The Bad Seed returns to chill at Teatro La Quindicina. A review.

Lilla Sólymos and Nicola Elbro in The Bad Seed, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

That angelic smile. That impeccable posture. Those unassailably perfect braids.…

“Too good to be true,” someone says admiringly of eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark near the start of The Bad Seed. It’s meant to be the ultimate compliment.

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The unlimited potential of the “ideal child,” to achieve, to acquire, to decapitate resistance and incinerate skepticism gets a chilling  demonstration in the 1954 Maxwell Anderson thriller that’s back at Teatro La Quindicina after three decades.

And, in Stewart Lemoine’s production, built on incremental unease, it’s fascinating to watch the startling 12-year-old actor Lilla Sólymos as Rhoda as she negotiates the separation of smarts and human empathy. Timely and judicious applications of child-like charm and innocence are Rhoda’s specialty. Appeals to adult sentimentality about parenthood and the family, she knows innately, are the perfect antidote to … well, truth.

Rhoda is an actor, as Sólymos’s alert and detailed performance conveys with every toss of a braid, every jaunty sashay out the door with a shrewd backwards glance, every curtsy and arrangement of a crinolined skirt. Her theatre is so ‘50s. And so now.

Lilla Sólymos in The Bad Seed. Photo supplied.

Based on a disturbing William March novel, the play and this suspenseful Teatro production, conjures a world of middle-class surfaces: loving spouses, adorable offspring, helpful neighbours. And the discoveries belong to Rhoda’s loving mother Christine, in a beautifully calibrated performance with a period cadence from Nicola Elbro, making a welcome return to Edmonton.

The crux is a mysterious drowning on a school picnic. The deceased? A little boy who has won a penmanship medal coveted by Rhoda. Christine’s escalating apprehension, which frames the play and gradually seeps into every encounter, intensifies into horrifying suspicions about her perfect little daughter, who gets 100 in “deportment” every month at school.

And that’s about where I should stop telling you about the plot. Except to say that everything in Christine’s world, which unfolds in knocks at the door and phone calls, is a suspense-enhancer. It embraces the tightly wound purse-lipped teacher (Kristi Hansen) who has her doubts about the “official” version of the death, the sly and abrasive handyman who tends to lurk (Mat Busby), the gabby cheerfully Freud-obsessed neighbour Monica (engagingly played by Cathy Derkach). “I know I shouldn’t take things into my all-too-capable hands.”

Lilla Sólymos and Nicola Elbro in The Bad Seed. Photo by Mat Busby.

There’s even a crime writer, Mark Bellamy as Reginald, and in the person of Christine’s father Richard Bravo (Jeff Haslam), an eminent crime journalist who used to write murder mysteries. And The Bad Seed gives them the forum to argue about the nature of sociopathic killers, with their incapacity for remorse or moral choices. “They imitate humanity beautifully,” proposes the writer Reginald Tasker (Bellamy), who compares them to wax rosebuds. Richard Bravo  is nervously evasive. Is it possible for chilldren in lovely households to be murderous criminals? Is heredity the decisive factor?

The drunk mother of the dead boy arrives — a melodramatic part that’s arguably written with a little too much drunk unravelling attached to it. She’s a lurid, tragic portrait of disintegration in the accusatory no-holds-barred performance from Andrea House: “you know more than you’re telling.” 

Chantal Fortin’s design, lit by Daniela Masellis, conjures the reassuring domestic symmetries of the ‘50s nuclear middle-class family. Leona Brausen’s vintage costumes, with their snazzy suits and dresses, don’t just conjure the period, but nail it. Rhoda, who wears a series of starchy and ravishing little girl frocks, is kitted out like Alice of Wonderland fame. And for a child with her instincts for presentation, out in a world full of things she wants, that’s about right.  

REVIEW

The Bad Seed

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written by: Maxwell Anderson

Directed by: Stewart Lemoine

Starring: Nicola Elbro, Lilla Sólymos, Jeff Haslam, Andrea House, Cathy Derkach, Mark Bellamy, Kristi Hansen, Mat Busby

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: through July 27

Tickets: teatroq.com

   

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The Bad Seed at Teatro: the “perfect little girl” and her mom. Meet the stars

Lilla Sólymos and Nicola Elbro in The Bad Seed, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“She’s perfect perfect perfect,” grins Lilla Sólymos, cheerfully assessing the lethally goal-oriented little girl she plays in the 1954 thriller that returns to the Teatro La Quindicina repertoire Friday after 30 years. “And she uses that.”

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Nicola Elbro plays her perfect perfect perfect ‘50s mother in The Bad Seed, scrambling to fortify herself against unwelcome suspicions about her kid in every scene. Elbro smiles thoughtfully. “When you don’t see the monster under the (perfect facade) it’s even scarier….”

As you might expect, the two cast-mates, who made time last week for a pre-rehearsal chat, have arrived in Maxwell Anderson’s chiller by different routes. Sólymos, who’s 12 and going into Grade 7 at Victoria School of the Arts, comes to Teatro from starring as the resourceful and feisty title character in the Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/ Arts Club production of the Broadway musical Matilda. Like nearly every adult in Matilda’s world, her mom and dad, pinhead comic grotesques, sell her short. 

Toronto-based Elbro is making a rare return to theatre (and to the city of her theatre school alma mater, the U of A) for the juicy role of the beleaguered mother who grapples with a terrifying kid in this vintage psychological thriller. And here’s irony: Elbro works these days — “my Muggle job,” she says — as a “children’s grief councillor and play therapist.” The Bad Seed’s vision of childhood is a test case, almost a punch line, for both aspects of her work.

Rhoda “wouldn’t have benefited from any therapy, I don’t think,” laughs Elbro, whose last time onstage in Edmonton was as the yellow piano in a touring puppet production of Splash ‘N Boots.

Elbro was attracted to the show partly because of a lingering regret,  leaving Edmonton for Toronto, that she’d never worked with Teatro. “I loved the writing. I loved the sense that they seemed like such a fun group of people.” All big draws for an actor made cautious about her chosen profession by “harassment and bullying” experiences in Toronto theatre. 

