Carousel: a musical to think about

Foote in the Door Productions has taken another big step with their latest production, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 classic Carousel.  Their first mainstage show was She Loves Me, a light workplace romance with a spunky determined shopgirl heroine.  Their second mainstage show was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying last fall, a lighthearted 1960s look at corporate-workplace problems such as sexual harassment, nepotism, and the Peter principle, with the spunky determined officegirl’s happy ending being the suburban-homemaking wife to her upwardly-mobile sweetheart Ponty.

But Carousel covers tougher material, and includes some bits that are harder for modern audiences to deal with.  This post contains spoilers.  It’s mostly set in 1917, in a small town in Maine where the men mostly fish for a living and the women have jobs too, like working in a textile mill, or working at the inn owned by Nettie (Carolyn Ware).  Protagonist Julie Jordan (Ruth Wong-Miller) and her friend Carrie Pipperidge (Natasha Mason) are millworkers, constrained to live in the millgirls’ dorm and follow chaperonage and curfew rules to keep their jobs.

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Ruth Wong-Miller, as Julie Jordan, in Foote in the Door’s production of Carousel. (Nanc Price Photography)

Contrasting with this orderly and rigid culture is the carnival life, with manager Mrs Mullin (Rebecca Bissonette), carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Russ Farmer) and assorted non-speaking midway performers.  Billy and Julie meet each other, and then linger chatting on a bench despite both of them losing their jobs for the dalliance.  The speed and inevitability of these consequences seemed unconvincing to me as a modern audience member accustomed to more workplace rights.   Julie is fired because she defies the mill owner’s offer to drive her back to the dorm before curfew and Billy is fired by the carnival manager who is jealous of whatever unspecified relationship she has with him.  Both of these firings seemed to happen before either character knew the other one well enough to judge beyond some degree of attraction – and both of them have attitudes of “nobody tells me what to do!” that cause them trouble.   And that sets in motion one of those tragic unstoppable trajectories – they’re stuck together because of losing their livelihoods and accommodations, he is unsuccessful getting work, she gets pregnant, he gets drawn into a criminal plan in order to provide for his family, etc.  Farmer’s Billy is not a classic hero at all – he’s shortsighted (gambling away the criminal takings before they even do the crime), cocky with women, and stubborn (unwilling to take work on a fishing boat), still defiant after death as a soul in the afterlife.  He’s ill-equipped for adult life, his schemes don’t work, and he kills himself rather than go to jail.  His own outcome follows directly from his bad qualities and the culture he’s in, and his afterlife redemption only comes after his second attempt to give his daughter Louise (Megan Beaupre) a better chance than he had.

The part that was most uncomfortable for me was that Billy hits Julie, and she excuses or accepts it.  The hitting took place off stage.  We learn when Julie confides in her friend, and then the other women overhear and make sure everyone knows.  Everyone who responds to Julie lets her know it’s not appropriate and she didn’t deserve it, and Carrie challenges her when she makes excuses for Billy.  So after Billy dies and we see Julie carrying on, working with her cousin Nettie to run the former inn as a boarding house and raising her daughter, I’m thinking this is the best possible solution in fiction, anyway, because I don’t want to see her getting abused on an ongoing basis and I don’t believe he could reform.  But then when the heavenly powers (Pauline Farmer and Shauna Rebus) give Billy a day on earth to take care of “unfinished business” his first attempt to reach his daughter and inspire her ends in him losing his temper and slapping her hand.  The audience, like Louise, is horrified.  Perhaps she has not been raised with violence and the cycle has been broken.  However, when Louise tells her mother about the slap that “felt like a kiss”, Julie, reminiscing, says “It is possible, dear, for someone to hit you, hit you hard and have it not hurt at all.”  Does Louise take this as her mother’s encouragement to accept relationship violence?  Is Julie at risk of accepting abuse in a future relationship?  Is the pattern doomed to continue?  I desperately want to believe all the answers are no. but after the performance ended I had to go walking in the rain by myself instead of standing around in opening-night crowds in the lobby, so I could think.  I thought about how hard it is to change abusive patterns of behaviour, and I thought about what a good job director Mary-Ellen Perley and her cast and team had done, to make me that disturbed.

