Going, Going, Gone! a sparkly new Teatro screwball from Jana O’Connor, reviewed

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Rachel Bowron in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina! Photo by Mat Busby.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“I can explain….”

Just guessing, but those three words have sent more screwballs hurtling into comedy space than any other phrase in the lexicon, including “I’ll get the door.”

Every time you hear them in Going, Going, Gone!, a sparkly, appealingly warm-hearted new 30s-style screwball by sketch and improv comedy star Jana O’Connor, its escalating tower of lies teeters crazily. In Teatro La Quindicina’s premiere production, directed by Dave Horak, our cautious, serious-minded, habit-bound hero is realizing, with some alarm, that while he’s become “inadvertently engaged” to one woman, he’s on a madcap impromptu adventure with another.

Celina Dean, Andrew MacDonald-Smith in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

Only spontaneity can save him now. And spontaneity isn’t something you can plan for. It’s life as improv. Fun if you’re up for it, the way Edie (Rachel Bowron) is. Terrifying if you’re not, the way nerdy antiques dealer Grant Carlyle (Andrew MacDonald-Smith) isn’t.

The tingly boost you get from screwball comedies is the way they lift the weight of expectation from the shoulders of their characters. And they watch, amused, as inevitability gets replaced by something airier and more effervescent, but in a way more substantial: the sense of possibility.

Horak’s production sets forth that proposition physically in his highly amusing stagecraft of the jaunty, speedy opening scene. It’s wordless but set to sprightly Stephane Grappelli/ Django Reinhardt tunes. 

The set pieces — multiple doors, screens, mirror — exist in both real and painted 2-D versions in Chantel Fortin’s amusing design (lit by Matthew Alan Currie). And they’re assembled with jazzy bustle by Horak’s all-star cast. It comes down to a physical counterpoint duet, on either side of the stage, between a man who is ironing his socks before he puts them on, and a larky woman trying on dresses and stockings, rejecting them and casually flinging them down.

Bowron is enchantingly vivacious as Edie, born to wear red lipstick and say breezily “sorry, I can’t hear you over all those bubbles!”

The official fiancée (Celina Dean, returning to Teatro after a decade’s absence), is high contrast. Betsy is a formidably brittle sort, a chicken factory heiress with a disapproving air. She’s bent on (a) marriage and (b) prospects, namely a more impressive income than Grant’s “little hobby” with “that antique-y thing” can possibly provide. Dean gives her a soprano trill of a laugh that could shatter frozen poultry at 100 paces.

And the wonderful MacDonald-Smith is alert to every comic possibility in a tentative bloke for whom the pursuit of a George III candlestick has the only kind of urgency he has ever experienced — until now. As Grant, a non-swimmer, so to speak, in the sea of romance fumbling his way to stay afloat, MacDonald captures anxious nerdism with sublime expertise. The grimace of sheer horror — even his straw boater seems taken aback — with which he greets the sight of his free-spirit mother (Davina Stewart) in the arms of her Latino lover will make you smile out loud.    

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Rachel Bowron in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

I know, I haven’t told you a thing about what sets O’Connor’s amazingly intricate screwball plot in motion. I can explain…. Just kidding. Anyhow, two objects figure prominently: a George III candlestick and Grant’s Great-Gran’s diamond ring. There’s a moment, a crucial moment, when both go AWOL and order gives at the seams. And it’s a classic of period screwballs, farces, and espionage capers world-wide: two identical suitcases get switched at the train station and leave with the wrong people.

Panic ensues on the part of one of those people — and I leave you to guess which one. 

O’Connor and Horak hang a multi-character plot of surpassing complexity on the  comic virtuosity of one man, Mark Meer. As required, moment to moment, Meer switches out every ‘30s supporting character: bellhop to waiter to Lothario, crusty old rich guy father to prim desk clerk, eight or more. Sometimes, hilariously, he’s two in the same scene, with O’Connor lines to match: “Never fails!” barks Edie’s dad with cheery exasperation, re-entering the scene after the exit of the waiter. “You leave the table, the waiter comes….”

The most riotous of all is Meer as a gravel-voiced auctioneer so short he can’t be seen over the podium. There’s a laugh-out-loud fight scene I won’t spoil for you.

It’s not a quickie play: the panic takes time and scenes get played out at length. People say “I can explain” … and then they actually do. So you’ll have time to savour the fun of Leona Brausen’s assembly of ’30s costumes: Bowron spends much of the play wearing a bowed polka-dot chapeau that should get its own curtain call.

At the heart, and there is one, of Going, Going, Gone! is unpremeditated self-discovery by a man who has hitherto always ordered the Salisbury steak in restaurants. His gradual, reluctant transformation into a man who’s up for trying the special of the day — without even knowing what it is  — will lighten your heart, and make you laugh. 

And this transformation is surrounded by other discoveries, too. Though parental expectation is a traditional obstacle to happiness in comedy — not to mention a compelling reason for the escalating web of lies — O’Connor in the end has a soft spot for the older generation. The Act I scenes between father and daughter and mother and son change contours in their Act II counterparts.

Adventures, it seems, happen in increments. But as in auctions, there’s a fleeting life-changing moment before the gavel comes down and the candlestick of your dreams goes to someone else, when the cosmic fun quotient is up for grabs.

As its title hints, the show is a short-run proposition (it ends July 1). After that, Gone!. So the moment to enjoy a full-on screwball assault on caution is now.

REVIEW

Going, Going, Gone!

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written by: Jana O’Connor

Directed by: Dave Horak

Starring: Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Rachel Bowron, Celina Dean, Mark Meer, Davina Stewart

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: through July 1

Tickets: 780-433-3399, teatroq.com

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A festive spirit prevails in E-Town tonight: 2 festivals and a screwball comedy set to open

Robert Benz as Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo by Lucas Boutilier.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!”

And then let up later, for heaven’s sake! It’s opening night this very evening for not one but two of Edmonton’s summer arts festivals. AND Teatro La Quindicina’s new screwball comedy.  

