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

 

Drip, Drip, Drip: Vertigo Theatre Wades Through The Turn of The Screw

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Myla Southward and Braden Griffiths in Vertigo Theatre’s The Turn of The Screw. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Henry James’ 1898 ghost story The Turn of The Screw is steeped in ambiguity. Are there spirits alive in the countryside or are the demons more psychological in nature? Both explanations are terrifying, but unfortunately the terror of James’ tale is watered down at Vertigo Theatre.

Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher, The Turn of The Screw tells the story of a young governess (Myla Southward) hired to take care of two orphaned children living in their uncle’s country home. The children’s uncle (Braden Griffiths) asks the governess not to bother him in London with any sort of communication. Given total charge, the inexperienced governess does the best she can with Miles, a troubled boy discharged from school, and Flora, a young girl who chooses not to speak. Strange events begin not long after the governess’ arrival, namely the appearance of ghosts. The housekeeper Mrs. Grose confesses that the previous governess, Miss. Jessel, died on the grounds, along with her lover Peter Quint. Fearing the children’s safety, the governess tries solving the mystery of the apparitions before evil overtakes the household.

Common to ghost stories, the wilderness hides many evil things, and here it is no different. The supernatural lurks in the garden and outer limits of the estate. Set designer Scott Reid has constructed a unique set where the gothic estate shares space with a flooded downstage area. The presence of live water works marvelously in showing the encroaching wilderness, or darkness. Narda McCarroll’s striking lighting work adds layers to the water by making it appear soft and still in some moments, then hard and violent in others. Yes, the actors become absolutely drenched by the end of it, and that’s delicious symbolism for any English majors in the audience. The trouble is, the inventive staging does little for Hatcher’s weak adaptation.

Hatcher’s stage adaptation calls for only two actors, with the male actor taking on multiple roles. Griffiths plays the uncle, Miles, Flora, and Mrs. Grose. Griffiths goes on his knees to play schoolboy Miles, then leaps up to play Mrs. Grose, a shrill old woman. The actor’s character transitions are more comical than anything, winning (perhaps) unintended laughs from the audience. They also become messy as the narrative nears its climax, since now all the characters come into play together.

And with fewer players, the narrative’s possible outcomes become limited too, taking away some of James’ original ambiguity.

Director Ron Jenkins keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, but even still the story never quite hits its groove. Hatcher’s adaptation has difficulty bringing together all its elements in a cohesive, compelling manner. The payoff rests in the spectacular visuals than in the plot. Nonetheless, Jenkins displays a good eye for blocking actors and producing frights.

Southward delivers a strong performance as the young governess thrust into a world of spirits, demons of the past. A little water does little to stifle Southward’s intensity as her character’s own sanity starts to crack under pressure. Transitions aside, Griffith plays the menace well here with his deep, booming voice. He stalks and creeps like a shadow.

Hatcher’s adaptation suffers from a limited cast of actors, and a loose delivery of James’ classic ghost story. Vertigo Theatre’s production of The Turn of The Screw delivers in the visual department, but fails to produce intrigue worthy of a visit.


Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Turn of The Screw runs March 12 – April 10 at Vertigo Theatre (The Playhouse).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/mystery-series