Documenting The Watershed at Gateway Theatre

Now on stage at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, The Watershed is an interesting and topical piece of documentary theatre.
Originally commissioned for the Arts and Culture program of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, Annabel Soutar’s The Watershed followers her and her family on an exploration of the Nation’s precarious fresh water supply.

Although the play was first performed in 2015 with material documented in the years prior, the conflict between science, news, arts, ideology and politics continues to be a topic of discussion. While researching and preparing The Watershed, Ms Soutar recorded every bit of dialogue between her, her family and subjects. These recordings along with quotes from news clips, speeches and public forums form the script of the docu-play.

The play’s two acts follow the two segments of the research process.  First the audience follows Annabel, husband Alex and daughters as they set out to research Canada’s fresh water supply, and see the strongest story of the documentary evolve.  Act two follows the family on a cross-Canada Winnebago trip to explore the country and learn about their topics first hand.

While the subject is politically charged and controversial the play maintains a balance to show characters from all sides of the story and not get too ‘preachy’ when delivering the message.
While the 2 hour and 45 minute play (incl intermission) is long, it doesn’t drag.  The pacing and mix of humour and drama keep the story moving.

The Watershed runs at Gateway Theatre until April 15th.

Refuge – a powerful play at Firehall Arts Centre

Refuge - Firehall ArtsBalancing a fair refugee system and public safety are especially topical subjects with the current global debate on immigration.    Halagonian Mary Vingoe’s play, Refuge, reminds us that even a country as diverse as Canada has been touched by class, culture and sectarian violence as well as blemishes in our treatment of refugee claimants.

A powerful and relevant work, Refuge is a based on actual transcripts from an award-winning CBC Radio documentary “Habtom’s Path” about Eritrean asylum-seeker Habtom Kibreab.  Using the radio factual radio script as the centre of the story, changing the character’s name to Ayinom, Mary Vingoe has dramatized the rest of  his time in Canada.  Director Donna Spencer, has staged and cast the play nicely to keep the intimate story centred in the realism of the radio interviews with the rest of the staging kept sparse leaving focus on the human drama.

Pamela Ross (Sangeeta Wylie) & Saul Ackman (Robert Moloney)
Photo: Emily Cooper

Refuge feels a bit like a mystery, through the past vignettes we get clues to piece together the story being referenced in the radio interviews.  Although Ayinom is the central character, he never appears in the play, perhaps reflecting his uncertain refugee status. His limbo-like status is referenced by Pamela Ross (Sangeeta Wylie), the Halifax-born half-Indian woman who helps Ayinom’s mother Amleset (Angela Moore) learn English. Pamela learns of Ayinom’s plight and enlists her ex-boyfriend, human-rights lawyer Saul (Robert Moloney) to take his refugee case.

Interviewer (Nicola Lipman) & Mebrahtu (Aadin Church)
Photo: Emily Cooper

Brought together by the case, Pamela and Saul work through their own personal baggage, much involving the Air India bombings, and her family. Pamela’s husband Allan, played by Frank Zotter, is the voice of caution and fear of the unknown foreigner in his spare room. Perhaps a healthy dose of jealousy is nudging Allan to take the counter-argument to Saul as he sees his wife drawn to her human-rights activist past. Allan’s character is perhaps the least likeable character but also offers up dialogue that could be heard on any current-day debate on immigration.
Since Ayinom is never present but ever-present,  his friend and interpreter Mebrahtu, (Aadin Church) becomes his surrogate as he reads from his diary and shares his own first hand recollections. As the soft-spoken gentleman, Aadin’s performance offers up the most emotion and emotional scene of the 90 minute play.

See Refuge at the Firehall Arts Centre until April 1st, 2017 (dark on Mondays). Runtime is 90 minutes without intermission.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Michael J Fox Theatre

There’s five more chances to see Disney’s The Little Mermaid, presented by Align Entertainment.  The Disney classic comes to life onstage at Burnaby’s Michael J Fox Theatre until February 18th.

The beloved story as interpreted by Doug Wright, and the classic soundtrack from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, along with new lyrics from Glenn Slater,  keeps the pace lively and the suitable for the whole family.  The Little Mermaid isn’t just for kids, while the young ones will certainly find much to love with their favourite underwater Princess, the young at heart will as well.  The evening audience welcomed a few little princesses but the matinee was apparently filled with excited dressed up young ladies.

Elyse Maloway brings a wide-eyed excitement to Ariel, ably filling the vocal and acting duties.  Prince Eric, played by Colton Fyfe, has the classic Disney Prince good looks and carries the vocals fairly well. The cast fill the undersea and human world nicely but the real stand out in the cast is Julio Fuentes as Sebastian the Crab.  As Sebastian, Fuentes brings the comedy and heart to the ensemble, leading two of the key songs and production numbers in each act; Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl.  As the antagonist Ursula, Erin Matchette, has fun with the role but lacks some of the malevolence in her vocals we’d expect from the Sea Witch.

Visually the set and costumes allow the audience to create the worlds beneath and above the waves. The creative use of heal wheels allow the merfolk and other sea creatures to swim smoothly through the water.  Ms Maloway is thankfully not burdened with the usual unnaturally red wig that distracts from many live action versions of Ariel.  The live orchestra led by Brent Hughes fills the auditorium with rich sound that stays in your head as you The Little Mermaid happily humming the tunes.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid, presented by Align Entertainment plays at Burnaby’s Michael J Fox Theatre until February 18th.

