Laugh and Cry with Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out, Semi-Sweetheart

Presented at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out and Semi-Sweetheart pair splendidly for an evening of local theatre. The one-act comedies, written and directed by Artistic Director Samuel Crowell, will warm anyone in need of a good thaw after such a long winter.

And the Lights Go Out finds four high school students locked in after a disastrous dress rehearsal of Bye, Bye Birdie. Being locked in wouldn’t be so bad if theatre rivals Bess (Mallory Kelly) and Pepper (Naomi McGowan) weren’t trapped in the same room together. Pepper’s boyfriend Daveth (Peter Boyce) is caught between the two leads while Hannah (Sydney Hallett) grows frustrated with everyone calling her Anna. Moments later, the lights turn off and come back to reveal the students standing in four spotlights (lighting design by Christ Saad), with an ominous countdown appearing on their phones – and Hannah’s watch.

What’s fun about And the Lights Go Out is that the play feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone, only instead of a creature on the airplane’s wing there’s a shadowy figure in the booth. So, imagine the episode Five Characters In Search of An Exit but with the outrageous drama of high school drama. (Oh, the memories.) One by one, the students begin disappearing, time starts to run backwards, and memories begin to fade. And like an episode of The Twilight Zone, there’s a twist at the end: no one was ever trapped, the whole play is Daveth (actually Benji, from the booth) revisiting what was a very special time in his life.

Sure, Crowell’s ending doesn’t quite land, both in the writing and direction, but the main idea still manages to come through. That is, we can’t really appreciate something until it’s gone and then it’s too late.

McGowan has a blast playing Pepper, with all the shouting and big physicality of a character who needs to be the best. Kelly is right there with McGowan, throwing back everything she lobs at her. Hallett quietly steals scenes with her meek, offbeat performance as Hannah. And Boyce brings a lively nervous energy that is fun to watch as his character tries to keep it together.

Crowell manages to keep the play from feeling stale with a sense of anticipation in the movement, which gradually goes from rambunctious to slow and heavy. Same with the writing where the unexplained ramps up to a boil.

In Semi-Sweetheart, Charlotte (Sydney Hallett) visits her dying friend Joan McCloud (Naomi McGowan) in the hospital. The childhood friends look back on their friendship and the significance of Joan’s obsession with chocolate. Joan doesn’t only love chocolate, she lives for it. And sometimes, chocolate gets Joan in trouble. Although Charlotte knows the story differently, Joan’s high school sweetheart Henry (Miguel Roy) cemented the couple’s relationship with a plate of chocolate chip cookies – a gift stolen from Charlotte – for Joan’s birthday. Of course, none of this comes out until all three are adults and in the same room for the first time in many years.

Crowell doesn’t hide the fact that Joan is dying, it’s mentioned right away. So, this isn’t one of those plays that’s out to trick its audience. Everyone is on the same page about Joan. Which is what makes it hard for Charlotte to say what she needs to say. Here’s Joan dying, and then Charlotte wants to set the record straight about something that happened twenty years ago.

Despite its grim premise, Semi-Sweetheart is actually very funny. The friendship between Joan and Charlotte is presented in scenes that depict the two women at different ages. Joan meets Charlotte at the age of seven, then the audience watches Joan’s first communion where Charlotte ruins her white dress with dark chocolate (it’s an acquired taste). As if things couldn’t get worse, the altar crucifix almost falls on top of Joan. Hallett and McGowan are a joy to watch in the scene as their characters (Charlotte shuffles close behind Joan to keep anyone from seeing the chocolate stain) try surviving what ends up being a disaster anyway.

Hallett and McGowan deliver high-energy performances that manage to remain grounded in sincerity. The actors do a great job of portraying the characters at different ages, from carefree children to ‘whatever’ teenagers. Roy brings a tough guy attitude to Henry, a former football player with the game still in his blood. He also plays the Priest and Joan’s father.

Crowell’s minimalist set design has different items from Joan and Charlotte’s friendship placed around the stage. It’s all chocolate-related, of course. Saad’s lighting gives focus to the flashback scenes, taking us in and out of the present with clarity.

