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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How do you like your Alberta History? Onstage is good with me! John Ware Reimagined at Workshop West...

Until I heard of the play I hadn't heard of John Ware. I knew a bit about Amber Valley and have some of knowledge about some of the history of Black Canadians mostly because of my work and my personal interests. A couple of seasons ago we produced a piece called Blak! by Krystal Dos Santos at the Citadel and in preparing for that I went on all sorts of little research tangents across the internet.We're so lucky to have access to so much information literally at our fingertips...

John Ware Reimagined by Cheryl Foggo is actually more than one play... at least that's how I felt when I left. I thought there was one play, about John and Mildred Ware and how they met and fell in love and lived, and another about Joni, who was seeking to find herself in the history of Alberta and her frustration with feeling like she was both invisible and other. It was also a musical (which caught me off guard only in that I wasn't expecting that).

I left these two plays with quite a few thoughts:

  • I really want to see a full length play/musical about John and Mildred Ware. I think there's something there. Jesse Lipscombe (John) and Jameela McNeil (Mildred) had a lovely chemistry and voices and it left me wanting to know more of their story. I was fascinated by the big-city woman and the tongue-tied cowboy who are clearly meant to be together. I wanted to more about the 4 parts of John Ware's life and I wanted to know more about Mildred and who she was. Both of them were inherently fascinating. 
  • I wanted more resolution for Joni. I was a bit frustrated with where she was at the end of the play and I wanted to know more about where she might be heading. I kept doing the math in my head for how much older she was than I was because it seemed to me that things must've changed a lot in a very short time or else where I grew up was different (or maybe my family was different). I wondered if she ever talked to her friend Marcy again. 
  • It also underscored for me that we all need to accept that everyone's life experience is different. We can't assume we understand what they are feeling in a given situation. I 'know' this, but it is nice to be reminded. 
Like so many other plays I have seen in recent years, it has sent me to the internet to find out more - more about John Ware, more about Mildred Ware, more about Alberta at the turn of the century, more about the Black communities in Toronto at the turn of the century... So... I have some reading to do!

John Ware Reimagined has now closed. I saw it's second last show, but if it gets remounted, you should check it out... or do some reading yourself! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Still Thinking About Hadestown...

... and waking up with the songs in my brain...

Gotta get back to see it again...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

When Artistry meets Quirkiness... Jabberwocky by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop at Theatre Network...

There's no Alice in Jabberwocky but there are A LOT of white rabbits! Jabberwocky is the latest show created by the Calgary-based Old Trout Puppet Workshop currently being presented at Theatre Network. It has all the hallmarks of the other shows I have seen from them (Ignorance, Famous Puppet Death Scenes) - the quirkiness, the off-centre humour, a bit of darkness, lots of twisted whimsy, and above-all the ridiculously well-done and out-of-the-box props, sets, and puppets.

It's a story far removed from the original Jabberwock, so don't go expecting Alice, but there is an incorporation of some familiar iconography and they certainly make use of the text of the poem itself. You can see the inspiration. The story is more about life and the pursuit of happiness and purpose. I'm not one for giving a synopsis, so it's best to just go and check it out. I promise you won't get lost and there will be lots of humorous surprises along the way.

If you've seen an Old Trout show before and enjoyed it, you should go because this will definitely appeal to you and there are some new approaches that will keep you entertained. If you haven't seen one before, see it, because it's kind of cool that we have this kind of company in Alberta producing this kind of work and I think you will find it entertaining.

runs at Theatre Network until November 26,
Click here for more information and tickets.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Road to Hell is Heavenly... HADESTOWN at the Citadel...

If there's one show to see this season... 

I know. You hear that about a lot of shows. But seriously... this is the one. Personally I hope you see 10, or 15, or 20 shows, but if you only have room for one it should be Hadestown. It's not even so you can have the bragging rights about being one of the first to see it before it moves on to it's next incarnation (hint, hint... think NYC). It's because it's so very good. 

It's the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set to music by the incomparable Anaïs Mitchell and directed by Broadway's Rachel Chavkin. What they have created is something welcoming and engaging, making you feel as though you are sitting in a small bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, not a 670+ seat theatre. And although it's wonderfully intimate it is, at the same time, dramatically epic. 

Tonight was the second time I saw the show, having seen it on last Sunday evening. With all the hype I was not content to wait for Opening Night. I also plan to go back for a third viewing next week. It's that good. And why? Well, beyond the unforgettable music that I have found myself waking up singing, with it's folk sensibilities and truthful emotion, a big part of what makes it so good is the outstanding cast. Reeve Carney (Orpheus) has a clear, pure tenor voice that conveys incredible honesty and feeling. Opposite him is T.V. Carpio (Eurydice) whose presence and voice defy her petite stature. She is mesmerizing. Her voice has size and tone that simply pulls you in. The two of them feel incredibly connected. Juxtaposed with them are Hades (Patrick Page) and Persephone (Amber Gray). Every moment Ms. Gray is onstage you are seeing something incredible. Before she even speaks or sings, just the kick of her boot makes you aware that this is one of those special people who gift us with their presence onstage. When she does sing, it's electric and visceral. Page is commanding and charismatic and dangerous - everything Hades should be - and with a tremendous bass that you imagine could literally pull you down into Hell... We're brought into the story by the narrator Hermes, played marvelously and energetically by Kingsley Leggs. He guides us through with command and emotional investment and boy does he sound great. 

