Category Archives: Theatre

Grounded: Review – A flight over new territory & a war too close to home

An edited version of this review was published in APT613.

This short one-woman play by George Brant explores the devastating impact of detached modern warfare on an air force combat pilot who is grounded to become part of the “chair-force” guiding unmanned drones from a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert.

Directed by Eleanor Crowder there is little on the starkly set stage – a chair and a large suspended sheet – requiring Alexis M Scott, the unnamed pilot, to deliver a powerhouse and energetic physical performance. This is a challenges Scott rises to with assurance.

Scott dominates the opening scene with spirited energy as she articulates the freedom and camaraderie of the air force. Her plane “tiger”, her gear, her missions, her accomplishments all define who she her. She’s a self-satisfied, cocky woman proud of her world and the job that defines her. Her sense of achievement and embrace of top gun macho posturing as she soars through her beloved “blue” or decompresses with male colleagues in a bar is intense.

GroundedAfter meeting Eric, a supportive and accommodating partner, who sees her as “the rock star that I am” there follows an unexpected pregnancy that leads “the blue”, her sky-high Shangri-La,  to be replaced by “the grey” visual feedback of an unmanned drone pointed directly downwards over a faraway land. Relegated to flying drones her cockpit is now an airless trailer where the solo fly girl is part of a team that decides the fate of those below though it is her own white-knuckle hand that controls the trigger once judgment is made. The threat of imminent violent reprisal is gone but where she once fled an airstrike now she must linger over the combat zone surveying the horrible writhing outcome of strikes.

The immersive long-term battles of old, that removed her from family duties, are gone as is the camaraderie that accompanied real-life conflict and now she alone must flip a switch between war and domesticity on a 12-hour basis. Initially an attempt to view modern warfare as a gift allowing greater family time gives over to the incongruent juxtaposition of 12 hours of classified violence followed by domestic routine.

Scott paces the stage first ecstatically, even arrogantly, and then as her situation shifts the movements become wary with a haunted trepidation. In a resonant scene, on a week’s leave she takes her daughter to the mall where the ubiquitous surveillance cameras overwhelm her as post-traumatic stress engulfs her. The stage lighting glows red and her fixed stare is spot lit as the threatening torment builds and the price of detached warfare is revealed.

George Brant’s award winning tale is relevant and provocative while Scott is masterful filling the theatre with bravado and tension. Her physical performance takes her audience easily with her on a journey across deserts and domesticity, through swagger and fierce pride, to a place of great fragility as she too becomes an unhinged casualty of war. This brief theatre touches on much in its 75 minutes from gender roles, modern warfare, motherhood, advocacy, secrecy and self-awareness as it considers an enemy close to home.

Grounded
January 18-27, 2018
At The Gladstone

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Mr. Shi and His Lover @NAC: Theatre Review – Exquisite Staging and Splendid Performances in improbable real-life Affair

An edited version of this post also appeared in APT613.

Provocative musical theatre opened  at the NAC as Mr. Shi and his Lover revisits the stranger-than-fiction story of the 20-year affair between French Embassy employee, Bertrand Boursicot’s (David Kwan), and Pekinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu (Jordan Cheng) who Boursicot believed was a woman posing as a man. The story made headline news in the ‘80’s when the men were on trial in France for espionage with the Chinese government. What captivated the news cycle was Boursicot’s adamant belief that Shi Pei Pu was a woman, the mother to his child, and how this pretense had endured decades.

3Jordan Cheng and Derek Kwan 03 -- photo by Erik Kuong_preview

Jordan Cheng and David Kwan – Photo @ Erik Kuong

In 1993 David Cronenberg’s M.Butterfly recounted the story from Boursicot’s point of view while here playwright Wong Teng Chi shifts the perspective to Shi with startling effect focusing on emotions over events. The shifting balance of desire, love, deception and performance all figure large as the narrative unfolds drawing skillfully on references from Chinese folklore to western pop.

The joint Macau/Toronto production is performed exclusively in Mandarin with sur-titles in English the 75-minute production is unexpectedly accessible and an absolute visual pleasure to behold. The sparse set with little more than a dressing table and chair is framed by the accompanists; Composer Njo Kong Kie on piano and Yukie Lai on an imposing wooden marimba with Chinese percussions. Skillful lighting casts shadows speaking to the subterfuge and deception within the text while the music and spotlights create a dreamlike thrall as the piece explores where deception ends and blissful ignorance led by a master performer begins.

Jordan Cheng

Jordan Cheng @Erik Kuong

Cheng and Kwan beneath the stark spot-light ignite the stage with enthralling performances, the elegance of their voices delivering grand drama against the handsomely minimalistic backdrop. Cheng’s narcissistic, conniving and distraught Shi works with unexpected asymmetrical synchronicity to Kwan’s solid, stuffy yet strangely potent bureaucrat Boursicot. The direction is sharp and stylized, like the set, leaving generous space for the acting skills of both actors as they delve in to the driving impulses of their characters.

