A Tale of Two Comedies

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One of my old professors posts frequently and publicly on Facebook and I read those posts without technically “following” him–that’s a thing non-stalkers do, right?–and the other day he mentioned OBIT at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

B-cat took me to see it a couple of days ago. It’s a two-chuckle play for me, with tired (and at times homophobic) jokes from the script writers and disappointing acting from all except Marnie Mahannah, a real girl surrounded by line-reciting marionettes.

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Okay, Richard Archer was charming, too, in his own way

Only the elderly members of the audience, the ones holding glasses of wine, were laughing. Still, I held my tongue after the show until B-cat began talking about the fart joke-level of humour and wooden performances. He hadn’t known shows got into the Fringe by lottery rather than merit. In the end, it was his gentle mockery of OBIT that gave us a laughter-filled evening.

The Fringe has a million billion shows–try your luck!

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Two weeks before that, I took B-cat to hear Rossini’s Barber of Seville at Bard on the Beach. Why is the Shakespeare festival putting on unrelated operas? Who knows? At least they do it better than Vancouver Opera.

The production features UBC opera students and Vancouver Opera Orchestra musicians. The stage is the one looking out onto the park–it’s almost as beautiful as the music. Everyone contributes to this sincere, delightful performance; Geoffrey Schellenberg’s Figaro, in particular, stands out with his humorous ways and strong voice, plastic wig be damned.

On our way out, we passed an attendee who was asking Schellenberg about his career. The latter said he was heading to Calgary Opera, which is pretty nice, even if Vancouver won’t have him. (It’s not eavesdropping if they’re loud, right?)

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The chocolate’s not bad, either

In short, UBC Opera is awesome and the world needs more student operas. Bard on the Beach doesn’t list any operas for next season, but hey there’s plenty of Shakespeare.

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Full Circle (and Vancouver Opera) Disappoint with Words

Two weeks ago, Vancouver Opera came across this post (Summary: I complained about a VO rep we shall call Maureen being rude. VO told me to email them and then ignored my email) and told me to contact them. While I didn’t see the point of complaining again, I thanked them for reaching out and figured they’d finally apologize or give me boilerplate copypasta about their customer service just for the record.

Well, they ignored my email again. Fool me twice…?

For the Pleasure
Quick selfie with the poster

This previous week, I saw Full Circle: First Nations Performance‘s production of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again at Gateway Theatre. I and all other volunteers at Vancouver Writers Fest got two free tickets, but the room wasn’t full.

[Only the vaguest of spoilers]

The narrator relives various conversations with his mother — as the middle-aged actor morphs, through speech and mannerisms alone, from a prepubescent boy to a college student — before giving her life a (surprise) ending.

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I know, I know, the play is a tribute to a dead mother, and who can criticize someone’s mother?! But as a character on stage, “Nana” (Margo Kane) comes across as such an unintelligent, unfunny (unless physical comedy is your thing) stereotype of a housewife that I was really surprised by the narrator’s (Kevin Loring) spiel about her wit and brilliance. Just because someone gave birth to you, it doesn’t mean you’re capable of breathing life into your idea of her.

As with the opening monologue, every rant, every joke, every idea is stretched too long. The 90 minutes feel like days worth of tedium and cliches. While B-cat finds the 10- to 12-year-old narrator’s vocabulary unlikely, Loring is convincing in his role(s)… except when he’s completely unfazed by his mother’s melodramatic cries about being “pregnant with [her] death”. B-cat and I both notice Kane’s numerous mistakes in speech that are not part of the writing, and I doubt Nana’s slang is period-accurate. Mentions of drawers (as in underpants) and wringers garner dry chuckles from the senior members of the audience, but it’s little more than “oh, I get that reference” a la Family Guy.

Stage set-up
Stage set-up

The ending is B-cat’s least favourite, but, to me, the only worthwhile part. Visually, it’s stunning; if anything, it looks as if the whole budget went into it, because the rest takes place on a too-small platform beneath too-tall walls and harsh, uneven lighting. I love its absurdity and its message about writers and their power or need to rewrite lives or truths, the latter of which writer Michel Tremblay handles more effectively than, say, Ian McEwan in Atonement. (McEwan is better at basic research, though — Tremblay obviously knows nothing about ballet lessons.)

Too bad the rest of For the Pleasure is mostly noise.

[Insert obligatory joke about the discomfort of seeing this play] It runs until Oct. 24, 2015.

Fun Times with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (at UBC)

My programme and copy of the novel
My programme and copy of the novel

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not a comedy — let’s just get that out of the way. UBC Theatre & Film’s production of the heavy Anne Bronte novel about truth, morality, and a woman’s place is extremely light-hearted. So light-hearted that some audience members are laughing during the dramatic, even tragic, scenes.

