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Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

the Radium Girls

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2013 at 1:13 am

Gonna try and get this one done old school, stayin’ up late and powering it out before I pass out and have to go to work in the morning.  Mostly because I have to head out to the Ottawa Theatre Challenge tomorrow night and I don’t wanna drag my laptop along with me to work (it’s HEAVY!! *pout*).  We’ll see how successful I am…I’ve been wimping out and leaving my reviews to the next day for a while now.  But I feel inspired.

Is my inspiration partially on account of tonight’s show was the latest from the graduating class of theatre gangsters from the Ottawa Theatre School?  And the fact that as of today, I’m a registered student in the 2013/2014 1st year class (OH yeah, I done paid my deposit up LIKE A BOSS this morning)?  Or is it because Nick Fournier, the sole male specimen in said class, is gonna be one of my most excellent co-stars in our upcoming Fringe show this summer?  And can I convince ANYone out there that I’m even remotely unbiased or professional or critical or whatever?

Ah, who fuckin’ cares, when did I ever let my obvious cheerleader tendencies stop me?  I clearly love me some OTS, and I was out at the Gladstone theatre tonight to check out the second show from the graduating class this year, the world premiere of Lawrence Aronovitch’s FALSE ASSUMPTIONS.  A bit of a co-pro with Plosive Productions, a collaboration that got them not only the lovely Gladstone theatre for the week but the terribly talented Teri Loretto-Valentik in the director’s chair, FA tells the tale of the life and trials of legendary scientist Marie Curie.  Played by Hannah Gibson-Fraser in a demanding and nearly perfect performance, Marie’s story is overseen by a rather unlikely group, a trio of fellow female scientists, all criminally underrated in their time as Curie was (and a trend that is by no means dead today, in case anyone was questioning this plays relevance).  Investigating and observing Marie’s story from an unidentified, otherworldly plane are Hypatia of Alexandria (Karina Milech), Countess Ada Lovelace (Alexis Scott) and Rosalind Franklin (Holly Griffith), who make for a rather wonderful group of narrators indeed.  They guide us through Curie’s life, from her humble beginnings in Poland with sister Zosia (Tiffani Kenny) to her fateful meeting in Paris with future husband and scientific collaborator Pierre (Nick Fournier), who would help her to sift through a few metric tons of Pitchblende and discover Radium, which would turn out to be both a blessing and a terrible curse.  Even as Marie is watched over by her trio of non-temporal peers, she’s hunted and haunted by the mysterious Grace (Alison Rainer) and her gaggle of ‘Radium Girls’, seeking some hard answers of their own for Marie’s discoveries.

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ASSUMPTIONS is a very smart and important play…I heard one woman in the lobby after the show rather adamantly insisting it should be required viewing, and I’m not sure she’s wrong.  Not that I didn’t have an issue or two with the mechanics of the work itself, but on the whole it’s a bloody impressive piece.  Marie and her ghostly chorus are onstage for pretty much the 2-hour duration of the play, in a very dense script from Aronovitch, and they acquit themselves wonderfully.  As mentioned, Hannah Gibson-Fraser is just fantastic as Marie Curie, selling the great lady’s almost obsessive discipline along with her more relatable human frailties.  And as her great love Pierre, my man Nick Fournier is a smashing leading man and enjoys some amazing chemistry in his scenes with Hannah.  As for our chorus (not really, but it’s what I like to call them), our three ghostly guides are what take this play from a dry bio into something really special.  The clashes and alliances between them are wonderful to watch…Karina Milech’s majestic Hypatia jibes beautifully with Alexis’ romantically-minded Ada Lovelace, and both of them have marvellous back and forth with Holly Griffith’s Spock-esque Rosalind, who may hold the ultimate secret of the play in her hands.  And a special shoutout to final cast members Alyssa Gosselin as a dedicatedly persuasive American Journalist, and  Dilys Ayafor, who appears as not one but two separate male suitors of Marie’s.  She be SMOOTH, and that’s the truth.

I could go on, like about how impressive is it that the gang got Attila Clemman’s sweet-cool set in place in the astonishingly little time they had, or the great job they all did, some with multiple roles.  But why bother?  I’ve already admitted my bias, and all I can tell you is I had a great damn time and hope you follow my example and head out to FALSE ASSUMPTIONS in its world premiere run this week only at the Gladstone!  Funny, insightful and overdue…check it out.   Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

The Path – part 2

In Theatre on March 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I had an audition a few weeks ago.

But wait, actually, I should start earlier.  A couple of years ago I wrote This Post, giving a little background into my personal journey (pardon the pretension) into the world of…THEATRE! Feel free to peruse it if you like…it’s mostly just a rehashing of what’s gone on with me since I wandered into the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2008 and discovered, ridiculously late in life if you ask me, that it turns out I love theatre.  It ended with me not quite getting the part in my first ever audition.  Great place to start, I figure!

