Tag Archives: citadel theatre

Sweat, at the Citadel

I’m at work the other day putting on high-visibility coveralls and safety boots.  And it occurs to me, I saw that on stage last night, middle-aged women matter-of-factly wearing Carhartt work trousers and boots for work without it being a joke or even worthy of comment.  And I have never seen that on stage before.

When I went to see the Citadel’s production of Sweat, the Lynn Nottage drama directed by Valerie Planche, I had not realized that the main characters, the group of co-worker/ friends disrupted when one gets promoted, were going to be women (Marci T. House, Nicole St Martin, Lora Brovold).  This confused me a bit, and then I felt a little silly, for assuming that I’d be seeing another story of men as blue-collar workers and family providers, a trope I’d accepted since childhood viewings of Archie Bunker and Fred Flintstone.  Instead, the script showed three women as the group of friends who had been working “on the line” their whole careers, expecting they’d do so until retirement.

Two of them have young-adult sons also starting their working lives at the mill, played by Andrew Creightney and Chris W Cook.  Their aspirations to work in the mill or to get away from it reminded me of conversations among people I knew when we were teenagers in a mill town.  Chris Cook is so good at portraying dead-end characters I pull for and despair for and want to shake, characters whose naivete or lack of judgement or short-sighted well-intentioned impulses lead them into big trouble.  As soon as I saw his character on stage this time (and in fact, before I recognized the actor), I was internally groaning, oh, NO, you DIDN’T. His friend Chris (Andrew Creightney) has a plan to start studying at the local community college after a summer of saving his mill-work wages, looking beyond the neighbourhood and the mill even before his mother gets promoted and sees a different future for herself.  That it doesn’t work out as well as they dream is the Steinbeck-worthy gut punch.  But this one is happening in times I remember and in places like ones I know.  Oof.  Voice-over headlines read out between scenes show us some of the bigger context, the economic and political happenings over the year 2000 that might be affecting lives in a place like Pittsburgh, and allow jumps forward in time to 2008 to show the outcomes of some of those news items and of the characters’ responses.

The script is subtle, with the outcomes not entirely predictable despite the foreshadowing, and offering some hope and humanity.  Ashley Wright plays the manager of the bar where most of the action happens, Alen Dominguez his employee, and Anthony Santiago the ex-husband of Marci House’s character Cynthia.  I appreciated the understated acknowledgements of how race and gender matter, particularly in the speech where Cynthia talks about how there is more at stake for her, applying for the supervisory position and getting it, because she is female and African-American.  The vague offstage threat of the employers looking to replace everyone with immigrant workers for less money is made immediate and personal when the other characters (and the audience) realize that Oscar (Dominguez), who has been shuffling through the bar bussing tables and cleaning up, is an immigrant whose life would be improved by getting low-paying non-union factory work.

The one thing that I was a little dissatisfied with was that I wanted to find out more about what happened to Lora Brovold’s character Jessie, but maybe that is just because I appreciate the actor’s work.

Sweat is still making me think.  It is playing at the Citadel until February 3rd.

The other Miss Bennet, in Christmas at Pemberley

I have not always been a Jane Austen fan.  When I was young, I had some difficulty understanding irony, cutting politeness, and the dry humour of understatement, so I think my early attempts to read Pride and Prejudice and Emma probably left me missing most of the point.   A performance of Pride and Prejudice at Red Deer College a few years ago,  some Austenophile friends who shared movie versions of Pride and Prejudice and of Lost in Austen, and the PD James mystery novel Death Comes to Pemberley have given me a better appreciation of the comedy of manners style and the story of the Bennet sisters.

The current Citadel Theatre production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, by Lauren Gunderson and Margaret Melcon, directed by Nancy Macalear, is a lot of fun, given that I already knew the basics of the story and had wondered what happened afterwards, especially to the younger Bennet sisters.  I don’t think it would have been quite as amusing if I didn’t already know the characters. This play takes place a couple of years after the ending of Pride and Prejudice, with Jane (Emma Lalshram) and Elizabeth (Allison Edwards-Crewe) happily married to Mr Bingley (Cameron Kneteman) and Mr Darcy (Mat Hulshof), Lydia (Emma Houghton) not so happily married to Mr Wickham, Kitty off in London with some aunts and uncles and not part of this story, and Mary — middle sister Mary (Mikaela Davies), the bookish and musical one who kept butting into conversations with awkward pronouncements about facts, had at first enjoyed having her sisters away from home, because she could play the piano and read as much as she wanted, but had gradually become dissatisfied and restless, realizing that she would be expected to remain at home caring for her aging parents until they died, and then would lose her home as some distant male relative would inherit the estate.  One of the things that pleasantly surprised me about the story in this play was that the girls’ parents, Mr and Mrs Bennet, were not really part of it, but they were not dead either.  The grown sisters manage their own lives and each other’s, acknowledging their parents’ flaws affectionately and finding their own solutions.   I enjoyed seeing how the sisters still knew exactly how to irritate each other, and at the same time worried about each other and had fun together.  Like the Bennet sisters, I too have four siblings whom I don’t see very often, and this felt realistic to me.

