Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Men In White chirps about cricket, life
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 Men In White by Anosh Irani is a "tale of two cities" and a whole lot more, including the game of cricket. On a single stage the two worlds of (old) Bombay and (new) Vancouver line up side-by-side. Each side deals with slaughter : the right, a chicken butchery shoppe in India, the left, a local cricket team's locker room off Brockton Oval -- where opposing teams religiously knacker them.

How these worlds intersect is through elder brother Abdul's (Shekhar Paleja) dream to bring hotshot cricketer younger brother Hasan (Nadeem Phillip) over to Vancouver to help notch up the odd cricket pitch victory for his multi-ethnic club.

The "whole lot more" that North Vancouver's Irani attempts to draw into his script involves riffs on frat-boy cameraderie, sexism, karma, patriarchy, religious tribal wars, immigration conflicts, schoolyard bullying, local Mumbai gang violence -- love, loyalty, fate, loss -- all this amidst endless banter about the wizardry and wicketry that are what the game of cricket is all about.  

How it's all put together :  When Scott Fitzgerald in Gatsby wrote of "the fresh green breast of the new world", he could easily have had Vancouver's Stanley Park in mind. But for Abdul, the new world isn't all it was cracked up to be. He works in a restaurant and feels his boss, who sponsored him, is a slavedriver who "owns" him due to faked immigration papers five years back. Thus no recourse thru Human Rights or Worksafe or Immigration. So he seeks solace and release playing his native game of cricket. In the locker room, meanwhile, the homegrown tensions of Hindu-Muslim religious conflict re-emerge between two team members : no heaven on earth either at home between them, nor here.

Back in Bombay 18-year-old Hasan, surrogate son of his boss Baba (Sanjay Talwar), dreams of escaping the chicken hatchetry and becoming a cricket star. Fat chance. He doesn't even own a cricket bat he's so poor. But he's lucky. He's been smitten by 16-year-old eager student Haseena (Risha Nanda), a regular customer at the chicken shoppe who dreams earnestly of a medical career. The two of them look at travel sites about Vancouver on TripAdviser and drool about its lush greenery + blue washes at shore's edge.

What the show brings to the stage : Dreams. Hopes. Expectations. Reality bites. Disappointments. New world. Old world. Same old the world over ? Baba, who clearly adores Hasan, tells him life as he was taught to expect it was less complicated, less filled with wonder or pining & aching for something better. "In our day we just did our work, we ate, and we died," he says with no regret or irony.

The show toggles between the split-stage action in the B.C. locker room -vs- life in inner-city India. The script is ambitious. Trying to embrace social customs over decades across 12,000 km of linear space, it demands perhaps more focus on its social messaging than a typical audience might be comfortable trying to follow. Still one has to admire Irani's attempts to reconcile both the generation gaps at play back in India with the cultural divides that exist here in Canada. Over the years our home and native land -- Irani seems to be saying -- has often tried to masque the reality of racial and cultural bigotry and prejudice here by huckstering a kind of smug multicultural self-congratulation. Which was so recently assassinated in Quebec City nevermind Atawaspiskat or Highway 16.

Production values that shine : Regardless of the over-reach of the script in toto, there is much to recommend here. Amir Ofek's set matches in excellence previous high water marks he established. The contrasts between the chicken butchery contiguous to the antiseptic all-white locker room with no dividing wall were rich and compelling. Murray Price's soundscape with its wraparound background noise effects coupled with its ethnic -plus- electro-pop tunery was choice. 

Acting pin-spots : Clearly one of the most attractive acting bits occurred between the ironically irascible Sanjay Talway as Baba and Hasan. For his part, Nadeem Phillip as Hasan displayed terrific character presence and continuity and idiosyncrasy with all his facial contortions and hand gestures. 

Most successful sustained interchanges were between Hasan and Risha Nanda as Haseena : lots of delicious flirtation between them in Act 2 that was utterly endearing and convincing. 

Personally I loved the explosive verbal fisticuffs between Doc (Munish Sharma) and Abdul as the pain of the 90's India murderous riots between Hindu and Muslim in that country were played out anew. 

And as the ever-kidding Sam, the team's token Chinese-Canadian, Raugi Yu provided good comic relief, as did Anousha Alamanian as Ram with his omnipresent fist-bumps and finger explosions. 

Who gonna like : This is a work-in-progress script with much of substance to work with. Without resorting to Plot spoiler! mode, let me suggest the end change with the final cricket game occurring before Hasan's trip to the Mumbai airport to join his brother in Vancouver. That would obviate the need for the overdramatic climax resorted to.

And while this is a piece whose individual parts exceed in impact what the whole provides, the themes are lively and timely and engaging, particularly given the border-hopping into Emerson, Manitoba these days by people from "away" attempting to escape USA Homeland Security.

