Monthly Archives: October 2014

Gabriel: first glimpse of Moira Buffini

I was looking forward to learning about contemporary English playwright through two of her works which will be produced as part of the U of A Studio Theatre season, but last week I had the chance to expand my knowledge of her work through seeing a production of her 1997 play Gabriel in the Bleviss Laboratory Theatre on campus (the former Media Room), directed by Amanda Bergen, MFA Directing candidate.

Gabriel is set in a gloomy farmhouse in occupied Guernsey during World War II.  The family occupying the house comprises Jeanne (Kristi Hansen), her daughter-in-law Lily (Zoe Glassman), her young daughter Estelle (Sadie Bowling, last seen in last year’s Christmas Carol), and their housekeeper Lake (Monica Maddaford).  Dave Clarke is Von Pfunz, an officer of the occupying army, and Graham Mothersill appears as an unidentified man discovered unconscious on the beach, to whom they refer as Gabriel.  One of the patterns in this tense situation is women confiding in men whom they believe won’t be able to understand them, Jeanne to the German-speaking officer and Lily to the unconscious man.  This is a convenient script device allowing the audience to learn more about the women’s points of view, but also a way of illustrating how each of them is private and alone in the crowded little house.   Estelle, who is aged about ten or eleven, resents the German occupiers and takes a variety of rebellious actions, from esoteric (chalking a ‘square of power’) to more practical (trying to make the soldiers think the house they’re staying in is haunted, vandalizing the commander’s boots).  Sadie Bowling captures her earnest stubbornness without being cute.  Jeanne’s quite different survival tactics are portrayed sympathetically by Kristi Hansen, whose set jaw and careful poise work well in the period piece.

Gabriel awakens and recovers his health but not his memory.  Lily dresses him in some of her late husband’s clothes which had not already been repurposed, giving him the odd appearance of being dressed for a cricket or tennis match surrounded by people in old dark-coloured garments as would seem more appropriate for rural people in wartime.  He appears to speak both English and German fluently, so while the family is determined to protect him from the occupying force, they are more interested in finding a safe background story than a true one.   Stakes are raised when we learn that Lily’s background is Jewish, that her documentation has been falsified, and that the German commander knows.

Personally, I’m usually suspicious about fictional characters named Gabriel because of how often they turn out to be either dead or angelic.  And enough ambiguity was left in the outcome of Gabriel that my theory still holds.

Inspired silliness and spontaneous hilarity all over the Citadel.

Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre is in the Club downstairs.

One Man, Two Guvnors is upstairs in the Shoctor.

And in between, Rapid Fire Theatre is at Ziedler Hall with two Theatresports shows every Friday, a Chimprov long-form improv show every Saturday at 10 pm, and next weekend also a public-workshops student show Thursday at 7:30 (I am going to be in this one, probably singing) and a Maestro elimination game Saturday night at 7:30.   Tickets for all Rapid Fire shows are available through EventBrite and at the door.

Ronnie Burkett’s Daisy Theatre  is returning after a long Citadel booking last year.  Some of the same puppet characters are in the show this year, but there are some new ones, and all new stories with the old ones, and apparently different things happen every night.  I saw it once last year and enjoyed it, but I thought this year’s show was even better.   Mrs. Edna Rural is still one of my favourites.  This year’s bits with Schnitzel, the poignant little creature who wishes for wings, were not as disturbing to me as last year’s (which reminded me of Robertson Davies’ World of Wonders), and they were still charming, especially watching Schnitzel climb the curtains.  As last year, Ronnie Burkett includes various audience members or takes amusing liberties with them, and he also makes lots of jokes about local establishments and politics.  I wish I had time to see it again.

