ALL THE CITY’S A STAGE

Theatre sea­son shap­ing up to be a hit

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Liane Faul­der writes

Wearing black tights is one of my favourite fall ac­tiv­i­ties, right up there with eat­ing ap­ples out­side af­ter do­ing yard work when your hands are cold and red. But the best thing of all, come fall, is por­ing over the up­com­ing theatre sea­son and de­cid­ing which thrilling shows will il­lu­mi­nate those long, dark nights.

The 2017/18 sea­son prom­ises to be one of Edmonton’s best. It’s the first sea­son pro­grammed by the Ci­tadel’s new artis­tic di­rec­tor, Daryl Clo­ran. (I can hardly sleep for think­ing about Clo­ran’s big coup, Hadestown.) We’ll see ac­tors Julian Arnold and Reed McColm in their un­der­wear with Shadow Theatre (surely not to be missed). Di­rec­tor David Ho­rak (who shone at the Ster­ling Awards this year) is re­mount­ing the anti-Christ­mas hit, Burn­ing Blue­beard, through the Roxy Per­for­mance Se­ries.

And that’s just three shows. By my count, more than 50 shows will de­but be­tween now and the end of the 2018 sea­son — and that doesn’t in­clude reg­u­lar weekly per­for­mances by the lo­cal im­prov groups Die Nasty and Rapid Fire Theatre (which don’t so much run a sea­son as a laugh fac­tory). Also left out of the mix for this story is the pop­u­lar Teatro La Quin­dacina, which runs counter to the tra­di­tional theatre sea­son, kick­ing off as it does in the sum­mer of 2018. (Teatro’s last show for its 2017 sea­son, Shock­ers De­light! de­buts Sept. 28 at the Varscona.)

I con­tacted all the main­stream pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur the­atres, as well as the scrappy in­de­pen­dents. (If I missed you, or you didn’t re­turn my call be­cause you are an artist and there­fore work­ing three other jobs, do get in touch and we’ll talk.) I didn’t in­clude the fes­ti­vals that some theatre com­pa­nies at­tach to their sea­sons, such as Ca­noe (hosted by Work­shop West) or Nex­tFest ( by Theatre Net­work). A fes­ti­val is not a sea­son is not a com­pany. I did not in­clude chil­dren’s theatre in this par­tic­u­lar outing.

Theatre com­pa­nies do what they do for a rea­son, and it’s not just about sell­ing the most seats pos­si­ble. Most have crafted a sea­son that re­flects the val­ues carved out by their par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tion of thought­ful tal­ents.

I asked the artis­tic di­rec­tors of the main­stream the­atres to de­scribe how the up­com­ing 2017/18 theatre sea­son re­flects what it is their com­pa­nies do best. Each of their com­ments is noted af­ter the de­scrip­tions of their sea­sons.

So now, darken the house lights and pre­pare to imag­ine.

THE CI­TADEL

One of the big­gest re­gional theatre com­pa­nies in the coun­try with an op­er­at­ing bud­get of $13 mil­lion, The Ci­tadel pro­duces a large num­ber, and wide va­ri­ety, of plays for its two big stages, the Ma­clab and the Shoc­tor.

Artis­tic di­rec­tor Daryl Clo­ran makes his di­rec­to­rial de­but with the first show this sea­son, Shake­speare in Love, writ­ten by iconic play­wright Tom Stop­pard. It posits that Shake­speare cre­ated Romeo and Juliet af­ter fall­ing madly in love him­self. Clo­ran also plays a prom­i­nent role in the sea­son’s sec­ond pro­duc­tion, Ubuntu (The Cape Town Pro­ject), which he wrote as part of a col­lec­tive and mounted at the Western Canada Theatre in Kam­loops, where Clo­ran was artis­tic di­rec­tor be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Ci­tadel a year ago.

The mu­si­cal Hadestown may be this sea­son’s most ex­cit­ing and am­bi­tious pro­ject at The Ci­tadel. The off-Broad­way hit, soon-to-be launched on Broad­way, is com­ing to Edmonton in Novem­ber, and bring­ing with it sev­eral Broad­way stars, in­clud­ing Patrick Page (Spi­derMan: Turn Off the Dark) and Am­ber Gray (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), and Kings­ley Leggs (Sis­ter Act, The Colour Pur­ple).

