Year In Review

Posted December 21, 2013

Reading back over all of my 2013 reviews – about a hundred and fifty – brings back such wonderful memories: this script, that actor, this set design, that soundscape.

Leanna Brodie, John Emmet Tracy and Pippa Mackie in Terminus Credit: Ian Snow
Leanna Brodie, John Emmet Tracy and Pippa Mackie in Terminus
Credit: Ian Snow

In no particular order, here’s what stood out for me beginning with Terminus, a pi theatre production directed by Richard Wolfe. You could have worn a flak jacket to this one because the three characters (portrayed by Leanna Brodie, John Emmet Tracy and Pippa Mackie) flayed us with words, words, wonderful words. It was an exhilarating ride to that terminus of redemption and forgiveness.

Tim Crouch in I,, Malvolio  Credit: Bruce Dalzell Atherton
Tim Crouch in I, Malvolio
Credit: Bruce Dalzell Atherton

Writer/actor Tim Crouch took the mickey out of Shakespeare’s plots in I, Malvolio and gave us Twelfth Night through the eyes of one of the Bard’s most maligned characters. Crouch, in filthy long johns, trashed the audience, too, accusing us of being ‘slack-jawed” and said we were “stinking rotten, smug and middle class, snoozing there in [our] winter clothes.” We lapped it up at the Cultch.

Deliciously dark and wickedly funny was Highgate, written and performed by dancer/choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and four dancers. Inspired by a visit to North London’s old Highgate Cemetery, this fusion of dance and drama explored Victorian protocols surrounding death. Creeping us out was one of the characters – an undertaker – who assured us, “I do have a box for each of ye”, by which he meant, of course, a coffin. We exited the theatre through a doorway of blazing light and were relieved to find ourselves not in Hell but in the lobby of the Cultch.

On a very different note was Avenue Q at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage. It looked like Sesame Street but songs like “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” set us straight. Definitely not for kiddies, Avenue Q could have been subtitled, The Kama Sutra for Puppets. It included such explicit puppet sex that the guy beside me fell out of his seat laughing. Avenue Q was rude but a really good giggle.

Good, cleaner fun was Legally Blonde in Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl. It’s not often a primarily amateur company like Theatre Under the Stars makes it into anyone’s Top Ten but this show, directed by director/choreographer Valerie Easton was a hoot in hot pink. It opened with “Ohmigod You Guys” and, OMG, Breanne Arrigo as the titular blonde was dynamite.

JolieJolie in The Daisy Theatre
JolieJolie in Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre

Burkett fans are so pumped when Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett comes to town. The Daisy Theatre was more of a music hall variety show featuring puppets old and new – a departure from his more plot-driven puppet dramas of the past. At the top of the show Burkett said, “I hope to offend all of you” and The Daisy Theatre, with lots of sexual innuendo, was decidedly naughty but oh, so nice.

Diane Brown in Communion Credit:  Tim Matheson
Diane Brown in Communion
Credit: Tim Matheson

Ruby Slippers got me right where I live with Daniel MacIvor’s Communion, directed by Roy Surette. Structured in three scenes with various combinations of three women (played by Diane Brown, Kerry Sandomirsky and Marcie Nestman), the play explores what it means to live – and die – consciously. It was as emotionally naked as it gets and had this jaded critic close to tears.

Bard on the Beach broke with the tradition of performing only Shakespeare by presenting Elizabeth Rex by the late Timothy Findlay. We were all really excited to see what Colleen Wheeler and Haig Sutherland would make of the lead roles. The air crackled between them as Elizabeth I found her ‘womanliness’ and gay Ned, his ‘manliness’. Wheeler shaved off her glorious red hair for the role and Sutherland performed while suffering debilitating back pain. A real pair of troupers.

Studio 58 has established itself as the best theatre school in Western Canada. And what better place to mount the musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening with all its bursting, teenaged eroticism? This rock musical is a conflation of 19th century sexual repression and 21st century highly sexualized teenaged culture: private schoolboys in short pants and knee sox belting out, “Yeah, you’re f*cked all right”. The joie de vivre of these young theatre students made this ‘like Brecht with sex’ production sing.

Gili Roskies and Benjamin Elliott in Broken Sex Doll Credit: Bettina Strauss
Gili Roskies and Benjamin Elliott in Broken Sex Doll
Credit: Bettina Strauss

From sexual repression to Vancouver playwright Andy Thompson’s raw and hilarious Broken Sex Doll. It’s the 22nd century and everyone’s having sex all the time wherever and with whomever they want. And if you can’t have the real thing, download it, dude. The Contingency Plan’s choreography was sizzling and sexy with much thrusting and rubbing. Produced by The Virtual Stage, Broken Sex Doll was so hot it was a wonder The Cultch didn’t burn to the ground.

Jonathon Young was a Hamlet for the 21st century in this post-Post Modern vision – complete with iThings of all sorts. However, under Kim Collier’s always inventive, ‘out there’ direction, the story was not lost in all that gadgetry. Young’s performance was riveting and “To be or not to be” came straight from the heart. Unforgettable.

And finally, Odysséo, under the white Big Top in False Creek.  Even if you’ve never been on a horse, this show will stir your soul. Horses freely roaming together in a huge, sand-filled stage; horses madly galloping with fearless daredevils riding sideways, backwards, upside down; horses held in rapt attention by a lone young woman standing in their awe-inspiring midst. Horses, horses, horses. It runs until January 12 so there’s still time to indulge the would-be horse whisperer in you. ***Now held over until January 19, 2014.

Odysseo Credit: Pascal Ratthe
Credit: Pascal Ratthe

A few of my favourite things: outstanding use of theatre technology in Boca del Lupo’s PHOTOG and Fall Away Home; Jay Brazeau in The Secret Mask; Anton Lipovetsky in My Funny Valentine; Marcus Youssef’s warmth and candour in How Has My Love Affected You; monstrously large projections of Dawn Petten’s red-lipsticked lips in Fall Away Home; Drew Facey’s bloody, feces-smeared set in Rumble Theatre’s Penelope; sparky Claire Hesselgrave in Twenty Something Theatre’s Speech & Debate; Seth Little and Jessica Bryn in Fighting Chance Productions mounting of The Rocky Horror Show; Julie McIsaac in Mother Teresa is Dead at Pacific Theatre; Naomi Sider’s set design for Studio 58’s Balm in Gilead; Aurianna Angelique in the Arts Club’s production of Dreamgirls; Jonathon Young in Bard’s Twelfth Night; Lois Anderson and Anton Lipovetsky in Bard’s Measure for Measure; fabulous puppet horses in War Horse; the boot-fitting scene with Vincent Gale and Lindsey Angell in Venus in Fur; Alan Morgan and Chris Cochrane in The Woman in Black;  Stephanie Iszak in Lungs; Ryan Beil, Mike Wasko and the rest of the guys in The Odd Couple; Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mary Poppins for the Arts Club; Katey Hoffman in Yogurt Theatre’s Cold Comfort and Solo Collective’s Cool Beans; and more, so much more.

And here comes the 2014 season. Happy New Year!

Rachel Cairns and Jonathon Young in Hamlet Credit: David Blue
Rachel Cairns and
Jonathon Young in Hamlet
Credit: David Blue