By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Stay tuned; face forward. There’s more!
Intermission’s over, my friends, and Act II of the Edmonton theatre season is about to begin. Freaky Green Eyes, Emma Houghton’s original adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel, premieres in the Fringe Theatre season next week (more about this in an upcoming 12thnight post).
Meanwhile, what looks too good to miss? From a long list of highly anticipated shows arriving onstage here in 2023, here’s a sampling (in no particular order).
The Space Between Stars: Christine Lesiak, the artistic director of the Play The Fool Festival and a theatre artist of uncommon versatility (her exclusive career trajectory is space physicist-turned-clown), embraces her own unusual skill set in this stage adaptation of Saint-Exupéry’s classic The Little Prince. The mainstage feature at the 2023 SkirtsAfire Festival, The Space Between Stars includes live actors (Lesiak herself, with Sarah Emslie and Sahl Wilkie), puppets, and projections to tell the story of an astronomer and her memories of her son. It remains, to my knowledge, the only piece in #yeg theatre history to have a workshop at the U of A observatory. Tracey Carroll’s premiere production is in an actual theatre, the Westbury, March 2 to 12.
Listen, Listen: Possibly the quizzical premise of 2023. this new play from Edmonton ex-pat playwright/screenwriter Elyne Quan launches an initiative of commissions created specially for the “comedy-forward” company Teatro Live!. In Belinda Cornish’s production (May 26 to June 11 at the Varscona), Farren Timoteo stars as a Muzak connoisseur on a heroic quest to save the dulcet elevator music he loves from extinction in an uncomprehending world. The cast includes Alex Ariate, Nadien Chu, and Nikki Hulowski.
Fresh Hell: Speaking as we are of intriguing premises, consider the unlikely pairing of American wit Dorothy Parker and French hero Joan of Arc in Conni Massing’s play. They have much to talk and wrangle about, including subjects like living through the darkest of times. The co-stars of Tracy Carroll’s Shadow Theatre production (Jan. 18 to Feb. 5 at the Varscona) are Kate Newby and Sydney Williams. More about this in a 12thnight post coming soon.
Trouble in Mind: Still remarkably timely 68 years after it was written, Alice Childress’s play-within-a-play has both heft and humour as an indictment of racism, power structures, and biases in the world of theatre. It takes us backstage at rehearsals for an anti-lynching play set in the Jim Crow South. The director is white; the star, a veteran Black actress, challenges the stereotyping of the Black characters. Trouble in Mind, which originally opened in a small Greenwich Village theatre in 1955, would have been the first play by a Black woman to arrive on Broadway two years later, but playwright Childress refused to make the changes demanded by white producers. The Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production is directed by Audrey Dwyer (March 27 to April 16).
After Faust: The opening production of RISER Edmonton 2023, the #yeg branch of the national initiative launched to support indie producers, addresses an intriguing question. We all know what happened to Faustus, who bargained his soul away to the demon Mephistopheles for endless future considerations. What happened to the demon after that? Connor Yuzwenko-Martin’s play is all about that. The Invisible Practice production, performed in ASL by a deaf cast directed by Ebony Gooden, runs Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 at the Backstage Theatre.
Unsung: Tales From The Front Line. Based on verbatim interviews, the immersive seven-actor production created by Darrin Hagen and Workshop West artistic director Heather Inglis, is an homage to the healthcare workers who risked everything, and in a terrible political climate, to keep us safe, and alive, during the pandemic. Inglis directs the production, billed as “living portraits,” a gallery in which we move from frame to frame as we choose. Inglis directs the collaboration between Workshop West Playwrights Theatre, Theatre Yes, and Ground Zero Productions, running Jan. 25 to Feb. 12 at the Gateway.
Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes: In her 2020 two-hander “comedy drama,” the mainstage finale of Theatre Network’s first full season at the Roxy (April 25 to May 14), the Canadian star playwright Hannah Moscovitch builds on, plays with, and subverts in surprising ways, a familiar trope: the inappropriate affair between a university professor and student. The Theatre Network production (originally slated for 2020) continues a long-standing relationship between Moscovitch and the company (witness East of Berlin, Little One, Infinity, What A Young Wife Should Know). Marianne Copithorne directs a great cast: Gianna Vacirca and John Ullyatt co-star.
