Tag Archives: lynda adams

Red Deer College Pride and Prejudice

The graduating class of Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program is currently performing in the Jon Jory adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, under the direction of instructor Lynda Adams and coaching by fellow student Evan Macleod.  The adaptation is said to have kept much of Austen’s original written language including the oft-quoted lines.  I am not enough of an Austen fan to verify this, except for the one about the truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  But there were certainly enough long convoluted sentences to convey the essential comedy-of-manners nature, in which an insult can be delivered so cleverly and politely that it takes the recipient (and the theatre audience) a beat or more to work out that something cutting has been said.  “I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet; I send no compliments to your mother” was part of a harsh speech from one of the more blunt characters, Lady Catherine de Burgh (Katie Walker), but it took me a few moments to work out what a snub it was, as I could hear a slow chuckle make its way through the audience.  

I thought that Rina Pelletier as Mrs. Bennet was particularly good at portraying the enthusiasms and motivations of her character through the unfamiliar idiom, and she was an audience favourite.  There was a flouncing-in-her-chair moment in the second act that was especially memorable.   Her husband was played by Richie Jackson, with a lovely contrast of his understated wry asides to his wife’s excesses.  Despite similar costuming and hairdos, the five Bennet sisters gradually became distinguishable from each other, the agreeable eldest Jane (Pharaoh Seeley), clever blunt Elizabeth the protagonist (Kassidee Campbell), Mary the bookworm (Emily Cupples), Lydia who longs to meet soldiers (Emily Seymour), and Lydia’s flighty sidekick Kitty (Robyn Jeffrey).  The characterizations of the clergyman Mr Collins (Brock Beal) and of Mr Bingley’s sister Caroline (Erin Pettifor) were pointed and amusing.  The more successful suitors for the Bennet sisters, the pleasant neighbour Mr Bingley, the aloof Mr Darcy, and the untrustworthy Mr Wickham were played by Damon Lutz, Nate Rehman, and Michael Moore.  Warren Stephens was a butler supervising a staff of stage-crew/footmen, as well as other small parts.

The stage sets, with moving backdrops and furniture and sturdy doors, conveyed the appropriate formality and simplicity.  Garden strolls and private conversations were conveyed by having the characters step down from the main stage level to a lower promenade downstage.   Scenes taking place at balls had appropriate-looking dancing groups in the background.  I enjoyed watching the dancing so much that I wish some of it had been easier to see.  A scene with Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle the Gardiners (Erin Pettifor and Brock Beal) riding in a carriage was mimed so amusingly with rocking over the bumpy road in unison that I didn’t listen to what they were saying.

Pride and Prejudice is playing at the Red Deer College Arts Centre mainstage until Saturday night, with tickets available through Black Knight Inn. 

Alice Through the Looking Glass, and what I found there

The audience is different at a matinee of a show advertised as suitable for families.  There are a lot more black velvet dresses and pink snow boots.  I overheard a discussion beforehand about how live theatre is different from movies, with an adult explaining that no, it’s not all going to be on that little screen, and I overheard a discussion afterwards with other audience members saying that they didn’t want to go home yet, they wanted to stay and talk to the characters.  It was also clear to me that some young members of the audience were restless during the long poems and songs, and they didn’t conceal that quite as effectively as I like to think that I do nowadays.  All that being said, I did not find any of the audience members badly behaved or disruptive of my enjoyment of the show.  And I did enjoy it.

Lewis Carroll’s story Alice Through the Looking Glass, written in 1873, was adapted for the stage by Jim DeFelice in 1974, with music written by Larry Reese.  The production currently playing at the Red Deer College Arts Centre Mainstage is directed by faculty member Lynda Adams, and the seven performers are all final year students in Theatre Performance and Creation.

