Category Archives: Theatre

The Garneau Block: Local, timely, and delightful!

Video is not typically ephemeral, but this one is.  If you’re intrigued by my description, check it out before tomorrow, May 3rd, at noon MDT.  That’s … hmm … 15 hours from now.  If I type fast.

The Garneau Block Act 1  #CanadaPerforms

I have a ticket on the shelf by my keys, for the first ticketed performance of The Garneau Block at the Citadel Theatre, on Saturday March 14th.  I didn’t get to use the ticket because the performance was cancelled sometime after the previous night’s dress rehearsal, that week when the theatres all went dark.

I’m always excited about Citadel new work, but I was especially looking forward to this one.  Shortly after I moved to Edmonton I borrowed Todd Babiak’s newish (2006) novel The Garneau Block from the Strathcona Branch library.  Like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, it was originally a series of affectionate and funny newspaper columns about characters in a fictionalized neighbourhood – only he was writing about a neighbourhood I rode my bike through every day en route to work.  Just like Janice MacDonald’s mystery novels and Gayleen Froese’s Grayling Cross, Babiak’s novel affirmed my sense of belonging here, because the setting and the people felt so familiar.

When I heard that Belinda Cornish was adapting the novel for the stage, I decided not to re-read it.  I didn’t remember much about the novel, and I wanted to enjoy the play for itself.

With support from the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms program, the Citadel did a live Zoom reading of Act 1 the other night, and it’s on Youtube until tomorrow morning.  And it’s great.

I almost don’t want to read the novel again and find out how many of the timely quips about the mixed-gentrifying neighbourhood near the university were in the original work and how many were from Cornish’s clever observation.   But there are a lot! I recognized trends, local businesses, and even a subtle reference to the Make Something Edmonton campaign that Babiak inspired as Magpietown around 2012.  There are no overt big-picture provincial or world politics in the characters’ concerns but it could easily have been last summer.

The casting and characterization were so good.  Julian Arnold as a philosophy professor who thinks he understands #MeToo.  Stephanie Wolfe being performatively-woke but excruciatingly uncomfortable seeing an indigenous homeless person (Ryan Cunningham).  Andrew Kushnir as theatre artist Jonas Pond, friend to Madison (Rachel Bowron).  It was lovely to have a gay character who wasn’t a flamboyant caricature.  Nadien Chu, Alana Hawley Purvis, Shawn Ahmad, George Szilagyi – the characters were all familiar but not completely predictable.  By the end of Act 1 some things were explained and some were hinted at, and I am so impatient to see where the story goes after this.

During this time of social distancing, I’ve been fortunate to participate in some on-line script reading.   From that experience, I can say that this on-line distanced presentation was very well done.  The necessary props were managed smoothly – there was even a small dog on screen! – and everyone was audible with good lighting and background.  The stage directions were read by director Rachel Peake.  She mentions at the end that the set (Narda McCarroll), costumes (Joanna Yu) and sound design (Matthew Skopyk) are waiting at the Maclab Theatre for rescheduled performances as soon as they can open their big wooden doors again.

But for right now – and for free! – you can enjoy Act 1.  Do it.

 

Fictions in a pandemic reality

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I remember thinking that I might be less anxious if I hadn’t watched or read some effective disaster-fiction.  I had watched the first season or two of Walking Dead, where clean attractive suburban neighbourhoods with empty streets would be unexpectedly filled with looters, gangs, or unspeakable zombie horrors.  And the first episodes of Black Summer had the same feel.  The post-disaster young adult novel series by Susan Beth Pfeffer that started with Life as We Knew It kept coming to mind too – the teenage viewpoint characters and their families trying to cope with increasing isolation and decreasing food supplies, a contagious illness, the little excursions and temporary hopes dashed … I was trying to think why the post-disaster-isolation trope in the young adult fiction felt so resonant and recalled a couple of other kids’ books.

One I read in a school library was Hills End, by Australian Ivan Southall.  In this novel, a group of contemporary (to 1962) children is trapped by a storm and flood.  One scene that had stuck with me clearly involved a boy who had no sense of smell, exploring the abandoned or destroyed town, and experimenting with the sausage-making equipment at the butcher shop not realizing the meat had spoiled.

