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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

 

Eye Spy: Yoga in the Hood

A local complement to ‘yoga on the Hill”, Sandy Hill is now fortunately funky and excited to welcome “yoga in the Hood”!

yoga on taberet

Yoga on Tabaret lawn – photo courtesy Twitter.com/uOttawa

The weekly Monday noon hour class is held outdoor on Tabaret Hall lawn hosted by the wonderfully skilled practitioners at Elevate Yoga on Elgin St.

Classes are hosted by a variety of teachers so you can expect a different challenge and focus at each session. Here is a link to the full schedule.  Hopefully these free sessions will bring new converts, provide a quick practice for the dedicated and reawaken the passion in some who have simply not kept their practice up.

To borrow Elevate’s Twitter hashtag, #GetBentDoYoga. See you locally on the lawn.

Local Yoga class breathes focus in to Sandy Hill

The Monday night Hatha yoga class led by Sandy Hill resident Christine Aubry, offers a boutique experience in the neighbourhood. With less than 10 attendees per class, the weekly session provides a relaxing and intimate experience that centres and starts the week off perfectly.
Aubry

Christine Aubry

The beginner/intermediate level hour-long class takes place every Monday at 7:30 in the beautifully renovated “coach house”, The Bettye Hyde Early Learning Centre, at 43 Blackburn Ave (corner of Osgoode). There are currently 2 spots available for the hour-long class which runs to June 13th.

Designed for adults of all ages and experience levels students range from those who have never tried yoga to the more experienced practitioners looking for further motivation to get their mat out.  Aubry designed the sessions to focus on the many benefits of yoga including; increased strength and flexibility, improved posture, improved sleep, stress and anxiety reduction, improved digestion and more.  
Christine Aubry has been practicing yoga for 15 years and obtained her teaching certificate with another Sandy Hiller – Forrest Yoga teacher Louise Cameron (who trained with Ana Forrest).
Can’t make this class but interested in private or future classes? Visit Aubry’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/ChristineAubryYoga/ or reach her via email at
Le cours de yoga, pour débutants et intermédiaires, se déroulera principalement en anglais, mais Christine est parfaitement bilingue et heureuse de traduire au besoin.

Les Belles Soeurs: True to its roots

An edited version of this review was published on Apt613.
Les Belles Soeurs is Michel Tremblay’s most frequently produced and translated play.  Alive with caustic joual-speaking women its strong matriarchal themes fairly rocked Quebec society in the late 60’s. Tremblay ignited controversy with his use of low-brow dialect, mockery of the restrictive grip of the church and his straightforward presentation of disillusioned, pinning working class women. Criticised and celebrated in equal measure the show has become a classic of Quebec and Canadian theatre taught in schools, translated for international audiences and still debated for its commentary on past and contemporary life.

In 2010 René Richard Cyr and singer-songwriter Daniel Bélanger created the musical version playing at the NAC until May 14th transforming monologues to confessional songs and lifting some, though by no stretch all, the darkness from the original play.

The simplicity of the story line and the universal narrative ensure themes of jealousy and fear stand the test of time. Germaine (Astrid Van Wieren) hits the jackpot winning a million gold stamps that once pasted in to the accompanying booklets can be traded in for the contents of a catalogue previously beyond her, and her neighbours, means. In order to quickly cash in on her windfall she invites friends and family to a “stickering” party where tensions emerge.  The women’s affections are tried and tested by not only by Germaine’s insensitively dangled win but also by the strains of a changing society.

Belles SOeurs - andree lanthier courtesy NAC

Les Belles Soeurs – photo credit Andrée Lanthier courtesy National Arts Centre

The cleverly designed set complements the tone of the play.  A 60’s kitchen sits below a suspended balcony where actors await their queue. The orchestra and musicians are screened to either side of the set imprecisely visible employing kitchen utensils to complement the score and scenes. As the ladies fill the kitchen with laughter, gossip and judgement the stage fairly bursts with characters and the precarious emotions that shift and strain.

René Richard Cyr’s direction is masterful and the cast is an absolute home run. The fable-like story allows the personalities of the 12-strong female characters to shine. From van Wieren’s impervious self-assurance, to the conflicted emerging self-awareness of her daughter Linda (Élise Cormier), the wonderfully trashy, defiant and pained prodigal sister Pierrette (Geneviève Leclerc) through the tremendous green-eyed monster that is Mme Brouillette (Geneviève St Louis) and the vulnerable Des-Neiges Verrette (Lili O’Connor) the colours of each woman develop naturally almost effortlessly to an almost dazzling intensity.  The casting is remarkable with both singing and acting talents firmly in the spotlight and consistently enthralling. The pace of the show is a non-stop roller coaster of tragedy and longing measured out with brilliant comic turns.

Daniel Bélanger’s music, as expected even in translation, is revelatory: from van Wieren’s opening number Free, a theme echoed throughout the play; the warmth of Claudette’s Wedding; the heart wrenching wounded pain of Pierrette’s Johnny through the beautifully comic slow-motion styled Bingo. The 50 year old content paired to this music merges easily to current dialogues of misogyny, consumerism and aspirational entitlement giving the production  a contemporary feel rather than that of a revival.

The musical climax though less devastating than that of the original play remains a respectful adaptation ensuring the integrity of Tremblay’s work while providing a truly outstanding theatrical experience. A thrilling and wholly successful production.

Belles Soeurs: The Musical
April 25 – May 14 2016
NAC – Theatre

 

Tonight! #Streetfight for a #liveable City

She is finally here. Janette Sadik-Kahn New York City’s former Dept of Transportation Commissioner is in Ottawa to talk about creating shared, liveable urban space.

Tonight’s event demonstrates that residents are well ahead of City Hall in terms of  recognizing the need for liveability and vision in designing our city. This talk had to be moved to a larger venue due to interest and at latest count 2000 people are registered.  The free event at Landsdowne’s Aberdeen Pavillion will cover the importance of  providing more room for people, bikes and buses.

Janette Sadik-Kahn Streetfight- Handbook for an Urban Revolution

Image courtesy Ecology Ottawa website

The talk is based on Sadik-Kahn’s vast experience, her recent observations and her co-authored book Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Note the proceeds of copies of her book on sale at the event will benefit Ecology Ottawa who spearheaded tonight’s talk with various other community groups.

Can’t make the talk or want a taster?  Here is Sadik-Kahn’s TedTalk on YouTube (15mins).

Register for tonight’s free event here.

Ecology Ottawa Hosts – Streetfight: The movement for safer more liveable streets
27 April 2016, reception 6PM, keynote 7PM
Landsdowne ParkAberdeen Pavillion

 

Jazz Legends light up NAC’s Night at the Cotton Club

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Our Apartment 613 contributor spoke with conductor and Night at the Cotton Club co-creator Jeff Tyzik at his home in New York.

Tyzik promises to take Ottawa back in time to a Harlem sparkling with the top entertainers of the 1920s and 30s. The gifted guest conductor will take the reins from Shelley for three nights transforming the NAC orchestra in a “truly unique experience”. “We set up the entire evening and transform the stage in to the historic Cotton Club by arranging the orchestra in a horseshoe configuration, adding in a saxophone section and leaving ample space centre stage for world-class soloists.”

Cotton Club poster

And these soloists promise to dazzle. It was with renown trumpeter and vocalists Byron Stripling, who has toured with Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman and more that Tyzik was compelled to create the show.

“When Byron and I created this show it wasn’t just that it was a good idea. It was love of the era and of the Cotton Club, it was the knowledge that with our own connections to the jazz masters of the past we could bring history back. The creation of Night at the Cotton Club took on an importance capturing our imaginations and it is why we do the show the way we do it: partial tribute and partial living historical document to the times and the music.“

“All the music is from the prohibition years from 1926-1932 spanning the era of the Cotton Club’s in-house Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway orchestras. The show is incredibly fast paced.” In keeping with the original club’s fast and furious floorshows where Lena Horne and Josephine Baker brought sizzle and style Tyzik promises “action every few minutes. The rules aren’t the same as in a classical concert. We embrace spontaneous feedback and reactions – it’s a different vibe.“

cottonclub-ted-levy__large

Ted Louis Levy

One performer who promises to ignite the room is tap great Ted Louis Levy; protégé of Gregory Hines, Emmy award winner, Tony award nominee and world-famous dancer, choreographer and vocalist. Like Tyzik and Stripling Levy provides a direct connection with Jazz history having trained and danced with masters such as Jimmy Slyde.

Jeff Tyzik

Jeff Tyzik

Tyzik tells us “The performers are a direct link to the greatest masters that came before them. They are not just trained; these people are the real deal. When audiences hear them perform they are but one step away from the jazz greats.”

Carmen Bradford is a star with remarkable jazz lineage. The vocalist sang with the Count Basie Orchestra and a breathtaking array of famous names including James Brown, Lou Rawls, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, Frank Sinatra. A story Tyzik shared that trivia buffs will love is that “it was Bradford’s disc found in Ella Fitzgerald’s CD player when the legendary singer passed away.”

Tyzik touched on the innovation of the era reflected in the music and the culture of the time. “Through our respect for the integrity of the music we are bringing back that originality and excitement.” said Tyzik The music remains relevant today and through their connection to the time and respect for the music’s integrity they are sharing a cultural and musical legacy.

“It doesn’t get any closer than this.”

Night at the Cotton Club
28-30 April, 2016 8PM
National Arts Centre – Southam Hall

 

The Sound of Music plays pitch perfect to its charms

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

The story needs little introduction, so familiar is the iconic 1965 film version of Rodger & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. So the question at last night’s packed opening was could this version begin to approach the crowd-pleasing experience associated to its famous legacy?

Sound of Music

Set in Salzberg, Austria (oddly referred to as Kaltzberg in this production) on the eve of the outbreak of World War II the two-part story is that of would-be nun Maria (Kerstin Anderson) sent away from the abbey to become governess to the 7 children of widowed naval Captain von Trapp (Ben Davis). She ignites a love of music in the singing brood and in doing so turns the head of the Captain whom she marries. The Captain, a vehement opponent to the Nazis, is commissioned to the German Navy leading to the crafty dénouement whereby the family flees the country over the Austrian alps.

The production sticks close to the film version. It is a nostalgic romp through the classics from the opening scene with Maria belting out the title number through the delightful ensemble performances of Do-Re-Mi, My Favourite Things and The Lonely Goatherd, to the show-stopping Climb Ev’ry Mountain and iconic Edelweiss.

Anderson has a beautiful voice, steady and clear throughout, doing great justice to every number though her acting is mildly stilted.  Davis as the Captain on the other hand blends a powerful and accomplished singing voice to a wonderfully all-in performance. Coming up against a role “owned” by Christopher Plummer, Davis injects it with a full-on homage to that version while making it very much his own. His masterful yet playful performance had my companion bestow him the moniker Camptain von Trapp.

Sound of Music LieslOther stand-out voices were von Trapp children Liesl (Paige Silvester) who delivers a mature and delightful “16 going on 17” and Louisa (Maria Suzanne Knasel) who we wished had more solo moments.

The production is a feast for the eyes with remarkable backdrops and sets. In particular, the wedding scene in the abbey, the sparkling chandelier overhanging the von Trapp mansion and the still-shocking flag backdrop of the music festival.

As the curtain fell on the final act the audience hopped to it’s feet proving director Jack O’Brien has understood and captured the spirit of this musical delivering a production that plays perfectly to its charms.

Broadway Across Canada presents The Sound of Music  at the National Arts Centre until April 17, 2016. For scheduling and ticket information, click here.

Getting to Room Temperature – Undercurrents 2016

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Fringe theatre by its very name explores characters and topics frequently marginalized.  Getting to Room Temperature adheres to this tradition in Arthur Milne’s one-man show recounting the struggles that accompany the decline and death of his mother Rose.

Based on Milner’s experience with his mother Rose’s death the work was inspired by her pursuit of assisted suicide when incapacitated by a lung infection in her early 90s.

Part personal story, part lecture the play follows a natural progression from childhood reflections on the “noble” death of Inuit elders once commonly believed to leave their families to die in the wild through to contemporary research on euthanasia and the repercussions of life-extending medical practices.

BoekstahlThe weighty material flows through Robert Bockstael’s seemingly effortless delivery weaving a believable humor with poignant remembrances and effective arguments. Bockstael feels familiar even intimate; a confidante who spins out his story as though at a fireside chat.

Having previously lost his father to cancer, in his early 70s, Milner balances the notion of death by illness versus death by old age. His father fights a losing battle while his mother sees science fight off what would have killed her in a previous era as her body and quality of life steeply decline.

The show is peppered with humour. Alone with his father at the time of death Bockstael comically relates all manner of trick to confirm death and, when he finally announces it to his family, “everyone looked at the nurse”. He recalls cracking bad “a guy goes to the doctor” cancer jokes to relieve the anxiety: the good news is you have cancer, the worse news is you have Alzheimer’s. Well at least it isn’t cancer. The show uses laughter throughout the production mimicking real-life coping strategies to relieve the strain of death.

Via anecdotes of hearing loss and blaring televisions to the move to a retirement home, Milner asks us to weigh-in on serious questions including the impact of incessant medical intervention, quality of life and the financial strain of eldercare telling us squarely that aging in any dignified sense requires deep pockets in Canada. Despite top-of-the-line facilities providing quality care and accommodations shadows lurk in the corners where dementia lives and is studiously avoided until it takes hold.

Bockstael asks many questions and convincingly delivers many interlocking theories on death: the search for death is not an illness, suffering is not a virtue. From a Polish-Jewish background that fled the Nazi who wiped out her remaining family are we right to require, as a society, that Rose suffer more? Are we right, as a society, to require that anyone gripped in a painful old age suffer more? Do the aged, like the terminally ill, have the right to die; this is at the very crux of the production.

This personal story cum TEDtalk raises universal questions about aging and eldercare that are provocative and timely. Milner’s work is well-time with law makers currently struggling to legislate Canada’s 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the right to assisted suicide.

Where do we go next? That is the lingering question in this journey of Getting to Room Temperature.

Getting to Room Temperature
Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave