Young Frankenstein Comes Alive (Well, Sort Of) At Stage West

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Left to Right: Frau Blucher (Jayne Lewis),  Dr.Frederick  Frankenstein (Kevin Dennis), and Inga (Amanda Struthmann). Young Frankenstein, now playing at Stage West until June 26. Photo provided by Stage West.

The hit 1979 film Young Frankenstein, written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder with Brooks directing, parodied Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel Frankenstein all the way to the bank. Nearly three decades later, the film was turned into a Broadway musical with Brooks writing the music and lyrics, and the book with Thomas Meehan.

And now, the musical has landed in Calgary at Stage West, albeit with some loose nuts and bolts.

Directed by J. Sean Elliott, Young Frankenstein stages the story of Victor von Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Kevin Dennis). Living in New York City is perfect for Frederick who wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s legacy of creating monsters. All that changes, however, when Frederick receives news that he has inherited his family’s estate in Transylvania. Frederick travels to Transylvania, leaving behind his fiancee Elizabeth (Adrienne Merrell), and soon befriends Igor (Greg Pember), the grandson of Victor’s own sidekick. The scientist finds a new lab assistant in Inga (Amanda Struthmann), a beautiful young woman with a degree in Laboratory Science.

Tormented by the ghosts of his ancestors, Frederick sets out to create a monster of his own, much to the delight of his grandfather’s former girlfriend Frau Blucher (Jayne Lewis). Unable to contain his creation, The Monster (Adam Stevenson) runs amok in Transylvania.

Young Frankestein features plenty of Broadway flair with its catchy, although not very memorable, musical numbers, choreographed by Phil Nero. Flair alone is not enough to carry the show. Young Frankenstein is a throwback to classic Broadway musicals, but infused with Brooks’ obscene, often deadpan humour that audiences either laugh at or shrug their shoulders. The jokes either sometimes lack subtlety and/or are just plain offensive.

The Monster’s entire schtick is that he was given an ‘abnormal’ brain (instead of a renowned scientist’s brain), resulting in a low intelligence that makes it difficult for him to speak or articulate words properly. The humour of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” (by Irvin Berlin) relies entirely on The Monster’s shouting and screaming of the lyrics. The musical number becomes very uncomfortable when you realize the whole joke is focused on laughing at someone with a disability.

And then there’s the whole bit with the blind hermit that pours hot soup on The Monster…

If audiences can overlook show’s questionable humour, the musical is fairly entertaining thanks to its talented cast. Dennis and Pemper are quite the team as scientist and sidekick, delivering big laughs as they bumble their way through the scientific method together. Struthmann’s pipes make “Roll in The Hay” a fun hayride, yodelling and all. Dressed with large boots, Stevenson stands very tall as The Monster, making his dancing all the more impressive (it’s a long way down!). Lewis really steals the show as Fran Blucher, though, who she plays like a lustful, much sterner Morticia Addams – yes, the horse gag is present, by the way.

Leslie Robinson-Greene’s bright, eye-popping costume designs for the production are marvelous, as are Leon Schwesinger’s set designs. The production looks great under JP Thibodeau’s dynamic stage lighting.

Audiences expecting the film translated beat for beat on the stage will be sorely disappointed as Brooks’ show is an entirely different beast altogether. The fault is not with Stage West, but the adaptation itself. Brooks’ musical numbers do little to sustain the show, besides allowing time for scene changes. The show is not much of a creative departure from the film. Add in the show’s offensive humour, and Young Frakenstein becomes even less appealing. So, what is it? Call it an unnecessary adaptation only fans of Brooks’ signature humour will truly appreciate.

Audiences can miss Stage West’s Young Frankenstein.


Stage West’s Young Frakenstein runs April 22 – June 26.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/young-frankenstein-the-musical-by-mel-brooks/

 

Get Thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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Left to Right: Braden Griffiths, Aaron Coates, and Geoffrey Simon Brown. Photo courtesy of Lunchbox Theatre.

A co-production by Lunchbox Theatre and The Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) blasts through the Bard’s 37 plays in one single evening with hilarious results.

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a parody of all things Shakespeare performed by three actors. Braden Griffiths, Geoffrey Simon Brown, and Aaron Cotes perform the play as themselves, well really exaggerated versions of themselves. Preeminent Shakespearean scholar Coates carries all 37 plays in an enormous book, acting as director to the actors who sometimes get away from the original source material. Through slapstick and improv, the actors set out to accomplish the amazing feat of capturing all of Shakespeare’s works in one single theatrical experience.

Everything about the performance is deliciously over-the-top and absurd. Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus is parodied as a very bloody cooking show. Then, the three white actors agree that neither one of them can play the character of Othello without being racially insensitive, so they decide to rap Othello from beginning to end. The histories are performed as a football game, with the actors tossing the crown from one king to another on the gridiron with sports commentary.

