Posts Tagged ‘david whiteley’

Take Your Wife to School

In Theatre on September 16, 2014 at 10:16 am

Tried to do some blogging for the first time in a month, and WordPress decides that’s the moment it gets hungry and needs to eat a post, so this one is a little later than I’d planned (which was plenty late already). In their defense, I HAVE been starving the old Visitorium of posts lately, it must be admitted. What can I say, Clown Camp eats up some time and energy (and yes, there may be a post coming about that, one of these days…still getting my typing legs under me, so bear with me).

But, I’m back in Ottawa and eager to remind myself why Theatre is the bestest thing ever, so off I went on a jam-packed opening night to the first show of the Gladstone Theatre’s ever-expanding new season. Kicking it off was THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, a raunchy comedy from that scamp Moliere in a new rhyming translation from David Whiteley, who did similar service for CYRANO with Plosive productions a ways back. This time Plosive and Seven Thirty teamed up to bring us the tale, with John P.Kelly solidly at the helm. A good pedigree already, and the cast gave me even more to look forward to.

The story follows wealthy schmuck Arnolphe (Andy Massingham), a man obsessed with never being made a fool of by any woman. To that end, he has been secretly hiding away and raising the beautiful Agnes (Tess McManus), grooming her to be his ideal, ignorant child-bride when the time is right. With the help, such as it is, of his grumbling servants (David Benedict Brown and Catriona Leger, stealing scenes one after the other), Arnolphe is all set to put his less-than-feminist plan into action, ignoring the words of warning from his friend Chrysalde (David Whiteley). Enter the dashing Horace (Drew Moore), a lusty young fellow with long wavy locks, who somehow manages to slip by Arnolphe’s defenses and fall head over heels with Agnes. A battle of wits ensues, though that may be giving Arnolphe more credit than he’s due, as he goes to increasingly greater lengths to protect his dimwitted prize at all cost. Of course, he never seems to reckon on his ‘ignorant’ Agnes having a few opinions of her own on the subject.

Tess McManus and Andy Massingham in THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES.

Tess McManus and Andy Massingham in THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES.

Armed with a rockin’ good cast and Whiteley’s fast-paced and fun translation, John P.Kelly flexes his farce muscles big time for this production and turns out probably the funnest and funniest show the Gladstone could have hoped for to open up the season. Andy Massingham is in his element as the omnipresent Arnolphe (or ‘Monsieur la Douche’ as he wonderfully renames himself), playing with words, actors and audience alike…and not backing down from the inevitable darker turn in the latter half of the play, making some of previously goofy scenes with co-star McManus downright offputting. Tess’ Agnes is terrific as well, balancing dim and loopy with proud and strong , and making it look easy. Drew Moore as the earnest Horace is great fun to watch, especially his banter with Arnolphe (who does an impression of Horace in the play that is just brilliant). And of course, Dave Brown and Catriona Leger are too much damn fun as the randy servant pair…it’s worth the ticket for their hijinks alone.

So, yeah…that was a lot of fun! Whiteley done good with his updated but faithful translation, and it serves the Gladstone gang well in a crowd-pleasing jamboree of a show that gets the season started right, with a wink and a nod. Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid (and Winston)

It’s the Furnace, Ernest!

In Theatre on April 6, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I’d been excited about the debut production from Vacant House theatre since I heard of their forming, and for one glaring and personal reason. The co-founders, Karina Milech and Alexis Scott, were both graduates of the Ottawa Theatre School and good pals of mine, and of course my soft spot for my OTS alma mater is a poorly kept secret. So when I found out the two of them were forming a company and striking out on their own, I was over the moon. They chose for their first production THE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE by Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross, and vowed to stage it as a site-specific piece of theatre. I remember them searching high and low for a literal vacant house to use for the show, until they eventually settled on the unusual but intriguing choice of the basement of the Ottawa Backpackers Inn in the Byward Market. Okay, it turns out it’s sort of right next door TO the Backpackers, but they have two buildings at 403 York (near the corner of King Edward), plus a volunteer outside to help guide the incoming traffic, so it was all good. Once in, Stage Manager Natasha Graham offered the small group of attendees (barely a dozen per showing…it’s one intimate venue indeed, folks) some tasty tea while we waited in the kitchen, with a few understanding but doubtlessly confused ACTUAL backpackers, for the show to begin.