One Man, Two Guvnors had its first preview tonight.  It had a long cast list with many familiar names and faces, John Ullyatt, Lisa Norton, Julien Arnold, Jesse Gervais, Cole Humeny, Louise Lambert, Orville Charles Cameron, Mat Busby, Andrew Macdonald-Smith, and all of the Be Arthurs.  Performers I hadn’t seen before were Jill Agopsowicz as the young romantic lead Pauline and Glenn Nelson as Harry Dangle the lawyer (of the firm Dangle, Berry, and Bush).  Bob Baker was the director, and the script was written by Richard Bean based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters.  John Ullyatt is the main character Francis Henshall, the quick-talking easily-confused small-time crook who starts the show so broke that he hasn’t eaten, and desperate for money he hires himself out to two different people, the gangster Roscoe  – who turns out to be Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel in disguise, Lisa Norton –  and the higher-class criminal Stanley Stubbers (Jesse Gervais).  Assorted wacky hijinks ensue, as Francis tries to get some food and then the affections of the accountant Dolly (Louise Lambert), various other romances play out, prison-trained chef Lloyd manages a “pub with food” (apparently a novelty in 1963 Brighton) with the help of servers Alfie (Andrew Macdonald-Smith who should probably have a massage therapist or physiotherapist lined up for the run of the show) and Gareth (Mat Busby), and criminal mastermind Charlie The Duck (Julien Arnold) is involved in some financial negotiations with his solicitor Harry Dangle that I never did quite follow, but it didn’t matter.  There was slapstick, physical comedy, bad puns, lots of asides to the audience, musical interludes by the Be Arthurs playing as The Craze (Ryan Parker, Scott Shpeley, Bob Rasko, Sheldon Elter), and other funny business.  The pace did not drag at all and although it was a fairly long show I wasn’t restless, I was just giggling all the way through.  It was a little tiresome that Pauline’s defining character trait was a cluelessness or stupidity, but there was good contrast with Louise Lambert’s character Dolly, a 1963 model of feminist sass and control of her sexuality reminiscent of Joan on Mad Men, and with Lisa Norton’s character Rachel, who disguises herself as her brother and tracks down her missing lover (hence leading to a priceless reunion scene with a glimpse of two characters making out in matching boxer shorts and gartered socks.)  The script also had lots of scope for ridiculousness in male characters, notably Cole Humeny as Alan (Orlando) Dangle, would-be actor in black turtleneck and leather and overdramatic anguish.   This might be the best pure comedy I have seen on the Shoctor stage.  I liked it better than Make Mine Love and possibly better than Spamalot.


The Daisy Theatre runs in the Club until November 2nd.  One Man, Two Guvnors runs in the Shoctor until November 16th.  Tickets to both are available through the Citadel website.

And Then, the Lights Went Out …

The first show of the Walterdale Theatre’s season is And Then, The Lights Went Out, written by Andy Garland and directed by David Johnston.   It’s partly a funny story about a writer’s life and partly a hard-boiled detective tale using all the tropes of that genre.

John Evans plays Thomas, a young novelist who is running out of ideas for his detective-story series.  Erin Forwick-Whalley and Jennifer Peebles are his landlady and neighbour, providing stakes, comic relief, and encouragement for him to finish his seventh novel for tomorrow’s deadline.  The rest of the characters in the play are the characters in Thomas’s work-in-progress, ‘tried and true archetypes’ of the trenchcoat-wearing private detective (Kyle Lahti), the mysterious alluring woman (Erika Conway), the thug (Chance Heck), the perky sidekick police officer (Hayley Moorhouse), and a menacing Southern not-such-a-gentleman who reminded me of a Die-Nasty character from the Tennessee-Williams-pastiche season (Curtis Knecht).

At first, there is some amusement in the concept of the characters having life outside of the story and having opinions on the writer’s work, especially the thug who wants to be different.  But I’d seen that done before.  I was reminded of stories about moviemaking, like Make Mine Love, or the Die-Nasty marathon weekend where everyone was a soap-opera character and also an actor.  I noticed that most of the characters spoke with different accents when they were “on stage” in the story, accents that evoked the hard-boiled stories of Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart in Maltese Falcon, and then shifted to speech similar to Thomas’ own when they were not acting out the story.  Lights Went Out got more interesting and satisfying when the characters started pushing Thomas to make them more than stock characters, and then as he wrote they played out a story which had a satisfying and not entirely predictable ending.

And Then, The Lights Went Out continues at the Walterdale Theatre until this Saturday (October 25th).  Tickets are available at the door, or in advance through Tix on the Square.   The next show on the Walterdale stage will be John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, in early December.  I’ve been helping out with that one, and I think it will be good.

Happy Toes

Teatro la Quindicina is presenting a remount of Stewart Lemoine’s Happy Toes at the Varscona Theatre until October 18th (next Saturday).  This is the last play in their season, and their last before the Varscona renovations start.  With a cast of Julien Arnold, Jeff Haslam, Ron Pederson, Cathy Derkach, and Davina Stewart, I knew it would be funny and clever.  And it was.  What I didn’t expect was that it would be quiet, gentle, and thoughtful.  Jeff Haslam was particularly subtle as Tony, independently-wealthy single friend to Julien Arnold’s Alex.  All of the characters were people who didn’t rush into big changes and who didn’t talk about feelings easily.  Tony, Alex, and Edgar (Pederson) were longtime friends in the habit of meeting for coffee.  Edgar, a music teacher, and Tony are concerned when Alex shares some trouble in his marriage, but they are unsure how to support him.  Davina Stewart plays Alex’s restless wife Janine, and Cathy Derkach a new acquaintance who meets the group through Edgar, a customer at the bank where she works.