One major issue with the production is Crowell’s puzzling choice to include voice-over. Near the end, the voices of two older women play right over Hallett and McGowan’s dialogue. It’s hard to hear clearly, but it’s the same dialogue being spoken. The intended effect is to convince/remind the audience, at the last minute, that these characters are not being played by early 20-something actors. The voices have no presence anywhere else, so they don’t even work as, say, a framing device. Again, whatever dialogue being spoken is hard to hear, so the established mood and pace are really zapped by the voice-over.

Elevated by strong performances, Semi-Sweetheart is a heartfelt comedy that sure knows how to pluck the heartstrings.


Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out, Semi-Sweetheart ran as a double bill from April 19 – 21 at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre.

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Next Folding Theatre Company Says Goodbye with Songs of the Seer

From science fiction to steampunk, Songs of the Seer is the latest (and final) Creative Collaboration from Next Folding Theatre Company. The main company consists of 10 theatre artists who, in addition to performing, are credited with writing and directing Songs of the Seer. The production features a supporting cast of five actors, and cameos by NFTC alumni.

The Provincial Union of Jorn has occupied the Territory of Huff. The territory sits on a rich deposit of Aether, an energy source highly sought after by the Icarians. The occupation is depicted through scenes that explore different sides of the war, from Huffian revolutionaries to the Icarian inner circle plotting a final solution to ordinary people trying to survive another day.

Don’t expect a lot to be explained in this collection of steampunk short stories. The basic premise is fairly straightforward, but the mythology is dense to the point of being an obstacle. Which is too bad since the play seemingly wants to discuss colonization, marginalization, and the nature of conflict. Instead, Songs of the Seer unloads a lot of information and hopes its audience can keep track of character names, their affiliations, and how they play into the larger scheme.

There are bright moments in the show. In Act One, a Huffian father (Miguel Roy) is visited by a friend (Alex Rioux) who has come to recruit the man’s only child (Esther Soucoup) for the war effort. It’s an emotional scene that presents a character who, despite their best efforts to hide, finds themselves personally affected again by the conflict. The opening scene of Act Two focuses on two Icarian guards (Brianna Parker-Tarasco & Scott Shannon) who go back-and-forth about morality. The scene does a good job of mixing humour with the play’s major themes. Later, an Icarian maid (Melissa McMichael) tells her co-worker (Shannon) about the sinister plans she overheard late one night and how she plans to run away. The maid is caught speaking against the Provincial Union and sentenced to death, sacrificed in a ceremony that the staff had been preparing only moments earlier. It’s a chilling scene.

Still, the production has difficulty justifying its approximate runtime of two hours and 30 minutes. And then, it abruptly ends with characters from NFTC’s Fred Nebula crashing the play. That’s right, NFTC has established their own ‘cinematic universe’. It’s totally absurd and hilarious, well if you saw the show last year and aren’t wondering who these characters are (played by Elizabeth Goodyear, Robbie Lynn, Michael Holmes-Lauder).

Costume Designer Kat Hall integrates masks and capes into the production with good results. Samuel Crowell’s set and prop design is simple but strikes the right tone for this steampunk fantasy.

Presented at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Songs of the Seer is the Next Folding Theatre Company’s final production.


Next Folding Theatre Company’s Songs of the Seer ran March 14 – 16 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 

Main Company (Writing/Directing/Acting:

Brennan Garnett
Kat Hall
Alex Rioux
Miguel Roy
Esther Soucoup
Hannah Blizzard
Melissa McMichael
Corenski Nowlan
Briana Parker-Tarasco
Scott Shannon

Supporting Cast (Acting):

Gregg Everett
Jenn Flewelling
Neomi Iancu Haliva
Greg Shanks
Julianne Richard

Featuring:
Elizabeth Goodyear
Robbie Lynn
Ian Murphy

Sappier Makes Debut With Finding Wolastoq Voice

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Aria Evans in Natalie Sappier’s Finding Wolastoq Voice, presented by Theatre New Brunswick. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

The final world premiere production of Theatre New Brunswick’s 49th season is Finding Wolastoq Voice, the debut work from Indigenous artist Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahq (The Water Spirit). Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, Finding Wolastoq Voice stages the awakening of a young Wolastoqiyik woman as she reflects on family, healing, and identity. 

