By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“If you’re stuck in your story and want to get out … sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty….” Matilda.
In Matilda, the joyously subversive musical spun from Roald Dahl’s novel, our activist eight-year-old heroine wonders (in song) why Jack and Jill and that other doomed pair Romeo and Juliet didn’t grab hold of their own story, and change it.
She favours resistance and revolution over taking it on the chin, in the award-studded musical that spreads mischief on the Citadel mainstage in a three-way co-production with Vancouver’s Arts Club and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (directed by Daryl Cloran, Feb. 16 to March 17). That spirit seems to filter provocatively through the season about to happen on Edmonton stages.
Theatre artists and companies of every scale, esthetic, proclivity, and personality (not to mention budget) are returning to action after another record-breaking Fringe. And with them — the beauty of live theatre! — come in-person encounters with questions of change, perspective, surprising mind bends that alter the optic and give you double-vision.
Hold that thought, and have a peek, highly selective, at possibilities for your nights out in the upcoming season.
SEE A STORY THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS
(a) The Comedy Company, by playwright/ sketch comedy star Neil Grahn — premiering at Shadow Theatre Oct. 24 to Nov. 11 — is a comedy that tests the limits of comedy: laughter in the face of death.
Based on a true and remarkable Canadian story (and timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I), it tells of the members of Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Division asked by their commander to devise musical comedy revues to entertain the troops and boost morale amidst the terrible destruction. Against the odds they’re wildly popular. John Hudson directs a starry seven-actor cast — Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Julien Arnold, Sheldon Elter, Nathan Cuckow, Steven Greenfield, Jesse Gervais, Nick Samoil.
(b) In Redpatch, the creation of Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver of Vancouver’s Hardline Theatre (who also direct), it’s World War I through the eyes of a young Métis recruit. The production, six Indigenous actors strong, arrives at the Citadel Nov. 1 to 11.
(c) Darrin Hagen’s The Empress & The Prime Minister (premiering at Theatre Network April 16 to May 5), revisits the time, half a century ago, when a drag queen activist and a young federal minister of justice, ted northe and Pierre Trudeau respectively, together changed the course of Canadian history. By decriminalizing homosexuality.
(a) The six troubled, questing characters of Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds, getting its Canadian premiere from Wild Side Productions (Roxy Performance Series, March 12 to 24) are seeking human connection — without words. They are not mimes (you may be relieved to know); they’re participants in a silence retreat.
(b) Origin of the Species: There are more than a few time-displacement premises in the world-wide comedy archive — you know the kind, demure Victorian finds herself at a rave, Sleeping Beauty wakes up in a Motel 6, that sort of thing. But the Northern Light Theatre season-opener (Oct. 12 to 27) takes it to a playful extreme. This early play by Bryony Lavery (Frozen, The Believers), is an encounter between a four million-old woman and the archaeologist who digs her up. Have women’s lives progressed? Maybe not. Up for grabs. Holly Hunter and Kristin Johnston star in Trevor Schmidt’s production.
(c) A Man Draws A Bird, premiering in the Fringe Spotlight Series, is the work of Booming Tree, the first recipient of the Westbury Family Fringe Theatre Award. Gregory Shimizu and Twilla MacLeod make theatrical use of Taiko drumming in telling a post-catastrophe hero’s journey story. It premieres in the Fringe Spotlight Series April 30 to May 12.
SO WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE ANYHOW?
(a) Not Americans. Come From Away is a rare and stellar example of a Canadian musical that garnered rapturous reviews as it hit the big time on Broadway (where it continues to play to sold-out houses). In the week following 9-11, plane-loads bound for America were diverted, and got a spirited, distinctively warm embrace (with Screech) from the tiny Nfld. community of Gander. Broadway Across Canada brings it our way March 12 to 17 (at the Jube).
(b) Ins Choi is the charismatic second-generation Korean-Canadian playwright who provided Canadian theatre with one of its biggest hits (Kim’s Convenience). He’s re-working, and amplifying his remarkable solo show Subway Stations of the Cross — which channels mind of a gifted homeless man, a free-wheeling free-associating slam-poet prophet — for a new cabaret show, Ins Choi: Songs, Stories and Spoken Words, premiering at the Chinook Festival in January, under the Fringe Theatre Adventures flag.
(c) Michelle Todd takes us on a personal one-woman tour of the Canadian cultural mosaic in her genial and touching comic memoir Deep Fried Curried Perogies. Todd’s father is Jamaican, her mother is Filipino, and she has a baby with her white boyfriend whose folks are Ukrainian-Brits. It’s the mainstage presentation at the 2019 SkirtsAfire Festival in March (final dates await).
