Author Archives: Ephemeral Pleasures

Letters from (and to) A Doll’s House

torvald nora

Tim Marriott, as Torvald, and Nicole English, as Nora, in A Doll’s House. Photo Kristen Finlay.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m worried about my old friend. I just moved to her city, and we’ve been spending time together for the first time since she got married.  Captain, I think she’s married to a Darth Vader Boyfriend.  She pretends to follow his order not to eat macaroons, but sneaks them behind his back.  When I offered to help her with some mending, she pushed me into the kitchen with the help, saying “Torvald can’t stand to see anyone sewing”.  And he totally mansplained me the other day about how knitting was an ugly low-class pastime and advised me how to do embroidery instead.  She goes along with his whims to a ridiculous extent and she thinks he’s wonderful.  Captain, what can I do?

  • (pronouns she/her). 

Dear Ask a Manager:

I don’t have good references because I made some mistakes in my past.  No charges were laid, but I was stuck using some sketchy schemes to make money for a while, until I got this entry-level job at the bank.  Now I’m keeping my record clean and looking forward to promotion.  When I found out one of my old school friends was hired as the new vice-president, I was sure this would be an advantage for me.  So I started dropping in at his office and reminiscing loudly about the things we got up to at school.  And now he says I’m being too familiar and he’s given me a written warning and a pink slip!  However, I’ve got something on his wife (see above, sketchy schemes), so I was thinking that I should just blackmail them into letting me keep my job and move up at the bank.  Nothing can go wrong with this, right?

NK


Dear Miss Manners:

As I am in chronic pain due to congenital syphilis (which my nanny told me was my father’s fault), I would like to die with dignity while I have some agency.  I don’t think my friends could handle seeing me in rough shape, so I’d like to tell them to stay away.  What’s the approved way of notifying them using visiting cards? 

Doc


From Dan Savage, Savage Love, confidential to NoNoNora:  DTMFA.


The conflicts and choices portrayed in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, first produced in 1879, are disturbingly timely in 2017.   Alex Hawkins directed the current Walterdale Theatre Associates production to show the complexity of all the characters and the ways class and gender affect their choices. Nicole English (last seen as Mrs. Lovett in ELOPE’s Sweeney Todd) is troubling and inspiring as Nora, and the rest of the cast is strong as well (Tim Marriott as Torvald, Dave Wolkowski as Krogstad, Marsha Amanova as Christine, dale Wilson as Dr. Rank, and Leslie Caffaro as Anne Marie).   The designers worked with the restrained palette of 1879 Norway to create an atmosphere embodying both oppression and beauty, with set by Joan Heys Hawkins, costumes by Geri Dittrich, lighting by Richard Hatfield and Rebecca Cave, sound by Kiidra Duhault, and props by Alayna Hunchak.

A Doll’s House continues at the Walterdale Theatre until Saturday October 21st, 8 pm Tuesday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday.  Same-day tickets are available at the door and advance tickets are through Tix on the Square.

Fringe 2017 – the last weekend

A Beautiful View – Perry Gratton directed Nikki Hulowski and Samantha Jeffreys in this Daniel MacIvor script, a lovely celebration of a hard-to-label relationship between two women. “You have to be very organized to be bisexual”, the one explains to herself/the audience while deciding not to follow up on an unexpected sexual encounter.   There are a lot of segments where a character speaks facing the audience – sometimes they are alternating in a conversation with each other as retold to the audience.  I don’t know how much of that is in MacIvor’s script, but I think I remember a lot of it in a play Gratton directed several years ago at Fringe, Letters to Laura.  The ending was … well, there was enough foreshadowing that the not-entirely-explicit awful/sad ending must have actually happened.  But I wish it hadn’t, since I really liked both characters.  They were quite different from each other, but there were things I identified with in both of them.  (A Beautiful View has one holdover performance on Thursday.)

