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.

Realwheels Theatre presents Sequence

As luck would have it, Realwheels Theatre is presenting Sequence by Arun Lakra at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, until March 24th.

It’s not uncommon for a piece of theatre to be inquisitive, Sequence asks many and leaves us with even more questions.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is our luck and destiny predetermined by our genes? Is there such a thing as coincidence?

Sequence is a face-paced combination of science and comedy, that leaves you thinking.  The play is told in two parallel and possibly intersecting scenes.  On one side, the “Luckiest Man Alive” (Byron Noble) questions his luck when he is met by a young lady (Krista Skwarok) who think she’s figured out his secret.  In the opposite scene, a scientist (Amy Amantea) attempts to determine if she has found the “luck” gene when she confronts possibly the unluckiest student (Jake Anthony), who believes in God’s plan.  In both stories, the debate leads us to question what we think we understand.  The final twist in the show leaves us the conclusion of Sequence up to the audience to determine, like choose your own ending theatre.  Your interpretation of the ending may change with each viewing, with Arun Lakra’s  script having so many intricacies and each question offering multiple points of view.

Reel Wheels
L-R: Jake Anthony, Amy Amantea, Krista Skwarok, Byron Noble
Photo: Tim Matheson

Reelwheels Theatre is a inclusive, non-profit Vancouver theatre company that offers opportunities and integrates disabilities on and off the stage. Disabilities are an important thread of the script that weaves seamlessly into the DNA of the play,  Amy Amantea, a legally blind actor playing a character losing her eyesight, and Jake Anthony, who is on the autism spectrum, plays a wheelchair-bound student,  the actors lending added authenticity to their characters and in the process, deepening the audience’s understanding of the disability experience.

You’ll be lucky, or will you, if you can catch Sequence, playing at Presentation House Theatre, 333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver until March 24, 2018.  For more information and to purchase tickets visit realwheels.ca 

 

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 

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 

Dublin Old School brings beats to The Cultch

Emmett Kirwan & Ian Lloyd Anderson
photo: Fiona Morgan

Dublin Old School wraps up the final week of PuSh International Arts Festival at The Cultch.  Playwright Emmet Kirwan has created a unique production paints a colourful slice of Dublin life. The television star’s first play is a smash hit, with a hip hop beats and rhymes that feel straight outta the top 40.

Dublin Old School opens with a minutes-long blazing fast rap battle between Kirwan and co-star Ian Lloyd Anderson that sets the tone for the remainder of the 70 minute production.  The rapid fire dialogue that follows tells the story of a hazy drug-fueled weekend in the life of wannabe DJ Jason (Kirwan) and his friends, associates and long-lost addict brother, Daniel, all played by Anderson.  As Jason recounts ‘his’ wild weekend, we meet nearly 20 other friends and revellers, requiring Anderson to brilliantly jump rapidly between physical characteristics and changes to his brogue to embody the passing folk. Homeless but (potentially) recovering Daniel is the most developed character played by Anderson, full of twitches and inflections.  As they rap, rave and race through most of the show is, the moments between Jason and Daniel are like calm bridges in the song of their life, tentative moments between the brothers to sober up Jason as Daniel has moments of clarity to offer big brother advice and reminiscences.   Along with the straight-ahead rap pieces, the dialogue throughout Dublin Old School also has a rhythm and pace that draws the audience in to the story with its steady beat.

Dublin Old School @ The Cultch
photo: Ros Kavanagh

Even through the show is only 70 minutes there is a massive volume of creative dialogue in Kirwan’s script filled with rhymes, metaphors and pop culture references.  The two players, delivery of movement around the bare stage and of the lyrical script entwine to paint a graphic image of the Dublin nightclub/rave culture.  Anyone who came of age through that mid-nineties era will nervously laugh in recognition of the experiences and cheer as the duo make it through the Ironman worthy must-see performance.

Dublin Old School plays at The Cultch Historic Theatre until Saturday February 3rd. Get tickets now online at thecultch.com

Picks of the Week – January 17, 2017

As we move into the second half of January, in the picks of the week we find last year’s Festive events ending and the new year’s Festivals beginning.

Festival: Catch the dozens of Chinese lanterns covering the 14 acre Vancouver Chinese Lantern Festival  at the PNE before they go dark this weekend, January 21st

Lights: Lights at Lafarge Coquitlam’s Winter Light Festival, the largest free light display in the Lower Mainland turns the lights off this weekend, January 21st

Canyon Lights
Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge

Canyon: Be awed and inspired as you walk amongst the treetops of the tallest illuminated trees and much more at Canyon Lights Winter Festival at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park  until January 28th, 2018. 

Fest: The 2018 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival gives us plenty of reasons to leave the house on dreary winter nights by heating up stages around the city until February 4, 2018

Eat: While PuSh Fest feeds your spirit, Dine Out Vancouver Festival feeds your belly with hundreds of great restaurant set menus and food events from January 19 to February 4

Hot Brown Honey
photo: Dylan Evans

Honeys: See what the buzz is about as Hot Brown Honey turns up the heat with a serving of sass and empowerment at The Cultch York Theatre until January 27

Boys: Only until January 20th, at The Cultch Historic Theatre, Black Boys explore their queer male blackness, and understanding themselves.

The Events
photo: Emily Cooper

Premiere: Until January 28 at Russian Hall, Pi Theatre, in association with PuSh Festival, presents the Canadian premiere of David Greig’s play The Events, about 2011 attacks in Norway.

Project: The topical play, The Pipeline Project, tackles the controversial topic of piplines in BC at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 20

Rock: LA based singer-songwriter BØRNS takes to the stage at Vogue Theatre on Saturday night

R&B: Toronto’s alt hiphop / r&b act, dvsn bring their Morning After World Tour to Vogue Theatre on Sunday night

Above The Hospital photo: Chris Cho

Dreams: Midtwenties Theatre Society looks at Vancouver millennials and how current pressures affect their aspirations and dreams in Above The Hospital, playing until Sunday at Red Gate Revue Stage

Improv: The Vancouver Theatresports Throwdown International Theatresports Festival is continuing, until Jan 21st,  with the best of VTSL players taking on International Improv teams for improv supremacy

Ahoy: Picture yourself on deck, sailing into the open seas at the Vancouver International Boat Show, at BC Place and Granville Island, from today until January 21st.

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.