Saturday, 21 October 2017

Happy Place it is not, but stupendous !

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 :  With some trepidation BLR focuses on south Asian Pamela Mala Sinha's script Happy Place. Largely because it is about seven women of mixed racial origins with mental health issues. They find themselves in a temporary sorority because each of them has attempted suicide. This, in mental health parlance, is the ultimate act of "decompensation" we're told. I fit none of those descriptors. Thus I can only approximate Sinha's voice even in a review. 
How the show is put together : It was helpful to read indigenous Canadian author Lee Maracle who was quoted in Vancouver Metro this week. Her characters don't evolve or perform or even speak in traditional linear fashion, she said. Western writers tend to favour scripts that lead to resolution in their plots & characters. By contrast her stories, she noted, are more open-ended, uncertain, indeterminate : the action simply stops where it does. Why? Because that piece has ended. More story is sure to ensue.

Such it is with Happy Place. The six inmates and their doctor explore somewhat fitfully the women's individual breakdowns that led them to the edge so they now are on suicide watch at a $1,000 per day private care facility. 

Prime Vancouver talent Diane Brown, Nicola Cavendish, Sereana Malani, Adele Noronha, Colleen Wheeler, Laara Sadiq and Donna Yamamoto are a wholly rich ensemble of women in a private mental health care facility whose stories tear each of them apart and bring them together, too. 
Their crises are varied : a stepmom fears losing her stepson when his dad deserts her for another. A middle-age woman has had a hysterectomy trauma. Another fusses constantly about a pregnancy that could be phantom. A former cocaine partier can't forgive herself a babysitter's molestation of her 3-year-old son. A rape victim struggles, vainly, to find the courage to move on after a half-decade of repressed memory. Then there's one who, perhaps saddest of all, finds depression just clings to her as if from congenital melancholy -- i.e. when the blues hit they hit her hard and long and true.

What the script brings to the stage : Whenever institutional mental health treatment arises in the arts the Ken Kesey character Nurse Ratched from Cuckoo's Nest invaribly jumps into view (her name a hybrid of "wretched" and "ratshit"). Happy Place is less a self-contained story than Kesey's and has no diabla character up-close-&-personal. Rather the play is a series of linked monologues and narratives that are teased out across 90 minutes. By the end the Why? and What next? questions are never fully satisfied or resolved -- a dramatic structure Lee Maracle would understand intuitively. Experts say this is typical in real-time, too : mental illness sequences are most often situational and transactional, not transformational.

Production values that shine : The current script is a vast re-write by Ms. Sinha of her 2015 original that ran on for some 130 minutes. For its length and lack of crispness it was slammed by critics -- even from those who otherwise liked her take on the somewhat amorphous topic of what mental health is, and isn't.

At the hands of Touchstone artistic director Roy Surette who hand-picked the cast, the result is as the hed above states : stupendous. Stunning. Brilliant. Inspired. Sublime.

The Pam Johnson set utterly befits a wealthy private treatment facility -- rich-y touches throughout. Adrian Muir's lighting effects, for their part, are arresting, e.g. his muted pin-spots on the sleeping inmates' faces is a unique dramatic touch never before seen and completely compelling. Costumes by Christine Reimer are befitting each character's personality and their various social steppes.

Acting pin-spots : The women's stories emerge in staccato and syncopated fashion through "reveals" and "tells" that creep forth word-by-word, line-by-line : it is difficult, therefore, to embrace any of them as a wholly developed persona

That said, of course Nicola Cavendish commands her role as the group's neurotic and waspish mama-bear. She never fails. She never disappoints. Beyond that it would be unfair to single out one actor over another. Each contributes wondrous excellence to the piece. Suffice to say this is altogether stellar Vancouver stage talent. That they are gathered in one place at one time is pure blessing. As an ensemble they are organic and symbiotic and simply not to be missed. 

Who gonna like :  People who like serious small-stage drama with flicks of comic sidebars are ripe for this. Want a flavour of what mental illness looks like, how random and sporadic and asymmetrical it can be? Sinha's script is your starting point. If, like me, there has been suicide among family and friends, Happy Place will bring on many moments that put you in a sad and tearful place instead. 

Make no mistake : this is truly a marvel of intense dramatic immersion in a topic that is evermore timely in the scattered world we all seem to inhabit. We may wish it not but our attention spans are now program'd to inhabit just the nano-second social media requires.

So try this instead. For an embracing and enveloping evening of "strangers are but friends you haven't met yet", you'll come away not only enriched but almost stunned by the experience this troupe delivers. No nanoseconds here. It will all linger.

Particulars :  Produced by Touchstone Theatre in association with Ruby Slippers Theatre -&- Diwali in BC.  At the Firehall Arts Centre, Gore @ Cordova. Until October 29th. Tickets & schedule information via or by phone at 604.689.0926.

