The new theatre season begins: hey, Edmonton has play dates!

Amber Gray in Hadestown,
New York Theatre Workshop. Photo by Joan Marcus.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“And the wall keeps out the enemy/ And we build the wall to keep us free….”

Hadestown

In Hadestown, the Broadway-bound musical whose out-of-town opening happens at Edmonton’s largest playhouse the Citadel (Nov. 11 to Dec. 3), desperate people in desperate times wrap their hopes around desperate solutions. Ring a bell?

And, in Rachel Chavkin’s much-awarded re-imagining of the Orpheus myth — spun from a 2010 concept album by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell — Eurydice is torn between her summer love for a dreamy poet-musician and the pragmatic winter seductions of a subterranean industrial magnate who runs a walled, soulless underworld of employment and, well, warmth. She chooses.

There’s a creative tension that speaks to theatre artists everywhere (and in every time, as you’ll see from a certain up-start playwright’s struggles in Shakespeare in Love, opening Thursday at the Citadel). And it’s a theme that ripples through the season about to happen on Edmonton stages of every size, shape, provenance, aesthetic and personality after another record-busting Fringe.

Let’s sneak a look — a highly selective one — at the spectrum of intriguing possibilities for your upcoming nights out in Edmonton theatres this season.

#MAKESOMETHINGWOMAN (black comedy division)

Michelle Todd in Slut, Northern Light Theatre.

The heroine of Brenda McFarlane’s Slut, at Northern Light Theatre April 5 to 14, is a middle-aged woman whose zest for sex, and her democratic zeal for playing well with others, get her in trouble with the neighbours. She’s accused of running a brothel — until she proves she’s a slut. Michelle Todd stars in Trevor Schmidt’s production. 

FOLLOW A PLAYWRIGHT (whose time has come)

Collin Doyle, the highly accomplished Edmonton-based playwright who’s the reigning monarch of the long lead time, has not one but two plays opening this season.

Julien Arnold, Reed McColm in Slumberland Motel. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux photography 2017

At Shadow (Jan. 17 to Feb. 4), Doyle’s Slumberland Motel, which won the Alberta Playwriting Competition fully 11 years ago, gives us two chronic underachievers Ed and Edward (Julien Arnold, Reed McColm), a couple of disappointed vacuum cleaner salesmen on the road sharing a shabby motel room. The arrival of a mystery woman from the next room (Aimee Beaudoin) might transform their world.

At Edmonton Actors Theatre (May 10 to 20), Sterling Award-winning Dave Horak directs Doyle’s latest, Too Late To Stop Now, the finale of a trilogy that includes The Mighty Carlins and Routes. John Wright returns to the role of the prickly booze-soaked Father Knows Worst, in a production that includes Maralyn Ryan and Cole Humeny. “I’ve been a huge fan of Collin’s for a long time,” says Horak. “Vern (Vern Thiessen) at Workshop West brought us together to workshop the piece earlier this year and it sort of haunted me.”

REDEFINING THE ROMANTIC COMEDY

Trina Davies’ The Romeo Initiative, opening on the 2018 SkirtsaFire Festival mainstage (March 1 to 11), crosses the rom-com with the spy thriller, to probe the undercurrent of paranoia in gender relations. The play spools from Cold War history, and a Stasi program to target single West German secretaries by finding their perfect Romeo. Nancy McAlear’s production stars Heather Cant, Sarah Feutl, and Aaron Hursh.

THE HOTTEST SCRIPTS (starry playwrights from the big wide world)

(a) The Humans by the American playwright Stephen Karam, reinvents the family reunion drama genre in a sad/funny/scary strangely surreal way. The Citadel production (Jan. 6 to 28) is directed by Jackie Maxwell, the former artistic director of the Shaw Festival.

(b) The Aliens, by the young American star Annie Baker (The Flick, John, Circle Mirror Transformation), lets us eavesdrop on the conversations between a couple of disaffected slackers, and the high-school kid they decide to teach about life. It comes to Theatre Network’s Roxy Performance Series in a Taylor Chadwick production (Oct. 10 to 22). And there’s music! 