Another kids book with intrepid siblings coping in isolation, which I read at a public library in the mid-1980s, was set on a small farm near Guelph Ontario.  I haven’t been able to track this one down or find anyone else who remembered it, so I’d love leads or confirmations.  Anyway, on a winter day the parents head to town to do provisioning but by the time the school bus drops the kids at the end of their lane, it’s snowing so hard that the parents stay in town and the kids manage with feeding the animals, keeping themselves warm, and resorting to making porridge out of pig food and sugar to feed themselves without needing to kill a pig.

I tried to reassure myself that small disasters and temporary crises, managed by civic infrastructure that was mostly adequate to the task, were probably much more likely but just didn’t make exciting fiction.  But it was hard – it still is – to observe current events, as a lover of speculative fiction, and not imagine what worse things could happen.  So I turned to fictions where the disastrous situation was more historical.

In Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery’s 1921 novel of a teenage Canadian girl growing up in World War I, there is a bit early in the war where

“The war will not be over before next spring now,” said Dr. Blythe. […]

Rilla was murmuring “knit four, purl one” under her breath, and rocking the baby’s cradle with one foot. […] She laid down her knitting for a moment and said, “Oh, how can we bear it so long?” – then picked up her sock and went on. The Rilla of two months before would have rushed off to Rainbow Valley and cried.

This bit sounded familiar and comforting, so I got out the copy I’d received as a child and read the rest of the story once again.  Sure enough, the wartime worries and challenges that felt overwhelming at the start became matter-of-fact background over the four years of the story.  I also recognized the way community members learn and enforce new etiquette or ethics of consumption – snatching up scarce everyday goods and provisions or trying not to take more than their share.  Feeling ashamed of buying a too-extravagant velvet hat reminded me of current discussions of about non-essential goods and a certain multinational delivery service.   In this story as in history, the war did end, and the novel has a happy-enough ending for marketable young adult fiction.  When I read it as a child and teenager, the wartime setting seemed like ancient history.  It’s only recently that I began to realize the significance of being raised by adults for whom the deaths and worries and financial hardships of World War II were not long ago.  For them, the world was probably still an unpredictable and dangerous place, in a way that it wasn’t for me.

Wanting something to watch while I knitted that was well-crafted television but was familiar enough that I would anticipate the sad or shocking parts, I worked through all five seasons of The Wire, the David Simon work of fifteen years ago focusing on crime, policing, and society in Baltimore.  It is my third or fourth straight-through viewing and I still think it’s one of the best television dramas ever.

Then I moved on to the same creators’ project Treme, about life in post-Katrina New Orleans.  So far I’ve re-watched the first two seasons, but my original viewing of those was always spotty and mostly on Air Canada planes with their free HBO selections.  It’s hard to believe this month that I used to fly often enough that I had a preferred airline because of their televisions, and that I could keep up to date on a series that way.

And as you’d expect, it’s very topical.  There’s almost nothing showing the characters during the hurricane or immediately afterwards, and I am glad of that choice.  But watching people rebuild their houses, their businesses, and their lives when they’ve all survived the same disaster gives me hope.  I appreciated seeing the discussions of when and how to open the schools, how unsophisticated people struggle to navigate the application processes for rebuild funding, and how disaster and post-disaster collapse can contribute extra stresses to small businesses, to families, and to individuals at risk.

I also appreciate the frequent demonstration of the resilience and necessity of the arts and artists, in the many musician characters of the series.  As a theatre artist and member of the arts community, I know that there will be arts, storytelling, and theatre after this pandemic.  I don’t know the details of when it will resume and what it will be like, but I know that we will be performing and telling stories and watching and listening and talking about them.  And I am so grateful to the team that brought Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play to Edmonton last year, because I keep coming back to its message of hope – that even in the kind of destroyed civilization that has no Diet Coke, there are still theatre makers and theatre viewers and it matters.

