Sunday, 7 December 2014

Cyber Monday by Kendra Jones

Oh, uh...


Sorry? That's what I am supposed to say. Right? Sorry. Oh, em, gee am I sorry.

Except that I'm not




I'm busy, ya know? Screens flashing, sales could pass me by busy. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! To get that thing you NEED but really. 

Take the photo, it lasts longer. 

But if you're going to, then Filter that image. Project yourself, not as you are but as you want people to think you are. Virtual reality mistakes itself for actual reality every day. More caught up by what happens on screen than the given scene. We spend so much time capturing the experience, we miss it altogether.

Pump that image, fill it with whatever you like. They'll only know if you tell them. One big fucking vanity project. Selfies in superstore. Seriously. In the cheese aisle. I guess that's glamorous? Who knows what that is. 

I miss people. Not pixelated images on a digital screen, but real, fleshy, messy, people.

It seems we’re people less and less nowadays. 

In this world where everything is a product, even our children become brands, not people.

Images projected sky-high through the eternal fame of 5 seconds on the internet.

Get the image out. Know your brand. Except that you're not...

A brand, I mean. 

C'mon. Reading this to you from my iPhone, must have gadget to make me an individual. Just like everyone else. 

But get the dress. Credit. Plastic. It's not real anyway. We are culturally bankrupt so why not financially bankrupt too? Complete the set.

Just look up. 

Once in awhile. 

Paris looks far more beautiful when not viewed through your phone screen.

Monday, 10 November 2014

UPCOMING: Special Reserve - A Wine & Words Launch Event -- Nov 19 @ ACI, presented by Theatre By The River

I'm very excited to share with you information about my first directing project with the company since joining Theatre By The River earlier this year. For those unfamiliar, the annual TBTR fundraiser is Wine & Words - a night of new writing read dramatically by local actors and celebrities. The Spring event this year had so many fantastic submissions that we've held on to what we're calling our "Special Reserve" and holding a smaller, more intimate event this month as a launch to the 2015 season including the Spring Wine & Words, as well as some other upcoming projects.

There are many performers to be excited about! Virgin 103's Pamela Roz, Winnipeg Free Press writer Bartley Kives, Singer/Songwriter Süss, as well as local performers such as Justin Otto (Armstrong's War - MTC Warehouse), Ellen Peterson (The Small Things - PTE), and the TBTR company who have just wrapped Cock & Bull in rep are joined by a host of others.

Prior to joining the TBTR fold, my own writing has been featured (in the 2013 event) and in the Spring 2014 event I was honoured to read a poem by Christine Fellowes. I'm very excited to get to lead this event this time around!

Please join us for a unique and informal night of words, wine, and music.

Tickets are $15 and available at 

The Small Things by Daniel McIvor @ PTE

Prairie Theatre Exchange open the 2015 season with another new play by Canadian Daniel McIvor. The Small Things focuses on a home care worker in a small town and her daughter, who encounter an  older widow. The premise is simple; mother and daughter don't understand one another, encounter the wise and surprising older woman, and learn more about each other and themselves in the process. The execution (both the writing and production) take this premise to a more interesting level, offering unexpected twists from each of the women, and some very funny moments of revelation about our own apprehensions to things we don't think are "for us".

The performances are quite lovely, most notably Ellen Peterson who gives a strong and nuanced performance. Alyssa Watson is also touching as the daughter. Barbara Gordon (and her brilliant voice) are highly enjoyable, the three of which come together nicely under Bob Metcalfe's direction.

My only quibble is that the play felt like it wrapped up entirely too quickly, the final scene feeling a bit too neatly tied up, and (I expect) unintentionally Chekhovian, with the three characters gazing outward and exclaiming about something which is beautiful, oh so beautiful.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Armstrong's War by Colleen Murphy @ RMTC

RMTC open the Warehouse season this year with a new play by Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy. Similar to some of Murphy's previous work (EG The December Man which was a part of PTE's season a few years back), Armstrong's War digs in at a piece of contemporary Canadian experience, this time dealing with a young soldier returned from Afghanistan due to injury. Soldier Armstrong (played with beautiful sensitivity by Justin Otto) meets young Armstrong, a 12 year old Pathfinder aiming to complete her community service badge by reading to a veteran.

