The­atre

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JIT­TERS

By David French. Di­rected by David Mackay. An Arts Club The­atre Com­pany pro­duc­tion. At the Stan­ley In­dus­trial Al­liance Stage on Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 1. Con­tin­ues un­til Fe­bru­ary 25

“We are not adults. We’re ac­tors.” This laugh-out-loud dec­la­ra­tion comes deep into the fi­nal act of David French’s Jit­ters, a lov­ing send-up of the fears and flaws of a small the­atre com­pany try­ing to make it to and through open­ing night.

There are an­tics and shenani­gans, one-lin­ers and wild phys­i­cal com­edy, and if that’s not enough, the Arts Club’s new pro­duc­tion is set in 1979, the year Jit­ters was first pro­duced, so the fash­ion is its own source of in­spired hi­lar­ity (thanks to won­der­ful work by cos­tume de­signer Mara Got­tler).

Jit­ters be­gins four days be­fore the open­ing night of a new play, and al­most ev­ery sin­gle char­ac­ter has a lot rid­ing on its suc­cess. Robert (Ryan Beil), the play­wright, has spent three years on this fol­low-up af­ter his de­but earned crit­i­cal raves, while Jes­sica (Me­gan Leitch), the star, is fi­nally re­turn­ing to Canada af­ter hav­ing ma­jor suc­cess on New York and Lon­don stages. Af­ter two flops in two years, she hopes that af­ter the play’s Toronto run, it will move to Broad­way. This is es­sen­tially a night­mare for her lead­ing man and ri­val, Pa­trick (Robert Moloney), a bully with a drink­ing prob­lem and deep fear of fail­ure who also hap­pens to be Canada’s best ac­tor. Di­rec­tor Ge­orge (Martin Hap­per) doesn’t just have his hands full man­ag­ing his leads, he’s also deal­ing with Phil (James Fa­gan Tait), a des­per­ately in­se­cure ac­tor who has com­plaints about ev­ery­thing, and Tom (Kam­yar Pazan­deh), a young, first-time ac­tor.

Un­der David Mackay’s joy­ful di­rec­tion, Jit­ters mostly buzzes along, though some cast mem­bers seem more com­fort­able with the rapid-fire di­a­logue and the phys­i­cal com­edy than oth­ers. When Beil, Hap­per, or Tait is in a scene, the en­ergy im­me­di­ately ticks up and the pac­ing is per­fect. When the at­ten­tion fo­cuses else­where, Jit­ters loses a bit of steam. Thank­fully, these mo­ments are few and far be­tween, and only mi­norly dis­tract from an oth­er­wise re­lent­lessly en­ter­tain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Al­most four decades af­ter its orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, Jit­ters holds up, and in part it’s be­cause there’s lit­tle mal­ice at its core. In Jit­ters, ev­ery dis­as­ter, ev­ery per­son­al­ity ex­cess, and ev­ery drama is big but still rooted in some­thing very real and rec­og­niz­able—fear—which only makes the laughs that much more mean­ing­ful. It’s such an in­dul­gent plea­sure to en­gage in metathe­atre of this cal­i­bre (owing to both the Arts Club’s stan­dards and the qual­ity of French’s writ­ing). It’s not al­ways a thrill to watch a play about a play, but it is when it’s like this: bit­ing, af­fec­tion­ate, and funny in equal mea­sure. > AN­DREA WARNER

KING ARTHUR’S NIGHT

By Niall Mc­neil and Mar­cus Youssef. Di­rected by James Long. A Ne­world The­atre pro­duc­tion, pre­sented with the UBC Depart­ment of The­atre and Film and the Push In­ter­na­tional Per­form­ing Arts Fes­ti­val. At the Fred­eric Wood The­atre on Wed­nes­day, Jan­u­ary 31. No re­main­ing per­for­mances

Take a deep breath and en­ter an­other world. It’s Camelot like you’ve never seen it be­fore. And it’s for ev­ery­one.

King Arthur’s Night is a brac­ingly fresh, rad­i­cally in­clu­sive take on the Arthurian leg­ends. Play­wright Niall Mc­neil, who has Down syn­drome, wrote the script in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mar­cus Youssef, and it is orig­i­nal, po­etic, and full of sur­prises.

Mc­neil is a com­mand­ing pres­ence as the ti­tle char­ac­ter, and his writ­ing weaves el­e­ments of his own life into Arthur’s court: Camelot is mod­elled af­ter Har­ri­son Hot Springs, a place Mc­neil has of­ten vis­ited; and a bad child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence with a goat at the Car­a­van Farm The­atre, where Mc­neil worked as an ac­tor, in­forms the de­pic­tion of this piece’s vil­lains.