Since then, I’ve had five or six other auditions (not counting the one I mentioned up above), and no parts yet, but I think I’m at least getting better at the auditioning part.  In fact, I ended up working with Ken Godmere, who ran my first audition, on a couple of projects since then, having a non-speaking role in his digital short film bur, and a couple of voice roles in his award-nominated Fringe show Vernus says SURPRISE!  That bit, in fact, led me to take part in a recording session for the long-running CKCU radio sketch comedy show Remote Planet, and I hope to do that again someday soon, as it was a blast.

And of course, if you’re reading this, you know that the blogging part of my theatre life is still chugging along.  Took a road trip to Victoria Fringe, and that was awesome.  I assembled a team of lovely lady guest-reviewers last year to successfully review every single show in Ottawa Fringe ‘12, an amazing thing indeed. I’m getting invites to shows from the NAC, Opera Lyra, GCTC, the Gladstone, even stuff in Montreal!  I’m a proud little blogger, lemme tell ya.  I was so chuffed with my growth on the Visitorium that I made a public pledge recently to take a rather unprecedented road trip this summer.  My planned ALL YOUR FRINGE ARE BELONG TO ME tour would have taken me to eight Fringe festivals, from Montreal to Vancouver, reviewing and loving it all the way for over three months.  It would have been AWESOME.

But it’s not going to happen.

There are two…no, three main reasons for this.  One is that audition, which I’ll get to in a bit.  The second is that I actually got offered…and happily accepted…a part in a show at this year’s Ottawa Fringe!  And let me put on my promoter’s hat for a second and tell you it’s going to CHANGE YOUR LIFE (it’s definitely changed mine already)!  I’ll be joining Tony Adams, Cory Thibert, Jonah Allingham and Nick Fournier at our supercool BYOV at the T.A.N.Coffeeshop in Sandy Hill (about 2 blocks East of King Edward) for the soon-to-be-classic THE TRAGICALL HISTORIE OF NICK WADE (AND OTHER FUCK UPS).  Directed by the amazing Mado Manseau, about which I’m so very excited I can’t tell you.  I’m thrilled to be making my stage debut with such an incredible gang of young theatre tuffs, and I hope they’ll nursemaid my old-man ass along enough so I don’t drag them down TOO much.

BUT…with the time commitment I’ll have to make for this show, it puts an immediate kink into my Montreal and Ottawa reviewing plans.  So, there’s THAT.  Hardly a complain, tho, not at all.  I’m calling this a very big win.  And I hope to have lots of friendly faces in the audience, cheering me on OR heckling me, as you see fit.  Bring it on.

Which brings me to the third reason I’m cancelling my tour plans.  And…this one’s hard to write about.  I for SURE can’t talk about it, but I find it harder to lie while writing, so I’m giving it a shot here.  Not that it should come as a surprising revelation to some, but…fuck.  If I’m honest, and I should probably start doing that more often..I’ve been fighting with Depression since…well, as long as I can remember.  It’s been a bitter fucking fight my entire adult life, and yes, blood has been drawn.  And if I’m even more honest…it’s been a losing battle.  Depression has pretty much crippled my life in perhaps irreparable ways…I’ve let friends drift away because I couldn’t convince myself I wouldn’t be bothering them by calling them up.  I hardly ever even SEE my family, including my two beautiful nieces.  More than 20 years after my ridiculous prom, I still find myself alone in rooms full of people I know, feeling desperate and lost for no good reason.  I drink too much, I talk too little, and more times than I care to remember I wouldn’t say anything to the girl of my dreams (note: there have been several of these) even when she was right there in front of me.  RIGHT THERE.  So many times…and I still won’t.  And alone I remain, year after year.  It’s a shitkicker, truly.

The truth is, I couldn’t handle that road trip.  Months on the road, staying alone in hostels or on strangers couches, in cities I don’t know?  I couldn’t handle it.  I know that, if I’m honest.  And I’m gonna try and do that more, now.

Which brings me back to the audition.

Getting that part in the upcoming Fringe show reminded me of something.  That feeling I had, during my first Fringe Festival back in 2008, when I’d stare gawk-eyed at these amazing performers, hanging around the beer tent at night, feeling like an outsider, and wishing to Hell that I just BELONGED there.  For once in my life, belonged somewhere.  A Visitor no more, y’know?

So I booked this audition, real last minute.  And it wasn’t for a play, or a part.  But a couple of days ago I heard back about it.  And I’m so proud I’m almost crying to announce that, come this Fall, I will be among the new recruits starting up at the Ottawa Theatre School, in their 3-year Conservatory Acting program.  I’m so utterly fucking terrified I can’t tell you.  At age 42, I’m trying to reinvent myself as a Theatre Actor…in OTTAWA.  I’d say I’m out of my mind, but I think I already tacitly admitted to that earlier in this post, and let’s not add redundancy to my list of crimes, hey? I mean, I don’t even know what changes this will bring to my life, I just know that I probably need them, more than even I can see.  The Path continues, as they say…hope a few of you will follow me along.

