Welcome back! Act II of the Edmonton theatre season is about to begin

The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Photo by Citrus Photography.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

I know what you’re thinking — post-festivity regret, punishing resolutions, the sense of finale. But cast off these thoughts: the theatre season isn’t ending. It’s only intermission. And intermission is over. Welcome back; Act II is about to begin. So, what looks unmissable? That’s a long list across a wide spectrum of companies in this theatre town. But here’s a selection….

The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The fascinating premise of Catalyst’s much-anticipated new “musical,” (book, music, lyrics by Jonathan Christenson; design by Bretta Gerecke) is espionage. Moreover, it’s inspired by real life, the seven-member Allied team of crack female operatives who dropped behind enemy lines in World War II to sabotage the Nazi war machine. After an award-winning premiere run at Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre (with a record nine Betty Award nominations), The Invisible finally makes its Edmonton debut in February, billed irresistibly as “a genre-busting mash-up of historical research, film noir, graphic novels, and musical theatre.”

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•GEF: I think we can all agree that “psychological thrillers cum Jazz Age musicals” are not a dime a dozen. The beguilingly named indie company Impossible Mongoose has one (book by Jessy Ardern, music by Erik Mortimer). And it’s ready to reveal in June (dates to be announced) as an Azimuth Theatre “showcase.” . Corben Kushneryk drew his inspiration from accounts of a mysterious voice behind the walls of a remote Isle of Man farmhouse in the 1930s. 

Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, Broadway Across Canada. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Dear Evan Hansen: A highly unusual Broadway pop-rock musical that gets to the heart of teenage alienation and social anxiety, this 2016 multiple Tony Award-winner by the starry young team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who did the music for La La Land, incidentally), tells the story of a lonely, awkward high school kid and the  misapprehension that, uncorrected and introduced into the social media bloodstream, goes viral and changes his life. It arrives at the Jube Feb. 11 to 16, under the aegis of Broadway Across Canada.


Sara Louise, Liam Coady, Emily Howard, Owen Bishop in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Winter Shakespeare Festival. Photo supplied.

•For more than three decades Shakespeare has made himself at home in summertime E-Town, letting his hair down and camping out in Hawrelak Park rain or shine on behalf of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival. It’s not just a summer fling. The 32nd annual edition runs June 16 to July 12 in the park, alternating Much Ado About Nothing (directed by Dave Horak) and Macbeth (directed by Nancy McAlear). Now, courtesy of the London/Canada collective Malachite Theatre, there’s a Winter Shakespeare Festival too (Jan. 3 to Feb. 2, making its debut at the venerable arts-friendly Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Strathcona (indoors, you’ll be relieved to hear).  In a festively counter-intuitive move for the dead of E-Town winter, director Benjamin Blyth alternates A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that magical romantic foray through the maze of dreams, folly and mis-identifications, with Julius Caesar. Now there’s an exploration of power, authority, tyranny, sabotage, treachery that can’t help but seem “new hatch’d to the woeful time.”

Value added: intriguingly, the new Winter Shakespeare Festival includes staged readings of two anonymous 17th century scripts by Shakespeare’s contemporaries — both set in “Edmonton.” Well, OK, the north London borough of Edmonton, but still…. The Merrie Devil of Edmonton (Jan. 29) is an Elizabethan city comedy about a magician, once attributed to Shakespeare; The Witch of Edmonton (Jan. 22) is a highly peculiar Jacobean play about an old woman who makes a pact with the devil who’s in dog form.  Edmonton artist John Richardson has adapted the texts for contemporary performance.

The Society of the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, Theatre Network. Photo supplied.

The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius: Undoubtedly the most outrageously salacious prospect of the season, from one of the country’s most fearless playwrights, Colleen Murphy. Quentin Tarantino is a Sunday school picnic kind of guy in comparison. Its play-within-a-play is a no-holds-barred presentation of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s most notorious revenge tragedy cum gore fest — complete with cannibalism, dismemberments, evisceration, infanticide, not to mention assorted low-ball murders. Ah, as done by a troupe of grotesque Euro-style clowns whose purchase on the social proprieties is …. zero. Bradley Moss’s five-actor ensemble, led by Robert Benz, is at Theatre Network Jan. 30 to Feb. 16.

Here comes the sun

As You Like It: Shakespeare’s glowing and joyful romantic comedy set to the music of … the Beatles. Aren’t you curious? Daryl Cloran’s ‘60s-style production, which has acquired rights to some 25 Beatles songs, a noteworthy achievement in itself, broke every box office record at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach in 2018. It’s at the Citadel Feb. 16 to March 16. And after that, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (where Six made its North American debut before coming to the Citadel this fall).

