Tag Archives: morgan yamada

The festivals of summer, part 1.

When I was a little kid, the calendar was divided in two parts:  the school year, in which all the scheduled activities happened week by week and wrapped up in June, and the summer, which started with a parade in June for Flag Day (a local invention) and continued with drive-in movies, ice cream from the local Dairy, camping trips and time at the cottage, and being put to bed with the windows open while my parents and aunts and uncles talked quietly outside with beers, until the evenings started to get cool and the days started to get shorter and it was time to put on leather shoes again and head back to school.

Edmonton theatre life is kind of like that.  The professional companies mostly wrapped up their seasons in time for Sterling Award nomination deadlines, and are on to planning for next winter’s productions.  The awards get announced at a gala Monday night, and the summer celebrations, special treats, and traditions are already in action. Teatro, of course, has already had one play in its summer season, Salon of the Talking Turk, and has opened the second, Jana O’Connor’s Going Going Gone.   The Freewill Shakespeare Festival‘s just started.

The emerging-artists’ festival Nextfest happened earlier in June.  I took in a few performances – the spoken-word poetry night Speak! hosted by Nasra Adem and Liam Cody, a reading of new work Shadowlands by Savanna Harvey (thoughtful, provocative, and amusing even as a reading – definitely watch for it at this year’s Edmonton Fringe (or at Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, or Vancouver Fringe), and the site-specific piece Everyone We Know Will Be There: A House Party in One Act, by Elena Belyea, directed by Andrew Ritchie.  This was a very cleverly managed piece of roving theatre, with small groups of audience members each invisibly shadowing a specific party-guest character, around the house and yard.  I didn’t know the whole story after one viewing, just the parts that our character (played by Eva Foote) was part of, and some other tantalizing bits we overheard while our character was storming through rooms or having meltdowns in bathrooms.  The piece was so skilfully directed and stage-managed that any adjustments of timing and traffic direction were completely invisible to me, which added to the feeling of eavesdropping on a real story.

Opera Nuova‘s festival of opera and musical theatre continues, with Carousel and The Cunning Little Vixen playing this weekend and next.  Rapid Fire Theatre’s biggest event of the year, Improvaganza, wraps up tonight with four shows.  And Found Festival continues today and tomorrow around McIntyre Park and Old Strathcona.

Found Festival is a small festival of site-specific and found-space performance, currently under the leadership of Beth Dart, multi-talented local theatre maker and event producer.  So if the description of Everyone We Know Will Be There made you curious, or intrigued, or skeptical, then you can come to Found Festival this weekend and see more performances created or curated for unexpected spaces.  McIntyre Park, the little green space with the gazebo in front of the library, is currently set up with a box office tent, live music in the gazebo for free, and a small friendly shaded beer-garden with the best of the Fringe’s furniture and Alley Kat products like Session Ale and Main Squeeze.  (Almost like my parents’ backyard in the old days, except that now I’m old enough to drink and the music is better!)

So far I’ve attended Julie Ferguson’s powerful and thought-provoking solo piece Glass Washrooms, which explores a journey to non-binary gender identity and concepts of spaces one belongs in.  Although originally created for the public-washroom building at the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway, the later performances have been moved to the washrooms at the Backstage Theatre in order to reduce disruption to the people needing that essential community infrastructure on Whyte Ave.  There are two more performances today and one tomorrow, and I recommend it highly.

