Tag Archives: jesse gervais

Busy stages at the end of November

What a busy couple of weeks it is for Edmonton stages!  If your weekend isn’t already full, there’s lots of theatre to watch, with these four shows all closing this weekend.

Fen, by Caryl Churchill, is playing at the Varscona Theatre until Sunday.  Amy De Felice’s Trunk Theatre production is fascinatingly atmospheric.  The trapped and oppressed lives of farm-workers in the cold drizzly fen country of England were portrayed with compelling credibility.  I looked at the women picking potatoes in ill-fitting gloves, on their knees on a cold day, and I remembered what it was like to be tying grapes in March, saying to myself that the money would get me out of here, the money would take me to university, I would never need to do this again.   Most of the people in the play don’t have any realistic hopes for escaping their lives, and their unrealistic hopes are heartbreaking.  Even the children in the story are joyless, trapped and powerless and sometimes abused (I found those scenes the most upsetting of the whole play, but not by a lot).  It is unusual to see a farm story about women’s lives not be a story of land-owning families.  But in this story, most of the women (Ellen Chorley, Monica Maddaford, Miranda Allen, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer) are employed as day labourers or crew foremen, and the men (all played by Cody Porter) include a labourer and a landowner who sells his land to a corporation and becomes a tenant.    The story reminded me a lot of the subgenre of Canadian literature about homestead isolation and despair.

Another hard important story to watch is on stage at the Backstage theatre behind the Arts Barns.  Guys in Disguise / Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre is premiering a rewrite of Darrin Hagen’s Witchhunt at the Strand.  Set in Edmonton in 1942 or so, the story is based on primary source material about criminal trials for homosexual behaviour.  Jesse Gervais, Mat Hulshof, Doug Mertz, and Davina Stewart each play lawyers and police officers as well as the men caught up in the witchhunt and their friends and partners.  The scene where one of Hulshof’s young characters is on the stand being questioned in horribly intrusive detail about a sexual encounter was one of the most uncomfortable things I have witnessed in ages.  The main characters in the story were all involved in the Edmonton theatre scene, including Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, in whose honour the Sterling Awards are named.  Mrs Haynes is shown as what would nowadays be called an ally to the LGBT community.  I cannot imagine how the 1940s attitudes of privacy and discretion would have discouraged her choice to be a character witness for her theatrical colleague in a morals case, and I found the character as written very sympathetic.

Witchhunt at the Strand made me very grateful that I grew up mostly after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had said “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation” and decriminalized same-sex sexual behaviours.  It also made me think about how I had been influenced as a child by the grownups around me who remembered the era of the play, not all of whom were straight.  And it made me cry.

Anxiety is a Theatre Yes co-production with several small theatre companies, brand new and unexpected and … and they asked the viewers not to post about it.  If that intrigues you, check whether they have any tickets left this weekend.

Twelfth Night is much funnier and easier to watch.  It’s playing until Saturday night at the Timms Centre.  Ashley Wright, an MFA directing candidate, directs a version with simple staging and a framework of watching a company of travelling players arrive at the theatre, warm up in their underthings, and get into costume.  Julien Arnold, Dave Clarke, Jaimi Reese, and Jake Tkaczyk play the broad-comedy roles of the script, with Reese as Olivia’s mischief-making gentlewoman companion, Arnold and Tkaczyk as the partying uncle Sir Toby Belch and his awkward trying-too-hard sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Clarke in a variety of clownish roles.  Clarke also created and performed interesting songs and underscoring for the production.  Contrast with the fun-loving quartet comes from Malvolio (Alex Dawkins), Olivia’s dour steward, whose pride makes him vulnerable to one of the most memorable practical jokes in the history of the stage.  Did he get what he deserved?  Or was it unfair that he was bullied and apparently driven mad, with the pranksters getting away with it?  I can’t decide.  Watching Malvolio try to smile and gesture as he expects his mistress wants is kind of painful, but it’s also very very funny.

Look-alike twins Viola and Sebastian are played by Chayla Day and Jordan Buhat.  Day’s physicality readily conveys a woman who is inexperienced at passing as a man.  Marc Ludwig is lovesick Orsino, courting Olivia (Emily Howard) who wants nothing to do with him, using her dead father and brother as an excuse until she is captivated by Orsino’s new pageboy Cesario (actually Viola).  Olivia’s reactions to Cesario are delightful, and her discovery that her crush is actually a woman is particularly so.

