Tag Archives: ian leung

The other mysterious island

The Island was the main setting of the 2000s-decade JJ Adams tv show LOST.  It didn’t have a name.  Groups of attractive castaways found themselves on its shores, explored, encountered mysterious others, and were threatened and assisted by unexplained supernatural phenomena.  And the 5-season series had an epilogue or attempt at explanation that I never did understand.

And so, Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Un-named island.  Old castaways, new castaways split up in the crash, magic and supernatural elements, backstory and old enmities, and a quick wrapup that I wasn’t quite sure about.

Until this weekend, I don’t think I’d actually seen a full production of The Tempest anywhere.  I’d known something about it because of references in other stories, notably the children’s book Roller Skates (Ruth Sawyer’s 1937 Newbery Medal winner) and the Robertson Davies classic Tempest-Tost and more recently John Lazarus’s play Rough Magic.  I’ve read the play, I’ve seen part of the movie version with Helen Mirren as Prospera (it’s on Netflix), and I’m familiar enough with it to recognize the same plot used in Forbidden Planet (the 1956 science fiction film mentioned in the Rocky Horror Picture Show theme song).

The production I saw this weekend was at the University of Alberta, directed by Ian Leung and featuring the actors of the penultimate year of the BFA Acting program.  (It’s got performances today, Sunday at 2pm and 7:30 pm, if I get this posted in time.)  Jaimi Reese plays Prosperine, usurped Duke of Milan, magic-user, and mother to Miranda.  Miranda is double-cast. I watched both Emma Houghton’s and Sarah Culkin’s interpretations of the isolated teenager, Culkin’s more dreamy and Houghton’s more sulky, and enjoyed seeing two versions of the girl’s first glimpses of the eligible young prince Ferdinand (Marc Ludwig).  The king’s (Jacob Holloway’s) wise old counselor Gonzales (Chayla Day) and the king’s sibling Bastiana (Emily Howard) were both switched from male characters of the traditional script, Gonzalo and Sebastian.   Having Bastiana be female added a convincing nuance of attraction to the snickering and scheming with Antonio (Jordan Buhat), Prosperine’s usurper brother.  The sequence where the two of them slouch on the auditorium stairs, muttering cynically about everything Gonzales says, was particularly good.

Prosperine has used her magic to compel two slaves, Ariel (Sarah Ormandy) and Caliban (Jake Tkaczyk), until her epilogue speech sets both of them free.   Tkaczyk’s Caliban was hunched over, growling and cowering and resentful like a larger version of Gollum.  I pitied Caliban and I was afraid of him and was amused by him.  In his version of the story, Prosperine and her daughter had nurtured him and taught him and then later began to exploit him harshly as a slave.  In Prosperine’s version, Caliban had been a trusted member of the household until he attempted sexual assault on young Miranda, and his bad treatment since then was a consequence of that.   I was reminded of the colonialist/xenophobic trope of needing to protect white daughters from the uncontrolled urges of savage others.  But Caliban’s salacious gesture and leer made me shudder and look away, convinced of his evil intent and unrepentance.

But the one who caught me by surprise was Ariel.  Somehow, the representations I’d encountered in the past led me to picture Ariel as sort of ethereal, a graceful gowned being singing gently, the young Griselda Webster in Tempest-Tost.  But this Ariel was a different sort 0f non-human.  Ormandy’s portrayal never let me forget for a minute that the spirit was powerful beyond her master Prosperine, gentle only by choice, and beyond human sentiment.  Her awkward postures, standing on one leg, never pointing her toes, and her blue morphsuit costume and face paint helped to place her more in the tradition of Puck than of Tinkerbell.  And her singing was strikingly powerful.

Stephano and Trincula (Philip Geller and Alex Dawkins), part of the king’s retinue who get separated from the rest of the ship’s company in the cast and spend most of the play sharing a butt of sack with Caliban, are the Shakespearean version of comic relief. Their first entrances, where Trincula discovers Caliban hiding from the storm under a tarp and decides that he must be a fish because of his smell, and then when Stephano sees both Trincula and Caliban with their feet sticking out from the tarp and concludes that they’re a four-footed monster, are particularly well done.  It is easy to see that students in the U of A BFA Acting program get a good grounding in the skills of clowning and physical theatre.

I loved the first scene, the choreography of the sailors and passengers aboard the ship.  I have been on sailboats in rough weather (and on a tall ship in calm weather) and I found it a convincing portrayal of struggling to work and hang on as the decks lurched and the sails flapped.  The simple staging customary for Corner Stage shows was sufficient to support good performances.  A few well-chosen design details stood out memorably (especially Prosperine’s ornate and heavy magical cloak) as I still remember the chilling shadow of the cross on the stage floor two years ago in Merchant of Venice when Shylock is forced by the court to give up his religion and abandon his Torah.  Like Merchant of Venice, some aspects of the story are uncomfortable for me as a 21st-century feminist trying to be conscious of colonialism and patriarchy (a parent’s investment in a daughter’s virginity is super-creepy, for example) but the language and imagery and character studies make it worth being uncomfortable.

