Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Feature: Marilo Nuñez, artistic director of Alameda Theatre Company, on Chile Con Carne

Exile to Aguirre - breaking through the poetic silence
by Marilo Nuñez, Founder and Artistic Director of Alameda Theatre Company

On September 11, 1973, Chile was seized by one of the worst military dictatorships in the history of Latin America. The democratically elected socialist leader Salvador Allende was ousted and in his place Agusto Pinochet took control and placed the country in a state of terror and violence for over 17 years of totalitarian rule. During the earliest years of repression, thousands of Chileans were tortured, disappeared or executed. Over 40,000 Chileans were exiled, and almost half of those made their way into Canada.

Sunday Feature: Kate Applin, artistic director of Metro Youth Opera, on Triple Bill

Conrad Siebert, Kate Applin (photo by Rene Stackenborg)

Beyond Learning on the Fly
by Kate Applin

Kate Applin is the Founder and Artistic Director of Metro Youth Opera. The company was established in 2010 to give Toronto’s talented young opera singers the opportunity to perform complete roles and be compensated for it. The company exists to create viable development opportunities for emerging artists in all fields related to the world of opera: singers, stage directors, music directors, and more.

I founded Metro Youth Opera when I was 23 - fresh out of music school and excited to get my feet wet in the world of opera. I had been told many times in school that the journey of an opera singer is a long one, but here I was, faced with the prospect of no performances, no masterclasses– nothing to take me from lessons to auditions to (hopefully) gigs. I had no idea what singers did when they left school but I know that the one thing that makes performers better at their job is performing. How do we mitigate the need for performing opportunities with the dearth of available gigs? 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Overruled and Romance

Shaw and LaBute are as unlikely a pairing as their characters
...though their marriage runs much smoother.
by Christian Baines
Bernard Shaw’s Overruled and Nail LaBute’s Romance are both plays about the emergence of truth within relationships. So with that said, here’s another truth: I absolutely and unequivocally loathe fidelity dramas, only because too often, I find them insufferably earnest, preachy, naive, predictable, presumptuous and in a contemporary context... just plain untruthful.
But get a good one – or two, in this case – in the hands of a bold director and a great cast, and the results can be theatrical dynamite. 
As to be expected from Shaw and LaBute, Overruled and Romance take the subject in radically different directions. The first is a delightful farce in which the lines of two marriages cross over (Inexplicably in the same hotel room... This is Shaw. Try not to think too hard.). The overly-mothered Mr Lunn (Kelly Penner) has taken great delight in making love to Mrs Juno (Caitlin Stewart), blissfully unaware that she is a married woman – or that Mr Juno (Amos Crawley) has taken similar liberties with Mrs Lunn (Meghan Swaby). Cue the brief confrontation in the name of Englishman’s honour, embodied here in some gloriously silly physical comedy from Crawley, and a stream of one liners that the four players fire off with obvious and infectious joy. Penner in particular, seems born to play British Farce. His toasting Mr Juno as the latter warms up to fight him for his wife’s honor? Masterstroke.

creating a/broad, March 30, 2013

Cohen's Lesson
by Cameryn Moore

It’s amazing what lessons pop out when you’re looking for them, or at least open to the idea that all experiences have a multiplicity of meaning. Moving through the world becomes something like rifling through a tarot deck, where there is no externally laid pattern, but rather a welter of images, and whatever meaning you find is what comes up in your own head after you’ve thought for a little while.

This week, as it transpired, my lessons are stillness and intention.

It’s my director’s fault. Or maybe to his credit. Probably the latter. Because while I can be quiet if I have to, my default mode is talk talk talk all bloody day long. I don’t think that I mindlessly blather—I think I have a lot of good things to say, and I’m a good speller for my Facebook status updates—but I suppose blatherers don’t think they blather, otherwise they’d stop, right? And I do enjoy the sound of my own voice, and get a little anxious during unplanned silence. I rush to fill it up, ask a question, crack a joke. Again, I’m very skilled at speaking off-the-cuff, so I entertain people. But that’s not everything that communication is about, it’s only part of the equation. What’s in the rest?