Teng Chi’s rendition is divided in to seven chapters that examine how desire, deceit, politics, gender, sexuality and nationalism guided their lives. Delicately, yet effectively, tentative truths are revisited while Shi’s sheer drive to “perform” weighs equally in the balance. While one or two chapters are challenging the script flows well while the sheer presence and musical abilities of both actors seemingly effortlessly deliver a contemporary chamber opera that is wholly exhilarating. A production as thrilling and unique as an out-of-earshot whisper that leaves as many questions as it answers.

Mr. Shi and his Lover
January 3-13, 2018
At the National Arts Centre
A Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic/Point View Art Association (Macau/Toronto) production

 

 

 

The Ghomeshi Effect: Bracing look at sexual violence in Canada

The Ghomeshi Effect has nothing do to with the eponymous trial yet everything to do withghomeshi-effect-poster the discussions that event catapulted in to the mainstream. It’s a simple, pared-down production that hits its mark through verbatim content and steadfast delivery.

Creator/Director Jessica Ruano made a call for witnesses of the sexual violence experience via social media. From this call interviews with subjects having experienced, worked in, reflected on, and survived sexual violence were documented. The dialogue of the production uses, in its entirety, edited interviews to inform and share a conversation that is both personal and raw. The six cast members deliver these personal accounts while executing choreographed dance moves on a stage shared only with moveable low-tech grey desks.

The sparseness of the stage creates the space for the interviews, allowing experiences to fill the theatre.  Shattering and infuriating tales of why women, men and children don’t come forward and a challenging condemnation of the capricious nature of our justice system reverberated. Given the unrelenting emotions the production could be well served by a brief intermission to provide breathing space.

The cast work separately but in harmony providing individual powerhouse channels. Delivery, anghomeshi-effect-castd believability were on-point and each shone in their own right. The choreography had highs and lows working most effective when subtlety executed while becoming artificial when overtly athletic.  The bilingual contributions by Marc-André Charette and Gabrielle Lalonde were particularly successful in heightening the reality behind the script. A unique piece of theatre, Ruano has created a thought-provoking effective and entertaining production capturing and adding innovatively to a difficult conversation.

The best art is that which ignites and intensifies feelings. If the conversation amplified by the titular trial and, more recently, by events such as the Women’s March feels relevant than see this recommended and woke production.

The Ghomeshi Effect
Until January 28th, 2017
At The Gladstone – 910 Gladstone Ave.

February 2nd 2017
At The Shenkman Art Centre 245 Centrum Blvd.

Fringe 2016: AborAmor

Join Ottawa Stilt Union (OSU) on the Tabaret Hall lawn at Ottawa University for a wordless play cum acrobatic-dance performance that features comedy, love, stilt walking, an accordion player and a towering tree.

ArborAmor1

You’ve likely seen OSU at countless Ottawa events including Canada Day Celebrations as they stride athletically around events engaging with the crowds and delighting kids but they a troupe with many talents; most notably producing quality plays – bilingual and unspoken – hosting the monthly “Youppi Club” at varying central venues across the capital, and delivering acrobatic and stilt walking classes.

AborAmor as the name suggests plays on the themes of romance and nature as two tango dancers struggle to expand their duet to a threesome. Will jealousy rule the day or can love win out? Get yourself down to the lawn of University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall for this Ottawa Fringe outdoor performance suitable to all ages, engage with the performers and be enchanted by the whimsy of OSU and AborAmour.

Note as well as a 6PM performance on Friday there are two matinee performances on the weekend perfect for children of all ages.

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016
ArborAmor
Tabaret Lawn, 550 Cumberland at Laurier/Wilbrod
30 minutes |Comedy | Play/Dance |Family
Friday June 24, 6PM
Saturday June 25, 2PM
Sunday June 26, 3:30PM

Fringe 2016: Small Creatures Such as We

An edited of this review was published by Apt613.
Brace yourself for a tough look at the scars left behind by a cruel adolescence in Small Creatures Such as We, a well written yet painful to watch at times offering by Angels in the Rafters productions.

An unassuming set with a sofa to stage left and a kitchen/bar to stage right provide a simple and effective method for time travel as the actors shift between their 14 and 16 year old selves on the sofa to their present day incarnations a decade later. As the performance unfolds layers past and present are progressively bared, as Kit (Vishesh Abeyratne) and Joanna (Meagan McDonald) travel back and forth between the two “rooms” gradually uncovering achievements, setbacks, fears and their most intimate trials and betrayals.

Kit has Joanna on his mind and, after a 10 year gap without contact he tracks her down for a visit. Reunited after a decade the lifestyle contrast is marked; he’s an accomplished actor while her life is in neutral, stalled, held back by her past and unseen damage.  Kit is tea-total “1 year sober” he tells Joanna as she pours herself strong drinks in quick succession. For Kit the time has passed quickly while Joanna “has felt every minute.”