Another week of Edmonton fun, mostly theatrical!

There’s lots going on in Edmonton this week too.  Yesterday, for example, the choices included the Folkfest ticket lottery at Telus Field (popular and well-organized and a sell-out again), the Edmonton Pride Festival parade (Pride events continue throughout the month), Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids (continuing this afternoon) and Nextfest, the emerging artist’s festival continuing until June 14th with music, theatre, dance, comedy, improv, film, visual arts, and more.

Most years I’m out of town for all of July and I spend June getting ready, so I’ve been missing out on lots of the Edmonton June events.  But this year I’m going to be around in July, which also means I get more of the fun of the long days of June.

Thou Art Here, the local troupe doing site-sympathetic versions of Shakespeare’s work, had a remount of last year’s successful Much Ado About Nothing at Rutherford House, the historic site preserving the residence of the first premier of Alberta .  The audience followed the actors around outdoors and indoors, upstairs and down, as the banter, schemes, betrayals and amends of the story took place.  Director Andrew Ritchie said that this play was a great choice for their company because the whole play takes place at Leonato’s house (Kris Joseph, recently seen in Vigilante).  They did some clever things including all the audience members in the story – guests at a masquerade, deputized citizens assisting the officers Dogberry (Amy Shostak) and Verges (David Barnet), wedding guests – and they also had individual audience members standing in for some of the minor roles which they hadn’t cast.  This was fun and not embarrassing.  It was an easy play for me to enjoy, because unlike some of Shakespeare’s comedies this one had the sharp-tongued woman (Beatrice, played by Gianna Vacirca) happily ending up with a man who appreciates her and gives as good as he gets (Benedick, played by Ben Stevens), and because nobody was killed to make a plot point (I’m looking at you, Winter’s Tale …).  Conflict was provided through the machinations of Don Joan (Alyson Dicey) and her henchman Borachio (Mark Vetsch), and eventually there was a happy ending for the other couple Hero (Marlee Yule) and Claudio (Hunter Cardinal).  I thought Neil Kuefler was particularly good as Don Pedro, Don Joan’s good-guy brother, although I was a little confused about why the character was using sitcom tricks to manage his friends.

Teatro La Quindicina has moved into the Arts Barns renovated Backstage space until the Varscona renovations are complete.  Their production of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, with Mat Busby and Julien Arnold, directed by Stewart Lemoine, is the start of their 2015 season.  It runs until June 13th.  Blarney Productions’ season is wrapping up with A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff, directed by Wayne Paquette and performed by Jesse Gervais and John Ullyatt.  It closes today (Sunday June 7th) with a 1:30 show.  Tickets for both are available at Tix on the Square.

This week I also attended Let There Be Height, the Firefly Theatre performance of circus/aerials students and teachers.  It was enchanting and impressive, with different turns set to music and strung on a storyline of dreams and a dreamer.

I also attended the Mayfield Dinner Theatre’s production of Cabaret, which I saw on Broadway last year.  This production included some local familiar faces, Cheryl Jameson (Helga), Benjamin Wardle (Bobby), Lucas Meeuse (Hans), Chelsea Preston (Angel), Pamela Gordon (Sally Bowles) and Jeff Haslam as Ernst Ludwig, the ingratiating small-time smuggler whose unveiling as a Nazi serves as unavoidable demonstration of the perilous chasm looming before all the characters in 1930s Berlin.  The viewpoint character Clifford Bradshaw is played with convincing awkwardness and wistfulness by Aiden Desalaiz, and the Emcee is Christian Goutsis.  I thought the shocking ending was particularly well done, in a polished performance.

The Falstaff Project: hanging out in a bar with Thou art Here Theatre

  • Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I is a story about the prodigal Prince Hal, the heir to the throne of his father King Henry IV.  While the king is busy fighting rebels, the Prince of Wales is carousing with disreputable companions in taverns.
  • Thou Art Here Theatre is a local company focusing on site-sympathetic and immersive adaptations of Shakespeare.
  • The Artery is a small community-driven liquor-licensed arts and music venue near downtown.  (They’re being forced to close their doors at the end of the month, but are working to find a new location and continue with their mandate.  Their fundraiser is here.)

