Tag Archives: citadel theatre

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.

 

The Inspector General – ridiculously topical

The Citadel Theatre’s Young Acting Company show this spring is The Inspector General, as translated/adapted by Michael Chemers in 2010 from the 1836 Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol Russian original.   A report of the 2010 production mentions that many references to local Pittsburgh politics were incorporated.

This production, directed by Dave Horak, is said to be set in the city of Edmoronto, and it is enhanced by references that are sometimes generally Canadian and sometimes specifically Edmontonian.   It’s satirical and broadly comedic and I laughed a lot.  The mayor of Edmoronto (Eric Smith) is both corrupt and incompetent.  Most of the cast play officials in his administration (to use those terms loosely), from the City Controller (Marie Mavko, organized and imposing) down to the Co-chairs of the Emergency Crisis Centre, Frick and Frack (Philip Geller and Matt Ness, a hilarious slapstick pair in bowler hats and confused expressions).  The Mayor’s ambitious wife (Morgan Donald) was previously “dancing at the Moulin Spooge”.  The mayor’s surly cynical art-student daughter (Courtney Wutzke) was one of my favourite characters, because her portrayal of disaffected text-speaking young person was spot-on but she was actually a more complex character as well.

The main plot premise is that the mayor and administration find out that some kind of government inspector is arriving incognito from Ottawa, and they are worried about getting in trouble.   So when they hear that someone has been staying at a hotel in town for two weeks, they conclude he must be the inspector, and they descend on him with excuses and bribes.  But of course the visitor (Nico Ouellette) is actually a drifter and minor civil servant, with his equally hapless travelling companion Zippo (Lauren Derman).  When he catches on that the city officials haven’t landed in his hotel room to arrest them but to pay court to him and try to influence him, he smoothly begins to take advantage of the situation, stuffing the bribes in his pockets and drinking the mayor’s brandy. “Everything he says means something else”, says one of the officials, explaining all his behaviour in light of seeing him as the undercover inspector.

The comedy dictum “rule of three”, meaning to find humour in slightly varying repetitions, is well incorporated here by the writer, translator, and director.  Each of the mayor’s cronies and associates (Mavko, Hayley Moorhouse, Chayla Day, Eva Foote, Alex Dawkins, Marc Ludwig, Ness, and Geller) has his or her own distinct character traits and motivation, all interesting and funny.  Each of them has amusing stage business, a unique attempt to bribe, a funny way of arranging his or her chair for a business meeting.  Eric Smith’s mayor character was not exactly likeable but engaging, and his frenzied dance number near the end was delightful.  Niko Ouellette was a crowd favourite as the scoundrel they assume is the inspector.   I also enjoyed Chayla Day’s understated portrayal of the Mormon liquor-store owner and president of the Chamber of Commerce, and the subtle humour in her costuming and lines.

The short run of The Inspector General is complete, and the Young Musical Company’s show finishes tonight.  The Young Playwriting Company has staged readings Tuesday and Wednesday.  The old Citadel website had bios of the Young Company participants.  I’m disappointed that the new one doesn’t, because I liked getting to know the names of some of the talented emerging artists to watch out for around the Edmonton theatre scene in future.

 

Citadel season ends with Make Mine Love

The first thing that made me happy about attending the Citadel Theatre production of Tom Wood’s new comedy Make Mine Love – no wait, the second one, after a visit with my season-ticket companion and a glass of red wine in the lobby – was recognising names in the program.  There were ten actors on stage, and I had seen all of them in other shows.  As well, there were many familiar names credited with performing or working on the video bits, including Patrick Lundeen and Lianna Makuch, Braydon Dowler-Coltman and Andrea Rankin.

And after that?  Well, there was Rebecca Northan.  As far as I’m concerned, Rebecca Northan makes this show.  The plot is fun, the other characters are amusing (especially those played by Mark Meer, Jana O’Connor, and Julien Arnold), the special effects are … I don’t know if they are simple or complicated, but there were several things that are seen in old-time movies but never or rarely seen on stage, except for here.  For example, there was a scene set on a train … and someone clinging to the side of the train and slipping backwards, one window at a time.  With the help of some video clips, there was a car chase scene with gunfire and the car spinning around.  The costumes, sets, and accents built the environments of New York City and Hollywood in 1938.  And the great love story of two movie stars, (John Ullyatt and Rebecca Northan) has some not quite predictable details, most of which were improvements.    But Rebecca Northan was great, and great fun.

Now I will note a few of those details, so don’t read further if you’d like to be surprised.  (I do – which is why I try to go to previews).