Another intriguing part of the Found Festival is the Admit One performances, short shows of various kinds performed for one audience member at a time.  I’ve seen four of them and I hope to catch the fifth.  They’re all different enough that I find myself delighted and intrigued by each one.   In Shoes and One Man’s Junk explore concepts of memory as the audience member experiences aspects of the neighbourhood space along with the performers.  The character in One Man’s Junk works in the antique store Junque Cellar, and the store background blends smoothly into the apparently-rambling thoughts of the employee on break, performer/creator Jake Tkaczyk.  In Shoes takes the audience member on a short walk around the immediate neighbourhood, on which performers portrayed various people important in a young woman’s life.  I won’t tell you who all was in it, because I liked it better being surprised.  Strife, by Matthew McKenzie and performed by Russell Keewatin, portrays a young man trying to decide on his response to a heartbreaking loss by violence, a loss shared by the audience member.  The Booth: Offerings is a set of improvised responses cascading from an audience member prompt, with Leif Ingebrigtsen’s original piano-playing inspiring Tim Mikula’s visual art and Rebecca Sadowski’s expressive contemporary dance.  Particular care was taken to create safe anonymous space for audience members, and I was glad to have a few minutes of quiet in their decompression space before exiting to a quieter side of the building.

None of the performances made me uncomfortable in that “are we done now?” “where am I supposed to go?” “am I supposed to say something or not?” way that is always a risk with performances abandoning the conventions of stage performance (you know, get a program, sit down on risers with everyone else, chat with background music til the lights go down, watch quietly until the lights come up, applaud, leave).  The performers, directors, and producers had anticipated what guidance each audience member would need, so I could let myself experience each performance in the moment without wondering what to do next or worrying that my responses would throw them off.

It’s the start of a wonderful summer of entertainment celebrations of all kinds in Edmonton, Interstellar Rodeo and Edmonton Folkfest, Street Performers Festival, K-Days, Heritage Days, and Taste of Edmonton, culminating for me at the Fringe, August 17-27.  Summer’s here!

Threepenny Opera

Until this week, I don’t think I’d seen a musical as part of the University of Alberta Studio Theatre series.  (I’ve seen a musical on that stage, Strike!, but it was produced by a different company.)   Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, playing this week and next, was directed by Brian Deedrick the opera conductor.

I didn’t know much about it beforehand, and on the preview night there were no programs so I didn’t get the advantage of Director’s Notes and other context explanations.  I also didn’t think to find out how long it would be and whether there would be an intermission.  (It is long.  There is an intermission.  Counting the intermission it runs close to 3 hours.)  And with the house filling up, I didn’t take time to read the bios posted outside the auditorium.  At the intermission I fumbled to look up who was who, and I discovered that the 2015 BFA class had been reinforced with Mark Vetsch (Grindstone Theatre, last seen at the Studio Theatre in Love’s Labours Lost), Lily Climenhaga (whose name I saw in the credits for the script of Orestes 2.0), and Neil Kuefler (BFA 2014).

There were two songs in this show that were familiar to me, the “Pirate Jenny” one (sung by Nikki Hulowski) and “Mack the Knife”.  The jazz standard “Mack the Knife” was written by Kurt Weill for the original 1928 production, although I have to admit that I learned it first through the McDonald’s Mac Tonight commercials in the late 1980s.  And there were a lot of familiar tropes.  When I left the theatre, I was thinking I could describe it as Cabaret crossed with, hmm, some kind of comic gangster king story, like the one in Anything Goes maybe.   But that’s not quite right, because the sense of impending danger from an imminent corrupt regime was not quite the same as in Cabaret, it was more like a critique of the capitalist kyriarchy or something.   The sense of familiarity in much of the story is illustrated in the very long list of recognizable character/plot elements on the TVTropes page for Threepenny Opera.

The main character or anti-hero or whatever, Macheath (Hunter Cardinal) doesn’t appear early in the show.  The buildup adds to the sense of danger and mistrust around the man, who could so easily have become more simply ridiculous in yellow kid gloves and spats.   If I remember correctly, the show opens with the police commissioner Brown (Max Lebeuf) singing a song in German, then a couple of street singers (Natalie Davidson and Zvonimir Rac) talking and singing to the audience about the premise of the show as an opera for beggars and put on by beggars, and about the characters of Macheath the womanizing boss of the underworld, and Peachum (Joe Perry) who runs a business managing (franchising, almost) troupes of beggars.

