When worlds collide: Chris Bullough is feeling the reverb in his new Rig Pig Fantasia. A Fringe preview


Michael Anderson and Dave Horak in Rig Pig Fantasia, Wishbone Theatre. Photo by Laura O’Connor.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“ Here I am,” sighs Chris Bullough wincing slightly over his de-caf last week. “An artist. My artistic career funded by oil. Questioning the ethics of oil production and use.” 

His new play Rig Pig Fantasia, which premieres Friday at the Fringe in a Wishbone Theatre production, is fuelled (so to speak) by that kind of tension. And Bullough is feeling it; even his mop of red hair seems slightly askew. “I feel the hypocrisy of it as I drive around.”

Being conflicted  (and the spirit of full-disclosure) seem built into the Bullough talent. It’s given Edmonton audiences an array of boldly original performances (Richard III for one), and an assortment of new plays and experimental creations (Or The Whale among others) since he graduated from the U of A, first  as an actor, then a director, then a co-founder of a theatre company, Wishbone, with fellow actor/director Michael Peng.   

For one thing, Fort McMurray is Bullough’s home turf; that’s where he grew up, until he came to the big city to study theatre. “I feel such a love, a loyalty, to that community,” says Bullough of a place embedded into the boreal forest that was attacked by the terrible fire of 2016. “I’m both haunted and fascinated by that ancient forest; I’d flip into it on my bike on my way home from school….”

His parents arrived with five-year-old Bullough and his little brother from Thunder Bay, “driven by the downturn of the late 70s early 80s,” fully intending to return to Ontario to build a house. “And we never did.”

“It was an incredibly cosmopolitan and welcoming community,” he says of Fort McMurray. “People from all over the world orphaned by economic circumstances found themselves in that boreal world together…. And in a way, you could choose your family. With people there it was ‘what do you need?’”

The love of the arts? That’s where his was nurtured! “An incredible community theatre…. My drama teacher is still a mentor to this day!”

“And all this nature! In the springtime people would gather to watch the river ice break up, an incredible thing. The northern lights. And the boreal forest in the middle of it all, so dark, dense, mysterious….” Fort McMurray was “a fort in the woods.”

Those ideas found their way into Bullough’s experimental Or The Whale, an imaginative fantasia inspired by Melville’s Moby-Dick which premiered at Studio Theatre in 2016 — a rare collaboration between the U of A drama department and an indie theatre. 

Bullough and his Wishbone partner Peng (who’s in Rig Pig Fantasia, along with Dave Horak, Laura Raboud, Michael Anderson, DJ Creeasian) lit on a connection “between the whale oil of New England and the oil we take from the ground.” 

“We tried to splice them together,” says Bullough. He grins. In the end, he thinks, their ingenious allegory had to cede to the power of Moby-Dick’s universal story: the  human quest for meaning in the face of our mysterious existence and death.

Or The Whale “was the spiritual awakening of Rig Pig Fantasia!” declares Bullough, who came at acting via improv, sketch comedy, and clowning. One of his characters “discovers in himself a latent love of dance,” a sort of grown-up Fort McMurray Billy Elliott. “He’s buried it, though. He’d taken lessons as a kid but only because it was good for hockey.” 

Then “he falls for an artist,” one who believes in art as an agent for social justice, and everything changes. “She opens a world to him. And he starts trying to bring two worlds together. Are they oil and water? That’s the question.”

Dave Horak, Michael Anderson in Rig Pig Fantasia. Photo by Navras Kamal.

“Industry vs. environment: why can’t we just come together and figure it out? If we’re the intelligent hard-working creative people we claim to be, we should be able to…. But it’s a chasm,” sighs Bullough. “How do we change in ways that don’t polarize us? I’m wrestling with it, and my own hypocrisy, even as I’m putting on this play!”

“It’s so incredibly loaded! Anything that seems to threaten my ability to take care of myself and my family, well…. But we all know we need to stop using fossil fuel. We do. We know it though we desperately want to believe otherwise, that we’re not responsible for global warming.. When you have kids and you see environmental regulations being dismantled ….” He trails off.

“The Fringe is a good place to explore this, to start a conversation about how to move forward,” thinks Bullough, who seems to be an explorer by temperament (his next project, already in progress, is a collaboration with an alternative magician). “I’m trying to let the piece be what it wants to be, to let the characters come alive and own it.”

He quotes fellow theatre artist Ron Pederson, who said to the crowd on Sterling night in June as he accepted an award that “in theatre we’re in the transportation industry!” Says Bullough, “I loved that! Exactly! Taking people on a journey!”

What theatre teaches is “the silent power of an image…. The forest, that sky, those stars!”

Rig Pig Fantasia runs Aug. 17 to 26 , on Fringe Stage 1, the Westbury Theatre.

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A tale of two Fringe directors. Chapter 2: Michael Bradley


James Hamilton in WASP. Photo supplied.

Bevin Dooley and Ben Proulx in Walk. Photo by Ian Scott.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A cultural theory: There’s a kind of crazy total-immersion charge about the Fringe that’s a magnet to Edmonton theatre artists. It explains why veteran Edmonton theatre pros — Bradley Moss, Trevor Schmidt, Darrin Hagen, Dave Horak, Collin Doyle, Kate Ryan, Cat Walsh, Chris Bullough, Stewart Lemoine, the list goes on… — are still up for doing the Edmonton Fringe after so many summers of kissing summer holidays goodbye. And it explains why up-and-comers are keen to be there too, in a big way. 

We meet two directors — young but with startlingly hefty and adventurous credits already — each making their Fringe debuts with not one, but two high-contrast productions. Both Michael Bradley and Suzie Martin entered the world of theatre via acting; both are recent U of A directing grads.

Director Michael Bradley. Photo supplied.

This Fringe Michael Bradley ricochets between realism and a crazier, more playful version of “reality.”

Some days the Kingston native who arrived here from the working actor’s life in Toronto, directs rehearsals for a serious new drama, Liane Faulder’s Walk, in which a Canadian soldier and his family struggle to recover themselves and their equilibrium after he loses his legs in Afghanistan. On alternate days, he’s in another theatrical universe altogether: reclaiming Steve Martin’s quirky  dark-hued satire WASP, which targets ‘50s suburbia and all its white middle-class capitalist privilege. 