Production team : Director Roy Surette (newly returned to Touchstone Theatre as its Artistic Director). Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Costume Designer Christine Reimer.  Lighting Designer & Production Manager Adrian Muir.  Original Music & Sound Design Dorthy Dittrich.  Stage Manager Susan D. Currie.  Assistant Stage Manager Denay Amaral.  Props Carol Macdonald.  Technical Director Scott Zechner.  Head Scenic Painter Justus Hayes.  Scenic Painter Lauren Gorlewski.  Head Carpenter Kyle Sutherland.  Carpenter Jesse Hendrickson.  Scenery built at Great Northern Way Scene Shop.  Publicist Jodi Smith.

Performers :  Diane Brown (Joyce).  Nicola Cavendish (Mildred).  Sereana Malani (Celine).  Adele Noronha (Samira).  Laara Sadiq (Nina).  Colleen Wheeler (Rosemary / Krista).  Donna Yamamoto (Dr. Louise Stratton).

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Thanks For Giving is intriguing timely stuff
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 : Kevin Loring's play Thanks For Giving is a clever riff on five words designed around traditional Thanksgiving family gatherings. The word thanksgiving (and its connotations) to start. But the title also suggests how forgiving is central to relationships. And how acts of giving to one another invite us to give thanks when so blest. 

TFG is ACT's 12th Silver Commission -- meaning it's a custom-ordered script. Using a variety of vernacular, Loring is native, indigenous, first nation, aboriginal, Indian. He hies from the Lytton area where the South Thompson and Fraser Rivers merge. His band's reach is from Spuzzum to Ashcroft and they are known as the N'lakap'amux. 

As if in the manner of Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian, Loring's target is the smug, self-appointed Eurocentric / domination take on Canadian history. Where better emblemized than in the recent delirium over this country's "Canada 150" celebrations ?  I.e. this country's entire existence, qua Canada, is but one per cent of the life of the land's aboriginal occupants whom experts estimate arrived 15,000 years ago or more. 

What the show's about : Stories, and how they're told. Symbols, totems, folklore and how such beliefs and mythologies intersect with "the real world" of 2017. To get us there, Loring follows oral traditions that resist strict linear timelines and organized plots from exposition to rising action to climax. The style is more roving and oblique and migratory, skipping across generations, linking bits of one group's stories with another's and back again. 

The script's protagonist is the elder Nan (Margo Kane) who married, on the rebound, second husband Clifford (Tom McBeath). He's white, just happened to show up at a Cariboo pow-wow decades back all tricked out in Canadian Navy dress. They fell riotously in lust and soon marry despite the fact Nan, with twin young children, is of the earth while Clifford wants it to be for him. 

Bear Dancer (Shayama-Priyah), mom of three cubs about to be murdered by predator Clifford.
Emily Cooper photo.
On surface this is a Normal Mailer Why Are We In VietNam? look-alike as the various memes about male dominion, chauvinism, and colonialism are seen through the prism of a grizzly bear hunt -- or, more accurately, a grizzly murder of a mama bear and her three cubbies for their body parts.

The rest is almost a de rigueur look at family matters across the generations regardless of DNA : alcoholism; gay partnership; repressed death anger; greed -vs- generosity, generational conflict on countless levels just because...

What Loring brings to the stage : As a Canadian-American, I was immediately struck by the nagging question Why? playwright Loring chose the USA Pilgrim story to magnify and amplify granddaughter Marie's enumerated grievances against the myriad Euro-oppressors who have marginalized indigenous folk on this continent for centuries. 

E.g. No question Loring would be fully exposed to the works of the late Richard Wagamese from the Sepwepemc [Shuswap nation] village of Tk'emlups [Kamloops] just up the road from the N'lakap'amux domain. And know, too, of indigenous stalwart Wab Kinew -plus- would no doubt be influenced by superstar Orenda novelist Joseph Boyden (regardless of the blood quantum unresolved issues Boyden attracts). Fact is, there is no debate the historical landscape of Canada is rich-for-harvest of the same themes of exploitation and subjugation as those wrought by Gov. William Bradford of Massachusetts and the Pilgrims back in the 1620's. 

Grandma Nan (Margo Kane) gives pointed advice to granddaughter Marie (Tai Amy Grumman) as they prepare Thanksgiving dinner.
Emily cooper photo.

For its part Wiki tells us that "...French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain from 1604...held feasts of thanks. They even formed the Order of Good Cheer and held feasts with their First Nations neighbours, at which food was shared." Sounds chummy, but I bet there's ugliness there, too. Iroquois & Huron at the same table? Not even remotely possible in 1604. Not much more likely today I'd wager.

