A Christ­mas Story is a nos­tal­gic treat

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

THEATRE

A CHRIST­MAS STORY: THE MU­SI­CAL Book by Joseph Robi­nette. Mu­sic and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Di­rected by Chad Match­ette. An Align En­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion. At the Michael J. Fox Theatre on Satur­day, Novem­ber 3. Con­tin­ues un­til Novem­ber 17

A CHRIST­MAS STORY: The Mu­si­cal will al­ready have closed two whole weeks be­fore you flip your cal­en­dar page to De­cem­ber, but if you’re the type for whom the fes­tive sea­son can’t start early enough, this hearty dose of good cheer is for you.

The 2012 mu­si­cal is based on the 1983 film of the same ti­tle. Here, as there, a fram­ing de­vice fea­tures an au­thor re­call­ing his child­hood in 1940. Nine-year-old Ral­phie des­per­ately wants a Red Ry­der BB gun for Christ­mas, but all the adults—even Santa— give the same au­to­matic re­sponse: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Mean­while, Ral­phie’s lit­tle brother whines a lot, their mother ex­hibits the pa­tience of a saint, and their fa­ther proves to be just as much of a dreamer as his son.

Nostal­gia is at the heart of the film, and the songs pleas­antly evoke a more in­no­cent time while giv­ing life to the film’s iconic images. “Sticky Sit­u­a­tion” sees Ral­phie’s class­mate get his tongue stuck to a flag­pole. “A Ma­jor Award” cel­e­brates his fa­ther’s un­usual con­test prize, and fea­tures a group of danc­ing girls dressed as leg lamps.

The en­tire cast of 32, at least half of them kids, do im­pres­sive work un­der Chad Match­ette’s di­rec­tion. Owen Scott is an ex­cel­lent Ral­phie. He’s an un­pre­ten­tious ac­tor and a strong singer; just watch the work­out he gets in “Ral­phie to the Res­cue”. Bren­nan Cuff, as the Old Man (Ral­phie’s dad), is ter­rific: his chron­i­cally har­ried Every­man is rooted in the pe­riod, as is his creamy voice. As the adult Ral­phie, Trent Gluk­ler is a solid nar­ra­tor. And Amanda Rus­sell shines as teacher Miss Shields, es­pe­cially when she lets loose for a big tap num­ber, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”.

Mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Caitlin Hayes and chore­og­ra­pher Melissa Turpin max­i­mize the tal­ents of the huge cast with gor­geous har­monies and lively move­ment. Conor Moore’s set re­quires the ac­tors to move big pieces fre­quently, but these elab­o­rate changes are ex­e­cuted with light­ning speed. And props to cos­tume de­signer Mau­reen Robert­son for out­fit­ting the cast in ev­ery­thing from py­ja­mas to elf cos­tumes to can­can dresses.

It’s big, it’s colour­ful, and it’s warm­hearted—an early taste of hol­i­day spirit. by Kath­leen Oliver

THE BELIEV­ERS ARE BUT BROTHERS

By Javaad Alipoor. Di­rected by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Hous­ley. A Javaad Alipoor pro­duc­tion, pre­sented by the Cultch and Di­wali in B.C. At the Vancity Cul­ture Lab on Thurs­day, Novem­ber 1. Con­tin­ues un­til Novem­ber 10

WOW, YOU can pack a lot into an hour of theatre.

In The Believ­ers Are But Brothers Bri­tish writer-per­former Javaad Alipoor uses mul­ti­ple in­ter­faces, in­clud­ing di­rect ad­dress to the au­di­ence, video pro­jec­tion, and a live group chat on What­sapp, to ex­plore, in his words, “men, pol­i­tics, and the In­ter­net”. The play’s form mir­rors its sub­ject mat­ter, click­ing link af­ter as­so­cia­tive link.

But The Believ­ers Are But Brothers is not an at­tack on so­cial me­dia; Alipoor tells us that he ap­pre­ci­ates the com­mu­nity he finds there and val­ues the op­por­tu­nity it af­fords to “blur the edges of [him]self”. The play raises thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tions about just how blurry those edges can get. Alipoor draws on his own ex­pe­ri­ence, along­side the imag­ined sto­ries of Atif and Mir­wan, two rad­i­cal­ized Bri­tish Mus­lims based on young men with whom he had brief real-life in­terac­tions on­line, and Ethan, a.k.a. Fa­ther Lulz, a Cal­i­for­nia white boy whose lack of suc­cess in dat­ing metas­ta­sizes into chat-room-fu­elled misog­yny.

