Irresistibly Charming: A Sunday Affair Premieres at Theatre New Brunswick


Mathieu Chouinard and Miriam Fernandes in A Sunday Affair by Gabrielle Houle, Thomas Morgan Jones and Richard Lee. A Sunday Affair is a co-production by Theatre New Brunswick and Le Theatre populaire d’Acadie. Photo Credit: Matt Carter.

In A Sunday Affair, a new play written by Gabrielle Houle, Thomas Morgan Jones (who also directs) and Richard Lee, there’s no time like the present. Seriously.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, A Sunday Affair is a breezy love story that serves also as a cautionary tale about waiting too long for the ‘right moment’. Father Tom (Mathieu Chouinard) and Josephine (Miriam Fernandes) practice the same morning routine every Sunday before mass. Josephine dances to music on the radio before fighting with her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, while Father Tom makes sure to eat a hearty breakfast and kneel in prayer before running out the door. And without fail, it’s always raining, making for a wet and windy walk to church every Sunday morning.

Here’s the thing, Josephine is in love with Father Tom. No one (except maybe her cat) knows about her true feelings for the shy and awkward priest. Imagine Josephine’s relief when one Sunday, she finally finds the words to invite him over for dinner – the beginning of a long tradition of Sunday dinners and missed opportunities.

The years eventually go by, and nothing has changed except now Josephine and Father Tom are grey and old. Their Sunday morning routines remain the same, only now the pace is slower and they walk together to church. No confession (yet).

The story is about as mushy as a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with Sweethearts. There’s not much in the way of surprise, although the ending is certainly clever. That said, it’s difficult not to be swept away by the irresistible charm of this love story that unfolds over sixty years and through inspired physical theatre.

With little dialogue, the story is told primarily through physical movement. It’s just not the story, but the characters’ emotions and desires that are revealed through movement (like a dream sequence where Josephine imagines her and Father Tom sharing a full life together). Fernandes’ movement is at once delivered with great calculation and vibrant enthusiasm. She brings a sense of genuine joy to Josephine, although that joy is often interrupted by the characters’ self-doubt. Fernandes’ soft vulnerability as Josephine is an interesting contrast to Chouinard’s Father Tom. The actor plays more of a ‘character’ than Fernandes, so much so that his performance brings to mind Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. Through loose and elastic movement, Chouinard portrays Father Tom as someone who greatly lacks awareness and confidence. The difference in movement styles establishes firmly the characters’ different personalities; Josephine is the type of person who serves roast dinner, while Father Tom’s dinner menu includes hot dogs and caesar salad.

Kaitlin Hickey’s minimalist set serves the play, presented inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre, very well. Jones sets the interior scenes inside the white flooring, with exterior scenes (walking to church) taking place along the square’s outside edges.  The precise definition of space is important considering that Fernandes and Chouinard are working without props, creating the world of these characters exclusively through movement. Jones frames scenes, both big and small, with clarity and depth.

White umbrellas hang on the back wall, providing the space with rich texture and colourful illumination, when lit from behind. Hickey’s lighting design is effective at casting the stage in a range of striking emotional tones.

Composer and Sound Designer Jean-François Mallet’s piano score is dynamic and enchanting, light and playful. Some may find that the Mallet’s composition takes some time to settle in, as it does feel just a touch too overly sentimental. Slowly, however, the music feels like less of a backdrop and more of a compelling companion to the story.

 A Sunday Affair is like a cup of hot chocolate after hiking miles through a blizzard. Sometimes it’s just what you need.

Theatre New Brunswick and Le Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie’s co-production of A Sunday Affair ran Oct 13 – 23 in Fredericton. The show is currently touring New Brunswick, with performances in English and in French.

For more information about the show, including tour dates and how to purchase tickets, visit:

Handsome Alice Theatre Looks Out From The Tall Building


Handsome Alice Theatre presents The Tall Building by Jill Connell, September 9 – 17. Pictured (Front to Back): Genevieve Pare, Geoffrey Simon Brown, and Telly James. Photo Credit: Tim Nguyen, Citrus Photography.

