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.

Picks of the Week – November 29, 2017

We’re into the one month countdown to Christmas with more festive flair popping into the picks of the week.

Market: The Christmas Market season is in full swing with the Vancouver Christmas Market opening today, running until December 24, at Jack Poole Plaza plus Toque, River District craft fairs as well.

Snow: Until January 6th, help Snow White and the Seven Dwarves evade the Evil Queen in East Van Panto at The Cultch York Theatre

Flamenco Rosario

Dance: The Dance Centre’s Discover Dance Series presents Flamenco Rosario on Thursday November 30th honours the traditions of dance with a lunchtime performance

Twinkle: Light up your nights with the Festival light displays all around Metro Vancouver; Lights of Hope, Canyon Lights, Bright Nights, Heritage Christmas, Glow Christmas, Lights at Lafarge all bring a little Christmas Spirit.

Oratorio: The spirit of the season and the sound of music fills the air as Early Music Vancouver presents Handel’s Messiah, November 30th in White Rock and December 1st & 2nd at Vancouver Playhouse.

Wheel: Take a ride on the Sky Wheel on the Pier at the Annual Shipyards Christmas Market December 2nd in North Vancouver; artisan market, family activities, entertainment, tree lighting and the weekend-only observation wheel sponsored by the Lower Lonsdale BIA.

Rock: American rockers, The National plays a two-night stand at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on December 1st and 2nd.

Sax: December 3rd, Kenny G plays some of his hits and holiday favourites at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Stage: The Arts Club Theatre Company’s dramedy  The Day Before Christmas is onstage at the Goldcorp Stage until the day before Christmas, while fan favourite Onegin remounts the Arts Club, Granville Island Stage, until December 31st.

Scoop: At Firehall Arts Centre, until December 2nd,  Only Drunks And Children Tell The Truth tells the tale of the 60’s Scoop of indigenous children with truth and humour

Drag: The Christmas Queen is back to ruin Christmas for Vancouver Theatresports League and on Saturday nights, anything can, and will happen,  when Vancouver drag diva the Unstoppable Connie Smudge joins the stage,  it’s two queens for the price of one at Christmas Queen Drag Race.

Narnia: Carousel Theatre, invites families to step through the wardrobe as C.S Lewis’  The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe comes to the stage until December 31st.

Pucks: The Toronto Maple Leafs make a rare Western appearance as they visit Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday night.

St Nick: Santa Claus is coming to town as the 14th Annual (and newly renamed) Telus Santa Claus Parade makes it way through downtown Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. 

Girls! Girls! Girls! from the headlines to the stage

Onstage this week at Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive, Excavation Theatre presents Greg MacArthur’s Girls! Girls! Girls!.

Director Jessica Anne Nelson crafts the gritty play into a sometimes uncomfortable, but insightful, look at teen angst and anger.  MacArthur wrote the play in the late 90s as a reaction to violent high school stories like the Columbine Massacre and, closer to home, the tragic death of Reena Virk in Victoria.

The bare-bones staging and intimacy of the Havana Theatre puts the audience in the midst of the action, forcing viewers to invest in the players more than in distant seating. The five characters of Girls! Girls! Girls! cover the cliques of high school that many of us will recall.  Splitz (Sachi Nisbet) is the key to the action, a popular gymnast used to winning and being the centre of attention with high expectations of her status.  When her world is rocked by not winning, jealousy and anger get the best of her.  This temperament trickles down to her ‘gang’ of friends, who in reality are more like followers, Puss (Bronwyn Henderson) and Jam (Demi Pedersen) are a hand-in-glove pair of outsiders, with Puss being the more aggressive, dominant of the two girls and Jam a more thoughtful follower.  Rounding out this gang of merry misfits is Little Bucky the Fag (Riley Davis) a seemingly innocent boy that the girls treat more as a mascot than an equal, making him show off his ‘wiggly piggly’ to elicit laughter and mirth to brighten Splitz blues.

Splitz’s anger towards the naive and innocent, and drunken, Missy (Isabella St Clair) who trumped her for the top prize at a gymnastics meet, cannot be contained, setting off a chain reaction of devastating proportions.  Sending her minions out to reclaim her title, by any means necessary, from Missy, Puss and Jam find her but Little Bucky finds his own trouble.  From here the play seems to move in two realms, Nisbet portrays Spitz with single-minded jealousy and rage, which emboldens the gleeful bully in Henderson’s Puss which in turn causes allows Pederson to bring confusion to Jam who must balance her own moral compass and need to fit in. Meanwhile, Little Bucky abused and alone confronts his own mixed feelings which Davis juggles like a cirque performer.  The 75 minute play builds like seething temper to a climax that’s not the expected outcome, taking a look at how far a bully can go and how much the bullied can take.  No matter what group you identified with Girls! Girls! Girls! takes us all back to those high school thoughts of loyalty, jealousy, self-worth and peer-pressure.   All the cast are captivating as they fit their roles into this complicated puzzle of teenagehood.

Girls! Girls! Girls! plays at the Havana Theatre, Tuesday to Friday this week, July 25 – 28, 2017 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the door or in advance on Eventbrite for $20, general admission.

