Canoe Theatre Festival: “Operation EVAsion”

Workshop West’s Canoe Theatre Festival promised “some of the season’s most interesting artists and challenging performances.” Based on the promo for Operation EVAsion, by local company Firefly Theatre, it wasn’t difficult to see why this particular play was included in the roster:

Operation EVAsion is based on the bizarre but factual account of the multiple disappearances of the corpse of Eva Perón. Upon her untimely death at age 33, her body was embalmed to the point of immortalization. Additionally, there were several duplicates made of her corpse, and in the ensuing Argentinean political turmoil, they all disappeared. Their journey lasted for 24 years and involved espionage, kidnapping, murder and astrology.

Mack and I took in the last performance on Sunday at the Timms Centre.

With such rich material to start with, I was curious to see how the company would present the story, particularly as a one-woman show (to be fair, musician Jason Kodie was also on stage, providing a auditory accompaniment in the form of an accordion). The set was black, save for a multimedia screen, ensuring the audience was transfixed on the sole performer. Annie Dugan recounted the body’s journey – through Argentina, Europe, and back – interspersing the narrative with Evita’s own words (in Spanish, with an English translation projected behind her). Evita’s corpse was wielded as a political weapon, used to maintain or regain power, or perhaps even more compelling, was the fact that after her death, she was able to affect her country’s politics (particularly among the poor, her image is still common in Argentina, often hung right next to the Virgin Mary). I did learn a lot (prior to this, the extent of my knowledge of Evita was the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, popularized by Madonna), but I was hoping for more interpretation, and less historical fact.

Of course, as Firefly Theatre is synonymous with aerial performances, we were looking forward to seeing how they would use movement and height. Because our only previous encounter with Firefly was their stunning, explosive display at the RISE Awards, we were unfairly expecting something similar. That said, Dugan’s restrained perimeter better matched the tone of the play, and garnered much respect – it can’t be easy delivering an hour long performance suspended several feet in the air – something she did with poise and grace. It was an ideal visual – representing the limbo status of the corpse and Evita’s elevated stature. The white fabric that suspended her was also particularly effective in parts – when used as a screen for Evita’s visage, projected next to Dugan’s own face, and as a cocoon with eerie resemblance to mummified remains.

We left the theatre with a desire to learn more about Evita (the starting place: Wikipedia, heh), and an interest to see what else Firefly Theatre might have to offer. As promised by the Canoe Festival, it was indeed an interesting performance.


Mack and I saw the play Homeless put on at Alberta College on Monday night, an event sponsored by Grant MacEwan. The price of admission was donations of food or clothing, small offerings in exchange for the opportunity to watch a show that has struck a chord with audiences at the Fringe and Kaleido Festivals, among others.

Homeless is a deeply honest play, chronicling Jeremy Bauming’s journey as he struggled to understand those that do not have a place to call home. It was a journey that inspired him to take on a position at the George Spady Centre, an overnight shelter in Edmonton that focuses on harm reduction, and will, unlike other shelters, accept clients who are intoxicated or high.

In expressing his own history and experiences that led to his personal misunderstanding and fear of the homeless population, he shines a light on the greater societal prejudice that exists. At the Spady, Jeremy encountered many memorable clients, each with their own wrenching story of trauma, abuse and pain.

Bauming doesn’t try to neatly tie up loose ends with a happy ending – more befitting of the reality faced by the homeless, given the complexity of the challenges that may include mental health and addictions. That said, I felt more hopeful than helpless at the play’s conclusion, buoyed by the strength of the clients Jeremy described, people who are able to make it through another day in spite of unspeakable hardship. The audience was silent – the emotion was palpable, and there were more than a few tears in the audience.

Following the play was a panel discussion, featuring a few members in our community supporting those on the streets as well as those working towards ending homelessness. What stayed with me was a comment by Julian Daly, Executive Director of Boyle Street Community Services, who talked about the negative perceptions of homeless people, resulting in a push for segregation, a NIMBY-ism, their exclusion from public spaces: “There is a silent apartheid in Edmonton.”

Especially on days like today – think about our neighbours, and what it might be like not to have a warm home to return to at the end of the day.

Fringe Theatre Adventures: “Any Night”

Mack and I headed to the TransAlta Arts Barns on Saturday evening to take in Any Night, a production from Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn, the same pair that were behind the memorable Tuesdays & Sundays, a tragic romance that played to sold-out audiences at the Edmonton Fringe ten years ago. From the website:

“A young woman suffering from night terrors and sleepwalking is drawn into a tender romance with the young man living above her. But how does he know her so well?”

