Tag Archives: eric smith

Tragedy is silly, Happiness™ is not what it seems …

Epic Tragedy is actually neither.  It’s frivolous and delightful, fun even if you don’t know the Greek-tragedy source material very well.  Gerald Osborn sets his story in a taverna in the Ancient Greece of the classic tragedies, but with thoroughly modern tropes like a first date from a dating-site match.  In the smaller roles, Eric Smith is a very feline Sphinx on the prowl, Francie Goodwin-Davies is a favourite as the Oracle, and Landon Shayne Penner shuffles anxiously as a mute slave working for taverna owner James Hamilton (Laws of Thermodynamics, With Bells On, Waiting for Bardot).  Ruby Swekla, Syrell Wilson, dale Wilson, Catherine Wenschlag, and Cat Walsh all bring extensive experience and fine comic timing to the major roles, making this fun and easy to watch.  One more show Sunday afternoon at the air-conditioned Walterdale.

Happiness™ is not easy to watch – at least, it wasn’t for me.  But it is very much worth experiencing.   Cory Thibert and Tony Adams, from Ottawa, perform as a sales/self-help duo making a product-launch presentation to the audience, with help from the technician for their presentation who was played by the technician for their venue.  The real context and the story context kept blurring like that, and it was creepy and effective, because I do want to go to a Fringe show and I do not want to go to a Forum presentation, Amway recruitment, or gospel revival meeting.  I couldn’t figure out whether to engage with the show or hide in case they were really one of the latter.  I loved it.  They have one more show on Sunday evening, at Rutherford School across the road from La Cité Francophone.

Intense, bouncy, or dark: Fringe for all moods

On Thursday I viewed three performances by local emerging performers, students or recent graduates from the various post-secondary theatre programs.  They were all entertaining, and taken together made an interesting showcase of talent.  All the shows were published work, but I hadn’t read or seen any of them before.

Opera NUOVA’s production of the short musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was directed by Kim Mattice-Wanat, with live music and sound effects by Randy Mueller and choreography by Marie Nychka.  Jordan Sabo, Emma Houghton, Jake Tkaczyk, Sarah Ormandy, and Billy Brown play the Peanuts gang, with Corbin Kushneryk in the title role.  Brief scenes cover all the repeating motifs of the long-running comic strip: Lucy’s psychotherapy/advice booth, Charlie Brown’s daydreaming about the little red-haired girl, Linus’s blanket, Snoopy’s fantasy life with Sally, Schroeder playing classical piano on a toy instrument and ignoring Lucy’s advances, baseball, school bus, homework, kite-flying, and companionship. The short vignettes don’t really have a plot and touch only lightly on some of the loneliness and bullying that I remember being more disturbing to me as a child reading the daily strip and watching Charlie Brown Christmas and Great Pumpkin each season.  The tempera-paint colours of costumes and set pieces captured the Saturday-comics print palette.  One more show Sunday afternoon, probably sold out.

Philip Geller and Emily Howard perform in The Darling Family, by Canadian playwright Linda Griffith.  It is intense and provocative and occasionally funny, about two characters responding to an unplanned pregnancy.  Seeing this show reminded me that well-chosen dramas can work in small improvised spaces with emerging actors as well as in the big productions like the Citadel’s Other Desert Cities, and in some ways the intimacy of the venue can make the experience more powerful.  The Darling Family is playing in the Strathcona Community League building just north of the Scouts parking lot and King Edward School, and they have three more performances this weekend.

Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane is dark and amusing in the same style as George F. Walker’s Suburban Motel series.  The current production is directed by recent theatre grad Eric Smith, and performed by Chris Pereira, Chris Nadeau, Grace Miazga, and Dylan Rosychuk.  I particularly appreciated Chris Pereira’s odd motel clerk character.  They have two more performances this weekend.


The last theatrical presentation I attended that made such a strong connection between the medium and the message was The Genius Code, a Jon Lachlan Stewart creation exploring the concepts of recording interactions and replaying them and hearing individual viewpoints.

