Tag Archives: red deer college

Another Comedy of Errors

There are lots of Shakespeare plays that I’ve never seen, studied, or read.  I’ve heard of people who make a point of saving one Shakespeare play so they have something to look forward to … but it’s usually Troilus and Cressida or Coriolanus, something after Shakespeare was on the way to jumping the shark.  Anyway, until this year, I hadn’t watched Comedy of Errors at all.  Or studied it, or even read it.  But this summer I enjoyed a production of Comedy of Errors in the tent at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and then I went to the rap adaptation Bomb-itty of Errors directed by Dave Horak at the Edmonton Fringe.  And then in October I attended a Comedy of Errors production done by Red Deer College Theatre Performance and Creation students and directed by Jeff Page.

The set visible before the play started hinted at a fantasy setting, with playful pastel triangles painted on a city backdrop and courtyard flooring.  Then a drumroll and change in the lightning were followed by solemn standard-bearers and then the solemn entrance of the Duke of Ephesus (Julia van Dam) followed by her frail and bedraggled prisoner, Aegeon (JP Lord).  After the long exposition necessary in the first scene, where Aegeon explains about his wife having been lost at sea with one twin son and one twin slave-companion and the Duke explains that although she feels pity for him, she won’t make an exception to the law banning Syracusians, the action speeds up.  Antipholus of Syracuse (Jake Tkaczyk) and Dromio of Syracuse (Jen Suter), the bewildered travellers, stumble into a cheerful busy marketplace, with bubbly 1960s-inspired pop music in the background.  The costumes too seem to evoke the playful early 1960s, with ice-cream colours, argyle vests, and minidresses.  Soon the play’s theme of mistaken identity becomes clear, as various locals confuse the visiting Antipholus and Dromio for their identical-twin namesakes who live in the town, and the local pair (Richard Leurer as Antipholus of Ephesus and Brittany Martyshuk as Dromio of Ephesus) appear alternately with very similar body language and costuming, making the mix-up credible.  Leurer and Tkaczyk have almost identical jaw-hanging confused expressions.  Adriana, the impatient wife of Antipholus of Ephesus who is waiting the midday meal for her absent husband, is played with irritation and then increasing worry that her husband’s unexplained behaviour might mean that he is unfaithful, by Victoria Day.  Adriana’s unmarried sister Luciana (Constance Isaac) has some amusing stage business with high heeled pumps that hurt her feet.  Other local characters complicating the plot include Angelo (Tyler Johnson) a pompous prosperous goldsmith with tailored Nehru jacket and walking stick, an unnamed courtesan (Megan Einarson) in gogo boots with some outrageously flirtatious audience interaction, the Duke’s overeager executioner (Wayne De Atley) and the soothsayer Doctor Pinch (Jessie Muir), an odd steampunk cross between a psychotherapist and a psychic.  The servant Luce, who horrifies Dromio of Syracuse when she mistakes him for her husband Dromio of Ephesus, is played by Bret Jacobs.  Casting Jacobs was an inspired choice for director Jeff Page, since he plays the bossy cook and affectionate wife with hilarious gusto, but also because Dromio of Syracuse’s speech about her being repulsive because she is fat and dark-skinned is both funnier and more acceptable to my modern ears when the character is played by a man.  Another aspect of Shakespeare’s tale that made me uncomfortable on reading and on viewing of the previous productions was the way that the Dromio characters are treated by the Antipholus characters who own them/employ them and were raised together with them, with physical beating as well as verbal abuse.  Again, a directorial choice in this production made that aspect a little more ridiculous and less disturbing, with most of the beating being done using rolled up newspapers.

The courtesan and her retinue performed an original musical number, Nothing but Love, by Edmonton musician Paul Morgan Donald, in a sort of bubbly sixties pop style.  It was fun to watch and listen to, and it is still stuck in my head more than a month later.  It didn’t really advance the plot, but that didn’t matter.

As things get more and more confused and messed up for the fellows from Syracuse, I noticed that they became more and more disheveled with every entrance, jackets lost, shirttails untucked, bow tie undone and almost falling off.  Their Ephesian twins, more domestic and prosperous, didn’t get quite as unravelled.

And then just before things fall apart completely, the tidy denouement worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan has the twins reuniting, the Abbess (Collette Radau, in full habit and wimple subduing audience and citizens with intimidating facial expressions) declaring herself to be the missing wife of Aegeon, and everyone getting their money and jewellery back.

