Bargain-Basement: Alberta Theatre Projects’ Buyer & Cellar Fails to Impress


Steven Gallagher stars in Alberta Theatre Projects’ Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins. Photo Credit: Kenneth Locke

Playwright Jonathan Tolins wants everyone to know that Buyer & Cellar is pure fiction. He has only imagined what life would be like working in Barbra Streisand’s private mall located entirely in her basement. That part is real, yes, the basement mall inside her Malibu home as documented in Streisand’s 2010 book My Passion for Design, but everything else is total fiction – oddly enough.

Presented by Alberta Theatre Projects, Buyer & Cellar tells the fictitious story of Alex More (Steven Gallagher), a struggling actor whose experience in retail lands him a job working as the only employee inside Streisand’s private mall. Being the only employee in the mall is dull, if not unfulfilling, for an actor in search of greener pastures than Disney’s Toontown. But once Streisand herself, in her all immaculate head-to-toe detail, visits him downstairs in the mall, Alex becomes swept up by her fame and loneliness, eventually developing a friendship with the American diva.

But there’s more to Streisand than meets the eye, cautions Alex’s boyfriend Barry. Her sob stories are all an act, and Alex is playing right into it. So, just how much of the friendship is real?

Buyer & Cellar’s humour is targeted towards two very specific crowds. Streisand fans will appreciate Tolins’ nods and winks to the singer’s rich career, and the jokes around it. Audiences familiar with older showbiz icons, like Bea Arthur for example, will get a kick out of the playwright’s jabs at the industry. For most everyone else, however, Buyer & Cellar is just too narrow to be appealing.

And none of it amounts to much.

There is one great punchline that comes near the end, but that’s perhaps the only worthwhile part of the play. The play is flat, through and through. Tolins goes for zingers, of which there are plenty, than actual substance. Yes, the show is lighthearted and fun, but its central promise, held together by a string of jokes, is tired half way through. Tolins tries to pad the show with commentary about the downsides of fame, but none of it really matters. It’s all about the zingers for Tolins, who doesn’t know how to end this overextended one-line joke.

Gallagher’s comedic chops bring life to the characters of Tolins’ play. The actor’s take on Streisand is humorous with its splash of Norma Desmond mannerisms. Tracey Flye’s direction has the show running light on its feet. Set designer David Fraser’s take on Streisand’s mall is clean and crisp, unlike some of Corwin Ferguson fuzzy projection work. Even still, Fraser’s set, with its large white drawers, is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar is a 90 minute Streisand fantasy inspired by a vanity project, and it shows. Die-hard Streisand fans may find some entertainment value from ATP’s final show of the 2015-16 season, but for everyone else, consider this parade rained out.

Alberta Theatre Project’s Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins runs April 5 – 23 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.

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


Cockroach Crawls Under Canada’s Skin


Haysam Kadri and Daniela Vlaskalic in Jonathan Garfinkel’s Cockroach, based on the novel by Rawi Hage, running now at Alberta Theatre Projects (March 1 – 19). Photo Credit: Kara Sturk.

Based on the 2008 novel of the same by Canadian author Rawi Hage, Jonathan Garfinkel’s Cockroach is a story about failure, namely the failure of multiculturalism in Canada. Uncomfortable truths come to surface in this play that rips the seams of our nation’s beloved cultural mosaic during a time of heightened awareness around newcomers and refugees.

Enjoying its world premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects, Cockroach stages the journey of an unnamed Middle Eastern immigrant (Haysam Kadri) in 1990s Montreal. The play opens with The Narrator waiting patiently for Shohreh (Daniela Vlaskalic), a troubled young woman from Tehran, in the dingy basement of the restaurant where he works, as a busboy. Through flashbacks, the audience learns more about the Narrator’s past  in his home country, and his experience living in Canada as an immigrant. More about the Narrator’s life is revealed during his state-mandated therapy sessions with Genevieve (Carmen Grant), a psychiatrist whose privilege as a white Canadian stands as an obstacle between the two.

Gun in hand, the Narrator continues waiting for Shohreh in the present, preparing himself for a decision that will change his life forever.

Addressing the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Garfinkel writes (in his Playwright’s Notes) that Cockroach is not about the debate surrounding whether or not to let refugees into Canada, but about life after arrival for immigrants. The play goes beyond the feel-good propaganda of multiculturalism, choosing to present instead a less-than-glamorous portrayal of a predominantly white society where racial prejudice and discrimination exist, whether the Canadian public wants to believe it or not.