Julia Van Dam played the eponymous Alice convincingly as an imaginative Victorian-era child of “seven years and six months”, daydreaming of imaginary worlds and then landing in an unexpected one where things don’t go the way she dreamed.  Her body language, more expressive than an adult’s but still restricted by custom and crinoline, conveys delight, responsibility, frustration, and relief, and her singing voice is up to the material while not seeming inappropriately adult.

The other six cast members all played multiple characters.  The story was simplified a little bit from the original, but they left in all the important characters – TweedleDum and TweedleDee (Jennifer Suter and Jessie Muir), Humpty Dumpty (Dustin Funk), and some of the chess pieces.  As in the original, and in the playing-card symbolism of Alice In Wonderland, it was interesting to see the chess pieces develop distinctive character traits – the Red King (Dustin Funk) is sleepy to the point of narcolepsy, the Red Queen (Jessica Bordley) is a stern parent/teacher figure hectoring Alice about manners and behaviour while the White Queen (Collette Radau) is endearingly gentle and bewildered, and the White King (Jake Tkaczyk) is forgetful and clumsy.  Except for the Red Queen and to some extent Humpty Dumpty, all the characters treat Alice as an adult with agency, and she readily takes on responsibilities of taking care of herself and of them.  This was satisfying to me as a child reader and was still so as an adult playgoer watching the story through her eyes.

I noticed other ways that my old reactions to the story coloured my responses to the play.  I started out scared of the Red Queen, but I think actually that came from being scared of the playing-card characters in Alice in Wonderland.  I thought the Walrus and Carpenter song was both too long and too disturbing, because that is how I felt about it when I first read it.  In this stage production, I really enjoyed the oysters-as-puppets though.  And I still felt impatient during Alice’s encounter with the White Knight (Jen Suter) in the penultimate square.  As in the book, it felt like an irrelevant delay in order to introduce yet another eccentric character and recite yet another poem.  Jen Suter plays the White Knight with a sort of cowboy accent, perhaps of a cowboy whose range extends from Montana to somewhere in the Old South, but her delivery of the repeated line about “it’s my oooown invention” was very funny, and I heard a lot of adult chuckles during that scene.  I loved the expressive movement and feathery menace of the Black Crow (Jessica Bordley) just before and just after intermission, as the White King flails around causing or harnessing a tornado with his queen’s long unmanageable shawl.

It’s not really a story with a conventional plot arc or a lot of continuity, just Alice’s goal of reaching the eighth row of the chessboard as a pawn so that she can become a queen.  One undercurrent of theme is about names and loss of identity, as several characters warn Alice about losing her name or challenge her to replace it.

In a pair of framing scenes at the beginning and end, Alice is a little girl in her own house interacting with her nurse (Collette Radau) and her cat Dinah (Jessie Muir, with amusingly-credible feline physicality).  The “real” world scenes are shown as silhouette shadows on a scrim, with black and white drawing showing a fireplace, mantelpiece mirror, and chessboard.  This created a magical contrast with the colourful three-dimensional Looking-Glass world, similar to the colour film effect in Wizard of Oz, although I did wonder whether it confused the family behind me, in which an adult had just explained that the live actors in the play weren’t going to be on the screen at all.  The initial scene also made very clever use of the optical trick of having one character farther from the light than the other, so that Alice standing up looked about the same height as her seated nurse.

Outside those scenes was a second framing, as the performance started with a single spotlight outside the curtain (and in fact, outside a “second frame” ornate-scrollwork
mirror-frame decoupaged with mirror-image text from the Jabberwock) illuminating a Storyteller (Jake Tkaczyk) in Victorian-period frock coat, top hat, and white gloves and still demeanour, who sings the Prelude song “Child of the pure unclouded brow”.  His well-trained mid-range voice would not be out of place in musical theatre and his changes in delivery for different parts of the song helped make sense of the rather abstract lyrical poetry.  After the ending scene with real-world Alice on the screen talking over the adventures with her cat, Tkaczyk begins to sing again in costume as the White King but with the Storyteller’s voice, and the curtain rises again on the Looking-Glass world as the other performers join in with the choral finale.  Again, this provides a pleasing symmetry while also covering the musical-theatre convention of an all-cast song leading to the curtain calls.

