June 27, 2021

Review of Morpheus Theatre's production of

Trial by Jury

By W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

June 17 -27 at The Pumphouse Theatre. Check here for details.

I saw live theatre! I did, I tell you, it is true. Granted, it was outdoors and a woman with a stick made sure everyone was six feet apart, even though the majority of people in that largely blue-hair audience have probably had their second jab more than two weeks ago, but then, the whole covid thing is a kind of theatre as well, so it was two sorts of theatre for the price of one.

The formally theatrical theatre was Morpheus theatre's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's one act Trial by Jury, and then selections from the G&S repetoire for the second act.

Was it brilliant? Who cares? It was LIVE. And there were fine performances.

The streaming theatre things people have been doing for the most part are an act of desperation, a totally understandable act of desperation given the circumstances, but the primary value of the things is to demonstrate some fundamental non-negotiables of live theatre, the most important of which is that we must be in the same room together. Ideally we can see each other, or at very least, the performers can hear the audience breathing, laughing, or (heaven forfend) coughing, shuffling, flipping program pages and all the thing even polite audiences do when they are bored. We must be in the same space for this peculiar, yet essential, conversation to take place.

At intermission I bought one of those drumstick ice cream things at the Pumphouse concession from the unparalleled Troy (is it just me, or do you think he gets better looking with each passing year as well?). At the top of Act II I was sitting in a pleasant park, on a lovely summer's day, eating ice cream, and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan performed live. In that moment I considered myself blessed.

Thank you, Morpheus Theatre, and the cast and crew of Trial by Jury. That was a welcome welcome back.

Deimon Slagg

February 15th, 2020

Review of Cappucino Theatre's production of

The Hunchback of Notre Dame     (7.5/10)

Music: Alan Menken, Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz, Book: Peter Parnell

February 1 - 15 at The Studio at Vertigo Theatre. Check here for details.

Some people think musicals are gay. If so, then The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the gayest musicals in the best, drama-queen-of-a-musical, sort of way. The music is so over top dramatic that it’s in the melodramatic zone, very little by way of subtlety, a direct slash to the heart strings of unsophisticated plebes.

Consequently, if a production of this musical is to succeed, it must match that level. This is not a musical to approach timidly or with lack of commitment. Unfortunately, actors are lazy creatures. Many directors are lucky to get 50% out of them. Yet somehow director Tory Doctor has managed to secure a solid 70% most of the time from his cast, and sometimes more, especially from actor Kayla MacKenzie (see below).

Quasimodo is played by Nicholas Chamberlain, and he delivers a competent performance adequately hitting all the right notes. Indeed, this could be said for most of the cast – Doctor did a fine job of casting it.

Esmeralda is a standout for being played by someone who is something of a triple threat, Kayla MacKenzie. She can move, dance, sing, and acts with all the subtlety and nuance of a star of the silent screen in the 1920s. In fact, at one point I was reminded of the great Brigitte Helm. This degree of overacting would be regarded as egregious in most productions, but this one is so over the top melodramatic that it almost invites it. The only place where it really was a problem was when cry-acting interfered with singing.

The standout performance of the production was by Brad Simon as Dom Claude Frollo. He did have an advantage in that his character is the most three dimensional one in a mostly shallow adaptation of of a great novel. That said, he did not squander that advantage, and succeeded in making Frollo sufficiently sympathetic that when Quasimodo kills him (oops, spoiler alert!), I found myself thinking that was something of a dick move. I mean sure, he’s a murderous would be rapist arsonist, but he’s the closest thing Quasimodo has to a dad, and someone who raised him even though he didn’t have to.

Frollo has a compassionate core, but his weakness and cowardice make him the monster of the piece. Simon plays all of the levels, while looking awesomely gaunt, costumed in long black robes with a white scarf forming two long verticals further emphasizing his tall, skinny, emaciated (symbolic of being starved for love?) self. And he can sing.

Hannah Joelle and assistant Josh McKinnon’s choreography was appropriately smooth. With community theatre productions you can’t count on an ensemble of triple threats; the challenge is to turn out something that looks professional even so. And they succeeded.

Samantha Bellamy-Smith’s ramshackle gypsy cart set offered versatile levels, and could change character with projections allowing the play to flow cinematically from scene to scene. And though it could appear ramshackle, it didn’t wobble even with actors all over it; no compromise to actor safety.

Mikee Ame’s props and costumes worked well as usual, not calling attention to themselves (except, possibly, Frollo's costume for being so perfect), but doing much to establish time and place. Mikee’s a pal, and I got to see the bean bag tomatoes that are thrown at Quasimodo before the show opened. They worked well, though I still would have liked to see them splat, though obviously anything that has to be cleaned up is a major pain in live performance. And I see what you mean, Mikee, about the tambourine.

So should you go see it? Absolutely. But you can’t, because it just closed.

A big part of the reason I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, though, is because it mostly connects with the audience. I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Tory Doctor, and as an actor he completely understands the importance of connecting with the audience. And he seems to have imparted something of that to this cast. For the most part, they sing *to* the audience, not above their heads or to lighting units. Seriously, I once saw a ballad delivered to a lighting unit, and I found myself thinking as Hamlet did, “What is this lighting unit to him or he to this lighting unit that he should weep for it?” (something of a paraphrase).

This is facilitated by the conceit off the top that the play is the production of a troupe of Gypsies. They are present as the audience enters and interact with them. That could be seen as a gimmick that has been overused in theatre, but here it really works, establishing performers and audience together in the same space, and making the Gypsies the foundation of the piece, something Doctor notes in the program as being important to him, and which works from beginning to end to hold it all together.

So too bad you missed it (unless you didn't). I can't say I would recommend any production of this. The first act is a little long, and the music makes specific demands of the production which must be met on all fronts in order for it to succeed. Everything depends on whether the production can rise to the challenge, and I think this one did.

Deimon Slagg


November 15th, 2019

Review of Theatre Encounter's production of

Laid/e     (8.0/10)

November 13-16, 20-23, 2019 at the Abattoir Theatre in cSpace. Check here for details.

Most people don’t go to theatre. Some went once, but concluded that theatre wasn’t for them. That’s funny in a sad sort of way, as though they suffered from some personal deficiency making them incapable of being engaged by theatre.

What’s much more likely is that they saw broken theatre. Theatre can be broken for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is a lack of connection between the audience and the performers. Without that living, breathing connection, there is no point; it is a waste of time and money. You would be better off going to the cinema.

If you are one of the people who saw broken theatre and concluded some sort of personal failing, give it one more try and go see Theatre Encounter’s Laid/e. As is typical for Theatre Encounter, it isn’t strong on story, but it is functional theatre – at very least you will get a taste of what theatre that works is like, and will be better able to make an assessment of whether or not theatre is for you.

Laid/e nominally has something to do with Toulouse-Lautrec, though it is not biography in the conventional sense. There is one sketch in this cabaret of sorts wherein he is a character, albeit played by a lovely young woman. That is completely appropriate to the piece as a whole, as we are being treated to a cultural wash of sorts, where impressions (post-impressions?) are more important than literal detail, where Toulouse-Lautrec’s environment external and internal (his personal desires and his doubts) is the important thing, not so much what he looked like – we all know what he looked like. But what did his time and place feel like, especially the Moulin Rouge days of Paris; the glamour, sensuality, desires, passion, and the price?

