Sunday, August 1, 2010

Der Strum, KAMMERSPIELE, Muenchen, 26.07.2010

Interesting to see a production done by a company of actors, a show in rep. Despite the fact that my German is quite rough (and indeed not fully understanding the language of course liberates oneto focus in other directions), I thoroughly enjoyed this production, complete with its karaoke, it's kraftwerk vs rammmstein dance offs, it's projections. There was a certain sloth that had snuck its way into the psychophysical score, with actors not really engaging with impulse in a way that would lead to convincing harnessing of action.

LUMINATO and CATR, Toronto, June, 2010

Que le temps passe quand on s'amuse. Brief listing:

Dbi Young piece.
Nina Arsenault Barbie piece
Africa Trilogy: Volcano
Bestland: Rimini Protokoll

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Frankenstein (the Musical) CANSTAGE, Wri/Dir John Christenson, 22.05.10

This was a kind of a twee rendition of a lugubrious masterpiece. I needed to go to the graveyard with my familiar afterwards and nibble on some corpses to remind myself of life's more ghoulish undertones. Nonetheless, I'm very happy that this Canadian company has been able to create this show from scratch and make the most of it's enjoyable and unapologetic theatricalism, it's use of complex language and phraseology (comments overheard of the likes of "there's too much language in this" suggest that the show will only go so far in our visual culture), and its competent cast. Still though, why explore the grotesque and the fantastical if all you're really going to end up with is a complex rendition of a Sat am tv show for kids? Any kid worth their salt is going to be hankering for more...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This is what happens next, Necessary Angel w/ CanStage, Brooks/McKivor, 04.24.2010

Oh Daniels
Oh Daniels
Brooks and McKivor
What a sad piece of shite you have offered!

Is this what the Siminovitch does to you!

Good actor and writer
But as I sit sat slept through
this bourgeois fantasia
with a little spritz of meta meta
a touch of sentiment here
a cute gay there
the requisite odd ethnic fortune teller there
the little narrative trick of
having the kid describe the death as a monster
I couldn't help but noticing that everyone there
was monied
bored bored bored

and lining up to pee.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm So Close, WHYNOT THEATRE COMPANY, Created R. Jain, K Bugaj, T.H. Findsen. 01.04.2010

I really want to like this company: they work collaboratively; as artists they each have a varied theatre training profile (primarily LeCoq); they work outdoors as well as indoors; have things to say about multiculturalism; draw on different acting traditions in training projects; and so forth. I saw Ravi Jain's work as a director on Nicholas' Billon's Greenland last summer at Summerworks, and there was in that show real evidence of a solid capacity to help actors create sustained lines of action, compelling and subtle nuance in character, and a responsiveness to the text marked by curiosity, intelligence and wit.

That said, this is a weak show, despite some creative and competent moments throughout.

Jain begins doing what he appears to have a real aptitude for: direct address to the audience in an open and inviting way, in this case asking us how we got here which then serves as ground for continuing by setting the main thematic framwork for the show: the question of time. On one hand, Jain's work in these opening moments is clearly interesting, with a real flair for full physical engagement, isolation work in the hands and face that brings him very much alive, as well as the trained clown's ability to engender complicity. Similarly, Findsen's opening work as the anxious, overwrought, late-for-work cog in a vast late-captital communications and starbucked landscape is precise and fun.

On the other hand, we get the sense very early on that the piece is fatally derivative in terms of its thematic elements and compositional structure: the kind of mightonsesque invocation of something scientific (time, the universe, physics) that's geared to inspire a certain awe in us as we are sit in the dark and become defamiliarized from out conventional earth-bound and quotidian ways of seeing and experiencing. Maybe it's just that I've been watching a lot of BSG (Battlestar Galactica for those of you not in the know...) recently, but this hackneyed time-space-awe technique including the various images, tableaux and set-pieces used to explore it ended up feeling like watered-down Lepage without the tech to back it up, or like Théâtre Complicté lite.

