VQFF Opens August 15

The 31st Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) opens this Thursday, August 15th at the Vancouver Playhouse with the Canadian Premiere of Leon Le’s Song Lang (Vietnam/U.S.A.), Le’s first feature is set in the richly imagined and dilapidated streets of 1990’s Saigon. Song Lang is a tribute to the golden age of c?i l??ng (a form of modern Vietnamese folk opera), a queer romance and gangster film that stars Vietnamese popstar, Isaac.

VQFF’s Closing Gala Film is the Canadian Premiere of a positive, feel-good LGBTQ comedy from Italy, An Almost Ordinary Summer (Italy) by Simone Godano. The film pays homage to the entertaining romantic comedies of Nancy Meyers, about two aging patriarchs who bring their two very different families together on vacation to announce their engagement. 

An Almost Ordinary Summer

In between, VQFF welcomes more than 100 films from 27 countries, plus a series of Festival Spotlights including Coming Into Our Own: Youth Spotlight, Queer Kinship, A Higher Power, and projecting brilliance: a two-spirit showcase. 

Curated by Artistic Director, Anoushka Ratnarajah, VQFF is Vancouver’s second largest film festival and the largest queer arts event in Western Canada.  Presented by Out On Screen, the Festival runs August 15-25, 2019 at various venues throughout the city, for more information and tickets visit queerfilmfestival.ca

Immerse Yourself, ‘Deep Into Darkness’ at The Cultch

Third Wheel Productions, an experiential production company, brings the world premiere of “Deep Into Darkness”, an immersive theatrical experience at The Cultch Theatre. 

 From August 13th to 25th, “Deep Into Darkness” is sure to be one of the season’s most elaborate theatre experiences. Unlike traditional theatre shows, Third Wheel Productions invites audiences to roam and follow characters through different worlds as all 3 floors, 20 rooms, and 30,000 square feet of The Cultch will be transformed into a 19th-century Victorian world inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

The ambitious effort to bring large-scale immersive theatre to Vancouver is led by local creative duo Laura Carly Miller and Sydney Doberstein, who co-wrote, co-produced, and co-directed the show.

Deep Into Darkness
l-r: Sydney Doberstein, Laura Carly Miller, Leah Beaudry
Photo: Taylor Kare

“We wanted to bring a ground-breaking and multi-sensory artistic experience to Vancouver that could simultaneously challenge, provoke, and inspire people in a way that traditional theatre could not. ‘Deep Into Darkness’ achieves just that,” says Miller.

After a year of development with a seasoned artistic team, the final product is an enchanting 150-minute, 15-character odyssey chronicling the elusive last moments of Poe’s life.

As he is stuck in a fever dream for his very survival, “Deep Into Darkness” follows the author’s descent into his own tortured mind in a desperate search for his love, Lenore. Each room of the theatre induces a darker dream from his past, while each experience – disguised as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – shows the raw emotions and thoughts from his classic writings like “The Raven and “A Tell-tale Heart”. Through it all, he must come to terms with his own life.

Deep Into Darkness Fraser Larock Photo: Danie Easton

As Doberstein explains, “We were drawn to Poe because the themes of his work and his life – like love, tragedy, loss, death – are universal and will resonate with modern-day audiences through a story that is texturally rich, timeless, and wholly mysterious.”

For audience members who are willing to follow their impulses and chase their own curiosity, the experience will find them fully immersed within a Victorian dream world and eager to return.

Producers remind that “Deep Into Darkness” is an immersive theatre show, the audience is advised to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to stand/walk for the duration of the show.

“Deep Into Darkness” runs from August 13th to 25th at The Cultch Theatre in Vancouver. for tickets and show details visit DeepIntoDarkness.com or TheCultch.com. The production is an 18+ performance with adult themes, nudity and violence.

Fabulist Theatre presents Better Than This

Better Than This is Fabulist Theatre’s new production coming to the Havana Theatre stage February 28th to March 9th.  For decades, musical theatre has been the home of iconic female characters, but for every legendary woman even more stereotypes take the stage. 

Better Than This is an original musical revue chronicling the evolution of women’s roles in musical theatre. By celebrating some of the best known female characters from My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle in the 1950s to Alison Bechdel in 2013’s Fun Home, Better Than This examines why certain tropes persist and looks at changing the narrative around the female voice in musicals. 

Featuring songs from the most beloved musicals of the past century including West Side Story, Chicago, Wicked  and many more! Better Than This stars, Brianna Clark (Showstoppers, Fabulist Theatre’s Once On This Island), Kyrst Hogan (Kitty Night Productions’ Johnny and June), Dionne Phillips (The Broadway Chorus’ Bootie and the Beast) and Cathy Wilmot (Arts Club Theatre Company’s Mamma Mia!)