Shit.  Now you all know that stuff.  Honesty’s ROUGH, guys.  But then again…if I’m honest, I can’t fucking WAIT to start school!  I can’t wait to meet my new classmates, learn every new thing I can, and even if I never have that ‘special someone’, at least make MYSELF proud.   And yeah, I’ll still be writing up shows as much as I can, at least for now…we’ll just have to see what the future holds. And for the first time in a long, long time…I’m looking forward to finding out.  Peace, love and soul, everyone,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

PS: I’m totally heading to the Carleton Tavern to celebrate my big news after work tomorrow (Sunday the 24th, around 5 or so), so feel free to drop on by.  Or not.  I’ll bring something to read, just in case. 🙂

The Murder Game

In Theatre on March 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I was all of about a dozen years old when I saw the film version of Ira Levin’s vicious murder-comedy DEATHTRAP…I have to admit, it kinda freaked my young self out more than a little back then.

Why was Superman behaving so oddly?  Red Kryptonite, perhaps?

Why was Superman behaving so oddly, for one thing? Red Kryptonite, perhaps?

But now, with the benefit of a few years under my belt, and all the soul-crushing horror the weight of those years brings with it, I was more than ready for a rematch with Ira’s Broadway-smash story, and the Ottawa Little Theatre and their centenary season were there to oblige me.  Director John Collins was at the helm for the comedy thriller (originally put up at the OLT in 1983), about a waning playwright (Sidney Bruhl, played here by Lawrence Evenchick) who receives a tantalizingly brilliant manuscript in the mail from aspiring writer Clifford Anderson (Dan DeMarbre).  Sidney’s wife Myra (Diana Franz) can see how envious her hubby is of the work, and after a few idle speculations on Sidney’s part, starts to seriously wonder if he likes the new play enough to kill for it.

It’s tricky to talk any more about the plot to this, a masterpiece of tricks and twisting turns throughout, without giving any of the more wonderful surprises away…suffice it to say, ‘trust no one’ is a pretty good mindset to head into this one with.  Except, of course, the OLT team who manage to mount a pretty terrific production, starting off with a beautiful Mike Heffernan set displaying Bruhl’s ghoulish collection of weaponry…not all of which will go unused during the production.  Evenchick is simply superb as the pompous, scheming Sidney, manipulating the audience as elegantly as the other characters and delivering one of the best male performances I’ve caught at the OLT in some time now.  Diana Franz does great as stressed-out Myra, and Dan DeMarbre is impressive as Hell as Cliff Anderson, showing several sides and more than holding his own on stage against Evenchick.  And much props (and scene-stealing points) to Angela Pelly as snooping psychic Helga ten Dorp, plus Gordon Walls doing a solid turn as Sidney’s lawyer Porter Milgrim.

DEATHTRAP is a sneaky, smart, funny piece of theatre macabre, and a rather pleasant change of pace from the period-dominated season thus far at the OLT(not a dig or anything, but it’s nice to get away from British accents for at least ONE play, ya know what I mean?).  Director Collins picked a great cast to deliver Levin’s joyously paranoid romp, and they do him proud.  Shoutout as well to the always great David Magladry on lights, tossing some fine lightning when called for.  This one’s good bang (sometimes literally) for your buck, folks.  Check it out sometime between now and April 6th…murders this dun don’t come along too often.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Darling Violetta

In Music, Theatre on March 22, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I was in just about a perfect mood for a concert last night…especially the concert I went to.  I’d been in a  terribly rare good mood since receiving some intriguing news earlier in the day, and felt like celebrating.  How better than inside the posh walls of the National Arts Centre for a swanky evening at the Opera?  Yes, I continue to stretch my shaky media credential to the breaking point by somehow getting tagged for all these amazing Opera Lyra events, and I couldn’t be more delighted.  My first go-round with Ottawa’s premiere opera troupe was at the amazing LA BOHEME a few months back, and they’re back this week with a staged concert performance of Verdi’s classic LA TRAVIATA, meaning I would double my opera knowledge in a single evening!

Now, as mentioned, this was technically a concert and not a fully staged production with costumes and sets and such.  Instead, the pared-down evening (if you can call the entire NAC Orchestra piled onto the stage at Southam Hall with some 30-odd chorus members plus the main singers ‘pared down’) concentrated on just the music, and what marvellous music it was.  After a bit of a speech from Laurence Wall, whose voice even I recognized from the CBC, the impressive sight of the collected NAC Orchestra was joined onstage by some splendidly suited-up ladies and gents, Lyra’s cast for the production wearing their Sunday finest.  They soon teamed up to belt out a pretty goddamned unforgettable evening of deep-throated, glass-shattering tunes that echo right in your heart.