The unlikely couple begin, as you would expect, at odds with one another. Otto's soldier wants simply to be left alone, however the plucky young girl, played convincingly by not 12 year old Heather Russell, shows that the elder isn't the only one with steely determination. Russell's character, portrayed from a wheelchair, eventually coaxes the elder soldier into a reluctant, but ultimately rewarding friendship.

The early scenes do come off as stilted; Murphy's play gives very little time for them to be opponents, and in only their second meeting the hardened soldier eases in to a friendship, which to be frank is unbelievable. That said, the play then jumps into the real friction between the characters, when each begins to reveal at first their stories about themselves, and then the real truth. Under Robb Patterson's direction, the pair are well matched, each bringing a strength and vulnerability to these characters.

Opening night energy meant that the piece moved a little bit too quickly, particularly in the set changes, which cleverly employed a stage hand dressed as a hospital orderly. I fully expect the pace to slow as the performers settle in, for as we saw on opening night this was the case, and the latter half sat beautifully.

An important play about the real effects of our international engagements as Canadians and the human cost.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Jabber by Marcus Youssef at Manitoba Theatre for Young People

Marcus Youssef's Jabber was first commissioned in Montreal, and makes its Winnipeg debut with Manitoba Theatre For Young People. It tackles some serious subject matter, all of which is highly relevant to the targeted teen audience; fitting in, gender expectations, cyber bullying, parental strictness, and expressions of love all come in to play. Add to that the additional layer of the young girl being Muslim and moving to a school where she is quite visibly different from her fellow students, causing her to experience racism as one of the manifestations of her "other"-ness, the story becomes red-hot.

Structurally, Youssef adds an interesting element of hope to what might otherwise be a bleak subject. The scenes are set up by the actors, as if playing make believe, stating "lets' say. . . " to build the situation. This occurs heavily at the beginning, and then tapers throughout as the audience grows attached to these possibilities and the choices made within them. The execution comes off a little heavy-handed, as the actors sounded a bit shouty over the backing music in the early scenes, however later instances really worked.

The performances are uneven; Adele Norhona is thoughtful and perceptive as Fatima, the young girl who the story centres on. Kristian Jordan has some lovely moments, however also at times comes across as awkward and un-centred. Cory Wojcik adds some great comic relief, as the teachers, and also a surprise small role as a teen. Unfortunately, the net result is a large stylistic difference in the 3 performances, which causes it to lose some of the cohesiveness that might have helped the play succeed more handily.

That notwithstanding, it is a great story for its intended audience, although parents of the younger 12-13 year old set might find themselves with some things to explain after the show. It definitely skews toward the middle to older edge of the intended bracket.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I'm truly disappointed

Tonight, while attending the mayoral debate hosted by City Watch, I also engaged in some "back and forth" with mayoral candidate Robert Falcon-Oulette. Up to this point, I have been very much impressed by his ideas, approach, and poise. Unfortunately tonight I was disappointed. Not by his performance in the debate - that was impressive - but by the behaviour of his team in responding to and managing social media.

As you may know, there has been some hullabaloo over the City Firefighters endorsing Judy WL. While this has been a practice for as long as I can remember (firefighters unions endorsing candidates) I certainly value the questioning of this support. It is an extremely valid question. Mr Forrester, president of the union, responded in an inappropriate manner, and Dan Lett of the free press published these comments. None of this is okay.

Neither is attributing statements to a candidate that they did not make. I saw it come across Dr Falcon-Oulette's twitter that Judy had made a statement about him being a fringe candidate. Search as I may (and request links!) I could only find indication (in the previously linked article) that Mr Forrester had made such statements. I pointed this out, and received only circular comments in response, including those from Dr Falcon Oulette's twitter page. I know for a fact these statements were not his own; he was sitting in front of me at a debate, with only a pen and notebook in front of him. They were that of his team, which is worrisome.