The production, running at TNB’s Open Space Theatre, features interdisciplinary artist Aria Evans (dancer/choreographer).

In Sappier’s play, the beginning and the destination are, in some ways, one and the same. There is something circular about the personal, often difficult journey that the young woman embarks on. She moves away from her family only to return again. Of course, the young woman doesn’t return the same. Life experiences and guidance from her ancestors push the young woman to see beyond herself and see herself in others, namely her mother. She learns forgiveness and that makes both her return and a new beginning possible.

Evans performs on what has the appearance of a large medicine wheel. The set, designed by Andy Moro, has two tiers. In the first, each of the four quadrants are filled with sand, and they are divided by small canals of water. The second tier is a wooden platform raised in the middle, with a glass-covered opening in the center for light to shine through (lighting design by Moro).

What’s interesting about Evans’ choreography is the vulnerability and unease that comes through in the movement, but also the resilience that pushes the character forward. Of course, that resilience is challenged at certain points, but nonetheless it remains. Evans’ movement captures the anxiety of being displaced, of not feeling a sense of belonging. The sand plays an important part in this personal investigation as Evans pushes it, spreads it, and eventually comes to make peace with it. Rough waters calm with time, but, as Sappier warns, it’s easy to lose one’s footing and be swept away. Evans’ choreography is exciting and articulate.

Although the script could be more concise, Sappier’s writing is rich in vivid imagery, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given her creative background. The set truly feels like an extension of Evans and her character. And Moro’s lighting choices sync well with the stages of growth in Sappier’s play.

Finding Wolastoq Voice is a confident debut.


Finding Wolastoq Voice by Natalie Sappier runs March 8 – 18 at Theatre New Brunswick’s Open Space Theatre. The production will tour across the province March 21 – April 6. 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/finding-wolastoq-voice/

Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria at The Fredericton Playhouse

She may tell you otherwise, but Victoria is a talker.

And she’s a heck of a dancer, too.

Presented at the Fredericton Playhouse, Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria explores the life of its titular character, an elderly adult living with dementia. Energized by a vivid imagination, Victoria (Dulcinea Langfelder) is a little bit of a troublemaker. Just ask the Orderly (Erik Lapierre) who assists Victoria.

Langfelder’s choreography and staging plays with the intersection of the biographical and the medical. In an exquisite tango number, Langfelder, returning to an earlier time in the character’s history, turns Victoria’s hospital gown into a fancy dress. In a collision of identities, one being internal and the other external, Victoria’s past meets her present when Langfelder begins to dance with the character’s wheelchair. Later, using the Orderly’s shoes, Victoria performs a tap dance, in which the steps, no doubt ingrained into her muscle memory, are all there, but her movement is slack; it is a dance between lucidity and deterioration.

The subject of old age is approached with grace and profound expression by Langfelder, who has been performing Victoria since 1999. The character is not someone Langfelder wants her audience to pity, but someone she wants us to understand and view in all her complexity. And that’s make this multidisciplinary piece, based on an original idea and texts by Charles Fariala, not only refreshing, but important, too. Popular media tends to position elderly adults in secondary roles where their value is often directly related to their usefulness. That is, older people are either portrayed as wise mentors (ex: Alba Villanueva from Jane The Virgin) or a burden on their families (ex: Grampa Simpson from The Simpsons). There is little to be seen about the aging experience i.e. what it means to grow old, let alone life with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s.

Ana Cappelluto’s set features little else but beige hospital curtains, an appropriate visual contrast to Victoria’s animated spirit. The curtains are used in several ways, including fantastic sequences of shadow theatre, a game of hide’n’seek, and setting Victoria up for hilarious innuendos. Cappelluto’s lighting syncs well with the flow of Victoria’s imagination. The progression of Victoria’s dementia is also shown through stunning, almost hypnotic, video projections (Technical Director: Vincent Santes; Sound/Video: Bruno Lavoie; Videos: Yves Labelle).