And Brown’s female characters are keen to vomit on the audience.

Director Kevin McKendrick’s firm hand makes for a well-tuned production. There is method in the madness, although sometimes there are moments or gags that fail to hit the mark. Even still, the sheer hilarity of three actors trying to perform 37 plays in under 90 minutes is enough to forgive minor missteps.

Griffiths, Brown and Coates would fit right in with the acting troupe from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The energetic trio are a lot of fun to watch as they rip through Shakespeare’s plays, smashing the fourth wall along the way.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs at Lunchbox Theatre until the 24th. As part of Lunchbox Theatre To Go, the play will be presented The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre) starting April 27th.

Get thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), the silliest Shakespeare show around.


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs April 19 – 24th at Lunchbox Theatre. The production runs April 27th – May 6th at The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre). 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/complete-works

 

 

World Premiere: MacKenzie’s Benefit Explores The Ethics of Charity

 

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Left to Right: Tyrell Crews, Donna Soares, Barbara Gordon, and Duval Lang in Downstage’s production of Benefit, a play by Matthew MacKenzie. Photo Credit: Mike Tan.

There are over 80,000 registered charities in Canada advocating public support for a number of causes. With so many charities in competition for both public and private funds, how do they separate themselves from the rest? That question is answered in Albertan playwright Matthew MacKenzie’s Benefit, a compelling drama that explores the ethics of charity.

Enjoying its world premiere at Downstage in the Motel Theatre, Mackenzie’s Benefit stages an extravagant gala fundraiser hosted by an Albertan charitable foundation that supports young girls’ education worldwide. The play opens with an auction for rare orchids hosted by Fred MacDonald (Duval Lang), the founder and head of the foundation. His wife Cynthia (Barbara Gordon) joins him in playing up the exotic nature of the orchids. The evening’s true star, however, is Srey Norris (Donna Soares), a young woman from Cambodia who was the foundation’s first beneficiary. Srey works for the foundation now as a spokesperson, delivering speeches to politicians and other potential donors about the foundation’s work. The foundation’s future is threatened when Srey’s husband Greg Norris (Tyrell Crews), an orchidologist, discovers a dark secret from Fred’s past.

MacKenzie’s play highlights the importance of narratives that appeal to the public’s emotions. Fred recounts a time he thought the foundation was beat because someone’s ‘sob story’ about their people being killed for sport was a real doozy. Thankfully, Srey blew everyone else’s stories out of the water by tying each of their stories together and positioning education as the solution to the world’s problems. The cause doesn’t speak for itself, MacKenzie argues, it requires a story developed around it

In trying to outperform other narratives, however, charities risk degrading the people they are trying to help by engaging in poverty porn. Think about the children that UNICEF or World Vision use in their television commercials. The children are rarely shown living in sanitary conditions, instead they shown living in absolute “third-world” squalor. Certainly, the living conditions in certain areas of the world are not ideal, but charitable organizations make sure to show the worst of the worst, firmly establishing these negative images in the public’s mind overtime. If they didn’t, then the public might not think that the situation is dire enough for their support.

And so, using Srey as a spokesperson is a powerful tactic since she is a well-educated and well-spoken immigrant of colour; a new member of the first-world. Her presence proves the foundation’s effectiveness at lifting third-world children from dirt to civilization. Fred sees Srey as a daughter, yes, but he undoubtedly sees her as an important part of the foundation’s own narrative. So, how genuine is their relationship? How genuine is any working relationship between white philanthropists and people of colour recruited to help the cause? We are asked to consider the motives behind the promotion of diversity, especially within predominantly white organizations. Can charitable organizations only go so far without the (white) guilt that foreignness arouses?

MacKenzie’s play offers plenty to consider about the ethics of charity, like the hypocrisy of holding a lavish gala while millions can barely afford to live both domestically and abroad. And it’s all written marvelously with no easy answers, well no answers at all actually. The play presents its issues and leaves the audience, hopefully unsettled by the revelations that unfold, to think about what the greater good really means – how far is too far?

And it’s all impeccably staged by director Simon Mallett with great intimacy inside the 50-seat theatre. Alley staging puts the audience into close quarters with the actors. Deitra Kalyn’s set bleeds extravagance while remaining functional i.e. good sightlines. The beams get in the way occasionally, though, but only briefly. The audience’s seats have been designed to fit the hall’s aesthetics, so the theatre really feels like an extension of the hall itself. The set looks fantastic under Kathryn Smith’s lighting design.

Soares and Crews truly challenge each other as their characters grapple with the truth behind Fred’s past. Soares lights up the stage, with Crews responding beat for beat. Lang plays the wealthy philanthropist with gusto, adding in a nice touch of older relative who says racially insensitive things at the dinner table. Gordon is much more stiff upper crust, moving with poise across the stage, but she’s not so innocent. Lang and Gordon play very privileged white folk who are unaware of their privilege, and it’s equally delightful and aggravating. The veteran actors are a wonderful pairing, like wine and cheese.