This cabaret provides the platform for the exploration, as well as opportunity for demonstrating the skills of this multi-talented cast; Sarah Haggeman, Amy Hinz, and Rico Pfeiffer. We have dancing of many kinds (including tap), singing, ukulele playing, and some acting. There is a comedy bit which is not the strongest thing in the play, where Haggeman and Hinz trade jokes denigrating women; it’s not funny and one fears that may be the point, an attempt to hit the audience over the head with a hammer that simply misses. It’s the Persian flaw in an otherwise wonderful collection of performances.

The actors connect with the audience from the very beginning off the top as audience enters. They are in character welcoming patrons to their cabaret. I detected the slightest element of unease. That will disappear as the run progresses. In theatre which works, audience is a scene partner, and one who typically doesn’t bother to show up to rehearsals. Opening night can be something of a shock, because suddenly it isn’t how you rehearsed it, suddenly that absent scene partner is there, and it changes everything.

You will see a more confident cast than performed on opening, which is saying something, because from the beginning they are a skilled and competent lot who have clearly benefited from working with director/facilitator, Celene Harder.

And do go. Especially if you haven’t seen theatre which works. And if you have, treat yourself to some more.

Deimon Slagg


January 15th, 2019

Review of Theatre Encounter's production of

Klimt's Women (part one)     (7.5/10)

March 27th to 30th, 2019 at the cSpace Studio Theatre. Check here for details.

This is a strange sort of review; it is for a show which has closed and is yet to open, Theatre Encounter's production of Klimt's Women. This is a devised theatre piece by director Val Duncan and performers Celene Harder and Cassandra Watson. I saw the November 30th, 2018 performance of Part One; the full show will be performed March 27th to 30th at the cSpace Studio Theatre, watch the Theatre Encounter web site for more info closer to the event.

This is my second review of a Theatre Encounter production; you can find the first, of Aeschylus Fragments, here. I scored it 8.5 as they seemed very successful in achieving their objectives. They were less so with Klimt's Women which I score a 7.5.

On the plus side, there was a similar level of commitment to performance theatre (I would say 'high performance', but I think One Yellow Rabbit may have that trademarked). That alone is worth a great deal, even in the absence of a clear vision. In fact, their competence could almost fool an audience into believing that there was a clear vision.

Some time after the show closed, I had the privilege of doing coffee with director Val Duncan, and had the opportunity to ask questions about process, purpose, vision, all the things. I was curious about the intention. I learned that Duncan had the courage to allow the devised creation process to unfold without a lot of interference or imposition on her part, in spite of the risk of impaired cohesion.

The piece has so much modern dance in it that it could be as easily called a dance piece as a piece of theatre; indeed, some might say more so. If what we predominantly have are performers moving about rhythmically with very little clue as to character or story, can it be called theatre in anything but the broadest sense?

My answer to that is simply, "I'll take it." I find modern dance to be opaque at the best of times, but here I had the novel experience of being sad when it was over; I wanted to see more.

The last piece of modern dance I saw left me with my head cocked like a cartoon dog going "huh?". The venue didn't help. It was quite a large theatre, and I was in the middle of the audience. Way down on the stage two dancers put themselves through a variety of contortions with no clear intention or purpose.

Klimt's Women, by contrast, was performed in Theatre Encounter's black box space, The Abattoir at cSpace King Edward. There was only one row of seats for audience, and the production was much more intimate; it wasn't contortions way down there, but up close, and at times I could even see nascent character; I might not know who it was or where they were or what was concerning them, but some character was clearly trying to manifest.

That it was so sparsely attended was disappointing. Especially since down the hall in the big theatre was a sold out Christmas sing along. It reminds me of the classic Laurie Anderson line, "Welcome to Difficult Listening Hour." Not too many people are interested in difficult listening, and what Theatre Encounter does could be characterized as that. I don't find it so because I love performance theatre; it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be real, alive, immediate with committed, engaged performers.

And that's why Theatre Encounter gets a 7.5. That's their starting point. They begin high purely for their commitment, execution, and the fact that they so clearly understand that theatre isn't the poor relative of other media; it's its own thing. You won't see them doing anything that would be better done as a radio play or film or tv show.

What could they improve?

They could have served the title better. I would like to have seen more character in a show titled "Klimt's Women". And I know from talking to Duncan that they did extensive research into the models used by Klimt, into the art scene Klimt was part of and how they used models, how models are used still to this day. Fascinating stuff, very little of which makes it clearly through to this production's audience (one exception being a Klimt expert who came and saw the show and could see Klimt's women better even than Duncan did).

Which brings up an obvious question to anyone rude enough to ask it (like me), which is "do you care about the audience at all?" Duncan's response was a joking "no". Well, half joking. Maybe not joking at all?

Theatre Encounter is very intelligent when it comes to budgeting productions. They don't depend on ticket sales *at all*. Whatever funding they get, that's what they have to spend. This no doubt contributes to them being one of the most exciting yet poorly attended theatres in Calgary.

Not caring what the audience thinks is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it allows for a great deal of freedom in experimentation, of exploring styles that might not be popular (like Butoh in their Aeschylus Fragments), and being able to take chances in advancing the art.

On the down side, there is a risk of self-indulgence and self-deceit, believing you're really on to something, when really you're just jacking off. Not that there's anything wrong with jacking off, if that's what you're getting funding for. But is there an Alberta Culture Jack Off Grant? I know what a cynic would say.

If I had one suggestion for Theatre Encounter, it would be to pay more attention to story telling, especially when you are dealing with characters. It may be less of a concern when you're dealing with fragments from a long dead playwright, but an audience is going to have reasonable expectations when you plant yourself firmly within the time and space of specific historical persons.

I would like to see them do a devised piece with a dramaturg/playwright as part of the team (pick me! pick me!) who could serve in part as an audience representative, who could ask what sort of story is being told. Because with something like this, story may be unavoidable, and if you don't take responsibility for that, the story may become some vague thing about a couple of women moving around without clear purpose. I did find it engaging, almost surreal, because the performers are so committed to what they are doing, even if it isn't communicating as they intend, but I would have liked to have seen much more of the questions and issues which served to inspire the piece.

All that said, I hope I am in town to catch the full Klimt's Women in March. Whatever they do will be worth seeing. It's as simple as that. Do yourself a favour and mark it down in your calendar now.

Deimon Slagg


October 24th, 2018

Review of Simply Theatre's production of

A Few Good Men     (7.5/10)

by Aaron Sorkin

October 19th to 27th, 2018 at the Pumphouse (Joyce Doolittle Theatre). See here for details.

Go see it. That's the short version. Unless you have an aversion to court room dramas, there's no reason not to see it. The writing is excellent, the acting decent, production values fairly minimal but completely functional. It's a military court room drama (you may be familiar with the movie that starred Jack Nicholson), and examines US Marine culture in a fairly even handed way; yes, they get up to things they ought not, but as one character says, even if they hate your guts, they will put themselves between you and a bullet -- a dedication to justice, freedom, country, and all that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So that's it, you don't need to read any more. It's just shout outs to my friends from here on. And yes, I'm totally biased.