It’s rare that a performer can be funny while evoking a genuine sense of loss, but Langfelder manages to do exactly that. Even while portraying Victoria’s worst state, Langfelder finds the right balance between humour (a goofy, immoral/immortal hand puppet) and reality. Lapierre impresses with the stirring vitality of his performance, particularly in the “Cheek to Cheek” number.

Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria is a beautiful, genuinely moving production. Langfelder’s inspired performance should not be missed.


Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria’s was presented on February 14th, as part of the Fredericton Playhouse’s Spotlight Series.

For more information about the show,
visit:
http://www.dulci-langfelder.org/creations/victoria

To learn more about the Spotlight Series, visit:
http://www.theplayhouse.ca/spotlight/

 

Joyful Magpies’ Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017

Let’s look back on Fredericton theatre in 2017

In March, Next Folding Theatre Company premiered Fred Nebula, directed by Artistic Director Ryan Griffith. The science-fiction play was developed collaboratively between eight writers. Fred Nebula was “delightfully weird” and sometimes socially relevant. Some things never change, not even in the furthest reaches of space, surrounded by aliens and robots. People still like to tell and be scared by ghost stories, and there’s still no place like home. Prejudice exists, too. Everyone’s welcome – as long as they come from the right ‘planet’. What made the show interesting was how in one moment, the audience could be laughing at the characters making reference to the mythical New Brunswick cougar, and the next be asked to reflect on our region’s response to the refugee crisis.

In the same month, Theatre New Brunswick premiered a stage adaptation of Alistair MacLeod’s The Boat, directed by Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. The adaptation was written by Griffith, who would appear again at TNB in the fall. The son of a fisherman remembers life in a small fishing community bound by tradition and at the mercy of the sea. Here, The Boat was concerned with irreversible change. Once things change, can they ever return to the way things were? Considering the significant number of young people who have moved west in search of better prospects, this “small, yet mighty drama” likely felt all too familiar for some New Brunswick audience members. Thinking back on The Boat, the characters lived in area (Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia) where families stayed for generations. That’s becoming a strange concept nowadays, isn’t it? People in the workforce are becoming increasingly mobile (and grateful for Ikea as a result). Gone are the days when someone might stay with a company for decades. How has our concept of home changed in the gig economy? Can a sense of community prosper in areas where ‘no one is from here, but everyone works here’?

The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival returned this summer for another showcase of New Brunswick talent. The festival staged theatre in various locations around the city, including the Fredericton Public Library (Site-Specific Production) and the Picaroons Roundhouse (Play Out Loud Series). This year’s Mainstage Production, presented at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, was Grace Notes by Patrick Toner. New Brunswick actors Leah Holder and Warren Macaulay, both of whom live and work in Toronto, returned to Fredericton for Grace Notes. Directed by Clarissa Hurley, Grace Notes tried to illuminate the local, namely the role of propaganda in creating cultural narratives that marginalize and exploit ‘others’ for the benefit of institutions, by staging the global, with inspiration taken from real world events. It was an ambitious play that struggled to “bring together its big ideas in a way that [connected] on a deeper, more personal level.”

The winners of NotaBle Acts’ playwriting competition in the Acting Out category were Jean-Michel Cliche with his entry Hinter and Caroline Coon (who also appeared in Grace Notes) with It Happened At A Party. The winners were provided with dramaturgical support by playwright Anna Chatterton. Both plays were presented as a double-bill at Memorial Hall, on the University of New Brunswick campus. Directed by Sharisse LeBrun, Hinter imagined a future where Nature reclaimed the Earth and buried almost all signs of  human civilization. Two sisters return home, at least where it once stood, and try to resume living their old lives. It’s a fantasy, of course, because nothing remains but their memories. Stripped of artifice, the characters of Hinter struggle to make peace with the past, their broken dreams, and each other. In It Happened At A Party, directed by Tilly Jackson, the truth about what happened at a highschool party is taken to court as a teenage girl deals with bullying at school and online.

In October, Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves enjoyed its world premiere at TNB. Jones directed the production. The “fabulously imaginative” play struck a good balance between its human and science-fiction elements. Its tense, melancholic atmosphere fit well with the fall season. Griffith’s characters were many shades of truth and experience.