Personal note : In my Canadian citizenship class two years back there were 82 of us. From 23 different countries of birth, almost a different country each 3rd seat along. There were eight Caucasians, five of them from one Danish family. Only three native English-speakers. Thus I felt a personal connection with Anosh Irani's play that was deep and gripping and tear-bringing. Others may not come from such a place. But there is much they can take away from this play. Much to champion about this home of Canada of ours.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre in its premiere performances.  At the ACT Granville Island Stage. On until March 11,2017. Run-time 140 minutes, including 20 minute intermission. Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning ACBO @ 604.67.1644.  

Production team :  Director / Dramaturg Rachel Ditor.  Set Designer Amir Ofek.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Sound Designer Murray Price.  Costume Designer Amy McDougall.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Assistant to the Director Gavan Cheema.

Performers :  Anousha Alamian (Ram).  Risha Nanda (Haseena).  Shekhar Paleja (Abdul).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Tony).  Nadeem Phillip (Hasan).  Munish Sharma (Doc).  Parm Soor (Randi).  Sanjay Talwar (Baba).  Raugi Yu (Sam). 


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Corleone a hit! a hita palpable hit!
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 :  When first I espied the subtitle to David Mann's Corleone script -- The Shakespearean Godfather -- a wee sotte voce rebuke issued forth : "Stupido! What more logical and clever a twist than this...?" Take Mario Puzo's novel and Francis Ford Coppola's iconic movies about la cosa nostra. Throw 80 minutes of iambic pentameter flourishes into the mix. Add a bunch of soliloquies. All from a partially dysfunctional family beset by jealousies and power-grabs, murder and general mayhem. What could be more Shakespearean than that mash-up?

Oh yes. One more ingredient. Eighteen women who join together under the Classic Chic theatre troupe banner as actors & producers. Formed in 2014, Classic Chic prides itself on casting women in men's roles, the flip of Shakespeare casting men as women. And once again the CC cabal proves that evincing bedlam and tumult is not gender-specific. 

How it's all put together :  How to parse Michael Corleone, the Baby Don who first reluctantly, then eagerly, grabs for the mantle being shriven by an aging Vito Corleone. How and why do we go so far as to start to admire a guy fashioned for all the world after a murderous mobster? Think real-life charmer John Gotti here. Folks love Puzo's crew for the same reason NYC's Little Italy loved Gotti : he beat the system with the tribal nation that was his indigenous clan. His anti-establishment dynasty was bloody good at shock and awe no less so than TPTB (the powers that be). And of course everyone roots for underdogs, always have.

Director Mindy Parfitt could have pilfered a line from feminist author bell hooks to describe what she manages to portray grippingly with her crew : "Anger is the best hiding place for anybody seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit..." Michael, recall, lost fiancee Apollonia to a car bomb while he was exiled in Sicily. It was then he came home. First quietly then tumultuously -- during his goddaughter's christening -- he stormed his late Papa's throne through revenge assassinations.

Finding a way for her women actors to doff any lingering characteristics of feminine social customs. Instead don the patriarchal costumes bell hooks alludes to. This was Parfitt's challenge. How to create visceral, seething mob gangsters from her feminine actors. An unfettered and gusty Bravo! for everyone's gutsy efforts here. A better rainy Saturday's entertainment I could not have wished for.

Production values the show brings to the stage :  Playwright David Mann throws down the gauntlet that Classic Chic promptly swoops up and brandishes proudly. "The show rides the line between parody and homage, to both The Godfather and Shakespeare, and creates a new audience experience for both sources. By casting all women...we're invited to see power (and its potential corruption) as something both men and women can wield with equal strength."

The cozy Pacific Theatre stage with its opposite-facing bleacher seats looking down upon the central stage was perfect. Aisles used as chase avenues added to the fun. Spare simple props (Heidi Wilkinson, set designer) were moved on and off by the dozen actors, all choreographed smartly by Andrea Loewen.

Acting pin-spots : Knowing the Coppola script so well as most do, it is difficult to shed our personal favourites, like James Caan as the tumescent and explosive heir apparent eldest son Santino. Fuggeddaboutdit!  CC co-founder Corina Akeson brings to Sonny's role a power of voice and violent choreography that are breathtaking, lit.& fig. A seething, frightful turn that thrilled. As Sonny's alter ego, Corleone lawyer and consiglieri Tom Hayden, Michelle Martin (another CC co-founder) dished out a steady calculating cool that was smooth and edgy at the same time. Elizabeth Kirkland was both the goofy middle son Fredo and the evil cop McCluskey : she played them each with utterly engaging spunk and fun. 

