The Cultch reveals its 45th Anniversary Season

The Cultch has recently announced its 45th anniversary season, with Executive Director Heather Redfern programming a 2018-19 season full of local premieres, international hits, and returning favourites.

“The Cultch is a place that people come to for community: to have their minds stimulated, to be challenged, to laugh, to discover,” says Redfern. “The Cultch is for everyone.” The season will also include several 45th anniversary initiatives including a series of work to mark the 100 year anniversary of the armistice of WWI called the Ceasefire Series, and an expanded Femme Series.

 This 45th season, which is Redfern’s 10th year of programming, continues The Cultch’s commitment to highlight local companies and artists, while presenting cutting-edge national and international work. The 2018-19 season includes ten BC productions —including four world premieres. It also features innovative works by Canadian companies, as well as international works, from New Zealand, The United Kingdom and Iran.

 The Cultch also continues it’s partnership with local festivals like Diwali in BC, in October, and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, in January 2019.  

Fan favourites also make a return to the Cultch’s three stages; Children of God, Corey Payette’s hit musical about residential schools, returns after it successful national tour, and Australian patriarch-smashing hit Hot Brown Honey will once again decolonize and moisturize the York Theatre. Ronnie Burkett returns with his exclusive adults-only holiday hit Little Dickens.  Also joining the festive season is the holiday tradition, Theatre Replacement’s East Van Panto, is back for a sixth year with Wizard of Oz.

If all this isn’t enough The Cultch’s will also see the renewal of the Femme Series for 2018-19 with shows that celebrate the feminine experience.  During November 2018 The Cultch will present the Ceasefire Series, three shows to mark the 100 year anniversary of the armistice of WWI.

For full lineup details, tickets and subscriptions for The Cultch’s 2018-19 45th anniversary season at its three venues; Historic Theatre, York Theatre, and Vancity Culture Lab, visit thecultch.com

Nine Dragons brings mystery to Gateway Theatre

Nine Dragons
Photo by Tim Nguyen

Gateway Theatre closes out their 2017-18 season with the original crime caper,  Nine Dragons.  Written by Gateway Artistic Director, Jovanni Sy and directed by Craig Hall, Nine Dragon is a co-production with Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Set in 1920s Kowloon, Nine Dragons is a gritty homage to film noir mysteries, Hong Kong Police are trying to catch a killer and Detective Tommy Lam is their best man but his British colleagues and superiors are constantly overlooking his skills.  With something to prove, Tommy sets out to solve the whodunit, focussing on his prime suspect, a British-educated Chinese aristocrat. Just like the streets and alleys of Kowloon and Hong Kong, the crime drama takes many twists, turns and dead-ends as Detective Lam races against the killer before he strikes again.

John Ng as Det Tommy Lam & Toby Hughes as Sean Heany in Nine Dragons
Photo by Tim Nguyen

Culture and class prejudices rear their heads throughout the drama, as most of the characters prejudge others based on their skin-colour, background and even address. Even though Nine Dragons is set nearly a century ago, many of the themes in the play resonate today; racism & prejudice amongst police and politicians, missing minority women and girls who are discounted by the powers that be, and how to those faced with class oppression deal with overcoming those struggles.  Jovani Sy wraps all of those heavy topics in an entertaining, taut thriller. Listening to other patrons leaving the theatre, they left wanting to find out happens next in the life of Detective Tommy Lam, perhaps Nine Dragons is just the start of a series of mysteries with the Chinese Detective protagonist?

Scott Bellis, John Ng, Toby Hughes in Nine Dragons. Photo by Tim Nguyen

Can you solve the mysteries of Nine Dragons before Detective Lam? See for yourself at Gateway Theatre until April 21st. Visit gatewaytheatre.com/ninedragons for tickets and showtimes.

Salt-Water Moon brings simplicity to Gateway Theatre

Ania Soul, Kawa Ada & Mayko Nguyen
Photo: Joseph Michael Photography

Salt-Water Moon has been performed countless times since its debut in the mid 1980s, yet the current production at Gateway Theatre brings a fresh take to the Canadian classic.

