Author: willbrittoncfp

Sharing my thoughts on all things theatre... I hope that you do the same!

“Without Whom” Offers Charm, But Lacks Spirit

Daniel Pauley, Jennifer Verardi, John A Geddes, and Cindy Chappell in “Without Whom”

“Without Whom” begins with a strong premise and comes to a moving end, but the journey between the two is somewhat flat and a little awkward at times.

The script by R.J. Downes has famously egotistical author Ray Monarch, played quite suitably and with consistency by John A. Geddes, bickering with his wife Maggie (portrayed by Cindy Chappell) about which of them is dead, and who must come to terms with what in order for them both to move on. There to assist them, and the audience, in sorting out what exactly has transpired and what needs to happen next are two younger counterparts, Harlan and Susan, played by Daniel Pauley and Jennifer Verardi. Verardi admirably attempts to bring some depth and nuance to her character, while Pauley often appears uncomfortable. Both parts are challenging, written and presented with ambiguity, and it seems as though the actors might benefit from greater clarity of their purpose within the context of the overall piece. Of all the cast, Chappell has the most to offer in Maggie’s moments of poignancy and pain.

There are several twists to the plot – some intriguing and offering clever reveals, while others muddy the waters. Although difficult to pinpoint any overwhelming flaw, there are structural improvements to the arc of the story and its telling that could be made. Identifying and tying together the central dilemma and its resolution as a primary thread would provide a clear climax for the performers to build towards and the audience to follow along, while still leaving ample room for surprises, subplots, and secondary themes to be explored. As staged here by director Mae Whalen, the production offers some charm and sincerity, but lacks the shape and energy to engage or excite – and given the oft-stated volatility of the relationship on display, coupled with the dramatic stakes of their current predicament, I can’t help but feel that there were higher highs and lower lows left on the table.

“Without Whom” offers a genuine exploration of what can make or break the partnership of a marriage between a dreamer and a realist, but this performance itself lacked the passion that it demonstrates is necessary in order to make such a collaboration work.

“Without Whom” continues its run in Venue #2 of The Storefront Fringe Festival

“Once You’ve Found It” Finds Good Stride

Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

Has the darkness ever spoken to you?

In a new play by Donovan Jackson of Reverie Theatre, darkness comes to life to speak to Bruce, who is dealing with the painful loss of his grandmother. Through movement, art, mask, projection, and music, we watch Bruce and wonder if he will let the darkness consume him.

This production is a truthful, touching view of what it’s like to live with a little darkness monster inside you. Jackson gives an earnest and engaging performance and adapts large and expressive choreography to the intimate space very well. It is difficult for one person to carry a show for sixty minutes, but because there was so much for him to play with it felt like a full team was on stage with him. As soon as one premise becomes comfortable, we move on to another, and this momentum kept me very engaged right to the end. I personally loved the video projections- one in particular reminded me of the people in my life who mean so much to me, and I left the theatre with a full heart and a big grin for having been reminded that love is beautiful, and the darkness doesn’t have to be your only friend.

If you love your grandma, see this play.

“Once You’ve Found It” continues its run in Venue #1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based theatre artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and BroadwayWorld.com. She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival…

Now Is The Time To See “Stick or Wizard?”

“Stick or Wizard?”, featuring Oli Weatherly (photo by Emily Valentine)

“Stick or Wizard?” is a simple, irreverant Fringe experience that not only tells its audience there is a little Wizard in each and every one of us – but puts it on display for all to see and enjoy.

The show is an interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ exploration of the magic that can be found all around us when we slow down to look for it. Patience is a virtue and as our Wizard teacher, Oli Weatherly carefully takes his time to establish a playful connection with his audience that is the key ingredient in this show’s success or failure. An audience that is equally patient in tuning into the same wavelength as the artist, such as this was, is in for a treat. There is no doubt that having an eager young child amongst us for this performance helped everyone let go of their expectations and inhibitions a little more easily, and on this particular day, we were all reminded of the joy and laughter to be found in a sing-along and silly dance, the wonder that exists in the act of exploration and discovery, and the peace experienced when we take a moment to catch our breath. I left the room wondering what other goodies were left in the Wizard’s stash of magic tricks – which he makes clear at the very beginning are not the type of ‘tricks’ that one might be expecting from a Wizard at all.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and the performance piece may not be recognized as a fine work of art, but it is silly and whimsical and even a little bizarre. For a few moments it perfectly captures the magic of theatre, which, to Weatherly’s point, is really no different than the magic to be found in life’s everyday moments when you open yourself up to them – because, really, that magic lies in oneself. It all sounds quite fluffy, but there is a tangible vulneribility at play here as well, and although details that would detract from the mood or safety of the space are never revealed, it is clear that Weatherly has come from a bumpy and darker place, and it seems that it is for both himself and his audience that this work is shared as the antedote to the dark clouds that often cast shadows on us all.

