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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Steady Rain... fine, layered, complicated performances

I took in Blarney Productions' A Steady Rain last night, at C103.  It's a dark and gritty story of two cops, friends from kinnygarden, in Chicago.  The show explores the grey area morality of Joey (Jesse Gervais) and Denny (John Ullyatt) as they tumble through re-telling the events of a summer in Chicago where everything goes wrong and the rain never stops.

Both actors give layered performances as they take turns telling the events of their shared history.  As beat cops aiming for promotion to detective and getting overlooked each tries their own way to cope and try to get ahead. Denny (Ullyatt) is married with the perfect wife and two young children.  He's the alpha of this relationship but despite his perfect looking life he is also the more corrupt. Joey (Gervais) is the worrier and the peace-maker, he sees the the wrong in what Denny insists is right, but he is challenged by his own hesitancy and the pattern of their relationship to push for what is right. The tale is told back and forth, and interspersed with dialogue between the two. Narration is often a challenge, but both are born story-tellers and the twists of the story and it's horrible inevitability are handled deftly. It becomes particularly interesting when each presents the details of the same events.  There is significance in the differences.

Director Wayne Paquette has wisely cast the eminently likable Ullyatt to play the more reprehensible Denny - his natural charisma bleeds through in a way that makes you not hate him, and which makes you understand how he has gotten away with what he has.  Gervais' emotional connection is also quite wonderful when he is stuck in Joey's inertia and helplessness as some of the more horrible things play out.  Although on opening night some moments felt a touch under-rehearsed, overall it made for a compelling and engaging 90 minutes.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Look Into Different Worlds - The Photo and Tribes

I missed a lot of first weekends while I was away so I caught the final weekend's offerings last night and Friday.

Friday night, I finally got to see The Photo by Dana Rayment.  It was presented as a workshop reading at Skirt's AFire Festival 2 years ago, but was on a Saturday afternoon and my Mom-Duties prevented me from getting to it, so I was pleased to hear that it would be presented as a full production by Theatre of the New Heart at C103.  My lovely friend Lisa was in town from Calgary so I also got to share with her a little of the #yegtheatre I am so proud of. It's a piece that probably needs trigger warnings as it was about a couple (Elena Porter and Michael Peng) dealing with the immediate aftermath of an at home stillbirth.  Each deals with it differently, Gina (Porter) fragmenting into a defense mechanism of denial and fantasy as she tries to take the perfect photo of her child's imagined life.  Mark (Peng) is hip deep in grief and confusion about how to help his wife and how to deal with the physical realities of the situation, not knowing whether to pander to Gina's fantasies or shake her into facing the truth of what has happened.  The script is well-crafted, giving us a little mystery about what exactly has happened at the beginning and building with inevitability to the final acceptance of both Gina and Mark.

Last night I took in Closing night of Tribes presented by Studio Theatre at the Timm's Centre as the MFA Production of Directing Candidate Amanda Bergen. Tribes was a fascinating look into what it is to be deaf within a hearing family.  The family (Ashley Wright, Judy McFerran, Mathew Hulshof, and Zoe Glassman) is loud and argumentative and at times a little unbearable, and deaf son Billy (Connor Yuzwenko-Martin) is often left out of parts of discussions as they make little effort to ensure he is able to see their faces to read lips.  When he asks for clarification, they summarize or brush off the details as unimportant. They have also kept him from the Deaf Community, having him learn to read lips and learn to speak and not learn to sign.  When he meets Sylvia (Bobbi Goddard), a girl with deaf parents who can sign and who is also going deaf, he falls in love and also learns to sign himself and it opens up a world of communication for him.  He struggles then to make his family meet him half-way in communication by learning to sign as well. It was a fascinating night.  We also went, by chance, on one of the two interpreted nights where four interpreters dressed in black and purple graced the stage alongside the action and signed all the speaking parts. The audience was roughly 50-75% deaf or hearing impaired and it made for a fantastic experience. The places that drew laughs were different for those who were hearing and those who weren't, sometimes because of the signing and sometimes because of what things actually meant to someone who was hearing vs. someone who was deaf.  It seemed to me, particularly with the piece, that the additional layer of interpreters onstage made it richer. I worried it would be distracting, but it was not, it was enriched. It has made me think about how we make theatre accessible for everyone.  I am not sure how to tackle it myself, but costs and staging for each show is so unique, but it would be interesting to look into how theatres could make their shows more accessible even when the shows are not specifically related to deaf issues. Wouldn't it be cool to see Shakespeare signed? Just thinking...

