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Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Strange Journey with Apples, Dust, Cancer and Connecting - The Clean House

On Thursday night I took in Opening Night of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, presented by Trunk Theatre at the Varscona Theatre.  I knew little of the play and it soon became apparent that this was going to be a bit off the beaten path.  It's very funny, a bit realistic and a bit absurd, and it concerns itself with the telling of the perfect joke, of a pair of sisters who cannot be more different, of an affair, of picking apples, of caring for people and of seeking connections.  At least that's was my take away.  I loved the smart, sharp, slightly off kilter writing.  I didn't anticipate the absurdness of the show so it took a bit for me to realize that I needed to let go of real and just go with it.  Once I did that I relaxed and just had a good time.  The cast is a nice tight ensemble and the staging is creative in the limits of the space itself. Favorite moments were the apple-eating scene between Ana (Shannon Boyle) and Matilde (Elena Porter), Virginia's (Coralie Cairns) wild, destructive tango with the garbage, and Charles' (Troy O'Donnell) outlandish adventures.  It's definitely a play to go to and be prepared to laugh, although it also deals with more serious issues (cancer, dying, an affair).  Perhaps that is part of the message?  That we still need to laugh even when those horrible things are happening.  I'm not sure.  I want to read the play now. I recommend you check it out, but go with few expectations and just let it happen.  It you try to put this one in a box, I don't think it's going to fit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nevermore - Gothic Ghoulish Goodness Onstage!

Well, last night I FINALLY saw Catalyst Theatre's Nevermore and I do have to say it was well worth the wait!  It was visually stunning, musically & choreographically interesting and well-executed, and a compelling story.  I knew very little about Edgar Allan Poe other than being familiar with a  few of his stories, but it didn't really matter, it wasn't necessary to know anything to be draw into the performance.  It was such a wonderfully complete world.  Tightly performed by an ensemble of 7 actors who, outside of Scott Shpeley as Poe, switched characters with the exchange of a hat or skirt or jacket.  They all took turns as narrator and transitioned seamlessly from one to another.  Everyone was simply wonderful.  I love, love, loved the design by Bretta Gerecke
.  I loved the little details in the flick of a foot by two characters to punctuate, and the ways they each chose to create different characters with a change of voice or laugh or simply the way they held themselves. It's not a happy tale, although there are moments of laughter, but it is one of those shows where you are simply mesmerized.  Some of my favorite moments/characters were Vanessa Sanbourin as the gifted actress Eliza Poe, Beth Graham's exuberant Fanny Allan, Ryan Parker's singing when he was narrating, Shannon Blanchet's kisses when she played Elmira Royster, and  Shpeley as Poe through the whole thing.  His tortured dancing as he deals with the rough hand he's dealt again and again is gorgeous. It's a sad life that Poe lived, but Catalyst has made it look and sound so beautiful.

I'm going back again in a week and a half.  I had great seats this time, but I am actually hoping to sit a little bit higher to see the panorama of the stage better.  The sound is done beautifully (sometimes a challenge in the Westbury, but they have it perfect and crisp) so I think it will be great to see from further back.

Nevermore runs to March 2nd at the Westbury Theatre.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oldies, But Goodies... A Little Shakespeare and a Little Noel Coward!

I have somehow managed to squeeze in two shows already this week and it's not even Friday!  On Monday, I had a props pull at Walterdale so seeing as how I was already on the South side of the river, I decided to catch the Studio Theatre production of Love's Labour's Lost at the Timm's Centre. The day before I had attended Freewill Shakespeare's Brunch of Love so I was in a Shakespeare kind of mood.  The show was very fun and over the top ridiculous.  It's one of the earlier Shakespeare plays so it's not the best written, but this class made the most of any opportunity for ribaldry and silliness.  I particularly loved Oscar Deryx as Don Adriano de Armado.  He was like some fantastic hybrid of Inigo Montoya, Captain Jack Sparrow and Russell Brand.  The pants and wig alone are worth the price of admission!  But it's not just that, it's that he really sold it.  The rest of the cast is up to the challenge, as well, he was just my favorite.  But this is a very physical and exuberant production.  It's got modern touches and tweaks, so if you're a purist you might not be as happy with it, but it is definitely a lot of fun. Love's Labour's Lost runs to this Saturday (Feb 15th). 