The 2016 Tony Award win­ner for best new play, The Hu­mans, trots out early in 2018, along with the block­buster mu­si­cal Mamma Mia!, and Chil­dren of God (a mu­si­cal based on Canada’s res­i­den­tial school ex­pe­ri­ence). Come spring, watch for Edmonton play­wright Mieko Ouchi to pre­mière her first Ci­tadel main­stage outing, Sil­ver Ar­row: The Un­told Story of Robin Hood, which fea­tures a fe­male pro­tag­o­nist and high-wire an­tics by Fire­fly Theatre.

Sev­eral smaller shows take up res­i­dence in 2017/18 in the Ci­tadel’s The Club, a cabaret space in the bow­els of the theatre. Those in­clude Un­der­cover (star­ring Re­becca Northan as a griz­zled cop work­ing with the au­di­ence to solve a mur­der) and Em­pire of the Son, a one-man show by Tet­suro Shige­matsu, which chron­i­cles the un­easy re­la­tion­ship be­tween an Asian Cana­dian man and his fa­ther.

Also in The Club are four per­for­mances in a se­ries called Be­yond the Stage, shows that are in­spired by plays, or that in some way as­sume the form of a play. Here’s where you can see singer/song­writer Anais Mitchell (who wrote Hadestown) per­form an acous­tic con­cert in Oc­to­ber, timed to co­in­cide with the mu­si­cian’s visit to Edmonton for Hadestown re­hearsals.

Free­dom Singer, Old Stock (A Refugee Love Story), and Betrof­fen­heit make up the rest of the Be­yond the Stage se­ries. Note to lovers of in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed shows: Betrof­fen­heit, a co-pro­duc­tion with the Brian Webb Dance Com­pany, is by West Coast dancer and chore­og­ra­pher, Crys­tal Pite, and won the Olivier Award (Bri­tain’s ver­sion of the Tonys) for best new dance pro­duc­tion ear­lier this year. Don’t miss it.

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion call the box of­fice at 780-425-1820 or visit citadelthe­atre.com, 9828 101A Ave. Artis­tic di­rec­tor Daryl Clo­ran:

“This sea­son is a great il­lus­tra­tion of our de­sire for the Ci­tadel to be in­clu­sive, in­no­va­tive and in­ter­na­tional. The sea­son cel­e­brates di­verse voices, cham­pi­ons new plays and ex­cit­ing the­atri­cal risks, and fea­tures work by in­cred­i­ble theatre artists from around the globe.

In South Africa, ubuntu refers to the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of all hu­mans and the be­lief that ‘I am be­cause you are.’ The spirit of ubuntu is at the heart of all the pro­gram­ming choices I made for this sea­son. The pro­duc­tions all ex­plore our in­tri­cate ties to one an­other, con­nect­ing us across the globe and in our own back­yards.”

THEATRE NET­WORK

Theatre Net­work en­ters its 43rd sea­son this fall, with three main­stage pro­duc­tions at the Roxy on Gate­way, which Theatre Net­work has called home since its 124 Street home burned down in 2015. Open­ing in Novem­ber is the crazily ex­per­i­men­tal Cal­gary-based Old Trout Pup­pet Work­shop with a new work called Un­der­land, a shir­ton-back­ward ver­sion of the strange and an­cient poem, Jab­ber­wocky.

In Fe­bru­ary, Shel­don El­ter’s hit solo play, Métis Mutt, puts on its big-boy pants with a full-length, fully-re­al­ized pro­duc­tion di­rected by Ron Jenk­ins. Métis Mutt has played vir­tu­ally ev­ery com­mu­nity hall on the Prairies and is a tes­ta­ment to the sheer willpower of its cre­ator, and the care­ful nur­tur­ing of a great idea by tal­ented artists who have be­lieved in the show.

Artis­tic di­rec­tor Bradley Moss di­rects In­fin­ity in April, a chal­leng­ing 2015 play by Cana­dian star Han­nah Moscov­itch (East of Ber­lin, This Is War, Lit­tle One). It ex­am­ines the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a physi­cist, a mu­si­cian, and their math­e­ma­ti­cian daugh­ter, and fea­tures live mu­sic by an on­stage vi­o­lin­ist.

