It’s time to play: a peek at the new Edmonton theatre season

Lianna Makuch in Barvinok, Pyretic Productions. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Karen Hines, Pochsy Plays. Graphic art: Ryan Bartlett, film stills Peter Moller.

By Liz Nicholls,

Destination Fringe, with its 95,000 or so tickets sold, was a hint (we deal in big hints here in #yeg. People know what they’ve been missing; they want live in-person theatre experience and the sharing that goes with that.

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Theatre artists, along with companies of every personality and aesthetic, have gone through every kind of contortion and experiment to stay nimble, and survive. 2021 was half over before The Pivot pivoted back to live. And now they’re returning to action on stages all over town. Yes, there’s a theatre season starting, an achievement in itself. A Doll’s House Part 2 opens next week at the Varscona, Two Pianos Four Hands at the Mayfield, then Network at the Citadel.

Season announcements from Theatre Network and Workshop West Playwrights Theatre, both in new homes this season, await. But, to whet your appetite, here’s a little selection (in no particular order) of intriguing shows to look forward to — from what we know so far. 

Of this place: After a couple of COVID-ian delays Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s, an original homegrown musical comedy set in the flourishing supper club scene of ‘60s Edmonton — “the golden age of dining and dancing in Alberta’s capital” —  is the grand finale of the upcoming November to July season at Teatro Live! (the new moniker of Teatro La Quindicina). Commissioned by Teatro where it premiered in 2009, it’s a love story (with singing servers and a take-no-guff chanteuse proprietor), and a love letter to an under-appreciated era in our collective entertainment history. It’s the creation of company stars Jocelyn Ahlf and current co-artistic director Andrew MacDonald-Smith (book), Ryan Sigurdson and Farren Timoteo (music and lyrics) . Kate Ryan directs the revival that runs next summer (July 14 to 30 2023). 

Kewpie clown: Pochsy IV (work in progress). We first met her in the ‘90s, a toxic, poisoned kewpie attached to an IV pole, sweetly singing. “Everything’s falling apart but everyone’s falling in love.” And we followed Pochsy, smudgy-eyed and sugar-voiced, through a series of Karen Hines’ macabre and queasy clown shows, a veritable repository of marketplace jargon, pop culture sentimentality, and gallows humour. After her disappearance 15 years ago Pochsy is back — from the Great Beyond? you’ve got to wonder — with a new show as the headliner at the 2022 Play The Fool Festival (Sept. 22 and 24 at the Backstage Theatre).

There is no vegetarian special: Plain Jane Theatre is revisiting the Stephen Sondheim masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Nov. 11 to 20), in a small-cast small-scale up-close version led by Sheldon Elter as the demon barber of Fleet Street and Kristi Hansen as his inventive partner Mrs. Lovett whose meat pies are uncommonly delish. It runs Nov. 11 to 20 at tiny Co*Lab downtown, transformed for the occasion into the lunch room of a contemporary meat packing plant. Kate Ryan directs.

And they’re back, two high-profile indie companies who’ve been biding their time: 

(a) Wild Side Productions, with the stellar play they’ve had to cancel twice. Lucas Hnath’s funny, insightful A Doll’s House Part 2, is a contemporary sequel, of sorts, to the final scene in Ibsen’s 1879 masterpiece where Nora closes the door on her marriage, her home, her children to find a life of her own. The door opens 15 years later. Jim Guedo directs (Sept. 7 to 18 at the Varscona). More about this production in an upcoming 12thnight post. 

The Wolves, Citadel theatre. Photo supplied.

(b) The Maggie Tree, with Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-nominated The Wolves, set in the world of teenage girls on a soccer team. We’ll be up close, very, since Vanessa Sabourin’s 10-actor production happens, amazingly, in the Citadel’s Rice Theatre (Oct. 8 to 30), part of the Highwire series.

Timeless timely: Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, set at rehearsals for a play about lynching in the Jim Crow South — white director, white writer, Black star — would have been the first play by a Black woman to arrive on Broadway in the 1950s. But the playwright refused to make the changes demanded by white producers. It lingered in obscurity for the next 70-plus years, until its recent revivals on Broadway and at the Shaw Festival. It’s on the Citadel mainstage, directed by Audrey Dwyer (March 27 to April 16 2023). 

The war that’s never stopped: Named after the Ukrainian word for periwinkle, a delicate flower of remarkable persistence, Barvinok (formerly Blood of Our Soil) launches an Alberta tour with an Edmonton run at the Westbury Theatre (Sept. 21 to 25). Inspired by her discovery of her grandmother’s 1944 journal, an account of a nightmare war-time escape across Ukraine, Lianna Makuch’s play, researched on location in Ukraine, where war has never stopped, counterpoints the contemporary quest of a Ukrainian-Canadian to understand this traumatic inheritance. Patrick Lundeen directs the Pyretic production. Look for more about this play in an upcoming 12thnight post.