The time business is complemented by Bugaj's character watching a documentary about the discovery of the bones of a neolithic couple who died in an embrace in Verona, "the city of Romeo and Juliette". This permits the juxtaposition of the decaying relationship between the business-world-travelling Findsen and Bugaj with the archeological and fossilized love of some ancient intimacy. Again, the theme is ostensibly interesting, but their theatrical delivery is not sufficiently compelling to allow the relatively surface nature of their treatment to really resonate in any lasting way.

Again, not to say that some of the work inside the piece isn't technically competent and creative: there's lots of physical play and viruosity throughout; the performers demonstrate their ability for transformation regularly; the work between Jain and Bugaj when he is the Virtual Assistant of her quasi-disappeared husband, particularly the scene where he recounts the bollywood love story, generates real intimacy and contemporary revelance.

But overall the piece is too rough and thin on the ground to really hold together. And for all the moments of viruosity, there is little magic or surprise: even the most complex and successful of the moments where the three actors are working together: a moment on the bed when they are each in their different narrative dimension yet all interacting feels more like a series of end of session outcome for the LeCoq school rather than something we can really feel connected with.

We're left with the feeling that I'm So Close is very sentimental overall: the trope of the over worked worker, the alienated bourgeois wife, the mock ads and the lypsynching—not only have we seen all of this before in many iterations, but the piece doesn't really challenge the audience to see the late-capitalist terrain that it references, one littered with exploitation and loss of memory and intimacy, in a way that would allow us to understand or feel it in a new way. Where's the rest of the LeCoq training, I was wondering throughout: the bouffon, the grotesque, the violent?

I wish this group well and look forward to seeing their next work: I think they need better and more precise scenography and lighting, but clearly this will come with time and more resources. I suspect they would profit from doing Theatre Smith-Gilmour does well, and investigate existing works of literature replete with powerful poetic resonance that they can bring their playfulness and creativity to. Despite the interventions of the talented Billon, the script is quite light.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

UNFINISHED PASSAGE, Created and Dir. by Fallis, Krucker and Strauss w. 3rd Year Class, Humber Theatre, 24.02.2010, Imperial Oil Opera Theatre

We should all be pretty darned grateful that this kind of actor training is happening in the Canadian theatre landscape. Eschewing the sometimes creatively restrictive emphasis on psychological realism that seems to characterize many if not most Canadian actor training institutions, this show is evidence of the Humber program's unapologetic embrace of non-figurative peformance styles that fuse dance, significant corporreal transformation, and quite stunning vocal work.

Unfinished Passage invites us into an evolving series of tableaux exploring the rich "weave of custom" that emerges from the experience of a multicultural city. Demands are made on our traditional ways of making sense of the stage: bodies work in concert to create rhythmical breathscapes that dilate beyond the individual actor; performers oscillate between being energies, animals, humans, and other undiscernible yet somehow mythological forms; groups come together, move about Kelly Wolf's ingenious design, engage in conflict, separate out into isolated invididuals again. We are thoroughly engaged on a visceral level as the rhythmic ebb and flow of encounter invokes strange bodily memories, haunting remembrances of the human tribe buried somewhere within us. Apexes of intensity occur throughout, with the sparagmos, or ritual dismemberment of a sacrificial victim, invoking our collective theatrical heritage, just as the moments of collective shivering ululations brings us to the edge of some kind of ancestral terror.

These young actors, led by the collaborative artistic team, clearly incarnate in this production the promise of Eugenio Barba's Third Theatre, where the choice is to explore beyond the parameters of what is conventional, what simply responds to current fashion and ideological trends, instead finding the courage "to submerge oneself, as a group, in the universe of fiction in order to find the courage not to pretend" (Barba, Theatre: Solitude, Craft Revolt, p 170).

And the technical abilitities they are developing are also in evidence: the ability for example to not accelerate through moments of encounter and instead actualizing the capacity for inner action, even as they move through the space in dance bodies; or the capacity to sustain intense verbal and phsyical action while clearly remaining tuned into the transformations incurred in their organisms and those of the audience. The tech and production students were also intergral to the prodcution, and their strong perception of artistic rhythm and timing contributed in a significant way to the success of the production.