The tone of these posts was less than amicable, and definitely unprofessional. Unprovoked, as many of my tweets for the evening highlighted Dr Falcon-Oulette's strengths, and were re-tweeted by the candidate's team.

Within 2 hours, the inappropriate responses were deleted. No comment to myself. And a good handful of supporters now running with incorrect assumptions.

I'm all for truth and transparency. 100%. But that is a two-way street. You can't make unfounded accusations, respond in a snarky manner, and then delete it. Once something is on the internet, it is there forever.

I think that both Judy and Robert are fantastic candidates. I wish there was a way to merge them into the super candidate. As my 10 year old stated during the debate, if we could, we would have one fantastic city.

Lets' not devolve into inaccuracy and mud slinging, please. Rise above it. RFL needs to reign in his social media team, and yes, Judy's team should make a statement about the inappropriate comments from the firefighters. Then lets get back to things that matter - how to make a better city.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cock by Mike Bartlett - Theatre By The River

At only 34, Mike Bartlett's writing has been produced by some of the top theatres in London on top of seeing productions around the world, after emerging from The Old Vic New Voices programme in 2005. Cock premiered in 2009 at The Royal Court, a theatre famous for "breaking" new playwrights (you know, like Caryl Churchill, Tim Crouch, & more). The story is one of a man at odds with his feelings; John is in a relationship on the rocks, and has an affair with another partner. His first partner is a man, the second, a woman. But what matter?

Bartlett's play challenges us through John's seeming indecision; why must a decision be made about WHO to love based on some ideal? Why do we feel this necessity to pigeon-hole people into descriptive boxes? Truly, why does it matter who we love? Bartlett won the coveted Olivier award for this intellectually stimulating yet visceral play.

Winnipeg's Theatre By The River, under the direction of Rodrigo Beilfuss, bring this beautifully written and challenging piece of theatre to Winnipeg audiences in only the second Canadian production (Toronto beat us by a few short months...).

This is a different kind of theatre. One that doesn't rely on sets or props, or anything - simply words and their power
. Challenge yourself. Prepare to think, and try something new.

Cock runs in rep with another of Mike Bartlett's plays, Bull (same cast, different plays, different nights) through October 4th at the Platform Gallery.

For tickets head over to Theatre By The River's website.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Little Red by Frances Koncan @ Winnipeg Fringe

My 10th and final fringe outing was this beautiful gothic adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. The well-cast group of 5 actors brought these twisted and dark characters to life in the tiny Playhouse Studio amidst a slightly cluttered but nice to look at space. The story was put together almost as if a dream, in which a small image or single world will spin out a complete change to the space and intent of the characters. Each scene on its own was well thought through, however the larger-picture fell apart a bit. The piece seemed to lack an outside eye, one which could string together the beads of the widely varying scenes through an overall sense of arch and style.

In short, the piece felt under-directed. The actors, being skilled, made the scenes come to life, however the play was not served by the scattershot sense of transition between the scenes. Transitions that could have been seamless were clunky, and some that should have been sudden and jarring were unclear (not always shifted by all performers at the same time). Thus the effect was lost overall. Whereas the audience should have left in a reverie, I personally left without this clouded and murky, dark feeling.

This was a great play, and a good production. Unfortunately you could see the potential for it to be a great production, which for me is always disappointing.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Only Just. . . by Megan Andres @ Winnipeg Fringe

Only Just. . . begins with the feeling of a typical romantic comedy. We have the "it girl" who has just broken up with the classic "nice guy" after his sweet and romantic (if not a touch forward) gesture, surrounded by the typical "goofy best friend" and "sweet but perennially single" female best friend. Andres provides a twist from the start, however, by playing with time. We quickly learn that we have actually begun at the end, and the subsequent scenes either explain or provide context to what came before, as we piece together the facts of what has occurred with these four friends. The result is that these characters, who in the snapshot moment at the start may seem like stereotypes, actually flesh out into real, living, and 3-dimentional characters. None are quite as simple as they initially seem.