Fresh Hell by Conni Massing, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

The Odd Couple: Dorothy Parker and Joan of Arc, who have probably never even been in a sentence, much less a show, together, will co-habit the stage this season.Conni Massing’s Fresh Hell, scheduled and re-scheduled at Shadow Theatre, finally arrives at the Varscona. Kate Newby and newcomer Sydney Williams (recently impressive in Pressure at the Fringe) co-star in Tracy Carroll’s production (Jan. 18 to Feb. 5  2023).

Custom-made: Weasel, a new play by actor/playwright Beth Graham (Pretty Goblins, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble), the U of A’s playwright-in-residence, commissioned specially for the university’s graduating class of actors, launches the Studio Theatre season. (Oct. 13 to 22). Directed by Kevin Sutley, Weasel, noun and verb, is all about theatre and actors.    

Who holds the matches? Botticelli in the Fire: Sex and art, and the rising forces of repression,  make an explosive combination in this 2016 one-act by the star Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill. At the centre of a lively mix of the historical and the contemporary is the queer Renaissance painter, working on his masterpiece The Birth of Venus, against a landscape of escalating danger. Sarah Emslie directs, Common Ground Arts Society’s Mac Brock produces, as part of Fringe Theatre’s curated season (April 25 to May 7 2023). 

Kristin Johnston in Enough, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

Seat backs and tray tables up: The phrase ‘up in the air’ gets a workout in Enough, a 2019 two-hander by the Scottish writer Stef Smith. The characters are female flight attendants, bonded far above the earth, with an aerial perspective on their lives, disintegrating on the ground. Trevor Schmidt’s Northern Light Theatre Canadian premiere, starring Linda Grass and Kristin Johnston, runs at the Studio Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barn (Jan. 19 to Feb. 4 2023).

Almost A Full Moon, a new musical by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Hawksley Workman, Citadel Theatre. Photo supplied

Song cycle into musical: Almost A Full Moon, a Citadel commission, is the joint creation of Canadian playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and indie rock star/ composer Hawksley Workman. Grown from a workshop production at Sheridan College’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project (where Come From Away came from), Corbeil-Coleman weaves a holiday musical from three generations in three different time periods, using the songs of Workman’s title Christmas album of 20 years ago (with Workman additions).  Daryl Cloran directs the Citadel premiere Nov. 5 to 27.

Making it up: The grand finale of the upcoming Mayfield Dinner Theatre season (June 20 to July 23, 2023) is a bold venture into something entirely new and unexpected (not to mention different every night) at that theatre. Clusterflick: The Improvised Movie unleashes the forces of deluxe improv comedy on the Mayfield stage. Taking their cues from the audience the expert international improv trio Gordon’s Big Bald Head — Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Ron Pederson — will improvise an entire movie before your very eyes. So you never know in advance whether you’ll be seeing an action movie, a sci fi fantasy, a classic horror flick, a rom-com….    

All The Little Animals I Have Eaten by Karen Hines, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

Passing the Bechdel Test: Karen Hines’ comedy All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, which premiered at the 2017 High Performance Rodeo in Calgary, ups the ante: in 15 scenes four women in a tony bistro do not discuss men, babies, romance; they play dozens of characters, including Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. The Shadow Theatre production directed by Alexandra Dawkins runs March 15 to April 2, 2023 at the Varscona.

On the street where you live: London Road (Feb. 8 to 12) takes musical theatre somewhere it never goes: true crime, a verbatim text, and lyrics culled directly from the everyday speech of direct interviews. Based on the the 2006 murders of five sex workers on the same Ipswich street, this unorthodox 2011 English musical chronicles the effects on a community — in its own words. Jim Guedo directs the McEwan University production that runs Feb. 8 to 12 2023.

And, starring as… themselves: In First Métis Man of Odesa, theatre artists Matt MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova, a real-life married couple, take to the stage to play characters in their own story. It’s a kind of high-stakes cross-continent pandemic love story escalating in complications, urgency and terrors as it goes along. The Canadian actor/playwright (Bears, After The Fire)  and the Ukrainian theatre star meet across the world, fall in love, get married, become pregnant, and race against time and slamming borders to be together in Canada for the birth of their son. Now that the stakes have rocketed this year, as the news reveals daily, they’ve added an Act II to their story. The Punctuate! Theatre production directed by Lianna Makuch is part of the Citadel’s Highwire series (April 22 to May 14 2023).



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