Lilla Sólymos and Nicola Elbro in The Bad Seed. Photo by Mat Busby.

Sólymos’s attraction to the production came via her Matilda cast-mate Andrew MacDonald-Smith, a Teatro artistic associate, who admired her quick wit and uncanny grasp of motivation. The hardest thing about being Matilda, who’s onstage for much the show? Solymos doesn’t hesitate: “It was so hard to keep a straight face around John!” (John Ullyatt, who played, in high comic style, the formidable head mistress Miss Trunchbull). 

Sólymos, who saw Teatro’s recent premiere production of A Likely Story and before that, the Plain Janes’ Fun Home, has been enjoying the camaraderie of the Teatro ensemble. “They’ve all been really supportive. They help you, guide you.” Says Elbro, “they want to tell the story, and tell it really well. That’s the objective.” 

With The Bad Seed, and the intriguing chance to be a villain, it was “Let’s try it! It’s a new challenge; we’ll see how I do!” says Sólymos, whose professional theatre debut was Tiny Tim in the Citadel’s now-retired production of A Christmas Carol. Needless to say, there will be no “God bless us, every one!” from the kid you’ll see starting Friday.  

True, Rhoda does, er, dispatch people who stand between her and her goals, like the penmanship medal that classmate Claude wins, before he mysteriously vanishes on a school outing. But really, thinks Sólymos, murder per se is not Rhoda’s objective. It’s not so much a matter of evil, in all its stereotyped manifestations. For Rhoda “it’s simple logic.… She wants what she wants, and she’ll do anything to get it.” You can’t fault Rhoda for lack of focus. 

Rhoda, incidentally, is eight. “I’ve always played young,” smiles Sólymos, who started dance training at age three. “I’ve never played anyone my age.” That gap didn’t prove problematic. For one thing, she says, “there’s a mature quality in Rhoda that makes her seem older than she is…. When she’s in a good mood, I try to make her younger; when she gets mad she acts more mature. She does what she has to do to get what she wants.”

It’s that kind of analysis that impresses her co-star Elbro. “Lilla is very smart…. She takes Stewart’s (director Stewart Lemoine’s) notes and acts on them right away. Faster than any of us. (Rhoda’s)  transformations are very terrifying!”

“The focus, the maturity, the artistry Lilla has brought is pretty much mind-blowing. She’s the perfect scene partner!”   

Environment vs. genetics, conditioning or DNA: that’s at the kernel, so to speak, of The Bad Seed. “Christine,” says Elbro, “has offered this loving home, the perfect nuclear family, the perfect environment….” The Bad Seed is “a portrait of the period: she doesn’t have the option to go get a job or explore the world. Her only option is to be a model mother; it’s the one thing she’s meant to do.” And in the course of the play, the gleaming surfaces of that idealized ‘50s family get harder and harder to maintain. “It’s so isolating; she’s so alone!”

It’s that plight, a woman trapped in a home and a vision of family that’s gradually becoming a prison, that intrigued Teatro’s Lemoine enough to take up the thriller again after three decades. He understands it in a different way now. “The last time we did it, it was a stylish piece on the verge of being funny.” People, after all, “are amused to see a child that wicked.”

“There’s an enjoyable edge of thriller, mounting dread,” he says of his continuing attraction to the play. “There’s fun, witty dialogue — erudite people saying amusing things about Freud….” For a company that specializes in comedy in all its expansive possibilities, it’s an intriguing choice, he thinks. “It has the energy of a comedy” even if it doesn’t wear that mantle. 

And as for Christine, says Lemoine, “hers is such an interesting predicament. She’s an investigator of a crime, but a protector of the perpetrator.”

PREVIEW

The Bad Seed

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written by: Maxwell Anderson

Directed by: Stewart Lemoine

Starring: Nicola Elbro, Lilla Sólymos, Jeff Haslam, Andrea House, Cathy Derkach, Mark Bellamy, Kristi Hansen, Mat Busby

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Friday through July 27

Tickets: teatroq.com

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A strange fairy tale, rescued magically by Time from tragedy: The Winter’s Tale in the park

Belinda Cornish, Christine Nguyen, Nadien Chu, Sheldon Elter in The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

There is a strange magic about a play where brute tragedy gives way to pastoral comedy, realism mixes it up with romance, and dramatic scenes abut presentational vaudeville.

The Winter’s Tale has the optical weirdness of seeing the world through glasses that are half 3-D and half distance correction. In Shakespeare’s late-period fairy tale, a 16-year adventure in separation and reconciliation, death and rebirth is fuelled by a sense of wonder. Big events aren’t caused — they just happen and sink in.

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And right from the start Dave Horak’s Freewill Shakespeare Festival production (which alternates with another odd play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona), invites you to a place at the campfire, where stories get told. The price of admission is telling a tale. And a little kid claims his spot — “a sad tale’s best for winter” — with a story in which he will be a character, figure prominently, and be transformed.

Chris Bullough (centre) as Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

In the course of The Winter’s Tale, you’ll see sheep out strolling in the park. You’ll see a royal baby in a basket rescued by rustic shepherds; you’ll see a rogue balladeer perform, sell sheet music, and steal wallets. A man gets eaten by a bear (ingenious theatrical trickery with a playful surreal image); a king gets a moral flaying and re-education from a woman.  Time passes, 16 years worth. A wintry court becomes a summer revel. And then, magically, a statue grows warm and comes to life. 

It starts with a human mystery: a king is suddenly overcome by violent, unmotivated jealousy that blackens his world, and reduces it to ash. How could it happen, and why? There is no answer.

“My life stands in the level of your dreams,” says Hermione, as she stands accused of adultery with his best friend Polixenes (Jesse Gervais) by King Leontes (Sheldon Elter). Dream has turned to nightmare, on a single line: “too hot! too hot!” And nothing can every be the same, feel the same, look the same, as Elter’s performance, with its feverish mixture of rage, panic, and a kind of perplexity at himself, captures so insightfully.

His smile — and likeable Elter has one of the great ones — suddenly seems pasted on. His heart, as he says, has become “a burden to me.”