Not only was it a pleasure to be reintroduced to the Wizard in me, but it was an incredible experience to witness the same transformation in so many others, too. That, for me, makes “Stick or Wizard?” truly magical…

“Stick or Wizard?” continues its run in Venue #3 of The Storefront Fringe Festival

There’s A LOT Going On “In Ireland…”

Nathan Coppens & Lauren Allen in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” (submitted photo)

Much like the play’s title, “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” attempts to fit an awful lot into relatively little time and space – and it’s mostly worth the effort…

There are two stories intertwined here, one being a fun and versatile vehicle (pun fully intended) enhancing the accessibility and pathos of the other. The first is a contemporary comedy, centred on a couple’s trip in Ireland, with each on their own particular quest while there. The second slyly uses the first to delve into some of the country’s dark history, as well as its relevance to us today – especially as playwright Rod MacPherson neatly ties it all up in the end.

Nathan Coppens carries much of the load, flipping between one character and another – each distinct and memorable. His strong physicality serves him well throughout, and adds significantly to the comedic surface of the piece. Lauren Allen has a strong presence as well, but presents in a quieter and much more controlled manner, perfectly suiting her primary character while also serving to ground the overall production. There are a number of interactions between the two as a married couple that make it clear that they share a special chemistry that is essential to pulling off such a whimsical stage partnership. While much of the action is frantic, they each do have some very subtle, touching buttons where they could afford to take an extra beat or two, and allow the audience to settle in, share, and appreciate the moment.

The production is harried from the outset, and director Andrew Johnston’s use of the stage and placement of props and costumes initially felt messy, with set pieces apparently pulled from corners of this church venue, all contributing to a distracting level of discord. This, however, bothered me less and less as the show progressed, and as Coppens and Allen owned the space, finding and replacing each piece with an ease only available through muscle memory and confidence. The energy in this high-octane romp started to flag as they rounded the bend on the home stretch (particularly noticeable in the surprisingly anti-climactic realization of Tom’s “quest”) – but Coppens left enough in the tank to deliver a closing that was not only satisfying but impactful for an appreciative audience.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” is a quirky little show, well-suited to the character and pace of the Fringe. It is a production that entertains while offering many laughs, a few touching surprises, and a dose of reality, too.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

“The Elephant Girls” Hit Hard!

“The Elephant Girls” is a tough tale, carefully and craftily woven, and delivered with a powerful punch…

Written and performed by Margo MacDonald, it is the fact-based fictionalized story of the all-women gang, ‘the Forty Elephants’, that terrorized London in the early 1900’s – and an intriguing and engaging tale it is! This is a mesmerizing exercise in storytelling, embedded with bits of theatricality that delight the audience at the same time as they remain immersed in the raw and gritty narrative. While we are certainly content to simply sit and listen to the yarn spun by MacDonald as ‘enforcer’ Maggie Hale, moments such as her cockney rhyming slang, the unveiling of the arsenal, and the simple but dramatic scene transitions add heightened entertainment without drawing from the brooding mood and gravity of the story, all neatly established with a fantastic under-played introduction that makes one lean in from the moment the dim spotlight comes up.

The costuming of Maggie, designed by Vanessa Imeson, is immaculately precise, punctuated with every hair being perfectly in place. The setting is simple, but coupled with the costume and few props, it quickly evokes the time, place and tone of Maggie’s tale. I must imagine that the direction of Mary Ellis not only supported MacDonald’s vision of a piece written and performed by herself, but also played a significant part in the tight staging that remained fluid throughout; never stagnant, but never overwhelming. The objective eye surely helped, as well, with an unusually impressive maintenance of energy throughout, with a perfect sustained build offering natural ebb and flow, yet conserving enough to execute an impressively powerful climax. This is an incredible challenge associated with any one-person show, as they are simply exhausting and difficult to sustain (especially in the heat of our local Fringe!), so I feel compelled to give this credit where it is due. Creating, exchanging, and sustaining tension without a counterpart on stage can be very difficult as well, but again, with a well-written script and deft skill, MacDonald is able to deliver. She also does a masterful job of addressing her audience as she speaks, making most everyone feel as though she is talking directly to them. The only hitch in delivery was whenever it came time for MacDonald to address the ‘third-party’, the person to whom she was speaking within the context of the narrative, and this, at least in part, may be due to how effectively she was addressing the audience otherwise. Greater clarity in defining this individual (versus us, the patrons) might be helpful, though I wonder if the convention is necessary at all. It’s a small quibble, but it made for the only rare moments where suspension of disbelief was set aside to try to make a sense of who was being spoken to.

