Tag 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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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

 

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

 

Monstrous, or, the Miscegenation Advantage – Undercurrents 2016

 

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

Mis-ceg-e-na-tion (noun): the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.

monstrous1Sarah Waisvisz travels a murky, muddled and miss-remembered heritage in Monstrous a world premiere performance at Undercurrents that blends storytelling to dance in Waisvisz search for cultural belonging. Premiering during Black History Month this work comes at an opportune moment offering insight into the baggage carried by many North American’s in relation to cultural identity.

Monstrous explores, from mostly a personal perspective, the lost history of stolen and exiled people whose birthright was clouded by the impact of slavery, the holocaust and enforced displacement.

Born to a family of both the African and European Jewish diaspora Waivisz finds her identity inconsistently, interchangeably and assuredly defined by strangers. Straddling a range of indefinable skin tone somewhere between dark European and light African she is the “ethnic” child while her brother is the blonde “Gerber baby”. Growing up they play slave trader games and no points in guessing how the roles were divided.  As an adult strangers pronounce her identity assuredly and inconsistently: black, white, Israeli, Lebanese, Caribbean, Italian and other. The consistent repeated disassociation coupled with in-family jokes leads Waisvisc to self-diagnose herself as suffering from cultural schizophrenia.

Waisvisc dynamic energy fill the minimalist set where music, projection and dance illustrate a global trek as stories, anecdotes, lies, hearsay and research are pulled from this trunk of family history.

Africa, Europe & Martinique all figure  large in the exploration of a family’s legacy. Waivisz’s multilingual talents and her choice of French-language music serve this production well emphasizing the international scope. “Pourquoi tu n”habite pas ici tati?” gives an authenticity to this self-reflective production.

She travels to Martinique, where her parents first met, and remarkable silhouetted shadow-play on evocative projections linking sensory impacts – sound, sight, taste – with the cultural sense of self – “I want to remember everything – how do I know I will ever return”.

monstrous2Stories and research are played out through song, chalk maps and dance episodes so masterful that the room burst in to spontaneous applause. Through her performance and a vibrant selection of projections Waivisz takes us from Africa to Martinique, to Ottawa, Rotterdam, Paris, Ferney and beyond.

How do you define yourself when your cultural identity is blurred? Take a trip with Monstrous to decide.

Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave

 

 

Trois: 3 Productions create a satisfying ménage a trois

This article was also published by Apt613

troisArts Court is hosting a trio of theatre productions for the next two nights. “Trois (Three)” brings three 30min productions from fringe favourites MayCan theatre, Dead Unicorn Ink and GrimProv. To sweeten the deal theatre lobby is set up nightclub-style complete with a well priced bar. Playing on the name there is even a 3-beers- for-10-bucks offer getting you a cold one for each production.

The GrimProv trio MC the night creating a vibrant welcome despite forgetting the name of the MayCan’s “What about Horses?” on opening night. Cory Thibert and Tony Adams co-wrote and perform this two-hander with ease and believability spiralling from roommates arguing over rent checks to coke-addled madmen believers.  Enjoy this fresh and energetic romp that highlights the creative visionary writing of these two standout Ottawa talents and mind the disappearing “rabbit” act if you’re sat left of stage!

Next up “The Acceptable Appearance Theory” transformed the venue into a revival cult meeting complete with actors stashed in the audience. Mark (Aaron Lajeunesse) brings Dana to “temple” to meet his eerily ever-youthful mother Ms Cadence (Victoria Elizabeth Luloff). A zeal for “cleansing” tattoos soon takes a menacing turn – it’s not just tattoos this group wants control over. Luloff is particularly riveting while LaJeunesse transitions playfully from mama’s boy to Dana’s man.  Despite a rather drawn out narrative, hilarious turns by the ensemble cast including bilingual Daniel, scientific Peggy and ex-hooker Laura keep the pace brisk while the cult attempts to survive, dominate and keep secrets from glowing in the dark.

GrimProv closed the night yet despite high-energy the improv was a let-down following the earlier high-quality performances. The adept threesome used props creatively but a reliance on extended fight-sequences proved tiresome and sophomoric especially when their quick-fire repartee is so sharp.  The closing act, by its nature, changes so expect a unique nightly performance to cap off this successful night-out at the theatre.

Trois (Three)
27-29 February
Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave.

Theatre Review: Grain of Salt

This review was also published on Apt613.ca
It isn’t often a play staged in a bar takes on the role of Christianity in modern culture. Thus, on the coldest of nights, we settled eagerly into The Mercury Lounge with a glass of wine and the day’s headlines of the Rev. Joe Leclair affair uppermost in our minds to see how the production would address the controversial role of organised religion.

9thH_GrainofSalt-18x24The narrative loosely follows Megan (Megan Piercey Monafu) a young Christian conflicted by her faith. Megan’s concern about the exclusion of homosexuals is further challenged by the punitive behaviour of the Church when she expresses her doubts via social media. Megan tries to establish if an apology from the Church is possible or even meaningful. Alongside this very loose storyline “snapshot” experiences with the church are interjected throughout. Dialogue for Grain of Salt is based on interviews with individuals on the role of Christianity in their lives that were woven together and re-contextualised to create the storyline on stage. This may explain the chaotic nature of many scenes but does nothing to change that this detracts from the possibility of any coherent central theme.

With its hectic staging Grain of Salt fails to tackle the rich topic of theology in a meaningful or cohesive fashion. The production never fully or significantly engages with controversies restrained by a sophomoric approach to Christianity as Good vs Evil. The contradiction between the church’s message and its action, tackling the worst offences or even exploring the grey area of declining church membership in the face of the growth markets in “alternative spirituality” are never embarked upon – it’s a missed opportunity. When controversial topics such as child-abuse, wars and abortion arise they are covered in a checklist-like manner to make Megan’s personal struggle pale in comparison.

Several scenes stand-out as successful – the metro ride enactment , the coffee shop and the game-show “You’re not getting in” demonstrate sparks of unique talent as well as highlight the need for this production to sharply edit itself down to the scenes that work. The play would be stronger as a streamlined two-hander with Megan and her friend(Mitchel Rose)  taking on the multiple “snapshots” roles; especially with the long pauses, communion scenes, prayer circles and songs edited out.

A great topic, some entertaining moments but a production that despite efforts left us, much like the weather outside, cold.

Jan 22 The Mercury Lounge 56 Byward Market 7:30PM
Jan 23rd Pressed 750 Gladstone 8PM
Jan 24 & 25 Avalon Studios, 738a Bank St 8PM
Jan 26 Avalon Studios, 738a Bank St 6PM
Jan 28, 29, 30, 31 Lunenburg Pub, 14 Waller St 7:30PM
Tickets 16$+fee online 20$ at door