Bradley, an artist of the exploratory stripe whose work includes theatre creation and research, has U of A directing credits that include his own adaptations of Hamlet and Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. A workshop to investigate power and gender in Richard III is upcoming, in the fall. 

There was a personal resonance for Bradley in Walk, which marks the playwriting debut of veteran journalist Faulder (she fashioned it from her non-fiction book The Long Walk Home): the world of the soldier. “I come from a family of soldiers and retired soldiers,” Bradley says. His grandfather was a soldier. His father served in Afghanistan, the regiment sergeant major at the base. there. His brother-in-law is a soldier; he and Bradley’s dad were in Afghanistan at the same time in 2006.

The military life “is an important part of the Canada of now,” muses Bradley. “But it doesn’t seem to be part of our arts conversations.… In America, it’s part of the conversation all the time.”

The lives of soldiers, fraught as they are, come wrapped in a carapace of secrets. “They’re a mysterious group of people,” says Bradley. As he points out, his father would have known, and well, every soldier who was injured or killed in his time there. “It just doesn’t come up that much…. The play has been a way of getting to know the people I know, from another avenue.”

He’s “very conscious” of Walk’s exploration of “how veterans are when they come home. I like this play for that…. Fictionalizing (the true-life story of amputee soldier Paul Franklin in Faulder’s journalistic book) gives us a more complicated relationship with the characters.”

Casting came with its own challenges, of course. Faulder and Bradley launched an international campaign to find an amputee actor. Theatre has a history of know-how in faking it. “But for me, it was important to present something so truthful with no layer of theatrical artifice,” says Bradley. And in the end, he thinks, “it’s not about amputation any more, or even PTSD. It’s about a family….”

Joelle Préfontaine and Ben Proulx in Walk. Photo by Ian Scott.

After casting the net widely, he and the playwright settled on an actor who was not  a double-amputee. Ben Proulx, who comes to live theatre from the world of stand-up comedy (with occasional forays into television) lost one of his legs to childhood cancer at three. So Faulder re-worked the Walk story to embrace a soldier who’s lost one leg and is in grave danger of losing the other to critical injury.  

And there’s been a gender adjustment. In Bradley’s production, the soldier’s fellow Afghanistan vet is played by a female, actor, Bevin Dooley, a playwright/ dramaturg herself. It’s “a wonderful way to acknowledge female presence in military life,” says Bradley. We can be more nuanced in our storytelling….”

As for WASP, a 1995 Steve Martin play of the absurdist stripe discovered by Bradley’s actor wife Nicole St. Martin a decade ago, Bradley is fascinated by its currency, the way it captures “the creepy nostalgia” of Trumpian America for the storied ‘50s when America allegedly was great and middle-class white privilege had legs.  “It speaks about the strange sense of disenfranchisement from the inside.”

“People! This is not real! What is this thing you think you remember? It’s nostalgia for an illusion. It’s dark and getting darker.”

Walk runs Fri. through Aug. 26 at Fringe stage 17, The Roxy on Gateway. WASP runs Thurs. through August 26 at Fringe stage 5, King Edward Elementary School.


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A tale of two Fringe directors. Chapter 1: Suzie Martin

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch. Photo supplied.


Sarah Ormandy, Robert Benz, Cat Walsh, Cody Porter in Tragedy: A Tragedy. Photo by Mat Simpson

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A cultural theory: There’s a kind of crazy total-immersion charge about the Fringe that’s a magnet to Edmonton theatre artists. It explains why veteran Edmonton theatre pros — Bradley Moss, Darrin Hagen, Dave Horak, Trevor Schmidt, Collin Doyle, Kate Ryan, Cat Walsh, Chris Bullough, Stewart Lemoine, the list goes on… — are still up for doing the Edmonton Fringe after so many summers of kissing summer holidays goodbye. And it explains why up-and-comers are keen to be there too, in a big way. 

In two companion 12thnight.ca posts, meet two directors — young but with startlingly hefty and adventurous credits already — each making Fringe debuts with not one but two high-contrast productions. Both Michael Bradley and Suzie Martin entered the world of theatre via acting. Both are recent U of A directing grads who came here from Somewhere Else, fell in love with the theatre scene here, and moved. And both are artists we’ll be watching in seasons to come. 

There is nothing remotely conventional about either of the plays Suzie Martin is directing at this year’s Fringe. 

By day she rehearses Tragedy: A Tragedy, a comedy by the elusive American playwright Will Eno. She’s been eager to do it for … years. A local broadcast news team intrepidly steps up to cover a disaster: The sun has set and may never rise again. By night, it’s Fetch, a new play by Cat Walsh (Do This In Memory Of Me, The Laws of Thermodynamics) an intricate two-hander in which one version of a woman confronts another with duelling stories. 

Director Suzie Martin. Photo supplied.

Martin, who arrived at the U of A from her home town of Winnipeg where she trained as an actor (and has done every kind of theatre job including admin and stage management), finds the 2001 Eno comedy bristling with an eerie renewed topicality these days. “After the American election in 2016, it really resonated with that feeling the world is ending,” she says. “It felt like everything was over. And here we are in this world now. Still. How can this be? The world continued. We’re living in the Trump era and — even if the world is getting meaner and more insular — we haven’t ceased to be!”

Intriguingly, “the style is quite a merger,” says Martin, who seems to have made something of a specialty of strange fusions. Witness her production last season of Small Matters Productions’ physical theatre comedy Over Her Dead Body, starring the legendary clown guru Jan Henderson.

Tragedy: A Tragedy, Blarney Productions. Photo by Mat Simpson

On one hand, she says, Tragedy: A Tragedy is “a media satire about the vapidity of the 24-hour news cycle” where “investigative” reporters armed with mere scraps of real information inflate them gravely into news. In the play, the characters communicate (and miscommunicate) only through earphones.

“But underneath all that, framing it in a way, is the tradition of absurdism, of Beckett,” says Martin. “What do you do if language breaks? If it’s an empty shell? If God is dead, and what we look to as our anchor points aren’t there?…. We used to look to the fourth estate for that!”

“Who do we look to for answers when it’s dark and we’re scared? Mythologies are about that.” In Canada “we’re next-door neighbours of a crazy myth-making machine. We’re close by, but they’re not our myths.”

Tragedy: A Tragedy “is not meant to be just a parody of the news media: that’s what’s brilliant about it,” Martin thinks. “There’s the very funny comedy of that…. But then you realize there’s a real desire and commitment of these (media) people to do their job.” She laughs.  “I think of it as an existentialist bedtime lullaby disguised as a parody of the news.”

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch, Interloper Theatre. Photo supplied.

Fetch, by Cat Walsh (who plays the broadcast team’s legal counsel in Tragedy: A Tragedy), breathed public air in a reading at the 2017 SkirtsAfire  Festival.  “Two versions of one woman telling a story in tandem … it’s all about possible and alternate worlds,” says Martin of a black comedy inspired by the famous Schrodinger’s Cat “thought experiment” in which really smart people can prove, using (or misusing?) quantum science, that a cat in a box is both alive and dead.  

So, Fetch gives us two women, both named Hannah Morgan, and “two monologues intercut with joining scenes.” Says Martin, “we meet them in a room that’s a mirror image of itself.” The spirit of competition — “No I am the real Hannah Morgan — is alive and kicking. And, as the title obliquely promises, there’s a dog. “A quantum dog,” amends Martin. “Fun, in a dark, slightly creepy, way.”  

It isn’t the first time Martin has explored possible alternate universes in the theatre. Martin’s directing resumé, which has everything from Shakespeare to Pinter, opera to The Gas Heart by the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, includes Jenny Schwartz’s God’s Ear (her master’s degree production). The off-centre play about a couple in free-fall, which looks like poetry on the page, has unmistakeable affinities to Tragedy: A Tragedy“I would say both are concerned with what Don DeLillo describes in his 1977 novel Players as an attempt to ‘organize the emptiness’. And I think its safe to say those preoccupations are up my aesthetic and philosophical alley at this point!  

Meanwhile she’s enjoying the free-floating “strangeness” of her Fringe productions, and adjusting to the uncertainties of the freelance director’s life. “I have had the great fortune to direct six shows and assist on four across two provinces in the last two years,  as well as teaching at both the U of A and the (Citadel’s) Foote School…. I am getting used to living my life with only the next few months in view.”  

Tragedy: A Tragedy runs Aug. 16 to 25 at Fringe Stage 3, Walterdale Theatre. Fetch runs Aug. 17 to 26 at Fringe Stage 28, The Playhouse.





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The secret life of small towns: Michele Vance Hehir’s One Polaroid takes us back to Roseglen for the third of a trilogy. A Fringe preview.

Boyan Peychoff, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer in One Polaroid. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

She lives in a city (one where a great big 37-year-old Fringe starts Thursday). But small towns have always had a particular fascination for Michele Vance Hehir.

The secrets both open and closed, the partial knowledge, the gossip, the dropped hints, the shared memory,  the microcosmic social hierarchy, the proprieties observed and transgressed … they’ve insinuated themselves into her plays before now.

And they’ve found their way into One Polaroid, the third of a Vance Hehir trilogy that has snuck us into the small fictional prairie town of Roseglen at different periods in its history. The Blue Hour, a full-length seven-actor play slated to run at SkirtsAfire in 2020, is post-war Roseglen. Ruination (3 short stories), a trio of intricately interlocking monologues with a mystery, which premiered at last summer’s Fringe, is Depression era Roseglen.

Now we’re back in town and it’s 1973. Two unmarried sisters of a certain age, who have a dysfunctional sibling relationship, are awaiting the annual birthday visit of their nephew.

The townspeople people came first. A decade ago, armed with a grant to create characters, Vance Hehir wrote a series of monologues “I fell in love with one of the characters,” she says. And, encouraged at the Citadel’s Playwrights Forum, “I built a play around a young girl and her family….”

And so The Roseglen Trilogy was born. But that’s not where the ideas started. “My mom was an amazing storyteller!” says Vance Hehir, a dexterous hand at creating formally intricate multi-vignette plays (Ruminations of Maud, Ruminations of Gayle) with dimensional characters. “She could actually tell you a book, or a movie. She told me the movie House of Wax, and described it so vividly and in such detail that when I actually saw it I was disappointed.”

“She told me stories of growing up in a small B.C. town in the Fraser Valley, which Chilliwack in the ‘50s was (the family arrived here when Vance Hehir was six). “She talked about the dark side, that everyone knows your business…. Her storytelling really influenced me.”

Playwright Michele Vance Hehir. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

The other major inspiration, says Vance Hehir, was “the road trips we took, lots of them; it was what we could afford to do.” Prairie towns — and she’s seen copious numbers — intrigued her.  Especially towns with Pentecostal currents (Vance Hehir’s dad, who’s of that religious persuasion, is the source of that fascination).

In The Blue Hour, which won the 2017 Alberta Playwriting Competition, the pastor of the Last Hope Assembly has a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, and “it destroys everybody in that small town.” In Ruination’s three “short stories,” connections between people gradually add up and emerge into a story  and a strikingly harsh one — driven by religion and reputation, prejudice and revenge. No event is stand-alone, even the mysterious burning down of the Chinese laundry.

The two sisters of One Polaroid (Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer), unmarried in their 50s, live in a Roseglen that seems to be fading into its finale. “I play with time,” says the playwright. “It moves more quickly or slowly in the course of a full day between the rising and setting of the sun.”

“Their nephew (Boyan Peychoff) always comes to visit on his birthday. And there’s silliness and cruelty,” she says. “They play ‘name that tune’. There’s humour in those family relationships, and how a third person affects a sibling relationship.”

Can the trilogy expand? “I do feel this is the final chapter,” Vance Hehir says of One Polaroid. “But….” With that “but” we’ll have to stay tuned.

One Polaroid runs at the Fringe’s Stage 9 (Telus Phone Museum) Aug. 17 to 25.


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“Grotesque fun” with Shakespeare: Macbeth Muet and the return of Surreal SoReal. A Fringe preview

Jérémie Francoeur in Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“Grotesque fun,” says Jon Lachlan Stewart. “There’s a lot of laughs in our production. And then there’s not….”

He’s talking about Macbeth Muet, a 60-minute version of Shakespeare’s swift and brutal tragedy that dismisses every Forsooth and Hark! like so much lint: it is completely text-free. Fair is foul, and both are silent.

The Surreal SoReal production that arrives at the Fringe this week from Montreal is the latest sighting of a talent, and a company that has, from the start, surprised the hell out of everyone.

Lachlan Stewart’s was one of those startling debuts, the kind that makes the Fringe grapevine light up. The buzz knocked the old Fringe greeting “so, have you seen …?” right off its standard moorings. “So who is that kid, anyhow?” 

