Tag Archives: louise large

Nextfest!

One of the events of an Edmonton June that I had missed in previous years is Nextfest, the celebration of emerging artists in various disciplines which used to be run out of the Roxy Theatre.  There is no Roxy right now, but Nextfest continues, with more events and performances than I’ll have time to catch.  High school performers (#NextNextfest) have a full schedule at the Mercury Theatre (former Azimuth/Living room).  Some things are along 124 Street.  And the mainstage performances are in the lower-level auditorium at Faculté St-Jean on 91 Street.

I’ve seen several mainstage shows.  Evolve was a set of short dance/movement pieces, solos and bigger ensembles.

Blackout was an hour of sketch comedy and improv. The pace was quick, the characters clever, and the inclusion of recent political events spot-on.  I liked it a lot.  It reminded me of the work of Hot Thespian Action, the troupe out of Winnipeg which was at Edmonton Fringe a few years ago.

Pinniped and Other Poems was a play written by Skye Hyndman and directed by Philip Geller, a lyrical indirect piece including flashback scenes, walrus mustaches, live goldfish named x0 and y0, an intriguing set making use of twine, rope, and translucent flats, and some effective and unusual stage business.  Alex Dawkins’ demeanour and costuming portrayed a mysterious woman from the protagonist’s past, while Connor Suart, Emily Howard, and Jake Tkaczyk all seemed to be presenting aspects of the main character.  Live music was provided by Vik Chu.  From a vocal production viewpoint I was impressed by how all the performers managed the dense text with clear articulation despite wearing what looked like straw and twine all over their jaws, and particularly how Jake Tkaczyk’s character managed to sound like an old man without losing volume or clarity.  If time permits I will definitely be watching this one again because I think there is more in the text than I picked up.

Shorts is a program of five short pieces.  I’m not sure if they’re all parts of longer works in development, but at least some of them are.  Louise Large and Andrew Dool each had solo pieces, both with unconventional treatments of fourth-wall conventions.  Kali Wells’s Forms of Communication was an entertaining escapade that started from a situation anyone might find himself or herself in, and then escalated.  It reminded me of some of the scenarios in Suburban Motel.  I also appreciated the value placed on hand-knitted socks by the characters!   Liam Salmon’s Un(known) Stories was a natural-sounding chat among three friends, exploring LGBT terminology and concepts, lived experience, and respectful disagreement.  Leif Ingebrigtsen’s Echoes of a Lost King was perhaps the most ambitious project, two songs and a scene from what seemed to be a fully designed original musical about a group of D & D players and their characters on quest, with Joleen Ballandine, Gabriel Richardson, Eva Foote, and Hunter Cardinal.   All four are strong performers and musicians, but in this short piece I noticed that the music was a particularly good showcase for Gabriel Richardson’s voice.

Desirée Leverenz’s Husk is playing in a space on 124 Street just south of 111 Avenue.  The space seems to be intended as some kind of semi-institutional residence, so it has good potential for site-specific work, with an intimate stage/risers room on one side, and the opportunity to wander through various small rooms and spaces on two floors.   The piece included a couple of full-ensemble scenes with cryptic story, movement, and sound exploration, along with a more experiential session in between where audience wandered among displays interacting with the performers as much as they chose.  Philip Geller’s and Morgan Grau’s interactions were particularly compelling, eliciting audience help or response; some of the others were more distant or diorama-like.  All seemed to be isolated, and to be embracing or struggling with some aspect of fluid and mess.  I think my favourite part of this piece was when I gradually became aware that what I thought was a completely comprehensible conversation among odd characters was actually a repetition of nonsensical phrases, imbued with actor intention as in some kind of Meisner class exercises.  (I did not actually notice this right away because I think I was assuming I hadn’t heard right and my brain was filling in more comprehensible narrative.)  Other performers in this piece were Roland Meseck, Emily Howard, Sophie Gareau-Brennan,  Stuart McDougall, Connor Suart, and a couple of others I didn’t know.

Nextfest continues until tomorrow, Sunday 14 June.

Waiting for the Parade

St Albert Theatre Troupe’s current show is Waiting for the Parade, by John Murrell, directed by Louise Large.   It’s set in Calgary during World War II, examining the lives of five women in wartime.  The set has five chairs set around the sides of the stage, each supported by some furniture and props representing the living environment for each woman.  The story unfolds in a series of vignettes and monologues.  The lighting shifts to the story being told, and the actors not involved in that scene are seated motionless and solitary in their own homes.