It is refreshing indeed to have the powerful demanding leading-lady turn out to be actually competent, not just in acting but in other skills like fixing cars.

The storyline about how she only gets to be friends with him because she thinks he is gay … it was a little weird how the writer had to find expressions for that which sounded period, but also sounded cute and not offensive to modern ears.  I did not entirely buy how quickly she forgave him for the layers of deception, but, hey, whatever.

I liked the subplot about the dancer (Alex McCooeye, who was in Spamalot) teaching the starlet (Lisa Norton, who was in Penelopiad) how to tell a story in her singing.  It was believable and satisfying.

And I liked the tiny romantic bit with a same sex couple (Sarah Machin Gale and Jana O’Connor) which was not played for laughs.  After spending most of my vacation budget on Broadway shows, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more queer and genderqueer men in the shows I was watching, than there were women of non-standard sexuality or gender expression.  So it was nice to come home and see two women together on stage at the Citadel.

Make Mine Love continues until June 1st at the Shoctor Theatre (the big auditorium at the Citadel).  It’s not great theatre but it’s good fun, and especially enjoyable if, like me, you like watching Rebecca Northan.

 

 

 

Romeo and Juliet at the Citadel

The Citadel Theatre’s Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Program takes a cadre of young professional theatre artists every year, and after a period of full-time work together produces one play in the Citadel season.  Last year it was The Penelopiad.  This year it is Romeo and Juliet.  Tom Wood directed the play, and Professional Program participant Andrew Ritchie is credited as Assistant Director.

I’ve read the play through a few times and encountered many adaptations and variations of the star-crossed lovers’ tragedy, from West Side Story to Good Night Desdemona Good Morning Juliet to the Hudson’s Bay Company/Northwest Company concept a friend is working on.  Productions of Romeo and Juliet are used as background in a season of Slings and Arrows, in one of Norma Johnston’s young adult novels, in Mieko Ouchi’s play I Am For You, and in many other stories, so that it’s possible to fake a familiarity with the story without ever reading or seeing it directly.

Last night was my first time ever seeing the play.  After seeing several recent Shakespearean productions in simpler costumes of more recent periods, it was a pleasure to see this production dressed in rich embroidered brocades and heavy fabrics that felt approximately traditional.  The men’s trousers seemed like skinny jeans with goaltender jockstraps on top, but I guess that made sense in a culture that valued decoration but had a lot of swordfighting.  Juliet had about six different outfits.  The costume design also allowed for the audience to enjoy some shirtless fight scenes and some brief appropriate nakedness.

The ensemble includes alternating casting for Romeo and Juliet.  On the night I attended, Romeo was Morgan David Jones, whose bio suggests that his roots are in Australia rather than Wales, and Juliet was Rose Napoli.  Both of them did a good job portraying the adolescent ranges of emotion needed for the characters and were credible as teenagers.  Especially considering that they both die before intermission, Jamie Cavanagh as Mercutio and Nick Abraham as Tybalt both made an impression on me as memorable characters.  Cavanagh, whom I first encountered in David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago at Fringe 2012, was perfect for Mercutio’s cocky repartee with the young men of the Montague crowd and lewd asides with the Nurse (Louise Lambert).  Abraham’s Tybalt, presumably nicknamed King of Cats for his swordfighting prowess, tosses his dreadlocks with an aloof confidence and secret pride that in this production arises also out of what appears to be a passionate affair with Lady Capulet (who is his aunt) (Mabelle Carvajal in the production I saw).  Early on Juliet accidentally sees her mother embracing Tybalt, which helps to explain her reluctance to confide in her mother later.

I didn’t find the other characters quite as memorable.  Chris W. Cook was the servant Peter, not as annoyingly foolish as some other Shakespearean message-bearers.  Jamie Williams and Patrick Lundeen were the well-meaning Friar Lawrence and Brother John.

The really sad thing about the story of Romeo and Juliet was not that the deaths were inevitable.  It’s that on the other hand they were so close to a feasible happy ending that just didn’t work out because of miscommunication and their own impatience.  Which left me irritated and not uplifted.   Also, I got thinking of how the trope of using a sleeping potion to feign death was also a plot point in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which we closed the night before, and how it didn’t work out there either.

Romeo and Juliet continues in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel until Sunday April 27th.  Tickets are available through the Citadel websiteMary Poppins is upstairs in the Shoctor Theatre until April 20th, and the Citadel season will wrap up with Make Mine Love, May 10th to June 1st.