Fourteen summers ago, Edmonton audiences met Lachlan Stewart, at 18 and just out of high school, in an electrifying, explosively physical solo show of his own creation. In Little Room, Lachlan Stewart captured the furious, morbid energy of a teen protagonist channelling his future in advance, regrets included, in a staccato barrage.

What happened after that defied expectation every time out. Bold original experiments: a multi-perspective action flick unspooling in the mind of the protagonist (Big Shot), for example. An expressionist tale of a failing ‘50s marriage in the style of vintage black-and-white television (Dog). An off-centre folk tale that followed stringless marionettes searching through a town for their creator (Grumplestock’s). We wore colour-coded earphones for The Genius Code, with its simultaneous versions of a multi-perspective love story gone wrong.The Survival of Pigeons As Studied By Human Lovers was a cross between a Discovery Channel nature doc and a bittersweet ‘relationship comedy.’ The list goes on. Surreal SoReal’s idea of decking the halls at Christmas-time was a collection of short plays by Samuel Beckett.

There may well be a Surreal SoReal play in the arc by which Lachlan Stewart, now based in Montreal and working largely in French, returns to his home town, and the Fringe where it all began. And he’s bringing Shakespeare with him.

Macbeth Muet is a two-actor version of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition created by Lachlan Stewart and Marie-Hélène Bélanger for La Fille du laitier. That’s the Montreal “theatre delivery” company Lachlan Stewart and two of his francophone NTS classmates founded to take theatre to the people — in a truck. 

As Lachlan Stewart points out, with Macbeth Muet (i.e. mute) there’s no question of translation, either between our two official tongues or Shakespeare’s Elizabethan lingo and our own. Its two actors, Jérémie Francoeur and Clara Prévost, preside over a table of homely objects — eggs, cutlery, tablecloth, cups, oven mitts — and a cast that includes marionettes.

Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

The seed of Macbeth Muet, says Lachlan Stewart, was planted in the NTS audition assignment to “perform your favourite play in three minutes.” When it came time to pick a project, I added an actor. And we worked on it as a silent film, with those kinds of gestures, grand guignol, fake blood…. We played around with sound design and music.” Their inspirations included “puppetry, object theatre (where  found objects take on a life of their own as characters), dance.”

And something happened. “It became less of a joke and more the best way of doing Macbeth,” says Lachlan Stewart of his favourite Shakespeare play “and one of my favourite plays, period.”

It is, after all, “a visceral, physical sort of play, very action-based, with all sorts of content that’s weird and ‘doesn’t belong’.” Characters arrive onstage, report terrible battles, leave.  Or start revolutions. Some parts “last a page.”

Approaching Macbeth with straight-ahead humourless seriousness “is a really narrow-minded way of looking at it,” Lachlan Stewart argues. Which certainly explains why the great theatre archive is full of productions of Macbeth that just seem to peter out instead of escalate.

“The archetype of a power couple working through problems together can be very naturally funny,” he says. “Breaking Bad is a kind of shadow of the story of Macbeth. House of Cards is Richard III and Macbeth. So intense, but we laugh; we’re thrilled….”

“There’s absurdity, in theatrical terms. Seriousness and the absurd go hand in hand in Macbeth. A strange and godless situation.. It started out with us having fun. And then it became a very (viable) production of Macbeth.”

“At the beginning of the play people are talking about a battle and a hero. And I’ve never seen a production of Macbeth that stages that battle. It’s always bugged me. Or the battle near the end when Macbeth feels himself to be invincible. We stage both of those battles!” 

Meanwhile, Lachlan Stewart’s life, “changed forever” by a son now 2 1/2, includes continuing dates for Fille du laitier’s repertory lineup, including Checkout 606 (two grocery cashiers in mid-existential crisis as the veggies come to life around them) and Tong: a tip of the tongue opera (a kids’ show based on a ‘20s Dada-ist poem and named for the start-up sound of a computer). Macbeth Muet, which has already been to New York, will pick up its oven mitts for an upcoming tour that will take it to Europe, to Austin, to the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary….

Laughter and horror are not mutually exclusive, argues the multi-talented actor/playwright/director (he directed the original Tiny Bear Jaws production of Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable). “It’s rooted in our culture…. It’s a good time in our culture for irony and for humour,” says Lachlan Stewart. “A lot of people can appreciate pop culture ironically.…”

“Humour doesn’t diminish what’s profound, what moves people.”

Macbeth Muet runs on the Fringe’s Stage 9 (Telus Phone Museum) starting Aug. 17. 


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The Fringe is back, bigger than ever! So … what looks promising?

Jessy Ardern in The Alien Baby Play, Impossible Mongoose. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The rumours are true: the Fringe is back, larger than life,  in the theatre town where the continent’s fringe phenom began. Fringe ‘O’ Saurus Rex, the 37th annual edition of Edmonton’s full-bodied summer theatre bash, starts its 11 day-and-night life Thursday night. And there are more choices than ever before.

So … what looks good? 

Lifting the 153-page glossy Fringe program is an upper-body workout. But do not be overwhelmed, my friends. Be curious instead.

Everyone’s a critic and a talent scout (and possibly a future playwright) at Fringe time. And there’s no wrong way to fringe (a verb that’s an Edmonton contribution to the international lexicon!)— except to stay indefinitely in the beer tent and fail to see a show.

12thnight.ca is here to help as you plot your own foray into the unpredictable 228-show Fringe galaxy. Have a look at a some intriguing prospects to consider. We’re in this together; I haven’t seen them yet either. 

Sometimes the play, or the playwright, caught my eye. Sometimes actors, or the director, or the company — theatre artists experimenting with something new. Sometimes a premise too bold, or improbable, audacious or just plain weird, to ignore.

Jérémie Francoeur in Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

Macbeth Muet. Surreal SoReal, one of Edmonton’s most adventurous theatre indies, now Montreal-based, is back at the Fringe. And this time they’ve brought William Shakespeare with them. Don’t be arguing that you don’t understand Bard-speak. Jon Lachlan Stewart’s 60-minute version of Shakespeare’s swift and violent tragedy (with Marie-Hélène Bélanger) eliminates that problem: it’s completely word-free.” The visceral (and gory) non-stop action of the play happens with two actors, puppets, an assortment of objects that spring to hand. 