As Papa Vito, Nicola Lipman was an understated and delightful wizen'd old man. Good on her part. But I did find Stefania Indelicato a bit too understated and deadpan playing Papa's favourite kid Prince Michael. Needed a bit more snarl behind lines such as "Pray! but query not / About my business, Kay!" Speaking of whom, the only girly-girl in the show, Kaitlin Williams as Michael's wife demonstrates perfectly in her role what is meant by the current sardonic hashtag out of Washington, DC : #freemelania. Now is then, then is now.

Who gonna like :  Lines like Michael's closer "When wolves do howl tonight / All family scores will be settled right!" give the flavour of this whimsical David Mann script. As noted at the start, altogether it is a twisted mash-up of Puzo meets Coppola meets Billy Bard. Gunshots are replaced by poisoned pearls and sword slices, while Sonny's demise was a straight send-up of Julius Caesar. Soliloquies replace camera close-ups of arched eyebrows, particularly not to forget Luca Brasi's inimitable wedding day tribute to Boss Vito "Long live your flesh / And may it contain your organs!" 

Based on what playwright Mann set out to accomplish and the challenges he put before Classic Chic to bring his script to life -- in its international debut, and an all-women cast as well -- this is one of the current season's absolute Must see! productions. BLR was supposed to have reviewed Corleone 10 days back but got scuttled by a snowstorm. I only wish my enthusiasm could have had more air-time before the show's closing just a week from now. I'd go again in a New York minute. 

Particulars :  Written by David Mann fashioned directly after The Godfather, novel by Mario Puzo, film by Francis Ford Coppola. Produced by the Classic Chic theatre troupe in association with Pacific Theatre. Performed at Pacific Theatre (corner Hemlock and 12th Avenue).  Through February 25th.  Run-time 80 minutes plus intermission. Tickets by phone 604.731.5518 or on-line via Troupe website  Hashtag #classiccorleone.

Production crew :  Director Mindy Parfitt.  Sound Designer Corina Akeson.  Set Designer Heidi Wilkinbson.  Lighting Designer Jill White.  Scenic Painter Omanie Elias.  Costume Designer Chantal Short.  Costume Assistant Sherry Randall.  Fight Director Josh Reynolds.  Fight Captain Paige Louter.  Choreographer Andrea Loewen.  Stage Manager Maria Zarrillo.

Performers :  Corina Akeson (Sonny; Johnny Fontaine).  Christina Wells Campbell (Luca Brasi; Clemenza).  Evelyn Chew (Connie; Apollonia).  Lindsay Curl; Danielle Klaudt; Paige Louter (Chorus).  Stefania Indelicato (Michael Corleone).  Elizabeth Kirkland (Fredo; McCluskey).  Nicola Lipman (Vito Corleone; Priest).  Michelle Martin (Tom, Carlo).  Colleen Winton (Bonasera; Moe Green).  Kaitlin Williams (Kay).


Thursday, 2 February 2017

You Will Remember Me is unforgettably touching
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)

Editor's note : As we are unable to attend this year's mounting, the following is a re-worked version of BLR's November, 2015 review of the play from its original Ruby Slippers \ Cultch production. All "the usual suspects" are back to reprise their show from 15 months ago except Kevin Loring who replaces Craig Erickson as the character Patrick.

From the footlights : It is said we all die twice. Once when we breathe our final breath, and a second time when the last person to remember us dies. But along the way there are many stages. And as we live longer, considerably more Alzheimer-like conditions will confront us. From ancient times the dementia was recognized as real : the Chinese character translates literally as "foolish old person".

But as Boomers themselves become "foolish old people", the issue takes on enhanced prominence with respect to social practice & public policy. Should diseased elders be warehoused? Should families bear the burden of ultimate responsibility down through the generations? When and how do decisions get taken to end the growing misery a loved one suffers? 

These questions are debated, often with humour, in Bobby Theodore's You Will Remember Me translation of the Francois Archambault original script Tu te souviendres de moi. Whether metaphor for how society treats its various discards past their best-by date or more simply just a story, YWRM will touch you, shake you, move you off centre, no question. 

How it's all put together : Edouard Beauchemin (Kevin McNulty) is, ironically, a professor of history who is losing his grip on memory. Not the minutiae of historical epochs. For that his brain still fires on all cylinders. But the day-to-day, moment-by-moment stuff, more each passing minute. 

Wife Madeleine (Patti Allan) struggles against three forces : the simple fact of Edouard's disease; the increasing alienation she has felt from him who throughout their marriage has used his mind as a weapon against her (not to mention serial sexcapades with his students); then there's the guilt she feels about abandoning Edouard, now, when he's been cut adrift from his life's moorings. 

Madeleine wants daughter Isabelle (Marci T House) to take Edouard on with the same zest and vehemence she devotes to her t.v. reporter work. Have Edouard live with her. But of course for Isabelle, work is a means to escape the shackles of family. Into the mix comes new boyfriend Patrick (Kevin Loring). He's a bit of a layabout on U.I. who enjoys nothing so much as nights out with the lads to play poker. 