First shout out has to go to the director, James Noonan. Because so many directors are essentially frauds who can't find their own asses with both hands; actors who've finally found themselves in a position where they can take notes and tell other actors how they would do it if they were playing the part -- shows often fail or succeed in spite of them, not because of them. It's really hard to know just from watching what the director's actual contribution was, if any.

But the pace and timing of this large cast show is sufficiently what it needs to be to suggest there was an intelligence monitoring and encouraging it. This is a talky-talk talk talk show of a kind I'm not incredibly fond of -- seriously, if you can make a movie out of it (and especially if a movie has been made of it), maybe think two or three or nine times before doing it as theatre. Then don't.

So pulling it off as well as Noonan and his cast and crew have is an impressive achievement. I was engaged throughout, and wasn't even remotely tempted to flee into the night at intermission.

Noonan's staging contributed very positively to this as well. You aren't aware of the actors tap dancing and juggling because they aren't, they stop just short of that, with enough motion to keep things from becoming too static without being distracting.

So well done, Jim, for being a example of how a director can actually be useful.

And a shout out to Bryan Smith in the role of Daniel Kaffee. I've thought of Smith as primarily a competent enough musical theatre artist, but he really shone in this role. I was reminded of a young Bill Murray, as the character has this sort of casual American humour, the easy off the cuff quip or comment that Murray does so well, and Smith has no problem with either. And so many lines, how did he memorize them all? He must have started very early on in the process to nail them all in good time (Ha ha ha ha , I am such a dick).

Kudos, Bryan, you are seriously engaging, hitting all the levels in this complex character making him eminently watchable.

Then I want to do shout outs to my old buds, friends and peers, Greg Speilman and Stuart Bentley. Greg plays the Jack Nicholson part, Colonal Nathan Jessup. Everyone, even those of us who have not seen the film, know the famous line "You can't handle the truth," and poor Greg has to act through laughs conditioned by the fact that most of the time when we've heard that line, it has been in the context of satire and parody. Still, he keeps his cool as an actor while losing it as a character and powers on through the climax of the play.

Bentley is an amazing actor (will never forget his Nixon in Scorpio's Frost/Nixon, or his joyously manically evil serial killer in Bloodmania) who is perhaps a little wasted in the small and constrained part of the judge, Colonal Julius Randolph. While other actors can move about, he's pretty much trapped behind the bench, banging his little gavel. But in spite of such a small gavel (absolutely no reflection on the man), he conveys the necessary gravitas the role demands.

Lucas Seeger is another actor I associate primarily with musical theatre, but he certainly wasn't tap dancing in this one. Both of the accused, Louden Downey (Seeger) and Harold Dawson (Issiah Sanghera) are played as stand-at-attention-even-at-ease Marines, though Seeger plays Downey as being a little more simple, a little less poker faced, often looking to Dawson for guidance.

Dramaturgically (he said pretentiously), these characters constitute a characterological dyad requiring the actors to be tuned to each other at all times, even when they don't have lines, and there are a lot of times when they are just silently doing the Marine thing. They pull it off very well. We actually feel sympathy for these characters, and the way it is written, that is by no means guaranteed, as they can be characterized as bullies who pick on the weak kid leading to his death; The character of Sam Weinberg (Michael Brown) makes this very point -- he thinks they should be put away for a long time, in spite of being on their defense team.

And a shout out as well to the props mistress, Mikee Ames. As usual, being a friend, I got to see props close up the way only cast and crew do. Such little things we as audience don't even think of when it's done right, like stacks of mail with cancelled stamps that are period correct, each of the cancel marks hand drawn. Man, she should get an award, but though she has received awards for other things like choreo and costume, this unobtrusive commitment to quality and detail just doesn't get noticed. And done right, it usually shouldn't be. So you're doing it right, Mikee, no one is noticing; it's just a little magic you provide towards creating a world.

And finally a shout out to ensemble member Nick Wensrich. I had the pleasure of coaching Nick on an Urban Stories show. At that time he was concerned about being type cast in comedies. Well, I suppose this play has its funny moments, but that doesn't seem to be turning out to be a problem. Good job, Nick, keep it up, look forward to seeing you one day in a comedy.

That's the people I know and am totally biased towards. Unbiasedly, kudos are also due to the actors who played Kaffee's wingmen, Joanne Galloway (Gillian Klassen) and Sam Weinberg (Michael Brown). Dramaturgically speaking, they constitute a characterological triad (see dyad blah, blah above)... This trio has so much stage time together that the play succeeds or fails on their performances. And it succeeds. It is a pleasure to watch them play together.

I ran into Bentley after the show in the lobby, and he wondered if I was going to "Slagg" the show in a review, and I got the impression he was regarding being slagged as not being an entirely positive thing. So...

I suppose I could note that the quality of the acting is uneven, but that's kind of to be expected in a large cast community theatre production. That's another thing Noonan really deserves kudos for, casting a cast this strong from community theatre volunteers. A little unevenness is not a big deal.

I suppose the worst thing is that the Pumphouse concession sells ice cream. I'm on a diet, but ice cream at the theatre is kind of a thing for me, very hard to resist. It would be helpful to me in future if Simply Theatre would choose venues that don't sell ice cream.

They are coming to the end of their run, so catch it if you can. I have heard that it may be remounted, so if you can't catch it this time, catch it next time. By then I'm sure the entire cast will be completely rock solid on their lines. Not that anyone isn't (I am such a dick).

Deimon Slagg



June 16th, 2018

Review of StoryBook Theatres production of

Ty Rex, by Jeremy Mason     (7.5/10)

June 6th to 17th, 2018 at the Vertigo Studio Theatre. See here for details.

Another just in time review! 3 shows left, all occuring tomorrow.

Ty Rex' story is not hugely original; a boy overcomes a classroom conflict through imagination and learning to play well with others. But originality isn't everything, and this presentation is full of wonderful theatrical performance. It could be adapted to other mediums, of course, but would not be best served by such.

AJ Baragar and Neil James do a wonderful job as the grade three students Ty and Artie respectively. They avoid the pitfall of TYA acting that is all phoney, disconnected, over the top energy and instead turn in very credible performances for a couple of adults. Kids in the audience seemed to buy in, as did adults. They are the best written of the four parts.

Actors Laura Solilo and Justine Westby are not as well served by the playwright in the roles of the aunt and the teacher. The teacher starts each class with a new comical hat in the belief that this will help pedagogically, engaging the students, but it also is very representative of Mason's approach to the adult characters; try to disguise their preachiness with a little razzle dazzle, an appearance of weird to disguise the fact that they are the voices of establishment and orthodoxy. The performances smell a bit of TYA acting as well. There is less buy in by the young audience, except for when the teacher is addressing them directly as the class, and then we see the very best part of the production, the kids in the audience responding as they might to an actual teacher; putting up their hands, answering back, as the classroom effectively extends out for a moment to embrace the audience. But when they are not so engaged, the adult heavy scenes have them fidgiting and having to be parent minded more as they lose interest.

Jennifer Arsenault's set is a thing of low tech beauty and magic. The backdrop of the class room can split into five pieces and rotate to form the aunt's house, or the world of Ty's imagination. The reverses are colourfully and somewhat wildly painted, but the aunt is an artist, so that explains why her walls are perhaps a tad unorthodox. It takes practically no time to make the switch, and the switch itself is fun to watch.