Brilliantly written, MacKenzie’s Benefit is socially relevant theatre at its finest. A must-see.


Downstage’s Benefit runs April 13 – 30 at the Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.downstage.ca/benefit.shtml

 

Canadian Premiere: King Kirby Chronicles Life of Famed Comic Book Artist

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Left to Right: Stan Lee (David LeReaney) and Jack Kirby (Robert Klein) in Sage Theatre’s King Kirby, a play by Crystal Skillman & Fred Van Lente. Photo Credit: Justin Michael Carriere.

American comic book artist Jack Kirby is the creative mind behind Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and a multitude of other smash-hit characters. Kirby’s characters have been given the big screen treatment with the release of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe, which has broken box-office records worldwide. Given the immense popularity of Kirby’s creations, some may ask themselves why the artist’s name doesn’t ring a bell right away.

Enjoying its Canadian premiere at Sage Theatre, Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente’s King Kirby chronicles the life of Jack Kirby (Robert Klein), artist and family man who stuck to his guns in a cutthroat creative industry. The play opens with an auctioneer selling Kirby’s priceless artwork to the highest bidder, with Kirby watching in frustration from the sidelines. For Kirby, the money was just as important as the magic behind his work. Kirby’s business partner Joe Simon (Justin Michael Carriere), or the one with the suit, pushes him from business deal to business deal in an industry Simon calls temporary. The comic book industry lasts for several decades, and Kirby is there every step of its evolution, from the Golden Age of Comics to the introduction of the Comics Code Authority.

Skillman and Van Lente’s play looks at the various influences on Kirby’s work, including his time serving under General Patton (Cam Ascroft) in World War II. The key influence, however, is Kirby’s rough upbringing in New York’s Lower East Side during the Great Depression. Kirby is portrayed as a brawler in his early years, something that would change in adulthood. Why Kirby was hesitant to fight for his worth in the industry was that not only did he have a family to feed with his wife Roz (Cheryl Hutton), but he just wasn’t a businessman; the industry and his principles were like oil and water.

Comic book writer Stan Lee (David LeReaney) is another reason Kirby fell into relative obscurity. Today, audiences know Lee as the face of Marvel Comics. (He makes a cameo appearance in just about every movie based on a Marvel property). He didn’t just fall into that position, the playwrights demonstrate. Lee took a lot of credit for the work he and Kirby worked on together, and he was also very friendly with the public. The media ate up Lee’s eccentric behaviour, labeling him a creative genius while ignoring Kirby’s contributions.

The first act is bloated with all the history Skillman and Van Lente try to cover in addition to Kirby and Roz’s relationship. The play feels very much like a crash course on all things Kirby, or a rushed tour through the Kirby museum. Thankfully, the second act is a much tighter, engaging product. Kirby’s fallout with Lee and the legal controversies that ensue hits something very human in this play about a man behind the greatest superheroes of all-time. Kirby’s story is heartbreaking, and it’s a story that plays out again and again with artists all over who lose credit for their work. Makers from all disciplines will identify with Kirby’s struggle to retain control over his work; his soul.

The Victor Mitchell Theatre is set up simply enough, with a raised platform in the middle where Kirby’s drawing table is kept. Actors come in from different corners, playing scenes between two large comic panel frames. Set Designer Anton de Groot’s set is very clean and effective for the kind of scene hopping that plays out. Lauren Acheson’s light is effective, too, with giving the production a number of ‘emotional shades’ for the highs and lows of Kirby’s life. Kathryn Smith’s costume design does a good job of capturing the different time periods that Kirby’s career runs across.

One can’t help but feel, however, that the production would benefit from some projection work to display Kirby’s work against the large, white screens behind the set. Yes, we can all imagine Captain America in our heads, but for a play about such a renowned comic book artist there’s a strange absence of actual artwork, if even some of Kirby’s early creations. (*the absence is likely due to copyright issues).

For opening night, the performance feels like a dress rehearsal. The show runs choppy and unpolished, specifically during scene transitions. The audience sits in silence for just a touch too long before the story picks up again. Director Jason Mehmel’s sharp eye navigates the scene hopping well enough, delivering nice character moments here and there through effective blocking, but the stifled pace drains energy from the show. The script is uneven as mentioned, but regardless there’s a sense that the production’s moving parts aren’t in sync.