Theatre For Thought, March 30, 2013

joel fishbane

Theatre artists are a generally liberal bunch who applaud freedom of speech and government support of the arts, but there’s at least one thing which brings out the inner fiscal conservative: refunds. The policy on giving them – or not giving them, to be more accurate – is a time honoured theatrical tradition. In almost all cases, theatre tickets are non-refundable for any reason, save those rare cases when a show is cancelled thanks to some random Act of God. 

At least one theatre artist has made a move to change this. On his blog,,  Caleb McMullen, the founder and artistic producer of Vancouver’s Mnemonic Theatre, made the following proclamation: “For every show Mnemonic Theatre produces, we will offer a full-money-back guarantee at intermission, starting with Proof by David Auburn (Vancouver, June 2013).”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) The Walworth Farce

l-r Toby Hughes, Bill Kerr, Andrew Cecon   (photo: Caroline Wintoniw) 

Three Irish Gentlemen and an Ebony Fox
Waiting for Godot done in real time
by John Herbert Cunningham

Bill Kerr is an associate theatre prof at the University of Manitoba. His speciality is Irish Theatre. Thus, it was no surprise when he took his 2006 sabbatical in Ireland to examine the archives of the Irish playwright about whom he'd written his dissertation.

What was a surprise, both to him and to us, occurred when he attended a theatre to see a play the playwright of which was a relative unknown to him. Imagine Vladimir and Estragon at a lunch counter where they are served actual bacon and eggs, and eat them, while waiting for Godot. This is the nature of the play Kerr brought back to Winnipeg with him.

And is the audience glad he did.

Multi-Media, March 29, 2013

Maggie Smith showcase is a golden years gem.
by Christian Baines
With its glamorous portrayal of an extravagant home for retired musicians and a somewhat glossed-over take on the health issues facing its aged residents, Quartet is no less a fine old English fantasy than Harry Potter – complete with Michael Gambon, with wand (or at least, baton) in hand. But realism’s not really the point here, is it? 
Make no mistake, Quartet is fluff. But like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel before it, it is triumphant fluff, making up for its idealized visions of old age by instead exploring the still-open wounds to its characters’ hearts. In doing so, it brings forth perhaps the most extraordinary performance of Maggie Smith’s career, and that’s not praise to be thrown about lightly.

A Fly On The Wall, March 29, 2013

Healthy Doubt
by Jim Murchison 

I believe that a little doubt is a good thing. Without it you would never feel challenged or improve. René Descartes believed that doubt was what proved our existence when he developed the philosophy "I think therefore I am."

There is a major difference between healthy doubt that causes you to take extra care in attending to details and the all consuming doubt of your ability or the abilities of the people around you that induces paranoia.

CharPo's Real Theatre! March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smashed, March 28, 2013

The Bells & Whistles
by Stuart Munro

Hello friends! The school year is almost over, and what better way to celebrate this fact than by grabbing a glass and joining me for this week’s episode of Smash, which for the first time this season, saw an increase in its ratings!

Hit List rehearsals have (miraculously) begun, and Jimmy and Derek are not exactly seeing eye to eye – Jimmy is upset with some of the women being considered for the role of The Diva (“Lea Michele?!”), and with Derek’s idea to fill the stage with LED screens. Derek gets a talking-to from Scott, the Artistic Director, about working with writers, and Jimmy gets a similar lesson from Karen. Jimmy, sadly, doesn’t seem to understand how the collaborative process works, and Derek doesn’t really seem to get what the show’s about. So. Problems. Derek’s LED screens aren’t exactly working the way he’d hoped, and Karen and Jimmy both think that they’re unnecessary. Derek eventually comes around and finds out from Jimmy what the show’s really about – two people falling in love, and what gets in the way of that. The result is one of the most creative numbers I’ve seen in a long time. No sets, no props, no “bells & whistles.” Just bodies and words coming together to tell a story in a way that couldn’t be done by either element alone. It’s really kind of astounding, and for the first time all series, I see the beginnings of a show I’d actually like to see on stage.

Review: (Ottawa) False Assumptions

False Assumptions Glows Dimly
by Jim Murchison

The set for False Assumptions designed by Attila Clemman is quite wonderful. It immediately evokes the feeling of being in a place cluttered with learning and rich in thought. Suspended from the ceiling are glowing, curled and folded notes that seem like origami of the gods. In fact the raised upstage area is a platform for a Greek chorus of underrated women of science. Downstage left is the study where Marie and Pierre do their work. Directly stage right is a multifunctional area where we meet many friends of Marie and where we most often see a group of early victims of science called the radium girls. 

