Tag Archives: kristi hansen

Unexpectedly touching and hilarious: Small Mouth Sounds

I have just seen some of the funniest stage business that I’ve seen in about a year.  And some touching character reveals that I didn’t see coming, despite thinking at the start that I recognized all these characters because I had been in yoga classes or support groups or retreats with all of them.

Wildside Productions’ Small Mouth Sounds, written by Beth Wohl and directed and designed by Jim Guedo, is playing at the Roxy on Gateway until March 24th.  I loved not knowing much at all about what to expect, and figuring out as it went along who all these characters were and why they were at the retreat.  I don’t want to give away any of the good bits, so you can have a similar experience.

It’s about six people who show up for a five-day silent retreat, and the retreat leader (Nathan Cuckow).  There is something marvelously uncomfortable and exposed about the set, especially in the harsh cold pre-show lighting – not at all like the cozy safe nest of Star of the North Retreat Centre where I attended a silent yoga day last year.   Audience seating is a bit farther back and higher up than it usually is at Roxy on Gateway, adding to the sense of distance.  There is an early scene which ends with each character rolling up their yoga mat – I realized that each of them was doing it in a way that showed who the character was and what their frame of mind was.  The other characters were played by Amber Borotsik, Belinda Cornish, Kristi Hansen, Richard Lee Hsi, David Horak, and Garrett Ross.

There is very little spoken dialogue in the narrative.  What there is, matters.  Most of the characters try to keep the discipline of silence, but fail or abandon it when it is important – just enough to give emphasis or provide a little bit more explanation to the audience.  I wondered ahead of time if the silence would feel gimmicky, but it really didn’t – it fit naturally with the context, and gave lots of opportunity for wordless communication of everything from pain to disdain.

I liked it a lot.

Super powers of various kinds

Another little change at this year’s Fringe festival is that an artist pass or volunteer pass works as an ETS transit pass.  It used to be that artists and volunteers could request a separate transit pass.  I had the impression that they had a limited number of passes, so I usually didn’t get one, and it was a nuisance to carry around one more thing.  This way’s great – I’ve taken the bus several times for short journeys instead of driving or walking.  On the other hand, the festival also used to have a bus-ticket perq for ordinary festival-goers, and it seems they don’t have that any more.

Yesterday’s short bus trip down Whyte Avenue to 101 Street and then a short walk in the neighbourhood that might be called CPR Irvine or part of Ritchie or just “behind the A and W” brought me to Concrete Theatre’s Playhouse performance space for The Superhero Who Loved Me, a new play by Chris Craddock, directed by Wayne Paquette and starring Kristi Hansen and April Banigan.  At first I thought, this is great, it’s just like the comic-book superhero tales that are my usual cinema fare.  And about halfway through, I thought, they’ve already had more character development and logical plot points than most superhero movies.   Hansen is the secret-agent/superhero isolated by the requirement for secrecy and Banigan the old classmate looking for friends after her divorce, and when they meet again things get steamy pretty fast.  They have all the superhero/mundane mixed-relationship troubles you might expect, and I cared about them.  Staging was simple, painted rehearsal-boxes and a few props, and the obligatory show-you-the-world flying scene was acted out with Barbie dolls.  Two more performances this weekend, and then held over at the venue next weekend.

Another short trip away from the Fringe grounds brought me to the Garneau Theatre for fresh popcorn and the midnight showing of Mo’ Manada, the Boylesque T.O. sequel to O Manada from a couple of years ago.  This year’s revue was hosted by Justin Trudeau (Morgan Norwich) and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (Johnnie Walker), and featured four talented men from Boylesque T.O. as well as stage-kitten (costumed stage-crew and occasional performer) Shagina Twain.  The hosts were just as entertaining as the dancers, and the midnight crowd was very enthusiastic.  One more show today.

The official Fringe holdover series in the Westbury Theatre was announced yesterday.  Tickets are available from the Fringe box office / website now for Prophecy, My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice, Legoland, and Drunk Girl.

Other independent venues make their own arrangements for holdovers.  Varscona Theatre will be doing one more performance of No Exit and several for An Exquisite Hour.  Holy Trinity is holding over Urinetown.  Concrete/Playhouse is adding two performances of The Superhero Who Loved Me (ticketing info not available yet).

And there’s two days left to see plays, eat mini donuts and green onion cakes, watch buskers, and hang out with other people who are passionate about theatre, until we’re back to ordinary life (which for me is more of the same, but at a slower pace and with more sleep.)

Gabriel: first glimpse of Moira Buffini

I was looking forward to learning about contemporary English playwright through two of her works which will be produced as part of the U of A Studio Theatre season, but last week I had the chance to expand my knowledge of her work through seeing a production of her 1997 play Gabriel in the Bleviss Laboratory Theatre on campus (the former Media Room), directed by Amanda Bergen, MFA Directing candidate.

Gabriel is set in a gloomy farmhouse in occupied Guernsey during World War II.  The family occupying the house comprises Jeanne (Kristi Hansen), her daughter-in-law Lily (Zoe Glassman), her young daughter Estelle (Sadie Bowling, last seen in last year’s Christmas Carol), and their housekeeper Lake (Monica Maddaford).  Dave Clarke is Von Pfunz, an officer of the occupying army, and Graham Mothersill appears as an unidentified man discovered unconscious on the beach, to whom they refer as Gabriel.  One of the patterns in this tense situation is women confiding in men whom they believe won’t be able to understand them, Jeanne to the German-speaking officer and Lily to the unconscious man.  This is a convenient script device allowing the audience to learn more about the women’s points of view, but also a way of illustrating how each of them is private and alone in the crowded little house.   Estelle, who is aged about ten or eleven, resents the German occupiers and takes a variety of rebellious actions, from esoteric (chalking a ‘square of power’) to more practical (trying to make the soldiers think the house they’re staying in is haunted, vandalizing the commander’s boots).  Sadie Bowling captures her earnest stubbornness without being cute.  Jeanne’s quite different survival tactics are portrayed sympathetically by Kristi Hansen, whose set jaw and careful poise work well in the period piece.

Gabriel awakens and recovers his health but not his memory.  Lily dresses him in some of her late husband’s clothes which had not already been repurposed, giving him the odd appearance of being dressed for a cricket or tennis match surrounded by people in old dark-coloured garments as would seem more appropriate for rural people in wartime.  He appears to speak both English and German fluently, so while the family is determined to protect him from the occupying force, they are more interested in finding a safe background story than a true one.   Stakes are raised when we learn that Lily’s background is Jewish, that her documentation has been falsified, and that the German commander knows.

Personally, I’m usually suspicious about fictional characters named Gabriel because of how often they turn out to be either dead or angelic.  And enough ambiguity was left in the outcome of Gabriel that my theory still holds.

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.