The Factory Theatre production, on tour with Why Not Theatre is directed by Ravi Jain who reimagines David French’s story about the romantic beginnings of Jacob Mercer and Mary Snow’s relationship.  While it is the third in French’s Mercer Family play cycle, a tale about the Mercer’s a family of Newfoundland immigrants to Canada, Salt-Water Moon is really the beginning of the family’s story.   Salt-Water Moon is a snapshot of one night early in the courtship of Jacob and Mary.  The two-hander usually takes place on a stage set with the clapboard board porch of a 1926 Newfoundland home with the detailed period costumes as outlined by the playwright.  Ravi Jain has departed from this traditional take and added a new element to this staging.

Kawa Ada (left) & Mayko Nguyen (right) – Joseph Michael Photography

The gloss black stage is set with a constellation of floating candles, reflecting the night sky and creating a warmth as the stage twinkles.  Joining the two actors, Kawa Ada as Jacob and Mayko Nguyen as Mary, onstage is Ania Soul.  The soul/R&B musician provides a musical background to the poetic script and recites aloud David French’s script notes.  The notes describe the setting and actions but with the blank stage before them, the audience is allowed paint their own mental image to surround the two actors, who are dressed in simple modern street clothes.

By casting non-white actors as the Newfoundlanders, director Jain gently reminds the Canadian audiences that this is a play about immigrants, set before Newfoundland joined Confederation.  Kawa Ada, an Afghan-Canadian and Mayko Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, bring a natural realism to their dynamic, even though they are clearly older than their teenage characters.  I believe by allowing the audience to set so much of the stage in their mind, it’s easier to believe the pair’s teen angst.  Ada’s Jacob is a cocksure, charismatic boy who has matured beyond his years after a year-long stint in Toronto. Meanwhile, Nguyen’s Mary, in spite of the firm facade forged from being in-service to the local Member of Parliament’s household from an early age, maintains the innocence of small-town Newfoundland.  With a mother unable to care for her and her younger sister, who is now in the care of a convent, Mary thinks she has it all worked out, until Jacob’s return to town throws a wrench in her plans.

Kawa Ada is a commanding presence onstage, nicely balancing Mayko Nguyen’s intensity.  Although I did find it a bit hard to hear her when she was facing the back of the stage and it took a few moments to adjust to the Newfoundland dialect the play is an enjoyable opportunity to visit the other side of the country in a time long-ago. The 90 minute (no intermission) moves along quickly as your mind fills in the paint-by-numbers imagery while the actors provide the dialogue and Ania, the music.

Salt-Water Moon runs until February 24, 2018 at Gateway Theatre in Richmond.  Find tickets and times online at gatewaytheatre.com 

Next To Normal tackles mental illness

West Moon Theatre is presenting the award-winning rock musical Next To Normal at Studio 16 Theatre until February 17th.

In a unique turn, this production is double cast with two separate casts taking on the challenging musical’s heavy content and numbers.  The double cast allows for two interpretations of the characters and brings a different dynamic to the alternate performances.  The performance I had the privilege of seeing was the opening night for Cast A.  Director Chris Lam has noted that the expanded cast promotes diverse casting and representation, as the younger cast of many recent graduates have the opportunity to work alongside experienced professionals.

Next To Normal looks at a family with a mother with Bipolar Disorder and the fall out that her mental illness has on the rest of her family.  Diana (played in Cast A by Marie West) is consumed by her illness and with the support of husband Dan, (Mark Wolf) tries various treatments to find a ‘normal’ life.  Daughter Natalie (Katrina Teitz) overachieves in hopes of attaining her mother and father’s recognition but Diana’s illness, and her brother Gabe, who seemingly can do no wrong, always seems to take their attention from her.  As Diana and the family battle the ups and down of her illness the audience can’t help but have a sense of anxiety too in the unknown that lays ahead for them.

A musical as well known as Next To Normal and the award-winning performances of the original Broadway casts, puts a lot of pressure on the cast to make their own mark on the characters.  Chris Lam’s direction strips the play to its bare bones, focusing on the characters and exposing their flaws and fears.  In the intimate space of Studio 16, and with the very stripped down staging, the audience is so close to the action it feels like they’re sitting in the kitchen with the family.

