Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: (Montreal / Theatre) Le Dernier Rôle

Photo by Danny Girouard-Taillon

When is a role not a role?
by Élaine Charlebois 

In Le dernier rôle, writer, performer, director Mohsen El Gharbi plays an actor preparing for a role that will make or break his career; a role that no one else is willing to undertake. He is asked to play a mass murderer named Mark Taylor who was responsible for killing 17 female students from Anchorage Institute of Technology in Alaska. 

Drawing on the tragic shooting of 14 women that occurred at l’École polytechnique here in Montreal on December 6, 1989, El Gharbi explores the grim process that takes place in transforming an everyday man into a cruel assassin. Having subjected himself to 18 months of brutal research on the subject of serial murder, the actor successfully brings out the feelings of torment and fear that his character must experience in order to become murderer Mark Taylor. 

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A Beautiful View

A Beautiful View, but it lacks an uglier side
by joel fishbane

A new production of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View has blown into Toronto and it has brought with it some admirable talent. The two-decade old Volcano Theatre has paired improv performer Becky Johnson with veteran NTS graduate Amy Rutherford to explore MacIvor’s drama about two women whose inability to put a convenient label on their unique friendship leads to conflict and complication. The result is a unique mix that, while entertaining, only occasionally illuminates MacIvor’s text.

Two unnamed women (Johnson and Rutherford) reunite to tell us the story of their relationship through re-enactment, monologue and commentary – often they break out of a scene to make remarks on what’s just occurred or defend their actions to the audience. It’s a fascinating theatrical technique but this production, directed by Ross Manson, seems uninterested in exploring it. Instead, Manson seems more focused on adding movement and physicality to the play as a way of exploring, presumably, the inner lives of the play’s two enigmatic characters.

CharPo's Real Theatre! February 28, 2014

A Fly On The Wall, February 28, 2014

The World Stage
by Jim Murchison 

Sometimes there are productions that occur that are bigger than the stage that they are on. They stretch out into the world and impact the way society looks at things. Such is the case with the Olympic closing ceremonies. The entire world was watching that giant teddy bear cry that the games are over. The athletic games that is. The political games carry on.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, was critical of countries that did not participate in Sochi, believing that a boycott takes the focus off of the issues and allegations of Human Rights violations and in particular the government’s policies with regard to the Gay community.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Major Tom (World Stage)

(credit: Liquid Photo)
A (Show) Dog's Life
Victoria Melody’s one-woman dog show never quite leaves ground control.
by Christian Baines
There’s an eerie foreshadowing when Victoria Melody starts telling us of the numerous Z-list British celebrities that her dog, Major Tom has charmed on his daily walks. Could Melody be giving us a glimpse of what she would eventually become? That’s certainly the question lurking at the back of Major Tom, the 70 minute monologue Melody delivers based on her experience, first on the UK dog show circuit, then as a mature age beauty queen herself.
Melody imbues her story with a delightful everywoman-out-of-her-depth quality. It’s endearing in no small thanks to her resilience in the face of repeated failure. The biggest applause is naturally reserved for the eponymous pooch, an adorable basset hound guaranteed to earn his share of laughs and awwws from the audience.

Review: (Ottawa / Theatre) Underbelly

The Beat Goes On
by Jim Murchison 

Underbelly starts with words spoken in total black. It gives it a feel of Genesis; that some new beginning will spring from the darkness. When the lights do come up they illuminate a writer in a brown suit with large yellow tinted glasses that sees the world through jaundiced medicated eyes.

I was born a little after the Beat Generation, a few more years removed from the frightening blinding light of the first atomic explosions. “The bomb” is what informed a generation of poets. Instead of seeking shelter and protection in a basement from the inevitable disaster and self destruction they believed would visit us, they sought relief in concoctions and potions that provided inspiration and escape.

Jayson McDonald has written a piece that captures the distrust of authority and creativeness of William S. Burroughs. 

Review: (Vancouver / Theatre) Hirsch

(photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

With Heart and Chutzpah
One of our great Canadians is part of Vancouver's Chutzpah Festival
by David C. Jones
John Hirsch was a remarkable Canadian. A Hungarian Jew orphaned by the Holocaust finds a new home in Canadian Theatre where he gains a reputation for his talent and drive as well as his stormy temperament and corrosive demeanour.
The play Hirsch was created and conceived by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson, starring the former, directed by the latter. The one-person show was a smash hit at The Stratford Festival. It is as frenetic, engaging and heartfelt as the person at the heart of it.
Told with crisscrossing snippets from his highly tragic life, the stage is filled with magical stagecraft. Curtains and sheets disappear and befitting a theatrical legend a stagehand wanders in from stage left or right bringing costume and set pieces.

