Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Duchess spins a lively tale for all time

Background scribblery on Wallis Simpson :  In his 1999 biography of Wallis Simpson, Greg King notes a rueful comment from Simpson late in her life : "You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance."

And that observation perhaps sums up the dynamic tension that underlay the frantic assignations and marriage, ultimately, between Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor and Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, a.k.a. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. 

Every Boomer and beyond knows their iconic love story : how King Edward VIII abdicated the British monarchy to his brother who became King George VI (dad to current Queen Elizabeth II). In the fateful radio broadcast announcing his abdication on December 11, 1936, "David" as his family knew him, said ; "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love." Oh my. The great American romantic F. Scott Fitzgerald could not have penned it better. 

Fact is, though, their "great romance" might be the stuff more of myth than of diary. And to "live out" such a story might in reality be more mere diary than endless drama.  Such as the fact that Simpson was disallowed the "style" of being referred to as Her Royal Highness. Her Grace is what kindly Brits would call her in sanguine moments, "that woman" in their more acerbic moods. 

But no mere diary this, I hasten to add, in the hands of Ruby Slippers Theatre director Sarah Rodgers who re-drafted the original 1998 script by the late playwright Linda Griffiths (who succumbed to breast cancer last September, at 60). Griffiths embraced Rodgers' new version interspliced with her own and championed its UBC re-mount in 2012. This is the script currently being replicated at the Cultch and, note, must close this Saturday April 18.

Much is known about the late "Mrs. Warfield" as was her legal identity after her second divorce -- interesting : she reverted to her maiden name but kept the address "Mrs." She was born at a hotel resort straddling the Pennsylvania / Maryland border in 1896 seven months after her parents married the previous November. When she was but five months old, her flour merchant dad from Baltimore died of tuberculosis. Thus from Year 1 Wallis commenced life on "the dole" -- gilt-edged dole, mind you -- supplied by family and friends, lovers, husbands, folks whose favour she curried in social circles from New York to Paris to London to Peking and beyond, but not before she matriculated at Maryland's most expensive and prestigious preparatory school, Oldfields. Biographer Phillip Ziegler (2004) wrote of her at this time of her life : "Though Wallis's jaw was too heavy for her to be counted beautiful, her fine violet-blue eyes and petite figure, quick wits, vitality and capacity for total concentration on her interlocutor ensured that she had many admirers." 

Structure of the play :  Griffiths' script is told as a flashback after The Duchess's death in 1986, and if ghosts could talk, as they do here, what a tale they might tell. Facts, factoids (tidbits that stand a 50% chance of being, or not being, true), anecdotes, fibs, favourable and unfavourable concoctions -- all of it is on display in this show that is done cabaret style with a narrator, flashy garish costumes, and lots of choreographed song-&-dance.  

Simpson was a collector of jewels and lovers and husbands and reputations equally so. The play commences with the auction of her jewels, many of which were thought to have been pilfered by the Duke by way of revenge for his family rejecting royal standing for his twice-divorced wife (one of those factoids...). Actors pop up on stage depicting the jewels being auctioned off gayly by none other than Noel Coward, no less, acting as piano-&-sax-man-cum-narrator but mostly as foil for Wallis and "David". 

In short order the 10-member cast flips the audience through some 30 different roles of the numerous characters and situations that featured strongly in Simpson's storied life tale : her jewels-come-to-life; King George V and his wife; Wallis's two husbands; David; various lords and ladies; Count Von Ribbentrop and Hitler; brother-in-law Bertie and queen (KG VI and Elizabeth I).  Griffiths in the program notes describes her theatrical oeuvre as one "to dance between the personal, the political and the fantastic", and The Duchess, a.k.a. Wallis Simpson achieves all of these objectives not just admirably but oh-so-cleverly and entertainingly and joyously despite the dark times in which the action takes place. Consider a cabaret-style seduction scene on a floor-drawn map of Europe between a pants-challenged Hitler and Simpson. The show cavorts in that kind of realm throughout.

Not for Griffiths or Director Sarah Rodgers the more typical views of these particular Windsors. In various books and critiques, Wallis Simpson is often depicted as caustic, pushy, risque, impertinent, impudent, demanding and dismissive. Rumours circulated that she was heterosexless (with all three husbands) but meanwhile is reported to have been mistress of a half-dozen or so dashing characters before, during and after her times as a Warfield, a Spencer, a Simpson and a Windsor. Wallis (Diane Brown) tells the audience : "He was begging me to give him something that I could not, so I bewitched him instead." 

For his part, "David" (Craig Erickson) is often dismissed as being a naif, a momma's boy, a hopeless romantic subject to wimpering ga-ga-isms, over-apologetic but politically an unapologetic Fascist to boot. In a New York Daily News squib in December 1966, the Duke stated : " was in Britain's interest and in Europe's too, that Germany be encouraged to strike east and smash Communism forever...I thought the rest of us could be fence-sitters while the Nazis and the Reds slogged it out." In the play he calls Simpson "Peach-ems" and repeatedly asks to lay his head on her lap, same as he did with his nanny as a kid in short pants. Still, he wasn't 100% a wuss : Winston Churchill banished him off the sceptered isle to be Governor of the Bahamas and went so far as to threaten him with military court marshall if he so much as set foot on Blighty soil again during WWII after rumours circulated both the Duke and the Duchess were feeding military secrets to the Nazis. 

What the characters bring : It's trite, granted, but a "willing suspension of disbelief" when worn by the audience as a vestment will allow the sheer spunk and zip! and satire and spoof of the cast to shine through. One needs to forget the "seriousity" of the times as a history buff once labeled it. How the abdication almost brought down the monarchy and the government along with it. How Simpson was reviled and shunned when Edward VIII forsook his kingly duties to marry her. How the myriad gentry Simpson introduced to dirty dancing and endless martinis turned tail on them abruptly, unforgivingly and permanently. 

The Griffiths script in the hands of Rodgers and her troupe is simply a stitch, a giggle, a night's breezy divertissement not intended to be one wit serious, nor is it. Not even when Simpson snaps at the Duke : "You're a wimp, a faggot, I hate your love, I'll kill it!" after the abdication trauma. She claims to be "a force, a gale, a tornado, not an English breeze" and is immediately corrected by Coward (Xander Williams) : "You have no idea of what love is. That diamond has more heart than you." More typically, the scene where each of Edward and Simpson and QEI debate with their partying friends over gallons of gin who has ruined one another's life more -- each claiming 1st prize -- was simply priceless good fun. As if to sum up the "point" of the evening's gambol, Simpson declares at the end : "It's a wise woman who knows she's a fool!"