The chess-piece costumes were very clever, with wide padded stiff hoops at the rim of robes suspended from the performers’ shoulders.  Similar stiff hoops could be spotted at the bottom edges of the knights’ horses, at TweedleDum and TweedleDee’s trouser cuffs, and on various sleeve cuffs.  Alice’s costuming, pink white and black with ringlets and a big hairbow, suited the clear simple palette of the show, but drew attention with small patterns and details reminiscent of the little-girl fussiness of the Harajuku Girls (Gwen Stefani’s backup dancers).

The fantasy world’s set used a revolve painted with a chessboard grid, and a pile of different-height boxes consistent with the grid.  Various trees, flowers, and so on continue the theme of coloured squares.  As I had been spending time with a young nephew before the show I was immediately reminded of the video game Minecraft, but that may not have been intentional.  The momentary jarring sensation when I heard the phrase “grassy knoll” on the 50th anniversary of J.F. Kennedy’s death was certainly not intentional.  The backdrop included a whirling Fibonacci-sequence checkerboard cloud formation.  Four stage technicians, students in the Theatre Production program, (Michael Johnson, Jordan Kruithof, Astrid Olivares, Jesse Robbins) contributed visibly to the production, as hands appearing in tables to serve drinks, crew of the Fourth-Square Express train, and especially at discovering Humpty Dumpty after his fall.

In the early performances I saw, there was possibly a little bit of sound balancing inconsistency in the first choral number, “Through the Glass”, and a few places where a performer was not speaking clearly enough to be easily heard from the middle of the big auditorium.  But those are easy details which will likely be corrected before this week’s performances, running Tuesday through Saturday (Nov 26 through 30), with tickets available through Black Knight Ticket Centre as usual.

An audience member studies the set for Through the Looking Glass at intermission.

An audience member studies the set for Through the Looking Glass at intermission.

Summertime at Red Deer College: confusing reality in a magical setting

In the Ontario city where I used to live, a few of the downtown commercial blocks had internal courtyards that you could access through twisty brick passages, so that you’d end up in a magical place in the middle where you couldn’t see or hear any cars.  In the best of these, there was a restaurant patio or two, with lattice sunshades and white fairy lights wound around the sunshades and trees, so that you could have a drink or a dinner in a place that felt like a couple of twists away from reality.

Last night I walked into Studio A at the Red Deer College Arts Centre to find it transformed into such a magical courtyard, for the Theatre Performance and Creation program’s production of Charles Mee’s Summertime, as directed by Lynda Adams, an instructor in the program.  The risers for the audience were arranged on three sides, with white cloth draperies over each chair pinned with an artificial flower, like at a wedding reception.  Clear twinkling light illuminated white garden furniture and several trees; closer inspection showed the tree branches full of white teacups.  Three identically-dressed actors were already present on the stage, three young women going through stylised synchronised motions of reading, writing, sitting and standing while seeming completely unaware of each other.

Looking at the program revealed that the three, Jessie Muir, Constance Isaac and Taylor Pfeifer, were all cast as Tessa, and several other roles were also filled by two or three actors.   This was a choice made by director Adams in order to include all 21 members of the ensemble in the production, and it turned out to work surprisingly well with Mee’s source text, particularly the first bit which is cryptic, full of awkward pauses and what I think of as gnomic.  The duplicate or triplicate actors sometimes recited the line together, and sometimes alternated.  Their actions were sometimes identical and symmetrical, with each of the three Tessas looking at one James (JP Lord, Dustin Funk, Lucas Hackl) and one François (Tyler Johnston, Chase Condon, and Richard Leurer), and sometimes the three would be responding differently or all rushing to one corner of the stage.  It took surprisingly little time to get accustomed to this narrative convention.