I was particularly impressed by Julia Van Dam’s performance as the Duke of Ephesus.  Her physicality conveyed the character’s undoubted authority, and it was clear in the first scene that the Duke regretted being unable to pardon Aegeon but was unwilling to break the law.  She didn’t play the part as a man; the Duke was referred to with female pronouns and this worked just fine.

The next play in the Red Deer College performance series, featuring some of these performers, is a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, adapted by Jim DeFelice with music by Larry Reese.  It opens tomorrow night, Thursday November 21st, at 7:30 pm on the Mainstage at the RDC Arts Centre.

Summertime at Red Deer College: confusing reality in a magical setting

In the Ontario city where I used to live, a few of the downtown commercial blocks had internal courtyards that you could access through twisty brick passages, so that you’d end up in a magical place in the middle where you couldn’t see or hear any cars.  In the best of these, there was a restaurant patio or two, with lattice sunshades and white fairy lights wound around the sunshades and trees, so that you could have a drink or a dinner in a place that felt like a couple of twists away from reality.

Last night I walked into Studio A at the Red Deer College Arts Centre to find it transformed into such a magical courtyard, for the Theatre Performance and Creation program’s production of Charles Mee’s Summertime, as directed by Lynda Adams, an instructor in the program.  The risers for the audience were arranged on three sides, with white cloth draperies over each chair pinned with an artificial flower, like at a wedding reception.  Clear twinkling light illuminated white garden furniture and several trees; closer inspection showed the tree branches full of white teacups.  Three identically-dressed actors were already present on the stage, three young women going through stylised synchronised motions of reading, writing, sitting and standing while seeming completely unaware of each other.

Looking at the program revealed that the three, Jessie Muir, Constance Isaac and Taylor Pfeifer, were all cast as Tessa, and several other roles were also filled by two or three actors.   This was a choice made by director Adams in order to include all 21 members of the ensemble in the production, and it turned out to work surprisingly well with Mee’s source text, particularly the first bit which is cryptic, full of awkward pauses and what I think of as gnomic.  The duplicate or triplicate actors sometimes recited the line together, and sometimes alternated.  Their actions were sometimes identical and symmetrical, with each of the three Tessas looking at one James (JP Lord, Dustin Funk, Lucas Hackl) and one François (Tyler Johnston, Chase Condon, and Richard Leurer), and sometimes the three would be responding differently or all rushing to one corner of the stage.  It took surprisingly little time to get accustomed to this narrative convention.

As the story unfolds, the self-possessed young woman Tessa is rattled by two unexpected suitors, then overwhelmed by a crowd of family and friends arriving.  As the characters interact we can see why Tessa soon exclaims

“This is what I grew up with!
What chance did I have with a family like this?
And you want to fall in love with me?
How can anyone expect me to form any kind of relationship
with another human being?”

François, who at first seemed the more appropriate suitor for Tessa than the painfully awkward stranger James, seems to have previously been involved with not just the family friend Mimi (Victoria Day), but also with Tessa’s mother Maria (Julia VanDam, Megan Einarson and Brittany Martyshuk), glamorous, remote, and somehow European, with a flowered scarf in her hair or thrown around her neck.  Two staid slouching middle-aged men outfitted from an LL Bean catalogue for cottage weekends, with baggy khakis and brightly coloured sweaters, turn out to be Tessa’s father Frank (Jake Tkaczyk), and Edmund (Bret Jacobs), Frank’s friend, companion, and lover.  Other friends, connections, and a pizza delivery man (Sasha Sandmeier, Victoria Day, Wayne De Atley) react to each other showing that everything is more complicated than originally assumed, and that nobody is happy with the situations.  Barbara, who seems to be the housekeeper (Jennifer Suter and Collette Radau), interrupts with an over-the-top and very funny tirade about men.  Frank starts out as a sort of genial absentminded host and observer, but we soon find out that even the calm Edmund is full of resentments, in his case against Frank.  The first act ends with all this discontent stirred up into a wonderfully-chaotic choreographed piece by the whole cast stomping and whirling about the crowded space to percussion accompaniment, bouncing off each other and exclaiming their frustrations with love, while Frank periodically shouts “Excuse me!” You can tell this ensemble has some rigorous training in physical theatre and has been working together for many months.