The memory scenes coupled with a strong chemistry between the actors creates a believably convincing bond that begs the question as to why they’ve kept their distance.  Touching language mimics emotions: “I’ve been looking out for you” says Joanna while Kit confesses that during tours “I’d look out for you.”

A gradual and thoughtful build up to complexity of the piece swells the audience’s insight as the performance moves back and forth in time exposing glimpses of childhood and adolescence constructing a solid and compelling base that makes the viciousness that unfolds all the more tragic.

At times Fringe works aim for shock value however in Small Creatures Such as We the jolts are miles away from gratuitous; rather there is a sense of universality like exposing a disturbing truth or buried memories.  The authenticity is partially due to attentive crafting; thoughtfully constructed complex characters out of what could easily be unsympathetic personalities. It is also largely down to the sincere, never-overwrought, performances put in by McDonald and Abeyratne who bring an attentive realism to their roles.

There are improvements that should be considered, including a desperately needed redaction of the final line, but the writing in the whole is so very good, the subject matter admirably handled and the performances so true that it really should deserve a spot on the must-see Fringe list.

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016
Small Creatures Such as We
Academic Hall 133 Séraphin-Marion
June 15-26, 2016

 

Fringe 2016: In Waking Life

An edited version of this review was published by APT613

In Waking Life is a lively two-handed improvised performance piece that successfully mixes banter, musical numbers and audience participation. It’s an overblown fortune-telling romp celebrating off-the-wall humour and oddities.

In Waking LifeThe Norwegian-born psychic Synsk sisters, raised by a mother goat and surrounded by “family members” made up of a crystal ball, uncle 8-ball and the many cutie-catcher cousins are here in Ottawa to share their visions and delve in to their audience’s future. The Bring-Your-Own-Venue location in the basement of the Royal Oak on Laurier St E lends itself perfectly to production providing a cozy, old-world setting as the heavily-accented psychics “velcome” their clients.

 

The structure of the play has enough hooks to provide consistency in the quality of the improvisations and the performers easily stepped in to the breach when the audience members were slow to respond. Creator/performers Monica Bradford-Lea and Lauren Welchner bring unbridled energy to their character performances. Welchner’s Cora is manic and forthright while Bradford-Lea’s Garnish is all airy-fairy scatteredness and together both are side-splittingly funny.

It’s a cavalcade of non-stop action that appears random but is planned and execute well in a seemingly haphazard manner that suits the characters and engages the audience. One attendee was comfortable enough to share a Guinness session that led him to pee in his own luggage so disarming is their appeal. Another particularly memorable scene had the sisters reading astrological texting advice from AstroGirl magazine which as they will be very pleased to tell you is “so stupid, but so fun.”

Dreams are dissected, love matches made, questions answered and fortunes told as the Synsk Sisters deliver a truly one-off psychic experience like you have never seen.

Previously improvised performance pieces leave me cold but with the Synsk Sister In Waking Life you’ll have a ball.…

Produced by Amped Up Theatre
Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016
June 15-26, 2016
BYOV – The Royal Oak 161 Laurier St E

 

Fringe 2016:Well isn’t this super… (Marvellous Man IV: The Return of Marvellous Man)

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613

A rather sophisticated story with sweet perspective shifts Well isn’t This Super… exhibits an impressive maturity by Dead Unicorn Ink while their irreverent edge remains firmly intact. In the amusing opening sequence, a Tinder hook up reveals itself to be the set of a superhero movie. The production shifts between the on-set film, with actors in character, to characters with real-life struggles trying to make their professional mark.

Well-Isnt-This-Super...-375x375Newcomer Nikki Reilly is trying desperately to establish her character Mystic Quartz as a viable superhero lead alongside the eponymous star of the Marvellous Man franchise Dan Stevens and cheering frat-boy Director Michael Cove. Corseted, in stilettos and a mini-skirt it is when the director yells cut that the misogyny at the heart of the piece really comes to the fore.  Dismissed and marginalized, Dan even refers to her as “tits”, Nikki has visions of a strong independent female superhero and a possible spin-off franchise.

Pace and comedy keep the storyline brisk despite the characters’ struggles with casual, even institutionalized, sexism and the insincerity of the Hollywood promise. Creator Patricia Forbes does an admirable job providing serious content with no heavy lifting required by the audience.  The writing is crisp and action swift as it moves from between-scenes conversations to on-camera sequences with over-the-top hokey dialogue and a very winning super villain. It’s an ensemble piece where everyone pulls their weight. The roles of Nikki and Dan are assuredly strong while Len, the androgynous runner, provides a delightful performance where an alliance is counter-balanced by personal aims reflecting the narcissism through-out the piece. The cast are accomplished and deft throughout delivering a brilliantly performed work.

As the production plays out there are more twists and turns as each character tries to solidify their own position to the detriment of their colleague. Who ends up on top remains to be seen in this trust-free environment.

Book in early for “Well isn’t this super…” as it has the hallmarks of a festival favourite.

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016
Well Isn’t this Super…
BYOV Nostalgica Café 601 Cumberland St.
June 15-26, 2016