Punch Up!. Laugh or die: Talk about raising the stakes on black comedy. The Funniest Man Alive, who’s lost his sense of humour to the vicissitudes of divorce, is kidnapped by a thoroughly unfunny guy who’s fallen in love with The Saddest Girl in the World. If he’s going to make her laugh, and thereby save her life, the love-struck nebbish needs some last-minute coaching. 

Perry Gratton, Evan Hall in Punch Up! Photo supplied.

The Pretty Boy Projects production, directed by Braydon Dowler Coltman, introduces Edmonton to the work of another hot up-and-comer. That would be Kat Sandler, the innovative Canadian playwright whose immersive, follow-the-actors political satire double-header The Party premieres at the Citadel this coming season.

The actors, Merran Carr-Wiggin, Evan Hall, and Perry Gratton — paid-up members of that new generation of theatrical multi-taskers fuelled by the Fringe — started producing at the festivities when they were still in theatre school (Notes From A Zombie Apocalypse, 2011). Last summer, Hall directed  A Quiet Place; he and Carr-Wiggins co-starred in a revival of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, the story of a friendship chronicled in blood, bruises, and broken bones. No crutches this year.

Luc Tellier in Tragedy: A Tragedy, Blarney Productions. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Tragedy: A Tragedy. There’s always something subversive and strange lurking under the apparently harmless surfaces of a Will Eno play (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Realistic Joneses). In Tragedy: A Tragedy, an Eno from 2001, a local broadcast team is pumped up, in that breathless 24-hour news cycle coverage way, to report on whether the sun will ever rise again. An all-star five-actor cast, including Robert Benz as the team anchor, is directed by Suzie Martin. 

A Lesson in Brio. “I’ve thrown out the rule book,” says Teatro La Quindicina’s playwright muse Stewart Lemoine. His latest comedy, which premieres as part of the company’s summer season (one of two new Lemoines at the Fringe along with The Many Loves Of Irene Sloane),  is “a presentation … on brio: what you do to acquire it if you don’t have it, how you might show it if you do.”

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

Jenny McKillop is the presenter;  the other three actors (Mathew Hulshof, Rachel Bowron, Patricia Cerra) are there to assist with the presentation. Brio is in short supply in the world: take notes.

Concord Floral, 10 Out Of 12 Productions. Photo supplied.

Concord Floral. The play, by the young Canadian star Jordan Tannahill, is fascinating: a teenage “gothic suburban thiller” set in a derelict greenhouse where the town kids hang out to, you know, party — and (à la Boccaccio’s Decameron) they’ve fled a mystery “plague.” But, hey, have they brought it with them?

With its cast of 10 young U of A theatre grads, Mieko Ouchi’s production revisits the exciting workshop version I caught last season.

Jessy Ardern in The Alien Baby Play, Impossible Mongoose. Photo supplied.

The Alien Baby Play. How can you not want to see what’s up from Impossible Mongoose? The adventurous little indie with high-speed mythology and myth-making on its mind has already given us The Fall of the House of Atreus and Prophecy. This latest, a highly unusual one-act by the American Nicholas Walker Herbert, is  “interesting and strange and kind of lovely in the oddest, Fringiest way,” as director Corben Kushneryk puts it. “The only woman since the Virgin Mary to be impregnated by a creature not of this world has invited the audience to her place to witness the birth. And meet the (alien) father.”

“All our work has surrounded myth,” says Kushneryk. “And this kooky comedy has that aspect! It’s fun, it’s grotesque….”  His production stars Impossible Mongoose’s resident playwright, Jessy Ardern.

Timysha Harris in Josephine. Photo by Von Hoffman.

Josephine. This award-winning “burlesque cabaret dream play” from Orlando, which spent five weeks Off-Broadway this winter, has attracted rapturous reviews everywhere it’s been. It tells the remarkable story of ground-breaker Josephine Baker, the first African-American international superstar, who electrified France in the early ‘20s. Triple-threat Tamysha Harris, who’s toured with the legendary Euro-dance company Pilobulus (among other credits), stars. You’ll get to see Baker’s celebrated “banana girdle” routine in motion.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Belinda Cornish in The Real Inspector Hound, Bright Young Things. Photo by Ryan Parker.

The Real Inspector Hound. Bright Young Things, who gravitate to the ‘well-made plays’ of the previous century, hang out at the Fringe with the likes of Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, Harold Pinter, and last summer, the great Fringe existentialist himself Sartre (a crack production of No Exit). They’re back with an ingenious, very funny early (1968) Tom Stoppard country house whodunnit infiltrated by a couple of pretentious theatre critics (an outlandish notion, right?). Mark Bellamy’s eight-actor cast of Edmonton stars is joined nightly by a different celebrity every night as the much-ignored corpse.

Hotel Vortruba. Vancouver’s Ragmop, a dexterous physical comedy theatre duo of surreal proclivities (Falling Awake), return with a new production. And I for one don’t want to miss a chance to check into a hotel on the frontier between waking and dreaming. 

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

The Zoo Story. “I’ve been to the zoo. I said, I’ve been to the zoo. MISTER, I’VE BEEN TO THE ZOO!” Collin Doyle and James Hamilton, playwright/actors both, and frequent collaborators in Bedlam Theatre Concern, have a 25-year history with Edward Albee’s first play, the 1958 one-act that catapulted him to stardom with its escalating park bench encounter between a middle-class book editor and a rather menacing loner. 

In the fall of 1993, they were two 18-year-olds — and each got a $100 acting award at the Provincial One-Act Festival. “The Glory Years! as Doyle recalls. “We didn’t really know who Edward Albee was; we just really loved the play.” The next time was the 2002 Fringe, and Doyle and Hamilton were 27 and knew exactly who Edward Albee was.

This time, directed by Theatre Network artistic director Bradley Moss, Doyle and Hamilton are in their early ‘40s.  “We always wanted to do it again. And this time we’re the right age,” says Doyle, who hasn’t been onstage as an actor in a decade.

“What’s changed is the perspective on how much time has gone by,” says Doyle, whose Terry and the Dog won this year’s Sterling as outstanding new play.. “Both of us feel the history (of the characters) more…. And for me, as a writer, I realize how much I’ve stolen from the play, a lot of the structure of storytelling….”