It’s comedy night at the 29th annual Freewill Shakespeare Festival which opens the first of its alternating pair of plays in Hawrelak Park: The Merry Wives of Windsor. The kooky comedy happens in a ‘70s disco production directed by Ashley Wright. (It’s rep partner is Marianne Copithorne’s production of the The Merchant of Venice, opening Friday). Merry Wives is on even dates, like tonight, plus all the matinees. Merchant is on odd dates. The full schedule (and tickets): freewillshakespeare.com

And the Found Festival — festivities that take art right out of theatres and into, well, the world — launches its sixth annual  weekend of spontaneous encounters with art in unexpected places tonight. By 5 p.m. you can be listening to local bands at Found headquarters, the Gazebo Park next to Walterdale Theatre in Old Strathcona (83 Ave. and 104th St.). Get yourself some tickets, study the map, have a beer, figure out your evening, and sally forth for discoveries. It’s a lineup full of resourceful experimenters of every artistic persuasion. The schedule is at commongroundarts.ca/found.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Rachel Bowron in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

And at the Varscona (10329 83 Ave.), it’s the Teatro La Quindicina premiere of  Jana O’Connor’s new screwball. Going, Going, Gone! only runs till Canada Day, at which time it will be Gone Gone Gone. It concerns the fortunes, both romantic and professional, of an antiques dealer (Andrew MacDonald-Smith), increasingly beleaguered in both departments. They escalate towards chaos. Tickets: teatroq.com

Also available for your viewing pleasure tonight, a Foote in the Door production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel at La Cité francophone. And Edmonton Musical Theatre’s 40th anniversary revue Don’t Stop Believing: 40 & Fabulous at the Westbury, in the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca).   

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Why stop now? A (newly expanded) theatre quiz for summer! More questions for you!

Ron Pederson and the cast of For The Love of Cynthia, at Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Repair to your deck, clutch a mojito or an iced latte, and muse on the theatre season:

  1. What was the very first play that the Free Will Players produced in Hawrelak Park 29 summers ago?

(a) As You Like It

(b) All’s Well That Ends Well

(c) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(d) A Comedy of Errors

2. Which of the following has never been produced by the Freewill Shakespeare Festival?

(a) Henry IV Part One

(b) Henry V

(c) Troilus and Cressida

(d) Titus Andronicus

3. Which indie theatre brought a Jordan Tannahill play to Edmonton for the first time this season?

(a) The Maggie Tree

(b) Punctuate! Theatre

(c) Broken Toys Theatre

(d) Cardiac Theatre

4. How long has Edmonton celebrated the best in theatre here with Sterling Awards?

(a) 15 years

(b) 25 years

(c) 30 years

(d) 47 years

5. The character Black Stache, in Peter and the Starcatcher, produced this past season at the Citadel, is…

(a) a Marx brother

(b) a pirate

(c) a Stalinist

(d) a trapeze artist

6. Dottie, the heroine of Darrin Hagen’s Tornado Magnet, which was revived at Theatre Network this past season, has a particular attachment to…

(a) her pop-up toaster

(b) her window box of pansies

(c) her 1977 Chevy

(d) her Tupperware collection

7. What substance is at the heart of Catalyst’s Fortune Falls, which premiered this season?

(a) chocolate

(b) perfume

(c) water

(d) cocaine

8. Stupid Fucking Bird is a cheeky contemporary re-mix of which of the following plays?

(a) An Enemy of the People

(b) The Black Swan

(c) Mother Goose: The Musical

(d) The Seagull

9. Chris Craddock’s new feature movie It’s Not My Fault And I Don’t Care Anyway, released this year and starring Alan Thicke, is inspired by his own play called…

(a) Passing The Buck

(b) The Summer of My Amazing Luck

(c) Moving Along

(d) Public Speaking

10. Which new play premiered this past season and revealed an ugly chapter in Edmonton history?

(a) Witch Hunt at the Strand

(b) Sister Sister

(c) Annapurna

(d) Irma Voth

11. Which theatre production this past season assembled creators from six indie companies across the country?

(a) Terror

(b) Fear and Loathing

(c) Anxiety

(d) The Trojan Women

12. Raoul Bhaneja, creator and star of Life, Death And The Blues returned to the Citadel this past season in which of the following? 

(a) Peter and the Starcatcher

(b) Disgraced

(c) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

(d) Crazy For You

13. What master farceur worked 18 vintage Gershwin songs into the musical Crazy For You?

(a) Ray Cooney

(b) Georges Feydeau

(c) Ken Ludwig

(d) Michael Frayn

14. Jesus Christ Superstar, which had a compelling production at the Mayfield this season, started out as a…

(a) concept album

(b) workshop production

(c) poetry collection by T.S. Eliot

(d) novel by Colm Tóibin

15. Cannibalism figured prominently in which of the following productions of last season?

(a) Love’s Labour’s Lost

(b) Star Killing Machine

(c) Bust

(d) The Fall of the House of Atreus

16. Which of the following productions seen last season in Edmonton was not a musical?

(a) Bust

(b) Star Killing Machine

(c) Bonnie and Clyde

(d) Bone Wars

17. The feuding couple in Bone Wars were…

(a) orthopedic surgeons

(b) paleontologists

(c) musical theatre writers

(d) Weimar cabaret puppets

18. In Irma Voth, two oppressed sisters flee the family home and escape to…

(a) Deadrock, Nevada

(b) New York City

(c) Duluth, Minnesota

(d) Mexico City

19. Which of the following musical legends does not appear in Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Ted Dykstra at the Citadel this season?

(a) Elvis Presley

(b) Carl Perkins

(c) Buddy Holly

(d) Jerry Lee Lewis

20. Which of the following productions featured cross-gender casting in the starring role?

(a) Henry V

(b) Stupid Fucking Bird

(c) Irma Voth

(d) Sister Sister

21. Which of the following theatre companies turns 35 this year?

(a) Teatro La Quindicina

(b) Blarney Productions

(c) Die-Nasty

(d) Toy Guns Dance Theatre

22. In which of the following Stewart Lemoine comedies does a common vegetable have unusual prominence?

(a) What Gives?