Review: (Vancouver / Theatre) For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again

Tremblay Transformed
A play is adapted for the The Talking Stick Festival exploring aboriginal culture through the arts
by David C. Jones

The matinée performance of For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again had school groups in with a fair number of First Nation students in attendance. Written in 1998 as a tribute to his late mother Michel Tremblay has crafted a nostalgic, funny and theatrical remembrance.

Full Circle Theatre adapts the two characters from Catholic French Canadians to a First Nations mother and son. Since Tremblay has a line referencing his Cree grandmother already there, the only clear change is a magical bit of stagecraft that has an aboriginal flair.

Bonus Feature: Keir Cutler on Is Shakespeare Germany

Theatre and the Power of the World Wide Web
by Keir Cutler
On March 23rd of last year, I received a surprising email from a stranger in Germany.  It read in part,
“Dear Dr. Cutler,
 First I want to introduce myself, my name is Gregor Eckert, I live in Minden near the City of Hanover in Germany. I am father of two children, my wife is the director of the communal theatre in Minden (you van take a look here: ) and I am an actor. During the last couple of years I played about six different one-man-shows, including Gestatten! - Mark Twain (you can watch it here: ). This might be the reason, that already in 2009 I made the "online-acquaintance" to your excellent play Is Shakespeare Dead? I must admit, I was impressed and since that time I couldn’t get rid of the thought to produce this masterpiece in and for Germany, and of course in your, Keir Cutler’s, way and conception. … I hope to hear from you.  With kind regards.  Gregor Eckert”

I was obviously thrilled that someone in a country I’ve never even visited, wanted to translate my work into a language I don’t speak, and perform it.  Oh, the power of the world wide web!  We started a correspondence that has resulted in the  German premiere of Ist Shakespeare Tot on the 8th of March, 2014 in Hanover, Germany.  

Now that Gregor is only a couple of weeks from opening his version, I’ve asked him to tell me how the experience has gone.  The following is his report.  I haven’t rewritten it, since his English is excellent, while still preserving a flavour of his native German.

Picture of the Week, February 27, 2014

It's not coming to Canada for a bit yet - and making stops at the Cultch in Vancouver and at World Stage in Toronto when it does - but it is never too early to get excited about the arrival of the world acclaimed South African adaptation, Mies Julie. It's especially not difficult to be thrilled when you start to see photos like this masterpiece by Murdoch MacLeod (featuring Bongile Mantsai and Hilda Cronje). It's so raw it's almost mystical and MacLeod recognizes that with the wondrous addition of the cloud behind the love-haters. That cheap kitchen table also lends the piece a certain tawdriness that marks Strindberg's original play as well. Beauty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: (Vancouver/Dance) Me So You So Me

Cute playful fun.
by David C Jones

David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen are young dynamic, engaging, and brilliant dancers. They have created a series of colourful vignettes that merge cool athleticism with light and sound. They are quite accomplished and sexily playful. But what does it all add up to?
The first couple of pieces are solos and each piece segues into the next in a clever and fun way. In one section Tiffany is tangled in a rope and then gets pulled off stage right. David enters pulling the rope onstage left. When she has disappeared he drops the rope and starts a new sequence.
In a dynamically lit (designer James Proudfoot) sequence David dances through a series of six light squares to a song that has key lyrics projected and Tiffany rolls into the light revealing them like a James Bond opening title scene.
As the show progresses they start dancing more together; they are cute with each other and appear to be brother and sister or neighbours exploring the world of childlike imagination and play.

Bonus Feature: Wayne Burns on Wolf. - an artists' networking group

(photo by Stephen Tracey)

by Wayne Burns

Wayne Burns is a multi award-winning Actor from Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. He will be graduating from National Theatre School of Canada's Acting program in May 2014. Mr. Burns continues to act in both theatre and film, and has originated roles in new works by artists Paul Ledoux (Merlin, Halifax Theatre for Young People) and David S. Craig (Tough Case, Left Foot First Productions). He was also involved in the first Atlantic Canadian readings of Proud (Michael Healey) and With Bated Breath (Bryden Macdonald), and is the back-to-back recipient of the Theatre Nova Scotia Award for both 2011 and 2012. In 2011, Wayne Burns made his film debut in Jason Buxton's Blackbird, which has gone on to win many awards internationally in such festivals as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Cannes Film Festival. Most recently, Wayne can be seen in Gia Milani's All the Wrong Reasons, which was chosen as an Official Selection for TIFF 2013. The film stars Kevin Zegers, Emily Hampshire, Karine Vanasse and the late Cory Monteith. On the smaller screen Wayne Burns headlined with Hugh Cape in the short film Bone Deep, written by Jessica Marsh and directed by Jeremy Webb. The short film premiered at the 2013 Atlantic Film Festival and earned Wayne an ACTRA Maritimes Award Nomination for his performance.