Not all the men in their lives are away at war, but they are all off-stage in one way or another.  What makes it more interesting is that the five women aren’t easily together as a group of friends.  Some have more in common than others.  When bossy Janet (Rhonda Kozuska) leads a group for some war-related project, the young teacher Eve (Jessica Andrews) tries hard to comply with her demands but older gloomier Margaret (Joanne Poplett) and independent-minded Catherine  (Andrea Newman) resist.   And after a while I realised that Marta (Samara von Rad), the German-Canadian woman running her father’s tailor shop while he is interned, is completely left out of the war work or the other women’s social lives.    This divide is expressed most poignantly early in the show when the group is singing the song Lili Marlene in English and Marta steps up to join in singing it in German.  “How odd.  I had forgotten it was one of theirs, first” sniffs Janet.   Later,  the other women gradually find more connection with Marta and she relaxes a bit with them, but never with Janet – the careful avoidance of a cemetery greeting at the end is sad but appropriate.

Like The Mothers or Atwood’s Penelopiad, this narrative explores the women’s version of a story that often focuses on the men’s actions.  The characters in this story end up confiding in each other about frustrations with husbands, fathers, and sons.  As the men are away or unavailable, the women’s bonds with each other are at least as significant as those within the families.  The performance ends with several of the women on a train platform waiting hopefully for Catherine’s husband to return home.  The war is over and so is this chapter.

Waiting for the Parade was directed with a light touch.  The performers found some of the humour in the character interactions without making any of them caricatures.  I was amused by Margaret’s straight-faced side comments (especially about pickles) and impressed by Marta’s never-resolved frustration with the situation she’s left in by her father.

Waiting for the Parade continues tonight and Thursday through Saturday next weekend, at the Kinsmen Korral in St Albert off Riel Drive.  Tickets are on their website here.  There is a well-stocked concession lounge available before the show and lots of parking.

Six Degrees of Separation

My posting hiatus of December and January started with being too busy, and I kept meaning to tell you why.   (Not the parts about work, Christmas-present knitting, needing a tire repair in a snowstorm, or straining my knee – those don’t make such interesting reading.)

In the fall I was  working on the play Six Degrees of Separation.  I enjoyed watching the production develop through the rehearsal process and it was a delight to share it with thoughtful audiences and hear/see them chuckle and sigh and applaud.

Six Degrees of Separation is a drama, written by John Guare and inspired by anecdotes of an incident he heard about from friends in New York City society in the early 1990s, in which several people were taken in by a young man claiming to be a movie star’s son and a university classmate of their children.  Back then it was a little harder or a little less natural to fact-check a new acquaintance, compared to today when it doesn’t feel like an unusual effort or a sign of mistrust to quickly check Facebook and other databases and follow up with questions.  In this case, one might use Facebook to find the visitor connected to the student family members and see which of one’s Facebook friends might know the movie star mentioned, as well as looking up the movie star on imdb.com and Wikipedia.  You might do this even when you don’t mistrust the new acquaintance, just to further the conversation and enhance your memory.  So if this story happened today it wouldn’t happen in quite the same way.  “Try the public library.” “Try Who’s Who“, the socialites suggest as a way of verifying what they’d been told.  “Who do we know who knows Sidney Poitier?” they wonder.  Confirming with their children away at school is delayed by difficulty getting through on the phone.  And the smooth-talking young man has slipped away long before they find a book in a bookstore confirming that Sidney Poitier, the movie star, has no sons.

So the details of the story set it firmly in a slightly dated period, but the attitudes remain familiar.  Ouisa and Flan Kitteridge (Nicolle Lemay and Nelson Niwa) are the wealthy Manhattan art-dealer couple recounting the story to the theatre audience.  Mary Ellen Perley and Darrell Portz, dale Wilson, and Bob Klakowitz are other members of their social circle taken in by the charming young man (Jordy Kieto).  Macalan Boniec-Jedras, Samara Von Rad, Frank Keller, and Julian Stamer are their children, hostile to their parents while assuming the privileges of their birth.

After the first round of deceptions is uncovered, with some sense of betrayal especially to Ouisa but no material losses, things get darker.  Paul, the charming mysterious manipulator at the heart of the story, goes on to draw in some more vulnerable young people, played by Rudy Weibe, Kate Jestadt Hamblin, and Kyle Tennant, and to leave each of them devastated.   The ending is cryptic and unsettling.  Paul is the central character in the story, but in the playwright’s convention of having various characters step out of scene to provide narrative to the audience, we never ever hear from Paul directly.  We never do get to find out what he’s thinking or why he does anything he does, and I don’t believe anything he says.   It’s a fascinating script and a complex story.  I kept finding more in it throughout the rehearsal process, and the cast did it justice.  Apart from the main characters mentioned above, the story was filled out with Mark McGarrigle (a detective), Sonja Gould (a building concierge and a police officer), and Selina Collins and Greg Kroestch (ubiquitous servants).