(b) Cocktails at Pam’s

(c) Witness to a Conga

(d) Caribbean Muskrat

23. Match the designer to the production:

The designers: Chantel Fortin, Alison Yanota, Megan Koshka, Cory Sincennes

The shows: Bust, Witness to a Conga, 9 Parts of Desire, Fortune Falls

24. The characters in 9 Parts of Desire, produced by The Maggie Tree this past season, reflect on…

(a) war

(b) teenage sexuality

(c) the growing opioid crisis

(d) climate change

25. Which of the following does not contain a play within a play?

(a) For The Love of Cynthia

(b) Irma Voth

(c) Stupid Fucking Bird

(d) Art

26. Which of the following has a concert pianist character?

(a) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

(b) Witness to a Conga

(c) Bust

(d) Sense and Sensibility

27. The Preacher, The Princess, And A Crow, which premiered in an Azimuth production, takes place in…

(a) a bird sanctuary

(b) a church

(c) an apartment

(d) a university comparative literature department

28. Which of the following plays contains a character named Joyous?

(a) The Believers

(b) What Gives?

(c)  Star Killing Machine

(d) Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes

29. Fire played a crucial role in which of the following?

(a) Cocktails at Pam’s

(b) The Preacher, The Princess, And A Crow

(c) Bonnie & Clyde

(d) Bust

30. At which of the season’s productions did you have the most fun?

Just kidding. There’s no wrong answer, my friends.

No peeking in advance! The answers: 1 (d), 2 (a,c), 3 (d), 4 (c), 5 (b), 6 (d), 7 (a), 8 (d), 9 (d), 10 (a), 11 (c), 12 (b), 13 (c), 14 (a), 15 (d), 16 (a), 17 (b),  18 (d), 19 (c), 20 (a), 21 (a), 22 (b), 23 Chantel Fortin and Witness to a Conga, Alison Yanota and 9 Parts of Desire, Megan Koshka and Fortune Falls, Cory Sincennes and Bust, 24 (a), 25 (d), 26 (b), 27 (c), 28 (a), 29 (d), 30 (a, b, c, d) All 30 correct? Congrats, you never stay home! 15 correct? Congrats, you are no couch potato! Less than 5 correct? You really need to get out more. This is a live theatre town. And you are missing out!

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A (newly expanded) theatre quiz in honour of summertime!

Luc Tellier and Kristi Hansen in Star Killing Machine. Photo by Ryan Parker.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Repair to your deck, clutch a mojito or an iced latte, and muse on the theatre season:

  1. What was the very first play that the Free Will Players produced in Hawrelak Park 29 summers ago?

(a) As You Like It

(b) All’s Well That Ends Well

(c) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(d) A Comedy of Errors

2. Which of the following has never been produced by the Freewill Shakespeare Festival?

(a) Henry IV Part One

(b) Henry V

(c) Troilus and Cressida

(d) Titus Andronicus

3. Which indie theatre brought a Jordan Tannahill play to Edmonton for the first time this season?

(a) The Maggie Tree

(b) Punctuate! Theatre

(c) Broken Toys Theatre

(d) Cardiac Theatre

4. How long has Edmonton celebrated the best in theatre here with Sterling Awards?

(a) 15 years

(b) 25 years

(c) 30 years

(d) 47 years

5. The character Black Stache, in Peter and the Starcatcher, produced this past season at the Citadel, is…

(a) a Marx brother

(b) a pirate

(c) a Stalinist

(d) a trapeze artist

6. Dottie, the heroine of Darrin Hagen’s Tornado Magnet, which was revived at Theatre Network this past season, has a particular attachment to…

(a) her pop-up toaster

(b) her window box of pansies

(c) her 1977 Chevy

(d) her Tupperware collection

7. What substance is at the heart of Catalyst’s Fortune Falls, which premiered this season?

(a) chocolate

(b) perfume

(c) water

(d) cocaine

8. Stupid Fucking Bird is a cheeky contemporary re-mix of which of the following plays?

(a) An Enemy of the People

(b) The Black Swan

(c) Mother Goose: The Musical

(d) The Seagull

9. Chris Craddock’s new feature movie It’s Not My Fault And I Don’t Care Anyway, released this year and starring Alan Thicke, is inspired by his own play called…

(a) Passing The Buck

(b) The Summer of My Amazing Luck

(c) Moving Along

(d) Public Speaking

10. Which new play premiered this past season and revealed an ugly chapter in Edmonton history?

(a) Witch Hunt at the Strand

(b) Sister Sister

(c) Annapurna

(d) Irma Voth

11. Which theatre production this past season assembled creators from six indie companies across the country?

(a) Terror

(b) Fear and Loathing

(c) Anxiety

(d) The Trojan Women

12. Raoul Bhaneja, creator and star of Life, Death And The Blues returned to the Citadel this past season in which of the following? 

(a) Peter and the Starcatcher

(b) Disgraced

(c) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

(d) Crazy For You

13. What master farceur worked 18 vintage Gershwin songs into the musical Crazy For You?

(a) Ray Cooney

(b) Georges Feydeau

(c) Ken Ludwig

(d) Michael Frayn

14. Jesus Christ Superstar, which had a compelling production at the Mayfield this season, started out as a…

(a) concept album

(b) workshop production

(c) poetry collection by T.S. Eliot

(d) novel by Colm Tóibin

15. Cannibalism figured prominently in which of the following productions of last season?

(a) Love’s Labour’s Lost

(b) Star Killing Machine

(c) Bust

(d) The Fall of the House of Atreus

16. Which of the following productions seen last season in Edmonton was not a musical?

(a) Bust

(b) Star Killing Machine

(c) Bonnie and Clyde

(d) Bone Wars

17. The feuding couple in Bone Wars were…

(a) orthopedic surgeons

(b) paleontologists

(c) musical theatre writers

(d) Weimar cabaret puppets

18. In Irma Voth, two oppressed sisters flee the family home and escape to…

(a) Deadrock, Nevada

(b) New York City

(c) Duluth, Minnesota

(d) Mexico City

19. Which of the following musical legends does not appear in Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Ted Dykstra at the Citadel this season?

(a) Elvis Presley

(b) Carl Perkins

(c) Buddy Holly

(d) Jerry Lee Lewis

20. Which of the following productions featured cross-gender casting in the starring role?

(a) Henry V

(b) Stupid Fucking Bird

(c) Irma Voth

(d) Sister Sister

21. Which of the following theatre companies turns 35 this year?

(a) Teatro La Quindicina

(b) Blarney Productions

(c) Die-Nasty

(d) Toy Guns Dance Theatre

22. In which of the following Stewart Lemoine comedies does a common vegetable have unusual prominence?

(a) What Gives?