There were a great many friends of theatre and learning at the Gladstone lending support to the students of Ottawa Theatre School in particular and to director Teri Loretto-Valentik and the hard working production team. Many were also excited to be at a world premiere of a brand new play by Lawrence Aronovitch that combined his passion for science and theatre. 

Picture of The Week, March 28, 2013

This promo pic for UBC's production of Sharon Pollock's Blood Relations is a beauty for many things you don't notice until you look (and realize that they had burrowed into your subconscious). Master Photog Tim Matheson always gets his subjects to go beyond posing, as he does here with actor Mercedes de la Cerda. Apart from the ax, dress and hair-style, look first at the eyes, then at de la Cerda's hand; she does not just hold the weapon as much as clamp her hand around it (the redness of the fingers, the strain of the tendons in sharp focus). Also look at the blurred hand behind, placed almost as if she is holding herself back from the crime which made the play's Lizzie Borden famous. This photo is a gem.

The Album, March 28, 2013

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Balm in Gilead

3D theatre of a dangerous world
You can smell the onions and taste the fear

by David C. Jones

Lanford Wilson is a prolific playwright having penned some great works in the 80’s like Burn This, Talley’s Folly and Fifth of July. When he was a young writer he experimented with form and structure.

Balm in Gilead was written in 1965;  it concerns a dangerous romance between a naïve new girl in the city and the part time ruffian trying to get out. It all takes place in a café populated by prostitutes, addicts and petty criminals. 

Review: (Calgary) The Valley

Erin MacKinnon, Kyle Jespersen (photo by Trudie Lee Photography)
Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
by Josef Vermeulen

The most striking thing about The Valley is not the intersection of policing and mental illness, nor the issues of suicide and substance abuse, although all of those ideas are touched on. No, the most striking thing is how a play that is ostensibly about such fertile ideas can say absolutely nothing about any of them. 

The overall story of The Valley revolves around a singular event. Teenaged Connor experiences a violent psychotic break on the SkyTrain in Vancouver, and is arrested, in the process breaking his jaw. Arresting Officer, Dan, is then caught up in Connor’s mother Sharon’s attempts to deal with the perceived excessive use of force in the arrest of her son, and his wife Janie’s post partum depression and suicide attempts.

The main problem with the play is that it tries to cover too many large themes. The result of combining all of these issues - all of which could be stand-alone plays - is that each idea gets perfunctory coverage in the play and then is forgotten. Major themes such as suicide and depression are simply mentioned once then glossed over as we move on to the next thing.

In a Word... Jacob Richmond, director and co-creator of Ride the Cyclone

Sarah Jane Pelzer (photo by Barbara Pedrick)

The Travelling Carnival
My prediction is that Indie companies will become the new Micro-breweries of Canadian Regionals in the next 10 years

Jacob Richmond is artistic director at Atomic Vaudeville, in Victoria, home of the Canadian phenomenon Ride the Cyclone: The Musical.

CHARPO: My Lord, what a Ride it's turned into! How's the tour going?

RICHMOND: The tour's going great, I'm not really on tour with the gang... I got a newborn baby at the house and he's keeping me crazy busy, pooping, crying, being adorable. Releasing pheromones through the top of his head that make me neurologically love him more than I thought was ever humanly possible. I am nothing more than Mother Nature's finger puppet right now.

Video of The Week, March 27, 2013

An inside look at The Whipping Man, from Obsidian Theatre and Harold Green Jewish Theatre. The play deals with the prickly historic subject of Jewish slave-owners in the Southern US.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

After Dark, March 26, 2013

Tell Me a Story
Sharing is part of theatre
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Anderson Cooper mentioned something like, "The hashtag 'rape' on Twitter is astonishing." I was half-listening to a pious discussion of the Steubenville rape and decided to check out Twitter to see what real people were saying. This can be an unpleasant and delightful thing to do, but it was late night and my book was boring me.

