Archive for the ‘Local Event Reviews’ Category

Memoirs of a Single Gay White Male is for spitting, not swallowing

by Glen Callender

This show should be called Memoirs of a Painfully Stupid Single Gay White Male, for two reasons. First, that’s exactly what Brad, the protagonist of the story, is. And second, it’s the only demographic likely to be impressed by this well-meaning but misguided mess.

The first act, which charts Brad’s life from childhood through college, is a cutesy romp through a series of queer-kid cliches handled with impressive unoriginality, spiced with a few obligatory moments of nudity and simulated sex. Most of it doesn’t work, because we’ve all been there and done that, and it was probably a lot more interesting when it happened to us.

Things pick up for a while in the more engaging second act, where Brad actually has a few relatively original experiences, such as inadvertently having anonymous phone sex with one of his best friends. At times the banality gives way to charming moments and genuine laughs, mostly because lead actor Jamie Foster succeeds in making Brad generally likable in spite of his immaturity.

But any hope of redemption is ultimately crushed by an abominable after-school special denouement that reeks with the very desperation this show tries to assuage. I had to avert my eyes in sheer embarrassment when Brad, after haplessly bringing himself to a totally unconvincing state of self-acceptance, finally looks out at the audience and insists, “It’s okay to be single!”

Alas, after putting us through two acts of this clueless moron stumbling through a series of excruciatingly obvious life lessons, Memoirs of a Single Gay White Male doesn’t have the self-esteem to run down the curtain without shamelessly begging us to swallow its (highly debatable!) message. How hungry must one’s inner child be to tolerate this kind of spoon-feeding?

So, assuming you’re gay and single, are you dumb enough to enjoy this production? Just answer this simple question:

Are you well into adulthood, yet still shout “ewww!” and make a yuck-face when you hear the word “vagina”?

If your answer is yes, then congratulations, Memoirs of a Single Gay White Male is right on your level. And I think we’ve also solved the riddle of why you’re still single: you’re an insufferably shallow and stupid person. Too bad this show panders to your childishness instead of telling you it’s time to grow the fuck up.

At Performance Works (1218 Cartwright Street on Granville Island) until April 11. Tickets at TicketsTonight.ca

Tremors Festival proves difficult to fault

by Glen Callender

Hold onto your arm rests, theatre-goers, because the Tremors Festival is shaking the Cultch like a screaming Italian woman in the jaws of an epileptic Tyrannosaurus Rex. In a totally good way.

The fest kicked off Tuesday with Why Not Theatre’s I’m So Close…, an ambitious hour that poses one of the Big Questions: “How did we get here?”

So Close...
“Here” variously refers to everything from our co-ordinates in the cosmos to the states of our relationships, but it is the latter meaning that dominates the narrative, as we follow the seriocomic story of a workaholic electrical engineer whose busy travel schedule places increasing strain on his marriage.

The three cast members are all excellent physical performers, and frequently use the device of speeding up repetitive actions to create impressively frenetic scenes depicting the bustle of the business world and the gradual decay of a marriage impoverished by too much time apart.

But this is also a thoroughly digital show, as multimedia elements are employed to excellent effect; the performers dart in and out from behind a large translucent screen that glows with elegant video projections illustrating how digital technology mediates their characters’ lives. Yet in spite of this high-tech backdrop, the image that appears most often on the screen predates digital technology by thousands of years—the eternally embracing pair of neolithic skeletons recently unearthed in Italy—a haunting counterpoint to the increasing separation and isolation of the living husband and wife on the stage.
eternal_embrace
A thoughtful and frequently delightful exploration of how technology designed to connect us can paradoxically push us further apart, I’m So Close… is marred only by a somewhat awkward opening monologue, which offers a facile introduction to the Big Bang and particle physics, and over-extends the question “How did we get here?” by tritely asking members of the audience what modes of transport they used to travel to the theatre. I suppose the temptation to interpret the question in every possible sense was irresistible, but I found it a mildly patronizing start to an otherwise beautiful piece of theatre.