El­e­ments of the story thread in and out in a non­lin­ear, dream­like fash­ion: Lancelot’s af­fair with Guin­e­vere, Mor­dred and Mor­gana’s plot­ting of re­venge, goats un­der­go­ing mil­i­tary train­ing. The play is a po­etic col­lage of pow­er­ful the­atri­cal mo­ments; its di­a­logue is terse, con­tem­po­rary, and full of sur­pris­ing im­ages. Arthur de­scribes his en­emy thus: “Mor­dred fights dirty. He eats fin­gers.” Emo­tions are di­rectly de­clared. “This is my anger moun­tain,” Mor­gana says in a con­fronta­tion with Mer­lin, “I wanna throw stuff.” Mer­lin tells her to calm down: “Take a bath or some­thing.” She replies, “It’s too late for that.” These lines (and I could quote dozens more) may look plain on pa­per, but un­der James Long’s di­rec­tion, such ex­changes pack an emo­tional wal­lop, thanks to the full com­mit­ment of the cast—which in­cludes three other ac­tors with Down syn­drome, whose abil­i­ties are beau­ti­fully show­cased here. When Tif­fany King, who plays Guin­e­vere, en­ters in a royal pro­ces­sion, her joy in danc­ing—as a choir ap­pears out of the shad­ows be­hind her—is con­ta­gious. An­drew Gor­don has an im­pres­sive turn as a Saxon demon­strat­ing mil­i­tary moves with a bat­tle-axe. The other cast mem­bers pro­vide sup­port with re­fresh­ing open­ness and spon­tane­ity.

Ev­ery scene be­tween Billy Marchen­ski’s Lancelot and King’s Guin­e­vere is mov­ing. “The Queen loves you,” Guin­e­vere con­fides at one point, and Lancelot’s re­ply of “I keep that in­side of my heart” is de­liv­ered with heart­break­ing sin­cer­ity. Kerry San­domirsky’s Mor­gana is a sin­is­ter pres­ence, cir­cling the stage with men­ac­ing whis­pers. But Mc­neil’s writ­ing has plenty of com­edy, too; he fre­quently punc­tures the solem­nity of a scene with a well-timed one­liner. “Well, you know how goats are,” Mor­gana says when telling the story of her in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship with Arthur.

And then there are Veda Hille’s mu­si­cal set­tings for Mc­neil’s lyrics. The songs range from eerie to ro­man­tic to ag­gres­sive, and the cast mem­bers are sup­ported by per­cus­sion­ist Skye Brooks and the choir, Cor Flam­mae. Josh Martin’s chore­og­ra­phy in­cor­po­rates both the earthy and the re­gal.

Shizuka Kai’s set, in which tree roots climb like ser­pents around an up­stage por­tal; Chris­tine Reimer’s sump­tu­ous cos­tumes; and Kyla Gar­diner’s moody, dim light­ing all make the show vis­ually gor­geous.

King Arthur’s Night is a rare op­por­tu­nity to see what in­clu­sion re­ally looks like—and to let its beau­ti­ful sounds and im­ages wash over you. Don’t miss it. > KATH­LEEN OLIVER

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH By Thorn­ton Wilder. Di­rected by Sarah Rodgers. A Stu­dio 58 pro­duc­tion. At Stu­dio 58 on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 3. Con­tin­ues un­til Fe­bru­ary 18

The Skin of Our Teeth is more stim­u­lat­ing to think about than it is to watch. I don’t mean to slight this pro­duc­tion, which ap­proaches the script with zest; it’s just that the play hasn’t en­tirely stood the test of time.

Thorn­ton Wilder wrote this Pulitzer-win­ning script, which cel­e­brates hu­man sur­vival in the face of im­pend­ing dis­as­ter, just as the United States was en­ter­ing the Sec­ond World War. It’s no sur­prise that it’s been re­vived in re­cent years, with the threat of dooms­day lurk­ing in the shape of Don­ald Trump.

In the first act, we meet the pre­his­toric fam­ily of Mr. An­trobus, renowned for his in­ven­tion of things like the wheel and the lever, who brings home a num­ber of refugees seek­ing shel­ter as an apoc­a­lyp­tic ice sheet draws closer. Act 2 takes place in At­lantic City as the An­trobuses cel­e­brate their 5,000th wed­ding an­niver­sary. They’ve sur­vived the ice age, but here comes a flood! The third act finds the fam­ily mem­bers re­turn­ing home af­ter the end of a more re­cent war, hav­ing once again sur­vived catas­tro­phe.

Wilder heaps up the al­le­gor­i­cal ref­er­ences, and plays fast and loose with the­atri­cal con­ven­tion in ways that must have been mind-blow­ing 75 years ago. “I hate this play,” the An­trobuses’ maid, Sabina, con­fides to the au­di­ence, fill­ing time af­ter a missed cue. “The au­thor hasn’t made up his silly mind as to whether we’re all liv­ing back in caves or in New Jer­sey.” But in 2018 we’ve all got­ten pretty used to metathe­atri­cal­ity, and less tol­er­ant of pas­sages that stretch on with lit­tle ap­par­ent pur­pose.