Late Night Cabaret – Late Night Cabaret is an Edmonton Fringe tradition.  It happens at midnight, every night of the Fringe except the last Sunday when things wrap up early.  I only went to it once this year, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on the ongoing jokes and routines.  Hosts Amy Shostak and Julian Faid have guests from other shows every night as well as the very talented house band Ze Punterz.  The Backstage Theatre sells out with happy artists, volunteers, and dedicated fringegoers extending their evening and building community.  It runs about an hour and a half with an intermission, and I think maybe the bar stays open during the show.  Some people go to it every night.

Multiple Organism – This piece by Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail troupe (Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel) was the most original and creative work I saw at this year’s Fringe, and I liked it a lot.  It made extensive use of unusual projection techniques.  Some of it was a little gross, but not gratuitously so.

Rivercity: The musical  – Rebecca Merkley wrote and directed this new musical which seems to be an homage to the Archie-comics characters without quite borrowing their names.   It’s full of amusing quick-changes for double&triple-cast actors, silly puns, and cartoon-inspired sound effects (especially the wind-up-and-dash running starts of red-headed Andrews (Molly MacKinnon), which sounded like the Road Runner or something).  In between, though, there were some touching and serious solos for various characters, particularly for the viewpoint character Bee (Vanessa Wilson) and for the Jughead-like Jonesy (Josh Travnik, also multiply-cast in Evil Dead).   The cast of four (Kristin Johnston plays Reggie and the principal among others) covers too many characters to count.  Live music is provided by Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe, wearing Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat-ears. 

Tempting – Erin Pettifor and Franco Correa are a psychic and a sceptic in Ashleigh Hicks’ new script.  When the audience enters the Westbury Theatre auditorium, the large stage has been made into a cozy cluttered studio-space for psychic Alaura (Pettifor).  She is puttering about doing yoga poses in a disjointed distracted way and making tea.  At first it is not clear why Adam is dropping in before business hours, and it is also not clear why Alaura is so immediately adversarial.  Those things do become clear – Adam’s girlfriend Constance is a client, and Adam wants Alaura to recant the advice (or prediction, or support) she gave Constance in a decision Adam doesn’t like.   The problem as described is interesting – Constance is dying and in pain and wants to pursue medically-assisted death, which Alaura supports and Adam doesn’t.  But I don’t really feel compassionate for either of the characters on stage, as I find out more about their motivations and connections to Constance, and I found the ending unsatisfying. 


I think I saw 28 performances this Fringe (one a repeat) and I might see a couple more at holdovers this week.

Super powers of various kinds

Another little change at this year’s Fringe festival is that an artist pass or volunteer pass works as an ETS transit pass.  It used to be that artists and volunteers could request a separate transit pass.  I had the impression that they had a limited number of passes, so I usually didn’t get one, and it was a nuisance to carry around one more thing.  This way’s great – I’ve taken the bus several times for short journeys instead of driving or walking.  On the other hand, the festival also used to have a bus-ticket perq for ordinary festival-goers, and it seems they don’t have that any more.


Yesterday’s short bus trip down Whyte Avenue to 101 Street and then a short walk in the neighbourhood that might be called CPR Irvine or part of Ritchie or just “behind the A and W” brought me to Concrete Theatre’s Playhouse performance space for The Superhero Who Loved Me, a new play by Chris Craddock, directed by Wayne Paquette and starring Kristi Hansen and April Banigan.  At first I thought, this is great, it’s just like the comic-book superhero tales that are my usual cinema fare.  And about halfway through, I thought, they’ve already had more character development and logical plot points than most superhero movies.   Hansen is the secret-agent/superhero isolated by the requirement for secrecy and Banigan the old classmate looking for friends after her divorce, and when they meet again things get steamy pretty fast.  They have all the superhero/mundane mixed-relationship troubles you might expect, and I cared about them.  Staging was simple, painted rehearsal-boxes and a few props, and the obligatory show-you-the-world flying scene was acted out with Barbie dolls.  Two more performances this weekend, and then held over at the venue next weekend.