OLO_LaTraviata_Poster

The plot, one of I believe three Opera plots in existence, centers around young and vivacious Violetta Valery, portrayed in this show by the absolutely stunning Corinne Winters. She’s dedicated herself to living the carefree life as you only can in Moulin Rouge-era Paris, lounging about throwing fabulous parties with her best girlfriend Flora (Marion Newman).  But one shindig, while lounging about with the Marquis (Benjamin Covey) and the Baron (Jonathon Estabrooks), a gent named Gastone (Niels Achengreen) introduces Violetta to idealistic young Adolfo (Eric Margiore), who has been head over heels in love with Violetta from afar for ages now.  Romance ensues after much prodding and singing, and the pair run off together.  But they’re tracked down by Adolfo’s worried Father Giorgio (Gregory Dahl), who wants Violetta to give his son up lest his reputation be destroyed.  And Violetta’s got a rather grim little secret she’s been keeping, too…

Things get highly dramatic to say the least, and the cast pulls it off in such glorious fashion I’m almost heartbroken that this was NOT a full production, though I can’t see it getting much better anyhow.  Corrine Winters is freakin’ divine as the radiant but tragic Violetta, and Eric Margiore makes for a smashing romantic leading man…their duets are a sight to see, and a privilege to hear.  Although I have to say that, for me, Gregory Dahl’s booming Giorgio nearly stole the show…such a great character!  And the lot of them had me pretty much in tears by the end, even IF everyone in the room already knew how things were gonna turn out.  It was a gorgeous night, and only one performance remains tomorrow night, the 23rd.  HIGHLY recommend getting out to see it…and fear not, Opera Lyra will be back with two full productions next season, putting on CARMEN and MADAMA BUTTERFLY for your listening pleasure.  I can definitely say I’m gonna try and make it out.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Swoon and Swoon Again

In Theatre on March 21, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Having a little trouble getting this post started.  Aside from being a coffee-shop review, which I’m still working on getting accustomed to, I had a bit of a late night after my trip to the theatre last night, drinking my way thru an impromptu HELL’S KITCHEN marathon when I really should have been writing.  Or, you know, sleeping.  This led to a somewhat pained shlep through the drudgery, momentarily interrupted by LIFE-ALTERING NEWS which I’ll tell you about some other time, because who cares, right?  And anyways, for the moment I’ve got to finally kick this hangover headache and get to some good old fashioned theatre bloggery!

Last night, as every concerned citizen is aware, was opening night for the second of three shows in the current season from Algonquin Theatre Arts, this time featuring a triple threat of short works from that zany romantic himself, Anton Chekhov.  Collected under the title of 33 SWOONS (supposedly that’s how many times characters swoon, flail, and just generally suffer from the vapours over the course of the shows…I didn’t count, myself), the evening featured three of Chekhov’s rom-com classics back to back, all courtesy of director Mary Ellis.  All three shows use the same group of actors, 5 different up’n’comers who have a grand old time bringing these time-tested, beautifully written, and goofily hilarious plays to life.

33 swoons

First up is THE PROPOSAL, with Jonah Lerner as bombastic Stephan Stepanovich, who is entertaining young neighbour Ivan Vasilyevich (Phil Hughes).  Stephan has designs on Ivan’s lovely daughter Natalya (Erin MacDonald), and papa is all for the match…a misundertanding about a land claim has the three of them at one anothers throats.  Heart palpitations and fainting spells abound, curses are hurled, and perfectly awful things are said about a couple of dogs.  Will love prevail?
The second show, THE BEAR, features weeping widow Yelena Ivanova Popova (Caitlin O’Brien), who insists whe will spend the rest of her life lamenting her late, good for nothing husband, much to the consternation of her doting servants (Erin MacDonald, again, and Jeremy Piamonte).  Into her perfectly gloomy life stomps Grigory Stepanovich Smirnov (Phil Hughes, again), a woman-hating soldier here to collect the rubles Yelena’s late husband owes him.  Lines are drawn, threats are made, and pistols are drawn in a potentially literal battle of the sexes?  Will love prevail??

And finally, THE JUBILEE brings us a suffering, grumbling bank clerk (Phil Hughes, one more time), slaving away to finish a report for his egomaniacal boss Andrey Andreevich Shipuchin (Jonah Lerner, again).  Interference arrives in the form of Shipuchin’s equally self-obsessed wife Tatyana (Caitlin O’Brien, again), and determined if somewhat deranged Nastasya (Erin MacDonald, one more time), seeking her ailing husband’s missing wages in all the wrong places.  Voices are raised, knives are drawn, faints are fainted, and the reports due date is looming nigh!!  Will love prevail..?  Well, okay this one’s not about love, per se, but…will that clerk-guy finish the report???

Chekhov may seem old-fashioned to some, but after this evening I’m note sure i want to meet any of that ‘some’  These shows were a goddam blast, and old Anton’s shenanigans are still just as funny now as they were back in Mother Russia.  Jonah Lerner has onstage bluster down to a science, and rocks a monocle like nobody’s business.  Erin MacDonald is great fun in all her roles, tho I especially enjoyed her proud Natalya in the Proposal.  Caitlin O’Brien is just smashing both as widow Yelena and gossip Tatyana, and Phil Hughes (whom I’ve never seen before) makes a great first impression in his pair of romantic leading roles in Proposal and Bear, rattling off Chekhov’s inspiring dialogue with great comic swagger.  Jeremy Piamonte, fresh of a run at the OLT, only gets a few lines in Jubilee, but he’s still a welcome addition to a very solid cast.  Mary Ellis has done her gang good once again, and put together a terrifically fun show that I can happily recommend to anyone who likes laughing or being happy.  Shoutout to Judith deBoer’s lovely period costumes and smartly dressed set, putting the perfect finishing touches on a very hilarious night out.  Here’s hoping the kids have a great run, and I’m already looking forward to LARAMIE next month!  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Girls vs Boys (Shakespeare style)