Mary and Lydia are the interesting ones in this play – Lydia’s outrageousness made me laugh and wince and feel sorry for her, and Mary’s isolation and longing for study, travel, and kindred minds made it easy for me to identify with her.

The cast of characters was rounded out with Anne de Bourgh (Gianna Vacirca), a canonical status-conscious cousin and former fiancee of Fitzwilliam Darcy, and added character Arthur de Bourgh (Umed Amin), Anne’s own cousin who has just inherited Anne’s home Rosings after the death of her mother the awful Lady Catherine.

I was a little disappointed in the portrayal of Elizabeth and Darcy, because the conflicts between her snarkiness and his shyness-coming-across-as-rude were the most interesting feature of the original book/movies/play.  Elizabeth can still be a bit sarcastic, but she and Darcy seem almost boringly in tune with each other (except about one item of household decor).  In a couple of charming scenes, Mat Hulshof’s Darcy shares his own muddled romantic history  with the even more awkward Arthur and gives him useful advice – while Bingley’s more generic courting advice doesn’t fit at all.

I enjoyed the bits where one character complains about feeling trapped, and another character calls him or her on it, pointing out the existence of choices – especially when Arthur is griping about the burdens of inherited estate and familial expectations and Mary points out that his situation actually has much more flexibility than her own, the female side of property-entailment.

Miss Bennet:  Christmas at Pemberley continues until December 9th in the Shoctor Theatre, meaning that it overlaps with Christmas Carol in the Maclab downstairs.

 

Deaths and lives, a hundred years ago.

On the Remembrance Day weekend, I saw Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver’s First World War play Redpatch at the Citadel.  And tonight I saw Hannah Moskovitch’s What A Young Wife Ought To Know at Theatre Network.  Both of them showed me the human consequences of historical facts that I’d already known in a more abstract sense, and I left wondering more about the unspoken hardships in my own grandparents’ lives.

Redpatch is the story of a young First Nations man (Calvert) from the west coast who enlists and is sent to fight in France.  The rest of the ensemble (Jennifer Daigle, Taran Kootenhayoo, Joel D Montgrand, Chelsea Rose, Odessa Shuquaya) play his fellow soldiers, but also his grandmother, childhood best friend, a Raven, a killer whale, etc, as the story of their war is interrupted by the older story of two boys sneaking out of school to take a canoe out on the ocean.   One of my favourite bits is where the two boys talk while drifting in a canoe, swaying gently so that I almost felt like the canoe was actually on the water.  The violence of war is presented in a stylized way, with quarterstaves used as Ross rifles and bayonets, very little actual contact, and no blood, but lighting (Brad Trenaman) and sound (James Coomber) to convey the nightmare horror of trench warfare and No-Mans-Land night raids without being so overwhelming that the text was lost.  I found this very effective.

What a Young Wife Ought To Know, directed by Marianne Copithorne, previewed tonight at the Roxy on Gateway, and plays until December 2nd.  It is set in the 1920s, among working-class Irish immigrants of the Ottawa area.  I found it heartbreaking and sweet, embarrassing and upsetting and sexy and laugh-out-loud funny, by turns.  Merran Carr-Wiggin plays the young wife of the title, starting from a teenager with no understanding of sex getting some reluctant explanations from her bolder older sister Alma (Bobbi Goddard).  We see her awkward romance with hotel stablehand Jonny (Cole Humeny), their love and pride as new parents, and then their gradual realization that expressing their love for each other physically can’t be separated from risking her life and health in childbirth, and needing to raise more children in an already-impoverished situation.  There are no easy answers – Carr-Wiggin’s Sophie tells the audience about some of the unsatisfactory options and staged scenes show us some of the others.  The direction and performances felt very compassionate to me.  The young husband weeps with frustration, not just wanting to share intimacy with his wife but wishing for more children to love, not quite grasping how awful more pregnancies would be from her perspective.   I appreciated that the plot was more nuanced than a typical mid-century narrative showing unmarried women suffering deadly consequences for their own desire or being victimized by men – one can see some similar narrative in Alma’s arc, but Sophie’s and Jonny’s story is a more complicated one that I had not really thought about much before.   I was reminded a bit of Moskovitch’s The Kaufman Kabaret, part of the U of A Studio Theatre season in 2016, but this is a much smaller-scale examination of similar issues, and I preferred it.

