theatre

Delightful Evening of Community Theatre

The review for Domino Theatre’s “Barefoot In The Park” has been posted to the Whig Standard – as will future reviews!

Look for links to be posted here, along with any additional commentary – and I sincerely hope that the conversation will continue here, with any thoughts, ideas, and feedback that you care to share!

(I will also continue to post reviews for shows that may not appear in the paper…)

“Kitchen Chicken” Is Delightfully Delicious

“Kitchen Chicken” (photo shamelessly pilfered from the Kick & Push site)

“What just happened?”, you may find yourself asking as you leave the Grand’s traditional main stage auditorium…It turns out that “Kitchen Chicken” is a dinner party the likes of which you’ve never seen – and it is a fabulously outrageous and entertaining one, at that!

In all honesty, despite the kinetic mayhem and sensory overload, you likely won’t have any doubt what has transpired at all. There’s lots going on, and it can be a little hard to keep up and take it all in, but there’s a solid narrative woven throughout and the L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres ensemble (Bruno Bouchard, Gabrielle Bouthillier, Jasmin Cloutier, Simon Elmaleh, Danya Ortmann, and Philippe Lessard-Drolet) takes us back to a time and place where the kitchen was the place to be, and meal prep was a family affair. Sure, supper is made – and enjoyed by everyone! – but there’s so much more to be savoured here than today’s microwave and tablet dining experience.

Although there’s no dialogue per say, the communication between the performers is crystal clear, and given all that is going on at any one time, their timing and cooperation is simply incredible. The enthusiasm and laughter is contagious. The music keeps the pace and energy up for the cast as well as the audience. My only complaint would be the mixing of sound, as the vocals and lyrics to several of the songs were often lost – and given the precision in choice and placement of every other element of the show, I do feel like the story told would have had even more clarity and punch with the benefit of those words.

I have never seen anything like “Kitchen Chicken”, and that certainly adds to the appeal and amusement of this one-of-a-kind experience that is not to be missed!

(I may go back for seconds ūüėČ …)

“Kitchen Chicken” continues its run as part of The Kick & Push Festival until Saturday, August 10th…

Crushin’ On Crushed

CRUSHED (Photo shameslessly stolen from Facebook promotion)

* Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

We’ve all seen at least one: the autobiographical Fringe play! An hour-long recap of some significant moment(s) in the playwright/performer’s history. In Crushed, we watch Caitlin move from relationship to relationship and learn just how painful being big hearted can be.

This was the first play I saw at the Kingston Fringe, before I knew that I would even have a platform on which to share reviews. With the passage of time and the 16 shows I’ve seen between now and then, I fear that I won’t be able to do the play justice in this writing, but I will do my darndest!

Something I always appreciate in this format is an actor who doesn’t simply lecture me about themselves РI like to watch them perform. When Caitlin takes on the role of her middle schooler self, I am absorbed watching her body language. She becomes sort of ageless in the show, as she makes me believe so strongly that she is that young woman again. I wish she had performed more as the other characters in the play though, instead of representing them through voice overs and other sounds. And I wish that she had been able to look her audience members more directly in the eyes, instead of sort of around us. In an intimate space, it’s little details like that that makes the difference in keeping us engaged in the world that is being conjured.

As the play progresses, some of Caitlin’s relationships get worse. I have known what this is like РI feel a real kinship with her as she talks me through what she experienced, and I feel proud when she doesn’t put her dreams on hold for a shitty dude who is afraid of her success.

I wish most cis hetero women did not have these stories. I wish we all had great relationships where men don’t hurt us so much and so permanently. While the play did not revolutionize me or the way I think, it did comfort me to know that I am not alone, and that there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Caitlin is a sweetheart and I loved learning about her through her play.

“Crushed” continues its run in Venue #3 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…

“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

“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...

“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

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…)