For her part Hermione, in a performance of natural high spirits and cordiality from Nadien Chu, is shocked, and defiant. And in the trial scene, her eloquence embraces righteous anger. As the fearless Lady Paulina— who’s dressed like Zelda Fitzgerald on a bender, oddly eclectic costumes by Megan Koshka — Belinda Cornish summons her stalwart defences of Hermione’s honour and and spits them, like an acid shower, at Leontes for his folly.

The scenes in Bohemia, which replace the awkward diffuseness of the court scenes, are introduced by Time — as embodied in the ghostly figure of the dead Mamillius, Leontes’ little son. The idyll is led by Nathan Cuckow and Ben Stevens as an endearingly gullible shepherd and his sweetly dim son, who rescue a lost baby, with delayed complications.

This pair of kindly rustic worthies is no match for the showbiz flamboyance of Autolycus, a shameless troubadour/ pickpocket (“what a fool Honesty is!”) in whom histrionic and capitalist urges find unexpected harmony in Darrin Hagen’s rich array of songs. Chris Bullough is a riot. And as the young lovers Florizel and Perdita, Oscar Derkx and Christine Nguyen have alluring life-affirming charm.

It takes a “wide gap of time” and penitence and magic (with a human stage manager) to restore what is lost in The Winter’s Tale. On the weekend “ambience director” Mother Nature took perverse pleasure in being counter-intuitive: at the moment of supreme imaginative rebirth — “be stone no more” — the thunder roared, the sky darkened still further, and the drizzle became a torrential downpour.

“Winter in storm perpetual,” as Paulina had cursed Leontes earlier, at the moment his little son and wife are declared dead. We know a lot about that; we need our big moments of theatre. And with its strange combination of intimacy and spaciousness, Horak’s production delivers us into rebirth. Wonder – full. 

REVIEW

Freewill Shakespeare Festival

The Winter’s Tale

Directed by: Dave Horak

Starring: Sheldon Elter, Nadien Chu, Belinda Cornish, Jesse Gervais, Christine Nguyen, Oscar Derkx, Nathan Cuckow, Ben Stevens, Chris Bullough

Where: Heritage Amphitheatre, Hawrelak Park

Running: through July 14, odd dates (and July 14 matinee), alternating with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, even dates and matinees.

Tickets: freewillshakespeare.com

 

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Sleuth: a vintage thriller at the Mayfield. A review.

Michael Hanrahan and Tyrone Savage in Sleuth, Mayfield Theatre. Photo by Ed Ellis.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s a tricky business to give a theatre audience a spine-tingle of suspense, clenches of tension, periodic jolts of surprise, an invitation to exercise their own puzzle-decoding skills — ah, and laughter.

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That’s the fun of Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s devious and intricately plotted 1970 comedy thriller/ satire, which arrived on the big screen a couple of years after that (with heavy-hitters like Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and then Jude Law). It’s at the Mayfield, in a deluxe production directed by the distinguished Canadian artist Marti Maraden. And an expert cast of five, led by Michael Hanrahan and Tyrone Savage, undertake to propel you into a hall of mirrors.

Sleuth is, in effect, an elaborate mystery about the creation of mysteries, a charade about charades, a puzzle about the construction of puzzles, a power game about power gamesmanship. Classic high stakes, yes, though the stakes keep changing, as you discover along with the characters. And it’s all underwritten by Shaffer’s satire of English-ness — its snobbery, its class-consciousness, its pompousness, its xenophobia and anti-Semitism — rooted in the old-fashioned murder mysteries that Sleuth parodies in its self-referential way.

We meet Andrew (Hanrahan), a well-heeled, blustery, hale-and-hearty lord of the manor — fond of noblesse-oblige openers like “my dear boy…” He pens his hit murder mysteries, in the Dame Agatha style, from his stronghold in a grand Wiltshire country house. “I set my work among the gentry,” declares Andrew suavely to the young man (Savage) he has invited to visit.  And even “in these squalid times, people seem to enjoy it. In spite of the welfare state.”

John Dinning’s two-storey set, incidentally, the most impressively elaborate I can remember at the Mayfield, is crammed with toys, trunks, paintings, expensive objets d’art, knick-knacks of the playful sort, all lit by Stratford veteran Louise Guinand.

If his genial host is old-school — “some of my best friends are half-Jewish” — Milo on the other hand represents something of the new man in England. He’s a second generation Italian immigrant scrambling to find a way up into the English middle-class via his south London travel agency. Since it comes up right away I can tell you that Milo has been having it off with Andrew’s wife. But I’m really off the hook for revealing anything much about the plot after that, save that it thickens (“and it nearly always does when the subject of insurance comes up”).

Almost immediately, the wary young Milo, along with the audience, is taken aback by this gambit, from Andrew: “I understand you want to marry my wife.” Andrew has a proposition. And now you’re on your own.

Anyhow, both principal characters are skilfully conveyed in exemplary performances from stage veterans Hanrahan and Savage. The former conjures the easeful brocade-clad complacency of the English gentry, tossing off Shaffer’s epigrams about everything from marriage and sex to taxes with lordly suavity. Is it acting? Is it a game? To Savage falls the ticklish assignment of a character who finds himself on the wrong foot at the outset and has to re-calibrate his responses constantly without visible signs of effort. Is it acting of another sort?  He delivers. 

As Sleuth “proceeds” (now there’s a studiedly vague word), you’ll get to wondering if it’s all some sort of game, and what the rules are, and  and who’s in charge. The pair are backed up by a compelling set of comical and menacing rustics. 

It’s a convoluted entertainment that makes fun of convoluted entertainments, expertly done, from our ever-surprising dinner theatre.  

REVIEW

Sleuth

Theatre: Mayfield Dinner Theatre, 16615 109 Ave.