@tension is a new work, a collaborative creation of director Vlady Peychoff, performers Emma Houghton, Eric Smith, Sarah Ormandy, and Connor Suart, and dramaturg Savanna Harvey.   The performance was introduced by playing video clips on multiple screens, mostly clips from familiar TV shows about some aspect of the internet, texting, computer gaming, and so on.  While these clips were playing – sometimes different ones on different screens or the same ones with timelag – the performers were moving about the space not interacting with each other or speaking.  I’m not quite sure where the prologue stopped and the vignettes or live clips began, and I guess it’s because of my background in conventional theatre that I even looked for that structure.   Gradually four characters were introduced, Eevee, Alexa, Dennis, and Bill.  I realized later that each character had been identified by showing his or her browser history and some of the thought processes behind it, along with a recurring trick of having different people speak the one character’s words, sometimes without expression (this made me think about the difficulties of not having tone cues in text).   Various facets of each character were then illustrated using one- or two-person scenes and symbolically represented by animation of dragging various symbols or icons to each person’s folder on a desktop.  There were also several expressive movement bits with effective soundscape.  My favourite parts were an extended video sequence reminscent of PostSecret, where a long series of confessions of the form “They found out …” were shown and narrated, culminating in repetition of “They found me”, and the one scene in which all four characters meet in the same physical space, an exceptionally awkward party.  In that scene, the traditional ice-breaker strategies of delivering an official speech, drinking heavily, and playing truth or dare were supplemented by selfie-taking and by opening up a laptop to resume a game with other people who weren’t there, and then we saw some after-party text messages building connection between two of the characters and making a date.  The scene where one of the characters briefly misplaces a cell phone felt distressingly familiar.  And parts of it are hilarious.

The piece has narrative threads but they aren’t obvious.  There is a lot to see and hear and things that happen too quickly to grasp.  This too is McLuhanesque, just like the initial voiceover bits showing distracted people with multiple browser tabs and searches.  The props and tech details worked without being disruptive or distracting.


@tension is playing tomorrow and Friday at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2 pm, at the Second Playing Space n the Timms Centre on the University of Alberta campus.  While admission is free, the creators are using a kickstarter campaign to try to cover expenses.

More good plays

Assassins (the Sondheim musical) was the first musical I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.  With a cast of ten and a musical ensemble, it’s well placed in the Westbury.  It’s a series of vignettes about everyone who assassinated or tried to assassinate a US president.  As I wasn’t familiar with many of the stories and I didn’t get a program until afterwards, I probably missed the ones in the middle – I remembered about John Wilkes Booth (Jacob Holloway), John Hinckley (Maxwell Lebeuf), and Squeaky Fromme (Emma Houghton, with Nancy Macalear as her collaborator Sara Jane Moore), and partway through I started wondering whether I’d missed the part about Lee Harvey Oswald killing President Kennedy – but that was the climax which came near the end, since I guess it’s the most memorable one for a lot of living Americans too.  Scott Shpeley, who had been playing with the musical ensemble, also turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald.  Chris W Cook, Jeff Page, Rory Turner, and Billy Brown played other assassins I wasn’t familiar with, and Dan Rowley, and Larissa Pohoreski other characters in the ensemble.

Typhoon Judy was also a performance focused on music, with Christopher Peterson playing an aging Judy Garland, in song, in reminiscence, in flirtation with accompanist (Nick Samoil), and in four fabulous costumes.  The portrayal was credible and touching.

MAN UP! was a wonderful dance show with social commentary.  It’s being held over at the Westbury next weekend, so you have a couple more chances to see it.  Four male performers dance in high heels, powerfully, poetically, and conveying a range of emotions.  Some pieces include all four (Gregory P Caswell, Joshua Wolchansky, Jordan Sabo, CJ Rowein) and some have smaller groups or solos.  Rowein and Wolchansky’s love duet was particularly moving, as well as Wolchansky’s barefoot solo on the side stage.  Monologues and video clips provide context and discussion-starters about the limitations of conventional gender expectations (as well as allowing time for costume changes).  I was fascinated to realize afterwards that the performance had been lacking the personal flirtation aspect of burlesque dancing.

Every Fringe I see Rocket Sugar Factory, the improv duo of Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby, because they are so much fun to watch.  Along with their local accompanist Jan Randall, they are masters of crafting long-form stories and playing them out with delightful characterizations.  This year their show involves creating the pilot episode for a new television show, and the one they created in front of me, Mister Jules Verne, was something I would watch if it existed.  I love the way these two switch characters seamlessly, borrowing mannerisms and language habits, and I’m also a fan of Jim Libby’s near-corpsing, letting his delight in the game show through the characters he’s embodying.  (One of the 2 For Tea performers, James, does this as well.)