Sunday April 10th, Corner Stage (second floor) in the Fine Arts Building at U of Alberta, 2 pm and 7:30 pm, admission by donation.

 

 

Michael Healey’s Proud

Tonight I saw a preview of theatre no. 6’s presentation of Proud.  Director Ian Leung said ahead of time that there might be technical glitches, but I didn’t notice any.   Parking around La Cité Francophone was unusually challenging, probably due to the Alberta NDP leadership debate taking place across the street at Faculté St. Jean, and afterwards I found that a cheering thought.

Proud is a story about politicians and about some parts of the political process, and about beliefs and emotions and what kind of government people want.  I hated some of what I saw on stage because I think it might be true and I don’t want it to be, and I loved how they showed it. The premise of the story started by imagining that the federal election of 2011 had generated a much larger majority for the Conservatives, if they had won seats all over Quebec by very slim margins over the NDP.  (That this is completely feasible to imagine is thoroughly depressing in itself.  See Fair Vote Canada for more.)   As the Prime Minister says addressing his newly expanded caucus, “We have broad but thin support.  If this was ice, I couldn’t recommend we play shinny on it.”   There’s a funny early scene where the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff are examining a large seating chart of the House of Commons trying to plan who should sit where.  All one side and about half the other side are coded Conservative-blue.  There are 28 orange cards and 25 red ones, and I couldn’t be sure but I think then 4 BQ baby-blue and one green one.  That wasn’t even the point of the scene, just a fun detail I got distracted by.  The point of it was more to show the Prime Minister being petty and demanding about not wanting certain caucus members to be in his line of sight because he held grudges, and his Chief of Staff trying to find solutions that would keep his boss happy and not make any other problems.

Dave Horak was a perfect Chief of Staff, down to the low voice and the way he expected to fall on his metaphorical sword.  Brian Dooley was disturbingly good as a non-ideological Prime Minister who doesn’t make eye contact.  And Melissa Thingelstad was — I think this is my favourite role that I have seen her in so far.  She played a rookie MP from Quebec, a single mother who had been managing a St-Hubert Barbecue (cultural note: that’s a Quebec chain much like Swiss Chalet only with tarte au sucre.)   Her character had a wonderful mix of ferociousness and naiveté, sexuality and practicality and honesty and pragmatic ambition in which the Prime Minister seemed to have met his match.  “Why do you insist on mis-underestimating me?” she asked at one point.   When her character first appeared, I worried that she was going to be used as a sort of sexist shortcut and comic foil, making fun of young women in general and of the 2011-era rookie NDP MPs from Quebec like Ruth-Ellen Brossard.  But she got more interesting.

Richard Lee Hsi (formerly billed as Richard Lee, last seen in the Toy Guns Dance Theatre shows at the Fringe and in the feature film Rock Paper Dice Enter) had a small role as a character from the future being interviewed about the events of the play and about his own political aspirations.   His interview/monologue alluded to some very discouraging outcomes that would follow easily from the present-day of the play, which is not so different from our own, (a powerless consolidated Left and the Conservatives with a longest-serving Prime Minister very similar to Harper), but also gave the audiences some hopeful prospect in the way he spoke about his own ideals and ambitions.

On my way home from work, before I went to the performance, I heard a CBC Radio interview with David Moscrop, a doctoral candidate in political science at UBC.  His research focuses on the way people choose how to vote with their emotions rather than their reasoning.  This was echoed in the play, in which the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff explain to the new MP that they address people’s feelings rather than their beliefs.

Ian Leung’s Director’s Note in the program says “save all that heavy stuff for after.  Tonight, it’s a comedy.  Enjoy!”

I did enjoy it.  I’m not sure it’s a comedy though.  I didn’t think the British TV series “House of Cards” was a comedy either.  (I haven’t seen the Netflix one with Kevin Spacey.)   I guffawed several times, and I also squirmed in my seat and winced quite a bit.  I wished it wasn’t quite so credible, but at the same time I was enthralled by the ways it was.

Proud is playing at L’Unithéâtre, La Cité Francophone, until October 19th.  Tickets are at, of course, Tix on the Square.

Fatboy, redux

I first saw the Edmonton Actors Theatre production of John Clancy’s Fatboy at the Fringe festival in 2012, on the recommendation of a new friend.  That seems like a long time ago, in my history of exploring Edmonton theatre.   I liked it at the time, but I think I was confused by not knowing what to expect in the unfamiliar genre.

Two years on, I was excited to hear that Fatboy was going to be part of the Roxy Theatre’s Performance Series, with Dave Horak directing the same cast (Frederick Zbryski, Melissa Thingelstad, Mathew Hulshof, Tim Cooper and Ian Leung).    Knowing more about what to expect, and having seen a bit more bouffon and other kinds of odd theatre in the interim, I did not feel as uncomfortable this time around and I enjoyed it more.  It was funny that I felt closer to the action in the auditorium of the Roxy than I had upstairs at the Armoury.