Written by: Anthony Shaffer

Directed by: Marti Maraden

Starring: Michael Hanrahan, Tyrone Savage, James Blakely, Gavin Montgomery, Wade Nugent

Running: through Aug. 4

Tickets: 780-483-4051, mayfieldtheatre.ca

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Did you hear about the party? A world of surveillance in Bevin Dooley’s In Camera at Found Fest

In Camera, by Bevin Dooley. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Shhhh. This weekend in Old Strathcona you may find yourself doing something subversive, illegal, and quite possibly dangerous. No, not jaywalking, my friends (or plotting against the damn Edmonton parking app).

You’ll be in a one-bedroom apartment at an underground video party you heard about on the grapevine. It’s the last days of the Ceausescu Communist regime in Romania in the late-1980s. And since consuming American movies dubbed into Romanian hardly qualifies as toe-ing the line, you might be a little on edge. Who’s watching? Who’s listening?

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In Camera, the new immersive play that runs Thursday through Sunday at the Found Festival, gives you a role as The Audience. Playwright Bevin Dooley, Common Ground’s 2019 AiR (artist in residence), explains that she “became fascinated with the Velvet Revolution and the dark side of the Iron Curtain” when she saw a 2015 Romanian-British documentary Chuck Norris vs Communism, a weave of interviews and historical re-enactments.

Playwright Bevin Dooley. Photo supplied.

What Dooley, a self-described “history nerd,” discovered as she followed the strange, dark trail into Communism Romanian-style, was “a huge underground network of videos. American movies, “with their portrayals of capitalist life in the West,” were a window for Romanians out of their social and cultural isolation and into what they were missing in the world. “The government knew it was happening, and cracked down occasionally,” says Dooley. “But the secret police were bribe-able.”

Irina Nistor, the star performer of the operation, who’s still alive, worked for Romanian state televisions as a translator. “She’s the voice on the tapes,” some 3,000 in number. “Pretty wild!” says Dooley. “She has a super-distinct voice, but they never tried to arrest her; they never questioned her.…” 

All sorts of signature American flicks found their way into this illicit archive, from Top Gun and Pretty Woman to Alien and Rocky and Jaws, a kind of collage of American life.

Dooley, who started writing In Camera in 2017 as part of RBC’s emerging artist mentorship (her mentor was David Van Belle), wondered “how to get people invested in this story.” And in the end, “I smashed down the fourth wall and put the audience into the piece” — in the role of … audience. Heather Inglis of Theatre Yes, which specializes in site-specific theatre (The Elevator Project, Slight of Mind, Viscosity), directs a starry seven-actor cast. You are the audience, “immersed in a private world” 20 people max at a time.

“It’s unpredictable,” says Dooley cheerfully. “What the audience will do and what they won’t” is up for grabs.

“I needed political undertones without it being about the politics,” she says of a production that uses, and wrecks, a constant supply of VHS cassettes.  The Romanian revolution “deserves its own play…. I’m focussing on the private lives of people who are living in a state of constant surveillance.” Our hosts are siblings: their father has had to get out of town; their brother has “disappeared.”

“Fuelled by the revolutionary spark, they host a video night, with an audience that includes co-workers, neighbours, friends from school…. What is it like to see history shaking down in front of you?”

Check out the 12night.ca PREVIEW of the 2019 Found Fest offerings HERE.

PREVIEW

Found Festival 2019

In Camera

Written by: Bevin Dooley

Directed by: Heather Inglis

Starring: Michael Peng, Elena Porter, Murray Farnell, Sarah Emslie, Maxwell Hanic, Dylan Howard, Marina Mair-Sanchez

Where: Terrace Tower, 11025 82 Ave. (Meet at the corner of 110 St. and 82 Ave.) 

Running: Thursday through Sunday

Tickets (and full schedule of performances): commongroundarts.ca

  

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Finding yourself at Found, the festival of art in unexpected places

How To Self-Suspend. Photo from High Performance Rodeo.

 

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Finding art, and artists, in places you never expected to run into them: hey, Edmonton has a festival for that.

Found Festival 2019

With the return of the Found Festival Thursday, for an eight annual weekend of surprising encounters in Old Strathcona, you’ll find yourself up close face to face with experimenters any place but a conventional theatre or gallery or recital hall.

In previous Found editions, you could have found yourself in a grocery store, or a hair salon, or a public bathroom. This time out you might find yourself at an illegal underground film party in someone’s apartment, for example. Or at a film festival projected on an apartment window. You could be wandering in the river valley, and find yourself in the midst of an art installation cum dance/ movement experience exploring the meaning of water. Or on an audio tour of locations you don’t know in advance, immersed in the secret side of urban life: real-life memories of real-life Edmontonians.

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You can never predict what might happen when Found brings art to you; that’s the excitement of it. 

As the festival’s artistic director Beth Dart, a specialist in site-specific theatre, puts it, “it’s all about the audience/ performer relationship. And that changes when you bring art out of conventional venues and into the community….”

Found Festival. Photo by Mat Simpson.

“This is about breaking the known contract with the audience,” says Dart of the array of Found “shows” created for specific locales. “These artists are investigating how to re-negotiate that contract…. All the pieces really destroy the fourth wall,” she says the conventional frontier between the worlds of stage and audience. But, don’t fret, it’s not an invitation for the dread “audience participation” either, Dart reassures.

Here’s a sampling of five finds at Found:

Secret City: Heather Cant of Phenomania teams up with Wayne Paquette of Blarney Productions to bring an Edmonton incarnation of her bright idea to Old Strathcona for the Found Festival. Secret City gathers personal memories from actual Edmontonians for an audio walking tour, a sort of personal confession/ theatre fusion presented in each of five 10-minute episodes by a local actor: Robert Benz, Darrin Hagen, Mac Brock, Erin Laflar and Nisha Patel (Edmonton’s newly appointed poet laureate). Secret City premiered in Kamloops, got tried it again in Vancouver. And now it’s Edmonton’s turn for an unexpected urban vision of itself. Get yourself a map and a listening device outside the Backstage Theatre, and set forth on an “audio adventure.”

In Camera, by Bevin Dooley. Photo supplied.