If you’re looking for a hilariously ugly piece of theatre, on the other hand, get thee to Theatre Melee’s Cozy Catastrophe. In a derelict urban basement, four not-very-smart strangers and a rotting ham uneasily co-exist as the outside world comes to a violent demise in some kind of fiendish Godzilla-Cloverfield-zombie apocalypse. Expanded from a 15-minute playlet at Hive 2 (2008), Cozy Catastrophe now clocks in at 75 minutes—65 minutes of which is comedy gold.
Cozy Catastrophe
The show’s wide-open, killing-time-in-an-empty-room format gives the ensemble carte blanche to cut loose and play—and they work it to the hilt, alternating bursts of slapstick violence with moments of calm where the characters lapse into poignant monologues that invariably culminate in stupid and irrelevant conclusions.

It’s great, gross, gory fun, and as impressed as I am with the show in its current form, I am excited by the thought that Cozy Catastrophe has yet to reach its outer limits, and will surely mutate again into something even bigger and better. Having grown from a short piece to a solid one-act, Cozy Catastrophe now begs to be developed into an ultra-low budget sci-fi film—I say we lock this anarchic crew in a basement with a camcorder, no food and no water, and not let them out until it’s in the can.

I’m So Close… closes April 10; Cozy Catastrophe closes April 17. Full Tremors Festival details here.

Where’s Charley? is a giddy delight

by Glen Callender

Studio 58’s production of Where’s Charley? opened on World Theatre Day, that sacred time when the thoughts of all good people turn to those two Ancient Greek masks—one laughing, one crying—that symbolize the faces actors make when they read their reviews.

I have no idea where the crying mask was that night, but Where’s Charley? certainly wears the laughing mask with an aplomb that Aristophanes himself would have admired. Yes, I assure you that if Aristophanes were alive today, aside from being approximately 2455 years old, he would have guffawed heartily at the giddy musical spectacle of a pratfall-prone young man running about in a full-length Victorian dress, affecting a ludicrous British falsetto and hopelessly entangling himself in an-ever-more complex web of comic intrigue.

Benjamin Elliott stars as the titular Charley, a young Oxford man who is forced to impersonate his aunt—for the usual farcical reasons—and delivers a tour de force performance in a challenging quick-change role that requires him to continuously fall down, get back up, pull faces and wield his matronly hand-fan with the deftness of a comic cardsharp.

These cross-dressing antics are ably supported by a beaming, fresh-faced young cast whose obvious love of theatre makes this show impossible to dislike. The sets and costumes are bright and cheerful, the direction solid and the live music consistently on the mark. And the sly updates to this classic musical, such as the tasteful homoerotic innuendos among the ensemble, nicely bring the 1940s book forward into the 21st century.

All in all, Where’s Charley? is a top-notch student production and one of the best comedies of the season.

Now, this wouldn’t be a respectable review if I didn’t point out one or two niggling flaws, so it is with the most cursory nod to critical detachment that I note one or two of the slapstick sequences didn’t quite gel, and shaky spotlights were sometimes an unwelcome distraction.

And that’s all the token negativity towards Where’s Charlie? I can muster. If I must be negative, I’d rather direct my negativity toward you. Yes, you. Because the statistical probability is that you, dear reader, committed the grave sin of not going to the theatre on World Theatre Day.

And if so, Studio 58 will help you correct that dreadful karmic oversight, because Where’s Charley?’s iron grip on that laughing Greek mask will effectively extend World Theatre Day all the way out to the final curtain on April 18. Don’t miss it.

At Studio 58 (100 West 49th Avenue) until April 18. Tickets at TicketsTonight.com.