In Theatre on March 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Well blow me down and call me a bard, it’s time for my first Shakespeare review of the season!  Well, if you don’t count HIP HIP SHAKESPEARE LIVE MUSIC VIDEOS, and I would not judge you if you did.  But this time it’s the right proper Billy Shakes text we’re talking about, and that’s always a good bit of fun.  The relentless theatre hoodlums at Sock’n’Buskin were behind this particular classic, the second production in their shortened two-show season.   An interesting change of pace after the raucous musical behemoth that was ROCKY HORROR, they opted to settle in to one of the bard’s less performed shows, the romantic c LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST.  Other than the slightly weird Kenneth Branagh movie (the one with all the 30’s dance tunes), I’d never seen this show done.  It was, I have to admit, about time.

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Set in the kingdom of Navarre, its ruler Ferdinand (Luke Bradley) has decided that he and his three best pals should swear off women and fun for three whole years to devote themselves to study. A crazy plan, obviously, but Longaville and Dumaine (James Hargrove and Peter Knowton) quickly swear their oaths.  Ladies man Berowne (Will Lafrance) is less enthusiastic, reminding the King that a Princess (Reena Belford) and her gentlewomen Rosaline, Maria and Katherine (Alison Almeida, Caitlin Borthwick and Jennifer Hurd) are on their way for a diplomatic visit.  Undaunted, Ferdinand insists the ladies bunk in the woods rather than be allowed to enter his castle…except that, in telling them this, the lads all immediately fall head over heels for the gals, and we’ve got ourselves a rom-com!

And what would a comedy be without some wacky ancillary characters, messing up the works?  Well, this shows got’em in spades: dimwitted Costard (Kevin Nimmock) has been caught making time with popular local wench Jaquenetta (Julia Allen), which has aroused the ire of flamboyant Spaniard Don Armado (Johnathan Vien), who fancies a little wenching of his own.  He’s aided, and subtly insulted, by his attendant Moth (Lauren Walker) and the aptly named Dull (Sophie Crump), and trades occasional repartee with upitty duo Holofernes and Nathaniel (Euan Wheaton and Michael Anderson).  The King and his boys, meanwhile, are trying every trick they can think of (short of being sincere, naturally) to woo their ladies…it doesn’t help their case that smooth-talking Boyet (Ian Gillies) is running interference on the ladies’ behalf.

Much silliness ensues until the surprisingly earnest sneak ending, and with the help of director Dave Dawson, the S’n’B production entertains throughout.  Although the set is a little threadbare, perhaps betraying a few of the companies recent cashflow woes (although I’m sure Awesome Jeff did his best, and the climbable tree centerpiece IS a beauty), there are more than enough fun and solid performances in the show to make it a helluva good time.  Right off, I was well and truly impressed with Will LaFrance as Berowne, who makes an amiable rogue indeed and tackles several hefty Shakespearean monologues with spectacular results, and a sly grin to boot.   His lady of choice, Rosaline, gives as good as she gets thanks to the mighty charm of Alison Almeida…although it’s princess Reena Belford who gets the lion’s share of the dialogue on the ladies side, and she nails it in a classy performance.  Luke Bradley, meanwhile, has an understated but very funny turn as Ferdinand, often making you laugh before you even realize what’s just happened.  John ‘Bubba’ Vien makes a great comic turn as the loopy Don Armado (even if we did miss a golden opportunity for  a wacky racist accent..!), and Lauren Walker as ever-attendant Moth also acquitted herself well.  Following his great turn in ROCKY HORROR, I’m finding that Euan Wheaton may be one to watch out for, awfully damn funny as the uptight Holofernes.  And Ian Gillies, the man whose voice could melt butter from 1000 yards, was spot-on as the scene-stealing Boyet.

Special shoutout to the costume kids Jasmine Murray-Bergquist and Sarah Zaidi for some excellent and regal duds, especially Luke’s killer red top and Reena’s lovely dress.  They did great work, especially on what I expect was a tight budget…and I hope Ottawa will do their part to help’em out by trucking themselves over to Carleton Uni’s Kailash Mital Theatre and catching this dandy ensemble do their stuff before it’s all over on the 16th.  Keep these kids in Socks and Buskins, everyone, and enjoy some heartfelt Shakespeare while you’re at it.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Paper and Sugar

In Evolution Theatre, Theatre on March 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

Last week I got to sit on a bit of a ‘media call’ for an upcoming show in town, which I was all over because a) I was invited, which always makes me feel special, and b), it was a co-production by maybe my two fav’rit theatre companies in this burg, Evolution Theatre and Mi Casa Theatre.  That’s got World’s Finest written all over it right there it does, so I was pretty stoked to check this one out.  Now, due to failings well within my control, I didn’t manage to get out to see this show in its first week, and believe me, no one’s sorrier than I on that note.  But last night, appetite well whetted, I finally managed to make it in to what should, if there’s any justice, go down as one of the coolest theatrical productions of 2013.