(b) Cocktails at Pam’s

(c) Witness to a Conga

(d) Caribbean Muskrat

23. Match the designer to the production:

The designers: Chantel Fortin, Alison Yanota, Megan Koshka, Cory Sincennes

The shows: Bust, Witness to a Conga, 9 Parts of Desire, Fortune Falls

24. The characters in 9 Parts of Desire, produced by The Maggie Tree this past season, reflect on…

(a) war

(b) teenage sexuality

(c) the growing opioid crisis

(d) climate change

25. Which of the following does not contain a play within a play?

(a) For The Love of Cynthia

(b) Irma Voth

(c) Stupid Fucking Bird

(d) Art

26. Which of the following has a concert pianist character?

(a) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

(b) Witness to a Conga

(c) Bust

(d) Sense and Sensibility

27. The Preacher, The Princess, And A Crow, which premiered in an Azimuth production, takes place in…

(a) a bird sanctuary

(b) a church

(c) an apartment

(d) a university comparative literature department

28. Which of the following plays contains a character named Joyous?

(a) The Believers

(b) What Gives?

(c)  Star Killing Machine

(d) Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes

29. Fire played a crucial role in which of the following?

(a) Cocktails at Pam’s

(b) The Preacher, The Princess, And A Crow

(c) Bonnie & Clyde

(d) Bust

 

30. At which of the season’s productions did you have the most fun?

Just kidding. There’s no wrong answer, my friends.

No peeking in advance! The answers: 1 (d), 2 (a,c), 3 (d), 4 (c), 5 (b), 6 (d), 7 (a), 8 (d), 9 (d), 10 (a), 11 (c), 12 (b), 13 (c), 14 (a), 15 (d), 16 (a), 17 (b),  18 (d), 19 (c), 20 (a), 21 (a), 22 (b), 23 Chantel Fortin and Witness to a Conga, Alison Yanota and 9 Parts of Desire, Megan Koshka and Fortune Falls, Cory Sincennes and Bust, 24 (a), 25 (d), 26 (b), 27 (c), 28 (a), 29 (d), 30 (a, b, c, d) All 30 correct? Congrats, you never stay home! 15 correct? Congrats, you are no couch potato! Less than 5 correct? You really need to get out more. This is a live theatre town. And you are missing out!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Found Festival 2016. Photo by Mat Simpson.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Unexpected things happen when you take theatre out of theatres. 

And we have a festival for that. The Found Festival returns Thursday to Old Strathcona for a sixth annual weekend of strange and surprising encounters, up close, with art and artists — in places you never expected to meet them.

You could find yourself in Mill Creek Ravine, for example, wandering through a magical dancing Ukrainian folktale. Or on a Whyte Avenue rooftop watching a play about forgiveness and revenge. Or in a hotel room paying tribute to the late great Leonard Cohen. Or having a dance/theatre experience in the glass public washrooms on the corner of Whyte and Gateway.

Or this: you could have a one-on-one eyeball-to-eyeball, encounter with a brave playwright up-and-comer who will create something just for you, personally, on the spot. Art doesn’t come more attentive to its audience than that.

From 40 proposals, artistic director Beth Dart, in her second year finding herself at Found, has assembled “a broad spectrum” of artists, some 120 of them of every stripe,  persuasion, and age from 19 to 60. What they share is the experimental impulse. The festivities dismiss the usual boundaries between art and its audiences like so much poplar fluff on a summer breeze.

“We bring art to you!” says Dart, whose own innovative Catch The Keys productions specializes in site-specific performance events in found spaces. “It’s exciting! Once you take the work out of the theatre, you erase the normal rules.. It’s totally up to the artist to re-define the relationship with the audience.…”

Sometimes that relationship is on the move: Short Girls Productions’ In Shoes takes you on a walking memory tour.  Sometimes it’s unnervingly static. Playwright David Walker will lifestream his life for 72 hours as he sit, holed up in a borrowed apartment, writing a play. Then you can see the premiere live on location at 7 p.m. Sunday. “It sounds absolutely terrifying!” declares Dart cheerfully.

And sometimes, it’s a one-off experience custom-made for an audience of one. As Dart concedes, laughing, the Admit One series is “not really a sustainable concept…. It’s hard to justify but so worth it!” for both artist and audience.

Balloon Lending Library, Found Festival 2016. Photo by Mat Simpson.

There are “poetry slams,” plays, and pop-up theatre. There’s music: 30 local bands, curated by Double Lunch Productions and Sweaty Palms, will play in the Gazebo Park, Found Festival headquarters, in the course of the four-day weekend. There’s free entertainment of every sort. There’s beer. And there are food trucks. 

“It’s much the same spirit as the Fringe,” says Dart. “Come and take a chance on something!”

WHAT TO FIND AT FOUND (half a dozen discovery possibilities to be intrigued by)

The Three Ladies: Lady Vanessa Cordona, a Colombian immigrant with a far-ranging skill set, has fashioned what Dart calls “an extremely personal poetic play, with support from a Colombian dance troupe. “It’s a ‘spiritual remedy’,” says Dart of a piece that explores healing from the trauma of sexual assault and civil war. “It’s a beautiful positive piece!” It happens in the back alley behind Meat and Gravity Pope.

Strife: a new play — the beginning version of a longer one —  from the ever-adventurous playwright Matthew MacKenzie (Bust, Bone Wars). Murder and the alt-right are involved. Discover three actors — which is three times the size of the audience — are on the roof of the building (10816A 82 Ave.) that houses the Northern Light Theatre offices. Patrick Linden directs the Pyretic production in the festival’s Admit One series.

Glass Washrooms: Niuboi’s dance theatre exploration of the tension between public and private for the gender non-conformist. It happens for 25 people at a time in the public washrooms on Whyte Ave. and 103 St.

Once A Champion, Always A Champion: Star musician Brett Miles explores the fascinating pre-Edmonton Eskimo career of his illustrious athlete father Rollie Miles. It’s on location at the Rollie Miles Athletic Field (10480 73 Ave.).

The Author Will See You Now: in this “installation durational piece,” as Dart puts it, playwright Bevin Dooley will be ensconced for at least six hours every festival day at the Wee Book Inn on Whyte. And she’ll create something — a short play? some prose? a poem? —for you. 

Before The River: Larissa Pohoreski’s inspiration in this five-performer folkloric piece is to take you through Mill Creek Ravine on the Eve of Kupalo, by Ukrainian legend the time when the mortal and spirit worlds are closest together. Half the audience of 30 experiences the story going forward, half going back, explains Dart. At moments, the two groups cross paths. “The ravine becomes a character.”