Mat Busby and Lianna Shannon in Constellations, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2017

(c) Constellations by the Brit playwright Nick Payne charts a love story that happens in alternate arcs and outcomes, in parallel universes, when a string theory physicist meets a beekeeper. The Shadow production directed by Amy DeFelice (Oct. 25 to Nov. 12) stars Mat Busby and Lianna Shannon, with music by playwright/actor/composer Captain Tractor muse Chris Wynters.

SEE A BI-CITY INDIE COLLABORATION

The LIstening Room. Photo from Cardiac Theatre.

The Listening Room is our introduction to the Calgary-based up-and-comer Michaela Jefferey. Her play, which premieres in a production by the innovative indie Cardiac Theatre (Pompeii L.A., Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes) is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where teenage dissidents use antiquated technology to search for their connection to the past. Co-presented by Azimuth Theatre and Calgary’s Downstage as part of their Emerging Company Showcase, the play runs in Edmonton Feb. 15 to 24.

ART: WHERE FRIENDS MEET (and get their hearts broken)

Stewart Lemoine’s 1993 Shocker’s Delight, among the most heartbreaking of his funny comedies, is the upcoming season finale at Teatro La Quindicina (Sept. 28 to Oct. 14). Ron Pederson, who appeared in a 2004 revival, directs this, his favourite Lemoine, about three college friends struggling to find some harmony between what they know and what they feel.

SEE WHAT’S NEW

Jabberwocky, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop at Theatre Network. Photo by Jason Stang Photography.

(a) Jabberwocky, premiering in the Theatre Network season (Nov. 9 to 26), is so new the title has already changed (from Underland) since the season announcement. It’s the work of one of the country’s most innovative ensembles, Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop who seem to gravitate to the hospitality at Network (Famous Puppet Death Scenes, The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan). The upside-down logic of Lewis Carroll logic and a poem about an elusive monster seem perfect bait for the macabre, surreal Trout appetites.

(b) Playwright/filmmaker/director Mieko Ouchi’s new swashbuckler, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, the Citadel season finale. stars a female action hero. Steam-punk in flavour, it’s a size X-large extravaganza with all the trimmings:  swordplay, aerial arts, a narrator who sings, music (courtesy of singer/songwriter/cabaret artist Hawksley Workman).

Do This In Memory Of Me by Cat Walsh

(c) Cat Walsh’s muse tends to take her into the dark labyrinths of black comedy (the last time I was at Walsh play reading it was in a funeral parlour, no kidding). Her new play Do This In Memory Of Me/ En Mémoire De Moi — premiering in a Northern Light/L’UniThéâtre partnership, alternating English and French performances — takes us to 1963 Montreal, where liberation hasn’t extended to the church. Geneviève, 12, is praying that God will life the gender ban on girl altar servers. That’s when the star altar boy vanishes on his way home from school.

(d) With its estranged twin sisters, Beth Graham’s new play Pretty Goblins, premiering at Workshop West Playwrights Theatre, is inspired, says the playwright, by the 1859 Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market, in all its weird, fantastical eroticism. 

STRETCH YOUR MUSICAL MUSCLES (they’re more elastic than you think)

A spectrum that ranges this season from the close harmonies of Forever Plaid (Mayfield Dinner Theatre) and Jersey Boys (Broadway Across Canada) to Cy Coleman’s City of Angels (MacEwan University) is multi-hued. Still, leave it to the Plain Janes, specialists in the off-centre gems of the musical theatre repertoire, to explore way outside the musicals mainstream, juke or otherwise. Originally planned by the Janes for last season, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, a 2010 Broadway flop by the Full Monty team of Dave Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane, is created from the crazy-relationship film of that name by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar.

“Love passion and deception!” in 1980s Madrid, as director Kate Ryan puts it. “It makes the Real Housewives of America seem so petty.! Ryan’s production runs Feb. 15 to 25. 

ART MEETS SCIENCE

Infinity by Hannah Moscovitch, at Theatre Network.

