Sunday, 18 September 2016

Baskerville is big theatrics, Sherlock as slapstick
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  A diabolical spectral hound from Devon named Yeth is reportedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's serialized novel The Hound of the Baskervilles published in 1902 that ranks as his most popular Sherlock Holmes / Dr. John Watson story ever.

In the hands of Ken Ludwig, this adaptation of Doyle's thriller is less dramatic detective mystery and more Monty Python meets Laugh-In. Sight gags abound as three actors rhyme off some 40 characters, often by doffing costumes on stage or just switching hats. Nudge-nudge-wink-winks at the audience also reveal Ludwig's stated intent that "Baskerville is about the theatre as much as it is about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson." Much more about theatre in the hands of Director John Murphy than about the two leads, and mostly for the better.

Quicky recap of the plot : Sir Charles Baskerville has died at his country estate,  ostensibly of a heart attack. But the death mask look of fear on his face betrays a horrid end. Nearby are outsize paw prints that suggest he was literally scared to death. A nefarious plot against the family perhaps in the making here?  The imminent arrival of surviving son from Texas, Sir Henry, lends urgency to the whodunit. Only the deductive reasoning of Holmes bounced fitfully off his foil Watson will shed some light on the dark recesses of whosever heart is behind it all. 

How it's all put together :  Ken Ludwig wants contemporary audiences to have fun with the at-time dullish, pedantic and o.c. mind of Sherlock Holmes. But remain true to the storyline, too, because, Holmes observes, "there is a feverish quality to this unlikely story that intrigues me".

When Sir Henry and Watson arrive at the Devonshire moors that is home to the dark and musty Baskerville estate, Sir Henry (Kirk Smith) tells Watson (Mark Weatherley) "Talk about gloomy : this place reminds me of my mother's funeral, without the liquor" -- just one of a passle of contemporary send-up lines that would not have been possible out of Sir Arthur's inkwell back in 1902.

In typical Doyle fashion, meanwhile, clues are dropped that point inevitably and inexorably at who the villain might be. But it is the stage tricksterisms that carry this piece and, ultimately, make it work despite some too-long monologues by Watson -- sluggish plot-explainers -- particularly in Act 1.

What the show brings to the stage :  Lots of comic diction drives this production. The housekeepers, Inge Barrymore (Lauren Bowler) and her husband (Mike Wasko) are Germans. Their fractured English -- brother Victor becomes "Wiktor" who is an escaped "conwict" -- is a clever sound-gag reversal of the German tongue where w's are pronounced 'v'. Old vaudeville routines are common throughout -- "Stop calling me 'Sir'!" Holmes (Alex Zahara) bellows at two couriers : of course they reply, instantly and in unison "Yes, sir!" Cheap laughs but still gigglers. 

Neighbour Jack Stapleton (Wasko) and "sister" Beryl (Bowler) provide some of the best comic moments. In his Tilly Endurables get-up replete with pith helmet, Jack chases obscure and elusive Disneyesque butterflies around the stage and into the audience. Beryl flips over Sir Henry with his Texas twang, and, typical Murphy, some body part "up-staging" is the customary result. 

Sir Henry wants to be down-homey. No more "Sir" for him, and Dr. Watson becomes "John-boy". They do fist pumps. You get the drift. 

Production values that hi-lite the action : The set (by ACT's 38-year vet Ted Roberts) features numerous screens that are functionally and collectively the sixth actor on the stage. Designer Candelario Andrade projects the likes of a London hotel, Paddington Station and the Baskerville moors imaginatively and ingeniously onto these screens, along with numerous shadow puppet sequences. Scenery wagons are propelled and flipped almost whimsically by both the actors and production crew to fun effect.

Costume designer Mara Gottler has an unflinching eye for period piece clothing for each character. But it is their spitfire changes from one character to another by the Bowler / Smith / Wasko trio that make the costumes a central part of the madcap silliness staged here.

Acting pin-spots : To this reviewer's eye it is without a doubt the Lauren Bowler / Mike Wasko team that triggers most of the acting fun, sport & amusement across the night. They riff off each other as both the Barrymores and the Stapletons plus other assorted comic characters moment after moment after moment. Never any let up or let down from them. 

If the plot's chronicler and narrator Dr. Watson was allowed by writer Ludwig to drone on a bit too long, Mr. Zahara's Holmes was betimes beset by incidental and momentary rage attacks I found a bit distracting. A pompous and self-righteous Sherlock needn't act shrill or supercilious, just be mildly disdainful of inferiours.  In all, however, the five actors and six backstage movers-&-shakers of the scenery and props acquitted themselves admirably under Mr. Murphy's direction. 

Who gonna like : Some folks love whodunits and build a year's escapist reading out of it. Just as some can't get enough of science fiction. Or others romance stories. Whodunit junkies will find "Doyle updated" quite to their liking no doubt.

Not one of those folks, this reviewer finds the staging and sets and scenery trickery live up to Mr. Ludwig's promise : as much to go see as the plot or the characters, probably moreso.

This is a show whose sum of its parts -- particularly all the antic stage business of the second act -- exceeds the whole of the piece as structured by Mr. Ludwig. But the second act without any doubt made whatever reservations noted about Act 1 seem quite irrelevant to the evening's overall buzz.