No real matter, any of this, just a curiosity Why? the imported USA Pilgrim model he chooses upon which to sharpen his decidedly-Canadian cultural knife.

Production values that shine bright : Encountering friends after the show I remarked "I've probably never seen a Vancouver play in which the set just about steals the show from everything / everyone else."

As a Silver Commission piece, Loring worked daily with all production crew to create his desired gestalt : overall set; scene particulars; lighting; costuming; blocking. Set Designer Ted Roberts trekked to Lytton and forested some birch and aspen trees to create the main woodsy effect. All individual scenes are done within this overarching backdrop as mini-sets downstage right-centre-left. From simple woodblock to an IKEA kitchen island to a frumpy den settee beneath a hunter's trophy wall above the fireplace -- these are the focal points all set with the powerful woods behind imposingly, impressively as their backdrop. 

In the result Messrs. Loring & Roberts & lighting designer Jeff Harrison have put together a compelling visual space that informs every scene. Behind is a lookalike chiaroscuro scrim as if borrowed from Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson's iconic The Jack Pine. (Must mention too that Harrison's follow-spots on the individual speakers throughout the piece were choice.)

Acting pin spots : Margo Kane as Nan (for whom Loring specifically designed the role) was choice. "You can't choose your family, so why not love them?" she asks poignantly. Her telling of bear stories linked to her grandmother's singing 120 years back -- as recorded then by ethnographers and re-produced on stage here -- was enchanting.

As 2nd hubby Clifford -- step-dad to alcoholic Sue (Andrea Menard) and the twin grandkids Marie (Tai Amy Grumman) & John (caacumhi -- Aaron John Wells) -- Tom McBeath delivered a journeyman performance no question. Redneck mutha who "done his best" and loved Nan "the most beautiful girl I've ever seen". 

A touching after-death rebirth dance between hubby Clifford (Tom McBeath) and the wise wife elder Nan (Margo Kane).
Emily Cooper photo.
Menard as daughter Sue was a strong show with a lyrical aromatic guitar-strung voice. Altogether engaging whether acting drunk or straight. 

Good strong efforts by everyone, but no question a buzzer on the day was Shyama-Priya as the Bear Dancer. Enchanting, magical blocking & footwork, not to mention Samantha McCue's dead-on costume design. Bear Dancer's woozy dream sequence with the drunken Sue plus her end-of-the-the show mesmera with Grandma Nan were both breath-takers.

N.B. note re: the eff-word. Quite frankly I am tired of writing this but I shall do so ad nauseam. If a character is to say "I am fucking sick of you!" the emphasis goes like this : "I am fucking sick of you!" It does not go "I am fucking sick of you!"  In this regard Thanks For Giving is the absolute worst offender in that regard seen in nearly six seasons of reviewing professional Vancouver theatre shows. Please, people, get it right. There is nothing magic about the word "fucking". No one cares. It hasn't been offensive for about 60 years. George Carlin made reference to it popular with his Shit. Fuck. Piss. Cunt. Cocksucker. Motherfucker. Tits. In the result he defused its impact forever. It's just a filler. The word(s) it's connected to are the important ones. Emphasize them not it.  

Who gonna like : The matinee blue-rinse crowd quite liked the performance they saw today. Lots of hoots at the zinger repartee as among Nan and Clifford and the cousins.

Having just enjoyed Thanksgiving at our Cariboo cabin with family, no question all the joys & bitches & frustrations & disappointments & epiphanies occur, as they do every year. Turkey, wine, farts, drop-leaf table mishaps with broken wineglasses, recriminations, reconciliations -- a kind of woeful rejoicing all of us undertake face-on and try our best to take little note of over a greasy cabin breakfast come next morn.

Thanks For Giving reminds us how love is the sinew that binds whatever else shards us. Take in the trees and the lights and the love in this piece. You will bear the rest of the day more peaceably, no question. Huzzah! to ACT for championing Kevin Loring and his rich-&-rewarding insights into native culture in our land.

Particulars : Produced by Arts Club Theatre. On until November 4th.  At the Granville Island stage.  Run-time some two hours including intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Kevin Loring, Playwright / Director.  Ted Roberts, Set Designer.  Samantha McCue, Costume Designer.  Jeff Harrison, Lighting Designer.  James Coomber, Sound Designer.  Rachel Ditor, Dramaturg. Angela Beaulieu, Stage Manager.  Colleen Totten, Assistant Stage Manager.

Performers :  Leslie Dos Remedies (Sam). Tai Amy Grumman (Marie). Margo Kane (Nan). Tom McBeath (Clifford). Andrea Menard (Sue).  Shyama-Priyah (Bear Dancer).  Deneh'Cho Thompson (Clayton).  caachumi - Aaron M. Wells (John).  