Krish Mish's sound design, and Lisa Floyd's lighting design perfectly support the story and the changing locals actual or imaginary in the way such design does when done well, unobstrusively creating a universe without unduly calling attention to themselves.

And Mad Props (Mikee Ames and Brad Laberge) are at work on this production as well. It is easier, I think, to ask Mikee what currently running shows she didn't work on rather than have her list the ones she did. Here we have another of her signature food props, the pizza with white sauce, and both her psychedelic grade three clipboard and dinosaur backpack featured nicely. The custom work that Mad Props does adds lovely detail to all the shows they work on.

Should you see it? I would very much avoid it if you don't like kids, because the theatre is crawling with them. On the other hand, they are, in many ways, the ideal audience, very much, I imagine, like the groundlings in Shakespeare's day, capable of wide mouthed wonder, but also quite capable of letting you know when they're bored or not being entertained. And this is theatre as theatre should be; very physical, full of charm and magic, and at its best engaging us in such a way that we are all in the same space, erasing the sense of the performers over there, and we sitting over here watching them.

In fact, I would like to see a new genre emerge, TYAOA -- Theatre for Young Audiences for Old Audiences. Why should kids have all the fun? It seems very unfair that they get moving worlds of imagination and wonder, while we have to watch plays with people sitting around talking. But they would revolt if we tried to switch and make them watch the people sitting around talking. They literally would not sit still for it. And good for them. And good for StoryBook for providing them with theatrical experiences such as this.

Deimon Slagg


June 15th, 2018

Review of DIY Theatre's production of

Time Stands Still, by Donald Margulies     (7/10)

June 7th to 16th, 2018 at the Motel Theatre in Arts Commons. See here for details.

Ok, this is going to be a quicky, as of time of writing, you have only two more opportunities to see this show, both of them on Saturday, June 16th. One of the disadvantages of reviewing a show late in its run is that the publicity value of the review is somewhat diminished. But on the plus side, so many shows don't get the rehearsal time they need, so when one reviews a show from its preview or opening, the show often isn't fully cooked yet. The performance this cast gives has a feeling of people comfortable working together; it's a stew in which the flavours have mixed.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that director Shelby Reinitz is also directing a play I wrote, The Apple Kingdom, for the Canmore Summer Theatre Festival, July 4th to 8th. Stage manager Kristy Benz is playing a major role in the same play. Female lead Kaleigh Richards is choreographer for the other show in the Canmore festival, Romeo and Juliet, in which I play Friar Lawrence, so you will understand if I am a wee bit biased.

This one is interesting to compare to StoryBook's Mary Poppins (reviewed below). It also is a type of theatre I'm not fond of, in this case the play set in a living room or kitchen (or in this case open concept living-room/kitchen). These sorts of plays tend to be very talky, really radio plays disguised as theatre plays. I think a better place for them these days would be streaming from the Internet, given that there is very little about them which is necessarily theatrical.

With regard to design and performance, these productions are somewhat opposite; whereas the characters in Poppins are shallow and shallowly performed for the most part, in Time Stands Still they are more complex and performed with a sincere attempt at depth which is not entirely unsuccessful. Design, on the other hand, is a tour de force in Poppins, but looks a bit thrown together without a whole lot of creative thought in Time Stands Still.

Speaking to Reinitz after the performance she observed that that particular performance was perhaps not the best they had done. This being the case, I should very much like to have seen one where they were at their best, because all the performers turned in competent performances. Yes, I would have liked to have seen a smidgen more authenticity throughout, and more levels, especially from Richards. She is very good at earnestness, and this is an earnest character no doubt, coping, as she is, with PTSD. Richard's interpretation makes sense the way the character is written, but I wonder if Reinitz couldn't have worked with Richards in a way which sourced more from the heart than the head. Often when we can do that we come up with things which are surprising to us, and surprise is such a valuable gift to give an audience. There wasn't a whole lot surprising in this production, with perhaps one major exception in the design.

It was very cool that they used the actual windows in Motel Theatre looking out over Stephen Avenue. Usually these are covered over and behind blackout blinds. But you absolutely could not make fake windows in the set as nice as these real ones. And with the summer solstice approaching, day lasts the whole performance, fading to twilight across the time of the play.

That said, the set itself was functional, not awful, just not particularly adding of anything. Sofa, table, bric-a-brac that yuppies might have. Not strongly conspicuous was photojournalism as a central design concept, which would seem to be what this play asks for; either literally, as in how would an apartment belonging to photojournalists look, or else artistically -- colour palette of greys representing black and white photography, stark lines, whatever else that theme might suggest conceptually?

Likewise the sound design featured some sound effects, and pretty music here and there inconsistently applied across scene changes. At very least greater consistency was called for, and I would have liked to have seen the production have the courage to do away with between scene music altogether as part of an overall starker design theme suggestive of the kind of photojournalism the main characters engaged in.

Should you go see it? Absolutely! I have friends working on it. Including my friend Mikee who headed props for Poppins and to this one contributed mini-quiche and cake, both very convincing though ultimately inedible.

But I hope you read this recommendation soon, as the last two shows are only hours away.

Deimon Slagg


June 8th, 2018

Review of StoryBook Theatre's production of

Mary Poppins     (7.5/10)

May 18th to June 9th and July 6th to 15th, 2018 at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre. See here for details.

I saw StoryBook Theatre's production of Mary Poppins,The Musical (adaptation credited to Disney and Cameron MacKintosh, this production directed by JP Thibodeau) last Thursday eve. I was mostly bored through it. Still, I'm giving it a 7.5, for two reasons; 1) I'm not a huge fan of musical theatre -- if you are, you will probably enjoy this more than I did, and 2) There was a lot right about this production, especially design and singing.

Mary Poppins was a series of books originally, by P. L. Travers. Some, when designing set for stage adaptions of books, think "I know, we'll make the set a giant book somehow." And sometimes there isn't anyone who says to them, "Ok, what's your next idea, something less literal?" Not a problem here: In this case we have a set which suggests life size paper art of some kind, all white, geometrics suggesting buildings, and lots of rolling things like trees and multipurpose platforms, all in a white paper cut out style which is very friendly to changing its mood through the simple application of light. While not literally imitating a book, it does have something of the quality of Mary Shepard's very clean black and white illustrations in the original books (Terry Gunvordahl, Set and Lighting Design).

Again, I had privileged insight into the props for this show, since they were done by my friends Mikee Ames and Brad Laberge (MAD PROPS). It was very cool to see in action the magic bag Brad welded the frame for and which Mikee made to look like the archetypal carpet bag. And the magic cake bit (no spoilers, you will have to go see it yourself), and you would never know that the chimney sweep brushes are made of long, black plastic zip ties, very actor friendly -- no matter how frenetically the sweeps step in time, no one is going to lose an eye. And the vase... But I've said enough, again, no spoilers.

Costumes were lovely (Sandy Forbes, Costume Designer). For the most part, they didn't call attention to themselves, which is what you hope for from perfect costume. Though I found myself admiring Mrs. Banks dress at one point thinking that it was perfectly period. Except that women's clothing from that period hardly lent themselves well to quick costume changes, and these costumes clearly have a lot of magic of a costume designer kind.

The choreography was fine, stand out moments being the dancing statuary (Ryan Maschke dances at least as brilliantly in this as he did in StoryBook's Wizard of Oz), and the Step-In-Time number (even if it did seem to go on a little long. Laura Solilo, Choreographer).