In Camera: in Bevin Dooley’s immersive drama you’ll find yourself attending an illegal, and dangerous, film party in an apartment in Romania in the final days of the Ceausescu regime in the ‘80s. Dooley developed the piece in her time as Common Ground’s 2019 Fresh AiR (artist-in-residence). Heather Inglis of Theatre Yes directs an all-star cast of seven. Catch 12thnight.ca’s upcoming post on Dooley, a fearless young artist whose history with the Found Festival includes one-on-one encounters with an audience for whom she undertook to write, on the spot, a custom-made scene, prose chapter, or poem.

Gorgeous: An improv experiment that takes the notion of ‘site-specific’ to the ultimate. Instead of asking the audience for a cue that includes a theoretical location, two Rapid Fire Theatre improv stars, Jessie McPhee and Gordie Lucius, are taken blind-folded to a mystery location. And then they improvise.   

Woven Water. Photo supplied.

Woven Water: This performance art/ movement piece takes you through Indigenous land in the river valley, where you’ll experience personal storytelling and an original art installation, all inspired by qualities of water. Barry Bilinsky, Dawn Marie Marchand, and Ayla Modeste are featured.

How To Self-Suspend: the Found Festival’s first show ever in a “conventional space,” albeit one without chairs or risers in which the performance happens amongst the audience. It’s by Mx. Sly, a performance artist who’s performed the X-rated piece at both the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary and the Rhubarb Festival in Toronto. Billed as “part storytelling, part movement piece, part photo-essay, part rope bondage demonstration,” it chronicles in a non-linear interactive way the artist’s traumatic childhood story. It happens in the Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barn.

And there’s much more. There’s roving spoken word (Found Glory). There’s an art installation (People on the Path) of giant portraits designed to undermine the mythology of The Albertan. There’s experimental film (Wind-O-Vision) that plays on an apartment window, with a live sound track. And there’s lots of free music, curated by Double Lunch Productions and Sweaty Palms. Check out the lineup and the schedule (and get tickets) at commongroundarts.ca.

Did I mention finding the beer garden?

Found Festival 2019 runs Thursday through Sunday in Old Strathcona (HQ behind the Backstage Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barn, 10330 84 Ave.). 

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Boys will be boys: taking the mickey out of male bonding in Two Gents, a bitter comedy in the park

(clockwise from left) Gianna Vacirca, Ben Stevens, Patricia Cerra, Oscar Derkx in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Ryan Parker

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A passing squirrel, who turned his back to the stage, was not convinced. And the wind whispering through the poplars sounded downright skeptical this weekend in the park when a lovestruck young man tore himself away from his beloved with protestations of fidelity.

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“Here is my hand for my true constancy,” declared Proteus (Oscar Derkx) feelingly, with major sincere eye contact . “Let me ever dwell in thy remembrance.”

This clueless gentleman of Verona doesn’t realize it but his “constancy” will evaporate into thin air the moment he hits the hip party town of Milan down the road. And it’s a measure of the oddity of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the earliest of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, currently alternating with The Winter’s Tale at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, that the sweet sorrow of this parting is both mocked and surpassed by a scene in which the star has four legs (and a leash).

A  tearful clown, Launce (Belinda Cornish) is barely suppressing histrionic sobs as he decries the hard-heartedness of his dog Crab (Alice Cornish-Meer). At his parting from the family in order to follow his gentleman employer Proteus to Milan, Launce reports (in the funniest monologue of the play) that his entire family, from mom right down to the cat, wept buckets. “Yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear: he is a stone, a very pebblestone, and has no more pity in him than a dog….”

Belinda Cornish and Alice Cornish Meer in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by Ryan Parker.

In an impressively understated deadpan performance, Alice’s Crab gazes impassively off into the mid-distance, rising neither to provocations from squirrel or gull, much less to the eye-watering temptations of iambic pentameter. There’s something a bit Smothers Bros. about this pair, the leash-er and the leash-ee, the lofty disdain of the one vs. the lugubrious rustic shrewdness of the other. They made me laugh hard.

True, there are classic comic riffs in The Two Gents: the futile male protestations against falling in love, the thwarted young lovers up against a choleric older generation (or each other), the comically unsuitable parentally-approved suitor in the wings, the jealous rival, the love triangle, the escape ruse…. But The Two Gents, which likely dates from the early 1590s (like The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, the Henry VI plays), hasn’t exactly had directors queuing up over the years; only Love’s Labours Lost had fewer productions before the 20th century. It’s not so much the set-up, in which two best friends fall, hard, for the same gal, that’s the sticking point, but the sour, cringe-worthy climax.

Having suddenly betrayed his own true-love Julia (Gianna Vacirca) and his best friend Valentine (Ben Stevens), Proteus tries to force himself on Valentine’s girlfriend Silvia (Patricia Cerra) for whom he’s developed an all-consuming infatuation. And when Proteus is caught out in these unappetizing manoeuvres, Valentine not only forgives him, but offers him Silvia, as a token of undying friendship. Hey, what are friends for?

Mostly contemporary productions emphasize boyish high spirits of a couple of male dim bulbs, their bumbling naivety in falling in love with love, so that bad behaviour can be redeemed or at least smoothed over. A comedy freighted with an attempted assault doesn’t exactly bob gaily across the bright blue sea of romance.   

Kevin Sutley’s is a production that steps bravely up to show you why this is a play only rarely tackled. Instead of dallying in camouflage, it holds up both romance and comedy stereotypes for re-consideration, and finds them both a little wonky, with a bitter aftertaste. The two pals are enthusiastic demonstrative friends in a way that makes romance seem like a formal exercise by comparisons. Stevens as Valentine is a good-natured, warm-hearted lad, excited to go off and see the world instead of “living dully sluggardized at home” — and even more excited when he is “metamorphosed” by love. As counterpart, his buddy Proteus, in Derkx’s performance, is the more ticklish assignment, since he has to make a sudden conversion to out-and-out terrible behaviour seem possible.

He’s equipped with a couple of re-assessment speeches for the purpose. Still, what Derkx brings is a sense of amazement, of disbelief at his own apparently unstoppable capacity for being a jerk. How can his treacherous, cruel self be possible? Derek’s Proteus wonders, and then ploughs ahead, a mad glint in his eye.