And most recently, TNB staged a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Nora McLellan performed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, marking the first time in TNB’s history that a woman has played the character. The production, directed by Anne-Marie Kerr, was “fun, fast, and full of surprises” and featured  “splendid set and lighting design.”

Note: there is an entry missing from the website for Solo Chicken Productions’ The Bridge Project because rain ended the event early. On September 8th, The Bridge Project transformed the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge into a “living time tunnel” where community groups and artists animated Canadian history. Our country’s story was told through a number of perspectives that sought to represent the fabric of our community and elevate the presence of marginalized groups.

At this point, Joyful Magpies would like to present its Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017 list. There were many highlights this year, so creating this list was not easy! Congratulations to everyone who shared their talents with Fredericton audiences this year.

Joyful Magpies’ Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017

Best Actor in a Play

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Jon De Leon – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Warren Macaulay – Graces Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Actress in a Play

Kimwun Perehinec – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Nora McLellan – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Leah Holder – Grace Notes – Notable Acts Theatre Festival

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Graham Percy – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Corenski Nowlan – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Joel Diamond – Grace Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Caroline Coon – Grace Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Honorable Mentions:

Sophia Black – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Amelia Hay – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Set Design

Joanna Yu – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Samuel Crowell – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Mike Johnston – Grace Notes – Notable Acts Theatre Festival

Best Lighting Design

Leigh Ann Vardy – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

David DeGrow – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Michael Holmes-Lauder – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Sound Design

Deanna Choi – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mention:

Michael Holmes-Lauder – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Costume Design

Katherine Hall – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Honorable Mention:

Sherry Kinnear – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Best Direction of a Play

Thomas Morgan Jones – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Sharisse LeBrun – Hinter – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Anne-Marie Kerr – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

A Christmas Carol Returns to Theatre New Brunswick

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The restless spirit of Jacob Marley (Ijeoma Emesowum) visits Ebenezer Scrooge (Nora McLellan). In the background: Andre Morin. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol returns to Theatre New Brunswick with a new adaptation by Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. Nora McLellan features in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, marking the first time in TNB’s history that a woman has played the character. The production, directed by Anne-Marie Kerr, runs at the Fredericton Playhouse from December 14 – 16, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

Let’s talk about the set and lighting first, because…wow.

Set designer Joanna Yu presents an industrial warehouse aesthetic with four giant shelves – one on each side with the other two upstage – stocked with props and furniture, and a pair of rolling stairs. (Up above are chairs suspended by wire). Yu’s set is not only eye-catching, but very appropriate given the Industrial Revolution’s impact on British society and Dickens as both an author and social critic.

And it’s all beautifully lit by Leigh Ann Vardy. Vardy employs shades of blue for a ghostly, chilling effect. This is a ghost story, after all, and it’s winter. There are also warm shades of green and orange for more jovial moments, like the Ghost of Christmas Present’s introduction.

Everyone from Mr. Magoo (later parodied by The Simpsons) to The Flintstones to the Muppets has told their own version of A Christmas Carol. Therein lies the challenge of staging A Christmas Carol. By this point, everyone knows the story, even if they aren’t familiar with the source material. So, how do you tell the story in a way that surprises people again?

Fast, fun, and full of surprises, TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol enchants with its theatricality. The ensemble, acting like an otherworldly theatre troupe, pull various props from the shelves to tell the story and create different settings. For instance, what looks like an ordinary door knocker turns into that scene from Stranger Things where the Demogorgon tries to push out of the wall. The effect is created with actress Katie Swift pushing her face through a framed painting of a door knocker. It’s terrifying.

What’s really interesting is Kerr’s choice to block the scene between young Scrooge (Andre Morin) and his fiancée Belle (Swift) in one of the shelves. Suddenly, Yu’s industrial-looking warehouse reveals its true purpose – the warehouse is Scrooge, and its stored with his memories, if not unconscious mind. Perhaps then, the miser’s journey with the spirits exists somewhere between internal conflict and supernatural phenomenon. It’s a different take on the classic tale that gives it a just a little more dimension.

