World Premiere: Meg Braem’s A Worthy Opponent Delivers Big Laughs

An abandoned drug den turned trendy street-themed restaurant. Maybe not the best place to bring your fiance’s mother…and maybe not the best place to break the news that you’re marrying her only son.

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Meg Braem’s A Worthy Opponent is a delightful new comedy that is as smart as it is hilarious.

Ivy (Allison Lynch) loves Nathan and wants to marry him, that she knows for sure. But then again, Ivy’s never really stuck to anything, like acting school or even her own name. And that for Helen (Elinor Holt) is cause for concern. An accomplished entomologist, Helen is not so sure about her son Nathan, a grad student, marrying Ivy who works at a hair salon.

It’s not that Helen hates Ivy, despite Ivy thinking so, or that she is completely opposed to their union, it’s just that she’s worried. And it’s not just Nathan that she’s worried about, it’s Ivy too. Of course, the truth only comes out after the two women have had a ‘couple’ drinks and traded barbs with one another.

Ivy and Helen’s all-out battle of wits sees lots of potent insults, some more subtle than others, that one can feel from their seat. Accordingly, their waiter Eric (Brett Dahl) makes sure to quickly disappear after serving them their drinks. And yes, there are plenty of drinks served.

Braem’s lively, sharp tongued characters breathe wit and fresh air into the ‘horrible mother-in-law’ trope so often repeated across various media. But it is not just their ability to ‘dish it out’ that makes this work feel refreshing, it is also their dimensions which Braem explores to the fullest.

Contrary to what Ivy thinks, Helen is not just a cold, unfeeling academic. No, she is also a mother, as Helen reminds Ivy, a mother who raised her son alone. And the thought of Nathan marrying and leaving her behind is not one Helen is so ready to accept. So, Nathan cannot just marry anyone, let alone someone who is not so sure about where their own life is headed.

And so, after all the drinks and hostility, Braem brings the play to a heartfelt moment where the two women reconcile their differences and finally see eye-to-eye. So moving are the play’s final moments, in fact, that quiet sobs can be heard from the audience.

Holt and Lynch meet what the other brings to the table in terms of impeccable comedic timing and energy. Although, Holt noticeably trips over several lines of dialogue during the course of the show. Though easy to overlook the first time, Holt’s line flubs occur just enough that the steadfast pace of her and Lynch’s exchanges dip as a result. Otherwise though, Holt is a great opposite to the sweet, but fiery Lynch.

Sharp and refreshing, Meg Braem’s A Worthy Opponent delivers big laughs while celebrating mother-in-laws everywhere.


Meg Braem’s A Worthy Opponent runs at Lunchbox Theatre April 6 – 25, 2015.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2015/3/30/a-worthy-opponent-by-governor-general-award-nominee-meg-braem?view=calendar

World Premiere: Lunchbox Theatre Goes ‘Speed Dating for Sperm Donors’

A lesbian couple in search of a sperm donor. Well, not just any sperm donor. The perfect sperm donor. How hard could it be? Ask Natalie Meisner, she could tell you. You might say, in fact, that she’s an expert on the subject.

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Meisner’s Speed Dating for Sperm Donors is a fun dramatized account of the playwright and her partner’s experience in trying to start family.

Helen (Julie Orton) and Paige (Janelle Cooper) are ready to have a baby. Unfortunately, Helen’s best friend has said no to being the sperm donor. This sets the couple off on a journey to find the perfect sperm donor; perfect as defined by a very strict set of criteria. Helen and Paige’s search turns up a lot of ‘duds’ like a Russian physicist (Mark Bellamy) keen on eugenics, and a recovering sex addict (Christian Goutis). Eventually, the couple’s relationship begins to suffer as their unfruitful search leads to doubt and frustration.

As much as the play sets out to be about the couple and their journey, the story is really about Helen. We do not hear much from Paige beyond her reactionary responses that support Helen’s character arc rather than help support one of her own. On the one hand, it makes sense considering that the play is based off Meisner’s non-fiction book Double Pregnant which is written from her point of view. On the other, however, this is a dramatization that – according to the Playwright’s Notes – seeks to play with and flesh out “the dramatic potential” of Meisner’s autobiography. That is why it is so strange that Meisner chooses to narrow the play’s perspective rather than expand it in a work of fiction.

