Tag Archives: chris w cook

Saturday inside the Fringe, and out.

For me, it was the second Saturday of Fringe.  Our show The Big Fat Surprise closed Friday night (with another sold-out house!) so Saturday I was washing show laundry, then celebrating the parking-space win, catching some shows, lending another artist some of my furniture for a prop, eating festival food (still love that Lunchpail grilled cheese with fresh chips and classic vegetable sticks), checking in at the Lost and Found, serving drinks in the North Tent, talking to friends, and going home in the rain.

I immerse myself in Fringe while the festival is on, after being preoccupied with show prep and publicity for weeks ahead of time, so it sometimes astonishes me that other important things are happening this week outside of the Fringe bubble.  New babies were born.  Couples got married.  Birthdays were marked on Facebook and off.  Students prepared for the next grade, the next diploma, the next degree, the next challenge.  A whole Summer Olympic Games happened and I didn’t watch or read any coverage at all or knit anything for the corollary Ravellenics celebration.  The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market shared the crowd and the parking spaces like an ordinary Saturday.  And last night I stepped into the Fringe North Beer Tent wondering about the music I was hearing, and I discovered they were using their new monitors and good speakers to share the CBC feed of the Tragically Hip’s last concert of their last tour, from the Rogers K-Rock Arena in Kingston Ontario.   While the Fringe went on outside, vendors and street performers, artists handbilling their last few shows, the High Level Trolley shuttling to downtown full of people – the tent was full of shared recognition of the Tragically Hip and of their lead singer Gord Downie, whose announcement of terminal cancer prompted the band’s decisions to tour one last summer and then retire.  I lived in Kingston for many years, and I saw the Hip’s first concert in that venue in 2008.  The CBC live feed and the social media streams reminded me how important they were and are to Kingston and to Canada and to music.  Go in peace, Gord Downie.  And Gord Sinclair, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, and Johnny Fay.


By the second weekend of Fringe, I’ve heard lots of other people’s recommendations of what to see.  And although I try not to think of anything as a must-see, because there would be so many that I’d always feel disappointed, the recommendations helped me choose three good shows yesterday and pick up some more tickets for today.

The Fall of the House of Atreus – A very clever comic take on the ancient Greek tragedies of Euripedes, from Jessy Ardern as playwright and Corben Kushneryk as director and designer, the same team that created last Fringe’s Westbury-stage delight Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests.  Fellow BFA Acting grads Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl, and Morgan Grau are the Chorus telling and enacting the connected tragedies of Euripides, with all the vaguely-familiar characters – Pelops, Atreus, Iphigenia, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Helen and Paris, etc.  Simple costume elements and hand gestures helped to keep track of who was who, and found-object puppetry added interest to different ways for characters to be killed.  The energetic performers embraced the material and found humour in the grim tales.  The pace was good and it looked like fun for them as well as for the audience.  It’s now closed.

Little Orange Man – Ingrid Hansen’s charming solo show also presents gruesome stories in a very funny way, in this case through the unique voice of a girl of ten or eleven, recounting her grandfather’s Danish folk tales and recruiting the audience’s help for a dreamscape quest.  It’s held over, so after a last show tonight at 8 pm it should move easily from King Edward Academy to the larger room of the Westbury.

Nighthawk Rules – Collin Doyle’s and James Hamilton’s ten-year-old script was directed by Taylor Chadwick in Theatre Network’s new space Roxy on Gateway (the old C103).  Comfortable wide chairs around a shallow thrust stage make the venue’s legendary summer heat more bearable, as do the cold drinks on sale at the venue.  Chris W Cook (3…2…1, Criminal Genius, Sequence, Bronte Burlesque)  and Christopher Schultz (Wish) play old friends approaching 30 and floundering in their party-bro lives, Schultz’s character trying to live up to his new girlfriend’s expectations about settling down, and Cook’s character trying to hang on to the old camaraderie of drinking games and all-nighters.  I had thought already that Chris Cook was good at bringing a mix of naïveté and good intention to vulgar characters, so he was well cast in the role of Dick, and Schultz’s character Barry seems competent and grown-up only by comparison to his buddy.  I had a great deal of sympathy for the girlfriend (Ellie Heath) until we met her and she talked about her boyfriend completely as a project she had invested time in developing in order to satisfy her perfect-wedding goals, quickly flouncing out again with threats to Barry about cleaning up the apartment and getting rid of the loser friend.   The story was very funny and the resolution of some of the problems delighted me with its unexpectedness and credibility.  Nighthawk Rules has one more performance today at 4:30 pm.

I’ve got a few more drinks to pour, a few more tickets to use, a few more Festival snacks to consume, and then it’s over.  That was then, this is (still) Fringe.

Sequence – convoluted and thinky

Shadow Theatre’s current production Sequence is their last in the Varscona Theatre before it closes for major renovations.  Calgary playwright Arun Lakra entwines two stories to explore the topics of luck, probability, providence, genetics, free will, religion, dramatic coincidence, Fibonacci series, and disability.    John Hudson was director.