Katie Swift, Nick DiGaetano, and Hrose. Terrible photography courtesy of yours truly!

Katie Swift, Nick DiGaetano, and Hrose. Terrible photography courtesy of yours truly!

Set in the always sweet Ottawa Dance Directive Studio in Arts Court (home to Evolution’s absolutely amazing LITTLE MARTYRS a ways back), this latest production was Jill Connell’s HROSES: AN AFFRONT TO REASON, directed by Emily Pearlman and starring Katie Swift and Nick DiGaetano.  Katie’n’Nick had previously appeared onstage together in the NAC/GCTC co-pro of VIMY, as well as ST.CARMEN OF THE MAIN, and it was dandy seeing them back in action, this time in an impressively mindbending show set in ‘Quantum Time’, so I knew going in there was no way I’d be able to resist it.   It’s a dense script packed with beautiful language and layers upon layers of information that might take a repeat viewing or two to properly sort through, and that would NOT be a hardship thanks to a pair of knockout performances from our two leads.  Katie Swift is Lily (or possibly Susan), a paper farmer who wanders out into ‘No-Man’s Land’ one day and finds a solitary Hrose (pronounced Horse, fear not).  Soon, she is discovered by the eerily similarly named Ellery (Nick DiGaetano, who also created the Hrose, the unofficial third member of the cast), who works in the nearby sugar mines.  They soon do what happens when Boys meets Girls in a play, but that’s just the surface.  There’s also the moths to contend with, land disputes, shifting memories, the clash of industrialism and agrarianism, firing squads, and the very real possibility that it’s all to late before it even begins.  Katie and Nick do an incredible job, melding the wordy and eloquent script with very physical performances that never falter.  It’s a helluva sight to see.

Hroses

Evolution Theatre’s mandate to put on challenging work continues unabated with HROSES, but gets a wonderfully surreal spin thanks to director Emily Pearlman, setting the whole thing in the round and maintaining an electric air throughout.  The design work is absolutely fantastic too…Pierre Ducharme on lights continues to impress, and this is some of sound designer AL Connors’ best work yet, which is saying something.  And while I’m still a little uncertain about the specific whats and hows of the storyline itself, and you might be too unless you’re smarter than me (note: this is very, very likely) it’s a beautiful journey nonetheless, and one that I’d gladly take again.  Emily, Nick, Katie and the entire Evolution/Mi Casa superteam have created something really special here, and you’re kind of a silly billy if you don’t run on over to Arts Court and see this one while you have the chance.  A Hrose this magical won’t stay put for long.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

The Toledo Surprise

In Theatre on March 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Been a hectic little weekend here at the Visitorium, folks.  Had to last-minute switch a brunch shift to a close on Saturday to accommodate a super-important audition I booked on short notice, about which more some other time.  And of course, I picked goddamned Daylight Saving weekend to work a close/open, stealing a sweet, precious hour of sleep from me.  And now it’s too dark in the morning, and bright out too late!  Balls.

Happily, there was some actual theatre crammed into my busy last few days, in the form of a very long overdue indeed visit to the kids at the Orpheus Musical Society, whom I hadn’t bumped into since INTO THE WOODS a ways back.  Ashamed of my long absence (and rightly so), I tooled out to Centrepointe Theatre for the 2nd production of their current, 3-show season, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE.  I’m not much of a musical theatre buff per se, so all I knew about this show was that, presumably there was a chaperone in it who at least once starts to feel a little sleepy.  Armed with that knowledge, I took my seat in the cener of the lovely Centrepointe Theatre, ogled the dead cool retro Christy Bindhardt set for a few minutes, and waited for the show (music and lyrics Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, before I forget) to begin.

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The lights went out, and the voice of our narrator rang out, speaking fondly of an abiding love for musical theatre and its magical ways.  Soon we were introduced to the fellow, a never-named older gent referred to in the script only as ‘Man in Chair’, played here by Wayne Nolan in a charmingly frank performance.  Our narrator sits alone in his apartment, shunning the telephone and listening to his dusty old records.  Through him, we are introduced to his fav’rit album, a recording of an old 1930’s-era Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.  And as he plays the tunes, we see the show come to life around him…a cute gimmick that works a treat.  The story of this musical-within-a-play follows glamorous Janet Van de Graaf (Andrea Black), about to retire from show business to run off and marry Robert (Kodi Cannon) after a spot of love at first sight on a boat cruise.  A splendid wedding is planned at the estate of dotty Mrs.Tottendale (Christine Drew) and her long-suffering Underling (Jim Robertson…and yes, ‘Underling’ is his character’s name), with Robert’s swell best man George (Darren Bird) running the show.  Everything seems to be going swimmingly, except for a few potential hitches…like Janet’s glowering former producer Feldzieg (Sam Smith), trying hard to get his meal ticket to stay in showbiz, with plenty of prodding from a pair of pastry-themed gangsters (Andrew Galligan and Bryan Jesner), and chorus girl Kitty (Christine Moran) who’s out for Janet’s old job.  Then there’s the mysterious aviatrix Trix (Mary Armstrong), and the titular Chaperone (Lesley Osborn) who doesn’t let a silly thing like Prohibition stop her from getting ‘drowsy’ at all hours of the day.  And that’s not even MENTIONING Aldolpho (Dennis van Staalduinen)…

The Man in the Chair (Wayne Nolan) peruses his fav'rit album...props to Alan Dean Photography for the pic.