There is a predictable miscommunication confusion about the estranged spouses showing up at the same event and misinterpreting, but it’s played in the same understated style that the characters have developed.  And there is an ending which turns out happy but not trite.  Tix on the Square has the tickets as usual.

Michael Healey’s Proud

Tonight I saw a preview of theatre no. 6’s presentation of Proud.  Director Ian Leung said ahead of time that there might be technical glitches, but I didn’t notice any.   Parking around La Cité Francophone was unusually challenging, probably due to the Alberta NDP leadership debate taking place across the street at Faculté St. Jean, and afterwards I found that a cheering thought.

Proud is a story about politicians and about some parts of the political process, and about beliefs and emotions and what kind of government people want.  I hated some of what I saw on stage because I think it might be true and I don’t want it to be, and I loved how they showed it. The premise of the story started by imagining that the federal election of 2011 had generated a much larger majority for the Conservatives, if they had won seats all over Quebec by very slim margins over the NDP.  (That this is completely feasible to imagine is thoroughly depressing in itself.  See Fair Vote Canada for more.)   As the Prime Minister says addressing his newly expanded caucus, “We have broad but thin support.  If this was ice, I couldn’t recommend we play shinny on it.”   There’s a funny early scene where the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff are examining a large seating chart of the House of Commons trying to plan who should sit where.  All one side and about half the other side are coded Conservative-blue.  There are 28 orange cards and 25 red ones, and I couldn’t be sure but I think then 4 BQ baby-blue and one green one.  That wasn’t even the point of the scene, just a fun detail I got distracted by.  The point of it was more to show the Prime Minister being petty and demanding about not wanting certain caucus members to be in his line of sight because he held grudges, and his Chief of Staff trying to find solutions that would keep his boss happy and not make any other problems.

Dave Horak was a perfect Chief of Staff, down to the low voice and the way he expected to fall on his metaphorical sword.  Brian Dooley was disturbingly good as a non-ideological Prime Minister who doesn’t make eye contact.  And Melissa Thingelstad was — I think this is my favourite role that I have seen her in so far.  She played a rookie MP from Quebec, a single mother who had been managing a St-Hubert Barbecue (cultural note: that’s a Quebec chain much like Swiss Chalet only with tarte au sucre.)   Her character had a wonderful mix of ferociousness and naiveté, sexuality and practicality and honesty and pragmatic ambition in which the Prime Minister seemed to have met his match.  “Why do you insist on mis-underestimating me?” she asked at one point.   When her character first appeared, I worried that she was going to be used as a sort of sexist shortcut and comic foil, making fun of young women in general and of the 2011-era rookie NDP MPs from Quebec like Ruth-Ellen Brossard.  But she got more interesting.

Richard Lee Hsi (formerly billed as Richard Lee, last seen in the Toy Guns Dance Theatre shows at the Fringe and in the feature film Rock Paper Dice Enter) had a small role as a character from the future being interviewed about the events of the play and about his own political aspirations.   His interview/monologue alluded to some very discouraging outcomes that would follow easily from the present-day of the play, which is not so different from our own, (a powerless consolidated Left and the Conservatives with a longest-serving Prime Minister very similar to Harper), but also gave the audiences some hopeful prospect in the way he spoke about his own ideals and ambitions.

On my way home from work, before I went to the performance, I heard a CBC Radio interview with David Moscrop, a doctoral candidate in political science at UBC.  His research focuses on the way people choose how to vote with their emotions rather than their reasoning.  This was echoed in the play, in which the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff explain to the new MP that they address people’s feelings rather than their beliefs.

Ian Leung’s Director’s Note in the program says “save all that heavy stuff for after.  Tonight, it’s a comedy.  Enjoy!”

I did enjoy it.  I’m not sure it’s a comedy though.  I didn’t think the British TV series “House of Cards” was a comedy either.  (I haven’t seen the Netflix one with Kevin Spacey.)   I guffawed several times, and I also squirmed in my seat and winced quite a bit.  I wished it wasn’t quite so credible, but at the same time I was enthralled by the ways it was.

Proud is playing at L’Unithéâtre, La Cité Francophone, until October 19th.  Tickets are at, of course, Tix on the Square.

