Tag Archives: citadel theatre

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.

Mary Poppins

The first of P.L. Travers’ books about Mary Poppins was published in 1934, and I read some of the books as a child, taking them out from a particular old library branch that my father used to like.  The Walt Disney movie came out in 1965, so I know I didn’t see it then, but I probably saw it at a drive-in theatre in one of the early re-releases, and I think I’ve also seen it as an adult but not recently.   I don’t know which I encountered first, but I don’t remember being bothered by any inconsistencies in the treatments.

I saw an early preview performance of the Citadel Theatre / Theatre Calgary production of the Broadway musical Mary Poppins last week.  Blythe Wilson was in the title role with an appropriate combination of dignity and warmth, and Michael Shamata was the director.  It was a fun large-cast show with a lot of music and with fun things to watch (dancing, kite-flying, various stage-effect magics, and enchanting sets capturing the house and neighbourhood in Edwardian London), so I think it would be a better family outing than Christmas Carol, which is a little scary.  Young performers Zasha Rabie and Jack Forestier were poised and convincing in the roles of Mary Poppins’ charges Jane and Michael Banks.  Kate Ryan and Vincent Gale were the Banks adults whom Mary Poppins also helps to find more balanced happier lives.  Kendra Connor, a local actor who has been a favourite of mine in shows such as Fiorello!, Strike! The Musical, Nutcracker Unhinged, and The Minor Keys, was very funny in several small parts.

Because I’m preoccupied these days with learning the work of stage management, working as ASM on the upcoming Walterdale Theatre production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, (opens April 2nd, tickets here) I was completely in awe watching the smooth movement of complicated multi-level set pieces, some on a revolve.  Mary Poppins’ dignified descents and ascensions by umbrella had her in a completely upright immobile posture, which also impressed me.  In the early preview I saw, I think I saw one small delay probably due to a slow costume change and one wobble in the stage-magic, but they did not distract me from enjoying the show.

The underlying messages about valuing family life and personal happiness are just as timely today as when the books were written, and the story made me happy.

Mary Poppins continues to play at the Citadel until April 20th, but I hear that some performances are selling out.

Clybourne Park: optimal discomfort

Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris, is a story – or two stories – about racial shifts in neighbourhoods in Chicago.  The concept of this play has two interesting notes.  One is that the two acts are set in the same house in 1959 and in 2009.  The other is that it’s intended to connect with the 1957 play Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry.

I haven’t watched or read the play Raisin in the Sun, but the movie of the same name, with Sidney Poitier, is conveniently available on iTunes.   That story focuses on an African American family, living together in a small apartment, who use some life-insurance money to buy a house in an all-white neighbourhood.  In one scene, a delegate of a neighbourhood association attempts to buy the house back from them, using the 1959 version of trying to justify the segregated neighbourhood while claiming that they aren’t acting out of race prejudice.  My impression from the movie was that while it was a fascinating portrayal of the lives and limitations of African American people in a northern city in that era, the conflict with the new neighbours was not the main focus of the story.

The first act of Clybourne Park is set the same day as that visit, in the house that the white family has just sold.  And similar to the source material, the fact that the buyers are non-white does not come up until late in the first act and is not even very important to the couple who are selling, Russ and Bev (Doug Mertz and Kerry Sandomirsky).   Their bigger troubles are revealed gradually, as friends and neighbours (Cole Humeny as Jim in clerical collar and hernia truss, Martin Happer and Tracey Power as Karl and Betsy) drop in and awkwardly express concern, and their household help Francine (Sereana Malani) finishes her work for the day and is collected by her husband Albert (Michael Blake) who gets roped in to carry a trunk.   Because the audience is aware that the play focuses on race issues, the details of how the white people treat Francine and Albert are immediately uncomfortable.  A poignant telling example is the way that after Bev makes a little speech about how she and Francine are such close friends, she’d be glad to have Francine and Albert and their two lovely children as neighbours – but the audience already knows that Francine has three children.

However, there are lots of other details about 1959 life and customs that were equally jarring to me.  Tracey Power’s character is Deaf, and the 21st-century audience was frequently gasping about how her friends talked about her and treated her.  And in the initial conversation between Russ and Bev, a long-married couple, there was an accepted dynamic of the husband being the expert and the wife being unaware of geography, politics, or other significant facts – and I never did make up my mind how much of that was put on, Bev kind of choosing to play that role to support her husband.

