Friday, April 29, 2011

Bullet For Adolph - Hart House Theatre

This Woody Harrelson written and directed play has generally not garnered favorable reviews so far and I was trepidatious about coming. However the Hart House theatre is a great venue where I've seen some amazing theatre and that coupled with a memory of a slight crush on Woody Harrelson during his White Men Can't Jump phase led me to buy a ticket.

The show does not contain Harrelson in the cast or during the curtain call at the Thursday night performance I attended. I'm not sure he was in the building as a sign in the lobby advertises "Talk-back after the show with the cast and Woody Harrelson" for dates earlier in the run and simply "Talk-back after the show with the cast" for mid and later dates. So despite all the posters, don't come to the show for Harrelson. But do come.

The play is set in Texas in the summer of 1983 and a great early 80's vibe is set as soon as you enter the theatre with the music of the era and continues with video clips of MTV, Reagan, etc.

The story concerns a group of friends led by Harrelson stand-in Zach (played by Brandon Coffey) who work together in construction. The group all meets up for a birthday dinner party where the host, a Nazi sympathizer, shows them his pistol. This pistol was used in an attempted murder of Adolf Hitler but when the trigger was pulled the gun jammed and the attempted murderer was executed. The host explains the gun represents to him the possibility of freedom of idea, that the lower echelons do not have to live in dictator rule, there is a way out. The party continues and at the end of the first act we learn the gun has been stolen.

This sets up a second act where everyone's a suspect and a mystery involving who stole the gun that really comes to nothing. Similarly the idea of the gun as a symbol of hope also comes to nothing and while the story does wrap up nicely it could have been made better by following through on the set up of hope or redemption presented in the first act.

This being said I had a good time. The play is funny without being overly crude. The characters are big and brash but it works in the setting and it makes you like them. The staging I found more than adequate with dry ice and gunfire and other neat tricks you don't often see in an amateur production.

Brandon Coffey is great as the Harrelson part, playing his "awe, shucks" persona for all it's worth and occasionally throwing in a sharp barb letting us know he's in on the action. At first I found Billy Petrovski as Dago-Czech to loud and overbearing but by the end I liked him too and he was routinely getting the laughs.

The highlight is David Coomber as Clint playing an effeminate straight man with gusto, really not afraid to show his stuff, both figuratively and literally.

A great fun evening out. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Situationists - Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Well, this play was a first for me. Not only was it a terrible show, it damaged my psychologically.

I saw this play Thursday night and considered not writing a review. I needed time and space from the experience and am only now just recovering.

The play concerns a group called The Situationists, a group that was popular in France in the first half of the twentieth century and had a pinnacle with a strike by 11 million workers and students bringing the French economy to a standstill in the late 1950's. The group creates situations to further their left-wing ideals and goals.

This play is set in Toronto in modern day. No mention of what occurred from the late 1950's to now, no mention of how the group travelled into Canada, no mention of anything really. As one man said to me in the intermission "Before this play I didn't know anything about the Situationists." and I replied "You still don't! Not from this play anyway."

Gavin Crawford plays the lead role of a snooty aging French activist. I had enjoyed Mr. Crawford previously as host of the CBC show "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" and in his last play, another Sky Gilbert production, "I Have AIDS". I met Mr. Crawford on a gay cruise this February and remarked how much I liked his performance and he told me about this play so I was anxious to see him in it. He is an attractive man hidden by a grey suit, makeup, glasses, in fact he was almost unrecognizable. Add to this a French accent. Now while the Globe and Mail said the accent was over the top, I disagreed for the most part and found it believable. The problem was the accent was so thick much of what he said could not be deciphered by anyone in the audience. The play was staged in the round and when Mr. Crawford wasn't facing me, I have really no idea what he said.
Haley McGee played his mousy sidekick and for the entire first act, and it must be said most of the second, the two sat in the corner and smoked French cigarettes while muttering, sometimes incoherently, about the problems of the world. And this is where the main problem with this play lies, the script by Sky Gilbert. It's a stumbling block to creating realistic characters when you cannot get past yourself, when you make every character a large part of you. The play seemed little more than an excuse for Mr. Gilbert to rant on everything from recycling to the fallacy of heterosexual AIDS in rants that have long since shifted from shocking to tiresome. When a character begins his sentence with "The problem with left-wing politics in Canada today is..." what can the audience do but roll their collective eyes? This has become the trademark of a Gilbert play and really distracts from any other attempt at narration. The friend I saw the play with suggested Gilbert in future work with someone else, that by writing, directing, attending every performance and putting so much of himself into his characters, it's really not doing a service to the play itself and that perhaps a collaboration could help with this.

The very handsome Gil Garrett delivers most of the trademark Gilbert lines with a great gusto, really opening himself up and checking his ego at the door, making rants that sound trite due to repetition at least believable and for that he deserves to be commended.