The small orchestra is also onstage with the players, at first a worry that the music would overtake the acting but the instrument volume was just right.  While there was some audio technical issues during the second act, one speaker wasn’t working well, making the audio slightly difficult to hear at times, the cast put their hearts into their vocals. Marie West tears into the songs, tackling the Tony Award winning role with all her might but at times her vocals were difficult to distinguish on the polyphonic numbers.  Mark Wolf’s voice stood out with the perfect level to fill, but not overpower, the small room. Wolf and Blake Sartin (playing Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend) harmonize perfectly in their answer to each other on “A Promise’.  Katrina Teitz was a bit pitchy but her characterization of the put-upon Natalie showed her potential for the future.  Having seen Daren Dyhengco, who like Teitz is a grad of Capilano U Theatre program, only in the dramedy The Day Before Christmas, I wasn’t sure how he would carry the heavier message and cornerstone songs of Next To Normal but he too showed great lead actor potential.

West Moon Theatre’s Next To Normal runs at Studio 16, 1555 W 7th Ave, until February 17, 2018.
Tickets are available online at nexttonormalvan.brownpapertickets.com

 

Firehall Arts Centre presents SHIT by Patricia Cornelius

SHIT photo: Emily Cooper

Firehall Arts Centre is now presenting the Canadian debut of Patricia Cornelius’ SHIT.  Directed by Firehall Arts Centre’s Artistic Producer Donna Spencer, the profane and provocative production is an in-your-face look at the lives of three women.

The trio, played with stunning realism by Yoshié Bancroft, Kayla Deorksen, & Sharon Crandall appear to exist on the sidelines of society.  Amidst random musings on life and conversations of nothing in particular we learn a bit more about their stories.  All three have grown up in the social care system, with a revolving door of foster families, some good but most worse.  Learning early to fend for themselves without reasonable facsimiles of good parenting they’ve made their way to adulthood on their wits and street skills.  They each have varying degrees of longing for something better while at the same time are resigned to their lot in life.

SHIT
photo: Emily Cooper

The Aussie play translates easily to the Canadian stage in both dialogue and content, and SHIT seems tailor made for Vancouver scene.  The three women could easily have been plucked from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, just steps from the Firehall Arts Centre, where we’d surely find similar stories playing out daily.  While the language and content will surely shock some viewers and make it difficult to listen to, these are the stories that are important for us to hear.  By making us sit, watch and listen, the audience realizes how easily society prejudges certain members of the community based solely on their appearance and vocabulary. Here we see deeper and gain an awareness of what these women have been through and fight against each day.

Patricia Cornelius’ SHIT plays until February 10th at Firehall Arts Centre. For information and tickets visit firehallartscentre.ca 

Topdog/Underdog battle for supremacy at Arts Club

Last night, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Topdog/Underdog opened at the Arts Club Theatre Company Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre.  The two act, two-hander is an intense two hours of rapid fire dialogue and emotions, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, and directed for The Arts Club by Dean Paul Gibson.

The tale of two African-American brothers abandoned by their parents as youths, the older Lincoln (Michael Blake) and the younger Booth (Luc Roderique) appear initially as opposites.  Booth, a wannabe 3-card monte hustler, practicing in the confines of his dingy one room tenement, while Lincoln is the hard working brother, employed as an impersonator of his namesake, ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln, albeit in white-face.  However, we soon learn appearances, just like the cards, can be deceiving as we find out Linc was once a star card sharp working the streets and taking the marks for big money.  Life on the streets became too ‘real’ for Linc so he gave up the cards and settled into a life of domesticity until his wife kicks him out. Now he’s staying with Booth, (or as he prefers to be called “Three Card”) and trying to keep the straight and narrow.

Meanwhile, Three Card hasn’t ever worked and survives on whatever his light-fingers can boost from shops and the back of trucks, always on the lookout for more. He longs to be the card hustler that his brother once was and forever on edge that he isn’t.   Linc has that underlying craving of an addict trying his best to stay away from his vice while Booth is anxious to prove that he’s the ‘big man’ and can do anything better than his brother.  While they hesitate to discuss it outright, the brothers have a sense of abandonment that they put up a brave “we’ve got each other” front they seem to be longing for the connections to each other, or for Booth to his off/on girlfriend, Grace, and to know why/where their parents went all those years ago.  Through moments of humour and warmth, a battle of egos, stubborn wills and pent up anger bubble up to a heated climax.