Adapted by Jacqueline Firkins and directed by Sarah Rodgers, this production at least surpasses Hollywood efforts by not dumbing the material down to a period romance. Though gone is Arthur’s actual, not just threatened, corruption of his son. Gone, too, are the pushiness and coarse temper that turned me off Gilbert Markham (and Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff); Francis Winter‘s Markham is charming as hell and the perfect country gentleman for a Victorian romance, if this were to be one.

Truer to the source material is Meegin Pye‘s Helen Graham, who has both the bearing of a martyr and the vulnerable air of a woman hesitant to accept a suitor. Her “winter rose” speech at the end made my eyes moisten and sent tears coursing down B-cat’s face.

With the exception of Mariam Barry’s Mrs. Markham, who sometimes speaks as if she knew she were in an English period piece but knew not what she was saying, the acting is excellent. And I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t like any of the characters in the novel. Elizabeth Willow brings the shrill, petty Eliza Millward to life. I especially like Parmiss Sehat‘s portrayal of both weak, sympathetic Jane Wilson and cruel, lively Anabella. (She could do without the wig and we’d still easily tell the two women apart.) Matt Kennedy makes Helen’s brother a far more fleshed-out and likeable character than the original, too.

The stage
The stage

The scene changes look — aptly — like Victorian silhouette portraits against the simple, beautiful backdrop, beneath which a sloped platform neatly divides the indoors and the outside world. The set, like the lovely costumes, are Firkins’s design.

Tenant is an incredibly beautiful, well-acted play that’s probably more fun than it should be. It will be on until Oct .17.

An Accent for All Seasons

A Man of All Seasons set
A Man of All Seasons set

Friday was the opening night of United Players‘ production of A Man for All Seasons, the first of the season. B-cat and I easily found street parking and even front row seats, which made up for the long motorcycle ride to Jericho Arts Centre.

[spoiler/storytime]

A Man for All Seasons is a play about the power struggles and fall of Sir Thomas More in the reign of King Henry VIII. Holding godliness as the core of his being, Sir Thomas refuses — first with words, later silence — to support the monarch in acquiring a divorce, establishing a Church of England to do so, and then pronouncing Anne Boleyn queen. With his refusal, More clashes with a number of important men and, to a lesser extent, the women in his household.

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The play is directed by William B. Davis, who plays Cancer Man on The X-Files, a fact which comes up twice in the programme and once before the performance. Personally I’m not into celebrities, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s Canadian.

Moving on.

Graham Bullen‘s More is believable as a learned man, loyal subject, and loving father, with all the charm of Sam Neill(‘s roles) and none of the sinister undertones. Towards the end, as his reasoning for remaining steadfast wears down to no more than his religious beliefs, it becomes hard not to feel a little irritated, to wish he would demonstrate a little more of this intelligence everyone including himself attributes to him.

But my issue is with the script, not the acting. All but one member of the cast deliver their lines in a perfectly natural, fluid way. Davis notes in the programme:

If we were to do this play as the English spoke in 1530 it would be unintelligible to a modern audience. I have elected to encourage the actors to speak with their own voices, be they English, South African or Canadian.

It sounds like most of them are going for English accents, whether the default stereotypical “posh” drawl of period pieces or Sarah Arnold’s (as Alice More) vaguely Cockney tongue. Their voices, clear and harmonious, never more like reciting than speaking, come together well.

The programme
The programme

The only exception is Angela Shaw’s Margaret More. Really, I love that she is a strong, educated woman. I in no way want women (or LGBT people, or ethnic minorities, or any persecuted group) to be quiet and take up less space. But loud and proud doesn’t really make sense for a young woman in Tudor England, and with a Canadian accent and loose bangs (?!) on top of it all, Shaw is a walking anachronism.

Still, I love her interaction with her father in All Seasons. I love James Gill’s Cromwell in spite… no, because of the twinge of plotting court eunuch he gives the character (think Glenn Shadix in Demolition Man and Beetlejuice). And I love Keith Martin Gordey’s Duke of Norfolk with his gentle eyes and determined gait. When the background music, sweet yet frail, picked up during Norfolk’s scenes with More, egads if tears weren’t dripping off my wobbling chin.

I was ready to dislike Douglas Abel (More’s servant, a ferryman, Cardinal Wolsey, Narrator, etc.); I hate when the audience is expected to enjoy having a Fool-type character, usually an older man of course, hideously winking and grinning at them through the fourth wall. Abel proves to be unobtrusive, however, as he takes on not only multiple roles (with two distinguishable accents, tops) but rapid scene changes as well. More skillful at transitioning between roles is Chris Walters as both King Henry VIII and the morally weak, upwardly mobile Richard Rich. Who could help finding excuses for poor Rich, selfish as he is… as we all are?