Nevermore: The end of the attitude that musicals are crap!

by Johnny K

As the actors of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe dove into the first song of the night, the hushed – yet surprised nonetheless – words “oh no! This is going to be a musical?!” fell out from between my lips. Put bluntly, musicals have just never been my cup of tea. Filled with bad over-acting, endless dancing and hokey tunes that I’d never listen to in any other context, musicals have usually felt somewhat forced and contrived to me. Call me a realist but honestly, when tragedy strikes, who the hell actually sings and dances about it? Nevertheless, since the lighting, costumes, and general ambience had already captured my interest, I figured I should at least give it a chance.

… and thank Poe I did.

Scott Shpeley in Nevermore —The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Photo by Sean McLennan.

What followed over the course of the next two hours was a phantasmagorical foray into the twisted macabre that, apparently, was Edgar Allen Poe’s life. With tragedy on top of cruelness on top of heartbreak on top of misfortune, it’s no wonder his works were as demented as they were. Here, however, it is his real life story (or at least a very exaggerated re-write of it) that is played out for all of us to see, with Poe himself depicted as the kind of madman that he otherwise usually wrote about.

Part musical, part narration, it is obvious that the writing of Nevermore takes its cue from the style and writing of Poe himself – with many direct quotes from the actual works thrown in for good measure. The entire drama unfolds on an extremely basic stage with eight sliding screen doors and a minimalist approach to props and set design; ironically, this made it one of the most captivating visual experiences I’ve seen in a theatre. Through the intricate use of lighting and shadows, all attention becomes focused on the actors, dressed in abstract Gothic clothing that may as well have come directly from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Enormous, wire-framed hoop skirts, knee-high leather boots, angular hats preposterously stretched out in opposing directions – the synergy of all these, along with the haunting music, myriad of sound effects and our very own imaginations – served to create a degree of atmosphere that no static set would ever come close to matching.

The cast of Nevermore —The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Photo by Sean McLennan.

As for the actors, every single one of them brings something fresh, exciting and often just plain odd to this stylized, technically gifted production. With Scott Shpeley in the gloomy title role effectively looking very much like a deer caught in headlights, we get the feeling that Poe is just as much a shocked observer as we are of the disturbing “dream within a dream” that is his life. The other talented cast members, with their own often hilariously exaggerated movements, powerful singing voices, and personal brands of eccentricity, also keep the audience sucked in. As there is very little direct dialogue between the characters here, we follow along through the songs and, especially, through the larger-than-life choreographed miming that is always filling the stage. The effect is such that at times it feels as though we are watching marionettes, rather than actual people, twisting and swinging on stage. Add to all this the songs of Jonathon Christenson – who, by the way, also happens to take credits for writer and director – often building into intense climaxes as choruses of harmonies seamlessly blend together with the action on stage, and you’ve got one hell of a warped, weird and, ultimately, wonderful production.

Perhaps I just might give musicals another chance…

Arts Club’s Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is playing at the Granville Island Stage until February 6th.

Arts Club’s Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily shines

by Bob Pember

The Arts Club’s Stanley theatre has started the new year off with the premiere of Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily written by Canadian playwright and author Joanna McClelland Glass. Starring theatre veterans Nicola Cavendish and Fiona Reid, the play focuses on the binary lives of two women in their mid sixties taking different approaches to their problems with growing old and settling down.  With expertly-delivered astute monologues, the play is remarkably accessible to people in all stages of life.

While the play stars both Cavendish and Reid, the two are never on stage together. Act One has Cavendish giving her portrayal of Peggy, the daily housekeeper to Mrs. Dexter, a once wealthy woman who has now forced to sell her house after her husband left her for her best friend and confidant.  Peggy grew up in a poor part of town in Newfoundland, and relays the bumps in her life—having four children (three of which survived infancy) with an unfaithful man who left once the children were born. Cavendish crafts this simple woman with ease on stage and keeps the audience engaged and laughing while going about her daily chores in the kitchen set.

Nicola Cavendish in Mrs. Dexter & Her Daily. Photo by David Cooper.

Fiona Reid’s character reads a little more complex than her busybody counterpart from the first act. When the audience first sees Mrs. Dexter, she has already sent Peggy home early out of minor frustrations and has decided that three o’clock in the afternoon is good enough time to start on the rye and ginger. Having been humiliated in the neighbourhood by her philandering husband, Mrs. Dexter has confined herself to night robes and alcohol while she waits for “the madding crowd” to come and buy her house. Though her story is tragic and her future seems bleak, she still manages to put the audience in hysterics at times—she continues calling her old friend ‘the rodent’ while mixing her drinks about four parts rye to one splash of ginger ale and swearing at her lazy children over the phone. While Cavendish was superb, Reid shone in her character and found a way to make an ex-upper class senior woman funny, captivating and emotionally moving.

Fiona Reid in Mrs. Dexter & Her Daily. Photo by David Cooper.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily to anyone wanting a unique and rewarding theatre experience. Not only do the actors deliver professional and sensitive performances, but the format of the two extended monologues creates a fresh feel in the theatre and is executed well through the accomplished script.

Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily runs until February 7th at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre.

Start Dreaming of a White Christmas

by Bob Pember

The Christmas season is up and running at the Stanley with Arts Club’s stage presentation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical. It’s a lively revival of the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye 1954 classic, starring Arts Club veterans Jeffrey Victor and Todd Talbot in the crooners’ places. The cast does a great job at bringing the story to an accessible place for those in Vancouver who aren’t scared of some Christmas spirit, and will be running until after Boxing Day for those who want to deck the halls as appropriate.

Todd Talbot, Monique Lund, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Jeffrey Victor in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical. Photo by David Cooper.

In case you’re not familiar with the original story, the show follows Bob Wallace (Victor) and Phil Davis (Talbot) as they attempt to help out their General from World War II. Wallace and Davis are popular entertainers and they use their craft to give the General’s hotel a boost over the unseasonably warm Christmas they’re having in Vermont. The duo team up with the Haynes sisters (played by Monique Lund and Sara-Jeanne Hosie) to put on a musical exhibit set in the barn behind the hotel with a number of challenges and misunderstandings that just might have a happy ending. It’s a heartwarming story to say the least, with songs from the Tin Pan Alley pillar, Irving Berlin, that have soundtracked Christmas’ for generations now.

Todd Talbot, Monique Lund, and the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical. Photo by David Cooper.

The cast has a bevy of experience in Vancouver as well as throughout Canada and the US. Lead by Victor, Talbot, Lund and Hosie, the ensemble manages to bring enthusiasm and freshness to this classic from the fifties. Their work is cut out for them with the slightly antiquated content – the “everything works out in the end like you knew it would” ending and arbitrary moments of song are challengingly quaint for modern times. However, this production doesn’t disappoint, and though the “AM radio” style of arrangements and matching comfortable sweaters might not be the most congruent with an audience well-versed in several forms of instant messaging, the youthful cast finds a fuzzy Christmas tale to tell even the most jaded crowd of contemporary cynics.

White Christmas at the Stanley is a great way to get a jump start on holiday frivolity, and it will have the whole family singing along before the curtains are down.

White Christmas plays at Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre until December 27, 2009.

Theft charms at the Metro Theatre

by Jacquie Lanthier

What do you get when a philosophising crook with high blood pressure breaks into the country home of a millionaire? The makings of Theft by Eric Chappell, playing at the Metro Theatre until December 5th.

Dress Cast 1[Photos by Brian Campbell.  (l to r) Gerard Ponsford, Luke Day, Tom Kavadias (sitting), Rosalyn Winther, and Chris McBeath]

John Miles, played by Gerard Ponsford, and Barbara Miles, played by Chris McBeath, are a realistic couple in a love-hate relationship based on riches and superficialities. John has invited his friend from grade school, Trevor Farrington (Luke Day), and his wife, Jenny Farrington (Rosalyn Winther), along for a weekend in the country to celebrate he and Barbara’s 30th wedding anniversary—an invitation which Barbara clearly despises because Trevor and Jenny are “poor”. The private lives of these two couples provide the fodder for the crook, Spriggs (Tom Kavadias), who becomes caught in their living room upon their return and literally steals the show by revealing their secrets in many humorous attempts to win his own freedom.