On Tuesday, I put in my habitual Coffee Bar Shift for Walterdale's Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.  Now, I'll be honest, I am not a huge Noel Coward fan so I had to work a bit to get into it, but this production has good acting all around from the cast and they all seem to manage the verbose Coward handily and with the right spirit for the script.  There are some stellar special effects and a terrific séance scene (after it closes I am asking how they did the doors - I think I know how they did the table - they rest I will leave not knowing because I like a little mystery) and I really liked how they handled creating the ghostliness of Elvira.  I'm glad I went in not having read the script, because some key moments in the second act totally caught me off guard. I think if you are a Noel Coward fan you will totally love this production.  The audience I was with were certainly laughing a lot.  I think I just have a hard time with the casualness of the script with regards to spousal abuse and the general unkindness hidden in the clever language. My problem, not anyone else's. Blithe Spirit runs until February 15th (Saturday).

Both are suitable for a Valentine's Day date - lots of laughs and lots of love!

So, it has already been a theatre filled week.  This Saturday I will be taking in Catalyst Theatre's Nevermore, and I think there is another lobby photo taking area! Yippee!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

#yegBookClub - An Exciting Idea for Those Who Read and Tweet!

The idea started a couple of weeks ago, when a friend tweeted to me asking whether I was the friend who had been looking for a new Book Club book to read.  I was not, but it got me thinking.  I have been in book clubs in the past, but not for some time, and I missed it.  I read a lot, and love talking about books, and discussing them with friends.  With kids and theatre and my volunteering, the shape of my life has meant that I wasn't able to commit to a regular book club, but then I thought, "What about a twitter book club?"  I have a lot of friends on twitter who also read, some in the city, some outside, and twitter might be the perfect place for us to 'hold our meeting'.  So I posed the question to about 9-10 friends, "Anyone interested in a twitter Book Club?" and the response was overwhelming.  The first question was, "What shall we read?" I had been wanting to read Todd Babiak's, Come Barbarians, so I offered that out, tagging him, and he tweeted back! How very exciting!

So, this is what we're going to do.  All are welcome to join.  I have named it #yegBookClub because the bulk of those I invited specifically are in Edmonton and we are starting with an Edmonton author.  This will help us find the discussion stream on the evening of the book club meeting.

What:         #yegBookClub - a twitter book club
Where:       Wherever you are with whatever device you use to engage with twitter
When:        Monday, March 10th at 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. (or longer if we're still tweeting)!
Who:          Whoever wants to join the discussion!
How:          Read the Book - Come Barbarians, by Todd Babiak - think of whatever you might want to ask or talk about and flag the pages if you need to.  Pour a glass of wine if you like. I always enjoy a glass of wine at a book club.  Tweet in and use the hashtag #yegBookClub to make sure that your comment makes it into the discussion.  You can also tag @babiak so he knows what we're talking about! I will be preparing some discussion points if needed, but if not, we will let the discussion go where it will!

This plan gives you about a month to read the book and think about what you might want to talk about.  The beauty of this is that it doesn't matter where you are, you can participate and join the discussion. 


Saturday, February 08, 2014

New Works at the U of A and a Double Serving of Craigslist at the Citadel Theatre!