Of the women of the play, Cerra’s Silvia is a spitfire, a portrait of exasperation at unwanted male advances. And she rejects Proteus’s increasingly gross advances with stinging rebukes at his faithless treachery. Julia, in Gianna Vacirca’s performance, is a bit of a flake, a sort of case study of the fate of the overwrought and besotted. The volatile woman who gets mad and rips up a love letter, then kisses the scraps, becomes the woman who remains devoted, beyond all reason. “His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles, his love sincere, his thoughts immaculate….” How wrong can one girl be?

The comic business of the play, enhanced by Megan Koshka’s vividly attractive party/ leisure costumes and Matt Skopyk’s amusing sound design, escalates with ace performances from Nathan Cuckow as a self-regarding ninny of a gentleman suitor, and a cameo from Chris Bullough as a military functionary who’s in love with his own soldier-ly right-angle moves. And the casting of both clowns, Cornish’s Launce and Speed (the excellent Bobbi Goddard) as women, who roll their eyes at the male folly around them, seems particularly à propos. 

The men, or more precisely machismo attitudes, are targeted as ridiculous. In the end, in Sutley’s production, it’s the guys who make a great show of forgiving each other. The boys are reunited, best friends forever again, the one forgiven his transgressions and the other wanting to make a statement with his grand gestures of forgiveness. The Duke (Robert Benz) arrives and forgives a band of preposterous outlaws. 

As for the women, the play’s sensible people? Ignored, possibly forgotten. And this production steps up to that fact with a tiny and forceful coda you’ll savour. No dog is involved. 

REVIEW

Freewill Shakespeare Festival

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Directed by: Kevin Sutley

Starring: Ben Stevens, Oscar Derkx, Gianna Vacirca, Patricia Cerra, Nathan Cuckow, Robert Benz, Bobbi Goddard, Stephanie Wolfe

Where: Heritage Amphitheatre, Hawrelak Park

Running: through July 14 (alternating with The Winter’s Tale), on even dates and most matinees

Tickets: freewillshakespeare.com or at the gate

 

 

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Things I learned at the Sterling gala: a selection

Sterling Awards night on the set of the Mayfield’s Sleuth.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A few things I learned at the Sterling gala, written by Belinda Cornish and directed by Kate Ryan, starring co-hosts Mathew Hulshof and Gina Puntil: 

•The Sterlings spilled their secrets on the grand, lavishly appointed set of the Mayfield’s current production of Sleuth: i.e. the posh country house of a very well-heeled writer of murder mysteries. The invariably droll and witty Mark Meer, who presented the musical director and score Sterlings alongside director Suzie Martin and actor Oscar Derkx, noted from the stage the sheer excitement of being on a set where “we might all be murdered. At any time. With any object.” 

Mathew Hulshof, a wry and funny co-host along with Gina Puntil, pointed out the working aquarium AND the portrait (of Laura Dern, he said) over the fireplace. All firsts for the Sterlings, along with the ASL signing throughout. 

•I missed the opening number, but at intermission people were still buzzing about a terrific version of Make Your Own Party by the eerily talented St. Albert Children’s Theatre. The lyrics seem specially tailored to Edmonton on Sterling night, and the improbable but dramatic truth that we are a theatre town:

“Sometimes it seems that dreams may escape but/ What’s round the corner you never know/ Don’t pack it in just make your own party…. If there’s no script, then write your own show.”

Right, in a way that’s exactly what we’ve done in Edmonton.

•You already know this if you’re a theatre-goer, but composer/ musician/ improviser Erik Mortimer sets the bar high in empathy, responsiveness and wit. He led the Sterling Awards Orchestra from the keyboard. And they were terrific. Dave Clarke, creator of Sterling-winning Songs My Mother Never Sung Me paid tribute to Mortimer, his musical director, as the one who helped him write down the score, a particularly tricky challenge since the story is about the hearing son of a deaf mother. 

•Shows I wish I’d seen and now it’s too late, damn, so now I have regrets and have to hope they get remounted: Jana O’Connor’s CTRL-ALT-DEL, for kids, in a Concrete Theatre production that looked great in the video montage. She’s a funny writer, with a light smart touch (witness her screwball comedy Going Going Gone for Teatro La Quindicina). How  did I miss it?

•I was struck again by Lawrence Libor who along with his Once castmate Emily Dallas delivered a lovely version of the musical’s bookending number Falling Slowly at the top of Act II. Libor, along with his guitar a recent arrival from the U.K., is in the Citadel’s first summer musical Ring of Fire, opening in July.

Bella King, Jocelyn Ahlf, Jillian Aisenstat in Fun Home, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by Mat Busby

•The Plain Janes’ memorable account of Fun Home, the evening’s most awarded single production (including the Tim Ryan Award for outstanding production of a musical), was referred to by the Janes’ artistic director Kate Ryan, by director Dave Horak, and by musical director Janice Flower as “a show like no other.” A bonus for us Monday night: Jillian Aisenstat, as the youngest of the three Alisons at different ages, reprised her killer version of one of the musical’s great songs, Ring of Keys. Evidently, a young actor to keep your eye on.

•Hunter Cardinal, nominated in the leading actor (drama) category for his highly original Hamlet, accepted the outstanding new play Sterling Award for with co-creator Jacquelyn Cardinal, his sister. He opened in Cree, fought back tears, and later returned as a presenter (of the indie production Sterling) with Matt Schuurman: “I promised to speak less Cree and cry less,” he assured us.

Collin Doyle and James Hamilton in The Zoo Story, Bedlam Theatre Concern. Photo supplied.

Accepting his leading actor Fringe Sterling Award for his performance as Jerry in Albee’s The Zoo Story, Collin Doyle had co-star and long-time buddy James Hamilton with him onstage. The fine Sterling-winning Fringe production directed by Bradley Moss was, he told us, the third Zoo Story he and Hamilton had done together. The first time was in high school. Then came a Fringe production in 1993. And now another, “when we’re finally the right age to play the characters.” It was, says Doyle, “my first time onstage in 10 years.”