I knew that #rape has been, for a while after the Steubenville sentencing, the purview of the shitheads who decided that the rape victim deserved it because she had gotten pissed yadda yadda yadda. But immediately after Cooper had spoken, another angry group took over the hashtag: those who wanted the hides of the two rapists. In the middle of this arrived one stupid youngster: a West Virginia highschool wrestling champ I'll call just Duane C. He made a "joke" about keeping his girlfriend in line by hitting her and tweeted a picture of a young woman with a black eye. The Twittersphere subsequently became like the wild west. Duane C., who may have been thinking he was like one of those comics who tests the limits, pushed on and, yes, found his supporters and, needless to say, his detractors.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Arigato, Tokyo

Daniel MacIvor, Tyson James photo: Tanja-Tiziana
MacIvor’s Postcard from Japan is picture perfect.
by Christian Baines
Daniel MacIvor’s Arigato, Tokyo is something of a creeper. Opening with the first of numerous cryptic monologues performed by the bewitchingly androgynous Etta Waki (Tyson James), it quickly finds focus in following Carl Dewer (David Storch) on a book tour in Japan, where his novel, he is told is loved not for its comedy, nor its observations on love, but as a melancholy work of ennui. A hard partying cynic on a strict, if insatiable diet of sex and cocaine, Carl is accompanied by his ‘good baby sitter’ minder, Nushi (Cara Gee), who may have a far more personalized style of care in mind for her Canadian charge. But she’s not the only local whose eye has settled on the cynical author.
From this cast of somewhat unsympathetic, yet utterly compelling characters, MacIvor spins an aesthetically rich and satisfyingly disquieting story about the unwavering, ubiquitous human desire to be with the wrong person. Carl searches for a fix to his own self-destruction in people who are potentially more destructive still. Storch does a terrific job of bringing this to life onstage. The palpable vulnerability that underpins his performance (and he’s on stage for almost every scene) rises to the challenging task of bridging our empathy to this embittered ex-80’s coke fiend.

Lane's Week, March 25, 2013

A Week in the Nation's Theatre
by Chris Lane

Seasons announced: 
Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts, now officially supported by the Harper government, has announced its 2013-2014 season. Alongside music, dance and other productions, their mainstage theatre shows include big-name productions such as Othello, Glengarry Glen Ross and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Audiences also get the chance to see The Seagull at the Segal. Montreal’s Festival Transamériques has announced the lineup for this year’s festival, which will open May 22. Over in Toronto, Factory Theatre has also announced their next season. Three out of their four shows will be world premieres, including the stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil. 

Hats off to: 
Madeleine Boyes-Manseau and Pierre Brault, both of Ottawa, who are the recipients of the RBC Emerging Artist Award, bestowed by the Great Canadian Theatre Company.

Get those applications in: 
If you’re female and new to playwriting, and would like a financial boost for your new work, then apply for the Cayle Chernin Award before April 5.

The Question, March 25, 2013

Honesty, Integrity, Thoroughness and Timeliness
by Estelle Rosen
A Technical Theatre Arts Graduate from Niagara College, Odette Yazbeck went on to secure a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations from Humber College. She has held a number of positions in Marketing and Communications at the Shaw Festival over the past 27 seasons, serving as their Public Relations Director for the past nine.  Ms Yazbeck has also taught Media Relations in the Niagara College PR Program and has served on the Niagara Region Culture Committee. She has also served as a Volunteer Emergency Information Officer for the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and is on the Communications sub-committee for the War of 1812 Committee of Niagara-on-the-Lake. She makes her home in Niagara-on-the-Lake with her husband and has two children in university.
CHARPO: What is most challenging about being the Public Relations Director for the Shaw Festival?
YAZBECK:  I think I’m safe in saying that most PR practitioners would call this one of the ‘dream jobs’ of the PR world – and they are right, at least most of the time! I have a unique perspective from other public relations practitioners in this industry; I started behind-the-scenes in theatre production. I came to the Shaw Festival straight out of Technical Theatre School, and shortly after joining this esteemed company, attended night school and got my PR diploma. 