There was a sizable crowd on hand – some of it was undoubtedly due to the show’s buzz (and stellar timing – its billing as a psychological thriller perfect for those seeking a Halloween fright), but many others had taken advantage of a fantastic Groupon deal offered earlier in the month – a discount of over 50% for a pair of tickets, and a choice of several dates to boot. The clerk shared that they sold nearly 400 tickets via Groupon – and it sounds like other theatre companies will be utilizing this vehicle to encourage the public to take a chance on their productions as well.

Both Hahn (as Anna) and Arnold (as Patrick) were fantastic – Arnold especially so, balancing between his roles as the charming caretaker and haunting neighbour. Patrick’s deception was a reminder about the fine line between manipulation and perceived connection when it comes to trust and love. My only disappointment was their climactic confrontation – although intense and emotionally fraught, I didn’t believe that Anna would actually follow-through on her threat (Mack, however, disagrees with me on this).

While it is fantastic that the show played to such a large audience, I couldn’t help but think Any Night was meant to be performed in a more intimate venue, where Anna’s feelings of panic and paranoia would become even more heightened in a smaller space (The Bone House, though a very different type of production, worked so well for that reason). Still – I did like the set (curtains that appeared sheer, yet could harbour shadows) and the lighting (the green used to suggest Patrick’s screens managed to evoke a sickening revulsion).

Any Night was an entertaining way to get our Halloween chills, and a great opportunity to watch a couple actors I haven’t seen in many years.

Check out the rest of Fringe Theatre Adventure’s upcoming season here.

We’ll Show You Ours: That’s a Wrap!

It’s not a secret that the Fringe is my favourite summer festival. The shows, the food, the buskers, the atmosphere – it’s a combination that rightly attracts an incredibly diverse crowd. I really admire what the Fringe is doing to try to build their audience from the ground up, tackling the age-old issue of those who wander the grounds, but never step inside a theatre. From their First Time Fringer discount program, to the variety of Fringe apps that were available this year (built by community members), I would hope that their efforts do translate into more tickets sold, or at the very least, a piqued curiosity that may lead to future ticket sales.

Fringe 2010

Outdoor mainstage

Fringe 2010

The Fringe should be commended for their green initiatives this year – we watched as Green Team volunteers sorted through the trash for organic material to compost

Fringe 2010

Mack and I at the Parlour photo booth

I would be lying if I said this Fringe won’t be memorable for a reason entirely unrelated to the festival. That said, I haven’t overlooked the fabulous productions we were fortunate enough to catch during We’ll Show You Ours:

  • The Lime Tree Bower still lingers in my memory because it reminded me that the core of theatre is storytelling. Vincent Forcier, Jon Lachlan Stewart and Cody Porter were seamless in their delivery, fully embodying the characters, Irish accents unwavering. I was swept up by the vivid language, rich descriptions that nourished my imagination, transforming the immediate setting of a family-owned pub into a shadowy graveyard, a college auditorium, an inhospitable bar. It was also a great choice to have the characters subtly interact and respond to one another during each of their monologues – it added a laid-back air that made the production such a treat to watch. Moreover, I was happy to be finally be able to see the much-buzzed about Lachlan Stewart in action, who lived up to every expectation.
  • There is no one like TJ Dawe. If you haven’t yet watched this master at work, weaving personal experiences into relatable, thought-provoking anecdotes all while demonstrating his incredible skill with the rhythms of the English language – remember his name for next year. While I didn’t take to Lucky 9 as much as last year’s Totem Figures, it’s difficult not to enjoy Dawe, whatever the content.
  • The bar was set pretty darn high for BASH’d, with all of the accolades it has received, on top of the fact that the show had a successful off-Broadway run in New York two years ago. It cleared the bar with room to spare. I am still in awe of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow – not only for their conviction and limitless energy (they barely stopped to breathe over the hour), but also for their ability to compellingly portray the heartbreaking tale of love and tragedy in a single hour.
  • We picked David Belke’s The Crimson Yak for its plot mention of Coca Cola (and by golly, they even referred to it as Mack has in the past, as “the nectar of the gods”), but it turned out to be a good choice for a host of other reasons. The songs were as hilarious as they were catchy (“Crimson yaa-aa-aa-k”), and Karyn Mott absolutely stole the show as the wide-eyed, fanatical Dhara.