Perhaps though it is a limitation inherent to adapting non-fiction for the stage. There could be nothing more exposing, after all, than having one’s life story played out in front of a live audience. And as a result, there may be a fear/worry on the playwright’s part of misrepresenting and/or overstepping the personal boundaries of those involved in real events.

Where Meisner does hit the mark is in her application of humour to approach (and widen) the conversation surrounding LGBT families. While she may achieve this by playing into certain stereotypes, Meisner does it in such a way that reflects a sharp self-awareness on her part. The playwright is able to venture out into the ‘two-dimensional’, then bring it back to something sincere. In doing so, she entertains (which may ease some into the conversation), and then uses humour as a means to illuminate and establish a common ground with the audience.

Meisner’s revolving door of quirky characters, though, does wear thin after awhile. The first few characters are fun, but then the later character scenarios – especially the one Meisner throws in as misdirection – stall the pace of the play.

Thankfully, Bellamy and Goutis are strong enough in these roles that the play does not completely drag in its last thirty minutes. (Bellamy has an infectious charm that lights up the stage).

While very funny and clever at times, Speed Dating for Sperm Donors does feel as though it could go further to explore its more serious, dramatic elements. Pacing issues also stifle Meisner’s comedic wit, but great character work by the actors help keep the play light-hearted and enjoyable.


Lunchbox Theatre’s Speed Dating for Sperm Donors runs Feb 2 – 21, 2015.

For information on the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2015/2/2/speed-dating-for-sperm-donors-by-natalie-meisner?view=calendar

Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story Shines Light On Canadian Hero

Beau Dixon as Maurice Ruddick in Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story. Photo Credit: Nicole Zylstra

Beau Dixon as Maurice Ruddick in Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story. Photo Credit: Nicole Zylstra

October 23rd, 1958.

On this day, the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia experienced a terrible mining disaster. A collapsed mine, triggered by a ‘bump’, would claim the lives of 74 men.

The story of Maurice Ruddick and the five men who he saved, however, would live on.

In Beau Dixon’s one-man show Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story, Dixon celebrates Ruddick’s unyielding spirit in the face of disaster. A beautifully woven tale of heroism, Dixon skillfully pays tribute to a man whose music and faith gave him the strength to inspire others.

A husband and father of 12, Ruddick works as a coal miner to support his family. Though his dreams of being a musician have long been put to the wayside, Ruddick is not shy to share his passion for singing with his co-workers. Unfortunately, Ruddick, an African-Canadian, is not always welcomed by the men he works with.

When news of the mine collapse breaks out, Dixon imagines what Ruddick’s 10-year old daughter Valerie experienced when watching live television coverage of the event. The coverage is hosted by a CBC reporter who Dixon also plays.

Trapped at the bottom of the mine with six other men, Ruddick is compelled to keep their spirits high until the rescue teams reach them. He does so by singing and leading the men in various hymnals. Even though the men’s morale drops with each passing day, Ruddick is firm in his resolve.

Beneath Springhill is a moving piece of drama that succeeds in portraying Ruddick as a man who did not see himself as a hero, but someone simply doing the right thing. Someone guided by not only their faith, but their basic humanity. (The real-life Ruddick would go on to play down his hero status).

Ruddick’s admirable character as a family man and a hard worker is, in fact, what drives the emotional impact of the play.

Dixon never allows us to forget how easily Ruddick could have lost all hope. It is truly gut-wrenching to watch the trapped men resign themselves to death while Ruddick pulls what little energy he has left, setting aside his own fears in the meantime, to maintain their morale. And all the while, who is Ruddick? He is just a simple man who risks his life on a daily basis to put food on the table.

Nor does Dixon allow us to forget how Ruddick was later rewarded for his courage. Because of segregation at the time, Ruddick’s invitation by the Governor of Georgia to a luxurious resort is sent under the condition that he and his family stay in a trailer park, away from the other survivors.

