Monthly Archives: August 2014

Superheroes and amazing drums

Between my beer tent shift and getting ready for Sonder’s evening show, I fitted in two performances Sunday afternoon.

Harold of Galactus is a longform improv show with local improv stars Chris Craddock and Mark Meer.  (“Harold” is the name of a common thematic longform improv structure, and Galactus is a comic-book character).   In the show I saw, the performers asked an audience member for the name of a comic-book superhero, and a front-row fan said he’d once made up one called Mortar.  Chris and Mark then had a brief conversation on stage about comic-book tropes and how they might play out for a superhero called Mortar, and then created a series of scenes and stories about the character and how he’d be portrayed in the different eras of comics, from 1942 to near-contemporary.  This let the audience have the fun of noticing all the quirks of Golden Age comic stories (“Is Hitler a hero because he killed Hitler?  But he also killed the guy who killed Hitler!”) and the tropes of more recent comic-book storytelling  (a sidekick who is invincible but nervous, very few women except the occasional supervillain, a league of criminals, and so on), bouncing between eras and landing at a satisfying resolution just before the time was up.  I love watching improv partners who have played together for a long time, because they pick up on each other’s cues so smoothly they seem to be telepathic.  Later in the week I have tickets for Rocket Sugar Factory (Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby) and for Scratch (Arlen Konopaki and Kevin Gillese), so I will get to admire that some more.  Chris Craddock occasionally fell out of character to grin at what was happening, which did not distract me from the story and just added to the sense of the performers having fun that is a mark of good improv. Fun and clever.

Then I managed to slip out quickly, dodge crowds, and get from Strathcona Library to King Edward School in 15 minutes to see Godzilla vs. Led Zeppelin, an hour-long performance of taiko drumming from Fubuki Daiko, an ensemble of four amazing drummers from Winnipeg, Hiroshi Koshiyama, Bruce Robertson, Naomi Guilbert, and Giselle Mak.  They were as exciting to watch as they were to listen to, and the show I saw was sold out.

 

Sonder’s next show is today, Monday at 12:15 pm, and the next one after that is Wednesday at 11:30 pm, both at Venue #5, King Edward School.

 

 

 

 

 

Fringe Saturday

Ritchie Community League (Venue 36, 7727 98 Street) is a new BYOV.  They have five shows playing in their intimate auditorium with multilevel stage and licensed concession.  There is convenient parking,washrooms, level access, and cash ticket sales on site.   I started my day at the Ritchie Community League with Kurt Man: buyer and seller of souls, a new solo work by Brendan Thompson.  As the program description suggests, the story starts when Kurt Man, who has had a business buying and selling souls, takes early retirement and tries to find meaning in his life.  What made this quirky story interesting to watch was that it was told through the device of having other performers speaking lines while projected on a screen on stage.  The backgrounds of the video suggest scene changes and locations.  I recognised most of the video performers, but as the show didn’t have printed programs, I was distracted by trying to figure out who they were or what I’d seen them in before.  End credits moved too quickly for me to catch all of them, but they included Colin Matty, Ellen Chorley, Emma Houghton, Katie Hudson, Mark Vetsh, Holly Cinnamon, Eva Foote, Clinton Carew, and Mark Stubbing.

Letters to Laura is also new work, written by local actor Elisa Benzer (last seen in Honk!) and directed by Perry Gratton.  Benzer and Evan Hall (last seen in a small but essential part in Clybourne Park at the Citadel) perform in a gentle realistic contemporary story of people who meet, cautiously move toward romance, and awkwardly figure out whether their new relationship is sustainable long-distance.  I loved it that the story portrayed the use of electronic communication in a natural way rather than making fun of it.  Editing on the fly and accidentally sending an unplanned text message, not being prepared for the immediacy of a video call, the first escalation of hot messages in public and the awkward dance of backing off on that … all of that felt familiar and affectionate.   I liked the way both of them narrated some of the story directly to the audience, and I liked the parallels in the two viewpoints, especially as seen in Laura’s phone calls with her friend Beth and Marc’s phone calls with his mother.  The notes I took during the show also said “sex scene – pretty socks” which is not to imply that the rest of the view was unattractive at all, just that I also noticed that Marc had attractive patterned socks.

The Wonderheads‘ new show The Middle of Everywhere was, as expected, a wholehearted delight.  The troupe of Kate Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix also included Emily Windler (Poe and Mathews) for a three-character story in mask with light and sound effects.  A little bit of voiceover at the beginning and end provided extra enjoyment but would not have been necessary to follow the story.   A lot of the story was just a fun exploration in a variety of fantasy settings.  I loved figuring out each new setting from the minimal clues, and at one point I was moved to tears by having bought in so completely that I’d forgotten it wasn’t a real possibility.  The Wonderheads are based in Portland Oregon, and they trained at the Del Arte school of physical theatre in California.