The eponymous Fatboy (Frederick Zbryski) and his wife Fudgie (Melissa Thingelstad) have that kind of affectionate and acrimonious relationship that is central to a lot of comedy, but taken to extremes and excesses.  Their struggles and adventures take them through three scenes, in their home, in a courtroom, and then in a throne room, with some funny addresses to the audience and musical interludes in between.   The stock characters of courtroom and throne room (Mat Hulshof, Tim Cooper, Ian Leung) were funny, particularly in a sort of shared delayed guffaw,  but I was most entertained by Mat Hulshof’s first-scene Tenant.   I was also amused by some occasional breaking the fourth wall and conventions of theatre to comment on a double-cast character going to change costume, a comment about the Sterling awards, and so on.

Partway through, I found myself completely startled by how much this over-the-top obscene ridiculous farce was actually relevant to current government and politics.  I think that in 2012 I was too busy trying to make literal sense of what I was seeing to pick up on the ways that it was saying familiar things “more truthful than fact”.

It ran about an hour and a half, which I think was a bit longer than the Fringe version.  Mostly they made good use of the extra time, although a couple of bits of business dragged a bit.  The costumes (Melissa Cuerrier) added to the exaggeration.

Two new Alberta works: En anglais, sil vous plaît, and Fugly.

I only watched two shows yesterday, with a long beer-tent volunteer shift and some other Fringe hanging out in between.  I enjoyed the cooler weather.  Not so much this morning’s rain, but it’s not supposed to last.

En Anglais, s’il vous plaît, at the Strathcona Library, is a new play written by local actor Vincent Forcier, starring Kristi Hansen, Steve Jodoin, and Ian Leung.  It’s performed partly in French and partly in English, with all the French being translated in supertitles projected above the stage.  I like to think that I didn’t need the supertitles at all, but I can reassure you that they were easy to see without being distracted from the story. 

Because I haven’t lived in Alberta very long, and because my study of French and exposure to francophone community was mostly in Ontario and eastern Canada, I didn’t know much at all about the history and politics of francophone Alberta.  I found this play fascinating.  It interwove the familiar story of a typical young Alberta couple, Amour (Steve Jodoin), raised by francophone parents and attending French schools, and Douce (Kristi Hansen), of Ukrainian background and grown up in an English milieu, with the political narrative of Leo Paquette, the first Alberta MLA to speak in the legislature in French.  Ian Leung played Leo Paquette and also played Amour’s father.  As the narrator addressing the audience at the start, he speaks clearly and slowly in French and in code-switched French and English, engaging the cautious audience and reassuring us that we’d be able to follow.  As M. Paquette, his formal speeches in the legislature are equally clear.  And when he shifts to playing Amour’s father, resentful of his Anglophone daughter-in-law, his speech is much faster and more idiomatic.  I had to work to understand him and it was easy to put myself in Douce’s place, feeling unwelcome and unappreciated for the effort I’d been making.

There were clear parallels between M. Paquette’s political initiatives and his determination not to apologize for exercising his rights in order not to set a precedent diminishing those rights, and Amour’s ongoing efforts at home to get his wife to speak enough French to expose their future child to the language.  “I’m pissed off that it’s easier for you!”, she exclaims, illustrating some common misconceptions of language-majority privilege.  I was surprised that the political story took place as recently as 1986.  One of my favourite parts of the play was the scene where Leo Paquette is in the legislature, addressing the Speaker of the House (played by Kristi Hansen) and Steve Jodoin is playing all the other MLAs addressing the house, each with his or her own facial expressions, accents, and voices.

At the end of the night, I went to C103 to see Fugly.   Their show programs are attached to wooden sticks so that you can use them as fans more easily, which is clever in warm weather in C103.  Returning the fan/program meant that I can’t tell you for sure who was playing which character, but the Fringe program has Joleen Ceraldi, Heather Falk, and Helen Knight, in a company from Calgary called The Janes.  The elliptical storytelling in a fantasy setting seemed to be conveying the story of a woman who is searching for her mind, while caught up in various encounters with body image and conformist expectations.  The sharp lines and clear colours of the design helped to build the not-quite-real world full of mirrors.  The rhymed couplets at the start of the performance cued me immediately that this was going to be some kind of allegory or poetic impression rather than a more natural dialogue in which I should understand everything immediately.  This made me more comfortable with just watching.

Tonight is Sonder‘s turn for a late-night performance (11:30 pm at King Edward School).   The Edmonton Journal gave us 3.5 stars, with “Kudos to the high-energy cast who deal with some pretty intense material, using mime, movement and minimal props”.  We have two more shows after tonight: Thursday at 4 pm and Saturday at 6:45pm.