Under the hot theatre lights, we can see that this production is not easy for Dixon who plays a wide range of characters. Yet, despite the furious pace at which these transitions happen, Dixon somehow manages to not lose control of the distinct voices and mannerisms he has crafted, especially those of the five coal miners trapped with Ruddick.

Also, Dixon does well to keep the play moving forward by framing the central action with scenes of Ruddick’s daughter and the CBC’s coverage. Despite Dixon’s mixed performance as a 10-year old, seeing the disaster through a young girl’s eyes is still heart-breaking. And the CBC’s (rather pessimistic) coverage of the event reminds us just how great the odds are/were against Ruddick and the other coal miners.

A story about hope, family, and humanity, Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story pays its respects to a Canadian hero who inspired strength in others. Audiences will find Dixon’s performance as incredible as the emotional story he brings to life.


Beau Dixon’s Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story runs at Lunchbox Theatre Jan 12 – 24, 2015. 

‘Beneath Springhill’ is co-presented with the 25th Annual High Performance Rodeo.

For more information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit:
http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2015/1/12/beneath-springhill-the-maurice-ruddick-story-by-beau-dixon?view=calendar

For information about this year’s High Performance Rodeo, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/

Maurice Ruddick was featured in a Heritage Minute which can be seen here: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9jnQnUuDmE

 

Lunchbox Theatre’s With Bells On Brings That Holly Jolly

This holiday season, in association with Guys in Disguise, Darrin Hagen’s With Bells On returns to Lunchbox Theatre where it was first produced in 2010.

Directed by Hagen, With Bells On is a fabulous comedy that celebrates the holiday spirit by taking it to new heights.

Ted (Stafford Perry) is a young divorcé stuck with a lousy apartment and lackluster social life. One night, riding in the apartment’s elevator, Ted runs into Natasha (Paul Welch) – a statuesque drag queen dressed as a Christmas tree. Natasha’s dream of competing for the title of ‘Christmas Queen’ that night is in jeopardy when the elevator abruptly stops.

Life is full of ups and downs, and we move right with it in every direction. So, what happens when it just stops? In this pause, what is that we discover about ourselves and each other?

Hagen uses Ted and Natasha’s momentary pause from the business of everyday life to reflect on loneliness – a feeling exacerbated by this particular time of the year. This loneliness though is just not about being alone, but feeling lonely in a crowd. And so, when the opportunity presents itself to Ted and Natasha to make a real, human connection with a stranger – it is at once both exciting and terrifying. Continue reading

Why We Remember: Jake’s Gift Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Veterans

One woman. Two characters. Thousands of soldiers who never made it home. But for playwright/performer Julia Mackey, the shores of Juno Beach were never meant to be their final resting place.

Presented at Lunchbox Theatre, Mackey’s one-woman show Jake’s Gift delivers a moving dramatic experience.

Directed by Dirk Van Stralen, Jake’s Gift tells the story of Jake, a Canadian WWII veteran who (reluctantly) returns to Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The trip brings back painful memories for Jake who lost his older brother Chester during the war – a difficult loss he has been unable to deal with in the years since. Jake develops an unlikely friendship with a 10-year-old local named Isabelle. Isabelle’s innocent fascination with D-Day, though first met with resistance, pushes Jake to confront his past and, in doing so, come to terms with his brother’s death.

The weight of the war and its personal impact is marked all over Jake’s body – from his difficulty walking to his shaking arm and curled fingers. Continue reading

“It’s A Scary Old World”: Lunchbox Theatre’s The Life History of The African Elephant Delights

First performed in 1989, then again in 2001, Clem Martini’s The Life History of The African Elephant returns to Lunchbox Theatre to open the company’s 2014-15 season. Directed by Bartley Bard, the production sees the original cast returning for this third outing of Martini’s comedy.