Anger in Earnest and Ernestine

Soon enough we made the steep trek down the stairs to the cramped laundry room basement that serves as the adorably intimate setting for the seriously impressive debut Vacant House has readied down there. Directed by Plosive’s David Whiteley, the show stars Patrick Kelly and Karina Milech as newlyweds Ernest and Ernestine, who just moved into the first basement apartment. It also stars Nick Fournier and Alexis Scott as the ANGER in Ernest and Ernestine…they shadow all of the action, speaking up when one of our supposed lovebirds starts losing their cool. Which, as the name of the show implies, starts happening with alarming regularity.

Alexis Scott, Patrick Kelly, Nick Fournier and Karina Milech in THE ANGER IN EARNEST AND ERNESTINE.  Photo by David Whiteley.

Alexis Scott, Patrick Kelly, Nick Fournier and Karina Milech in THE ANGER IN EARNEST AND ERNESTINE. Photo by David Whiteley.

All four actors are alumni of the Ottawa Theatre School, and they do their school proud with some killer work in a tremendously entertaining one-act show. The sheer amount and quality of physical theatrics that accompany their performances, in such a crazily cramped space makes me not only doff my reviewer’s cap to them as a collective, but also wonder how they hell nobody got trampled or steamrolled in the ensuing theatrical madness. Not that you’re actually in danger, folks (tho watch out for flying cornflakes), the Vacant House kids are pros and no fooling. The story ranges from sweet to wrenching, comic to patently absurd, and they throw their all into every exceptional moment of it. Patrick Kelly was the only one I hadn’t seen in action previously, and he was pretty damn hilarious as nebbishy Ernest, matching up nicely with Karina Milech’s flighty Ernestine. Alexis Scott and Nick Fournier (Nick fuckin’ Wade!!) add airs of both comedy and menace as the darker halves, occasionally interacting with the unofficial fifth member of the cast, the furnace.

The Furnace sometimes gets the better of Ernest and Ernestine .  Photo by David Whiteley.

The Furnace sometimes gets the better of Ernest and Ernestine . Photo by David Whiteley.

This is a very special theatre experience, folks, and I definitely urge you to strap on your backpack and head down to the Inn (NOT the Jail Hostel, like I dimwittedly headed for the first time…but then, I’m much dumber than you, whoever is reading this) for a basement outing you won’t soon forget. And yes, I know it sounds like I’m gushing because they’re OTS gangsters, which is my weakness, but seriously…a great job, and a wonderful accomplishment. This show is just a fucking joy to be part of, and I expect I’ll be back before its run is out. Reserve your tickets early if you want to beat me to the couch! And did I mention there’s tea..? Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)


Detroit Rock Bottom

In Theatre on January 21, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Pardon the late writeup, but, well, excuses!  Would have had this one posted yesterday, but I was waylaid by a well earned but nonetheless blinding headache most of the day.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me there were theoretical downsides to excessive drinking?

I blame society.

I blame society.

But to business!  A couple days past I got to head down to the Gladstone Theatre in the awesome company of my classmate (note: I will never stop calling you, or the others, that) Kathryn to check out the latest from Plosive Productions, Lisa D’Amour’s DETROIT.  Directed by Chris Ralph, the Gladstone gang kicked off 2014 with the Canadian Premiere of this deadly funny take on American suburban life and I’m pretty glad they did.  The play follows two families living backyard to backyard in the very beleaguered indeed titular city.  Mildly affluent Mary and Ben (Teri Loretto-Valentik and David Ross Whiteley) enjoy a good backyard BBQ and the quiet life, but are hoping their luck will turn around since Ben got laid off at the Bank.  Newcomers to the area Sharon and Kenny (Stephanie Izsak and David Benedict Brown) have long since tossed the notion of luck out the window, existing from day to day without a stitch of furniture to their name.  A random invitation from Mary to the new kids starts off their unlikely friendship, which will involve a lot of laughs, drinks, a little fire, and at least one trip to the hospital.  Oh yes…there will be blood.

But BBQ first.

But BBQ first.