As a companion piece I recommend this article by Curious Arts about Tribes and Accessibility. There's also a link to a fundraising page where you can help pay for the the many interpreters who worked on the project.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Trip to the No-so-Far-East! Chocolate Tour of Toronto!

One of the really cool things my sister lined up for us while I was in Toronto was the Chocolate Tour. It involved visits to 5 bakeries with a focus on chocolate.  We walked around downtown Toronto from place to place and were treated to background information from our terrific tour guide, Kate, as well a a treat at each place.

First was Forno Cultura, an Italian bakery, where we had a two bite chocolate olive oil cake.  Each cake had at least one black olive in it.  It was a wonderful combination of salty and sweet.  I did not eat the olive, but as I ate closer to it, I could really see how it was a good mix of flavours.

Our second stop was Delysèes, a french bakery.  I think I could have spent all day in there.  We were treated to 2 macarons of our choosing.  I chose salted caramel and raspberry butter-cream.  Both were delicious and for those of us in Edmonton, they were of Duchess Bakery quality.  I also purchased one of their croissants which reputed to be the best in Toronto.  After having eaten it, I can certainly believe that! My sister bought one of their little sandwiches and it was also delicious.

Next was Dufflet.  Apparently they supply most of the restaurants in Toronto with cakes and you can see and taste why.  We were treated to the world's best chocolate brownie.  I saved my brownie for later because at this point my blood sugar level was already pretty high, but it was wonderful.  Not content with just a rich brownie with chocolate icing, there was a layer of chocolate flakes or bits in between the two giving it texture and even more chocolaty goodness.

Just a little ways away was our 4th stop, Dlish, named Toronto's Best Cupcake by NOW Magazine. This one had to be taken to go as well, but the Red Velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing I chose was well worth the wait! When I ate it later that evening I had planned to just eat half and save the other half for later but that proved to be impossible to do. So very yummy! If I lived in Toronto it might be hard not to go there on a weekly basis...

Our final stop was Nedège, another french bakery, but very different from the other.  Here we ended our trip with a lovely chocolate.  I chose raspberry again because I love raspberry with chocolate. The cakes in the display were little works of art, no doubt as delicious as they are beautiful.  I also bought a chocolate bar to bring home to the boys.  Gibson is wisely pacing himself in consuming his bar, but Oliver ate the whole thing the first day home...

A trip to the Not-So-Far East! Theatre at the Shaw Festival!

This past week I took a little vacation and visited my sister and brother-in-law in Toronto.  My sister and I also spent a little time in Niagara on the Lake for the Shaw Festival so there was theatre-going in abundance.  It was a lovely little adventure and a good break from the everyday!

I love living in Edmonton because of all the theatre, but it is nice to see what is going on elsewhere in the country too! At the Shaw Festival, we took in three shows.  The first was Peter and the Starcatcher which is a prequel to Peter Pan, kind of the 'how the lost boys became the lost boys' story. It is a lot of fun and great for audiences of all ages.  Performed by an ensemble of actors who trade narration duties and roles to create two very different crews for two very different ships as well as the strange inhabitants of the island they end up on.  There were many very cool things about how they create the world. It's a piece that calls for low-tech magic and it was nice to see them making their own choices different from the Broadway production (I saw that a couple of years ago). We saw the last Preview performance of the show, and I think that although they were generally very tight, they still have a little ways to go to make the ensemble seamless.  This is the kind of show that will just get better and better over the course of the run as the cast becomes a single machine telling the tale. My favorite performances were Charlie Gallant as Boy, Billy Lake as Fighting Prawn, and Martin Happer as the Black 'Stache. Gallant really shows a nice journey from untrusting & angry to joyous and adventurous.  Happer and Lake make the most of their outrageous characters to much comic appeal.