From the bottom looking upwards, the Narrator sees Canada as a nation of hypocrites. Lying underneath Canada’s “perfect white skin” is a history of cultural genocide, systemic racism and fear of the Other – which presented itself in full force during the 2003 SARS Outbreak. Genevieve buys into the myth of Canadian multiculturalism, while the Narrator lives its failed promises everyday, making their relationship tense as a result. Although he may be uneducated and afflicted by mental health issues, the Narrator’s difficulty adjusting to life in Canada is not made any easier by living in the slums of a country steeped in inequality.

Interestingly, the very thing that ties the Narrator home is what help him survive on a daily basis – storytelling. Sometimes, stories are all immigrants really have when they arrive, and it’s through metaphor that the Narrator can make sense of the world he lives in.

The problem with Garfinkel’s Cockroach is that the play falters in the middle, loses steam from an otherwise strong beginning. Kadri’s devilish charm adds plenty of punch to his character’s zippy one-liners about Canada, but even his charm can’t help the problems that come from relying on a narrator and flashbacks to tell a story. The show has a little more in common with an audiobook than a fully staged production. Events in the narrative are relayed primarily through the Narrator, with occasional glimpses to the events themselves. The narrative suffers from this abundance of talk that acts as a wall between itself and the audience, resulting in an experience that is somewhat difficult to invest into emotionally.

Director Vanessa Porteous, artistic director of ATP, brings a keen sense of space to the production, a premiere of a new Canadian play. Kadri’s character identifies, intimately, with cockroaches, insects that are known as survivors of even the worse conditions (like nuclear wastelands, a popular myth). Most importantly, the cockroach is mobile. Porteous’s direction sees a strong sense of displaced movement onstage, the type of movement expected from an outsider in a hostile environment. Porteous gives the actors breathing room to react big and almost candidly (well, as candid as can be for a scripted show). Even still, the play’s lengthy narrations remain spatially uninteresting, and that’s likely due to the limited cast available to give the story more dimension, both dramaturgically and spatially.

Narda McCaroll’s appropriately ‘grimey’ set is cast in layers of shadows by Anton de Groot’s lighting design. Groot’s lighting work is important to distinguishing the social tiers Kadri’s character visits, by legal means and otherwise, over the course of the play. The higher he travels, the more light there is on stage, and vice versa. Cockroaches flood the stage thanks to clever projection design by Amelia Scott and Joel Adria.

Again, Kadri’s charm gives energy to the play. The Narrator is deeply flawed, engaging in misogyny and theft at every corner, but Kadri makes us root for the underdog, hope that the character’s inner-goodness – the kind that betrays good-natured people – pulls through. Meanwhile, Vlaskalic plays her character with a defensive edge, an edge with many sides. She and Kadri share great chemistry as they encounter each other from such different, but not distant emotional levels. Vlaskalic shines in the play’s final moments, delivering an intense performance. The well-intentioned Genevieve is not such a straight-forward role as it may seem. It’s not just a psychiatrist assessing the mental state of a Middle Eastern immigrant, but a person of privilege reassessing the state of their country’s imagined national identity. Grant successfully brings out these dimensions as she plays Genevieve with just a hint of ignorance, and a feigned sense of relation to the Narrator.

Issues aside, Garfinkel’s Cockroach is a play that deserves our attention as it offers insight into Canada’s cultural landscape from an often ignored perspective. Or, if not ignored, a perspective taken over by well-meaning (white) Canadians. ATP’s production of Cockroach is relevant, bold, and likely to ruffle a few feathers.

Jonathan Garfinkel’s Cockroach, based on the novel by Rawi Hage, runs March 1 – 19 at Alberta Theatre Projects.

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

An earlier version of the review incorrectly credited Anton de Groot for the cockroach projection work. The review has been updated to credit co-projection designers Amelia Scott and Joel Adria appropriately.


Of Magic & Mumplings: Legend Has It Returns to Alberta Theatre Projects


The cast of Legend Has It, which opened November 24 at Alberta Theatre Projects. Image provided by ATP.

Two years have passed since Alberta Theatre Projects premiered Rebecca Northan’s Legend Has It as part of the 2014 Enbridge PlayRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. Audiences who missed Northan’s award-winning comedy the first time now have the opportunity to catch it this holiday season at ATP.