Likeable Patrick has a teenage daughter, Berenice (Sereana Malani) who is chippy, flip, and full of attitude and who Isabelle has no time for. Edouard, who hates all the values of her Gen Y group, ultimately finds Berenice to be his true angel of mercy. 

Zippy dialogue gets laughs : Not only a professor, Edouard has long had his own radio program. He's a regular go-to interviewee on t.v., an unrepentant Quebec nationalist, a politico activist for whom Rene Levesque is still his hero. But the current cyber-world is utterly unnerving to him : "This is a pitiful time for ideas," he declares. "The current climate depresses me so much I almost miss Pierre Elliott Trudeau!" He drips with sarcasm at how social media have besieged the public consciousness, dismissing it en masse : "It's the democratization of human stupidity!" he seethes. Lots a chortles from an appreciative and identifying audience in all that rant. 

But in the end the brilliance of the Archambault / Theodore script is its grasp of zeitgeist, the focus on mindfulness that's all the rage, the head-butt of the instant against any past event : "The mark you left yesterday doesn't mean anything?" Berenice challenges him near the end. "Hmnn," a momentarily lucid Edouard reflects, "that's a good question. That's the question." (2017 BLR editor update : seems the rage now, just a year later, is strong-arm salutes to bullies, not "mindfulness" at all.)

Recall of a much earlier similar script done @ The Cultch : Decades back on the original Cultch church stage, Studio 58 founder Antony Holland starred in a little potboiler of a play entitled Family Matters. Like everyone else, I interpreted it as the adjective "family" modifying the noun "matters". But only when Holland explodes in a rage at one of his disrespectful kids "Family matters!" did the show's real meaning emerge. 

Similarly here. In both senses, YWRM is a show about family matters. One can't help but conjure Count Leo Tolstoy's opening line to his epic novel Anna Karenina that BLR quotes regularly it is so apt and smart : "Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." 

Despite her anger at her husband at whom she seethes and taunts and disparages noisily, Madeleine softens, too, kisses him good-bye, lets him lie in her lap while she strokes his hair. Angry and defensive Isabelle sneaks dad away for a restaurant meal one night. They get schnockered on two bottles of wine, arriving home all giggly and merry. Berenice becomes a surrogate daughter to Edouard on a couple of different levels. Endeared to him and he to her, she helps him work through various truths of his life now filtered through a glass darkly. 

Numerous times during the show I found myself reaching for kleenex as the pain of these kinds of exchanges struck their target in me. Ruby Slippers Artistic Director Diane Brown, who directed the show, said it perhaps best : "Like (Archambault's) other work, this play is startlingly honest, funny, intimate and expansive. As our protagonist is stripped of his identity, his history, his memory, his ego, the play evokes a kind of humanity that demands attention, and reminds us that life is bigger." 

Acting pin-spots:  Like Antony Holland's performance from decades ago, Kevin McNulty's representation as Edouard will live in memory as long as mine might survive. Utterly stupendous. 

Full credit to the Archambault / Theodore script for demonstrating the subtlety of progressive dementia -- "Do I know you? What was your name again? I wish you'd wear a name tag so I can remember it!" Edouard says over-&-over again -- but it is McNulty's power that grabs : he evinces a full and total appreciation of his character's slow but ineluctable slide. An astonishing and completely heart-rending performance. 

Nothing better from Julianne Moore in the recent Alzheimer-themed movie Still Alice, or earlier, what Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent did in Sarah Polley's Away From Her script (based on -- my favourite! -- Alice Munro, whose short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" is AM at her peak of writing + insight). No question here. McNulty's acting is absolutely must-see for power, nuance, and visceral honesty.

As Madeleine, Patti Allan was breathtaking at moments in the complete believability of her role as the emotionally abused wife always struggling for dignity under the shadow of the bright social intellectual powerhouse her husband cast. Her bottled throttling rage was immense in its delivery.

Kudos to "the children", each and all, in the performance too. Together and singly they revealed characters who were never one-dimensional despite parts written to perhaps make them seem so at first blush. 

Production highlights : Director Diane Brown put together a team whose performance for the tight Historic Stage at the Cultch was spot on. Particular mention of Heidi Wilkinson's tier'd set of a wicker settee and slat-backed rocker surrounded by monster weed stalks that worked well indeed. But it was Corwin Ferguson's projected images on the backstage wall -- a sort of oversize sheet of hospital gauze with random bandages or post-it notes stuck on it -- these tied the set together cleverly, richly. Whether from Quebec or my favourite Cariboo here in B.C., the projected birchbark trees and the birds -- coupled with the overlays of Edouard's  demented scribblery -- the effects worked 100% or more. 