The Man in the Chair (Wayne Nolan) peruses his fav’rit album…props to Alan Dean Photography for the pic.

If it sounds like there’s lots going on in this show, just you wait…there’s actually a lot more.   Thanks to our narrator pal, we’re treated to the fictional history of the fictional musical that’s really playing out before us…making it a real musical about a fictional musical…it all gets a bit meta if you think about it too long, so please don’t.  What’s important is how giddily entertaining the whole affair is, and how great a job the Orpheus gang does at bringing the whole silly mess to life.  As I said, I’m no scholar of musical theatre, but everything sounded great to me.  Everyone will have their fav’rit songs, of course…the ‘Cold Feets’ number tickled me, with its sudden, mass tap dance routine, and I thought Mary Armstrong had a terrific set of pipes for belting out her tunes.  Janet’s show-stopping ‘Show Off’ number is hilarious, and a gorgeous bit of choreography all around.  And the much-anticipated song of Aldolpho, a Sleazy P.Martini lookalike of a latin lothario complete with cape, pompadour and unintelligible accent, brought the house down. And oh, there’s more.

Janet being subtle, courtesy of Alan Dean Photography!

Janet being subtle, courtesy of Alan Dean Photography!

But the whole ensemble is just impressive as Hell…even the chorus was knocking it out (and nice to see Dave Rowan of Red.Collective in there, singing and dancing away!).  A special bit of love for the omnipresent Man in Chair, brought to marvelous life by Wayne Nolan, and providing the sneaky emotional heart of the whole production.  Yes, the ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ musical-within-the-musical itself is a silly bit of contrived goofiness, filled with stock characters and glorious overacting, but that’s kind of the point.  Musical theatre is our hero’s escape from the dreariness and letdowns of everyday life, and I’m betting there’s a lot of us out there who can identify pretty strongly with that sentiment.  CHAPERONE is deftly executed by the Orpheus crew from top to bottom, turning out a seriously memorable show that’s ridiculously funny and downright addictive.  Check it out, and maybe find a little escape of your own, hey?  Show runs until the 17th at Centrepointe Theatre.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Absurd Persons Tryptychal

In Theatre on March 8, 2013 at 5:38 pm

It is, I think, safe to say that John P.Kelly is on a roll. The founder and pretty much exclusive director of productions at Ottawa’s great Seven Thirty theatre company has been having a solid string of hits the last few months.  Two Marie Jones penned-plays, STONES IN HIS POCKETS and FLY ME TO THE MOON, packed houses at the Gladstone and the GCTC last season, and Todd Duckworth was just nominated for a Prix Rideau Award for his role as the president in the Kelly-helmed NOVEMBER from David Mamet.  And yes, he does seem to be inching ever-so-slightly away from the Irish only theme his company had been maintaining since its inception, although with the latest going up at the Gladstone, we’ve only moved as far as Britain.

The show is Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, a threefold farce featuring a trio of British couples meeting up over the course of three Xmas’es (well, four couples, if you count the never-seen Potters, ever causing mischief just offstage).  We begin in the simple home of the Hopforths…up and coming businessman Sidney (Stewart Matthews) has invited a few bigshots over to try and curry favour, and has dedicated wife and homemaker Jane (Melanie Karin, who totally wants to be your Next Muchmusic VJ so go and vote) making everything perfect for the party. This being a farce, disaster naturally ensues, and Hopforth’s guests are beginning to notice.  Bank manager Ronald Brewster-Wright (Tom Charlebois) is trying to keep his wife Marion (Lori Jean Hodge) from drinking too much, and architect Geoff Jackson (David Whitely, who coincidentally enough designed the stunning trifold set in real life) is looking for any opportunity to cheat on his unfortunate wife Eva (Michelle leBlanc).  Chips are spilled, doors are slammed, and a good time is had by all…well, in the audience at any rate.

A photographic six-pack, courtesy of Andrew Alexander.

A photographic six-pack, courtesy of Andrew Alexander.

After an intermission, we’re back for a reunion of sorts on the following Xmas eve, this time at the Jackson home where things are less than conducive to a party atmosphere.  Divorce is looming, Eva’s suicidal, and George the dog won’t stop growling.  But damned if Sidney and Jane would let anything like that get in the way of a party, or at least some impromptu electrical and plumbing work.  Don’t ask.

