Tag Archives: theatre

Brilliant Women on Stage

Two of the plays I saw early in Fringe 2021 featured familiar women on stage in sympathetic nuanced portrayals of women in their middle years. Both, unsurprisingly, were directed by Trevor Schmidt.

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Woman Caught Unaware, by Annie Fox, is a solo performance by Davina Stewart. The art history professor is in her office, planning to head home to her partner, when a student appears outside of office hours. I enjoyed the the confident academic’s wry observations on student behaviour and the changing expectations for faculty members as the student seems reluctant to confide about a problem, and the professor runs through the recent advice on what to do about cyberbullying and other issues. (I was reminded of Professor Kate Fansler in Amanda Cross’s mystery novels.)

But the student has come to tell – and show – her instructor that it’s actually Professor Conté’s nude image that’s being shared on-line, with harsh comments about her aging body. And while the narrator tries to ignore it, she discovers “allies” all around her, each responding in well-intentioned but self-centred ways to adopt a cause. A protest! A petition! A nude calendar!

We get to see why the professor anticipates the sanctuary of home, in brief affectionate images of her partner Gail (“I’m like a pin, she’s like a pincushion”), their cottage, their garden, the savoury aroma of Gail’s beef bourguignon on the stove (“we’re pescatarian in public, but …”). And she eventually addresses the issue directly (this is me resisting the full-frontal metaphors), in ways that left me satisfied about an articulate older woman taking back power. I loved watching and listening to Davina Stewart in this role.

Woman Caught Unaware has performances Monday through Sunday at the Varscona Theatre with some tickets available for each.

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Destination Wedding is a Whizgiggling Productions work, written and directed by Trevor Schmidt, and performed by Cheryl Jamieson, Kristin Johnston, and Michelle Todd.

Three women meet up after many years, having all been invited to be attendants at an old friend’s destination wedding in a tropical resort location that Honey (Jamieson) insists they not name. Johnston’s Marlene is an artist seated with powerful stillness in black. Todd’s Britt is a lesbian, a successful businesswoman, and the one who slips naturally into curbing the worst of Honey’s impulses (“No, you can’t go get your hair braided on the beach / wear a bride’s tribe t-shirt, that’s appropriative”) her affect suggesting that she does this all day long and she doesn’t expect Honey to learn.

With the three fascinating characters, this premise would be enough to make an entertaining Fringe show – as if the mother’s-friends-chorus in Mamma Mia were distinct interesting people. But it turns into a darker, more ambiguous, story. Various details were mentioned – the kinds of breadcrumbs that a less subtle narrative would explain as Clues. At one point I noticed that the painted backdrop of a resort veranda scene now seemed to have a dark sky and a stormy sea, which I guess was some magic of lighting design (also Schmidt).

While the three are waiting for their old friend the bride to show up, they meet some other significant characters, providing opportunity for these three talented actors to demonstrate their skill distinguishing multiple roles, and for the audience to be even more entertained and diverted from what was turning into a central mystery. I particularly liked Johnston’s Amy, the bride’s daughter, all eye-rolling and vocal fry.

The hints weren’t all tidily wrapped up into clues and exposition, but left in a delicious suspension. I wished I’d gone with a friend to have fun figuring those things out afterwards. Maybe I should go back. But if I do, I better buy a ticket soon, since some of the remaining seven performances are already sold out.

Both these shows are also available for online viewing.

The festival fusion of Freewill (Shakespeare) and Fringe

Normally the Freewill Shakespeare Festival happens at the end of June, beginning of July, with two of Shakespeare’s plays running in repertory at the big amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. Big crowds enjoying beer and popcorn, squirrels and thunderstorms, along with a professional company of about 12 actors performing in both shows. That wasn’t a good plan for 2021, so the festival pushed back to August and scaled back to two separate cohorts, doing small cast versions suitable for touring to community league spaces and large backyards. Macbeth is coming to my own community league in Ritchie Park on Saturday August 28th, at 2pm, for pay what you Will, for example.

Both of this year’s productions, directed by festival AD David Horak, started with previews outdoors at Louise McKinney Waterfront Park, and are now joining the Edmonton Fringe Festival for performances this week in a convenient overlap of two traditions.

Much Ado About Nothing is being performed in the tent in Light Horse Park known as Vanta Youth Stage. The cast of five (Troy O’Donnell, Ian Leung, Sarah Feutl, Christina Nguyen, and Fatmi El Fassri El Fihri) runs through a fairly traditional adaptation of the romcom in a bit under 75 minutes – traditional except for having the five of them play all the roles. So, for example, Sarah Feutl is great as the quickwitted loyal Beatrice taking pleasure in banter with her cousin Hero and with Benedick, but she also plays Claudio (Hero’s love interest) and the old Sexton taking down the criminal charges. There was also a framing of the five actors arriving at a tour destination under Covid precautions, cut down from a company of 15 for an unexplained reason, and deciding which play to perform. A few times through the performance the actors reminded us of this layer, making the character-shifts amusing rather than clumsy. The funniest shift was when O’Donnell-as-Leonato-the-accuser was confronting O’Donnell-as-Borachio-the-accused, eventually frog-marching himself away.

I saw Macbeth in the preview, but at the Fringe it’s playing in the air-conditioned space known as Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre, just north of the streetcar tracks and new crosswalk on Gateway Drive. It’s a less conventional adaptation, using just three actors (Nadien Chu, Rochelle Laplante, and Laura Raboud), skipping over many of the details in favour of exposition (with a bit of editorial) delivered by one or another. It sticks to the Shakespearean text for most of the familiar scenes and monologues, but adds in some ukelele-accompanied songs at some of the most brutal moments (Banquo’s murder, Lady Macduff’s murder) for a bizarre touch. Raboud is disturbingly good in the title role. Laplante plays Lady Macbeth and Malcolm among others; Chu covers King Duncan, Banquo, Macduff, etc.

Before the narrative started, the three performers occupy themselves in bouffon fashion, picking out a new leader from the audience, affirming the choice, then chorusing that their time’s up, nothing personal, but your leadership has come to an end, and then moving on to another selection. This was entertaining at the time and seemed to lead in to the action at the start of the play with Duncan being replaced by Macbeth and then being tormented by the idea of not being able to pass on the crown to his child.

At the end, the young Malcolm is crowned King of Scotland. The bouffon voice appears again reciting something about the cycle continuing. Suddenly I realized that in my whole long acquaintance with this play, since studying it in Grade 12, seeing two Stratford productions while living in Ontario, and more recently productions of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, Theatre Prospero/Thousand Faces Festival, Akpik Theatre’s Pawâkan Macbeth, and The Malachites, I have always thought of the end of the play as getting back to normal, a sigh of relief for the rightful ruler on the throne and an assumption that the new regime will be wise, kind, and stable, a time to shudder and shake myself for the end of the nightmare brought about by two people’s ambition. It had honestly never occurred to me that I don’t know nearly enough about Malcolm and his advisors to assume a happily-ever-after. Just as when a self-serving government has been voted out or overthrown, or when public-health measures and community co-operation are getting a pandemic wave under control, we cannot congratulate ourselves and walk away.

And maybe I’m not the only one who needs to hear that.

Curio Shoppe – disturbing and virtual

When we started to think about how the pandemic precautions and customs would affect our autumn traditions, some people thought about Thanksgiving, and how they could find safer alternatives to the sense of joy and connection they found in sharing a big meal with family and friends. Some people thought about Hallowe’en, what to do about the custom of children touring the neighbourhood in costume collecting candy. But I thought about Dead Centre of Town, the site-specific scary shows created by Catch the Keys, where creepy footnotes of local history are recreated and enhanced into spine-tingling ghost stories and haunting performances by Megan Dart and Beth Dart. In recent years, the productions have been held in different parts of the living-history museum Fort Edmonton Park. Colin Matty is the gravel-voiced host Wilf, providing a bare minimum of narration, and a handful of “henches” (Christine Lesiak, Adam Keefe, Vincent Forcier, et al.) lead or lure or chase the audiences from one scene to the next. The weather’s usually cold, but there’s usually a chance to warm up before or after the show at a bonfire. And I realized that this year we were going to miss out on all of that.

Dead Centre of Town has done epidemic stories before – there was the one about the young teacher (Bobbi Goddard) last seen in 1920, while walking across the High Level Bridge to quarantine herself in a Spanish Flu sanitorium. And there was the one with the scary nurse (Elisa Benzer) telling about delivering the diphtheria vaccine by airplane in the North. And someday, I’d like to see what stories this team can tell about a pandemic like ours – but not yet.

This year, the Dead Centre of Town team has a virtual / multimedia production, called Curio Shoppe. As they say in their promotions, you can participate from “the discomfort of your own home”. It’s an interactive video stream, that works similarly to the performance platform used for Vena Amoris/Fringe virtual production Tracks last spring. The audience logs in from home, watches, listens, and clicks to make some choices of which stream to follow. But you also get text messages and phone calls from the characters at appropriate points in the performance, which adds immediacy.

It’s so cool. Parts of it are seriously disturbing – the warnings at the beginning mention violence, gendered violence, gore, and swearing, and they are warranted. And parts are just intriguing. Colin Matty introduces the performance in the character of a fussy formal Curio Shoppe owner sharing some artifacts and memories, but glimpses of his less-civilized alter-ego Wilf seem to break through the surface. And head henches Christine Lesiak and Adam Keefe are also looming.

The story that’s told – at least, the story that unfolded through the choices I clicked on – starts from one of the historical horrors that’s been examined in a previous version of Dead Centre of Town, a serial-killer story. It then adds in a contemporary story (which I really hope is fictional!) and ends in an ambiguous but somewhat satisfying way. The audience member gets to see and hear various bits of documentary evidence along with atmospheric video encounters with the historical characters.

Morgan Yamada and Jake Tkaczyk play the principals and the investigators. They are supported by a chorus of ghost voices, radio interviewers, and so on.

The ticket price for Curio Shoppe, for however many household/cohort members want to cluster around a computer screen, is about the same as the single-ticket price for last year’s Dead Centre of Town XII show at Fort Edmonton Park. The producers recommend that you put on headphones, turn out your lights, and log out of distractions – but you actually don’t have to, if that way seems too scary. Curio Shoppe is playing until (of course) Hallowe’en, every night except Mondays, and you can get tickets through Eventbrite. Some performances are already sold out.

Christmas pleasures

It’s almost Epiphany, time for me to throw out the leftover turkey, finish the chocolate and mince tarts, unplug the tree, and get back to rehearsing and watching theatre.

But first, I want to tell you about two Christmas-ish theatre productions.  This year I didn’t see Christmas Carol, Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant, or Nutcracker Suite.  You probably already know what they’re like, though.

The panto is a Christmas tradition in England and other parts of the UK, and Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton Park has been presenting a pantomime around Christmas for five years now.  It’s one of the few theatre productions in town that has a performances on Christmas Eve (a matinee) and between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, so I always like going to it while the rest of my schedule is on pause.

This year’s production of Red Riding Hood was written and directed by Dana Anderson, and featured Madelaine Knight (as Red), Jeff Halaby (as Red’s mother and grandma as well as some other characters), Aaron Macri (on-stage DJ), Melissa MacPherson in various roles, and Davina Stewart as a wonderful Big Bad Wolf villain.  It was lots of fun, with clever topical humour (the beach-boy from Accidental Beach especially) and enthusiastic audiences.

The other play I saw before Christmas was about Christmas traditions, about an engaged couple first discovering their mismatched preferences and trying to figure out how to be happy and together despite them.  Conni Massing was the writer of Oh! Christmas Tree and Brian Deedrick directed the co-production by Blunt Entertainment and Theatre of the New Heart.  Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle were perfectly cast, she embracing her overbearing Swedish family’s traditions and he preferring to avoid the whole thing.  They alternated scenes in front of a curtain (outdoors, and talking to an unseen clergyman at premarital counselling) with pulling back the curtain to reveal a living room which was decorated differently every time.  (I was impressed with the running crew!)  The ending was happy without being glib, and felt fair to me.

 

 

@tension

The last theatrical presentation I attended that made such a strong connection between the medium and the message was The Genius Code, a Jon Lachlan Stewart creation exploring the concepts of recording interactions and replaying them and hearing individual viewpoints.

