A Worthwhile Tradition: The Mousetrap is Set At Vertigo Theatre

 

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The cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, playing now at Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts and Photos, 2015.

Vertigo Theatre has a long history with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Since 1980, the company has returned time and time again to Christie’s classic murder-mystery. This season, The Mousetrap returns for its 14th production at Vertigo Theatre, where the play was last staged in 2008.

Directed by Kate Newby, The Mousetrap finds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Anna Cummer, Devon Dubnyk) waiting for their guests to arrive at Monkswell Manor, a newly opened guest house in the country. Just before any of the guests arrive, the radio reports that the police are still searching for the killer who recently claimed the life of a local woman.

One by one, the guests arrive, beginning with a young, free spirited man named Christopher Wren (Geoffrey Simon Brown). Mrs. Boyle (Laura Perken) is instantly displeased with Monkswell Manor, and argues she was misled by Mollie and Giles’ advertisement. Major Metcalf (Duval Lang) arrives just behind the unpleasant woman, and fortunately he is far more jovial than her. The last scheduled guest is Miss. Casewell (Genevieve Paré), a well-travelled, yet reserved, woman. Mr. Paravicini (Cam Ashcroft), a strange man whose appearance seems disingenuous, joins the party after his car overturns in a snowdrift.

The guests are trapped indoors by a violent snowstorm, leaving no one able to get in or out. The only person able to reach the manor is Sergeant Trotter (Stafford Perry) who arrives by skis. The policeman is there to protect the guests, he reveals, as police have reason to believe the killer is on his or her way to the manor – if the killer is not already in their midst. When one of the guests is murdered, Sgt. Trotter must find out who among them is the killer and stop them before they strike again. And with no contact with the outside world, there is no time for anyone to withhold any secrets from the investigation.

By now, the whodunnit genre has been well-played, but there is something to appreciate about the classics. And here, we are not involved with just any mystery writer, but the Queen of Crime herself. Christie’s ability to build intrigue is second to none, and her attention to detail is impeccable – the radio report on the mechanics of fear comes to mind. The fun of a good mystery endures in this thrilling play where isolation pulls tension to the surface.

Newby’s lively, but measured, direction makes this production feel like an exciting game of Clue. There is almost a hint of camp, and that is not a stretch by any means. Via Mr. Paravicini, played by a very funny Ashcroft, the play already pokes fun at itself and the logic common in murder-mysteries. Christie had a good sense of humour about her work, and Newby emphasizes that for an audience well-familiar with the tropes Christie helped establish during her career.

If grizzly murder were not afoot, set & lighting designer Narda McCarroll’s gorgeous Monkswell Manor would be the envy of any traveller. The snow falling outside the spacious manor’s large window adds very nicely to the atmosphere. Add in April Viczko’s colorful costume design, and the audience is fully absorbed into the period.

The evening’s tension is heightened by Perry’s furious commitment to apprehending the killer. Perry’s Sgt. Trotter is intent on leaving no stone unturned during the investigation. Unfortunately, the guests are less like stones and more like boulders. Brown’s enigmatic, oddball Wren delights as he makes a joke of the whole thing, making everyone in the manor feel uncomfortable while doing so. Brown gives Dubnyk’s stuffy Giles more than enough reason to dislike him. Cummer’s Mollie tries desperately to keep the house running smoothly, while also trying to keep the peace between the guests. Cummer knows how to make small physical moments sing. Perken’s aristocratic Mrs. Boyle stirs the house like a witch at her cauldron. Paré plays Miss. Casewell with a firmness that stands well against Perken, and that cuts through much of the swirling around by the other guests.

There are some projection issues, as in the audience strains to hear bits of dialogue, but the cast is largely on point delivering the material. The accents could use some differentiation, however, as they all sound just a touch too similar to each other, an odd thing considering the guests come from all over.

The production has a vibrant energy surging through it, from start to finish. And the same energy carries during intermission and after the show where the audience buzzes about all the various clues. There is a seriousness to it all, which Newby is interested in exploring, but the show is mainly a lot of fun thanks to the strengths of its cast.

Ultimately, Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap reminds us why Christie is the master of mystery, and why the company keeps returning to this classic play.


Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap runs Nov 14 – Dec 13.

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

 

Before The Night Takes Us Lurks, Bumps

Kas Nixon as Alison in Ryan Reese's Before The Night Takes Us. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes.

Kas Nixon as Alison in Ryan Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes.

Alison (Kas Nixon) hasn’t been sleeping well lately. Nightmares of grisly murders torment the frustrated clarinetist who has all but lost her ability to play. When Ray (Joel David Taylor), a telepathic pianist, walks into Alison’s life, she is soon thrown into something more sinister than she could ever expect.  For Alison, things are only going to get worse (and weirder) before they get better.