Theatre Net­work hosts some­thing called the Roxy Per­for­mance Se­ries, which presents pro­duc­tions from small, in­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies. Open­ing next week at the Roxy on Gate­way is Mind Games, star­ring the men­tal­ist Jeff New­man. In Novem­ber, Tay­lor Chad­wick di­rects a What It Is pro­duc­tion of The Aliens, the 2010 play by Amer­i­can writer An­nie Baker (Cir­cle Mir­ror Trans­for­ma­tion, The Flick) that fol­lows two un­der­achiever slack­ers and a nerdy high school kid.

Dave Ho­rak’s award-win­ning Edmonton Ac­tors Theatre pro­duc­tion of the macabre Burn­ing Blue­beard shows up in De­cem­ber with the singed cast of a Christ­mas panto that re­turns from the ashes of a burnt-out theatre to fin­ish their show. (It’s all a bit close to home, with pieces of Theatre Net­work’s black­ened for­mer digs mak­ing up the back­drop.) Kill Your Tele­vi­sion re­mounts their 2002 hit Shake­speare’ s R& J, a Joe Calarco play that sees four stu­dents from a Catholic pri­vate boys’ school meet­ing se­cretly to read Romeo and Juliet.

Fans of Hey Ladies!, the kooky va­ri­ety show by Cath­leen Root­saert, Leona Brausen, and Dav­ina Ste­wart, have five shows to pick from in 2017/18. Cabaret artist Pa­tri­cia Zen­tilli makes Satur­day nights a whole lot more in­ter­est­ing with her

new se­ries, called Pat­tyZee @theRoxy. Fea­tur­ing themed guests, the se­ries opens on Satur­day, Sept. 30 with a riff on friend­ship.

Call Theatre Net­work, 8529 Gate­way Blvd., at 780-453-2440 for tick­ets and in­for­ma­tion, or check on­line at the­atrenet­work.ca. Artis­tic di­rec­tor Bradley Moss:

“The main­stage re­flects where our sen­ti­ments lie. We cel­e­brate our top Al­berta tal­ent with the world pre­miere of Un­der­land by Old Trout, a suc­cess­ful Al­berta com­pany that’s in­ter­na­tion­ally known. I’m su­per­honoured to be part of that.

“And Métis Mutt is Shel­don’s redo, but what I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of is that here is this young per­son who cre­ates this right out of Grant MacEwan, and then he gets some sup­port from the com­mu­nity, and for that then to come home, and to be on our main­stage — this is a proud mo­ment for us. It rep­re­sents the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a young artist, and what you can achieve. In­fin­ity, by one of our great Cana­dian writ­ers, Han­nah Moscov­itch, rep­re­sents our sup­port of women writ­ers and sto­ries that are dif­fi­cult. So it’s that edgy part of us.”

SHADOW THEATRE

One of three theatre com­pa­nies that mounts pro­duc­tions from The Varscona Theatre, Shadow Theatre opens at the end of Oc­to­ber with Con­stel­la­tions, de­scribed as a “spell­bind­ing, ro­man­tic jour­ney.”

Artis­tic di­rec­tor John Hud­son helms Edmonton play­wright Collin Doyle’s Slum­ber­land Mo­tel, en­joy­ing its world pre­miere in Jan­uary. The award-win­ning play sees two down-on-their-luck vac­uum cleaner sales­man share a room, only to re­ceive an un­ex­pected visi­tor. The theatre’s third pro­duc­tion, open­ing in Fe­bru­ary, is Out­side Mullingar, by John Patrick Shan­ley. A very Ir­ish tale of pas­sion, des­per­a­tion and yearn­ing, the play pon­ders if it’s ever too late to find love. God, I hope not. An­other Ir­ish charmer rounds off Shadow’s sea­son in April, when Fly Me To The Moon ( by Marie Jones) sees two cash-strapped care work­ers with a dead body won­der­ing ‘what would Je­sus do?’

For in­for­ma­tion, call 780-4345564 ■ or visit shad­owthe­atre.org. Shadow Theatre is at 10329 83 Ave.

Artis­tic di­rec­tor John Hud­son: “We choose plays that hit our audi- ence’s heart, while at the same time open­ing their mind. So ev­ery time we’re look­ing at plays, come­dies or dra­mas, we want some­thing a lit­tle more sub­stan­tial, and to add some­thing to your un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man con­di­tion. This sea­son, what we love, is that there is a de­light­ful un­ex­pected sur­prise in each play, an Easter egg, a lit­tle nugget, and I think peo­ple will re­ally be de­lighted by that.”