Every night, one lucky audience member is chosen to star in an epic fantasy adventure to save the land of Jaro from the evil Haldor (Jamie Northan). Tonight’s hero is Phil, an electrician from Calgary, who the prophecy foretold would return peace to Jaro.

When Phil arrives in Jaro, he is greeted by a Mumpling named Maggie (Northan) who informs him that her people have been taken from their homes by Haldor and his minions. Maggie’s plan to save the Mumplings is made more urgent when her Gran (Christy Bruce) is captured. Phil and Maggie encounter the strange citizens of Jaro along their way to save Gran and the rest of the Mumplings.

Here’s the thing, the journey to Haldor’s castle will not be the same every night.

The magic of Legend Has It is that the entire show is improvised by Northan and the show’s ensemble. As well, the hero gets to customize their experience by choosing who will play their companion and who will play the villain. Think of the show as a real-life game of Dungeons & Dragons. The major difference from D & D is that, instead of dice or a pencil, the hero gets to wield a sword and fight in glorious slow-motion in front of 400 people.

Our hero Phil is a fast learner. He not only learns the ropes of stage combat  – it’s all about the squat – but he also gets a handle on trading witty banter with the ensemble.  The audience gets in the action, too, with their own comments. The theatre feels like a very communal space, full of good vibes.

Given the show’s improvised nature, surprise is literally around every corner. Some may feel uncomfortable with this, but rest assured the ensemble’s talent for improv is magnificent. There are certainly moments where the show goes off the rails, but these moments are far from disastrous thanks to the ensemble’s lightning fast wit. The actors roll confidently with the punches, finding opportunity in nearly every random element thrown their way.

While the ensemble may not be too concerned with presenting a serious epic like, say, Lord of the Rings, there is a genuine concern here by Northan to explore what heroism means. Northan brings notions of bravery from the realm of the epic to the everyday by asking Phil if he has ever lost anyone in his life, and how he overcame that loss. In doing so, Northan reminds us that life is itself an epic adventure, full of obstacles that we overcome everyday, making us each heroic in our own unique ways.

The show’s fantasy elements come alive thanks to Scott Reid’s marvelous castle set, and his lighting design. Reid’s dramatic lighting gives the slow-motion fight scenes a comical edge. Deitra Kalyn’s fantasy costumes feel as though they were plucked straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Jonathan Lewis’ original composition and sound design succeeds at underscoring the whimsy of Phil’s journey. Major praise for Ellis LaLonde’s ability to improvise sound cues on the fly.

Top to bottom, Legend Has It is this season’s ultimate feel good show. Northan’s comedy invites us to laugh, reflect, and maybe discover something new about ourselves. With all the recent bad news for Alberta’s economy, there could be no greater gift this holiday season than the gift of laughter. A win for Alberta Theatre Projects.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ Legend Has It runs November 24 – December 31, 2015.

Legend Has It was originally created by Rebecca Northan with Renee Amber, Bruce Horak, Mark Meer, and Jamie Northan.

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

The Ensemble:
Josh Bertwistle
Christy Bruce
Bruce Horak
Ellis Lalonde
Jamie Northan
Rebecca Northan


Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle Empty of Teen Spirit

Geoffrey Simon Brown's The Circle was produced by Alberta Theatre Projects as part of the Enbridge New Canadian Plays program. Pictured, left to right: Brett Dahl, Geoffrey Simon Brown, Eliza Benzer, Leanna Govier, and Daniel Fong. Image provided by Alberta Theatre Projects.

Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle was produced by Alberta Theatre Projects as part of the Enbridge New Canadian Plays program. Pictured, left to right: Brett Dahl, Geoffrey Simon Brown, Eliza Benzer, Leanna Govier, and Daniel Fong. Image provided by Alberta Theatre Projects.

Enjoying its world premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects, Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle is a new Canadian play that has been touted as a must-see for anyone under the age of 25. A bold claim if ever there was one. For The Circle suffers from an uninspired narrative, flat characters, and forced dialogue. In fact, young people may find themselves put off by the dishonesty staged in this “provocative” new play.

Directed by Anne Marie-Kerr, The Circle stages a late-night garage party, in the suburbs of Calgary, hosted by 18-year old Ily (Joe Perry) and his girlfriend Amanda (Eliza Benzer). Well, it was never supposed to be a party, just a small get-together with Will (Daniel Fong) and his boyfriend Daniel (Brett Dahl). But Ily just had to invite his childhood friend Tyler – or Mutt (Brown) as he’s known now – after reconnecting with him. And much to the annoyance of Amanda, Mutt brings with him another unexpected guest, his girlfriend Kit (Leanne Govier). The crowded get-together takes a turn for the worst when Ily realizes that a lot has changed in the years since he last saw Mutt.

