As last year, I think I’m giving up on writing good reviews of the backlog of shows, so that I can start the new season fresh when the Fringe festival opens tonight. The shows mentioned here fell off the top of my to-do list for a variety of reasons, mostly because it didn’t feel urgent to share my thoughts after the shows had closed.
In February I saw an evening of powerful modern dance with the New York City company Ailey II. There were four pieces some with several movements, and different numbers of dancers, so the evening felt full of novelty, as well as emotion and atheticism. My favourite piece was the last long set, Revelations.
I also saw a Pride Week performance of Coming Out Monologues at the University of Alberta. It was personal and powerful.
In early June, I took three friends to the Varscona Theatre to see the Teatro La Quindicina production of The Jazz Mother, a Stewart Lemoine play last produced in 1991. I haven’t seen very many of the plays of this prolific playwright, but as I expected, The Jazz Mother was clever, affectionate, and thoroughly enjoyable,. The surprise – a pleasant surprise – was that it was full of singing too!
The setting is the small village of Badger’s Bluff, Iowa, in 1937, specifically the dining room and parlour of a boarding house run by Polish immigrant Tomas (Mat Busby). The cozy and charming room was designed by Belinda Cornish and Jeff Haslam. Tomas’s two lodgers are Enid, a nurse (Kristi Hansen), and Bobbie Romayne (Jocelyn Ahlf) a free-spirited jazz singer who gets off the train in town looking for work. One of the funniest moments of the show is Bobbie’s audition to sing at a funeral home.
I also enjoyed two musical performances by Two One Way Tickets to Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone and La Cage Aux Folles.
And at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, the summer theatre in a tent in Saskatoon, I saw Taming of the Shrew. I found it more upsetting than I had bargained for, and I wanted to think about it more before writing a review, and I still haven’t really figured out what to think. I’d read the play many years ago, but never seen it or studied it. And somehow, I’d had the idea that the title was ironic, and that the happy ending of the story had the smart independent woman finding love without compromising herself. But the production I saw, directed by Johnna Wright, left me shocked and uncomfortable. I loved Jenna-Lee Hyde in the role of Katherine, with her sarcastic tone, expressive eyebrows, and short-statured truculence. I wanted her to win Petruchio over or trick him into believing she was tamed, and it was hard for me to read in that intention to the way the play was performed. Petruchio (Joshua Beaudry) used the manipulative techniques of a Pick-Up Artist and an abuser, such as “negging”, gaslighting, and denying her food and sleep, and according to the canonical text, they worked. That is realistic but at the same time awful. The play seemed to be set in the early 1960s, with similar music and costuming choices to those in the Red Deer College production of Comedy of Errors directed by Jeff Page last fall. In a way that’s a good choice for a story of shifts in power imbalance by genders, but the nearly-contemporary setting made me more uncomfortable with the outcome of the story. It also provided for some fun musical interludes, with the characters of Lucentio, Gremio, Hortensio, and Grumio (Nathan Howe, Jacob Yaworski, Skye Brandon, and Matt Burgess) playing as a musical combo, and the performers of Katherine’s sister, mother, and housekeeper (Anna Seibel, Lisa Bayliss, Tara Schoonbaert) also singing harmony in 60s-girl-group style. I didn’t get to see the Freewill Shakespeare production of Shrew this summer, with James Macdonald and Mary Hulbert, but I wish I’d been able to see it as well, to help me put my finger on what bothered me and to see whether different directoral choices would have made a difference.
So I think I’m caught up. The Fringe opening ceremonies are this evening, and our show Sonder‘s first performance is at 10 pm tonight. I can’t wait!