Another short trip away from the Fringe grounds brought me to the Garneau Theatre for fresh popcorn and the midnight showing of Mo’ Manada, the Boylesque T.O. sequel to O Manada from a couple of years ago.  This year’s revue was hosted by Justin Trudeau (Morgan Norwich) and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (Johnnie Walker), and featured four talented men from Boylesque T.O. as well as stage-kitten (costumed stage-crew and occasional performer) Shagina Twain.  The hosts were just as entertaining as the dancers, and the midnight crowd was very enthusiastic.  One more show today.


The official Fringe holdover series in the Westbury Theatre was announced yesterday.  Tickets are available from the Fringe box office / website now for Prophecy, My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice, Legoland, and Drunk Girl.

Other independent venues make their own arrangements for holdovers.  Varscona Theatre will be doing one more performance of No Exit and several for An Exquisite Hour.  Holy Trinity is holding over Urinetown.  Concrete/Playhouse is adding two performances of The Superhero Who Loved Me (ticketing info not available yet).

And there’s two days left to see plays, eat mini donuts and green onion cakes, watch buskers, and hang out with other people who are passionate about theatre, until we’re back to ordinary life (which for me is more of the same, but at a slower pace and with more sleep.)

More performance genres at Fringe 2017

Note:  I don’t know why the caption isn’t showing up on my photo.  That’s Bethany Hughes from Evil Dead talking to the audience members seated in the Splash Zone. 

 

Animal Farm Treatment – I have never studied, read, or seen any version of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, but as with Sartre’s No Exit, I had a general idea of the theme and I knew one line.  During Animal Farm Treatment, a solo show by creator/performer Alice Nelson from Calgary, I wondered how it would appear to an audience member who didn’t know the expected outcome from the original cynical parable.  The playbill said that she has a study guide to accompany her show for high school audiences.  The performer skilfully switched among several speaking characters, using different physicalities and speech patterns as well as clues of having the characters refer to each other by name, and she used a few simple props to move the story forwards.  I knew that the experiment in democracy would not end well, but I kept hoping it would.  Two more shows, Friday 2:45 and Saturday 11:30 pm.

Evil Dead – Amanda Neufeld directed this lively, funny, gory musical, which is playing at L’Unitheatre.  Bethany Hughes stage managed, and in the picture above is reassuring the audience members in the Splash Zone.  Music is a four-piece instrumental group under the direction of Daniel Belland (also seen in Mormonic at this festival).  The narrative moves quickly through the tropes of horror fiction, the college students each with his or her own incentives to vacation at a lonely cabin (Matthew Lindholm, Jaimi Reese, Nadine Veroba, Stephen Allred, Josh Travnik), the eerie woods with limited access, the intrepid explorer returning from Egypt to finish her father’s work (Neufeld), the source of local knowledge Reliable Jake (Travnik), and the demons (uncredited here because that would give away some plot).  It’s very funny, and the songs are great. The action moves quickly and it’s over in 90 minutes as advertised.  Some tickets are available for tonight’s late show.

Puck Bunnies – This is another cleverly-scripted and poignant drag comedy in the spirit of Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip with Fleurette, from Guys in Disguise.  Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Jason Hardwick play the girlfriends of junior/minor-league hockey hopefuls, sharing support, gossip, and relationship troubles while in the bleachers for an intra-squad scrimmage.   Tammy, Tanya, and Tina are more than silly caricatures (although I have to say that the costumes are spot-on perfect), each with her own struggles.  The dramatic-irony part (where the audience knows something a character doesn’t realize) is great.  The gentle insertion of a more feminist awareness into a culture of “support the boys at all costs”, by Hardwick’s Tina, is credible and satisfying.  I last paid attention to this culture in the mid-90s, I found it disturbing and necessary to be reminded that, despite the pussyhat, some things have not changed.   Shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