Particulars : Produced by Arts Club Theatre Company (53rd season, 582nd performance).  At the Stanley Theatre, Granville @ 11th.  To October 9th.  Run-time 2 hours plus intermission.  Tickets & show times via Arts Club or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production team :  Adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel by Ken Ludwig.  Director John Murphy.  Set & Lighting Designer Ted Roberts.  Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Sound Designer Stephen Bulat.  Projection Designer Candelario Andrade. Stage Manager Allison Spearin.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Apprentice Stage Manager Tessa Gunn.


Performers :  Lauren Bowler.  Kirk Smith.  Mike Wasko.  Mark Weatherley. Alex Zahara.



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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pericles a sharp-witted feat of whimsy & charm

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Professor A. L. Rowse insists Pericles is a 100% original WS script. It is not, he maintains archly, a bastard hybrid co-written with a saloon-&-brothel keeper named George Wilkins. Whatever. For 30 years after its launch, it was WS's top-seller. And wildly popular a century later to boot.

It's a tale. Not a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury". No, a tale of a hero's quest that involves incest, flight, shipwrecks, jousts, marriage, a daughter, a brothel, virtue discovered and rapprochement. In real time the brave new world of Virginia, in The Colonies, beckons folks to venture forth from UK. Ships sail weekly, often never heard from again. Storms. Pirates. Plunder. Burial at sea and/or surprise triumphal returns to home port. Pericles tells all of this and more.


How it's all put together :  Director Lois Anderson conspires with a variety of artistic muses and consultants in concert with the show's creative design team to conceive and fabricate a fantastical vision of this script.


Cerimon is a man of potions, a healer, a wizard. In Anderson's hands, Cerimon rescues Marina -- the daughter of Prince Pericles, he from the city of Tyre in what today is Lebanon -- her name because she was born at sea. Cerimon liberates her, now a 14-year-old, from her brothel prison on the Isle of Lesbos in Ephesus. He then tells her the Tale of Dad.


How in his first quest to marry a princess he must solve a riddle or be killed. Dad does decrypt the riddle, but in doing so discovers incest between Syrian King Antiochus and his daughter. He flees lest this knowledge, if shared, snuff out his life.


Following rescue from a shipwreck escaping the Syrian, Pericles wins a jousting tournament in Greece and thus the favour of King Simonides. He falls in love and marries the prize Princess Thaisa, but she dies during a subsequent shipwreck while birthing Marina. Marina is then fostered to friends in Turkey while Pericles returns, bereft, to Tyre to assume an obligatory kingship.


Marina and Pericles meet each other again for the first time in order for the play to end happily ever after with everyone rejoicingly reunited, even Mom.


What Bard brings to the stage :  As Artistic Director Christopher Gaze has shown the world 27 seasons now, there are dozens of ways to stage the plays of WS. And because the storyline in Pericles races around the Eastern Mediterranean, a straight Quarto production might be a bit of a sea-monster for contemporary crowds to have to wrestle with.


Enter Director Anderson. Turn the storyline upside-down, back-to-front, inside-out. Given its geography and local mythos, why not introduce a bit of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi into the script? And some Greek playwright Euripides to sum it all up? Why follow Billy Bard's five acts in sequence at all? Instead let the magical healer Cerimon tell the story as a kind of fabliau and make its characters all faeries -- the better to enchant the crowd. Why not, indeed.


Production values that add to the show :   Hard to imagine, perhaps, that camouflaged flowing desert outfits atop camou'd skin makeup could be visually compelling. But quite so here. The more to heighten the contrasting neon reds and greens of Marina and the deep aqua blue of mother Thaisa designed by Carmen Alatorre. And her collusion with Amir Ofek's stunning use of a 30 X 8-foot camou sheet was delightfully! co-ordinated. That omnipresent sheet served as wind; rain; a ship; a jouster's race-track; a death shroud; sundry beaches; fishnets. Absolutely clever and choice.


Various relics & talismans & statuettes employed by Cerimon throughout tell this story of a family in love; a family shipwrecked, lit. & fig.; a child left behind, then kidnapped. But ultimately a family reclaimed & reunited after a decade-&-a-half. As Ms. Anderson puts it : "How do we persevere when we're adrift at sea, severed from wherever or whomever is our 'home'?"


Aside from the show's stunning fabrics and oh-so-clever blocking, Composer / Sound Designer Malcolm Dow caught my ear from the very first ship's bell. Lots of sitar, Cirque-like humming solos & duets, hints of Jacque Brel even. There there're the dance sequences, part-Zorba, part-hopak-like jump kicks, part Broadway :  purists may niggle, but the nearly sold-out-sweltering-crowd at today's matinee clapped-&-cheered lustily.


Acting pin-spots :  The repertory troupe doing Pericles that toggles with Othello is to a person smartly cast indeed. These are actors who delight to feed off one another like kids at a summer picnic gorging on hot dogs & s'mores.