Openings We're Tracking This Week, March 25 - April 1

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Blood Relations

L-R Courtney Shields, Mercedes de la Zerda (photo by Tim Matheson)
An intriguing tale of an accused killer, Lizzie Borden
UBC production falls short of their usual standards

by Chris Lane

As the last play of the season for Theatre at UBC, Blood Relations tells the tale of Lizzie Borden, who was accused and acquitted for the murder of her father and stepmother in 1892. Blood Relations starts off with Lizzie Borden speaking with her companion, actress Nance O’Neil, ten years after Lizzie’s acquittal. The pair were rumoured to be lovers, an angle that is evident in this play. The subject of the murder comes up, as does the ever-present question: did she do it? Lizzie has never told the actress or even her sister the truth, so she decides to play a game. In the game, the actress portrays Lizzie in a re-enactment of the events leading up to the murders. Lizzie was from a wealthy family, but felt out of place and had always resented her stepmother’s presence and apparent dislike of Lizzie.

Review: (Winnipeg) Ride the Cyclone

(photo credit: Barbara Pedrick)

Cyclone Hits Winnipeg!
...the dead rise and sing
by Edgar Governo

Ride the Cyclone: A Musical arrives in Winnipeg with hype worthy of a carnival barker—the media coverage of its current tour across Canada has a very catch-a-rising-star quality, as if you are witnessing the birth of the next great musical theatre classic. Even its programme write-up compares it to The Drowsy Chaperone, whose humble beginnings eventually led to a Tony-award winning Broadway run.

With that much build-up, disappointment might appear inevitable, so it's a great relief to be able to say that this lives up to its promise.

Victoria's Atomic Vaudeville has put together a show that is more innovative and entertaining than anything else I've seen staged at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre this season. Despite various statements by its creative team that it remains a work in progress, the production carries you along at a pace that never seems to lag or come off the rails.

Sunday Feature: Director Carly Chamberlain on a Shaw/LaBute Double-Bill

(photo credit: Denise Grant)
Mad Science
The contrast in writing style and tone opens up an opportunity to go as far as possible in contrasting the direction and acting style
by Carly Chamberlain (Artistic Producer of Neoteny Theatre and director for Overruled by GB Shaw & Romance by Neil LaBute)

My favourite part of telling people I am working on a double bill of plays by Shaw and LaBute is clocking the reaction on their faces. My very unscientific analysis is that the reactions typically start with confusion and move toward skeptical curiosity. And I have to admit I get a certain amount of pleasure from being viewed as some sort of theatrical mad scientist, combining seemingly disparate ingredients into a volatile compound. But the truth is, the combination is far from mad.

Sunday Feature: Louis Patrick Leroux on Ludwig & Mae

On the staging of Ludwig & Mae
by Louis Patrick Leroux

[Louis Patrick Leroux is a playwright, director, and professor who holds a joint appointment in the departments of English and French Studies at Concordia University where he teaches playwriting and Québec drama and literature. He is a member of the Hexagram Institute for research/creation in media arts and technology, where he runs Resonance Lab. Recent projects include a video installation, Milford Haven, at matralab, a theatrical production of Witchcraft at Concordia (codirected), and Hypertext and Performance: A Resonant Response to Baillie’s Witchcraft (theatre, dance, website). Recent publications include Dialogues fantasques pour causeurs éperdus (2012), Se taire (2010), Ludwig & Mae (2009). Originally from Eastern Ontario, he founded Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte, which he ran from 1992 to 1998. He was also a cofounder of la Nouvelle scène theatre space in Ottawa. The original French productions of Ludwig & Mae and other plays such as Le rêve totalitaire de dieu l’amibe (a cybernetic anti-opera) established Louis Patrick Leroux as a leading figure of the Franco-Ontarian renewal of the 1990s. Embedded has been translated into English, German, and Spanish. This will be the Montreal premiere of the three plays and the world premiere of the English translations of Apocalypse and Resurrection.]

I wrote these plays in my early 20s. They were staged respectively in 1994 (La litière/Embedded), 1995 (Rappel/Apocalypse), and 1996 (Ressusciter/Resurrection). One was an entreaty to a dialogue between sexes and generations, a dialogue of infinite possibilities and readings but a dialogue unable to detract from the inevitable outcome; the second was a provocation through the cathartic staging of desperation; the third, a reconciliation with the other, but especially with oneself. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) Bashir Lazhar

On the Theme of Immigration
by John Herbert Cunningham

Given that Theatre Projects Manitoba describes its mandate, on its website, as follows: "We develop the voices of our region, choosing stories that have a connection to our community, our history and culture and grow these new creations with passionate support", one may forgive the  audience for wondering what this play is doing on the TPM playlist for this season. That audience would be even more perplexed when they realized that the first of the two plays this season was also a translation of a Quebec playwright's play.