Twelfth Night: Shakespeare’s mysteriously madcap, light-dark, open-ended comedy (a favourite of mine, how can you tell?) is one of the two mobile productions in Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s upcoming 36th summer season. Displaced from Freewill’s home stage by the city’s three-YEAR renovation plans in Hawrelak Park, Twelfth Night hits the road through the city (locations to be announced) in rep with Romeo and Juliet, the former directed by up-and-comer Amanda Goldberg, the latter by Freewill artistic director Dave Horak. A cast of 10 alternates in the two Shakespeares, both in Freewill’s signature boldly contemporary style, in a travelling festival that runs late July to the end of August.
Civil Blood: A Treaty Story: Set during the dying days of the fur trade, the play by Anishinaabe writer Josh Languedoc (Rocko and Nakota, IN-COR-RI-GI-BLE) and Neil Kuefler weaves a Romeo and Juliet tale of culture-cross’d lovers (a Nehiyaw huntress and a French scholar), into a high-tension dramatic tapestry of settler encroachment into First Nations territories, treaties, Canadian government enforcements. Epic in scale (2022 staged readings at Rubaboo, Flying Canoe Volant, and Found Fest have included casts of 12 and 15), it gets a workshop production May 28 in the 2023 season of new work to be announced by Thou Art Here Theatre Feb. 5.
A Hundred Words For Snow: The solo play by the English writer Tatty Hennessy is a coming-of-age story, an adventure quest undertaken by a 15-year-old who sets out to take her father’s ashes to the North Pole, the top of the world. Climate change, ice, polar bears … it should be meat and drink for Northern Light Theatre’s director Trevor Schmidt and designer Alison Yanota. Schmidt’s production, starring Dayna Lea Hoffman, runs April 21 to May 6 in the Studio Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barn.
First Métis Man of Odesa: Two theatre artists, Canadian playwright/actor Matthew MacKenzie (Bears, After The Fire) and Ukrainian actor Mariya Khomutova, real-life husband and wife take to the stage as characters in their own suspenseful, crazily looping, high-stakes story. In a dangerously volatile world, where pandemics erupt and borders snap shut, they meet, they fall in love, they get married, they cross oceans, they have a baby. And in the newly expanded version that plays April 22 to May 14 in the Citadel’s Highwire Series, the stakes are raised even higher when a Russian tyrant invades Ukraine. Lianna Makuch directs the Punctuate! Theatre production.
Boy Trouble: I first saw Mac Brock’s play at Nextfest in 2019 and was struck by its humour, its lively and lyrical writing, its insights into the fleeting encounters of the Grindr age in all their toxic masculinity. The production happening in the Fringe Theatre season (May 16 to 27, directed by the playwright, has been reimagined: same world, the original characters and that same world of casual and mixed connections — but more of them, over more years. And all new text. The production directed by Brock stars Romar Dungo and Maxwell Hanic.
Deafy: This invitation into the challenging world of the Deaf is the creation of the remarkably charismatic Deaf actor Chris Dodd. He stars as a wry, very droll Deaf public speaker with a well-honed appreciation for absurdity. Nathan Jesper lives in three languages — spoken English, ASL, and captions. If you didn’t see the version at the Fringe, and even if you did, you’ll want to see Ashley Wright’s production at the Citadel Jan 21 to Feb. 12.
Prison Dancer: the second of the Citadel’s two new Canadian musicals this season (the first: Almost A Full Moon) is the joint creation of the Filipino-Canadian team of Romeo Candide and Carmen De Jesus. It’s spun from a 2007 YouTube video, an instant viral sensation, which showed a big group of Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The musical is energized by the ways in which dance changed their lives. It runs May 6 to 28, the Citadel mainstage finale.
Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s: There’s been a long pandemical preamble to Teatro Live’s revival of this delightful homegrown 2009 musical comedy by Teatro stars Jocelyn Ahlf and Andrew MacDonald-Smith with music by Ryan Sigurdson and lyrics by Farren Timoteo. It’s a love story set in the lively supper club world of Edmonton of the ’60s, amongst the singing servers and the musicians, with the sassy proprietor who presides (Andrea House). Kate Ryan directs the Teatro production running July 14 to 30.