In the second act, things are quieter and the dialogue a bit more conventional, but it seems unlikely that any of these people would be happy together.  Frank makes a speech which starts with the repeated motif of the play that love is complicated these days, and leads to a long thoughtful observation about life changing continuously and the past disappearing as it is lived.  Tessa seems to be considering both James and François as suitors.  Maria reconciles with Frank.  An odd challenge leads to all the male characters doffing their trousers to lie down in plaid boxer shorts and colour-co-ordinated socks.  A few neighbours, Gunther, Bertha, and Hilda (Wayne De Atley, Jessica Bordley, and Rebecca Lozinski), drop in and add to the complications, until a tilt towards resolution is hinted at by Hilda, who makes a delightful and impassioned speech in favour of pursuing love.  Eventually there are happy romantic resolutions for some of the couples, but things don’t work out as tidily as in Anything Goes, particularly for Frank, who slumps alone at the side of the stage as some of the happy couples dance tenderly and the lights dim.

I don’t know any words for the genre of this play.  Some of the marketing materials suggested a light drawing room comedy, but trying to read the script before I’d seen it was as much a struggle as trying to read Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  Maybe it was like Noel Coward done in the absurdist tradition?

The set design, colour choices for the costumes (both by Sheena Haug), and lighting (Heather Cornick) contributed effectively to the not-quite-real mood.  As someone who loves both bright colours and socks, I was immediately enchanted to see many of the characters wearing bright co-ordinated socks, Tessa in rainbow-stripes, James matching their turquoise shirts, and François in a bright purple that complemented their outfit.  Original music was written and performed by Jordan Galloway.

I enjoyed this performance very much, but I am still thinking about it.  Like all of Charles Mee’s work, the script is available on line.  It’s easier to read after seeing the play than it was beforehand.  I’m considering seeing it again before its run ends Sunday night, and if this sounds intriguing you should too.  Tickets are available through Black Knight Ticket Centre out of Red Deer, and at the door.  Red Deer College and its Arts Centre are easy to find right off Highway 2 in Red Deer.

The non-sparkly vampire swoops through Red Deer

Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program is producing Steven Dietz’s Dracula, a 1996 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.

I hadn’t read the novel or seen any of the movies or stage plays based on it, so I didn’t really know the story, just the cultural common ground about the bloodsucking Transylvanian count.  This meant that some of the plot twists surprised me, which was fun.

Dracula starts off with a prologue at one edge of the stage delivered by Renfield, a woman in an elegant dress of a previous era (Daryn Tessier), being served wine and a meal by a servant while discoursing on Bram Stoker and immortality.  The meal turns out to be a rat, and the woman is swept off to be clothed in rags and chains by attendants of an asylum.  I was a little confused later on because a reference to a “men’s asylum” left me unclear whether she was supposed to be a male character, as in the original novel, although the part otherwise worked well as a woman in thrall to her master Count Dracula.

The other side of the stage is then revealed as the bedroom of a young woman, Lucy, (Kirsten Harper) as she talks with her friend Mina (Raegan Aleman) about Mina’s far-away fiancé and Lucy’s suitors.  The middle and upstage is still dark, but then a small glimpse of a rocky fortress is starkly lit while we hear Mina’s fiancé Jonathan (Nathan Johnson) recite a letter he’s writing to her from his business trip to inaccessible Transylvania.  The story progresses from there in brief scenes of foreboding and flashbacks, as Dracula (Callahan New) arrives in England and targets Lucy, and Mina, Jonathan, Lucy’s suitor and friend Dr. Seward (Mitchel Roelfsema), and Dr. Seward’s colleague Van Helsing (Steven Pecksen) try to protect her and then save her.  Among the other characters, Natascha Shulmeister and Elise Dextraze were particularly noteworthy as “vixens”, or seductive thralls of Dracula.

The shocking and creepy story was complemented with lots of special effect cues, flashing lights, smoke, holes opening in floor, walls, and somewhere else that I won’t write in order not to spoil future audiences, blood, dead creatures, and so on.  These all worked well and added to the horror.  The many shifts of scene required lots of furniture moving, which wasn’t always silent but was speedy and smooth.  The music was sometimes helpfully eerie, but sometimes that kind of minor-7th organ chord that’s so cliché as parody suspenseful music that it kind of pulled me out of the story for a minute.