That being said, the actors bring plenty dimension to the characters. Klein plays Kirby as a fighter worn out and ready for retirement, but the world wants him to keep fighting. Kirby could fight, after all he nearly died serving overseas in France, but it’s a question of what’s at stake for his family if he loses. So, Kirby is lost in his mind with not only his creations, but his worries about the future, and that struggle reads clear across from Klein. Carriere’s stature is appropriate given he’s the hustle of the two, bringing an almost 80’s Wall Street slickness to the role of Simon. LeReaney, on the other hand, is just absolutely slimey as Lee, like the friend who promises to keep a secret but then tells everyone the next day. He also bears a striking resemblance to Lee with his sunglasses on, giving the catchphrase “Exclesior!” added oomph. Ascroft as Victor Fox also channels that same greasiness, but with more explicit maliciousness. Hutton’s Roz is a fighter like Kirby, but she’s stuck as a spectator to her husband’s misery. The actress mixes that New York toughness with real sensitivity. There aren’t enough scenes between Hutton and Klein who share great chemistry together.

Comic book fans will enjoy and appreciate King Kirby for bringing such an important story to the public’s attention, especially with the popularity of comic book movies in recent years. Unfortunately, Sage Theatre’s production falls short of being mint condition.


Sage Theatre’s King Kirby runs April 15 – 23 at the Victor Mitchell Theatre (Pumphouse Theatres).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://sagetheatre.com/index.php/king-kirby-by-crystal-skillman-and-fred-van-lente/

 

Tannahill’s Concord Floral Flourishes at Theatre Junction

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Theatre Junction presents Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral, April 13 – 16 at Theatre Junction GRAND. Photo Credit: Michael Trudeau.

Everyone’s asking, what are the kids saying these days? It’s not a new question, no. Teenagers have always puzzled parents, teachers – and themselves. Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill is not only interested in what youth are saying, but what they’re doing when adults are totally absent.

Where do your children go at night?

Presented by Theatre Junction, Tannahill’s Concord Floral stages the complex lives of Calgary youth trying to outrun a plague. The supernatural terror starts when Nearly Wild (Michaela Friedland) and Rosa Mondy (Breanna Kennedy) discover classmate Bobbie James’ body (Kloee Huberdeau) at Concord Floral, an abandoned greenhouse where all the kids go to party and, in this case, smoke weed. Frightened, Rosa drops her iPhone into the body by accident, leaving it there along with the corpse. The two girls try to forget all about the body, but one night the lost phone makes a call from beyond the grave.

Tannahill’s play is not just about the ghost itself, but the haunting. What is it that haunts us today, asks Tannahill? What haunts us are tragic cases of bullying, the loss of innocent youth like Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd.  The plague may be metaphorical, but it’s still very real. None of the youth can sleep or function properly with the guilt of inaction and apathy weighing heavy on their conscious. Bystanders are not powerless nor are they removed from any responsibility, Tannahill argues.

Across the play’s ten chapters, there are vignettes that stage stories from the various neighborhood youth. One of the stories sees a young girl named Forever Irene (Lauren Marshall) using a showerhead for sexual pleasure, running out into her yard after her mom and brother barge in on her. She lies in the grass while her father mows the lawn, waiting to see if he will notice her or not. Another story sees Just Joey (Omar Rufti) searching for a quick hookup online, eventually meeting a classmate’s father at Concord Floral late at night. In these stories, Tannahill reflects on the need for contact and affirmation of self, noting how difficult it is for adolescents to belong when they don’t exactly know who they are. And so, exploration is necessary for confused youth to find some comfort of self, which can lead to good or bad outcomes.

In the show’s program, director Raphaele Thiriet draws attention to a frustrating paradox concerning young people. Teenagers are seldom heard despite prevalent cultural images of silenced youth. The acknowledgement of marginalization is not enough, it seems. For this production of Concord Floral, Theatre Junction has cast the members of its 2015-16 Mentorship Program to play the youth in social turmoil. The actors range between 16-21 years old, giving youth an actual presence on stage. In theatre, there are many acceptable substitutes, as the stage is a limited medium, but sometimes a subject group’s real presence is absolutely crucial as it is here with this emotional story about young people.

Speaking of authenticity, the 27-year-old playwright captures the youth voice masterfully. Tannahill’s young people are at times outspoken and brave, and other times shy and unsure of themselves. Sometimes, they don’t know what to say at all. But whatever the scenario, everything is treated as the most important thing in the world. Tannahill’s brilliantly rhythmic writing is elegant, but firm in its intentions.

Also, Tannahill has a playful sense of humour, humanizing inanimate subjects like the Greenhouse (Alyssa Latimer) or the Couch (Bandile Phiri) everyone drinks on. The effect draws us further into this world damaged from its roots, positioning the audience to see themselves as something larger than themselves. (And it’s also just really funny, too).

Under Thiriet’s sharp direction, the cast of young actors deliver earnest, understated performances. The actors are steady in their delivery and in tune with their stage partners, producing strong ensemble work. The production is rough in some areas with regards to timing and precision, likely due to the inexperience of its young actors, but the talent that shines from start to finish in this deceptively simple show make minor issues easily forgotten.

