds.  The first day of workshop was way back in January with Tracy Carroll acting as Dramaturge/Director and Stephanie Wolfe, Michele Fleiger, April Banigan, Jenny McKillop and Lora Brovold playing the five women in the script.  This past week Amy DeFelice stepped in for Tracy as Director and Sharla Matkin for Lora and we continued to workshop it and I wrote two drafts and made many, many, many notes to take away for another new draft.  It was wonderful.  I love process and this experience was all about process.  The wisdom of the women I was working with was so valuable.  It was great to have them ask questions of me and of the script so I could go back to it and decide what I needed to be answered.  The reading was a delight - how lucky was I to have such actors who emotionally committed to the journey despite scripts in hand with no set or costumes. I am excited about where I am at with it and where I see it going. 

The next day, I went back to the festival to hear four other women playwright's stories at this year's Peep Show. I saw intriguing pieces by Nicole Moeller, Katherine Koller, Holly Turner and Michele Vance Hehir. It was a great afternoon hearing four distinct voices in the scripts - nothing specifically female - but all completely human.  Some were darker than others, some humorous, some an intriguing mix of dark and light. I thought what I have been thinking a lot lately.  Why aren't more women's scripts on our stages?  Why aren't more women directors working on our professional stages. 

And I decided, I no longer want to be 'happy' with one or two women being allowed to tell their stories.  I like that Skirts Afire is addressing the imbalance.  I love that the audiences were full of women and men. 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

To London and Paris by way of Sherwood Park...

If you'll recall, I directed a fabulous show for ELOPE last season and this past weekend I took a drive out to Festival Place in Sherwood Park to see what they had up on offer this season.  Due to the size and scope of the production, ELOPE and Sherard undertook co-producing the Western Canadian Premiere of the Broadway musical A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santoriello. As I expected, knowing the standards of Music Director Sally Hunt, the music was excellent.  It's a sweeping epic score to match the story and the cast, in particular the leads, were well equipped to handle it.  I heard quite a few people I had never heard before and was very impressed.  I hope I get to work with them in future. Todd Hauck, as Sydney Carton, was a particular standout vocally, and although sometimes I felt that Santoriello's score included unnecessary songs that added little to the narrative or emotional journey of the character, they were gorgeous to hear as sung by Hauck. Also enjoyable were Molly Danko as Lucie Manette and Justin Kautz as Charles Danay.  They made for a lovely couple.  I also quite enjoyed Brad Bishop as the resurrectionist Jerry Cruncher and Randy Brososky as John Brasad.  I hadn't know that Randy could sing, having only seen him in non-musicals previously, and it was a nice surprise as he not only could sing, but could sing well.  Both Brad and Randy gave polished performances that always picked up the energy which occasionally flagged in the 3 hour long show.  The villains were villains and the heroes were heroes and the sweeping saga was supported by an earnest and committed ensemble.

I did have some challenges with the production, primarily with regards to set and some odd directorial choices. The costumes, by designer Patti Zeglen, were wonderfully detailed and seemed to do most of the work to create the world.  For a show this epic in scope, however, the set seemed too simple and bare.  Although the hanging rope cones and accompanying round discs were interesting, they failed to really fill the stage.  Perhaps if there were some more architectural pieces to ground the world and allow the cast to use more levels on the deck it would have worked for me, but it felt odd to have actors sitting low to or actually on the floor. I also didn't get the crawling that the cast engaged in to transaction from scene to scene and move the set.  It was clear to me that the ensemble was crawling around the stage purposefully and as a result of direction, but it did little to make me think they were in 1770s France and England. It just didn't work for me. I do appreciate a production taking a risk, however, in this case, I do not think it served the piece.

I was able to over-look it, and enjoy the show.  The singing and commitment of the performers onstage was enough to keep me engaged. There are some wonderful voices in this show and if you have the chance you should check it out. A Tale of Two Cities runs until March 8th at Festival Place.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Westside Story at the Jubilee - Oh, yeah, it's Romeo & Juliet... It doesn't end happy...

Last Saturday night we took in Westside Story at the Jubilee Auditorium as the final show in the Broadway Across Canada season.  Our usual seat mates had very recently welcomed a new baby to their home, so my brother and his fiancĂ©e joined us instead.  It was a real family affair as my mother, 2 sister-in-laws and my niece also attended that night, so we all went to Chianti's for an excellent dinner ahead of time and then settled in to our respective seats for the show.