DETROIT is as good a way to kick off this theatre year as you could reasonably ask for, or be unreasonable if you like, you’ll still leave smiling.  Chris Ralph knows him some stagework, and seems well suited indeed to helming this viciously funny look at the dog eat dog life in the decaying American dreamscape. He certainly corralled himself a solid cast…Teri Loretto as Mary is always teetering on the verge of a breakdown, balancing being the breadwinner of the family all of a sudden with just wanting to enjoy her damn life for five minutes.  David Whiteley as maybe-British Ben is a great straight man, until the strains of the situation start to bend him into all sorts of fun new shapes.  Watching the two of them spiral into Sharon and Kenny’s manic lives is a great ride.

Dave Benedict Brown and Stephanie Izsak in DETROIT.

Dave Benedict Brown and Stephanie Izsak in DETROIT.

I’ve only seen Stephanie Izsak once before with Odyssey a couple years back, and holy Hell she impresses as Sharon, almost unbearably vibrant and playful, giving her hard luck character some true childlike wonder despite all the hardships, and those do surface along the way.  And what did I tell you people about Dave Benedict Brown, what did I JUST tell you?  Him=Funny, and he proves me right in this show…although his Kenny also has a very cool underscore of danger that surfaces from time to time, and I like it.

The cast is rounded out by OLT vet Geoff Gruson, and I won’t give too much away about his appearance because it would spoil the surprise.  Suffice it to say this is a just plain fun show with an amazing cast, and laughs from beginning to end…even if those laughs are essentially about the economic uncertainty facing, well, most if not all of us these days.  Props to Attilla Clemman’s naturalistic set, much more dangerous than your eye might first lead you to believe.  Cheers to the first killer comedy of the season…keep’em coming.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the visitor (and Winston)

Private goes Public

In Theatre on September 24, 2013 at 8:37 am

Hey, I have a blog!

Okay, okay, I’ve been pretty conspicuously absent from the ol’ Visitorium of late, and all apologies for that.   There’s this whole school thing going on right now, and that’s another post in itself which I may or may not write ever, but suffice it to say my mental energies are being pretty well accounted for most hours of the day lately.  But even a hard-workin’ student like myself can find the time for some shenanigans every now and then, which is how me and my fellow OTS gangster Kathryn managed to get out to the Gladstone on Friday night for the first show of their 2013-14 season.  Having not been back myself since the summer ONE NIGHT ONLY series, it was nice to get back to the ‘Stone for the latest from Plosive productions, this time out going for a little bit of Noel Coward and PRIVATE LIVES. This show had some solid players in it, and Plosive has been proudly promoting it as ‘the second funniest play ever written’, so I was ready for some good laffin’.

We start out in a resort villa overlooking the sea, where a lovely yacht is apparently perpetually casting enchanting ripples of light.  Enter Elyot (David Whiteley) and his blushing new bride Sybil (Brownyn Steinberg), trying to enjoy their honeymoon.  Sybil seems a touch too…feminine for Eyiot’s tastes, and read into THAT what you will, but they struggle along well enough.  Until we find that Elliot’s ex, the striking and strong-willed Amanda (Alix Sideris) is occupying the adjoining room, with HER newlywed husband Victor (Steve Martin), a prim and proper Victorian gent if ever I saw one.  Inevitably, Elyot and Amanda discover one another, and immediately try in vain to get their spouses to agree to flee the vicinity immediately.  When that backfires spectacularly, they are pushed to extreme measures…namely, talking to each other.  The resulting mess takes up the rest of the play to deal with, and is really still a work in progress when the curtain falls.

PRIVATE LIVES was an interesting one for me…not as laugh-out-loud hilarious as I’d been expecting, tho there certainly is much merriment to be had.  But it felt more melodramatic than anything (not a slam, I dig me some melodrama), as our star-crossed lovers try to rekindle their old flame with disastrous results.  All performances were strong, tho I’d have to give a bit of an edge to Alix and Steve as Amanda and Victor as my fav’rits early on for some dynamite onstage chemistry.  Steve Martin later on gets some of the better scene-stealing laughs of the show, as I’ve learned to expect from Mr.Martin by now, and he didn’t disappoint.  Camille Beauchamp rounds out the cast as the maid Louise, who would seemingly rather be anywhere than tending to these self-absorbed fops.  And yay for Brownyn in a wig!