Picks of the Week – January 18, 2017

Mid-January and the city is bustling with arts, entertainment and food for our picks of the week;

Push: The 2017 PuSh Festival is underway, filling the city’s venues with cutting edge performing arts from around the globe

Stage: The Nether, delves into the darkness of the internet at Firehall Arts Centre from January 18 – 28th.

Comedy: Mix your laughs with MMA when Bryan Callan and Brendan Schaub bring their The Fighter And The Kid podcast to life at the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Theatre: William Faulkner’s southern gothic novel comes to the stage with the Arts Club “As I Lay Dying” at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, January 19th to February 12th

Drag: The search for Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2017 gets underway this week, with the first round hosted by Jane Smokr on Thursday night at Celebrities

Dine: The tastiest festival of the year; Dine Out Vancouver Festival gets underway Friday, offering hundreds of events and restaurants participating in the set-price menu options, until February 5th

Ice: The Vancouver Canucks host the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena on Friday night.

Ballet: The classical dance and comedic stylings of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo come to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for two nights, Jan 20 – 21

Rock:  Comedy Rockers Steel Panther play a pair of shows at the Commodore on Friday and Saturday nights.


PuSh Festival Opening Night 2017

Last night, the 2017 PuSh Festival opened at the Vancouver Playhouse with Macbeth, a co-presentation with Vancouver Opera and Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre.  As adapted by the Third World Bunfight, this edition of Macbeth brings Verdi’s opera to a daring new interpretation set in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Photo: Nicky Newman

Bringing The Scottish Play into modern times, introduces military backstabbing (literally), machine guns,  child soldiers, rape, foreign government interventions, and mineral mines to the scene.

The Bard’s story of tyranny, ambition, mistrust, and remorse carry over to this version along with wit, profanity and the amazing voices of the 10 member troupe.  Lady Macbeth as played by Nobulumko Mngxekeza brings great charisma and presence to the iconic role and Owen Metsilengs’s Macbeth carried the angst and emotional turmoil of the Scot’s journey.

Fabrizio Cassol’s adaptation of Verdi’s opera, continues the story in Italian with English subtitles. The subtitles seem to have taken some poetic (and profane) license in the translation to get the impact of the story across. The subtitles occasionally distract from the action onstage but just as often the scene and music need no translation, the audience getting carried away on the emotion.

Third World Bunfight’s Macbeth plays the Push International Performing Arts Festival, tonight January 17 plus January 19, 20 and 21 at Vancouver Playhouse at 7:30pm.

And Bella Sang With Us, onstage at Firehall Arts Centre

Photo: Emily Cooper

A bit of Vancouver history comes to life as “And Bella Sang With Us” by Sally Stubbs, takes the stage at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 14th

And Bella Sang With Us” imagines what life was like for Vancouver’s first female police constables.  In 1912, L.D. Harris and Minnie Miller made Vancouver the first city in Canada with female police officers and only the third in the world.  Little is know about the real-life policewomen, other than they served as jailhouse matrons, and regularly patrolled the young city’s pool halls, cabarets and dance halls.  Now, just steps from their patrol beat, the Firehall Arts Centre fills in the blanks of their trials and tribulations serving on the Vancouver Police Department.

The slice of life play, portrays Harris (Leanna Brodie) and Miller (Sarah Louise Turner) a bit like a 19th Century Cagney and Lacey.  Harris is a tough, no-nonsense women who pulled herself up from a tough upbringing and determined to be the equal of her male counterparts, whereas her partner Miller was a well-connected, christian, trained nurse looking to make a difference for the women and children being taken advantage of by those who’d seek to profit from the sins of men.  These disadvantaged women and girls are touched upon, as is the frustrations that the constables faced trying to be taken seriously in a male profession. More about the history and mysteries of downtown Vancouver would have been welcomed, to give more depth to the officer’s lives.

Brian Ball’s simple staging adapts to take us from the VPD jail cells and offices, to The Hive Cabaret, to the alleys and streets of Chinatown. To keep the play fresh night after night, sound improvisation is used for most props, the objects or actions are mimed by the actors, with the sounds of these props portrayed by the other players offstage.  The challenge of matching the sounds to the actions kept the players on their toes but caused for a distraction as the improv sound effects activities were visible on the side of the stage.  Overall, the 90 minute play is quite fast-paced as the action swiftly moves around the city and tensions mount for the officers.

And Bella Sang With Us” plays at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 14, 2017. Tickets are on sale now.

Picks of the Week – Jan 4, 2017

Welcome to 2017!

Let’s hope for another year of great entertainment and activities happening around the region to fill our picks of the week …

Pucks: Vancouver Canucks get the year off with home games against Arizona on Wednesday and Calgary on Friday.

ChimChimCheree: It’s your last week to catch Disney’s Mary Poppins, held over until January 8th at the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

New Wave: With a decades spanning career covering the best of British music, Midge Ure plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Wednesday evening

Punk: Actor, Author, DJ, Musician, Radio/TV Host Henry Rollins takes to the Vogue Theatre Stage, tonight Jan 4th

Photo: Emily Cooper

Stage: History comes to life in “And Bella Sang With Us” by Vancouver playwright Sally Stubbs, a play about Vancouver’s first female police constables. Playing at Firehall Arts Centre until Jan 14th.

Film: The Italian Film Festival begins on Friday, bringing a week of classic and new Italian cinema to the city

Country: A pair of award-winning Canadian country music artists, Tim Hicks and Chad Brownlee, share the stage  Saturday & Sunday at the Commodore Ballroom