A city is threatened by fire and wild coyotes in Jill Connell’s play The Tall Building. For three strangers living high above in an apartment building, however, it’s not the fire or coyotes that concerns them – it’s each other.

Presented by Handsome Alice Theatre, Connell’s The Tall Building is a strange, yet intriguing play about modern life. Boy (Geoffrey Simon Brown) seems more interested in his neighbor Sulla (Geneviève Paré), who lives across the hall, than the fire growing uncontrollably outside. Unfortunately for him, Sulla has no interest in speaking with him or anyone else. The young boy is determined, however, to interview Sulla for his citizen newspaper. Watching them from afar is a boastful Assassin (Telly James) who eventually introduces himself to Sulla and Boy, perhaps only so he has an audience.

Two unnamed radio personalities periodically broadcast lives updates on the developing crisis, until one of them goes off-the-air without warning.

The Tall Building brings to mind Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros as the number of coyotes running wild in the streets seems to increase as time goes on. Where Ionesco was concerned about conformity, Connell’s concern is the isolation and indifference created by urban development – of cities growing taller than communities growing wider. Questions of identity emerge as the situation worsens for the last remaining humans of what seems like the new status quo. Hints of this new status quo can be seen in the way Boy praises the 7-Eleven for how well it provides him with everything he needs, much like a parent. He seems more connected with a corporate franchise than other people; the worst nightmare for anyone who likes independent bookstores and coffee shops.

Appropriately, Hanne Loosen’s set is gritty and bleak. The scenery of a tall, less than glamorous apartment building suggests floors upon floors of broken dreams and failed promises. Lighting Designer Nicole Olson Grant-Suttie casts the stage in glum, moody tones, with few bright colours. There’s a strong sense of urban and moral decay, it’s almost like a film noir movie.

The play benefits from Denise Clarke’s vibrant direction as sometimes it gets too caught up and tangled in its own concerns, sprawling outwards like a city overwhelmed by development. Clarke takes advantage of the space available to her inside the Big Secret Theatre by using movement to express the stress of urban life, loneliness, and melancholy. The use of movement strengthens the play’s introspective nature by providing deeper insight into the psyche of these off-beat characters.

Although much older than the character he plays, Brown takes on the qualities of an inquisitive young boy/citizen journalist very well. It’s fun to watch the energetic Brown play a character who is the complete opposite of Sulla, a young woman hardened by abandonment (although we later learn the two characters have more in common than they think). Sulla’s character arc is well-articulated by Pare who plays her with an aloofness that gradually melts away. James is charismatic as the assassin who everyone knows is an assassin. The actor’s snake-like slithering makes us unsure of what his character will do next. The cast draw us into Connell’s surreal world by embracing their characters’ idiosyncrasies.

Although sometimes it loses its way, Connell’s The Tall Building is an insightful play about city life in these modern times. Handsome Alice Theatre’s production of The Tall Building shines thanks to strong direction and design.

Handsome Alice Theatre’s production of The Tall Building by Jill Connell runs September 9 – 17 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons).

For information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit:

“Theatre Criticism Is Struggling in Canada”: The Curtain Falls on Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards


The 2016 Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards took place on June 8th at Commonwealth Bar & Stage. The fifth annual event saw winners in 19 award categories. Nominees were chosen from any production performed in Calgary between June 2015 and May 2016.

As our city launches into one of the busiest months in theatre during September, it is with heavy hearts and regret that the Calgary Theatre Critics (Louis B Hobson, Stephen Hunt, Rodrigo Flores and Jenna Shummoogum) must announce the conclusion of the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards (The Critters.) Since 2011, the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards have recognized the outstanding talent of local artists and productions in a range of award categories.