The audience are left feeling the helplessness inherent in any situation when a choice is made, and upon reflection, we wish we'd chosen differently. By travelling backward through time, Andres' characters remind us that even if we did have a time machine as it-girl Naya dreams, when we go back, the past will play out in the same way. We can't change it. Fate, inevitability, or whatever you want to blame it on, we're doomed to make poor choices when it comes to handling other people's (and our own) feelings.

The performances were equally strong in this cast of four. In some moments the direction and staging did not serve the pace of the play suitably; for example some phone calls began in dark as the character came across into the space. A couple adjustments to the staging would have ultimately helped the piece hurl forward, and amplify the feeling of helplessness to ever fully fix the situation.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Fringe is Upon us!

It is that week of the year when the Exchange District in Winnipeg becomes overwhelmed with excitable theatre-goers, looking for the "best" show, some curry, and a beer. For me, the BEST show is one that gives you all three at once!

In honesty though, we can all get caught up in the reviews, the drama (offstage) and the politics (back stage) so lets' try not to this year, by following my simple steps.

Performers - Be honest and truthful to the show and performance you have worked on. Remember that only very rarely are we in a "hit", and that one person's opinion is just that - one person's opinion. Share your work earnestly because really that communion between audience and performer is all we've got. Don't be upset by a poor review, and don't fly high from a good review. Remember that 3 stars is actually a pretty good review! It is not the disaster it may initially feel like. Just keep performing your show. Truthfully. And to quote Genet, "if it is done well, they won't be bored".

Audiences - Stay true to your tastes. See shows that seem interesting to you based on their write up in the program, poster, etc. Don't get caught up in the "hit" show - I've seen many things reviewers have touted as 5-star and been disappointed. At the same time I've seen loads of things that were "average" or worse, and been transported by fantastic writing, performances, and overall production. If you see something you like, share that with someone. If you see something you don't like, try to assess the piece on its own terms, not based on your tastes. We're a communal art, after all, so the most important thing to do is share your thoughts.

For any who usually follow my reviews, this year I'll be part of the CBC Review Crew - so the vast majority of my thoughts will be available here:

Happy fringe-ing (and curry-eating!)

PS - remember that loads of "fringe" shows happen outside the festival and throughout the rest of the year, so plan to FRINGE ON ;)

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

16,000 views. . . and upcoming adventures

How exciting to see that 16,000 people have viewed (lurked) this page. Someone other than me knows it exists, even if by accident!

I suppose some folks have taken notice, anyway, because I've had some great developments recently.

First, I was horribly busy over the winter, and didn't share the link to my very first published academic piece by Brunel University's Body, Space, Technology Journal! The piece was an artistic statement about my play Dear Mama performed at Sondheimfest in early 2013. You can navigate to the Journal's page here:

Second, I have recently joined Theatre By The River ( as a member of the Artistic Company. My first adventure for the company was to host a panel discussion about their upcoming production of Mike Bartlett's Cock and Bull, being performed in Repertory this fall. We've got loads more in the works, so stay tuned for info about a project in the late fall and things into 2015.

Third (and final for now), I'm very pleased to be joining the review crew for CBC Manitoba's coverage of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival! I'm definitely looking forward to sparking conversations and debate about the shows in this year's fest from a more formal point of view. That does mean, however, that the majority of my reviewing will be found over at the CBC site rather than here. Keep an eye out, I'll link to them, too.

Friday, 20 June 2014

This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan - Steppenwolf Theatre

Steppenwolf bring us this new production of Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 play, set in 1982 New York City. Under the highly skilled direction of Anna D Shapiro, the young but experienced cast of Keiran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson bring these arguably troubled young characters to life beautifully. Staged in traverse, the audience have differing perspectives; from my seat I could see into the bathroom, and watch along with Culkin as he saw old TV programs, whereas the other side likely saw beautiful detail I could not. Shapiro's staging had beautiful movement; choreographed, clearly, and yet giving the feeling of being organic - as if we were peering in on this apartment where the walls had somehow fallen down. The detail in the set design supported this, showing a mess of cords behind the hifi, as you would find in most homes.

The play, which could feel dated, does not. These youth, raised to expect everything but living stilted by the weight of this expectation, are not unlike countless you will find today. Lonergan says in the program notes that he doesn't feel different about the play, and I don't think we should either. These are our youth, our future; This Is Our Youth remains an alarming and necessary piece of theatre.