Who gonna like : YWRM is small-stage theatre at its best. The themes that are pursued and examined are absolutely au courant. Intimacy. Loyalty. Career. History. Now. Next? Cast delivery was completely equal to the excellence of the Archambault / Theodore script. Production details were precise, calculated, and pleasing. 

Blocking the numerous exits / entrances from every possible angle contributed to the feel of "This play is everywhere!" intended by the playwright. An intense & completely! rewarding night of theatre. How YWRM confronts so compellingly a future many of us will face is nonpareil live theatre that is Ruby Slippers trademark. The production is both challenging & disquieting, but a triumph : a fully personal individual grab at the heart. Brava! Bravo! 

Let me be clear. Not an offhand pip-pip Good show! recommendation here -- for its excellence in extremis -- do, truly, Go!

Particulars : Produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre in collaboration with Gateway Theatre. Performed at The Gateway, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  From February 2-11 only. Run-time 100 minutes including intermission.  Schedule and tickets for both evening and matinee shows by phone at 604.270.1812 or via Gateway tickets

Creative Team : Playwright Francois Archambault.  Translated by Bobby Theodore.  Director Diane Brown.   Set & Prop Designer Heidi Wilkinson.  Costume Designer Jessica Oostergo.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Video Designer Corwin Ferguson.  Sound Designer / Composer Joelysa Pankanea.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson.  Apprentice Stage Manager Alex Kirkpatrick.

Performers :  Kevin McNulty (Edouard).  Marci T House (Isabelle).  Patti Allan (Madelaine).  Sereana Malani (Berenice).  Kevin Loring (Patrick). 

Addendum : From The Cultch program, 2015, About the Company notes on Ruby Slippers Theatre :

Multi-award-winning Ruby Slippers Theatre produces, creates, and presents provocative text-based theatre from the vanguard of the English and French Canadian canon. We tell stories that illuminate diverse perspectives and social issues, inspiring independent critical thought and communion.

Loving HMQEII is the object of The Audience
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 :  Queen to princess. Mother to daughter. That's a wee slice of the fun being dished out by The Audience at ACT's Stanley theatre. Mom Anna Galvin plays Queen Elizabeth II while her daughter Bianca Sanchez Galvin plays young Elizabeth. They banter back-&-forth like bosom buddies in a story that skips desultorily among various years across six decades of Elizabeth's monarchy. 

Weekly the Queen has an audience with UK's Prime Minister, who with Teresa May's appointment now number 13 since she was crowned in 1952. The eponymous play imagines a swack of those dialogues performed in leapfrog order to-&-fro, not chronologically. The serial skits and bits of political burlesque on show are linked by the Queen's Equerry (Bernard Cuffling) who stitches together a connecting narrative and descriptive thread of this UK history.

How it's all put together : In his seminal 19th century text The English Constitution, essayist Walter Bagehot maintained the role of monarchy vis-a-vis 10 Downing Street was limited to three interactive functions : to be consulted; to advise; to warn. The weekly sessions between Queen and her PMs were all unrecorded by either pen or wire, so playwright Morgan has had to imagine the discussions that took place -- piece them together from juicy gossips in the media or simply invent them from reports circulating about the events and exigencies of the times, e.g. Anthony Eden's fateful 1956 Suez Crisis compared with Tony Blair's Iraq War farrago of 2003 and beyond.

Given the Queen's audiences with her PMs were unminuted, how can anyone manage to create a proper dramatic arc from these sessions? Director Sarah Rodgers credits her parents' cache -- five musty storage boxes brimful of Majesty Magazine -- with providing her her "research material" (no doubt a hodgepodge of facts, factoids, fake news and post-truths from back in the day same as the daily fare we get now). 

Rodgers says Morgan's script "...humanizes the Queen and her Prime Ministers. It gives us a sweet view into the weekly audiences with her PMs, revealing a darling, witty, candid, enduring Queen...riddled with self-doubt, insecurities, self-deprecating humour, and at times great vulnerability."

Production values high-lighted on stage : Director Rodgers' description of how QEII is depicted in this version of The Audience is accurate. And, it should be noted, it precedes Peter Morgan's Netflix bingeworthy serial The Crown that tells the queen's tale chronologically.  A logical question arises : why try to sell on stage in 2017 a storyline captured just last year on film with all the camera trickery available in that fast-paced medium? 

The truth lies, implicitly, in a comparator and analogous question : why would any live theatre company attempt to stage Romeo & Juliet ever again -- now almost 50 years on -- given the iconic and inimitable Franco Zeffirelli 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting? And the answer is Because...!

Another question arises. Is it possible the Rodgers interpretation of Elizabeth is not just magnified but possibly as distorted as a traveling carny hall of mirrors? See Addendum #1 below describing the annus horribilis that Elizabeth mentioned in her 1992 Christmas address. All that melodrama in her life that year and the odd Latin expression is the only crack in the mirror that the public could peek through back then. In The Audience, meanwhile, Morgan has the queen snipe sarcastically at her equerry who fretted about her having the flu : "I'm fine. Now scram!" Hmnnn.

Still, maybe it's just the same impulse that back in the 60's impelled The Beatles to describe QEII as they did in Addendum #2 -- call it poetic license or whim -- that brought Morgan to those lines.

Fact is these are parlous and perilous times we live in. Which create a need in many of us for some continuity and reassurance from a perch "above the fray". The Audience provides just that whether the "real" Elizabeth is somewhat more or somewhat less of the interpretation the Morgan / Rodgers / Galvins' group give to her. 

The 90% full-house on opening night gave the production a 75% standing ovation, and this reviewer interpreted the standees as sincere and heartfelt, not knee-jerk pop-ups as so often happens at Vancouver playhouses. 

Specific on-stage kudos to Set Designer Alison Green and Costume Designer Christine Reimer in cahoots with Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe to create an inviting and engaging milieux -- the duck-egg blue Private Audience Room of Buckingham Palace. 

For their part, all the PM costumes were designed nicely to match their various personalities. Best mapping of outfits, not surprisingly, were the threads for the queen, from her sumptuous ermine coronation cape to her Balmoral funky headscarves and jodhpurs. 

Acting pin-spots : As the script tells it, the typically inscrutable Queen had a particular soft spot in her heart for Labour's Harold Wilson (David Marr) -- 1964-1970 \ 1974-1976. Their exchange to kick off Act II where he praises her as a woman "of the people" -- and then he, an Oxford don, rattles off pi from memory to 66 places -- this was just a choice imagining and rendering of a relationship. Using her words, this was not just a "friendly" cameraderie but as close to "friendship" toward any PM she might have been capable of.

For its part, the Galvin / Galvin mother-daughter casting was inspired. Anna and Bianca truly sounded like persons with shared DNA in their gestures and Brit accents and sly double-takes. Their closing scene quite grabbed. Princess Lizzie felt scrunched and sequestered and squelched personally due to the demands of her public role. Queen Elizabeth assures her this is necessary and for a higher purpose for the benefit of their people.

Personally I quite liked Tom McBeath's characterization of PM Gordon Brown (2007-2010). But a Brit friend told me at intermission he felt McBeath betrayed 100% more personality than Brown ever had, lol. Heading home, my wife and I quickly agreed that as "Iron Lady" Maggie Thatcher, Erin Ormond stormed into the blue room with just the right indignance, wig, overbite, and head-cock. A real prickle, she. 

Meanwhile quite a visual relief to see Winston Churchill (Joel Wirkunnen) step forth much closer to Winnie's 5-foot 5-inch frame than the visually off-putting 6-foot 4-inch giant John Lithgow in The Crown. Wirkunnen's turn in the ACT stage role part -- albeit curiously absent WC's omnipresent cigar and intravenous cognac -- brought forth a man as gruff and bullying and garrulous and charming as one imagines the farty Old Warrior to have been.

Who gonna like :  Not surprisingly, probably, George Orwell's 1949 fiendish and diabolic novel 1984 has sold out this past month on Amazon; for its part publisher Penguin has ordered up 75,000 new prints. In such a world a cuddly fuzzy-bear Queen Elizabeth (91 on April 21st) is probably just what the good Dr. Seuss would prescribe to comfort and reassure his patients. 

And while I may be a bit skeptical that Elizabeth Windsor in fact possesses all the engaging and captivating personality traits Sarah Rodgers draws out of her character, it doesn't matter a tinker's dam. 

The Audience delivers to viewers not just a figurehead, but a real and genuine person. She convinces us that at heart she's just a gal whose favourite spot on earth is the Balmoral country estate where she can roughhouse with her Corgis. Nothing gives her more pleasure than to share good cheer over the muddy faces and knickers her kids and grandkids traipse into the pantry after a day outdoors in Scotland's August rain. This is charming theatre that strikes viewers, refreshingly, as not just accurate but true. Memorable, fetching stuff  in a time when it's sorely needed.

Particulars :  Script by Peter Morgan [scriptwriter of 2006 film The Queen plus the current Netflix series The Crown]. Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At the Stanley Theatre, 11th Avenue at Granville. On until February 26, 2017. Run-time 140 minutes, including 20 minute intermission. Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning ACBO @ 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Director Sarah Rodgers.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Christine Reimer.  Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe.  Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.  Assistant Director Ashley O'Connell. Assistant Stage Manager Allison Spearin.  Corgi Wrangler Caitlin McFarlane.