Camille Ensminger and Oscar Derkx in The Soldier’s Tale. Photo supplied

The Soldier’s Tale. There are exciting firsts attached to this rare production of a strikingly multi-disciplinary World War I dance/theatre/music collaboration between the great Russian composer Stravinsky and the Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz. It’s never been fully staged professionally in Alberta (and since it requires three actors, a dancer, and seven top-drawer musicians, you can guess why). And it marks the Fringe debut of Edmonton Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Alexander Prior, who’s at the head of an unusual ensemble of professionals; Farren Timoteo directs; Laura Krewski choreographs.  

Christine Lesiak in For Science! Photo supplied.

   For Science!. Billed as “Bill Nye The Science Guy meets Blue Man Group,” Christine Lesiak’s first new Fringe show in five years brings together her “science nerd brain and clown heart,” as she puts it. Lesiak, an artist of the experimental stripe, is the possessor of an unusual skill set: you can never be jaded about running into clowns who are also space physicists. It was as a physicist that Lesiak arrived from the Maritimes in 1993 — long before Edmonton audiences met her feisty red-nosed clown Sheshells or advice columnist Aggie, who improvises shows from audience questions.

An absurdist homage to science nerdism, For Science! is “a series of scientific experiments” of increasing challenge in which enthusiastic audience members are invited to assist. The worthy purpose, declares Lesiak (a founder of Small Matters Productions), is “the most fun possible.”  Lesiak, who co-stars with Anna Pratch, calls it “audience interaction for the age of #MeToo.”

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch, Interloper Theatre. Photo supplied.

Fetch. And speaking of physics, the latest play by Cat Walsh (Do This In Memory of Me, The Laws of Thermodynamics) was inspired by the elusive Shrodinger’s Cat paradox beloved of physics majors. In her new two-hander (which started life as two monologues) Walsh applies the idea (sans cat, but there’s a toy dog) to “doubles … the “two opposing possible existences” of a character. “The two Hannah Morgans have the same origins, their paths diverge, and then become more and more entwined,” says Walsh of a strangely adversarial relationship. “You know that sense you get that there was a moment in life when things could have been different?” Walsh co-stars with Lora Brovold.

Julie Niuboi Ferguson in Scorch, Blarney/ Bustle & Beast. Photo by Liam Mackenzie.

Scorch. Thorny issues of gender identity and “gender fraud” — infinitely complicated by the confusions of first love — are at the heart of this 2016 solo play by the Irish playwright Stacey Gregg, inspired by a real-life U.K. court case of recent vintage. The innovative performance artist Julie NIUBOI Ferguson stars in Brenley Charkow’s production. 

Boyan Peychoff, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer in One Polaroid. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

One Polaroid. The dark secrets that filter through prairie storytelling and under the placid surfaces of the landscape are the natural theatre habitat of playwright Michele Vance Hehir. Her new play is the final chapter of a trilogy (The Blue Hour, Ruination) that has taken us, pre- and post-World War II, to the small prairie town of Roseglen in 1973. We meet two fractious sisters who may well be the ones to shut out the lights in a fading town.

Everything’s Coming Up Chickens! A Revue. The Plain Janes are ideally equipped to do musical revues. They’re besotted with musical theatre — every forgotten corner, every obscure gem, every over-produced flop. Artistic director Kate Ryan describes their first revue in eight summers at the Fringe as “a kind of love letter to our artists and the (crazy) life in the theatre.”

Karina Cox, Jarrett Krissa, Kendra Connor, Garett Ross in Everything’s Coming Up Chickens! A Review, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by db photographics.

It’s inspired by “the mother of all backstage musicals Gypsy  (as the title tips off). And Ryan and musical director Janice Flower have culled widely: from Irving Berlin (his 1933 revue As Thousands Cheer), Charles Strouse (Applause), Tick Tick Boom by Rent creator Jonathan Larson, among other musical offerings . And hey, even satirical numbers from Scrambled Feet and Upstairs at O’Neals, revues produced by the Janes’ predecessor Leave It To Jane.

Dave Horak, Michael Anderson in Rig Pig Fantasia. Photo by Navras Kamal.

Rig Pig Fantasia. The highly original actor/playwright Chris Bullough, who grew up in Fort McMurray, has fashioned a play for Wishbone Theatre that wonders about oil, the art of dance, the boreal forest, “what it means to be a man.” 

Whoa….This list is getting way out of hand. And I haven’t even mentioned WASP, in which Steve Martin hones his razor wit on ‘50s suburbia. Or The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, unearthed by David Cheoros and Linda Wood Edwards from the under-tilled soil of real Alberta history. Or Liane Faulder’s Walk, inspired by her journalistic book The Long Walk Home. There’s an alluringly scary recent Caryl Churchill (Escaped Alone):  apocalyptic visions over afternoon tea. There’s a new Kenneth Brown, Roy and the Red Baron, which imagines a limbo encounter between history’s most famous fighter pilot and the Edmontonian who shot him down …

I’m leaving you with dots … your cue to explore. Stay tuned for Fringe reviews, previews, interviews on 12thnight.ca. 


Posted in Features, Fringe 2018 | Tagged , , , ,

The giant Fringe approaches: be very excited. Tickets go on sale at noon today

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Tickets go on sale at noon today for Fringe ‘O’ Saurus Rex, the outsized 228-show 37th annual edition of our summer theatre extravaganza, the continent’s first and still biggest fringe festival (Aug; 16 to 26). And there’s more than one way to get your mitts on them.

You can order show tickets online (fringetheatre.ca). You can phone the Fringe box office (780-409-1910). Or you can show up live and in person at the central Fringe box office in the ATB Financial Arts Barn (10330 84 Ave.). TIX on the Square in Churchill Square downtown sells Fringe tickets too. 

The sweetest deal for the die-hard Fringe binger is the Frequent Fringer Pass or Double Fringe Pass, $115 and $230 respectively for 10 or 20 tickets. It’s a reward for quick reflexes: there aren’t many, only 600, and they get snapped up in the blink of an eye.

Once the Fringe is underway, there are more avenues open for tickets, both in the purchasing and the pick-up. There are satellite box offices scattered through the site — including the new KidsFringe venue (Strathcona Community League, Stage 6) and La Cité francophone in the French Quarter. Or you can be more spontaneous: test your luck an hour before showtime at the door of a BYOV (bring your own venue), an indie venue acquired and outfitted by artists themselves instead of assigned by festival lottery.