The story explains why they want to sell the house, and why they’ve been relieved to find a buyer.  We don’t actually meet the buyers, but the first act ends with us feeling glad that Russ and Bev will be able to move on.

While the curtain was down for intermission, the house was aging 50 years and the set underwent an astonishing transformation.  I loved looking at both sets – the fussy details of the well-cared for 1959 living-room covered with moving boxes, and then the graffiti and broken banisters of the living room of the abandoned house in 2009.   The situation of the second act was that a young white couple (Happer and Sandomirsky) are buying the house with plans to fix it up and expand it.  They, their real estate agent (Power), and a lawyer (Humeny) meet with delegates from the current neighbourhood association (Malani and Blake) who have some concerns about the proposed renovations.   But the conversation soon reveals the 2009 versions of condescensions and flawed assumptions, men talking over women and white people patronizing black people, and also the 2009 version of reluctance to talk directly about racial issues – which then descends painfully into some telling jokes full of horrible stereotypes, as the audience winces while anticipating punchlines and then laughs out of sheer awfulness.  Eventually we learn that the real estate agent is the daughter of Karl and Betsy from the first act, and that Malani’s character is the niece (or some kind of relative?) of the first African American woman to own the house in 1959 (she’s not in this play, but in Raisin in the Sun that would be the grandmother Lena who uses her husband’s life-insurance money).  So we see that a circle has been turned, and we also see the similarities between attitudes in the two eras despite surface differences.

There is a short coda with Evan Hall filling in a hinted-at piece of the 1959 story, and then we went home with a lot to think about.   It made me uncomfortable, but it didn’t make me too uncomfortable.  And I liked it that it wasn’t a bigger story – that a lot of it was just about people getting by, with the big family issues and the bigger social issues in the background.  I identified easily with almost everyone in the second act, but the character I liked best was Bev (Sandomirsky) in the first act.

Clybourne Park is playing at the Citadel until February 16th.

Long Day’s Journey a long time ago

Discussion of Long Day’s Journey into Night overheard in the audience before a different theatre performance the same month:

“It was long.  And depressing.”

“Yes.  It was supposed to be.  So you understood it.”

The Citadel production of Eugene O’Neill’s famous work that started their 2013-2014 season starred Tom Wood as the father, Brenda Bazinet as the mother, John Ullyatt and David Patrick Flemming as the sons, and Lisa Norton as the maid.

It was set in the 1920s, in the comfortable-looking New England summer home of a middle-aged theatre director, in one of those families where nobody talks about problems directly but circles around and around the unmentionable topics, changing the subject to some problem they’d rather talk about.  One of the unmentionable problems is the younger son’s health.  Eventually they need to admit that he has tuberculosis and needs to take a cure at a sanatorium, but even that relatively blunt declaration may have been slightly lost on a few young audience members because of course they used the word “consumption” rather than tuberculosis.   The mother has another unmentionable problem, which they are coy enough about that it took me a long time to figure out that it was a painkiller addiction rather than a drinking problem.

The play was well done, and in places so credibly intense that I found it difficult to sit through.  That is probably why I didn’t finish writing it up until now.

Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre

Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre, playing at the Citadel’s Club cabaret-style space until November 17th, is a sort of revue show with marionettes.  The title is a tribute to a tradition of marionettes in occupied Czechoslovakia during WWII.

I’ve only seen one performance, but I’d love to see it again.  Apparently the performances vary quite a bit, with different puppet characters making an appearance, sometimes chosen spontaneously.  In the one I saw, there was an old-style English Colonel singing a music-hall song to piano accompaniment, a retired diva, and Edna Rural, a determined farm widow finally travelling after her husband’s death.  The puppeteer, Burkett, is completely visible above the puppet stage, but I was surprised at how easily I forgot he was there and just watched the puppets.  He also solicited some audience participation, which was fun.  There were lots of topical and local jokes about politics, theatre, and other Edmonton issues.

I would have described the overall mood of the performance I saw as affectionate and silly, but a friend who saw the same show was struck by recurring sadness, not just in the character Schnitzel (an odd non-human creature who bore some resemblance to the abused-child-in-the-circus narrator of Robertson Davies’ World of Wonder) but in the aging diva and other stories.  Yet others commented that the evening was more light-hearted than some of Burkett’s earlier works.

Tickets are available through the Citadel Box Office for shows until November 17th (a week today).  There’s also a Movember fundraising opportunity to have your picture taken with a character after performances.