You Fucking Earned It – At last year’s inaugural Edmonton Clown Festival (now renamed Play the Fool, and running Sept 28-Oct 1 2017), in a panel discussion Deanna Fleischer (aka Butt Kapinski) pointed out that traditional bouffon was criticizing the king in front of the king, and she challenged performers using bouffon techniques to ask themselves “Is the king in the room?”  There are two key points in this.  One is to punch up – make fun of the powerful instead of the powerless.  The other is that if it’s good bouffon serving its purpose, nobody in the audience should feel comfortable and safe.  At the start of the performance of You Fucking Earned It (a Naked Empire Bouffon work featuring Cara McLendon and Sabrina Wenske, directed by Nathaniel Justiniano whom you might recall from You Killed Hamlet), I wondered whether the piece would succeed at the second point for an Edmonton audience, but it definitely did.  One more show, 2:45 today (Friday).

The show I’ve been working on, How I Lost One Pound, the Musical, also has one more show this festival, at 6:30 pm today in the Rutherford Room at the Varscona Hotel.  We are not sold out at the box office and I will have some tickets available at the door as well.  I’d love to show more people this quirky funny low-key narrative about a woman at mid-life.   Lesley Carlberg’s show will also be playing at Vancouver Fringe and at Guelph Fringe in October, if you miss it here.

 

Fringe solos and classics

Edmonton Fringe 2017 is somewhere around half over.  Around this time I start realizing I can’t see everything I should see – I can’t even see everything I want to see.  I don’t think I can fit in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and I can’t find a time to see Turn of the Screw either.

But one of the great things about Fringe is that we don’t all see the same shows – and even when we do, we don’t all see the same performances.  So we have lots to talk about.

Wednesday I saw two touring solo shows along with two scripted plays at the Varscona Theatre.  None of them was classified as new work.

Redheaded Stepchild – Johnnie Walker tells a story as a 12-year-old boy, Nicholas, as his wellmeaning-but-weird stepmother Marianne, and as his more suave alter ego Rufus Vermilion.  It’s suitable for families as well as adults, as Walker catches the 12-year-old’s voice and physicality very well without mocking him, and his problems are easy to identify with.  And the stepmother – first we see her quirks through Nicholas’ eyes (that awful laugh!) and her acknowledgement that she never wanted to be a mother and isn’t cut out to be a stepmother, but then we see her understanding that she messed up and offering Nicholas a kind of low-key companionship which he accepts.  Walker and director Morgan Norwich have created an entertaining and inspiring tale with good pacing and interesting visuals that fits the one-hour time and the King Edward School stage perfectly.

No Exit – Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher, wrote No Exit in 1944.  All I knew about it beforehand was one famous line, but as it’s somewhat of a spoiler and comes late in the play I won’t write it here.  Ron Pederson, Belinda Cornish, and Louise Lambert are the three disparate characters stuck in an ugly room together.  George Szilagyi has a small part as the bellboy.  The colour palette of the show is mostly the faded maroon of old blood and worn-out formality.   It was funnier than I expected, and the unhappy characters made me intrigued rather than restless.  Kevin Sutley directs.

The Exquisite Hour – I don’t usually manage to see the Teatro la Quindicina show at the Fringe, but this year I made time to see Jeff Haslam and Belinda Cornish in an older Stewart Lemoine two-hander.  Cornish’s luminous self-possessed presentation works well in this gentle tale of a socially-awkward bachelor (Haslam) getting a visit from a mysterious stranger.

Ain’t True and Uncle False – Paul Strickland, another touring solo artist, comes from Covington, Kentucky.  He launches headlong into a set of affectionate tall tales about characters in a trailer park, one unfolding into the next and calling back to a throwaway comment earlier, the kinds of stories that would be funny enough on a page but are even more entertaining with guitar accompaniment and dialect and the physicality of his bowlegged uncle rocking back and forth licking his teeth.