Presented by Theatre BSMT, Ryan Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us is a suspense-filled drama that trips over its paranormal premise.

For a character whose abilities are even a mystery to him, Ray sure seems to have a lot of answers, or a lot of good guesses. Part of that is due to Reese being quick to change/expand the rules of Ray and Alison’s telepathy when convenient. Of course, Reese is faced with the challenge of both establishing ground rules to adhere by and fleshing out a whole story within 120min, so wild assumptions by the characters are to be expected. Still, one cannot help but feel that the drama is undermined by fluctuations in the play’s logic.

Thankfully, Amy (Samantha Duff), a no-nonsense detective, gives the play immediacy, a sense of danger. While Amy trusts Ray’s abilities, Amy also needs answers now. She can’t wait on Ray to unlock the secrets of Alison’s dreams, especially not when there is a serial killer loose in the city. For Amy, the clock is ticking, and every minute that goes by is another minute where someone’s life is in danger.

But again, there are some problems with the play’s logic that are hard to ignore. The truth about Alison’s dreams raise questions about what kind of office Amy is working in that none of her colleagues or superiors would notice something off about one of their top detectives. And despite having access to her case files, in addition to her mind, Ray fails to recognize any inconsistencies with the investigation.

These issues aside, Reese intrigues with the general greyness of the characters – greyness in terms of his characters’ true motives, their murky pasts, and their relationships with one another. As we become more acquainted with Alison, Ray, and Amy, the loneliness of these characters become more apparent; the search for a connection more potent. And that is mainly what carries our interest through to the end: the fate of these characters thrown together against strange circumstances.

Unfortunately, the play proceeds at a choppy pace, mainly due to its scenes of varying lengths and their hard transitions. When the lights come down, so too does the energy. The dip in pace is partly due to the odd configuration of just one entrance/exit. Director Kyle Schulte might have opted for a set-up that allows better flow between scenes, rather than one where there is a good amount of unused physical space (which would feel emptier if it were not for some instruments laying around).

Taylor rises to the task of playing the piano live on stage. He and Nixon share good energy together on stage. Though Duff is who most catches our eye with her menacing presence. Fortunately, Nixon holds her own in her clashes with Duff. The two are a sharp pair that respond to each other effectively.

A murdery mystery with a paranormal twist, Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us catches our attention with its grey characters, but then loses us with its thin logic.


Theatre BSMT’s Before The Night Takes Us runs May 6 – 9 at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html

U of C Grad Student Working to Bring The Arts & Social Sciences Together

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can't Cross a Bridge.

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can’t Cross a Bridge.

Sherryl Melnyk’s new play Can’t Cross a Bridge was read aloud publicly for the first time this Monday night at the University of Calgary’s F.R Matthews Theatre. The staged reading was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work.

But whereas much of the work in the annual student festival has been largely fictional, Melnyk’s play differs in that it is rooted in real women’s stories of abuse.

Can’t Cross a Bridge tells the story of Velma and Lizzy, a mother and daughter estranged for 16 years. One day, a surprise call from the RCMP informs Velma that her daughter has returned. But hanging over their reunion are secrets from the past, painful secrets that Lizzy can no longer keep inside.

Melnyk is completing her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, combining studies in English, Drama, and Women’s Studies/Sociology. Can’t Cross a Bridge is one component of her PhD dissertation.

The first component, the social science component, saw Melnyk interviewing 21 women about their sexual histories. From that research, Melnyk chose three of the stories that she thought fit together the best, then synthesized them for the play. The last component comprised of theory, discussions around the creation of the work.

Melnyk says her work is focused on bringing the arts and social sciences together, disseminating research through the arts as a means of creating meaningful dialogue surrounding social issues.

“I think what happens to a lot of research is that it’s wonderful research, but it’s lost in journals,” said Melnyk. “No one really reads it but other academics. I think a better combination of the arts and social sciences working together is going to make it more accessible to the public at large.”

And of course, her research could not have been possible without participants willing to share their lives openly with Melnyk.

“I started out my research trying to understand if women are kind of moving beyond the traditional view of women in sexuality; Woman as part of the male gaze, woman in pornography, woman as victim…How have women’s stories changed, that’s how I started my interview with all the people that participated.”

“I think what was really interesting about all of the women I interviewed was the fact that they wanted to tell their story. They want people to hear it. They want women to be empowered through their stories. All different ages sat down with me and spoke. Some of them were an hour, and some were two and half hours about their life history.”

