Tag Archives: mark meer

Gordon’s Big Bald Head, Under the Mango Tree, Sonder closing

On the day of our show Sonder‘s closing, I woke up early and rushed around with a to-do list in my head.  I ended up photocopying more programs for the show at the Strathcona Library because I didn’t have time to do them at home, for example.   We ended up giving out almost all the programs and having a nearly-full house for the last show in our successful run.  It’s been a great experience producing a show in a lottery venue at the Edmonton Fringe, and I’ve loved working with all the other artists of The ? Collective.

I also managed to fit in to my day some quiet times and conversations, some naan and some knitting and some Diet Coke.  And I saw two shows.  (I had been hoping to see Holly Cinnamon’s This is the kind of animal that I am as well, but it didn’t fit with our post-closing schedule.)

I’d never before seen Gordon’s Big Bald Head, an improv show with Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Chris Craddock, but in future years I will definitely put them on my priority list.  In this show, the improvisers use a semi-random process to select one other Fringe show from the program, read out the synopsis, and then spend an hour creating and playing their version of a show that could fit that synopsis.  The show chosen this time was You Can Use That, and the synopsis mentioned a stand-up comic selling his soul to the devil.  Their version had each of them playing several characters each in different parts to the same narrative, and not very much switching out who was playing each.  I was impressed at how tightly plotted their story turned out to be.  And I laughed a lot, because these three improvisers are all very funny and clever people.

My next show was Under the Mango Tree, a solo performance inspired by the creator Veenesh Dubois’ own family history, growing up in Fiji and waiting several years with her grandparents while her father worked in Canada.   The fictional story told on stage didn’t have such a happy resolution, but it was artistically satisfying.  The performer played several characters, a grandmother, father, aunt, and baby as well as the narrator at the ages of 10, 15, 16, and I think about 21.  Her base costume was a salwar kameez, with a red scarf that she wore in various ways to portray the grandmother, a teenager, a bride, and so on, and she also changed her hairstyle effectively.  I liked her child character’s stubborn free un-self-conscious body language.

 

Superheroes and amazing drums

Between my beer tent shift and getting ready for Sonder’s evening show, I fitted in two performances Sunday afternoon.

Harold of Galactus is a longform improv show with local improv stars Chris Craddock and Mark Meer.  (“Harold” is the name of a common thematic longform improv structure, and Galactus is a comic-book character).   In the show I saw, the performers asked an audience member for the name of a comic-book superhero, and a front-row fan said he’d once made up one called Mortar.  Chris and Mark then had a brief conversation on stage about comic-book tropes and how they might play out for a superhero called Mortar, and then created a series of scenes and stories about the character and how he’d be portrayed in the different eras of comics, from 1942 to near-contemporary.  This let the audience have the fun of noticing all the quirks of Golden Age comic stories (“Is Hitler a hero because he killed Hitler?  But he also killed the guy who killed Hitler!”) and the tropes of more recent comic-book storytelling  (a sidekick who is invincible but nervous, very few women except the occasional supervillain, a league of criminals, and so on), bouncing between eras and landing at a satisfying resolution just before the time was up.  I love watching improv partners who have played together for a long time, because they pick up on each other’s cues so smoothly they seem to be telepathic.  Later in the week I have tickets for Rocket Sugar Factory (Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby) and for Scratch (Arlen Konopaki and Kevin Gillese), so I will get to admire that some more.  Chris Craddock occasionally fell out of character to grin at what was happening, which did not distract me from the story and just added to the sense of the performers having fun that is a mark of good improv. Fun and clever.

Then I managed to slip out quickly, dodge crowds, and get from Strathcona Library to King Edward School in 15 minutes to see Godzilla vs. Led Zeppelin, an hour-long performance of taiko drumming from Fubuki Daiko, an ensemble of four amazing drummers from Winnipeg, Hiroshi Koshiyama, Bruce Robertson, Naomi Guilbert, and Giselle Mak.  They were as exciting to watch as they were to listen to, and the show I saw was sold out.

 

Sonder’s next show is today, Monday at 12:15 pm, and the next one after that is Wednesday at 11:30 pm, both at Venue #5, King Edward School.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Two theatre adventures in Old Strathcona

The big ticket for my week was opening night of Martin Crimp’s adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, at the Walterdale Playhouse, directed by Janine Waddell Hodder.