Performers :  Chris Britton (Anthony Eden).  Ted Colember (John Major).  Bernard Cuffling (Equerry).  Alen Dominguez (Footman).  Anna Galvin (Queen Elizabeth II).  Bianca Sanchez Galvin (Young Elizabeth).  Mike Gill (Footman).  Jay Hindle (Tony Blair; David Cameron).  Brian Linds (Bishop; Detective).  David Marr (Harold Wilson).  Tom McBeath (Gordon Brown).  Melissa Oei (Bobo MacDonald).  Erin Ormond (Margaret Thatcher).  Joel Wirkkunen (Winston Churchill).

Addendum #1 from Wikipedia :
The phrase annus horribilis was used in 1891 to describe 1870, the year in which the Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of papal infallibility;[1] but it was brought to prominence by Queen Elizabeth II in a speech to Guildhall on 24 November 1992, marking the 40th anniversary of her accession, in which she described the year as an annus horribilis.[2]

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis."

The "sympathetic correspondent" was later revealed to be her former assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford. The unpleasant events which happened to the Royal Family in this year include:
Following the Guildhall speech:

Addendum #2  from "" :
Her Majesty
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn't have a lot to say
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day
I want to tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a bellyful of wine
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
Someday I'm going to make her mine, oh yeah,
Someday I'm going to make her mine.
Songwriters: John Lennon / John Winston Lennon / Paul Mccartney / Paul James Mccartney
Her Majesty lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Sunday...with George entices and amuses
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 point of it all : Pointillism. A 19th Century paint-by-dots technique that even Van Gogh mimicked. When designed as music the technique is called punctualism. Individual notes that when totted together create an intimate if occasionally gnarled soundscape. Sunday In the Park With George is the musical collaboration of Stephen Sondheim / James Lapine focused on the French painter George Seurat. It could be subtitled "Portrait of the Artist as A Young Obsessive Compulsive". Only 25 at the time he started it, Seurat's iconic 10-foot-wide "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" is now in the proud possession of the Art Institute of Chicago.

After two years of struggle and some 60 draft sketches of folks dilly-dallying on Ilse Grande, all of this was brought vividly to life on canvas by Seurat. While conceiving and composing and refining pointillism that would become known as neo-impressionism, he struggled both artistically and personally. Was life to be the subjects he painted -- like his model and girlfriend named, a bit too cutely, Dot. Or is the act of painting just a medium, a means to understand and embrace the community who are the target audience of one's handiwork? Painting is work that creates a product. Audiences respond, humanly, to what paint-&-brush hath wrought. Where do these forces intersect in the creator's heart?

From the footlights :  Order. Design. Tension. Composition. Balance. Light. Harmony. These are the watchwords of George Seurat, his daily mantra to himself as he developed the craft of pointillism. Words that if applied to one's personal relationships -- analogously -- would not be bad values to include in the reach of one's personality. 

But for George Seurat (Brandyn Eddy) as imagined by Sondheim / Lapine, his love of paints and colour and canvas prevent him from requiting the passion Dot (Martha Ansfield-Scrase) has for him. The dramatic tension between them underscores the entire script, including her marrying the local baker and moving to America despite being pregnant with Seurat's love child.

Nazareth and their classic song "Love Hurts" could easily have been the show's anthem. Because the hurt of love is always and ever ripe fodder for drama. Add to Dot's pain and George's confusion some terrific tunesmithing by Sondheim and the result is an evening's outing utterly worth the effort and break from the reality-t.v. occurring second-by-second S. of 49.

What the show brings to the stage :  Director Ryan Mooney blocks and choreographs his 15 actors (in their 28 roles) well indeed to maximize the up-close-&-personal Jericho acting space. The subjects (objects?) of Seurat's magical Ilse Grande painting come refreshingly and engagingly alive as they fill out the roles one might imagine for them after pondering his painting.

Mooney is aided and abetted by a wonderful monochromatic set of outsize blank paint canvases designed by Sandy Margaret. Her vision works so well, meanwhile, largely because of CS Ferguson-Vaux's splendid array of costumes. From the wall-to-wall wash of white summer get-ups to start, then all the colours of the finished-painting costumes at the end of Act 1. From there to the sea of black outfits in Act 2 when the clock hurtles forward 100 years to an art gallery in NYC. Smart, distinctive stuff, this. [On synthesizer backing up all this visual energy afoot before us, for his part, Kevin Michael Cripps blows the bejesus out of that rig -- a big Wow! there.]

What Sondheim / Lapine achieve is accomplished because of the universality of their themes. Love and pain and the whole damn thang. Our need to "self-actualize" as Maslow talked of -vs- the intimacy that relationships demand of us. How to reconcile our self-y-ness drives with the love we feel, sometimes fleetingly, other times compellingly, for those closest to us. Put another way, what is the perversity of soul that tends to drive us away from those who probably see us most clearly for who and what we are and want us to share our souls freely and unflinchingly?