Put these three together and you can see where it’s going:  telling the story of Henry IV Part I as seen from inside a tavern, at The Artery.  Andrew Ritchie developed the adaptation and directed the show, cleverly bringing the important bits happening outside the tavern in using multimedia – clips of breaking TV news read by the Messenger (Katie Hudson), TV interviews with the rebel Hotspur hiding out in a cellar (Ben Stevens) and with the King giving press conferences in City Hall (James MacDonald), Hal’s texts and FaceTime calls with the King.  Prince Hal (Neil Kuefler) and his friend Falstaff (Troy O’Donnell) hang out in the tavern managed by Hostess Quickly (Nancy McAlear) and her employee Francis (Ben Stevens), and their bluff sidekicks Poins (Alyson Dicey) and Bardolph (Jesse Gervais) drop in with rowdy schemes.

If you’re feeling hesitant about what you have to do as an audience member in an immersive theatre experience, this is a good one to start with.  Because basically, you can just sit in the tavern with a drink and watch the story happen around you, with no more work than twisting your neck.  Or you can get up and go get another drink, or you can engage with the players a bit more if you want.

I’m not very familiar with the source text, so I can’t tell you how the adaptation varies.  It seems to have much of the original language, but all the performers are comfortable enough with the Shakespearean text that it’s easy to follow and not distracting.  McAlear is especially natural as a timeless tavern-keeper.  Kuefler manages Prince Hal’s transition from irresponsible scamp to a smooth officer for his father with a surprising shift in body language as well as costume.  And O’Donnell was a delight as the lazy greedy opportunistic middle-aged knight Falstaff.  I got a little tired of all the fat jokes, but I guess I should take that up with Shakespeare and the audiences he was writing for.

The Falstaff Project is playing at The Artery until Sunday night – and oh! I forgot to tell you the other cool thing.  There’s music afterwards.  Different local musicians are playing after every performance, and admission to that is free with the play ticket, or $5 just for the music.  Advance tickets are here.

 

Inspired silliness and spontaneous hilarity all over the Citadel.

Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre is in the Club downstairs.

One Man, Two Guvnors is upstairs in the Shoctor.

And in between, Rapid Fire Theatre is at Ziedler Hall with two Theatresports shows every Friday, a Chimprov long-form improv show every Saturday at 10 pm, and next weekend also a public-workshops student show Thursday at 7:30 (I am going to be in this one, probably singing) and a Maestro elimination game Saturday night at 7:30.   Tickets for all Rapid Fire shows are available through EventBrite and at the door.

Ronnie Burkett’s Daisy Theatre  is returning after a long Citadel booking last year.  Some of the same puppet characters are in the show this year, but there are some new ones, and all new stories with the old ones, and apparently different things happen every night.  I saw it once last year and enjoyed it, but I thought this year’s show was even better.   Mrs. Edna Rural is still one of my favourites.  This year’s bits with Schnitzel, the poignant little creature who wishes for wings, were not as disturbing to me as last year’s (which reminded me of Robertson Davies’ World of Wonders), and they were still charming, especially watching Schnitzel climb the curtains.  As last year, Ronnie Burkett includes various audience members or takes amusing liberties with them, and he also makes lots of jokes about local establishments and politics.  I wish I had time to see it again.