Addendum :  Coincidentally, the day before I saw the play and did my review, the giveaway sidewalk newsie Vancouver Metro ran a feature entitled "Upcoming guide props Indigenous writing style", its subhed "Manual details how to edit traditional stories".  It's fundamentally a review by editor Greg Younging of his own book.  From para's 6-10 this interesting perspective from both Younging and indigenous author Lee Maracle whom he quotes.

Younging says even the way a story unfolds is unique -- while conventional poem and prose formats are largely European, Indigenous Peoples are more often inspired by the oral tradition.

"There's a world of difference about how we express ourselves," says Younging, who began building the guide [Elements of Indigenous Style : A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples] in 1999 when he was managing editor at Theytus Books.

"You wouldn't, say, have a protagonist and conflicts coming to a resolve at the end. Indigenous stories are often more often open-ended and lead to further storytelling.

"There are examples I give in the style guide, like Lee Maracle's book Sundogs, which she says was written in an oral style, the way an elder talks. Very often when an elder is speaking, he or she may seem to stray off the storyline or the point that they're making and then come back to it later."

The 67-year-old Maracle says she still battles editors over what she considers an Indigenous approach to text.

When a non-Indigenous editor suggested changing the order of a paragraph in her latest book, the acclaimed poet, author and academic braced herself for a long conversation.

"I said, 'That's not the (sentence) that we would put there. We wouldn't put that there. It's a secondary thought. For you it's primary because that's how you are. But that's not how we are,' recounts Maracle, among writers appearing at the International Festival of Authors, starting Thursday in Toronto.

"So we had a long conversation about it. But we have to have these long conversations in order for them to get what we're doing," [she added].

Albeit the end of Thanks For Giving combines Clifford's wake with the birth of grand-twins -- this would seem to bring the show to a "resolve" -- the final mesmera bear dance with Nan leaves the viewer wondering, for sure, whither Nan without Clifford, with new great-grand-kids, with her generations-old embrace of Spirit Bear who Indigenous tradition has it is the twins' "guardian angel" in Euro-speak. Quite open-ended an approach with stories yet to tell.


Friday, 13 October 2017

Homeward Bound is "normal" Sunday dinner fare
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 : Homeward Bound is a nifty little double entendre to remind us all how "bound" we are to the "homeward" influences we grew up with. And we don't have to go home for Thanksgiving dinner to prove it. The Elliott Hayes 1991 script is in one sense just an updated version of the 1940's Don Ameche / Frances Langford radio & t.v. show featuring the neverending verbal skirmishes between the Bickersons. In Hayes' hands they've morphed into the Beachums, and there's a ton of sand-&-salt for the family to squabble around in after Sunday dinner. No blunt-force beach toys here : quelle surprise, sarcasm is the scalpel all of them indulge in to slice one another up.

Just another Sunday dinner with lashings of wine & sarcasm at the Beachum household.
Javier Sotre photo.

How it's all put together : Nothing particularly eccentric about the Beachums. Other than retired-lawyer Glen (Howard Siegel) has cancer and, hiding behind his endless crossword puzzles, he admits quite offhandedly he can't decide -- morally, ethically -- whether to suicide or arrange his own murder to avoid the painful entropy facing him. Family matriarch Bonnie (Anna Hagan), meanwhile, interrupts her endless ironic and witty banter wondering whether Tibet or Maui would be a better vacation spot once Glen kicks off and she sells the house to travel. In passing, Bonnie blithely admits how her emotional detachment from hubby, kids and the grand-kids is now pathologic.

Daughter Norris (Mia Igimundson) has twin Grade 2 boys and is the nattery sibling : "The only reason I tell people what to do is because know what they should do." Thirty-plus, she is pregnant, but not by her estranged drunk husband Kevin (Chris Walters). Her brother Nick (Jordan Navratil) -- more emotionally in-check than she -- has a gay pal named Guy (Seth Little) who shows up in time for dessert after a meeting. When Nick describes him as his lover, mom Bonnie interjects : "That's a terrible word. It's too explicit. It sounds like a verb." Aside : Interesting to me how such smug stuff was written at the end of a 5-year period when more than 4,000 Canadians had died of AIDS or HIV complications.

Dad Glen (Howard Siegal) quips ironically with daughter Norris (Mia Igimundson) as she shares crossword clues and tells him how her life has started going sideways.
Javier Sotre photo.