And flying people is always cool. In fact, the highlight of this production would have to be its stage magic. Very nicely done, from pulling impossible things from a bag, all the way to defying gravity and walking up walls (Kelley Cheetham, Harness & Flight Supervisor).

And the singing was quite good across the board (Joe Slabe, Musical Director). As is often the case with musicals, casting consideration appears to have prioritized singing ability. Acting was superficial for the most part, and while you could say that's not a big deal given that the writing is quite superficial as well, that might be something of a cop out. The stand out cast member for this production was, without a doubt, Eden Hildebrand as Mary Poppins. She did very well delivering on the saucy edge this practically perfect character requires in order to be something more than practically palatable. She is an actual triple threat who can act, sing, and dance.

What kept this from being an exceptional production was a problem I see a lot in theatre; a lack of real connection with the audience. The audience seemed to enjoy it, but from where I was seated at the side of the audience, I could look across them, and, except when reacting to the bits of stage magic, they looked like people watching television.

You could argue that a strong connection between performers and audience just isn't possible with spectacle, which arguably a big musical is. Except that much of the time in this musical the stage is occupied by only a few characters, or even just one. And disappointingly, some of the least engaging times were when the stage was occupied by only one person.

Imagine that; being a performer with a whole audience all to one's self! The average person's nightmare should be the performer's dream. What can I do with this audience, how can I connect, how can I have them in the palm of my hand? These moments should be different, but every bit as powerful as the big production numbers.

When they're the most boring moments in the show, that is the fault of the director. The director's job is to support his artists in doing the best job of which they are capable. Failure is his. When he succeeds in supporting his artists, the success is theirs. That isn't fair, but that's how it is. And if the performer really is irredeemable (and none of the cast I saw struck me as such), then it is the director's fault for casting them.

One day I would like to be in the same space with a musical; not being over here watching it go on over there. But for that to happen, there needs to be a real connection, a real exchange of energy between performers and audience. When the audience is watching like it's TV, there is something seriously wrong; a failure to make the most of what makes live performance so much more than TV.

In the end, even though a great deal of work and rehearsal has gone into this production and a lot works, there's a strong element of meh. It doesn't matter how much goes into a production, without the strong connection a simple story teller has holding a room full of people enthralled with her tale, it's hard to really get the maximum pay off for all of that hard work.

So should you see it? If you like musicals or are a fan of stagecraft, then probably. StoryBook production values approach those of our main stages, but for a fraction of the ticket price.

Deimon Slagg


May 16th, 2018

Review of TCS Theatre's production of

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe     (7/10)

May 10th to May 17th, 2018 at Trinity Christian School in Calgary. See here for details.

Let's be honest, for the most part kids suck at acting. I don't mean improv, they're often brilliant at improv, but put a script in their hands, and suddenly cute factor alone sustains audience interest. And even then, for a limited duration. Proud parents probably will hold out the longest, but even they must eventually succumb to the dead, wooden, lisping, quality of most child acting.

I had the opportunity the other night to see a junior high school production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Now these kids are eleven to fourteen, and even the cute factor is something which for most of them is receding into the past with their childhoods faster than they realize, poor things, on the cusp of adulting and all the existential insecurity and horror that goes with that.

And if they want to be actors, they will have to make a transition from being really cute but sucking, to being at least competent at the craft. This is essential, not only for their own success, but because we live in a society where we are not allowed to shoot bad actors: The best way for us to not have to suffer them is for actors to possess a universal competence.

Director/teacher Charlotte Loeppky is doing her part to assure this universal competence. None of her students has an acting style which constitutes assault, in fact they are, as a bunch, quite watchable. Most importantly, they serve the text well; I don't think I lost a single word of what is a very literary text.

Loeppky, unable to find a stage adaptation that she liked, created her own from the novel using its actual text. The resulting script is rich, beautiful, and deep, but not necessarily forgiving of a less than precise delivery. I hope Loeppky will make her adaptation available to others, as it is very, very good.

In the interests of full disclosure I should note that I am a Loeppky fan, having been stage married to her three times; twice in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, and once when I had a relationship with a goat (I believe she has forgiven me). She's also musical director and arranger for a musical I wrote (PLUG ALERT: The Apple Kingdom is being produced as part of the Canmore Summer Theatre Festival, July 4th to 8th).

Also, for this production, adult human characters are recorded actors, with young actors acting to a soundtrack, as though the voice was theirs. So I'm sort of in it, as the voice of the Professor and the voice of Father Christmas. I must say that was a little surreal, in a happy way; to see these characters performing with a very familiar voice.

Someone else got to voice Aslan, but that's ok. All the performers did a wonderful job of embodying the voices; the professor gesturing articulately, Father Christmas laughing heartily, Aslan roaring and often being bipedially affable, more so than one would expect a Christ-lion to be, almost as though Lewis had an eye towards merchandising; if they had been selling action figures I would have bought one -- who am I kidding, I would have bought them all, as the lot of them were adorable, each in their own way.

Loeppky's design sense is excellent as well. Rather than perform in the school gym as has been normal in past years, she has turned her classroom into a black box theatre complete with trees that stretch up and up and up, as her class room was once a tv studio and has a very high ceiling.

But this betreed Narnia is not where we start, oh no, no one from the world of the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam starts in Narnia right off the bat. We start in the hall outside the classroom, on benches along the walls. It's not until the story moves to Narnia that we the audience do too, passing, as we must, through the wardrobe and into the wintery world of Mr. Tumnus.

Very effective projections on two of the walls emphasize the snow and the cold and are used wonderfully throughout, in conjunction with a sound design which was also awesome, both in the foreground for effects and in the background for mood, atmosphere, and scene transitions.

The one thing I really find myself missing is a program, because it would be great to be able to put names to all the various contributions, performance-wise and on the technical/design side; all people who helped to make this a school play on steroids, entertaining from beginning to end. All involved should be very proud of their accomplishment.

Additional info from Charlotte: Sound Design - Mory Peterson and Fight/movement direction - Anastasia St. Amand (who also helped to build the tall trees) . Couldn't have done this without these two amazingly talented people.

Deimon Slagg


May 10th, 2018

Review of Theatre Disponibilite's production of

That Fucking Bird     (8.5/10)

May 8th to May 12th, 2018 at the Motel Theatre in Calgary. See here for details.

Okay, going to crank this out fast, because this is one of those short runs where if you blink, you miss it.

Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner is an adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. The following is from the original (Signet Classic, Ann Dunnigan, translator):

SORIN: We can't do without the theatre.

TREPLEV: We need new forms. New forms are needed, and if we can't have them, then we had better have nothing at all.

So, that could be seen as a challenge for anyone doing an adaptation. Does Posner deliver us an new form?

Not really. We do get that meta thing where characters address the audience. At one point a character lets us know that they can see us, the audience. Oddly enough, perhaps given the quality of the cast, what could come off a yet another sophomoric reinvention of Pirandello for the gazillionth time actually seems to work. Maybe because it doesn't seem as though it's trying to be clever, but rather the opposite, almost despondent, with a quality of "Here we go again. We all know the drill. Can we unpretentiously drop pretense?"