It is interesting to see audiences anticipate their own reception of an actor. Although the play has funny moments in the absurd friendship of these 3, Cera's trademark awkwardness got more laughs than the script might warrant (and than his performance deserved). His performance was at first stilted; the early scenes opposite Culkin felt careful, measured, however he relaxed into the scenes with Gevinson and this is where he began to shine.

Gevinson, known primarily for her fashion blogging, although she's been making forays into acting, was sweet and very believable as Jessica. My only real qualm was her vocal work, which lacked support.

Keiran Culkin's performance, however, was outstanding. He's played the role before (on the West End) and finds beautiful subtlety in the seemingly manic shifts of his character, Dennis. A character which I have seen come across as a cliche rich kid turned bad boy was nuanced and heartfelt.

This production is bound for New York later this year, and I'll be curious to see how it develops for Gevinson and Cera - Culkin at this time is in a league of his own among this cast.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fefu and her Friends - Sarasvati Productions @ Ralph Connor House

This enjoyable staging of Maria Irene Fornes' feminist classic Fefu and her Friends by director Hope McIntyre was presented promenade style in the historic Ralph Connor House. The audience began together in a basement room, where we were introduced to the characters, after which groups were split up to see 4 scenes occurring simultaneously. Each group saw the scenes in a differing order, which provided a slightly different colour to the remainder of the play. For example, my group saw the more pedestrian "every day" events first, then the stirring bedroom scene with Kelci Stephenson, leaving my impression to feel that this scene was somewhat disjointed from the rest of the play. In contrast, a friend saw that scene first, and then the less ominous scenes, and found that she heard the screams echo through the other scenes to great effect. This is, of course, one of the downfalls of this sort of production, as perspective can play such a crucial role in the experience.

I also found the promenade to be at once enjoyable, but also frustrating - the lovely volunteers who led us from room to room were helpful, however seeing the other groups move through the house all at once took away from the sense of voyeurism that we might have otherwise felt. The beautiful proximity to the characters' personal moments was broken once we began to move to the next space, encountering our fellow audience members eye to eye. I wonder whether cutting to 3 groups might have limited this somewhat and made for a more immersive experience.

These qualms aside, the cast put forward uniformly strong performances, and captured the period and its (still very relevant) ideas beautifully. On the whole it was an enjoyable production, and given audience enthusiasm for it I hope it will open doors to continued experimentation with the audience-actor relationship in Winnipeg theatre circles.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Avenue Q - Winnipeg Studio Theatre @ MTC Warehouse

Failed dreams, empty lives, songs about porn, and puppet nudity - Avenue Q has it all. This is not your mother's musical theatre. The hilarious musical, which is a sick twisted love child of Sesame Street and the film Kids , debuted on Broadway in 2004 to rave reviews. It has only been produced in the city once before, by an enthusiastic and talented cast of recent graduates with District Theatre Collective, so Winnipeg Studio Theatre's professional debut of the piece is much welcomed here.

Kayla Gordon and the highly skilled cast of entirely local performers wow and shock us with the raunchy puppets, yet at the same time find the beauty and truth in the appropriate moments. Brenda Gorlick's choreography is some of the best I've seen from this talented lady. The cast are all brilliant, but kudos must go to Dora Carrol for her turn as Lucy the Slut, where we see some of the most fantastic puppet work you'll find. Paula Potofsky is a lovable Kate Monster, and Aaron Hutton seems to just open his voice to speak and brilliant song comes forward as the protagonist Princeton. Lisa Bell's soaring vocals are a treat as well.

This is a show to remind us that theatre is at its very core, entertainment. And it isn't just for stuffy crowds. GO SEE THIS! You have until April 13, and if the opening night crowd is any indication, tickets will go fast.

Photo by Leif Norman. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Subway Stations of the Cross by Ins Choi

This might well have been the least publicized performance in Winnipeg this year. I learned about Ins Choi's performance of his one-man show in a footnote to an invitation to a lecture I received via the University, and jumped at the chance to see this. While Choi's more commercial piece, Kim's Convenience, plays at MTC Mainstage I'm always far more interested in the work the artist creates to feed their soul.