PREVIEW

6th Annual Found Festival

Produced by: Common Ground Arts Society

Where: Gazebo Park, 83 Ave. and 104 St. and assorted spaces in Old Strathcona and a bit beyond

Running: Thursday through Sunday

Tickets: yeglive.ca, in Gazebo Park, or at the door 

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Once more unto the park dear friends: the 29th Freewill Shakespeare Festival draws nigh

 

John Wright and Belinda Cornish in The Merchant of Venice, Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Ryan Parker.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The love of summer Shakespeare runs deep in this town.

One morning last week, the guest director at this year’s 29th annual Freewill Shakespeare Festival arrived for rehearsal at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. And there was a coyote, hanging out in an aisle. Late for an audition perhaps?  Early for a preview?

In 29 summers of camping out with Shakespeare in the great outdoors, the audience demographic for Free Will’s boldly physical, accessible productions has included chattering squirrels, squawking gulls, screaming jays, ducks, a voluble troupe of crows, a family of weasels, and a memorable orange oriole (as identified definitively by Julien Arnold, a leading company member and bird-watcher extraordinaire). Mosquitoes don’t count. 

Free Will, the troupe that’s on a first-name basis with the world’s starriest resident playwright, is back in the park — with two alternating high-contrast productions, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Merchant of Venice.

And Ashley Wright and Marianne Copithorne, the directors of this year’s alternating festival shows, are on location at a picnic table — the former giving off a distinct air of after-shave Off, the latter unwrapping new repellent wipes — to discuss a pair of plays that, at first glance, couldn’t seem more different. And yet….

“It’s in the strength of the women characters in both” that resonates with Freewill artistic director Copithorne. It’s her second crack at directing Merchant, a “comedy” that sits very uncomfortably in that category. It has become one of the most challenging in the entire Shakespeare canon with its depiction of Shylock the Jewish money lender and the casual bigotry of his Gentile tormenters. And clever, agile, strong-willed Portia is at the heart of both the romantic events of the play, and (disguised as a lawyer) the legal loophole that shuts down Shylock’s “pound of flesh” revenge. John Wright is back in the role he  occupied in Copthorne’s 2004 production, with Belinda Cornish as Portia.

Robert Benz as Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo by Lucas Boutilier.

As for The Merry Wives — Shakespeare’s exuberantly oddball 1597 comedy in which Falstaff and his cronies suddenly appear in middle-class suburbia (and a variety of disguises) — the action of the play is engineered by two resourceful housewives. They take revenge against the dissipated, preposterously self-regarding Falstaff, who’s convinced himself that both ladies are smitten with him. In the process of their plotting, a value-added bonus, the fun-loving Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page get to torture the former’s choleric, irrationally jealous husband with doubts.

John Ullyatt as Mr. Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Lucas Boutilier

Women rule Windsor. Mrs. Page’s daughter Anne turns out to have a sharp mind of her own when it comes to matrimony; she insists on marrying for love. “There’s feminist bent to it,” says Wright who, like Copithorne, rejects the notion that Shakespeare shortchanged his female characters.

The Free Will production is an outdoor homecoming for Wright, whose memorable turns in the park include a riotous Falstaff in a 2002 James MacDonald production of Merry Wives. Of late, the actor and newly minted U of A directing grad has been doing his summer Shakespeare elsewhere (Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach).

Wright and Merry Wives go back, way back, to a 1994 production in which he played Slender, the dimbulb “hero” of one of the many subplots, and a contender for Shakespeare’s daffiest character. Wright has twice played Falstaff in Vancouver,  most recently last summer in a production set in ‘60s (in Windsor, Ont., with an onstage band, playing country). He loved it, especially since the concept “didn’t overtake the play.”

Wright is back, in the very park where he played Falstaff 15-years ago as an over-ripe vainglorious Hollywood star of the ‘1930s. For his own production of Merry Wives, the play Shakespeare set in small-town middle-class England, Wright says “I’ve gone for 1970s disco. We haven’t changed the words; we haven’t changed the plot points.”

He describes the spirit of the concept: “I remember being 10 years old, and the dads would come me from work on Friday night, and all the parents would end up doing the hustle.” Sound designer Dave Clarke has mined the top hits of the ‘70s, naturally including “anything by Earth Wind and Fire,” laughs Copithorne. “I’m not afraid to admit it. I loved, I still love, disco!”

Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It, Merry Wives, as Wright points out, is a natural for the great outdoors. “Eighty per cent of Act II is outdoors,” he says, of a kooky assortment of events including a duel and a prank fairy revel scene in Windsor Park. As for the interior scenes, they’re set in a bar, the Garter Inn: it’s that kind of play.

Finding an apt time and place for The Merchant of Venice is a tricky business: Copithorne considers it “almost impossible to place the play right now.” Persecutions around the globe have seen to that. Instead she locates the play, as she did her 2004 production, in 1939 Venice. Fascism is on the rise…. People can look back and get perspective; you can see very clearly how this (the events of the play) could happen.”

Copithorne argues that “it’s not an anti-Semitic play; it’s a play about that.” In Shylock Shakespeare didn’t write a stereotype; “Shakespeare wrote a human being, like he does with all his characters….”  The biggest challenge? “Finding the balance between the comedy, the romance, the serious stuff.”

Wright loves Merry Wives not only for its strong women characters  — “women plotting and making fun of men!” — but “a real sense of domesticity that you don’t find in any other of the plays.”

The challenge, he says, is what to do about “all this crazy characters, all those colloquialisms, the subplots, the local jokes.”  A joke about Banbury cheese? An incomprehensible sequence with Germans, and stolen horses that aren’t really stolen? Huh? Wright smiles affably. “You look at them, and then you cut, cut, cut!”

What on earth are Falstaff and his cronies from the Henry IV plays doing out in the countryside amongst the townspeople of Windsor anyhow? “Who the hell are these people?” laughs Copithorne who played Mistress Quickly to Wright’s Falstaff in 2002. “The Adams Family?”

She and Wright allude to the traditional story, possibly apocryphal, that Queen Elizabeth herself personally commissioned this, “the most farcical of Shakespeare plays,” because she wanted to see Falstaff in love.

