theatre review

“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

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…)

Seeing Red

Ben Sanders & Randy Hughson, photo by Mark Bergin

Ben Sanders & Randy Hughson, photo by Mark Bergin

Since its very beginning as “Theatre Beyond” in 1991, Theatre Kingston has been known for bringing challenging pieces to local audiences – typically ambitious and risky productions that may not have mainstream appeal, but are meant to enrich as well as entertain their audiences.  The current staging of John Logan’s “Red“, playing now in the Baby Grand Studio, is a perfect example of such a project, and is near-perfect in its execution.

“Red” is a vivid look into the life of famed artist Mark Rothko (circa 1958) as he undertakes the painting of a group of murals for The Four Seasons, an exclusive and expensive restaurant.  In addition to grappling with his own demons and creative process, he must also contend with a young new assistant, who has his own ideas and aspirations.  It is a play which explores the very essence of art: its creators, its creation, and its consumption.  “Everyone likes everything nowadays”, laments Rothko in the opening scene.  “Everything becomes everything else and it’s all nice and pretty and likeable.  Everything is fun in the sun!”  This play, however, is not.  And as such, the playwright has crafted a brilliant ‘case in point’ – if, that is, all of the elements of the production are able to live up to the lofty expectations established by the script itself. (more…)

MADE YOU SAY “UNDERPANTS”

Nicole Garrett & Michael Catlin, Photo courtesy of John A Geddes

Nicole Garrett & Michael Catlin, Photo courtesy of John A Geddes

A description of “The Underpants”, adapted by THAT Steve Martin, which appears on the King’s Town Players website, suggests that the play is a “crazy satire…about scandal and celebrity“.  This particular production, however, treats the script as a farce about little more than…well…underpants.  The premise of the play is sound and intriguing.  Louise, the neglected wife of a blowhard bureaucrat, finds herself the centre of attention after her underpants fall down around her ankles at a public event.  Her egocentric husband fears scandal, while her neighbour and confidant senses opportunity.  Sure enough, two suitors arrive hoping to rent a room in the house and win the affections of Louise.  Unfortunately, this staging appears to place little emphasis on telling the story.  The objective, instead, seems to be to get to the next gag.

Most good comedy is developed and delivered as a one-two blow – the first being the set up, and the next being the punch line.  Martin’s genius, however, is his ability to turn that on its head, and use the overt punch line  to set up the real gem buried within the witty zinger to follow.  It’s a slight of hand, akin to the magic that Martin is so fond of.  Director Clayton Garrett’s treatment of the script as farce places far greater focus on the slapstick over the subtlety, and a great deal of the playwrights’s biting commentary is lost. (more…)

She’s A Nine

Blue Canoe's "Nine"

Alex Oliver and Katie Oake in Blue Canoe’s “Nine”

There is a quote from the Kingston Whig Standard that appears prominently on the cover of the program for Blue Canoe‘s production of “Nine”:  “imaginative, energetic and engaging”.  Although I have no idea which former show this statement pertains to, it is most certainly suitable for this one, as well.

“Nine”, book by Arthur Kopit and music/lyrics by Maury Yestin, is the story of 1960’s Italian filmmaker Guido Contini, who is facing the simultaneous breakdown of both his professional and personal lives.  The tale unravels at a very quick pace, so you best pay attention if you hope to keep up, as there is little exposition or breathing room to provide any opportunity to catch up.  The narrative is neither linear nor straightforward, so those audience members who fall behind, are likely to be left behind.  Those, on the other hand, who follow along keenly will reap the benefits of some very rich and clever writing. (more…)

Mr. Green Is Worth A Visit

"Visiting Mr. Green" at the Domino Theatre, Jan 9 - 25, 2014

“Visiting Mr. Green” at the Domino Theatre, Jan 9 – 25, 2014

Visiting Mr. Green, currently playing at the Domino Theatre, is a solid play that is both topical and poignant, yet quite accessible in its touches of comedy and familiarity.  Written by Jeff Baron in 1996, one can readily see its attraction as a play so widely translated and produced around the world.  It is sophisticated in its subject matter and themes, yet pleasantly simple in its execution on the stage.  Whether it is a play you are familiar with or not, it is most definitely a highlight of this season’s playbill at Domino.

Ross is a young executive working his way up the corporate ladder, who is sentenced to community service hours to be spent with Mr. Green after he almost hits the elderly widower with his car.  Both characters are written with a great deal of personality, clever and meaningful dialogue, and rich subtext.  Each has his own colorful history, unique perspective, and significant internal struggles. (more…)