If I had any suggestions for this theatrical equivalent of the Rosetta stone, it would be that the creators note that on some level the systole and diastole of the production, of sleep and awakening, of group and individual, of tension and reconciliation, does at various stages become somewhat predictacle. I felt myself hankering for more speech: all the right work had been done preceding speech to make it necessary and vital, but we were withheld this largely until the end, and even then the lack of engagement with consonants made the text surprisingly inaudible, given all the vocal power informing it.

Nonetheless: a very rich exploration of the type that I hope Humber will continue to privilege.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PEER GYNT, Ibsen, (Dir. Erika Batdorf) Church of the Holy Trinity 14.02.10

This is an ambitious project that ultimately fell very flat.

The Thistle Project, an outfit that grew out of the York U's grad program in theatre, worked with former prof Batdorf to pare down this Ibsen text into something that could be staged by two actors: Peer (Susan Coyne) and Everybody Else (Matthew Romantini). The setting in the Church of the Holy Trinity meant that the audience was invited to follow the actors throughout the space, largely emptied of pews, to various locations defined by ligth, sound and action.

I went with my buddy Gunther, a former Grotowski acolyte from Eastern Germany who has done his fair share of sweating expressively around the floors of churches in various eastern bloc countries in the pursuit of stern theatrical niravana. He had heard about the show, and, enthused about the prospect of witnessing the potentially interesting and revealing phenomenon of Susan Coyne pursuing Peer's quixotic and existential journey, easily talked me into coming along. Only thing was, I've rarely seen such a poor performance in the professional theatre: there was an attempt at a kind of elevated stylization, and perhaps it was the earnest attempt to fill the large space of the church, but the work throughout was overextended, imprecise, gusty, and quite uninteresting. Poor Gunther, committed teuton that he is, he's never a one to tolerate anything less than perfection and so started swearing under his breath in a remote german dialect shortly after the show began. He hated the show so much he began to sweat and needed to go lie down under the altar.

I tried to hang in there as best as possible. Romantini is cleary an able actor, but still, all the silly running about from one end of the church to the next, complete with clumsy transitions overplayed through a repetition to become very predictable, prompted the release of a couple of grunts and farts of percussive disdain from Gunther from his unholy vantage point (from under the altar I mean).

Seriously though, I don't mean to be disingenuous, but when you're doing a site specific piece it's really important to know why you've staged it there and make choices accordingly, otherwise the whole effort becomes quite random. Similarly, helping actors adjust to new locations involves calibrating the tonality and range of physical and vocal actions such that their work in the space resonates at the right frequencies, otherwise (as was the case in this instance) they just end up shouting.

What, I ask, have we done to deserve this!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Books and Film 2010

Films 2010:
Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, Nine, The Hurt Locker, Daybreakers, Legion, The Road, Fantastic Planet, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Polytechnique, Cold Souls, Precious, Zeitgeist Addendum, Love for Sale, The Piano Teacher, Cloverfield, Semi-Pro, Drag me to Hell, Hunger, Waltz with Bashir, Cougar Club, Crude Impact, Flow, Super Troopers, Alice in Wonderland, Those Damned United, The Reader, Blue Velvet, Capitalism: A Love Story, Food Inc., 50 Dead Men Walking, Green Zone, Broken Embraces, Underworld, Robin Hood, I'm not Alone, Iron Man 2, Lucky Number Sleven, Prince of Persia, A-Team, Shrek 3, The Last Airbender, Inception, Kinatay.
Books 2010 (in whole or in part)
Gould's Book of Fish (Flanagan), The Coming Insurrection (Invisible Committee), Stanislavski in Focus (Carnicke), Deleuze and Performance (Cull), Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (Marshall), Deleuze and Technology (Savat), Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos (Bell), Contemporary European Theatre Directors (Delgado & Rebellato), Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt (Barba), Deleuze and the Social, Ecoholic (Vasil), The Player's Passion (Roach), Contemporary European Directors (Delgado and Rebellato), Postcards from Utopia: The Art of Political Propaganda (Roberts); Art as Abstract Machine (Zepke); Territory, Authority, Rights (Sassen); The Places That Scare You (Chodron); Ulysses (Joyce); Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
TV 2010
Arrested Development Seasons: all three seasons
Battlestar Galatica, all four frackin seasons
Deadwood, season one
Boston Legal, season one