Wolf. has been created to bring together studying Montreal artists from all programs. It is the creation of a pack. A network of artists to share, collaborate and discover the work that is being created amongst us.

On December 17, 2013, a snowy day in Montreal, Alison Darcy, Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre, Erica Anderson and myself gathered at Le Couteau to discuss the creation of a new group to engage the vibrant community of artists in Montreal. After enjoying our warm drinks, and finishing Alison’s chocolate croissant for her, the brainstorming began…

This is Erica’s and my third and final year in the acting program at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS). We are so blessed, as students, to be able to perform at the Monument-National and work with incredible professional artists. However, we felt a lack of connection between ourselves and the other arts students in Montreal. We noticed this in the attendance of our performances and in our lack of knowledge of what was happening within our own community. We wanted to build relationships and felt we were on our own little island.

Enter Alison Darcy.

Review: (Montreal / Theatre) The Changeling

Megn Walker, Benjamin Wheelwright (photo by Maxime Coté)
The love triangles of wicked people
by Aleksandra Koplik

The graduating classes of the National Theatre School of Canada bring us The Changeling, a dark and twisted romantic story filled with castles, murders, asylums, blackmail and dirty, dirty premarital sex. Director David Latham takes the original text written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley and gives it a contemporary feel.  Since many of the actors are playing two different characters, it can sometimes be hard to follow, but to break it down; it’s a showdown of two love triangles.
The main character, at first very lovely and Juliet-esque, Beatrice (Megn Walker), is engaged to Alonzo de Piracquo (Stephen Tracey), but is in love with Alsemero (James Daly). So, she uses De Flores (Benjamin Wheelwright), who’s basically her stalker and mother’s servant, to murder Alonzo and in return ends up being blackmailed into giving her virginity to him.


Review: (Montreal) The Meeting

About MLK and Malcolm…
by Aleksandra Koplik

What if Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X sat down and had a conversation? What would be the outcome or consensus? Written by Jeff Stetson and directed by Quincy Armorer, Black Theatre Workshop presents The Meeting. It’s a play that addresses such timeless issues as racism, poverty and discrimination. 
Fade in. The audience sees a sleeping Malcolm X (Lindsay Owen Pierre), he is awoken by his bodyguard Rashad (Kareem Tristan Alleyne). X’s house has just been bombed and his thirst for change has never been greater. He awakes from a nightmare and almost immediately greets Martin Luther King Jr. (Christian Paul).  We are introduced to two completely different standpoints on racism. The two are different in almost every way possible:
King is Christian. He was a Baptist reverend.
X is Muslim (who knew!?).  He converted from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam and became a minister.
King wants to make change through love. He believes there is no hate with love.
X pushes for change through force. He is certain that people don’t understand love, they understand action.

News: (Picton, Ontario) Festival Players announces 2014 season (press release)

News: (Ottawa) Opera Lyra announces 2014-15 season (press release)

News: (Toronto) Randolph Academy announces 2014 season (press release)

In a Word... Zach Fraser on The Aeneid

Cultural Divides, The Immigrant Experience and the (non) Limits of Puppetry
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Zach Fraser is an actor, director, puppeteer and teacher. A graduate of École Philippe Gaulier (London/Paris) and Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia), he also completed an advanced diploma in puppetry at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Recent performances include Trench Patterns (Infinitheatre); The Game of Love and Chance (Canadian Stage/Centaur Theatre); The Hanging of Francoise Laurent (Stranger/Blyth,On); and Luna (Casteliers). Recent directing credits include Coma Unplugged (Talisman Theatre); Gogol's Le Révizor (Université de Montréal); and ... and stockings for the ladies (Rustwerks, Qc). Of late, Zach Fraser has been busy building puppets, including those recently featured in Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre's The Heretics of Bohemia at the Segal Centre. As a movement and mask teacher, he is on faculty at John Abbott College and has also taught at McGill University and the National Theatre School of Canada. He was recently invited as guest teacher to École Philippe Gaulier in France.

CHARPO:  I'd like to start with something quite specific to your interpretation. Let me present this: that puppetry is like mime, musicals, clown and opera - it appeals to a very special kind of theatre audience. First, would you accept that premise? Is this limiting or liberating?

FRASER: Hah! I do agree that puppetry has a bit of a niche following, but at the same time this is something I try to fight against a bit. Quebec is lucky to have an extremely vibrant puppet community, more than elsewhere in Canada. I try to feed off this wealth of diversity as much as possible. In the world of puppetry there are so many variations on the theme. And yet, how often do we see puppetry in mainstream theatre? Puppetry thrives very well on the fringes and among younger audiences but we tend to resist, or simply not consider puppetry as an option for adult theatre productions. (And when I say ‘adult’, I simply mean for grown-ups, not necessarily X-rated, though that can be interesting too!) Remembering that puppetry can be an option in any production is very liberating to me. By its very nature, puppetry breaks the boundaries of realism and pushes us toward metaphor, magic, and heightened theatricality. Puppetry can be limiting only in the fact that it almost always requires additional production time and funds.