However, Kerr stumbles with McLellan’s entrance as Scrooge. McLellan’s entrance ends with a top hat lowering onto her head, as if the hat were some cultural icon that deserves something so dramatic. What happens next is that the hat looks ridiculous because there’s a small metal ring (where the wire hooks) poking out for no reason other than that one ‘cool moment’.

What happened to the Ghost of Christmas Present’s dress?

Ijeoma Emesowum enjoys a fabulous entrance as the happy spirit, but then she turns and there’s an exposed wire cage sticking out behind her. Either there was a costume malfunction or it’s an intentional design choice by Sherry Kinnear. Likely the former given that the spirit is supposed to have an overall big presence, and a similar form is used for another dress just a few scenes before. If intentional, it’s a choice that really doesn’t pay off. The cage steals a lot of attention from everything else. Otherwise, the dress is lovely with its bright festive colours.

McLellan brings a nice touch of dry humour to Scrooge. Don’t fret, McLellan’s Scrooge has plenty of humbugs to pass around. Everyone who dares wish Scrooge a merry Christmas or, worse, asks him to part with his money is met with the popular catchphrase. This hint of humour makes Scrooge’s redemption all the more joyous because the character’s hardened exterior melts away to fully reveal the good-nature that had always been.

Speaking of goodness, Sophia Black is an absolute delight as Tiny Tim, among her other roles that include the Ghost of Christmas Past. Your heart may just break a little when the cheery young actress walks on as Tim, and then a little more later when the Cratchits are missing a seat at their table.

Also in the cast are Adrian Choong and Mark Crawford who like everyone else, besides McLellan, play multiple roles. Notably, Crawford plays Bob Cratchit, later the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Kinnear has dressed the spirit as what looks like a plague doctor, with glass eyes and a bird beak. It’s a strong choice that’s unsettling from far away, and a fitting one since the spirit is there to cleanse Scrooge (by showing him death).

All in all, it’s a fine production of A Christmas Carol. There are elements that help reinvigorate Dickens’ heartwarming tale, and then some that don’t quite hit the mark. Still, audiences looking to escape the winter blues will more than likely feel uplifted by TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol. If nothing else, they will walk away impressed by very splendid set and lighting design.


Theatre New Brunswick’s A Christmas Carol runs Dec 14 – 16 at the Fredericton Playhouse, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/a-christmas-carol/

A Howling Success: Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves Premieres at Theatre New Brunswick

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Theatre New Brunswick presents Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves, Oct 12 – 22 / 24 – 30. Left to right: Michaela Washburn, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Graham Percy, and Kimwun Perehinec. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is a fabulously imaginative play about a young man named Lowell (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, and others) who encounters the strange and inexplicable while travelling across Canada. According to TNB, no performance during the show’s run will be the same. Dice are rolled before every performance to determine which of the more than 40 characters Lowell will meet and interview. In its entirety, the show would run over nine hours long. How long is the show actually? Approximately two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission. So, the chances of a repeat performance are slim.

Lowell’s entire world is empty after the death of his parents. Wanting to recapture sound, Lowell sets out on a cross-country adventure from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Tofino, British Columbia. Along the way, he documents the lives of everyday Canadians using his voice recorder. That’s the plan, anyway. What Lowell doesn’t know is that he may in fact be documenting humanity’s last days on Earth.

Of course, no one knows right away that the world may be ending. The strangest thing Keith (Graham Percy) from Perth-Andover can tell Lowell is about a friend who claims he met God while in a coma. When not drunkenly complaining about a town that thinks it’s a city, Stacy (Michaela Washburn) from Fredericton mentions that someone from her boyfriend JP’s work disappeared recently. In Waterville, Lowell learns from a hospital worker named Emma (Kimwun Perehinec) about a patient who disappeared without a trace. It’s not until Lowell arrives in Montreal that he and other people start to realize that the reported disappearances are not isolated, but part of a larger unknown phenomenon.