But then, Manitoba does have one of the largest French-speaking populations outside of Quebec. Thus, that does in fact fit the mandate as French is a definite and important part of Manitoba's history and culture.

Review: (Toronto) Ching Chong Chinaman

Zoe Doyle (photo credit: Alex Felipe)
Inside the Family
by Beat Rice
(This article has been corrected)

This year Fu-Gen Theatre celebrates its 10th year anniversary by staging Lauren Yee’s satirical comedy about an assimilated Asian American family and an indentured Chinese worker. The Wongs are a nuclear family consisting of Father Ed (John Ng), Mother Grace (Brenda Kamino), university applicant daughter Desdemona (Zoe Doyle), and 15-year-old Warcraft addict Upton (Oliver Koomsitara Koomsatira). 

The four basically do not identify themselves as Chinese at all and seem to be completely oblivious to basic Chinese customs. Their ignorance is the base of the comedy for the first half of the play. When Jinquiang (Richard Lee), or “J”, enters their household they are not quite sure how to treat him, but they do find different ways of using him to their individual advantage. In this, Yee has created an interesting paradigm of the assimilated and the immigrant, something Torontonians and other North Americans alike can understand. J comes to America with dreams of becoming a dancer and is confused by cultural differences of the American family that looks Chinese.  Another character, simply called ‘Chinese Woman’ (Jane Yuk Luk), plays several roles and voices in the play, real and subconscious.

Theatre For Thought, March 23, 2013

joel fishbane

“If only the stage were as high and narrow as a tightrope, so that only those completely trained would dare to venture out on it.” 
– Sanford Meisner

Ideally, in order to be an actor, you wouldn’t actually need to know anything other than your lines. Ideally, the director and playwrights would know the things worth knowing and would impart them to you during rehearsals. But this is not an ideal world. When Isaac Newton sat down to explain the universe, he realized he did not have the tools to do it. So he invented calculus. As artists, we must strive to do nothing less. 
“Once you choose to become an actor,” says Greta Papageorgiu, “it is your duty to continue to learn and push yourself.”  A Toronto-based acting teacher who specializes in Meisner Technique, Greta Papageorgiu, took some time to talk to me about the importance of continuing your training long after the diploma is on your wall. “Sanford Meisner famously said that it takes 20 years to become an actor…it is difficult for actors to practice when they aren’t working and so we convince ourselves that it is okay for us not to.” 

creating a/broad, March 23, 2013

The Shitty First Draft
by Cameryn Moore

I’m sitting in my workshop, Three Different Paths to a First Draft, while the two students work. Two people is more than I expected on this snowy March day—I hate that phrase “snowy March day”, that should not even exist—they are sitting here at the table, one of them pounding away on a 1914 manual typewriter, the other on her 2008 laptop, and they are pounding away, and I felt like I should join them. This is a new workshop I’m offering, giving participants the opportunity to practice stream-of-consciousness writing using keyboard, longhand writing, and manual typewriter. The processes are different, but really they’re all geared at the same damn thing: Shitty First Drafts. 

I called the workshop something fancy to help people realize that I was being thoughtful about this, but I should have just put the word “shitty” in the title. Or clarified the title better. The typewriter and keyboard and pen, these are tools, just pieces of equipment for the production of text. The actual paths to a first draft are only two: 
  1. pick and fuss and put down and take back and tweak until you want to scream
  2. do a brain dump with free writing and get at the shit right away
But here’s the secret: either way, you’re going to get a shitty first draft! Might as well be quick and easy about it!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) La Traviata

La Traviata dress rehearsal photo credit: David Pasho

In the presence of the divine
by Nan Cormier

One might expect that a concert presentation of an opera might lack some of the emotion, soul and pathos of the fully staged opera.  But last night, in the first of two performances of Opera Lyra’s concert presentation of La Traviata, in Southam Hall, at the National Arts Centre, the lack of staging and sets which at first seemed to limit the physicality of the cast, were quickly eclipsed by the sheer beauty of the production.

