Tag Archives: patrick lundeen

Memories and witnesses in Blood of Our Soil

One of the powers of live theatre is that it can educate audience members about horrible things that happened or are happening.  Sometimes people with privileged and busy lives like mine kind of missed reading about world events or unpleasant parts of history.  I’m not sure whether it’s worse nowadays, when first encounters with news might come through the filter of which stories from which sources the people on my Facebook feeds choose to link and when we get to hear about so many awful things happening that it’s easy to be distracted by the next one, or whether it was worse in the past when there was no way around mass media, nobody tweeting from war zones.

Live theatre can also be an effective way of making sense of traumatic stories experienced by parents and grandparents, placing them in context and sharing them with a wider public.  In Empire of the Son, which played earlier this year at the Citadel, the performer-creator Tetsuro Shigematsu tells some of his father’s stories, including being a Japanese child during World War II and experiencing fallout from Hiroshima (literal fallout).  In Children of God, which previews at the Citadel starting tomorrow, Corey Payette and his creative team will show us some stories of indigenous children in Canadian residential schools, and how the experience affected them and their families later.  And in Blood of Our Soil, which opened last night at the Arts Barns Westbury Theatre, playwright and performer Lianna Makuch, director Patrick Lundeen, and the Pyretic Productions team show us some details of the hardships of Ukrainian people over the last 90 years or so, in a format that felt human-scale, touching and inspiring, and also showed me how much I just don’t know about that part of the world. 

The Westbury Theatre space was arranged in a way that felt more three-dimensional and alive than I’ve ever seen it.  Stephanie Bahniuk’s design had dim dappled lighting full of mist exposing a thrust stage area crisscrossed with laundry lines above, and damaged buildings towards the back, with projections (Nicholas Mayne) showing glimpses of life through the windows.  Closer inspection revealed that the buildings all seemed to be constructed of old wooden pallets/skids.  It reminded me of the set for Irma Voth, but come to life in three dimensions instead of being flat and behind the action.

The first act follows a fairly conventional solo-narration format, with Makuch switching back and forth between a character like herself and her Baba (grandma), signalling the switch by pulling her kerchief over her hair and sometimes changing her accent.  Larissa Pohoreski provides some musical background, and the other performers Oscar Derkx, Julia Guy, Maxwell Lebeuf, and Tanya Pacholok create a chorus of expressive movement, occasional song, and joyful folk-dance.

At the end of the first act, the dying Baba tells her granddaughter to go home for her, go to her home in Ukraine.

The second act is all contemporary.  Makuch relates how the narrator travels not only to the village and house of her grandmother’s memories, but to the current war zone of Eastern Ukraine.  In this act, the other performers all represent people she gets to know in the areas touched by war, young former soldiers (Derkx and Lebeuf), Russian-speaking sisters whose brother had been killed in Kyiv participating in the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 (Pohoreski and Pacholok), and a young mother, an internally displaced person living with her small child in a hostel and longing for an apartment and a job and hope (Guy).  I found this character particularly compelling, abrupt and mistrustful, with her fierce protectiveness expanding from herself and her daughter to cover the Canadian visitor as well.  Makuch is painfully honest in showing the visitor’s naiveté and questioning her motives, which impressed me.  Suddenly I remembered the first performance in which I had ever seen her, Greg MacArthur‘s The Missionary Position, which illustrated the harm done by well-meaning misguided Canadian visitors in a place like Haiti.   The audience gets to share in the narrator’s astonishment that in an area of recent/ongoing conflict, “veteran” doesn’t fit the connotations we might have here, old men and women in Legion jackets.  She gets drunk with the young former fighters, and they tell her stories, not just stories of fighting but of how the fighting affected their relationships with women, some of them very funny.

Blood of Our Soil runs at the Arts Barns until March 9th, with tickets available here.


Morgan Smith’s Cheerleader! – a reading at the Timms

After taking a couple months off from posting (I’ve still been doing theatre stuff and watching shows, and I hope to share my notes with you and get caught up soon), the first production I am posting about is the one I didn’t get to see, the ticket I didn’t get to use – Human Loser’s production of Morgan Smith’s Cheerleader, scheduled to open at the Roxy Theatre last week under Clinton Carew’s direction.