Who wouldn’t? You’ll be seeing that raucous hilarity starting Thursday and all even dates (and matinees). And on alternate nights, as the light fades to summer dusk, you’ll see what happens when a man nearly inured to the casual cruelties of his world is pushed too far.

PREVIEW

The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice

2017 Freewill Shakespeare Festival

Directed by: Ashley Wright, Marianne Copithorne

Starring: John Wright, Robert Benz, Belinda Cornish, Nadien Chu, Cayley Thomas

Where: Heritage Amphitheatre, Hawrelak Park

Running: Thursday through July 16, with Merry Wives on even dates and all matinees, and Merchant the odd dates. Full schedule at freewillshakespeare.com

Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca) or at the gate

 

 

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For the love of the screwball: Going, Going, Gone! by comedy star Jana O’Connor at Teatro La Quindicina

playwright Jana O’Connor and the cast of Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls@12thnight.ca

The hero of Going, Going, Gone! Jana O’Connor’s new 30s-style screwball comedy, is an antiques dealer: “shy, uptight, uncommitted, afraid to make a wrong move in life” as the amused playwright describes him.

Everything, in short, that his creator is not.

There is something pure screwball — a zest for spontaneity? a delight in surprising turns? — in the escalating logic of the comedy career that’s brought O’Connor to the premiere of her first full-length mainstage comedy.

This is happening at Teatro La Quindicina. Of course. It only makes sense. If you had an original ‘30s screwball comedy burning a hole in your pocket, as O’Connor did — first a scene about a suitcase mix-up, then a first act in which the hero’s pursuit of vintage candlesticks begins to unravel his life — really, where else would you take it? Teatro, after all, is the natural home for comedy of every shade and degree of intricacy. And O’Connor and Teatro go back; their history together has a screwball vein running through it.

Celina Dean, Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Rachel Bowron in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

The actor/ improviser/ playwright made time for chai last week between comedy genres, so to speak. Her day had already included TV: she’d been holed up writing sketch comedy with the all-star team that creates and stars in APTN’s Caution: May Contain Nuts

In the  evening it would move on to radio. CBC Radio’s The Irrelevant Show, the sketch comedy hit for which O’Connor writes and performs, would be on the Maclab stage with a best-of show, as headliners in Rapid Fire Theatre’s Improvaganza comedy festival.

“This time last year, I’d been thinking ‘what’s my dream next step?” grins O’Connor. “Yup, writing for TV. Visual jokes! Finally!” She’d already gotten a gig “punching up jokes” in Caution: May Contain Nuts scripts, a specialized branch of dramaturgy she’s dubbed “com-iturgy.” 

O’Connor’s TV debut as a performer? A Caution: May Contain Nuts sketch in which she was a mom in an Old West town, offering orange slices to kids who are having a fight,” she says. Dana Andersen, directing that episode, was so amused that Orange Slice Mom turned into a recurring part on the spot.

So the brave new world of TV writing, with its hidden portals and secret passwords, has opened at last. “I didn’t see it coming! I’m so thankful for it!” beams O’Connor, who retains an appealing wide-eyed appreciation for mentorship. “It’s so different from radio or theatre…. The stage directions don’t tell the actors what to do!”

“Finally I’m at a place in my career where I have confidence to come into a new field and not feel like I can’t handle it,” she says cheerfully.

There’s an appealing spirit of improvisation and free-association about O’Connor; she embraces turns in conversation with delight: “interesting you should say that!…” It seems to apply to her own arrival in showbiz, which has a certain hilarity all its own.

As is the case with so many theatre artists in this town, first came improv at Rapid Fire. Then came The 11:02 Show, where Teatro’s Stewart Lemoine and Jeff Haslam took a turn directing and spotted her unusual comic talent. That’s where The Irrelevant Show creator Peter Brown saw her. And that’s where she met her future husband actor/playwright Chris Bullough. “The Varscona,” she declares emphatically, “is where EVERYTHING happened for me.”

Back to Bullough. “It was a scene about a baker. My character has feelings for him, and I was being dramatic, pretending to rip my shirt open to show my heart.” She’d forgotten her shirt had snaps instead of buttons and it flew open, much to her moritification. “Everyone in the theatre saw; the only one who didn’t was Chris! He had his back to me, downstage.”

Originally there was a whimsical stab at standard employment. “Did I tell you about my little foray in ‘visual communication’? Yes, I took window display at MacEwan, and worked in retail.” She does one of those silent “I know, eh” eye rolls, amused by the memory of those tableaux vivants. Her first job, at Tip Top Tailors, came with so many instructions from head office that she quit on the spot.

Then, as she explains, O’Connor got a job  — at the place she went to for advice about getting a job: when does that happen? At the Youth Employment Centre O’Connor and Mark Meer, who’d met just out of high school whilst improvising,  developed a two-hander about career-planning; it had a game show concept.  And they took Game Show on the road to questing youth across the province. O’Connor smiles. “It reinforced the idea that there is no path, it’s a meandering sum of all of you.” 

She has fond memories, though, of road trips through Alberta with the laid-back amiable Meer, “listening to music, riffing on Simpsons references.”

O’Connor’s MainStage Teatro debut was in the 2008 Stewart Lemoine screwball A Rocky Night For His Nibs, in which she played the perky mistress of a University of Calgary prof arriving at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, AB. for a dirty weekend. Meer played a cab driver.

Davina Stewart, Mark Meer in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

 

“Everything significant and important in my career, Mark has been part of,” grins O’Connor. It is only right and proper that he would be in the cast of her new screwball comedy. In Going, Going, Gone!, fresh from the title role in Teatro’s revival of The Salon of the Talking Turk, he is Other Man — an eight-character assignment that includes a bellhop, a train porter on the Boston/New York line, a father, a lover of the hero’s mother, a gardener and (as the press release says mysteriously) “the world’s smallest auctioneer.”

In the O’Connor archive are short plays. Fringe audiences in 2013 saw her Lonely Hearts, a startling anatomy of a serial killer. Before that, with her Panties Production pals, she wrote a Jane Austen spoof called Nonsense and Insensibility. For Concrete Theatre, Early Bloomer, O’Connor’s charmer of a play for kids about being a misfit, has been touring again.

