Author: willbrittoncfp

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

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!

Share Your ‘Storefront’ Reviews!

SFF on whiteThe inaugural Storefront Festival, conceived and presented by Theatre Kingston as part of The Kick and Push Festival, kicks off on Friday, July 15th!

I recognize that this site has been dormant for sometime – but my desire to engage and promote dialogue in response to innovative theatre offerings remains the same.  I can think of no more suitable opportunity to reboot this project than a Festival such as this. Brett Christopher’s vision out of the gate was encapsulated in the tagline “Uncurated, Uncensored, Unboring”, and I have to admit, it piqued my interest!

Here’s what I would love to see happen…

1/ Go to a show.  Go to MANY shows.  Support these ambitious artists, who are pushing the envelope and testing the limits of their talent as well as the parameters of the traditional theatre experience.  Be a part of the audience with whom they so desperately want to connect.

2/ Come back here and post a mini-review of whatever you see, by way of a comment.  I think it’s safe to say that these eager artists are looking for your feedback – both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.  Keep in mind that the purpose of this site is to help foster our local theatre community, and everyone’s Festival experience only stands to be enhanced.

3/ Keep the conversation going.  Personal commentary and multiple perspectives serve to enrich live theatre, so feel free to reply respectfully to reviews posted by others.  Do not passively watch these cutting edge productions.  Digest and discuss them.  Be a Storefront Festival participant.

And finally, don’t limit the discussion to this site – take the conversation to your favourite pub or restaurant after each show, and share your thoughts across social media platforms.  Trust me.  The larger and more lively the conversation, the greater the Storefront Festival experience will be for everyone…

I look forward to reading YOUR reviews of the shows that you get to see over the next 9 days!

Find the Storefront Festival brochure here

A Beautiful Play

Amy Rutherford & Becky Johnson, “A Beautiful View”

It is through the partnership of Theatre Kingston and Volcano Theatre that “A Beautiful View“, Daniel MacIvor’s play about another partnership, is currently playing in the Baby Grand Studio.  Two women appear on stage and tell the story of their relationship.  Sound simple?  Of course it does.  But of course it’s not.

As is typical of MacIvor’s work, “A Beautiful View” is far from a neatly packaged, linear and straightforward night at the theatre.  In this case, though, such is entirely suitable because the same can be said of the nature of self-identity, friendship, and love as explored in the piece.  Just like any meaningful relationship, the play demands a level of commitment – a combination of effort and perseverance to see it through to its end. (more…)

Dine & Dash

Sara Chiodo, Matthew Hunt, & Brent Clifford Gorrie in "Don't Dress For Dinner"

Sara Chiodo, Matthew Hunt and Brent Clifford Gorrie in Blue Canoe’s “Don’t Dress For Dinner”

With his script “Don’t Dress For Dinner“, playwright Marc Camoletti serves up just the right combination of credible misunderstanding and madcap mayhem, such that his cast of characters never know what the heck is happening around them – yet the audience can enjoy the pleasure and laughter reserved for those who are in on the joke.  The current Blue Canoe production playing at the Domino Theatre, however, loses something in its presentation. (more…)