Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin Travels a Dark, Compelling Path

How far would you go in search of the truth? How well do we know our limits, our boundaries that keep us from being consumed by a hungry darkness? Ryan Gray explores these questions in Beneath The Skin, a thriller/mystery that boldly ventures into the abyss.

Directed by Jenna Rodgers, Gray’s Beneath The Skin stages reporter Carmin Morgan’s (Justine Westby) exclusive interview with convicted murderer Colton Cassio (Justin Michael Carriere), better known as the Portrait Killer. Colton’s long violent history – a history that started at a young age – fascinates Carmin who will stop at nothing to learn as much as she can about him and his victims. Carmin quickly learns, however, that is just not Colton’s crimes that make him a dangerous man, but also his charisma which threatens to take her down a path she never intended to travel.

The focus of Carmin’s interview is centered around Erin (Claire Bolton), Colton’s first victim whom he fell deeply in love with. Via flashbacks, the audience sees how an awkward 20-year-old Colton (Jacob Lesiuk) eventually came to befriend and then murder Erin while away at university.

Gray skillfully creates tension between Colton and Carmin by rarely letting one person hold power too long between them. While Carmin sees herself locked in a game of wits against Colton, Colton sees the two engaged in a more emotional game, a game of wills. And that is what makes Colton so dangerous, he has nothing to lose; he has given himself over to the darkness that calls him inside. Yet, victory is not so assured, Colton comes to realize, as Carmin’s determination for the truth reveals itself to be something more than a professional obligation.

Colton and Erin’s young love, though sometimes a bit too sweet, is crafted very well by Gray. There is a certain sadness in knowing Erin’s eventual fate, but never dulled anticipation. The interplay between the past and present delivers just enough information to maintain our attention. And then, Gray hits the audience with the inevitable which is both very creative and disturbing. (The audience gasps in horror as the scene becomes obvious).

Where the production fails the script is in its blocking. Noticeably challenged by the limited space available inside the Motel Theatre, the rising tension of the play breaks periodically when Carriere and Westby have to stand and carry the table and their seats to the side in order to make way for a flashback scene, sometimes while fully lit. The whole business seriously throws off the established atmosphere.

Despite the proximity of the audience to the actors (the Motel Theatre has a 50 seat capacity), there is no warning for the audience about the use of live smoke. The sudden inhalation of cigarette smoke distracts from the play’s dramatic conclusion.

Carriere and Westby are truly a force together. Carriere displays an unsettling, yet alluring confidence that make very real the presence of danger, to which Westby responds to with an exhilarating tenacity. Westby is truly firm in her character’s resolve, and that makes her performance all the more exciting to watch.

Bolton and Lesiuk share a pleasant chemistry on stage. Bolton is very easy to like as the cheery, good-natured Claire. Lesiuk plays the young, unassuming Colton with ease. There is a bit of a strain, though, when Lesiuk’s character begins to embrace his more sinister side, but the script is more at fault here than Lesiuk. Lesiuk’s performance during his final scene will have audience members abuzz in the lobby afterwards.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin is a thrilling piece of work that leaves an impression on any who dare step into the darkness.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin runs July 22 – July 28 at the Motel Theatre as part of the Common Ground Festival. The full festival runs until Aug 1st.

For more information about the Common Ground Festival, visit: http://www.commongroundyyc.com/

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: Ambition Leads to Rough Waters in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

In 1969, nine men set off on what was at the time the first round-the-world yacht race. A widely covered event, the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race excited the public at large. And Donald Crowhurst was among those caught up in the excitement. Crowhurst, an amateur sailor, sought to defy the odds and capture victory against well-seasoned competitors. The Teignmouth Electron, a boat of Crowhurst’s own design, would be the vessel to deliver Crowhurst to the finish line.

Crowhurst did not return home.

It is this story of ambition, the pursuit of greatness, that Alberta Theatre Projects, in association with Ghost River Theatre, stages in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst.

Written by David van Belle & Eric Rose, with Rose directing, The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is concerned with the fine line between ambition and obsession. There is nothing particularly special about Crowhurst (Braden Griffiths). He is a husband and father of four who runs a small, failing business. What sets Crowhurst apart is his astounding confidence in that he is destined for greatness. And he makes us believe it too with his grandiose speeches.

But failure looms on the horizon when Crowhurst’s boat experiences serious issues during the race, and an unexpected storm wreaks havoc on the vessel. Failure, though, does not mean simple defeat. In exchange for the necessary funds to construct his boat, Crowhurst signed a deal with the condition that should he lose the race he will have to pay everything back in full. For Crowhurst, failure means the total loss of everything he and his family owns.

And that is why Crowhurst sees no other option than to cheat by falsifying his race progress.

