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

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/

WORLD PREMIERE: Theatre Calgary’s Liberation Days Is a Sentimental Look at the Past

The war is over. Celebrations erupt across Europe. This victory, though, has come at a great cost. And for the Netherlands, the fight is far from over.

David van Belle’s new play Liberation Days is more than a lesson in history, it is a meditation on perseverance in the face of extraordinary struggle. Although, despite its strong performances and stunning set design, Theatre Calgary’s latest production fails to leave a lasting impact.

The bulk of the play centers around the romantic relationship that develops between Canadian soldier Alex King (Byron Allen) and Emma de Bruijn (Lindsey Angell), a young Dutch woman. The language barrier is not the only thing that stands between them. Emma’s mother Aaltje (Valerie Planche) strongly disapproves of her daughter’s relationship with the Canadian. And if that were not enough, there is also the problem of Emma’s fiancee Jan van Egmond (Jonathan Seinen) – a Dutch soldier presumed to be dead by his community.

Meanwhile, the Canadian forces struggle to gain the trust of the locals they have been assigned to help with rebuilding. The clash between the two cultures plays out between Cpt. Miles Cavendish (Garett Ross) and the village’s religious leader Dominee Herman van Egmond (Duval Lang).

The play is narrated by Marijke Bos (Kelsey Gilker) – the village outcast who dared fall in love with a German soldier during occupation. Continue reading

“If Only We Could Let It Be What It Is”: MacIvor’s A Beautiful View Asks What’s In A Name

Would a rose be as sweet if it had no name at all? Presented at The Studio (Vertigo Theatre), Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View criticizes our need to label relationships. Thanks to the chemistry of its two leads, Sage Theatre’s production of A Beautiful View, directed by Jason Mehmel, captures MacIvor’s signature wit.

The play begins with L (Stacie Harrison) and M (Monice Peter) who, rather cryptically, decide to revisit their past together, all the while being aware of the audience. Their story begins when they meet each other in a store while shopping for camping gear. From this meeting, an attraction develops between the two. The attraction, though, is neither totally friendly or romantic; it just simply is. But, as the years go on, the question of defining what they are soon makes its way to the forefront of their relationship and, as a result, breeds tension between the two.

MacIvor confronts his audience with a deceptively simple question: what is in a name? For the playwright, the act of naming something, especially something so personal as a relationship, is political. Continue reading

Heavy, Challenging: Nicolas Billon’s Butcher Commands Our Attention

A police station. Christmas Eve. An inspector, a lawyer, and a “John Doe” dressed in military uniform and a santa hat with a butcher’s hook hung around his neck. This is Nicolas Billon’s new play Butcher, presented by Alberta Theatre Projects at the Martha Cohen Theatre. Directed by Weyni Mengesha, Billon’s Butcher deals with heavy themes surrounding the nature of justice in an (un)civilized world.

Billon’s play begins simple enough: Inspector Lamb (Eric Nyland) has called in Hamilton Barnes (Andrew Musselman) in order to solve the identity of Josef Dzhbrilovo (John Koensgen), a old man mysteriously dropped off at the police station in the middle of the night. Lamb is unable to make any progress in the case because Josef speaks only in Lavinian (a fictional language co-created for the play by Dr. Christina Kramer and Dragana Obradovic). Meanwhile, Barnes has no idea who the man could be, despite the fact his business card was attached to the butcher’s hook found on Josef’s person. Elena (Michelle Monteith), a Lavinian translator, is called in by Lamb to help with the case, but her arrival does anything but. On this night, the Butcher will finally answer to his crimes. Continue reading

“Never Tell Maritimers The Odds”: Fire Exit Theatre’s Halo Sparks Discussion About Faith and Family

Fire Exit Theatre opens its 2014-15 season with Halo, a comedy by Josh MacDonald. Directed by Mark Lewandowski, Halo asks questions about faith, family, and miracles. While the script is weak in some areas, Fire Exit Theatre’s production of Halo proves to be an emotional piece that just misses the mark slightly.

Set in the fictional small town of Nately, Nova Scotia, Halo tells the story of Casey (Jamie Matchullis), a sarcastic, newcomer from the “big city” of Halifax. Casey works at the local Tim Hortons where she is visited regularly by her boyfriend Jansen (Jacob Lesiuk) who helps ease the pains of dealing with the town’s interesting residents. One day, the image of Jesus appears on the side of the building. The town comes to see the divine picture as a miracle. Meanwhile, Donald (Randall Wiebe) prays for his own miracle at the bedside of his youngest daughter who has been in a coma for the past three years. When his eldest daughter Lizzy (Kendra Hitchinson) comes to visit from Toronto, Donald’s faith and hope for his daughter’s recovery are put to the test. Continue reading

“It’s basically S&M, right?”: Alberta Theatre Projects Takes the Stage with Venus In Fur

Directed by Tracey Flye, Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur at the Martha Cohen Theatre is a vulgar, oddly compelling experience.

The play opens with playwright/director Thomas Novachek (Tim Campbell) in a worn-down studio after a round of failed auditions for his latest project, an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur. Frustrated at the lack of female talent in the city, Thomas sets out to go home to his fiancee. Abruptly, actress Vanda Jordan (Amanda Lisman) bursts into the room and pleads for an audition. At first, the very crude and immature Vanda turns Thomas off. It is when the actress delivers an impressive cold read for the role of Wanda von Dunayev that the director takes great interest in her. Continue reading

All Ears For Ghost River Theatre’s Production of Tomorrow’s Child

The audience has put on their Sensory Deprivation Masks. Blindfolded, they are led one by one to a room booming with the sound of children at play. Overheard above the noise are murmurs of confusion and excitement from the audience.

Ghost River Theatre’s production of Ray Bradbury’s short story Tomorrow’s Child is the first installment in the company’s Six Senses Performance Series. As advertised by the company, the production is an “audio experience created for a blindfolded audience.” 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