The Fringe turns thirty next year. You can bet it will be a huge party, just as it should be. See you there!

Cutting Ties with Teatro la Quindicina

I saw my first Teatro la Quindicina play in 2001 – the summer after I graduated high school. Cocktails at Pam’s had received a 4 1/2 star review in the Journal, and it seemed to be on everyone’s must-see list.  At the time, I was a volunteer, and redeeming volunteer appreciation Fringe bucks at the time meant waiting in line twice – once to get tickets at the door, and again to get seats. My friend and I waited over three hours total to see the production, which probably didn’t help our expectation level. Both of us came out of the show not having understood the humour – when the audience laughed, we didn’t even know a joke had been made. It happened to me then, and it has happened since then – sometimes a show just doesn’t jive with an individual because theatre, like other forms of art, is subjective.

In 2004, I attended my second Teatro show,  a remount of Shocker’s Delight during the regular theatre season. The show, about growing up, friendship and love, featured Ron Pederson, Jocelyn Ahlf and Josh Dean, and to this day, remains one of my all-time favourite productions. Every theatre patron has those handful of plays that they go back to, year after year, to be referenced as what cemented their love of theatre. Shocker’s Delight was one of those shows for me, so much so that I purchased a copy of A Teatro Trilogy: Selected Plays by Stewart Lemoine soon after.

Since then, I’ve been attending Teatro la Quindicina productions regularly – Pith!, The Oculist’s Holiday and last season’s Everybody Goes to Mitzi’s!, have been highlights over the past six years. Two years ago, because Mack and I were finding that we were attending most, if not all, of Teatro’s plays, we decided to purchase season subscriptions, figuring that was one way we could support the company.

For that reason, I was shocked to read Teatro Artistic Director Jeff Haslam’s comment, written on Saturday:

You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Jeff Haslam

When I started this blog back in 2006, I wrote about many things, including theatre. One reason for this was so I could maintain a log of memorable shows, actors and playwrights as a personal reference guide. Another – which has become the driving force of my blog – was so I could showcase all that I love about Edmonton – local restaurants, area producers, festivals, and yes, theatre.

I have never claimed to be a professional reviewer. But like anyone who watches any production, I will have an opinion. Sure, most theatregoers may not take the time to express their opinion as I do, but they likely do so in other ways – telling friends, commenting on a review, updating a Facebook status. Though I doubt they would believe me anyway, I never meant to hurt or offend any of the Teatro actors; my intent wasn’t malicious, or personal, even though he has interpreted it as such. I was, in my mind, recording my experience of the shows (my posts about Teatro can be found here).

Mack wrote more about the process of confirming that comment was indeed submitted by Jeff Haslam, and I thank him for willing to be the go-between. I will admit to some cowardice on my part – as personal as their reaction seemed to be, mine was equally so. Six years of history with anything can do that to you.

Perhaps what’s most upsetting to me is when and how Jeff Haslam chose to disclose his feelings about my blog. There are numerous other routes he could have taken – an e-mail, for instance, or, in person, at one of Teatro’s shows (as a subscriber, I would have to call in to reserve my seats, so he would have known when I would be attending the plays). Also, last November, when I contacted him by e-mail for a post I wrote about shopping locally, he responded, but did not mention his opinion in his reply. The most opportune time in my mind, however, was in April of this year, when I renewed our subscription to Teatro. Could he not have communicated to me then of his preference that we stop attending his shows earlier, and save us from all of this? I think about all of the productions I have attended in the past few years, sitting in the audience unaware that the theatre company putting on the show really didn’t want me there.

He will ultimately get his wish – I can say with confidence that any production Jeff Haslam is involved in will never earn another dollar from me. And though I am saddened by how this happened, I look forward to supporting other theatre companies with my patronage in the future.

August 26, 2010 update: Mack and I received a handwritten apology from Jeff Haslam in the mail today. It was accompanied by a signed copy of Stewart Lemoine’s At the Zenith of the Empire, and a refund for the unused portion of our season subscriptions.

Teatro la Quindicina: “The Ambassador’s Wives”

The Ambassador’s Wives, Stewart Lemonine’s newest play that just wrapped up its run at the Varscona Theatre, is one of the best Teatro la Quindicina productions I’ve seen in a while. Unlike some reviewers, I’m not smitten with every Lemoine piece – there are some that ring truer, or happen to entertain me more than others.