The set and costume design, by Tessa Stamp, conveyed the modest circumstances of the characters.  The two-story backdrop might have represented both the hotel and the tenement apartment, and a sliding door hinted at stables behind.   I will be thinking about it for a while.

The broken beauty of Betroffenheit

First I need to tell you that Betroffenheit has one more performance in Edmonton, this afternoon at 2, and it is not quite sold out.  Yet.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the first performance of this short local run on Friday – Good Friday, which was somewhat fitting.  As the Citadel Theatre Beyond the Stage series and the Brian Webb Dance Company joined forces to bring this Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre (Vancouver) production to town, it is performed in the large auditorium of the Shoctor Theatre rather than the smaller space of the Timms Centre (like the other BWDC shows) or the Citadel Cabaret.

It is weird, disturbing, and very compelling.  Program notes and other media articles provide a little background – that the piece is a response to playwright Jonathon Young’s horrific story of personal losses.  Choreography and direction were provided by Crystal Pite.  As I am more comfortable with conventional narrative in words, I kept wishing for explicit exposition, but the performance demonstrated the nightmarish and unnamable qualities of the main character (Jonathon Young)’s tormented responses with flashing repetition of cryptic voiceover, oppressive set, sound, and lighting (Jay Gower Taylor, Owen Belton/Alessandro Juliani/Meg Roe, and Tom Visser), and a creepy vaudeville revue by supporting ensemble Christopher Hernandez, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, and Tiffany Tregarthen.   About two-thirds of the way through the performance, the stark dingy-industrial room trapping the protagonist appears to collapse, and after intermission the piece resumes as a somewhat more conventional modern-dance exploration of grief and support, with the performers now dressed in simple grey workout clothing.

Life, Death, and the Blues

Before I went to the preview show of Life, Death, and the Blues, I had difficulty describing what it was going to be like, despite reading the various posters and previews.  All I knew was that it was going to have music in it and it was going to have Raoul Bhaneja in it.  And since I still remember being impressed by Raoul Bhaneja’s One-Man Hamlet at Edmonton Fringe in 2008, I knew I wanted to see what the artist was up to now.

And afterwards, my companions and I agreed that it had been different than we expected, and thought-provoking and enjoyable.  I had lots of blues music in it – played and sung by Raoul Bhaneja and his band (Chris Banks, Tom Bona, Jake Chisholm), by Divine Brown, near the end of the show by featured guest, local blues artist Kat Danser, and at intermission by local trio Old Jack Tap.  The featured “Legends” during the show are different every night, and so are the intermission Youth Blues Challenge acts.

The backbone of the show was narrative, by Raoul Bhaneja about how he’d explored the blues genre throughout his life, and by both Bhaneja and Brown about the history and geography of the blues in general.  And what I loved most about the show was the head-on way the conversation addressed the issues of racial prejudice and assumptions, stereotypes and privilege, the difficulty of not being complicit and the “magical Negro” myth, all involved in having white people and people of other ethnicities exploring the history of the blues (mostly developed by and for African-Americans in the USA).  As a self-identified beige person, (he was born in England to an Indian father and Irish mother, and seems to have grown up attending private school and travelling with diplomatic-service parents who settled in Canada), Bhaneja told some of his own stories of encountering biases and overcoming challenges due to his colour and ethnicity.  But Brown, a Black Canadian woman, called him out repeatedly on his whitesplaining, reminding him that these experiences did not qualify him to speak for African-Americans or justify calling himself a blues insider.   She also pointed out that it’s not really appropriate for people of other ethnicities to criticize Black communities for not being quick to embrace retro movements and nostalgic preservation of times of unhappy memory.  She points out that even his childhood travel adventure to Egypt and the pyramids represented the death of many slaves.  Even though it was a scripted show written by Bhaneja, I was happy to see the aspects which might have been problematic being identified by Brown, a confident talented Black female performer.  The banter between the two of them also illustrated and challenged the expectations of sexual tension in the blues – and then the jam session with local blues performer Kat Danser shook that up some more, both in the way she glossed over Bhaneja’s glib flirtation and then in her performance of the Ma Rainey song, “Prove it on Me”, a 1928 celebration of butch culture and lesbian romance.