We then meet Peachum, his drunken wife (Bobbi Goddard), and his daughter Polly (Kabriel Lilly), and observe the extremely cynical hiring and instruction of a new beggar (Dylan Parsons).  Plot conflicts begin to arise as Polly elopes to marry Macheath.  I generally don’t like the gangster’s-girlfriend stereotype with the high-nasal Brooklyn-baby-girl voice and curled blonde hair (like Lesley Ann Warren’s character in Victor Victoria), but Lilly’s version of Polly moves past the stereotype.   Peachum directs the police commissioner to arrest Macheath, but as they are old friends he wants Macheath to escape.  And Macheath misses chances to escape because he keeps stopping to visit his other romantic attachments, including his previous girlfriend Jenny (Hulowski), the commissioner’s daughter Lucy (Morgan Yamada), and a houseful of prostitutes (I don’t know whether the prostitutes were all female but a couple of them were cross-cast, or whether one or two of the prostitutes he’s visiting were male.)

The whole thing takes place around the time of a coronation (I think probably Queen Victoria), and in the end Mack is rescued from the gallows by a deus ex machina in the person of an imperial messenger descending from the sky (Dylan Parsons).

The beggars’-opera premise is reinforced by the costuming, in which each character seems to be wearing a few symbolic costume elements thrown over some approximately-period undergarments and shoes.  This led to some odd gender-presentation combinations.  The beggars’ rags given to Parsons’ character Filch are a beautifully layered concoction of ragged strips of weighted cloth.  Many of the male characters wear jackets without shirts, sometimes with collar and tie.  Cardinal’s Macheath has a disturbingly villanous mustache.   Lighting was generally harsh and cold – maybe that’s part of what reminded me of Cabaret.  Characters not in the scene were often seated on the various platform levels around the edge of the stage, and backlit motionless.

Music for the performance is provided by a small excellent jazz orchestra under the direction of Peter Dala.  Apart from the songs I mentioned above, I particularly enjoyed a solo by Morgan Yamada as Lucy, one of Macheath’s later songs that had a Les Mis-reminiscent anguish and resonance to it, and a few group dance numbers.

Threepenny Opera continues until February 14th, with tickets at Tix on the Square.

Loveplay, a speedy trip through a history of sex

Moira Buffini’s Loveplay opened last Thursday as part of the University of Alberta Studio Theatre series, directed by faculty member Jan Selman.  I saw it the night before opening along with a very responsive preview crowd, full of sighs and squeals of delight and “Awww”s and “you owned him girl!“s, and I thought it was a lot of fun.

The play showcases ten vignettes of some kind of sexual or romantic interaction, taking place at the same location at different times in history, from Roman Britain to the present.  Each scene starts with some kind of title card introducing the era, in some format consistent with the design (the Roman Britain one looked like chiseled stone).  The six performers in the show (Nikki Hulowski, Maxwell Theodore Lebeuf, Kabriel Lilly, Dylan Parsons, Zvonimir Rac, and Morgan Yamada) each played multiple roles, as well as assisting the running crew with transitions.

I appreciated the playwright’s choice to include a glimpse of sexual assault but not to make it either the first or the last story.  In a particularly disturbing Dark Ages scene, three men (Lebeuf, Parsons, and Rac) discuss the woman they are consecutively assaulting (Lilly) in chillingly dehumanized terms, and after they leave her for dead she howls in solitary anguish, conveying the impression of hopelessness with no expectation of revenge or justice.  The performers in this scene balance the horrific situation with the ordinary dialogue sensitively.

The most light-hearted scenes in the narrative are those of the Renaissance (1584) and the Age of Innocence (1969), both of which include Hulowski and Rac playing a couple of long duration.  The Renaissance scene opens with Lebeuf and Hulowski declaiming heightened dialogue about their true love, which turns out to be rehearsal of a playwright (Rac)’s autobiographical work-in-progress.  This offers lots of amusing opportunity for humour about the creative process, about 16th century theatre, and about the trajectory of a romantic relationship between a young woman and her tutor.  The Age of Innocence scene is about a young couple attempting to host some kind of free-love drop-in encounter for the first time and getting cold feet, while their guests (Parsons and Lilly) seek relief from their relationship ennui.