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CLOUD 9, Caryl Churchill, Directed Alisa Palmer, Panasonic Theatre, Toronto 06.02.10

So, Bon'Lay'Lay was in the city last night. (S)he's a drag king I know from my days gigging at the Sala Rossa, an old red-velour-curtained show hall way up on St Laurent Boulevard, in Montreal. The Sala's the kind of venue usually packed with argentinian tango fanatics from the old country entertaining sailors in off the ships that stop on their way down the St Lawrence. But every few months, a fantastically gay promoter named Serge would gather a ragtag group of singers, jugglers, fire breathers, exotic dancers, and extremely short people together at the Sala for what Serge described as 'un goddam freashow, ostie'. I'd invariably sing some Brel or Kurt Weil songs with Anisa C. and Laurel S. as my back ups, and they'd of course ensure to have carefully orchestrated various 'wardrobe malfunctions' in the movement score of their singing to keep the act spicy. The dusky warm glow of the Sala, where people demonstrated their general social subversion by occasionally (or so it was said) fellating each other in the bathrooms and regularly (and this I can attest to) smoking cigars in the audience, was certainly THE place to be in Montreal the nights of Serge's fantastic 'freaksow, ostie'.

For his part, Bon'Lay'Lay often performed this stunning kind of strip tease act that stimulated the audience, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, to dizzy heights of arousal. Bon'Lay'Lay's act, however—and this was the testament to his genius—usually only resulted in him removing one or two pieces of clothing, or even sometimes nothing more than him subtly opening his shirt to expose a ripped set of abs, before the Sala's tattered red curtain came down with the lights and, even as the audience moaned and yelled for more, smothered all further possibility of titillation. And yet, Bon'Lay'Lay was one of the stars of the show...

It took me forever to catch on that 'he' was a 'she' in drag, although the ever-evolving set of fake mustachios (70's porn 'tash, handlebar, fu manchu, occasional goatee) should have given it away. Anyway, it was only late one night after a gig when a band of ribald tango-istas, drunk on some kind of native palm wine and very angry at having been displaced yet again by the Serge's ostentatious crew, crashed the Sala, without their men partners, looking to dance. Most of those spectators still nursing their cigars and arguing about sex and Quebec politics quickly scattered in the face of the strident arrivals. But Bon'Lay'Lay stood up, affirmed a very masculine pose, and suggested quite loudly "GET THE 'ELL OUT OF 'ERE, YOU WHORES'. After a brief pause, during which surprise was no doubt being registered, the argentinian women remonstrated, shouting, variously suggesting that Bon 'Lay'Lay was not going to be able to stop them, spitting at him, and finally taunting him with statements to the effect of "You're not going to beat up a group of ladies, are you you coward? You're a man!'. In one quick gesture (and upon consideration, I now believe that velcro must have been involved) Bon'Lay'Lay removed the larger proportion of his clothing to reveal a svelte feminine physique, with a certain key area being defined by a gentle rise rather than a bulge, and two taped-down breasts masquerading as those famous (although heretofore never seen) pecs.

In the event that in our general shock we all hadn't quite understood exactly what was transpiring, Bon'Lay'Lay ripped her fake mustache with what one might describe as 'melodramatic' flair from her face and flung it to the floor in a defiant gesture where it landed as a kind of challenge to the now suddenly very quiet tango-istas. The room itself was also silent, even the cigar smoke stopped moving, eyes glared across dark spaces, and, as suddenly as they had arrived, the argentinian women withered and fled back onto the Boulevard from whence they had come, murmering invective as they danced off into the night. Needless to say that after a moment of apparently genuine bashfulness following her display of bravado, Bon'Lay'Lay retrieved her mustachio and, after not an insignificant amount of coaxing from a number of us, allowed herself to be celebrated late into the evening for her territorial trail-blazing with an excess of cheap wine, cigars, and increasingly boisterous retellings of the evening's events.