Tonight I returned to my old stomping grounds of the University of Alberta to see one of the two nights of The New Works Festival.  I am sad I won't be able to see both nights, but there are only so many available days in my calendar right now. I am always interested in seeing new work and I think it is fabulous that the University of Alberta has this festival.  Each year, since 2000, they have produced 6 new works by University students, providing opportunities for dramaturgy and direction.  I am sure for many it is only one stop in the development of their plays, but it is also an important one.  I have both had a script in as a playwright (Tight Rope) and have directed (The Playmates) and found the experiences to be extremely rewarding.  Tonight I saw The Comedian, Solitaire and All That's Left.  These were three very different shows in various stages of development, and the evening had many laughs and many moments of tension. I connected most to Solitaire, by Sophie Gareau-Brennan. It was so lovely and the language was very elegant and essential.  No wasted words and repetition was deliberate and served a purpose.  It was also directed beautifully with some wonderful choreography.  It was a lovely poem about how we are sometimes alone even though the world is crowded. There is only one more day of New Works and you can catch all the shows if you hit both the matinee and evening performances tomorrow.

Solitaire reminded me a lot of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata which is currently playing at the Citadel.  I got to see it twice this week.  Both pieces make observations about human connection in today's modern age. Craigslist was very funny, but also kind of sad.  I wasn't sure what to expect - a musical based on Craigslist ads?  What's that going to be like?  It's not a traditional musical, but rather a Song Cycle.  The songs are based on and include actual text from Craigslist ads.  The oddities of what some people are looking for or looking to sell are truly comical, but there is also an underlying theme of seeking connection.  It made me think of my FB and Twitter feeds.  There are people who I think are lonely based on what they post and some of the posts are like breadcrumbs hoping to lead people to them to make a connection.  Some are more like blaring announcements about what they are doing and who they are, as those each post is a confirmation of how much they count.  Craigslist shows the people at the ends of the messages.  The real, human people who are just seeking a connection but who don't know how to make them without help.  The music is catchy, yet complicated, the actors are all up to the task.  There's some phenomenal singing.  I hope to get back to see it again. A Craigslist Cantata runs until February 23rd.  It's in The Club, so seating is limited.  I would advise buying tickets sooner, rather than later. 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Tensions in the Neighbourhood - Clybourne Park!

Sunday evening I took my husband and friend AM to see Clybourne Park at the Citadel.  I had seen it a week or so earlier at the Dress Rehearsal, but I was eager to see it again now that the cast had had a bit of time in front of an audience.  With the kinds of jokes in the piece, getting a feel for the audience is really important.  I imagine each night is dramatically different as it has jokes that are going to land a lot different on a Tuesday night as compared to a Saturday. 

I really liked it in the dress rehearsal. The first act made me cry and that completely caught me off-guard.  I was equally impressed with the second act, but in a very different way emotionally. But I LOVED it last night.  It's such a well tuned ensemble and the script is so, so sharp.  I love that everyone is so present, listening as well as striving to be heard. Some of my favorite moments are actually watching the characters when they aren't talking as they deliver a single look and you know exactly what they are thinking. When their characters are unlikeable, they don't hold back.  That takes courage and trust to do.  Also, everyone seems so perfectly cast, which is a challenge when you consider that they each play two very different characters in each of the acts.

It was also fun sharing it with Mark and AM.  As the house lights came up at intermission, AM says to me, "Ah, so nice to see such good acting." She, like myself, sees a lot of theatre and is perhaps even harder to please so that is high praise. We had fun dancing through the decades with the intermission music (both have requested that I try to get them a copy of the playlist).  Very clever choice of director James MacDonald to take us from 1959 to 2009.  We also talked of the act, and I was careful not to give away any spoilers of what is coming.

And then, after the explosive, hilarious second act, we spent a good 20 minutes talking about the play in the lobby afterwards. AM had a long drive home though, so it couldn't be longer than that. Mark and I however, talked about it all the way home.  Mark's claim, "I know every single one of those people!" (referring to the second act).  He was even talking about it again today.  Apparently he has convinced one of our employees to go check it out.  I have a feeling he will be talking it up with a lot of his patients.  I was glad that I could take him to it.  I wish the boys were a little older, as it was such a fine piece of work, but 12 is too young for it... in a few years...

Clybourne Park runs until February 16th in the Shoctor Theatre at the Citadel.  I would say this one is not to be missed... I might even have to try and see it a third time...