Because, as anyone in the Edmonton theatre scene already knows, the Roxy Theatre building burned down last Tuesday morning, just as Cheerleader was set to start preview performances.   The building was built in 1938 as a movie theatre, and had been home to Theatre Network since 1989.  Theatre Network, under the artistic direction of Bradley Moss, produces an annual schedule of challenging professional theatre, often new and often Canadian, hosts the emerging-artists festival Nextfest in the spring, and also curates a “Performance Series” of works from other theatre companies, like Cheerleader.  I had been looking forward to this play, being familiar with the work of local actors Joleen Ballandine (last seen in the Fringe Festival comedies Real Time and Excuse Me! and as a regular player at Rapid Fire improv), Patrick Lundeen (Kill Me Now, Sia, Christmas Carol, etc), and Lianna Makuch (U of A BFA grad I’ve also seen on several local stages since she graduated).

Playwright Morgan Smith hopes to have arrangements in place soon for a local production to do this script justice, after replacing the lost props, costumes, and set.  But they were able to do a bare-stage reading last night at the University of Alberta Timms Centre Mainstage, thanks to the generosity of the Timms Centre and the Department of Drama.

What I heard and saw last night confirmed that I will definitely take the opportunity to see the full production.

I had never been to a staged reading before.  The playwright and the actors were all on a simply lit bare stage with chairs and with scripts on music stands.  The playwright read the stage directions.  The actors stood when they were in the scene and sat down when they weren’t.  Instead of looking at each other or hitting each other or embracing each other as the script called for, they all faced the audience and mimed a bit as needed.  This was a bit distracting at first but was easy to get used to.  It reminded me of attending the recording of a radio show like The Irrelevant Show.

The two most enjoyable parts were the parts that were acted out, which is part of why I want to see the rest of the show acted out.  The show opened with a delightful cheerleading routine / dance number involving all four characters with pompoms.  And partway through there was a hilarious non-verbal scene set in a row of cinema seats, with people changing seats, sharing popcorn, making out, and disagreeing.

The characters in the story were four high school students, two football players (Patrick Lundeen and Matthew McKinney of Calgary) and two cheerleaders (Lianna Makuch and Joleen Ballandine).  The head cheerleader (Makuch) and the quarterback (Lundeen) seemed to be the “alpha couple” of the school, with the other two as their respective best friends.  Each of the characters was shown to have some familial or personal challenges, using the narrative techniques of monologue asides or scenes with the other actors standing in as teachers and family members.  There was also some narrative framing of Lianna Makuch’s character telling the story to the audience by directing the others to act it out, which was particularly amusing as the narrative ended, but because of the nature of the reading I found this framing a bit confusing.  I am sure it would be more clear in a fully-staged performance.

The story seemed to be taking place in a one-week timeframe, as the other characters planned a surprise birthday party for Lundeen’s character on the next Saturday night.  Some of the situations and attitudes seemed fairly predictable, although not boring or stereotypical, but the characters were interesting enough to intrigue me.

Joleen Ballandine’s character Sophie was the most interesting to me, as the cheerleader-sidekick in unrequited love with her female best friend.  The scene in which she vents her internalized homophobia in a vicious phone call to an offstage gay character is compellingly awful and unfortunately credible.

Donations to Theatre Network may be made on line through Canada Helps.  I know that Human Loser Theatre was collecting donations last night to re-mount Cheerleader, but I don’t know if they also have an on-line donation option.  (I’ll link later if I find out anything.)

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.




Romeo and Juliet at the Citadel

The Citadel Theatre’s Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Program takes a cadre of young professional theatre artists every year, and after a period of full-time work together produces one play in the Citadel season.  Last year it was The Penelopiad.  This year it is Romeo and Juliet.  Tom Wood directed the play, and Professional Program participant Andrew Ritchie is credited as Assistant Director.