The presentation of Crowhurst’s story is fascinating with its use of video projection and live effects. The production features creative techniques like filming Crowhurst and his wife Clare (Vanessa Sabourin) standing against two separate ‘beds’, then joining the images together on-screen to show them lying in the same bed. As well, documentary footage of the real-life Crowhurst overlaps on-screen with Griffiths’ portrayal. And, the play’s first act ends with a violent storm on stage where large sheets simulate waves and buckets of water drench Griffiths.

Unfortunately, the first act is where the excitement ends. The production runs dry in its second act where an otherwise compelling human drama becomes a disjointed bore.

One specific offense is the scene where Crowhurst meets an Argentinian couple who he asks to help him in the way of supplies. The humour attempted here falls flat, and little happens to justify the scene’s inclusion. The scene stalls the pace of the play.

From where the play starts to where it ends is a significant distance. After the initial awe produced by the first act’s visual feats, one realizes there is not much else carrying the show. And certainly a part of that is the challenge of what do you do when your main character is stranded miles away from human contact? Van Belle and Rose do their best to make the journey to Crowhurst’s final moments interesting, but the path there is one that not even the biggest smoke and mirrors could disguise what it really is: a disappointment.

The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is an ambitious, visually stunning production that ultimately disappoints due to weak characterization and a less-than satisfying second act.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, in association with Ghost River Theatre, ran at The Martha Cohen Theatre, February 24 – March 14, 2015. 

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.atplive.com/2014-2015-Season/Last-Voyage/index.html


Mudfoot Theatre Ready to Set Sail Again, Infuse Canadian History With Magic

Promotional image for The Hudson Bay Epic. Pictured: Mudfoot Theatre Co-Founders and Artistic Directors Genevieve Pare and Ian McFarlane, with ensemble member Ryan Reese (right). Photo Credit: Chantal Wall.

Promotional image for The Hudson Bay Epic. Pictured: Mudfoot Theatre Co-Founders/Artistic Directors Geneviève Paré and Ian McFarlane with ensemble member Ryan Reese (right). Photo Credit: Chantal Wall.

Geneviève Paré and Ian McFarlane first met at the University of Lethbridge where they completed a BFA in Dramatic Arts (‘11) and BFA in Multidisciplinary (‘10), respectively. Paré and McFarlane met in their second year while working as designers on a show together. But Paré and McFarlane say one of their first real collaborations came later when a special room inside the university caught their attention.

“There was this miniature room that was built as sort of a ‘found space’ theatre space at the university,” Paré explained. “There was a microphone in the middle inviting people to sing songs and play music. The sound would be projected out into the atrium so everyone could hear what was going on in there. It was a way for people who were shy to share their music. Anyone had the opportunity to contribute.”

Sharing each other’s excitement for impulsive performance art, Paré and McFarlane decided to perform inside the space together. In the room, the pair washed their hands in a bowl of soap water, beat boxed, and performed improvised poetry.

Paré says the collaboration signaled to both her and McFarlane that not only were they “both weird” and into “super bizarre ideas,” but that they could also work together.

In 2012, Paré and McFarlane collaborated again for Junquatica, a performance installation that ran as part of We Should Know Each Other #100. McFarlane says Junquatica was inspired by the aquatic intertidal zone, an area of interest for Paré who was working as a kayak guide off the coast at the time.

“It was a fun project,” said McFarlane about Junquatica. “Gen had this great idea of [creating] this box where people looked in and there were performers. But when they looked in they were also looking at each other…They all became characters of this world.”

At the time, Paré and McFarlane performed under the name Deux Fous Frivoles. The name was later changed to English (Frivolous Fools) due to pronunciation difficulty.

It was also at this point that the pair became excited about using found materials, like garbage. Junquatica’s performance space was constructed out of reclaimed materials meant to reflect a concern for the health of the oceans. McFarlane says the idea of found materials carried over into The Hudson Bay Epic, a play that toured both the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and Calgary Fringe Festival in 2014.

A historical fiction, The Hudson Bay Epic stages the story of Henry Hudson’s last voyage into the Canadian arctic. On board the ill-fated Discovery, a forbidden romance develops between two crew members while the threat of violent mutiny grows larger with every passing day.

The production featured a ship-like structure made from reclaimed materials. The structure was unique for its ability to produce music and ambient sounds.

“The initial inspiration came out of a performance idea of creating a structure that we could play like an instrument,” McFarlane explained. “We were excited about having this machine that we turn a crank and runs some music.”

For The Hudson Bay Epic, Paré and McFarlane formally adopted the name Frivolous Fools Performance. But the two ran into a problem with the name when touring the show, McFarlane explains.

“It was when we started touring The Hudson Bay Epic, people started calling us ‘The Fools’. We can’t do that because in Calgary there’s already ‘The Fools’ [Green Fools Theatre]. [We thought] we can’t have – This is just not good for anybody! It’s going to confuse and disrupt.”