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Arise now, and get your butt out of that seat …
— and into a graveyard. Thou Art Here, who have a “site-sympathetic” rapport with the Bard, take us to the 1886 Edmonton cemetery (11820 107 Ave.) with a roving production of Vern Thiessen’s 2005 Shakespeare’s Will. And in this multi-disciplinary revival, five actors play Anne Hathaway, the wife of the great man, who suffered the ignominy of getting bequeathed his “second best bed” in his will.
— and into the most obscure nooks and crannies of a big theatre. Slight of Mind, an original promenade production by Theatre Yes (The Elevator Project, Anxiety) propels us everywhere in the Citadel that isn’t actually a theatre— for a series of encounters with performers that, as fashioned by playwright Beth Graham, allow us to discover a story. “A theatrical event,” as Theatre Yes’s Heather Inglis puts it. “A starting place for the work has been the myth of Icarus with themes of escape, flying and falling.”
— and into a bar, The Almanac on Whyte. Cardiac Theatre — the enterprising indie co. that brought us the challengingly off-centre Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes, The Listening Room, Pompeii L.A. — wants you to have a drink in hand to experience Harley Morison’s KaldrSaga: A Queer Tavern Drama for A Midwinter’s Night. Separated by mountains Kaldr and Saga meet once a year in their favourite pub to tell tales inspired by “Norse mythology and queer storytelling,” a natural fit with beer. Nasra Adem and Mathew Hulshof star.
REINVENTING THE MUSICAL
That’s what the Plain Janes are all about. This season, in a coup, it’s Fun Home, a musical like no other. In the beautiful and adventurous 2013 Lisa Kron/Jeanine Tesoro musical based on a graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, a girl discovers her own sexuality, and the mysteries of her dad’s life. Dave Horak’s cast includes Jeff Haslam as dad and the Janes’ artistic director Kate Ryan as mom; three actors play Alison at different ages. It’s in the Varscona Theatre Ensemble lineup, slated for April.
SEE WHAT’S NEW
(a) Two new Conni Massing plays premiere this season: Massing #1: What if the elephant in the room … is an elephant? In Matara, premiering in the Workshop West Playwrights Theatre season (Nov. 28 to Dec. 9), we’re at a zoo in crisis. Ring a bell? A tragedy has happened, and we’re at an inquiry, where an elephant keeper, a security guard, and a marketing consultant have to justify their actions. Tracy Carroll directs.
Massing #2: What if a man takes a stand, against enforced seasonal jollity and sentiment? Oh Christmas Tree! (Roxy Performance Series, Dec. 11 to 23) takes us into the heart of the ever-fraught fa-la-la-la-la season — and the stress fractures in a couple with radically opposed views. Brian Deedrick returns from opera to theatre to direct. A casting coup: Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle, real-life husband and wife, star.
(b) In an apotheosis of madcap logistics, two new comedies by Kat Sandler premiere at the Citadel simultaneously — on two stages with the same cast dashing back and forth between them (March 30 to April 21). In the Maclab, The Candidate is a scramble for damage control by a candidate with prospects; in the Club at The Party, we’re actually at the political fundraising party nine months before, where the seeds for scandal are planted.
Blood: A Scientific Romance, a Maggie Tree production (Fringe Spotlight series, Oct. 16 to 27), is Edmonton’s introduction to the work of Meg Braem, currently the U of A playwright-in-residence. A scientist investigates the mysterious bond of biology and shared tragedy between orphaned twin sisters. Jayce MacKenzie and Gianna Vacirca star in Brenley Charkow’s production, along with Liana Shannon and Jenna Dykes-Busby.
Lake of the Strangers, inspired by Nehiyaw mythology, is a tale of two brothers on a summer adventure, premiering in the Fringe Spotlight Series Jan. 22 to Feb. 2. It’s by Hunter Cardinal, an exciting young Hamlet in Freewill Shakespeare’s summer season in the park.
SEE WHAT WE’VE BEEN MISSING (catch up with hot plays by starry playwrights)
Sweat, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner by American star Lynn Nottage, is set in a working-class bar in a dying Rust Belt factory town. And it speaks to the contemporary landscape where job erosion is beginning to reveal ugly social and racial fractures. Valerie Planche directs the Citadel/ Vancouver Arts Club co-production Jan. 12 to Feb. 3.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a 2012 Tony Award winner by the American farceur Christopher Durang, makes this possible: the words “Chekhovian” and “zany” will finally appear together in one descriptive. The ennui of three middle-aged siblings, named for self-deluding Chekhov characters from an assortment of his plays, is interrupted by the arrival of Masha’s young and studly lover. John Hudson’s Shadow Theatre production runs May 1 to 19 at the Varscona.
Middletown, by the enigmatic, oddly nuanced American playwright Will Eno (The Realistic Joneses, Tragedy: A Tragedy), takes us to an ordinary small town where the unexceptional, set forth in minute detail, is underlaid by weird glints of existential anxiety and despair. Sandra Nicholls directs the Studio Theatre production at the Timms Centre March 28 to April 6.