Production values prevail : As Noel Coward / narrator, Xander Williams came nigh unto stealing the show out from under the principals Brown and Erickson. His Coward-esque ditties pounded out on the baby grand making endless fun of the scenes behind him were tight and thrifty and perfectly executed. Craig Erickson turned in a delightful "David", matching each of the descriptors noted above with nuance and split-second timing.

As Wallis Simpson, Ruby Slippers Theatre Artistic Director Diane Brown projected a corn-fed homespun American gal fresh off a Mason-Dixon farm with lines such as "Wait a cotton-pickin' minute...!" and her later protest about being a taker, not a doer : "I worked : it's work to be the belle of the ball", sounding for all the world like a pouty Scarlet O'Hara fast-forwarded 75 years. Such self-insights were amusing, as was "I'm a crass ambitious American trying to make her way through the complexities of British society!" that she announces early on. This only moments after dissing the House of Windsor she was soon to marry into as "the whole horse-faced, jug-eared lot of them". Not the Wallis Simpson more commonly described in biography (see Addendum below), but a believable caricature in this script for sure.

Kamyar Pazandeh as each of the African diamond, Ernest Simpson and the stuttery Bertie (King George VI) was choice. Great character clips, too, from Eileen Barrett as Lady Elizabeth, Georgia Beaty as Lady Colefax and the Queen, Raugi Yu as the goose-stepping but horny Von Ribbentrop and Matt Reznek as Hitler, though it must be added that each and every actor in their myriad characters on stage was crisp and droll in all their parts.

Costume Designer Mara Gottler deserves highest kudos on the production side, but lighting, sets, props & soundscape were also first-rate. For her part, musical Stage Manager Kelly Barker delivered choreography for the songs and dance numbers that was simply exceptional -- sheer delight !

Who gonna like : As indicated above, this is a wholly fun and whimsical production aimed to poke fun at the stupid human tricks otherwise sensible and sober people are quite capable to produce.  The Cultch Historic Theatre is the ideal venue for the night's fun-&-games, an intimate room that lends itself to the actors poking holes in the 4th wall to communicate with the audience and earn their cheers and huzzahs, very deservedly so. 

Particulars : A Ruby Slippers Theatre show sponsored by The UBC Department of Theatre and Film, produced by arrangement with The Talent House Inc., Toronto. Through this Saturday, April 18. Run time 180 minutes including intermission. Contact or phone 604.251.1363 for tickets.

 Production crew :  Director Sarah Rodgers.  Assistant Director Alen Dominguez.  Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Costume Design Assistant Jessica Oostergo.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Set & Props Designer Michael Bock.  Sound Designer Scott Zechner.  Technical Director and Production Manager Alex House.  Stage Manager Kelly Barker.  Assistant Stage Manager Jenny Kim.  Musical Staging Shelley Stewart Hunt.  Assistant Musical Staging Courtney Shields. 

Performers : Eileen Barrett.  Georgia Beaty.  Diane Brown.  Craig Erickson.  Joel Garner.  Melissa Oei.  Matt Reznek.  Kamyar Pazandeh.  Xander Williams.  Raugi Yu.  

Addendum :  In a article in February of 2012, reviewer Katherine Jose provided an extensive overview of the recently-published book by Anne Sebba, That Woman : The Life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor. In her closing paragraphs Jose writes, poignantly, words that contrast with the Griffiths script on certain levels, but not on others :

"Sebba devotes only 30 pages to the lives of Wallis and Edward after the war, for the rest of their lives. She paints a drooping picture of two figures floating between France and New York City, entertaining and occasionally lending themselves to charitable events. Their lives were defined by each other, the past, and aesthetics : decorating, shopping, holding formal dinners, being noticed by the newspapers. They were bitter toward the royal family, and Wallis was eternally frustrated that she no longer held the interest of people at high levels of society, government or the arts. Her wit grew sharper, and meaner. They wrote their separate memoirs, they ate next to nothing, and they drank a lot. Sebba cites reported opinions of Wallis that range widely, from vain and harsh to kind and thoughtful, while the Prince was primarily known only for his devotion to her. It's a spare description of a great deal of time that, actually, doesn't feel out of sync with the myth of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who were immortalized in the moment of abdication.

'Nothing else in his life gave him any sense of achievement other than his marriage to Wallis,' Sebba writes. 'For her, the slavish devotion was at times claustrophobic and she was not afraid to show it. But love is impossible to define and in their case especially so. Few who knew them well described what they shared as love.'" 


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Farewell, My Lovely aims for laughs

Background to the script : The word noir is ever bandied about when the works of Depression-era US crime writer Raymond Chandler are raised. A fancy French word that means "melodrama" more or less. Black-&-white characters, black-&-white plotlines, black-&-white motivations. Not unlike the t.v. series Mad Men whose final season's seven episodes I just binged out on the past two nites thanks to Netflix.

Farewell, My Lovely is a script that is a patchwork quilt of three earlier, smaller Chandler pieces he stitched together in 1940 to produce a novel featuring a mostly out-of-work private eye named Philip Marlowe. From probably a handful of characters in each story, Chandler wound up with a dizzying sum of 30 or so in FML. They all chase about to cover off the novel's half-dozen plots Chandler was also trying to serge into single cloth. Not always easily. Often not very successfully. 

In real life, Chandler had plenty of noir himself. He died four years after the love of his life wife Cissy -- 17 years his senior -- succumbed in 1955 to lung disease. With her death Chandler augered into a pit of booze and self-destruct. He tried suicide four times before being committed to psychiatric care. In the end he died going gentle into that good night from congestive heart failure. The L.A. Times later reported : "Seventeen people attended his funeral service at Mount Hope Cemetery." The once-wealthy and highly regarded Chandler would no doubt have appreciated the ironies at play here.

Chandler was about style, not precision. As quoted in the Frank McShane 1976 biography of him, he admitted it : "My whole career is based on the idea that the formula doesn't matter, the thing that counts is what you do with the formula; that is to say, it is a matter of style." 

And style Chandler clearly has, somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard. He starts FML thus : "It was a warm day, almost the end of March, and I stood outside the barber shop looking up at the jutting neon sign of a second floor dine and dice emporium called Florian's." Now how can you miss with that ? It just reeks of 1941 Los Angeles, somewhere on the fringe near Watts. A seedy gambling joint. Lit by a rectangle of neon. Where one can "dine", sure, no doubt.

