A Christmas Story is a nostalgic treat
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
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