Fiction is powerful. It can enhance my despair, but it can also remind me of reasons to hope and reasons to rejoice.  So I’ll keep reading and watching and listening and discussing.  If you are up for reading something about life in a fictional pandemic, this is a strong recommendation for Naomi Kritzer’s 2015 story So Much Cooking.  And if you’d like a general list of books that can suck you in, Jo Walton’s list of Books that Grab You is great.

 

 

 

Mr Burns: a post electric play

Patrick Howarth as storyteller Gibson, Jake Tkaczyk as Sam listening. Photo provided by production. Set &  costume design Brianna Kolybaba, lighting design Tessa Stamp.

It’s hard to tell you about Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play because you haven’t seen it yet.  What I really want is to talk to someone else who’s seen it about all the cool things I noticed and figured out, and hear what they figured out that I missed.  And I want people to go see it – but to go see it without knowing any of the surprises ahead of time, because for me the surprises and the figuring-outs were part of the fun.  Anne Washburn wrote it, Andrew Ritchie directed it here as a co-production of Blarney Productions and You Are Here Theatre, and it’s playing at the Arts Barns Westbury Theatre until December 7th.

So, what can I say that will reinforce my memory, but not give everything away?

Everything means something.  Even the audience seating.  There are two intermissions, but I chose to stay immersed in the realities of the worlds we were visiting rather than make my way out to the lobby.

Communal storytelling and retelling matters.  The first act is set in the plausibly-near future, with a small group of survivors after a disaster entertaining themselves around a fire by collaborating on retellings of shared stories, especially the 1993 Simpsons episode Cape Feare.  There are lots of cultural allusions that I recognized, and some that I didn’t  but it didn’t matter.  Lots of the hints of the first act get mentioned later – which makes sense in the story and is also helpful for audience members.   It felt very natural, since I’ve been in lots of campfire conversations re-telling favourite movies and TV shows or trying to figure out the lyrics of popular songs without internet.  Many current plays and movies are successful partly because the audience already has some expectations of and history with the story.  So many seasonal adaptations of A Christmas Carol (and I have my ticket for the new David Van Belle Citadel version tonight).  The star-crossed lovers from warring factions of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Shakespeare’s R & J, and whatever Shakespeare’s own story sources were.  The “Hallmark Christmas movie” trope.  Every Christmas pageant ever.  And the Simpsons itself is full of cultural callbacks and pastiche – I never think of 2001: A Space Odyssey without the image of Homer floating through a spaceship cabin chomping potato chips in Deep Space Homer.

Understated ritual is effective. Mr Burns is a post-disaster or post-apocalypse story, but it doesn’t wallow in the horror like Walking Dead or prolong the despair like Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It series of young adult novels.  But there is one custom of the post-disaster world, after many deaths and the loss of mass communication, that portrays the essence of unlikely hope and longing of that time – and it too is seen in the later acts.

The Simpsons matter.   Some audience members I talked to afterwards – possibly even a few members of the company or production team – said things like “I’ve actually never seen an episode of the Simpsons” or “I’ve seen a few, but I was never a regular watcher”.  But the characters and routines of the series (1989-present) were familiar enough that everyone in the audience was laughing with recognition.   When the cartoon series first came out, I was a graduate student without cable at home.  I heard that children were prohibited from wearing Bart t-shirts to school because he modelled disrespect and intentional under-achievement – but when I was able to watch a few episodes, I thought it was wholesome and funny, just very satirical.  In the program Director’s Notes, Ritchie notes that the taboo around the show was part of what originally attracted him to it.  In the second act, set seven years after the first, the characters are rehearsing to perform escapist re-creations of pre-disaster culture that their audiences will remember and want to see – and the narrative confirms that The Simpsons is more popular/enduring material in that situation than Shakespeare.

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Paula Humby, Nadien Chu, Madelaine Knight, Murray Farnell, Jake Tkaczyk. Photo provided by production. Set & costume design Brianna Kolybaba, lighting design Tessa Stamp.