Encouragement and support from the Teatro gang has threaded its way through all of it, she says. And the premiere production of Going, Going, Gone!, directed by Dave Horak of Edmonton Actors Theatre, has been assembled in a way she calls (with exclamation mark) “deluxe!”  

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Rachel Bowron in Going, Going, Gone!, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo supplied.

For the character “Drew was always the voice in my head,” O’Connor says of  “the wonderful comedic leading man” Andrew MacDonald-Smith. Fresh from a double-city run of the Citadel’s Crazy For You, he stars as Grant Carlyle, the increasingly beleaguered antiques dealer, opposite his own life partner Rachel Bowron. She’s the blithe adventurer, “carefree and bold,” who introduces havoc into his well-ordered life, and “they find themselves increasingly tied together, having to invent lies. It unlocks something in both of them…. In a way it’s two people who have found the right person to improvise together! I told Chris yesterday ‘I think I’ve written a play that is a tribute to … us!’”

Is Going, Going, Gone! a Teatro show? “I hope so!” says O’Connor, who’s been in an assortment of Lemoine comedies since Rocky Night. “Stewart has an amazing way with language, and dialogue.  Everything wonderful comes from that!”

Com-iturgical skills, incidentally, might be hereditary. Six-year-old daughter Olive came to a live taping of The Irrelevant Show in April. At a particularly hilarious moment, Olive turned to the producer, and explained helpfully “It’s funny because….” With reasons. Olive’s 18-month-old baby brother Gus seems to have the comedy gene too, since he instinctively knows to laugh at a punch line.

“Having that ability to laugh at yourself, and know the world can be so ridiculous…. It’s stood me in good stead.”

PREVIEW

Going, Going, Gone!

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written by: Jana O’Connor

Directed by: Dave Horak

Starring: Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Rachel Bowron, Celina Dean, Davina Stewart, Mark Meer

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Thursday through July 1

Tickets: 780-433-3399, teatroq.com   

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Prying opera out of its standard choices: Opera Nuova’s 2017 festival

Jessica Kos-Whicher in Eugene Onegin, Opera Nuova Festival of Opera and Musical Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The performance venue is unusual. The stagecraft is unusual. And there’s this: I think we can safely call the Opera Nuova production of Eugene Onegin (opening Thursday at the west end Oasis Centre) a moving experience. In advance.

As the company’s exuberant artistic director Kim Mattice Wanat describes the traffic of her intimate production, “we’re moving the audience and the orchestra three times during the evening…. For the first 23 minutes, we’re outside in the courtyard garden. Then we move to the ballroom.” And then, we move again.

It’s one thing for theatre audiences to rub shoulders with actors in houses, backstages or warehouses, as we do in Sleep No More, say, or in Tiny Bear Jaws’ recent Nextfest house party production Everyone We Know Will Be There. But opera up close? Eye contact with double-bass players?

The Opera Nuova Opera and Music Theatre Festival, which launched last week with an obscure Gilbert and Sullivan, Patience, at Fort Edmonton’s Capitol Theatre, continues this week with the 1879 opera Tchaikovsky culled from the Alexander Pushkin verse novel Eugene Onegin.

And it also includes the wildly conventional, rarely performed Leoš Janaček opera Cunning Little Vixen. Directed by Brian Deedrick who calls it (with gusto) “a really cool and wacky piece!” it runs June 23 to 29 at Festival Place in Sherwood Park. It shares that  venue with the festival production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

Most of the ensemble Mattice Wanat has gathered for Opera Nuova’s 17-year-old festival — 60 emerging artists from across the country on the brink of pro careers — have multiple assignments, usually three shows, in this year’s edition of the festivities. “I do the auditions with open ears,” says Mattice Wanat of her fall auditions in 11 cities, where some 132 hopefuls showed up. “And I let the artists inspire me as to the (programming) choices.”

Eugene Onegin, Opera Nuova Festival of Opera and Music Theatre. Photo supplied.

This year is the fourth that’s included musicals in the festival roster, a response to the realities of the profession. “Most opera companies are programming one classic musical per season,” as she points out. “We should be training people to be flexible, to cross between genres….” In spoken dialogue and in physical eloquence, musical theatre is a challenge for opera singers.

Her Eugene Onegin, done without theatrical lighting, in Russian and without surtitles, is a way to dislodge opera from its formal conventions. “It’ll feel vey immersive,” she says of the story of the jaded Russian aristocrat of the title, who spurs the open heart of Tatyana, who falls in love with him. Scenes segué into each other with motifs delivered by “a single thread of instruments.” And you might find yourself two feet from Tatyana (Jessica Kos-Whicher, in the role made famous by Renée Fleming) as she pours our her feelings for Onegin in the letter.   

“Bold choices” are what’s required to rejuvenate the form. “Opera needs to be a visceral experience for people,” declares Mattice Wanat. “Especially nowadays, it’s what we’re attracted to, what we’re longing for. Our lives are so tuned inward…. We have to figure out how to get the audience to not sit back.” Hence her production: People will feel freer, less confined. You get a glass of wine and move on!”

Cunning Little Vixen, Opera Nuova Opera and Music Theatre Festival. Photo supplied.

As for Cunning Little Vixen, a 1924 opera by the Czech composer Janaček inspired by a newspaper comic strip, consider the intriguing oddity that the lead characters include one human (The Forester), a couple of foxes, and a blue dragonfly, “the mystic spirit of the forest,” as director Deedrick puts it. “If most operas are populated by princesses, knights, dukes, this one has eight fox babies, countless chickens, bears, woodpeckers, jays, foxes…. The single most human scene is the wooing scene between the fox and the vixen.” Deedrick laughs. “I love the fact there’s a cigarette-smoking fox!” 

His cast of two dozen species-crossers, enhanced by the addition of three dancers from Citie Ballet, “is mostly wearing fur and feathers!” as he says of a piece that sings to the heart of the harmony between the human and the natural world.

Says Mattice Wanat, “it’s brilliant, fun, and ends under two hours! The costumes alone are worth the ticket price.”

PREVIEW

Opera Nuova Opera and Music Theatre Festival

Running: through June 30 (Eugene Onegin June 15 and 16, Cunning Little Vixen June 23 to 29, Carousel June 24 to 30).

Where: Eugene Onegin at Oasis Centre, 10930 177 St.; Cunning Little Vixen and Carousel at Festival Place, 100 Festival Way, Sherwood Park.

Tickets and full schedule: operanuova.ca

   

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The Citadel’s Beyond the Stage, where theatre, dance, and music collide: the 2017-2018 lineup announced

Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

At the centre of the Citadel’s upcoming Beyond The Stage series, a quartet of innovative mash-ups of theatre, music and dance, is a startling, multi-award-winning production that goes directly to the heart of trauma, shock, grief. 

Betroffenheit, which has stunned audiences on both sides of the Atlantic (and garnered its creators both Olivier and Dora Awards), is the work of the internationally starry Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, and actor/playwright Jonathon Young. And it’s spun from a real-life tragedy in the life of the latter.

The five-member Kidd Pivot/Electric Company troupe arrives on the Shoctor stage March 30, 31, and April 1, 2018. To underline its genre-defiance, Betroffenheit is jointly presented by the Citadel and the Brian Webb Dance Company.

Singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown. Photo by Jay Sansone.

Anais Mitchell, the New York singer-songwriter, whose folk opera album Hadestown is the source of the hit Off-Broadway musical of that name, performs at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in August. As Hadestown is being re-fashioned for Broadway by its creators at the Citadel this fall, Mitchell returns to Edmonton. She’s at the Citadel Club Oct. 20 and 21.

The Beyond The Stage line-up also includes Freedom Singer (Oct. 25 to 29 in the Club). In this theatre documentary,  Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Khari Wendall McClellan, who grew up in Detroit, chronicles, in song and speculative anecdote, the journey of his great-great-great grandmother Kizzy who escaped slavery in the U.S. and came to Canada on the Underground Railroad. The production, directed by Andrew Kushnir of Project: Humanity, was developed with the collaboration of Toronto’s Crow Theatre and Vancouver’s Urban Ink.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which premiered this year at Halifax’s 2b theatre company, is the joint creation of the award-winning playwright Hannah Moscovitch, 2b’s Christian Barry and klezmer folk artist Ben Caplan. The latter plays the emcee in this unclassifiable folktale/concert/play spun from the real-life story of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, Romanian Jews who emigrated to Canada in the early years of the last century. It arrives May 9 to 13, 2018 in the Club.

The BTS Series packages are now on sale at the Citadel box office (780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com). Single tickets are available Aug. 1.

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June is bustin’ out all over (two Carousels spin onto the stage this month)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Foote in the Door Productions. Photo by Nanc Price.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It was never an easy musical — to cast, to act, to sing, to dance, to stage. And its dauntingly dark source, a 1909 play by the Hungarian Ferenc Molnár (Liliom), wasn’t exactly a natural for the chin-up American musical theatre form in 1945. And Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves recognized it at the time.

After all, the hero of Carousel, carnival barker Billy Bigelow, has a violent streak: the boy who meets girl, in that classic romantic scenario, beats his wife, commits suicide during an armed robbery gone wrong, and gets his crack at redemption from beyond the grave. 

With its lustrous and memorable score (If I Loved You) and powerful dramatic arc, Carousel, though, became Rodgers’s favourite collaboration with Hammerstein, by all reports. And this month, Edmonton audiences have not one but two productions to choose from. Yes, indeed, “June is bustin’ out all over,” as the Act I ensemble number has it.

The first of them opens Friday at La Cité francophone, in a production by the enterprising collective Foote in the Door Productions (founded by performers who met at the Citadel’s Foote Theatre School in 2013). The second comes to the Festival Place stage in Sherwood Park June 24, as part of the Opera Nuova’s annual festival of opera and musical theatre.

Foote in the Door director Mary-Ellen Perley has an unusually personal connection with Carousel. It happened to her 12-year-old self, growing up in Sudbury, and remains indelible. “My dad had just died; I was very worried about my mom,” she says of her “brush with You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a climactic song that has entered the repertoire as an anthem of hope after loss.

“The music was a godsend. My mom was a very good pianist…. I went out to a (sheet music) store, looked at the words, and bought her the music. Then I left it on the piano and went off to school. And I hoped that when I got home she’d be at the piano playing it, and not crying….” That’s exactly what happened.

The Stratford production of Carousel of a couple of seasons ago left Perley shattered. “I saw it and was blown away!” she says. When the chance to direct the Foote in the Door production came up, “I approached with a little trepidation: would I ever be able to get through rehearsal without losing it?”

“The story is powerful, the music is very beautiful, the ballet sequences are astonishing…. It’s a big show, and for me a huge learning curve, on so many levels.” She says, “I’ve very very proud of the (21-member) company and the way they’ve e really come together!”  

Set in a late 19th century New England fishing town, Carousel was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s gutsy follow-up to the massive success of their 1943 debut collaboration Oklahoma! which, as Perley points out, “changed the face of the American musical theatre.”

Created during the dying years of World War II, Carousel was in every way a risk for the America’s soon-to-be-premier musical-writing team. And it still seems vividly modern in its exploration of domestic abuse, in the way it expands our notion of what kinds of stories the musical theatre can tell.

“It’s a tragedy,” says Perley, “but there’s hope in the final scenes” where Billy, “a man given to anger and acts of violence,” is allowed to come back to earth, with a chance to do something fine, something redeeming.

Pearly has changed the original setting from the 1880s to 1917 and 1932. “In 1917 the U.S. was just entering the war … and 1932, the Depression, was a tough time to be alive.” says Perley. Both Billy and Julie Jordan, the millworker who finds herself fatally attracted to him, “are misfits in their time.”

People still labouring under the dismissive misapprehension that musical theatre is the lightweight end of the theatrical spectrum, are in for a surprise with this 72-year-old musical, she says. “It’s a tough show. A show about people struggling to make the best of their lives.”

“So, two times of harsh reality, yes, but there’s also a magical element: the world of the real and the world of the imagination!” She advises us, mysteriously, to watch the opening montage attentively. “Then you’ll have an Aha! moment later!”

The Foote in the Door Carousel, directed by Mary-Ellen Perley and choreographed by Ainsley Hillyard and musical direction by Stuart Sladden, runs Friday through June 24 at La Cité francophone, 8627 91 St. It’s produced in partnership with WIN House. Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca).

The Opera Nuova Carousel, directed by Donna Fletcher, runs at Sherwood Park’s Festival Place, 100 Festival Way, June 24 to 30. Tickets: operanuova.ca or festivalplace.ab.ca.

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