Maladapted? Feckless? Wounded and vain? No, the Beachums' family beachhead is just another sunny picnic of alcoholism, adultery, and self-centred egos that have been commonplace in our society for decades : "We live in an age when scandal is relegated to the routine," Glen laments : "Everything is eking towards banality." And while Hannah Arendt coined the expression "the banality of evil" in reference to Nazi architect Adolph Eichmann, Chekhov earlier (d. 1904) was punchier, as if anticipating our 21st century media-infested life in toto : "There is nothing more awful, insulting and depressing than banality." 

Production values that shine through :  I have seen countless Glenn MacDonald sets over four decades. This surely is one of his best -- far more balanced and nuanced than any of playwright Hayes's angst-ridden characters. The button-back club chairs anchoring the action downstage left and right were particularly spot on, as were the lamps of Jordan's Furniture pedigree. Terrific comfy middle class cheats atop the requisite Persian area carpet. 

The script for its part -- pushing 30 -- is remarkable for its non-sequiturs, its lacunae and pauses, its syncopated jibber-jabber to-&-fro from topic-to-topic in nanoseconds. That I have not previously been exposed to playwright Hayes and his subtle grasp of how dialogue actually plays itself out in real time is my loss. Regrettably he was killed by a drunk driver shortly after crafting this play, dead at but 37. One can only imagine what his oeuvre would have produced were he to have continued to hone his clever skills with dialogue and dramatic tension. 

Acting pin-spots :  The contrasts / similarities between Nick and Norris were a delightful counterpoint : they positively loathe one another as only siblings can. "Why is it when my friends irritate me they don't, but when my family does, they do ?" Norris fusses. And continues : "You always talk about me behind my back to my face !" Meanwhile their "Bitch!" \ "Bastard!" exchange, while maybe trite, brought Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? instantly to mind. In the main I would have to say that Norris's lines by Hayes were the better, but Jordan Navratil was a more compelling presence with his achy, shaky fists. "Just because I'm being reasonable doesn't mean I'm reasonable," he protests.

Howard Siegel as Father Glen quite grabbed me. He was a very chummy and likeable and philosophical sort whose body and easy smile were 100% in sync with the Barcalounger his butt was glued to most of the night. He sums up, quite pricelessly so, the spiritual cacophony played out by his morally tone-deaf family : "My death becomes less significant every time someone opens their mouth !"

As Mom Bonnie, Anna Hagan was a proper mix of ironic know-it-all cerebral nonchalance -plus- a slingshot of zingers, too -- often together as in my favourite line from her : "Norris, if you're going to take your parents' death seriously, you're going to be very disappointed." Or this : "The nicest thing about having children is you see the sins of your mistakes."

To reveal how all this dissonance and awkwardness and "is-ness" of Beachum family life plays itself out in the end would be an unfair Plot spoiler so I shan't. You wanna know you gotta see. Suffice to say parsing their name as "Be A Chum" isn't how it all plays out.

Who gonna like : Aside from some dated references to typewriters and "the conventions of the middle class" -- both long-dead phenomena that are but romantic memories -- this stuff is Albee meets Chekhov meets Ionesco meets Pinter. While the acting is not wholly consistent from all players, the Hayes script is a Kodachrome moment captured with flashes of brilliance in its film noir cadences and cleverness. I'd go again for each and every painful yuk Hayes sets up for the Beachum family -- and for us who from our own family histories relate to their stories in a heartbeat. Like them, we often find ourselves laughing to keep from crying.

Particulars : Produced by Western Gold Theatre. At the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) studio stage, 581 Cordero, 8th Floor. Through October 29th. Schedule & ticket information : 604.363.5734. On-line purchase via Homeward.BrownPaperTickets.comRun-time : 120 minutes including intermission.

Production team :  Director William B. Davis.  Set Designer Glenn MacDonald.  Costume Designer Alaia Hamer.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Sound Designer Chris Allan.  Stage Manager Jethelo Cabinet.  Assistant Stage Manager Samantha Pawliuk. Photographer Javier Sotres.

Performers :  Anna Hagan (Bonnie Beachum).  Mia Ingimundson (Norris).  Seth Little (Guy).  Jordan Navratil (Nick).  Howard Siegel (Glen Beachum).  Chris Walters (Kevin).


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Mom's The Word 3 on tour with Arts Club 
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)

The review that follows is a slightly-amended redux of the original BLR review published this past April. The show deserves a revived shout-out for all its cleverness & poignance. See Particulars for remaining cities and venues in this tour.

Launching grown kids is nothing a bit of wine-&-weed can't cure for these Vancouver moms.  
Emily Cooper photo. 
From the footlights : Five clever and assertive actors do a biographical mise en scene for the third time as Vancouver Moms stuttering along their life's journeys. As previously, the show's a skitchy vaudeville format with fun the chief focus. The original MTW in 1993 dealt with the women as new moms facing existential challenges such as dancing in the supermarket checkout while clutching a kid with poopy nappies.