@tension is a new work, a collaborative creation of director Vlady Peychoff, performers Emma Houghton, Eric Smith, Sarah Ormandy, and Connor Suart, and dramaturg Savanna Harvey.   The performance was introduced by playing video clips on multiple screens, mostly clips from familiar TV shows about some aspect of the internet, texting, computer gaming, and so on.  While these clips were playing – sometimes different ones on different screens or the same ones with timelag – the performers were moving about the space not interacting with each other or speaking.  I’m not quite sure where the prologue stopped and the vignettes or live clips began, and I guess it’s because of my background in conventional theatre that I even looked for that structure.   Gradually four characters were introduced, Eevee, Alexa, Dennis, and Bill.  I realized later that each character had been identified by showing his or her browser history and some of the thought processes behind it, along with a recurring trick of having different people speak the one character’s words, sometimes without expression (this made me think about the difficulties of not having tone cues in text).   Various facets of each character were then illustrated using one- or two-person scenes and symbolically represented by animation of dragging various symbols or icons to each person’s folder on a desktop.  There were also several expressive movement bits with effective soundscape.  My favourite parts were an extended video sequence reminscent of PostSecret, where a long series of confessions of the form “They found out …” were shown and narrated, culminating in repetition of “They found me”, and the one scene in which all four characters meet in the same physical space, an exceptionally awkward party.  In that scene, the traditional ice-breaker strategies of delivering an official speech, drinking heavily, and playing truth or dare were supplemented by selfie-taking and by opening up a laptop to resume a game with other people who weren’t there, and then we saw some after-party text messages building connection between two of the characters and making a date.  The scene where one of the characters briefly misplaces a cell phone felt distressingly familiar.  And parts of it are hilarious.

The piece has narrative threads but they aren’t obvious.  There is a lot to see and hear and things that happen too quickly to grasp.  This too is McLuhanesque, just like the initial voiceover bits showing distracted people with multiple browser tabs and searches.  The props and tech details worked without being disruptive or distracting.

 

@tension is playing tomorrow and Friday at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2 pm, at the Second Playing Space n the Timms Centre on the University of Alberta campus.  While admission is free, the creators are using a kickstarter campaign to try to cover expenses.

Memories of Leonard Cohen

When I was in Grade 9, our English teacher played us some vinyl records with some Canadian poet/songwriters singing their stuff.  Buffy Sainte-Marie.  Leonard Cohen.  I didn’t like either of them as singers and I thought only teachers and other grownups would like that kind of music.

When I was taking Grade 12 English, we did a unit on Canadian poets and each group had to do a presentation on a modern Canadian poet.  My group studied James Reaney, who is clever but not especially accessible.  (Local theatre-connections:  he’s also a playwright, having written a trilogy about the infamous Donnelly family also featured in Jonathan Christensen’s Vigilante, and the writer of the Alice Through the Looking Glass adaptation that’s coming to the Citadel this spring.)  Another group studied Leonard Cohen.  Their presentation included one of his more sexually-themed works, which led our English teacher to a passionate defence of the subject matter as both appropriate subject for poetic celebration and a joyful part of an intimate relationship.  This was probably the best sex-ed lesson I had in school ever.

I really don’t know how I learned the tune for Cohen’s “Hey that’s no way to say goodbye” (it’s easy to learn because it’s very repetitive).  I used to sing it, mostly to myself, when I was an undergrad, and I had the words written up on my bedroom wall.

And then Cohen wrote for Jennifer Warnes (Famous Blue Raincoat, First We Take Manhattan), and sang with Suzanne Vega (whose own lyrics spoke to me with painful poetic truth in the late 80s), and then the Jeff Buckley Hallelujah turned out to be actually a Leonard Cohen song which everyone seemed to know and love and argue about, and I have no idea when it happened, but Leonard Cohen was actually cool.

So cool that now there’s a theatrical staging of his words and music, created by Tracey Power for Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver and now touring to the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Chelsea Hotel.  The seven performers all sang and played instruments.  Jonathan Gould seemed to be playing Cohen, and the others (Rachel Aberle, Steve Charles, Sean Cronin, Christina Cuglietta, Benjamin Elliott, Tracey Power) seemed to be the voices in his head, the women in his memory, and his alter-egos.  I particularly enjoyed the performance of Suzanne, and the two versions of Hallelujah.