Dress Cast 2[Tom Kavadias as Spriggs, the burglar]

While the play can be somewhat slow at times, there is enough humour and wit between the characters on stage to make the ticket a worthy way to spend a Friday evening. And hey, who doesn’t like to learn the secrets of strangers?

Theft is playing at the Metro Theatre until December 5.

Evil Dead Musical Possessed by Spirit of Mediocrity (The Norm Theatre)

By Glen Callender

I went to Evil Dead: The Musical thinking I was all-but-guaranteed to see a great show. By my reckoning, the three classic Evil Dead movies could be adapted into a gory stage musical a hundred different ways, but so long as that essential Evil Dead spirit was preserved, the show couldn’t go wrong.

Evil Dead

But alas, the show went pretty wrong. This production certainly looks like Evil Dead—it’s got the demons, the chain-saw, the gore, and many of the films’ most memorable catch-phrases—but unfortunately, somewhere along the line it became possessed by a malevolent spirit of Mediocrity. At best, an occasional glimmer of Evil Dead’s true soul shines through as it struggles mightily against the will of its captor, but in the end, sadly, Mediocrity wins the day.

All through the opening-night show, I could hear Mediocrity’s phantom whisper, urging the writers and director to forsake the clever for the dumb and obvious, the straight gag for the wide-eyed mug. When the hapless Cheryl makes an aside about how she is walking off alone into the deep dark woods, it’s supposed to be funny because she’s so self-aware about what she’s doing. The problem is, that joke has already been done so many times that it would actually be funnier—not to mention more faithful to the original—to just walk off alone into the deep dark woods without reflection, just like they do in the movies.

And that’s the critical error that hamstrings this show. The Evil Dead movies succeeded by taking the clichés of the horror-movie genre and straight-facedly amping them up to extremes; this musical version disappoints by making its characters constantly pull faces at the audience, apparently fully aware that they are disposable cardboard characters in a supernatural horror-comedy stage musical.

And disposable cardboard characters they are, unnecessarily hammed up from their film counterparts because today’s audiences apparently hunger to see the same damned thing over and over. Two characters in particular—a dumb chauvinist jock and his slutty bimbo girlfriend—have been done a million times before, and parodied a million times more. This production merely re-hashes the standard parody, doing nothing to transcend the clichés and make these stock characters funny again—instead, we’re supposed to laugh merely because the dumb jock is really chauvinist and the bimbo is really slutty. Yawn.

However, this show is not without its charms, most of which emanate from Scott Walters’ Ash. Ash is the hero of this story, and he pulls double-duty here, because on top of saving humanity from evil forces beyond our imaginations, he also saves this show from itself. Walters has the stature, charisma and pure physical energy to pull off Ash’s manic machismo-slash-terror, and his dexterity and sharp timing make the show’s set-piece slapstick scenes—such as Ash’s mortal battles with his own demon-possessed hand—laugh-out-loud funny.

Thanks to Walters, Mat Baker’s sadly under-utilized Jake, an impressive set and some fun, gory violence, this production is worth at least half its $32-$35 ticket price. Since one can buy all three Evil Dead DVDs for about the same price as this show, my advice is to make sure you own (and love) the movies that inspired Evil Dead: The Musical before you consider forking out for this merely semi-satisfying show.

At the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 West 41st Avenue at Oak) until November 7. Info and tickets at http://www.dsrproductions.com/

Look who’s evil now! Evil Dead: The Musical, rocks!

by Laura Melvin

It’s Evil Dead, the cult-classic Sam Raimi 80s demon-zombie movie… but with singing! Evil Dead: The Musical is a bloody hilarious theatre adaptation of the famous flick brought to us by the lovely people at Ground Zero Theatre, Hit & Myth Productions, and Keystone.