Ultimately, Tannahill’s Concord Floral is a fascinating piece of work that grants teens a platform to be heard. The presence of real youth elevates the play to a substantially emotional experience where its subject group are treated with respect and intelligence. Theatre Junction’s production of Concord Floral is one not to miss.


Theatre Junction’s Concord Floral by Jordan Tannahill runs Apil 13 – 16 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Theatre Junction’s Concord Floral is directed by Raphaele Thiriet in collaboration with Erin Brubacher and the members of Theatre Junction’s 2015-16 season.

CAST:

Alyssa Latimer – Greenhouse
Bandile Phiri – Couch
Breanna Kennedy – Rosa Mondy
Emilee Shackleton – Fox
Eric Ollivier – John Cabot
Keith Boniol – Bobolink
Kloee Huberdeau – Bobbie James
Lauren Marshall – Forever Irene
Michaela Friedland – Nearly Wild
Omar Mufti – Just Joey

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/concord-floral/

 

 

All Out War: Family & Politics Mix in Citadel Theatre’s Other Desert Cities

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Left to Right: Robin Ward, Liisa Repo-Martell, and Deborah Kip in Citadel Theatre’s Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. Photo Credit: Ian Jackson – Epic Photography.

Christmas Eve morning, 2004.

Palm Springs, California

Only three years have passed since the September 11 attacks, one of the most tragic events in American history. The country and its politics would never be the same after two hijacked planes crashed into New York City’s Twin Towers.

Presented by Citadel Theatre, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities tells the story of Brooke Wyeth (Liisa Repo-Martell), a novelist who returns home for the holidays after a six year absence. Her parents Lyman (Robin Ward) and Polly (Deborah Kipp) are overjoyed to have their daughter back home, as well as their son Trip (Derek Moran) whose reality television career keeps him plenty busy. Joining the family is Polly’s alcoholic sister Silda (Nicola Lipman) whose recent relapse has forced her to move into the isolated desert home.

The family reunion turns to all out war when Brooke reveals her newest book is not a new novel, but a memoir of the family’s troubled history. The primary subject? Her late brother Henry, a radical anti-war activist whose suicide has haunted Brooke for years.

Baitz’s family drama, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2011, stages the very thing most, if not all, families try to avoid during the holidays, politics. Lyman and Polly are strict Republicans, while their daughter Brooke is what her mother would call a ‘leftie’. In his heyday, Lyman was a screen actor and spokesperson for the Republican party. He and Polly, a former screenwriter, were friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, among other influential people. Despite those years being long past now, the couple’s political beliefs are as strong as ever, newly affirmed by the War on Terror.

The American playwright captures the fear and prejudice of a nation struck by tragedy with the character of Polly. Polly’s brazen xenophobia not only displays an extreme distrust of the other, but also reinforces notions of home, territory and borders; patriotism. Her discourse is very similar to that of Donald Trump whose campaign (“Make America Great Again”) for the Republican nomination has employed the politics of fear and othering, capitalizing on global terror attacks for voter support. The parallels are striking, if not disappointing considering how many years have passed since 9/11. Not surprisingly, none of Polly’s views sits well at all with Brooke – a sign of things to come.

Regardless of their differences, political or otherwise, should Brooke betray the trust, and perhaps even destroy her parents’ reputation, by publishing her memoir? The question divides the family and causes them great grief as they are forced to relive Henry’s final days.

What’s interesting about the War on Terror as a backdrop to Baitz’s play are the questions surrounding the nature of truth. Brooke’s account of Henry’s life and his relationship with Lyman and Polly is vastly different than her parents’ own side of the story. Trip criticizes Brooke for thinking her account is the objective truth, drawing attention to her animosity against her parents and history with mental illness. Their parents may not be hundred percent right, but neither is Brooke; the truth lies somewhere in-between. Baitz makes reference to the weapons of mass destruction here, commenting that narratives are spun to achieve specific goals. What is the real objective of publishing her memoir? Brooke struggles with the question and her motives to publish Henry’s story.

Director Brenda Bazinet is graced with an outstanding cast of actors for this riveting production that packs a meteoric punch. Kipp is absolutely scathing as Polly. The actress is a force to be reckoned with as the antagonist to Repo-Martell’s Brooke, a young woman trapped at a crossroads. Repo-Martell fascinates as she ventures from bold to distressed, and sometimes a mix of the two, at the turn of a dime. Moran’s Trip is very much the opposite, always playing it cool even when the tension surges inside the room. Although, there is a sharp, outspoken part to Trip that Moran brings that out well in his scenes with Repo-Martell, giving her the type of tough love that brothers and sisters often exchange. Ward’s Lyman gives traces of the spirit of Old Hollywood, but mainly of someone domesticated by the private life and his golden years . Let sleeping dogs lie proves very true with Ward’s Lyman, a man of great conviction.