Video of the Week, February 26, 2014

Go behind the scenes of Talisman's Aeneid (also see today's In a Word... for an interview with the production's director, Zach Fraser)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

After Dark, February 25, 2014

I Swear!
No little old ladies...
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I had the great good fortune of working with the grande dame of theatre, Gisèle Schmidt, in Toronto. She was performing in a play of mine and we were both put up in a grotty convenience apartment building, across the hall from each other. Each morning, Giséle would come over for breakfast. She was still in sleepwear and a nightgown but her hair and makeup were done. My fondest memory is teaching her how to make poached eggs. Over breakfast we would discuss everything. Despite a 40 year difference in our ages it was easy conversation. Of course, I behaved myself (as Gisèle was an icon - my parents never hesitated to tell me). I didn't swear around her and even in my play there was just one swear word and it was used to make a point about swearing.

One morning Gisèle told me that, as much as she admired him, she would never play in a work by Michel Tremblay. His language was simply too coarse. We never argued about it. She was of another theatre age - indeed from the start of modern Canadian theatre when everyone was amateur. 

It was surprising to me, then, a few years later, when I heard Gisèle was appearing in the world premiere of a Tremblay work. Not just any work, either: Albertine, en cinq temps - arguably his greatest work. But it is, too, a work that has no shortage of "language". It was, reportedly, one of her great performances. I later saw her in yet another Tremblay piece: Marcel poursuivi par les chiens and she, like the play, was brilliant. Again..."language". 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Question... David Latham on The Changeling at NTS

Not Romeo and Juliet
In The Changeling the fight to keep the relationship going takes a very different turn.
by Estelle Rosen

David Latham is a director, teacher, and actor who has worked in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. He is in his 14th season as Theatre Training Consultant at Stratford Festival, where his recent directing credits include Othello, Cymbeline, Agamemnon, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. For the Birmingham Conservatory (Stratford), where he was Associate Artist for seven seasons, he has directed The Winter’s Tale, King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. He presently oversees the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction at the Birmingham Conservatory. In Canada, David Latham's work has been seen at the Centaur, The Globe, The Vancouver Playhouse, Studio 58 (Vancouver), Alberta Theatre Projects, the Canadian Stage Company, and the Manitoba Theatre Centre. For the National Theatre School, he has directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love For Love, Richard III, Twelfth Night, The Cherry Orchard and Women Beware Women.

CHARPO: You've been quoted as saying "The Changeling is like Romeo and Juliet on the dark side". Could you expand on that and also discuss the challenges of directing this play with a student cast.

LATHAM: A young woman and a young man meet and immediately fall in love. It is love at first sight. The young woman is already betrothed but she is in love with this new man.

So the story of the play The Changeling by Middleton and Rowley begins and so does the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare begin.

In The Changeling the fight to keep the relationship going takes a very different turn. The young woman takes matters into her own hands and with the help of a servant is complicit in murder, betrayal revenge and adultery. This story has quite a different ending.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Feature: Interview - Playwright Kawa Ada on The Wanderers

Trauma, Collaboration, and Powerhouse Women 
One of the main things is that I want audiences to come away having seen a play from the vantage point of an Afghan.
by Keely Kwok 

Immediately after graduating from The Boston Conservatory, Kawa Ada was cast on Broadway in Bombay Dreams.  Since then, his credits have included shows with Tarragon, Factory, Canadian Stage and three seasons at The Shaw Festival. A past recipient of the Emerging Theatre Artist Award from Canadian Actors' Equity, Kawa is currently the Resident Artist at the Cahoots Theatre Company, where he recently served as the Interim Artistic Director.  Next, Ada stars in Sky Gilbert’s newest play, Hackerlove at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and the film, Jihad Gigolo, which he also wrote.  He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan.

As I walked into Cahoots theatre to meet playwright and actor Kawa Ada, I stepped right into the middle of cast and crew taking a break from The Wanderers rehearsals. Kawa Ada was mid-bite and jumped up to introduce himself and shake my hand. Kawa exudes a kind of radiant kindness; it’s like a breath of fresh air. He also gave me fair warning that he can be chatty which was great for me because what Ada had to say is spoken with absolute eloquence, fascination, and humility. So, without further ado, here is my interview with the ever charming Kawa Ada. 

CHARPO: Who or what inspired you to write this play, The Wanderers?