Ten years later it was the moms and their kids facing teen-age-hood and all those attendant horrors in MTW#2. Now they're back for an ACT On Tour remount for Round 3 : the kids are either bounding out the front door seeking self-actualization -or- boomeranging back home aghast at the void before them. (N.B. Beatrice Zeilinger replaces Robin Nicholl for the tour.)

MTW3 is part wise-crack funny-making, part poignant assessment of life's second halfIt includes responding to a hubby's early onset Alzheimer's [Jill Daum is wife of Spirit of the West frontman John Mann]; serial pained reflections on a divorce both bloody & bitter; dealing with a son who, sadly, is a millennial version of a Peter Pan Lost Boy. No question life is often more raw than ribald or side-stiching funny. But life, too, that for these moms is always heart-rending, earthy, affecting.

How it's all put together :  The show's model is "The Ed Sullivan Show" meets "Laugh-In" meets "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". Some skits, lots of autobiographical joke-swapping, a coupla tunes lip-synched, even a game show thrown in for hellry.

The five Moms are certain they've provided their kids roots but they aren't 100% sure how well the wings will fly for their little beasties. Now they kvetch about their children's partners, surreptitiously spy on them "out there", sneak into their new digs to check out what secrets lie behind closed doors.

Rain is sometimes outer weather, sometimes inner, and an umbrella can be a parachute, too.
Emily Cooper photo

What the show brings to the stage : Through humour and pathos and the endless variety of the human condition and experience we exit the theatre having laughed and cried and done some self-reflective thinking, too.  Far too many quotable quotes to rhyme off -- from complaints about a dry vagina to claims of "unabashed glee" that the kids have left home. 

Best perhaps from Alison aghast at seeing her middle age spread under her house-painting stained sweat suit gear in a store window : "I can no longer pull off shabby chic, now I'm shabby shit!" or perhaps Deborah Williams' threat that hubby Bruce is "one fuck-up away from a piteous non-negotiable death". In all, a tonne of one-liners designed to make us chortle and widdle : divorcee Barbara Pollard's perpetual hornies requited at last in the local rec centre hot tub surely one of the best bits. 

But no small quantum of serious commentary in all this as well. While her monologues struck me as a bit overextended, Jill Daum's learning to cope with husband John's Alzheimer decline was nevertheless touching stuff. Still, she caught it all best with a single one-liner late in the show. As she drew a chalk line on the stage deck she lamented & brought forth my tears : "When you become the caregiver, you are no longer the lover." Oh my. Such is life, such is love. 

Deborah's frank admission of suicide ideation, meanwhile, also struck a nerve in me, hard, just like the opening scene of The Big Chill did back in the day. When suicide is part of your life story -- as it is twice this decade in my immediate family -- references to it can't help but hurt even when she tries funnin' with the subject.

Production values that enhance :  Pam Johnson's U-Haul cardboard box set draped in muslin worked exceedingly well, the boxes servings as fridge, dishwasher, skype screen, ex-husband's imagined body to stab. Some may think it a bit of a trite statement about both kids and wannabe empty-nesters who are perpetually on the move, lit.-&-fig, but it worked to this eye.

The stage business and blocking by Director Wayne Harrison worked well indeed, with the imaginary 4th wall broken through constantly. Harrison -- who has worked on all the MTW shows, including international mounts -- deserves kudos for his timing and over-all pace of the show despite some longish monologue moments. 

Freshman projection designer Kate De Lorme earns a shout-out for her clever use of techno shots thrown up to enhance the stage action and contemporize the proceedings. 
Pete Seeger first told us how little boxes entrap us all -- but they also mobilize and liberate.
Emily Cooper photo
Acting pin-spots : In Act 1 particularly the majority of spicy choice lines were given over both to Ms. Williams and Ms. Pollard -- the former whinging on about husband Bruce, the latter grousing ad nauseam about her ex-hubby and his trophy girl friend in the Bahamas. In Act 2 Alison Kelly doing her mary-jane puff-in and gigglery was pure hoot.

Who gonna like : Someone once called parenting "a lifetime exercise in little feats" [sic]. Godknows those little feets / feats all add up their mileage over the decades. As a dad with two generations of children -- 25 years apart -- I related warmly, sentimentally, but also viscerally to all the cleverly-wrought shenanigans being aped and yakked over by this talented bunch.

Director Harrison notes that decades back they started as "a group of Vancouver women, mothers all, who did Saturday morning 'writing therapy' to fathom their lives as parents, partners, and, yes, sexual beings, and how to recover from the pain caused by treading bare-footed on a Lego brick." 

