Show makes moving stage magic THEATRE
1 HOUR PHOTO
By Tetsuro Shigematsu. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production, presented by the Cultch. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Wednesday, October 4. Continues until October 15
“How does one live?” It’s a 2
good question, one that writerperformer Tetsuro Shigematsu seeks to answer by looking at the life of one man, Mas Yamamoto—father of his friend and “boss”, producer Donna Yamamoto.
Shortly after his own father’s death, Shigematsu began a series of weekly interview sessions with Mas about his extraordinary life. At 14, just a few months after the death of his fisherman father, Mas was interned along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians in B.C.’S Interior during the Second World War. After the war, he laboured in orchards in the Okanagan, then moved to the Arctic to help build the radar stations of the Distant Early Warning line. It was there that he met his wife, and in his early 30s, he resumed his education, eventually earning a PHD. But his career as a scientist was short-lived; in his 50s, he reinvented himself as a businessman, opening a store that became the most successful one-hourphoto franchise in the country.
The events of this extraordinary life would make a fascinating story all by themselves, but Shigematsu contextualizes them within the trends and inventions of their respective eras, enhancing the communal experience. “Do we remember memories or recollect photographs?” he asks, after a riff on the distinctive colour qualities of particular types of photographic film. Space exploration is a recurring motif in a text that is by turns casual and poetic.
But the central voice here is Mas’s. The first time we hear the recordings of him talking, he’s recalling being asked by a customer if he could develop and print “sensitive” photos. He explains that he understood this to refer to light-sensitive film, and was surprised to see the photos: “I wouldn’t call them obscene, but they were certainly eye-openers,” he says with a laugh. He candidly recalls loss, dislocation, heartbreak, and joy in a life touched by so many global currents of the 20th century.
Under Richard Wolfe’s direction, the play is a buffet of sensory textures. Susan Miyagishima’s exquisite miniatures are projected onto a rear screen edged with black photo corners. We see Mas’s father’s fishing boat spinning in circles as Mas’s voice narrates the story of his death. A mirror box creates rows of bunks and tents in the internment camps. In the little model of Shigematsu’s house, we see the kitchen table where he and Mas talk every Monday morning, complete with their tiny cups of tea. Pam Johnson’s set is spare and handsome, with a wide chest of drawers below the screen and a rotating platform that allows Shigematsu to animate the miniatures, and it’s all beautifully lit by Gerald King. Composer Steve Charles contributes live musical accompaniment and occasional banter.
The most important prop of all is the clear vinyl record that holds just 18 minutes of the 36 hours of interviews Shigematsu conducted. I’d love to know if there are plans to share more of the story.
HYPERLINK > KATHLEEN OLIVER
By TJ Dawe and Itai Erdal. Directed by Rachel Peake. An Elbow Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, October 5. Continues until October 14
There’s a compelling thread 2
throughout Hyperlink, a story that unfolds via a series of email exchanges verbalized by writers and performers Itai Erdal and TJ Dawe, about Erdal’s life-changing experience with a “subletter” on Craigslist. It starts out innocently enough, as do so many relatively anonymous exchanges on the Internet, but there’s foreshadowing that it’s going to get weird. Then comes the major red flag that things are actually going to get bad: a man who behaves erratically with a woman he barely knows, but who puts on a mask of calm when dealing with the man who questions him about his behaviour.
I won’t give away the ending to the Craigslist story, except to say that it is almost lost in Hyperlink’s cacophony, and its purposeful obfuscation is a brilliant bit of commentary by Erdal and Dawe about the very nature of our digital lives.
Sometimes our online interactions facilitate deeply intimate and profound connections and the humanity spills out of our screens and into our living rooms. Yet, as Hyperlink illustrates, these are the very real moments that can get entirely lost in a sea of Internet distractions: the “cute overloads” or an abundance of trite memes, porn, and Facebook, finding the right Snapchat filter or all the spam Viagra your dick could ever need.
Not everything about Hyperlink works: its structure feels a little haphazard and the moments of audience participation are hit-and-miss. The great double bassist Mark Haney feels wasted in his role, despite being on-stage the whole time. But Hyperlink’s biggest challenge is its premise. Most of the existential angst about what it means to live in a digitized world and cultivating empathy online belongs to people over a certain age. There’s an off-putting privilege to most nostalgia, because prolonged nostalgia is a cop-out. It refuses to contend with present-day realities, and it does little to shape the future.
Thankfully, Dawe and Erdal don’t dwell in this mindset very often. Both have long histories of creating one-man shows, and memoir work is its own kind of self-mythologizing— just like the curated lives we present online, perfect or messy or somewhere in between. For the most part, Dawe and Erdal seem interested in exploring the hypocrisies and truths in their own online behaviours with candour and humour, demonstrating how all of these different personas compare, contrast, and inform what it means to be a human, even a hyperlinked one, in 2017.
> ANDREA WARNER FREEDOM SINGER
Created by Khari Wendell Mcclelland and Andrew Kushnir, with Jodie Martinson. Directed by Andrew Kushnir. A Project: Humanity and Urbanink Productions presentation. At the BMO Theatre Centre on Saturday, October 7. Continues until October 18
Between 1834 and 1860, an estimated 2 30,000 escaped American slaves made their way along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.
One of these was Kizzy, the great-great-great-grandmother and “mythological matriarch” of Detroit-raised, Vancouver-based singer, actor, and Freedom Singer cocreator Khari Wendell Mcclelland.