Fatboy, redux

I first saw the Edmonton Actors Theatre production of John Clancy’s Fatboy at the Fringe festival in 2012, on the recommendation of a new friend.  That seems like a long time ago, in my history of exploring Edmonton theatre.   I liked it at the time, but I think I was confused by not knowing what to expect in the unfamiliar genre.

Two years on, I was excited to hear that Fatboy was going to be part of the Roxy Theatre’s Performance Series, with Dave Horak directing the same cast (Frederick Zbryski, Melissa Thingelstad, Mathew Hulshof, Tim Cooper and Ian Leung).    Knowing more about what to expect, and having seen a bit more bouffon and other kinds of odd theatre in the interim, I did not feel as uncomfortable this time around and I enjoyed it more.  It was funny that I felt closer to the action in the auditorium of the Roxy than I had upstairs at the Armoury.

The eponymous Fatboy (Frederick Zbryski) and his wife Fudgie (Melissa Thingelstad) have that kind of affectionate and acrimonious relationship that is central to a lot of comedy, but taken to extremes and excesses.  Their struggles and adventures take them through three scenes, in their home, in a courtroom, and then in a throne room, with some funny addresses to the audience and musical interludes in between.   The stock characters of courtroom and throne room (Mat Hulshof, Tim Cooper, Ian Leung) were funny, particularly in a sort of shared delayed guffaw,  but I was most entertained by Mat Hulshof’s first-scene Tenant.   I was also amused by some occasional breaking the fourth wall and conventions of theatre to comment on a double-cast character going to change costume, a comment about the Sterling awards, and so on.

Partway through, I found myself completely startled by how much this over-the-top obscene ridiculous farce was actually relevant to current government and politics.  I think that in 2012 I was too busy trying to make literal sense of what I was seeing to pick up on the ways that it was saying familiar things “more truthful than fact”.

It ran about an hour and a half, which I think was a bit longer than the Fringe version.  Mostly they made good use of the extra time, although a couple of bits of business dragged a bit.  The costumes (Melissa Cuerrier) added to the exaggeration.

Kim’s Convenience: delightful import

I was completely charmed by Kim’s Convenience, a Soulpepper Theatre production that’s the first play in the new Citadel Theatre season.   The Shoctor stage was filled with an extremely detailed accurate reproduction of an independent convenience store, from the wall of hidden cigarettes to the trays of scratch lottery tickets, the cartons of extra random things by the cash register for impulse purchase, and the various signs crowded on to the wall.  One scene shift late in the show is done effectively with a light change and illumination of a set piece I hadn’t noticed earlier.

The store owner (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) shuffles in with the cash-register drawer and methodically readies the store for opening, sweetening his coffee and dusting off the scratch-ticket trays in practised routine.  At this point I realised that I knew about the setting but I actually didn’t know anything about what the plot was going to be.  The story that developed wasn’t very surprising, but it was very well done.  Janet (Chantelle Han) is the 30-year-old single daughter of the store owner and his wife (Jane Luk) known as Appa and Amma, (Korean for Dad and Mum).  Andre Sills plays various Black members of the neighbourhood: store customers, a real estate agent, and a police officer who grew up with Janet and with Janet’s brother Jung, the one who is Not Spoken Of.  As I had not read the program carefully before the show started, having been lost in conversation with my theatregoing companions, I was surprised when Jung (Dale Yim) appeared on stage (I’d thought he might be dead or in jail instead of estranged).

I thought the script (by Ins Choi of Toronto) made good use of the different accents and language use of the Korean-Canadian immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children.   When the parents are speaking to each other in present-day situations they speak Korean, although there is one set of reminiscences where they are speaking about the past to each other and the audience in English.  When Appa speaks to his daughter or to other characters, his speech is sometimes hard to understand the first time around.  The rephrasing and repetition and the ways his daughter helps him express himself in English feel authentic and add to the picture of how things work in this family.  Appa has a long routine teaching Janet about classifying people into the ones who steal and the ones who don’t steal, which gets interspersed with Janet’s horrified facial expressions and comments showing how offensive the whole profiling concept is.  As an audience member, I was completely on Janet’s side – it is awful, but it’s also awfully funny.  Janet’s attempts at trying to catch her father in conflicting prejudices (“Okay, what if it was a fat, gay, Asian guy?” “There are no fat Asian gay guys!  Only skinny Asian guys are gay!”)  make it ridiculous enough that it’s safe to laugh at, and they also get Janet’s father to laugh at himself a bit too.

Kim’s Convenience continues at the Citadel until October 11th, with tickets available on line.  I liked it a lot. The other night I watched a lot of excited young people gathering for a Students Club performance, and I thought that it would probably be powerful for people with immigrant parents and grandparents.