If theatre that enlists string theory on behalf of romance sounds intriguingly smart (Constellations at Shadow, see above), consider Infinity, by the star Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, of East of Berlin, This Is War, Little One fame. It’s all about time, with a trio of characters — a physicist, a musician and their mathematician daughter — whose lives are entwined domestically and philosophically. A violinist plays live. Bradley Moss directs.

REDEFINING THE DOMESTIC DRAMA

Cleave by Elena Belyea, a Tiny Bear Jaws production.

Upping the ante on teen angst: Cleave, by Tiny Bear Jaws’ muse Elena Belyea  (Everyone We Know Will Be There), has fashioned an award-winning six-actor play whose questing characters include a couple of parents, a gender therapist and a 17-year-old intersexed kid starting fresh in new school. It runs March 27 to April 7 in the Fringe Theatre season at the Backstage Theatre.

Sheldon Elter in Métis Mutt, at Theatre Network. Photo by Ryan Parker.

And there’s more, much more. Betroffenheit, the award-winning Crystal Pite/Jonathon Young hit arrives under the joint Citadel/Brian Webb Dance flag, a major event for theatre and dance. Sheldon Elter’s hit solo show cum memoire Métis Mutt, fiercely honest and funny, is back in a newly reworked production directed by Ron Jenkins at Theatre Network. The first original Canadian Indigenous work on the Citadel mainstage, Corey Payette’s musical Children of God, probes the residential school experience. Small Matters Theatre’s Over Her Dead Body takes its wordless physical comedy to a funeral, at Fringe Theatre Adventures. Tubby and Nottubby, vagrant Shakespearean vagrant clowns, arrive at L’UniThéâtre in Tempus Extraordinarius (French with English surtitles)….

It’s time to play.

 

 

 

 

  

    

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The 25th anniversary edition of the Die-Nasty Soap-A-Thon is sudsing up

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Welcome to Dystopia!

The 25th annual edition of Edmonton’s venerable improv comedy tradition, the Die-Nasty Soap-A-Thon, is at hand. Starting this very evening, 7 p.m. at the Varscona Theatre, the forces of the improv elite — the bold, adrenalized, strangely fearless horde who make it all up as they go along — are sudsing up for a weekend expedition, 50 straight hours long, into a dark improvised future: Soapocalypse 2025.

In this anniversary venture, which cites such imaginative projections as Mad Max, Fallout, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games as inspirations, the cast of Die-Nasty, Edmonton’s live weekly improvised soap opera, are joined by fellow improv stars from across the country and around the world.

The Rapid Fire Theatre improv aristocracy will be on hand, along with Karen Johnson-Diamond, founder of the Calgary suds improv Dirty Laundry. The cast’s international contingent includes Alan Cox of London’s impressive School of Night, which thinks nothing of improvising perfect Shakespearean sonnets on demand, and Becky Webb from Liverpool’s Impropriety.

The Canadian contingent includes Kayla Lorette of Toronto’s The Sufferettes and Caitlin Howden of Vancouver’s Sunday Service. Both troupes have regaled audiences at Rapid Fire’s international festival Improvaganza.

Impulse and spontaneity are the Soap-A-Thon currency. As of Friday morning, Die-Nasty star Belinda Cornish, for example, hadn’t finalized a character to play, but was considering the option of “someone from the wealthy faction” à la The Capitol in The Hunger Games. She has acquired a pink tutu and “some very furry legwarmers, “so I might just end up looking something out of Fame.”

PREVIEW

Soapocalypse 2025

Theatre: Die-Nasty

Directed by: various improvisers, starting with Die-Nasty‘s Jeff Haslam for the first six hours

Starring: the cast of Die-Nasty and an international contingent of improvisers

Where: Varscona Theatre (10329 83 Ave.)

Running: Friday 7 p.m. to Sunday 9 p.m.

Tickets: Weekend passes, available online at yeglive.ca, are $60. Single entries at the door (cash only) are $20. Stay as long as you like but if you leave, you need to buy another single entry to return.    

  

 

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A Midsummer Night’s Fringe is a record-buster!