I was inspired to reread the original. This version is surprisingly faithful, given that it seems so contemporary. Posner does what one might have thought very difficult, make The Seagull seem to a modern, North American audience exactly like what Chekhov called it, "a comedy in four acts".

I found myself laughing a lot. This cast is brilliant right across the board, achieving all the right levels for this intimate little theatre. There aren't really any standouts, but Owen Bishop should be applauded for carrying much of the story and the audience interaction -- in this adaptation I think it's fair to say that this is his character's story (Con, Konstantin in the original). That said, it really is an ensemble piece with choice parts for all the actors who make the most of them.

Should you see it? Yes, I can't think of a single reason why you wouldn't want to see this. It makes a Russian classic come so alive you might as well just forget that it's a Russian classic, especially if that feels daunting. This is the dark comedy I believe Chekhov himself intended, ably delivered by a wonderful cast under the direction of Josephine Christensen.

Deimon Slagg


May 3rd, 2018

Review of Morpheus' production of

H.M.S. Pinafore     (6.5/10)

April 27th to May 12th, 2018 at the Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary. See here for details.

Ok, this is going to be a quicky, just a heads up that there's some choice Gilbert and Sullivan going on which you may want to check out before it's gone.

Let's jump directly to the main question: should you go see this? That's easy; if you like Gilbert and Sullivan, then YES! This production is full of Gilbert and Sullivany goodness, with nods to the English panto tradition as well with director Sean Anderson feeling completely comfortable adding additional material and localizing content.

If you are not a fan of of G & S, then, no, for all the same reasons.

This is community theatre at its best; yes, quality of performance is uneven, but clearly a good time is being had by all.

It would have been better if the performers were miked, as some voices are stronger than others (the romantic leads are very strong (Carey Unger and Jennifer Michaud)), and miking would allow for evening out the mix and helping those performers who just don't have the same vocal power as Unger and Michaud. Ideally it shouldn't be a contest between the singers and the piano, with even odds being placed for who will prevail.

That said, if you are a G & S fan, you will likely forgive the weaknesses for the great good fun that G & S can be, falling, as it does, in that tradition of British comedy that runs from Shakespeare at his silliest, to panto, G & S, the amateur and college theatrical, and through Python to today.

Deimon Slagg


March 12th, 2018

Review of Scorpio Theatre's production of

1984     (8/10)

March 2nd to 10th, 2018 at the Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary. See here for details.


Review of Theatre Junction's production of

The Cows     (8.5/10)

March 8th to 11th, 2018 at Theatre Junction in Calgary. See here for details.

It was a wonderful weekend for theatre. I caught two shows, both of them super.

In Scorpio Theatre's production of Michael Jean Sullivan's adaptation of Orwell's 1984, Darcy Wilson gave a nausea inducing performance. That doesn't sound like a good review, but you know coming into this that it is NOT going to be the feel good play of the year: spoiler alert -- it doesn't end happily.

This adaptation is structured as a trial of Winston Smith, where the prime piece of evidence against him is his own journal. Smith (ably portrayed by Wilson) is bound by straps throughout the play, so, while he can stand upright and has some limited movement, he can't wander far from centre stage. His four inquisitors (Ted Lach, Tanis Laatsch, Carl Bishop, and Dorin McIntosh), and later five when the boss torturer (Luigino Savoia) joins them, are free to wander the stage where they wish in re-enacting events from his journal, so we are treated to an inquisitor version of Smith (Lach) performing before actual Smith.

Full disclosure; I'm a Darcy Wilson fan, so may be a bit biased. That said, I can also be something of a hypercritical asshole, and that applies to anyone, including friends. Wilson's signature style might be characterized as "more energy!" and sometimes that comes at the cost of levels and nuance. Not this time; it's as if this part was written for him, the extreme physical torment they subject Wilson to demanding all the energy this performer can muster, leaving what little is left to be rationed, as one imagines (having blessedly never been tortured) an actual torture victim might have to do. Wilson's portrayal is so seemingly true to life that one friend who saw it said she felt actually nauseated, very disturbed, leaving the theatre.

The supporting ensemble does a great job creating Smith's world around him. And the boss torturer brings a business like efficiency to the job that also seems true to life, considering what we know of the Nazi administration of the holocaust (ably aided by IBM!), and the bureaucracies of the Soviet Union that Solzhenitsyn described in The Gulag Archipelego. And that's really the extra layer of horror in 1984, isn't it; the sheer banality of evil, of the day to day mundane horror. Almost as if to say, "Don't take it personally." But with a performance as powerful as Wilson's, you just can't not.

And the other show I saw was Theatre Junction's production of The Cows (apologies, I didn't get a program if there was one, and couldn't find cast info online -- mea culpa). It's one of those shows which almost defies description. One thing I love in theatre is the diminshment or (better still) outright elimination of the fourth wall in favour of a direct connection between performers and audience, the kind of connection, ideally, that a story teller has with their audience when they really have them in the palm of their hand. Because that's what we do in theatre; we're story tellers, whether we're directors, or technicians, writers, or performers. Even the unsung heros of stage management are totally engaged in supporting this endeavour.

Performers are already on-stage milling about as the audience enters. Audience can sit in chairs at the sides, or on milk crates against the back wall, or on cushions before them. Zuess is seated on cushions in audience front and centre. Of course, he's top god, damned near omniscient, where else would he be? The lady next to him? Probably his wife.

What then ensues is.... a cabaret? With ancient Greek theme throughout? There is song, dance, a little seltzer down your pants; scenes comedic and dramatic, a hero and his lady fair (and unfair), and Dionysus (ably performed by Hayley Feigs) sparring verbally with Zuess in that classic battle between the romantic and the rational, the Dionysian and the Apollonian. S/he even has to admit at one point that ecstasy wears off, however you achieve it.

But until it does, a good time is had by all!

Very much my kind of theatre.

And a very good theatre weekend overall!

Deimon Slagg


February 23rd, 2018

Review of Old Trout Puppet Workshop's production of

JABBERWOCKY     (7.5/10)

Running February 21 - March 4, 2018 at the DJD Dance Centre in Calgary. See here for details.

How long has it been since I last saw a European art film? Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman? I used to have infinite patience for those things. Not so much anymore, it seems.

Old Trout's production of Jabberwocky is like Fellini reimagined by Terry Gilliam while toasting an Edward Gorey caricature of Edgar Allen Poe over the grave of P.T. Barnum. It's beautiful, but very, very s l o w . . . . ; slow to start, slow to proceed, and slow to finish. And every frame is a work of art.

Or another analogy could be an amazing coffee table art book come vividly to life. This is theatre in 2½D. Even some of the puppets are simple 2D cutouts with minimal articulation.

I'm tempted to blame myself for finding it boring at times. Perhaps the Internet has irreparably damaged my attention span, robbed me of any patience I might once have had. But I think the story telling is at least partly to blame. I also wasn't the only one in the audience yawning, especially as we got past the middle.

As Theatre Encounter demonstrated with their Aeschylus: Fragments, theatre need not necessarily have narrative, but this production seems almost undecided, perhaps ambivalent with regard to narrative, starting with a free association stream of conscious parade of imagery on the theme of generation/conception, eventually segueing into a story about three generations of giant rabbits living in a giant rabbit world. Each generation fails ("Hast thou slain the Jabberwock?"). But that's ok? Because family and the passing of generations serves as a compensation for existential horror?

