Tag Archives: neil kuefler

Another week of Edmonton fun, mostly theatrical!

There’s lots going on in Edmonton this week too.  Yesterday, for example, the choices included the Folkfest ticket lottery at Telus Field (popular and well-organized and a sell-out again), the Edmonton Pride Festival parade (Pride events continue throughout the month), Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids (continuing this afternoon) and Nextfest, the emerging artist’s festival continuing until June 14th with music, theatre, dance, comedy, improv, film, visual arts, and more.

Most years I’m out of town for all of July and I spend June getting ready, so I’ve been missing out on lots of the Edmonton June events.  But this year I’m going to be around in July, which also means I get more of the fun of the long days of June.

Thou Art Here, the local troupe doing site-sympathetic versions of Shakespeare’s work, had a remount of last year’s successful Much Ado About Nothing at Rutherford House, the historic site preserving the residence of the first premier of Alberta .  The audience followed the actors around outdoors and indoors, upstairs and down, as the banter, schemes, betrayals and amends of the story took place.  Director Andrew Ritchie said that this play was a great choice for their company because the whole play takes place at Leonato’s house (Kris Joseph, recently seen in Vigilante).  They did some clever things including all the audience members in the story – guests at a masquerade, deputized citizens assisting the officers Dogberry (Amy Shostak) and Verges (David Barnet), wedding guests – and they also had individual audience members standing in for some of the minor roles which they hadn’t cast.  This was fun and not embarrassing.  It was an easy play for me to enjoy, because unlike some of Shakespeare’s comedies this one had the sharp-tongued woman (Beatrice, played by Gianna Vacirca) happily ending up with a man who appreciates her and gives as good as he gets (Benedick, played by Ben Stevens), and because nobody was killed to make a plot point (I’m looking at you, Winter’s Tale …).  Conflict was provided through the machinations of Don Joan (Alyson Dicey) and her henchman Borachio (Mark Vetsch), and eventually there was a happy ending for the other couple Hero (Marlee Yule) and Claudio (Hunter Cardinal).  I thought Neil Kuefler was particularly good as Don Pedro, Don Joan’s good-guy brother, although I was a little confused about why the character was using sitcom tricks to manage his friends.

Teatro La Quindicina has moved into the Arts Barns renovated Backstage space until the Varscona renovations are complete.  Their production of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, with Mat Busby and Julien Arnold, directed by Stewart Lemoine, is the start of their 2015 season.  It runs until June 13th.  Blarney Productions’ season is wrapping up with A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff, directed by Wayne Paquette and performed by Jesse Gervais and John Ullyatt.  It closes today (Sunday June 7th) with a 1:30 show.  Tickets for both are available at Tix on the Square.

This week I also attended Let There Be Height, the Firefly Theatre performance of circus/aerials students and teachers.  It was enchanting and impressive, with different turns set to music and strung on a storyline of dreams and a dreamer.

I also attended the Mayfield Dinner Theatre’s production of Cabaret, which I saw on Broadway last year.  This production included some local familiar faces, Cheryl Jameson (Helga), Benjamin Wardle (Bobby), Lucas Meeuse (Hans), Chelsea Preston (Angel), Pamela Gordon (Sally Bowles) and Jeff Haslam as Ernst Ludwig, the ingratiating small-time smuggler whose unveiling as a Nazi serves as unavoidable demonstration of the perilous chasm looming before all the characters in 1930s Berlin.  The viewpoint character Clifford Bradshaw is played with convincing awkwardness and wistfulness by Aiden Desalaiz, and the Emcee is Christian Goutsis.  I thought the shocking ending was particularly well done, in a polished performance.

The Falstaff Project: hanging out in a bar with Thou art Here Theatre

  • Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I is a story about the prodigal Prince Hal, the heir to the throne of his father King Henry IV.  While the king is busy fighting rebels, the Prince of Wales is carousing with disreputable companions in taverns.
  • Thou Art Here Theatre is a local company focusing on site-sympathetic and immersive adaptations of Shakespeare.
  • The Artery is a small community-driven liquor-licensed arts and music venue near downtown.  (They’re being forced to close their doors at the end of the month, but are working to find a new location and continue with their mandate.  Their fundraiser is here.)