Not only is “The Elephant Girls” staged and performed with excellence, but there are also some poignant and provocative moments that are equally horrifying and beautiful. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed, that offers as much impact as entertainment.

“The Elephant Girls” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

Additional “…Support” Required

Brian Abrams and Helen Bretzke in “Life Support” (photo provided by Director Tim Fort)

“Life Support” is a complex play, offering complex points of view on a complex topic. It’s hard work, and the audience could benefit from a bit more help.

Martha Bailey has written a play tackling the technicalities and intricacies of what it means to be alive, or possibly more to the point, what it means to be dead. Definitely dead. Ambitious, and wracked with logical, emotional, and faith-based perspectives and arguments, the play is as challenging as the dilemma it presents, as a judge presides over a case to determine whether or not an unnamed character, with an oft-invoked family (including a young child), should be removed from life support.

I had the benefit of attending a “talk back” afterwards, during which director Tim Fort alluded to the premise of the Judge, played by Brian Abrams, being visited by apparitions akin to “A Christmas Carol”. In hindsight, it was most helpful in wrapping my head around what had just transpired. I clearly recognized in the moment that the judges interactions with the multiple characters played by each Len Whalen and Helen Bretzke was not naturalistic, but I honestly never felt like I had any firm grasp on what was happening. Although something more subtle than Marley’s visit to Scrooge stating what was to come would certainly suffice, it would be beneficial to the audience to have some means of establishing the convention at the outset and clarifying the rules of engagement for what was to come.

If not delivered through some means of exposition, then the onus of communicating such a premise falls on the actors. As the Judge, Abrams’ stoic and unemotional delivery makes sense in regards to the character and the plot. However, a performer’s job is often to lend understanding, credibility and legitimacy to the work of fellow cast, not just one’s own, and his interactions with his counterparts never offered any such insight. Bretzke’s performance was a highlight, offering distinct characters with distinct delivery even if, as the representative of the logical, much of her material was repetitive (if not redundant) – essentially the same argument delivered by different representatives. The softer sides of the argument, presented by the characters played by Whalen, offered greater breadth and variety, but his presentation thereof was less intriguing. The most engaging of his characters, the Rabbi, was probably the most multi-dimensional in the play – but was regrettably very difficult to hear and fully understand much of the time.

Given Colour & Light’s mandate to perform new theatre works that are offbeat and on point, I believe that “Life Support” is the right work at the right time, in the right venue. However, if there is any means to better position the audience to understand and navigate what is about to unfold, it would likely be a more beneficial and insightful experience for all.

“Life Support” continues its run in Venue 1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival...

“Dreaming Pink” Through The Eyes Of A Child

“Dreaming Pink” is a fun and touching piece of theatre that tickles the funny bone at the same time as it warms the heart. It is a well-crafted story, scripted by Bryce Fletch, of familial strife, love, and support through the eyes and imagination of a child…

As the precocious young Linzi, Maddy Kerr clearly has a lot of fun dealing with the trials and tribulations of daily life through her space travels, pirate adventures, and epic battles. Her comedic timing draws lots of laughs, and her emotional range is impressive for her age. Unfortunately, several of her lines are lost, and as the excitement of opening night melts away, I hope that Kerr is able to slow down her line delivery and focus on her diction – without losing any of her dynamic energy. As Linzi’s father Andy, I have to commend Tyler Anderson on his commitment to the role, and immersion in the many conflicted emotions he must navigate over the course of the play. As fully engaged as he is, though, there is a credibility that is lacking in his role of dad. It may simply be a function of age and/or life experience, but it is a hurdle that must be overcome. That said, there is a real, tangible and loveable bond between Anderson and Kerr (think older, protective sibling?), evident from the outset, that works and makes the plight and stakes of the family turmoil accessible and believable for the audience nonetheless. The ensemble of Daniela Rojas, Jeremy Gardiner and Will Tracy does a fantastic job in their role of fleshing out Linz’s imagination, supporting their leads and the story, without ever drawing focus.

While many of the scene transitions and some of director Kemi King’s staging seem haphazard, she and her production team have successfully brought together an overall look and feel that effectively evokes both the stark reality of Linz’s life and the rich immensity of her imaginary world, especially through creative movement (choreographed by Holly Lorenzo) that underscores and emphasizes the size and scope of Linzi’s beautiful imagination.