More subtle commentaries on the prevailing attitudes and the patriarchal culture come from Julie’s friend Carrie.  It’s clear that she’s marrying for love as well as marrying up, when she introduces her fiance Mr. Enoch Snow (Rory Turner).  He’s full of plans for expanding his fleet of fishing boats and expanding his household to include a wife and many children.  She’s thrilled with her handsome beau, but he’s quick to judge her as unvirtuous when he surprises her with scoundrel Jigger Craigin (Morgan Smith), without hearing her side or considering her character of naive kind enthusiasm.  And in the 1945 scenes at the end, she tells Julie “If I had more sense I wouldn’t have had nine children.”  Natasha Mason’s Carrie is a gentle reminder that the “proper” path for women in that town was also lacking in autonomy and flawed by modern ideals.

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Natasha Mason, as Carrie, in Foote in the Door’s production of Carousel (Nanc Price Photography)

Foote in the Door is partnering with WIN House, the local domestic abuse shelter.  Brochures with information on the issue and the organization are available at the show, and donations are solicited from the audience afterwards.

My favourite songs in this production were Nettie singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and Billy’s “The Highest Judge of All” which had a particularly interesting orchestral accompaniment.

Foote in the Door has also taken a practical step with this production, across the street from the auditorium of Faculté St-Jean to the bigger stage of L’UniThéâtre at La Cité.  This facility gives them better lighting options, and the space for a fifteen piece orchestra as well as a large active ensemble.  Carousel runs this weekend and next week, closing Saturday June 24th.  Advance tickets are available through Tix on the Square, same-day and weekend tickets at the door until they sell out.

 

 

Opera done differently

Last night I attended the Opera Nuova production of the Tchaikovsky opera Eugene Onegin.

It was fascinating.  It has one more performance, tonight at 7:30 at the Oasis Centre in northwest Edmonton.  If you like music or theatre and you aren’t sure if you like opera, this might be a good one to try.

Mind you, there are lots of other opportunities here to see outsider-accessible opera, thanks to the imaginative programming of Edmonton Opera.  But Opera Nuova tickets are less expensive, and this production makes fabulous use of its location.

I believe that’s called “site-sympathetic”.  On arrival at the Oasis Centre, audience members had an opportunity to buy food and drink in the lobby, and then we were directed to seats in a back garden amphitheatre.  I noticed that the audience included some families with children, and a wide range of dress from festive to casual.  (I was relieved about this, since I hadn’t gotten dressed up myself.)   We were seated on comfortable chairs around three sides of a courtyard (and some people were standing up too).  In the periphery I could see some attractive landscaping with pathways and an artificial waterfall.

Opera Nuova artistic director and this show’s director, Kim Mattice-Wanat, spoke from the covered bandstand where the orchestra was seated, explaining that later scenes would be set indoors and we would be directed where and when to move.  The sung lyrics would be in Russian, but instead of supertitles we would be given additional glimpses into what was going to happen by a narrator reading some description between scenes or units, Kelly Handerek, There was also a plot summary in the program.

During some instrumental music (overture?) by a 12 piece orchestra under the direction of Gordon Gerrard, some performers entered and seated themselves on garden benches.  The younger women turned out to be sisters Olga (Amanda Weatherall) and Tatiana (Jordanne Erichsen).  The older woman with spectacles, kerchief, and apron was Filipievna, the girls’ old nurse.  I was immediately charmed and impressed that she knitted a sock on four needles throughout the first scene, with the practised ease of an experienced knitter.  The fourth woman in the scene was Madame Larina (Zoë Gotziaman) the girls’ mother.   As advised by the narrator, I could see that Olga was the more outgoing sister, swept away in romance with visiting Lensky (River Guard), while Tatiana seemed to be head-down in her novel for most of the first couple of scenes before becoming awkwardly aware of equally-awkward eponymous Onegin (Aaron Murphy).  I got thinking about Pride and Prejudice at this point, and about how the socially-awkward one who started out seeming rude was actually the happy-ending suitor in that story.  (And then I started thinking about Colin Firth, and then I started thinking about Cordelia in King Lear too, and I was trying to figure out whether I liked this Onegin character or not.  I definitely liked Tatiana right away though.)

