Tag Archives: nikki hulowski

Fringe 2017 – the last weekend

A Beautiful View – Perry Gratton directed Nikki Hulowski and Samantha Jeffreys in this Daniel MacIvor script, a lovely celebration of a hard-to-label relationship between two women. “You have to be very organized to be bisexual”, the one explains to herself/the audience while deciding not to follow up on an unexpected sexual encounter.   There are a lot of segments where a character speaks facing the audience – sometimes they are alternating in a conversation with each other as retold to the audience.  I don’t know how much of that is in MacIvor’s script, but I think I remember a lot of it in a play Gratton directed several years ago at Fringe, Letters to Laura.  The ending was … well, there was enough foreshadowing that the not-entirely-explicit awful/sad ending must have actually happened.  But I wish it hadn’t, since I really liked both characters.  They were quite different from each other, but there were things I identified with in both of them.  (A Beautiful View has one holdover performance on Thursday.)

Late Night Cabaret – Late Night Cabaret is an Edmonton Fringe tradition.  It happens at midnight, every night of the Fringe except the last Sunday when things wrap up early.  I only went to it once this year, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on the ongoing jokes and routines.  Hosts Amy Shostak and Julian Faid have guests from other shows every night as well as the very talented house band Ze Punterz.  The Backstage Theatre sells out with happy artists, volunteers, and dedicated fringegoers extending their evening and building community.  It runs about an hour and a half with an intermission, and I think maybe the bar stays open during the show.  Some people go to it every night.

Multiple Organism – This piece by Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail troupe (Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel) was the most original and creative work I saw at this year’s Fringe, and I liked it a lot.  It made extensive use of unusual projection techniques.  Some of it was a little gross, but not gratuitously so.

Rivercity: The musical  – Rebecca Merkley wrote and directed this new musical which seems to be an homage to the Archie-comics characters without quite borrowing their names.   It’s full of amusing quick-changes for double&triple-cast actors, silly puns, and cartoon-inspired sound effects (especially the wind-up-and-dash running starts of red-headed Andrews (Molly MacKinnon), which sounded like the Road Runner or something).  In between, though, there were some touching and serious solos for various characters, particularly for the viewpoint character Bee (Vanessa Wilson) and for the Jughead-like Jonesy (Josh Travnik, also multiply-cast in Evil Dead).   The cast of four (Kristin Johnston plays Reggie and the principal among others) covers too many characters to count.  Live music is provided by Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe, wearing Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat-ears. 

Tempting – Erin Pettifor and Franco Correa are a psychic and a sceptic in Ashleigh Hicks’ new script.  When the audience enters the Westbury Theatre auditorium, the large stage has been made into a cozy cluttered studio-space for psychic Alaura (Pettifor).  She is puttering about doing yoga poses in a disjointed distracted way and making tea.  At first it is not clear why Adam is dropping in before business hours, and it is also not clear why Alaura is so immediately adversarial.  Those things do become clear – Adam’s girlfriend Constance is a client, and Adam wants Alaura to recant the advice (or prediction, or support) she gave Constance in a decision Adam doesn’t like.   The problem as described is interesting – Constance is dying and in pain and wants to pursue medically-assisted death, which Alaura supports and Adam doesn’t.  But I don’t really feel compassionate for either of the characters on stage, as I find out more about their motivations and connections to Constance, and I found the ending unsatisfying. 


I think I saw 28 performances this Fringe (one a repeat) and I might see a couple more at holdovers this week.

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.

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.