I’m not sure what family fare this year’s Storefront Fringe Festival has to offer, but “Dreaming Pink” is certainly a treat worth catching, whether you have children in tow or not.

“Dreaming Pink” continues its run in Venue 3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

“Stupidhead!” is a Smart Little Show!

“Stupidhead!” featuring Katherine Cullen (Image shamelessly stolen from The Kick and Push Festival site)

I was invited to join a friend to see “Stupidhead!”on relatively short notice, and it represented one of those rare experiences to walk into a show having no idea what it was about, or what to expect…

What an exciting way to start off my 2019 Kick & Push experience. And what a treat it was!

Billed as a comedic musical about dyslexia, and the embarrassment that is being a human, it certainly delivers as such – and a little bit more. Regardless of your familiarity and engagement with dyslexia specifically, this clever script, developed and performed by Katherine Cullen with music and accompaniment by Britta Johnson, has a relevance and accessibility to be appreciated by all. Quite witty and cheeky, but also honest and poignant, the fully engaged audience spent much of the hour in stitches, save a few touching moments when you could hear a pin drop.

I was impressed by the economy of the overall production, especially given its light-hearted approach to such personal subject matter. It is a tidy little show, succinctly packaged and neatly revealed, and it knows exactly what it is and what fits. As must be the case for these Festival shows, the production values are simple but effective, and in this case, subtly add to the overall experience of the play. Kudos to director Aaron Willis for keeping such a creative and impulsive production within the invisible but necessary parameters that delivered a perfectly satisfying arc for the audience to follow, yet still leaving room for Cullen and Johnson to have some fun while expressing some very real and personal emotion. The writing is remarkably tight as well, and confidently walks that fine line of self-deprecating humour and storytelling that allows the audience to laugh along “with”, but never “at” Cullen, her challenges, or her pain. There is far greater dramaturgy credit given for the piece (Willis, along with Andy McKim and Jivesh Parasram) than one usually sees or might expect for a shorter work such as this, and I recognize that this was likely a significant factor in their ability to settle on a piece that is so damn comfortable in its own skin. Frankly, it is all incredibly brave, and I can only imagine how gratifying the payoff must be for Cullen to have an audience so obviously on her side throughout, given the isolation that we all typically feel when dogged by our perceived shortcomings and inadequacies (whatever they may be). It is with an uncommon and noteworthy combination of sincerity and skill that Katherine brings us along on her journey, with the loving support of her friend Britta – which is by no means over yet…

The show is a charming piece of poetry, beautifully delivered…Suck on THAT, Peter Dyakowski!

More Information:

www.thekickandpush.com/stupidhead

Dusting this thing off…

storefront 2019Another summer of The Kick And Push and Storefront Fringe Festivals is now underway, and I gotta say that the buzz around this year’s programming is contagious – so much so that here I am back again, with a reinvigorated drive to spark conversation and provide a platform for its continuation beyond the storefront or the local pub

My agenda remains the same as it was when I first started this little experiment a few years back…I will certainly share my thoughts and feedback on the shows that I get to see, from my perspective, but this is intended to be a dialogue and a means to share experiences and perspectives…PLEASE share your thoughts openly, honestly, and respectfully – and let’s make the most of this incredible opportunity to enjoy and learn from the craft that so many artists are generously sharing with us…

I encourage you to get out and see as many different shows as you can, and drop back by here and share your stories…I look forward to sharing mine as we go…

HAPPY FRINGING, FRIENDS!

Storefront Fringe Festival Details

The Kick and Push Festival Details

Storefront Festival’s Final Days

There’s still time to take in some of these Festival productions before it all ends tomorrow (Saturday) night!  I’ve seen all of the shows with the exception of “Danny, King of the Basement”, which I will be catching tomorrow morning at 10:30 am with some family friends…

If you are looking for my recommendations, here are my thoughts…

PICKS OF THE FESTIVAL

My Silly Yum (Venue 2, Sat at 7 pm); CUL-DE-SAC (Venue 3, Fri & Sat at 7 pm)

MUST SEE

Mary’s Wedding (Venue 1, Fri at 6:30 pm & Sat at 9 pm); Fake Nerd Girl (Venue 3, Fri at 9:30 pm)

CATCH IF YOU CAN

Anybody Can Be Pussy Riot (Venue 2, Fri at 7 pm), Women Who Shout At The Stars (Venue 1, Sat at 1 pm)

OF COURSE…If you have any differing opinions of your own to share, please feel free to add a comment!