One Man, Two Guvnors had its first preview tonight.  It had a long cast list with many familiar names and faces, John Ullyatt, Lisa Norton, Julien Arnold, Jesse Gervais, Cole Humeny, Louise Lambert, Orville Charles Cameron, Mat Busby, Andrew Macdonald-Smith, and all of the Be Arthurs.  Performers I hadn’t seen before were Jill Agopsowicz as the young romantic lead Pauline and Glenn Nelson as Harry Dangle the lawyer (of the firm Dangle, Berry, and Bush).  Bob Baker was the director, and the script was written by Richard Bean based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters.  John Ullyatt is the main character Francis Henshall, the quick-talking easily-confused small-time crook who starts the show so broke that he hasn’t eaten, and desperate for money he hires himself out to two different people, the gangster Roscoe  – who turns out to be Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel in disguise, Lisa Norton –  and the higher-class criminal Stanley Stubbers (Jesse Gervais).  Assorted wacky hijinks ensue, as Francis tries to get some food and then the affections of the accountant Dolly (Louise Lambert), various other romances play out, prison-trained chef Lloyd manages a “pub with food” (apparently a novelty in 1963 Brighton) with the help of servers Alfie (Andrew Macdonald-Smith who should probably have a massage therapist or physiotherapist lined up for the run of the show) and Gareth (Mat Busby), and criminal mastermind Charlie The Duck (Julien Arnold) is involved in some financial negotiations with his solicitor Harry Dangle that I never did quite follow, but it didn’t matter.  There was slapstick, physical comedy, bad puns, lots of asides to the audience, musical interludes by the Be Arthurs playing as The Craze (Ryan Parker, Scott Shpeley, Bob Rasko, Sheldon Elter), and other funny business.  The pace did not drag at all and although it was a fairly long show I wasn’t restless, I was just giggling all the way through.  It was a little tiresome that Pauline’s defining character trait was a cluelessness or stupidity, but there was good contrast with Louise Lambert’s character Dolly, a 1963 model of feminist sass and control of her sexuality reminiscent of Joan on Mad Men, and with Lisa Norton’s character Rachel, who disguises herself as her brother and tracks down her missing lover (hence leading to a priceless reunion scene with a glimpse of two characters making out in matching boxer shorts and gartered socks.)  The script also had lots of scope for ridiculousness in male characters, notably Cole Humeny as Alan (Orlando) Dangle, would-be actor in black turtleneck and leather and overdramatic anguish.   This might be the best pure comedy I have seen on the Shoctor stage.  I liked it better than Make Mine Love and possibly better than Spamalot.

 

The Daisy Theatre runs in the Club until November 2nd.  One Man, Two Guvnors runs in the Shoctor until November 16th.  Tickets to both are available through the Citadel website.

Little One at Theatre Network. Wow.

The last time I saw Jesse Gervais on stage with Theatre Network he and Lora Brovold were making me cry in Let the Light of Day Through, as directed by Bradley Moss.  This week I saw him and Amber Borotsik in the Theatre Network production of Hannah Moskovitch’s Little One, also directed by Bradley Moss.  And I did tear up a bit again, but mostly I just found it so gripping that I kind of forgot to breathe and completely lost awareness of the passage of time.  One of my theatregoing companions said that his foot fell asleep and he didn’t want to move.

The character telling the story, Aaron (Gervais), is a doctor, a surgical resident about 30 years old.  He spends most of the play talking to the audience or maybe his off-stage colleagues about his memories of life with his troubled younger sister.  His narrative is interspersed with scenes where he and his sister Claire (Borotsik) are children and young teenagers. With subtle shifts in body and voice and credible dialogue, Gervais made a convincing child of eight to fourteen years old, the older brother who is trying to be the good kid, who cares about his sister but is frustrated and sometimes angry or frightened or resentful at her behaviour and her effect on the family.  It was very clear that Borotsik was portraying a child a couple of years younger than Aaron in each scene, but also that something was a little off about her affect.

The other people recurring in the stories, Mum and Dad and the neighbours Kim-Lee and Roger, are not represented directly, and the story feels sufficient with just the two characters, through the past and in the present.  In the present, the siblings are not interacting face-to-face.  It seems that they have been out of touch for some time, but Aaron receives a cassette tape letter in the mail from his sister and plays it, as we see Claire telling the story on the tape.   Basically everything on stage is storytelling, either acting out in flashback, Aaron’s direct narrative, or Claire’s story on tape – but the performance is still very intense.  The audience was very quiet on the preview night, chuckling nervously at a few appropriate places but otherwise I think other people were as gripped by the story as I was.

And what was the story?  Part of why it was so effective for me was that I didn’t know much about it ahead of time, so I think I won’t recount the narrative here.  It’s got some elements of awfulness, but every time I thought, I see where this is going, I know what all these stories mean, I was not quite right.  My companions agreed with me that the writing was very clever, with some plot elements being surprising when they happened and then making such complete sense afterwards that we felt as if we should have guessed but didn’t.

One of the most effective things in the way this story was told was Aaron’s way of hinting at things he couldn’t bear to say.  He’d use circumlocutions “that day” “the … incident …” but he’d also start lots of sentences that he couldn’t finish, sometimes trying two or three times before finding a way in to a painful story.  Gervais as the adult Aaron seemed to have a very tense jawline, as he struggled to tell things that the character said he didn’t often talk about.  And you could see that the careful, self-controlled surgical resident was who the younger Aaron had turned into, the little boy who lost two families and the teenager whose parents needed him to be an adult too young.