It only seemed appropriate that when Bon'Lay'Lay was in town that we go to see Churchill's Cloud 9, the cross-dressing fantasia described in the publicity material as 'Churchill's sex play': guaranteed to sell seats and with the promise of not a dry seat in the house. Quite used as I am to uneven, boring, unchallenging theatre in Toronto, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this show was at least even and competent on the level of performances. The actors, mostly featuring pedigrees from the Shaw Festival, were clearly experiencing the joy and jouissance of being emancipated from the Shaw's often highly restraining and composed acting regime into the playful and comedic stylization, a kind of amped up comedy of manners, that director Alisa Palmer had proposed to them. Maybe she was enjoying not being at the Shaw herself? In fact, it seems as if all these artists had perhaps one way or another had previously been cross-dressing as unimaginative bores (Isn't that what theatre in this country asks us to do?), but had come out in this show to reveal themselves as ironic, playful, fun loving embodiments of Churchill's vastly satyrical social critique of Empire, colonialization, gender, and the family.

Everything quickly announces itself as reversed, layered, troubled, and complex in this play. The opening number features all actors on stage singing together and annoucing their various roles and functions to the audience. It is 1880s Africa, and the natives are restless. In the colonial home around which the action revolves are Edward the son, played by Anne-Marie Macdonald, who just can't stop playing with dolls; Betty, his mother, played by a man (Evan Buluing); her mother by a black woman (Yanna McIntosh); and the black servant by a white man with an afro (Ben Carlson). The father of the family, Clive (David Jansen), demands respectable and appropriate behaviour from everyone around him, but spends his time chasing and giving oral sex to the butch Mrs Saunders (Megan Follows--crap, what would Lucy Maud have said!). Similarly, the swashbuckling hero Harry Bagley (Blair Williams) arrived in to help with the uprising by local blacks seems to be fucking everyone, including his friend Clives' wife, the servant, and even Clive's boy (again, poor Lucy Maude!). It's messed up, witty, playful, unabashedly direct, to the point where Bon'Lay'Lay informed me that he had heard even some of the many couples of old gay men in Burberry scarves that seemed to populate at least half the audience harrumphedly describe the show as 'shocking' while peeking at each others willies at the next urinal over in the john during intermission.

In the second act, the date is 1980, but time has only moved forward 25 years for the characters. Vicky (a doll in the first act) has grown up, as has Edward, and we see them trying to figure out their lives and children, ultimately living together (and sleeping with, as we were reminded not a few times) with a lesbian. Sexuality either is discursive commodity, a series of predatorial flings, or orgies in parks, all tied together by Churchill's charcateristically loose dramaturgy (no pun intended. really) that leaves the audience drifting somewhat by the end. In fact, audience response at the end was tepid, although they seem to have been pretty thoroughly engaged throughout...

What I found most interesting about this show is the question it raised about the audience's ability to shift registers and to consider this text's relevance to the Canadian context. There we were, smoked-salmon socialists who had all just dropped $160 for two tickets, fiddling with the Prince Alberts in our pockets and chuckling away at the contradictions and collapse of the British Emire and all their 'problems' in Africa and London, forgetting perhaps that we're sitting in a theatre on blood-land stolen from Canadian first peoples in a theatre called The Panasonic, a stark reminder of the fact that the multi-national rules supreme in it's patronage of the arts these days. What would have spurred all the erstwhile rebels in the audience out on the streets to demand recognition of Canada's ongoing pornographic relationship of exploitation of natives, women, immigrants, the poor, homosexuals, and the very land itself? Did actor David Janssen not feel a burning pain in his nether regions brought about by the fact that one of his last creations, the almost camply racist 'Ubuntu' at the Tarragon (see my letter to the editor at ), represents a direct continuation of the kind of activity being parodied in Cloud Nine?