La Traviata, by Guiseppe Verdi, is the story of a Violetta, a courtesan, who falls in love with a younger man, Alfredo, only to be asked to let him go by his father, Giorgio Germont in order to save his family’s honour. Violetta agrees out of love for Alfredo, and leaves the countryside, for Paris.  When Alfredo comes on the scene he misunderstands why she has left him and reacts badly, vowing revenge the next time he sees her.  All this time, Violetta is dying of tuberculosis.  Finally, Alfredo’s father explains the reason why Violetta has left him.  But by then, it is too late.  Violetta is at death’s door when Alfredo arrives at her bedside to beg her forgiveness.

Review: (Montreal) Dance Me to the End On/Off Love

When Even "Hallelujah" Feels Revitalized
by Caitlin Murphy

On the heels of its triumph, Trad, the Centaur Theatre is offering another enigmatic and enchanting ‘import,’ this one from further afield.  Dance Me to the End On / Off Love, a Granhøj Dans Production from Denmark, presents a surreal landscape of theatre, movement, and performance art, through the lens of some very familiar melodies and beloved lyrics – those of  Montreal’s own, Leonard Cohen.

A bold programming choice for the Centaur, Dance Me is clearly interested in challenging and teasing its audience, playing with our desires to see clearly, understand what we’re looking at, and be able to read well.  At various times, we are sung to through a megaphone or nylon stocking, shown Cohen’s lyrics re-written on overhead projector, temporarily stunned with a blinding light, or made to decipher what’s being written in body paint on a dancer’s back.   

Review: (Toronto) THIS

Christian Laurin and Yanna McIntosh Photo by Bruce Zinger.
THIS is truly a state of being…
by Dave Ross

Melissa James Gibson’s THIS opened at Canadian Stage last night. It’s the first time her work has been shown in Toronto, but I hope we get to see more soon. THIS is, to quote from the program “a play about ‘this’: the designated ‘what I am in the middle of,’ precluding distance, perspective, appreciation, evaluation. It is my reality here and now, this thing I am living, this ‘not anything else’. These words are a bit meta for my liking, but they so accurately portray the effect of this production, which plays with the physical theatre space while exploring ‘this’ — the state of being for and between each character. 

Review: (Winnipeg) Daddy Long Legs

Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Daddy Long Legs. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

The Route to Musical Love
by John Herbert Cunningham

Daddy Long Legs has walked a great distance to get from page to stage making many transformations along the way.

It began its journey in 1912 as a novel by Jean Webster, daughter of a wealthy socialite family who, when she arrived in New York to attend Vassar College as a budding English major and future novelist, became exposed to the American orphanage system and became an advocate for reform. Its next incarnation was as a 1919 silent movie starring Mary Pickford whom many may remember as a Canadian actress. It first appeared as a musical in 1931, sticking close to the original, before Shirley Temple, in 1935, starred in a musical version which required significant changes. This revamping continued when, in 1955, a movie version starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron was created with music and lyrics by Johnny Mer, as an anime television series, (1990), and South Korea (2005).

Finally, through a joint effort by the Rubicon Theatre Company of Ventura, California, TheatreWorks of the Silicon Valley, and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the original plot was restored before finally settling onto the mainstage of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC), the John Hirsch Theatre.

Review: (Ottawa) 33 Swoons

Chekhov's Heart
by Jim Murchison 

Well spring is here, so it's only appropriate that you get out your Chekhov shorts. The big problem with a lot of Chekhov productions is that they don’t understand his intense sense of humour. To my mind everyone that wants to do The Seagull or Uncle Vanya should be required to read his short stories or one act plays first.

Fortunately for students at Algonquin, director Mary Ellis has used three hilariously insightful pieces that allow them to play and learn the fine art of Chekhov. In the right hands, Chekhov is more than just funny, he’s hilarious: and he’s in good hands here.

Review: (Vancouver) Two Pianos, Four Hands

Greenblatt (l), Dykstra

Classical recital meets comedic genius
Two talented pianists have some very funny stories to tell
by Chris Lane

2 Pianos 4 Hands is a hilarious comedy, and like a musical, except with only piano playing instead of singing. More simply, it’s a Canadian classic that’s well worth seeing.