This is a show where you want to talk about everyone onstage.  The Fates (Kira Guloien, Evangelia Kambites, & Jewelle Blackman) have an incredible blend with their voices and the three of them are so fierce. The Workers (Tara Jackson, Vance Avery, Hal Wesley Rogers, and Andrew Broderick) are a marvelous quartet of voices and movers. As an ensemble, this cast makes incredible sound and as story-tellers they are wonderfully unified and present. 

There's more... Lighting (Bradley King) that blew my mind - It looks like you could literally touch it and it would be solid. A beautiful set (Rachel Hauck) and costumes (Michael Krass). A kick-ass band under the direction of Liam Robinson. It all comes together and you leave knowing you had an incredible theatre experience that you will want to have again, and again, and again... 

Hadestown runs to December 3 at the Citadel.
Click here for tickets. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Oh, What a Night! Jersey Boys is Outstanding!

Friday night I finally got to see Jersey Boys! I'd been hearing about it for a few years and had been unable to go the last time it came through because of scheduling issues, so I was really happy to get a chance to see it this time around. The cast was incredible - the singing perfect, the dancing so clean and tight, the acting just the right mix of humour and realism. I'd never really thought of myself as a Four Seasons fan but as the songs rolled out I realized how many of their songs I knew and loved.

I was particularly blown away by Jonny Wexler, who as Frankie Valli sings some incredible high notes and makes them soar, and Tommaso Antico, who as Bob Gaudio has a sensitivity and presence that always felt honest even in the huge theatre. Corey Greenan as Tony DeVito added the intensity and antagonism needed to make the journey of the show feel worth it, and Chris Stevens as Nick Massi injected a good deal of humour in a delightfully deadpan manner.

I think there's only one show left on Sunday, November 12th. So call fast if you want to check it out!

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A few good shows in the road ahead...

It's a good problem to have - good for me, good for the city - a whole bunch of theatre to see!

This Friday I will finally get to see Jersey Boys with Broadway Across Canada. I've heard the show is awesome so I am looking forward to it. I have prepared myself to hear a lot of swearing and some great music!

I'm also very, very, very excited about Hadestown which starts this weekend at the Citadel. We've been working so hard on it, and hearing snippets of the live music and imagining what the mind-blowing cast we have will do with it (several are Broadway Alums and the ones I have seen previously in Canada are seriously amazing performers). Every day I peek in the theatre and the set looks incredible and I just can't wait. I'll be there on Opening but I am thinking I might not wait until then so I'm looking to see if I can go on Saturday or Sunday night. I will likely take Gibson as our current joint-obsession with Hamilton tells me he will probably really like the show.

Next week I am also taking in John Ware: Reimagined presented by Workshop West Playwright's Theatre. It's a new work, which always appeals to my playwright heart, and about a real Albertan historical figure and it promises to shed light on parts of our history many of us might not know much about.

After the Opening Night of Hadestown on Thursday, I will end the week with Jabberwocky at Theatre Network. It's the World Premiere of a new work by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. I've previously seen Ignorance and Famous Puppet Death Scenes and really like their work, so I am looking forward to seeing a new work from them.

Other than that, I am trying to figure out how I can squeeze in Little Women: The Musical by Foote in the Door Productions. I'm hoping to shuffle a few meetings to make that work as there are a lot of great people working on that show. Hopefully I can get things sorted out fast because I understand they are selling really well and I might be out of luck for tickets if I don't figure it out quickly!

Anyhow, it's a good problem to have... so much theatre to see!

Monday, November 06, 2017

Constellations at Shadow Theatre... so many possibilities...

I'd heard about Constellations by Nick Payne a few years ago. It's concept was intriguing, multiple iterations of the same scenes, with slight changes to reflect the multiplicity of possibilities. I'm am avid Science Fiction reader, so the idea is one I have seen explored before in books and film, and I liked the idea of exploring that on stage. So when Shadow Theatre announced that it was part of their season, I was happy to get the chance to see it. My sister, who lives in Toronto, saw it at Canadian Stage last year, but wanted to discuss it with me only after I had a chance to see it (so now we are due for a phone chat...). In the wishing for one more multi-verse, I wish I had seen the version she saw too! I think this is the kind of play that would only be enriched by seeing multiple productions...

Anyhow, it's a boy meets girl story, about Marianne the Physicist (Liana Shannon) and Roland the Bee-keeper (Mat Busby). They meet, they flirt, they meet again, they flirt, they fight, they meet again, things happen, and again, and again.  Each time is different. Sometimes subtly so, and sometimes the changes are vast. The idea is that there are an infinite amount of ways that these two lives could intersect and interact. Some details are maintained for coherence, but it is possible to imagine that there are even more options out there. I liked the way director Amy DeFelice jumped from reality to reality - it was clear that we'd shifted but it didn't hold up the flow of the story. I also liked Tessa Stamp's set - scientific, yet abstract, its circles nested and repeated echoing the repetition and cyclical nature of the storytelling. I always enjoy a play with science or math, whether conceptual or concrete, so this was a good one to speak to my brain. I could easily imagine many, many more variations on the themes.

On a more emotional level, it's the kind of play that makes you think about the myriad of choices that we have in our own interactions. If I had been less angry... If I had invited them over... If I had said no... I think on that human level we all realize that our lives could be vastly different if the little choices were changed and added up.

Constellations is at the Varscona Theatre until November 12.
Click here for tickets.