The play is compact, intelligent (unlike the couple in the second row who laughed out loud at Shaw’s “You’re very gay”), and gripping without having to be a cheap modern remake. B-cat ranks Orphans higher, but I say this is the best play I’ve seen this year.

See A Man for All Seasons for the history. See it for the bromance. ‘Til Sept. 27.

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Oh, and the day before, I went to see MonkJunkie open for The Perms at Studio Records, a new venue downtown. More on that in a later post.

Die Bart Die: Die Fledermaus at Vancouver Opera (and a Bonus Play)

This is late as I’ve been preparing for a trip to Germany (Staatsballett Berlin, yo), but in March I saw Vancouver Opera‘s production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

I’ve loved opera since I first took opera studies in the SFU English department, and the first opera I ever saw in person was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with VO, 10 years back. (Turned out not to be quite my thing, being a comedy.) I even subscribed to their 2013/2014 season.

But since one of VO’s reps — let’s call her Francine — hassled me last summer, I’ve borne a bit of a grudge.

Over the course of a few weeks, Francine called half a dozen times demanding to know if I would resubscribe. I hadn’t yet looked at their 2014/2015 lineup, but she offered no information (unlike the other rep who phoned, just once). When this crotchety CS genius caught me at work/sleep, she’d keep talking, and sounded disbelieving and offended when I offered to call VO back when ready.
Each time I picked up, Francine increased in volume and aggression, until finally I received a call that was literally, “Are you gonna subscribe or not?”

When I complained to VO during the intermission of one of the operas, they gave me an address to email. And then never responded. Thus completing the circle of excellent customer service.
[/rant]

San Francisco Opera being an 18-hour drive away, VO is unfortunately the only good live opera around, so for Christmas I got B-cat tickets to Die Fledermaus.

This year they encouraged pictures to be taken (and shared online) at the final bow

It was good. We both prefer tragedy over comedy, but it was good.

[This opera is ollld. Do you really need a spoiler alert?]

Die Fledermaus, which I’ll forever remember as the opera Rachel missed in that episode of Friends (the one in which Ross meets Emily) is a comic opera about a man, Gabriel von Einstein, skipping his week-long prison sentence to go to a ball, at which he encounters his wife Rosalinde and maid Adele in disguise. The ball is held by the Prince so that Falke could publicly make a fool out of the latter’s pal von Einstein, as revenge for another prank involving a bat (the titular fledermaus) costume.

[/spoiler]

With several of VO’s operas the previous year, and with all student operas I’ve seen, weak (?) voices seem to be a problem. i.e. Some of the singers are unable to project, and are drowned out by the orchestra. Is this a thing?

Aside from first faltering minutes of Joyce El-Khoury’s Rosalinde, who soon warmed up beautifully (and the Prince, who is too minor a character), there are no voice issues in this performance. Not quite as smooth is the insertion of jokey references to Vancouver places and people — VO touts this as being set in “Viennacouver” — but the jokes aren’t bad, and Frosch, the drunken jailer who delivers most of them, is a hit with the audience.

B-cat and I especially liked David Pomeroy‘s Alfred, Rosalinde’s enthusiastic foreign lover, with his wonderful voice and energy.

Vancouver Opera’s next and last production of the season is Sweeney Todd, with performances on April 25, 26, and 30, and May 1 to 3.

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Plus:

Two weeks after the opera, I took B-cat to Arts Club Theatre Company‘s production of The Foreigner at Shadbolt.

Written by American playwright Larry Shue, The Foreigner is a farce about Charlie, a shy, cuckolded Brit reluctantly vacationing at a country resort in the US where the other guests mistake him to be something very rare: a real foreigner! They discuss private matters in front of him, try to teach him English, etc. Add a pair of no-goodniks with Klan ties who try to cheat the lodge owner out of her property, and hijinks ensue.

B-cat and I have been lucky in that each play we’ve seen this year has been better than the previous, and The Foreigner is the best yet. Except when Charlie’s bowing and hai-ing get way too Mr. Yunioshi for comfort, and except when the portrayals of the Klan and bigotry truly terrify — ironically, considering my only complaint (unless the awful Japanese stereotyping was intentional…) — we laughed and laughed and cried and laughed. As did everyone else.

tempArts Club‘s next next production is Farewell, My Lovely on Granville Island. It’s a private eye tale based on a Raymond Chandler novel I haven’t read. I won’t be able to see it, but you should if you have the chance.