Better Than This opens February 28th with a preview “Pay What You Choose” ($5-$20 suggested, at the door)
Tickets are $24 in advance online or $28 at the door.
Tuesday March 5 is Half-Price
Friday March 8 (International Women’s Day) includes special post-show talkback

The Matchmaker makes her match at The Arts Club

Say hello to the famed matchmaking busybody Dolly Gallagher Levi as The Matchmaker brings her to The Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Thorton Wilder’s 1954 comedy served as the inspiration for the iconic musical Hello Dolly!, which turned Dolly Levi into a legendary role.

In The Arts Club Theatre Company’s The Matchmaker, director Ashlie Corcoran, guides an ensemble of 14 actors playing 16 characters through a maze of forbidden love, mistaken identities, madcap adventures and hysterical hijinx, resulting in much spontaneous laughter and applause from the audience throughout the performance.

Nicole Lipman as Dolly Levi
photo: David Cooper

While Nicole Lipman’s Dolly stirs the plot and characters with her cunning charm, it’s cantankerous Horace Vandergelder, played by Ric Reid, who sets the wheels in motion as the other characters seek to avoid or win “the first citizen of Yonkers'” favour. Whether it’s trying to keep his niece Ermengarde (Julie Leung) from marrying artist Ambrose Kemper (Nadeem Phillip), keep his love interest Mrs Molloy on a string whilst there is another potential suitor, or keep his employees in check in spite of their desire for adventure, Mr Vandergelder never quite succeeds with Dolly really pulling the strings.

The Matchmaker
photo: David Cooper

As the characters move the action from Yonkers “where nothing ever happens”, to New York City, Mrs Molloy (Naomi Wright) and her flighty shop assistance Minnie (Georgia Beaty) are the first bold flashes of colour both in character, costume and setting of her millinery shop. When they stumble into the shop, the ladies awaken something within Mr. Vandergelder’s naive shop clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker. Played with leading-man charm and charisma by Tyrone Savage and wide-eyed innocence by Daniel Doheny, respectively, the gentlemen were seeking an adventure and found much more than they bargained for, or could afford, but in Dolly’s world everything has a way of working out, for everyone.

Throughout the adventure we meet an assortment of colourful characters each with their own over-the-top eccentricities. The audience becomes a 17th character when many of the characters break the fourth wall to speak directly to the room; sharing their feelings, or words of wisdom albeit when coming from drunkard Malachi Stack, hilariously played by Scott Bellis, they might be taken with a shot of whiskey. With so much happening on stage, the whole performance moves like a dance as players move in, out and over the sets and costumes on their way to happily ever after.

Drew Facey’s beautiful production design creates a world, with four distinct sets, reminiscent of The Gilded Age but with hints of modernity in the set decorations and costumes that make it a world all its own. The set and costumes lends just enough realism to ground the show but the colourful winks and whimsy fit perfectly with the absurdity of the farce. If you listen closely, you’ll also note that the music doesn’t fit the period but does fit the characters, with a short nod to Hello Dolly!, as well.

Experience the laughter for yourself as The Matchmaker plays at The Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until February 24, 2019. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and showtimes.

The Arts Club makes you Sweat

The Tony-nominated play, Sweat, is now on stage at the Arts Club Theatre Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  A co-production with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, this production is the Canadian Premiere of playwright Lynn Nottage’s second Pulitzer prize winner.  A gritty, raw drama that gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of a small group of residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the poorest cities in the USA.

In spite of being written earlier, Sweat, shows how the era of deindustrialization during the George W Bush presidency, set up the election of Donald Trump. It’s easy to connect the characters in Sweat with the current Trump base.  As a result, the play could have very different reception depending on the demographics of the audience, city and country.

Sweat starts off in 2008 with a visit to a probation officer by two recently released convicts; Jason and Chris. In flashback we see the start of the story, in 2000 a group of friends and co-workers hang out at a local tavern.  We witness the disintegration of friendships and family as two co-workers, Tracey and Cynthia, compete for the same managerial promotion at ‘the factory’. When Cynthia gets the job, jealousy pushes Tracey to spread rumours that she only got the promotion because she is black. This begins the splinter in their friendship, which is further strained when Cynthia is forced to lock-out her friends and family when the union votes against the factories offer of concessions.  As the strike wears on the picket-line brings stress to all involved. Racism and anger grows as ‘scabs’ are hired to do their work for cheaper.  This leads Jason and Chris to impulsively make disastrous decisions in the heat of the moment, leading us back to the beginning and the probation office.