Other performances this season (Back to the 80s at the Mayfield, BOOM at the Citadel) have celebrated the music and pop culture of my lifetime, but tonight’s encounter withe Leonard Cohen’s music brought back different memories, because at the time I didn’t think the music was popular or know it was going to be important.

Chelsea Hotel continues at the Citadel to February 13th.

The Ugly One

The Ugly One, written originally in German by Marius von Mayenberg, is currently playing at PCL Studio, a Kill Your Television production directed by Kevin Sutley.

Harsh clear lighting and a stark set (Kerem Çetinel) lead into a story with distanced and stylized dialogue, with original musical underscoring (Dave Clarke and Rhys Martin).  The premise is that Lette, a middle-aged male engineering designer (Nathan Cuckow) suddenly discovers that his colleagues and his wife (Nadien Chu) have always considered him unspeakably ugly and never mentioned it.  His wife claims not to mind, but his employer (David Ley) is about to send Lette’s assistant (Chris Bullough) to present their new product, since of course Lette’s face makes it inappropriate for him to go.  It was interesting to explore the concept of how his unattractiveness limits his opportunities with a character for whom that was a completely new concept, rather than a fact of life and society that he’d grown up with.

When a surgeon (Ley) offers Lette the opportunity to change his face, he is apprehensive but agrees.  Surgery takes place on stage, in a dental-office-type chair, with disconcerting and convincing sound effects.  The subsequent unveiling displays Lette as an unusually attractive man, with various consequences.  At this point, I was reminded of various fables and archetypes in which getting what one’s wished for destroys one’s life, like the classic horror story “The Monkey’s Paw” that we studied in high school English class.  Because it turns out to be not that simple – even getting to present the invention at a trade show brings unwanted complications.

Things get weirder and worse as the surgeon goes on to perform the surgery on others, giving them all the same handsome face as Lette, so that his popularity is temporary, his marriage and employment break down, and he finds ultimate comfort only in a disturbingly narcissistic contact. In a brilliant demonstration of theatre’s ability to convince an audience without the realistic special effects of film, Cuckow’s face, voice, and physical presentation are sufficiently different before and after the surgery to make him look homely beforehand and attractive afterwards with no external assistance that I could detect.  All the other actors in the piece play multiple characters, with subtle shifts in vocal intonation and posture making them easy to distinguish.

The Ugly One continues at the PCL Studio until May 23rd, with tickets available through the Fringe box office.

Red Deer College Pride and Prejudice

The graduating class of Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program is currently performing in the Jon Jory adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, under the direction of instructor Lynda Adams and coaching by fellow student Evan Macleod.  The adaptation is said to have kept much of Austen’s original written language including the oft-quoted lines.  I am not enough of an Austen fan to verify this, except for the one about the truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  But there were certainly enough long convoluted sentences to convey the essential comedy-of-manners nature, in which an insult can be delivered so cleverly and politely that it takes the recipient (and the theatre audience) a beat or more to work out that something cutting has been said.  “I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet; I send no compliments to your mother” was part of a harsh speech from one of the more blunt characters, Lady Catherine de Burgh (Katie Walker), but it took me a few moments to work out what a snub it was, as I could hear a slow chuckle make its way through the audience.  

I thought that Rina Pelletier as Mrs. Bennet was particularly good at portraying the enthusiasms and motivations of her character through the unfamiliar idiom, and she was an audience favourite.  There was a flouncing-in-her-chair moment in the second act that was especially memorable.   Her husband was played by Richie Jackson, with a lovely contrast of his understated wry asides to his wife’s excesses.  Despite similar costuming and hairdos, the five Bennet sisters gradually became distinguishable from each other, the agreeable eldest Jane (Pharaoh Seeley), clever blunt Elizabeth the protagonist (Kassidee Campbell), Mary the bookworm (Emily Cupples), Lydia who longs to meet soldiers (Emily Seymour), and Lydia’s flighty sidekick Kitty (Robyn Jeffrey).  The characterizations of the clergyman Mr Collins (Brock Beal) and of Mr Bingley’s sister Caroline (Erin Pettifor) were pointed and amusing.  The more successful suitors for the Bennet sisters, the pleasant neighbour Mr Bingley, the aloof Mr Darcy, and the untrustworthy Mr Wickham were played by Damon Lutz, Nate Rehman, and Michael Moore.  Warren Stephens was a butler supervising a staff of stage-crew/footmen, as well as other small parts.

