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Monday, February 10, 2020

February Theatre - And the Theme is Fight the Power!

I've taken in 3 theatrical events so far this month (2 productions, and one reading of a new work) and I am noticing a theme... it's all about fighting against oppression!

The first show I took in was 1984 at Walterdale Theatre (full disclosure: I am Board President of Walterdale). It opened last Wednesday and runs to Saturday, February 15th. The production is a striking adaptation of George Orwell's 1949 novel. I was very impressed with the striking and flawless design of the show and clear direction. It's executed cleanly by it's cast, who do an excellent job creating the dystopia of the world. As Winston Smith, Michael Anderson shifts from disillusioned party member, to brash rebel, and then to a descent into brokenness as he is defeated and tortured by the all-seeing all-knowing Big Brother-led Inner Party. I've never seen 1984 onstage before, and I recommend this production as a worthy adaptation for the stage. 1984 runs to Feb 15th and you can get tickets here.

Photo Credit: Scott Henderson, Henderson Images

I also saw The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare at Catalyst Theatre. It's about 7 women agents of subterfuge who work as a team to help defeat the Nazis in WW II. I've written a longer write-up here. I can summarize to say I loved it! Tickets are available until February 23 and you can click here to purchase them.

Photo Credit: dbphotographics



The reading I attended was at Script Salon - Anahita's Republic by AuTash. It's a piece I know well as I participated in some of the early readings and work shopping of it. It's a brilliant play written by a two Edmonton playwrights about modern day Iran and the challenges of living in a repressive society where not everyone is equal. There's much more to it than that as it also offers comment on western society, but does so in a very human way. I really hope that this piece gets picked up for production soon. I think it tells a story that everyone would benefit from hearing. It was such a delight to hear it read by such talented actors and to hear how far it has grown in the four years of it's development.

The Invisible at Catalyst Theatre - Revealing the Exceptional!

This past Friday, I was delighted to take in the latest theatrical creation from Catalyst Theatre - The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare. It tells the story of seven exceptional female operatives during World War II who risk their lives to help bring down the Nazis. It's engaging and unpredictable and full of compelling music, performed with brilliance by a cast of seven and a three piece band. It easily takes a place as one of my favourite Catalyst productions ever!

Set in 1940, in France, it's inspired by the stories of real-life Special Operations Executives (SOEs) who were tasked with sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. The SOE was the only branch where women were allowed to participate in combat roles by the Allies. The musical imagines an all-female cell, who participate in missions to bring down the enemy. They are led by Evelyn Ash (Melissa MacPherson) who recounts their history and actions in the war. MacPherson is steely and determined, a force on the stage, leading us through the ups and downs of their recruitment, training and ultimate deployment. The 6 agents she recruits are a mixed bunch, with varied citizenship, skills, and motivations for their participation. As a group, they contain the perfect blend of skills and talents to pull off multiple missions with success. Of course, the story is told through action and song, and not only are they exceptional agents, but they are also tremendous triple threat performers. Make that quadruple threat - as they all, at various times, speak in languages other than English, from French, to Polish, to Romanian, to Czech and German.

It's hard to single anyone out, as they are a well-balanced machine. I was drawn into the story, leaning in to learn what happened next.  I do have to draw attention to Tara Jackson, whose vocals are particularly amazing, especially in her jazz club number, but all seven actors are gifted singers and each is given their moment to shine. There's a real diversity in the music, and director and writer Jonathan Christenson has used the strengths of all his actors to great effect in order to tell his story. This is supported by creative choreography by Laura Krewski which moves the piece from moment to moment and place to place with precision and attack. Bretta Gerecke's design evokes the world with a sepia paper backdrop and sharp columns of light which feel almost solid. It's striking and compelling and the mood of every moment is carefully crafted.

It was the best, of course, to see this female-centric story set in a world where we are not used to seeing women - at least not in popular culture. And to see it told by such gifted artists playing characters who are not stereotypes or victims, but instead are women of agency and intelligence, was wonderful. I highly recommend this show - catch it before it's gone!

The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare presented by Catalyst Theatre, runs to February 23rd in the MacLab Theatre (Citadel). Tickets are available here.

Photo Credit: DBPhotographics



Sunday, February 02, 2020

Grabbing a Few Shows in the CCCCCOOOOLLLLDD of January... And looking forward to a warmer February!