Ms Park’s script combines rapid-fire, rap-like dialogue and the lengthy monologues of thoughts and feelings offset by moments of silence between brothers.  There is a lot to communicate even in Topdog/Underdog even when nothing is said.  Blake and Roderique brilliantly balance the sensitive emotions, outright aggression, and colourful language that comes along with them,  with an ability to say so much with just a look or slight movement.  Roderique brings authentic vigor and bravado to the younger Three Card and Blake has a downtrodden physicality to his role in the first act then transforms to an almost reckless, “free at last” energy to the second.  Both actors keep the audience mesmerized and emotionally invested in the brothers, building up, then breaking, the tension with a well placed laugh, then building it up again.  Set designer Shizuka Kai detailed one room apartment set has an amazing amount of detail and visually sets a scene of urban realism, while the hip-hop soundtrack aurally furthers the sense of place, perfectly completing the world these two characters inhabit.

In spite of being just one room and two actors, Topdog/Underdog packs so much onto its stage that it’s worth seeing multiple times (if your emotions can take it) as there is so much to see and hear.

Topdog/Underdog is playing at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre until February 11, 2018 so you’ll have plenty of time to see it more than once.  Visit artsclub.com for tickets

 

Midtwenties Theatre Society goes Above The Hospital

photo: Chris Cho

Midtwenties Theatre Society and Red Gates Art Society present the new play Above The Hospital, until January 21st at Red Gates Review Stage on Granville Island.  The new production is the first written by director Beau Han Bridge, founder of Midtwenties Theatre Society.

As with Midtwenties Theatre Society’s debut, This Is Our Youth, Beau Han Bridge continues with millennial themes in Above The Hospital.  This time a young couple are forced to take a hard look at their lives and choices that come from choosing to live in expensive Vancouver.  As much about aspirations as broken dreams, Above The Hospital demonstrates how the frustration of living on a thread of a budget can bubble over into anger and anxiety.

Cameron & Lauren
Photo: Chris Cho

While those of us not of this generation may not relate to everything the young characters are going through, we’ve all harboured youthful hopes and dreams.  The cast of Above The Hospital seemingly represent all the stages of youth; Cameron is dreaming of being a recording star, girlfriend Lauren is the practical one, friend Abbey is a slightly flighty earth mother,  artist Bo is the success story, and young Michael is the ‘baby’ of the group.

The bones of Beau Han Bridge’s story show the potential in the young playwright’s ability, telling ‘millennial’ stories without being prejudged by or alienating other demographics is a delicate balance.

The 75 minute first act starts slowly but builds and reaches a dramatic climax but the 20 minute second act, acting as an epilogue to the main act, feels a bit rushed and leaves just as much unanswered as answered.
In the production we watched, most of the performances were strong especially from Mira Maschmeyer (Lauren) who carries a lot of dialogue, delivered with clarity and emotion and Zack Currie (Bo) who again demonstrates the strength he showed as a lead in This Is Our Youth.  Aaron Paul Stewart brings a surprising amount of character to role of Michael in spite of few lines.  Tristan Smith’s Cameron gives a taste of actor’s singing abilities but his delivery of his ample dialogue pales when opposite Maschmeyer’s Lauren.  Oftentimes, Smith cannot be heard clearly or at all, as he spends much of the show facing the back of the stage, and the rest of the time is smoking. On opening night, Smith appeared to forget his lines, Mira and he cover this flub well enough to make us wonder if it scripted or not, showing how comfortable they are becoming in the characters.  The rest of the cast appeared equally comfortable with their characters, however, with such rapid-fire dialogue the actor’s enunciation plays a vital role in their role. Nadya Debogorski’s Abbey suffered from such fast-paced speech that she seemed to speak over herself.  Being so hard to understand, the character fell to the wayside especially being paired with the charismatic Zack Currie’s Bo as her boyfriend.  Overall, Above The Hospital, is a slice of life in Vancouver that’s sure to resonate with many locals who will enjoy the inside jokes and digs at the city’s pros and cons.

Above The Hospital plays nightly at 7pm at Red Gates Revue Stage on Granville Island until January 21, 2018.  Purchase tickets $20 online at mtstheatre.com. 
Note: The show contains graphic language, simulated sexual content, some violence, drinking and drug use with non-toxic smoke throughout.