It’s a fun show indeed, with a couple of rejoinders…that balcony set is a bit of an eyesore, it must be said, although the indoor decorations in acts II and III are a major improvement.  And some of the humour is a bit dangerously dated…trying to stripmine domestic abuse for comedy is a tricky business in this day and age, and those moments only half work at best.  But director Craig Walker pulls it all together as best he can, and we come out with a pretty darn good comedy of ill-manners to kick off the season.  Looking forward to more goodness from the Gladstone as the season unfolds!  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

The Comedy of Bears

In Theatre on July 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm

July means two things in Ottawa…intermittent rain, and Shakespeare in the Park!  Okay, and Bluesfest, but what am I, a dirty hippie?  Nay, I am in dire need of some proper cultural refinement this summer, and my first bit of theatre in the great outdoors was just the ticket.  I had a plan for my post-drudgery evening, but an emergency trip back to my place across town necessitated a change of scheduling.  So instead of catching the Company of Fools show in the Glebe (soon guys, soon!), it was off to Iona Park in Westboro to check out what relative newcomers Bear and Company had cooked up for their out-of-doors extravaganza.

The Bear gang has picked THE COMEDY OF ERRORS for the summertime fun, featuring many faces familiar to their fans, and directed by company member Anna Lewis.  Transplanting Zombie Bill’s farcical classic quite successfully into an old west setting, the action is set in the round, and we lucked out with great weather for the show.  We begin as the town Mayor (Will Somers) is bringing in a defeated looking old fella named Egeon (Tim Oberholzer, in one of several splendid characters guises) who has been sentenced to death for debt, or being a foreigner or something.  At any rate, he unfolds his tale of woe to the Mayor, explaining how he and his wife had just become parents to identical twins 33 years ago, and then immediately adopted ANOTHER pair of identical twins (don’t ask), only to lose track of one another in a shipwreck.  Egeon and his split set of twins, Antipholus (Michelle LeBlanc) and Dromio (David Benedict Brown) are now scouring the west looking for their other relations.  Unbeknownst to them, Shakespeare stacked the coincidence deck by having the other Antipholus (Michelle LeBlanc again) and other Dromio (David Whiteley) living comfortably in the very town they now all found themselves in.

Naturally, some identity-confused merriment ensues, as the visiting Antipholus runs afoul of the other Dromio, and gets unexpectedly wooed by his brother’s wife (Alexis Scott), even if he only has eyes for her sister (Rachel Eugster).  Along the way there’s some very hummable singing courtesy of Bear and Co’s ace musical director Rachel Eugster, lots of rope swinging and knock-down brawling, and even a proper Shakespearean farting contest (I mentioned the cultural refinement, right?). This is a terribly fun piece of theatre in the great outdoors, with as good an ensemble cast as you would ever need.  David Benedict Brown and David Whiteley as the twin Dromios are comic gold, ever beaten down and bemoaning their fates.  Alexis Scott got some spontaneous applause from the audience on my night while delivering one of Adriana’s more impassioned speeches towards the visiting Antipholus, and for my money she earned it…Rachel Eugster likewise made a vivacious Luciana. Will Somers, Anna Lewis and Leslie Cserepy (trading off the odd show with Brie Barker) round out the killer cast, pitching in as various nitwit sheriffs, washing women and uppity nuns.  But the bulk of the show rests on Michelle LeBlanc’s capable shoulders, and she delivers like nobody’s business, managing to convincingly play two versions of Antipholus (complete with ever-so-slightly different country accents and swagger) and deliver the requisite mountain of dialogue, baffling amount of exits and re-entrances, plus the occasional rope trick, and lookin’ good doing it.  Once again, Miz LeBlanc reminds us why she’s one of the best in Ottawa.

Just don't get her mad.

Just don’t get her mad.

As a big CALAMITY JANE fan, I was all looking forward to this western spin on Billy Shakes, and the gang did not disappoint. Bear and Company’s take on the Shakespeare in the Park gig is proving to be a very fun one, and I’d advise you to check their website for when their show moseys your way…personally, I have every intention of returning with my nieces when they hit Kanata and I’d love to see ya there.  Peace, love and soul, y’all,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

The Coming of the Electric Age (get it??)

In Theatre on May 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm

And here I’d thought the latest season at the Gladstone Theatre had ended.  Originally, of course, it was supposed to wrap up with Bear and Co.’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, until a most excellent thing happened.  The good folks at Same Day Theatre suggested a supercool team-up with Plosive and the Counterpoint Players, to bring one final pre-summer show to the Gladstone.  So with dynamite director Brownyn Steinberg at the helm, Sarah Ruhl’s IN THE NEXT ROOM (or THE VIBRATOR PLAY) is now upon us.  And that is a very good thing.