MAY­FIELD DIN­NER THEATRE

Mu­si­cals and mu­sic-based plays are the May­field’s prime rib. In­deed, a nos­tal­gic re­view about Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner called Soul Sis­tahs has al­ready opened the din­ner theatre’s 2017/18 sea­son, to be fol­lowed by a re­view of 1980s mu­sic called Back to the ’80s, Part 2, The Ad­ven­ture Con­tin­ues, open­ing in Novem­ber. The Ladies Four­some, a play by Norm Fos­ter, takes cen­tre stage in Fe­bru­ary. In the spring, All ShookUp, an homage to Elvis Pres­ley, warms the au­di­ence up for a peren­nial favourite, the four-han­der mu­si­cal For­ever Plaid, which rounds off the sea­son in June.

For de­tails, call 780-483-4051 or go on­line at may­fieldthe­atre. ca. May­field Din­ner Theatre is at 16615 109 Ave.

Artis­tic di­rec­tor Van Wil­mott: “Be­ing a com­mer­cial din­ner theatre, what we do here is pri­mar­ily mu­si­cals, with an ‘icon’ show in the fall. We can only pick shows that can hold up for eight weeks, the length of most of our runs, and mu­si­cals ap­peal to a broad au­di­ence. This past sea­son, we hit our high­est num­ber of sea­son tick­ets hold­ers, prob­a­bly close to 8,000, in the his­tory of this build­ing, which has been around since the mid-’70s.”

WORK­SHOP WEST

Artis­tic di­rec­tor Vern Thiessen has pro­grammed two thought-pro­vok­ing shows for the com­ing year. The first, run­ning in Novem­ber at the Back­stage Theatre (10330 84 Ave.) and di­rected by Kevin McKen­drick, is John Ware Reimag­ined, by Cal­gary play­wright, Ch­eryl Foggo. Come April, pa­trons can ex­pect to see the world pre­miere of Pretty Goblins, by Edmonton’s own, Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Award fi­nal­ist, Beth Gra­ham. Di­rected by Brian Doo­ley, the pro­duc­tion pairs twin sis­ters in a tale of loss, ad­dic­tion and love.

Tick­ets are avail­able by calling ■ 780-477-5955, or visit work­shop­west.org. Artis­tic di­rec­tor Vern Thiessen: “We build com­mu­nity. That’s what we’re good at and so we choose plays that bring peo­ple to­gether who might not have a chance to come to­gether nor­mally. Our first show is about the fa­mous cow­boy that many peo­ple in Al­berta don’t know any­thing about, John Ware, who was a slave who came to Canada back in the mid-1800s and be­came one of the most fa­mous cow­boys in Amer­ica. ”

IN­DE­PEN­DENTS:

Edmonton has up­ward of a half­dozen in­de­pen­dent theatre com­pa­nies. With­out a build­ing or bud­get to call their own, some of them only put on a show or two a year, or may de­vote them­selves ex­clu­sively to pro­duc­tions for the Fringe.

This year, some of those in­de­pen­dents have am­bi­tious plans for must-see shows. Plain Jane Theatre Com­pany, which prides it­self on mu­si­cals with a mes­sage, mounts a mul­ti­ple-cast-mem­ber pro­duc­tion, Women on the Verge of a Ner­vous Break­down. Watch for it at the end of Fe­bru­ary 2018, at the Varscona Theatre. Fire­fly, Edmonton’s cir­cus and aerial arts theatre, is cre­at­ing a co-pro­duc­tion with Kita No Taiko called Ko­labo. It runs Feb. 23 and 24, 2018, at La Cité Fran­co­phone (8627 91 St.)

Other shows of note in­clude Our Man in Ha­vana, by the Bright Young Things theatre com­pany helmed by Belinda Cor­nish, also at the Varscona. Star­ring the hi­lar­i­ous Mark Meer and Mathew Hul­shof, the show runs Nov. 23 to Dec. 2.

Edmonton Ac­tors Theatre, lead by lo­cal di­rec­tor and ac­tor Dave Ho­rak, tack­les a new Collin Doyle script May 7 to 21, 2018, at the Stu­dio Theatre in the ATB Fi­nan­cial Bus Barns (10330 84th Ave.) Too Late to Stop Now is a fam­ily drama star­ring John Wright, Mar­a­lyn Ryan and Cole Hu­meny.