I’m writing a lot more about Gervais’s character than about Borotsik’s, because part of her effective portrayal was showing that Claire did not have normal attachment to her family or others, and she basically didn’t seem to make eye contact with the audience either.  She was heartbreaking and frightening and occasionally funny.

I don’t actually remember if there were any stage-manager warnings about content posted at the box office.  There isn’t an intermission, which is how I prefer it for an emotionally intense show.  There is some swearing.  And there are some disturbing concepts.

Can I say I liked it?  It’s not that simple.  I’m very glad I went, I’d go again if I had time, and I bet it will be nominated for more than one Sterling Award category.  You should see it too, if you can tolerate some painful subject matter in a good story well done.  Tickets are here. 

Blown away by Let the Light of Day Through

Last night I saw Collin Doyle’s play Let the Light of Day Through.

I have a huge backlog of performances I haven’t written about yet, but I couldn’t go to sleep last night until I wrote about this play, and none of my usual correspondents were on line or answering their text messages.

Let the Light of Day Through is a Theatre Network production, starring Lora Brovold and Jesse Gervais, and directed by Bradley Moss.  I didn’t read much about it ahead of time – just took a tip from a reliable friend – so I just had a vague idea that it was about a couple dealing with something sad or unmentionable in their past.

That wasn’t wrong.  And if you’d rather not know any more than the fact that I cried all the way home and am now telling you to go see it, stop here and go to the theatrenetwork website to buy tickets (it’s only playing until Sunday afternoon).

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But if you don’t mind spoilers, or if you have already seen it or you aren’t going to be able to anyway, I can go into more detail.  The show posters show a door opening from a dark hallway into a room flooded with eerie light.  The set visible before the show had a brick wall, a wooden door, and a purplish light escaping from behind it.

I was expecting to meet a couple who were angry with each other, distanced, or with some obvious psychiatric troubles.  Those are the obvious tropes for survivors of family traumas of the kind that is gradually revealed here.  I’ve been fortunate not to have relevant personal experience, but that’s how it usually is in books, movies, or theatre (Next to Normal, for example).  But the characters Rob and Chris in this play still like each other, still find joy in life and hope for their future, and are still very funny people who enjoy each other’s compatible playfulness with the shorthand of people who have known each other a long time.   These two people who have endured an awful senseless loss are the most in-tune with each other, the most respectful of any male-female couple I’ve seen in fiction in ages.  Their tolerance and mild irritation with each other’s quirks are so affectionate at base compared to many fictional couples who are supposed to be happy together but display an ongoing tension that makes me wince.  Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Mad About You on Netflix.

The common fictional trope is that a person or family who experiences unbearable trauma will somehow almost forget the whole thing or make it completely unmentionable.  But it becomes clear that Rob and Chris have done something different in order to get on with their lives.  They’ve made an agreement to pretend, and in fact when they discover that they’ve both forgotten a milestone date, they are at first horrified by the idea that they might ever forget.  This consensual pretending then turns out to be a big part of how they work through their traumatic past and how the audience gets to learn the story as they come to terms with it.  Rather than asking the audience to accept the usual convention of narrative flashback, in which the actors are suddenly playing different characters or playing the usual characters at a younger age, in this play the playwright uses the playful storytelling and reminiscing of the characters as they remain their contemporary selves but re-tell the story to each other.  “Remember that time?  Okay, I’ll be your mother in this one…”  This technique made me more fond of the characters, and it also made the story flow very easy to follow.  In a couple of places where it might have been ambiguous, the characters themselves made the clarification “Wait, is this now, or are we being seventeen?”

The funniest parts of the play were two sex scenes. One is in the contemporary story where they’re obviously both interested in each other and making fun of fantasy conventions but have slightly different expectations for how the scene will play out.  The other is a hilarious acting-out of an awkwardly acrobatic teenage encounter.

The play runs about two hours with no intermission.  This was a good choice because the trajectory of the story didn’t have a good breakpoint.  The set seemed simple but was important, and the lighting made the plain wall and door fit many different settings.   The actors were both very good, playing different people who were both likeable and sympathetic.  And Collin Doyle’s treatment of how these people cope with the events of their lives is just different enough, both in plot and in the way the story is told, that I was completely drawn in.  It didn’t feel melodramatic or emotionally manipulative at all.  Near the end of the play, the only sound I could hear from around me was an awful lot of sniffling. I definitely wasn’t the only one weeping.

One of the best performances I’ve seen since starting this blog.  Seriously.