The outcast, Lipman’s Silda wins plenty of laughter as the recovering addict who speaks very earnestly, perhaps too much for her own good sometimes. She and Kipp are wonderfully paired as sisters as both can give just as well as they can take.

Bazinet’s precise direction brings the actor together as a (dysfunctional) family unit. The director stages Baitz’s well-crafted story with explosive vigor.

Set & Costume Designer Leslie Frankish’s design for the Wyeth residence is sleek and very chic with its hint of 1970s decor. The furniture arrangements allows plenty of room downstage centre for heated exchanges, almost like a fighting ring with spectators on the sides watching. The line of old photographs that sit just behind the main couch give a sense of how tied the Wyeth family are to their past. Stancil Campbell’s emotive lighting design responds subtly and effectively to the action onstage, reacting with hard lights for more dramatic moments and soft lights for calmer moments. The effect works at drawing the audience further into the drama, although with the side effect of spelling out the atmosphere at times.

Running now until May 1st at the Shoctor Theatre, Citadel Theatre’s Other Desert Cities delivers fierce family drama. A must-see.


Citadel Theatre’s Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz runs April 9 – May 1 at the Shoctor Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: 
http://www.citadeltheatre.com/show/other-desert-cities/

 

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

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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: http://atplive.com/whats-on/buyer-cellar/

 

Artists’ Collective Theatre Stages The Diary of Anne Frank

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Artists’ Collective Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank by Albert Hacket & Frances Goodrich runs March 24 – April 2 at the West Village Theatre. Pictured: Natalie Marshall (Anne Frank). Photo Credit: Stepham Schroder.

Artists’ Collective Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank feels all too relevant in these days of fear and turmoil.

Written by Albert Hacket & Frances Goodrich, The Diary of Anne Frank dramatizes Anne Frank’s (Natalie Marshall) written account of her and her family’s two years spent hiding from Nazi persecution, as recorded in The Diary of A Young Girl. When Anne’s older sister Margot (Haylee Thompson) is ordered to report to a work camp, her father Otto (Brian Martell) removes the family from their home and places them into hiding inside an attic behind his company’s building. Joining the Frank family inside the tight, makeshift quarters are Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Owen Bishop, Kaleigh Richards) and their son Peter (Daniel Rousell). The families are aided by Miep Gies (Anastasia St. Amand) and Mr. Kraler (Jim Archibald) who visit every day in secret with rations and other supplies. A dentist named Albert Dussel (Ben Francis) joins the families months into their hiding, making life in the attic even more tense.

Between the hours of 8AM and 6PM, everyone must be absolutely silent as not to alert the workmen downstairs of their presence. (The workmen might report them to the authorities in exchange for a reward). Under no circumstance can anyone leave, even if they get sick. And all there is to do, besides the same activities day in and day out, is wait for the war to end. It’s unfathomable to even imagine living in such conditions, especially when news from the outside world seems to only worsen with time.

Much of the fascination around Anne’s story has not only to do with the history it documents, but the fact that she is an ordinary girl living in one of the darkest chapters in human history. Anne is ordinary in the sense that she adores film stars, fights with her mother Edith (Charlotte Loeppkey), and has all sorts of naive thoughts and questions about love. For no other reason than her religion is she forced to go into hiding with her family. Her story is a powerful and enduring reminder of the unjust nature of war and hate.

What makes ACT’s production particularly effective is the casting of young teens for the roles of Anne, Margot, and Peter. Director Amanda Liz Cutting notes that the choice to cast teens was made to bring authenticity to the show, remarking that older performers may not achieve the same level of innocence possible with young actors. The casting is smart given that this dramatization is not only about children thrown into the adult world, but their parents trying to stay strong in front of them. To see parents falter in front of their children, who look to them for answers, is made more impactful by the presence of actual youth.

On casting, Marshall is simply marvelous as Anne. The actress brings a soft maturity to the role that reminds us that Anne is just a teenager struggling to understand herself and other people while living in a time of great crisis. In Marshall’s performance, we see Anne go back-and-forth between an adolescent beyond her years to a child who doesn’t fully grasp the total gravity of the situation. Anne’s failure to read the situation is seen best in her strained relationship with Edith.

Loeppkey delivers an emotionally captivating performance as Edith, a woman worn out by the war, the Van Daans, and her constant fighting with Anne. Unlike her husband, Edith is just barely able to go on, admitting that she has had thoughts about giving herself up. In Loeppkey’s performance, we see Edith’s perseverance gradually crack and give way to complete desperation. At the same time, we also see how her family’s love energizes her. And so when her family is wronged by Mr. Van Daan, Edith’s total breakdown ignites the stage in one of the most powerful moments this season. Loeppkey deserves every ounce of praise coming her way from audiences lucky enough to catch her stunning performance during the production’s limited run.