For Melnyk, the intimacy theatre grants between audiences and ideas is necessary for not only bridging the arts and social sciences, but also bringing these women’s stories to the community.

“I think you could see it tonight in the gasps and the reactions of the audience. The sadness, the laughter, the drama that is created through theatre. I think it speaks more to our heart and soul than reading an article.”

Melnyk hands in her dissertation on April 24th, then defends it later next month.


The staged reading of Sherryl Melnyk’s Can’t Cross a Bridge was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work. The festival runs Mar 31 – Apr 11th, 2015.

For more information about the festival, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/taking-flight-festival-student-work

Cast

Lizzy – Jacqueline Dyment
Velma – Val Campbell
Lester – Brian Smith
Andrea – Courtney Charnock

Company

Director – Dawn Mari McCaugherty
Stage Directions – Siobhan Cooney

U of C’s SCPA Clowns Around, Impresses With Creative Take On Brecht’s Man Equals Man

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht's Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok.

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Inside the University Theatre, a troupe of clowns dressed in military uniform await their audience. The clowns juggle, sing, and crack jokes to warm the audience up for the night’s main event: the transformation of an ordinary citizen into the perfect soldier.

Directed by Tim Sutherland, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man is an uproarious spectacle of slapstick and danger.

Set in British Colonial India, Man Equals Man stages the story of Galy Gay (Natasha Strickey), a lowly porter, who is thrust into the ranks of the British Army by three incompetent privates. Needing someone to pass off as their fourth man during roll call, Uriah Shelly (Andy Weir), Jesse Mahoney (Ahad Raza Mir), and Polly Baker (Onika Henry) enlist Galy to be their stand in for the night, whereafter he will no longer be needed. But when their comrade Jeriah Jip (Connor WIlliams) goes missing indefinitely, the privates set out to turn Galy into the soldier they need him to be.

Despite the presence of firearms, there is little violence that actually takes place on stage. And that is the point. For Brecht, it is not firearms, but rather political ideologies that pose a grave threat to all persons of the world. After all, a gun cannot fire without someone to pull the trigger.

Here, what Brecht specifically fears is the influence of state propaganda on citizens. Though he resists at first, Galy is eventually won over by a narrative that glorifies the soldier as an inherently noble figure worthy of many rewards. Over time, the narrative digs deeper under Galy’s skin where it re-positions his values to align closer with those of the state and its armed forces. Galy’s identity effectively becomes estranged from his biography. And it is from this metamorphosis that violence emerges as Galy becomes a soldier on the front; a weapon of the state.

Accordingly, Sutherland’s circus positions war as an elaborate production. Translated within this context, a soldier’s uniform becomes nothing but a costume that anyone can wear, even a clown. By highlighting how persons and groups assign meaning to the mundane, as opposed to the mundane possessing an inherent value, Sutherland undermines the symbolic authority of the uniform.

And despite changing into costumes (e.g. ninja attire) that suggests otherwise, the clowns remain British soldiers throughout the entirety of the play. This contradiction in appearance emphasizes Brecht’s concern over the sort of false realities that ideologies construct and attempt to present as truth in the face of actuality.

This is a furiously high-spirited circus that engages on all fronts through physical humour, music and dance. And everyone in the cast is on board here, even the actors in the background who are giving as much as those leading the scenes. There is a lot of great character work on display, a varied mix of personalities and antics. The ensemble’s total commitment to the piece truly elevates this production to something quite fantastic.

Strickey displays a great amount of quirk and charm which makes her an absolute joy to watch on stage. Her facial expressions and mannerisms read very clearly from the stage. Along with her comedic timing, Strickey is also adept at capturing the dramatic tones of the play.

Weir, Mir, and Henry share a delightful chemistry together. Although, the actors would benefit from better enunciation and projection as sometimes we lose their dialogue, particularly with some of the accents at work.

Set and lighting designer Anton de Groot’s work is visually exciting and very much in tune with the eccentric quality of the production.

Funny, thought provoking, and certainly unique, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Brecht’s Man Equals Man is a lively experience that both entertains and challenges its audience.


The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man runs at the University Theatre, Feb 17 – 28, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to purchase tickets,
visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/man-equals-man

The Weight of The World Suffocates in Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs

Presented by Verb Theatre, Duncan MacMillan’s gripping play Lungs stages the story of F (Anna Cummer) and M (Kyle Jespersen), a well-educated couple in their thirties. One day, while in line at Ikea, M puts forward the idea of having a child. From this moment, a turbulent, uninterrupted conversation surrounding the ramifications of bringing a baby into the world – a world already strained for resources – begins and follows into the next several days, months, and years.

