Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reviews: (Vancouver) My Mother's Story, Pants on Fire, The Unplugging

My Mother's Story
Letter From Vancouver
Pants on Fire, TheUnplugging and My Mother's Story reviewed
by David C. Jones

My Mother’s Story
I was reluctant to attend this show. Based on the title and the premise – eight women tell the true story of their mothers – I thought ‘how boring’. Then something compelled me to go despite my misgivings and I loved it! Created by Marilyn Norry and Jenn Griffen a couple of years ago, this new version has been re-imagined by director Heidi Specht into a bigger production. Jamie Nesbitt has created a set of shelves with objects covered in grey fabric – protected, treasured but likely forgotten. They and the platform in the middle of the floor become a canvas for pictures, movies and other graphics. Muted and flowing costumes by Flo Barrett add to the earthy charm of the women;  precise and surprising lighting by Rebekah Johnson helps create the various moods of the stories they tell. The show has a lyrical feel aided by a wonderful sound track by Judy Specht. The diverse women are hilariously truthful and nobly dignified. Eileen Barret, Zena Daruwalla, Lisa Ravensbergen, Donna Soares, Hillary Strang and Colleen Winton step into other women’s stories whereas Suzanne Ristic and Wendy Noel tell their own mother’s stories. Ms. Specht has created tableaus and movement pieces that chronicle the lives of the women from their birth. We snap back and forth from story to story – sometimes we fold backwards and forward on the timeline and it can be a little challenging to follow the narratives – especially when they boil down to sound bites, like so many Facebook status updates – but it makes you lean in more to really focus. This is not a show about eight individual stories – the overlapping nature creates an all encompassing human experience of what it means to be a mother; the hope, the challenges, the regret, the loathing, the determination and the humour. They are very funny. The belly laughs are plentiful as are the pains of recognition when we see our experience in these stories. The choreographed stage movement is compelling – when one child is slapped all the women do the slapping sound. As the stories move towards their conclusions, the tears started to flow. And flow and flow. Great parts of the audience were audibly sobbing and Kleenex was being passed out in the front rows. They may not have followed every single individual story line but they were clearly involved and powerfully moved. Ms Specht and her team of designers and actors have created an artistically rendered production that is richly rewarding.
To October 28
Photo by Chris van der Schyf
Read Marilyn Norry's first-person article on the creation of My Mother's Story

Pants On Fire
We all lie sometimes, but the new TheatreSports show wanted its special guest to lie all the time. Heck they even wanted the guest to act like they were lying even when telling the truth. After reading from a prepared written statement a team of on-stage improvisers asks questions and the host solicits opinions from the audience – is the guest telling a truth or is the statement a lie. If they guess right they get a point on the animated score board, if the special guest fools everyone, the guest gets the point. Next up the improvisers riff on the questions and comments in a series of improvised comedy sketches. The social experiment is fascinating.  We are all junior body language experts because of all the behavioral scientists trotted out on the 24-hour news programs. Even more than that we have all lied about something at some time and tried to get away with it; similarly we have all tried to deduce when we are being deceived. The show raises the stakes in the second half by adding audience members into the mix and we get to see if they are truth-tellers or not. Then the guest is given even more random statements (mixed in with some truths) to try to gain more points. The night I attended I was actually the guest.  We had a Caucasian cast of six - from a diverse company of about 30 – and they were hysterically funny. My real irrational fear of doors with windows had rubber faced Ken Lawson continually peering in at a flustered Michael Robinson. Michael Teigan was hilarious as various emotional animals including a seagull that had lost its voice when confronted by a hit man played by the deadpan Nathan Clark. The lone woman in the show was the caustically funny Denise Jones. My statements included: I once rode BC Ferries dressed as an RCMP officer; I once played in a Monkees cover band and I have seen host Brian Anderson naked. Mr. Anderson was the charming host (and fully clothed) that night and with his help I was able to get away with four deceptions whereas they only ferreted out two truths. There was a speed round at the end of the show where they tied up the score but Brian assured me that I had ‘handily won’! The audience was actively engaged as if detectives at a murder scene and laughed themselves silly at the inquisitions and even harder at the improvised madness. A great fun improvisational comedy format and I was victorious! I am a good liar! …wait…What?
To November 17
Photo by Peter Williams

The Unplugging 
It is the not too distant future – after a series of natural disasters and disease, mankind was hit with the Unplugging. All electricity ceased to work. Rough communities formed to protect themselves in this strange new world. The Unplugging, at The Arts Club, opens in a cold and desolate northern landscape. Chilly effective sound design by Alison Jenkins, illustrative and textured lighting by Jeff Harrison, simple and handsome set design by Drew Facey paints a very evocative picture. Two women trudge in slowly, one of them dragging a sled. They are cold and exhausted having travelled far after being deemed a burden by their community. These two women push and cajole each other as they try to make it to some far off cabins. They are weary and heavy from rejection “God tiptoed from the world when everyone was looking elsewhere,” says one of them. Luckily “pushy broad” Bern is the brawn of the duo so she labors forward. First Nations Elena is the brains so when they finally reach the long abandoned cabins she is able to figure out how to hunt for food.They have to work together to survive through the winter. Both women are a tad mad, a lot funny and very suspicious. It's a little heart- breaking watching them struggle to survive. Jenn Griffin’s Bern is gruff, ready to fight but with a heart aching for tender humanity. Margo Kane is hilarious as Elena, the wise woman who does not suffer fools easily. The fool in this case is Anton Lipovetsky as Seamus, an eccentric young stranger who stumbles upon them and who Elena suspects has been sent to spy on them. Playwright Yvette Nolan has created a spacious and quiet drama with emphasis on character as opposed to plot. We experience the women grow and overcome their shameful dismissal in this not to distant future world. She also manages to avoid getting too political or heavy handed with the message of our unsustainable consumer culture. Director Lois Anderson allows a lot of quiet space and lonely truth with her diverse cast so when the defensive humor is unleashed the jokes are a hilarious reprieve.  This is a lovely heartwarming story that does not provoke or shock but satisfies those looking for a quiet adventure effectively staged and wittily acted.
To November 3
Photo by David Cooper

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