The stage sets, with moving backdrops and furniture and sturdy doors, conveyed the appropriate formality and simplicity.  Garden strolls and private conversations were conveyed by having the characters step down from the main stage level to a lower promenade downstage.   Scenes taking place at balls had appropriate-looking dancing groups in the background.  I enjoyed watching the dancing so much that I wish some of it had been easier to see.  A scene with Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle the Gardiners (Erin Pettifor and Brock Beal) riding in a carriage was mimed so amusingly with rocking over the bumpy road in unison that I didn’t listen to what they were saying.

Pride and Prejudice is playing at the Red Deer College Arts Centre mainstage until Saturday night, with tickets available through Black Knight Inn. 

Michael Healey’s Proud

Tonight I saw a preview of theatre no. 6’s presentation of Proud.  Director Ian Leung said ahead of time that there might be technical glitches, but I didn’t notice any.   Parking around La Cité Francophone was unusually challenging, probably due to the Alberta NDP leadership debate taking place across the street at Faculté St. Jean, and afterwards I found that a cheering thought.

Proud is a story about politicians and about some parts of the political process, and about beliefs and emotions and what kind of government people want.  I hated some of what I saw on stage because I think it might be true and I don’t want it to be, and I loved how they showed it. The premise of the story started by imagining that the federal election of 2011 had generated a much larger majority for the Conservatives, if they had won seats all over Quebec by very slim margins over the NDP.  (That this is completely feasible to imagine is thoroughly depressing in itself.  See Fair Vote Canada for more.)   As the Prime Minister says addressing his newly expanded caucus, “We have broad but thin support.  If this was ice, I couldn’t recommend we play shinny on it.”   There’s a funny early scene where the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff are examining a large seating chart of the House of Commons trying to plan who should sit where.  All one side and about half the other side are coded Conservative-blue.  There are 28 orange cards and 25 red ones, and I couldn’t be sure but I think then 4 BQ baby-blue and one green one.  That wasn’t even the point of the scene, just a fun detail I got distracted by.  The point of it was more to show the Prime Minister being petty and demanding about not wanting certain caucus members to be in his line of sight because he held grudges, and his Chief of Staff trying to find solutions that would keep his boss happy and not make any other problems.

Dave Horak was a perfect Chief of Staff, down to the low voice and the way he expected to fall on his metaphorical sword.  Brian Dooley was disturbingly good as a non-ideological Prime Minister who doesn’t make eye contact.  And Melissa Thingelstad was — I think this is my favourite role that I have seen her in so far.  She played a rookie MP from Quebec, a single mother who had been managing a St-Hubert Barbecue (cultural note: that’s a Quebec chain much like Swiss Chalet only with tarte au sucre.)   Her character had a wonderful mix of ferociousness and naiveté, sexuality and practicality and honesty and pragmatic ambition in which the Prime Minister seemed to have met his match.  “Why do you insist on mis-underestimating me?” she asked at one point.   When her character first appeared, I worried that she was going to be used as a sort of sexist shortcut and comic foil, making fun of young women in general and of the 2011-era rookie NDP MPs from Quebec like Ruth-Ellen Brossard.  But she got more interesting.

Richard Lee Hsi (formerly billed as Richard Lee, last seen in the Toy Guns Dance Theatre shows at the Fringe and in the feature film Rock Paper Dice Enter) had a small role as a character from the future being interviewed about the events of the play and about his own political aspirations.   His interview/monologue alluded to some very discouraging outcomes that would follow easily from the present-day of the play, which is not so different from our own, (a powerless consolidated Left and the Conservatives with a longest-serving Prime Minister very similar to Harper), but also gave the audiences some hopeful prospect in the way he spoke about his own ideals and ambitions.

On my way home from work, before I went to the performance, I heard a CBC Radio interview with David Moscrop, a doctoral candidate in political science at UBC.  His research focuses on the way people choose how to vote with their emotions rather than their reasoning.  This was echoed in the play, in which the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff explain to the new MP that they address people’s feelings rather than their beliefs.

Ian Leung’s Director’s Note in the program says “save all that heavy stuff for after.  Tonight, it’s a comedy.  Enjoy!”