Az­imuth Theatre and Down­stage co-present Car­diac Theatre’s The Lis­ten­ing Room, by Michaela Jef­fery. It ex­plores a re­mote desert so­ci­ety, where a group of teenage dis­si­dents search for frag­ments of ear­lier civ­i­liza­tions. Watch for it Jan. 18 to 28, 2018, at the Stu­dio Theatre (10330 84th Ave.)

AM­A­TEUR THEATRE AND POST-SE­CONDARY IN­STI­TU­TIONS

Edmonton theatre lovers are lucky to have am­a­teur theatre tal­ent aplenty. Tick­ets to shows at the Wal­terdale, the depart­ment of theatre at MacEwan Univer­sity and the Stu­dio Theatre (the Univer­sity of Al­berta’s com­pany ca­ter­ing to its dra­matic arts pro­grams) of­fer solid en­ter­tain­ment at a low price.

MacEwan’s mu­si­cal theatre sea­son starts Nov. 22 with Sis­ter Act, di­rected by Guedo, fol­lowed by Love and In­for­ma­tion (di­rected by Dave Ho­rak with set de­sign by Me­gan Koshka). The lat­ter kicks off Jan. 31, 2018. The sea­son closer, which launches a 10-day run March 21, is City of An­gels. Set in 1940s Hol­ly­wood, this mu­si­cal com­edy com­bines a jazzy score by Cy Coleman with sharp com­edy a la Larry Gel­bart (of M*A*S*H fame). Shows are in the Triffo Theatre in Al­lard Hall (11110 104 Ave.) Tick­ets are avail­able through Tix on the Square.

The U of A’s Stu­dio Theatre in the Timms Cen­tre (at the north­east cor­ner of 112 St. and 87 Ave.) starts its sea­son Oct. 12 with A Bright Room Called Day, by Tony Kush­ner. Set in par­al­lel worlds of 1930s Ger­many and present day, it fol­lows a group of artists who must de­cide to flee or fight for their true be­liefs.

Ib­sen’s A Doll House, adapted by Beau Coleman, ar­rives Nov. 30 in a new for­mat, re­framed in 1950s Amer­ica. Max Gorky’s The Lower Depths de­buts Feb. 8, 2018. It’s a story of a group of peo­ple dis­placed by eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval. Richard Brins­ley Sheri­dan’s The School for Scan­dal, an 18th cen­tury com­edy of man­ners, ar­rives March 29. The sea­son winds up with the French avant-garde clas­sic, Exit the King, by Eugene Ionesco, open­ing May 17.

For tick­ets for Stu­dio Theatre pro­duc­tions call the box of­fice at 780-492-2495. timm­s­cen­tre.ca

The Wal­terdale has a jam­packed sea­son that leads off Oct. 11 with the clas­sic take A Doll’s House, fol­lowed by Trina Davies’ 1917 Hal­i­fax ex­plo­sion tale, Shat­ter, de­but­ing Dec. 6 and di­rected by Josh Langue­doc. The com­edy/drama The Women hits the stage Feb. 17 with the story of what hap­pens when the happy world of a so­cialite is threat­ened. Blue Stock­ings by Jessica Swale ex­plores women’s suf­frage from April 4 to 18. Lo­cal play­wrights will be on ex­hibit for From Cra­dle to Stage: An Even­ing of New Works, run­ning May 14 to 18. New, un­pro­duced work can be submitted to Wal­terdale for con­sid­er­a­tion. The last show of the sea­son is the mu­si­cal Next to Nor­mal, di­rected by Wal­terdale’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Bethany Hughes and run­ning July 4 to 14.

For more in­for­ma­tion, call 780439-3058 or check out the theatre’s web­site at wal­terdalethe­atre.com. 10322 83 Ave.

JOAN MAR­CUS

Am­ber Gray por­trays Perse­phone in the up­com­ing de­but of Hadestown at the Ci­tadel in Novem­ber. Gray per­formed the role off Broad­way.

ABOVE: Richelle Thor­son stars in Burn­ing Blue­beard, an anti-Christ­mas show, and part of the Roxy Per­for­mance se­ries. BE­LOW: Shel­don El­ter stars in Métis Mutt at Theatre Net­work.

JA­SON STANG

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