Design and collaboration build the world.  Actors and directors bring it to life.  Watch for these names again.  Megan Koshka did some fabulous mask creation.  Ainsley Hillyard choreographed.  Brianna Kolybaba created brilliant sets and costumes that highlighted what found materials might have been available to the characters in those three settings, one of them reminding me subversively of the set for a particular Edmonton Opera production…  Lana Michelle Hughes provided sound design for moments of terror and humour.  Mhairi Berg’s musical direction and composition.  Sam Jeffery’s fight direction.  Tessa Stamp’s lighting design (and whoever created and executed the perfect glimpse at the very end explaining how they even had those lighting effects, just in case we got caught up in the story and forgot that there hadn’t been an electrical power grid for 80+ years by that point.)

And I haven’t even mentioned the actors yet! They are a strong ensemble of ten performers:  Nadien Chu, Murray Farnell, Kristi Hansen, Patrick Howarth, Madelaine Knight, Jenny McKillop, Paula Humby, Elena Porter, Rebecca Sadowski, Jake Tkaczyk.  I’ve seen them all on stage before – but when I was watching Mr Burns, I kept forgetting who they were, because I was so caught up in the layers of storytelling – this one’s an actor who is rehearsing as Homer, this one’s a director, now this is an actor of a later generation playing Bart as a hero in a tragic opera … Director Andrew Ritchie and Assistant Director Morgan Henderson made it work.  They all made me laugh, think, appreciate the need for art in terrible times, and leave feeling hopeful.  Which is probably their intent.

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Patrick Howarth as Mr Burns / or maybe Sideshow Bob / or Archetypical Villain. Photo provided by production. Set & costume design Brianna Kolybaba, lighting design Tessa Stamp.

Advance tickets available through the Fringe, accessibility considerations including a relaxed performance on Tuesday and pay-what-you-will arrangements.  I’m definitely going back.

Have you seen it?  What did you notice that I missed?

Belle seated at dinner table surrounded by dancers costumed as dinner service and household objects.

Be Our Guest: Beauty and the Beast

Karen Schenk of Iconium Media captures the delightful “Be Our Guest!” Jenn Bewick as Chip, Rachel Love Haverkamp as Babette, Ruth Wong-Miller as Belle, Trevor Warden as Lumiere, and ensemble members.  

Since 2015, Foote in the Door Productions has brought eight musical theatre mainstage productions to Edmonton audiences, and I’ve seen all of them.  All of them have been previously unfamiliar to me (except for Little Women for which I knew the L.M. Alcott source novel) and I’ve appreciated the chance to discover new music and stories, from the pointed satire about 1960s office politics How To Succeed in Business…Without Really Trying, and the disturbing tragedy of Carousel, to the silliness of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the sweetness of A Little Night Music.  The current offering from this company, playing at the Westbury Theatre until November 17th, is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

I had never seen this musical either.  And I never saw the 1991 animated version in the cinema, since at the time I was a grad student without children in my life and not a fan of the Disney retellings of fairy tales.  Also, this particular fairy tale has bothered me since I was a young new reader, unable to resist words on the page but terrified by the illustrations of a part-human, part-predatory monster.   My parents suggested a compromise – they would lock the dangerous book in the glass-fronted oak bookcase in the living room, and I could ask for it to be unlocked for me when I thought I was ready.  In the mid-1990s, though, some children I was getting to know showed me their family’s collection of the large white boxes of Disney VHS tapes, and one night I agreed to watch Beauty and the Beast with them.  And I liked it in spite of myself!  I loved the heroine – a book-loving loner! – loved the contrast between vain handsome Gaston and the more emotionally mature Beast, and was entertained by the animated objects of the Beast’s household.  But I think I only watched it the once.

So I probably had less idea what to expect than most of the opening-night audience, even the children.  There was a complicated two-level set (Leland Stelck), and a large musical ensemble filling one wing of the castle (Alyssa Paterson, musical director).  A cast of twenty-five populates a large ensemble of villagers surrounding Belle (Ruth Wong-Miller), who escapes into books and dreams of a less “provincial” life, and her inventor father Maurice (Brian Ault).  And the castle is home to the Beast (Russ Farmer) and his staff of enchanted objects (most memorably Trevor Worden’s candelabra Lumière).  Thanks to Adam Kuss’s direction and the clever design of costumes (Betty Kolodziej), lighting (Bailey Ferchoff) and set, I rarely got an extended look at the Beast’s face in good light.  This was consistent with the character’s self-loathing and shame, but it also made him as frightening as each audience member could imagine, neither unbearable nor ridiculous.