I did enjoy it.  I’m not sure it’s a comedy though.  I didn’t think the British TV series “House of Cards” was a comedy either.  (I haven’t seen the Netflix one with Kevin Spacey.)   I guffawed several times, and I also squirmed in my seat and winced quite a bit.  I wished it wasn’t quite so credible, but at the same time I was enthralled by the ways it was.

Proud is playing at L’Unithéâtre, La Cité Francophone, until October 19th.  Tickets are at, of course, Tix on the Square.

Fringe day 8: puppetry, drama, comedy

On the second Thursday, after my volunteer shift I saw three plays.  Around then I stopped being able to keep up with my goal of posting notes every morning about what I’d seen the night before, so I’m trying to catch up now.  Thursday’s three were all good and very different.

Who Killed Gertrude Crump is a murder-mystery, an Agatha Christie pastiche set in a country house isolated by a storm around the turn of the previous century.  Ryan Gladstone wrote and directed it.  The Fringe program lists the cast as “Tara Travis and puppets”.  Tara Travis introduces the story, as Agatha Christie, and narrates everything besides the dialogue.  She moves props, dresses the set, and operates about ten puppet characters, talking directly to the audience when the puppets aren’t talking.  Her style reminded me a bit of what Ronnie Burkett does in his shows, operating marionettes while being visible and delivering witty asides to the audience as himself, and a bit of the object theatre / found object puppetry that I saw in Sapientia at Canoe Festival.

I was a little restless at the beginning.  It was a little hard for me to see the puppets well enough to learn to distinguish them, sitting at the side in the Suzanne Thibaudeau Auditorium, and several of the characters had similar enough names that I had trouble remembering who was who.  The setup seemed predictable and not very compelling.  Then it occurred to me that I had all the same complaints about a lot of Christie’s work, and that this was actually a clever tribute. The plot then thickened, and I got to feel smart for remembering some clues and I got to enjoy missing others and getting surprised.  After it was over, the performer swore the audience members to secrecy about the plot outcome.

After supper at Cafe Bicyclette, the little bilingual-service cafe in La Cite Francophone, I went to 3…2…1, by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, starring Jamie Cavanagh and Chris W. Cook.   I loved it.  It was the most emotionally intense drama I saw at this year’s Fringe, building gradually from a scene of two young men in a garage hangout determined to get drunk and high, to the awful context and significant outcomes of their bender.  At first their excesses and rowdiness were just funny, familiar like Bob and Doug, Wayne and Garth, or Dante and Randal, with a leader (Jamie Cavanagh as Clinton) and a follower (Chris Cook as Kyle).  Their reminiscences and stories of their past youth include a third character, their friend Danny who has died, and in the flashback scenes each actor takes a turn as Danny, sometimes in quick succession, using blocking cues to show us who is speaking as Danny in a three-person conversation.  Each character has different redeeming qualities and vulnerabilities, so that we see them as more than loser-caricatures.  Clinton has some loosely-Christian spiritual convictions.  Kyle is proud of how his work at Subway involves supporting people who are trying to eat more healthily or lose weight.  Both of them come from imperfect families and are somewhat trapped in their lives.   The story gets more painful, and I was crying before the end.  Chris Cook is a great tagalong sidekick, and Jamie Cavanagh was perfectly cast in the role of Clinton, as a foulmouthed drunken jerk who turns out to be a complicated tormented tragic character at the same time.

Then I wiped my eyes, got in the car, and went to change my mood at Real Time, the comedy written by Matt Alden of Rapid Fire and directed by Alden and Katie Fournell.  Thanks to the kindness of a stranger in the refreshment tent, I was able to take a friend with me even though the show had been sold out.  Jessie McPhee and Joleen Ballandine, regular Rapid Fire improvisers and two thirds of the cast of last year’s Fringe hit Excuse me … this is the truth!,  play two mismatched young people (Jessie is Billy and Joleen is Jessica) who meet playing an online game, spend time together in person, and explore the possibilities of romance.  The actors also play other parts as needed (Billy’s British mother, Jessica’s marijuana-smoking grandfather, Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, etc, all of them funny and original).  The whole thing was just charming and funny and familiar, including the customs of on-line life of ten years ago.