That evening we took in the Opening Night performance of You Never Can Tell.  We knew nothing about it going in, as it was the show we could fit in between the 2 we had selected.  A G.B. Shaw piece that neither of us were familiar with.  We both loved it! The set (Leslie Frankish) was whimsical and delightful and set the tone perfectly for the comedy about to happen.  It's always so fun when a show catches you off-guard! Telling the story of a mother of three children who return to England from away.  The children have no idea who their father is as their mother has refused to tell them and they are a bit unruly from being raised away in Madeira. So you know they are going to be reunited with their father, and they are.  Throw in a penniless dentist who falls in love instantly with the eldest child and a waiter to manage it all and it is really quite fun.  Director Jim Mezon has certainly gone for the whimsy in it, in any case, and it worked for us! I've got a new Fangirl Crush on Gray Powell who played the love-struck dentist.  He lit up the stage whenever he was on it.  Overall, the ensemble is quite tight which led to an enjoyable evening.  On occasion the twins were a little much, but I think that was the point. Shaw manages to make a few comments on marriage and parenting, but by keeping it so fun, it never comes off like a lecture, which I appreciated!

Our final show was the musical Sweet Charity.  This was also the final Preview performance of that show. I had never seen the show before so was very excited to see it onstage. I was familiar with only two of the songs, Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now, so it was nice to hear those as well as several new songs. The show was a lot of fun, a showcase for the fabulous taxi-dancers. Highlights for me were definitely Big Spender and The Rich Man's Frug which showcased Parker Esse's choreography as well as some terrific costumes (Charlotte Dean). My absolute favorite though, was Mark Uhre as Vittorio.  You have no idea how much I wished he was a character that would return in the second act (sigh...). With a gorgeous voice and a natural command of the stage, you hardly watched anyone else when he was there. It's a strange show in some ways with an unsatisfying ending which is not the fault of the production, but of the writing, I think. You just want Charity to get somewhere and she ends up exactly where she starts.  I wished for something more - a sign that things would be different/better the next time around. As Charity, Julie Martell has a great voice and commitment to the role. She can belt out the big numbers and hold the stage on her own. However, I found her Charity very pragmatic and I wanted a little more of the romantic in her portrayal, something that would contrast her more with fellow taxi-dancers Nickie (Kimberly Rampersad) and Helene (Melanie Phillipson) who are more jaded by what life has to offer them. The three of them are wonderful to see and hear in There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This which has been added to my list of Songs I Want To Sing With Friends. 

All in all, we had a terrific time.  It's been a long time since I have gone to the Shaw Festival and I am looking forward to going back again the next time I take a trip out East! We also spotted Canadian stars Colin Mochrie (Who's Line Is It Anyway), and Debra McGrath & Sheila McCarthy (Little Mosque on the Prairie).  We joked that they were stalking us as we spotted them at 2 of the 3 shows we were at! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

#yegbookclub Returns with A WAKE FOR THE DREAMLAND by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne

I finally have my schedule figured out for the next few months and it makes me happy to be able to set the next #yegbookclub selection and date!  I have to mix it up a bit and host the Book Club on a Wednesday this time because I am in rehearsal for the next dozen Mondays. 

What: #yegbookclub - A Wake for the Dreamland by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne
Description: Friends William, Robert, and Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. It is a Canadian summer in 1939 and Robert and Annie’s love has blossomed, even as the inevitability of the boys joining up means separation and the first of many losses. Fearing he might not return, Robert makes William promise to take care of Annie. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, in the shadow of The Dreamland, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.”When: Wednesday, June 10th @ 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Where: In the comfort of whereever you want to be, on twitter! 

How does it work?  Just follow the #yegbookclub and #AWakefortheDreamland hashtags and join in the conversation.  You can follow my twitter handle @smeep22003 and tweet to me as well and I will retweet everything, but using the hashtags is the best way to make sure you're in the conversation! Everyone is welcome and hopefully Laurel will also be able to join us! 