It's tough on those theatre artists who present in January in Edmonton. Sometimes we get a mild winter and the weather doesn't affect the house size much, but when it's cold-cold-cold like it was in 2020, it can be tough to get people out of the house and into a theatre. I know it affected me a bit, but I still managed to catch a couple shows...

I took in Cost of Living earlier in January at the Citadel theatre. It closes today, so you won't be able to catch it (sorry...). It was a well-done show, if not what I expected. It told two stories - one about a PhD student with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver, and a woman who has suffered a devastating accident resulting in being confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic and her ex-husband who still loves her and comes to help care for her. The acting was excellent and all four artists gave compelling and complicated performances. It was also very cool to see Venom from The Guild (Teal Sherer) onstage in Edmonton (call me a fangirl!)! I was a little disappointed by the script, however, as it felt unfinished. It also seemed to imply that the story was more about the two able-bodied characters and how they were the more disenfranchised of the four characters, and my impression going in was that it was about all four equally. I know, it's probably just the sales messaging, but it left me going, "huh...?" Still, it was a very thought-provoking piece, and perhaps that 'huh' was what they wanted me to leave with. 

I was delighted to catch Everybody Loves Robbie at Northern Light Theatre this past month. It's closed as well, so I am terribly sorry you missed it. It was Sold Out for much of it's run and it was easy to see why. It was a delightful trip back to the high school drama class/club, told by two engaging actors (Richard Lee Hsi and Jayce MacKenzie) who both charmed the audience and broke our hearts. As a former drama kid AND high school drama teacher, I was so in love with this show. You might say I was in nostalgia overload. Ellen Chorley's script was brilliantly constructed and although it was full of highs and lows, it was truthful and engaging, supported by wonderful direction by Trevor Schmidt, who kept it flowing much in the way that high school tumbles by for a teenager. I actually hope they bring this show back. Every high school drama student (past and present) should see this show. 

Most recently (and you can still catch this one until February 9th) I saw Happy Birthday Baby J at Shadow Theatre. The story centers around a couple who are choosing to raise their child without a gender and they have invited a small group of friends and family to celebrate the child's 2nd birthday. At first it was a little challenging because I really didn't like the characters, but once I gave myself permission to laugh at them, I had a great time and I laughed A LOT. It's an interesting premise and playwright Nick Green has penned a clever script to explore the complicated world of wokeness. Gary and Louise (Chantel Perron and David Ley) feel rejected by their baby group because of their choice to raise the child without a gender, but it's really because they spend all their time Wokesplaining that no one can stand them. I've been thinking a lot about this one, and how much it says about what's wrong with 'people who think they know better than everyone else and also feel they have to tell them'. There's a cautionary tale in there, whatever you choose to do with regards to raising your own children. There's a lot more going on in the show beyond the question of gender, as it also throws in race, social media, relationships, and the complications of family and friendships. 

Anyhow, that was January... I'm looking forward to a warmer February with more shows. I already have 4 lined up for the next two weeks! I'll be back to tell you about those in a few... 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Like the Stars Above, SILENT SKY Sparkles with wit and wonder!

Last night, Walterdale Theatre kicked off their 61st Season with Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, and directed by Kim Mattice Wanat. (Full Disclosure: I am President of the Walterdale Theatre Board of Directors). It is a lovely show, with a charming ensemble who tell the story beautifully. There is a lot of humour, music, and above-all wonder at the universe and awe in those that pursue knowledge. It's the kind of wonder that brings tears to your eyes and indeed there were a number of audience members wiping away that evidence as the lights came up. It's also quite beautiful to see - indeed magical - thanks to the set and lighting by designer Beyata Hackborn.

It was a wonderful way to kick off the season!

Silent Sky runs to October 12 at Walterdale Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit: Henderson Images - www.hendersonimages.ca

Sunday, September 29, 2019

October Theatre Offerings - It's going to get busy!!!

Here's what's starting onstage in Edmonton in October. 


Silent Sky - Walterdale Theatre - October 2-12

The true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, Silent Sky explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications. Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believe in both, and their dedication changed the way we understand both the heavens and the Earth.