Inspired by an encounter Choi had with a homeless man in a park in Toronto, he creates a character who is a beggar, and a rich man; insane, but a prophet. Touching on themes of faith, consumerism, and pop culture, Choi weaves a non-traditional piece of theatre through the use of song and poem causing the audience to truly introspect as the words circle around them. Accompanying himself on ukelele, and with the odd foot stomp, we see the character weave in and out of lucidity, at once making much sense and none at all. Echoes came to mind of Nietzche's ubermensch, descended from the mountaintop to share the truth, and yet no one listens or believes - so he must hide, in this case behind the mask of poverty and insanity.

A stunning piece of theatre, and one I strongly recommend seeking out. Choi mentioned in the talkback that he is doing a handful of performances in each city Kim's Convenience tours to, so look it up!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Rodin/Claudel - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens

Slowly getting caught up on all of my March Theatrical adventures here on the blog. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet offered this beautiful piece from choreographer Peter Quanz and danced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal as an "extra" for their season, and I jumped at the chance. I'm a huge fan of Quanz and was eager for the chance to see a full length work from the choreographer.

Based on the lives of French sculptors Rodin and Claudel, the piece utilized the corps  as molding clay, moving them into varying shapes and locations reminiscent of the sculptures by each artist. The sculptures, however, also had the quality of being all-seeing - they bore witness to both the successes and failures of each artist, and ultimately passed judgment when Claudel was committed.

The opening moments of the story were a touch unclear; what was actually a brotherly relationship came across as a potential lover, and the story was perhaps a bit muddy as a result of too many characters in the first group scene. That said, the very opening was absolutely stunning, and the use of space, with living backgrounds observing the actions of the two protagonists was fantastic, and the story became more clear as it focused on the pair.

Beautiful work - see it if you ever get the chance!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Secret Annex by Alix Sobler - MTC Warehouse

First I must apologize for the tardiness of this post; I saw the performance nearly a month ago! But alas my intense schedule in March, coupled with the Blogger app's reluctance to save the previously written post, conspired to set me back.

This was a world premiere of the new play by Sobler, which begins with the question of what might have happened to Anne Frank's diaries had she not been killed in the holocaust, but rather survived the war in the attic, then emigrated to Brooklyn. We see Anne, Margot and Peter as young-ish adults with jobs, houses, responsibilities. Margot is engaged, Peter has a sweetheart but continues to be caught on Anne, and Anne, still the proud owner of her diaries, is intent on having them published. In the early scenes, the connection between the 3 from the attic is clearly created, and as we see new "modern" characters introduced in the form of Anne's potential publisher and her boss-turned-husband we see the difference this solitude has made in their ability to encounter the world.

Frustratingly, the text is a bit heavy handed and just a little repetitive with Anne's constant "do you remember the attic" queries to everyone around her. We can see, rather than be told about, Anne's obsession with informing about the past while confronted with a 1950s New York City that just wants to keep rushing forward. The new characters are uneven; Michael, Anne's husband comes across as more than just a little creepy. In contrast, the publisher is every inch the image of the 1950's career woman, bringing us an image of what Anne might have been under different circumstances.

The performances were strong, and ably guided by Heidi Malazdrewicz making her directorial debut for MTC, and Charlotte Dean's design of the production was stunning.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Romeo & Juliet - Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet

I am fairly certain that the last time I had the pleasure of seeing Rudi vanDantzig's stunning R&J was as a fairly small child at some point in the mid 90's. So it was with great joy that I shared the RWB's production with my young daughter during this season, after preparing her with a "coles notes" of the story. The company shows off well in this piece which features stunning group scenes performed with fantastic unison and emphasized by Prokofiev's alternatingly angry and soothing score. And the leads acquitted themselves beautifully; Yosuke Mino's playful Mercutio danced the riddles of the text, while former company members such as Tara Birthwistle and Johnny Xiang playing the parents. These all highlighted the strength of young Elisabeth Lamont who made her debut as Juliet during this production. Lamont's artistry was outstanding - she clearly thought through each moment of the story in beautiful detail, showing us Juliet's joy and heartbreak. This was probably one of the few times I've been emotionally moved by this story in years, having studied it so technically and intensively to creative ends. 