ADA: The inspiration really came from my mother. This play is for all intents and purposes homage to her and her beautiful sense of mystery, wonder, and the kind of mythology and superstition with which she raised us. I was a child of war and we fled from the war in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. We moved to various countries and finally ended up in Canada when I was about eight years old. My mother’s spirit and energy with which she raised myself and my siblings was so vital when we were fleeing and moving to all these different countries. It really allowed us to have this kind of understanding but also a kind of respect and reverence for the mythic and the unknown. And that really kept our imaginations alive for all of us. 

There’s a character in the play that’s based on my mother, a little girl in the play. She’s an Afghan girl and is based on how I imagined my mother would be as a young girl. The bigger themes of the play are legacy, mythology, family history, and war. And all those things kind of interrelate with my upbringing and my mother is kind of the figure who brought all those things together. 

Sunday Feature: Laurel Green on ATP's Raucous Caucus

The Rowdies
by Laurel Green

Laurel Green is the Artistic Associate at Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) in Calgary where she works in new play development and literary management for the company. As Production Dramaturg at ATP’s Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays, Laurel’s credits include: a two-hander Bollywood musical (Same Same But Different), a new translation (You Will Remember Me), a hip hop musical (Ash Rizin), a Bacchanalian rock 'n roll cabaret (The God That Comes), and a new play by Joan MacLeod (The Valley). As a freelance dramaturg, she’s currently working on: The Distance Between You and I with Humble Wonder Theatre, and Attack of the Pine Beetles! with Evergreen Theatre. Laurel is an active board member for the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. You can follow her on Twitter @LGYYC

We started an Emerging Artists Assembly during the 2011 Enbridge playRites Festival; a small mini-conference weekend that welcomed students and young artists to the Martha Cohen Theatre to watch all four Festival plays, network, and meet guest artists. One of the most popular events was called ‘Raucous Caucus’ –this was a rowdy panel discussion hosted by Ghost River Theatre’s Eric Rose where participants were encouraged to weigh in on topics that were important to them. We realized that the whole weekend should be a ‘Raucous Caucus’, a chance to ask questions, share ideas, get inspired and raise your voice. In 2012,  I worked closely with the Youth Education and Outreach department at Alberta Theatre Projects to expand Raucous Caucus into a jam-packed three-day long symposium built around having lots of chances to participate and network. We wanted to build a fun event for the next generation of Canadian theatre artists, and we’ve had plenty of them turn up each year from all across Alberta! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: (Ottawa / Theatre) Enron

(photo by Andrée Lanthier)
The Shadow of Money
by Jim Murchison 

Lucy Prebble has written a play that examines modern day hucksterism. The financial 911 that hit the world after the attacks in New York and Washington may well have been the more potent terrorist attack. I do not mean to belittle the devastating loss to the victims and families of the twin towers and the flights that went down but the greater threat to society as a whole appears to be corporate greed perpetuated and enabled by governments dedicated to propagandizing and myth making hyperbole.

Director Ron Jenkins has created a fast paced multi media presentation that dazzles and mesmerizes an audience in the same way a magician might with an incredible illusion. The play emulates the subject matter which is flash and smoke and mirrors, but the play has considerably more substance.

With song, dance, puppetry and lights the play maintains an atmosphere of a group of partygoers riding the crest of a wave. There is flash, confetti, money and music everywhere. The pace is kept going largely because of Michel Walton’s set design that has two levels separated by a scrolling marquee so that the action never pauses. We’re kept informed of the historical context as we travel through the Clinton and G W Bush years and into the new millennium by the projections and sound bytes on the upstage upper level.

creating a/broad, February 22, 2014

Home Theatre
by Cameryn Moore

If everything goes the way I hope with fundraising for my UK tour this summer, I will be doing four Fringes: Brighton, Ludlow, Buxton, and Edinburgh. Though the UK style of Fringes—open access, or all Bring Your Own Venue, in CAFF-speak—is still challenging for me, there is a deeper way in which it is very familiar. This is theatre-based theatre. These shows are happening in spaces where performance space and audience seating and a box office and a tech booth all mean roughly the same thing, no matter which theatre space they are happening in. One stage may be roomier than another, or the box office may be off site, or audience seating may be on risers and/or in the round and/or occasionally blocked by pillars, but this is all happening in a space designed or specifically converted for performance.

Even with all that Fringing, though, I still have a lot of open space in my UK schedule, and not enough money or enough contacts among independent venues to fill those in with standard bookings. Particularly for London, where I simply cannot hack rentals on my own right now, but still have about a month to fill. I’m going to be dragging out the Smut Stand as often as I can, but I’m also going for it this year: I’m going to register for the Home Theatre Festival. It’s the best bargain running. It’s TOTALLY FREE.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: (Montreal) Coming and Going

Siren's Call
by Élaine Charlebois

In Stéphanie Morin-Robert’s piece Coming and Going presented by Tangente at Théâtre Prospero,  female contemporary dancers inhabit the stage as the voice and music of poet Ian Ferrier fill the room, adding a narrative nature to the piece. Although there is no clear-cut storyline to Coming and Going, the combination of Ferrier’s beautiful words and the fluid performance of the dancers allowed a feeling of nostalgia to sink in. The poetry and sound allowed the audience to be swayed by the images that were conjured by Ferrier’s words and expressed so wonderfully the comforting yet melancholy mood that is characteristic of sea-port towns. His voice was so soft yet so full of emotion, enriching the piece as it unfolded. 