In Pericles, the rich stentorian tones of David Warburton as Cerimon are commanding. They linger in my ear well past show's end. Kamyar Pazandeh as Prince Pericles is both authoritative and soft, while Marina as sported by Luisa Jojic gives this talented striker a brace of winning goals in both her outings. 


Serena Malani's Thaisa is impish coquettish good fun, while Bawd and Boult by Kayla Deorksen and Ian Butcher had me nearly widdling myself all afternoon. And how not to mention Jeff Gladstone doing his Cruella-best as the b-witch Dionyza. Oh fun.


Again, as noted, "to a person smartly cast". This bunch has a fun summer ahead of it. As do their fans.


Who gonna like :  Pericles is wild imagination cut loose by all the show's creators but then stitched together into a post-modern dramatic tapestry by Director Anderson that is utterly compelling to watch and hear. This is a reimagining of Shakespeare that the Bard himself would cheer at how embracing and irresistible the flow of action is, how storytelling needn't be linear or static or by-the-book. And more the better for it in spades. 


Go. Be swept up. See genuine originality unleashed by consummate pro's delighting in their craft.


Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C.   At the Howard Family tent, Vanier Park.  Performances : in repertory with Othello until the September 18th final curtain [see bardonthebeach.org for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 120 minutes including intermission. 


Production crew :  Director Lois Anderson. Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Scenery Designer Amir Ofek.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  Nicholas Harrison.  Composer & Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Movement Collaborator Wendy Gorling.  Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn. Apprentice Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart.  Directing Apprentice Brennan Campbell.  

Performers :  Ian Butcher (King SimonidesBoult).  Kayla Deorksen (Bawd).  Jeff Gladstone (Dionyza).   Luisa Jojic (Marina, brothel girl).  Kayvon Kelly (Leonine, Lysimachus).  Sereana Malani  (Thaisa).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Pericles).  Luc Roderique (Helicanus, Cleon).  David Warburton (Cerimon).  



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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Othello mines modern themes via U.S. Civil War
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)


From the footlights : Black-vs-white.Women worldwide victimized by men. Men plotting and scheming for power and favour in high places. Love, Jealousy. Betrayal. Racism. Treachery. Revenge. It's a Brexit world, a world rife with jihadislam thrill-killers, a world where in "polite society" citizens daily shoot one another to settle domestic and racial grievances, No question, Shakespeare's Othello offers continued relevance and ponderables more than 400 years after it was written.


The play is mostly about Iago, an ensign, who is livid at his military boss Othello, a decorated war hero. Othello's an outsider of colour, an "other" from a distant land. Elizabeth I would have labeled him a "blackamoor". But he has promoted a fresh-out-of-military-school soldier, Cassio, to be his lieutenant over Iago. With malevolent design, Iago sets out to destroy his boss, all the while protesting what an "honest" man he is. This charade the gullible Othello blithely believes. 

And the best way to go about this, Iago schemes, is to let loose "the green-eyed monster" of jealousy in Othello, get him to think his enticing newbie wife Desdemona is sleeping with Cassio. It's another "bodies everywhere" ending that WS is famous for.


How it's all put together : Albeit there is no record of a freed slave becoming more than a foot soldier in Abraham Lincoln's Union Army, under Director Bob Frazer Othello is a Union general who has just taken the merchant Brabantio's daughter Desdemona, secretly, as his wife. With miscegenistic malice Iago taunts Brabantio into action : "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe," he cries, then shouts peremptorily : "Arise, arise ! / Awake the snorting citizens with the bell / Or else the devil will make a grandsire out of you." [These last two important lines -- linking the Moor's race with the devil -- were deleted by director Frazer, curiously, quite wrongly i.m.o.].


Meanwhile what in the Folio script was an imminent attack by Ottomans against Greek Cypriots, in this version it is an apprehended attack by the Confederates. Othello's wife convinces the Duke she and Othello have married for love, so he is cleared for duty and with his entourage ships out to Charleston, S.C. to quell the attacking Rebels. 


A gigantic storm thwarts the Confederate plans. Joyously the Union soldiers party on. Iago gets Cassio drunk and has Roderigo, who loves Desdemona, pick a fight with him. Othello strips Cassio of his rank as punishment. He takes Iago on as his Capo di tutti capi. Cassio pleads with Desdemona to be restored to Othello's good graces. Not going to happen else there'd be no play. All this done in Civil War period costumes to music predominantly banjo-&-ballad to underscore the Mason-Dixon setting.


What the show brings to the stage : It would be easy to put all kinds of political spin on Othello in respect of what WS "intended" to portray or say. That his casting of the protagonist as a person of colour was racist. That Othello's belief he was cuckholded by Desdemona results in -- and, obliquely, justifies -- an "honour killing" of his wife, his chattel. That power is as power does, and treachery is never an afterthought in such an algorithm. Good will? Honesty? Morality? Fie upon them all. These are all possible spins.


Personally I neither assign, nor not assign, such motives to our complex Bard. He was first and foremost an entertainer. And Othello is juicy violent escapism designed primarily to amuse and distract the rabble from their daily toils.


Set horseshoe-style at BotB's small Howard Family stage, the evil portrayed is as a result more accessible than it would be on the main stage. Still, I for one would have preferred to see Amir Ofek's spare, effective set with about ten feet lopped off the west edge and three more rows of seats added there to bring the action even closer.