“I have had a most rare dream….”

— Bottom the weaver, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Rare? It’s been a record-breaking Fringe! By 6 p.m. Sunday, with an evening of fringing to go, the 36th annual edition of Edmonton’s giant 11-day-and-night summer theatre bash, had sold 129,522 tickets to its 220 shows. A Midsummer Night’s Fringe ticket sales nearly hit 130,000 — 129,809 to be precise — by the time the revels ended, and the curtain(s) came down on the festivities Sunday night.

This is a dramatic surge from last year’s 121,900 tickets. And festival director Murray Utas, a theatre artist himself, was understandably in a celebratory mood Sunday night. “We’re putting ‘theatre’ back in the name Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival!” And artists will take home a record-breaking $1.15 million from this year’s edition of the festivities.

“It’s all about people taking a risk!” declares Utas in delight. “Friday night, 44 shows were sold out! Saturday, 59! Crazy! More than 400 sold-out shows altogether” And, as he points out,  it wasn’t as if volatile unpredictable weather did the Fringe any favours: sun, squalls, winds that could blow a busker clean off his ladder, thunder and lighting storms, deluges. “People could have chased themselves away. But they didn’t! They stayed!” declared Utas Sunday night, heading for a backstage dance party. “This means 10,000 more people got themselves out of the beer tent and into the theatres!

With crowds that regularly approach three-quarters of a million — and this year, surged to 810,000, another record — the Edmonton Fringe, the continent’s first and largest, has long struggled with the imbalance between the gigantic outdoor carnival and the ticket sales to shows. This year theatre got a big boost. As Shakespeare and Gordon’s Big Bald Head show have it, “the play’s the thing.”

And with that thought, something crucial about the Fringe’s raison d’être and spirit has been restored. Congratulations to the artists and audiences who bravely experimented together.

 

 

 

 

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Reprieved: more Fringe holdovers next week

Linda Grass in Ciara, Trunk Theatre. Photo by db photographics.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

And the Fringe lives on! In addition to the holdovers already announced, you’ve had reprieves on more hot Fringe shows next week.

At Holy Trinity Anglican Church:

Julien Arnold, Kristi Hansen, and (front) Davina Stewart in The Receptionist. Photo supplied.

The Receptionist:  A tight tense little black comedy, with a long slow burn of a setup and a stinger that will take your hide off. Davina Stewart turns in an absolutely deluxe performance as the title character, who trills away answering the phone like a soprano warming up at the Met. “Good morning! North East office!”  Friday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.

Barrymore by William Luce: A one-man show about the star American actor John Barrymore, starring Patrick Treadway, with Reed McColm. Sept 1, 9 p.m.

At The Playhouse (1033 80 Ave.): All four Fringe shows at this venue get holdover performances next week.

April Banigan and Kristi Hansen in The Superhero Who Loved Me. Photo by Mat Simpson.

 

The Superhero Who Loved Me: Blarney Productions’ Paquette directs this premiere of a new Chris Craddock, his first new Fringe play in six years. What happens to a relationship when one party is a divorcée and the other is a superhero? April Banigan and Kristi Hansen star.  Thursday Sept. 31, 7 p.m.; Friday Sept. 1, 9:30 p.m.

Bash’d! A Gay Rap Opera: A revival of the Chris Craddock/Nathan Cuckow tale, in rap, of two young men who fall in love in a small town. Thursday Sept. 31, 9:30 p.m.; Saturday Sept. 2, 7 p.m.

Ciara: Trunk Theatre’s production an intricate monologue by the dexterous Scottish playwright David Harrower. The title character (Linda Grass), an art gallery owner and the daughter of a Glasgow crime boss, finds her father’s criminal world seeping into her fortified life of culture. Friday Sept. 1, 7 p.m.

Kristian Stec and Zoe Glassman in To Be Moved. Photo by Mat Simpson.

To Be Moved: An experimental dance/theatre/music collaboration that tells a love story.  It’s the initiative of the enterprising up-and-comer actor/director/theatre artist Braydon Dowler-Coltman, composer Matt Skopyk, choreographer Laura Krewski, and two actors Zoe Glassman and Kristian Stec. Saturday Sept. 2, 9 p.m.