Sadly, we must take note that theatre criticism is struggling in Canada, especially here in Calgary.  It has become a role that is no longer sustainable, and a sign of this truth have us down to Louis B Hobson as the only remaining theatre critic appearing in print media. There is no available employment for theatre criticism, and often the work is done as a labour of love, and a dedication to voice the great performances our city has to offer theatre goers. Though we as the Critters are committed to the arts and supporting theatre in the city, it has become unsustainable for us to continue with The Critter Awards. We all share great sorrow in this decision and the ending of these awards was not taken lightly.

The Critters would like to thank its sponsors over these past five years: Postmedia, Clarice Siebens, and Joe and Maureen Morris. We could not have succeeded without their support. We would also like to thank the theatre community for embracing these awards, celebrating with us, and giving us those goose-bump moments time and again.

Although the Awards are no longer a viable alternative for recognition going forward, Calgary Critics are still committed to reviewing and sharing your voices, here in our community. Theatre is in our blood and we will be there for your opening nights and those beautiful moments that come season after season.

Theatre of Consequence Stages Brilliant Traces

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Theatre of Consequence’s production of Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces ran August 24 – 27 in the Motel Theatre. Pictured: John McIver and Sienna Holden. Photo Credit: Lauren Hamm.

The thing about storms is that sometimes, they can roll in without any warning. That’s the case with runaway bride Rosannah DeLuce (Sienna Holden) in Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces.

Presented by Theatre of Consequence, Johnson’s Brilliant Traces stages a chance meeting between two lonely strangers who discover that they need each other more than they know. When her car breaks down in the middle of a blizzard, Rosannah seeks shelter in a cabin owned by Henry Harry (John McIver). Henry, wrapped in a blanket, has no time to ask questions as Rosannah, still in her wedding dress, begins to fall apart in front of him. She eventually passes out from exhaustion, as she has just driven all the way from Arizona.

After sleeping for two days, Rosannah awakes to find the storm has not yet passed. She is forced to stay with Henry in the cabin as a result.

Inside the cabin, designed by Troy Couillard, Rosannah and Henry talk about everything and nothing (like alien abductions). Rosannah fears she is indistinguishable, causing her to feel lost in the world. Henry, on the other hand, knows where he wants to be, alone. The isolation of the Alaskan wilderness is perfectly fine for Henry whose grief has caused him to retreat away from the world. He is reluctant, if not afraid, to care for someone again after experiencing loss.

Director Barrett Hileman paces the play in such a way that it doesn’t seem like the characters are waiting for their turn to speak or lay their troubles on the other person. Moments of pause and reflection punctuate Johnson’s sometimes long-winded dialogue, which helps ensure that the play’s wordy speeches are not thrown away or discarded so easily as confused, agitated speech. There is a sense of mutual need for understanding, even if the characters may not say so directly.

McIver delivers an engrossing, layered performance as Henry, a man who feels he is not worthy of love and attention. The conflict between Henry’s awakened sense of self-worth and the isolation he has committed himself to is shown to us marvelously by McIver whose facial expressions visibly process the difficulty of letting go and moving on. The actor is superb in the role of Henry.

Holden plays Rosannah with tremendous energy and discipline. She delivers her character’s speeches as if she were simultaneously challenging the universe and fearful of what it may say in response. There is vulnerability in her performance, as well as subdued anger and frustration that plays well with the stubbornness that McIver brings to Henry.

Couillard’s set is visually appealing, but the cabin seems just a bit too neat and orderly for a grieving person, especially one caught living the same painful scenario in his head again and again. Maybe Henry occupies himself by keeping a clean living space, who knows, but the cabin’s design does not convey any hint of emotional distress. Flashing lights (which run down long, plastic tubes) behind the cabin act as the stars of the northern sky, a nice visual element given that these characters help each other find their way again.

The intimacy of the Motel Theatre truly benefits Theatre of Consequence’s production of Brilliant Traces. This is an intimate piece about two people trying to make sense of where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. The actors move and play with confidence in the space, giving a rich performance that makes the play’s ending land with impact.