I’ve read the play through a few times and encountered many adaptations and variations of the star-crossed lovers’ tragedy, from West Side Story to Good Night Desdemona Good Morning Juliet to the Hudson’s Bay Company/Northwest Company concept a friend is working on.  Productions of Romeo and Juliet are used as background in a season of Slings and Arrows, in one of Norma Johnston’s young adult novels, in Mieko Ouchi’s play I Am For You, and in many other stories, so that it’s possible to fake a familiarity with the story without ever reading or seeing it directly.

Last night was my first time ever seeing the play.  After seeing several recent Shakespearean productions in simpler costumes of more recent periods, it was a pleasure to see this production dressed in rich embroidered brocades and heavy fabrics that felt approximately traditional.  The men’s trousers seemed like skinny jeans with goaltender jockstraps on top, but I guess that made sense in a culture that valued decoration but had a lot of swordfighting.  Juliet had about six different outfits.  The costume design also allowed for the audience to enjoy some shirtless fight scenes and some brief appropriate nakedness.

The ensemble includes alternating casting for Romeo and Juliet.  On the night I attended, Romeo was Morgan David Jones, whose bio suggests that his roots are in Australia rather than Wales, and Juliet was Rose Napoli.  Both of them did a good job portraying the adolescent ranges of emotion needed for the characters and were credible as teenagers.  Especially considering that they both die before intermission, Jamie Cavanagh as Mercutio and Nick Abraham as Tybalt both made an impression on me as memorable characters.  Cavanagh, whom I first encountered in David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago at Fringe 2012, was perfect for Mercutio’s cocky repartee with the young men of the Montague crowd and lewd asides with the Nurse (Louise Lambert).  Abraham’s Tybalt, presumably nicknamed King of Cats for his swordfighting prowess, tosses his dreadlocks with an aloof confidence and secret pride that in this production arises also out of what appears to be a passionate affair with Lady Capulet (who is his aunt) (Mabelle Carvajal in the production I saw).  Early on Juliet accidentally sees her mother embracing Tybalt, which helps to explain her reluctance to confide in her mother later.

I didn’t find the other characters quite as memorable.  Chris W. Cook was the servant Peter, not as annoyingly foolish as some other Shakespearean message-bearers.  Jamie Williams and Patrick Lundeen were the well-meaning Friar Lawrence and Brother John.

The really sad thing about the story of Romeo and Juliet was not that the deaths were inevitable.  It’s that on the other hand they were so close to a feasible happy ending that just didn’t work out because of miscommunication and their own impatience.  Which left me irritated and not uplifted.   Also, I got thinking of how the trope of using a sleeping potion to feign death was also a plot point in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which we closed the night before, and how it didn’t work out there either.

Romeo and Juliet continues in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel until Sunday April 27th.  Tickets are available through the Citadel websiteMary Poppins is upstairs in the Shoctor Theatre until April 20th, and the Citadel season will wrap up with Make Mine Love, May 10th to June 1st.

A Christmas Carol at the Citadel

One of my motivations for writing up notes on what I see and posting them here during the run of the show is to encourage other people to go see the show, or to tell people enough about the show that the people who will like it will go.

But in the case of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel, I’m not sure whether I need to do that.  I had the impression that anyone in Edmonton who would like it has already seen it in previous years, and if they wanted to see it again they would already get tickets.  And when I saw it opening night, I guessed that most of the audience had seen it before, based on lots of them seeming to be anticipating the special effects that kept catching me by surprise.  I ended up seeing it closing night as well, and I can see why it’s such a perennial favourite with a long run every December.   It seemed to have a demographically diverse audience, some families with little kids, some families with older teenagers, and adults of all ages.  I wondered whether it was too intense or scary for some of the littler kids, or whether the story was familiar enough to them from other adaptations like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and readings-aloud that they could get past the scary bits remembering that at the end Scrooge isn’t really dead and neither is Tiny Tim.

The play has a cast of 42 with a lot of the adults playing more than one character. James MacDonald was Scrooge, and he was particularly fun when he giddily realises that he has time to mend his ways and change the outcomes.  Julien Arnold was the ever-grinning Bob Cratchit, and Eric Morin was Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Belinda Cornish did Mrs. Cratchit very well, conveying warmth and optimism while damping her usual powerful stage presence and upper-class accent enough to be convincing in the role.  Many other names on the cast list are familiar local actors and instructors at Foote Theatre School.