Acting pin-spots : Act I completes the consummation of the Ilse Grande painting with the final scene, sung to the rich harmonies of "Sunday" to herald the painting's finish after two long years. Act II opens with to this viewer the truest delight of the night : the characters on Seurat's canvas kvetching "It's Hot Up Here" where they've been immortalized on his ginormous painting. As if two-dimensional painted characters could talk. Sheer fun!

Soon however we meet George 2, Seurat's great-grandson, also an avant grade artist who's stuck both artistically and professionally trying to peddle his light-show creations to reluctant galleries. His duet "Move On!" with Dot to end the show is touching and fetching and tear-jerking.

Martha Ansfield-Scrace as Seurat's model and sometime lover is utterly winsome and captivating. She possesses control of character and facial expression dynamism that her engaging British accent highlights, or maybe that should be noted in reverse order. Regardless : sheer pleasure to be charmed by such a performance. (In Act 2 as George 2's 98-year-old grandma Marie she was a sweet sweet soul.) 

Opposite is Brandyn Eddy. While as George 1 in Act I he is convincing in his confliction and compulsion, as George 2 in Act II Eddy lights up the stage with his art gallery lamentation confronting his artistic "stuckness" and the egregiousness of having to market himself, to fawn and toady and truckle amongst NYC's self-appointed Congress of Scorn.

Ian Farthing as fellow artist Jules and his wife Yvonne as struck by Mandana Namazi were a choice pair. Thomas King as the Boatman turned in a nuanced bully-boy shot, while Peggy Busch as both Seurat's snooty mother in Act 1 and art critic Blair Daniels in Act 2 was consistently convincing. Capable and committed performances by each of the other 10 actors in all their roles and guises. 

Who gonna like : This is a choice Sondheim score and Lapine book, no question. That it will be remounted in NYC next month starting February 11 on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre with Jake Gyllenhaal as George speaks to the show's universality and engagement of eye and ear, heart and mind. 

[N.B. Of a concert-cum-reading of the script featuring Gyllenhaal last October, NYT critic Ben Brantley enthused : "This is the 6th or 7th version I've seen of this musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize in the mid-80's, and on each occasion I've felt thoroughly moved and admiring." That's big praise indeed from one of USA's premier drama critics.]

And while United Players of Vancouver Artistic Director Andree Karass is inclined to promote her club as "amateur", they are not. The actors run the gamut of professional, semi-, up-&-coming and amateur. But what they do in this production under Mr. Mooney's deft and clever and engaging hand is precisely what live theatre is supposed to achieve : divertissement and absorption and escapist moments that bring on smiles and laughs and tears. They got all three from me, and I thank them. 

Particulars :  Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine.  Produced by The United Players of Vancouver, Artistic Director Andree Karass. At Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street. From January 20 - February 12. Run-time 150 minutes (two acts), including intermission. Tickets & schedule information 604.224.8007, ext 2 or

Production team : Director Ryan Mooney (a.k.a. Artistic Director, Fighting Chance Productions).  Executive Producer Andree Karas.  Production Manager Fran Burnside.  Technical Director Kianna Skelly.  Music Director Clare Wyatt.  Set Designer / Head Scenic Painter Sandy Margaret.  Costume Designer CS Ferguson-Vaux.  Sound Effects Designer Zakk Harris.  Live Sound Richard Berg.  Make-up Designer Sharon Grogan.  Stage Manager Jessica Hildebrand.  Assistant Stage Managers Lois Boxill, Amber Scott, Shannon Groenewegen.  Properties / Set Decoration Josina de Bree.  Costume Assistants Teresa Bussey, Barb Haverstock, Samantha Maddaugh, Elizabeth Nixon-McKeller.

Performers : Martha Ansfield-Scrase (Dot / Marie).  Peggy Busch (Old Lady / Blair Daniels).  Charlie Deagon (Franz / Dennis).  Paige Dean (Celeste #1 / A Waitress).  Brandyn Eddy (George).  Ian Farthing (Jules / Bob Greenburg).  Jeff Hoffman (Louis / Billy Webster).  Keren Katz (Louise / Waitress #2).  Thomas King (Boatman / Charles Redmond).  Ranae Miller (Celeste #2 / Elaine).  Steve Mulligan (Mr. Lee / Randolf).  Mandana Namazi (Yvonne / Naomi Elsen).  Keri Smith (Frieda / Betty) [Smith's understudy Ashley Siddals].  Duncan Watts-Grant (Soldier / Alex).  Tristin Wayte (Nurse / Harriet Pawling).

Musicians :  Mike Allen (Reeds).  Kevin Michael Cripps (Synthesizer).  Sarah Ho (Violin).  Pauline Lo (French Horn).