After that scene's opening shenanigans inside Florian's, Marlowe  tells us in his same laconic voice : "I ate lunch at a drugstore, bought a pint of bourbon, and drove eastward to Central Avenue and north on Central again. The hunch I had was as vague as the heat waves that danced above the sidewalk." Gotta say : from the six months I spent in L.A. in the Spring and Summer of 1965 trying to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, I can see and smell and taste all this like it was yesterday. 

The Bushkowsky challenge : Vancouver poet / novelist Aaron Bushkowsky wasn't certain he was up to adapting Chandler's FML into a stage play for a variety of reasons. Condensing all the above-noted material into a cohesive whole was just one. For starters, he sliced and diced the novel's 2 1/2 dozen characters down to just 10 players performed by seven actors.

The story finds Marlowe (Graham Percy) being hired by a goon named, wait for it, Moose Malloy (Beau Dixon). Moose still has the hots for his ex-gal Velma who was a singer at Florian's but disappeared after Moose was sent to jail some seven years back for his part in robbing Block's jewelry store of a wodge of diamonds. In trying to track down Velma, Marlowe bounces ideas off an old flatfoot detective buddy Sam Nulty (Stephen Hair). Along the way Marlowe gets hired by Lindsay Marriott (Anthony F. Ingram) ostensibly to retrieve a stolen jade necklace. 

As part of all these goings-on he gets kidnapped briefly by a wacko psychic named Amthor (Ingram, redux). He's rescued from certain death a few times by one Annie Riordan (Emma Slipp) who's the daughter of a suicided ex-cop buddy of his from back in the day. Annie falls for him kerplop! There's also the dead Florian's widow Jessie (Lucia Frangione), now a hopeless drunk, who drools over him too. Then last but not least of all is the siren Helen Grayle (Jamie Konchak), a mysterious femme fatale who is an absolute clone for Kathleen Turner's sultry Matty Walker in the Lawrence Kasdan classic film Body Heat.

Mixed genres tend to clash : Chandler, as noted, was a noir writer. Humour in his work was mostly incidental and accidental. Not unlike some Peter Falk moments in the late-great Columbo t.v. show. But mostly Chandler was about himself as portrayed by his character Marlowe : "scarred by the Depression" the same Times article noted. Albeit horny and grabby to the core, Marlowe was "a simple alcoholic vulgarian who never sleeps with his clients while on duty", Chandler said, adding "Marlowe is a failure and knows it." Then, speaking perhaps more for himself than about his romantic "hero", Chandler added : "Marlowe and I do not despise the upper class because they take baths and have money. We despise them because they are phony."

Knowing a bit of Chandler's characters and their jaded but gentle faults and peccadilloes, we come to FML with the expectation of a straightforward detective story. The sub-title of the play is, after all, "The Hard-Boiled Detective Tale". Soft-boiled, alas, is more like it in this interpretation. Mr. Bushkowsky works overtime to make his Marlowe and the FML tale a comedy rather than just the cop mellerdrama it was written as. Trying to contemporize Chandler with lines such as "the Moose is loose" and "looking for love in all the wrong places" and "even dicks have a limp night once in awhile" and [a la Bogart in Casablanca] "you're gonna end up in a cheap gin joint" tended to detract from the rough-cut cop-drama the Chandler piece is intended to be. I understand the attempts to update Depression vernacular, certainly, but the overall effect didn't work for me quite.

Thus, regrettably, the catch of Chandler's original characters winds up a bit lost in the process. They don't intend to be parodies of themselves, but they wind up that way. Their ability to entice and intrigue and seduce us is sacrificed on the altar of laugh-grabs i.m.o. 

Production values conquer nevertheless : The above critique notwithstanding, overall the production of FML provides Vancouver audiences with perhaps the cleverest local staging ever witnessed by this viewer, easily a neck-&-neck tie with last year's triumphant Helen Lawrence produced by ACT as well. 

Scott Reid's set and lighting were outrageous. Angled fluted pillars in grey-green provided tracks for bamboo-like zen screens that the performers in chiaroscuro lighting slid to-&-fro to shape various rooms and settings. And upon those screens projection designer Jamie Nesbitt threw up ever-so-choice black-&-white film clips of southern California from those times -- its bustling roads, grotty pretentious nightclubs and blue collar housing that are contrasted compellingly with LA's nearby seaside dunes and wealth-drenched view properties. 

Costume designer Deitra Kalyn captured the zeitgeist perfectly well with each pair of suspenders, the vests, the suit jackets and their stains, the velvet bosomy dresses, not to forget the hats so prominent and symbolic of men's need to be kings in the city of angels. 

Who gonna like : This is a show for hard-core live theatre fans to see for its scenic wizardry alone. What the script by Mr. Bushkowsky may fail to achieve 100% in verbal or dramatic magnetism is offset admirably by the lights and sliding screens and filmclips and smoke bombs and scene shuttles and costumes and simple set furniture that capture much of the magic Raymond Chandler intended in his gruff and moody views of those times.

Particulars : Produced in association with Vertigo Theatre, Calgary. Until May 2nd at the Granville Island main-stage. Run time two hours 10 minutes with intermission. For schedules and tickets phone 604.687.1644 -or- on-line via

Production crew : Director Craig Hall (Artistic Director of Vertigo Theatre).  Set and Lighting Designer Scott Reid.  Costume Designer Deitra Kalyn.  Sound Designer Dewi Wood.  Projection Designer Jamie Nesbitt.  Dramaturg Rachel Ditor.  Stage Manager Jan Hodgson.  Assistant Stage Manager Breanne Jackson.

Performers :  Beau Dixon.  Lucia Frangione.  Stephen Hair.  Anthony F. Ingram.  Jamie Konchak.  Graham Percy.  Emma Slipp.

Addendum : FML is a Silver Commission production, which is a program ACT developed in 2006 to give local playwrights an opportunity to develop their craft with direct financial support. In the words of ACT Executive Director Peter Cathie White, the Commission "helps keep artists like Aaron [Bushkowsky] living and breathing members of this community -- telling our stories and contributing to our Canadian culture". Over its 51 years, Mr. White notes in the show program, ACT has developed and premiered some 90 new Canadian plays -- nearly two per season. Clearly a Bravo! achievement, no question.