Another couple of days at the Fringe

One of the things I do at the Fringe each year is watch for the little improvements that make things run more smoothly and more fairly.  Like at Folkfest, another 30+ year tradition in Edmonton, the tweaks are small but always done to make things more fair, more convenient, and more fun.  Last year one new thing was a spinning postcard rack in the Arts Barns lobby for artists to leave their handbills on display.  It wasn’t designed ideally for that high-traffic activity, so the handbills often fell out of it, and festival director Murray Utas spent a lot of time picking up spilled handbills and sorting them to return to the rack.  This year, the rack is back, but it has been rebuilt with Plexiglas shields to allow the postcards to be seen and not fall out.  Little things like that.

This year the Playwrights Canada Press booth will be open all week, with staffing help from Concrete Theatre.  And the beer tents take debit and credit including tap, which speeds things up for the ticket sellers and for the patrons.  Little things, but little things that keep improving my favourite festival.

Marv ‘ n Berry Presents: Imagination is a sketch-comedy show performed by members of Rapid Fire Theatre, Nikki Hulowski, Quinn Contini, Mike Robertson, and Sam Stralak.  It’s very funny and occasionally surreal/weird – not quite as odd/eerie as Gossamer Obsessions was though.  Although I had heard many of their punchlines while sitting in on part of their tech rehearsal, I still laughed hard during the show, because good sketches are all about quickly conveying characters and situations which become funnier and funnier.  Not sure what was my favourite – the suburban couple auditioning to be gangsters, the fishing-trip participant with safety concerns, the board-game store …

Mormonic, the Musical  Sister Pratt, Sister Olsen, and Brother Bradshaw have turned the El Cortez basement into a meeting room to host an information session and potluck for people curious about the LDS church, complete with bad Power-Point and excellent songs.  The touch of having the slides be skewed and distorted on the screen as in pre-digital-projector days delighted me with nostalgic detail.  The script and lyrics were written by performers Amanda Neufeld and Jaimi Reese, and the music was composed by performer Daniel Belland, who plays the piano during the show but also sings and acts, which I have not seen him do before.  It is cleverly funny watching the characters’ personalities become revealed and unravelled during their presentation, and the music is appealing and sometimes catchy.

Pompeii, LA This play by Declan Greene is produced by Cardiac Theatre, with Harley Morison (director) and Jessica Glover (stage manager).  The familiar names on stage include Cody Porter, Elena Porter, James Hamilton, Nikki Hulowski, Morgan Grau, and Sam Stralak.  It’s a drama about Hollywood life, switching between scenes to show the challenges and unhappinesses for various characters, from an aging Judy Garland to a former child star trying to succeed in a disaster movie (Pompeii, it’s a metaphor and not) and a make-up artist trying to live her dream.

Prophecy This is another take on Greek tragedy written by Jessy Ardern and directed by Corbin Kushneryk, the creative team behind last year’s award-winning Fall of the House of Atreus, a Cowboy Love Story.  This one focuses on a smaller part of the stories, and on a few women characters:  tormented Cassandra, gifted (under dub-con circumstances) to see the truth and cursed not to be believed, Hecuba the proper queen and the mother of Cassandra, Paris, and Hector, and Andromache the timid and modest wife of Hector.  All characters are played by Carmen Niewenhuis, with clever smooth clues to character change in her costuming, voice, and posture.  And this one is not a funny play, although some of the design and acting is inherently funny.  It is disturbing and provocative and surprisingly topical, gory only in our imaginations, with content/trigger warnings offered in an envelope on the door rather than in a way that lessens the surprises for people who are willing to be surprised.

Shadowlands is a solo show written and performed by Savanna Harvey.  I saw a reading of this script at NextFest in June, before the performer left on her CAFF-lottery tour of five Fringe festivals, so I was excited to see it properly staged.  It’s told in alternating voices of several characters – maybe four, maybe five or six depending on how one counts.  A different prop represents each character, as in the puppetry genre referred to as object theatre – only this show is performed in the dark, with each character being represented by a different kind of light.  I don’t want to tell you much about it, because for me part of the fun of this kind of play is figuring out who/what each character is and how they are going to connect.