A little more than half of the record 228 shows at this year’s Fringe happen in 28 BYOVs, most of them in Strathcona or environs — an assortment of bona fide theatres (the Varscona, the Roxy on Gateway, The Playhouse, L’UniThéâtre), and a fascinating assortment of venues that have other lives as school auditoriums and dance clubs, shops and churches, libraries, bars, auditoriums, cafes, studios, a hostel, a vintage cinema, a new comedy club (The Grindstone), a billiard club, CKUA headquarters across the river downtown. 

Ah, and for the first time ever, an artist’s own front yard. Yes, Things are looking up at the Fringe. Literally. Heather D. Swain will be premiering her latest, From The Balcony, on her own balcony (Stage 34, “260 steps due west of the Fringe box office”). There’s a dollar discount for those “without neck brace.” 

There are more shows than ever before, and three fewer BYOVs than last year. So there’s more clustering. The Sugar Swing Ballroom, for example, has two “theatres” (Stages 18 and 19) with 13 shows between them. On the three stages at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Stages 14, 15, 16) you’ll find 20 shows. An excursion to the French Quarter’s La Cité francophone gives you a choice of 23 shows (there’s a free shuttle to get you there and back, and, bonus!, Café Bicyclette).

How much will you be shelling out to see a show? This hasn’t changed lately. Fringe artists set the price, to a $13 max, with a $3 topper going towards running the box office system. Ergo, the most you’ll be paying is $16.

Flip through the $10 153-page glossy program and you’ll see that most artists have gone for the max. Most but not all. The Empress of Blandings production of The Importance of Being Earnest, for example, is $10 (students and seniors, $7). Those Who Can’t Do, Teach – A Cabaret is $10. So are Walk, Mr. Boots, Thunderprov, Mel Malarkey Gets The Bum’s Rush, among others. The Fringe’s own always riotous Late-Night Cabaret at the Backstage Theatre is $12. 

Who knows? If you have an empathetic look about you, you might even score a complementary ticket. Fringe groups can hold back up to a quarter of the tickets for their own whimsical, impromptu dispersal. And, on the day of a show, at this artist-driven festival, artists can discount their tickets. So you might  snap up a reduced-price ticket at any Fringe box office (except TIX on the Square). 

We can parse Fringe ticketing strategies till it’s time to sign your brain over to the robots in Kory Mathewson’s HumanMachine: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation. But that still leaves the eternal Fringe question. What to see in a 228-show universe? That’s where 12thnight.ca can help you. Check this site for suggestions, features, previews, and Fringe reviews by me, and special-guest reviewers.

Fringe ‘O’ Saurus Rex runs August 16 to 26: 1600-plus performances of 228 shows in 39 venues. Tickets and further info: fringetheatre.ca.   


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Big news from 12thnight.ca


Hello theatre friends!

It’s the eve of the Fringe, Edmonton’s favourite summer festival, best idea, and most influential export ever. Live theatre, the most exciting and immediate art form of all, is on our minds!

Eighteen months ago, I left my job of more than three decades as the Edmonton Journal’s theatre reviewer to take my work covering Edmonton theatre exclusively online. My experiment? 12thnight.ca. That’s where I’ve been directing my reviews, previews, feature stories ever since, full-time and  for free — to see if readers, theatre-goers, artists might find the content worthwhile and entertaining.

So (dramatic development, cue lighting) this is my news: after a year and a half I’ve come to the moment when I need some support to continue my work of writing about Edmonton theatre on 12thnight.ca. I’m hoping you’ve been appreciating the voice of experience — and that you’d be up for chipping in a monthly amount (every little bit counts!) to my Patreon campaign to help that happen. 12thnight.ca and all its content continues to be free, and there’s no charge to subscribe. But this is your invitation to be a patron if you’re able, and here’s the link: www.patreon.com/12thnight. Spread the word!

In an era of shrinking coverage in the mainstream media, it seems worth trying a new way. And I hope you’ll be able to join me in the venture! In return, I’ll continue to provide the best coverage I can, and be your guide to what’s happening onstage in this exciting theatre town,  I can. Edmonton’s theatre artists continue to be a creative inspiration for all of us!

In gratitude, Liz






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Adventures Off-Broadway in New York

Kayli Carter, Ryan Foust, Susan Pourfar in Mary Page Marlowe. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

NEW YORK — On a sultry Monday night at 2nd Stage, a signature non-profit Off-Broadway company, the packed house is full of actors, directors, agents.

They’ve stepped through the spicy scent of lilies (courtesy of a corner vendor) and a cloud of eau de Sabretts hot dogs into the spruced-up West 44th theatre to see the latest from a Chicago theatre artist of apparently endless versatility.

That would be Tracy Letts, poster-person for Chicago’s fabled ensemble company Steppenwolf — award-winning actor, director, and the playwright who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County, his funny and fierce multi-generational saga of an Oklahoma clan in full implosion.

With Mary Page Marlowe, which premiered in Chicago in 2016 and arrives in New York in a production directed by Lila Neugebauer. Letts fractures the unremarkable life of a women, an Ohio tax accountant, into 11 scenes and scrambles the chronology. Six actors — seven if you count the doll who plays Mary Page in infancy — the role of the title character at different ages. (Hint, hint … potential producers: every female actor you know will be lining up). 

Tatiana Maslany in Mary Page Marlowe. Photo by Joan Marcus

 They add up, sort of, but not in a serial way: the oldest of the Mary Page Marlowe’s (beautifully played by Blair Brown) herself wonders if there’s any real connection between her former selves. Has she even been the same person? It’s the great mystery of identity, whether it’s fixed or re-invented at every turn. When there’s no progression into consequences, or follow-up in the scenes (sparingly written and powerful in that), it’s a way of saying that you never know what small moments in your life are going to be the seminal ones.

The play starts in the middle, with the 40-year-old Mary Page (Susan Pourfar) explaining to her kids — teenage daughter appalled, son unimpressed — that she and their father are splitting up, and they’re re-locating to Kentucky. It’s a life with multiple divorces, re-marriages, affairs, kid crises, a slide into booze, a tragedy. The most inconsequential, benign encounter of all is the last scene, involving dry cleaning an heirloom quilt (the past is fragile, evidently) of all things. The end.

The audiences was taken aback by the odd abruptness of it all. The woman sitting beside me, evidently a theatre producer, said to her companion “I can’t believe it’s over!”

Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in Mary Page Marlowe. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In the scenes themselves, though, it’s a play that sneaks up on you with its moving real-ness. And the cast, which includes Emmy-winning Tatiana Maslani of Orphan Black, as Mary Page Marlowe at 27 and 36, is exceptional. 