To un­der­stand the worlds of these char­ac­ters, it helps to know words like ji­hadism, 4chan, Gamer­gate, doxxing, lib­tards, lulz, and memes—but for the unini­ti­ated, Alipoor does an ex­cel­lent job of ex­plain­ing. He demon­strates first­hand by hav­ing au­di­ence mem­bers guess—on What­sapp— how many Mus­lims there are in the U.K., and how many of them have joined ISIS. Lit-up cell­phones dot the au­di­ence; the guesses vary wildly. “It doesn’t mat­ter if you know what you’re talk­ing about, you just get your voice out there,” Alipoor ob­serves.

“On-screen there’s al­ways al­ready a war be­ing fought,” Alipoor’s nar­ra­tor tells us of Ethan, the Amer­i­can. “He may look alone, but he is in­vis­i­bly sur­rounded.” This idea is present in Ben Pacey’s stage de­sign: Alipoor oc­ca­sion­ally turns his back to us to at­tend to one of the screens (one of them shows a first-per­son-shooter game) on a desk fac­ing the au­di­ence; an­other desk faces his, where a man (pro­ducer Luke Emery) sits in shadow at an­other com­puter screen.

The tex­tu­ral va­ri­ety of the show is rich: one mo­ment, you’re read­ing texts in your lap or tak­ing part in what feels like an in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tion; the next, you’re watch­ing a face on a screen de­scribe a mile­stone in the his­tory of ISIS in lan­guage that is both po­etic and dis­turb­ing. The im­pris­on­ment and tor­ture of Sayyid Qutb, an early ad­vo­cate of vi­o­lent ji­had in 1950s Egypt, is de­scribed as lead­ing to “a vi­sion of redemp­tion that you can only reach by climb­ing a moun­tain of corpses”.

Believ­ers doesn’t of­fer easy an­swers to any of the dif­fi­cult ques­tions it asks. There’s more to take in than a sin­gle view­ing af­fords; that’s an enor­mous achieve­ment. by Kath­leen Oliver

BACK­BONE

Cre­ated by Grav­ity & Other Myths. Di­rected by Darcy Grant. A Grav­ity & Other Myths pro­duc­tion, pre­sented by the Cultch. At the Van­cou­ver Playhouse on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 30. No re­main­ing per­for­mances

“PEO­PLE CAN fly!” I wrote that in my note­book part­way through Back­bone, an ex­traor­di­nary show from Aus­tralia’s aptly named Grav­ity & Other Myths.

If you saw A Sim­ple Space at the York Theatre a cou­ple of years back, you likely haven’t for­got­ten the com­pany’s daz­zling com­bi­na­tion of play­ful­ness and vir­tu­os­ity. Made for a big­ger space and a more ex­pan­sive stage, Back­bone sets the bar even higher.

What these 10 ac­ro­bats can do with their bod­ies will make you gasp over and over again. (Ac­tu­ally, they might make you gasp even when they’re just stand­ing still: these folks have mus­cles where I didn’t even know mus­cles ex­isted.) They bal­ance 12-foot poles on their heads for an im­pos­si­bly long time! They make a tower that’s three peo­ple tall, then put a fourth on top! Fe­male ac­ro­bats walk along the heads of a shift­ing line of men! One woman floats supine in the air, bal­anced on a sin­gle pole! An­other is held aloft only by her chin! They make a hu­man pyra­mid while all of them are wear­ing metal pails on their heads! These ex­cla­ma­tion marks are all jus­ti­fied!

But these phys­i­cal feats never feel like empty show­ing off, be­cause there’s such a joy­ous ca­ma­raderie in the group. Things that be­gin as games—like trad­ing cos­tumes or dump­ing sand over each other’s heads—quickly morph into breath­tak­ing rou­tines. In one se­quence, the group stands in a long line be­hind a rope held at waist level. They ran­domly take turns num­ber­ing off, but when two peo­ple call out a num­ber at the same time, they have to stand back while the rest of the group stretch the rope for­ward with their bod­ies, then si­mul­ta­ne­ously do hand­stands over it, caus­ing it to snap back and whip the un­for­tu­nate pair up­stage. Through­out the show, per­form­ers swing and toss each other’s bod­ies around like toys—but they also catch them with jaw-drop­ping pre­ci­sion.

Aes­thet­i­cally, this show is a step up from the bare-stage in­ti­macy of A Sim­ple Space. The props are rel­a­tively sim­ple—poles, rocks, buck­ets of sand—but they’re used in­ven­tively, and the sheer num­ber of them makes for many ele­gant stage pic­tures. Ge­off Cob­ham’s dra­matic light­ing de­sign sculpts the space with its an­gled beams of sin­gle colours. Mu­si­cian-com­posers Shen­ton Gre­gory, El­liot Zo­erner, and Christo­pher Neale cre­ate a sin­u­ous and per­cus­sive score, per­formed live on drums, key­boards, and vi­o­lin.

But the hu­man body—and the things you never imag­ined it ca­pa­ble of—are the big stars. by Kath­leen Oliver

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