Review: (Vancouver) Grace-Symmetry

Rachel Meyer, Darren Devaney (photo by Michael Slobodian)

by Jay Catterson

The exploration of the intersection between music and dance was on glorious display at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for Ballet BC's Grace-Symmetry, which featured a re-staging of 2011's In Motion'by Wen Wei Wang and two world premieres, Prelude'by Medhi Walerski and Here On End by Kevin O'Day. All of these extremely athletic pieces were complemented by live music performed immaculately by Turning Pointe Ensemble, led by conductor Owen Underhill. 

Wang's In Motion was an impressive and uplifting piece that focused on lines, shapes and form, and showcased Turning Point Ensemble's musical prowess by featuring the orchestra on stage with the dancers. The piece effectively blended the lines between Underhill's music and dance, particularly during a mesmerizing pointe sequence that featured the percussive quality of the dancers' movements, breathing and whispered counting. Another highlight of the piece was an extremely athletic, yet seemingly effortless and touching pas de deux between Gilbert Small and Peter Smida. (It's important to note that Smida apparently fell sick and had to bow out of the other two pieces that evening, leading to a last minute re-staging of both Prelude and Here on End.) 

Review: (Vancouver) Driving Miss Daisy

L-R Nicola Lipman, Brian Linds, John Campbell (photo by David Cooper)
Driving smoothly and without a hitch
A smart tale of colour-blind compassion
by Chris Lane

You know just where you’re going with Driving Miss Daisy, but it’s still plenty of fun getting there.

The play opens in 1948 with the eponymous Daisy, an elderly Southern Jewish woman, stubbornly insisting to her grown son, Boolie, that she’s still a perfectly good driver – despite having barrelled into a garage by mixing up the gears. He ignores her protestations and hires her a chauffeur, Hoke, who’s almost as old as Daisy but still knows exactly what he’s doing. Daisy isn’t keen on being driven around – perhaps least of all by a black man.

The affable Hoke works hard to get along with Daisy, and to make her see him as a fellow human that she can relate to. The plot is rather predictable, and yet this production succeeds at making the audience care for the characters and about their story.

CharPo's Real Theatre! February 21, 2014

A Fly On The Wall, February 21, 2014

Spring is Coming
Jim Murchison 

I have always lived in Canada. I have seldom gone anywhere for a retreat to the heat during the long nights of winter. The days are getting longer now though and our winter discontent will melt away in March ... or April... well definitely by May and be replaced by the awakening green and blossoming festivals.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: (Toronto) Cher Menteur

Albert Millaire, Louise Marleau  (photo by Avital Zemmer)

Missed Connections
Blocked in translation from the page to the stage. 
by Lisa McKeown 

Touted as a 'serous comedy based on the rich, witty and often passionate correspondence' of two huge theatre personalities - George Bernard Shaw and the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell - I was full of anticipation as I entered the intimate upstairs space of the Berkeley Street Theatre. Not to mention intimidated as an anglophone. It felt like a huge portion of Toronto's francophone community had turned out for the opening night of this show. Not least, I'm sure, because the two characters would be played by two actors who are themselves likewise big names of the theatre world: Louise Marleau and Albert Millaire. 

Review: (Toronto) Forgiveness

(photo by John Lauener)
Tipping the Balance
by Beat Rice

For lack of a better term, Forgiveness is an extremely well balanced show. Visually and intellectually, it does not lean towards one side more than the other. The show consists of energetic and aggressive physicality, and is balanced with quieter isolated moments, when one must listen harder than look. It plays between light and funny scenes and serious content without making us feel uncomfortable. There are moments of casual conversation in which the performers talk facing the audience, mixed in with high dance performance. Thomas Ryder Payne has created an amazing sound design, one that could be impressive on its own. Payne’s sound design does not just accompany the show; it is a vital part of it.

Review: (Toronto) Mrs. Warren's Profession

                                                                                     Photo by Artjom Gilz
Is the Lady a Tramp?
by Lucy Wells

Sterling Studio Theatre is presenting one of the lesser-known plays of George Bernard Shaw, Mrs Warren’s Profession. This four-act play runs about two hours in the company’s very intimate and informal theatre on (surprise!) Sterling Road. The setting is laid back, with front of house staff serving concessions in a cozy lobby filled with odds and ends; the theatre itself is an oblong room with a collection of risers forming a simple, multi-level set fronting a longer brick wall; mismatched chairs and benches form two rows of seating opposite. This arrangement blurs the lines between actors and audience when the action spreads across the stage. Impossible to track everything without turning back and forth between actors, it’s an interesting way of eliciting a physical response from an audience, and one of the reasons why I enjoy shows in non-traditional theatres.