This could be a European film. Watership Down meets Wild Strawberries?

Should you see it? Yes, probably. It has giant rabbits. If that's not enough, the sound design is brilliant, integral, essential to creation of the environment of the piece. The lighting (Terry Middleton, designer) is not only functional, but playful, as are the brilliantly painted rolling backdrop units. The costumes, puppets, props and set pieces are all works of art in their own right -- the program features cut out finger puppets and back drops for goodness sake, so you can reenact the play at home (though my version would probably run less than two minutes and not miss any plot points).

In fact, it approaches Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (total art work). The style of the whole thing is unified. The only place this fails is in the story telling, as though there was a struggle between aesthetic and story, and aesthetic won; predictably, since aesthetic here is incredibly strong, while the story is very weak; a kind of post-modern neomaudlinism that isn't entirely certain how seriously it ought to take itself.

The program is a glorious, artful joy designed to appeal to kids, including post-adolescent ones. It is not entirely clear from it, however, who is exactly responsible for what. But the first page lists no fewer than three fine artists; Katie Green, Lindsey Kapitake, and Jen Gareau, with Dawn Mark credited as scenic artist. This goes on my 'Ideas to Steal' list; working with fine artists, and working 2½D.

Jonathan Lewis is credited as a composer, violinist and sound designer, and for this soundscape, he deserves kudos. As does the ensemble of Nick Di Gaetano, Teddy Ivanova, Sebastian Kroon, and Pityu Kenderes for imbuing that 2½D world with their life force (imagine if we could bring art galleries alive like that without security kicking us out!). Indeed, kudos to everyone, except maybe playwright, and only a half a cookie to the director -- except no playwright or director is listed in the program. I wonder if perhaps they could use the input of a director/dramaturg as brilliant as the rest of the team. It seems to be the one thing missing.

Jabberwocky is an Old Trout Puppet Workshop production playing from February 21 - March 4, 2018 at the DJD Dance Centre.

Deimon Slagg


February 11th, 2018

Review of Storybook Theatre's production of

THE OUTSIDERS     (6.5/10)

Running February 9th through 24th at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre in Calgary. See here for details.

When one sees a lovely set and lighting design at Storybook's Beddington Theatre, one thinks, "Of course -- JP." Artistic Director JP Thibodeau plays that theatre the way Anne-Sophie Mutter plays her Stradivarius. But for this production of The Outsiders, credit for this highly creative set and magical lighting go elsewhere; to Dale Marushy and Jenny Daigle respectively. The set is easy to describe schematically -- it is a tree on one side of the stage, and the frame of a building, possibly a barn, on the other. But the building can be a church or a home or whatever the story calls for at that moment, while the benches around the tree may be seats in a movie house, or parts of a car. The backdrop is an ever changing sky of light.

It may seem odd to start a review with praise of design, but that's what I think I will remember the longest. I learned that this story is a classic which everyone studied at school, or saw the movie of, but which somehow passed me right by, so my take on this production is just from this production; I don't have the same fond associations many others have for this.

The story itself seemed a bit formulaic, like Romeo and Juliet ("Two houses, the Greasers and the Socs, both alike in dignity in fair Tulsa where we set our scene..."), or West Side Story with the music removed and heroic sacrifice taking over thematically from young star crossed lovers. The 'get hurt while saving child from runaway carriage/speeding car/whatever' trope is central, so we may see that the tough, bad kids are really people with hearts of gold.

Except in this production, that's not much of a reveal. The acting is fine. The word 'competent' springs to mind; no brilliant standout performances, and no one sucking. Again, I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but the formula would seem to demand that the guys in the gang be real tough on the outside, but really good on the inside. However, this oh-so-Canadian cast is an adorable bunch of kids on the surface straight from the get go (well, The Greasers anyway, the male Socs are clearly established as dicks from the beginning). Jonathan Molinski's Dallas comes closest to an exception, as he does manage to imbue his character with at least a modicum of menace early on.

This may also be a show you want to catch later in its run, as it still feels like a lot of decent individual performances that haven't cooked long enough together for the flavours to merge into a single stew. As it settles in it may be that the connections between the characters will become stronger as the actors worry less about getting their own parts right and can devote more attention/listening to their scene partners. This is always important, but especially here, as this is very much an ensemble piece.

So in the end I feel a little bit short changed, like someone who had never read the Harry Potter books watching the A Very Potter Musical parody. Without fond associations from school or the film, it seemed to me to be like an after-school special with too nice kids and a predictable story. Judging from the audience reaction, these associations make a difference, which is something to bear in mind.

On the plus side, I know several of the cast members and it was fun to watch them work. It was nice to see Molinski in a serious role (he is a master of comedy), and to see Haylee Thompson (Cherry) get a decent size role at Storybook. I directed Mihai Dan (Two-Bit) last summer, and am happy he has been consistently working. Trevor Matheson always makes me smile, even in a relatively thankless role like the male grownups in this production. Conrad Belau (Randy) is an up and comer to watch out for in Calgary.

Likewise I'm friends with the properties department, Mikee Ames and Brad Laberge (MAD PROPS), so got to see the development of the props as they went along, many custom created from scratch, necessary because this is a period piece and you can't just go out and buy 1950s Hershey Bars anymore. They do great work, as much for the actors who are up close and personal with the props as for the audience who may not be able to see their detail and craftsmanship from where they are sitting.

So should you see it? If you've read the novel or liked the movie I'm guessing you'll probably like it. Or maybe if you're simply not heartless: A friend after the show asked how it was that I wasn't crying. I suggested that perhaps the impact was less the further back one sat. She said that couldn't be it, because she was near to the back as well. So I suggested that perhaps I am just heartless. She concurred that could very well be the reason.

So that may be the final recommendation; if you are unfamiliar with The Outsiders and are heartless, pass on this one. Otherwise you will probably enjoy it.

The Outsiders is a Storybook Theatre production of Christopher Sergel's adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel by the same name. Playing from February 9th to 24th at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre.

Deimon Slagg


February 1st, 2018

Review of Ghost River Theatre's presentation of Defiance Theatre's production of

OCD     (8/10)

Running February 1st through 10th at the West Village Theatre in Calgary. See here for details.

Naturalism; it's the default performance convention of theatre. There is no rule that says all theatre must be performed with this convention, and over time and across cultures there are many other conventions, for example, the Butoh convention so ably demonstrated recently by Theatre Encounter with their production of Aeschylus Fragments.

Appearing as an actual, believable person is so challenging that our audiences have come to accept a certain level of actiness from actors, because the level of truthfulness required to genuinely satisfy this naturalist convention is achieved by only a small percentage.

One is more likely to find it amongst stand-up comedians, though even there it is uncommon. You can watch a comedian like Stewart Lee play an audience as though it was the most natural thing in the world, as if it was all off the cuff and in the moment; then you see him do the same show in a different venue and are amazed by how much the same it is; so carefully crafted, timing worked out to the millisecond.

But still it is not as challenging as what an actor must do performing unamplified on a stage, having to appear completely natural while projecting to the back row and for the benefit of blue hairs whose hearing aid batteries may not be 100%. It's damn near impossible.