I also made time to see a new comedy, Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests, written by University of Alberta acting student Jessy Ardern.  Take the premise of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – the older couple full of malice entertaining a couple of starry-eyed naive newlyweds, and wield them as weapons in their battles with each other – and make it funny instead of horrible – and that’s the start of Harold and Vivian.  David Feehan and Kristen Padayas play the eponymous hosts, and Rebecca Ann Merkley and Eric Smith play Janet and Mike, the young couple who arrive with over-the-top optimism and PDA and gradually crack into full-on hostility as well.  Corben Kushneryk (also seen this Fringe in Who am I?…) is credited as director and designer, so he must be responsible for the delightful set conveying the reality of a starkly divided household before the show even starts.  I was especially taken with Padayas’s portrayal, the perfect pink bouffant homemaker with twitches of panic and surges of rage.   Eric Smith’s brand of pomposity and pratfall may also be seen in Death Comes to Auntie Norma (one more show, Sunday 8 pm).



Six new works

New Works Festival is a yearly event at the University of Alberta Department of Drama, a showcase of new plays written by students in the department.  Directors, cast, and crew for each play are also students and recent students.   Each bill of three plays had four performances, and I managed to see both programs yesterday at on their closing day.  I’m sure I saw complete credits for the festival on line somewhere, but I can’t find them now.  Here is a webpage with some of the information about each play.

Among the six offerings were a fairytale (Princess and the Sandman, by Maggie Paul), a science-fiction tale (Silence and the Machine, by Liam Salmon), a loose dramatization of the Dixie Chicks song Goodbye Earl (Killing Earl, by Josh Languedoc), and three more realistic stories (Gianmarco Visconti’s Grey Matters, Jordan Sabo’s An Inside Sick, and Julian Stamer’s F***, Marry, Kill).

Silence and the Machine was a fascinating exploration of some implications of artificial intelligence.  It reminded me of Bladerunner, which is one of my favourite movies ever, in the concepts of how to test the indistinguishable-from-human and in the starkly-lit simple setting of such a test.  It alluded explicitly to Alan Turing’s imitation-game test and to the test-for-humanity in Shylock’s monologue “Do we not bleed?”, and used the classic riddle of the twins at the crossroads and the uncanny valley hypothesis as well as a Rubik’s cube as evaluations of reasoning.  The script also said some important things about personal autonomy and ownership of one’s body, including when “carrying someone or something worth more”.  Creepy and satisfying.

My favourite comic performances were by Bob Gaudet, the misanthropic bartender in F***, Marry, Kill, and by the pair of friends Lisa Dawn Daniels and Brianna Kolybaba in Killing Earl.   The Princess and the Sandman had a framing technique which incorporated the audience as plot device and allowed some jokes about falling asleep while attending Hamlet.  If I was giving prizes, there would also be some comedy honourable mention for the stage hands of Killing Earl (Kiana Woo and Chris Pereira).

in Grey Matters, Jarrett Hennig gave a credible and moving portrayal of an awkward teenager struggling with grief and lack of ambition, frustrated with being asked how he is but also resenting when other people avoid talking about his sister’s death.  “It’s different with your grandparents,” his friend Lina (Maggie Salopek) offers, struggling to relate.  A silent character witnesses every scene from the periphery (Ashleigh Hicks as Nada, who seems to be the spirit of the dead sister), but then slips away as Adam (Hennig) begins to find a new intimacy with his old friend Farren (Bill Wong).  In An Inside Sick, Franco Correa is a younger teenager seeing a therapist (Afton Rentz) to deal with anger and family problems in a fairly straightforward narrative showing his interactions with equally frustrated and angry parents (Lauren Derman and Gabe Richardson).  One scene stood out for me in that play, the one in which Correa’s character, about six years old, encounters his father contemplating a noose and a bottle of pills.  The audience gasps and stills, and the child character asks innocent questions.  “It’s for adults.”  “Is it for exercising your neck?”  “Yes, that’s it.” “Can I try it?”  “No!”


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.