In a similar and parallel vein, writer David Berry in the April 7 National Post provided a compelling critique of the how-&-what-&-why professional theatre in Canada needs to develop and promote and sustain itself in its continuing sojourn down theatre's yellow brick road into the future. Mr. Berry's article is a must-read for people to whom live professional theatre (and community theatre, too) are vital components of the cultural lifeblood of Canada.  [See also ACT Artistic Director Bill Millerd's comments "New Ways of Working" about his recent attendance at a conference on Volunteerism and the Arts in the FML program notes.]


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Redux : Proud spoofs boring ol' Canadian politics

Below is the review from BLR published on April 13, 2014. In light of the major characters doing a reprise of their roles in 2015 -- commencing the very day the Sen. Mike Duffy court case puts the Conservative ethos directly in the spotlight and just six months before the next scheduled federal election -- I thought it appropriate to re-circulate the 2014 review as I will be unable to take in this year's performance. 

An unlikely premise behind it all :  Actor/playwright Michael Healey's Proud is a turn at what American comedian Stephen Colbert might call "Stephen Harper spoofiness". No wonder. Harper set himself up perfectly as Canada's satiric alter ego to Richard Nixon when in 2006 he delivered 10-year-old son Ben and 7-year-old daughter Rachel to their Ottawa school and promptly shook each of their hands (!) to the amazement and joy of the omnipresent paparazzi. Viewed as aloof and calculating, Harper's way of saying "Have a nice day, kids!" became as trademark as Nixon famously flashing his fake-double-V finger salutes while chirping "I am not a crook!"

But Proud is more than tittle and tattle about SH's time in Ottawa. And the Healey script is more than the kind of one-dimensional hoo-hah that comedian Rich Little mastered in eviscerating the perpetual 5-o'clock-shadow-and-over-eyebrow'd Nixon. Healey insists his purpose, believe it or not, is to engage Canadians in just what it is they want and expect from the solons running the country in far-fetched Ottawa. And so his depiction of SH, delivered engagingly by Andrew Wheeler, is broader and richer and subtler and more nuanced than Handshake Dad has shown himself publicly to be capable of.

The set-up :  The storyline is built on "truthiness" as well as "spoofiness". It's 2011. SH has commandeered victory not only in ROC, he's also taken the Quebec seats actually won in 2011 by Jack Layton's Orange Horde. No longer required to seek the consensus he needed when he was a minority PM, Harper now has free rein. The play's set-up is how he tries to manipulate a pup of an MP from small-town Quebec, one Jisbella Lyth (Emmelia Gordon) and how she outmaneuvers and outwits him due to his overweening hubris. The other primary character in the piece is Harper's Chief of Staff Cary (Craig Erickson) who clearly is not based on the real life uber-confident but fatally flawed Nigel Wright -- he who paid off Senator Mike Duffus's $90,000 phony expenses and got fired once exposed. 

Script's notorious history :  From Y2K forward, Healey was playwright in residence for Toronto's Tarragon Theatre that prides itself as being "a leading Canadian company for the development, creation and encouragement of new work" (sic). From the get-go Healey had planned a trilogy of plays, two of which Tarragon in fact did produce : Generous (2007) and Courageous (2009), which explored those two themes of human conduct. Then came the rough draft of Proud. Hold on a minute here, cautioned Tarragon's artistic director Richard Rose. After reading it he forsook both of those qualities -- generous and courageous -- and, ironically, donned the proud masque instead. Seems a nervous and silly board member had warned Rose : "Handshake Harper might sue us for libel!" Rose refused to mount the show. "Bollix!" bellowed Healey. He promptly resigned his playwright commission. 

With his wife's encouragement they borrowed against their household line of credit to mount the show themselves. Then they and friends staged a series of readings across the land to fund-raise and pay the Healeys' LOC back, which they did. A Toronto competitor, the Berkeley Street Theatre, mounted the show. Guess what. No libel suit from 24 Sussex Drive.

Plot quicky :  SH wants to consolidate power after all those years as a minority PM. How to do that? First give your grasp at power the tumescent title The Harper Government. Then move to distract the press. Frosh MP Lyth stumbles into Chief Cary and PM Steve plotting the day's next moves. She's hot for a condom because she wants to "do" CBC's Evan Solomon who's on The Hill to interview her in her new office. Neither Steve nor Cary has one in their wallet, nor act as if they know what one is, even. But let's use this sexy ditz, Steve muses, to propose a bill criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks. That'll get the progressive rabble rabbling. And while the chattering classes are distracted by her anti-abortion proposal, hey, we can gut the Liberal-leaning Privy Council and the press won't even notice. And meanwhile we won't support her bill in any event -- being both practical and cynical -- but it'll keep the rednecks in our base quiet at least. 

Everyone goes through the motions, but Lyth finds eagerness and power from her proposal as it progresses through the House and gathers unexpected momentum. And now the antics between the PMO and the upstart MP can proceed apace. But all the while infused with comic flashes and flushes that drive the endless political monologues forward. (Bias : Based on my 40 years' experience as a B.C. public servant, all too seldom are politics "dialogue" -- more often just "serial monologues" between entrenched adversaries. Ever notice how the word "ideology" appears to stem from "idiot"...?)

Playwright's cut at it : In an Artsmania interview 18 months back, Healey revealed his modus operandi : "This was never intended to be a documentary or a straight-up biography. It's a heavily fictionalized depiction, but the aspects of (Harper's) personality that I've seized on are the ones that create the engines in the play that ask the questions that I want to ask about our politics... [T]here's an enormous amount of comedy available when you explore politics because what's said and what people intend are often two very different things, there are secrets galore, there are enormous power differences among people. All of these things contribute to comedy and make for a fun night in the theatre."

Firehall performance values :  No question the 43 souls who witnessed Sunday's matinee -- and in doing so sacrificed a delicious sunny playday outside -- found much to chortle at in this Donna Spencer-directed effort. 

It helps to have even a vague notion of Canadian national politics and current events. If like the silent majority you'd be even more apathetic if only you could bother, this clever but flawed script ain't for you. Here's what it's not : it's not a critique of The Harper Government. SH is just the excuse, the vehicle, the means to Healey's end of talking up political ideas both macro and micro. More than once the SH character talks of what "ideal" Canadian government looks like : long-term boring stability and security. Sort of like the 2006-2011 Harper minority rule when sleeping with the enemy whether PQ, Liberal or NDP at any given moment made sense to Harper to prevent a non-confidence vote.