The last show I saw last night was The Show, or The Show to End All Shows (I’m not quite sure of the title), a new original work.  It was lightweight and short and it made me laugh.  It reminded me of a sort of vaudeville of various talent performances, strung together by the loose plot of what happens when most of the performers don’t show up for a show.  The Producer and Director (Rumi Jeraj and Roman Anthony) along with one of the techs (either Berkley Abbott or Griffin Schell) do a funny routine of putting on clown costumes before concluding that none of them know how to clown, for example.  An Opera Singer (Aniqa Charania) and a Musician (Sam Banigan, whom I last saw in Exposure, a Cradle to Stage production at the Walterdale last year) do a very funny duet of Averil Lavigne’s Skater Boy.  The program said that most of the performers are local high school students, but Jake Tkaczyk (U of A BFA class of 2017) was a late addition as Actor, bringing a hilarious manic energy as well as pomposity and vanity to the role.  Rumi Jeraj’s song-and-dance routine at the end was a delightful surprise.  The Show plays at Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre, the one that advertises its air conditioning.

 

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The Fringe continues until Sunday August 24th.  Sonder‘s next show is tonight, Sunday at 9 pm at King Edward School. 

Fringe Day Two: five more shows

Turns out that on a day I’m not volunteering and our show isn’t on, it’s easy to see five shows and still stop in at home for a snack and a shower partway through.

The first one I saw yesterday was Beware Beware, new work by David Walker, featuring Thomas Barnet and Sarah Feutl, all young local artists.  It was a fairly straightforward drama about two friends, each with some current trouble on his or her mind, meeting up for late-night drinks at a campfire site in the river valley.   Both characters were interesting to watch and credible troubled people.

Next was Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip at the Varscona, which was adorable.  Flora, Fawna, and their new friend Fleurette (Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Brian Dooley) play three little girls who have started a more inclusive alternative to Brownies and Guides.  The show is framed as the orientation meeting for the audience who are prospective members of the group, and the fun starts as the costumed cast members hand out materials to the audience in line outside the theatre.  There was a little bit of audience participation, and a lot of laughing and awww-ing.  The three cast members each plays a child with distinct quirks and awkwardnesses, and the interactions among the friends (“we don’t even exclude people for being too bossy” says Fawna (Trevor Schmidt) with a sidelong glance at her friend (Hagen)) were very funny.  Brian Dooley was particularly charming as a young Francophone glad to be included in her new neighbourhood even though she doesn’t quite understand what’s going on.  The uniforms of tunic, tights, beret, scarf, and badge sash were appropriately awkward.

Next up was Zanna, Don’t! by Three Form Theatre, a light musical by Tim Acito which played Off-Broadway about 10 years ago.  It’s full of pop culture references and uses all the familiar tropes of high school stories, in some kind of parallel alternate universe where same-sex relationships are the norm and heterophobia is a thing.  Music Director Mackenzie Reurink directed a small instrumental ensemble, and some of the singers were hard to hear or understand over the accompaniment.  Sarah Ormandy’s portrayal of bossy Candi was especially funny.  Mark Sinongco, who I last saw in Putnam County Spelling Bee, was the eponymous Zanna, and Adam Sanders (Full Monty) and Madeleine Knight were the scandalous opposite-sex couple.

Dogfight is another musical by a young local company, in this case Linette Smith’s Strathcona Alumni Theatre.  Chris Scott and Emmy Kate Whitehead play the leads. I’m going to see it again later in the week and I’ll have more to say about it then, but if you are interested in seeing it you should buy your tickets early, as the uncomfortable seating in Strathcona High School often sells out.

Last on my schedule for the day was Butt Kapinski, a solo show by Deanna Fleyscher from Los Angeles.  The performer takes the audience with her into creating a film-noir world, full of cliches played out in unexpected ways.  The performer, a hardboiled private eye, chooses audience members for the roles needed in the story, from murdered bodies to residents of various districts in the dark city, mostly cast cross-gender.   And now I guess I can finally say that I was on stage at the Fringe.  The show was cleverly crafted and satisfying, and I’d like to go back if I can find room in my schedule.

Parade, mosquitoes, camels, and opening night!

It’s the Fringe!  The site gradually filled up all day until there was a crowd of high-energy  costumed performers gathered outside Strathcona Market for the opening parade around the site, and more people watching along the short parade route and waiting in front of the outdoor stage.  Shows started after that.

