I went to see Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond. Written in 1965, this is Tremblay’s most popular work. It first opened on August 28, 1968 at Théâtre Du Rideau. A landmark on many fronts his use of the Quebec joual – the language of the working people. Quebecois started to come out with their art and language, making themselves known around Quebec and the world. This play was written as an act of protest against the oppressive English elite and Catholic Church who dominated Quebec life and culture for 300 years.
Two women sit on chairs on stage playing Quebec Folk Music on the accordion. They are everyday ordinary housewives of the 1960’s. A wind fall of a million stamps brings 15 women together around a kitchen table knitting their lives and views. Hate, jealousy, greed, theft, judgment are elements still relevant in 2018. We all still judge, hate and get jealous. Faith makes and breaks the women in this story.
The cast is exceptional. Agnes Tong from The Romeo Section plays Lise Paquette. Emilie Leclerc from Les Filles Du Roi earlier this year is brilliant in the role of Pierette Guerrin. However, my favourite character Angéline Sauvé was played by Kerry Sandomirsky who has done two other productions of Les Belle-Soeurs. The fridge, stove, tables, and cross make it clear this is a working class family with not much money.
I am French Canadian. I was born in Montreal, Quebec. I left in 1992. I did not grow up with the joual except through Quebec’s classic tv show Passe-Partout. This play brings out the richness of every day people who struggle to survive.
Gateway Theatre is easily accessible by public transit. Les Belles-Soeurs by Ruby Slippers Theatre runs 28 September to 6 October 2018.
~ reviewed by Tara K. Torme
Destiny USA, written and performed by Laura Anne Harris as one of the two plays included in Blue Night, runs for about an hour. I believe I was the last person to enter the theatre because after I did the host closed the door and requested the audience mute their cellphones. And then lights up and the host was on the stage! Now, that was a surprise for me, as I was not expecting the host to be Laura herself. The actor/playwright being part of audience and then slowly switching into acting mode made me feel as if I was a part of the play itself.
In Destiny USA Laura Ann Harris shares her experiences of interacting with the ‘real’ America as a Relay Operator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She also shares other experiences like how she met her husband Chris, from honeymoon period to the point where things got tough, her immigration experience while moving to the US and more. Harris is a highly skilled actor, it was fun to see how she switched her voice to perform different characters while relaying the messages. She had good control of the stage, she moved around, sang a song, danced, shouted and cried all in one show. Though there were many humorous moments during the show, one that I enjoyed the most was when she used water from a bottle to simulate urination as a sign board next to her displayed ‘Make water greater again’, mocking Trump’s campaign.
In the centre of the stage, there was a small table with blue table cloth, which she used as the Relay Operator. And there was a scene in between with only blue lights. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it went perfectly with the theme Blue Night. I did feel a little tired in between, so I would suggest Harris to break the scenes into smaller chunks and also change her appearance from character to character, as I believe it would make the play look more colourful. The sound timing was perfect, whenever Harris pressed a key, or picked up the phone, sound played flawlessly.
Pun Pals, the second piece, is a half hour play written and directed by Tommy Grimly. It is a comedic play with two main characters Rosey and Gilda, who are trying to get rid of puns while they speak. If you are looking for puns then this is your show. Simply put it is a Pun Package. Gilda is played by Kathryn Robinson, Rosey by Veronica Bonderud, and various characters by Sean Mawhinney and Peter Takach. The show starts with the two girls who are working in a cafe and eventually they discover that they can only speak in puns. Then rest of the play consists of comedic scenes as they try to get rid of it.
I liked the energy that Bonderud's Rosey brought to the stage with her cheerful character provoking Gilda with her puns. There were a lot of props used in the show, but I did feel the coordination of actors with props could be improved, especially in the orca scene. The hangman's noose sliding down when they thought about suicide was one of the funniest scenes in the piece. Robinson's Gilda expressing her thoughts under red light was a very creative direction. Not to forget, my favourite pun was Rosey saying ‘Crapitalism’ instead of ‘Capitalism’
Two plays, Destiny USA and Pun Pals make the night Blue, in The Cascadia Project 2018, that combines forces of a creative writing professor, master students, and emerging playwrights to put on a festival of new plays from September 26th to October 7th 2018 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island.