Naturally, Ken Agrell-Smith, the drama teacher/ mentor/ theatre aficionado who passed away this season, had seen the show, said Doyle. Naturally, he’d provided praise and criticism, helpful no-bullshit notes. Naturally, he did the same for reviewers like me — “wow, you really missed the mark there, Liz” or “good turn of phrase but wrong point of view.” Or the all-purpose “WHAT were you thinking?” He was fun to argue with, and to learn from — an ubiquitous presence in theatres. And they seem very empty without him.

I find myself looking over my shoulder at the Varscona, for example, hoping to catch his eye stage left, near the top. Edmonton theatre will keep missing him. I know I will.

Patricia Cerra, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron, Mathew Hulshot in A Lesson in Brio, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.Jak

•Playwright Stewart Lemoine, whose lively, unusually structured comedy A Lesson in Brio was voted outstanding Fringe new play, explained that last summer he’d “decided to appoint myself the ambassador for vivacity.” Early in rehearsals for the show, his dad had passed away. And Lemoine spoke movingly of the way the fun of the ensuing rehearsals had been indispensable, the best kind of consolation. “I laughed so hard I almost made a sound.”   

Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman

The DCs, Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman, arts educators who have had so much to do with inspiring the creativity of generations of young artists, were charmingly introduced by their three sons,— Jordan, Braydon, Tim, all artists, all gifted. The couple spoke of mentorship, and the name Agrell-Smith came up again and again.

Jason Hardwick, working in Vancouver, wasn’t on hand to accept his leading Fringe performance (comedy) for his work in the new Darrin Hagen/ Trevor Schmidt comedy Don’t Frown At The Gown. His message of solidarity to cast-mate Jake Tkaczyk, onstage to accept the award for him, was “I promise I’ll always be there to put on your eyelashes for you. You have never learned!”

•Sterling-winning director Horak spoke feelingly of “learning so much” from the Fun Home cast, an the “dream come true” of working with Jeff Haslam.

Merran Carr-Wiggin, Cole Humeny, Bobbi Goddard in What A Young Wife Ought To Know, Theatre Network. Photo by Ian Jackson.

In accepting her supporting role (drama) Sterling for her fierce, vivid performance in What A Young Wife Ought To Know (in Bradley Moss’s Theatre Network production), Bobbi Goddard put her finger on the amazing, and disturbing, reality that Hannah Moscovitch’s story about poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in the 1920s who pay a big price for love hasn’t grown old. The desperately high stakes remain in place for many women. And there’s a drift backwards, as we’ve seen, in women’s reproductive rights and their very identity as sexual beings. 

•There was much chatter, pro-, con-, and undecided, about the potentially problematic division of performance categories into Comedy and Drama. Discussion is invited.     

 Meanwhile, have a look at the full list of Sterling winners HERE. 

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Celebrating the Edmonton theatre season: Fun Home and We Are Not Alone lead the way at the 32nd annual Sterling Awards

Jocelyn Ahlf in Fun Home. Photo by Mat Busby

Damien Atkins, We Are Not Alone. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The spirit of off-centre, and small-scale, originality blew through the 32nd annual Sterling Awards gala Monday night toasting the best of the Edmonton theatre season — in a newly re-worked configuration.

Plain Jane Theatre’s production of Fun Home, a funny and exquisitely heart-wrenching coming-of-age/ coming-out musical about the ways we’re haunted by the mysteries of our past and our parents, proved the top choice of Sterling jurors.

Of its eight nominations in 24 categories, Dave Horak’s deeply moving production of the musical, adapted from a best-selling graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, took home four Sterlings, the most of any single show — including outstanding musical and indie production, as well as nods for musical director Janice Flower, and best director Horak. It marks the fourth season in a row that a Horak production has taken top honours in the indie category. 

Its counterpart in the outstanding production category was We Are Not Alone, a sly, probing solo exploration of belief and our relationship with possible other worlds by (and starring) former Edmonton actor/playwright Damien Atkins. The Crow’s Theatre/ Segal Centre production that ran in the Theatre Network season picked up a Sterling as well for Kimberly Purtell’s ingenious lighting, which got to the crux of a show that’s puckish and persuasive about the notion of the “unidentified,” whether flying objects or aliens. 

Monday’s celebratory bash at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre — hosted in sprightly fashion by actor Mathew Hulshof (nominated for his performance in the Citadel’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly) and production manager/ artistic director Gina Puntil — followed the initiative by Toronto’s Dora Awards: this year’s edition marks the first time in Sterling history that all acting categories are gender-neutral. Instead leading and supporting Sterlings are divided between Comedy and Drama, as identified by jurors.

Vanessa Sabourin in 19 Weeks, Northern Light/ Azimuth Theatres. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

In the end, three of the four performance Sterlings went to women. In Drama, top honours went to Vanessa Sabourin for her starring performance in Northern Light’s provocative 19 Weeks and Bobbi Goddard for her supporting work as the feisty doomed sister of the title protagonist in What A Young Wife Ought To Know, Hannah Moscovitch’s newly topical play at Theatre Network.

Both comedy performance Sterlings went to Citadel shows. Made In Italy, Farren Timoteo’s affectionate, and agile, starring performance in his multi-character memoir of growing up in a loud, fractious Italian family, garnered him the leading role Sterling. Top honours in a comedy supporting role went to Colleen Wheeler for her sensationally funny performance as the snappish, perpetual-motion campaign manager in the Citadel’s two new Kat Sandler political comedies The Party and The Candidate, which ran simultaneously with the same aerobic 10-actor cast catapulting between different Citadel theatres every performance.

Farren Timoteo, Made In Italy. Photo by Murray Mitchell.

In the end, of some 28 nominations (the most of any company by a long shot), the Citadel took home four Sterlings. Set and costume awards went to large-scale productions at Edmonton’s largest playhouse, the former to Cory Sincennes’s design for Matilda the witty Broadway musical wrested from the Roald Dahl novel and the latter to Dana Osborne’s lavish period costumes for the holiday rom-com Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly, which returned us to the Regency world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Hunter Cardinal, Lake of the Strangers. Photo supplied.