The context has morphed -- they now tread on beer bottle caps and roach clips -- but the theme of Momism has not changed much from Philip Wylie's 1942 blockbuster Generation of Vipers. Moms are moms, they change not much. They love, they hate, they hurt, they embrace, they cheer, they love some more and ever more again.

For a dexterous and quick-witted evening's trip down memory lane -- and a peep around the corner of what life's next lurch down the road might look like for you -- MTW3 is a lively local version of "All My Children" that is a whole swack more fun than any t.v. soap opera could ever be.  

Particulars : Presented by Arts Club Theatre, currently On Tour with remaining performances as follows : 

Surrey Arts Centre through October 22nd (604.501.5566). 

Evergreen Cultural Centre, Coquitlam, October 24-29 with an additional 4 p.m. show October 27th (604.927.6555).  

Chilliwack Cultural Centre, October 30th (604.391.SHOW - [7469].)  

Clarke Theatre, Mission, November 1st. (1.877.299.1644).  

The ACT Arts Centre, Maple Ridge, November 2nd & 3rd. (604.476.2787). 

Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby, November 4th & 5th (604.205.3000).  

Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre, November 8th, (250.549.SHOW - [7469].)  

Key City Theatre, Cranbrook, November 10th, (250.426.7006).  

Capitol Theatre, Nelson, November 11th (250.352.6363).  Run-time 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

Production team : Director Wayne Harrison.  Set & Costume Designer Pam Johnson. Original Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe. On Tour Lighting Director Ted Roberts. Sound & Projection Designer Kate De Lorme.  Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs.  Assistnat Stage Manager April Starr Land,.

Playwrights / performers : Jill Daum. Alison Kelly. Barbara Pollard. Deborah Williams. Beatrice Zeilinger.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Goblin Market : NZ cirque enthrals & teases
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 :  To fully appreciate the circus feat called The Goblin Market presented at Cultch's York Theatre by New Zealand's The Dust Palace troupe, one need do two things : (1) first download & read the 1862 Christina Rossetti narrative poem for which the performance is, literally, a jumping-off point, and (2) absorb the intent of The Dust Palace squib describing their show : "The production celebrates the female gaze in its exploration of sexuality and sisterhood, through double trapeze, mask, projection, acrobatics, spoken word and music -- this is circus with a Southern hemisphere flair...".

How the show is put together :  The Rossetti poem's central conceit is of two "sisters" who face daunting temptation by goblins bearing Eden-esque fruits of every variety but apple. The women each must sacrifice their innocence before achieving redemption together. In 2017 the poem, I submit, cannot possibly be read as anything but a bacchanalian celebration of a gutsy, lusty lesbian love affair. This despite Rossetti's Notes published in 1904 that insist she "did not mean anything profound by this fairytale." I say Pshaw! to such sleight wordplay. The proof is her own full-blooded and husky descriptors of sexual delights and the women's robust recoupling.

But. But. All largely irrelevant, this, in The Dust Palace cirque performance piece. Rossetti's poem figures in only peripherally, though its riffs of XY trickery, lechery, faux-rape, lust (hetero & homo both), all are there for the gawking and the thrill.

Adding a new spin to the 150 year old Christina Rossetti poem are NZ cirque mavens Rochelle Mangan and Eve Gordon who are a sisterhood of traveling acrobats.
Photo by 
Production values that shine through : Rossetti's words, for their part, are mostly substituted except for some minor excerpts scrolled herky-jerky in black-&-white as if from a clunky old Bell-&-Howell 16 mm. projector onto the upstage scrim. But primarily -- instead of the luscious, lascivious lyrics of Rossetti's poem -- we get hip-hop from the likes of Tito and Tarantula, Archive's "Chaos", Fierce Mild (or a surrogate) doing a lengthy cover of the Lesley Gore classic "You Don't Own Me", Smoke and Mirror's "Ivy and Gold", &c. &c. All of this aided and abetted by Eminem-style rap monologues to punctuate the music. 

If you've seen a Cirque du Soleil performance (in Vancouver? Duhhh!) you'll see much here that resembles it (e.g. oh-so-cautious & painstaking hand-stands atop a dozen stacked square wooden office chairs). But TDP advances the often Andrew Lloyd Webber-ish Cirque music and storyline that accompany their trademark kinetic stylistics.

Fact is there is no sense trying to review this performance art piece as typical "drama". It is artistic acrobatics on a 2 X 12 movable balance beam; on curtain streamers; rope; body-size rings; trapeze; floor routines; extreme yoga contortions. It is, in a word, a visual avant garde ballet of gymnastics movement singly and doubly by the three cast that is, lit.-&-fig., altogether breathtaking.