By the time the third ‘party’ rolls around the following year, we’re at the post Brewster-Wright homestead.  Things have gone from bad to worse in everyone’s personal lives…almost.  And it’s kind of impossible to talk about the scene without giving too much away, so hooray, I won’t!   It’s enough to say that John Kelly has assembled a picture-perfect cast for Ayckbourn’s darkly tragic comedy, and laughing at the misery of strangers is seldom as entertaining.  Stewart Matthews, the only genuine British accent in the cast, puts his impeccable physical comedy skills to good use as the hyper Sidney Hopforth, his constant refrain of ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear’ echoing the threefold nature of the play itself (or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Robert Anton Wilson lately).  Melanie Karin is adorable as uberhousewife Jane, cheering herself with a silly song as she cleans every surface in sight.  I’d previously only seen Lori Jean Hodge as one of the three ‘Gladstone Sisters’, singing at the annual Radio Shows, so it was lovely seeing her now as the sharp-tongued, hard drinking Marion, never giving Tom Charlebois’ stuffed-shirted Ronald an even break.

But it’s the middle couple of the show, the Jacksons who really seem to have the most character growth of the bunch, and David Whitely and Michelle leBlanc handle it like bosses.  LeBlanc, another Prix Rideau Award nominee this year for her boffo turn in HOW IT WORKS, especially impresses in a nearly silent second act performance.  It’s awesome stuff, and the show rightly had the crowd roaring.  Once again this season, I find myself contemplating a return trip to the Gladstone to see a show a second time.  So hurry up and get your ticket (show runs until the 23rd), before someone else snaps it up.  This one’s a winner all around.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Ivona be Sedated

In Theatre on March 6, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Posting in a rush, a classic Visitor move, but it can’t be avoided this week.  Extra shifts at the drudgery, running around town to put a semi-secret, sneaky plan into motion which I’ll tell you all about later (hopefully if it’s successful, fingers crossed), and, best of all, plenty of theatre.

Kicking off this busy week is a trip back to Ottawa university and lovely Academic Hall, where the Unicorn Theatre gang were putting on what seems to be their final English-language mainstage play of the season, Witold Gombrowicz’ PRINCESS IVONA (or Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda for you purists out there), translated here helpfully by Krystyna Griffith-Jones.  Directed by Ekaterina Shestakova, ol’Gombro’s 1935 text about class structure (and more than a hint of Shakespearean parody) is transformed here into a high-fashion glam-world, where the primping, preening Royal Family of Burgundia pass from one shallow moment to the next, looking smashing and striking poses.  Infinitely self-pleased monarchs King Ignatius and Queen Margaret (Leslie Cserepy and Jaclyn Martinez, chewing some major scenery and looking good doing it) rule the scene, with loyal toady Chamberlain (Simon Lalande) never too far behind.  Their only concerns are keeping their posh outfits current, and watching out for moody Prince Philip (Tony Adams, sporting some serious hair), although he’s mostly kept content by his own coterie of lackies, Simon and Cyprian (Cory Thibert and Jonah Allingham).  All seems well, if utterly pointless, in Burgundia.  Rufus T.Firefly would be proud.

Into this bright and shiny scene slumps Ivona (Laurianne Lehoullier), a slouching, frumpy, almost eerily silent waif in clothes so unstylish they must almost be illegal in Burgundia.  Her fed-up Aunts (Alexandra Isenor and Lily Sutherland, doing double-duty as the Queen’s ladies) are trying to find a husband, ANY husband, to foist the girl off on…little suspecting the girl’s epic lack of style would attract the eye of Prince Philip himself.  Whether as a joke, boredom, ennui or simply a vicious streak, Philip claims the girl as his bride-to-be, nearly sending the King and Queen into shock and rocking the Kingdom.  And as the unlikely match carries on, despite the meek interference of a would-be rival for Ivona’s affections (Lewis Caunter), and the more potent wiles of Isobel (Ashley Rissler) towards Philip, Ivona’s meek presence stats to slowly unhinge the style-obsessed masses, until one by one they come to the conclusion that she simply HAS to go.  One way or another.

IVONA is an absurdist bit of fun with a wickedly dark undercurrent, worth it almost for the stylish cavalcade of clothes, hair and makeup alone.  The performances are uniformly solid, with May Can’s Tony Adams turning in solid leading man work as the petulant Philip, and Leslie Cserepy giving as good as he’s ever given as the paranoid and roaring Ignatius.  Jaclyn Martinez has a wonderful solo scene where her Queen nearly collapses into madness, and she’s just goddamn dandy in it.  But my big props just have to go to Laurianne Lehoullier as Ivona, in a nearly-silent role (I doubt she speaks a dozen words in the entire show), but commanding all attention with a physical performance that never once fails to ring true.  It’s fucking fantastic, and a credit to both her and director Shestakova.  She becomes the quiet little center of the brash, flashy kaleidoscopic show around her, and it works beautifully.  The play takes some very dark turns, with some pretty tweaked outbursts, and a finale you won’t soon forget.  A cool show and no fooling, and it runs until the 9th at Academic Hall  I recommend the creampuffs at intermission.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

PS:  Checkers (Samuel Dietrich) totally deserves a raise.