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

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

 

Fully Functional Starts a Conversation About Disability, Sexuality, and Society

A co-production between Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre, Fully Functional is a new play that gives a voice and real presence to its artists of mixed abilities. Drawing inspiration from their own personal experiences, the artists/creators tell stories of love, sex, and romance through dance and movement.

Being late to a first date, sex poems and orgasmic shouting: it is fearless storytelling injected with humour.

But past the laughter and heartbreak of these stories, the artists ignite a conversation about how our society views persons with disabilities.

In a talk-back session after the performance, an audience member asked “what impact do you hope to have for people afraid to let others in? [I mean it’s] easy to say I want love, but to say I deserve love is a good place to start as well.”

Mark Ikeda, artistic director of MoMo Dance theatre, responded.

“We got together in a room…and talked how taboo the topic is about the intersection between disability and sexuality, and how not only does no one know how to talk about it but people are afraid to talk about it. We hope to start a conversation, start people thinking about…how certain preconceived notions or thoughts might be quite harmful”

Thomas Poulsen, one of the performing artists, followed Ikeda’s response with his own, saying “I think you indicated that fear is very much out there in the community – in the disability community.”

Fully Functional opened at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pumphouse Theatre on December 3rd. Pictured (left to right): Stephen Henry, Gaelyn Thomson, and Kathy Austin. Photo Credit: Chantal Wall

Fully Functional opened at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pumphouse Theatre on December 3rd, 2014. Pictured (left to right): Stephen Henry, Gaelyn Thomson, and Kathy Austin. Photo Credit: Chantal Wall

The fear Poulsen refers to is a fear of rejection that goes deeper than what one might assume. On a whole, persons with disabilities are marginalized and rejected by mainstream society.

Consider how we speak about disability.

The disabled – a homogenizing term that attempts to refer to all persons with disabilities. It is a term that ignores the fact that disabilities are various in their form and appearance. Above all, it is a damaging term that erases the individual and reduces them to a diagnosis.

Newspaper articles sometime describe wheelchair users as either “bound” or “confined” to their chair. Persons with disabilities are framed as ‘victims who suffer from’, rather than ‘persons who live with’ a disability.

And then, it is the distance “the able-bodied” maintain between themselves and persons with disabilities. This distance comes out of fear, anxiety, and discomfort. But yet, we feel comfortable enough to stare out of curiosity and to make assumptions about their lives (but never to assume that they might have their own desires for human intimacy).

So, how can one think that they deserve to be loved when they are confronted over and over again with this idea that living with a disability somehow makes you a lesser human?

On its surface, Fully Functional addresses the assumption that disability interrupts sexuality. What it also addresses is the lack of belonging persons with disabilities experience in society.

Fittingly, the play ends with a slow dance, but this time – unlike the first time – the artists invite members of the audience to come dance with them. The slow dance serves as an invitation to close the distance and to start connecting with one another.

After all, at the end of the day, we are all human beings who want to love and be loved.


Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre’s Fully Functional ran at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pump House Theatre from Dec 3 – 6, 2014.

Fully Functional was created and performed by:

Kathy Austin
Emily Collins-Tucker
Stephen Henry
Thomas Poulsen
Gaelyn Thomson

Co-directors: Col Cseke and Mark Ikeda, artistic directors of Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre respectively.
Assistant Director: Jordan Dalley

Inside Out Theatre: http://insideouttheatre.com/
MoMo Dance Theatre: http://www.momodancetheatre.org/

WCHS Drama Hits All The Right Notes in Our Town

For playwright Thornton Wilder, the ordinary is extraordinary. It is, however, a simple truth we fail to see in the course of our daily lives.

Directed by Kevin McKendrick, Western Canada High School Drama delivers a charming, well-executed production of Wilder’s Our Town.

Set in the small fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Our Town stages the life and history of its residents between the years 1901 and 1913. The Stage Manager (Act I – Bonnie Wearmouth, Act II – Montsy Videla, Act III – Haley Petrowhich) acts as our guide to the town by providing narration as well as inviting various townspeople to speak to different aspects of the town. At the heart of the play is the budding romance between George Gibbs (Leif Wester) and Emily Webb (Emily Shackleton) which develops over the play’s three acts: Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Dying.

Our Town is notable for two things: its minimal set and the use of mime in place of physical props. It is no easy task to create a town out of imaginary space, nor to peel beans, milk a cow, or even drink a cup of coffee at the breakfast table. The actor’s job is to deliver consistent, believable movement which takes into account the weight and dimensions of an object and/or activity; it is an exercise in the critical observation of simple, taken for granted actions. Continue reading

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

SCPA’s Bloody Poetry Is A Tense, Fascinating Affair

The poet – an elusive figure whose voice demands to be heard; a visionary with ideas that challenge the status quo. But the poet and his or her new realities labor against the weight of the world – and their own humanity.

Directed by Brian Smith, The School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Howard Brenton’s Blood Poetry is an engaging spectacle supported by strong performances.

Brenton’s Bloody Poetry follows the strange company of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg), Mary Shelley (Fatima Zaroual), Claire Clairmont (Onika Henry) and Lord Byron (Connor WIlliams). The scandalous nature of their private lives – Percy abandoning his wife Harriet Westbrook (Bianca Miranda) for Mary – has made them social outcasts of 19th c. English society. Starting their lives anew in Switzerland, the crusaders for revolution chase their vision of utopia. What ensues in the following years, however, is failure and disappointment – crushed spirits and broken hearts.

Brenton is mindful of historical accuracy, but, at the same time, he is not afraid to push those limits to explore serious questions about the relationship between poet and society.

Percy concerns himself with writing about social injustices, supporting the people’s struggle through verse; he thinks himself to be the voice of the people. But of what value is the poet in a world so cruel, where massacres continue and the people bleed for revolution? Ideas, talk, (words, words, words) – what the world needs is action.

Interestingly, Brenton shows us the early blueprints of what will eventually become one of Mary’s most famous works – Frankenstein. A thematic reminder of the poet as reject, struggling to find his or her place in the world.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg) Spirals Into Madness. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg) spirals down into madness. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Lighting designer Kerem Cetinel’s work is phenomenal. The set – designed by Patrick DuWors – is clean and effective for the theatricality of the piece.

The company uses a long white sheet to simulate ocean waves. The sound of crashing waves though overpowers the actors who are shouting to be heard. In the process, we lose some of the actors’ dialogue – an unfortunate shortcoming of an otherwise great scene.

Where the technique is particularly effective though – as Miranda and Tromburg demonstrate – is when the sheet serves as an extension of the body – a visual representation of the character’s inner turmoil.

Williams captures our attention with his entertaining rock star flair – no doubt inspired by Keith Richards. Given that, Williams’ dark eye makeup feels unnecessary given the already dominant presence of the character. Tromburg is commanding in the play’s second act, although his anger rings hollow at times. Zaroual and Henry are hesitant with their lines when we first meet them. Fortunately, the pair come to hold their own as the play goes on. Zaroual stands out with her quiet intensity – which makes one of her character’s final moments hit especially hard.

On a whole, the actors work very well off each other. They commit themselves to the demands of the script and, together, bring an edge to Brenton’s already sharp script.

SCPA’s production of Brenton’s Bloody Poetry is sure to entertain with its brilliant script, visuals, and strong ensemble.


The School of Creative and Performing Arts production of Howard Brenton’s Blood Poetry runs Nov. 25-Dec. 6, 2014 in the Reeve Theatre (University of Calgary Campus).

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/bloody-poetry

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/

“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