The whole company of Sweat admirably bring the realism of the characters to life, Nicole St. Martin as Tracey and Marci T. House as Cynthia especially stand out as the driving forces in the conflict.  While is it well written, the play feels a bit long at 2.5 hours (including intermission). It felt like Ms Nottage tries to packs in so much social commentary about, socio-economics, race relations, political history, with news/sports clips and music also helping to set the era, that the story feels bloated.  In spite of so much dialogue in the play, the ending felt abrupt with little resolution, at this moment letting the audience draw their own conclusion as to the fate of this collective. Also taking away from the climax, some unfortunate technical issues with lighting and audio in the final scenes distracted from the performances on stage.  However, if you like gritty, political, blue-collar dramas, Sweat is definitely in your wheelhouse and worth viewing.

Sweat plays at The Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until November 18, 2018. Tickets are available from The Arts Club box office or online at artsclub.com 

Cain and Able coming to The Firehall Arts Centre

photo: Sepehr Samimi

A tale of biblical proportions, The Firehall Arts Centre presents The Biting School’s Cain and Abel from October 3rd to October 6th.

Directed and performed by brothers Arash and Aryo Khakpour, Cain and Abel explores the idea of jealousy and sibling rivalry, which leads to fratricidal violence, fueled by the patriarchal society we inhabit.

Inspired by the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve. The former, a farmer, and the latter, a shepherd, who meets a tragic end at the hand of his jealous brother.

photo: Sepehr Samimi

Performed in two parts, the first half of the  production studies the depiction and sensation of killing one’s brother in different contexts, and is highly physical, aggressive in rhythm and stereotypically masculine. The second half of the performance presents a reaction to the absence of women from the biblical story. Inspired by Jean Genet’s The Maids, this second act is a study of Cain and Abel as two sisters.

The Firehall’s Artistic Producer Donna Spencer says, “When I consider the Cain and Abel story now, it serves as a metaphor for the jockeying for power between governments and global corporations, and how in that jockeying  to control territory, resources and social values, their choices lead to violent confrontations, collapse of local economies, and displacement of thousands of individuals. With this production, The Biting School explores both the traditional story and the possibility of what might have happened had Eve given birth to daughters and encourages us to ask the question: would our current reality indeed be different if Cain and Abel had been born female?”

Cain and Able plays at 8pm, Wednesday, October 3 to Saturday, October 6, 2018 at The Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St.  Tickets are available online from firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/cain-and-abel/

Untold Wants Theatre Co. Makes Its Vancouver Debut

Paige Louter (l) & Éanna O’Dowd (r)
Photo: Jalen Laine.

Irish eyes bring The Human Ear to Vancouver. The new, young Irish theatre company Untold Wants Theatre Co., makes its Vancouver debut with the North American premiere of the acclaimed drama, The Human Ear. Opening July 18, at Pacific Theatre, award-winning British playwright Alexandra Wood’s eerie play, breaks down language and certainties, playing with chronology and flashback.

The Human Ear stars Paige Louter as Lucy, whose father was a soldier killed in the Gulf war and, following an act of protest and retribution of his death, her brother Jason ran away from home. Now she’s just lost her mother in an attack on a city bus. Following a ten-year absence, her brother has now returned. But is he who he says he is? Lucy’s boyfriend Ed, a police liaison officer, doesn’t think so.

Éanna O’Dowd
Photo: Jalen Laine

“With The Human Ear, the theme of difficulty with facing identity when we are experiencing grief or shock is a feeling to which we can all relate,” says Éanna O’Dowd, who plays both Lucy’s brother and Ed, her boyfriend.

“The difficult work is in accepting truths we may not want to. But Alexandra Wood turns that concept on its head. Her writing makes us see that it’s okay not to be in control when facing our struggles, but to see what’s right in front of us in any given moment. For Lucy, the possibility to accept help is around her. But who can she trust when she is split herself?”

Pacific Theatre’s intimate design allows Untold Wants Theatre Co. to reflect the staging of the play’s 2015 Edinburgh Fringe debut. “Theatre is where people can go to experience universal truths, and come out the other side with perhaps a different view of their environments,” says Jessica Aquila Cymerman, director and co-producer (along with O’Dowd). “Traversing culture is important to us, so bringing a company to Canada, that started in Ireland with theatre-makers who were trained in Scotland, offers a unique perspective to the Vancouver scene.”

Director Jessica Aquila Cymerman
Photo: Jalen Laine

Originally from Los Angeles and Galway, Ireland, respectively, Untold Wants Theatre founders Jessica Aquila Cymerman and Éanna O’Dowd met while studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. They established Untold Wants Theatre to bring new, contemporary voices to a wide range of audiences. The Human Ear is their second production, and first in Vancouver, following a successful run of the Irish premiere of Reasons to be Pretty by Neil LaBute in Dublin.

Untold Wants Theatre Co.’s The Human Ear runs July 18 to 25, 2018 at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W. 12th Avenue. Find showtimes and tickets online now