 

 

This Is Our Youth at Red Gate Revue Stage

photo: Ken Thorne

This Is Our Youth is the debut production by the fledgling Mid Twenties  Theatre Society as well as the directorial debut of its founder Beau Han Bridge.  Now playing at the Red Gate Revue Stage on Granville Island, This Is Our Youth is a play by American playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan.  Since its stage debut in 1996, This Is Our Youth has been staged numerous times over the years, off and on Broadway, in the West End and around the world.

photo: Ken Thorne

While there is reference to the President, updated to President Trump, from its original Reagan era setting, the play doesn’t feel dated, in spite of it being written two decades ago.  Set wholly within Dennis Zeigler’s New York studio apartment, This Is Our Youth is a weekend in the lives of an early-twenties trio; Dennis, Warren Staub and Jessica Goldman.  The play mostly surround the awkward and dynamic friendship between Dennis and Warren, but Jessica Goldman, the object of Warren’s clumsy amourous advances, also stops in and out in each of the two acts.   At two hours, including short intermission, the oft-intense interaction between Dennis and Warren, Warren and Jessica plus the simple staging keeps the play move quickly.

photo: Ken Thorne

All three of the players were perfect in capturing the angst and intensity of the characters.  Zack Currie brilliantly portrays the frenetic energy and intensity of drug-dealer Dennis’ often verbal diarrhea of random thoughts on life and how he interacts with others.  Warren Staub is brought to life by Quinn Hinch in a turn that balances Warren’s sheltered innocence and desire to get out from under his parents and the burden of memory of his deceased sister. Mackenzie Cardwell provides Jessica, someone who always wants to have the last word, with the protective wall of her argumentative personality while maintaining the arrogance of youth.  This trio can more than hold their own against the impressive line up of respected actors who have previously played these roles like; Jake Gyllenhaal, Matt Damon, Michael Cera, Anna Pacquin to name a few.

Even though situations, styles and cultures may shift everyone should be able to relate to the themes in This Is Our Youth; finding your way from childhood to adulthood, balancing being your parent’s child and being your own person, and how to make your mark in the world.

If this debut is the way they’ll proceed, Mid Twenties Theatre Society has a bright future ahead of them.

This Is Our Youth continues at Red Gate Revue Stage on Granville Island; tonight July 17, 19, 21-23. Nightly at 7pm with 3pm matinees Saturday and Sunday. Visit mtstheatre.com for tickets.
*Audience Warning: the play includes graphic language and drug use including non-toxic smoke

DOXA Documentary Film Festival Returns

DOXA Documentary Film Festival returns to screens around Vancouver this May 4th to 14th, bringing over a hundred film screenings, panels, workshops and artists talks to cinemas across the city.

The 2017 Festival opens with Marie Clements’ documentary musical The Road Forward, a celebration of First Nations history and a portrait of a people who have retained their identity and power through art, activism and community.   Closing DOXA 2017, Julian Rosefeldt’s MANIFESTO shouts revolution from the rooftops in the protean form of Cate Blanchett, playing thirteen different characters reciting this century’s greatest cultural and social manifestos.

DOXA’s midweek special presentations include Olivier Babinet’s youth blast of teenage energy in Swagger, and Jacob Smith’s Waking the Sleeping Giant that follows an intersectional coalition of activists, politicians and ordinary folk who are fighting for real democracy in the post-Trump USA.

On the eve of the Provincial election, we are very proud to present a special town hall screening of Charles Wilkinson’s new film Vancouver: No Fixed Address, which looks at the hot topic of Vancouver’s housing market.

As always, DOXA has a great line up of curated special programs some of which includes:

Justice Forum pairs each film with a speakers panel to facilitate active and critical engagement between audience, community and filmmakers.

Spotlight on Troublemakers celebrates folk who upend the applecart, wreak havoc and generally disrupt business as usual with a selection of films that resist, rage on and fight for real change.

Transmissions is DOXAs acclaimed short film program exploring the convergence between contemporary arts practices and non-fiction films.

Trumped! Now What? Guest curated by David Beers is an ensemble selection of incendiary new political films.

French French includes a retrospective of the work of the legendary filmmaker Chris Marker.

DOXA Documentary Film Festival opens May 4th at 7pm with The Road Forward at The Vogue, and closes May 14th  at 6:30pm when MANIFESTO is screen at Vancity Cinema.

Gateway Theatre debuts 2017-18 Season

Richmond’s Gateway Theatre recently pulled back the curtain to reveal their 2017-2018 season line-up.  A selection of classics and new works the season’s theme is Reflections in Time as the four mainstage productions are set in different eras of the past.

Artistic Director, Jovanni Sy says, “In looking back in time, these plays hold up a mirror to our lives today and provide a glimpse of what our future might be.”

The mainstage season opens October 12, 2017 with Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award winning A Little Night Music. Set at the turn of the 20th Century, A Little Night Music includes the Sondheim classic “Send In The Clowns”

Gateway Theatre’s signature Christmas show is always a treat for the family, this year Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol carries on the tradition December 7 – 24, 2017

February 15 – 24, 2018 sees a Canadian tale, Salt-Water Moon come to the mainstage. A love story set in 1926 Newfoundland with a paired down production by director Ravi Jain

The final mainstage production of the season, Nine Dragons, is a new work by Gateway Artistic Director Jovanni Sy. A gritty detective story, which Jovanni says was inspired by his love of mysteries in the Raymond Chandler theme.

The Gateway Theatre season also includes two Studio B productions. Sink or Swim, November 16 – 25, 2017 is another semi-autobiographical set of songs and stories from the great Beverley Elliott.

I Lost My Husband by Catherine Leger, March 15  – 24, 2018, is a comedy about Evelyn, who loses her husband but finds herself.

Season Ticket subscription packages are on sale now at gatewaytheatre.com/subscribe. If you subscribe before May 15th, you will be automatically entered to win a Helijet Getaway Package.  If a Season Subscription is not for you, keep your eyes out for single show tickets to go on sale later in the year.