Audiences will immediately notice the very liberal use of ‘fuck’ and other profanities spoken by the six troubled youth. With no adults around, it makes sense that the six teenagers (who range between 15 – 18) speak the way they do. The problem is, what does ‘fuck’ mean after the twentieth time? In the pursuit of authenticity, Brown weakens the audience’s emotional response to moments where cursing is justified, where a character really has nothing else to say but ‘fuck’.

And truthfully, Brown fails to give teenagers enough credit by suggesting that they are not capable of speaking their minds without resorting to excessive cursing.

Furthermore, Brown’s efforts towards authenticity gets in the way of telling a compelling story. Inside the garage, the kids drink, smoke pot, and just chill out. As long as the music is loud and pumping, nothing else matters – except for maybe Amanda’s AP classes. At first, the novelty of staging such an intimate look into the ‘secret lives of teenagers’ is fun, but the lack of any significant plot development is a real wet blanket. The audience knows Ily and Mutt will eventually come to blows as Mutt says and does all the wrong things at the party, but until then the audience is trying to figure out what this party and these kids are all about.

Slowly, but surely, Brown reveals what these kids are all about, and it is very simple: they are young and just trying to figure life out. All easier said than done, of course, especially in the face of loss and damaged relationships. The issues at hand will certainly resonant with some audience members, but unfortunately the characters lack any depth worth investing in. The haste in trying to establish authenticity for six characters while trying to remain edgy derails the dialogue, making it feel as forced as just about any hashtag or meme spoken out loud.

Much has been made about the fact that Brown is a 26 year old playwright. We have to assume that the point of mentioning Brown’s age is that we are going to tell ourselves that if anyone is going to write about young people with any success, it is going to be a young new playwright. That is not the case here. The representation of youth staged here feels out of touch with the complexity that defines adolescence. No doubt, Brown’s writing has the potential to tell many truths, but in trying to capture a broad image of youth, Brown captures very little of it. There is much to be desired in terms of proper time with these youth not just for the sake of a worthwhile narrative, but for young people to recognize themselves in the mirror that the stage always holds to the audience.

Kerr’s direction sees the six youth animated as if they were in a music video or Degrassi: The Next Generation montage. All sorts of antics take place inside the garage, strangely none of them are documented on social media. The blocking certainly reflects fun, but Kerr might do well to let scenes sit and breathe every once in awhile.

Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s costume design is mostly on point, but Kit’s goth/punk appearance looks dated by at least 10 years. Myspace might be a better fit for Kit than this high school party. The same can be said about Anton de Groot’s sound design (Eminem’s Without Me was released in 2002), but the soundtrack is mainly successful in getting that youthful spirit.

We learn being a high school dropout stoner is not exactly the life Ily wants for himself, but the party is too good to worry about that now. In Perry’s performance, we see Ily’s fear and regret that he tries to push down with good times. Benzer emotes well Amanda’s frustration, if not resentment, towards her loser boyfriend. Dahl does the most he can with Daniel’s vagueness, specifically the character’s long-winded monologue about fear, faith, and losing his mother. Fong also tries bringing more to Will, which he does when the nature of his and Daniel’s relationship is made clear. Brown and Govier share a particularly emotional scene together, one that sparks excitement in the play again (although too late, perhaps).

Is The Circle a must-see for anyone under the age of 25, as ATP claims? No. Certainly, what the play tries to say about youth is important, but young people will struggle to identify with this shallow representation of their everyday experiences. In fact, young people may feel that the play owes them more than what it offers.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle runs October 20 – November 27 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit:

Misery Loves Company: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Opens ATP’s 2015/16 Season

Directed by Glynis Leyshon, Christopher Durang's absurd comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike opens Alberta Theatre Projects 2015/16 season. Left to right: Christopher Hunt, Lois Anderson, Sonja Smits, and Stafford Perry. Image courtesy of Alberta Theatre Projects.

Directed by Glynis Leyshon, Christopher Durang’s absurd comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike opens Alberta Theatre Projects’ 2015/16 season. Left to right: Christopher Hunt, Lois Anderson, Sonja Smits, and Stafford Perry. Image courtesy of Alberta Theatre Projects.