But, man, it’s a big show. Di­rec­tor Sarah Rodgers gets very solid work out of her cast of 27 (!), in­clud­ing Erin Palm’s re­bel­lious Sabina; Ai­dan Drum­mond’s fraz­zled stage man­ager, Mr. Fitz­patrick; and William Ed­ward and Mal­lory James, who are clear and con­fi­dent as the An­trobuses. Rodgers also sprin­kles 1930s jin­gles and songs (with help from com­poser and mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Joelysa Pankanea) through­out the ac­tion. These are lively and well-ex­e­cuted, but along with Sheila White’s pe­riod cos­tumes, they cre­ate a sense of nos­tal­gia rather than an ur­gent con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance.

David Roberts’s clever set re­con­fig­ures Stu­dio 58’s seat­ing, with the au­di­ence on ei­ther side of the An­trobuses’ rooftop, which con­verts into a board­walk for Act 2. Emily Cooper’s an­i­mated pro­jec­tions are very play­ful but un­for­tu­nately some­what lost off on a side wall.

So even though Wilder’s script some­times feels a lit­tle like a tossed salad of ideas, you can’t fault the en­ergy be­ing poured into his hope­ful mes­sage: we will sur­vive. > KATH­LEEN OLIVER

SHIT By Pa­tri­cia Cor­nelius. Di­rected by Donna Spencer. At the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre on Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 1. Con­tin­ues un­til Fe­bru­ary 10

Warn­ing: coarse lan­guage, more coarse lan­guage, and a dan­ger­ous gap be­tween con­cept and ex­e­cu­tion. Cel­e­brated Aus­tralian play­wright Pa­tri­cia Cor­nelius earned a lot of praise in her home coun­try for SHIT, which has its Cana­dian pre­miere in this Fire­hall pro­duc­tion. The play is set in a prison, where three women—billy, Sam, and Bob—find them­selves af­ter com­mit­ting a crime. Though we piece to­gether parts of the women’s sto­ries—all three have been abused and dis­carded from an early age—the script doesn’t fol­low a con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive. The women are more like voices than fleshed-out char­ac­ters, and Cor­nelius seems less in­ter­ested in di­a­logue as a tool for ex­po­si­tion than as a propo­si­tion for rhyth­mic ex­plo­ration. As a re­sult, the women some­times feel more con­cep­tual than real, like pieces in a game that is pri­mar­ily lin­guis­tic. The play’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with lan­guage be­gins in the first scene, dur­ing which Billy drops about a hun­dred F-bombs in two min­utes. (Ex­am­ple: “Who’s this fuckin fuck fuckin telling me I’m fucked up?”) Sam and Bob crit­i­cize her for over­do­ing the swear­ing; Sam de­scribes Billy’s speech as “a thick car­pet of fucks”. It’s hard to rec­on­cile this play­ful anal­y­sis with Cor­nelius’s com­ments that pref­ace her pub­lished script: “There’s not a sin­gle mo­ment when the three young women tran­scend their ug­li­ness. There’s no in­di­ca­tion of a bet­ter or in fact any in­ner life. They don’t be­lieve in any­thing. They’re mean, down mouthed, down trod­den, hard bit, ut­terly dam­aged women.…they be­lieve the world is shit, that their lives are shit, that they are shit.” Kayla De­ork­sen as Billy, Yoshié Ban­croft as Sam, and Sharon Cran­dall as Bob em­brace Cor­nelius’s word­play like a trio of skilled slam poets, but I’m not sure that di­rec­tor Donna Spencer has made them or their world as mean and ugly as the play­wright in­tends. Yes, there’s de­spair here—we get frag­men­tary glimpses of child­hood ne­glect, fos­ter care, and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion—but also spir­ited de­fi­ance. And ex­pan­sive­ness: Conor Moore’s set con­sists of three el­e­vated cells, but the women move around freely within and in front of them, at one point even frol­ick­ing around the bars dur­ing a scene change. What the fuck? I ap­plaud this pro­duc­tion’s in­ten­tion to give a voice to women who rarely get heard. But other shows have done it bet­ter, more au­then­ti­cally, and closer to home. > KATH­LEEN OLIVER

Robert Moloney and Me­gan Leitch throw them­selves into back­stage Jit­ters, com­plete with circa-1979 set­ting and cos­tumes. David Cooper photo.

Erin Palm nails it as the re­bel­lious Sabina in The Skin of Our Teeth, a big show that cel­e­brates hu­man sur­vival over the eons. Ross den Ot­ter photo.

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