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Ruth Wong-Miller as Belle, Russ Farmer as Beast. Photo by Karen Schenk of Iconium Media.

Belle’s change of heart towards her captor is shown as happening gradually, due to his actions, her fair-mindedness, and their growing shared interests, rather than some creepy Stockholm-syndrome impulse.  Wong-Miller and Farmer both have strong voices that suit the music, and the iconic happy ending with the waltz in yellow ball-gown and brocade frock-coat is lovely.

Also of particular note are the video projections telling of encounters in the forest, almost like shadow-plays, by Jess Poole.

Next weekend’s matinees are already sold out – tickets for the remaining four performances are available through fringetheatre.ca or eventbrite.ca.

Two samples of local history, the macabre and the hopeful

Already this theatre season, several great productions have been seen on Edmonton stages.  The Colour Purple at the Citadel was a powerful tale of resilience, with really great music and an inspiring performance from Tara Jackson.  Silent Sky at Walterdale was based on the true story of early-20th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.  Teatro closed their summer season with Vidalia, which was confusing and ridiculous and very entertaining.

This week I was able to watch two performances with local roots and seasonal resonances, and I enjoyed both.

Dead Centre of Town XII is this year’s version of Catch the Keys Productions’ annual exploration of historical horror by Megan Dart and Beth Dart. This one is set at Mellon Farm, the 1920s-era farm property at Fort Edmonton Park.  Attending the Hallowe’en event is one of your few chances to get a look at the Park while the renovations are continuing.   The horrifying stories out of local history feel more intimate this year, with an audience of only 25 for each performance encountering the characters in the farmhouse and yard.   Fans of previous Dead Centre of Town shows will recognize the hench/guides played by Colin Matty, Christine Lesiak, and Adam Keefe.  Other characters and stories are unique to this year’s production, and there are other surprising and disturbing design elements.  Dead Centre of Town XII plays until November 1st, tickets here.  Wednesdays through Saturdays it’s part of the bigger Hallowe’en event Dark, and Tuesdays and Sundays you can experience it on its own.

I could tell you a lot more about it, but not without spoiling things – and in Dead Centre of Town, it’s better when unexpected.

E-Day, by Jason Chinn, opens tomorrow at Roxy on Gateway, a Roxy Performance Series offering by Serial Collective.  I got to see a preview show last night.  I try not to review previews because it seems not-quite-fair, but my calendar is quite busy this month and last night was my chance.

I loved it.  And I cried.  It was a little like Kat Sandler’s The Candidate / The Party, which were large-scale views of behind-the-political-scenes of a national leadership campaign and election.  But it was more like 10 out of 12 by Anne Washburn, the peek into technical-rehearsal week at a theatre company which Theatre Network produced a few years ago.    And for me it was … you know how Badlands Passion Play has the huge advantage of starting out with an evocative plot and characters that most of the audience not only knows but cares passionately about? Like, when I arrived on site, before I found my seat I looked around at the hills and saw the three crosses, and it took my breath away because I knew what was coming and it was going to be right there.  Yeah, like that.

E-Day takes place during the 2015 provincial election campaign, from E-28 to E+1.  The whole play is set in a campaign office for a local candidate, Candace Berlinguette (all the characters are named after the performers), who was unsuccessful in the 2012 election.  With credit to set/costume designer Beyata Hackborn, it looked like any campaign office I’ve visited or volunteered in.  The table of donated food, the phone bank of mismatched phones, the signs on the fridge, the beautiful coded maps,  the coloured floor tiles and alphabet squares left over from the daycare previously in the space.  Audience was seated on all four sides, and there was always lots to watch – the office manager in the corner (Amena Shehab), the teenagers on the phones (Asia Bowman and Shingai David Madawo), the comings and goings out the various doors and the mission-control of the voter contact organizer (Sheldon Elter) and his assistant (Kiana Woo).   As in The Candidate/The Party, the candidate has a same-sex partner who has limited patience for the compromises of politics (Beth Graham).