Production values that add to the show : The decision taken to set the piece in the US Civil War epoch was a gimmick that worked, by-&-large. It hi-lites, obviously, the racial politics that are ever extant on the streets of America. [That said, curiously, Americans at the same time universally cheer their favourite professional baseball, basketball and football teams whose ranks usually feature some 70% non-whites. Go figure.] 


The Civil War costuming of Mara Gottler worked a bit better in concept than on the ground, to this eye. Too many variations of blue from what are reported as the classic colours : dark navy blue for the Union, battleship grey for the Confederacy. 


Between Director Frazer and Sound Designer Steve Charles, the music soundscape and wandering minstrel troupe circling around the entire back of the tent worked well indeed. 


Mr. Ofek's thrifty, functional set -- war-torn antebellum Greek columns blasted down to stumps as backdrop to simple Amish-like furniture in front of them -- all performed their functions just right.


Particular kudos to director Frazer for the final ten minutes of stage action. Absolutely sublime and captivating blocking, multi-scene interplay and emotional verve.


Acting pin-spots : The overall conceit of this unique interpretation is the role of Iago (Kayvon Kelly). Normally Iago is depicted as evil personified. Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Not here. To change motifs, Kelly's Iago is more a smug Donald Rumsfeld than the baneful and malignant Dick Cheney. And Gotta say! the interpretation is affecting, if not 100% infecting. The wholesale violence at show's end is a bit less compelling and demanding given a villain whose modus operandi has been a tone throughout that is ironic, flippant, and preening. Kelly's gesticulations and enunciation / projection, meanwhile, were simply superb.


As Desdemona Kayla Deorksen grabbed the audience's heart completely. Deliriously in love with Othello, she is wholly bemused by the green monster he becomes. As her maidservant Emilia, meanwhile, Luisa Jojic was a stunning and completely captivating personality. (Between them they deliver the sharpest dialogue WS composed in the piece.)


Luc Roderique as Othello does stellar work as the easily-spooked red-hot-lover-gone-sour-in-a-nanosecond character WS decided on -- an aspect of his script, meanwhile, that's always bothered me, same as WS's Lear does. 


David Warburton's Brabantio was simply scrumptious : no better angry father-in-law ever portrayed anywhere that I've seen. And Andrew Cownden's aging, pusillanimous Rodrerigo was a terrific re-do of the usual young man role that WS scripted.


Who gonna like :  Mr. Kelly's Iago interpretation coupled with the women's roles and their character delivery excellence are hands-down reasons to go see this show. Together they do clever service to what is often a script almost as oppressing as it is depressing. In their hands it's more of a dialogic puzzle the audience is challenged to decrypt. Most often patrons find themselves just succumbing in pain to all of Othello's staged misery. 


No, this is a performance that the tents at Vanier Park were made for. Summer festival Shakespeare devotees get every shekel of value out of this show thanks to its clever production techniques and just-right casting. 


Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C. At the Howard Family tent, Vanier Park. Performances : in repertory with Pericles until September 17th final curtain [see bardonthebeach.org for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 165 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Bob Frazer. Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Scenery Designer Amir Ofek.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  Nicholas Harrison.  Sound Designer Steve Charles.  Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn. Apprentice Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart.  Directing Apprentice Jessica Nelson.  

Performers :  Ian Butcher (Duke, Gratiano).  Andrew Cownden (Roderigo).  Jeff Gladstone (Cassio).  Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona).  Luisa Jojic (Emilia).  Kayvon Kelly (Iago).  Sereana Malani  (Bianca).  Shaker Paleja (Montano).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Lodovico).  Luc Roderique (Othello).  David Warburton (Brabantio).  


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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Merry Wives is 2016-friendly writ large big-time
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : The current re-mount of Johnna Wright's 2012 award-winning Merry Wives of Windsor grabs the Mainstage this year @ the Bard Yard instead of the intimate & cozy Howard Family Stage. This creates challenges for the troupe given memories of the show's palsy-walsy mise en scene from four years back. Viewing the shenanigans from the more distant football bleacher arrangement under the Big Tent makes for a calculably different Vanier Park experience in 2016. But happy to report that what may be lost from the chummy Howard horseshoe is made up for with big-time projection, showiness and satirical silliness that had the crowd whistling and shouting opening night.

Quicky redux on the plot : Down on his luck Sir John Falstaff -- a character who wholly anticipates Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- proposes to seduce two married women, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page. At 350 some-odd pounds, not likely for jiggery pokery. No, primarily to feed his rotund ego and bilk them of their husbands' money. The women, close chums, learn of his stuplicity. They conspire to expose and humiliate him. Mr. Ford gets a tip his wife has agreed to see Falstaff. An insanely jealous sort, he masquerades as "Mr. Brooke" in attempts to capture her in her infidelities. Three times Falstaff is tricked trying to consummate his seduction of Mrs. Ford, and both the plotting and execution of the women's knackery drive this simple comedy to near-farce levels.