Tickets at: https://www.thecascadiaproject.com/
~ reviewed by Gaurav Minocha
Last night I attended Cascadia Project’s White Night program at Studio 1398 on Granville Island. The project’s aim is to explore and showcase the works of playwrights who live and work on the West Coast. It’s broken down into 3 nights - Green, White and Blue - each featuring two new short plays. The three programs will be rotating until Sunday October 7th and you can check https://www.thecascadiaproject.com/ for details.
The First show in the White Night program is called, Wayne Gretzky Never Takes it Black. It was a story about three friends who want to save a local bilingual coffee shop when the owner decides to sell it. At the heart of the play was a story of preservation - of a coffee shop, a language, and most of all - a loved ones memory. The characters were charming and the playwright, Issie Patterson, made satisfying use of the F word and witty social commentary on hipsters and current events. Even though we never see her, I found the most compelling part of this play to be the tape recordings we hear from the shop’s whimsical founder, Sophie, who recently passed away. She’s the kind of person you want to spend time with, and the actors and script brought her to life really well. I honestly feel like I met her. The writing was funny and entertaining. The presentation wasn’t as tight as the second play, some actors dropped lines, but the White Night did a great job of pairing an emerging playwrights work with a more experienced playwright.
Andrey Summers wrote and directed the second play of the program called The Hanging Judge. Wow. What a privilege to have seen this. My husband isn’t much of a theatre buff, but we both ate this one up. I just have to read the synopsis as it’s written because it’s gold: “In a midnight cemetery outside Napoleonic London, two trolls hold a mock trial to decide the fate of a Chinese expatriate, presided over by the hanged corpse of a racist judge. It’s a comedy.”
And it was hilariously dark. What metric do we use for judgement, and how can we keep it unbiased? Perhaps by making the hungrier troll the one arguing for the man’s release, and the civilized troll for his consumption. Turns out “He’s got a family” isn’t convincing enough. The line that brought it together for me was "we’ve all got mums, and mums will love anyone". Woven into the debate about what makes someone worthy of life, we find two trolls acting more humane than the grossly flawed men who both take a journey that ends in them asking “what have I done?”. The show was outrageously funny with great costumes and performances, a simple well utilized set, amazing physical characterizations, and delightful little flashbacks that fleshed out each of the characters. It’s a show I will be thinking about for a long time, and one I would absolutely see again.
~ reviewed by Chantal M. Marie
With a Japanese Problem, Universal Limited provides the audience with just a piece of some of our country’s hidden history. The visions they present of insanitary and crowded living conditions where sickness and death are inevitable, with men separated from women and children are reminiscent of horror stories we attribute only to other countries.
What’s even more powerful however if how the contributors share their own thoughts on the current day ramifications of these events and expose that this isn’t history, it’s a present day reality that we can continue to see around us if we allow ourselves to. They manage to do this within only 40 minutes, with the help of their venue which is in fact the site where some of these crimes against citizens were endured. This isn’t a production you come to to be entertained but rather to grow. In what way will vary for each individual but I can’t imagine anyone not taking something away from this very vulnerable and jarring presentation.
Japanese Problem by Universal Limited at Hastings Park, 2 shows nightly up to and including Sept 29 on a pay what you can scale.
Tickets at: https://www.japaneseproblem.ca/
~ reviewed by Karen Roller
NEVER STILL - ACTION AT A DISTANCE
Vanessa Goodman’s Never Still is an aesthetically exceptional piece. Goodman and her strong team of collaborators made fantastic use of video projection and sound design, creating a truly immersive and ambient experience.
