Monthly Archives: July 2022

The Realistic Joneses: absurdity with kindness

Christoff Lundgren, Colleen Allen, Zack Seizmagraff, and Brooke Hodgson in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

Good storytelling often starts in the middle, and doesn’t explain everything right away.

The Realistic Joneses, a play by Will Eno currently on stage at Walterdale Theatre, does this brilliantly. A married couple sits in their backyard, having a frustrating conversation. Jennifer (Colleen Allen) tries to find more verbal connection with her spouse Bob (Zack Seizmagraff), and he bats away all the metaphorical volleys. “Why don’t we ever talk?” “We talked last week. About Belgium.”

A crash of garbage cans offstage turns out not to be raccoons but in fact the lively new neighbours John and Pony (Christoff Lundgren and Brooke Hodgson), bearing wine. This interrupts the previous non-conversation and introduces new levels of awkwardness. All of this is very funny and strangely familiar. Each character has practised routines of social behaviour, from John’s joking gestures and one-liners and Pony’s sidekick perkiness to Jennifer’s urge to fill silences with chatter.

In this script, there is a lot of playing with words, fumbling for words, and using words to distract and deflect. Some characters were keeping secrets, secrets that mattered. Some characters hinted at hardships, past and present. But these characters are not people who would explain things to each other, and not explaining to the audience is part of what makes this play so intriguing. There is some opening-up, some revealing and regretting, and a moving and hopeful ending.

The actors and director (John Anderson) convinced me early on that each character had some urgent needs driving him or her forward, strong motivations that were conveyed indirectly but compellingly. They almost never asked each other directly for anything, but each character had consistent intention and every scene was necessary towards each character’s goals. I was so involved with figuring out the characters that it was only afterwards I was able to think about the actors and their preparation, realizing that these portrayals happened because the actors understood the characters’ intentions and knew how to express them.

I was particularly taken with Zack Seizmagraff’s portrayal of a character who starts off cranky-awkward and becomes somewhat more transparent, never unlikeable but often frustrating. I could hear other members of the audience also being so engaged with whether Bob was saying the wrong thing that there were a lot of gasps and sighs and head-shaking around me.

As you might already know if you’ve listened to me talk about plays or tv shows I’ve seen, I love stories where the people are in difficult or sad situations but the characters are so consistently themselves that the dialogue is very funny. So The Realistic Joneses just hits the spot for me.

I also appreciated the mountain skyline in the set design (Joan Hawkins), the overall subtle sound design (Shawn Pallier), and one particular lighting effect which I won’t give away (Richard Hatfield).

The Realistic Joneses is running at Walterdale Theatre until Saturday July 16th, 2022. Tonight is 2-for-1 night, and next Wednesday (July 13) is Pay-What-You-Can night. Advance tickets are available through Walterdale’s website (no extra service charges), and walk-up tickets will be available at the door.

Two big musicals of alternate-history – Brigadoon and Hamilton!

Brigadoon ensemble. Photo by EPIC photography.

I got to watch big musicals two nights in a row last weekend, with fireworks in between. Talk about spectacle!

ELOPE is performing the Lerner and Loewe classic Brigadoon at the Westbury Theatre, running until this coming Saturday July 9th. Jon Shields is directing. With a cast of about twenty-nine and about a dozen musicians (Sally Hunt, music director), the deep Westbury stage was full but not crowded. In the story (which I vaguely knew ahead of time – I think I saw the ending of the movie once?), two young American men from 1947 (Mathew Glenn and Randall Scott MacDonald) are lost in the woods in Scotland, and discover a mysterious town from 200 years earlier. This allows for lots of local festive colour (with plaids and dancing), as they arrive on a day that two young residents of the town (Lilly Hauck and Brendan Smith) are getting married. I got distracted by trying to figure out the size of the population (were were just seeing a few of them or all of them?) and whether it was sustainable, but a more interesting question was whether everyone stuck there actually wanted to be there. Of course, the visitors are swept up in the life of the town, with one of them falling for the bride’s older sister Fiona (Christina O’Dell) and the other one being targeted by the, um, outgoing and vivid Meg (Kathleen Sera). O’Dell has a spectacular voice which is well suited to Fiona.

I only recognized one song in Brigadoon, “Almost Like Being in Love”. I enjoyed watching the interestingly diverse ensemble of villagers, and I appreciated the costuming (Julieanna Lazowski).

If you like classical large-cast musicals, you can get tickets to Brigadoon through Tix on the Square or at the door.

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The next night, I saw the Broadway Across Canada touring production (the #AndPeggy cast or third North American touring cast) of Hamilton. It is in town for a three-week run (most BAC shows are here for one week), with a rush-seat lottery operating through a phone app, which is how I was able to see it.

I do not know the US founding-fathers’ history in detail and I didn’t grow up with ownership to the story. As for Hamilton the phenomenon, I’d listened to the cast recording, read lots of articles about Lin-Manuel Miranda and his choice to cast performers of colour, and watched the Disney+ filmed version, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.

The BAC production completely satisfied my expectations, and exceeded them. I was seated up close, so the cast of 21 on the proscenium stage felt like they were surrounding me. With multiple levels, side balconies, people drifting in and out of scenes and observing in corners, there was always lots to watch. Julius Thomas III played Alexander Hamilton, and we had understudies Milika CherĂ©e and Charlotte Mary Wen playing sisters Eliza and Angelica Schuyler. I thought Charlotte Mary Wen was especially compelling. The actor playing King George, Rick Negron, interpreted the part quite differently from the Jonathan Groff version I’d seen filmed, losing some momentum in favour of Christopher-Walken-esque momentous pauses. But the audience still reacted strongly to him, someone near me even shouting out about it while Negron was singing. The movement in the show was great, especially the energy of a couple of ensemble numbers with no music. And the songs varied widely in genre with lots of earworm-catchy parts.

Hamilton tickets are available through Ticketmaster, for shows in Edmonton until July 10th and then in Calgary.

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COMING UP NEXT: Walterdale Theatre’s production of Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses opens tomorrow, Wednesday July 6th, 8 pm. I got to see a few scenes in an early rehearsal and I’m fascinated to see more of these quirky characters. Tickets directly from Walterdale online, or at the door.