Will Britton

Asking Lots of Questions, Offering Few Answers

Catch Ellie Moon’s “Asking For It” at Thousand Islands Playhouse, running until September 29th…

“Asking For It” Review in the Kingston Whig Standard

…and share your thoughts about the show with us here!

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 😉 …)

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

“Horseface” Delivers The Kick That It Promises

In “Horseface”, Alex Dallas unapologetically knows exactly who she is, what she has to say, and how she is going to say it. As she disclosed to me afterwards, once she had started, she “could not NOT write this…”

It certainly wouldn’t be considered a balanced world view – but how could it be? We are well beyond that. The balance has been, for far too long, out of check in favour of the wolves, and as Dallas shares in her stories that will be far too familiar to far too many people, it certainly still is. That is why we are here, and why this show is both so powerful and so necessary.

The performance of the material, however, is incredibly well balanced. The gravity is offset with levity. Pain is offset with dancing and laughter. The darkness is offset with Dallas’ light. When all is said and done, the piece is comfortable enough to initiate a conversation, but uncomfortable enough to sustain an honest and meaningful discussion that continues long after the lights fade – as it needs to.

As timely and topical as Horseface is in its content, it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that its success is a function of its connection to the ‘popularity’ of the #MeToo movement. It is with confident patience and great skill that Dallas reads, understands, and engages an audience that can vary so wildly from one to the next. She is a masterful storyteller and her timing is impeccable, whether she is delivering a punchline or a punch to the gut. Dallas is strong, yet she is sincere and she is vulnerable. She is real.

“Horseface” will undoubtedly affect everyone who sees it quite differently, based on their personal experience and perspective coming in – but there is also no doubt that everyone will be affected as they walk out. That is the hallmark of great theatre.

“Horseface” finishes its run in Venue #2 of the Storefront Fringe Festival this evening at 7:30…

“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

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

“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

“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