All around, the cast does a formidable job animating Anne’s story, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for Cutting’s messy direction. The actors are frequently upstaged by background action and very loud stage whispering. The director seems almost uneasy with silence. Erik Hope’s multi-level set eats up a lot of the space available inside the West Village Theatre. The audience is very much right inside the attic with the actors, and so maybe the thought is that silence within that proximity would be strange. Regardless, the loud stage whispering is ultimately a major distraction.

Even still, the production manages to collect a pool of tears from the audience in its final moments.

With the recent terror attack in Brussels, ACT’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank hits hard on many levels. But what’s important to take away from this play is Anne’s belief that “in spite of everything…people are really good at heart.” Time again and again, the world sees outpouring of love and support for victims of terror. There is good in the world, even if it’s hard to believe it some days.


ACT Theatre’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank by Albert Frances & Frances Goodrich runs March 24 – April 2 at the West Village Theatre.

The roles of Anne Frank, Margot Frank, and Peter Van Daan will be played by different actors over the course of the production’s run.

Anne Frank: Natalie Marshall, Haylee Thompson, and Sadey Wild
Margot Frank: Jaclyn Collis,  Natalie Marshall, and Haylee Thompson
Peter Van Daan: Daniel Rousell, Gabe Treleaven

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.acttheatre.ca/events-2016/2016/3/24/diary-of-anne-frank-directed-by-amanda-liz-cutting

 

The Strangely Sweet Charm of MacIvor’s In On It is Hard to Deny

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Left to Right: Mark Bellamy and Stafford Perry in Daniel MacIvor’s In On It, running now at Lunchbox Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Audiences may not exactly get ‘in on it’ by the end, but there’s no denying the strangely sweet charm of Daniel MacIvor’s metatheatrical play.

Running now at Lunchbox Theatre, MacIvor’s In On It stages two characters named This One (Mark Bellamy) and That One (Stafford Perry) trapped in liminal space – an in-between place where life has yet to disappoint. Really, it’s a rehearsal for a play underway in front of the Lunchbox audience. Going through various scenes, the actors take turns playing the play’s different characters, interpreting them as they see fit. The play-within-a-play deals primarily with an average somebody named Ray who has a terminal illness, at least until the tests say otherwise. Ray’s son is a self-centered adman, his wife is a boozy adulterer, and his father can’t recognize him due to memory loss. Lonely, Ray contemplates ending his life.

There’s also a young boy who’s abandoned by his step-dad, or more accurately his mom’s boyfriend. Ray and the boy have more common with each other than they know.

The scenes are frequently interrupted and criticized by the actors who just can’t see eye-to-eye creatively. The audience eventually learns that the actors are gay partners. Their differences are both creative and personal, shaping the scenes and their characters’ motivations accordingly. And so, the constant editing that occurs between them becomes more about what they want from each other in their relationship than the play itself. The stage acts as a place of reconciliation between the roles we play and the faces we hide.

(MacIvor would later use the same metatheatrical device in his 2006 play A Beautiful View, which Sage Theatre produced during its 2014-15 season.)

MacIvor playfully subverts audience expectations by opting for reality – which some audiences like to escape from by going to the theatre – than comforting fiction. The liminal space mentioned earlier is an imagined place from the future that comes full circle to a car accident. There are the stories we tell, and then the stories we would like to tell. The truth lies somewhere in-between.

In On It is a play about opposites, namely two opposite people trying to meet in the middle. What unfolds here is that struggle for human connection.

Director Samantha MacDonald finds and brings out the oddly inspiring essence of MacIvor’s play. MacDonald’s energetic, yet precise direction makes clear the connective tissues of this play, a challenge given that MacIvor doesn’t exactly spell out the whole thing. MacDonald demonstrates a clear and confident vision for this play that features multiple threads running at once.

What’s remarkable about this production is that Perry stepped into his role just one week before opening. Christian Goutsis was originally scheduled to play That One but had to withdraw from the production due to a family emergency. The cast and crew rehearsed the play in five days with Perry. For five days rehearsal, the result is truly incredible. Perry and Bellamy are absolutely wonderful together. The actors bring out so much from one another in this play of emotional highs and lows.

MacIvor has a knack for writing plays that stay with you on the drive home, and In On It is no different. Some audience members may feel lost trying to connect the dots, while some will appreciate MacIvor’s open-to-interpretation approach. Regardless, there’s no denying the strangely sweet charm of this play about life, relationships, and regret.