Various other scenes explore power imbalances in sexual relationships (Yamada as governess in Lebeuf’s 1823 household, Parsons as an artisan hired by Enlightenment-era scientist Lilly to satisfy her curiosity about the male form) and prostitution (Yamada’s two prostitute characters both seem to be independent businesswomen taking charge in their relationships with their clients).

More hopeful resolutions are seen in The Age of Empire (1898) and The Age of Excess (contemporary).  In The Age of Empire, two men who had been friends as boys find new connection and “the birth of love” despite one being an artist and the other a married vicar.  The Age of Excess is set in the office of a matchmaker (Lilly) who is preparing to introduce some clients despite her own romantic difficulties – her girlfriend/assistant (Hulowski) is angry with her for being unwilling to commit, and flirting with the clients in response.  One of the clients (Parsons) embodies all the worst characteristics of entitlement and pickupartistry, from putting down the woman he’s meeting to whining “It’s not fair, why wasn’t she like that with me?”  Yet the two clients who hit it off immediately and leave together (Yamada and Lebeuf) do so having each disclosed some aspects of their difficult history (she’s a divorcée and single parent; he’s a recovering alcoholic), so as an audience member I was left with the message that learning from mistakes and being open can lead to mutual happy relationships.

Throughout the journey through history, we encounter many observations on sexual politics and relationships that have relevance to current life.  A character in the Renaissance comments on the perceived difference between a lover’s kiss and that of a wife, as “what you bestow and what I own.”  A cloistered nun in the New Millennium (1099) scene wonders “why would a man choose such a life?”  A later character mentions that there is no insult like “man-whore”, that what is an insult for a woman translates to “lover” for a man.

The simple set focuses on a sharply raked square platform, representing the square of land through the ages.  Some of the set elements (walls, platforms) appeared for only one scene; others were seen later as ruins.  Characters in the various eras made reference to previous uses or buildings, sometimes with dramatic irony (the Roman soldier is building a latrine, which the Dark Ages characters then assume must have been some type of temple).

Loveplay is light-hearted but not lightweight.  Considering it along with the playwright’s Gabriel, I am looking forward to seeing her Blavatsky’s Tower cast with the other performers in the graduating BFA class at the end of this month.  Loveplay continues until this Saturday, with tickets available at the door and at Tix on the Square.

Frenetic Dreamtime, an evening of clown play

The University of Alberta’s BFA Acting class of 2015 will be on the Studio Theatre stage starting with Moira Buffini’s Loveplay at the end of October.  But you can see them tonight (Saturday) in an evening of original clown turns called Frenetic Dreamtime.

I went to the preview Thursday night at the Timms Centre’s Second Playing Space.  Each of the ten class members had a character who did a turn, mostly solos but sometimes helping each other out.  The show was hosted by a character played by Maxwell Lebeuf.  As the audience enters, this character is seated at a dressing table facing away from the audience, doing makeup and getting in to nose and costume.   It was a bit unsettling to find it hard to distinguish the pre-show time where it was appropriate for us to chat with each other, send text messages, and knit (okay, I was probably the only one who wanted to knit) and the time when the show had started so respect would require us to observe silently.

Max’s character introduced each act by title and character name.  The custom of short clown turns each having a title, often involving wordplay, suddenly reminded me of classic animated cartoon style.   Because I don’t know all the members of the Class of 2015 by sight and because their CVs aren’t on the Drama department website yet, I can’t be certain which performers did what.  If you are reading this and you want to let me know, please feel free to email or post a comment on the entry.  But I think my favourites were the nesting hen laying eggs, the apprehensive mountain climber (Dylan Parsons), and the would-be bride of “White Wedding”.  All of these stories had an entertaining mix of some familiar emotions and some inventive physical expression of the narrative.  The ensemble worked together smoothly to set up quickly for each act, and I was particularly impressed by this because a few of the acts involved making a mess on the floor.