As Steve, Andrew Wheeler turns in a steady performance : at various times bombastic, blustery, babbling, awkward, forceful and/or bemused. His endless buttoning/unbuttoning of his blue serge suit jacket as he blathered forth was bang on. But it is Emmelia Gordon as the Frosh MP Jisbella who is the most rounded and engaging player in the piece. Her bubbly stream of f-word utterances and coquettish power-sluttery -- completely stereotyped, not one iota of p.c. here at all -- nevertheless make the viewer want to have a beer and a giggle with her. Oddest character was Jisbella's grown-up son Jake. He provides a soliloquy of Healey's last words about politics in a superfluous (and pedantic) anti-climax to end the play. Odd business, this.

Theme-ish stuff : The script's attempts to discuss "beliefs"-vs-"feelings" and "strategies"-vs-"tactics" on The Hill serve mostly to advance the plotline, not provoke us to think overly hard. SH sums up the thrust of the play when he notes, slightly off-key, that "Political inconsistencies are situational : integrity is the last thing Canadians want in their politicians." Hmnnn. Tell that to Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy, eh? 

Or possibly the best comment on politics occurs during a discussion of nihilism : Jisbella blurts out at SH, "Fuck, all this shit is fucked!" Or, how not to lol at Jisbella's summation of her anti-abortion bill. She confesses it won't solve what has become a non-existent social problem. But, she acknowledges, it will satisfy the PC base : "It's pointless, it's stupid. It works because it's meaningless -- it's perfect politics!" Healey must have been channeling ex-PM Jean Chretien when he wrote that line, Chretien who once observed : "Canada is a country that works in practice, just not in theory.

Postscript : Healey's ideal government :  At the conclusion of his Artsmania interview with Anita Malhotra, Healey responded to her ultimate question "What, in your view, would be a perfect Canadian government?" Healey gave a succinct (but probably naif) everyman response i.m.o. : "I think government that isn't worried about scoring points would be a perfect government. A government that's willing to admits its mistakes, a government that is willing to listen to evidence and change its view if the evidence convinces them they need to change their view, a government that projects a kind of centredness to the world -- a kind of calm conscience to the world. A government that's fiscally responsible, a government that takes my tax dollars very, very seriously and a government that is less interested in marketing than it is in policy." 

No question. A 1st-world dream like this is better than real life in many of the world's 2nd and 3rd-world zip codes. Think about it. How utterly decadent to be able to go watch good acting and giggle about politics. Conjure life in Syria, Egypt, Ukraine, Central African Republic et al. Healey reminds us we in Canada -- whether proud about it or not -- are life's luckiest folks indeed. 

P.S. Quite coincidentally to-day (140414) I downloaded the April 21st e-version of Maclean's onto my iPad to browse on Canada Line. And in it was the following interview with Tom Flanagan, a long-time Alberta Conservative / Wildrose operative. His cautionary tale about cyber-world media instantaneity is worthwhile. But specifically I dedicate its reading to Richard Rose of Tarragon Theatre. If he and his squeamish board member really thought Michael Healey's SH character was the "true" Stephen Harper whom Healey was libeling, they need only read this for proof Healey's SH is a pastiche, a satirical and artistic and whimsical caricature based on the the guy -- not, not by a long shot, the actual Handshake Dad whom Flanagan used to advise. To make such a profound error in judgment in the arts realm where freedom of expression is foremost is not just gutless but unforgivable.'s%20Magazine/e5d3693b3f95480a8a76987efdc3a82d/MME_20140421/03h_interview.html


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike a fun mash-up

Background notes :  Playwright Christopher Durang's 2012 play is not, he insists, a satire about the doomed Russian writer Anton Chekhov who succumbed to tuberculosis after lifelong suffering at age 44 (1904). And while his primary characters all snitch Chekhov names, they are not based directly on Chekhov's people. The brooding gloom and despair of Russia's fading Czardom gives way to Durang's Boomer malaise of angst and anomie and existential neurosis run amok. Which moods are fueled and exacerbated by the characters' greater attraction to their memories and lost lives -- or to to-day's virtual seduction of electronica -- than they are to one another. "My play is not a Chekhov parody... I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them in a blender," Durang told Playbill's Harry Haun a couple years back.

Indeed, while Chekhov's folks pined away on the Steppes -- despairing both of and for hope -- Durang's cluster of malcontents in VSMS down anti-depressants for Rx-based life solutions instead. Durang laughingly notes through sister Sonia : "If everyone took anti-depressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about."

Storyline is serious silliness :  The chief story-line involves three siblings, V-S-&-M. Each was given a Chekhovian name by their former university professor parents, who also mucked about in community theatre productions where they lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Mom & Dad fetched this bunch up in a rambling old farmhouse they couldn't afford as time wore on and pensions got squeezed. Its mortgage and upkeep for years, now, have been looked after by younger sister Masha, a fading actress from The Big City whose mirror has cracked with age. She's a 40- or 50-something ex-hottie.

Vanya and sister Sonia -- who was adopted at eight and wears that fact like a scarlet letter, or a noose -- have spent their adult lives together taking a stipend from Masha and nursing Mom and Dad until the final curtain rang down on each of them from Alzheimer's. Thus Vanya and Sonia have not themselves, it seems, ever really lived their own lives. When Masha arrives for a surprise visit, she is by now a 5-marriage veteran. After years of absence she parachutes in with boy toy Spike, 20+ years her junior, in tow -- he a one-time bit-part film actor who "almost got" a second role years back. Masha says she is not only a broken actress but a broke one at that. She threatens to sell the farm with its cluster of 10 cherry trees that they all argue might, or might not, an orchard quite make. 

Vanya and Sonia are thrown into a mid-life tizzy at the prospect of losing their bucolic jail cell. Having to face their lifelong ennui and inertia at last is a menacing prospect. Particularly now that Vanya, 57, has but recently admitted to Sonia he is (an unrequited) gay. Sonia, 52, has never had a lover, either, of any gender. Except each other as Bickerton twins whose chief skill is nattery at one another.

Two other characters spice up the action : housekeeper Cassandra who looks through a glass darkly to peer into the recesses of the future (and like her Greek namesake, is not believed). Along the way their neighbours' niece, a wishful actress named Nina, shinnies on by and befriends "Uncle Vanya". Masha feels threatened by this newby. But they're all invited to a costume party up the road. At Masha's insistence she leads the troupe dressed as Disney's Snow White. The rest are decked out as others from that movie. The second act starts after they return and must face whatever "new world order" stares at them the morning after.