Perhaps I underestimate my confrères and consoeurs, but how can we ourselves come out of political closets, our social and artistic concealments in which we collectively suppress our desire and hope for a different world so as to be able to pass as a neo-con like everyone else, to emerge from these coccoons to create and demand both beauty and the spirit of universal justice to be made manifest in every piece of theatre we work on and see? Bon'Lay'Lay (who sometimes goes by Bob'Lai'Lai in Toronto in-order to help fend off the kind of literal minded anglo pleasure seekers you get down here) was moved to vigorous applause at the general tenor of the evening, but I could tell from his silence after that no night at the theatre had yet ever been able to match the showdown with the argentinians at the Sala Rossa, and that his peripatetic search for universal rebellion would have to continue unabated...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The White Cabin, AKHE Theatre Group (Russia), Theatre Centre, Toronto, 30.01.10

This piece is a deluge of creative effluent, light, and rot that variously washes over the audience throughout the course of a meandering evening, one that invites its audience into a number of discreet and explosively imaginative spaces.

The piece begins with a woman watching images on a small screen and an old projector as the theatre fills up with incense and smoke, with these environmental factors foreshadowing the feats of sensuality to come. The woman walks downstage through the thick goopy smoke, sits on a chair, and faces back upstage to watch the emergence from the penumbra of two clownlike characters: white squares of facepaint, round hats with burning incense sticks, tattered clothing referencing aristocratic as much as the serf tradition. They soon encumber the space with lines of string, pour wine over each other, litter the place with newspaper unwinding from a body previously covered in it, then crucify the woman—whose elegant dress we now see is quite tattered—to her chair before 'freeing' her into this difficult space marked by a strange and questionable dynamic between the three performers that always seems to have the woman on the losing end of the match. The evening progresses with an eventual move to a space of interlaced screens featuring increasingly larger square windows the further upstage they are placed, resulting in a rich projection environment.

The piece is ultimately unsatisfying for a variety of reasons: the relationships do not evolve or change between the characters; the notion of this being a 'physical theatre company' is misleading as the technical virtusoity of the male performers (who have art school backgrounds) leaves quite a bit to be desired; the environments created are sometimes not fully explored before being abandoned for no particular reason for the next one; a number of the introduced devices, like lights put inside mouths, are not really exploited; etc.

The whole thing left me kind of adrift at points.

Where this piece does excel is in the power of its rambunctious and seemingly effortless ability to present dozens if not hundreds of evocative and poetic images, sometimes in such a rapid succession that we are left happily overwhelmed by this eventful slurry: that's when the piece is luminous and transportive, through the dramaturgy of alluvial overload.

Is it retrograde of me to say that work like this—as with that of Castelluci, Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theatre, or some of Forced Entertainment, etc—really needs some more traditional dramaturgical intervention? One gets the feeling of visual/performance artists wanting to have the temporal/narrative framework of an evening of theatre (why else have it start at 8pm in a theatr?), but don't really have the skills to keep our attention...

But hey, these guys are roly-poly-cigar-smoking-hard-scrappin'-liquor-spittin' Russians who've rustled a cute young actress into touring the world with them, and the Toronto theatre scene is SUCH a sucker for foreigners and role playing what it would mean to be a real mensch, so, hope you got to see this show and be a scenester too.

See a 10 minute highlight reel @:

Urinetown, BMT, Directed by Spencer Smith, Grantham Theatre, St Catharines, 04.02.10

As one cast member described it, this 'exceedingly metatheatrical' musical delivers: with witty lyrics, an amusingly taboo premise, a creative examination of the contradictions and exploitive practices of multinational corporations, not to mention a sardonic sending up of the shmaltzy expectations around how musicals should generate affect ('it has to be a hopeful ending'), the piece is brimming with potential. Smith has done a very good job at creating a vibrant choreography that works for the cast and keeps the audience engaged throughout, with a dynamic and rythmic understanding of space and composition that suggests that this young artist should definitely do this kind of work again. Also very effective are the comedic set ups, prat falls, and sight gags that are paraded before us at satifsyingly regular intervals. Apparently he hopes to be New York-bound to study the form further, and I wish him luck.