One of those, whatchamacallit, ‘controversial’ plays (if, you know, sex is a thing that frightens and appals you), Our show opens in the late 1800’s, the dawn of the electric age (this is important) in the home/workplace of kindly Doctor Givings (David Whiteley).  Doc Givings runs a practice out of his home, treating women for Hysteria, which he’s pretty sure is totally a thing that exists.  His current treatment of choice is a bulky, prototype monster vibrator which should clear up all that pesky fluid in your womb making you all kinds of female crazy.  And yes, this rather hilarious medical misstep actually happened, much to the delight of subsequent generations of ladies, and Sarah Ruhl makes astonishingly rich work of the premise.  The good Doctor, mostly ignoring his oddball wife Catherine (Sascha Cole, who I apparently missed in 2010 at Summerworks and more’s my pity because she’s freaking awesome), takes in a new patient, Sabrina Daldry (the ever wonderful Sarah Finn, in great form here).  Her husband Mr.Daldry (show producer David Frisch) has had it up to here with his wife’s ‘moods’ and ‘emotions’, and puts her in Doc Givings’ hands for some curing. But the unusual treatment, administered with the aid of stalwart but lonely nurse Annie (Michelle leBlanc…holy moley, what a cast…) Has a much more potent effect on Mrs.Daldry than she ever could have imagined.

Yeah, that thing might scare me at first, too.  (photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

Yeah, that thing might scare me at first, too. (photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

Meanwhile, Catherine is forced to hire a wet nurse (the great Dilys Ayafor) to feed her baby when she become unable to produce milk, and becomes somewhat distracted by the sudden appearance of a rare male client of her husbands, bohemian painter Leo Irving (Robin Toller, in yet another terrific performance).  There’s a lot going on in this show, often at the same time thanks to some nifty and perfectly timed split set action.  And yes, there is a fair amount of discreetly covered-up use of the device of the hour and its intimidating male-centric counterpart the ‘Chattanooga Vibrator’ that actually requires two operators, mostly played either for laughs or sweetness (but let’s face it, still pretty hot).  But it’s in the characters that this work really starts to transcend its potentially lascivious inspiration, as layers of repression are slowly stripped away to find the frightened and flawed personas beneath.  There’s a hilariously disturbing scene in which Sarah Finn’s character contentedly describes ‘relations’ with her husband…it comes off with all the charm of a prison rape, but it simply never occurs to her to expect anything more.  My heart broke a couple of times in rapid succession in the final act…Bronwyn Steinberg gets great performances out of some fantastic actors in a seriously smart show filled with laughter and tragedy.  Definitely a highlight of the Gladstone’s year, and I’ll be glad to see Same Day returning next season (more about that in another post).

This is just a gorgeous, skillful production and, like Mrs.Daldry, I’m finding myself eager to come back for another go.  Did I forget my gloves at the Gladstone..? Maybe I’d better go back and check, just to be sure.  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)

The Review of the Play

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

The Drudgery, aka my day job, is going full-out nuts at the moment.  I’m working every day this week, and every day NEXT week, and it’s starting to become an issue when to find the time to even see any shows, much less write about them (I expect to have my FRESH MEAT festival post up sometime before the NEXT festival, if I’m lucky).  Happily, I’m still in a position where I can weasel a few choice moments of free time out of the week, and that’s how I was able to secure Friday night off for a much-needed visit to Preston and Gladstone.

After a nice bit of nosh from some old kitchen-mates of mine at the new 2-6-Ate joint on Preston (make sure you save room for the deep fried PBJ dessert, I kid you not), it was right around the corner for premiere night at the Gladstone Theatre.  After last month’s delightful STONES IN HIS POCKETS, it was Plosive Production’s turn to kick off their part of the season, with Daniel MacIvor’s HOW IT WORKS.    I was extra-excited for this one, not just because it was a play by Canada’s sweetheart Danny Mac, but because I’d actually READ this one!  It made me feel like a real theatre-guy, lemme tell ya.  And it was a good one, too.  I didn’t even mind that I was unable once again to get a date, even WITH a free extra ticket (I minded a little bit), I felt I was in for a fun night.  And from the first glimpse of the trippy, rule-breaking set design (courtesy of director Stewart Matthews his own self), I knew I was right.