A secondary plot involves Mrs. Page's daughter Anne who three men pursue -- the stupendously daft Slender; a crazy French dithering doctor named Caius; and her true love, an earthy horny goof named Fenton. When the hijinx conclude, it's another case of all's well that ends well for everyone (except the fulsome Falstaff perhaps). In the words of Shakespeare guru A. L. Rowse whose 2,459 page The Annotated Shakespeare anchors my bookcase, "This perennially successful play is the most purely amusing, from beginning to end, that Shakespeare ever wrote."

How it's all put together :  Not bound by copyright strictures, the works of Billy Bard lend themselves to wholesale reimagination and creative interpretation. Director Wright reprises the plot-design conceit she first advanced four years ago : wrested from Elizabethan England, the setting is now 400 years later in Windsor, ON, Canada. And The Garter public house is a 60's country western joint. Fiddlers and guitar pluckers and vigorous keyboard play central roles with ole fave 45 RPM cuts like "Ramblin' Man" and "Your Cheatin' Heart". Says Ms. Wright in the program Director's Notes : "To me, the play is built around an idea of community. The many 'misfits' -- Falstaff included -- are an integral part of that community and are lovingly mocked along with the rest. No one is exempt, yet in the end, everyone is accepted, warts and all. To me this reflects, if not a reality of Canadian culture, at least a way I think we'd like it to be."

What the show brings to the stage : Often the Bard tents tend to be a bit on the quiet-ish side as far as audience reaction is concerned. We are too busy straining our ears to discern and disassemble and then synthesize WS's elegant dialogue in poetry and prose to emit much gutteral reaction to what we're watching. Not here. Not this interpretation and production. The re-set button to its 60's country contemporariness makes this version of Merry Wives probably the most accessible Shakespeare live theatre fans will ever come across. Even for those who believe "If it's 'country' it ain't music!" Quite possibly a bit of a put-off to WS purists, this production is zany good cheer that even the tinnest Shakespeare ear in the house can't help but get the gist of.

Production values that high-light the action : What I claimed a week back was a too-plain set for Romeo & Juliet was transformed cleverly into the backdrop for Merry Wives. Mostly set in The Garter pub, the W.A.C. Bennett 60's red terrycloth beer table covers were resurrected anew from their sepulchre and put once more to good use. The open space in front of the tavern bar on the circular stage morphed easily into the Ford's living room and their front garden avec white picket fence and webbed aluminum summer chairs.

Once again Costume Designer Drew Facey put together percipient and droll early-60's threads for the cast : bobby sox, saddle shoes, crinolines for the gals -- particularly notable the outrageous Hollywood cocktail party sunglasses and bountiful hot ginger wig for Mistress Quickly -- jeans and leathers and assorted country-ish accoutrement for the men. The pea-green velveteen outfit for Dr. Caius, for its part, was an absolute stroke befitting the character's French effeminacy masqued by his magnified & stylized bravado.

Musical Director Ben Elliott supplied whimsical continuity around the country-western motif at play here. The cheeky little guitar riffs spliffed into the soundscape by Anton Lipovetsky and Victor Dolhai were a delight each and all.

Acting pin-spots : The three leads from 2012 evinced even more sparkle in this year's refashioning of their roles than last time out. Perhaps in part to accommodate for the Big Tent venue as opposed to the more chatty and companionable Douglas Campbell stage from before. Amber Lewis as Mistress Alice Ford has her role positively nuanced and keened and aced in all its wide-eyed scheming as well as the flibbergibbetty stage business bits. Katey Wright as Alice's cohort Mistress Meg Page was once more her plucky self. 

Ashley Ford pulls off the weight of Sir John Falstaff's role, lit. & fig., with a gleeful nonchalance and lightness of foot that is quite astonishing to watch from a man of two yards girth as the script describes. Cheeky and boldly naive at the same time, his capture of the spirit of Falstaff is choice.

Scott Bellis. Another go at Francis Ford + "Mr. Brooke". But this performance was a cut above, just priceless physical comedy and pained jealous rage so playfully wrought the audience roars at activity that if witnessed in real life would make folks cringe. Nice!

Ben Elliott as Slender grabs the hardware along with Jennifer Lines as Miss Quickly for sustained silly continuity in-role. His mutterances and malaprops were sheer delight. And David Marr as the aptly named Justice Shallow. Can one ever get quite enough of his intuitive spark? I think not.

Who gonna like : Shakespeare "straight" excites me even though I have to work hard hearing it. Shakespeare "bent" in the ingenious and quick-witted manner Johnna Wright interprets this puckish Billy script is just a hoot to participate in.

This production has the commercial advantage of being an interpretation you could bring Aunt Audrey from Kapuskasing to see and she'd get it wholly & heartily. Again from Director Wright : "There is a warmth and informality to this rollicking tale of intrigue and revenge that makes you feel like you're getting a small glimpse into Shakespeare's youth. These are the people and places of his roots." 

Not a forgettable character in the piece : all deft and energetic and facile at the dramatic task WS put before them. Go. Laugh. Clap. Take your friends. Silly winsome stuff for sure.

Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C. At the Mainstage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : dozens of shows between now and its September 24th closing night [see bardonthebeach.org for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 160 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Johnna Wright. Costume Designer Drew Facey.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director Nicholas Harrison. Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Kelly Barker. Apprentice Stage Manager Elizabeth Wellwood.  Directing Apprentice Rohit Chokhani.  Set Design Apprentice Bronwyn Carradine.

Performers :  Scott Bellis (Francis Ford / 'Mr. Brooke').  Andrew Chown (Dr. Caius).  Daniel Doheny (Fenton).  Victor Dolhai (Bardolph).  Ben Elliott (Slender).  Hailey Gillis (Simple).  Amber Lewis (Mistress Alice Ford).  Jennifer Lines (Mistress Quickly).  Anton Lipovetsky (Host of The Garter Inn).  David Marr (Justice Shallow).  Andrew McNee (Pastor Hugh Evans).  Dawn Petten (Simple).  Tom Pickett (George Page).  Ashley Wright (Sir John Falstaff).  Katey Wright (Mistress Meg Page).

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Rock of Ages is satirical whimsy & song
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)


From the footlights :  "A singer, in a smoky room / The smell of wine and cheap perfume / Oh, the movie never ends / It goes on and on and on and on."  That lyric by rocker Steve Perry and his group Journey in their anthem "Don't Stop Believing'" summarizes succinctly what the 80's were all about in the glam-metal daze of rock-&-roll.  The genre was kick-started earlier on by Gene Simmons and KISS : hair shagging all over the place and candy-coated guitar licks. Run thru some 30 jukebox pop faves from that decade, tie them to a tried-&-true cheesy storyline about small-town girls and city boys who dream of L.A. stardom and classic WYSIWYG : the show Rock of Ages.

The set-up scenes :  It's the Sunset Strip. A grasping and overreaching German developer wants to tear down the iconic Bourbon Room that's been a sleazy but charming mainstay of rock bands and their groupie, gropey gangs of fans. Plot is the simplest of arcs. Boy meets girl. Boy, a bit dim, loses girl. Boy wins girl in the end. Along the way ACT's talented actor rockers cover a host of what at the time were overproduced glittery charts churned out by the likes of David Lee Roth (ex-of Van Halen), Styx, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Foreigner, Survivor et al. The hippie epoch from 15-20 years earlier was said to be all about sex, drugs & rock-&-roll. No match whatever -- us from back back back in that day -- compared to the Sunset Strip scene during the time of Ronnie Reagan. A time when sexploitation & snorting & mainlining were daily street staples, not sneaked. Reagan promoted a "Grab what you can!" social ethos in business and government that young people found attractive. On their own terms. On the street. In the clubs.

How it's all put together :  Rock of Ages is a snatch-back to MTV's zenith. Life stories told with all the depth that 3 1/2 minutes of technicolor and surround-sound can produce. This show is stitched together with a narrator named Lonny (Brett Harris) who winks and teases the crowd beyond the fourth wall mercilessly and mirthfully. His Brit accent is both spot-on and superb. Busboy at the Bourbon Room is Drew (Kale Penny), a wannabe rocker. He is smitten by wannabe actress Sherrie Christian (Marlie Collins) from Kansas, where Alice & Toto also come from. 

Along comes local metal kingpin and chief debaucher named -- wait for it -- Stacee Jaxx (Robbie Towns). He seduces and promptly dumps Sherrie. Meanwhile a protest-a-thon is being mounted to save the Strip from morphing into just another strip mall with Foot Locker as its anchor tenant. Sherrie slides into a period of personal disorder and clutter : she becomes a lap-dancer at the nearby Venus Club. Until Drew draws out the better angel everybody just knew was hiding under her G-string.

What the show brings to the stage :  Stage musicals are designed to grab people who can karaoke all the tunes being featured from what they recall as "their" time. Senior geezers may pine for South Pacific. Junior geezers will conjure West Side Story or the more current nostalgia piece Buddy! Early Gen-Xers might recall wistfully Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat that many of them acted in in grammar school.

Still, despite its plot and characterization that are complete and utter schmaltz, the 80's jukebox musical Rock of Ages succeeds in deriving a wee bit of emotional connection from all ages in the audience. Its clever linkages via song lyrics to the notional storyline start to grab. Grab even those of us who were lurching and flailing into middle age at the time -- with kids and careers and fat credit card balances, we hardly had the time to immerse ourselves or get wildly nostalgic over all this new noise -- much of it quite tuneful, mind you -- that blared out at us from the car stereo.

Production high-lights of note :  Just entering the G.I. ACT arena one starts to feel the tickle : Marshall McMahen's set design is stunning. Ersatz neon announces Girls, Girls chilling out in green-&-white outsize martini glasses, also a ROXY lounge take-off plus Sunset Strip Tattoos and Tower Records signs alongside a period Shell gasoline emblem. Below them looms the band's perch set on a scenery wagon that takes up half of upstage with its two bass drums, four cymbals, four guitars and keyboards. To each side are elevated scaffolding to represent fire escapes where a lot of second-storey activity occurs to nice effect. Clever flips from this opening tableaux to subsequent Bourbon Room and Venus showgirl settings, too.

