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

 

Theatre Encounter’s Production of The Dumb Waiter Disappoints

Directed by Ben Charland and Val Duncan, Theatre Encounter’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter is a frustrating experience marked by questionable direction and lackluster performances.

The Dumb Waiter opens with Ben and Gus (Rachel Gilliatt and Meredith Pritchard respectively),  two assassins waiting for their target in an old, abandoned basement. The two fill the time discussing current affairs, idioms, and the details of this particular job. But when a dumb waiter starts to mysteriously send down food orders, Gus begins to question just who exactly they answer to while Ben tries to stay focused on the job.

Charland and Duncan’s first misstep is the preshow which leads into the main action. Gilliatt begins by walking on stage, exploring the space and performing some movement. Pritchard follows suite and does her own routine alongside Gilliatt. All the while, the audience sits unsure of whether to go quiet or continue talking – after all, the house lights at this point are still on and new audience members are still entering the theatre and finding their seats. It becomes hard then to focus on the action on stage with the theatre door wide open and chatter outside the theatre entering in. Continue reading

Chromatic Theatre’s Debut Production Shows Promise, but Just Misses The Mark

Presented at Motel inside the EPCOR Centre and directed by Jenna Rodgers, Chromatic Theatre – Calgary’s newest theatre company – makes its debut with Michael Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai.

A modern re-telling of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Cowboy Versus Samurai tells the story of Korean-American Travis Park (Mike Tan), a high school English teacher who lives in the fictional town of Breakneck, Wyoming. Besides Travis, there is only one other Asian in this predominantly white rural town: Chester (Richard Lee Hsi) – his friend and brother in Asian solidarity. When Asian-American Veronica Lee (Carmela Sison) moves into town, Travis immediately falls for the school’s new Biology teacher. There is, however, just one problem: Veronica only dates white men. Soon, Travis finds himself ghostwriting love letters to Veronica on behalf of his friend Del (Mat Glessing), a Caucasian P.E teacher, while struggling to reconcile his inner “Cowboy” and “Samurai.”

Golamco sets out to dismantle racialized stereotypes, and he does so very explicitly with Chester – an amalgamation of pop culture Asian stereotypes. Chester’s extreme, over-the-top expression of “Asianness” is a confrontation of how our culture operates with regards to race. Just as Chester embodies sweeping generalizations about Asians, so too does he paint his own broad strokes about white people. These assumptions effectively erase the individual out of the picture.

Chester breaks down in front of Travis. Front to Back: Richard Hsi, Mike Tan. (Photo Credit: Miquelon Rodriguez)

Chester (Richard Lee Hsi) breaks down in front of Travis (Mike Tan). Photo Credit: Miquelon Rodriguez

Chester eventually comes to realize that his preoccupation with being Asian has obscured his own individual identity.

What is interesting, though, is that Breakneck, Wyoming remains a homogeneous, bigoted “sea of white” throughout. It is, of course, the small rural town and its small-minded residents that are Golamco’s obvious culprits for prejudice. And Del – the play’s spokesperson for white people – is part of the problem. Yes, by the end of the play, Del makes significant progress in terms of how he thinks and talks about race, but the fact remains that Golamco’s attempt to subvert stereotypes falls short of rising above the very thing he sets out to criticize.

Despite this, Golamco’s does manage to bring forward some insightful observations surrounding identity and inter-racial dating – the latter being a topic rarely discussed as earnestly and with such vigor as it is here.

But the script lacks character depth. Awkward dialogue does nothing to help characters who struggle to say anything interesting when race is not involved. And it does little to help us truly care about Travis and Veronica’s relationship. There are some sharply written moments to be found, but character development, for the most part, takes a backseat to the play’s major ideas.

Hsi fully commits to the ridiculous nature of his character during both scenes and scene transitions. Tan is a great straight man to Hsi’s antics, while also being entertaining in his own right. The duo are a good pair.

Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s set design is aesthetically pleasing with its waterbrush look. The use of spinning cardboard boxes, hung on tubes in rows of three, is an ingenious way of changing scenery. (Though they are prone to getting stuck in mid-spin).

A questionable production choice is the company’s use of a live cap gun. The gun’s loud bang is deafening inside the small studio space – which only seats 50. A sound cue would suffice.

While the company could have chosen a tighter script, Chromatic Theatre’s production of Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai fares well enough as a first impression. It will be interesting to see how the company develops from this point on.


Chromatic Theatre’s production of Michael Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai runs at Motel (EPCOR Centre) from Nov 13 – 22, 2014.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://chromatictheatre.ca/cowboy-versus-samurai/