A lot of complicated scenery is moved quickly and smoothly on the Maclab Theatre thrust stage, much of it while our attention is distracted elsewhere.  Some magical special effects delighted me just as much on second viewing.   The ornate costumes clearly conveyed the class distinctions and the era and were fun to look at.

If you missed it this year, I’m sure it will come around again.  But in the meantime, there’s going to be lots of other great entertainment at the Citadel and around the other Edmonton stages in 2014.  I can’t wait.

Sia – painful but not unbearable story of the aftermath of war

Currently playing at the ATB Financial Arts Barns’ black-box theatre space PCL Studio Theatre is Pyretic Productions’ Sia, by Matthew Mackenzie.  There are about 50 seats arranged in two rows along one long side of the room, and the set visible before the play started included a piece of broken concrete-block wall, some debris, and steps up to a platform covered with some malevolently-twisted welded tube and old metal chairs, formed into shapes suggesting a large tree and some roots or vines.  Program notes mentioned a refugee camp in Ghana, Liberian child soldiers, and the Butcher of Liberia’s conviction for multiple war crimes, so I worried for a few minutes that I might find the portrayal too disturbing sitting in the front row.   But I didn’t, quite.

The lights then dimmed and I was swept away into the story, starting as Makambe K Simamba, playing a young girl (I first guessed her age between 9 and 15 but she later said she was eleven), recited a folktale about birds arguing over a mango and the snake advisor who betrays them.  In the next scene, we saw two young men staggering home together from a party.  The white Canadian student Nick Summers (Patrick Lundeen) was very drunk, and his friend Abraham, a black Liberian from the refugee camp where Nick has been volunteering (Thomas Olajide, who played the same part at Factory Theatre in Toronto last year) was helping him home and washing off the magic-marker tattoos he’s been covered with at his departure/birthday party.  We saw quickly that Abraham was sober and had some kind of plan that Nick didn’t know about, and even though they seemed to be friends, this was worrying.  I wasn’t even surprised when Abraham snapped handcuffs onto his half-conscious friend, and then video-recorded him as must be de rigeur for abductors.

Scenes then alternate between the interactions of Nick and Abraham, and interactions between Abraham and Simamba’s character, his well-loved precocious younger sister who is practising what she will say in a presentation she’ll give to some UN peace monitors expected in their village.   She tries out the Liberian Declaration of Independence, the symbolism of a Christian communion service, and a story about Poseidon and Atlantis, while her older brother encourages and teases and critiques her.

Abraham goads Nick about being a typical Canadian refugee-camp tourist, coming to “observe”, and this seems to be a fair accusation.  His attempt to do yoga sun salutations while chained up is classic.  His later behaviour under the influence is particularly amusing, and slightly reminiscent of the last character I’d seen Patrick Lundeen play, the “mildly retarded but it’s just fetal alcohol syndrome, I’m not stupid, eh?” character in Kill Me Now. I was also reminded of the naive missionaries of last year’s U of A Studio Theatre production The Missionary Position, and the jarring disconnect between their Canadian confidence and the setting they didn’t know they didn’t understand.

It all gradually makes sense, and has a sort of hopeful ending, but not without living through and reliving some horrible events consistent with the bigger story of that place and time.  Thomas Olajide’s character is the most developed and complex.  His smooth shifts back and forth between the young patriot teasing his sister and the tormented man using his friend in order to get something he needs desperately made me like and feel sorry for his character.

Sia is playing until Sunday, with tickets available through the Fringe box office.  It’s not for the squeamish or easily upset, but it’s a good story.  I’m glad I saw it.

Brad Fraser’s Kill Me Now, at Workshop West

KILL ME NOW is the kind of play that wins awards.  The kind of play that deserves to win awards.  I’ve seen it twice so far, because after the first time I saw it I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It’s written and directed by Brad Fraser (5@50, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love / Love and Human Remains, some episodes of Queer as Folk/North America, etc).  If you’ve ever seen or read anything of his, you know to expect blunt, funny, tough, affectionate portrayals of people dealing with hard issues, and possibly naked men.