Sound? you ask. Check the list of music groups above. Sound Designer Brad Danyluk and Musical Director Sean Boynton probably thought they'd died and found a stairway to heaven with all that delightful noise they needed only to amplify and then let the band do the rest. Which they did with verve, gusto! and passion all night long.


All good, the previous. But it is Lighting Designer Robert Sondergaard's consummate creative precision with the stage lighting that for this reviewer almost, almost! ran away with the show all by itself. I am not sure in 45+ years of attending ACT starting at the Seymour site that I have witnessed quite such a display of ingenuity and freshness in the use of criss-crossing follow-spots on the actors (and audience...) and coloured red mood lighting and back-lighting and and and. Truly a light show, lit. & fig., quite distinct from the Helen Lawrence wizardry Mr. Sondergaard created in his 2014 ACT debut outing. Spec-tac-u-lar crystal crisp effects indeed. Not unlike the rock concert motif that Director Peter Jorgensen obviously had in mind for this somewhat mindless bit of dramatic fluff driven by the time-piece glam favourites that are the show's raison d'ĂȘtre. 


In all this not to forget Director Jorgensen's choreography that worked well throughout embracing the whole stage. No question that Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" to end Act I followed by the iconic "Don't Stop Believin'" show-stopper by Journey truly cinched it.


Acting pin-spots : As Sherrie, Marlie Collins wow'd the crowd all night long. Powerful pipes, great hair, enticing and stunning facial expression. Her "High Enough" duet with Mr. Penny -- who was eager and engaged as the charming naif -- would bring me back easily. 


Lauren Bowler as Regina has a voice, both singing and speaking, that stops crowds dead in their tracks. And a natural acting magnetism to boot. Any show, any time go see Ms. Bowler. 


Kieran Martin Murphy as Dennis the maestro of Bourbon Room -- an ACT Buddy! veteran -- was sheer delight in his Haight Ashbury get-up, Hair! hair and expressive booming voice. Mr. Harris as Lonny, noted supra, was Supra!  His "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" duet with Dennis where these two mavens of the Room on the Strip come out was just plain fun. 


Clearly all 16 performers were selected for their unique acting nuances and undertones : not a weak outing for anyone on stage for sure. Their chipper Feel good! expressions at curtain were honestly earned without a doubt.


Who gonna like :  I confess I was prepared to not particularly enjoy this show. Silly plot. Thin characters. A rock concert in search of a narrative thread. But Director Jorgensen put the right ironic, goofy slapstick spin on everything such that the storyline needed to be, and was, utterly uncompelling. It was the music and the imaginative linking of lyrics to one another that give the production its draw. 


The enthusiasm of the crowd giving a standing-o to this troupe was deserved, just like the show itself : genuine and heartfelt and effervescent. Long at two-and-a-half hours by 30 minutes or more, still Rock of Ages will delight those who get a buzz off the nostalgic theatrics that the glam sounds of the 80's produced. Fun to be had sung robustly and big!

Particulars : Produce by Arts Club Theatre Company (52nd season, 582nd performance).  At the Granville Island stage.  From June 16-July 30.  Run-time 165 minutes including intermission.  Tickets & show times via Arts Club or by phoning 604.687.1644.


Production team :  Book & Lyrics by Chris D'Arienzo.  Arrangements & Orchestrations by Ethan Popp.  Director & Choreographer Peter Jorgensen.  Musical Director Sean Bayntun.  Set Designer Marshall McMahen.  Costume Designer Jessica Bayntun.  Lighting Designer Robert Sondergaard.  Sound Designer Brad Danyluk.  Assistant to the Director Courtney Shields.  Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs.  Assistant Stage Manager Anne Taylor.  Apprentice Stage Manager Jenny Kim.


Performers :  Sean Bayntun (Jon / keyboards).  John Bews (Geddy / bass).  Lauren Bowler (Regina).  Aadin Church (Mayor / Ja'Keith).  Graham Coffeng (Hertz).  Marie Collins (Sherrie).  Nick Fontaine (Joey Primo / drums).  Paige Fraser (Franz).  Brett Harris (Lonny).  Hugh Macdonald (Eddie / guitar).  Kieran Martin Murphy (Dennis). Kale Perry (Drew).  Adriana Ravalli (Waitress).  Katrina Reynolds (Justice).  Mark Richardson (Jimmy / lead guitar).  Robbie Towns (Stacee Jaxx). 



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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Romeo & Juliet still pulls @ heartstrings
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)


From the footlights : Inauspicious. Wretched. Pathetic. These are the synonyms that pop up instantly when doing a thesaurus-search on "star-crossed", the 41st word uttered amidst the 14 lines spoken by the Chorus to kickstart Romeo & Juliet. The story is anything but. It is a love story writ large and lyrical and lovely. Boomers might be hard-pressed to not gurge up the silly ditty "Why Must We Be Two Teenagers in Love?" by Dion and the Belmonts from 1959 when watching this show.

The story is as old as western society. It's David Mamet's quip about "Old age and treachery will beat youth and exuberance every time." Power-driven rich Capulets, Juliet's house, with a years-long running mad-on for their Verona neighbours, the lower-heeled Montagues, Romeo's bunch.