Put these three together and you can see where it’s going:  telling the story of Henry IV Part I as seen from inside a tavern, at The Artery.  Andrew Ritchie developed the adaptation and directed the show, cleverly bringing the important bits happening outside the tavern in using multimedia – clips of breaking TV news read by the Messenger (Katie Hudson), TV interviews with the rebel Hotspur hiding out in a cellar (Ben Stevens) and with the King giving press conferences in City Hall (James MacDonald), Hal’s texts and FaceTime calls with the King.  Prince Hal (Neil Kuefler) and his friend Falstaff (Troy O’Donnell) hang out in the tavern managed by Hostess Quickly (Nancy McAlear) and her employee Francis (Ben Stevens), and their bluff sidekicks Poins (Alyson Dicey) and Bardolph (Jesse Gervais) drop in with rowdy schemes.

If you’re feeling hesitant about what you have to do as an audience member in an immersive theatre experience, this is a good one to start with.  Because basically, you can just sit in the tavern with a drink and watch the story happen around you, with no more work than twisting your neck.  Or you can get up and go get another drink, or you can engage with the players a bit more if you want.

I’m not very familiar with the source text, so I can’t tell you how the adaptation varies.  It seems to have much of the original language, but all the performers are comfortable enough with the Shakespearean text that it’s easy to follow and not distracting.  McAlear is especially natural as a timeless tavern-keeper.  Kuefler manages Prince Hal’s transition from irresponsible scamp to a smooth officer for his father with a surprising shift in body language as well as costume.  And O’Donnell was a delight as the lazy greedy opportunistic middle-aged knight Falstaff.  I got a little tired of all the fat jokes, but I guess I should take that up with Shakespeare and the audiences he was writing for.

The Falstaff Project is playing at The Artery until Sunday night – and oh! I forgot to tell you the other cool thing.  There’s music afterwards.  Different local musicians are playing after every performance, and admission to that is free with the play ticket, or $5 just for the music.  Advance tickets are 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.

Flowers and thorns – the tragedy of Blood Wedding

Federico Garcia Lorca’s compelling tale of dark passions, Blood Wedding, is playing at the U of Alberta Studio Theatre.  The director is Kathleen Weiss and the cast is the 2014 BFA Acting class, in their final large-cast show together.

As in all shows in the Studio Theatre series, the costumes, sets, lighting, and music combine to create a coherent world, in this case a parched and dangerous one.   Before the show starts, we see a few chairs painted with appealing folkloric motifs and a tumble of fancy linens on a table, along with a few set pieces and drapes to create the impression of a harsh landscape against a bloody sun.

The staging starts with a woman in black (Mariann Kirby as Mother) beginning to fold the linens, as a chorus of younger women mimes some physical task while sitting downstage and a chorus of men (Neil Kuefler, Adam Klassen, Oscar Derkx) tumbles, fights, and works with scythes in the background.  When her son (Kristian Stec as Groom) comes to tell his mother that he is heading to the vineyard, we begin to learn of her preoccupations, especially about knives, weapons, and her dead husband and elder son.  When her son tells her he wishes to marry, she is reluctant.  I couldn’t tell whether she already knew who her son was courting and had reservations about that specific young woman’s history and family, or whether her reluctance was all about the prospect of being abandoned.  When she questions him about “your fiancée”, I couldn’t tell whether she wasn’t naming the young woman just because that was the author’s style choice to make them more archetypal, or whether she was pretending not to know her or actually didn’t know who she was.  Eventually Mother gives in and says that she’ll participate in the customs of taking gifts to the bride’s family.   We also learn in that scene that the Bride was previously engaged to Leonardo, who is part of a family that the Mother holds a grudge against, probably due to whatever bloodshed led to her family’s deaths.

Everything is elliptical and not-quite-explained.  The story only makes as much sense as it does because of Zoe Glassman’s character Neighbour, a chatty woman friendly with all the families.  When Mother and Groom arrive at Bride’s family home, we meet the Maid (Cristina Patalas), the bride’s Father (Graham Mothersill), and then the Bride (Merran Carr-Wiggin).   Throughout the story, the Bride seems ambivalent about the Groom and the wedding, fond of him but sometimes flinching from his touch or from more direct mentions of affection to come.  The parents of the young people, both scarred from sad pasts and cautious of each other, gradually come to be allies, talking about prospects for land purchases and cultivation and their wishes for grandchildren.  The Maid ramps up the erotic intensity of the preparations a bit while she helps the Bride dress and do her hair.  And then we see all the characters swept up in wedding celebrations, dancing and singing and playing music.   Several times I was reminded of Svadba, last year’s opera production about a group of friends preparing a young woman for her wedding.