Unfortunately, this was not the only issue with the name. When it came time to apply for grants, McFarlane and Paré were advised to change their name to something more suitable, as McFarlane explains.

“Grant advisors would be like ‘you should consider changing your name because you are neither foolish or frivolous.’ And yes, it’s ironic because we are working with junk and we’re not frivolous at all. We’re being quite humble with our work, this humble magic we are working with. But when it comes to applying to Canada Council…”

Paré and McFarlane sought a name that better reflected their work and aesthetic. After much consideration, Paré and McFarlane finally agreed on the name Mudfoot Theatre.

“There’s a whole bunch of ways to look at a name and how it resonates with who we are as artists,” said Paré about the name change. “If you’ve got muddy feet, it’s because you’re doing something awesome…If you’ve got your feet wet in the mud, then you’re active and in some interesting process.”

As their history shows, McFarlane and Pare are no strangers to change. What began as a performance duo has now grown into an independent creation-based theatre company.

Mudfoot Theatre collaborates with interdisciplinary artists to create contemporary folk tales through simple, grassroots storytelling. The company primarily stages Canadian history, something some Canadian theatre artists avoid, says Paré.

“Theatre artists don’t want to be identified as Canadian theatre artists. There’s something….What’s the word? It’s patronised a little bit. Because we’re softcore Americans, we’re so nice…Canadian is like…It’s not cutting edge.”

“If you’re a Canadian artist, you’re not from like Berlin or New York where you’re cutting edge and taking chances. But we do, do that as Canadian artists.”

Paré and McFarlane believe there are other reasons that make Canadian history less enticing as both performance material and a subject of interest among Canadians. For McFarlane, one reason has to do with how Canadian history was documented.

“It’s written as a business account,” said McFarlane. “We traded furs for this much money. We set up a shop in this place. It’s all written by merchants who are writing back to the homeland.”

“One of the fascinating things about Canadian history,” McFarlane continued, “is that that there were so many details that weren’t written down. In Europe, quite clear that these are the stories and these are the people. Endless literature. But in Canada, someone in the bush had this crazy experience but didn’t know how to read or write.”

“One of the things Europeans have about their history,” Pare added, “is that because their history goes so far back and it’s not written about in such a clinical way, there is room for myth…There’s magic, actual magic in the soil where they live. I want to have magic in my soil too.”

For Paré and McFarlane, staging Canadian history is not just about finding our collective voice as a nation, but also infusing our identity with a sense of magic.

And it is this sense of magic that the company’s next project River will embrace.

Inspired by David Thompson’s expeditions, River will tell the story of the Bow River through live music and puppetry. McFarlane says River will be a very different production from The Hudson Bay Epic.

“In The Hudson Bay Epic, we were quite direct with our history,” said McFarlane. “We took a journal and pulled stuff straight out of the journal and created characters that were actually historical people. In River, we are being quite broad and quite loose. Making it more on the mythical side than the historical side.”

Paré says audiences can expect “a tragic love story between a glacier, a star and a trickster paralleled by some narrative from David Thompson’s personal journals.”

Joining Paré and McFarlane for River are pianist Jesse Plessis and guest collaborator Jesse McMann-Sparvier.

River will be presented this week as part of the Calgary Region One-Act Play Festival at Pumphouse Theatres. Paré notes that the presentation is a prototype, or launching point, for a larger show.

Looking to the future, Paré and MacFarlane say they are not sure what the company will develop next, but that they are confident they will find themselves doing something inventive and unexpected.

Mudfoot Theatre’s River will be presented at The Calgary Region One-Act Play Festival, March 26th at 7:30pm.

For more information about the festival and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.pumphousetheatre.ca/sections/calendar_s/calendar_2.htm

For information on Mudfoot Theatre, visit their website:

The Old Trouts Spare No Puppet in Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Pictured, The Beast of Muggditch Lane by August Stainbrook: Act 1, Scene 1. Image supplied by Theatre Junction GRAND.

The Beast of Muggditch Lane by August Stainbrook: Act 1, Scene 1. Image supplied by Theatre Junction GRAND.


A taboo subject in our society, and why not? ‘Not being here’ one day is an unpleasant idea that some would rather not think about, much less openly discuss. Others are more keen on the subject, like Nathanial Tweak, host and curator of Famous Puppet Death Scenes.

Created by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Famous Puppet Death Scenes recreates death scenes from history’s greatest (fictional) puppet shows. Tweak, a puppet himself, has amassed this grand collection in hopes that the scenes reveal something to us about the nature of life and death.