The fun is the kids' fated love in its bewitching and enchanting moments, not the tumultuous violent crash to earth that turns all the spunky rhapsodic stuff into tragedy.

How it's all put together : The Bard in the 12th line of the Chorus's opening promises "two hours traffic of our stage". In the current production under Director Kim Collier, it's more like 2 1/2 hours. Even for lovers of The Bard's lyrical sonnetry this is starting to push it. We are a people whose iPhones have shortened our attention spans to mere nanoseconds for the most part.

But Shakespeare is Shakespeare. And despite all the cheats of technicolour craftiness plus a theme song that still haunts nearly 50 years on, Franco Zeffirelli's iconic 1968 motion picture with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting also required 2.5 hours before Prince Escalus would conclude "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

What the show brings to the stage : Bard's mainstage works well bringing the three dozen characters (played by 16 actors) to life. All the skittery of the Capulet house party; the street scene brawls and sword fights; the antic preparations for Juliet's proposed marriage to Paris -- the big BMO house is perfect for this.

Entrances from up-aisle and side-aisle and backstage all add to the sense of crowd involvement in this classic love story. Not to mention some playful interactions between actors and audience such as Juliet's bouquet-toss after her nuptials with Romeo.

Production values of the show : Taking our seats, I confess to instant disappointment in the set by Scenery Designer Pam Johnson. Two giant rectangular scenery wagons in gunmetal grey -- some 15-feet long, six deep -- transect the stage. With closet doors below and castle wall-type openings on top, they failed to excite, engage or enliven visual interest. 

But such blighted hope from previous Bard scenic superiority was rescued by other production elements : Gerald King's lighting against these bland walls was triangulated imaginatively. Sound design by Brian Linds tuned the ears with delightful cello / piano riffs at key moments. Fight Director David McCormick had a vigorous workout indeed putting this show together with all WS's puffed and swollen male egos strutting their clangers together repeatedly, both lit-&-fig. Nancy Bryant's costumes were particularly good on the Capulet side of the aisle if a bit too-peasantry on the Montague flank. Given all the sharp-edged mayhem throughout the script, meanwhile, a curious lack of live theatre blood-spurts splashing all over the stage as we've come to expect over the years as de rigeur.


Acting pin-spots : Three actors particularly stood out for this viewer. As Nurse, Jennifer Lines once again demonstrates how compleat and commanding and imposing she is in her embracement of Shakespeare roles. Animated, effervescent acting of the first magnitude. A more compelling relationship between Juliet and this confidante who has been Juliet's surrogate mother since birth could not be imagined.

Friar Laurence as depicted by veteran Scott Bellis -- curiously wearing glasses throughout plus directed to do an odd flower-pot bit while wearing some Bose headphones early on -- grabbed the part's painful complicity well indeed.


Andrew McNee as Mercutio was worth the price of admission alone. Accusing Benvolio (Ben Elliott) of having no temper on his impulses, he betrayed instead his own reactionary explosiveness that would soon bring him to tell Romeo (Andrew Chown) three times "A plague on both your houses!" when he was cut to the core by Tybalt (Anton Lipovetsky).


For his part, Mr. Chown's Romeo was engaging and charming most of the night, though quite shouty in his overwrought state when told, over & over, how he had been "banish-ed" to Mantua by the Prince. As Juliet, Hailey Gillis was perhaps a bit too mature for the part overall. But still she was utterly a charm showing girlish impatience while she awaited the return of Nurse from visiting Romeo. And the two lovers during their wedding and on their brief honeymoon night completely embraced their roles -- and the audience -- in precisely the manner Shakespeare would have wanted of them. 


Who gonna like : While not as dynamic and captivating overall as many of the previous dozen Bard productions I've seen in recent seasons, for the reasons noted above, this Romeo and Juliet will nevertheless appeal to Shakespeare aficionados whose summer is incomplete without the lilt and harmony and mellifluous ring of The Bard's poetry, particularly that of the "greatest love story of all time". 


Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C. At the Mainstage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : forty-four shows between now and its September 23rd closing night [see bardonthebeach.org for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 170 minutes including intermission. 


Production crew :  Director Kim Collier. Costume Designer Nancy Bryant.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  David McCormick. Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Kelly Barker. Apprentice Stage Manager Elizabeth Wellwood.  Directing Apprentice Matthew Thomas Walker.  Set Design Apprentice Bronwyn Carradine.

Performers :  Scott Bellis (Friar Laurence, Capulet servant).  Andrew Chown (Romeo).  Andrew Cownden (Page).  Daniel Doheney (Balthasar).  Victor Dolhai (Escalus; musician).  Ben Elliott (Benvolio; musician).  Haily Gilles (Juliet).  Amber Lewis (Lady Montague; Capulet servant).  Jennifer Lines (Nurse).  Anton Lipovetsky (Tybalt; apothecary; musician).  David Marr (Montague).  Andrew McNee (Mercutio; Montague servant).  Shaker Paleja (Paris; Montague servant).  Dawn Petten (Lady Capulet).  Tom Pickett (Friar John; Capulet old cousin; musician).  Ashley Wright (Capulet).

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