Daniel MacIvor’s In On It runs March 21 – April 9 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/in-on-it/

 

Harmon’s Bad Jews Stirs Up Bad Blood At Theatre Calgary

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Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews runs March 15 – April 10 at Theatre Calgary. Pictured, left to right: Jeremy Ferdman, Bobbi Goddard, and David Sklar. Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

Roaringly funny,  Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews is the type of show that draws lines in the sand, then crosses them with absolute glee.

Presented by Theatre Calgary, Harmon’s Bad Jews stages a tense night between three cousins brought together by a death in the family. Of the three cousins, Daphna Feygenbauum (Bobbi Goddard) is the most devoted to the family’s Jewish faith. Her cousin Liam Haber (Jeremy Ferdman) is an atheist who studies Japanese youth culture at the graduate level, and Liam’s brother Jonah (David Sklar) is seemingly indifferent altogether.

Daphna and Liam have a history of not getting along, and the single night inside Jonah’s studio apartment proves no different. Liam’s grandfather has passed away, leaving a family heirloom up for grabs. The heirloom is a gold pendant, or chai, that survived the Holocaust and was given to Liam’s grandmother in place of a wedding ring. Ownership of the pendant is yet to be decided, and becomes a matter that Daphna wants resolved in her favour since the religious heirloom should go to a deserving religious person, she argues. Liam opposes the idea on the grounds that his grandfather supposedly promised it to him before his death, resulting in a heated confrontation between him and Daphna.

To say tempers flare would be an understatement as Daphna and Liam throw the worst of the worst at each other, saying the type of things that can never be taken back. Liam’s bubbly blonde and totally not Jewish girlfriend Melody (Katherine Zaborsky) gets caught in the mix with Jonah who tries to mediate peace between the two cousins.

What’s at stake in Harmon’s play is more than just a pendant, but the responsibility of tradition. What do the next generation owe their family, if anything at all, in regards to carrying on tradition? For Daphna, it’s a major responsibility given that her family’s Jewish faith not only survived the concentration camps, but thousands of years of persecution against her people. So, to have it all abruptly end with her is just not a possibility since it has never been easier to practice the faith, she says. Liam approaches the tradition from a more individualistic point of view. Why should he follow something that he doesn’t personally agree with, that has barely any relevance in the 21st century? From Liam’s perspective, it seems that tradition survives as a result of unfounded, sentimental guilt, and surely that’s not a good enough reason to keep tradition alive.

There are mostly strong (exaggerated) arguments for both sides, but unfortunately they are spoken by two very awful people. Daphna’s incredible insecurities have turned her to a self-righteous ball of loathing that has no other outlet than tearing people apart. Liam is a smug, upper-class academic who has no problem calling his cousin a certain ‘C’ word in front of his girlfriend. He walks over his brother like a metal boot on a doormat, and pressures him to take his side on the pendant fiasco. Harmon makes it not only hard to agree with anyone, but to agree with either Daphna or Liam for any time longer than a minute. The audience’s loyalty is in a constant state of flux, but one thing is for sure: the audience can’t help but feel bad for Melody who becomes Daphna’s latest victim.

The days following the passing of a family member are certainly sensitive times, but Harmon’s family drama reaches levels outside of the stratosphere. Harmon’s wild ride travels between the dramatic and the comedic like a rollercoaster from Hell. The audience is never certain what’s next for this play that turns on the dime frequently.

Director Valerie Planche manages the action well, bringing a sustained energy to Harmon’s tight script. Although, the play does begin to dip near the end as Harmon’s arguments on the importance of family legacy start to wane in careful thought and approach empty, profanity-laden rhetoric. Still, Planche succeeds in developing a pressure-cooker type environment where the actors are just about to pop their lids at any moment.

Set designer Cory Sincennes’s Manhattan apartment is ritzy indeed, but what goes down within the four walls is far from glamorous. Goddard’s fury matched with Ferdman’s strong, if arrogant, will just about brings the whole place down. There’s a real ugliness brought to the stage by the actors who throw themselves hundred percent into their roles. Zaborsky is a real treat as Melody, a trained opera singer now working as an administrator for a non-profit. She brings a doe-eyed innocence to Melody so palpable that we can almost feel her little heart shatter into a million pieces as Daphna twists her well-intentioned words to hate speech. Sklar doesn’t have as much to do since his character tries to stay out of the way as much he can. But Sklar’s reactions are enough that his character’s final moment hits hard after all is said and done in the 90 minute production.

A truly insightful debate about legacy escapes Harmon, but what’s here is enough to spark discussion about the significance of religious tradition in an era where young people are less religious than ever. The rise of non-traditional families also puts into conflict family values carried over from different eras. Harmon doesn’t hit this specific point head on, but he at least starts the dialogue at a very good place: with young people.

Theatre Calgary’s production of Bad Jews earns its opening night standing ovation.


Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews runs March 15 – April 10 at Theatre Calgary (The Max Bell Theatre).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://www.theatrecalgary.com/2015-16/bad-jews