The dance performance, although beautiful and strong, was not as enrapturing as the technical aspects of this piece. The performers had little engagement either with the audience or with each other, which created a feeling of surreal distance between what they were experiencing on stage and what we felt as audience members. It was as though they didn’t know we were there at all. This made it difficult to maintain interest in the performance, and often differed the gaze to the stunning video and design work behind, above, and below, the dancers.
This piece may offer a gateway into the world of contemporary art for those who have yet to experience or enjoy it. Goodman’s ability to create a strong aesthetic without saturating the piece in suggestion or implication, allows an audience to simply sit back and enjoy the show.
Never Still is laying at the Firehall Arts Centre 26 - 29 September 2018.
Tickets at: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/never-still/
~ reviewed by Madisen Steele
The Book of Mormon presented by Broadway Across Canada is a musical treat for theatre lovers. The Broadway and musical theatre world are lucky that Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez found their calling as they are true musical geniuses.
The sets and costumes are fairly simple but are used to wonderful effect to bring the locations to life. I thought the choreography by Casey Nicholaw who also co-directs the show, was very attuned to the feel of the show. Camp and humourous when called for, punctuated by the occasional tap dance break.
Whilst the humour can be crude at times and heavy with genital and sexual jokes, the show has a very soft caramel centre at the heart of it. Whilst poking fun at the absurdities in some organized religions, it applauds our ability as humans to be able to believe in something so strongly that you dedicate your life to it. It is a celebration of faith in its purity yet explores the journey of doubt and trials you face as a person with faith. Humans have always wanted to believe that this world is not the last leg of our journey.
On the outside it may seem that the show is making fun of poverty stricken Africans and that the jokes about female genital mutilation, aids and relations with infants are incredibly offensive, but I didn’t take it that way. These are extremely real, extremely scary issues in many parts of Africa. How many of us actually try to do something about these issues? Musicals and plays have always portrayed serious issues beneath a mask of cheerful, often choreographed numbers, back to the times when watching plays put on by travelling troupes was a way of hearing the news.
If you feel offended and would rather shut these issues out, if you think that a sad dramatic video by Unicef, 5 minutes before your tv show starts, with flies on faces of children, asking for money is enough to tackle and make these issues known, then this show is not for you. It might not be the best or only way to go about this kind of commentary but it is one way.
Ultimately the show is an entertaining masterpiece and you can delve as deep as you like into the social commentary or you can sit back, relax and enjoy a funny, musical delight.
Some particular highlights for me:
The Spooky Mormon Hell Dream Sequence. Not long into the second act this seems to come from nowhere and was a colourful flamboyant extravaganza. Offensive for more sensitive viewers but I thought it was brilliant.
Hasa Diga Eebowai. This nod to The Lion King really demonstrated the cast’s wonderful voices and gave you the first idea that faith can take many forms, and that having a philosophical or spiritual outlook can be helpful in troubled times.
Conner Peirson and Kayla Pecchioni as Elder Cunningham and Nabulungi respectively. Peirson stole the show as Cunningham, played almost as a cute cartoon character. Both Peirson and Pecchioni’s voices were beautiful. Even though Pecchioni’s accent took frequent holidays during the show, she played the character with an endearing optimism.
The fact that everybody in the cast held their own entirely with the singing. Truly glorious voices one and all.
Moments slightly off the mark:
The inconsistent accents that were sometimes Jamaican and sometimes not there at all.
The volume of the music occasionally swallowed the male voices especially of the mormons. I felt I had to strain to hear quite a few lines and heard other audience members mention this.
The portrayal of Africans and the ‘White Saviour’ was simplistic and stereotypical. Generally however this worked well enough with the narrative and there were times that they were self aware of this stereotype. It could be seen as looking through the lens of the Mormons and their idea of Africa.
The Book of Mormon is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from 25 - 30 September.