Early in the show, Bhaneja mentioned a hip-hop harmonica player from Montreal, Bad News Brown (Paul Frappier).  The “Death” part of the title became explicit late in the performance when he talked about Bad News Brown’s death from apparently-random violence on a Montreal street, four years ago that night.   The next song was a version of Jim Croce’s Bad Bad Leroy Brown, which the band had played in the first act, but with lyrics paying tribute to Bad News Brown.

Another noteworthy bit was Bhaneja singing a Hindu song about the Indus river that he’d learned from his father, Nale Alakh Je, accompanied by his upright-bass player Chris Banks, and with Divine Brown singing an English translation in harmony.

Life, Death, and the Blues continues in the Citadel Theatre Club space until March 1st, with tickets available here.  And then, Vigilante!

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.

Wonderful Town!

Wonderful Town, a 1953 musical with music by Leonard Bernstein, is this year’s Citadel Theatre Young Musical Company performance, directed by Bridget Ryan with musical direction by Sally Hunt.

It’s a silly fluffy large-cast show with lots of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, goofy characters, delightful period costumes, and a happy ending.  The setting is New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1930s, with a mix of young people, artists and performers, prostitutes, and immigrants living in the inexpensive apartments of the area. The premise was actually quite similar to Avenue Q.

The story opens with a tour guide in straw boater (Adam Houston) showing some tourists the sights and inhabitants of Christopher Street, Washington Square, and nearby areas.  This device allows many of the cast to be briefly introduced while setting the scene in a song.  Then the main characters, sisters Ruth (Zia Mizera) and Eileen (Sydney Williams) from Columbus Ohio, arrive with their suitcases, looking for an apartment and hoping to make their names in writing and in show business, respectively.  Landlord and painter Mrs Appopolis (Michelle Diaz) rents them a tiny basement apartment, shown on stage with twin beds cunningly pulling out of a backdrop, and a window grate at street level opening on an outside staircase.  We learn quickly that older sister Ruth is the practical outspoken one, but both of them are quickly overwhelmed with the big city, the apartment shaking with detonations for subway construction, men looking for the prostitute previous tenant (Phoebe Davis), drunks peering in the grate or unzipping to urinate through it.  This sets up the lovely song “Ohio”, in which they express their homesickness while rhyming the name of the state with “Why,oh why oh,”  I was particularly charmed because I used to live in Columbus.

Ruth sends out her writing to editors (Roland Meseck, Eugene Kwon, Michelle Diaz) and tries to get work in journalism, while Eileen mostly seems to spend her time meeting “boys” (Bryce Stewart, Adam Houston, etc).  Ruth’s wry song “One Hundred Easy Ways To Lose a Man”, acknowledging that her competence, bluntness, and unwillingness to dissemble are disadvantages in dating, is possibly not quite as true today as it was sixty years ago when the song was written, but it’s still familiar and the song is a good exposition of Ruth’s character, putting the audience on her side.  Neighbours Wreck and Helen (Daniel Greenways and Bridget Lyne) are an unmarried couple whose plans to conceal their cohabitation when Helen’s mother (Phoebe Davis) visits are also slightly dated to a modern audience but still humorously familiar.

In classic musical theatre structure, the first act ended with plot complications and an uptempo song and dance number with lots of cast members in it.  Ruth is tricked into believing she has an assignment to interview some Brazilian naval cadets for a human interest story, but the sailors (Houston, Kwon, Davis, Taylor Paskar, Diaz, Lyne) just break into an enthusiastic and uncontrollable conga line which lands in Ruth and Eileen’s apartment and gets Eileen arrested for disturbing the peace.

As the second act opens, Eileen is in custody in a station full of police officers with Irish accents, all charmed and all convinced she is Irish.   After a few more twists and turns, everyone has happy endings – Ruth finds both requited love and journalistic employment, and Eileen is a hit singing in a nightclub.

Most of the performers are cast in several roles, showing their versatility.  The only characters that I had a little trouble distinguishing were Bryce Stewart’s Valenti (the nightclub promoter) and Chick Clark (the newspaperman).  Zia Mizera and Sydney Williams were very good together as the contrasting but loyal sisters.