Review: (Toronto) Same Same But Different

L-R Anita Majumdar, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia  (photo by Michael Cooper)

Timing In All
by Winna Tse

Written and choreographed by Anita Majumdar and co-produced by Theatre Passe Muraille, Alberta Theatre Projects in association with Nightswimming, Same Same But Different (SSBD) proves to be an extraordinary piece of work. SSBD is a poignant story on cultural prejudices and two women entangled within it. In Act one, Canadian-born starlet, Aisha, (Anita Majumbar) returns to Canada to shoot her latest film and meets Ben (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia), a Filipino Canadian background dancer. Their interaction forces Aisha to further delve into her prejudices about nationality, skin colour and family. Act two is set 20 years prior and tells the story of Aisha’s mother, Kabira, also played by Majumbar and her life-changing encounter with Bollywood.

The Abominable Showman, February 20, 2014

What if Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had sat down and had it out? 
Black Theatre Workshop imagines what could have been, in The Meeting …
by Richard Burnett 

Their meeting is famous: March 26, 1964, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X shook hands in front of the Washington press corps outside the U.S. Senate Caucus Room on Capitol Hill.

Malcolm – who once called King “Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing” – stepped out of the crowd, blocked Dr. King’s path, extended his hand and smiled.

“Well, Malcolm, good to see you,” King said, shaking Malcolm X’s hand.

That meeting almost 50 years ago lasted only a minute. 

But what if it had lasted an hour?

Picture of the Week, February 20, 2014

Attention to detail, love of actors, background a delight but removing nothing from the foreground, subjects toying with the camera - it must be David Cooper. Here the brilliant photog offers us Nicola Lipman and John Campbell in Driving Miss Daisy at Arts Club.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bonus Feature: Interview - Director Michael Greyeyes on Signal Theatre's A Soldier's Tale

Forgotten Stories of War
I distinctly wanted the audience to have a contemporary experience of what war is.
by Matt Jones

This year will see a number of plays about war hit Canadian stages. But whose stories do we miss out on when we talk about the nation at war? Signal Theatre’s new production A Soldier’s Tale, is a mix of dance, theatre, and live music that seeks to tell stories about communities that are often forgotten in stories of war. Its first act focuses on First Nations soldiers returning to Saskatchewan after World War II and then it jumps 50 years to the deserts of Iraq. I spoke to director Michael Greyeyes about First Nations soldiers fighting for the British Empire, imagining Iraq today, and sitting in a trench being rained on by a firehose.

CHARPO: The show looks like an ambitious production! You have 13 performers and it incorporates dance, narrative, theatre and live music. How would you characterize the show?

GREYEYES: This piece has been in development for a number of years. It began with a conversation with a symphony based in Philadelphia that wanted to look at re-working Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat. And I said, I’m just not interested in a story about the devil, a Judeo-Christian theme about knowledge and selling one’s soul. But I am interested deeply in soldiers and their experiences.

CHARPO: How did you get interested in the stories of soldiers?

GREYEYES: I’d just finished working on Paul Robeson’s feature film Passchendaele. Being a soldier in big budget films is extremely immersive. We go through boot camp, we train as soldiers and then the filming is often quite gruelling. You live like a soldier, you’re outside in the elements, so the immersive effect of being a soldier and thinking like a soldier made me sympathetic to a soldier’s experience. Then we immediately moved into families because families bear the brunt of soldiers’ experience. As the piece developed we became more interested in all the stories, which includes the story of the Iraqi nationals that are affected by the war. In the end, that’s where our Second Act moved. Act One is based in Saskatchewan, in approximately 1947 and examines the life of soldiers returning from World War II. But Act Two is set in Iraq.

Review: (Montreal) Amours fatales

(Photo by Catherine Asselin-Boulange) 
Fatal Theatre Attraction
by Aleksandra Koplik

When entering Espace Libre’s black box theatre, the overwhelming sounds of snarling and heavy breathing echo in the room – a definite warning of what is about to happen on stage. The audience sits on benches around a square platform filled with dirt, the centre of the action. When the lights go out and turn back on, four people dressed in animal skins jump onto the stage from the four corners of the room: two women and two men present throughout the whole play (Pascal Contamine, Kathleen Fortin, Marie Lefebvre, Gaétan Nadeau). They are accompanied by a live narrator (Charles Préfontaine).