Open Invitation - Saint Maggie Productions - October 2-12

Becky is an exhausted mom and her husband Sebastian is a man trapped in a soul killing day job. It’s date night and they are going to attend a “snobby” dinner party at the home of one of Becky’s old show-choir friends. Some of the guests she’s known for 20 years, some she hasn’t seen since high school. Sebastian doesn’t want to go and is convinced that the dinner’s hosts are Swingers and just looking for a “hook-up”…and he’s going to prove it. Becky thinks he’s nuts and so they place a bet and hilarity ensues with each trying to win what it is they think they want most from the other.

High Tea - Firefly Theatre & Circus - October 6

Ever wondered what a true “High” Tea would look like? Join the company of Firefly Theatre and Circus as they dangle overhead serving steeps, champagne and sweets! An afternoon of multi-sensory delights, HIGH TEA guests will sip quality teas, nibble on scones and sweets, and enjoy traditional cucumber sandwiches — all while being entertained by Firefly’s talented servers as they dangle from the rafters.

Dead Centre of Town XII - Catch the Keys - October 10 - November 1

Some people lived here. Many people died here. Not everyone moved on…and those left behind are desperate to tell you their story. Edmonton’s only live-action thriller inspired by true history possesses Mellon Farm for an intimate and immersive theatrical retelling of some of Edmonton’s long-buried secrets. Secrets that can’t stay buried forever. Catch the Keys Productions presents Dead Centre of Town XII October 10 – November 1, 2019. Dead Centre of Town is NOT a haunted house, but it will haunt you long after you leave the Park.
Simone et le whole shebang - L'Uni Theatre - October 16-26
Simone has just been placed in a long-term care facility in Fort McMurray by her daughter Simone-Alice, who has been living in the city for the past 6 years. A québécoise actress in her sixties suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Simone’s deteriorating condition has made her unable to care for herself. Jessy, an old acadian cowboy who dreamt of being a country singer, is in the same care facility. Though he still has his quick wit and his colourful vocabulary, he’s lost his mobility, his heart and his will to live. Both are haunted by what they’ve become. Somewhere between their egos and their fears, Simone, Jessy, and Simone-Alice must face their disappointing realities.
Fight Night - The Citadel Theatre - October 17-27

FIVE CONTENDERS.  FIVE ROUNDS. YOUR VOTE. Fight Night is an interactive production that examines how and why we make judgments about others, while asking whether the current political system really represents our choices.  


Baroness Bianka's Bloodsongs - Northern Light Theatre - October 18 - November 2


BARONESS BIANKA’S BLOODSONGS tackles the issue of addiction head-on through the revelations of a quirky Bulgarian Baroness who has unquenchable, unspeakable yearnings. A black comedy with a blood-red heart, the show explores life with an unusual addiction and the battle to overcome it. A wicked one woman cabaret about a spooky character with a fetish for blood.

Rigoletto - Edmonton Opera - October 19-25

As the infamous court jester, Rigoletto earns a living by making fun of people’s misery. So when his enemies seek revenge, they take the one thing Rigoletto values most: his daughter Gilda. What follows is a harrowing tale of greed, corruption, and violence that ultimately turns Rigoletto’s own fate into a cruel joke.


The Roomate - Shadow Theatre - October 23 - November 10

Sharon is a recent divorcee in her mid-fifties, and needs a roommate to share her unassuming Iowa home. Robyn, also in her fifties, needs a place to hide and a chance to start over. As she uncovers Robyn's secrets Sharon discovers in herself a depp seated desire to transform her own life. A dark comedy about what it takes to re-route your life - and what happens when the wheels come off. 


The Ballad of Peachtree Rose - WWPT - October 30- November 10

Max works for one of Canada's most notorious criminal organizations; Peach is a street kid trying to make a buck. A chance encounter entangles their lives indefinitely. From one of Canada’s best emerging writers comes a thriller that forces audiences to ask: “What is Justice?”

Vidalia at Teatro la Quinicina! Onions that can make you laugh instead of cry!

I had a hoot of a time at Vidalia, the most recent production offered from Teatro la Quindicina at the Varscona Theatre. As promised in its promotional materials, it's a "ricochet romp, which ratchets things up further with three identical briefcases and a scintillating cast." The events begin in a coffee shop, where Girl in the Red Jacket (a playful and quirky Helen Belay) overhears Woman in Glasses (Belinda Cornish looking very severe - but that changes) on the phone. Spotting Man in Suit (the befuddled and confused Chris Pereira), the Girl makes contact and sets off a chain of events when Man in Trench Coat (an amused and focused Andrew MacDonald-Smith) enters the scene.