Friday, May 08, 2015

A Laughter-filled Trip to Avenue Q

Was it just last week that Avenue Q opened at the Citadel? The amount of buzz has been incredible that it makes me feel like it was longer ago that I saw it! I usually see the Dress Rehearsal as part of my job, but I was out of town and had to wait until Opening Night to see it.  Even that was not a given because the hosue was so full, but luckily I could squeeze in.  I sent my husband and older son to see it, and several friends saw it in Previews and I kept hearing how great it was, so I am pleased to report it was a show well worth the wait! I'd seen Avenue Q before and thought it was a clever show with a saucy side, but it didn't prepare me for how terrific our production would be.  The cast of seven actors (Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Rachel Bowron, Ryan Kelly, Justin Bott, Saccha Dennis, Kimmy Choi, and Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan - who play a dozen characters - some felt, some flesh) are outstanding.  It's hard to single any out because there are no weak links.  They switch puppets fluidly and some voice more than one on stage at the same time and you barely notice because they are so good.  You can see all the puppeteers, but very quickly you forget they are there. They simply become Princeton, or Kate, or Trekkie or Rod.  The direction and choreography (Dayna Tekatch) is also very clever - so connected to the puppet, you swear that that's Princeton's legs kicking or Lucy's swaying hips.  It's not a deep play, although I think it speaks to something that a lot of people relate to - not being where you think you will be in your early 20s and 30s.  It is also very ribald and saucy and steps into naughtiness frequently and unapologetically.  So, basically, not for kids.  There's a puppet sex scene that pushes all the boundaries and is hilarious. I do not think you could do this show any better, in fact, I've heard from a couple people who saw it on Broadway and on the West End who told me that this production is better.  I believe it.  I can't imagine how you could improve on it!

Avenue Q runs to May 24th at the Citadel Theatre.
780.425.1820 or

Photo Credit: EPIC Photography

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Northern Light Theatre explores Gender Identity with Christina/Philippe

Friday night I took in the Opening Night of Christina/Philippe presented by Northern Light Theatre. It's really a collage piece about gender identity with song, and recorded interviews, interspered with parts of the text from the play Christina/Philippe. It was a conversation provoking evening of theatre which lead me to have several discussions about gender identity with people that I saw the play with. We talked about how we knew who we were, about people we knew and what their experiences with gender identification were, as well as current events - from bathrooms, to medical coverage, to pronouns.

It's also quite gorgeous in sight and sound.  Both Christina (Kristi Hansen) and Philippe (Trevor Schmidt) have layered, tune-full voices that served the atmospheric songs well. They also play off each other well - Hansen is brash and intimidating, Schmidt is a bit softer with a subtle sense of humour. The set (Adam Tsuyoshi Turnbull) is rich with colour and it's circles reflect the theme of shifting gender. The costumes (Trevor Schmidt) are similarly lush and both feminine and masculine with leather and brocade and sparkle. It was clear that there was real collaboration in building the piece.  I would love to spend a bit of time just listening to the recordings of real people that were interwoven throughout.

I will say, there is an abruptness to the end of the show, that catches you a bit off guard. I wanted to know a bit more about both Queen Christina and Philippe, duc d'Orleans and how they lived in their worlds.  I think that, however, part of that sharp stop is supposed to lead you in to talking more after you leave. It was, as I said, fascinating. If one of the goals of theatre is to provoke discussion, this one certainly does.

Mayor's Celebration of the Arts - A Whole Lotta Art Going on...

Last week I took in the Mayor's Celebration of the Arts at the Winspear Centre.  It was a terrific evening showcasing many wonderful local artists and it was kind of cool to move outside my usual as the evening celebrated not only theatre artists, but also dance, spoken word, music and visual art. The nominees and winners for the awards similarly came from a wide-range of artistic pursuits and it was wonderful to be in the room as the energy was so overwhelming supportive. It was also fun to watch Mayor Don Iveson show off his silly side as he danced with The Wet Secrets in the closing number. My favorite piece was the collaboration of Spoken Word Poet Mary Pinkowski, guitarist and singer Eva Foote and dancers Jeanie and Jodie Vandekerkhove.  I also have fallen in love with Jason Carter's artwork which was animated by Matt Schuurman and served as a backdrop for the evening's entertainment.  If you're looking for a gift for me, you can buy me one of his prints!

I'm hoping to return next year as this was a terrific evening celebrating what I think is one of the best things about Edmonton - it's community of artists!