News: (Toronto) Buddies in Bad Times announces new award for emerging Queer artists (press release)

Review: (Ottawa) Morro and Jasp do Puberty (Undercurrents)

(photo by Jim Moore)

Awkward as An Art Form
by Jim Murchison 

The best clowns take a recognizable weakness in the human condition and expose it in a way that makes us laugh and illuminates something of the common human spirit.  What better common experience than puberty is there? We have all been through it and if you haven't, get permission from your parents before you read the review.

The key elements of the set are not surprisingly the toilet, the bedroom and the telephone; all things of extreme import for the evolving adolescent. Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee as clown sisters  Morro and Jasp respectively play all the moments of angst and discovery with comic zeal. Weaved into the mix are quiet secrets whispered to the audience, love fantasies and discoveries about feminine hygiene products set to the epic music of Richard Strauss.

Review: (Vancouver) Bug

Genevieve Fleming, Jay Clift (photo by Matt Reznek)
The need for connection “I need you” 
The fear of conspiracy ‘They want me”
by David C. Jones

Bug was the second play written by eventual Pulitzer Prize winner (for August Osage County) Mr. Tracy Letts. It is an intriguing story of some of life’s losers finding hope and the destructive nature of delusion. Hardline Productions is a sexy young company that love psychologically complex stories and have a keen ear for sound and an eye for movement. The story called Bug would seem to be a good fit.

Agnes is a drug addict who drinks but is able to stay straight enough to work part time as a waitress. She lives in a hotel and when we meet her she is chilling in a doorway enjoying some red wine. Her bleary eye bliss is interrupted by a phone call without anyone on the line. She believes it might be her ex-husband recently released from prison.

News: (Toronto) Tarragon announces 2014-15 season (press release)

In a Word... Artistic Director Geneviève Pineault on Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario

(photo by Alexandre Mattar)

Beyond The Minority Complex
Let’s just say that people who have a stereotypical way of looking at regional theatres and think that we produce and program 'quaint' little plays for mom and pop audiences don’t know the TNO!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

A graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Theatre Department, Geneviève Pineault has been active as a professional artist for 16 years. She has worked as a stage manager and a director for a variety of theatre companies, as well as film and television production companies. In 2004, she directed Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte’s production of Alex Poch Goldin’s L’Hôtel. The production won two awards: the Capital Critics Circle’s Award for Best Set Design and the Le Droit/Radio-Canada 2005 Theatre Jury Prize. Since July 2004, she has settled in as the Artistic Director of Greater Sudbury’s Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO). She won Théâtre Action’s 2009 Artistic Excellence Award for her staging of Mansel Robinson’s SLAGUE – L’histoire d’un mineur, translated and acted by Jean Marc Dalpé. The production was presented 67 times in 22 Canadian cities. It was judged one of the best theatre productions presented in Ottawa in 2008 by the local arts weekly Voir Outaouais. In 2012, Mme Pineault reunited with Robinson and Dalpé for II (deux), a TNO and Ottawa’s Théâtre de la Vieille 17 coproduction. In 2012-2013, she directed the TNO’s and the National Arts Centre’s Théâtre français’ coproduction of Tomson Highway’s Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo. At the same time II (deux) hit the road and toured in 16 Canadian cities. Since 2009, she has been teaching stage directing at Greater Sudbury’s Laurentian University. Among her other professional commitments, Geneviève has served on juries for the Canada Council for the Arts, including the 2008 Governor General Literary Awards  for Theatre, the Ontario Arts Council, the Manitoba Arts Council and the Hnatyshyn Foundation. She is a former Chairperson of Théâtre Action. She is currently a member of the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada’s Board of Directors.   

CHARPO:  I would suspect a lot of Canadians would be stunned to know that there is a French-language theatre company in Sudbury. But your company has a solid history and some of the country's biggest names have passed through it. Tell us which parts of its history you would hold up?

PINEAULT: For over four decades, the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario has developed and produced important Franco-Ontarian plays and worked with many gifted playwrights, directors and actors. Therefore it is not easy to sum up 43 years, but here is a quick overview of each decade.

The 1970’s
Le Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario started out as a university-based theatre group at Laurentian University led by a young student leader and playwright, André Paiement. The company decided to make the transition to professional theatre in 1971, buoyed by the energy and excitement of the growing Franco-Ontarian cultural identity, with the Coopérative des artistes du Nouvel-Ontario (CANO) as well as  CANO musique, book publisher Les Éditions Prise de Parole and music festival La Nuit sur l’étang in Sudbury. The advent of the TNO also inspired the creation of other Francophone theatre companies in Ottawa a few years later. 

Video of the Week, February 19, 2014

Here's a nifty little thing! Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love is opening in Rome in March as Amor e Restos Humanos and Teatro dei Conciatori have put out this splendid vid.