The Workshop West production of Kill Me Now is the world premiere of the play.  It’s playing until September 22nd at L’UniThéâtre in La Cité Francophone, which is becoming one of my favorite venues in town, with a large flat stage, good acoustics, and comfortable seats on risers and wrap-around balconies.

The main characters are a father and son, played by Dave Horak and Mat Hulshof.  I don’t think I’ve seen Dave Horak on stage before, but I’ve seen plays he directed, including Fatboy (the Ubu Roi-inspired farce at Fringe 2012) and Bombitty of Errors (the rap version of Comedy of Errors  at Fringe 2013).  I saw Mathew Hulshof most recently in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.  Jake, the dad, seems like an ordinary likeable middle-aged guy, coping as a widowed single parent to Joey, a disabled 17 year old.   The other characters are Twyla, Jake’s younger sister (Melissa Thingelstad, who I remember from An Accident and Fatboy), Joey’s school friend Rowdy (Patrick Lundeen), and Robyn (“with a Y”) (Linda Grass) a long-time lover who meets Jake once a week but isn’t otherwise involved with his life.

At the start of the play, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to understand Joey’s slurred speech and I was uncomfortable looking at the actor’s portrayal of his limited mobility and awkward posture.  But I don’t know how much of this was very clever acting and directing, and how much of it was that he really wasn’t hard to understand once I got more used to him.  I wasn’t even aware of the gradual change until we saw Robyn meeting him for the first time, being embarrassed by failing to understand him.  Robyn is so obviously trying to gamely continue the conversation while hiding that she has no idea what he said, and at the same time talking to him like he’s deaf, stupid, and childish.  In both performances that I saw, the audience gasped in exasperation with her and sympathy with Joey at that point, so I guess that like me, they were all understanding him just fine and appreciating him too.

I thought that Dave Horak and Mathew Hulshof were both amazing in their roles.  Mat Hulshof readily expresses the wide range of a 17-year-old’s emotions within the limited palette of his character’s physical limitations.  Dave Horak’s character starts out settled within the fragile balance of the life he’s built for himself and Joey, but unprepared for Joey’s growing need for independence and autonomy, and then everything goes wrong and he has to change his plans and ask for more help.

The two women’s roles were more straightforward, but still not obvious.  I didn’t like Robyn at the beginning, but the way she worked to overcome her initial discomfort with Joey and the whole messy house and uncomfortable situation won me over.  And I liked Melissa Thingelstad in this play more than I liked her in An Accident, as the young aunt who has always helped out and who is frustrated with her own life and who doesn’t always agree with her brother’s decisions.

Patrick Lundeen’s Rowdy was a charmingly earnest young adult who is “mildly retarded, but I’m not stupid, it’s mostly Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, eh?”  He was a valuable comic relief, but I did not feel like his portrayal was mean-spirited or stereotypical.

Parts of the story were excruciatingly intimate.  And while they made me squirm, I did not feel like any of them were gratuitous.  They brought the audience into acknowledging that people who love each other can do awkward and hard things when they need to take care of each other, which is probably the theme of the play.

In the writer’s notes in the program, Brad Fraser explains that he has a family member who is severely disabled, and that he wanted to portray the complexities of everyday life and emotional response for a disabled person.  As far as I can tell, the actors Mathew Hulshof and Patrick Lundeen are not disabled themselves.  And I think I should leave it to people with personal experience of living with disability to comment on whether their portrayals are appropriate and respectful.

In his opening-night welcome words, Workshop West artistic director Michael Clark encouraged people to tweet about the show and tell their friends about it, but not to give away any plot points in their tweets, because the show is better when encountered without expectations.  I’m not sure that’s completely true because I still found it provocative, moving, amusing, and fascinating the second time through, but I’ve tried to respect the spirit of that request in this post anyway.  I liked it as much as I liked Let the Light of Day Through last year, and that one won the 2013 Stirling Award for Outstanding Production of a Play.  Tickets for the remainder of the run are available through Tix on the Square and at the door.  And you might see me there again.