Per MacMillan’s explicit stage instructions, there is no set nor are there any props. What there is plenty of though is a lot of talk, and a lot of talk about talking.

Over and over again, F justifies to herself (and M) why the couple should not bring a child into the world. Think of the environment, F says, citing the impact one whole person’s carbon footprint has on the Earth. Then, switching her position, F reasons why the couple are allowed to have a child, citing primarily the fact they are not only are they good people, but they are also very aware.

The whole play reads as a sharp criticism of slacktivism. F and M self-identify as well-informed citizens based off how much they (claim to) read. And that is enough for them to separate themselves from the masses. In other words, because the couple knows better, then they cannot be part of the problem. F and M equate not only knowledge with responsibility, but also as a form of action in itself. Unfortunately, for all their awareness, they fail to participate in any meaningful action to help the world. They only talk about what they have done or plan to do – the latter being subject to whether or not they have a child.

And it is this shallow satisfaction with themselves that sets the couple up for heartbreak when they are hit hard, very hard, with the realization that the world is indifferent to them, no matter how many trees they intend to plant.

In this way, MacMillan reflects back to us our growing complacency in the digital age. For MacMillan, awareness is not enough. Using a hashtag or sharing a video is only a small step in creating change. In this world, which goes on with or without us, what truly matters is action; knowledge put in practice.

With regards to the script, MacMillan offers no escape from what is born out of a simple conversation. He holds nothing back in this emotional roller coaster that punches forward on a track bent in every direction, leaving its audience speechless by the end.

And thankfully, Cummer and Jespersen match the velocity of MacMillan’s fearless script. Cummer is fantastic in drawing out so many emotions from the audience. And there is this one powerful moment, which demands to be seen, where Cummer simply nails it. Never has a theatre gone so quiet. And Jespersen is there with Cummer every step of the way. Rarely do a pair respond to and match so well what the other brings to the table.

Running at Motel Theatre, Verb Theatre’s arresting production of Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs is one not to miss.


Verb Theatre’s production of Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs runs at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons), Feb 5-14, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to purchase tickets,
visit: http://www.verbtheatre.com/season/

 

Staging a Classic: U of C’s SCPA Brings West Side Story to Calgary

Something’s coming.

This week, the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts will be presenting the hit Broadway musical West Side Story.

For Colleen Whidden, the artistic director of U of C’s Music Theatre company, the decision that West Side Story should be the SCPA’s first show was an easy one to make.

“It’s West Side Story! Classic story…amazing music, every song…and from a dance point of view, it’s so dance intensive,” said Whidden. “There’s just so much area in the music for amazing creativity in the dance.”

“When we were bringing together the dance, drama, and music departments we said what would be a great first show for us to do together. It was sort of a no-brainer that [West Side Story should be it] because every department could really flourish, could really shine through this particular musical.”

Based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story stages the heated gang rivalry between the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks in New York’s Upper West Side during the 1950s. Caught between the conflict are two young lovers whose relationship is threatened by the hatred and violence that surrounds them.

And despite the almost 60 year gap between this production and when the musical was first produced in 1957, Whidden believes that the story and its themes have not lost any of their relevance over the years.

“Even in 2015 now, we still can relate to it,” said Whidden. “Is it a story we don’t see anymore? No. We see it everyday. We probably just read about it in the paper…we see it in our own community, across our country and abroad. Maybe even more now we need to hear that story of resolution of coming together and bringing…divisive parties together.”

Tony (Ahad Mir) and Maria (Jocelyn Francescut) in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

Tony (Ahad Mir) and Maria (Jocelyn Francescut). Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

This spirit of coming together is also reflected in the collaborative nature of the production which Whidden says has benefited the students, alumni, and community members involved.

“We’re coming together as the School of Creative and Performing Arts…with four of us from the drama, music, and dance departments each of us [can] bring our strengths.”

This has made West Side Story a great learning experience for both Ahad Mir and Jocelyn Francescut who play the lead characters Tony and Maria, respectively.

Mir, a fourth year U of C drama student, praises the collaboration, saying that he feels it has fostered plenty of opportunities to learn from his peers in the dance and music departments, and vice versa.

Likewise, Francescut, a music graduate from the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, says she has learned a lot through working with other disciplines in what she calls her first acting role ever.

“This has been a huge challenge for me since I haven’t done a lot of acting [but] I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the process,” said Francescut. “Sometimes it’s been hard, but it’s been so rewarding.”

Delivering such a well-rounded experience means that the level of what is expected of students in the future will only go up, Whidden says. She is confident, however, that students will meet, if not exceed, those expectations.