 

Chasing Willie Nelson – A Tribute: Andrea House’s hit storytelling concert gets an extra pop-up performance Sunday Aug. 27, 3 p.m. at CKUA downtown.

The Spark: A Hero Takes Charge: This just in! The Accidental Humour Company, specialists in original live multi-media theatre (the McCrackin’ Trilogy), are holding over their superhero adventure Friday at 9:30 p.m. at the Garneau Theatre. Tickets: accidentalhumour.com or at the door.

 

 

 

There’s a holdover performance of The Accidental Humour Company’s superhero extravaganza at the Garneau Theatre Friday at 9:30. They’re specialists at the Garneau Theatre, is ,

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Dream on! A Midsummer Night’s Fringe has holdovers!

Thea Fitz-James in Drunk Girl. Photo by Tashi Hall

 

It’s not time to wake up yet. Some of the hottest shows at A Midsummer Night’s Fringe, the 36th annual edition of our summer theatre bash, are being held over.

FRINGE THEATRE ADVENTURES: At Fringe headquarters, the ATB Financial Arts Barns, starting next week, you can catch the following:

Prophecy: Jessy Ardern’s witty new solo gut-puncher for Impossible Mongoose is set in the endless destructiveness of the Trojan world, but it resonates powerfully in our time. And it extrapolates from Cassandra’s terrible god-given gift: she can foresee the future but she will never be believed. A powerful performance from startling  newcomer Carmen Nieuwenhuis.

Drunk Girl: Thea Fitz-James is the charismatic creator and star of this disarming and high-spirited memoir that explores in a serious way the high price tag, and sexist double standard, on finding liberation in booze.

Legoland: This entertaining oddball of a comedy by Jacob Richmond (Ride The Cyclone) is a home-made theatrical presentation by two home-schooled siblings — an odyssey through America and its pop culture clichés. Luc Tellier’s production features  comic performances from two of our best: Jenny McKillop as the eager-beaver older sister, and Rachel Bowron who’s very funny as her intense nihilist younger brother.

My Love Lies Buried in the Ice, Dead Rabbits Theatre. Photo supplied.

Love Lies Frozen in the Ice: I haven’t yet seen this new show from the London company Dead Rabbits Theatre yet. But I loved The Dragon last year. And my ever-insightful fellow 12thnight.ca reviewer Todd Babiak called it “strange and wonderful.” He was enchanted by this inventively theatrical tale of three 19th century explorers who head for the North Pole in a balloon.

Tickets and times (starting Aug. 30): 780-409-1910, fringetheatre.ca

AT THE VARSCONA:

Belinda Cornish and Jeff Haslam in The Exquisite Hour (2013), Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Andrew MacDonald-Smith.

The Exquisite Hour: Stewart Lemoine’s beautiful comedy for two, The Exquisite Hour, a shimmering exploration of the way a sealed-off solitary, “ordinary” life can suddenly open up to possibility, continues its run next week as part of the Teatro La Quindicina summer season. I’m excited to see the revival of one of my favourite Lemoines tonight. Todd Babiak, who counts the play as one of his favourites too, saw it last weekend, and loved it again: “moving, mysterious, masterful.”  Tuesday Sept. 29 through Friday Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. Saturday Sept. 2 at 2 and 7 p.m.

Belinda Cornish, Ron Pederson, Louise Lambert in No Exit. Photo by Ryan Parker.

No Exit: Jean-Paul Sartre makes his Edmonton Fringe debut in this crack Bright Young Things production of his very witty, tough-minded, and — who knew? — sharply funny No Exit. In Kevin Sutley’s production Ron Pederson, Belinda Cornish, and Louise Lambert find themselves in hell — and hell, as the Sartre insight has it, is other people. No, this is not some French existentialist manifesto in favour of one-man Fringe shows. This is a terrific four-actor cast! Friday, Sept. 1, 9 p.m.