Stories and songs

After an early performance of Sonder at King Edward School, I saw four more shows yesterday, all of them with a focus on story.

Little Monsters, written and directed by Kristen Finlay at the Walterdale Theatre, is the subtle and familiar story of a mother who is determined to do the best for her child, and how that understandable conviction can lead to some imbalance and unhappiness.  It wasn’t quite the story that I was expecting and I liked it better for that.  Erin Foster-O’Riordan was very believable as the earnest mother, not overplaying or ridiculous.  Cory Christensen and Julie Sinclair as her husband and her best friend had smaller parts in the story, but each brought his or her own issues to the encounters, as we saw gradually.  Anne-Marie Szucs played the uncompromising preschool director with intimidatingly still body language.   The Fringe-style simple set and lighting cues created an office, a living space at home, a parent-viewing room at the preschool, and a park bench.   I loved the line about the expectant mother only feeling perfect until other people knew her secret and started giving her advice.

The one thing I didn’t enjoy about the experience of watching this play had nothing to do with what was unfolding on stage.  In choosing a seat near the action, I had unwittingly chosen one that squeaked with every small shift in movement, so my seat kept making noise and nearby patrons kept looking at me.  I wish someone would either fix that seat or discourage people from sitting in it.

Sundogs, by Michaela Jeffery, directed by Louise Large, is playing in the small proscenium space of the Telus Building.  Holly Cinnamon was compelling as a slightly-out-of-control woman living alone on a farm, first encountered wearing a white cotton nightgown and rubber boots.  Police officer Mike (Evan Hall, also in Letters to Laura) and book acquisitions editor Dan (Brendan Thompson, also in Kurt Man buyer and seller of souls) each visit her to discuss some disturbing events that happened recently, and as their visits occur we find out more about her life.  Something about the sequence of the various scenes did not fall into place for me until later in the story.  I can never decide whether that pleases me as the narrative catches me by surprise and suddenly makes a different kind of sense, or whether I feel foolish for not catching on earlier.  This play had the most convincing and horrifying example of the consequences of living surrounded by clutter and hoarded possessions that I have ever heard or read, and it made me think anxiously about the boxes I’ve moved to the edges of all my rooms to make space for actors to sleep this week.  I hope to be able to see Holly Cinnamon’s original solo performance This is the kind of animal that I am later in the week.

I had not seen Bruce Horak’s This is Cancer before, although it had played at Edmonton Fringe a few years ago.  It’s … disturbing but in an aesthetically satisfying way.  Bruce Horak plays the title role in costume and makeup that are both eye-catchingly sparkly and nastily damaged.  Dave Horak (director of Fatboy and Bombitty of Errors, actor in Kill Me Now, and Bruce’s brother) plays Cancer’s stage assistant.  There is some singing.  There is a very gentle poke at the cancer-fundraising industry.  There is a chance for a few audience members to insert obituaries for dead loved ones.  There are some other forms of audience interaction some easier than others.   As with most performances that have an actor personifying something horrible like Death or the Devil, I found myself torn between liking the personification and wanting him to have a bad outcome.  I wondered how the show would manage to reconcile those, and I was moved to tears by the way the ending put the narrative on the side of life and health.  Those whose cancer connection is more recent or ongoing might have found it a bit too facile for their truth, but for me it worked well enough to start breathing easily again.  There is a short question and answer period afterwards with the performers out of costume.

Going from This is Cancer to Off Book the Musical was a bit emotionally disruptive.  But the performance of Off Book was well worth the warm stickiness of a full house at C103.   Leif Ingebrigsten accompanied on piano as Matt Alden, Amy Shostak, Hunter Cardinal, Joleen Ballandine, Vince Forcier, and Kory Matheson created and performed an hour-long musical based on audience suggestions of “a wedding” and “a discount warehouse store”, using four rehearsal boxes as the only visible props.  The main characters’ problems were both compelling and amusing.  The mayor (Matt Alden) wants to marry Mary (Joleen Ballandine) as well as winning an election, but she’s been married four times before, avoided finalising any of the divorces, and considers herself unmarriable.  Side plots involve a discount warehouse going out of business (major improv points to Hunter Cardinal who tied up that loose thread of plot right at the end when I had almost forgotten it), and a little boy (Vince Forcier) asking his parents (Amy Shostak and Kory Matheson) how to respond to a proposal he’s received on the playground.  There was a little bit of dance, and songs created in a wide range of styles including rap.   Off Book also plays frequently at the Rapid Fire Theatre Saturday night CHiMPROV longform shows during the season, but if you like musical improv you should definitely try to catch a show at the Fringe.