To be on balance, if the RWB are to re-mount this ballet again they may want to consider an update to the set which at times felt a bit worse for wear. It was complemented nicely by stunning lighting design and lavish costumes, however. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

About Love & Champagne by Rod Beilfuss - Fancy Bred Theatre

A wonderfully simple premise; an actor in Winnipeg struggling with Chekhov stands in the corner of a gallery talking about being an actor in Winnipeg struggling with Chekhov, and Winnipeg, and dreams. Beilfuss' script is adapted from two Chekhov short stories - you guessed it, About Love, and Champagne, interwoven with a bit of personal history and some fictional personal history to great effect. What ensues in a lovely and heartwarming story of frustration and dreams, and ultimately what draws us to (or keeps us in) this frozen wasteland. 

Beilfuss is a skilled performer, and is clever in his "actor" persona at the start. His work truly shines, however, when Chekhov's text takes over. Beilfuss weaves the bleak winter imagery with such skill that the Russian town easily becomes Winnipeg in our mind's eye, and the story he tells of being in love with a married woman would trick one into thinking it is his own. I would argue he is more natural speaking the words of other than his own, to be fair. 

The script does get a touch repetitive toward the end, and I'd have liked to see a touch more movement in the performance, but that notwithstanding, this is an excellent piece of work. 

Cheers to being stuck in a frozen yet inspiring wasteland. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Three Sisters: A Black Opera - by Kristine Nutting - Who Is John Moe Productions (ChekhovFest)

Certainly among the more lively of Chekhovfest's productions, the company of Three Sisters: A Black Opera present an irreverent re-think of one of Chekhov's greatest plays, by prairie playwright Kristine Nutting. The premise is excellent; the 3 sisters are located in Bigger, Saskatchewan, with only their father-turned-dragQueen Mummy-Daddy, a terrifying Credit Union Manager trying to buy Pax (the Irina parallel), and a cute but dopey pig farmer also in love with Pax. Through a sordid tale, we see the sisters' desires and hopes dashed, much like the original. And unfortunately much like the original...nothing much happens. While the clever songs and witty monologues are fun, we never seem to progress beyond the opening moment in terms of style and energy. When a show begins with such a high note, it is tough to progress anywhere, I suppose.

There are certainly things to love in this performance; Dora Carrol is hilarious, Jacqueline Harding's voice is to die for, Jeff Strome's Mummy-Daddy is fantastic, and the accompaniment led by the highly talented Suss adds a beautiful macabre element to the proceedings. Unfortunately the cast is uneven, both vocally and in terms of performance skill, and as a result the piece feels lengthy, even though at only 75 minutes it is definitely among the shorter of the festival. The use of the space (the wonderfully seedy Club St B is a perfect fit for the show) is clever at first, but then stagnates. And depending on your location in the audience, there are some serious sight line issues.

Overall a fun show, definitely a great break from the slow anxiety of most Chekhov fare, but it left me wanting more out of the text and direction.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov - Theatre By The River & Little Echo Theatre

The Cherry Orchard is an ambitious play for any company, with its enormous cast, 4 acts, and famous Chekhovian brooding. Local indie companies Theatre By The River and Little Echo team up for the festival to bring us this promenade piece, directed by Suzie Martin. Situated in a beautifully dingy arts warehouse, each space is artfully designed by Daina Leitold, who also plays Charlotta in the production. The feeling of space being lived in, constantly changing and yet staying the same was a unique feature of the production. And the lengthy play certainly benefits from the promenade nature of the production; where some stagings of Chekhov's full length plays can see audience members flagging, forcing us to get up and move provided a nice sorbet of sorts. 