The Life History of The African Elephant stages the unlikely friendship that develops between accident-prone, ceramic artist Florence Bond (Barbara Gates-Wilson) and Glen Beddoes (David LeReaney), a reserved elephant trainer. After crashing her car through Glen’s backyard and into his shed, Florence goes to the zoo enclosure where he works to apologize. Inside the enclosure, Florence discovers that Glen is trying to help an elephant overcome its depression. Florence tells Glen that she will return again, but next time with her older brother Phillip (Brian Jensen) who will be visiting on his day pass from prison. Over a late-night picnic at the zoo, Florence, Glen, and Philip try and sort out their childhoods and anxieties about the future.

Martini’s play has a great deal of heart. Continue reading

“There are no black cowboys”: Ellipsis Tree Collective Impresses With World Premiere of John Ware Reimagined

For playwright Cheryl Foggo, history is not just about dates and facts. Presented at Lunchbox Theatre, Ellipsis Tree Collective’s John Ware Reimagined is an intelligent drama that offers audiences more than a lesson in Canadian history.

Written by Foggo and directed by Kevin McKendrick, John Ware Reimagined tells the story of Joni (Kirsten Alter), a young African-Canadian girl growing up in 1960s Calgary. Continue reading

Festival Play Reading of Robert More’s Dads in Bondage Entertains

First produced in 1988, Robert More’s play Dads in Bondage, with music by Thomas Doyle, is currently being developed as an one-act for Lunchbox Theatre’s 2014/2015 season. As part of the Suncor Energy Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work, the public was invited to the Lunchbox Theatre to attend a public reading of More’s hilarious comedy about three career men whose lives are flipped upside down when they become stay-at-home dads.

Unlike typical stage productions, play readings do not (usually) feature the use of props or choreography on stage. The focus of the event, instead, is to allow a playwright to hear their work-in-progress live in front of an audience. (Here, the play reading was four actors with their scripts on music stands and Doyle accompanying them on piano). Additionally, after the reading, the audience is invited to make comments and ask the playwright questions. Based off the audience’s reactions and feedback, the playwright gains a better sense of what needs to be cut or added when they later revisit their script.

Dads in Bondage is about three men – Charles, Joey, and Kirk – who are each comfortable in their respective careers and lifestyles, that it is until the arrival of their newborn children brings more than they bargained for. When they are each let go from work, the excitement of fatherhood becomes short-lived. Once a man of the world and finer tastes, Charles is now trapped at home with his daughter. Joey, a neurotic school teacher, cannot keep up with (or tell a part) twins Virgil and Horace. And, Kirk can never seem to find enough time away from household chores to hit the gym. With their partners away at work, the men struggle not only with their parenting duties, but also their identities as men.

Playwright Robert More, the Lunchbox Theatre.

Robert More, playwright.

At the time of its original production, the play and its themes, More told the audience during the Q & A session, was “revolutionary,” a statement older member of the audiences nodded in agreement with. While the number of stay-at-home dads are double what they in the 1980’s due in part to the 2008 recession*, More’s play does not feel outdated. What makes the script feel contemporary is its self-awareness and, accordingly, ability to parody, with humorous results, the gender stereotypes present in the play.

As a result, Dads in Bondage features very funny dialogue and character moments. The humour of the play is supported well by Doyle’s musical work. Doyle’s compositions not only sound great, but they also suit each man’s respective character. Charles, someone of status, has a distinct musical style compared to Joey whose own style is reflective of his anxious character. This attention to character in the score is impressive. Overall, Doyle’s score is delightful.

With its smart dialogue, animated characters and vibrant musical score, More’s Dads in Bondage is set to be a hit with audiences when it arrives at Lunchbox Theatre as part of the company’s 40th season.


Dads in Bondage will run at Lunchbox Theatre from April 27-May 16, 2015.

For more information about the company’s 2014/2015 season, visit http//lunchboxtheatre.com/

The Suncor Energy Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work ran from June 13-28, 2014 at Lunchbox Theatre. The public reading of Dads in Bondage was held on June 27th, 2014.

Robert More – Playwright
Tom Doyle – Composer
Glenda Stirling – Director/Dramaturg
Vanessa Sabourin – The Woman
Scott Shipley – Kirk
JP Thibodeau – Joey
Kevin Rothery – Charles

*Italie, Leanne. “Study: At-home dads down slightly since recession.” Yahoo! News, 5 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.