One of the first things we learn is that death is random. One minute, we may find ourselves enjoying some fresh air, then the next we are crushed under the weight of a giant fist (The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frot – Act 1, Scene 3). Or, powerful gusts of winds blow us apart, limb by limb (The Forgotten Dish by Sterling Lowry; “The Winds of Fate”). Sometimes though, it’s just a matter of picking the wrong door (Das Bipsy Und Mumu Puppensiel by Freuliecher Friedrich – Episode 43 “Bipsy’s Mistake”).

Other times too, our poor decisions invite death; poor decisions like dressing up as a deer in the middle of the forest (The Ballad of Edward Grue by Samuel Groanswallow: Act 4, Scene 6).

But perhaps the evening’s most resonant lesson is that death simply happens.

Taking a pause from the absurd, The Last Whale by Grover Bellick features a giant whale’s eye that opens, then closes very slowly. That’s it. Even the mightiest creature on Earth cannot outrun death’s grip.

Lucille Arabesque by Agathon Finley is no different. An old woman rests on her deathbed, taking what are perhaps her last breaths. There are no moving last words. Only an unsettling silence, a confrontation with our fragile mortality.

And yet, despite everything, Tweak insists there is such a thing as The Perfect Death Scene. In the play’s final moments, we wonder whether or not Tweak himself learned anything in the process.

The Old Trouts are at their finest in this spectacular display of grisly humour and puppetry. The depth of dramatic styles and periods explored is quite remarkable. Not to mention the inventive staging that takes us across such a variety of fictional works, which each feel distinct in both voice and aesthetic.

And the audience is right there for every moment of it. Joy, shock, pity, you can hear it all in the theatre. The reactions from the audience almost lend a ‘musical’ quality to the production. That is the strength of the work by
the puppeteers (Nick Di Gaetano, Pityu Kenderes, Viktor Lukawski) who really make us feel for the ill-fated puppets.

Dark and funny at one moment, then haunting the next, Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a brilliant show that will stay with audiences long after its finale. A standing ovation truly earned.

Co-presented by Theatre Junction GRAND and The International Festival of Animated Objects, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes runs at Theatre Junction GRAND, March 13 – 28, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/fpds/

Storytelling At Its Finest: Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin Enchants

Kyall Rakoz's Ludwig & Logengrin runs at Motel Theatre, Feb 24 - 28, 2015.

Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Logengrin runs at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons), Feb 24 – 28, 2015. Photo Credit: Jonathan Brower

Why do we escape to the theatre? To see shows like Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin.

Presented at Motel Theatre, Rakoz’s one-man show stages the story of King Ludwig II who reigned over Bavaria in the late 1800s, but was himself ruled by an obsession with the fantastical. Ludwig was particularly enthralled by the story of the Swan Knight, the subject of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The king would, in fact, go on to be Wagner’s patron, giving way to a relationship only best described as complicated.

And that is one reason why Rakoz does not allow the audience to meet Ludwig. For how is it one could portray a man who sought to remain an enigma? Instead, Rakoz reveals Ludwig to the audience via the perspective of others.

Playing these multiple characters, some of whom were real people in Ludwig’s life, the actor gives the audience an idea of what was being said about this eccentric king. Questions surrounding his sanity were among the whispers travelling around the castle. But these were not quiet rumbles. Ludwig’s fixation on building elaborate, ‘fairytale’ castles deeply disturbed his cabinet ministers as the castles were a financial burden on Bavaria. One way or another, the ministers figured, Ludwig’s ludicrous spending had to end.

What is important to note is that this story is not about Ludwig as a king. Rakoz goes beyond the royal veil to humanize Ludwig as a complicated man who had the misfortune of being king. Had he been an everyman, the actor suggests, Ludwig would have fared much better than he did. Ludwig, whose sexuality attracted speculation from many, would have been able to follow his heart’s desires without the public damning him for it.

Rakoz’s show fascinates with its inventive staging that is nothing short of magical. Rakoz’s shadow play is particularly dazzling. Watching it, one cannot help but feel totally absorbed in the drama of the Swan Knight. Then, the actor escapes into 17 different characters who each feel alive in their own right. Certainly, the brain does take awhile to catch up sometimes, but never to a point where one feels lost in the story.

Really, there is so much here that has to be seen. Nearly every moment Rakoz paints on stage is simply beautiful. And such beauty makes our hearts tremble when the play nears its end. The audience wastes no time to rise to their feet and applaud Rakoz.

Set designer Leon Schwesinger’s set is both very earthy and elegant in its presentation. The paper swans hung from the ceiling are a nice touch.

Third Street Theatre did well to bring Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin to Calgary audiences. Rakoz’s ability to capture both our hearts and imaginations makes for an incredibly moving evening at the theatre. Those fortunate enough to catch Ludwig & Lohengrin during its limited run are in for something truly special. This is storytelling at its finest.

Kyall Rakoz’s Ludwig & Lohengrin runs at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons), Feb 24 – 28, 2015. 

For more information on the show, visit: 


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/


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

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