Tag Archives: julien arnold

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.

Two tales around times of disaster

It was going to be three.  I was planning to get to One Flea Spare this afternoon, the Trunk Theatre production about people quarantined during a bubonic plague, but that didn’t end up happening.  Colin MacLean’s review of that show is here. 

So the two shows I saw this weekend were Bears and The Laws of Thermodynamics.   Both of them were set around some kind of environmental disaster which wasn’t quite explained.  In Bears, it was a current or very-near-future setting, not too far from here, with oil spills and watershed damage and other familiar real or realistic problems.  In Laws of Thermodynamics, it was … pretty much the opposite of all that.  Can you say “magical realism” in an end-of-the-world story?  Nothing is explained about why the world seems to be ending, or why it is ending the way it is, and some of the things that happen really don’t fit current models of physics.  Oh, but while I’m thinking of it, there’s some magical-realism to the story of Bears too, it’s just not about the setting.

Bears is a new show written by Matthew Mackenzie, who wrote Sia.  Its short run at the PCL theatre had several sold-out houses.  It was produced by Pyretic Productions, with Patrick Lundeen credited as “Consulting Director”.  Sheldon Elter narrates the story, in the odd format of a third person narrative about Floyd while he seems to be portraying Floyd himself.  It is as if he is standing outside the person to whom the events happened, leaving it unclear whether he is actually still that person.  And that is probably not an accident.   As the story starts, Floyd is an oilpatch worker who is fleeing arrest for some kind of sabotage, heading west to the mountains and recounting memories of growing up with his Kokum (Cree for Grandma) picking berries, dancing at pow-wows, and watching the stars.  On his journey, he slips gradually from the man-made world of highways and diners to the natural world of the foothills and mountains, but continues to encounter evidence of human destruction such as dead animals, clearcutting, and avalanche.  He also experiences many delightful natural phenomena –  butterflies, chickadees, salmon, berries, and alpine-meadow flowers.

While Elter narrates the story actively as Floyd, stomping about the stage in high-visibility coveralls and work boots, he is backed up by a chorus of dance/movement artists (Alida Nyquist-Schultz, Krista Posyniak, Kate Stashko, Anastasia Maywood, Aimee Rushton)  They added visual interest and emotional intensity, with movements that were sometimes representational (I loved the churning salmon and the irritatingly-flittering butterflies), sometimes more loosely interpretive, and occasionally a more traditional unison choreography.  Bryce Kulak played and sang several clever original songs, in character and costume as the ghost of an old-time Mountie.  Lianna Makuch and Ainsley Hillyard had cameo appearances.  The simple set was made up of some jagged mountain set pieces with echoing outlines on the floor, with video projections and lighting changing with the story.   And the magical realism that I alluded to earlier – I’m not sure whether Floyd’s transformation during the voyage was real, metaphorical, or something in between, but I didn’t need to know that to appreciate the story and the message.

I was uncomfortable with the specific naming of a pipeline project and a pipeline company, but I’m okay with being uncomfortable.  Art with the power to make people squirm and think and examine cognitive dissonance and argue is a good thing.

The Laws of Thermodynamics, a new play by Cat Walsh directed by Heather Inglis, was playing in the Westbury Theatre, configured with a few rows of seats on risers close to the stage area.   I went to see it partly because Workshop West always has interesting productions and partly because Melissa Thingelstad was in it, and her characters fascinate me.  It also had James Hamilton and Julien Arnold in it, both with appearance and posture so unlike anything I’d seen them in before that I was looking through my program to see whether there was a bigger cast than I’d expected.  But no, there were just five, with Cody Porter having a large role and Paula Humby a small unspeaking one.  Theatre YES was credited alongside Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.

It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on.  Which was okay, I think it was supposed to.  A traveller in hazardous times (Cody Porter) has a truck breakdown,  wanders into a small town looking for help, and meets weird people who maybe aren’t what they seem.   Thingelstad is Della, a diner waitress who seems to be in charge, with a huge ring of keys.  She and Jerry (Hamilton) each confides secrets in the traveller Daniel, with instructions not to tell the other.  Arnold’s place in the remnant society is clearly on the bottom of the heap, but it takes a while to find out why.  One of the ways that the eerie approaching doom was indicated on stage was the buzzing and swaying of the big electrical-transmission poles arranged in a false-perspective series extending backwards.  I don’t know why I liked that so much, but I did.  I liked the companionate relationship between Daniel and Della that formed as the end became closer, sharing a hoarded Twinkie under useless umbrellas.

The Laws of Thermodynamics was one of those shows that would have benefited from a second viewing, I think.  It was both darker and more elliptical than Bears, and in some ways less entertaining.  But I was not disappointed in seeing Melissa Thingelstad play another strange character, and there were some funny parts in the character interactions too.

I think the next play on my schedule will be Pink Unicorn.  And maybe by then I’ll be caught up posting about shows that I saw earlier.

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.

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.




A Christmas Carol at the Citadel

One of my motivations for writing up notes on what I see and posting them here during the run of the show is to encourage other people to go see the show, or to tell people enough about the show that the people who will like it will go.

But in the case of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel, I’m not sure whether I need to do that.  I had the impression that anyone in Edmonton who would like it has already seen it in previous years, and if they wanted to see it again they would already get tickets.  And when I saw it opening night, I guessed that most of the audience had seen it before, based on lots of them seeming to be anticipating the special effects that kept catching me by surprise.  I ended up seeing it closing night as well, and I can see why it’s such a perennial favourite with a long run every December.   It seemed to have a demographically diverse audience, some families with little kids, some families with older teenagers, and adults of all ages.  I wondered whether it was too intense or scary for some of the littler kids, or whether the story was familiar enough to them from other adaptations like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and readings-aloud that they could get past the scary bits remembering that at the end Scrooge isn’t really dead and neither is Tiny Tim.

The play has a cast of 42 with a lot of the adults playing more than one character. James MacDonald was Scrooge, and he was particularly fun when he giddily realises that he has time to mend his ways and change the outcomes.  Julien Arnold was the ever-grinning Bob Cratchit, and Eric Morin was Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Belinda Cornish did Mrs. Cratchit very well, conveying warmth and optimism while damping her usual powerful stage presence and upper-class accent enough to be convincing in the role.  Many other names on the cast list are familiar local actors and instructors at Foote Theatre School.

A lot of complicated scenery is moved quickly and smoothly on the Maclab Theatre thrust stage, much of it while our attention is distracted elsewhere.  Some magical special effects delighted me just as much on second viewing.   The ornate costumes clearly conveyed the class distinctions and the era and were fun to look at.

If you missed it this year, I’m sure it will come around again.  But in the meantime, there’s going to be lots of other great entertainment at the Citadel and around the other Edmonton stages in 2014.  I can’t wait.