As the story unfolds, the self-possessed young woman Tessa is rattled by two unexpected suitors, then overwhelmed by a crowd of family and friends arriving.  As the characters interact we can see why Tessa soon exclaims

“This is what I grew up with!
What chance did I have with a family like this?
And you want to fall in love with me?
How can anyone expect me to form any kind of relationship
with another human being?”

François, who at first seemed the more appropriate suitor for Tessa than the painfully awkward stranger James, seems to have previously been involved with not just the family friend Mimi (Victoria Day), but also with Tessa’s mother Maria (Julia VanDam, Megan Einarson and Brittany Martyshuk), glamorous, remote, and somehow European, with a flowered scarf in her hair or thrown around her neck.  Two staid slouching middle-aged men outfitted from an LL Bean catalogue for cottage weekends, with baggy khakis and brightly coloured sweaters, turn out to be Tessa’s father Frank (Jake Tkaczyk), and Edmund (Bret Jacobs), Frank’s friend, companion, and lover.  Other friends, connections, and a pizza delivery man (Sasha Sandmeier, Victoria Day, Wayne De Atley) react to each other showing that everything is more complicated than originally assumed, and that nobody is happy with the situations.  Barbara, who seems to be the housekeeper (Jennifer Suter and Collette Radau), interrupts with an over-the-top and very funny tirade about men.  Frank starts out as a sort of genial absentminded host and observer, but we soon find out that even the calm Edmund is full of resentments, in his case against Frank.  The first act ends with all this discontent stirred up into a wonderfully-chaotic choreographed piece by the whole cast stomping and whirling about the crowded space to percussion accompaniment, bouncing off each other and exclaiming their frustrations with love, while Frank periodically shouts “Excuse me!” You can tell this ensemble has some rigorous training in physical theatre and has been working together for many months.

In the second act, things are quieter and the dialogue a bit more conventional, but it seems unlikely that any of these people would be happy together.  Frank makes a speech which starts with the repeated motif of the play that love is complicated these days, and leads to a long thoughtful observation about life changing continuously and the past disappearing as it is lived.  Tessa seems to be considering both James and François as suitors.  Maria reconciles with Frank.  An odd challenge leads to all the male characters doffing their trousers to lie down in plaid boxer shorts and colour-co-ordinated socks.  A few neighbours, Gunther, Bertha, and Hilda (Wayne De Atley, Jessica Bordley, and Rebecca Lozinski), drop in and add to the complications, until a tilt towards resolution is hinted at by Hilda, who makes a delightful and impassioned speech in favour of pursuing love.  Eventually there are happy romantic resolutions for some of the couples, but things don’t work out as tidily as in Anything Goes, particularly for Frank, who slumps alone at the side of the stage as some of the happy couples dance tenderly and the lights dim.

I don’t know any words for the genre of this play.  Some of the marketing materials suggested a light drawing room comedy, but trying to read the script before I’d seen it was as much a struggle as trying to read Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  Maybe it was like Noel Coward done in the absurdist tradition?

The set design, colour choices for the costumes (both by Sheena Haug), and lighting (Heather Cornick) contributed effectively to the not-quite-real mood.  As someone who loves both bright colours and socks, I was immediately enchanted to see many of the characters wearing bright co-ordinated socks, Tessa in rainbow-stripes, James matching their turquoise shirts, and François in a bright purple that complemented their outfit.  Original music was written and performed by Jordan Galloway.

I enjoyed this performance very much, but I am still thinking about it.  Like all of Charles Mee’s work, the script is available on line.  It’s easier to read after seeing the play than it was beforehand.  I’m considering seeing it again before its run ends Sunday night, and if this sounds intriguing you should too.  Tickets are available through Black Knight Ticket Centre out of Red Deer, and at the door.  Red Deer College and its Arts Centre are easy to find right off Highway 2 in Red Deer.