The plot involves 3 identical briefcases that go through a myriad of switches in an effort to get them to the right person. There's a threat of danger - never specifically outlined, but it's there. There's a budding romance, or two. There's much changing of clothes and hiding of identities and of course, there are onions! It's very silly and the cast runs full-tilt with the ridiculousness of it all. Belay is particularly charming as the unflappable Girl who seems to like to both create and solve problems. Pereira is similarly fun to watch, as he is like a pinball being bounced around with her every suggestion, many of which he is unsure of and much of which he is terrified by! Cornish is super fun, starting severe, shifting to sexy, and always underscored with insecurity, as she tries to solve her problem and maybe meet a nice guy in the process. MacDonald-Smith is the straight man in this cast - debonair and charming, with an underlying threat of violence (but only if necessary).

I don't want to give away too much of the plot because it's best that you just go in a see where it goes. It's silly and fun and full of laughs, and perfect to warm you up as we move into a chilly October!

Vidalia runs until October 12th at the Varscona Theatre
Click here for tickets!


Photo Credit:
Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Chris Pereira, Helen Belay, Belinda Cornish in Vidalia, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bringing The Color Purple to the Stage with Joyous Song and Truthful Storytelling!

Sometimes when you are very excited for something, it fails to live up to your expectations. This is NOT the case with The Color Purple currently running at the Citadel Theatre. As I wrote earlier, I loved Alice Walker's novel and I am happy to report that the production is everything and more than I could have hoped for. From the first few seconds of the show, when Celie (Tara Jackson) and Nettie (Allison Edwards-Crewe) sing a child's rhyme together, you know that musically you are going to be treated to something magnificent. This grows as the full cast joins them onstage and the world of Celie is created. The power and beauty of this cast in their vocals is majestic. It's the kind of music sung so well that it makes you want to lift from your seat. The Citadel has done an incredible job of bringing together this cast which has no weak links, each voice expressive, joyful and strong. Kudos to the cast and to Music Director Floydd Ricketts for creating such amazing sound.

In terms of the story, this production ably rises to the challenge of telling that too. The iconic characters from the novel are portrayed with respect and honesty. At the centre of it, as Celie, Tara Jackson is a marvel. Not only does she possess an incredible vocal instrument, able to handle the softness and strength of the character, but her emotionally journey is crafted and layered. On more than one moment did she bring me to tears, and her version of I'm Here made me want to leap from my seat with cheers. As Shug Avery, Karen Burthwright is a sassy foil to the shy and quiet Celie. She is everything Shug should be - sexy, worldly, and a brilliant performer. You know why everyone wants to be with Shug. Her Push Da Button is a hot, joyous number which celebrates sex where everyone has a good time.

There are so many things I loved about this show. I loved the hilarious Church Ladies (Masini McDermott, Maiko Munroe, and Sarah Nairne) whose harmonies were as tight as their coming timing. It was delightful to watch Sophia and Harpo's (Janelle Cooper and Andrew Broderick) irresistible attraction. It was heart-breaking to watch Sophia's journey, and Cooper is simply terrific - equally able to play the strong moments as she is the weaker moments. As Mister, Ryan Allen has the difficult job of playing the villain in the first act and redeeming himself in the second act. I think he does so, yet does so without letting himself off easy. His Mister Song reminds us that people are made the way they are through the circumstances of their lives, and his desire to change what he has become is palpable. I loved that the characters were allowed to have shades of grey.

Overall, the show flows beautifully. Director Kimberly Rampersad has done a masterful job of keeping this epic story moving from moment to moment, making sure that the emotion is real and earned. Her choreography is fun, sexy and organic, helping to move the action along and never feeling contrived. (Interesting side-note: On the night I saw it, the show had to be stopped about 10 minutes before intermission because of a medical emergency in the audience. Once the emergency was dealt with, the show picked up from a few moments before it had to be stopped, and this interruption did not affect the flow or the audience's connection to the story. It was as though we were reading the novel and set the book down and picked it back up. We were back in as though nothing had happened. Now that's the sign of a well done show!).

If you can't tell... I loved the show. Whether you've read the book or seen the movie or not, I think that it's a wonderful story that will grab you. The music alone is enough to recommend it, you are unlikely to hear an ensemble that sings so well together this season, but it's also so much more than that.

The Color Purple runs until October 13, 2019 at the Citadel Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit: Ian Jackson; EPIC Photography