What I loved about this play was twofold.  First, the specifics felt so right.  I had been a little disappointed in the Kat Sandler scripts being about an imaginary electoral system that resembled the American one, because I felt hungry to find humour and hope within our own Canadian system that I work within.  (Like Michael Healey’s Proud, with its slightly-different-outcome of a real election, and the Parliamentary seating diagram with the red, blue, orange, and pale-blue post-its).   But this one was so believable and so local in scope – everything I knew about election volunteering, about identifying supporters and pulling the vote, about why people volunteer and who runs a campaign – it all fit.

And in E-Day, it all mattered.   Characters remind each other that the hard work and insight from the previous election loss are helping them run this campaign, and when they despair of winning this one, they repeat that every supporter gained this time makes things easier next time. Plot details are consistent with this.  And in the middle of the discouragement, someone with a laptop whoops and they cluster around to the voiceover and music of the announcement that their party will be forming the government.  And that was the other thing I loved – the message of long-term hope, that whether or not any particular campaign goes the way you want, it’s all worth it in the long term.   And this week, I appreciated getting those reminders.  They made me cry.

Dead Centre of Town tickets are here.  Many of their shows sell out, so get yours early.

E-Day tickets are here.

I’m off to Banff for the Community Theatre Summit, which I’m sure will inspire me with theatre ideas and make me a better artist and board member.  And when I come back, I want to see Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs, and Fight Night, and The Roommate, all opening soon on local stages.

My Pride weekend entertainment, ephemeral and re-playable

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising, one of the milestones in LGBTQ+ activism against injustice.  And in honour of that, there are lots of LGBTQ+ cultural events and celebrations.  This weekend I watched and enjoyed four pieces that are making me think about LGBTQ+ experiences and how they’ve changed in my lifetime.

First, I watched ten Netflix-hours of Tales of The City, the update or reboot or whatever of Armistead Maupin’s serialized stories portraying life in San Francisco starting in the late 1970s.  Apparently the first three books were televised as miniseries a while ago and I completely missed them, but it was really cool to see new storylines about some of the characters I remembered from the books, and about a new generation of young queer artists and activists and community members who find a haven in the magical apartment building on Barbary Lane.  The original short-chapter stories varied in tone like poetry, some of them so ridiculous they’d be offensive if they weren’t written affectionately by an insider, some of them just poignant punches in the gut about being rejected for being different, and some gentle lessons about building chosen family and choosing hope rather than despair.  Anyway, the Netflix series captures this very well.  The only characters who seemed one-dimensional or comic-relief were the twins who  reinvent themselves as an Instagram sensation.  Everyone else had interesting character-arcs and also provided some opportunities for the writer to explore ideas about queerness, community, family, and aging.  Of the new main characters introduced in this series, I think all of them except Shawna (Ellen Page), who was present as a small child in the original books, were people of colour.   I especially liked Jake (Garcia), the young Hispanic trans man.   I also appreciated that aging trans landlady Anna Madrigal, played by Olympia Dukakis since the first miniseries in 1993, was played in 1966 flashback by a trans actor, Jen Richards.

After that binge-watch at home, I caught Rocketman on the big screen.  It was a lot of fun, with lots of great Elton John music dressing up scenes from his life as told in flashback from an addiction recovery group session.   One thing that stood out for me was the strength of his continuing friendship with lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Today I attended Drag Queens in the House storytime at the Strathcona Library.  Three local performers read picture-books to the young audience members and led them in some singing and dancing.  It was wholesome and delightful, and I love living in a neighbourhood where people bring their little kids to an event like this.