This is BMT's most successful show to date of the ones I've seen, with reduced numbers on stage leading to more controlled and clean stages images as well as much more effective storytelling. The chorus is energetic and committed throughout, save a slowish start in the opening number. Everyone on stage has at least a moment, with some of my favourites including: Celine Allen and Lauren Beaton's vocal work, Emerson Ross' rabbit moment, Sarah Latke's clear and comic physicality, Alex Best's confident relationship with the audience, Christi Musico's engagement of the audience, Ryan Blair's wrestling of the sock puppet, Mary Gray acting from the chair, Andrew Sutherland's napoleanic swagger, Adrian Petry's sustained vibrato. The cast deals with gusto and glee with the moments of celebratory violence toward the end of the piece, making me feel like I was watching a Grand Guignol show in 1890s Paris.

I mean, how can you not enjoy a musical that involves the torture and defenestration of blow up dolls?

With their new off-campus digs, one gets a sense of this being a producing organization beginning to grow into their own. My challenge to the group: either find as interesting a musical as Urinetown for next year, or write your own. Please don't lapse back into the ever so cheesy and un-ironized american musicals: successfully tackling a piece like Urinetown is a testament to your creative and critical intelligence.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conceiling Light, by Geoffrey Heaney, Studio 107, Brock 23.01.10

Nice one you guys. This text, written by Heaney features the tale of an earnest young hunter of evil travelling off into some nasty nether regions or other to destroy some vampires. It is witty, intelligent, well-paced, and well performed. Some solid work here from the actors and dancer. The engaging 20 minute pre-show involves Becca Pleschke, (la danseuse), Rachel Wade (la vampire), and Caitlin Popek (la tres tres vielle Vampire) preparing us for the skilled performance work that will come: full engagement with action, clarity, shifts of energy as alliances form and break between these women, and comedic moments as they together begin looking at specific spectators or change moods abruptly. Nathan Tanner McDonald arrives on stage, and they're off. I can't stress enough how well these young actors and their director are using the training they're receiving to create subtle and mercurial shifts, stops, and pauses in the action, all enabled by Heaney's intelligent script, which sets the audience up for something stern or serious, then upsets this with a quick 180 of into a different direction.

The comedy throughout revolves around the conceit that the vampires onstage precede Christianity and so aren't necessarily injured by the clichéd bag of tricks often bandied about by on screen Buffy's and the like (garlic, crosses, etc), leading the young hero to look foolish in his attempts to do in the vampire. Nonetheless he persists, eventually building a pentagram on stage and seemingly doing all the baddies in. One of the things that struck me about this piece is the vision, based on his historical reading and study, informing Heaney's exploration of the need for ritual on stage. There are some truly symbolist moments when the spectator feels that they are somewhere between a séance with Madame Blavatsky and the more interesting parts of Stephanie Meyer's imagination that she herself hasn't quite accessed yet. And all this very well balanced tonally, so that we go into a long and well delivered monologue by Popek that betrays her character's age (and perhaps attendance at the openings of some Beckett shows over her 2500 year life), then flip quite nicely into an ironic consideration of what has just preceded with one well delivered syllable ('So,' I think it was) by the Vampire. The longer dance sequence is similarly interesting.

If there's work to be done here it's probably in the general maturation of the actors, which will happen naturally over time, but they are at the top of their game for the level of training they have. Textually Heaney has to be careful that that same ironic reversal of tone I refer to above doesn't end up being used too frequently, or in too pronounced a fashion, as it many become slightly monotonous. Involving the audience somewhat more in the ritualized aspect (even if it is question of ackowledging our presence more throughout as they do in the pre-show) may be a way to bring this out to a larger audience as Heaney expressed that he intends to.

All in all, a rich exploration, well-performed, and the sense of a real theatrical voice beginning to emerge.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Crack by Sky Gilbert, 4555 Queen St. Niagara Falls, 22.01.10 or SHOW ME YOUR KEYSTER WHY DON'T YOU!

