Tag Archives: sarah culkin

The other mysterious island

The Island was the main setting of the 2000s-decade JJ Adams tv show LOST.  It didn’t have a name.  Groups of attractive castaways found themselves on its shores, explored, encountered mysterious others, and were threatened and assisted by unexplained supernatural phenomena.  And the 5-season series had an epilogue or attempt at explanation that I never did understand.

And so, Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Un-named island.  Old castaways, new castaways split up in the crash, magic and supernatural elements, backstory and old enmities, and a quick wrapup that I wasn’t quite sure about.

Until this weekend, I don’t think I’d actually seen a full production of The Tempest anywhere.  I’d known something about it because of references in other stories, notably the children’s book Roller Skates (Ruth Sawyer’s 1937 Newbery Medal winner) and the Robertson Davies classic Tempest-Tost and more recently John Lazarus’s play Rough Magic.  I’ve read the play, I’ve seen part of the movie version with Helen Mirren as Prospera (it’s on Netflix), and I’m familiar enough with it to recognize the same plot used in Forbidden Planet (the 1956 science fiction film mentioned in the Rocky Horror Picture Show theme song).

The production I saw this weekend was at the University of Alberta, directed by Ian Leung and featuring the actors of the penultimate year of the BFA Acting program.  (It’s got performances today, Sunday at 2pm and 7:30 pm, if I get this posted in time.)  Jaimi Reese plays Prosperine, usurped Duke of Milan, magic-user, and mother to Miranda.  Miranda is double-cast. I watched both Emma Houghton’s and Sarah Culkin’s interpretations of the isolated teenager, Culkin’s more dreamy and Houghton’s more sulky, and enjoyed seeing two versions of the girl’s first glimpses of the eligible young prince Ferdinand (Marc Ludwig).  The king’s (Jacob Holloway’s) wise old counselor Gonzales (Chayla Day) and the king’s sibling Bastiana (Emily Howard) were both switched from male characters of the traditional script, Gonzalo and Sebastian.   Having Bastiana be female added a convincing nuance of attraction to the snickering and scheming with Antonio (Jordan Buhat), Prosperine’s usurper brother.  The sequence where the two of them slouch on the auditorium stairs, muttering cynically about everything Gonzales says, was particularly good.

Prosperine has used her magic to compel two slaves, Ariel (Sarah Ormandy) and Caliban (Jake Tkaczyk), until her epilogue speech sets both of them free.   Tkaczyk’s Caliban was hunched over, growling and cowering and resentful like a larger version of Gollum.  I pitied Caliban and I was afraid of him and was amused by him.  In his version of the story, Prosperine and her daughter had nurtured him and taught him and then later began to exploit him harshly as a slave.  In Prosperine’s version, Caliban had been a trusted member of the household until he attempted sexual assault on young Miranda, and his bad treatment since then was a consequence of that.   I was reminded of the colonialist/xenophobic trope of needing to protect white daughters from the uncontrolled urges of savage others.  But Caliban’s salacious gesture and leer made me shudder and look away, convinced of his evil intent and unrepentance.

But the one who caught me by surprise was Ariel.  Somehow, the representations I’d encountered in the past led me to picture Ariel as sort of ethereal, a graceful gowned being singing gently, the young Griselda Webster in Tempest-Tost.  But this Ariel was a different sort 0f non-human.  Ormandy’s portrayal never let me forget for a minute that the spirit was powerful beyond her master Prosperine, gentle only by choice, and beyond human sentiment.  Her awkward postures, standing on one leg, never pointing her toes, and her blue morphsuit costume and face paint helped to place her more in the tradition of Puck than of Tinkerbell.  And her singing was strikingly powerful.

Stephano and Trincula (Philip Geller and Alex Dawkins), part of the king’s retinue who get separated from the rest of the ship’s company in the cast and spend most of the play sharing a butt of sack with Caliban, are the Shakespearean version of comic relief. Their first entrances, where Trincula discovers Caliban hiding from the storm under a tarp and decides that he must be a fish because of his smell, and then when Stephano sees both Trincula and Caliban with their feet sticking out from the tarp and concludes that they’re a four-footed monster, are particularly well done.  It is easy to see that students in the U of A BFA Acting program get a good grounding in the skills of clowning and physical theatre.

I loved the first scene, the choreography of the sailors and passengers aboard the ship.  I have been on sailboats in rough weather (and on a tall ship in calm weather) and I found it a convincing portrayal of struggling to work and hang on as the decks lurched and the sails flapped.  The simple staging customary for Corner Stage shows was sufficient to support good performances.  A few well-chosen design details stood out memorably (especially Prosperine’s ornate and heavy magical cloak) as I still remember the chilling shadow of the cross on the stage floor two years ago in Merchant of Venice when Shylock is forced by the court to give up his religion and abandon his Torah.  Like Merchant of Venice, some aspects of the story are uncomfortable for me as a 21st-century feminist trying to be conscious of colonialism and patriarchy (a parent’s investment in a daughter’s virginity is super-creepy, for example) but the language and imagery and character studies make it worth being uncomfortable.

Sunday April 10th, Corner Stage (second floor) in the Fine Arts Building at U of Alberta, 2 pm and 7:30 pm, admission by donation.

 

 

The rest of the Fringe, 2013

The venue lottery for next year’s Edmonton Fringe shows has already been held, with the winners listed here, and other companies are setting up their BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) arrangements before the BYOV entry deadline in February.  Wondering about what shows various companies are putting together for next summer reminded me that I never did finish posting about the shows I saw at Fringe 2013.  I guess I’m still prioritising seeing more theatre over writing up what I’ve seen. But since everything is dark from Christmas to Epiphany (except Cats at Festival Place, and it sold out before I noticed) I have a chance to get caught up.

I wrote about the shows I saw early, the solo shows, long-form improv shows, a day of stories, the one I stage-managed, and the shows exploring themes of death.  That leaves the following.

Poe and Mathews – brilliant creepy character portrayals by Brian Kuwabara and Emily Windler, ridiculous desert-island premise, fun.

Kilt Pins – this was a sweet sad unsurprising story about teenagers at a Catholic school in Ontario, with friendship and sex and family problems.  It was a contemporary setting, so I was a little disappointed to see the more-traditional story trope of “he (Morgan Grau) pushes her to have sex, she (Sarah Culkin) gives in to get affection and regrets it”.

Kayak – I don’t know why I didn’t find this one more compelling, because the concept was interesting – a woman (Christie Mawer) struggles to relate to her grown son (Justin Kautz) and his new partner the eco-activist (Emily McCourt).

Bombitty of Errors – a rap version of Comedy of Errors directed by Dave Horak.  Having read the script and seen a serious production of the play a few weeks earlier in Saskatoon, I was greatly amused to see how closely the four actors in the rap version could stick to the plot details and in some cases the actual Shakespearean lines, and still be coherent, credible, and very funny.  There was also a bit where they did some freestyle / spontaneous rhyming about audience members, which I enjoyed in part because some of it was directed at me.  The four actors were the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, but they also played Adriana, Luciana, and any other characters needed – and it worked.

Hot Thespian Action – This sketch comedy troupe from Winnipeg (Shannon Guile, Jacqueline Loewen, Garth Merkeley, Ryan Miller, Jane Testar) made me really happy.  I can’t put my finger on why I liked their material and attitude so much.  Their timing was good and nothing was dragged out.  Their jokes didn’t feel mean-spirited or excluding, and I would not hesitate to recommend them to my progressive friends.  But that might make them sound boring, and they really weren’t.  Rutherford School isn’t the best venue, with several rows of seats on a flat gym floor making it a bit hard to see from the back especially the title cards that they used to introduce each sketch.

In the holdovers at the Westbury Theatre, I also saw three shows.

Weaksauce – this was a one-person storytelling show by Sam S Mullins about a first job working at a hockey camp, and the ups and downs of a first romance.  It was good but not great.

Jake’s Gift – this one-person show by Julia Mackey was an original fictional story of a Canadian veteran of World War II attending a reunion in Normandy, and meeting an inquisitive little local girl on the beach.  The performer’s body language and voice made charming convincing shifts to portray the little French girl, the old Canadian man, and the girl’s very proper grandmother.  The show was very well received, particularly by audience members with old enough memories to find it evocative.

Port Authority – In this story set in present-day Dublin, each of three characters told a story about a current struggle in his life.  Isaac Andrew was a young man clumsily trying to impress a female flatmate.  Cody Porter was a middle-aged man who took too long to realize that his career ambitions weren’t quite working out.  And Keiran O’Callahan was an older man who gets a mysterious package.  They all flailed unhappily, and I felt for all of them.

So that was it for From Fringe With Love.  Next up, Fringed and Confused.