Tag Archives: kyle thulien

Dark humour and a celebration of love: Jeffrey

Earlier this week I was fortunate to being able to attend a preview show for Walterdale Theatre Associates’ new production of Jeffrey, the 1992 comedy by Paul Rudnick about a young single gay man in New York City, frustrated by the precautions and disclosures and negotiations around sex in the era of AIDS.  It was directed by Kyle Thulien and Sarah Van Tassel.   Jeffrey (Sean Richard MacKinnon) decides that he’s just going to stop having sex.  This works out about as well as you might expect, starting with him going to the gym for distraction and encountering handsome Steve (Logan Boon).   Thus follows a whirlwind of glimpses of Jeffrey’s life as a catering waiter and aspiring actor, with his close friends Sterling (Gerald Mason), an interior designer and his younger boyfriend Darius (Simon Müller), a chorus performer in the musical Cats!  Jeffrey works at fundraisers and funerals, takes his laundry to the cleaner on Pride Parade day, sits with Sterling in the hospital where Darius is dying, and explores a church, a kind of sex club, and a game-show panel in some of the less narrative-reality-based scenes.   The rest of the ensemble (Trevor Talbott, Mark Kelly, Catherine Wenschlag, and Morgan D. D. Refschauge) play various characters in all these settings.  I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Jeffrey imagines his conservative kind Wisconsinite parents (Wenschlag and Talbott) giving him homey but disturbingly explicit advice about sex, and Wenschlag as an overbearingly-enthusiastic mother on Pride day, reminiscent of Sharon Gless’s character Debbie on Queer As Folk (the Toronto/Pittsburgh version).

We learn that Steve is HIV-positive and we watch Sterling and Jeffrey cope with Darius’s illness and death, and Jeffrey’s reaction goes from seeming funny and overly squeamish to grippingly understandable.  Jeffrey’s determination to avoid the complications of sex looks very much like anyone’s determination to avoid the risk of heartbreak by not falling in love – and by the end we are all cheering for him and Steve to get together.

This story is set several years after the events portrayed in The Normal Heart and in Angels in America Part I.  It was set in the same city and about the same year as the most recent Walterdale show, Six Degrees of Separation, which gives perspective to the society matron’s question in that show “Are you infected? do you have AIDS?” as quite a reasonable worry.  The dark humour of this script around finding new cultural norms for sexual behaviour must have been very powerful when it was first produced, with audiences who remembered the time before safer sex and were themselves learning how their lives would change.    As I was volunteering at a student preview show, I was privileged to attend a cast/crew talkback session, in which participants in the show provided some of their perspectives and some context to the young audience.  I think it is still funny for modern audiences, and its message celebrating the joy in committed love is universal.

Jeffrey is playing at the Walterdale Theatre until Saturday February 14th (another option for your Valentines’ Day date!) with tickets at Tix on the Square.

 

Day seven: Rocket Sugar Improv and Dogfight

Sometimes a busy Fringe day doesn’t mean seeing lots of shows, and sometimes trying to do too many things in one day means messing up and missing the start of a show at a distant venue because of not remembering the right time or getting involved in a conversation.  I’m sorry I won’t be seeing The Real Inspector Hound after all, and I hope to catch Ask Aggie later.

Yesterday I started the day with Rocket Sugar Factory at the Telus Stage.  Improv partners Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby, based in Austria, come to Edmonton Fringe each year, and musician Jan Randall joins them and enhances their shows with playful piano and additional repartee.  The audience for the early show seemed to be full of people who had seen them before.   This year, apparently, they’re using a different improv structure in each show.  In the one I saw, they played a couple of stories, then after each they asked the audience to identify a point at which a character might have made a different decision, and then they showed an alternative ending.  One scene started with an audience member’s story about encountering a crabby lady in the grocery store.  The other started with suggestions that led to a group of teachers winning a lottery but misplacing the ticket.  One of the strengths of these two artists is the way that they will each create several characters with distinguishing body language and voice, and then the two of them will switch frequently among all those characters to keep the story moving along.   I particularly enjoyed Jim Libby’s portrayal of the perky home-ec teacher Caroline.  I also enjoyed watching the moments when one of them set up the other to do something difficult or awkward and the other did it – performing rap music, lifting the other person up, etc.

In the evening, I queued up outside Strathcona High School so that I could sit in a front-row chair for Dogfight rather than climb up the bleachers.  This was my second viewing of the Strathcona Alumni Theatre’s production of the 2012 musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed as usual by Linette Smith.  Most of the show is set one evening in 1963, in San Francisco, where a small group of  young US Marines has their last night of leave for departing for Okinawa and eventually Vietnam.  At the start, end, and intermission, there are also framing scenes showing the main character (Chris Scott as Eddie Birdlace) returning from Vietnam some years later and seeking out the girl he met that night (Emmy Kate Whitehead as Rose Fenny).

That one-line description could easily fit most conventional wartime-romance stories, but this one is different in some disturbing and refreshing ways.  Disturbing, because boy meets girl happens because of a dogfight, a competition among Marines to bring the ugliest girl to a party.  And refreshing, because the shy awkward nominally-unattractive girl Rose takes some control in the situation, calling the Marines out on their appalling behaviour in a way that makes the audience cheer, expressing anti-Vietnam-war concerns in a way appropriate to 1963, and telling him afterwards that she hadn’t been waiting for him.  I was also pleased that it avoided the period-piece tropes of having the young woman be coerced into sex and getting pregnant by a more experienced male partner.  It was clear to this modern feminist viewer that except for having been tricked into attending the dogfight, she wasn’t doing anything that she didn’t choose to do.  His contraceptive precautions were explicit, and his acknowledgement that it was new to him too won the audience over with a round of awws, while we watched Rose’s face receiving this unexpected but touching gift.

Emmy Kate Whitehead and Chris Scott both impressed me with the way they met the singing and acting demands of the lead roles.  Sydney Williams was heartbreaking as the streetwise prostitute Marcia and had a beautiful solo later as another character.  Kyle Thulien played several small roles (sergeant, drag nun, snooty waiter) and was spot-on as a sketchy lounge singer.  Gabe Richardson’s character Ralphie Boland was a nasty piece of work and Gabe added a swagger and a smirk that made me shudder.

The musical ensemble, under the direction of Matt Graham, was good, and the sound was well-balanced so that I could hear all the words.   The choreography was fun to watch and suitable to the story, especially the chair choreography (in unison, in army boots, by Scott, Richardson, Aidan Burke, Alex Aoki, Jordan Mah, Evans Kwak, and Michael Vetsch) and the impressions-of-war scene.   Jocelyn Feltham played Rose’s mother with gentle concern and no overplayed fuss.

There were two things I didn’t like about this show.  It ran overtime in both performances I saw, finishing at about 10:20pm rather than the published time of 10:00, and that is frustrating on a busy Fringe evening.  I don’t know whether a correction had been posted at the info tents, but it’s not on the Fringe website and wasn’t posted at the venue or in the program.  I will keep buying tickets ahead of time and driving down to Strathcona High School to see whatever challenging modern musical this company produces in future years, because they are good and they are local.  I would keep going even if the shows were three hours long.  But I want to know ahead of time.   I also didn’t feel comfortable with the stereotypical aboriginal character Ruth Two Bears (Olivia Aubin), shuffling and drinking stone-faced in buckskin and braids.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the portrayal in this production was toned down from earlier productions elsewhere, but it still made me wince.

Dogfight is, of course, sold out for the balance of its run.  Last year an additional performance of Rent was announced for the final weekend, but I think it was announced midweek.

Our show Sonder was not sold out the last time I checked.  We perform this afternoon (Thursday) at 4:00 pm, and Saturday at 6:45 pm.  We’re at King Edward School, an easy walk across a playground from the main Fringe grounds and in a neighbourhood with some free parking, and running time is just under an hour.

Fringe Day Two: five more shows

Turns out that on a day I’m not volunteering and our show isn’t on, it’s easy to see five shows and still stop in at home for a snack and a shower partway through.

The first one I saw yesterday was Beware Beware, new work by David Walker, featuring Thomas Barnet and Sarah Feutl, all young local artists.  It was a fairly straightforward drama about two friends, each with some current trouble on his or her mind, meeting up for late-night drinks at a campfire site in the river valley.   Both characters were interesting to watch and credible troubled people.

Next was Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip at the Varscona, which was adorable.  Flora, Fawna, and their new friend Fleurette (Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Brian Dooley) play three little girls who have started a more inclusive alternative to Brownies and Guides.  The show is framed as the orientation meeting for the audience who are prospective members of the group, and the fun starts as the costumed cast members hand out materials to the audience in line outside the theatre.  There was a little bit of audience participation, and a lot of laughing and awww-ing.  The three cast members each plays a child with distinct quirks and awkwardnesses, and the interactions among the friends (“we don’t even exclude people for being too bossy” says Fawna (Trevor Schmidt) with a sidelong glance at her friend (Hagen)) were very funny.  Brian Dooley was particularly charming as a young Francophone glad to be included in her new neighbourhood even though she doesn’t quite understand what’s going on.  The uniforms of tunic, tights, beret, scarf, and badge sash were appropriately awkward.

Next up was Zanna, Don’t! by Three Form Theatre, a light musical by Tim Acito which played Off-Broadway about 10 years ago.  It’s full of pop culture references and uses all the familiar tropes of high school stories, in some kind of parallel alternate universe where same-sex relationships are the norm and heterophobia is a thing.  Music Director Mackenzie Reurink directed a small instrumental ensemble, and some of the singers were hard to hear or understand over the accompaniment.  Sarah Ormandy’s portrayal of bossy Candi was especially funny.  Mark Sinongco, who I last saw in Putnam County Spelling Bee, was the eponymous Zanna, and Adam Sanders (Full Monty) and Madeleine Knight were the scandalous opposite-sex couple.

Dogfight is another musical by a young local company, in this case Linette Smith’s Strathcona Alumni Theatre.  Chris Scott and Emmy Kate Whitehead play the leads. I’m going to see it again later in the week and I’ll have more to say about it then, but if you are interested in seeing it you should buy your tickets early, as the uncomfortable seating in Strathcona High School often sells out.

Last on my schedule for the day was Butt Kapinski, a solo show by Deanna Fleyscher from Los Angeles.  The performer takes the audience with her into creating a film-noir world, full of cliches played out in unexpected ways.  The performer, a hardboiled private eye, chooses audience members for the roles needed in the story, from murdered bodies to residents of various districts in the dark city, mostly cast cross-gender.   And now I guess I can finally say that I was on stage at the Fringe.  The show was cleverly crafted and satisfying, and I’d like to go back if I can find room in my schedule.