With Glowing Hearts:  A Canadian Burlesque Revue is just what the subtitle promises, a revue-style burlesque show with each act based on a woman or women from Canadian history.   The host is Ellen Chorley dressed as Famous Five activist Nellie McClung, and the panty zamboni (stagecrew) is Kiki Quinn dressed as a very cute beaver.  I never know whether to refer to burlesque performers by their stage names or by the names I’ve seen them listed by in other genres, but in this case both are in the program so you can figure out who is who.  Sweet Lady Night is a particularly strong singer, Scarlett Von Bomb is a great dancer, and Violette Coquette and LeTabby Lexington are experienced and talented burlesque performers.  The costumes are fabulous, the choreography is fun, and … and it was not only educational but inspiring, acknowledging the flaws of the historical characters by today’s higher standards of intersectional feminism and challenging the audience to take action.  The finale included a speech by Chorley that made me cry, and a Famous Five transition-to-the-present group dance number that had me clapping and cheering and fist-pumping.

Start of Edmonton Fringe 2017

Here are a few notes on shows I’ve seen so far, in alphabetical order by title.

Bash’d:  A Gay Rap Opera

Two talented local performers, Jezec Sanders and Kael Wynn, do a powerfully moving version of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow’s 2008 rap musical.  The beats are slick, the rhymes are fine, the show-within-the-show about Dillon, the small-town boy kicked out when he comes out and Jack, the urban party boy who never expected to fall in love and settle down is charming, the context is Canadian and unfortunately not dated, and parts of it made me cry so hard that a stranger offered me a hug after the show.

Gemini

Louise Casemore and Vern Thiessen perform a script written by Casemore which fits perfectly into the basement bar space of El Cortez, using the flaws of the space (noise from upstairs, odd lighting, heat) to develop the mood and characters, showing how a sarcastic bartender and a grouchy overbearing customer get to know each other and care about each other as time passes.

Gordon’s Big Bald Head

This Fringe improv tradition, with Jacob Banigan, Chris Craddock, and Mark Meer, builds a long-form story every night out of one of the other show descriptions in the program book.  The one I saw included a plucky orphan (but not the Cockney one), a coffee shop next to a copy shop, some mobsters, a secret pope, an amulet (not as common nowadays as talismans), and other unlikely elements, all meshing into a convincing and ridiculous story.

Interstellar Elder

This new solo show from Ingrid Hansen (Little Orange Man) is original and delightful.  There is enough narration that we understand what’s going on, but Hansen’s on-stage character Kitt demonstrates her story mostly through movement.

How I Lost One Pound, The Musical

I’m working on this show as local crew for Toronto touring artist Lesley Carlberg.  There’s a performance every day in the Rutherford Room of the Varscona Hotel.  Lesley’s story has many familiar-sounding aspects, but is told in a charming, unassuming manner full of asides and tangents.

Urinetown, The Musical

Grindstone Theatre tackles the cynical and self-aware Broadway hit with a cast of 14, a small musical ensemble led by Vicky Berg, and a multilevel scaffolding set that manages to change the beautiful brick and wood worship space of Holy Trinity’s sanctuary into the depressing underbelly of a near-future dystopic city.   I loved the asides from Officer Lockstock (Bob Rasko) and Little Sally (Carol Chu) which made fun of the tropes of musicals at the same time as providing them.  Paul Morgan Donald was particularly strong as Cladwell P Caldwell, but the cast includes many experienced actors and talented singers.  Likely to sell out.

So that’s a start – some improv, some solos, some scripted drama, some musicals, and the busy schedule ahead of me includes more of the same as well as some comedy, some burlesque, some unplanned viewing, and some shifts selling drink tickets.  I love Edmonton Fringe!