At some point in the outdoor scenes, the large ensemble also entered as farm labourers presenting the landlords with sheaves and baskets to celebrate the harvest, and dancing and singing in approximately-folkloric dress.   During the outdoor scenes, various characters and couples made use of the attractive forest paths and lawns.  The actors were all wearing headset microphones (which is not the usual practice for opera, although it is common in musical theatre for larger auditoriums).   The sound quality was not perfect, but was surprisingly good given the industrial-park site with large trucks driving by and windy weather.

The audience was then invited indoors, first to seats around an area set up as Tatiana’s bedroom.  Jordanne Erichsen was especially impressive in this scene, singing solo through almost the whole scene while conveying the emotions of being unexpectedly in love and taking the risk of writing to Onegin to ask if he would consider marriage.

Subsequent scenes shifted to the other side of the auditorium.  Short intermissions were taken as needed, not necessarily when the traditional 3-act structure prescribed.  Onegin turns down Tatiana in what looked to me like an emo mansplaining condescension (“I wouldn’t make you a good husband.  I prefer to be alone”) but then kind of rubbed it in by dancing with her sister at her name-day ball.  This led to an argument with his friend Lensky, Olga’s fiancé, and to a duel in which Lensky dies.  In these scenes I liked Triquet (Sebastien Comtois) who regaled Tatiana with French poetry, and Zaretsky (Xuguang Zhang) who seemed keen on promoting the duel and brought them the pistols.

We didn’t get to find out much about what happened to Olga after that, although in the scene three years later, she was standing to the side with her mother and no escort, watching Tatiana and her high-ranking husband welcome guests to a ball.  The dancing and costumes for the three ensemble-dance pieces (the labourers at harvest, the local friends at the name-day dance, and Prince Gremin’s ball) increased in complexity and spectacle commensurate with the class differences and were all fun to watch.  Choreography was by Marie Nychka and costumes by Betty Kolodziej.  The convention of having the chorus members all freeze in place while the principals acted and sang solos was a bit jarring at first but became easy to ignore.  Onegin predictably comes to regret his earlier rejection of Tatiana, and she now turns him down.  This would be a happy and fair ending if Tatiana were in love with Gremin, but her acting conveys that she would rather be with Onegin, but alas! duty and honour and marital vows.  So it’s sad.

It’s a long performance, but I didn’t mind and mostly didn’t even notice. I don’t understand Russian, didn’t know the story ahead of time, and didn’t recognize the melodies except for a bit that was vaguely familiar from Bugs Bunny (I won’t tell you where!), but I’m very glad I was able to see this opera.   Opera Nuova’s festival of opera and musical theatre continues tonight with a second performance of Eugene Onegin, has a concert Saturday night, and later in the month moves to Festival Place for productions of The Cunning Little Vixen (with supertitles) and Carousel.  Tickets to all are available on-line and at the door.

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Simon Chalifoux, as Prince Gremin, and his wife Tatiana Gremina (Jordanne Erichsen), in front of an unhappy Eugene Onegin (Aaron Murphy)

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience

My mother was very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan.  She and I went together to the Stratford Festival a few times, to see Iolanthe, and I think Pirates of Penzance.  The next year I thought I was giving her an extra treat by getting tickets to Hamlet.  (Later that season I also got to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in repertory with the same cast.)  But on the way home, she confessed with embarrassment that she hadn’t enjoyed the Shakespearean tragedy as much, and for the next Mother’s Day could we please go to another Gilbert and Sullivan operetta?   For her, it seemed that watching Shakespeare was a virtuous duty, and watching Gilbert and Sullivan was such a guilty pleasure that she didn’t deserve it, even as a gift.  That seemed odd to me, even for a former high school English teacher, because I already had the idea that theatre should be fun, just like books and movies and other ways of telling stories.

A similar confusion of duty and pleasure lies at the heart of Patience, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta running until Sunday night (Jun 11) at Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park.  Patience, a naive and earnest milkmaid, has so little experience of love (“only for a great-aunt” she says, when asked by one of the chorus of lovesick ladies) that from observing the pining chorus and hearing that love is unselfish, she comes up with the idea that if it’s joyful and pleasurable it isn’t true love.  Therefore, it is more virtuous for her to marry a man she detests.

This odd interpretation leads to various nearly-implausible repercussions for all the characters’ romantic aspirations, but of course this being a Gilbert and Sullivan work, almost everyone ends up happily paired at the end.