I also wrapped up my Nextfest viewing for this year with Boy Trouble, a solo theatre piece written by Mac Brock and performed by Maxwell Hanic.   The wry likeable teenage protagonist tells the audience about his life – his neighbourhood park, his single mum, his best friend, how he realized he was gay – and then with help of projected video shows us some of his precocious explorations on Grindr.  The story is lyrical and relatable, capturing how Kay feels as he goes through ordinary schooldays with a secret adult life late at night.   And it becomes unexpectedly nuanced – the hookups have no harmful outcomes or cautionary tales, but his momentary longing to have an ordinary teenage experience, “what the rest of them have at every party, every dance”, an encounter where “I think he was as nervous as I was”, is the one where he’s betrayed and outed.  And even that doesn’t happen in a moralistic way – we see Kay’s support strategies, his visualization, his mum, his best friend, all rallying around enough that we don’t need to see what happens next to know it’s going to be okay.

It was a great wrapup to a good Nextfest, and an appropriate ending to a weekend of stories of LGBTQ+ lives over the years.

A Little Night Music

The other night, before the wildfire smoke blew in to town, I was walking in my neighbourhood in the evening about how lucky I am to be living at this latitude, with the magical long twilights as we approach the summer solstice.  The long light warm evenings feel rich with extra opportunity.  And I wondered how to share that feeling.

Last night I watched Foote in the Door’s production of A Little Night Music, a Sondheim musical based on an Ingmar Bergen movie directed by Mary-Ellen Perley.  It’s set in Sweden around 1900.  The second act takes place at a country estate, much of it outdoors.  And there are songs about that magical extended twilight, songs that describe the feelings better than I ever could, with lighting (Sarah Karpyshin) and abstract set pieces (Leland Stelck) to support them.

A Little Night Music has a cast of 18.  At first I kept referring to my program to figure out who was who and how they were connected.  But later on, it just made more delightful threads of plot arcs to follow, to wonder how the cat’s-cradle of romances and affairs would untangle itself.   Commenting on the liaisons and prospects of the others, and on the nature of love in general, are a grandmother (Pauline Farmer) and granddaughter  Fredrika (Rebecca Erin Curtis, a MacEwan grad I will watch for again).

I loved the detail, consistent through the show, that star actress Desiree (Glynis Price) was surrounded by clutter and chaos – stockings and scarves draped over her furniture, enough male visitors that they cross paths in her apartment – her current lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Russ Farmer) and her former lover Fredrik Egerman (Morgan Smith), both sporting mustaches of importance.  Count Malcolm’s indignant wife Charlotte (Monica Roberts), a likeably sarcastic character, comes up with a unlikely scheme to defend both herself and Egerman’s young wife Anne (Ruth Wong-Miller) from Desiree’s designs on their husbands.   Anne is an astonishingly naive 18 year old.  She claims to love married life but seems oblivious to being more passionate about teasing her stepson (Allan Cabral) than about her much-older husband.   It was “amusing” (as the character often says) to watch Wong-Miller in this role, since she usually plays characters with more agency but was completely believable as the protected and petted young wife.   Desiree’s daughter Fredrika, canonically about 13, seemed to be wiser with more understanding of the world and relationships, just from listening to her grandmother’s stories of liaisons and from having toured with her mother’s acting troupes.

Monica Morgan night music

Monica Roberts, as Charlotte, and Morgan Smith, as Fredrik, in A Little Night Music. Photo by Nanc Price Photography.

There were a lot of bits in this production that had me laughing out loud – some of them were funnier to me than to other members of the audience.  The part where Fredrika’s grandmother says that she brought Fredrika home to do a better job raising her because “ Stage managers are not nannies, dear; they don’t have the talent.”  The bit where Fredrika takes Anne to watch Desiree on stage in a French comedy, the play-within-a-play a more exaggerated version of the grandmother’s liaison stories and the contemporary affairs and intrigues, and Brian Ault playing a footman or herald in a truly bizarre wig.

One of the common features of Sondheim musicals is complex music.  Daniel Belland is musical director, with an ensemble of eight other musicians.   As well as the characters named above, there are several servants, some with their own romantic plotlines, and a chorus of six, singing clever harmonies and hinting at further layers of complication (“Remember”) that we don’t get to see.

A Little Night Music is a musical for people who like musicals, a change from this company’s last production, the stage-musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  It’s long but it moves along at a good pace and I was surprised when it was already time for intermission.  It’s playing at La Cité Francophone, until June 8th, with tickets through Tix on the Square.