Our show Sonder opened at 10pm in King Edward School, venue 5.  It’s so fun to start sharing our work with audiences, after working on it in quiet studios.  It’s a great venue and the technicians and front-of-house volunteers were great.  In the warm humid weather the mosquitoes descended with dusk, so waiting outside the venues was a frustration of swiping and slapping, and walking across the ballfield was an attempt to outrun them.  It looks like the weather will be a little cooler on the weekend so I hope that will discourage the bugs.

After a quick drink with the company, I then started my week of watching plays with Camel Camel, a wonderful piece of physical theatre from Meghan Frank and Janessa Johnsrude, both graduates and staff members of the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California (I think the Wonderheads trained there too).  They were very funny and there were no slow spots.  I had actually missed some of the plot tying the scenes together until I read more about it on their website this morning, but I enjoyed it a lot even without.

The backlog and the roundup

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!

Cabaret

Listening to the musical soundtrack from a show evokes vivid memories of the show, sometimes more than expected.  That is why, after my trip to various US destinations this spring, I was sitting on a full airplane back to Edmonton, but I feel like I’m sitting in a theatre, specifically the Kit Kat Club Studio 54, swept into the world of Cabaret, and the nightclub in 1930s Berlin while the prospect of Nazi power loomed like the Nightwatch on Babylon 5.   This was not the most comfortable mood to be in on an airplane, but it was a wonderful show and I wanted to remember it as fully as I could.

The musical Cabaret was the last show I saw on my trip to New York City.  it opened recently with Alan Cumming (currently in the TV drama The Good Wife) as the Emcee, Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, and Bill Heck as the viewpoint character American novelist Cliff Bradshaw.  The poignant and tragic glimpses of ordinary people going about their lives ignoring or worrying about or unaware of the political and social shifts during what we know is the time immediately before World War II create a compelling story.  You can’t raise the narrative stakes much higher.  The plot line about Fraulein Schneider, the landlady, and about her late-in-life suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, was particularly heartbreaking.  The Emcee’s speeches and songs addressing the imaginary cabaret audience give an impression of self-conscious parody of depravity, but the other narrative between the songs, like Sally Bowles’ matter-of-fact acknowledgement that various members of the chorus had male and female lovers, just felt like a way of illustrating that the culture of that time and place wasn’t very different from our own.

The front rows of the orchestra and balcony sections in the theatre were all set up like little cabaret tables, with candle lights.  In the parts of the musical set during cabaret performances, the little table lights lit up, so that even though I was sitting in a cheaper seat I felt part of an intimate live performance.  The Club space at the Citadel feels similar, so I imagine I’ll recall Cabaret the next time I go to a show there.  The male ushers for the performance were not entirely clothed, adding to the impression of arriving somewhere exotic and slightly daring.   Before the show started, the orchestra musicians were wandering around and warming up on stage, before settling in to their platform above the main part of the stage.

Both Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams will be replaced by other performers for the extended run of this show.  While I loved seeing Alan Cumming in this role, the show would be good even without them.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

One of the hot tickets that I paid full price for on my Broadway excursion this spring was the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig and Lena Hall as Hedwig’s second husband Yitzhak.  Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) had played the role in a West End London production a few years ago, but never on Broadway.  (You might know NPH as the actor who played the title role in Doogie Howser MD, who played himself in the Harold and Kumar movies, and who was in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or the host of last year’s Tony Awards.)  I’m probably the only one who also had him confused with the guy who plays the FBI agent on White Collar, but that’s actually Tim De Kay, who looks kind of similar and is about 10 years older.   Lena Hall also has a long Broadway resume,

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is also a movie, but having seen both I think it works better as a stage musical – and it’s definitely more fun in person.  The Belasco Theatre is an intimate setting and some of the audience members sitting near me had seen the production before.  It’s a fairly short show (95 minutes or so?) without an intermission, and the character Hedwig talks or sings for almost the whole time.  The musicians performing as the Angry Inch were Justin Craig (Skszp), Matt Duncan (Jacek), Tim Mislock (Krzyzhtoff), and Peter Yanowitz (Schlatko).  Hedwig has several dramatic costume changes and manages to climb over a car gracefully wearing platform boots.

The show uses the device of Hedwig and her band talking to the audience as they do a “one night only!” musical performance, and narrate Hedwig’s history.  They keep mentioning their more successful associate Tommy Gnosis who is supposedly performing across town in a bigger venue.  And at one point Hedwig makes an aside about having been kicked out of a dive like The Jane Hotel, which is funny because the original off-Broadway run of Hedwig was in a room at that inexpensive inn, but it was even funnier to me because that is where I was staying.

I enjoyed it and I’m glad I went to see it, but it hasn’t really stuck with me very hard.  I’m not sure why not.