This second production by Theatre of Consequence, one of Calgary’s newest theatre companies, is a great experience thanks to strong, nuanced performances and focused direction.

Theatre of Consequence’s production of Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou Johnson ran August 24 – 27 at the Motel Theatre. 


Stage West Turns Back The Clock With Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Neil Diamond

Gaelan Beatty (centre) plays Neil Diamond in Stage West’s Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Left to right, background: Tiera Watts and Chelsey Duplak. The Band: Konrad Pluta (Musical Director/Keyboards), Jeff Fafard (Drums/Percussion), Brad Steckel (Guitar), and Rob Vause (Bass). Photo Credit: John Watson.

Playing now at Stage West until September 4th, Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll is a fun reunion of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll history. Created by director/choreographer Liz Gilroy and musical director Konrad Pluta, the show brings rock legends Buddy Holly (Al Braatz), Neil Diamond (Gaelan Beatty), Tom Jones (Luke Marty), and Elvis Presley (Matthew Lawrence) together under one roof for a dazzling reminder of why these artists and their music have endured for decades.

Before each rock legend enters onstage, the show presents a brief highlight reel of their personal life and professional career. It is a nice touch and chance to learn something new about these household names.

The funny thing about rock legend Buddy Holly is that he was a little bit of a geek, although his thick-rimmed glasses remain popular today with young men. Braatz delivers Buddy’s sweet, sorta dorky southern charm very well in songs like “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue.” And yes, there’s a whole lot of Buddy’s signature hopping from Braatz who came ready with his proverbial dancing shoes.

Neil Diamond takes the stage next with “America,” an anthem for immigrants landing in the land of opportunity. Beatty’s big voice really delivers the rousing feeling that the song’s lyrics aim for. The performer truly makes the stage his own with his cool persona and winning smile. The audience jumps at their opportunity to join Beatty in singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Sharing the stage with the rock legends are backup singers and dancers Chelsey Duplak and Tiera Watts. Beatty performs “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” with Duplak in what is an absolutely stunning duet. The song, which Neil famously sung with Barbra Streisand, soars thanks to Duplak’s gorgeous, powerful voice that brings a lot of weight to this tale of estranged lovers.

Opening the second act is Luke Marty as Tom Jones. Marty plays Tom with real gusto and vibrance, ideal for numbers like “What’s New Pussycat” and “Love Me Tonight.” The performer’s big stage presence and dance moves really light up the stage, along with his very funny banter with the audience. Marty’s delightful performance of “It’s Not Unusual” has the audience ready to bust-a-move in their seats.

Elvis is the final legend of the night, and the only artist to have a costume change during his act. Dressed in a leather jacket, Lawrence brings out Elvis’ bad boy charm for songs like “Hound Dog / All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” In between these two animated songs, he shows the King’s softer side with “Love Me Tender.”

Duplak and Watts perform “Amazing Grace” as a duet while Lawrence changes costume backstage, and no doubt catches his breath after an energetic first half. It is a beautiful duet that makes us want more from Duplak and Watts, both of whom are simply fantastic in their roles.

The second half starts strong as Lawrence not only comes out dressed in Elvis’ signature white jumpsuit, but also performs “Viva Las Vegas” with the kind of high roller enthusiasm such a fun number deserves.

Introduced back to the stage one at a time by Duplak and Watts, who start the final number off, all four legends come out for an ensemble performance of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” to finish the night. It is an electric conclusion to this journey through rock ‘n’ roll history.

There’s something special that happens when an old, familiar tune comes on the radio. Memories of people and places, sights and sounds burst with life again as the drive home from work suddenly becomes a trip down memory lane. Stage West’s latest production captures this nostalgia with its stellar musical direction and talented performers.

Costume Designer Rebecca Toon has an eye for costumes that truly pop and reflect the character of each rock artist. Set Designer Sean D. Ellis has created a set that frames the action very well, giving the performers a chance to truly stride across and take the stage as needed.

Gilroy’s lively direction injects a lot of energy and humour into this showcase of rock ‘n’ roll legends, making for an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

Stage West’s Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll runs July 1 to September 4.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit:

Only a handful of songs from the performance were mentioned here. The full song list is available on Stage West’s website via the playbill for Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll.


Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 Season Marks Two Major Anniversaries

Portraits in Motion - Volker Gerling 2 - Photo credit Franz Ritschel

Volker Gerling (pictured) shares his flip book portraits with the audience in Portraits in Motion, one of seven shows announced for Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 season. Photo Credit: Franz Ritschel.

This May, Theatre Junction announced its 2016/17 season. The company’s upcoming season marks two major anniversaries: Theatre Junction’s 25th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of Theatre Junction at the Grand Theatre.

Theatre Junction has undergone several changes in the years since Artistic Director Mark Lawes founded the company in 1991. After a successful campaign to save the historic building from demolition, Theatre Junction relocated to the Grand in 2006 from the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, where the company was based for 14 years. While the company could have continued with “a program that was really more along the lines of interpreting text,” Lawes felt that it was important for Theatre Junction to change its mandate when they took over the Grand.

“There was a lot of risk involved in that change,” said Lawes. “I saw the regional theatre model as coming of age and potentially declining. The audience was getting older. It wasn’t engaging for young people to go and see work. And that was really important for me to engage millennials in arts and culture.” 

Today, Theatre Junction presents local, national, and international creation-based artists from multiple disciplines. Theatre Junction GRAND has transformed into a “different kind of cultural space” that continues the Grand’s legacy of culturalizing Calgary, while also being contemporary.

“It’s a real junction,” said Lawes about the space, which is also home to the restaurant Workshop Kitchen + Culture. “A meeting place where people come together and not only see amazing works of art, but can meet new people and talk about arts and ideas.”

One of seven shows to be presented in Theatre Junction’s upcoming season is Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion. Gerling’s Portraits in Motion will be presented by Theatre Junction and One Yellow Rabbit as part of the 31st Annual High Performance Rodeo. After walking 3500 km throughout Germany, Gerling created flip book portraits of the people he met on his journey. Audiences will get to see these portraits and hear the stories behind them when Gerling comes to Theatre Junction in January 2017.

“He just decided to walk and meet people,” said Lawes. “For me, it’s a beautiful, simple act of humanity. It’s going back to something very basic about meeting someone. That’s something that we all crave and need.”

Lawes says that Gerling will walk around Calgary, meeting people when he arrives in the new year. This material will not be included in the production at Theatre Junction, he adds, since “the show is set” already.

In March, Theatre Junction will present Porte Parole and Crow’s Theatre’s The Watershed. Written by Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar, who travelled cross-country across Canada with her family, The Watershed is an investigation into the future of our natural resources that raises questions concerning the politics of water.

“[Soutar] has been making documentary theatre on subjects that are important to her and her family,” said Lawes about the theatre artist. “We presented Seeds two years ago, that was [about] the Monsanto versus Schmeiser trial…It really questioned who owns a seed, who owns life.”

Lawes says that Soutar was particularly concerned about the state of water in Canada under the Harper government. “She was really concerned with policy surrounding research: what was being researched, what wasn’t being published from scientists. Funds that were being cut for research.”

When asked what goes into programming a season, especially one that includes international work, Lawes confesses that “there’s really no secrets, but it is a very long, complicated process.”

“I go out to festivals every year and see a lot of work,” Lawes said. “I have a bunch of different partners across the country and in the United States that we also talk to see what’s touring and share ideas of work. So, some works come very quickly, you know I see something I really like and it happens to be touring.

He adds that it is also about “keeping [a] dialogue open with artists who have presented before,” like Japanese dancer and choreographer Hiroaki Umeda whose new work was seen by Lawes in Montreal.

“He happened to be touring in Mexico just before he’ll be presenting here, so he was on the continent, more or less, and on the same side of the continent. So, it made some sense for him to come up here. That’s one example of how that works.”

Umeda will return to Theatre Junction in October 2016 with two new solo performances, Intensional Particle/split flow.

For more information about Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 season, including how to purchase tickets, visit their website:

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries Looks At A Life in Transition


Top to Bottom: Barbara England and Jill Henis in Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries. Imaged provided by Jill Henis.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries is an original contemporary dance work informed by the writings of Jeanette LeBlanc, with the concept, choreography and sound design by Jill Henis. This site-specific piece is staged inside Henis’ downtown studio space, located inside a building where the top two floors accommodate working artists. Performed by Henis and collaborator Barbara England, PrimorAgator Diaries is a deeply intimate look at a life in transition.

Once the audience settles into their seats, Henis, lying nude on the floor, awakens. She is caged by three walls and a curtain of light fabric (that separates her from the audience). England, dressed with black heels, enters the space as Henis retreats away against the back wall, keeping herself hidden behind fabric. Roaring white noise is projected onto the walls (projection & visuals by Greg Debicki). England is ferocious with her movement, stomping loudly with her heels as she moves across the space.

Afterwards, Hennis, now dressed, takes a large roll of aluminum foil and rolls it out like a carpet. Carefully, she tries walking to the other end without wrinkling the foil or creating a disturbance of any kind. Anyone who has used foil before knows how tricky the material can be when handling. Henis’ effort doesn’t fare well.

The imagery created by the large studio mirror stage left is very striking. There’s this great triangular symmetry when Henis walks downstage (diagonal) on the foil. She comes down from the peak to the base, to the audience; she comes out of isolation.

England joins Henis in a ‘four-legged race’ to stage left, to the mirror. The dancers shuffle forward, becoming more and more competitive as the race goes on. So competitive, in fact, that England and Henis are soon grappling each other. What’s really funny are these moments where the two break and smile at the audience, like they were friends and this is only friendly competition, despite their contrary actions. We wonder, though, why these “friends” are tearing each other down rather than helping each other achieve their mutual goal? Is this a race towards self-improvement, where envy rules the roost?

The dancers enter a club where they enjoy loud, pumping music. There’s a big splash of colorful lights that hits the room as England and Henis lose themselves in the music. The scene is so very different than the ones before. Where the others were filled with anxiety and self-consciousness, this club scene is loose and without inhibitions.

Naturally, however, the party ends. (The party always ends). There’s an air of “what now?” between England and Henis.

Ultimately what happens to Henis is that England wraps her, from head to toe, in bubble wrap. A recorded interview with an old man plays, with this line jumping out “Have you thought how you want to spend the rest of your life?” Sure, Henis is safe in her bubble wrap cocoon, but she’s also trapped. She can’t move, her body at the mercy of England who starts to dance with the cocoon.

Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) begins to play. England drags Henis, still in the cocoon, across the floor as Henis softly repeats the lines of the song.

In these chapters of PrimorAgator Diaries, there’s an underlying fear and vulnerability that rises to the surface. Henis’ choreography observes someone trying to come out of their shell and connect with others while capturing some notion of self. In pursuit of trying to please other people, however, the self becomes lost, perhaps overtaken by this intense desire for belonging. And there seems to be no happy medium, or at least a capacity to reach some sort of in-between. Henis’ character is impeded by self-doubt, whereas England’s whole persona breathes confidence; the road map to this latter destination is non-existent.

Debicki’s projection work in this tight (unventilated) space really throws the audience into the frenetic headspace of the work, not to mention the audience’s close proximity to the dancers. The mirror that reflects the inner duality, conflict of Henis’ choreography is a strong visual element. It opens the space creatively, and Henis’ keen eye conjures great visual dynamics.

Henis and England are a dynamite team. They display great versatility (and some fun character work) in this piece that really feels like flipping through a diary, with all the juicy pieces coming alive. And what commitment in such a hot space, especially Henis whose breathing is restricted within the cocoon. Kudos to them for their visceral energy in this bold piece by Project 404.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries ran June 13 – 18.