I had never seen the show before outside snippets here and there on TV from the film version.  I had been in a musical revue a couple of decades ago where we did some numbers from the show so I was familiar with the score to some degree.  I knew the basis of the story, but was excited to see it on stage. The show was pretty good. The dancing was excellent and was the strongest part overall.  I liked how the gang fighting is expressed through dance, and they certainly had the skills to make it work. The singing was also strong.  I did have some problems understanding the lyrics.  Some had been changed to Spanish as this was the reboot version, but some of the challenge was the speed of execution and I think a deficiency in the sound balance with the mics. You'd expect better quality in that space, especially considering the ticket price.  Also, we went towards the end of the run, so they'd have had a few shows to get the mix right, but they didn't.  I did however, really like Maria (Mary Joanna Grisso) both vocally and acting-wise. Anita (Michelle Alves) was a powerhouse performer, but I had the most trouble with her mic so I felt like I wasn't getting the full performance.

My biggest criticism, however, was that it didn't always seem like they were all in the same world.  Stylistically some people felt grounded in the late 1950's, while some seemed to be a bit modern.  Also, the male gang members all seemed to meld into one beyond the leads.  It would have been nice to see some more distinct characterization.

Oh well, next year we will be seeing The Book of Mormon and Flashdance: the Musical.  It should be an interesting contrast.

The other thing that I wanted to mention was that as I was watching I started thinking about the parallels to Romeo & Juliet.  It is based on the Shakespeare play, so part of my brain went into comparison mode.  It did make me more excited to see Romeo and Juliet in April at the Citadel.  It will be cool to see them so close together and compare.

The Irrelevant Show - Radio Laughs at the Arden Theatre!

Every Saturday as Gibson and I drive to his drama class at the Foote Theatre School, we listen to CBC and because of the timing, The Irrelevant Show is on.  Now, I like the show.  I know a couple of the performers and have seen the others on stage around town for quite a few years so the choice to listen was primarily mine.  But a couple of months ago I started to notice quite a few chuckles from the back seat.  One day, after a particularly funny sketch, Gibson blurted out "I love this show!" So, when I noticed that the show was going to be recorded last Friday night at the Arden Theatre (right in my backyard) I picked up a couple of tickets to surprise Gibson with.  I told Mark and he said to grab two more so Oliver and he could join.  So the four of us headed out for an evening of Radio Funny!

It was so much fun.  Gibson was very excited when I told him of the tickets and we were treated to a great night of radio/theatre.  It was very cool to see the show live.  There is a lot that happens between the recorded bits.  I particularly love watching how the sound effects are created.  Dave Clarke is a very cool artist in that regard.  I was also very impressed with how clean it is.  There were a couple of times they had to back up to re-record a line, but that was primarily due to the audience laughing too loudly, not due to any 'mess up' on the part of the actors.  I can't wait to hear the 2-3 episodes on the air.  I think it will be cool when Gib hears them too.

As an extra special cool factor to the evening, however, was that Gibson got not one, but two shout-outs form host Peter Brown.  I had tweeted earlier in the day that I was taking Gibson to the show and part way through the first act Brown called out, "Is Gibson here tonight?! Are you having a good time?"  Gibson, being 9 and not fully understanding radio, gave a thumbs up, so Mark answered for him.  He got another shout out in the second act.  Gib said to me later that he was pretty stunned when that happened.  We went down after the show so he could meet Peter Brown and although it was hard to tell since Gibson is pretty shy and quiet, he was so excited.  It pretty much made this mom's night!

Anyhow, the Irrelevant Show is going on the road so you have to be in Toronto or Winnipeg to see them tape next.  I'll be keeping an eye out next season locally so that we can take the boys back.

If you are in Toronto or Winnipeg, you can catch them on the following dates:

Wednesday March 12, 2014 - Randolph Theatre, Toronto
Tickets available at Sketchfest
Wednesday April 9, 2014 - Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg
Tickets available at Winnipeg Comedy Festival

You can listen to The Irrelevant Show on CBC one at the following times:
Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. (3:30 p.m. NT) & 11 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m.