What makes Fortune of Wolves a howling success is its refreshing and grounded approach to the science fiction genre. Aliens. Starships. Experiments run amok. These classic images associated with science fiction are nowhere to be found, or at least their implied presence is very minimal, in Griffith’s play. Instead, the New Brunswick playwright focuses on what’s at the very heart of science fiction: ordinary people against extraordinary circumstances. And no scene better encapsulates Fortune of Wolves than Dwight’s monologue.

Montreal resident Dwight has earned a pay raise at work. The bump in pay means that he and his girlfriend can now stay a little more ahead of their monthly bills. Tragically, Dwight’s girlfriend dies suddenly in her sleep. What is a greater unknown than death? He is reluctant to leave his girlfriend’s body to call for help, fearing that her body may disappear. Of course, it’s not about aliens abducting people. It’s not even about the world ending. For Dwight, the world has already ended, and his only connection to the world he knew and cherished is his girlfriend. It’s a powerful and very human monologue about loss that breaks the heart thanks to a delicate and nuanced performance by Gonzalez-Vio.

Anyone curious about the ‘no performance is the same’ concept should know that yes, it does actually matter. Going in, I was skeptical about the concept, because what difference does it make if I’m only going to see the play once? So what if this performance may only exist for me and none of my friends? Here’s the thing, Lowell records frequent travel updates, and in them he references events the audiences may or may not have seen in scenes prior. It’s really cool to hear Lowell speak about something I was lucky to see in this performance of the play. It’s also really cool to hear about what I didn’t get to see, to let myself imagine what else is happening to the characters that inhabit Griffith’s apocalyptic Canada. Such excitement over the play’s other stories is super dependent on the quality of the script. In that sense, it’s an incredibly risky work of drama, because frankly nine hours of material doesn’t mean a thing if no one wants to sit through any portion of it.

And so, would I see the play again? Yes. I want to hear from the other characters. I want to discover their stories. I am so curious to know the full scale of the play’s mysterious phenomenon. I wouldn’t even mind if, somehow, it was the exact same performance, because there is just so much to appreciate in the script. Griffith’s strongest quality as a playwright is writing characters who you feel like you could meet one day, either walking down the street or in your apartment building. The script’s elegant introspection will stay with you and may even call you back inside the theatre.

There is something haunting and turbulent about the atmosphere created by Composition and Sound Designer Deanna Choi. Somehow, Choi makes TNB’s Open Space Theatre feel at once intimate (which the space is) and very large. Perhaps it’s the melodic eeriness that follows Lowell combined with the violent rumbling, that feels as if the whole world is trembling, that comes periodically. David Degrow’s lighting design adds to the production’s otherworldly atmosphere with its moody character and emphasis on silhouettes.

Director Thomas Morgan Jones’ approach to staging Fortune of Wolves is economical. When not delivering monologues, the non-speaking actors perform movements either in the background or around the actor speaking, and/or they represent an extension of Lowell. While Jane (Perehinec) explains the Fermi Paradox and Great Filter to Lowell, the other actors run in circles on stage, swirling around her like stars and Lowell’s brain trying to grasp the cosmic significance of these two theories. Other times, the non-speaking actors perform small, repeating movement patterns.

This cast that TNB has brought together is immensely versatile. Gonzalez-Vio disappears into his characters, transforming head-to-toe from scene to scene, and portrays Lowell’s disintegration with vigor. Perehinec’s confident and engaging stage presence makes her shine as Jane and Casey, an army medic with no left to report to. Perehinec’s Casey is an endearing character that anyone would want by their side at the end of the world. Percy is seriously, seriously frightening as the unhinged and sadistic Ed who nearly ends Lowell’s journey prematurely. Washburn’s Zoe speaks profound truths with a smile and peppiness that makes one almost forget that the actress also really knows how to play a cantankerous old woman.

Anything is possible in science fiction. The genre embraces the extraordinary and imagines circumstances and worlds so unlike our own. And yet, in works of science fiction, we often find ourselves and truths that have deep meaning towards the way we live. Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is one such work of science fiction that holds profound meaning for both today’s world and the world of tomorrow. Theatre New Brunswick’s world premiere production is a must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s Fortune of Wolves runs October 12 – 22 at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton. Then, the production will tour New Brunswick from October 24 – 30. For more information, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/fortune-of-wolves/