In the particularly competitive new play category that included the Kat Sandler comedies,  Stewart Lemoine’s The Finest of Strangers and two plays spun from real-life history, The Empress and the Prime Minister at Theatre Network and Neil Grahn’s The Comedy Company at Shadow Theatre, the honours went to Lake of the Strangers. The funny and heartbreaking coming-of-age memoir by the brother/sister team of Jacquelyn Cardinal and Hunter Cardinal (and starring the latter) — two young brothers growing up on a First Nations reserve, setting forth on their last summer adventure together — marked a debut collaboration between Naheyawin and Fringe Theatre Adventures.

One of the season’s most intriguing multi-disciplinary initiatives, Trevor Schmidt’s Northern Light/ Good Women Dance Collective collaboration on The Cardiac Shadow, was recognized in Katrina Beatty’s Sterling for outstanding multi-media design.

Songs My Mother Never Sung Me, Dave Clarke’s ingenious new coming-of-age musical about a hearing son growing up with a deaf mother, dominated the theatre for young audiences categories — with Sterling nods for Concrete Theatre’s production, Luc Tellier’s performance as the son poised between worlds and desperate to reconcile them, and Clarke’s score.

Patricia Cerra, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron, Mathew Hulshot in A Lesson in Brio, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

The jurors awarded the five Fringe Sterlings to four shows from last summer’s giant festival, including outstanding production to Bradley Moss’s account of The Zoo Story, and outstanding new work to Stewart Lemoine’s A Lesson in Brio. 

Fringe executive director Adam Mitchell is the recipient of the outstanding achievement in production Sterling named for the legendary Margaret Mooney, with Alastair Elliot taking home the Ross Hill Sterling for career achievement in production. Both are supremely versatile multi-taskers. Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman, whose galvanizing multi-decade leadership in arts education has had such an indelible impact on the scene here and across the country, were saluted with the Sterling for outstanding contribution to Edmonton theatre. By now their inspiration extends across generations of young artists.       

And here they are, the Sterling Awards for 2018-2019: 

Outstanding Production of a Play: We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network/A Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre for Performing Arts Production)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding New Play (Award to Playwright): Lake of the Strangers by Jacquelyn Cardinal & Hunter Cardinal (Naheyawin/Fringe Theatre Adventures)

Outstanding Director : Dave Horak, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Drama: Vanessa Sabourin, 19 weeks (Northern Light Theatre/Azimuth Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Comedy: Farren Timoteo, Made in Italy (Western Canada Theatre/Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Drama: Bobbi Goddard, What a Young Wife Ought to Know (Theatre Network)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Comedy: Colleen Wheeler, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Set Design: Cory Sincennes, Matilda (Citadel Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/Arts Club Theatre)

Outstanding Costume Design: Dana Osborne, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Lighting Design: Kimberly Purtell, We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network/A Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre for Performing Arts Production)

Outstanding Multi-Media Design: Katrina Beatty, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre/Good Women Dance Collective)

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Dave Clarke, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Musical Director: Janice Flower, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Good Women Dance Collective, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre/Good Women Dance Collective)

Outstanding Individual Achievement in Production: Ariel Spanier, Technical Director

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre for Young Audiences: Luc Tellier, Actor, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Production: The Zoo Story (Bedlam Theatre Concern)

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): A Lesson in Brio by Stewart Lemoine (Teatro la Quindicina)

Outstanding Fringe Director: Mieko Ouchi, Concord Floral (10 out of 12 Productions)

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Drama: Collin Doyle, The Zoo Story (Bedlam Theatre Concern)

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Comedy: Jason Hardwick, Don’t Frown at the Gown (Guys in Disguise)

The Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration: Adam Mitchell

The Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production: Alastair Elliot

Outstanding Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton: Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman

 

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Strangers till they’re not: one last chance to see A Likely Story at Teatro

A LIkely Story, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“You are a stranger though,” says a character, musing on whether to lay out her life conundrum to someone she’s just met in an unspecified place that turns out to be … a train station. “Ah, who isn’t?” is the rejoinder.

That’s the thing about theatre: people you haven’t met before invite you into their world, in all its imaginative possibilities.

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I’m so late coming to this, my theatre-loving friends; sorry, I’ve been laid up for a couple of weeks. But I wanted you to know that you still have a chance, but only one alas — tonight! —  to catch the light-hearted but very moving new Stewart Lemoine comedy that opens the new Teatro La Quindicina summer season at the Varscona.

A Likely Story, with its cheeky double-jointed title, either affirmative or skeptical, is all about the way stories get made, how characters set forth on “journeys” (as a much-used theatre metaphor has it) and as travellers find their way to destinations they hadn’t booked in advance. (stories aren’t the booking.com of narrative). And how, unhinged from prescribed logic and pre-ordained goals, they discover each other, and themselves, in exploring not what has already happened (theatre choked with exposition) or what will happen (leave that to speculative fiction), but what could happen.

As the mysterious and amusing Karl (Jeff Haslam) tells us in a sassy prologue about prologues, “sometimes it’s best when we all discover such things together….” Exactly.

That, in a nutshell is the fun of watching characters and their stories emerge from the anonymous strangers we meet at the outset of A Likely Story in the location that turns out to be a train station. The five-member Teatro acting ensemble is superb, led by Haslam as a wry intermittent presence who urges forward motion not through exposition but a succession of signature cocktails.

To Mathew Hulshof falls the delicious challenge of playing everyone the travellers meet in Europe, Salamanca to Gdansk. And he is just exceptional. You’ll enjoy the charm of Rachel Bowron, Jenny McKillop and Vincent Forcier, too, all so dexterous at floating Lemoine’s literate and highly amusing asides or amplifications, on everything from Baltic amber to obscure Castilian dances.

Endings aren’t final, says A Likely Story. Like the characters they propel themselves past resolutions that you feel are bound to be temporary, past the curtain call, into a future of which you are a part-owner. 

This is Lemoine at his most experimental, and playful. Do yourself a favour tonight.

Tickets: teatroq.com.

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