The run down: five college students take a vacation in an abandoned cabin in the woods where they discover a mysterious book in the cellar that just happens to unleash angry spirits that turn people into zombies. The cabin belongs to the professor who found the book in an old castle in Europe with his daughter. The professor is missing and the daughter comes to see him only to find a weird guy with a chainsaw in her father’s cabin. You know, standard horror movie stuff. What’s great about Evil Dead: The Musical are the pointed references to typical horror movie stereotypes. There’s the vulgar party guy, the big-breasted blonde, the book nerd, the strange local, and the random guy who rarely speaks. The hero, of course, is protected by the perfect love he shares with his girlfriend that prevents him from becoming a zombie. And it wouldn’t be a horror movie without that convenient character who just so happens to have the knowledge to banish the zombies for good just in the knick of time. Hurray!

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL VANCOUVER 1

The entire cast does a stand up job in this production: Tyler Rive (hero “Ash”), Jamie Tognazzini (book nerd little sister “Cheryl”), Lynley Hall (hero’s girlfriend “Linda), Kevin Corey (party guy “Scotty”), Cailin Stadnyk (big-breasted “Shelly” and professor’s daughter “Annie”), Guilly Urra (silent guy “Ed”) and Bruce Horak (strange local “Jake”) all manage to sing, dance, and act while smothered in fake blood. Evil Dead: The Musical does a great job of making fun of itself and all the horror-movie stereotypes we know and love. This play is so entertaining it may even reach the cult-status of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But, beware! If you sit in the first few rows you WILL be covered in blood spatter!

Evil Dead: The Musical is playing at the Vogue Theatre until November 14.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed is full of laughs

by Laura Melvin

Moms will completely relate to the “Moms” in Arts Club Theatre Company’s Mom’s the Word: Remixed. For the rest of you who aren’t Moms but have one, Susan Bertoia, Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Barbara Pollard, and Deborah Williams will have you laughing until you cry.

Third in the Mom’s the Word collection, Mom’s the Word: Remixed is an amalgamation of the first two plays, Mom’s the Word and Mom’s the Word 2: Unhinged. When the play was first conceived by the original six Moms, their children were all under six.  But, as their darling sons and daughters entered their teen years, the women found they had a whole new batch of material to entertain audiences with, and Mom’s the Word 2: Unhinged was born.  Mom’s the Word: Remixed takes the best of both plays and divides them into two acts, covering the life-stages from newborn to teenager.

The first act discusses those precious childhood years, complete with the lack of sleep and lack of sex the early years are known to bring. If you have young children of your own, you’ll empathize with the performers’ tales of child rearing.  Even if you don’t, you’ll still recognize the screaming, crying, chasing, bartering and bribing mommy-behaviours you see in grocery stores, malls and parks, everywhere.  You’ll even recognize those behaviours from stories your own mother tells you, like that time you stripped down naked, streaking through The Bay as your mother chased you… Oh come on, everyone has a story like that!  After seeing this play, you may just be a little more sympathetic to women trying to deal with a wailing child in a public place.

The second act illustrates the tumultuous teen years, complete with the sarcastic attitudes and typical-teen behaviour.  It’s an eye-opener to see teenage exploits from the point of view of a mother.  We all have tales from our teen years about staying out all night, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and doing things we would never do now.  We look back at those memories with fondness, evidence of a time when we felt invincible.  But, for many mothers, and parents in general, those memories are filled with tension, worry, and the image of you lying in a ditch somewhere.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed balances its humour with darker stories of hospital visits and police incidents, as well as other issues such as breast cancer and extramarital affairs.  If anything, the play dispels any notion that being a mom is easy, but emphasizes that it is a job worth doing.  After watching Mom’s the Word: Remixed, you’ll definitely feel like giving your mom an enormous “Thank You” cake… or an “Apology” cake, depending on how much of a little brat you were.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed is playing at the Arts Club Theatre until November 7, 2009.