On the other hand, I was interested to notice that Count Dracula’s accent was much more subtle than the parodies on parodies of “I vant to suck your blood” that everyone thinks of as a Dracula accent.  I have no idea if it was authentic, but it felt credible and not overplayed.  Similarly, the other characters had various hints of English accents, and in the case of Van Helsing, Dutch, just enough to feel atmospheric and not enough to make any of them hard to understand for a Canadian audience.

In the first few scenes, I found Mina and Jonathan both a little hard to understand.  I think it was because they were speaking quickly while being fairly far back on a large stage.  After that I had no problem hearing or understanding any of the characters as the grisly tale unfolded.

Dracula continues through next weekend, on the Mainstage of Red Deer College Arts Centre.  Tickets are available here.

All That We Are – or a sampling

Near the end of the first semester of Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program, the new ensemble/class puts on a performance with samples of many of the exercises and disciplines they’ve been studying, from stage fighting to clowning, original monologues and scenes including some in character mask, ensemble singing and dancing and choric recitation, interpretive movement in the Laban tradition, and – I think that covers everything, but it might not.  I don’t know if there is a genre word to describe this kind of performance – it’s like a portfolio on stage.

Given the variety of skills and genres covered and the size of the class (22 performers), the show was surprisingly coherent.  The prop-shifting and interludes between main pieces were done as vignettes by clowns, and there was some repeating imagery and background characters (Death, prison guards, etc) that made things fit together.  I don’t know whether the students were involved in making the performance fit together or if that was done by the instructors directing it, but it worked.  In the first act, which was more light-hearted with shorter pieces, I actually lost track a couple of times about whether I was seeing something on the program or something interstitial.  But it didn’t really matter – the show was fast-paced and there were no noticeable delays or cue-mismatches, so things just swept along uninterrupted for an hour until intermission and then built more intensity with longer, more serious, and larger-cast work.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen women do stage fighting before, at least not enough to be impressed.  And today I was.  Several fight scenes were set into bits of familiar plays – Sasha Sandmaier and Megan Einarson’s fight scene was Rizzo and Sandy at the pajama party in Grease, AJ Collins and JP Lord’s was the Capulet-Montague thumb-biting scene although the Drop Dead Juliet lines instead of the original, and a third fight scene (Tyler Johnson and Becky Lozinski) was staged around the dialogue of the disturbing scene in Spring Awakening where Wendla asks Melchior to show her what it feels like to be beaten.  In that scene I was distracted from the skill of the fighters by thinking how powerful and confusing the original scene had been in context.  It was satisfying seeing Wendla kind of kick Melchi’s ass, though.

I don’t know very much about the training of performers, but these performers must be getting a good grounding in the physicality of their profession.  Besides the fights, the clowns, and several expressive solo movement pieces, there were four large-group choreographed numbers, one of them created collaboratively by the ensemble and the others starting from existing songs.  They were all well-done and fun to watch.

I found several monologues or mask vignettes particularly moving.  In an original piece, Jessie Muir was a child waiting for Daddy to come home from Away, with enough foreshadowing and dramatic irony that I am convinced there is a whole story there and would pay Fringe prices to see it.  Constance Isaac and Richard Leurer both did monologues from existing work that I now want to read or see.  Jake Tkaczyk’s masked character had the audience gasping in shock and sympathy when he dropped the egg he’d planned to hatch into a pet, and then kneeled on the floor sadly piecing bits of shell together.  Next time I go to a show like this I need to make notes during the show, because there were other really great bits but I can’t remember who they were.  I expect I will see many of these young performers and creators on the wider Alberta theatre scene in future.

The final performance of Showcase:  All That We Are is tomorrow, Saturday 15 December 2012, at 2 pm, in Studio A of Red Deer College Centre for the Performing Arts.

Teatro Quindicina’s The Nutcracker Unhinged and Walterdale Theatre’s Le Misanthrope both close tomorrow night. If you’re closer to Red Deer or you like this description, see Showcase:  All That We Are.  If you are in the mood to think and pay attention, see Le Misanthrope.  Here’s what I said about it.  If you want to laugh and celebrate Old Strathcona, see The Nutcracker Unhinged (it’s got a matinee as well as a Saturday evening show).  More notes on The Nutcracker Unhinged will follow here in a few hours.