POLITICAL EDGE and the rise of fake news
Democracy as “alternative facts,” surveillance by shadowy puppet-meisters … It Began With Watching by Calgary-based choreographer/creator Melanie Kloetzel has an ominously sinister resonance. In Prairie Dance Circuit (launching Brian Webb Dance Company’s 40th anniversary season Sept. 21 and 22 at the Timm’s Centre), it’s paired with Gerry Morita’s Second Hand Dances For The Crude, Crude City (inspired by her collaboration with Chi Pig of the punk band SNFU). What does it mean to be alternative in the contemporary world?
GO RISKY OR GO HOME (redefining the old “every performance is different” theatre adage). Part 1, spontaneity
The unpredictability factor, ramped up to a terrifying degree, is built into Jezebel, At The Still Point. Created by Ainsley Hillyard, consistently one of our most adventurous dance/ theatre artists, it’s a movement/text exploration of time travelling in which she co-stars with her (untrained) French bulldog Jezebel. In performances in Winnipeg, Jezebel, who has a mind of her own, occasionally wandered off the stage, and mingled with the audience. There’s just no telling. It’s in the Roxy Performance Series Oct 9 to 21.
In Nassim, by the audacious Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour of White Rabbit Red Rabbit fame, the playwright shares the Citadel Club stage (April 30 to May 5) every night with an actor who has never before seen the script. A vivid, and much-travelled, experiment in exploring the elusiveness of language and meaning.
GO RISKY OR GO HOME. Part 2, embracing controversy
To be discussed: 19 Weeks, a Canadian premiere collaboration between Azimuth and Northern Light theatres, originally performed in and beside a Melbourne hotel swimming pool. In 2016 Australian playwright Emily Steel had an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Azimuth co-director Vanessa Sabourin stars (March 28 to April 13, Studio Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns).
THE RADICAL SIDE OF COMEDY, object laughter
The grand finale of the 2018 Teatro La Quindicina season is an original screwball (where else in the country do you find them?) Stewart Lemoine’s 2003 Skirts On Fire (Sept. 27 to Oct. 13 at the Varscona), is an effervescent tale of a literary hoax in ‘50s Manhattan.
One of the great modern farces comes to the Mayfield Dinner Theatre stage Feb. 5 to March 31. Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor is a crazily teetering architecture of mounting complications in a ‘30s opera company, on the opening night of Verdi’s Otello. Dave Horak directs.
WHAT’S IS NEWLY CONTROVERSIAL AGAIN (or is the world spinning backwards?)
What A Young Wife Ought To Know, by the star Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, finds its drama, and its tragedy, in the early 20th century history of women’s reproductive rights. Who thought birth control would get contentious again in these “enlightened” times? At Theatre Network Marianne Copithorne directs Merran Carr-Wiggin, Bobbi Goddard and Cole Humeny.
(a) Ron Pearson’s Minerva: Queen of the Handcuffs (Roxy Performance Series, Jan. 15 to 27) captures the true story of a famous female escape artist, regarded by Houdini as an upstart rival. Miranda Allen whose skill set, actor/escape artist makes her uniquely qualified for the role, stars.
(b) Everything about their lives, from daycare to their fellow workies, enrages the three connected characters of Billy (Les Jours de hurlement) — in English Days of Howling — by Quebec City playwright Fabien Cloutier. It opens the L’UniThéâtre season, the first under new artistic director Joëlle Préfontaine Oct. 10 to 13, 17 to 20.
FOLLOW THE ARTIST
Jon Lachlan Stewart, who brought the Fringe a sexy, violent, and wordless!, version of Macbeth (Macbeth Muet), is back in his home town to direct Lungs, by the Brit playwright Duncan MacMillan (Shadow Theatre, March 13 to 31). His cast? A pair of premier playwrights Chris Bullough and Beth Graham.
MYSTERIES YET TO BE DISCOVERED: Edmonton Actors Theatre’s Dave Horak is working on a “devised piece blending new technology and puppets” to be unveiled in May at the Fringe’s Studio Theatre at the Arts Barns. Impossible Mongoose (The Fall of the House of Atreus, The Alien Baby, Prophecy) is hatching “a new play with music about a media sensation from the 1930s inspired by the haunting of Cashen’s Gap. Working title: Gef,” says Corben Kushneryk. We’ll catch a workshop in the spring.
Just a sample of what’s to come. There’s more. Much more. I haven’t even mentioned the Bright Young Things’ production of Noel Coward’s delicious Fallen Angels, directed by Marianne Copithorne. Or Doug Curtis’s Mesa at Atlas Theatre. Or the Play The Fool Festival…. Or a Citadel/Banff production of The Tempest with a cast that includes deaf actors….
Time to dim the lights, and play.