The show ended with Maxwell Lebeuf’s character singing a cabaret-style version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, and the nine other clowns doing a choreographed dance as backup.  That was a lot of fun too.

Frenetic Dreamtime has one more show tonight at 7:30 pm at the Timms Centre Second Playing Space.  Seating is limited (although they might bring out more chairs if there’s a bigger crowd).  Admission is free, and there’s an opportunity to donate to either or both of the Drama Department bursary fund and the class of 2015 audition tour.

Merchant of Venice

As I mentioned in a recent post, Merchant of Venice was the first Shakespeare play I encountered in its entirety, in Grade 9 English. I think I saw a Stratford production a year or two later.  I don’t think I’ve read it, seen it or thought about it much since.    But when I heard that the 3rd year BFA students were going to be doing it this winter, I immediately recalled the first lines “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.  It wearies me; you say it wearies you” and the last “Well, while I live I’ll fear no other thing, so sore as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring”.  I didn’t have them quite word perfect, but surprisingly close.  Maybe that was because one of the Grade 9 assignments had me producing a radio play (cassette tape recording) of life in the 17th century, and I put in the start and end of a monotone performance of Merchant of Venice.

Studying the program before the performance started, I saw that some minor characters had been cut (Old Gobbo, assorted friends of Antonio, servants), to cover the rest with the ensemble of ten actors.  I also picked up that a couple of characters had been gender-switched, with Bobbi Goddard cast as Antonia and Morgan Yamada (in the performance I saw) cast as the Duchess of Venice.  Bobbi Goddard also played Shylock’s friend Tubal as male, with sidecurls and beard.

Having a female Antonia worked really well.  Bassanio’s affection for his old friend was obvious in his gestures and glances, and although she was in some ways less effusive about him, the text has her prepared to pledge her life to get him the money, so it feels credible.   The subtext about how it must feel to be the old friend when Bassanio is prepared to abandon everything for his new love, oblivious about how this shifts the friendship, is particularly obvious with a female Antonia, and I thought Ms. Goddard did this part very well, in an understated way that she doesn’t expect Bassanio to pick up on.  (I am always on Team Éponine.)

I didn’t know what to call the period of the costumes and stage-business, especially the part with the impressive cocktail mixing by Nerissa (Nicole Hulowski), until I saw Mary Poppins the next night and recognised that they were about the same.  So, approximately Edwardian.  Most of the men in business suits of generous cut, Shylock (Joseph Perry in the performance I saw) with a large black kippah and visible fringes of a tallit, businesswomen (Antonia and the Duchess) in fitted jackets/bodices and skirts like Mary Poppins and the other young women (Portia, Nerissa, Jessica) in high-necked gowns like Mrs Banks.   That was an interesting choice, making it modern enough that the female Antonia could be credible, but long enough ago that the treatment of Jews by the Venetian society was both easier to believe and easier to accept than in a modern setting.  It was still disturbing, though.  The audience around me was gasping or sighing most in the parts where people casually insult or tease Jessica (Natalie Davidson) about her religion/ethnicity, but I think I was even more bothered about the happy-ending resolution to the court case having Shylock forced to turn Christian.   In a powerful statement from stage design, after Shylock leaves the court (is hauled away?  I can’t remember) abandoning his well-worn Torah on the floor, lighting covers it in a cross shape.  I felt sorry for Shylock, even in the speech when he finds out that his daughter’s taken off with his money.   I was also thinking about how the way he dominates his daughter is characteristic of how we often expect to see patriarchs in ethnic minorities, whether or not it is a fair portrayal.