Script's punchy one-liners amuse heartily : From the get-go Durang's script magnetizes viewers. Swiping one-liners from various Chekhov scripts such as The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and Three Sisters, Sonia (Susinn McFarlen) has the best bits. When Vanya (Jay Brazeau) snipes that his coffee's coolish this morning, Sonia fires away : "I have two pleasant moments in my life and one of them is bringing you fucking coffee!", seconds before she smashes his cup on the floor. "I'm in mourning for my life!" she moans. When Vanya scolds her she responds sullenly : "That was just my 'I hate my life and I hate you!' response. It's a reflex."

Enter their weekly housekeeper Cassandra (Carmen Aguirre) who talks of her "curse", to see shadows, warning darkly of one Hootie Pie about to disturb their familiar habits. "I see calamity lurking up the driveway -- oh, magical mystery tour!" she predicts.

Masha (Anna Galvin) descends with Spike (Robert Salvador), and the zingers fly fast and furious. She greets them with her easy sisterly sarcasm "You both look the same, older, sadder, but the same." Sonia complains how Masha has always outshone her and Masha doesn't miss a beat : "You often outshine me -- when I'm not here you outshine me!" Sonia tells her "My only relationship with men is at the check-out when they say 'Here's your change, sweetheart.'" Part neo-Chekhov, part Woody Allen, part Neil Simon, Durang's snappy dialogue (and a couple of well-hewn monologues) propel the action forward in choice lurches and burps right through to the end.

Acting moments aplenty here : VSMS was directed tightly and cleverly by Rachel Ditor. Her staging of the cast had the Stanley crowd rollicking and giggling galore on opening night. 

As Sonia, McFarlen displayed marvelous reach and grasp of comic timing in bemoaning her fate : "I'm a wild turkey!" she declares repeatedly in reference (from Three Sisters) to turkeys that regularly fall out of trees and die. As noted, Durang's best scriptwork is hers to utter. McFarlen nails, almost breathtakingly, a monologue at the end where a would-be suitor from the costume party, Joe, calls her Evil Queen / Maggie Smith out-take "glamorous". "You're calling me because you like me? How odd," Sonia says to the unseen, unheard Joe with pure touching surprise and not a wit of irony.

Loudest applause at curtain was reserved for Carmen Aguirre's Cassandra. Her sustained self-trances commenced with the word "Ohhhh!" bletched forth gutterally for 45 seconds each time, the sound somewhere between a gag reflex and a death moan. Coupled with her flip snips of sarchasm -- the abyss between who utters sarcasm and the recipients who don't get it [Urban Dictionary] --which were prime. When she enters Act 2 with her voodoo rattle and doll to torment Masha (and dissuade her from selling the farm), Aguirre was Gilda Radner unplugged.

Jay Brazeau made the perfect choice to play "Uncle Vanya". Portly, kindly, wisely he acts as foil for both Sonia and Masha with understated comic turns. His sustained monologue at play's end -- arguably Durang's "purpose" in writing the piece, to whinge and kvetch at the Millennials' life of cyber-playthings and virtual reality -vs- Boomer memories of Old Yeller and the Mickey Mouse Club and Howdy Doody on t.v. plus hand-written letters in a time when people licked stamps, not peeled them -- Brazeau's sustained verbal blitz at Spike earned spontaneous mid-scene applause.

As Masha, Anna Galvin gave her part every centimetre of irony Durang intended to depict a narcissist on a downward arc straight from her history of B-movie sex flix in Hollywood. Mr. Salvador's "reverse strip tease" as Spike -- putting his clothes back on after strutting about in his blue gaunch much of the night -- was show-stealing hilarity, as was his air guitar exit stage left. Pure unmitigated male ditz. Between the two of them one could not help but conjure Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in their horny phase. Katey Hoffman as the star-struck wannabe actor was all charm and innocence.

Production values aid & abet : Veteran set designer Alison Green produced perhaps the most convincing and realistic and all-embracing set I have witnessed in three seasons at the Stanley, and there have been many of excellence. The cutaway Pennsylvania farmhouse with exposed rafters and dormers and faux riverstone pony walls and chimney plus rattan settees was unimprovable. As lit by Adrian Muir, the set utterly engaged the eye. Sheila White's costumes were perfect : Vanya and Sonia in their frumpy morning bedclothes could not have been more telling of their comfy familiarity together.

Who gonna like : This is manic mainstage comic fare that Vancouver audiences will surely line up to see. Sonia and Vanya's wailing arias about lost life, lost opportunity, lost identity were delivered with rich comic edge. While Durang's script was overly long-ish and had, oh, maybe three-too-many references to Ozzie & Harriet as that halcyon time in their childhoods, fact is the Ditor production aims for laughs, shoots smartly and accurately, and kills no innocent bystanders along the way. The crowd opening night ranged from age 10 to 85, and there wasn't a downturned mouth to be seen at the exit doors.

Particulars :  Written by Christopher Durang.  67th Tonys Best Play award in 2013, same kudos as well from the Drama Critics' Circle. From March 19-April 19 at the Stanley Theatre on South Granville. Run-time 2 1/2 hours with intermission. Schedules and tickets via or telephone 604.687.1644.

Production team :  Director Rachel Ditor.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Sheila White.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Sound Designer Murray Price.  Stage Manager Allison Spearing.  Assistant Stage Managers Ronaye Haynes, Peter Jotkus.

Performers :  Carmen Aguirre.  Jay Brazeau.  Anna Galvin.  Katey Hoffman.  Susinn McFarlen.  Robert Salvador.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

WGT's Laburnum Grove reading is cheery stuff

Twice a year Western Gold Theatre mounts what they call "studio productions" at the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) 8th floor studio theatre. They are elaborate readings -- the players all hold scripts in-hand -- but replete with period costumes, sets and full-out blocking of stage movement. Their current two-hour production that opened Friday and closes Sunday is of the J.B. Priestly (a.k.a. Priestley) 1933 script Laburnum Grove set in Depression-weary North London.

Background notes on the playwright : J. B. Priestly died at age 89 in the very year his contemporary George Orwell set as the stage for his masterpiece Big Brother novel 1984. Orwell's book of rampant privacy invasion and liberty suppression by Government spawned the eponymous adjective "orwellian" that many apply to the Harper government anti-terrorism Bill C-51. But I digress. There is, meanwhile, no parallel adjective "priestlyian". This despite the fact the man was a giant of letters in his time. Some have called him "the last sage of English literature". 

Priestly's tally included some 120 books and 50 play scripts. Wiki tells us that between ages 70-84 he published no fewer than 21 (!books, including histories, critical essays and novels. But he wasn't just an ink-stained-wretch wedded to his black steel Underwood : during World War II he was also known as the voice of the people for BBC radio. He made chipper and cheering weekly patriotic broadcasts for them throughout the war. Comforting words spewed forth once the smoke from his omnipresent tobacco pipe had cleared.

No, there is no adjective "priestlyian" probably because the man was generally upbeat : clearly he drank from a glass perpetually half-full. His belief was that a writer should maintain an "ironic detachment" from the goings-on all 'round. Priestly aimed his works -- like his American counterpart composer Aaron Copland -- at the common man.  Neither the snoots and snots and puffed-up tots of polite society nor those bolshies from academe who brag they are society's intelligentsia were his target audience. Just plain Jack and Jill Bloke were his people. In that context it is interesting to note he was an avid supporter of CND -- the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament -- whose peace symbol 75 years later is still the ubiquitous badge sported by teens and college kids.

Why a renaissance of Priestly ? : In a world of terror politics that are our daily fare, the middle-brow well-made-play has an attraction for folks wanting divertissement without significant cranial gymnastics. Amusement that is catchy but not goading or heavy-handed. A comedy of manners with a whiff of social commentary attached just to niggle and tweak.

Laburnum Grove was published the year Adolf Hitler rose to power in tumultuous Europe. Across the saltchuck in Blighty, by comparison, life was still in mid-Depression struggles though starting to show signs of recovery, as the saying has it, in stits-&-farts.

Enter George Redfern of the shady, ambient North London comfort zone in Shooter's Green, Ferndale and its lazy, cozy sidestreet village of Laburnum Grove. Genial George, a successful wholesale paper supplier, seems to have but one worry : whether his tomato crop will prosper in London's notorious rainy-damp climate.

But George has company at home. In-laws and wannabes and would-be hand-out seekers who have outstayed their welcome by days or weeks, not just hours. Daughter Elsie's fiance Harold wants set-up money to drive a used car lot. Brother-in-law Bernie Baxley wants to jumpstart a business supply agency : a mere 450 quid would do the trick right smartly, he pleads. 

Over dinner George hucks a rotten tomato at them : I've given up the boring paper supply business in favour of producing high-quality counterfeit bonds and notes with a criminal gang, he tells them. A kind of 1930's "quantitative easing" by pumping more currency into circulation. And from there the shenanigans and hijinx proceed. 

Harold, seemingly aghast at the prospect of marrying into "dirty money", cancels his engagement to Elsie. George asks Baxley and wife Lucy to take the heartbroken Elsie off to see a West End gangster flick, gives them a couple of (counterfeit?!) notes to fund their fun night out.

When George's wife Dorothy arrives back home and hears the story, she convinces all that George was just funnin' with them to get their goat and send them scurrying for cover so as not to be "accessories". Convinced now they were duped by George, Harold renews his marriage plea to Elsie. Bernie and Lucy revive their business start-up beg. Forsaking George was easy and convenient when his wealth was thought tainted. Accepting and loving George is easy and convenient, once again, when his wealth was laundered anew. For the moment at least.

Message sent over the wireless :  Albeit written two decades before my own suburban youth on this continent, Laburnum Grove speaks to the same hypocrisies and grievances we lobbed at our parents' generation once we became know-it-all collegians in the 60's. How beneath the veneer of respectability and self-righteous good works lurked deceits and grifter schemes and social infidelities galore, despite everyone's straight-&-narrow facade of conformity and pious Sundays.

Priestly mines these themes for all they're worth but does so with only slightly more irony than one would find in a typical "Father Knows Best" t.v. episode. Indeed his writing instantly brings to mind the famous Horace Walpole quote from half-a-century earlier : "The world is comic to those who think / And tragic to those who feel." Priestly was mostly a thinking man, no question.

Production values : The nine actors in Laburnum Grove only joined forces for the first time on the PAL stage on Tuesday, three days back, to put this show together. A cast member admitted they were still blocking bits of the action as late as this afternoon. So the fact they could pull off an engaging and commendable performance -- and give Priestly his due in such a compressed time-frame -- is a remarkable feat for each one of them, surely. But impossible without the steady focus'd hand and eye of director Anna Hagan to guide them each step of the way.  

Notable character nuances were provided most obviously by Pippa Johnstone as the ingenue daughter Elsie, while her mother Dorothy by Susan Hogan gave viewers a warming Judy Dench-like turn. Brendan McClarty as the boffo "man from Singapore" Bernard was a spot-on lazy lout. Dad George played by Keith Martin Gordey kept the crowd guessing throughout, engagingly, what was truthiness -vs- what was factoid about the source of his value(s). 

Thanks to the generous assistance of properties master Michael Gall of the Arts Club Theatre and others, the theatre-in-the-round set was a convincing sitting / dining room approximation of the times. Costumes were great Sally Ann vintage, each one, the hint of mothballs ever near the pastiche of pleats & ruffles & tweeds and their attendant mix of stripes, plaids and prints. 

Who gonna like : Small theatre fans will enjoy to see how nine actors in a 20 X 30 foot space can entertain so effectively. Folks eager to escape t.v.'s nightly newsreel horrors will appreciate J. B. Priestly's ironic flip 80 years on. Students of stage art (of any age) who want to appreciate and grin broadly as they enjoy what focus and energy and enthusiasm can achieve in the right hands with the right script in just 72 hours time will learn much from this fun piece of business.

Particulars : Produced and presented by Western Gold Theatre. At the PAL Studio Theatre through Sunday. 581 Cordero Street. Phone 604.255.4313 for schedules and tickets. Or patch into the site for more info.

Production crew :  Director Anna Hagan.  Set Designers Glenn MacDonald & R. Todd Parker.  Lighting Designer Terence Kelly.  Sound Designer & Stage Manager Chris Allan.  Assistant Stage Manager R. Todd Parker.  Box Office Jane Clayton.  Graphics/Web/Print Joseph Emms.  Photographer Jason Kanyo.  PAL Theatre Manager Astrid Sars.  PAL Technical Director Nathan Hoffman.

Performers :  Tanja Dixon-Warren.  Keith Martin Gordey.  Ron Halder.  Brett Harris.  Susan Hogan.  Pippa Johnstone.  Victor Mariano.  Brendan McClarty.  John Prowse. 