The fruits of Eden are front-&-centre in Christina Rossetti's poem but are downplayed here in all the acrobatic imagination brought into play by New Zealand's The Dust Palace troupe.Photo by Loork.
Acting pin-spots : Other dramatic renditions have made the poem into a musical, a one-woman show or a two-hander that just implies the presence of the malicious, malign male goblins. Not here. Edward Clendon as the "collective goblins" is an astonishing accomplished gymnast whose solo routines at times threaten to steal the show.

But only for a second or two. Co-performers Eve Gordon and Rochelle Mangan rock the house with their delicious inventiveness in all the acrobatic arabesque options and variations noted above. Their final big-ring pas de deux as the reconciled and redeemed sisters -- whether siblings or lovers, hardly matters -- was to bring on tears.

Who gonna like : As noted, drama-based circus is with us to stay. Thirty years-plus have passed since Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix launched Cirque du Soleil in Quebec City. But TDP advances the somewhat formulaic & familiar CdS schtick that we're all used to regardless of whatever new title is put to any given annual outing they trot out across the land.

More character intimacy, more individual showcasing, more of a plot thread that one feels like diving into and being immersed in, these are the strengths The Dust Palace brings to this emerging dramatic art form. The standing-o the troupe got on opening night was neither fluke nor knee-jerk nor a rote-&-ritual welcome for foreign talent that Vancouver crowds are so often guilty of. Your kind of divertissement from the usual fare on local boards? You'll get a buzz no question.

Particulars : Created & performed by The Dust Palace troupe of New Zealand. At the Cultch York Theatre on Commercial in EastVan, through October 14th.  Run-time 85 minutes, no intermission. Tickets & schedules : Box office phone 604.251.1363 or via The Cultch website.

Production crew : Director Mike Edward.  Technical Director Michael Craven.  Rigger Bianca Beebe.

Performers :  Edward Clendon.  Eve Gordon.  Rochelle Mangan.

Addendum #1 :  Company Info (from the program) : Our mission is to present fun, exhilarating circus theatre that is intimate, visually stunning, and brave in its frankness about human nature.

Established by Eve Gordon and Mike Edward in 2009, The Dust Palace is New Zealand's pre-eminent circus theatre company. Our aim is to create international-standard circus theatre, taking our stories around the world; and to foster circus and physical performance and practitioners in Auckland and New Zealand. No other professional company in NZ operates in this innovative, form forward space. We value quality, audacity, and humanity. We create work which connects communities, sharing skills, and spreading delight.

The Dust Palace has progressed toward creating more integrated narrative based works as our company and audience profile has grown, which is at the core of what we do. From our early cabaret-style works we have been introducing our audiences to a more sophisticated, genre-bending blend of circus and physical theatre; challenging and engaging diverse audiences as well as providing mind-blowing entertainment.

Addendum #2 :  Show notes (from the program) :  Eve's mother had a particular liking to the Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market for its luxurious language and vivid descriptions. In 2011 when researching historic erotic literature for their show Venus is..., Eve re-discovered the poem and introduced Mike to it. Its strong imagery and universal themes struck them as a piece that could be a really strong seed for circus theatre show.

We wanted to explore the depth of each of the character's states through the poem; Laura's addiction and despair; Lizzie's fear, courage and determination, and the Goblins; who they are, not only representationally but 'humanly', what they are within each and every one of us.

The strong discourse on the punishment of young sexualized women inherent in the work struck us as such a relevant concept to modern young people that we couldn't help but place the work in the present day, clearly connecting the girls to us and the temptations to those we all face in our lives. We began developing the show in 2016 at the request of the Nelson Festival. After a series of workshops and showings we had developed a distinct language of storytelling which drove the narrative out of the various skills we had utilized among the cast.

The film component was developed from Eve's past in experimental, direct and non-narrative film world. Direct film making techniques such as bleach, scratch, collage, among a multitude of others, were employed to help bring to life the anarchic danger of a city scape. Many hours were spent in front of celluloid strips in the making of this show!

Addendum # 3 : Director's notes (from the program):  We've explored various ways of incorporating narrative with circus, but time and time again we keep being drawn back to poetry.  Its rhythms, the heightened nature of the language, and its often surreal nature lends itself to circus. The Goblin Market message of women's empowerment is timeless. It was one of the very first literary pieces to challenge the "fallen women" narrative : the happy ending offers the possibility of redemption, while typical Victorian portrayals ended in the fallen woman's death.

In circus I operate daily with women who are super human : they are braver, stronger, and have more heart than most men I know. (I still am shocked when I'm out in the world and I hear someone say 'Don't be a girl'?!)  Therefore a story of two sisters who love hard, fight hard, and stand together (in spite of their actions) seemed a wonderful fit for my wonderful, Amazonian performers.  

I hope you enjoy the show.
Mike Edward.