Archive for the ‘vancouver events’ 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.

HIVE 3 vibrates like a cell in your mental crotch-pocket

By Glen Callender

HIVE 3, the latest edition of Vancouver’s notorious biannual alt-theatre extravaganza, is a midget Fringe festival stuffed into a dodgy pressure cooker that could explode at any moment. In a totally good way.

This time around, 14 local theatre companies have transformed the Centre for Digital Media into a cacophonous colony of intimate performance cells, each containing a strange and delicious morsel of over-the-top experimental theatre. Some productions are viewed in relative safety from behind an alleged fourth wall; others are interactive adventures where you are part of the show.

Further complicating matters, you can’t simply line up to get into most of these shows. Instead, you must earn your seat by tracking down a person or item in the crowded concourse area—a teddy bear, a photograph, a prescription, and a key, among other things, are your tickets to certain performances.

Some of these items are easy to find. Others are frustratingly elusive. Sometimes you choose a show. Sometimes a show chooses you. And thanks to a network of cameras and microphones concealed in the common areas, you may end up performing in at least one of the shows without your knowledge.

Intrigued? Of course you are.

Performances are short and snappy at 15 minutes max, but with 14 shows running continuously on independent schedules, it’s impossible to see everything in one night. But don’t sweat what you don’t see—the place is buzzing and there’s plenty of honey to go around.

In the end I managed to see five of the 14 shows—but I won’t attempt to influence your trajectory by reviewing any of them. With one exception.

Whatever you do, try not to miss a clever little truffle called Frisk. When you see people wearing large headphones wandering around the common area, look approachable. If you are approached (which is by no means guaranteed) you’re in for an amusingly invasive interactive experience. See it with a complete stranger. You probably will.

Make a beeline to HIVE 3. Be there when the doors open at 7 p.m. to maximize your show-going potential. And have fun, my beloved little theatre drones.

At the Centre for Digital Media (577 Great Northern Way) until March 20. Tickets @ http://www.vancouvertix.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.

PREVIEW: Salute to Vienna

Entering its 15th season, the Salute to Vienna (STV) concert series has become a favourite holiday musical tradition throughout North America. The series combines the brilliant talents of The Strauss Symphony of Canada with stellar European maestros, tenors, sopranos and dancers to perform and celebrate the glorious, uplifting music of Vienna’s “Waltz King”, Johann Strauss Jr., and his contemporaries. STV is delightfully reminiscent of Vienna’s famous and beloved Neujahrskonzert, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over 70 years and televised annually to 1.3 billion people around the globe.  Over the past decade STV has grown into the largest live concert series of its kind in North America, under the leadership of Attila and Marion Glatz, founders and producers of this unique project.

In 1995, STV premiered in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.  By 2004 the show was presented in 33 major concert halls over a 5 day period across the continent, including sold-out performances in Montreal (Place des Arts), Vancouver (Orpheum Theatre), Calgary (Jack Singer Concert Hall tat the Epcor Centre), Los Angeles (the Walt Disney Concert Hall), Philadelphia (the Kimmel Center), Washington (the Kennedy Center), New York (the Lincoln Center) and Boston (Symphony Hall). The 2010 concert will mark its 14th season in Vancouver.

Salute to Vienna is the only genuine re-creation of the original Viennese production and is officially recognized by the Mayor of Vienna as an authentic Viennese New Year’s celebration. What Nutcracker means to Christmas, Salute to Vienna means to the New Year!

Salute to Vienna plays on Friday, January 1 at 2:30 pm at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre

For a complete list of Salute to Vienna concerts and ticket information visit:

www.salutetovienna.com or call 1-800-545-7807.  Group rates available.

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.

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.

Fringe Reviews You Can’t Refuse (Part 4)

By Glen Callender

The 2009 Vancouver Fringe Festival has come to a glorious end, and alas, our intrepid reviewer has been reduced to a gibbering shell of a man. Behold the final four of an epic 26 reviews, listed in the order in which they are listed:

DAS KABARETT

In a tale inspired by the experiences of performer Heidemarie Muller’s grandmother in Serbia during the fall of the Third Reich, a respectable German woman struggles to protect her children and keep her family together as she is repeatedly forced onstage to perform humiliating satires of her own culture for hostile soldiers and militiamen. This bleak historical monologue is well-performed, but weakened by an ill-conceived dramatic gambit—our unfortunate mutter tells much of her story to a mysterious ghost she sees but can not recognize, a conceit that is ultimately too awkward and implausible to carry the weight of exposition that is heaped upon it.

ARE YOU PRIEST ENOUGH?

This entry from Calgary’s Silent Drum Productions is the musical and sometimes amusing story of a young seminary student facing the trials and tribulations of preparing for a life in the priesthood. As this show is by a Catholic and aimed at a Catholic audience, it isn’t nearly as hard on the church as it could have been—but when the sometimes potty-mouthed lead character shows his unmitigated disgust at the church for protecting child-abusing priests, and ultimately decides that he isn’t “priest enough” to live an unnatural life of celibacy, the message is clear. A decent show, but I hope for sharper claws on future efforts.

STRAIGHT FROM THAT SIDE OF TOWN

A weirdy and a goodie, this one-woman show about mourning and healing teaches us to cope with life’s traumas by unleashing our inner id-child. Boasting countless charming moments including a memorably off-the-wall sex scene, Straight From That Side of Town is a refreshingly raw, honest, funny and feral performance by a genuinely eccentric performer—precisely the sort of thing the Fringe needs more of. Encore!

MISTER KINSKI’S CABARET OF BULLSHIT

This one-off, late-night fundraiser show was spontaneously added to the Fringe schedule just a couple of days before it happened, because the Fringe performers—some of whom have been touring the Canadian Fringe circuit for four or five months—were yearning to stage an epic end-of-season blowout. And blow out they did, delighting the packed house with a night of fast-paced, ribald revelry that sent off Fringe ’09 in style.

Some acts performed onstage while others popped up in and around the audience, performing poetry, songs, sketch comedy, snippets of Shakespeare, and a howlingly hilarious combination of stand-up comedy and modern interpretive dance—all illuminated not by the stage and house lights, but by flashlights brought by the audience and performers. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell (actually Red Bastard star Eric Davis) even made an appearance, during which he endured the Seven Plagues as punishment for his government’s pending cuts to arts funding.

Show organizer Jem Rolls (of Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops fame) promised that the Cabaret of Bullshit would be the sort of show that people talk about for years afterward—and verily, it was. 2009 Fringe artists, I genuflect to thee. See you all next year.