It tells the semi-autobiographical story of two boys growing up with their pianos. The plot follows them from piano lessons, to competitions at Kiwanis festivals, to Royal Conservatory exams, to figuring out if they’ll ever make it as professional classical pianists.

Review: (Toronto) The Whipping Man

Thomas Olajide, Sterling Jarvis and Brett Donahue (photo credit: Keith Barker)

Spinning Slavery
HGJT and Obsidian tackle little known history
by Gregory Bunker

Written by Matthew Lopez and first produced in 2006, The Whipping Man is an excellent production that puts a deeply ironic spin on slavery in America. The play is co-produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and Obsidian Theatre, and draws special attention to the paradox of Jewish slave-owning in America. It explores the notion that a religion with the history and pride of escaping slavery could be kosher with imposing such chains on others. And it is the gobsmacking awkwardness of reconciling this irony in the newly emancipated South that makes for great theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. 

Multi-Media, March 22, 2013

Ignoring Schnitzler
360 veers from its source
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

As I was watching 360 I tried to imagine the meeting of the minds which gave birth to the film.

How about a modern day adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde?

PRODUCER (A friend of the writer but still his tone of voice deeply noncommittal)

A classic of world theatre! Commentary on sexual mores that still resonate! How all our fates are intertwined- 

- like Crash?- 

A Fly On The Wall, March 22, 2013

Cast of Characters
by Jim Murchison 

I’ve always preferred ensemble theatre, where there is a true sharing of the workload and every one relies on each other. At our workshops for Taming of The Shrew, there was a lot of discussion about various forms of theatre, with the big focus on commedia d’ell arte. Although exaggeration is a key component of the form it won’t work unless you tap into something that is also truthful and real that an audience can relate to.  

For myself, playing four characters, the need to draw on a distinct reference for each one is important. I want the audience to understand immediately who I am. The most elderly character is Gremio and Shakespeare has helped us there. He refers to him as the old grey beard and the old pantalone. The last time I grew a beard it was predominantly brown with hints of red. It is now mainly grey and white, so that part is easy. Now all I have to worry about is playing him.

CharPo's Real Theatre! March 22, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Hypno

Marie-Hélène Gosselin, Martin Tremblay Photo: Marie-Andrée Lemire

Things Hypnosis Won’t Let You Forget.
by Nanette Soucy

In the tiny, low-ceilinged and intimate venue of Théâtre Prospéro, Tsunami Théâtre brings us Hypno, a kind of Ouroborean slapstick farce about a stage hypnotist, his oblivious wife, an obsessed fan seeking help for his gelid wife’s self image problem, and the wacky ways in which the couples intersect.  This compact new work by Simon Boudreau clocks in at a brief but narratively complicated hour without intermission. Lines are quick, snappy, and rhythmic, delivered with a stock comedic cadence that verges on corny, but without eliciting a whole lot of groaning.

Smashed, March 21, 2013

Musical Chairs
Smash seems to be going round and round in circles
by Stuart Munro

Hello friends! I tell you. With the week I’m having, I couldn’t wait to sit down with a glass of whisky (for those who don’t like Canadian Whisky, I suggest giving the Forty Creek Premium Barrel Select a chance) and my favourite worst show about musical theatre, Smash!

This week opens with a rehearsal for Hit List, featuring the ever-dashing Jimmy, and Karen’s roommate, Ana (who has a great voice, but does the weirdest thing with her jaw when she sings). The AD of the theatre wants to put the show in their 80-seat “underground” venue, but both Jimmy and Derek think that’s a terrible idea. So the pressure is on to give the show a little more finesse by the end of the next day. Because it’s just that easy! Karen swings by to push them in the right direction, and Jimmy tries to guilt her into being a part of the production (and consequently leaving Bombshell), but she walks out, pausing just long enough to give them their theme . . . apparently she’s just that good. The boys figure out a new opening number to pitch to the team which sells the show to the mainstage. I like the tune, but I wish they wouldn’t over-produce Jeremy Jordan’s voice so much. The boy is talented; he doesn’t need it.