I did not feel sorry for him in the courtroom scene though.  And the part about preparing Antonia to lose a pound of flesh from her bosom was much more horrifying and effective for me with Antonia being female.   I thought it was convenient but not quite believable that the Duchess was prepared to accept the judgement of the unknown doctor of laws (Kabriel Lilly as Portia) on the basis of a letter of introduction, but the Duchess in this story was very similar to the Duke of Syracuse in Comedy of Errors, being required to follow the law but wishing for excuses to be merciful.  Also, it reminded me that in the most recent production of Comedy of Errors that I’d seen, the ruler of Ephesus was played as a woman but referred to as Duke (by Julia Van Dam at Red Deer College) and that worked just as well as making Venice ruled by a Duchess.

Bassanio, Portia’s successful suitor, was played by Maxwell Lebeuf.  His decision-making speech “Tell me where is fancy bred” was done well as an unaccompanied song.  His impulsive irrepressible sidekick Gratiano is Hunter Cardinal, with Cheshire-cat grin.  I enjoyed watching the contrast between the two couples, the reserved Portia and cautious Bassanio compared to Gratiano and Nerissa’s more immediate joyful connection.  Lorenzo (Dylan Parsons) is a bit more of a puzzle, because Gratiano makes fun of him as being serious like Bassanio, but he also seemed somehow younger.   The scene with Lorenzo and Jessica canoodling on a riverbank while house-sitting was sweet.

The scenes with the unsuccessful suitors were also amusing, Hunter Cardinal as the Prince of Morocco with fez-like hat using his scimitar for a phallic reference (flashback to Lysistrata on that), and Dylan Parsons as the Prince of Arragon, in leather pants and Castilian lisp, reminding me of the Spaniard Don Armando in the recent Studio Theatre production of Love’s Labours Lost (Oscar Derkx).  I particularly enjoyed Nerissa’s grimaces behind their backs while Portia’s good manners prevented her from showing what she was thinking.   Launcelet Gobbo was the typical silly errand-runner character used in a lot of Shakespeare.  In the performance I saw he was played by Zvonimir Rac.

The Shakespearean language was managed coherently and dramatically by the whole ensemble (who were coached by Shannon Boyle).  I love when you don’t notice that you’ve been listening to unrhymed iambic pentameter until one character suddenly speaks in prose or in a rhyming couplet, and this production did that well.  I caught one small line fumble but it wasn’t distracting.

The last performance of this production was tonight.  You can look forward to seeing the BFA Class of 2015 in next year’s Studio Theatre season.   And if they’re doing anything before that, well, I hope someone sends me a Facebook invitation.

Lysistrata

Unlike the eponymous Three Sisters of Chekov’s play, the women in Lysistrata band together and take some control over the circumstances of their lives.  After watching The Three Sisters last night, I watched the U of A Drama production of Lyistrata this afternoon and found the contrast satisfying.

It is also ridiculously funny and outrageously crude.

The adaptation from Aristophanes’ original was by Robert Brustein.  Jeff Page (recently of RDC, where he directed Comedy of Errors this fall) directed.  The cast members were from the BFA Acting class of 2015, and the play was performed on the Corner Stage of the U of A Fine Arts Building, an interesting intimate space with steep carpeted risers and higher-level performance areas around the outside of the room.  I was particularly amused by the characterisations of Lampito the Spartan woman (Nikki Hulowski), Penelope wife of Odysseus (Morgan Yamada), and by the comic timing and stage business of Kinesias (Hunter Cardinal).  The title role of Lysistrata was played with contrasting gravitas by Natalie Davidson, and I am particularly looking forward to seeing her act in more serious material in future.

The Facebook invitation to the event promised “free”, “fun, laughs, and phalluses”, and the play lived up to its billing.  When the audience entered the room, most of the cast was dancing around the room with glee and abandon to electronic dance music, wearing costumes of ancient Greece.  They then gathered on stage and dedicated the auditorium to Dionysus “with its original name, the Thrust Stage”.   The ending of the play was somewhat surprising to me, but I was still chuckling when I left.