There are many other ways this production, directed by Robert Herriot and conducted by Kathleen Lohrenz Gable, is an admirable example of what Gilbert and Sullivan were known for.  There is a large chorus of ladies and of Dragoon Guards, and lots of romantic happy endings.  There are long verses of rapid rhyming iambic feet as clever as rap lyrics, there are ridiculous characters with preposterous motivations, and there are opportunities to show off some very impressive voices.  

Of particular note are the singing of Patience (possibly Charlotte Stewart-Juby, soprano, in the performance I saw), and the comedic portrayals of Meghan Goguen (mezzo-soprano) as Lady Jane and Justin Kautz (baritone, better known locally as one of the principals in Toy Guns Dance Theatre) as Reginald Bunthorpe.   Timothy Carter (tenor) was also delightful as Archibald Grosvenor.

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Justin Kautz as Reginald Bunthorpe, garlanded by two of the lovesick maidens.

 

The chorus of “twenty lovelorn maidens” – actually about fifteen, which probably didn’t distract anyone else except me – was delightfully costumed in faux-Hellenic draperies in a pastel rainbow of shades, striking a series of expressive aesthetic poses in attempts to emulate and attract flamboyant poet/poseur Reginald.  I giggled a lot during this show, starting with the maidens’ first entrance.  Later in the play the robes and art-book poses are repeated in an even funnier way.  Good use was made of the various entrances to the auditorium, which helped make the proscenium-stage space more intimate.  Musical accompaniment was provided by one pianist, Kerry Agnew.

Opera Nuova’s festival of opera and musical theatre continues over the next two weeks with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel as well as some other concerts and master classes.   Performances occur in various venues around the city and with a range of prices, allowing more audience members to attend.

Busy stages at the end of November

What a busy couple of weeks it is for Edmonton stages!  If your weekend isn’t already full, there’s lots of theatre to watch, with these four shows all closing this weekend.

Fen, by Caryl Churchill, is playing at the Varscona Theatre until Sunday.  Amy De Felice’s Trunk Theatre production is fascinatingly atmospheric.  The trapped and oppressed lives of farm-workers in the cold drizzly fen country of England were portrayed with compelling credibility.  I looked at the women picking potatoes in ill-fitting gloves, on their knees on a cold day, and I remembered what it was like to be tying grapes in March, saying to myself that the money would get me out of here, the money would take me to university, I would never need to do this again.   Most of the people in the play don’t have any realistic hopes for escaping their lives, and their unrealistic hopes are heartbreaking.  Even the children in the story are joyless, trapped and powerless and sometimes abused (I found those scenes the most upsetting of the whole play, but not by a lot).  It is unusual to see a farm story about women’s lives not be a story of land-owning families.  But in this story, most of the women (Ellen Chorley, Monica Maddaford, Miranda Allen, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer) are employed as day labourers or crew foremen, and the men (all played by Cody Porter) include a labourer and a landowner who sells his land to a corporation and becomes a tenant.    The story reminded me a lot of the subgenre of Canadian literature about homestead isolation and despair.

Another hard important story to watch is on stage at the Backstage theatre behind the Arts Barns.  Guys in Disguise / Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre is premiering a rewrite of Darrin Hagen’s Witchhunt at the Strand.  Set in Edmonton in 1942 or so, the story is based on primary source material about criminal trials for homosexual behaviour.  Jesse Gervais, Mat Hulshof, Doug Mertz, and Davina Stewart each play lawyers and police officers as well as the men caught up in the witchhunt and their friends and partners.  The scene where one of Hulshof’s young characters is on the stand being questioned in horribly intrusive detail about a sexual encounter was one of the most uncomfortable things I have witnessed in ages.  The main characters in the story were all involved in the Edmonton theatre scene, including Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, in whose honour the Sterling Awards are named.  Mrs Haynes is shown as what would nowadays be called an ally to the LGBT community.  I cannot imagine how the 1940s attitudes of privacy and discretion would have discouraged her choice to be a character witness for her theatrical colleague in a morals case, and I found the character as written very sympathetic.

Witchhunt at the Strand made me very grateful that I grew up mostly after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had said “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation” and decriminalized same-sex sexual behaviours.  It also made me think about how I had been influenced as a child by the grownups around me who remembered the era of the play, not all of whom were straight.  And it made me cry.

Anxiety is a Theatre Yes co-production with several small theatre companies, brand new and unexpected and … and they asked the viewers not to post about it.  If that intrigues you, check whether they have any tickets left this weekend.

Twelfth Night is much funnier and easier to watch.  It’s playing until Saturday night at the Timms Centre.  Ashley Wright, an MFA directing candidate, directs a version with simple staging and a framework of watching a company of travelling players arrive at the theatre, warm up in their underthings, and get into costume.  Julien Arnold, Dave Clarke, Jaimi Reese, and Jake Tkaczyk play the broad-comedy roles of the script, with Reese as Olivia’s mischief-making gentlewoman companion, Arnold and Tkaczyk as the partying uncle Sir Toby Belch and his awkward trying-too-hard sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Clarke in a variety of clownish roles.  Clarke also created and performed interesting songs and underscoring for the production.  Contrast with the fun-loving quartet comes from Malvolio (Alex Dawkins), Olivia’s dour steward, whose pride makes him vulnerable to one of the most memorable practical jokes in the history of the stage.  Did he get what he deserved?  Or was it unfair that he was bullied and apparently driven mad, with the pranksters getting away with it?  I can’t decide.  Watching Malvolio try to smile and gesture as he expects his mistress wants is kind of painful, but it’s also very very funny.

Look-alike twins Viola and Sebastian are played by Chayla Day and Jordan Buhat.  Day’s physicality readily conveys a woman who is inexperienced at passing as a man.  Marc Ludwig is lovesick Orsino, courting Olivia (Emily Howard) who wants nothing to do with him, using her dead father and brother as an excuse until she is captivated by Orsino’s new pageboy Cesario (actually Viola).  Olivia’s reactions to Cesario are delightful, and her discovery that her crush is actually a woman is particularly so.

How to Succeed in Show Business …

Once again, I’ve been too busy watching theatre and helping to make theatre to write about theatre.  But I want to tell you about this one (which I’m working on) in time for you to go see it.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical by Frank Loesser first produced in 1961, and based on the satirical book of business advice written by Shepherd Mead a decade earlier.  Whether or not you’ve seen the musical or movie or read the book, you’ve probably seen lots of copycat titles, because it’s a memorable turn of phrase.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the latest production from local independent theatre group Foote in the Door Productions.  The company name is a tribute to Foote Theatre School at the Citadel, where company principals Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer met in a musical-theatre class.  The company began producing musicals at Fringe 2014.  How to Succeed is their second mainstage production, after She Loves Me, in November 2015.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is set in the head office of a big company in the 1960s.  The setting reminds me of Mad Men and of Bewitched, and also of some places I’ve worked in the past.  The protagonist, J Pierrepont Finch (Frank Keller, previously seen in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) has an unexpectedly-endearing mix of enthusiasm, kindness, and self-involved ambition.  From his initial hiring as a junior in the mailroom, he plays everyone he encounters to bounce upwards and upwards and … to bounce.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how this production (directed by Adam Kuss) illustrates and comments on the status of women in early-1960s office life.  “I’m no Cinderella!  I have eighty-five dollars in the bank, AND a savings bond!” declares determined and daydreamy Rosemary Pilkington (Ruth Wong-Miller) to her office-pal Smitty (Caitlin Tazzer) who wants a fairy-tale ending for Rosemary and J Pierrepont.   In one scene, men waiting for an elevator discuss projects and promotions, while the women discuss needing to reject sexual advances in the office – and that was written around 1961 (by three men, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert).  Executive secretary Miss Jones (Carolyn Waye, who has a joy-filled solo late in the show) wields some real power, and the naive-sexy character Hedy Larue (Kathleen Cera, also the show’s costume designer) also exhibits self-determination and solidarity with other women.

Company president J.B. Biggley is played by Russ Farmer (recently seen in Chess and in She Loves Me).  Farmer, a management consultant, gives a disturbingly-convincing portrayal of an executive who is not as competent as he thinks he is, stuck with a lazy sassy nephew Bud (Rory Turner).

The organization chart of this company is filled in by a strong ensemble (Trish van Doornum, Trevor J, Melanie Lafleur, Gerald Mason, Natasha Mason, Mike McDevitt, Levy Poppins, Emily Smith, Morgan Smith), creating recognizable and entertaining characters and providing the audience with delightful singing and dancing and snappy dialogue.  Choreography was done by Adam Kuss, and live music is provided by an ensemble of 8 led by music director Daniel Belland on piano.

