Tag Archives: jordan sabo

Opera Nuova’s Carousel

Opera Nuova’s two mainstage productions this year are The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera composed by Leoš Janáček, and Carousel, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. 

Carousel is set in a coastal village in Maine (Wikipedia says in 1873).  In the opening scenes, a touring carnival has set up outside the town, with various circus-style performers (a strong-man, dancers, a fortune teller, a juggler), carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Justin Kautz in tonight’s performance), and manager Mrs Mullin (Emily Stewart tonight).  The set includes three lovely carousel-horses, turned on a revolve during the opening waltz by members of the chorus.  (Apparently one can bid on the horses by contacting Opera Nuova before the end of the run).  Local mill girls Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge (Krista Paton and Brittany Rae) visit the carousel, but the carnival manager gets jealous when Billy Bigelow pays too much attention to Julie, banning Julie from the carousel and firing Billy.  Both Paton and Rae have lovely soprano voices in the solos and duet setting up their friendship and the story.  Kautz portrays Billy as a cocky flirt, confident in his charm, but with foreshadowing of physical threat in the way he grabs Mrs. Mullin’s forearm and threatens Carrie in the first scenes.

The larger ensemble then gathers on stage for clambake preparations, and the enthusiastic “June is Bustin’ Out All Over”, featuring Olivia Barnes tonight as Nettie Fowler.   This piece is echoed later by “That Was a Real Nice Clambake”, again with delightful choreography.  In between are important scenes advancing the tragic story – Julie and Billy lose their jobs, get married, and discover Julie expecting a baby before they have any money, so Billy agrees to help his no-good friend Jigger Craigin (Nolan Kehler tonight) with a robbery scheme.

After Billy’s death (with a spectacular fall off a pier by Kautz, one of the founders of Toy Guns Dance Theatre), the scenes 15 years later focus on Billy trying to make amends to his daughter Louise (Emily Steers tonight).  Louise’s barefoot dance piece explores solitary childhood joy on the shore with hopscotch, innocent celebration with local boy Enoch Snow Jr (Jordan Sabo of Man Up dance troupe), being picked on by a group of local children and taking petty revenge by snatching one girl’s hat, and then being swept up in a group of performers, the carnival workers of the opening scenes, particularly being drawn to a young man among them.   Later, she confides in Enoch Jr that after graduation she plans to run away with them and become an actress.

One of the most disturbing scenes of the musical is when Billy, granted visibility by the heavenly guides in order to help his daughter, gets frustrated when she won’t take his gift and slaps her hand.  Louise flees to her mother, who comforts her and seems to reminisce almost wistfully about a hit that feels like a kiss.  The underscoring music hints at this being sweetly nostalgic, which is jarring against the horrifying but realistic thought that Julie’s good memories of her abusive husband might be encouraging Louise to expect no better.   The more hopeful ending is that Billy’s spirit enables Louise to take in the graduation speech about not being limited by one’s parents’ failures and not being alone.  We can’t tell whether her happy ending will continue with running away to be an actress, marrying Enoch Jr, or perhaps something better than either.

The lighting and costumes for this production create a muted palette for the modest village and mists off the sea.  Vernacular dialects (slightly different for the carnival workers and the villagers) add to the vintage down-home atmosphere.

There is one more performance of Cunning Little Vixen tomorrow night (Friday 29 June) and one more of Carousel Saturday June 30th, both at Festival Place in Sherwood Park.  Julie

carousel 1

Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge at the Carousel

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.

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 Rimers of Eldritch – disturbing glimpse of small town life

There is an improvisational-theatre narrative format known as a Spoon River, in which a set of monologues by residents of a small town tell the story of how an event on the town affected each of them.  The improv performers sit or stand facing the audience, and when it’s done well, the story unfolds with an interesting set of characters showing several viewpoints on an important event.

My first impression of The Rimers of Eldritch, the Lanford Wilson play directed by Jan Selman and performed this weekend by the second-year BFA Acting class at University of Alberta, was that the ensemble taking their places on various levels of risers and chairs, facing the audience without much interaction with each other, was about to perform a Spoon River.

I saw immediately that they were going to be speaking about a significant event, because one of the first identifiable characters was a Judge (Morgan Grau) swearing in a witness to a trial (Celeste Tikal as Nelly Windrod, a woman in work trousers contrasting with the other female performers in skirts and dresses).   Throughout the performance we have occasional glimpses of trial scenes, but we gradually piece together the truth of what happened as we see small-group scenes set before, during, and after the climactic night.

The ensemble of 12 plays about 17 characters.  Working out who they are, how they’re connected, and what’s significant in each of their conversations was like the pleasure of reading a murder mystery, the kind where everything mentioned in passing becomes meaningful.  Martha Truit and Wilma Atkins (Carmen Nieuwenhuis and Sarah Feutl) are a pair of older women discussing everyone and everything as they sew and fold linens, with a judgemental limited view.  Corben Kushneryk is Harry Windrod, a frail old man who insists he saw the crime, but I soon decided that he too was an unreliable narrator.  Kushneryk did a great job of conveying his character’s physical and mental frailties without caricaturing.  Kristen Padayas’s character Eva was a young girl with a physical disability, protected by her religious mother Evelyn (Natasha Napoleao), naive, joyful, and isolated.   Her only friend is Robert (Bradley Doré), a slightly older boy dealing with a family tragedy and some identity issues.   Other inhabitants of the failing US midwest town include café owner Cora (Jessy Ardern), Walter (David Feehan) a young man whose presence in the café leads to gossip, and the Johnson family of farmers, parents Peck and Mavis (Jordan Sabo and Jessy Ardern), restless daughter Patsy (Natasha Napoleao), and her casually cruel older brother Josh (Morgan Grau).  Various other townspeople are added by double-casting and simple costume shifts.  Many of the stories are about an unsavory homeless man, Skelly Mannor (Stuart McDougall), who lurks about the stage as about the town, in a hunched-over unnerving way.  McDougall plays the character with a slight Irish-like accent, which puzzled me a bit but added to the impression of him being a misfit in the town.

Near the end of the performance, I formed the theory that maybe the only reliable narrator in the whole performance was Skelly Mannor, whom most of them are ignoring or vilifying.  And that theory seemed to work.  Nobody else in the town really finds out the truth about what happened the night Skelly Mannor was shot, and mostly they don’t seem to want to.  And there aren’t any obvious positive outcomes or character developments from the set of events either.  People’s lives are just going to go on, messy and unhappy, trying to find comfort and cutting out people who don’t fit in.   It was disturbing and real and I liked it.

The multiple casting gave many of the ensemble members the opportunity to create characters of different ages and viewpoints, which was fascinating to watch.  I look forward to seeing what else this ensemble does over the next few years, together at U of A and separately in local productions.