The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of West Side Story opens Thursday, January 8th at the University Theatre.

Performance Schedule:

Jan. 8 – 10, 13 – 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.
Jan. 14 at 12 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for Adults and $15 for Students/Seniors. Tickets can be purchased on-line (http://www.ucalgary.ca/tickets/) or at the door.

For more information about the show, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/west-side-story

Theatre BSMT’s !Duranged! Is a Fun, Bizarre Evening at the Theatre

“Safe” is not a word that appears in Playwright Christopher Durang’s vocabulary. If one needs proof of this, then one only needs to look to Durang’s ‘dentity Crisis and Wanda’s Visit. And conveniently for us, Theatre BSMT has packaged the two for its latest production.

Presented at Motel Theatre inside the EPCOR Centre, Theatre BSMT’s double header !Duranged! is an evening of absurdist humour injected with high-energy antics.

First up is ‘dentity Crisis, the evening’s more bizarre play. Coming off a recent suicide attempt, Jane (Elisa Benzer) is trapped at home with her overbearing mother, Edith Fromage (Hayley Feigs), who claims to have invented cheese. Jane’s brother Robert (Alan Johnson) offers no solace as he is not only passionately in love with their mother, but he is constantly turning into Jane’s father, her grandfather, and a French count. Jane’s only ally seems to be her psychiatrist Mr. Summers (DJ Gellatly) who helps her cope with her psychosis.

Benzer does well not to play her lines for laughs, instead going for the dark, disturbed nature of her character (as she best demonstrates in her “Peter Pan” monologue). In doing so, the ensuing absurdity has somewhere to go as opposed to hitting us at 100% from the beginning , which would exhaust the audience.

The escalating nature of the piece is laugh-out loud funny. The actors fully commit to the outrageous hijinks that hit one after another from beginning to end. (It gets to a point where even the sight of Gellatly’s ridiculous facial expressions draw big laughs from the audience).

Unfortunately, some of that eagerness leads to some stumbling on lines.

As well, the momentum of the play is interrupted by the poor build of the two doors on stage. Every entrance and exit makes the door frames wobble, giving the actors a hard time when they try to shut the door behind them. It is enough to cause a dip in the energy.

Jane loses grasp of reality and her own identity in Christopher Durang's 'dentity Crisis. Pictured (left to right): Alan Johnson, Hayley Feigs (Back), Elisa Benzer (Front), DJ Gellatly. Photo Credit: Chelsey Fawcett

Jane loses grasp of reality and her own identity in Christopher Durang’s ‘dentity Crisis. Pictured (left to right): Alan Johnson, Hayley Feigs (Back), Elisa Benzer (Front), DJ Gellatly. Photo Credit: Chelsey Fawcett

Foregoing an intermission, a fun musical interlude plays while the cast disassembles and arranges the set for the evening’s second play.

Wanda’s Visit tells the story of Jim (Gellatly) and Marsha (Tara Marlena Laberge), a married couple celebrating 13 years together. But when Jim’s old highschool girlfriend Wanda (Feigs) comes to visit, jealousy and temptation threaten to ruin Jim and Marsha’s marriage.

Compared to ‘dentity Crisis, Wanda’s Visit is much more grounded in reality which shows in Durang’s very funny, but also genuine marital dialogue between Jim and Marsha.

And the couple really stands out thanks to Laberge and Gellatly who are a great pairing.

Laberge is fantastic in delivering Marsha’s sharp remarks and pent up frustration which occasionally slips out over the course of the play. Gellatly is entertaining as the bumbling husband who tries to satisfy both his wife and this mad woman who wedges herself between them. And together, they share this relaxed chemistry that is simply a joy to watch.

Wanda, on the other hand, is an atrocious character whose despicable behavior as a guest grates on our nerves. And Durang leaves it that way until the very end where finally, something interesting happens. Until that point, the audience is stuck with a joke that stops being funny within the first 10 minutes.

Feigs does her best with the given material, but even her performance runs a bit stale.

How does !Duranged! stand as a whole package? Durang’s strange sense of humour may not be for everyone, but there is something about this selection of plays that is just fun. The whole evening is a lively theatrical experience fueled by slapstick and chaos. And yes, there are issues with both the plays and the production itself, but the evening has an indescribable charm to it.

Ultimately, Theatre’s BSMT !Duranged! is a curious evening of two plays that will certainly leave an impression on audiences.


*This review is based off a preview performance.

Theatre BSMT’s !Duranged! runs at the Motel Theatre inside the EPCOR Centre from Dec 10 – 20, 2014.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html