Ruth Wong-Miller took time in a busy tech week to answer a few questions about the show and company, starting with how they find the musicals they produce:  “I am a huge musical theatre nerd. I’ve been obsessed with shows since I was a young girl, when I listened to Les Miz and Phantom on cassette (yes I’m that old). My sister and I used to watch all of the old classic movie musicals and see every show that came to town – it’s hard to stump me on musical theatre trivia!”  On people who have led and supported Foote in the Door so far:”We have had so many wonderful supporters including Adam Kuss who has been involved in our fringe show each year as a director (2014) and choreographer (2015 and 2016). I’d also like to name Barbara Mah as well; she directed our first mainstage She Loves Me last fall and she’s been a great resource for our company.  On this show we have an amazing group, from the cast, production team, and orchestra. The talent level is super impressive, the commitment is incredible and it feels like such a warm family.”

And what’s next for Foote in the Door?  “Carousel (May 2017) is a complete 180 from How to Succeed. It is a dramatic musical with some serious subject matter backed up with some seriously lush and classic music by the legends: Rodgers and Hammerstein! Performers will experience the opportunity to work with an amazing production team including Mary-Ellen Perley as Director, Stuart Sladden as Music Director and Sterling winner Ainsley Hillyard doing choreography. Audiences will enjoy it just as much as How to Succeed as they will travel with the characters on their journeys of romance and self discovery-and there are beautiful songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone!”

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens tonight in the main auditorium at Faculté St-Jean, 8406 91 Street (rue Marie-Anne Gaboury).   Tickets for future shows are available through tix on the square, but not for same-day/weekend shows.  Cash tickets will be available at the door  for tonight’s show, $25 adult, $21 student/senior.  Show time is 7:30.  On Sunday Nov 13th there’s a matinee at 2 pm, and the run continues Wednesday Nov 16th through Saturday Nov 19th.  There will be snacks and drinks for sale, including the obligatory red licorice.  In tribute to one of the songs in the show, there may also be Coffee Crisp.  If you’re coming tonight (Remembrance Day) the campus might look closed, but we will definitely be there!

 

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Co-workers advising Rosemary on her romance: Natasha Mason, Emily Smith, Ruth Wong-Miller as Rosemary, Trish Van Doornum, Caitlin Tazzer, Melanie Lafleur (Nanc Price Photography)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday inside the Fringe, and out.

For me, it was the second Saturday of Fringe.  Our show The Big Fat Surprise closed Friday night (with another sold-out house!) so Saturday I was washing show laundry, then celebrating the parking-space win, catching some shows, lending another artist some of my furniture for a prop, eating festival food (still love that Lunchpail grilled cheese with fresh chips and classic vegetable sticks), checking in at the Lost and Found, serving drinks in the North Tent, talking to friends, and going home in the rain.

I immerse myself in Fringe while the festival is on, after being preoccupied with show prep and publicity for weeks ahead of time, so it sometimes astonishes me that other important things are happening this week outside of the Fringe bubble.  New babies were born.  Couples got married.  Birthdays were marked on Facebook and off.  Students prepared for the next grade, the next diploma, the next degree, the next challenge.  A whole Summer Olympic Games happened and I didn’t watch or read any coverage at all or knit anything for the corollary Ravellenics celebration.  The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market shared the crowd and the parking spaces like an ordinary Saturday.  And last night I stepped into the Fringe North Beer Tent wondering about the music I was hearing, and I discovered they were using their new monitors and good speakers to share the CBC feed of the Tragically Hip’s last concert of their last tour, from the Rogers K-Rock Arena in Kingston Ontario.   While the Fringe went on outside, vendors and street performers, artists handbilling their last few shows, the High Level Trolley shuttling to downtown full of people – the tent was full of shared recognition of the Tragically Hip and of their lead singer Gord Downie, whose announcement of terminal cancer prompted the band’s decisions to tour one last summer and then retire.  I lived in Kingston for many years, and I saw the Hip’s first concert in that venue in 2008.  The CBC live feed and the social media streams reminded me how important they were and are to Kingston and to Canada and to music.  Go in peace, Gord Downie.  And Gord Sinclair, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, and Johnny Fay.