A look at a neglected period in the country’s past—introduced to some only through a cringeworthy Heritage Moment broadcast on 1980s Canadian television, eye-rollingly re-created here to great comedic effect—freedom Singer bills itself as the untold history of the Underground Railroad as expressed through the music that accompanied the escaped slaves on their journey.
Kizzy escaped to southern Ontario, had two children with a British man, and lost her legs to frostbite because she was forced to sleep in the barn. When the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, a legless Kizzy and her two children returned to Detroit. It’s such a terrific story you want to know more. Well, that’s all there is.
Nothing else of Kizzy’s life has survived in family lore, and blessed little of the escaped slaves’ music has either. This was glaringly apparent in 2015 when Mcclelland and the CBC’S Jodie Martinson travelled across Canada from Halifax to Amherstburg, Ontario’s Freedom Museum, in a fruitless search for both. The lack of source material is just as disappointing on-stage. A musical record of the Underground Railroad, Freedom Singer is not.
Freedom Singer is more about Mcclelland’s desire to uncover a forgotten past, and the result, from a narrative standpoint, is disappointing. With so little in the way of primary sources, it’s puzzling that Mcclelland and cocreator and director Andrew Kushnir went the documentary-theatre route with Freedom Singer.
1 Hour Photo,
The strongest moment comes, unsurprisingly, from the lone contemporary source: a recording of a 1940s interview with an escaped slave who croakingly sings a few bars of a song he remembers. Mcclelland, guitarist Noah Walker, and soul singer Tanika Charles take those cracked notes and build them into a haunting re-creation, complete with updated lyrics that transform “No more auction block for me” into “No more crooked cops for me,” reflecting how little ground has been gained in the past 150 years. Even in Canada.
It’s also the only time you’ll hear an actual song from the period performed in a show about songs from the period. Otherwise, Mcclelland sings either found lyrics from the era set to his own melodies or original compositions. Freedom Singer feels a bit like a baitand-switch from the tag line “a rare musical journey through the history of the Underground Railroad”.
Despite its shortcomings, Mcclelland is a strong, albeit studiously unrehearsed, storyteller with a terrific soul tenor voice. He and fellow vocalist Charles harmonize fluidly and effortlessly, their voices overcoming an earnestness in the show’s delivery that, at times, comes across as heavy-handed or cloying.
While it doesn’t always succeed in its stated mission to give voice to the voiceless, Freedom Singer still hits a few good notes.
> STEVEN SCHELLING THE GOBLIN MARKET
Created by Eve Gordon. Directed by Mike Edward. A Dust Palace production, presented by the Cultch. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, October 3. Continues until October 14
This show is as sleek, polished, 2
and sexy as the succulent fruit that tempts its heroines.
New Zealand’s Dust Palace has created a circus with a decidedly adult flavour. Based on Christina Rossetti’s poem, The Goblin Market explores sexuality and addiction. It includes only fragments of the poem’s text in favour of image, movement, and music to tell a contemporary version of the story of two sisters. One gives in to the lure of sexuality (symbolized in the poem by goblin men selling fruit) and then wastes away; the other’s steadfast resistance ultimately brings her sister back.
Urban grit infuses the atmosphere of this show: Rossetti’s riverbank has been updated to a city overpass; the sisters sleep in their car. Performers occasionally shout barely intelligible rants into a mike at the corner of the stage. The music, ranging from moody indie rock to full-throttle noise abrasion, ramps up the intensity. And behind the action are exquisitely atmospheric, old-school projections: jumpy text, scratches, abstract shapes, and colour washes. At times you can even hear the clicking of the reels. The fruit is here too, deployed in ways that continually surprise.
It’s a hell of a container, but it’s still just the container: the main attraction is the jaw-dropping virtuosity of the three performers, who use a variety of acrobatic techniques to tell the story. Edward Clendon struggles to shed his goblin nature in a riveting aerial silk sequence. Clendon and Rochelle Mangan perform a trapeze duet whose culminating kiss—as he’s suspended from the bar, holding her by the chin below him—sets off an explosion. At one point he walks with her body balanced on the back of his neck! Eve Gordon has a number of duets with Mangan in the aerial hoop that serves as the sisters’ home: as Mangan’s character succumbs to addiction, she flops out of the hoop and goes limp; when she’s finally revived, the symmetry in their movement is exquisite. A moving balance beam, ropes, and a tower of chairs all serve to showcase the performers’ incredibly toned bodies and mind-blowing acrobatic skills.
Devotees of the poem might be disappointed by the minimal use of Rossetti’s text and selective exploration of her themes. But as an immersive experience for the senses, The Goblin Market dazzles.
> KATHLEEN OLIVER
NIGHT MUSIC Send in the clowns…and the lovesick fools, mismatched couples, and warm turn-ofthe-century Swedish nights. If anyone has the chops to mount Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s elegant but lighthearted romantic musical comedy it’s Patrick Street Productions—the local company that’s worked magic on such shows as
Based on Ingmar Bergman’s
the production explores how silly people act when they fall for each other, and the songs are the big, beautiful draw. Peter Jorgensen directs, and the cast includes favourites like Katey Wright and Patti Allan, at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre to October 21.-
A Little Night Music, The Light in the Piazza.
Smiles of a Summer Night,