Jason and Stephanie once again gang up with Sky Gilbert, and then, in a way, collectively gang up on their audience! Bless. Lots to talk about this piece, as any piece, although sometimes our learning is motivated by negative capability, yes? I was actually really looking forward to this show, I had the memory of Hardways that Jason had written and performed about a year ago at the Courthouse in St Catharines. The guy's actually a pretty darned good actor, although I'd really enjoy seeing the result of him being pushed hard by an acting trainer or very capable director and have him go beyond a certain Comfort Zone of Charm that he often incarnates on stage.

But hey, I'm getting ahead of myself. Dee Jones opened the show with a short piece that she began creating a few ago back at a One Yellow Rabbit summer intensive. She began by walking through the audience in the café/bar (comprised of the local theatre hipsterati and NFalls emerging scenesters), doing some good clown work, engaging the audience with that disarming, shameless, open thing that she does very nicely (the Gaulier training is in evidence here!). The conceit was that she was amazed at all the people in the audience, at their presence, particularity, and singularity. This revelation then prompted her to go into a series of transformations, many of which were rather incosistent and unclear, where she took on a variety of different people, focusing on snippets of poetic moments of their lives. Some nice poetry in here actually, one section in particular when she was playing a nold woman washing dishes: "I've washed so many dishes that my hands are transparent. When I read my palms I now know that I'm headed towards the light," or something to that effect. Some nice physical prescision and choices. The general framing could have been clearer as well, and so, despite the moments that worked, I was left kind of underwhelmed. Ultimately it felt more like an exercise that was incomplete, and that perhaps Dee had done a whole series of short pieces to privilege the trope of transformation and the kinds of virtuosity and juxtaposition that it can entail, or perhaps she had created short pieces because of an inability to create longer work. A kind of performed micro-Shortcuts à la Raymond Carver. Want to see more from her.

So, on the the show proper. Well, Monsieur Gilbert may describe himself as a gay homme de lettres, mais il faut dire que cet homme çi souffre d'un certain manque de talent litéraire. Crack is basically une pièce a thèse on the subject of, well, cracks, that is somehow awkwardly roped into the an orbit with the theme of addiciton. Jason's charcater's addiction to, well, crack, and other subtances clearly provides a useful dramaturgical device to allow for his circumlocutory investigation of all the different kinds of cracks (and like a good schoolteacher, Monsieur Gilbert provides us with signposting summaries of the ways in which we can conceive of cracks at various key points throughout). But this kind of laissez faire approach to the unfolding of the story doesn't leave one particularly engaged throughout, and after about 15 minutes my mind was wandering until the next provocative subject was invoke and I found myself leaning forward a somewhat in anticipation of the next (micro)shock. Gilbert does use the occasion to make some well needed points on the subject of women's exclusion ("they're just called cunts, slits, cracks") and entrapment in sexist discourses, as well as some humorous pointing out of our fear and anxieties around the abject.

The piece is peppered with garden-variety theatrical reflexivity (theatrum reflexivus vulgaris), such as Steph's declaration that she can't speak because she's written by a man, which is also engaging, at least because the shouting draws you back into the piece. Ultimately though, there's no poetry to speak of in the play, no awareness of rhythm in the language, or in the narrative flow. No sense that there's a real writer or poet behind it, simply an astute social critic. With all this talk of cracks, one of Steph's characters begins to taunt Jason to show his ass, which ultimately after a good build up he does, but : the lights go out at the same time! I mean, if you're going to give it to us is such a literal and unsubtle fashion all evening people, why shy out at the end?!! Not that I want to see Jason's ass necessarily, but it would have actually made the play more internally coherent and consistent if we all just had to sit there and stare at his big 'ole CRACK until people started getting uncomfortable and started to leave. But then, they wouldn't have sold many more drinks at the bar would they...

Jason is quite good, but I've seen him better. Steph, who I often find to be wooden, has a couple of sincerely great moments as Delilah the crack whore, and also later as a drunker bar patron. I really felt like I did see her ur-strength as an actor come through when she disengages her relationship with the motion factor of space. The stuff with the old lady was pretty rough though, felt like Am Dram night for both of them.

Although promisingly Rabelaisian at points, this piece is ultimately quite weak.

Spare me, Jayzus I have another show to see today, I hope it's better!