Tickets are available at: https://vancouvercivictheatres.com/events/the-book-of-mormon-sep-2018/
~ review by Ferne Brown
Tales of an Urban Indian is exactly that. The stories of a child and young man struggling to find a place on and off the reserve. Along the way he inevitably encounters racism, poverty, violence, teenage pregnancy, addiction and death. Although it may provide a few giggles I feel the performance is much too real to be considered a comedy even if labelled a dark one.
Go see this for an entertaining insight into the current challenges faced by our First Nations people rather than an inconsequential ride on a bus or a laugh.
This performance takes place on a moving vehicle. Coarse Language, Adult Content, 16+
Tales of an Urban Indian presented by Talk is Free Theatre is playing at Presentation House Theatre 19 - 30 September 2018. TICKET INFO HERE
~ reviewed by Karen Roller
Cyrano - First Impressions Theatre
I’ve always loved walking into stories without knowing anything about them. Walking into Cyrano, put on by First Impressions Theatre, all my expectations came from the little pamphlet that found its way into my hand as I entered the theatre. “A swashbuckling romantic adventure” was type on a gold banner, in an excitable looking red font, over the title. This description definitely wasn’t wrong, but I wouldn’t say it did the show justice.
The play is set in France around the time of the Franco-Spanish civil war. Cyrano (played by Ryan Crocker) is a poet, a soldier, wielder of a very long nose, and is deeply in love with the beautiful and much admired Roxanne (Colleen Rae Lornie), who also happens to be his cousin. There’s a romantic triangle, sword fighting, heroics, and a lot clever verse. So definitely some swashbuckling and a fair bit of romance.
But beyond just a clever and well written script and adaptation (the work Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner) from a well written book by Edmond Rostand, what really made this play stand out was the love and appreciation for the source material in the direction by Claude A. Giroux and in the production values. The joy of the actors stood behind every quippy jab or self aware joke about Cyrano’s nose. There were a few fourth wall breaks delivered with so much reverence and excitement for the story that as a member in the audience you just can’t help but get sucked in.
The story itself, of course, gave everyone lots to work with. Complex questions like “what is the nature of love?” and “is it really blind?” make the story relevant to anyone watching. The characters themselves also struggle with very human insecurities: that they’re not handsome enough, not smart enough, not good enough.
Against the backdrop of some simple, flexible, and beautifully done set decorations, this story shone brightly. Dynamic and creative use of props let the plot develop without drawing attention away from the story or making the time period feel gimmicky. For the first scene, the audience is even coopted as part of the story with Roxanne sitting up on the box watch the same stage we are and it’s exceptional attention to subtle details like this that tied the play together perfectly. My favourite part was a set of ever rotating place cards, on each side of the stage, indicating where each scene as set and creating a sense that what you’re seeing is a series of snapshots in the lives of the characters.
I really enjoyed this play. I’m not sure what I expected walking into it, but it delivered everything I could have wanted and more. And that’s not light praise, it’s difficult to surprise the imagination.
Cyrano is playing at the Deep Cove Shaw Theatre, Wed thru Sat until 22 September 2018.
Tickets at: www.firstimpressionstheatre.com/
~ reviewed by Sunny Tchoukova
~ reviewed by Mattias Martens
Roy Surettes's Marion Bridge by Daniel Macivor at the Kay Meek Studio Theatre brought back memories of my childhood. After the show, I did feel like I wanted to go back home, spend time with my family and give a tight and warm hug to my mom.
Marion Bridge is the story of three sisters who return home because their mother is not well and is in her final days. Agnes is played by Lynda Boyd, Theresa by Nicola Cavendish, and Louise by Beatrice Zeilinger. The play starts off with the sisters entering into the house and getting lost in their memories. Agnes seems to be playful and extroverted, always talking and seeking attention. Louise is straightforward and quiet, preferring to spend time by herself, enjoying watching television. Theresa is sincere, responsible and caring, very particular about cleanliness and the arrangement of things around the house.
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