By the second weekend of Fringe, I’ve heard lots of other people’s recommendations of what to see.  And although I try not to think of anything as a must-see, because there would be so many that I’d always feel disappointed, the recommendations helped me choose three good shows yesterday and pick up some more tickets for today.

The Fall of the House of Atreus – A very clever comic take on the ancient Greek tragedies of Euripedes, from Jessy Ardern as playwright and Corben Kushneryk as director and designer, the same team that created last Fringe’s Westbury-stage delight Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests.  Fellow BFA Acting grads Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl, and Morgan Grau are the Chorus telling and enacting the connected tragedies of Euripides, with all the vaguely-familiar characters – Pelops, Atreus, Iphigenia, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Helen and Paris, etc.  Simple costume elements and hand gestures helped to keep track of who was who, and found-object puppetry added interest to different ways for characters to be killed.  The energetic performers embraced the material and found humour in the grim tales.  The pace was good and it looked like fun for them as well as for the audience.  It’s now closed.

Little Orange Man – Ingrid Hansen’s charming solo show also presents gruesome stories in a very funny way, in this case through the unique voice of a girl of ten or eleven, recounting her grandfather’s Danish folk tales and recruiting the audience’s help for a dreamscape quest.  It’s held over, so after a last show tonight at 8 pm it should move easily from King Edward Academy to the larger room of the Westbury.

Nighthawk Rules – Collin Doyle’s and James Hamilton’s ten-year-old script was directed by Taylor Chadwick in Theatre Network’s new space Roxy on Gateway (the old C103).  Comfortable wide chairs around a shallow thrust stage make the venue’s legendary summer heat more bearable, as do the cold drinks on sale at the venue.  Chris W Cook (3…2…1, Criminal Genius, Sequence, Bronte Burlesque)  and Christopher Schultz (Wish) play old friends approaching 30 and floundering in their party-bro lives, Schultz’s character trying to live up to his new girlfriend’s expectations about settling down, and Cook’s character trying to hang on to the old camaraderie of drinking games and all-nighters.  I had thought already that Chris Cook was good at bringing a mix of naïveté and good intention to vulgar characters, so he was well cast in the role of Dick, and Schultz’s character Barry seems competent and grown-up only by comparison to his buddy.  I had a great deal of sympathy for the girlfriend (Ellie Heath) until we met her and she talked about her boyfriend completely as a project she had invested time in developing in order to satisfy her perfect-wedding goals, quickly flouncing out again with threats to Barry about cleaning up the apartment and getting rid of the loser friend.   The story was very funny and the resolution of some of the problems delighted me with its unexpectedness and credibility.  Nighthawk Rules has one more performance today at 4:30 pm.

I’ve got a few more drinks to pour, a few more tickets to use, a few more Festival snacks to consume, and then it’s over.  That was then, this is (still) Fringe.

Tragedy is silly, Happiness™ is not what it seems …

Epic Tragedy is actually neither.  It’s frivolous and delightful, fun even if you don’t know the Greek-tragedy source material very well.  Gerald Osborn sets his story in a taverna in the Ancient Greece of the classic tragedies, but with thoroughly modern tropes like a first date from a dating-site match.  In the smaller roles, Eric Smith is a very feline Sphinx on the prowl, Francie Goodwin-Davies is a favourite as the Oracle, and Landon Shayne Penner shuffles anxiously as a mute slave working for taverna owner James Hamilton (Laws of Thermodynamics, With Bells On, Waiting for Bardot).  Ruby Swekla, Syrell Wilson, dale Wilson, Catherine Wenschlag, and Cat Walsh all bring extensive experience and fine comic timing to the major roles, making this fun and easy to watch.  One more show Sunday afternoon at the air-conditioned Walterdale.

Happiness™ is not easy to watch – at least, it wasn’t for me.  But it is very much worth experiencing.   Cory Thibert and Tony Adams, from Ottawa, perform as a sales/self-help duo making a product-launch presentation to the audience, with help from the technician for their presentation who was played by the technician for their venue.  The real context and the story context kept blurring like that, and it was creepy and effective, because I do want to go to a Fringe show and I do not want to go to a Forum presentation, Amway recruitment, or gospel revival meeting.  I couldn’t figure out whether to engage with the show or hide in case they were really one of the latter.  I loved it.  They have one more show on Sunday evening, at Rutherford School across the road from La Cité Francophone.