The Halifax-based story  follows four central characters: Al, a likeable everyman and cop played by David Whitely, trying to raise his troubled teenage daughter Brooke, played by Hannah Kaya.  Both try and maintain civil relations with his ex-wife Donna (Genevieve Sirois), when into the picture comes Christine (Michelle LeBlanc), a thickly-accented free thinker who meets up with Al on a blind date.  She soon weaves her way around the lives of the other three protagonists, and sees something in Brooke’s rebellious streak that she can’t turn away from.  And since, in Christine’s view, the best way to deal with pain is to turn it into a story, she sets about to do just that.  First, tho, she has to find out just what Brooke’s story really IS…

I’m happy to say I fucking adored HOW IT WORKS, from the slip-sliding moveable sets to the sweet soundtrack, but much more for Danny Mac’s great script, Stewart Matthews’ mighty fine direction, and great performances all ’round.  Michelle LeBlanc, who has never once failed to impress me since I first saw her in SATANIC PANIC at the Ottawa Fringe, is a rockstar as sweet’n’tough Christine, the backbone of the whole show and an utter joy to listen to. Her late-show monologue..?  Forget about it. I’m gonna try and catch this show again just for that (that, and for the ‘Girl in the Fly Mask’ bit…classic). Dave Whiteley is solid once again as Al, especially in his scenes with Brooke.  And Hannah Kaya, holy Hell, where did this kid COME from??  Serious talent from the little one, folks, keep your eyes on her.  Genevieve Sirois is no less impressive as Donna, a character you almost assume you’re not going to like, but this play has no room for evil-ex stereotypes, and she makes Donna real, vulnerable and almost painfully human.  A great performance.

It’s a terrific show, and the second Gladstone show in as many months that I’d really love to see again.  It wades boldly into some traditionally dangerous territory, not the least of which is avant-garde theatre.  It DOES get a bit more edgy than that, and I won’t go into spoilerific detail, but there are few places where Daniel MacIvor fears to tread.  Luckily for us, the Gladstone gang is happy to walk right alongside.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

PS:  The Sunday October 7th show has been cancelled, as actor Genevieve Sirois is putting the finishing moves on a bout of Laryngitis (which she battled through bravely on opening night).  But they’ll be up and running next week!  Getcher tickets now!

the Art of Asher Lev

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Holy Shit, a theatre company got in touch with me and invited me to come see and review their new show!  Honestly guys, after Fringe I thought you had all forgotten my name!  My suffering blogger ego was down to its last farthing of self-worth, I tells ya.  But when the call finally came, I wasted no time!  With a nod to Winston the Cat, I fired up my trusty Whirly-Bat and roared across the city to my destination, with no time to waste!  Zoom!!

Well, okay, I hopped on a bus and slowly putt-putted across the city, but the end result was about the same.  New show!!!

Also, remember the WHIRLY-BAT? I fucking loved that thing.

The invite was courtesy of the good folks at 9th Hour Theatre for their latest production, MY NAME IS ASHER LEV.  From the novel by Chaim Potok, adapted by Aaron Posner, LEV tells the story of the titular Asher, an ‘observant Jew'(a phrase I only just heard for the first time during this show…I am quite an unobservant religious sideliner, so I was hearing a LOT of jargon for the first time) who tries to reconcile his religious passions and faith with his overriding drive to become a great painter and artist.  I’m often wary of plays with a religious theme, mostly because I’m such an ignorant, swarthy heathen (okay, I’m not swarthy), so I walked into this one with…not trepidation exactly, but relatively reserved expectations.  But then, the always trustworthy superstar Bronwnyn Steinberg was at the director’s chair for this one…and if that wasn’t reason enough to give it a chance, then reason doesn’t mean what I think it does.