A revival of Letts’ first play Killer Joe, a  grisly and violent 1993 family dysfunction satire, opened in London in June. Martin McDonagh’s gleefully gruesome The Lieutenant of Inishmore is in the West End; it’s a veritable bloodbath. But the most genuinely shocking play of all, said Michael Billington, the venerable Guardian theatre critic, is one that’s arrived from London at the Public Theater in New York’s East Village.

The Public Theater, NYC. Photo by Alan Kellogg.


Cyprus Avenue is a black absurdist comedy that makes most plays that fly under that flag look beige. It’s by David Ireland, whose I Promise You Sex And Violence horrified Edinburgh Fringe audiences and critics alike in 2014 (the reviews alone will make your hair curl). And this latest joint production, a collaboration between London’s Royal Court and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (where it originated) is directed by the former’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone.

As an attack on the absurdity of sectarian violence in Ireland, Cyprus Avenue (named for a Belfast street) takes its black humour about fanaticism to extremes of violence that will leave you aghast. But don’t get me wrong, Cyprus Avenue is laugh-out-loud funny before it’s way-out-there horrifying. 

The brilliant Irish actor Stephen Rea stars as a Belfast unionist, an Ulsterman who believes that he is British, not Irish, and that the sacred cause is under lethal attack from the Catholics. He comes to believe — and argues with hilarious  articulateness — that his new baby granddaughter not only has an uncanny resemblance to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams (she has “Fenian eyes”) but  actually is Gerry Adams.

How this position devolves into terrifying savagery, logically and step-by-step, is the way this play ticks, a la Swift’s Modest Proposal. Just when you think it can’t possibly pursue its own comic logic any further into outrage, it keeps going. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a play that takes itself beyond the pale with quite that much fearlessness.

At the end, we all sat mute and appalled, wondering what to do next. A drink? A Valium? A A Sabretts ‘dog? A Disney stage musical? Nothing seems quite right. (In the end we opted for a highly unusual amalgam of theatre and magic, that in its own strange and seductive way is, like Mary Page Marlowe, about the mystery of identity: In And Of Itself by and starring the illusionist Derek DelGaudio). 

Incidentally, Ireland has a new play, Ulster American, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It comes with the warning “not for the faint of heart.” Exactly.  

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“The Great Work begins” … again: Angels in America in New York

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

NEW YORK — It’s one of those grand, visionary plays that change the way you think about everything  — including theatre. At least that’s how it was for me.

And so last week in New York I was keen to see the production of Angels in America that arrived on Broadway from the National Theatre in London (and won Tony Awards for best revival, and best actor and supporting actor). Would Tony Kushner’s seven-and-a-half hour epic of life in Reaganite American, “a gay fantasia on national themes,” feel as momentous 25 years later? Would its vast, crazy, swirling canvas of America in the plague years — tragedy and comedy, hallucination and gritty drama, wild dislocations of perception — be as thrilling in 2018?

I’d seen Angels In America, in the ‘90s, twice onstage and once on the small screen. True, it feels so much more alive onstage, but I’ve kept the VHS tapes of the HBO movie of 2003 next to the TV, even though the VCR is an antique beyond repair and I can’t remember how to use it anyhow.    

On a hot summer Sunday, after jazz at the Blue Note, off we went to the Neil Simon Theatre. The production, directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time), is a knockout experience, with a dream cast, including Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, James McArdle, Denise Gough, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. But, more than that was the weird, eerie sense that a scathing indictment of the unregenerate opportunism of America in the 80s, written in the 90s, is of and for this moment.

“The world doesn’t spin backwards,” says the flamboyant black drag queen/ nurse Belize, the voice of hard-ass compassion in Angels in America. Well apparently, disturbingly, it does.

True, much has changed: what it means to be gay in the world, the evolution of AIDS beyond its death sentence in the era of Reaganite denial and homophobia. But what hasn’t is embodied in the character played by the great Nathan Lane. In a visceral, vivid, definitive performance Lane is Roy Cohn, the the ruthless, poisonous, manipulative, endlessly unscrupulous Joseph McCarthy hit man — the “polestar of human evil” who was the personal mentor to the current president of the United States.

In a provocative New York Magazine piece in April, about the Trump enablers between then and now, Frank Rich, theatre critic-turned-political columnist, wrote that when he first saw Angels in America, in its 1993 Broadway premiere, it was the delicate AIDS-stricken figure of Prior Walter, up against everything, who was central to the experience for him. In the revival, as he wrote, it’s the indelibly malignant figure of Lane’s Roy Cohn, who will do anything, anything, for power, who dominates.

I see exactly what he means. The spectre of Trump hangs over the two-part play. Angels in America is alive, and riveting, that way. Andrew Garfield is wonderful as the acerbic, struggling, terrified Prior. But you can’t take your eyes off Lane, in a performance buzzing with vitriol, even as the closeted gay homophobe lies in bed dying of AIDS. 

In Millennium Approaches, part I, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, the convicted Soviet  spy Cohn hounded to the electric chair (and who maintains a death side vigil by his hospital bed), predicts that  “history is about to crack wide open.” At the end of Part I, an Angel crashes through Prior Walter’s bedroom ceiling to announce that “the Great Work begins.”

At the start of Perestroika, part II, the World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik wonders aloud “Are we doomed? The Great Question before us is: can we change? in time?” Now, there’s a question. When Prior wrestles with the Angel (in a particularly physical brawl in the production), and climbs a glowing ladder to heaven, God is a notorious no-show. Garfield is immensely affecting as a man who in the end, suffering notwithstanding, just can’t renege on life. “I want more. I can’t help myself,” he says of “the addiction of being alive.” 

The groundbreaking theatricality of it all, in the 90s when I first saw it, opened my eyes to what theatre can do. And in Elliott’s production, reimagined and stunningly lit, the stage magic of a piece that moves effortlessly from hospital room to Mormon Visitor Centre, Salt Lake City to Brooklyn, Antarctica to Heaven, was just as exciting as ever.

Kushner’s re-think of the American political drama includes sexual, religious, cultural outsiders. That vision of broad inclusivity is under threat again; if history has indeed cracked open, it’s to reveal a deep, maybe bottomless, fissure in human progress. On a summer night in Trump-hating New York, it’s a terrifying thought. 

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