The third family in the story is seen earlier on, first in a sweet domestic scene where a young mother (Andrea Rankin) and her own mother (Georgia Irwin) sing to a baby, and then the baby’s father (Braydon Dowler-Coltman) appears equally devoted to his son.   At some point in there, someone calls Dowler-Coltman’s character Leonardo, so that part begins to fit together.  Leonardo is the former fiancé of Bride, the one who then married Bride’s cousin, and he’s also part of the family who was involved in Groom’s father and brother’s deaths.  The young mother seems worried about her husband taking off on his horse all the time and maybe lying about it.  She doesn’t like the idea of him going to the wedding – especially going on his horse by himself although he protests that he’s not the kind of man to ride passively in a carriage.

The whirling dancing, increasingly frenetic Spanish-guitar-type music, and Bride’s growing distress cue us to an upcoming crisis.  The Bride goes to take a rest, fending off the Groom’s suggestion that they might go to bed together.  While the party continues we see the Maid begin to rush frantically from one side of the stage to the other, eventually crying out that the Bride is missing and so is Leonardo.

A search begins, with ominous music and lighting and threatening scythe-waving.  By this point there was lots of evidence that Leonardo was obsessed with the Bride, but it wasn’t at all clear that the Bride was still stuck on him, so I began wondering how much choice and power she had in the situation.  When they were seen in their flight through the woods, though, she was clearly as drawn to Leonardo as he to her.  As the pursuers approach, I was impressed by Carr-Wiggin’s stage tumbling in a wedding gown, at the same time as being frightened about the outcome.

And the pursuit didn’t end quite as badly as I’d expected in that the Bride didn’t end up dead.  But the show didn’t end with the fight and the other deaths either – then we got to see the Bride abandoned by her new husband’s mother and cast off by her own father, “a fallen woman and a virgin”.  This reminded me of Tess of the D’Urbervilles – well, okay, of the movie Tess because I’ve never actually read the book; the movie was depressing enough in showing a woman trapped in an unfair situation because of the expectations on women in that society.  In Blood Wedding, the deaths themselves aren’t the end of the story. But the Mother comments that she is more at peace now that everyone she loved is dead and no longer at risk, which is a disturbing commentary on the nature of revenge, grudges, and blood-feud.

Nice design touches:  the chenille rivers of blood, the beggar/oracle’s raven’s wings, the Maypole effect dressing the Bride in bright coloured sashes.   I loved the very active staging especially the woodcutters tumbling and scythe work.  And I noticed the repeated metaphor of comparing men and boys to various flowers and to thorns.

Blood Wedding continues at the Timms Centre until April 5th, including a Monday-evening performance and a midweek matinée.  Tickets are at Tix on the Square as well as at the door.

Love’s Labours Lost, at the Studio Theatre

One thing all the U of Alberta Studio Theatre series productions have in common is interesting set and costume design with satisfying attention to detail.  Earlier this season I enjoyed the stark spareness setting the mood for pool (no water), and then the period costumes of Pains of Youth and Bloody Poetry.

The designs for Love’s Labours Lost were playful and full of joy, with bright colours and silliness conveying the frivolous not-quite-real background for this comedy, set by the text in the Kingdom of Navarre.  Apparently there was a real place by this name, located on the French border of Spain.   Visitors to the kingdom included a “fantastical” Spaniard, Don Armando (Oscar Derkx), with exaggerated and very funny Hispano-Quixotic gestures and accent,  and the daughter of the King of France (Mariann Kirby) and some members of her court (Merran Carr-Wiggin, Zoe Glassman, Cristina Patalastc, Braydon Dowler-Coltman, Sarah Ormandy).   Georgia Irwin plays the clown Costard with a consistent Scottish burr, for no explainable reason other than to make her character distinct from the local noblemen – but it’s funny.

The premise of the main plot is that the young King of France (Adam Klassen) convinces his male courtiers to join him for three years of studying, following a near-monastic rule with restrictions on food and sleep and a proscription on contact with women.  Berowne (Neil Kuefler) is particularly reluctant to sign on to this plan, although he eventually agrees along with the characters played by Kristian Stec and Graham Mothersill.  But almost immediately after they agree, they find out that the Princess of France and her attendants are on their way for a visit.  So they decide to keep the letter of the agreement by meeting the visitors in a park rather than in the palace.   And of course as soon as they meet, the men of Navarre are immediately struck with admiration for the women of France, conveniently aligned in non-conflicting pairs.