The theatre at Arts Court has been rejiggered a bit for this one, splitting the audience on different sides of a rather attractive set from designer Patrice Ann Forbes (who also took care of the nicely authentic costumes) depicting the modest Brooklyn home of the mightily Jewish Lev clan, headed by strict father Aryeh (David Whitely, rocking the Hasidic beard like a champ) and young, doting mother Rivkeh (Sarah Gabriella Waisvisz…oy, that wig!).  Together they grapple with their growing boy Asher (Drew Moore, fresh from the Ottawa Theatre School and THE SUICIDE) as he enters the world of art. Papa Lev takes it about as well as Krusty the Clown’s Rabbi dad did, and years of heartache and conflict ensue.   Eventually, Asher discovers the world of Jakob Kahn (Whitely again), a renowned Jewish painter who takes the passionate lad under his wing, raising the stakes ever higher.

I was merrily surprised with ASHER LEV, its oodles of humour and warmth, and the wonderful way it soberly pitted religion versus art while still portraying both with something akin to reverence.  Drew Moore does himself proud as the conflicted hero, trying to honour his parents while following his irresistible path.  Waisvisz is wonderful as Rivkeh, getting strong emotion across in a mostly subdued performance.  And David Whitely and his beard also turn in solid performances, and his portrayal of devout Aryeh is especially memorable indeed.  The whole play is staged beautifully, with an intimate set that somehow manages to feel expansive when it needs to.  I have a minor quibble with the use of music in the show, as once or twice it threatened to overpower a key scene, and strong dramatic moments bordered on cheesy as a result.  But for the most part, it was a lovely accompaniment.

9th Hour and their gang have put together a pretty damn terrific show, that a devout Pagan like me ate up with delight.  The show runs until the 25th at Arts Court Theatre, and y’all should do yourselves a favour and check it out.  Peace, love and soul,

the Visitor (and Winston)

Farce, Irish Style

In Theatre on April 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I was chilling at home with Winston the Cat the other day, when he suddenly reminded me that “Dude, you haven’t been to the Gladstone in a while!  What’s up with that?”  After a few bewildered moments of “OH MY GOD YOU CAN TALK!”, I realized Winston was correct, so I headed out, putting his unsettling outburst out out my mind forever.

If God had wanted cats to talk, he would have made them Thunder-Cats.

Teaming up with Reena Belford, recently wrapping up a fun run as scheming Regan in GNAG theatre’s KING LEAR, we sauntered in on a slowish Tuesday night for the Gladstone’s latest, Brian Friel’s THE COMMUNICATION CORD from Seven Thirty Productions.   Billed as a language-based farce, and directed by 730 top dog John P.Kelly, the show’s set from David Magladry looked appropriately quaint, and oddly reminiscent of the rustic staging of DR.FELL not too long ago.  I was looking forward to the show, mostly on account of a few familiar faces in the cast, and they did not disappoint.

After a somewhat long-winded setup, we learn that our bookish hero Tim (Plosive’s David Whiteley, in a rare, unbearded moment) is looking to impress the Father of his would-be sweetheart Susan (the always terrific Kat Smiley) by pretending to be the owner of an ancient Irish dwelling, as this sort of thing seems to appeal to the otherwise grim-faced Senator (Alain Chamsi).  Borrowing temporary use of said home from his friend Jack (Smooth Tim Oberholzer, making a memorable and playful rogue), things start to go wrong from the get-go, as they tend to do in anything calling itself a farce.  A few unexpected guests make a hash out of Tim’s plans, and his desperate lies to try and cover things up rapidly spin out of control.  And I have to admit, it’s the ‘unexpected guests’ who really make the show sit up and start to cook.  The wunnerful Janet Uren as craftier-than-she-looks nosy neighbour Nora Dan delights when on the stage, and Michelle leBlanc is so ridiculously fun and, quite frankly, sexy as Tim’s old flame Claire, that she damn near steals the show.
That is, until Steve Martin (not that one) shows up as clueless German ‘Barney the Banks’, and then everything goes merrily to Hell.  It’s a dream role for any actor, and Martin owns it without shame…if you see the show, his madly smiling face is the image you’ll take away with you, trust me.  When Genevieve Sirois shows up late in the game as the third Yvette (inside joke), it’s the icing on the cake.

CORD is a pretty dang fun show, if a little choppy in parts…some of Tim’s exposition on linguistic theory don’t engage as much as might be hoped, and I still can’t figure out how much certain players were or were not involved in the central scheme.  But these are questions for another time, not farce-watching time, surely we can agree on that.   It’s a good, goofy night with some great talent on and off stage, and some peppy Irish tunes to enjoy at intermission.  And what mores could ya ask for?  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)