The play ends with the actors, still in character, breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience and encourage them to reveal their secret sexual desires, and here comes the psychologically damaging part. After I and others engaged in the discussion amongst the audience, the entire thing is revealed to be a farce, a put on, all part of the show. The real emotions and feelings revealed in vain by those who fell for the hook, and the whole thing a hoax.

After sitting through two hours of rants, to be made the patsy is really the final blow in what can only be called a terrible theatrical experience.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New theatre season

I decided the time was nigh for a preview of the new theatre season with every major company already announcing.

Buddies in Bad Times is continuing their trend toward their new mandate of plays that will fuck you up, with the notable exception of The Normal Heart. A co-production with my favourite troupe, Studio 180, this play was written by Larry Kramer and originally produced in 1985 and is about the AIDS crisis in New York City at the time.  The play deserves a mainstream audience but I doubt Buddies agressive "fuck you" season will allow that to happen.

Also of note at Buddies is a super fucked up version of The Maids by Jean Genet and a dance/theatre combo from Sky Gilbert Dancing Queen starring the amazing Ryan Kelly and featuring cheorgraphy by the equally amazing Keith Cole. I'm less optomistic about Hallaj, the story of a 10th century Sufi mystic and Bliss about Céline Dion speaking through an oracle to a group of cashiers at Walmart and talking to her number one fan, who has spent most of her life chained to her bed by her family.

I'm okay with pushing the limits of theatre but who the Hell does this?  "Let's put a cow skull on the cover, and we can have psychic Céline and a 10th century mystic.  That will bring in the crowds!"  There's pushing the envelope and then there's tearing the envelope into pieces and setting the pieces on fire.

The University of Toronto's Hart House Theatre has announced a great new season today which I subscribed to already this afternoon.
Topping the list was Cabaret in January and Tennessee William's The Night of the Iguana.  I've never heard of Iguana but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire are two of my favourites. My third pick was The Great American Trailer Park Musical which sounds like a great companion piece to last seasons Jerry Springer: The Musical.  For $60 you get these three shows and a bonus ticket to Lysistrata - the sex strike, whatever that is.

Mirvish announced a while ago, the highlight being the Abba musical Chess. Other shows include Mary Poppins which I saw in London three years ago and fell asleep, and a pointless revival of Hair that no one was asking for.

Dancap announced for me a better season than Mirvish this year.  I've already bought a four-play flex pack with tickets for American Idiot, The Addams Family, 9 to 5, and Next to Normal.

Continuing with the "fuck you" theme, Canstage brings more nouveau European theatre no one wants. The sole standout is Studio 180's Clybourne Park, a modern retelling of A Raisin in the Sun.

Finally Soulpepper announces on the calendar year and are already halfway through their season. Upcoming highlights are Arthur Miller's The Price and Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Our Class - Studio 180 - Berkeley Street Theatre

After a mis-step with Parade, Studio 180 is back on form with Our Class.
The play starts slowly with many non-English names to keep track of and frequent bouts of song, dance and espoused philosophy but grows and grows.
This is what 180 does do well, why they are a necessary company in this city. They take an issue and they look at it from all sides. Sides you didn't know existed.
This play is set in a small Polish country-town where, before the second World War, the village came together and murdered all the Jews. The play vividly shows Poles hunting the Jews for their perceived injustices against them, then shows the Jews hunting the Poles, and back, and forth. The play does a great service exposing the fallacy of human nature. It weighs issues of guilt, mob mentality, prejudice and religion and brings them all together.
I have always believed a disservice was being done to the victims of the war by whitewashing the truth and this play helps to shine light on the facts. After the war when the people of the town are called to account for this genocide, they blame the Germans and everyone goes along. There is a plaque laid to commemorate where the Germans killed the towns Jews. The fact that the Germans hadn't gotten there yet, that the town was occupied by Russia, is swept aside.
We do a disservice to the memory of the fallen by over-simplifying the situation. By saying "the Germans killed all those people because the Germans were evil" we can't learn. I know one of the hopes with Remembrance Day is that we never forget, that we don't let it happen again. This is best achieved with a frank examination of  the facts, by humanizing both sides of the story. By remembering that on both sides there were people, just like us, living the best they could. By seeing how things can escalate out of control, by examining how our government can manipulate us, and by focusing on the humanity of all involved, this is what can save us from repeating our history.
And by illustrating all this and getting me worked up enough to type this, Studio 180 again has fulfilled their mandate.
"To produce socially relevant theatre that provokes public discourse and promotes community engagement."

Monday, April 4, 2011

From FAB editor Matt Thomas...

"A good vacation isn't just the result of what you see or do; it's also about who you meet - and good people are everywhere."
- Matt Thomas, Editor, Fab Magazine, Issue #421.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Blog books

Got my blog books from Blog2Print and I'm loving them!