We, us, ours

The Garneau Block: What could be more of this place, here and present, than this very Edmonton story of mis-matched, fractious neighbours, idiosyncratic individuals all, who defy the cultural odds by banding together to save their ‘hood? Belinda Cornish adapts Todd Babiak’s funny, satirical but affectionate novel for the stage. Rachel Peake directs the Citadel production that runs March 14 to April 5. 

•Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s Teatro La Quindicina’s 2009 musical comedy, by the team of Jocelyn Ahlf and Andrew MacDonald-Smith (book), Ryan Sigurdsson (music) and Farren Timoteo (lyrics), puts on a party dress and invites us into Edmonton’s thriving supper club scene of the ‘60s — and the particularly E-town self-doubt that if we were really any good we’d be some place else. Kate Ryan of the Plain Janes and herself a Teatro actor of note, makes her Teatro directing debut with the revival that runs July 9 to 25 at the Varscona. 

Helen Belay, Nicole St. Martin, Isaac Andrew in The Blue Hour, SkirtsAfire Festival.

The Blue Hour: Michele Vance Hehir’s dark and funny Alberta Playwriting Competition winner of 2017, returns us to the fictional small prairie town of Roseglen, AB., the scene of her trilogy of plays about small-town dreams, dropped hints, gossip, disappointments, long-buried family secrets buried at different depths and in different periods. The Blue House takes us to post-war Roseglen, where we meet a struggling single mother (Nicole St. Martin), a young son (Isaac Andrew) and his older sister (Helen Belay) who’s desperate to exit the small-town confines. It premieres (Feb 27 to March 8) as the featured production at this year’s SkirtsAfire Festival; Fest founder Annette Loiselle directs. And hey, the festivities move across the river for the occasion from their usual Alberta Avenue turf to Strathcona (the Westbury Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barns).   

The here and now

•The Children: This 2016 post-apocalyptic gripper, from the English playwright Lucy Kirkwood, is set in the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown. Two retired nuclear scientists, a couple in retreat from fallout, are joined by a mysterious third character, another physicist from their shared past. Big moral issues, both eco- and human, play out. Jim Guedo directs the Wild Side Production (March 12 to 22), an onstage reunion of  a trio of premium actors, Marianne Copithorne, Christine MacInnis, and David McNally.

•Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes: The latest from the star Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, who has a long and fruitful relationship with Theatre Network (Infinity, Little One, What A Young Wife Ought To Know), draws a bead on the relationship between a 40-something professor and an admiring student, through the #MeToo lens. It premieres at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre this week. The Theatre Network production (April 23 to May 10), directed by Marianne Copthorne, stars Dave Horak and Gianna Vacirca.

•After The Fire: The blaze in question is Fort McMurray’s devastating inferno of 2016. And the aftermath is the human turf of Matthew MacKenzie’s (very) dark comedy, which began its stage life as the surprising and enigmatic Bust at Theatre Network. The ground was still smouldering when he wrote it. The play returns (April 18 to May 10) in re-worked form to the Citadel’s new Highwire series, in a collaboration between Punctuate! Theatre and Alberta Aboriginal Arts.   

•Happy Birthday Baby J: This new comedy from the Dora Award-winning actor/playwright (a U of A theatre grad now ensconced in the Toronto scene) has a zinger of a set-up: a couple throwing a second birthday party for the kid they’re raising without gender. Warning: political correctness might show up in a too-tight flowered party dress, and pieties might well get skewered. It premieres in the Shadow Theatre season Jan. 22 to Feb. 9.

And there’s more…

Noises Off: It’s true, I’m a sucker for farces (is it the savoury combination of terror, quease, and hilarity?) And Michael Frayn’s 1982 Noises Off is the crowning glory of the contemporary farce repertoire. A play within a play, Noises Off affords prize onstage and behind-the-scenes views of a terrible sex farce called Nothing on, from rehearsals through performance, then 10 weeks into a punishing tour of the boondocks. A declension into absolute mayhem. The Mayfield Dinner Theatre production runs Feb. 4 to March 29.

•Crave: A new theatre company, Stonemarrow, brings us a rare foray into the formidably challenging, sometimes shocking work of English playwright Sarah Kane (Psychosis 4:48), who hanged herself at 28 in 1999. Perry Gratton, a Stonemarrow co-founder along with Samantha Jeffery, directs this lyrical chamber quartet about love, lovelessness, and death. It opens Jan. 16.

But first up …

Everybody Loves Robbie by the stunningly versatile playwright/ actor/ mentor/ festival director Ellen Chorley, premiering next week at Northern Light Theatre, explores sexuality and gender uncertainties in a pair of high school drama kids. Chorley, director of Nextfest, calls it a love letter to high school drama. The stars of Trevor Schmidt’s production are two of E-town’s hottest young actors, Jayce McKenzie and Richard Lee Hsi. It opens the same night (Jan. 10) as a new revue, Cafe Wanderlust, assembled and directed by Plain Janes’ Kate Ryan for the Citadel’s House Series.


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