Meanwhile, bits of broader comedy (i.e. wacky hijinks) keep intervening, with the random cocky Spaniard and his saxophone-playing page (Andrea Rankin),  a country girl (Braydon Dowler-Coltman), the aforementioned clown Costard carrying messages and mixing them up, a constable (Brandon Nearey), a schoolmaster (Merran Carr-Wiggin), and a curate (Mark Vetsch).

The play runs almost two and a half hours (not counting the intermission) but I found that the time just flew by.

The story suits modern sensibilities and recent trends in popular culture by showing the Princess as competent with an air of authority, speaking mostly in prose, and in one scene hunting a deer with a bow and arrows.  I was most intrigued by the characters of the Princess and of Berowne, the courtier most willing to dispute with the King and then to declare his affection to Rosaline.  Berowne is also a leader in some affectionate trash-talking competition.

Love’s Labours Lost is directed by Kevin Sutley.  It is playing at the Timms Centre until Saturday, including a 2-for-1 ticket deal Monday (tomorrow).   If you click here on the Department of Drama website within the next few weeks, you can see a gallery of photos from the production showing the colourful costumes (the academic gowns and hoods are University of Alberta doctoral/faculty style).   And I’ll also offer you one more related link to click, the indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help the young performers of this BFA Acting class take a modest audition tour together after they graduate in the spring.

Pains of Youth

in the director’s notes for the U of Alberta Studio Theatre production Pains of Youth last month, Kim McCaw commented that he found troubling parallels between the world of the young students in the play and the uncertain future for present-day students, who find that “holding on to hope and optimism is increasingly difficult”.  I cannot confirm this first-hand, being neither pessimistic nor exactly a youth, but I found the world of the 1920s German medical students easy to slip into.   Ferdinand Bruckner wrote the play in German in about 1929.

The play is set in the lodgings of graduating medical student Marie (Andrea Rankin).   The other students and young people in the play live in the same lodging house or nearby, and Lucy (Mariann Kirby) is an eighteen-year-old housemaid.  We don’t meet the landlady.  The detailed set created an appealing cozy environment for Marie, surrounded with books, desks, suitcases, anatomy posters, and even a bowl of knitting.  I was distracted by trying to figure out what house layout would be compatible with the bits we saw and were told.  The door backstage left opened to Desiree’s room but they talked as if there was another door to the hallway from Desiree’s room.  The door stage right opened to a hallway of the lodging house, and people visiting Marie always entered and left by that door.   Between the two doors there was a window over Marie’s bed, which was illuminated as if it were open to the outside.  I guess one way this could work would be if the hallway proceeded past Marie’s room in the imaginary space where the audience was sitting, but as this didn’t occur to me until afterwards I was stuck trying to think whether their set design was inconsistent.

At intermission I was thinking that Marie was the only likeable character in the whole menagerie.  We saw her helping Desiree prepare for an exam and walking her to the exam hall for luck, buying Petrell a writing desk, showing kindness and humanity towards Lucy the chambermaid, and preparing a party to celebrate her graduation with all her friends.  We also learn that she’s from humble origins and has been funding her studies (and possibly her friends’) through dressmaking.  I identified with her immediately.

But of course things got more complicated.  Marie’s friends include Petrell (Neil Kuefler) a poet and former student she’s been romantically involved with but also been nurturing, Alt (Kristian Stec) a doctor who lost his license to practice due to the kind of ethical/legal issue that would still be controversial today, and medical students Freder (Graham Mothersill), Desiree (Georgia Irwin), and Irene (Cristina Patalas).  By intermission it seemed to me that all of them were kind of messed up, and Graham Mothersill’s Freder was so awful that labels like “sociopath” or “evil” were crossing my mind.

Desiree, the more junior student who lives in a room adjoining Marie’s, is obviously her intimate.  Her clinginess and admiration for Marie made it hard for me to tell, at first, whether she saw Marie as a platonic friend or sister, or whether there was some romantic or sexual component to her affections.  She expressed that ambiguous needy affection in ways that made me uncomfortable, because she talked about wanting to cuddle in a bed with Marie like she and her little sister had as children, and at first I thought that her advances made Marie uncomfortable too.  But later in the story, after Petrell has taken up with Irene, Marie seems to be sexually involved with Desiree and the other characters all take this in stride.

The next play in the 2013-2014 U of A Studio Theatre mainstage series is Bloody Poetry, currently playing.