In one story, Coralie Cairns plays a cranky tenacious genetics professor and researcher who is going blind, and Chris W. Cook plays an unusual student.  In the other story, Frank Zotter plays a  very lucky man, on a book tour to promote his book about luck, and Caley Suliak plays an audience member who wants to benefit from or to disprove his streak of luck.  The action switches from one side of the stage to the other, at first with no apparent connections between the themes or narratives but various similarities gradually arising.  The show program includes two pages of glossary for the scientific terms and science-fiction-culture terms used by Cairns’ character.  I’d like to say that I didn’t need any of it, but reading them ahead of time did add to my understanding.  The cleverly-plotted piece seems to follow the Chekov’s gun rule strictly, but near the end I was not completely sure that I knew what the playwright had intended the connections and resolutions to be.

The set (designed by Lisa Hancharek) was also filled with fascinating details such as wall shelves reminiscent of representations of DNA spirals.

Sequence continues at the Varscona until this Sunday afternoon, November 16th, with advance tickets at Tix on the Square and cash tickets at the door.

Fringe day 8: puppetry, drama, comedy

On the second Thursday, after my volunteer shift I saw three plays.  Around then I stopped being able to keep up with my goal of posting notes every morning about what I’d seen the night before, so I’m trying to catch up now.  Thursday’s three were all good and very different.

Who Killed Gertrude Crump is a murder-mystery, an Agatha Christie pastiche set in a country house isolated by a storm around the turn of the previous century.  Ryan Gladstone wrote and directed it.  The Fringe program lists the cast as “Tara Travis and puppets”.  Tara Travis introduces the story, as Agatha Christie, and narrates everything besides the dialogue.  She moves props, dresses the set, and operates about ten puppet characters, talking directly to the audience when the puppets aren’t talking.  Her style reminded me a bit of what Ronnie Burkett does in his shows, operating marionettes while being visible and delivering witty asides to the audience as himself, and a bit of the object theatre / found object puppetry that I saw in Sapientia at Canoe Festival.

I was a little restless at the beginning.  It was a little hard for me to see the puppets well enough to learn to distinguish them, sitting at the side in the Suzanne Thibaudeau Auditorium, and several of the characters had similar enough names that I had trouble remembering who was who.  The setup seemed predictable and not very compelling.  Then it occurred to me that I had all the same complaints about a lot of Christie’s work, and that this was actually a clever tribute. The plot then thickened, and I got to feel smart for remembering some clues and I got to enjoy missing others and getting surprised.  After it was over, the performer swore the audience members to secrecy about the plot outcome.

After supper at Cafe Bicyclette, the little bilingual-service cafe in La Cite Francophone, I went to 3…2…1, by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, starring Jamie Cavanagh and Chris W. Cook.   I loved it.  It was the most emotionally intense drama I saw at this year’s Fringe, building gradually from a scene of two young men in a garage hangout determined to get drunk and high, to the awful context and significant outcomes of their bender.  At first their excesses and rowdiness were just funny, familiar like Bob and Doug, Wayne and Garth, or Dante and Randal, with a leader (Jamie Cavanagh as Clinton) and a follower (Chris Cook as Kyle).  Their reminiscences and stories of their past youth include a third character, their friend Danny who has died, and in the flashback scenes each actor takes a turn as Danny, sometimes in quick succession, using blocking cues to show us who is speaking as Danny in a three-person conversation.  Each character has different redeeming qualities and vulnerabilities, so that we see them as more than loser-caricatures.  Clinton has some loosely-Christian spiritual convictions.  Kyle is proud of how his work at Subway involves supporting people who are trying to eat more healthily or lose weight.  Both of them come from imperfect families and are somewhat trapped in their lives.   The story gets more painful, and I was crying before the end.  Chris Cook is a great tagalong sidekick, and Jamie Cavanagh was perfectly cast in the role of Clinton, as a foulmouthed drunken jerk who turns out to be a complicated tormented tragic character at the same time.

Then I wiped my eyes, got in the car, and went to change my mood at Real Time, the comedy written by Matt Alden of Rapid Fire and directed by Alden and Katie Fournell.  Thanks to the kindness of a stranger in the refreshment tent, I was able to take a friend with me even though the show had been sold out.  Jessie McPhee and Joleen Ballandine, regular Rapid Fire improvisers and two thirds of the cast of last year’s Fringe hit Excuse me … this is the truth!,  play two mismatched young people (Jessie is Billy and Joleen is Jessica) who meet playing an online game, spend time together in person, and explore the possibilities of romance.  The actors also play other parts as needed (Billy’s British mother, Jessica’s marijuana-smoking grandfather, Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, etc, all of them funny and original).  The whole thing was just charming and funny and familiar, including the customs of on-line life of ten years ago.