It was going to be my first encounter with Molière, so I picked up a copy of an English translation of the text in a used book store to prepare, and I used Wikipedia to learn that Molière was a 17th century writer of comedy, so working about a century later than Shakespeare and Cervantes.  I looked at the cast of characters, started reading, and was dismayed to realise a few pages in that it was not only written in poetry lines like Shakespeare but it rhymed.  Application to internet resources confirmed that it rhymed in the original too.  I don’t know why this annoyed me, since I am fond of rhyme in a stage-musical context.  But it did.  Anyway, I read the first couple of acts before going to see the play.

This was my first time attending anything at the Walterdale other than Fringe shows.  It has comfortable seats on risers on two sides of a biggish thrust stage, and good acoustics.

I thought the play was very funny, and it probably would have been funnier for someone with a more intimate knowledge of the source text.  For one thing, the dialogue (some of it possibly a different Molière translation than I’d read, and some of it completely modern) was in the same kind of rhyme and metre used in the source text.  The actors – especially Brennan MacGregor who played Alceste – did a great job phrasing the long speeches for sense rather than emphasising the metre.  In the first scene, Alceste and his sidekick John (Zachary Parsons-Lozinski) were talking very quickly, which was part of the humour but it took a bit more effort to follow.  Some of the rhymes were gratuitous enough to be inherently funny:  boring and Andy Warhol drawing, for example, which works as a rhyme in the sort of Estuary English that character was using.  The characters had a variety of English and American accents consistent with their origins (with a little bit of French and a minor character something else – maybe Northern Irish?), and I thought the accents were well done, enhancing the story rather than detracting from it.

In the Molière story, the main character Alceste (the eponymous misanthrope) insists he prefers blunt direct speech, but he is in love with a woman named Célimène, who says cutting things to everyone but only behind their backs.  One early scene illustrating Alceste’s character has him and his sidekick Philinte listening to a bad poem someone else has written about Célimène, and then Alceste telling the writer how crap it is.

In the version I saw, Alceste is a modern-day playwright in London, and the catty woman he’s in love with is Jennifer (Afton Rentz), an American movie star.  The equivalent critique scene involves a drama critic (Bill Roberts) who begs Alceste to listen to a play he has written – well, more like a draft, a scene, notes for a scene.  It’s awful, of course.  Bill Roberts’ delivery is painfully good, and Alceste and John’s different ways of responding are very funny.  Jennifer’s naïve repetition of good lines at her friends’ expense goes bad in the way a more media-savvy person would expect, and wacky hijinks ensue.

One of the funniest things about this play was the way that every now and then there would be some allusion to Molière or the 17th century, culminating in everyone except Alceste showing up at the end in period costume for a party, while delivering the lines that worked equally well in the movie start’s hotel suite and in the French court.

It was also thought-provoking for me because I’m definitely not a person like Alceste who enjoys delivering blunt critique directly, and I don’t like receiving it either.  I’m more like John, preferring a world where people are kind to each other first. This probably makes me not a very interesting reviewer, especially since I admire people who take creative risks in public so much that I just want to be a fangirl.  Is it possible to be kind in person without being cutting in private?  Sometimes sharing the good lines is hard to resist, so does that make me like Jennifer?   Food for thought.

As you can see from my example, you don’t need to know very much about the original play to enjoy the adaptation and pick up on some of the inside jokes.  The Misanthrope is playing at the Walterdale Playhouse until December 15th, tickets at Tix on the Square.  Also, the program says it’s 3 hours long – that’s a typo; it’s about 2 hours with intermission.

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My other new theatregoing experience this week was that I went to Die-Nasty for the first time.  Die-Nasty is a very-long-form improv show at the Varscona Theatre: a season-long soap-opera with an installment every Monday night.  This year it’s a Tennessee-Williams’-flavoured story of the lives of interconnected families in the Deep South, which leads itself easily to parody.  Most of the audience seemed to be regulars, familiar with the characters and the routine of the show, and many of them had season passes with reserved seats.  There was a brief summary of story-to-date in the program, and each character got a brief monologue to introduce himself or herself before the action got going.  And there were lots of odd characters, similar to stock characters of that setting but with enough specifics to be original.  There was one line with a possible interpretation in poor enough taste to disturb me (calibration – this rarely happens for me at improv performances), but in general it was just silly.  I couldn’t work out how much of it was planned ahead of time – the narrator would introduce each scene or vignette like “meanwhile, back at the Beaumont plantation, the lawyer has some bad news”, and then the actors would do that scene.

A bonus for Edmonton theatregoers is the number of familiar faces on the stage, including Peter Brown of the CBC, Donovan Workun, Leona Brausen, Mark Meer, Matt Alden, and others.  Die-Nasty tickets are also available at Tix on the Square, with performances every Monday (except Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve).