STEEDS’s “raunchy” Lysistrata gets off by “goofing off”

22 01 2018
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Cinesias (Brennan Garnett) and Myrrhine (Brianne Durant) flirt while their young Child (Silas McDonald) sits stoically mortified in the St. Thomas Early English Drama Society’s production of Aristophanes’ Ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata! Photo Credit: Seamus Lee Hayes Artworks, for STEEDS

by Greg Everett

Upon being handed the playbill for the St. Thomas Early English Drama Society’s production of Lysistrata!, one might rightfully ponder the connection between the play, written by Aristophanes of Athens around 411 BCE, and Early English Drama. And disappointingly, the answer is not to be found amongst the five pages of cast bios, nor in the full page director’s note. In fact, there is no connection between Lysistrata! and Early English Drama, and one must therefore go on to ask why? Why this play? Why the aesthetic choices? Why the drawn out dance numbers? Maybe that question is answered most succinctly by Assistant Director Thomas MacDougall during the preamble to the play in which he described STEEDS as, in paraphrase, “a bunch of kids goofing off.”

Lysistrata!’s title character is a distinguished woman among the elite of a nation perpetually at war with its neighbour. Exasperated with the extended, ultimately meaningless conflict and the constant absence of her country’s menfolk, she hatches a plan to bring the war to an end: if the women of both nations withhold their sexual favors while the men come home on leave, the men will eventually give into their demands of peace. And although the women prove just as sexually frustrated as the men, and Lysistrata eventually realizes that their actions constitute a war of the sexes that is as ridiculous as the war of nations, in the end, ambassadors of both countries sign a peace treaty, and everyone is finally given free license to fuck.

This STEEDS production is, in some cases, very well performed. Hannah Blizzard as Lysistrata is perky and fun, and seems the natural leader among her cohort of horny women. Gabby Fournier does a great job carrying the cool confidence and entertaining accent of Lampito. And Peter Boyce is the perfect fit for the Commissioner of Public Safety. The costuming, hair, and makeup are fantastic for a low-budget production, for which Jarrod Dunlop and Bella Baldin should be commended.

However, the general impression one gets of this production is that it is self-serving and juvenile. The playbill has pages of biographies (that, in many cases, read like high school yearbook entries, with self-referential in-jokes and absurdities), but makes no mention of the playwright or the pedigree of the script. The Director’s Note summarizes his own relationship with STEEDS without talking about the adaptation or the process of bringing the play to life. Many of the “raunchy” jokes and dance numbers seem unabashedly more fun to perform than to watch.

The adaptation itself is all over the place. Director Liam Browne has draped Lysistrata! in the trappings of mid-war/post-war America, but maintains anachronisms like the sacred helmet of Athena. Not that anachronisms are inherently bad, but this feels at best purposeless and at worst unintentional. Similarly, Cinesias (Brennan Garnett) and the Ambassador (John Matheson) have three-foot foam erections for the finale of the play, and yet the script still relies on jokes about mistaking a boner for a concealed weapon. And the much harped-upon dance numbers are perhaps a hallmark of other productions of Lysistrata!, but here they feel jarring, under-committed, antiquatedly sexualized, and wholly unearned.

Browne, in his part of the preamble to the play, explains that the benefit of student run theatre is “you can pick a play that’s a bit ridiculous, raunchy, and a little inappropriate.” But perhaps it takes a bit of experience and wisdom to recognize that when a script starts out ridiculous and raunchy, you don’t need to try so hard to make it inappropriate. And perhaps it takes that bit of experience and wisdom to point out that the St. Thomas Early English Drama Society should at the very least maintain a connection between the works being performed and Early English Drama.

STEEDS’s adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata! ran January 19-20, 2018 in STU’s Ted Daigle Auditorium.

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A Christmas Carol returns (again) to haunt Playhouse in new TNB adaptation, but are proper lessons learned?

26 12 2017

by Greg Everett

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Scrooge (Nora McLellan), seated, fields questions from his nephew (Andre Morin) as Cratchit (Mark Crawford) man’s the doorbell sound effect and Katie Swift takes narration duties in Thomas Morgan Jones’s adaptation of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol at the Fredericton Playhouse. Set Design Joanna Yu, Lighting Design Leigh Ann Vardy. Photo Credit: André Reinders.

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is everywhere during the holidays, and makes a number of appearances throughout Theatre New Brunswick’s history. (This season alone, an internet survey conducted by Theatre Calgary found 86 productions in North American, 22 of which are in Canada). This is the seventh time Scrooge has paced the 49-year-old TNB stage, the second in three years. And yet, this production manages to feel fresh and adventurous, dealing vivaciously with a story that is so ubiquitous it often risks losing its message and power.

An ensemble cast performs Thomas Morgan Jones’s narration-heavy adaptation of Dickens’s novella, wherein the miserly Scrooge (Nora McLellan) is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, followed by three others whose visions of the past, present, and future convince him to change his ways.

The magic of Ann-Marie Kerr’s production is in the technical elements. Our first impression comes through Joanna Yu’s set design: imposing warehouse risers are scattered with the props and set pieces that will bring the play to life, though their purpose is shrouded in mystery until their moment comes. Chairs float like ghosts in the eaves, lending the stage a haunting air before the play begins. Set changes are seamlessly choreographed among the flurries of action arising naturally in the script, resulting in a very smooth experience. A particularly delightful touch is the bell above Scrooge’s warehouse doorway that the actors chime on their way in and out to mime the door itself.

Sherry Kinnear’s costume design delivers magical moments as well. A recurring theme among the set changes and dramatic action is the unfurling of veils—for instance, Scrooge’s bed curtains—and this theme is echoed playfully when Scrooge’s nightshirt drops out from his waistcoat. The apparition of the ghost of Christmas Future, a chilling moment that provides a cliffhanger for intermission, draws force from its bulky, imposing form, the audio design of Aaron Collier, and the practiced body language of Mark Crawford, who dons the costume.

Kudos to the entire cast for dealing expertly with some demanding costume changes throughout an elaborate cycling of narrators and characters. The ensemble narration is fun and dynamic, though Katie Swift’s delivery is incongruously cheerful at times, making the narration feel like a children’s story while the play presents itself as something else entirely. Stand out performances include McLellan, whose transformation from miserly to magnanimous feels earned in the end, and Sophia Black, who makes her acting debut in this production and delivers a tour de force as Fan and Tiny Tim, among others.

This said, it bears questioning whether A Christmas Carol retains its power and message today. Too often, adaptations in the media seem to slip from a story about the dangers of greed and the importance of family and charity, to a story about the importance of embracing the institution of Christmas. And in an age where commercialization and politicization are approaching hyperbolic levels, audiences should keep in mind that Dickens’s goal in writing A Christmas Carol was to shed light on poverty and incite action toward relieving it.

Theatre New Brunswick’s production of Thomas Morgan Jones’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol ran December 14-16, 2017 at the Fredericton Playhouse.

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Scrooge (Nora McLellan) crosschecks the number of workhouses vis-à-vis the city’s latest Seasonal Poverty Demographics with an eye toward assessing new data for his Maximum Thrift Efficacy Index (we assume) in Thomas Morgan Jones’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Costume Design by Sherry Kinnear. Photo Credit: André Reinders.





Hash Browned Potatoes, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Absurd

4 12 2017

by Greg Everett

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Jack (Lucas Tapley) is surrounded by his family (l.-r. Emma Foster, Jean Emmerson, Chelsea Hebert, William MacKnight, Kyle Bech) as they pressure him to marry in Ionesco’s Jack, or the Submission. What could be more absurd than that? Rehearsal Photo Credit: Mike Johnston

For opening night of Theatre UNB’s one-act double-header titled Cats, Cockatoos, and Caca, Memorial Hall is awash in eclectic jazz, manic wallpaper, and psychedelic lighting. “To enter the plays of Eugene Ionesco,” explains Len Falkenstein in his director’s note, “is to walk into a tremendously fun, rich, and thrillingly strange playground.”

The production presents two separate but complementary works by Ionesco, taking advantage of similar settings and subject matter. Jack, or the Submission portrays a family’s struggle to entice their son to conform to the convention of marriage. Jack, the ostensibly lackadaisical son, is harangued by his parents, sister, and grandparents to proclaim his conformity before welcoming his arranged fiancée and her parents into their home.

The Bald Soprano is a playful indictment of the empty pantomime that is polite suburban conversation. Mr. and Mrs. Smith gossip about the neighbourhood and nation as they and their maid await the arrival of guests with whom they go on to exchange meaningless and often contradictory pleasantries.

Both scripts are packed with raucous absurdities, lyrical gymnastics, and lurking profundities.

Jack, or the Submission is largely carried by Lucas Tapley in the titular role. Fey and foppish, passionate and profound, he delivers an enthralling performance that is belied by his character’s disinterested silence at the play’s beginning. Perhaps appropriately, Veronica Howe is also captivating as the fiancée, Roberta, and the chemistry between the two elevates the play to its greatest heights in the latter half. Chelsea Herbert and William MacKnight are audience favorites as Jack’s Grandparents, although their over-the-top physical comedy is sometimes distracting (even amongst over-the-top absurdity) and their stage slaps are lacklustre. In contrast, Thomas Lapointe and Danica Smith deliver more consistent performances as Roberta’s parents, with their exaggerated gestures and their frantic eagerness to oblige their daughter’s betrothed.

A change of furniture and a painting that is now further askew than it was before intermission denotes the beginning of The Bald Soprano. Returning as Mr. Smith, William MacKnight redeems himself with a much more controlled, but no less comedic, performance. His booming voice and self-assured delivery are more than a match for his majestic moustache.

Also outstanding are Thomas LaPointe and Alexe LaPointe, as Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who demonstrate a talent for body language with their stiff, awkward, almost static postures and their mirrored movements.

The costume design of both plays is comprehensive and fun, with its crowning achievement in the pleated, repressive sensibility of Mr. and Mrs. Martin, which matches their personalities exactly.

And underpinning the entire production is the experienced direction of Falkenstein who draws a physicality out of Ionesco’s dialogue, bringing a fullness of presence to the absurdity that the language alone cannot. For example, the finale of Jack, or the Submission is an astounding descent into pandemonium that gestures toward the instinctual pack mentality that is societal convention.

If you only see two plays by a Romanian absurdist this year, make it these two.

Theatre UNB’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s Jack, or the Submission and The Bald Soprano ran at Memorial Hall from November 30 to December 2, 2017.

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When the fireman (Kyle Bech) comes knocking, everybody (l.r. Sarah Dubois, William MacKnight, Thomas LaPointe, Alexe Lapointe) listens in Ionesco’s ubiquitous The Bald Soprano. Rehearsal photo credit: Mike Johnston





Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alive and well in the Black Box Theatre

25 11 2017

[Editor’s Note: With the Editor of STU Reviews on sabbatical this year, reviewing is likely to be sporadic. STU Reviews is grateful that STU alumnus Greg Everett is back in the reviewing chair when opportunity permits. RW]

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Guildenstern (Robbie Lynn) flips heads in the iconic opening scene of TST’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Photo Credit: André Reinders.

by Greg Everett

To call November 22 an auspicious night for Theatre St. Thomas (TST) would be an understatement. The year marks the famed Black Box Theatre’s 25th season, the return of celebrated theatre maker and Order of Canada recipient Ilkay Silk, and eleven years to the day that TST presented Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 2006 under Silk’s direction. But to call the current TST production of Stoppard’s play, also directed by Silk, anything other than business as usual would be a disservice to TST’s continuing legacy of quality, engaging performances.

Upon entering the theatre before the show, the audience is met with near-emptiness—an unassuming drop sheet, an inconspicuous chandelier—nothing to denote the space we have entered or the action that may fill it. We are forced to grapple with one of the play’s existential quandaries: What if we wait here as expected, but no one comes? Mercifully, the stage goes dark, and radio static cues the entrance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who pull the audience into their manic deconstructions of the laws of probability and the machinations of fate. This is the world that the two are forced to navigate, questioning their roles in a predetermined drama that presses inexorably forward, even when they themselves spin their wheels, unable to make progress. This is the world of a classic Shakespearean tragedy as seen through two minor, and yet absolutely integral, characters.

Stoppard’s play uses Hamlet as a framework, extracting its dramatic action and, most importantly, characters, thoroughly subverting them. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are yanked from the wings to carry a story that intersects with their own. Although the point form of Hamlet is all there—the intrigue at Elsinore, the play-within-a-play, the exodus of the Danish prince, and the letter that seals the fate of its bearers—Stoppard’s play is a robust metadrama that interrogates the nature of audiences, actors, and death.

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Rosencrantz (Sage Chisholm) in Guildenstern (Robbie Lynn) TST’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Photo Credit: André Reinders.

The cast deals exuberantly with a demanding script that builds to crescendos and drops into pregnant silences. The titular roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are admirably embodied by Sage Chisholm and Robbie Lynn, whose on-stage personalities make excellent foils for each other while inhabiting the manic lunacy overtaking their characters. Other stand-out performances include Miguel Roy and Elizabeth Goodyear as Claudius and Gertrude. Their commanding stage presences and booming deliveries pleasantly hearken to the traditions of Shakespeare’s source material, anchoring their scenes firmly in Elsinore. Ben Smith as The Player is captivating, with a playfully contrived delivery which encapsulates the character’s meta-dramatic nature. The ensemble delivers some unpolished moments and awkward gesticulations, but nothing that detracts from the performance as a whole.

 

The technical aspects of the play are, for the most part, simple yet massively effective. Emma Wilkes’s costumes are minimalist, timeless, yet satisfyingly in touch with the Shakespearean style. Chris Saad’s lighting effects are subtle, expressive, and masterfully timed in the hands of accomplished TST stage manager Wei Qing Tan.

The musical choices of Ross Kinney and the sound design of Chris Saad are interesting, but unfortunately many of the audio cues are so subdued as to sound incidental or disembodied. This is offset by the delightful, and fitting, addition of live violin music by one of the Tragedians, Dustyn Forbes, to accompany the play-within-the-play.

The most impressive aspect of the production, however, is the staging. In her Director’s Note, Silk alludes to intensive rehearsals, a dedication to perfecting the blocking, and a determination to “figure out how to represent ‘somewhere’, ‘nowhere’ and ‘anywhere.’” This effort shines in the smooth and frantic choreography of the scuffles and fights, especially the brawl between the players and pirates. But it also glows throughout the entirety of the play, with full use of the  Black Box’s base thrust configuration.

Some-, no-, and anywhere are delineated by the succinct use of projections, lighting effects, and a bare minimum of props, as when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are wrenched from liminal space into the court of Elsinore merely through the introduction of thrones and attendants; or when Denmark is transformed into a ship for the second act with a few boxes, barrels, and coils of rope.

Overall, TST’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a triumph, eliciting laughter, shock, and empathy from an enthralled audience.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead ran at STU’s Black Box Theatre November 22-25, 2017.

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The Tragedians rehearse the play that will “catch the conscience of the King” as Rosencrantz (Sage Chisholm) and Guildenstern (Robbie Lynn) look on before they too are “caught” in TST’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Photo Credit: André Reinders.





FHS Drama Club’s The Government Inspector offers timely satire for corrupt times

30 04 2017

by Alexander Rioux

The Fredericton High School Drama Club’s production of The Government Inspector leaves audiences blissful and bewildered.

The Government Inspector, written by Nikolai Gogal with translation by Adrian Mitchell, is a satirical work that depicts greed, stupidity, and political corruption. The FHS Drama club has had a streak of performing challenging works superbly. Some examples include their 2012 production of The Crucible, and their production of Dracula in 2016. With The Government Inspector, director Peter Ball maintains this reputation.

Gogol’s play follows the corrupt Governor (Jason McIntyre) of a small Russian town and his fellow corrupt officials. They are set into panic when they learn an Inspector will be arriving in town “incognito.” They are given information that a suspicious man from St. Petersburg has arrived and they assume this man is the inspector. However, it’s merely a moronic clerk by the name of Ivan Khlestakov (Jacob Martin). Thinking Khlestakov is the Inspector, the Governor invites him to his home, and things only get more out of hand from there.

The cast clearly varies in degrees of experience, yet they make a wonderful ensemble.  McIntyre as the Governor delivers a believable idiot blinded by his goals of trying to seem smart and important. Martin as Khlestakov is charismatic, but his performance feels very one note. Briana Corey as Petr Bobchinsky is phenomenal, delivering physical and verbal comedy with a clear understanding of her motivations, thus delivering a fully engaging performance. And Rose Messenger takes the cake as the Governor’s wife Anna. Her performance is energetic and engaging. You can see every thought she has come right through her face.

The set, designed by Taylor Sinstadt, is both simplistic and versatile. Being only a framework of two walls, with two red doors at opposite ends, the set lends itself to numerous possibilities. With hooks behind the frame, all the stagehands need to do is hang portraits and curtains to transform the space from one location to the next.

Despite these strengths, at times the show feels confused. Scenes begin as satire, but at times make the jump to full on insanity. One scene, though hilarious, comes completely out of left field. In this scene, Khlestakov is gaining bribes from town officials and merchants, and then we are given an onslaught of people throwing money all over the stage, from rolls of coins, to bills, to massive cheques. This moment, though true to the themes of the show and entertaining to watch, doesn’t feel like it belonged to the reality that has been established.

This production is certainly a timely one. When the current political atmosphere is full of corruption and greed, it is important to have plays like this one that remind us that such people don’t hold the power they think they do while the world is sitting comfortably laughing at them.

Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, produced by the Fredericton High School Drama Club, ran April 6-8, 2017 at FHS’s Tom Morrison Theatre.





Gogol’s The Government Inspector at FHS is professionally polished and politically preposterous

30 04 2017

by Jessica Murphy

One of the first things to make note of in the Fredericton High School Drama Club’s production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector is the outstanding direction. Peter Ball (director) and Bea Devlin (assistant director) deserve great recognition as the guiding hands as not only a successful team, but as a successful team of student directors. FHS’s Drama Club is in good hands as it passes down from Ben Smith and Georgia MacNaughton (directors of Dracula in the 2016 lineup) to this fantastic team.

Following a town that is desperate to impress a man that could make or break their businesses and political futures, the Governor (Jason McIntyre) and his acquaintances go out of their way to welcome this “government inspector,” Ivan Rastakovsky (Jacob Martin), into their hometown. Showered with gifts and becoming greedier by the minute, Rastakovsky plays the game until he is found out. Unfortunately for the town it is much too late.

Full of high energy, the twenty-person cast stages an engaging production that is crazy, fun, and suspenseful all in one. McIntyre puts on a performance well beyond his years as the suave and sly “inspector.” Amanda Thorne and Brianna Corey are a hilarious “Petr pair” that truly know how to play on stage together. Rose Messenger and Kate MacEwen deserve a round of applause as the battling mother/daughter duo, setting their sights on the inspector’s affection and always drawing out the laughs with their banter.

A surprising, show-stealing element of the production is the simple yet striking set. Taylor Sinstadt pulls the show together with a beam structure that opens with several hanging portraits, giving the illusion of a great office passed down from governor to governor. In quick, musically entertaining transitions, the office transforms into a spectacular room tied together in a palette of rusty reds, browns, and hints of gold that catches the eye. It is rather unfortunate that a lot of the spectacular display is lost to dim (and sometimes altogether dark) lighting. But for what scenes are lost, the overall design makes up for when it is seen in all of its glory.

FHS’s Drama Club most definitely raises the bar in Fredericton’s theatre community with The Government Inspector. This production is professional, politically preposterous, and positively pleasing!

Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, produced by the Fredericton High School Drama Club, ran April 6-8, 2017 at FHS’s Tom Morrison Theatre.





Érick Villeneuve’s Immortal Chi astounds at Fredericton Playhouse

30 04 2017

by Laura-Beth Bird

Immortal Chi: A Warrior’s Quest for Balance, created and directed by Érick Villeneuve, looks for balance with this kung fu-fused production.

Villeneuve has taken Immortal Chi on its world tour since 2014, now making a stop at the Playhouse in Fredericton. The production brings elements of Chinese classical performance and martial arts training, along with an all female drumming ensemble, and gives these a modern twist. The audience cannot help but feel the old world colliding with the new with this multimedia show.

The piece revolves around a singular character reflecting back on his life and training while meditating. The show opens and closes on the Master as he works through the motions of his Tai-Chi training on a pillar whilst a large ornate clock swings into the background. The 12 Kung Fu acrobats skillfully perform their Kung Fu stylized dance with swords, tridents, and various other classical Chinese weapons in an effort to tell the Master’s narrative.

The show is visually captivating, from the costumes and projections to the stage. The drummers add another level of depth with their heavy and impressive performance. Yet the ensemble often steal the spotlight with their perfectly choreographed routines. This results in them unintentionally outshining their Kung Fu counterparts.

That being said, the show is not without its laughs and a trick or two up its sleeve. A Kung Fu fighter runs through a projected maze that looks an awful lot like a video game. Another walks a tightrope. A comical fight scene is played out on stage and then is quickly followed by a crowd favourite of balancing sticks in an ever-extending network that seems almost impossible.

Villeneuve has tried to create a show that combines Chinese traditions with the technical advancements of today. His all-Asian cast was traditionally trained in Kung Fu, drums, and guzheng (a Chinese zither) before coming together to create this piece.

Overall, the show is interesting and a good night out for the family. Any self-respecting Kung Fu lover could watch with awe the carefully choreographed fight scenes and feats of balance and strength.

Immortal Chi: A Warrior’s Quest for Balance ran April 6, 2017 at the Fredericton Playhouse.








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