Morning. Vanya and Sonia’s family home.

Unemployed and lacking purpose in their lives, middle-aged siblings Vanya (Christopher Hunt) and Sonia (Lois Anderson) indulge in self-pity, and listen to what prophecies their cleaning lady Cassandra (Nadien Chu), who no ever believes, has for them today. The day is set to be like every other day, that is until their sister Masha (Sonja Smits) makes a surprise visit home.

Opening Alberta Theatre Projects’ 2015/16 season is Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, an absurd comedy about three (im)mature siblings caught adrift in disappointment. Durang evokes elements of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s writing for this oddly touching, albeit flat, story of siblings trying to reconcile with each other and life’s what-ifs.

For 15 years, Vanya and Sonia cared for their parents, now deceased, while Masha made something of her life as a film actress. And despite their parents, whose love for community theatre led them to name their children after Chekhov characters, being gone, Vanya and Sonia’s lives remain in pause, burdened by discontent over what could have been. Thankfully, Masha’s film career has not only been able to pay for the home and all the bills, but also a small living stipend for her brother and adopted sister.

Underneath the shiny veneer of her film career, Masha’s life is rife with disappointment, too. After five failed marriages, Masha has landed herself Spike (Stafford Perry), a dumb-as-rocks boy toy who ‘almost’ got cast in the sequel to Entourage. Masha’s sense of superiority over her siblings is largely a facade to hide her own insecurities – which only worsen when the neighbor’s young niece Nina (Lara Schmitz), an aspiring actress, enters the picture.

Director Glynis Leyshon has the difficult task of staging Durang’s bloated script, which runs here two hours with a 20 minute intermission. The first act is certainly good. Sonia’s resentment over being adopted and ignored all her life makes tense her relationship with Masha, and uneasy Vanya who is caught between them. Anderson, Hunt, and Smits squabble as only siblings do, making for rich comedic moments as the strained dynamic between their childish characters develops. The dysfunctionality comes to a boil when Smit’s insensitive Masha tells Vanya and Sonia that she intends on selling the family home, effectively leaving them homeless. Like a rifle hanging on the wall, the audience waits to see what drama unfolds in the second act.


The second act sees the audience restless in their seats, which is too bad considering Leyshon finds something genuine for both Sonia and Vanya.

Over the phone, Sonia manages to develop a connection with someone she met at the neighbor’s costume party. Anderson’s timid vulnerability runs through excitement, self-doubt, and then self-affirmation, earning her well-deserved applause from the audience. Meanwhile, Hunt’s Vanya, disgusted by Spike’s ‘millennial’ ignorance, delivers an impassioned rant about the past, technology, and our increasingly isolated 21st century lives. Hunt’s convictions falter, however, as he slowly realizes that the past had its share of flaws too, eventually confronting the depressing idea that life has never been good. Regret for what was lost turns to regret for what can never be gained. Applause.

Beyond these two standout moments, the play’s second act feels hastily thrown together, almost like a mishmash of ideas. Certainly, Durang is something of an acquired taste, but here even those familiar with his work will feel dismayed by the playwright’s dull writing. Leyshon, as mentioned, does make it work to some degree, but unfortunately the script is too laden with Chekhovian decline.

Plain, but sophisticated with its fireplace and tall book shelves, Catherine Hahn’s rustic set is simply gorgeous. Hahn’s set embodies a pristine, frozen in time quality that reflects well the state of the characters whose discontent line the antiquated walls.

Really, ATP’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is fun, thanks to the talent of its cast. Perry has plenty fun flaunting his sculpted physique as the underwear clad Spike. Chu hams it up to great effect for the crazed, prophesy spewing Cassandra. Schmitz’s peppy, doe eyed Nina plays a molecule in a ridiculous play-within-a-play about climate change. Unfortunately, a sluggish second act fails to deliver, leaving the audience ready to exit before curtain.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike ran September 15 – October 3rd, 2015.

For more information about the show, visit:

World Premiere: Ambition Leads to Rough Waters in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

In 1969, nine men set off on what was at the time the first round-the-world yacht race. A widely covered event, the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race excited the public at large. And Donald Crowhurst was among those caught up in the excitement. Crowhurst, an amateur sailor, sought to defy the odds and capture victory against well-seasoned competitors. The Teignmouth Electron, a boat of Crowhurst’s own design, would be the vessel to deliver Crowhurst to the finish line.