The performances from the large cast were uneven, and at times felt un-matched in terms of style. That said, some did shine; Tobias Hughes as Petya was every bit the strong-willed and shining idealist, and Kevin Klassen as Lopahkin was a seedy wheeler dealer, almost like a travelling salesman. Melanie White was flippant and scatterbrained as a fabulous Ranyevskaya, whom we see each misfortune coming to, and yet share in her pain at a world changing too quickly around her. Finally, Justin Otto deserves mention for his hilariously snarky and scheming Yasha and Kevin Andersen's Firs was heartbreaking and lovely.  

Although the promenade was beneficial in keeping audience members engaged intellectutally, it did take us out of the world of the play each time once the stage manager began to usher us to the next space. In a play so heavily populated with servants, I would have loved to see this become a moment of audience participation each time, allowing Yasha or Firs (for example) to have the enjoyment of moving the audience along. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov - Manitoba Theatre Centre Warehouse

I could not have been more pleased to catch the opening night performance of The Seagull as my kick-off to this year's Master Playwright festival. Under the clever direction of Krista Jackson, the cast spark and bubble through the story, finding the beautiful notes of humour mixing among the boredom and melancholy that permeates these characters' lives. What I found most notable was the relevance Jackson was easily able to draw out of the text compared to contemporary life; these characters are rendered helpless by their ideal selves, constantly performing the version of themselves they want to be, despite the harsh reality that their lives are not what they make them out to be. Glimmers of recognition rippled through the audience as we recognized this very trait among contemporary society obsessed with material goods, outward appearance, and social media, while never truly connecting. 

The cast are well matched; Sharon Bajer is a comic-tragic gem as she plays the melodramatic actress Irina, while Bethany Jillard's Nina is frighteningly naieve. Tom Keenan's Kostya is strong, although I felt some moments could have used refinement and a more simple touch. 

I would be remiss not to discuss the design, which craftily created differing spaces that were simultaneously lush and minimalist; the outdoor garden scene was particularly notable for its clever use of lighting. And the sound design, with a rock-polka feel definitely contributed positively to reminding us that these characters, although aristocratic, are not the "ideal" humans of tragedy, but the flawed and simple beings who populate the comedy of every day life. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Such Creatures by Judith Thompson - Incompletely Strangled

Judith Thompson's writing is hallmarked by its unwavering focus on difficult subject matter, and Such Creatures is no different. The piece consists of two monologues; an octagenarian holocaust survivor re-visiting the locale of her internment and re-living memories of her own revolt against the oppressor, contrasted with a teenage girl inner-city Toronto fighting her way through a single substance abusing parent, high school, and rivals. Each monologue unfolds, initially in longer sections back and forth, however as the stories and the plight of each woman unfolds, the overlap grows closer, calling the similiarity of their fear to mind.

This production, the first from new company Incompletely Strangled, and directed by veteran Arne McPherson does a fair job of introducing the two women to us; initially they are miles apart, yet as their stories grow, the space between their experience shrinks. Doreen Brownstone shines as the older woman, beautifully crafting her story and pulling the audience through each moment with a magnetism that is outstanding to watch. Although some pieces of the text were referenced from a script cleverly hidden in her stack of books, this did not impact her performance whatsoever, her clarity of intent pressing forward. The younger character was played with spunk by Gislina Patterson; we were taken along her journey of fear hidden behind a tough exterior. While she hits some of the tough notes beautifully, her performance at times could have benefited from a bit of simplicity which would have given the overall performance more shape. A difficult role for any young performer, Patterson certainly shows a gem of talent I look forward to seeing develop.

The production as a whole, however, felt stunted by design. The stage was split into two halves, divided harshly not only by light, but also a 6 foot chain link fence. The older woman's side remained static and clean, while the younger's side was littered as a playground, and also had projections on the back wall. For me, the division of the set meant that not only were the transitions back and forth a bit slow rather than a ping pong match between the two women's stories I would have liked to see, but also the overall feeling Thompson crafts - that these experiences are encroaching on one another, and at their core of fear aren't at all unlike one another - was lost. I would have liked to see both women inhabit the same space somehow. Additionally, while some of the projections were compelling, others were quite heavy handed in their imagery.

All of this aside, I did enjoy the piece, and look forward to what Incompletely Strangled bring forward next!