Tickets:varsconatheatre.com or the door.

HOLY TRINITY ANGLICAN CHUIRCH

Urinetown: Grindstone Theatre’s production, rockin’ by all reports, of this raucous satire of capitalist greed has been packing ’em in at Holy Trinity. The musical,  which rocketed from Off-Broadway to On-, scooping up awards as it went, has attracted a deluxe cast of 14 (and a four-piece band) to Byron Martin’s production.  Martin is holding the show over Tuesday to Thursday (Aug. 29 to 31) at Holy Trinity. Tickets: Grindstonetheatre.ca

Chasing Willie Nelson – A Tribute: Andrea House’s “storytelling concert” has been selling out all week. There’s an extra pop-up performance Sunday at Stage 39, CKUA, 9804 Jasper Ave.

 

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How did we get here? A Quiet Place at the Fringe. A review.

Braydon Dowler-Coltman and Luc Tellier in A Quiet Place. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A Quiet Place (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)

Two men are in a small room that’s completely empty except for a lightbulb and a red chair. One of the games they’re playing to pass the time is I Spy.

It’s a punchline — to the cosmic existential joke that is the barebones situation in this homage to Beckett comedy by the Canadian actor/playwright Brendan Gall.

For as long as he can remember, for no reason he can fathom, Henry (Braydon Dowler-Coltman) has been in the windowless doorless room by himself. Then, either he’s been sleeping or he blinks, and, voilà, there’s another man in the room, tied to the red chair.

Every time David (Luc Tellier) demands  “hey, what is this?” or “why are you doing this?” Henry knocks him out again. Naturally David assumes he’s a prisoner and Henry is his jailer. 

But before long they come to the realization that they’re in this together. Like Beckett’s tramps in Waiting for Godot, hoping to find some meaning in their existence here in the room, they reason that “there must have been a moment before.”

Have they always been here? The why? question stumps them every time. To wait without waiting for something is, in effect, to stop time. “I’d kill for a clock,” says one.

So, like Vladimir and Estragon by the tree, they devise ways to amuse each other and themselves. David teaches Henry chess; Henry teaches David tai-chi. The dialogue, like the physical comedy of the piece which escalates, is funny, and gets funnier. And Dowler-Coltman and Tellier make the most of both, in this sharply timed production directed by Evan Hall, a fine actor (Gruesome Playground Incidents) making his director’s debut here.

Dowler-Coltman is the chattier one, more determinedly upbeat in his approach to nothingness; Tellier is the one who has to be coaxed. The chemistry is fun, though that particular f-word really doesn’t come up much in existential voids. The performances are first-rate.

Where meaning doesn’t exist, and time doesn’t pass — the “great reckoning in a little room” that David alludes to, quoting from Shakespeare’s As You Like It — man has to invent them. Or at least camouflage their absence. He has to amuse himself by inventing rules, and victories. And plotless plays like this one. 

“I dreamed I was alone,” says David with a little shiver. “You are alone. We both are…” says Henry. Sartre didn’t think so, in his No Exit, but having company to be alone with is in the end a cosmic consolation.

Posted in Fringe 2017 | Tagged , , , , , ,

Toodle-oo to high school: Rivercity, a new musical premiering at the Fringe. A review.

Rivercity the Musical. Photo by BB Photography

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Rivercity The Musical (Stage 26, L’UniThéâtre)

“You’re like the sister I never had,” says a certain familiar freckle-faced carrot-top to a certain familiar pony-tailed blonde in Rivercity The Musical. Geez Louise, guys can be such blockheads.

B’s hopeful smile fades a little from chipper, and her ponytail droops. Those are downer words for a true-blue girl who’s smitten with a callow guy (I know, like THAT’s never happened, right?).

We’re at Rivercity High right here in River City, on the last day of school. And the characters we’ve known for decades in the Archie comics — who never seem to graduate — have been reborn onstage (with slight adjustments in nomenclature) in this new and appealing, fully-formed little 75-minute original musical by Rebecca Merkley.