Crowhurst did not return home.

It is this story of ambition, the pursuit of greatness, that Alberta Theatre Projects, in association with Ghost River Theatre, stages in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst.

Written by David van Belle & Eric Rose, with Rose directing, The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is concerned with the fine line between ambition and obsession. There is nothing particularly special about Crowhurst (Braden Griffiths). He is a husband and father of four who runs a small, failing business. What sets Crowhurst apart is his astounding confidence in that he is destined for greatness. And he makes us believe it too with his grandiose speeches.

But failure looms on the horizon when Crowhurst’s boat experiences serious issues during the race, and an unexpected storm wreaks havoc on the vessel. Failure, though, does not mean simple defeat. In exchange for the necessary funds to construct his boat, Crowhurst signed a deal with the condition that should he lose the race he will have to pay everything back in full. For Crowhurst, failure means the total loss of everything he and his family owns.

And that is why Crowhurst sees no other option than to cheat by falsifying his race progress.

The presentation of Crowhurst’s story is fascinating with its use of video projection and live effects. The production features creative techniques like filming Crowhurst and his wife Clare (Vanessa Sabourin) standing against two separate ‘beds’, then joining the images together on-screen to show them lying in the same bed. As well, documentary footage of the real-life Crowhurst overlaps on-screen with Griffiths’ portrayal. And, the play’s first act ends with a violent storm on stage where large sheets simulate waves and buckets of water drench Griffiths.

Unfortunately, the first act is where the excitement ends. The production runs dry in its second act where an otherwise compelling human drama becomes a disjointed bore.

One specific offense is the scene where Crowhurst meets an Argentinian couple who he asks to help him in the way of supplies. The humour attempted here falls flat, and little happens to justify the scene’s inclusion. The scene stalls the pace of the play.

From where the play starts to where it ends is a significant distance. After the initial awe produced by the first act’s visual feats, one realizes there is not much else carrying the show. And certainly a part of that is the challenge of what do you do when your main character is stranded miles away from human contact? Van Belle and Rose do their best to make the journey to Crowhurst’s final moments interesting, but the path there is one that not even the biggest smoke and mirrors could disguise what it really is: a disappointment.

The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is an ambitious, visually stunning production that ultimately disappoints due to weak characterization and a less-than satisfying second act.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, in association with Ghost River Theatre, ran at The Martha Cohen Theatre, February 24 – March 14, 2015. 

For more information about the show, visit:


Heavy, Challenging: Nicolas Billon’s Butcher Commands Our Attention

A police station. Christmas Eve. An inspector, a lawyer, and a “John Doe” dressed in military uniform and a santa hat with a butcher’s hook hung around his neck. This is Nicolas Billon’s new play Butcher, presented by Alberta Theatre Projects at the Martha Cohen Theatre. Directed by Weyni Mengesha, Billon’s Butcher deals with heavy themes surrounding the nature of justice in an (un)civilized world.

Billon’s play begins simple enough: Inspector Lamb (Eric Nyland) has called in Hamilton Barnes (Andrew Musselman) in order to solve the identity of Josef Dzhbrilovo (John Koensgen), a old man mysteriously dropped off at the police station in the middle of the night. Lamb is unable to make any progress in the case because Josef speaks only in Lavinian (a fictional language co-created for the play by Dr. Christina Kramer and Dragana Obradovic). Meanwhile, Barnes has no idea who the man could be, despite the fact his business card was attached to the butcher’s hook found on Josef’s person. Elena (Michelle Monteith), a Lavinian translator, is called in by Lamb to help with the case, but her arrival does anything but. On this night, the Butcher will finally answer to his crimes. Continue reading

“It’s basically S&M, right?”: Alberta Theatre Projects Takes the Stage with Venus In Fur

Directed by Tracey Flye, Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur at the Martha Cohen Theatre is a vulgar, oddly compelling experience.

The play opens with playwright/director Thomas Novachek (Tim Campbell) in a worn-down studio after a round of failed auditions for his latest project, an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur. Frustrated at the lack of female talent in the city, Thomas sets out to go home to his fiancee. Abruptly, actress Vanda Jordan (Amanda Lisman) bursts into the room and pleads for an audition. At first, the very crude and immature Vanda turns Thomas off. It is when the actress delivers an impressive cold read for the role of Wanda von Dunayev that the director takes great interest in her. Continue reading