Rock Paper Dice Enter – the movie

I’m reporting on some not-quite-so-ephemeral entertainment this week, with the web tv series Lizard at Home the other day and now a cinematic-release feature movie.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard of Rock Paper Dice Enter before today – probably I wasn’t paying attention.  A friend mentioned that he’d been to the Canadian premiere last night because he’d participated in the crowdfunding initiative, and that it had lots of local content.  It sounded interesting so I went today.

The story was a bit confusing.  Some of it ends up explained satisfyingly at the end, but I felt like maybe there was more I was supposed to figure out and didn’t.  Not just plot threads but some of the philosophical theme points.  (People complain about everything being obvious and overdone in typical Hollywood movies, but I was left wishing this one was a little bit more obvious.)   Some criminals (or are they?) are threatening (or negotiating with?) a crisis-management team of city officials.  The criminals don’t all have the same motives and information.  One of the strengths of the script, direction, and acting is that the crowd of eleven city officials was quickly shown to have several credibly distinct characters, including many who were female and/or non-white.

The local content included lots of Edmonton skylines and streetscapes and LRT station chase scenes, as well as a few other locales that I thought I should be able to place and wasn’t, quite.  I enjoyed recognising some of the views, especially since they were filmed in a way that didn’t draw attention to the details, with Blade-Runner-ish lighting – not like the hyper-detailed views of Toronto streetcars on TV shows like Being Erica and Flashpoint.

The filmmakers are Kash Gauni, who wrote the original story and who plays Roman in the film, and director Shreela Chakrabartty.   Other actors include Richard Lee (U of A acting graduate who has a strong presence in the Alberta dance community, and whom I think I first saw on stage singing in Joel Crichton’s song cycle Twenty-Five at Fringe 2011), Alyson Dicey and Chris W Cook (both frequent performers in local professional theatre), Dave Wolkowski who I saw recently on stage at the Walterdale Theatre in Starless, and a Ben Sures (who may or may not be Ben Sures the folk musician).  I did not recognise any of the other actors’ names.  I thought Richard Lee’s portrayal was one of the more interesting, along with Ojas Joshi’s computer analyst Kamran.  Georgette Starko’s public official Kim Puzzo had a distractingly flat affect and monotone voice, without enough on-screen character development to explain that.

Rock Paper Dice Enter is playing at the Landmark Cinemas 10 Clareview Edmonton until Thursday June 12th.    Their address is not on their website and Google maps is no help until you figure out that the cinema was an Empire property until recently.  It’s also playing on one screen in Calgary and one in Toronto, and it opened across India in February.

As a casual filmgoer rather than a skilled observer, I thought the production values were fine, and I liked the music.  The pace was fast enough for the genre.  The movie was quite short (about 80 minutes).   I wondered if a slightly longer version would have given me more satisfying explanations and explored the characters a bit more.

 

Brontë Burlesque, revisited

Earlier this month I saw the final show of A Brontë Burlesque, the Send in the Girls show that played at the Roxy Theatre.  I remembered seeing a version at Fringe 2012, in a basement space south of Whyte Avenue, but the bigger stage and better-designed auditorium improved the viewing experience a lot.  The show was directed by Lana Michelle Hughes.  Ellen Chorley and Delia Barnett were returning to the show as producers and performers (playing Emily and Anne Brontë), and the other two performers were new to the show, Chris W Cook as Branwell Brontë and Samantha Duff as Charlotte Brontë the eldest surviving sibling.

The scenes jump around in time, but are announced by the year “It is 1848” or whatever, and I soon got perspective on those dates by comparing them with the death dates of the various characters.  And, well, they all die.  But they don’t disappear from the stage – the scenes of the latest-surviving character have the spirits of the others clustered around the deathbed.

The interplay of the various combinations of characters was fascinating.  (I have several siblings myself, so I recognised some of this, but I hope my manipulations were more benign.  And we haven’t run about in our underwear since we were small children playing superheroes, either.)   The characters became distinct for me very quickly.

The conventions of burlesque allowed the costume designer (Tessa Stamp) to show us several layers of approximately-period clothing along with coloured draping used as props for the dancers.  The dance piece where the three sisters put on men’s dress shirts and ties to portray their literary noms de plume was particularly well done.  Each of the performers had a solo dance at some point during the show, and the choreography provided for character reveal as well as artistic allure.  The new performer for Branwell, Chris W. Cook, danced his solo with good audience rapport and apparent enjoyment, so it was a little disappointing to me that he didn’t disrobe further than slipping off his tie, dress shirt, and braces, when the female dancers had gone farther.

I can’t remember the previous production well enough to say for sure what is different.  The set detail of a portrait with faces that fade in and out (a Matt Schuurman video design detail of course) was in the previous production but it was done better this time.

As several of the characters in the story died of tuberculosis or related lung problems, the stage convention of a bloody handkerchief was used more than once.  I do not know whether people in previous eras ever coughed blood and didn’t die, because on stage and screen that convention always means Anyone seeing this now knows this person is about to die.   And I saw this device again the other night in Nevermore.