It requires a combination of truthfulness and technique, with truthfulness being the most challenging of the pair, though they are related; as a performer when I am in that zone of truthfulness, my vocal technique may suffer, especially in the presence of quiet emotion, like sadness --- it's easy to be overwhelmed and for the energy which needs to go all the way to the back of the hall to be diminished. So they are not unrelated, but while most actors can master technique, many never even make the acquaintance of real truthfulness.

Such is not the case with Louise Casemore who ably demonstrated moments of truthful performance at the preview January 31st of OCD, of which she is also the playwright. I am not going to go into the details of the story, because there are surprises which will work best if you go in not knowing what to expect.

I will say that it is a one woman show (at the preview, crew got a bit of stage time due to a technical glitch off the top, but hopefully that will be fixed for the run) with much relating to the audience; the house lights remain up the entire performance so performer can see audience just as much as audience can see performer.

I rejoice any time we can get rid of the fourth wall, the more completely the better: As actors we are story tellers, and the connection with the audience is absolutely critical even when there is that lie of the fourth wall, a division which cannot be allowed to divide if we are to really touch the hearts of our audience.

Casemore's connection was most natural when she was relating to the audience, 100% believable. However, her script has long sections of monologue where, though it has been established that she is addressing us, it is much more like the theatre I am used to seeing; the connection is not as strong. The fourth wall coming up during a particularly intense part of the play may have been something of a mercy, allowing the audience some distance; but I am not sure that was the playwright's intention. Or maybe it was -- aesthetic distance and all that. That is the challenge of this piece, I think, to maintain that truthful connection even in the parts where the performer is not directly addressing audience.

I also would remind the reader that this was a preview performance, the actor in a brand new situation. While there have been rehearsals in the space, with an audience it is a completely different dynamic, especially for a play like this where the audience is often scene partner. I expect Casemore will be even more brilliant as the run progresses and she comes to own the space. And the audience.

I have given this an 8 out of 10 not only for Casemore's performance, but for what seems to be the mission of the piece and its success in achieving it; namely educating.... no, personalizing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder -- we all think we know something about it, but this piece makes it personal and brings it home in the person of its protagonist.

OCD is a Defiance Theatre production written and performed by Louise Casemore and presented by Ghost River Theatre. Playing from February 1st to 10th at the West Village Theatre.

Deimon Slagg


December 10th, 2017

Review of Theatre Canmore's production of

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE     (7.5/10)

Running December 9, 10 and 16, 17, 2017 at the Canmore Opera House in Canmore. See here for details.

Did you know there are two Canmore Opera Houses? Calgarians will be familiar with the one in Heritage Park which came to Calgary in 1964, donated by its then owner, Canmore Mines Ltd. With theatre blossoming in Canmore, it might be nice if Heritage Park were to give it back. That not being too likely, developer Frank Kernick has built a new one, modelled on the log cabin aesthetic of the original.

This is where Theatre Canmore is performing their production of the Joe Landry adaptation of Frank Capra's 1946 movie classic It's a Wonderful Life. It's like Christmas chocolates in a wonderful rustic box.

This production does have its rough edges. Landry sets his play in a recording studio back in the golden age of radio. But rather than treat the scripts the characters carry as props, actors actually read from them, giving this production something of the quality of a staged reading, complete with the sorts of stumbles one finds with them. Ideally, actors would memorize their lines and act reading them, much more reliable, and we would see noses in scripts less often.

Alternatively, if the actors have to read, then more rehearsal might be beneficial to perfect that art. The clumsiness in some of the musical moments with singing, as well as the somewhat uncoordinated curtain call, also suggest that this show may not have received sufficient rehearsal. As well, the director, Gerry McAuley also acts in the piece, which may have deprived the production at times of a critical outside eye. It may have been better if McAuley had restricted himself to acting. Because he turns in a wonderful performance.

The entire cast approaches the piece with a spirit appropriate to it and to the season. Two actors stand out in particular, McAuley and JeremyWhite. McAuley plays a variety of roles, Mr. Potter and the radio announcer. McAuley has worked in radio, and as an announcer he is absolutely perfect, the real deal, his dialect that of the period and his delivery flawless. His Mr. Potter is every bit as nasty and conniving as the character demands, his barking delivery exactly in the right key.

By far the most demanding role is that of George Bailey, and White rises to the challenge. He excels most at the gentle, quirky side of the character, at times almost being the living embodiment of Jimmy Stewart. He doesn't have Stewart's range yet; Stewart could be that gentle bumbler, but he could also let loose with the fire. I couldn't help feeling at times White was holding himself back, perhaps too much defining the character in those gentle terms he manages so well? I don't know, but I did want to see him reveal to us more of the very deep passion of the character that exists beneath that gentle, good exterior. But overall, White captures the essence.

Sound effects were ably provided live by Martin Finnerty, adding to the comic dimension and old time feel.

And, despite the rough edges, I give it a 7.5 in large measure because of the overall feel. It's wholesome without being Hallmark, and fits very neatly into that reflection of old times, the new Canmore Opera House. It succeeds very well in providing something genuinely Christmasy in this Christmasy season. If that's what you're looking for, then check it out if you have the opportunity (if you're short or have little ones arrive early and grab a seat near the front; the seats are not raked). Two more shows, December 16th and 17th at 7:30 pm.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that early in their rehearsal process I conducted a dialect workshop with some of the actors. That's why I drove out from Calgary to see it -- based on what I saw in workshop that early on, I had a feeling it would be something special.

Deimon Slagg

Review of Theatre Encounters production of


Running November 16th to 18th at cSpace. See here for details.

I saw Theatre Encounter's production of Aeschylus: Fragments last night. It is hard to define exactly as to form, but might be described as a dance piece in the Japanese Butoh style.

Music director John Warkentin is also a performer in the piece, primarily playing his trombone. His soundscape is a combination of classical pieces and original composition which demonstrate the range of sounds this instrument can make -- this is not what you would expect to hear from a trombone player in the philharmonic, or even mainstream jazz! Warkentin's ease with (and mastery of) the instrument is a pleasure to experience.

Performers and co-creators Kayla Bigras and Val Duncan move about in this soundscape in the very stark and often athletic Butoh style, which is interestingly evocative of formal Greek theatre as well; one would be tempted to call it a highly successful synthesis of two cultural traditions. I did find myself missing the clown at times, as the whole thing feels very archetypal, but oh so serious!

I suspect Bigras and Duncan have worked together before, as they move together like artists who have complete trust in one another.

I found myself missing story. I regard story as essential to theatre. But this is, as the title suggests, fragmentary, non-narrative, bits and pieces of lost work. I give it an 8.5 out of 10 for my impression of their success in achieving the objectives they set for themselves as I've divined them.

Also I've long thought theatre should subscribe to something of Wagner's idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or "total artwork", but preferably without congealing into muscular Germanic melodrama. It ought to be possible to have wonderful artistic theatricality in the service of story and characters who engage us, who move us at the level of the heart. One so seldom sees that realized.

If you are as committed to story as I am, you may find parts of this production opaque and may want to give it a miss. If you like modern dance, or are intrigued by Butoh practice, then you will want to see this. If you hunger for theatricality in theatre, feel starved for it as I do, then you will definitely want to catch this production. It is food for a theatre artist's soul.

But catch it soon, as it is only a three day run, November 16th to 18th.

Deimon Slagg