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mozart & Salieri = whimsy, genius & pure delight

Backstory to the show : Most people who think of the Mozart and Salieri story immediately conjure the Peter Shaffer script Amadeus, taken from Mozart's middle name that means, in Latin, "loved by God". The 1984 movie directed by Milos Forman was a runaway success : it garnered eight Academies. Well, Mr. Shaffer, move over. Vancouver's Seven Tyrants Theatre group is without doubt the new champion storyteller of this tale.

Neither Shaffer nor 7TT creators David Newham and Daniel Deorksen came up with this potboiler of a plot on their own, of course. Stage folk are all well aware of the original 1830 mini-play (two scenes, seven pages of dialogue) by Alexander Pushkin and the 1897 opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov based on it. It's how 7TT treats the material that's so different.

The story is simple : chief operatic composer to the Viennese court in the late 1700's, Antonio Salieri -- at least how the myths would have it -- was utterly jealous of the genius of his younger contemporary Mozart. He figured the only way his own musical masterstrokes would ever survive would be if Mozart were killed off in his prime. And how better but by beguiling him with a freebie dinner and drink, and then poisoning his wine.

Talk about an operatic storyline : it is reported Salieri was not exonerated of the "poison plot" allegation until an Italian court did so, officially, in 1997, fully 206 years after Mozart wrote his last note. (Meanwhile death by rheumatic fever seems to be the most infectious theory to-day.)

No question Shaffer's play and subsequent movie were sumptuous -- less kindly critics have called them "bloated". In the hands of Messrs. Newham and Deorksen, by contrast, the story of these two music men is whimsical, imaginatively rich, and short. They do better in 75 minutes what Shaffer's celluloid version required some three hours to view.

The fun of 7TT's version : In a manner similar to their loudly applauded Beggar's Opera production of 2014, Newham and Deorksen have structured this year's 3-hander to be a show "celebrating absurdity" in Deorksen's words. There are five "Fantasias" that roll out chunks of the Pushkin play.

In each Fantasia, the show's stars perform snitches and slabs of both Wolfie's creations and those of Salieri. Mozart (Masae Day) does turns on violin and piano with equal theatric finesse, while Salieri (David Whiteley) performs just as well on the viola -- symbolically as well as factually "second fiddle" to Mozart.

But stitching their stories together and encircling them with joyous abandon is a character called The Player (Cate Richardson) whose soprano chops give us the show's narrator. Dressed as a hottie harlequin in nylons and garters and peacock wings, The Player intro's each Fantasia with some story exposition and lyric funnin', telling the audience from the start that "this is a twisted version of the tale you think you know".

As the story unfolds : Salieri refers to himself as a "craftsman" who labours away grindingly in Mozart's spontaneous shadow. He laments : "I was content, at peace, I took quiet pride in my work." By contrast he says Mozart is "some celestial cherub who came to bring us several tunes from Heaven".

Along the way there's a delicious tavern interlude where Wolfie and The Player join forces in a rubadub pick-up rendition of The Turkish March. That Mozart plays a squeezebox pretty well sums up this goofy and charming bit of cabaret. Their silliness only infuriates Salieri, however. "You are unworthy of yourself!" he exclaims, and what follows is a sardonic soliloquy reminiscent of the chant "This Jesus this Jesus this Jesus must die!" from Superstar. He is consumed by his "destiny". He crescendo's his jealousy and proceeds to kill off his nemesis all the while professing brotherly love and admiration. Does so while Mozart plays for him his final creation, appropriately, the Requiem in D minor.

Production values galore : Any criticism of this wonderful piece of theatre would be to pick at very small nits indeed. I shan't bother. I can only exult at its creative imagination. In musical director Deorksen's notes he states "I found powerful justification to twist and turn the sanctified classical compositions however we needed." Snatches of Muppet-y music from Sesame Street, gospel strains from N'Awlins, and shoo-be-do-be-do early rock tunes punctuate the original score in ways that made me grin with joy.

As for characterizations, in production director Newham's words "I wanted the focus of the play put on our shared modern experience of Mozart's image, his legend and, of course, his music...Therefore I wanted the audience to see Mozart as Salieri sees Mozart : as a child, a genius, and a monster."

While Richardson as The Player had the most pronounced role given her wild costumes and singing prowess, Day as Mozart was engaging and endearing and a giggly treat. As Salieri, Whiteley brought the appropriate gloom and high dudgeon to his part, at times seeming to channel Steven van Zandt of Soprano's fame.

Three other aspects of the show need mention however. Costume designer Ines Ortner was positively inspired in her outfitting of each of the characters. The Mozart and Salieri capes and wigs and leggings were spot on. And speaking of spots. David Newham's lighting design with its red and green and blue and yellow backlit scrim, its Aurora Borealis moments and the individual spots (and dark lights) on each player were utterly right each moment of the show. Choreographer Catherine Burnett executed her challenge marvelously. From the Chaplinesque stealth of Wolfie sneaking to his grand piano to the pixie prances of all three to The Player's struts offset by 5th position poses, the blocking and stage business were sheer fun to watch.

Who gonna like : If you don't like classical music; if you don't know anything whatever about Mozart; if Salieri is a name utterly foreign to you. Well, you could still derive some pleasure out of this for all the production values noted above. But some "likes" and knowledge in the preceding categories would help. As well as having seen Amadeus along the way just to know what all the kerfuffle about these two guys is all about. 

For those who have some grounding in these areas, well, I really can't say quite enough. This is intimate small theatre entertainment of the most creative and exciting kind. For Vancouverites who like to kvetch that the local scene is too mainstream for them, this is must see! entertainment. A more engaging night of sheer originality and punch and fun I can't quite imagine.

Particulars : Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre.  Created by Daniel Deorksen and David Newham.  Adapted by David Newham from Alexander Pushkin's classic play as translated by Genia Gurarie.  Musical score by Daniel Deorksen inspired by the works of Wolfgang [Amadeus] Mozart and Antonio Salieri. At the Jericho Arts Centre until March 14. Run-time 75 minutes, no intermission. Phone 1.877.840.0457 for schedules and tickets.

Production crew : Director David Newham.  Music Director Daniel Deorksen.  Assistant Music Director Phyllis Ho.  Choreographer Catherine Burnett.  Costume Designer Ines Ortner. Stage Manager Susan Currie.  Assistant Stage Manager Sandra Yee.  Lighting Designer David Newham.  Seamstress Joanne Raymont.  Publicist Marnie Wilson. Box Office Manager Linden Banks. 

Performers : Masae Day. Cate Richardson. David Whiteley.