They’ve been given goals, and Merkley’s bona fide musical theatre songs (with witty lyrics) to sing about them. They’ve been given amusing choreography (Cleo Halls) — cartoon meets 42nd St, and even a tap number — and an excellent band (Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe).

They’ve been give four fresh, inventive comic actor/singers — how lucky is that? Ah yes, and a lot of wigs, since four actors are playing 10 characters, students and teachers. 

The crux is a classic triangle. There’s our multi-talented heroine, the love-struck B (Vanessa Wilson). Her rival is the snooty rich girl Ronnie (John Travnik), she of the raven hair: “everyone knows I’m the hot one.” And there’s the unworthy redheaded doofus (Molly MacKinnon) who’s surfed a wave of entitlement through high school and somehow attracted the attentions of both.

There’s a copious assortment of the requisite lame jokes (with the spoken laugh track. Chortle chortle). But there are serious high school issues in this musical, by golly. For example, who is Andrews bringing to Reginald’s party? Reginald, I must tell you, is played by the downright hilarious Kristin Johnston with unhinged limbs and a slouchy swagger so amazing his legs seem to precede his head by a couple of long steps.

Another serious issue: Will Andrews finish the essay he never started and graduate? Or will he be sentenced, gasp! gasp!, to summer school. “The problems of the middle-class white kid, ya know what I mean. Yuk yuk,” he says cheerfully. But Mr. Beatherwee (Johnston) is adamant.

Poor good-hearted B. Her self-respect takes blow after blow from that Andrews cad, who’s always asking for favours (she’s his Plan B for everything) so he can run after Ronnie. Betty, come to your senses, pretty please. McKinnon nails a song about being the girl-next-door, and one about empowerment. Jonesy (Travnik), that sweet boy with the crown, is there to assist. 

Crazy, but you find yourself kinda invested in their romantic fortunes. And there’s a plot to resolve before last period.

An unexpected delight all round. Be the first in your class to see it.

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Ruination: see three dark secrets become one Alberta story. A Fringe review

Marc Ludwig in Ruination: 3 short stories. Photo by Nathaniel Hehir.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Ruination: 3 short stories (Stage 3, Walterdale Theatre)

This triptych of monologues by Michele Vance Hehir takes us to the world of Depression era small-town Alberta. And the beauty of it is the subtle, unobtrusive way a dramatic story — from three different perspectives — gradually emerges, bit by bit, from the threads of its dropped hints, and asides, and little shards of memory.

It’s a story of immigration, of money to be made, of rigid proprieties, casual racism, good ol’ prairie thuggery. And it’s built in ways that spell doom for outsiders.

Central to Ruination is a fire: Mr. Wong’s laundromat has burned to the ground. First, in Lydia, Lydia, we meet a prim milliner (Julie Goloski), in a state of high agitation.  “I have to pull myself together,” she declares, taking a sip of whiskey from a flask. Her son, she tells us, has told her “I think I’m in trouble.”

In the course of telling how she acquired this adoptive son, en route from her native England to the prairies, she lets slip a remark about a young girl.

We meet that vulnerable, now slightly unhinged, person in the second monologue, Ruination. And Glory (Alyson Dicey) is in a state of red-alert crisis too, for other but related reasons. It’s a little story of religion, revenge, and reputation. And it has links to Lydia’s monologue.

The third monologue, The Pee Pee Boy, belongs to Lydia’s son Ambrose (Marc Ludwig), who’s been talked about in the first two, and is now trapped.  

You can tell I’m being evasive with the plot, which is yours to discover when you go to see it. But I can tell you that the story is fused to characters with fatal secrets. 

So, three people, connected to each other and up against it: a little mystery that, as it gets revealed, sheds a harsh light on a harsh time and place. It’s an intriguing little piece, artfully constructed, and acted with commitment. 

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Gruesome Playground Incidents: the blood bond between friends is a many-splendoured thing. A Fringe review.

Evan Hall and Merran Carr-Wiggin in Gruesome Playground Incident. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Gruesome Playground Injuries (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)

“Does it hurt?”

Ah, there’s the question that haunts the couple in this morbidly funny, sweetly gore-spattered little play by Rajiv Joseph.

And the answer, in one way or another, is invariably yes. In the course of eight out-of-order encounters over 30 years Kayleen (Merran Carr-Wiggin) and Doug (Evan Hall) are always assessing the damages. They have to. From age , at intervals till age 38, they meet in  nurse’s offices, emergency wards, hospital wards, ICUs, mental institutions, funeral parlours.

“Age 8: Face Split Open.” “Age 23: “Eye Blown Out.” “Age 18: Pink Eye.”

It’s a friendship — and always maybe something more — sworn in blood. And stitches, bruises, bandages, crutches. Pain and scars that are not just physical. Ron Jenkins’s beautifully acted production finds the delicate chemistry in this. 

It’s wincingly funny, and it’s just the right amount of intense for a push-pull advance-retreat relationship that’s nearly a romantic comedy, but never quite and sometimes in reverse. And it’s too rueful for tragedy. Like Doug’s record with roofs, handlebars, telephone poles, it’s a matter of risks and near-misses, long gaps. And rehab. 

Doug is the impulsive, accident-prone one, if you use a definition that could include riding his bike off the school roof, or climbing telephone poles in the rain. The empty eye socket is, he concedes cheerfully, a drag. But it wasn’t his good eye anyhow, it was the one “that girl skated over.” Hall captures this quality in an appealingly eager way.

The troubled Kayleen isn’t optimistic like that; she’s prickly, resistant, guarded. Her disturbances are more psychological, and involve cutting and throwing up. Carr-Wigging unerringly captures her reluctant curiosity and sullen retreats. 

Carr-Wiggin and Hall are returning to roles they first played five years ago, age 23, in a series of vignettes that wonders, serially, about the might-be’s and the might-have-been’s. Jenkins’s production segues between vignettes with music, the angles of a single hospital bed, and the addition of costume pieces from a series of onstage bins.

And “does it hurt?” floats through it all. The Achilles tendon is a tricky repair. The heart is more problematic still.

Posted in Fringe 2017 | Tagged , , , ,

Ciara: can high culture save you when the chips are down? A Fringe review.

Linda Grass in Ciara, Trunk Theatre. Photo by db photographics.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Ciara (Stage 28, The Playhouse)

Ciara’s favourite painting, she tells us at the outset, is of a giant woman, asleep on her side atop the cityscape of Glasgow. What will happen when she wakes up? That’s what the elegant woman before us wonders at the outset.

It’s a question that gets answered, in person, in this fascinating, expanding monologue by the Scottish playwright David Harrower. Ciara, who owns a successful commercial art gallery, is the daughter of a Glasgow crime boss, now deceased, and she’s married to his successor.

Ciara has escaped, or retreated, or barricaded herself in a world of classy culture that has “clients” not “customers.” And in the story she tells, conjuring an increasingly ruthless network of cousins and bodyguards and family friends and hit men, the Glasgow underworld is refusing to stay under. In a way that will remind you a bit of The Sopranos or The Godfather, petty crime and its elaborate, if dubious, family values system are ceding to higher stakes.

In a performance where calm bemusement gradually escalates into turbulence, Grass draws us in. And, like the clear-eyed, smiling Ciara, who “expects no sympathy,” we find ourselves in a dangerous world ruled by unscrupulous and ruthless men.

When the chips are down, as they apparently are quite often on the mean streets of Glasgow, where do moral responsibility and moral accommodation get compatible? The story escalates, and in a horrifying way as you might expect from a Harrower (Blackbird, Good With People). And the woman who tells us this is not a confession, explanation, or an excuse at the outset, opens her eyes to a new Glasgow, and makes adjustments. That the trigger is an artist, and a painting, and Ciara’s relationship with both, is an irony that isn’t lost on her.

There are pauses in odd places in Amy DeFelice’s production. But in Grass’s performance, we meet a watchful woman who’s her father’s daughter. A woman who discovers something, but has always known more than she even knew she knew. 

Posted in Fringe 2017 | Tagged , , , , , ,