The Ambassador’s Wives fell in the latter category, a super-charged ride through a farcical murder mystery:

“When the Monte Carlo embassy of the tiny yet volatile Balkan nation of Panonia is besieged by treacherous beauties as a result of a diplomat’s abundant political and romantic indiscretions, lethal consequences are simply inevitable.”

What was most refreshing about this production was the balance between Teatro favourites and newcomers to the Teatro team. Though I adore Davina Stewart and Jeff Haslam (Haslam played his typical sassy, impervious character, and Teatro regular Julien Arnold was outstanding as the infallible embassy attaché), it was nice to see the change of dynamics brought about by recent graduates Jenny McKillop, Kristi Hansen and Vincent Forcier. Hansen and Forcier were especially impressive – Hansen, as the effervescent aviator/Countess of Lichtenstein, had great comic timing, and Forcier, as the playboy to wealthy older women, seamlessly shifted from starry-eyed puppy dog to tactful investigator.

I think it also helped that the theatre was absolutely buzzing. The Ambassador’s Wives was the first Lemoine show I’ve attended outside of the Fringe that has sold out – the tone of the play can definitely be influenced – good or bad – by an audience’s response, or lack thereof.

In all, it was a good night – lots of laughter, fresh licorice, and the chance to see some young performers shine. You can catch Teatro at the Fringe Festival August 13-28 with another new Lemoine work titled Witness to a Conga. Should be fun!

“Macbeth” at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival provides a great excuse to get out and enjoy one of the Bard’s plays in one of Edmonton’s most beautiful parks. I adore the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park, and love seeing how the tone of the production can change depending on the weather.

The Bard


Mack and I were lucky enough to get tickets to attend the show this year, courtesy of Bottom Line Productions. This year, the Company is staging Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth (set in Cold War Eastern Europe) – the latter won out as my pick this year.

Mack & Me

Mack and I at the Festival

Back in June, I had written about a “picnic in the park” promotion the Festival had organized, offering two tickets and a $100 Sunterra gift certificate to the creator of the best picnic basket using Sunterra goods. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to participate, with the deadline for submissions falling right around the time of our move.

So although I couldn’t enter the contest, I thought our trek out to Hawrelak Park would be a good opportunity to put a picnic basket together, and have an easy dinner at the Park prior to the show. We found out later that patrons can actually order a pre-assembled basket through Sunterra, which would be delivered to the show – how cool is that?

I met Mack at the Sunterra in Commerce Place after work last Friday, and though much of the deli inventory had been devastated by the lunch crowd, we were still able to pull together a nice warm-weather supper – a chicken, cucumber and tomato baguette sandwich for me, and a beef teriyaki wrap for Mack. We supplemented our mains with drinks, chips and a strawberry Napoleon from the bakery.


Pre-show dinner

The sandwiches were a bit disappointing – while there was a fair amount of chicken and vegetables, as a whole, mine wasn’t very tasty; Mack said the same thing about his wrap. They also exceeded our $5 limit for cold sandwiches.

We did better with dessert – between puff pastry, icing, pastry cream and fresh strawberries, we couldn’t lose. I am glad to have shared it with Mack though – as you can guess, it was pretty rich.


Strawberry Napoleon

By the time we finished our meal near the ticket tent, the line-up had tripled in size. The volunteers (who were all friendly and so helpful), said they had seen much worse, particularly on Tuesdays where the price of admission is pay-what-you-will (this past Tuesday, attendance was 1,200!).


Eager crowd

There were still plenty of good seat options by the time we were through the gates though, so our dawdling went unpunished. Settling in our seats, we got a good look at the stage: a stunning, tiered wood structure with metal accents, including a balcony, winding staircase and a fireman’s pole – talk about a modern set-up. We both also really liked the round feature at centre stage that acted as the Witches’ cauldron, and doubled as the banquet table in the scene where Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost.



As I mentioned, this production was set in Cold War Eastern Europe, which was a time period director John Kirkpatrick thought was very much in line with the original setting, rife with suspicion and corruption. While the execution didn’t work as well as we had hoped (without changing the place references – not that we are advocating doing so – the transposition seemed a bit strange), it did allow for some striking costumes, including Lady Macbeth’s dazzling black gown worn to celebrate her husband’s ascension, and ghost Banquo’s stark white dinner jacket, marred with blood (the haunting, Shining-like appearance of John Ullyatt’s Banquo is something I won’t soon forget).

Though none of the actors really blew us away (though I will always have a soft spot for Lady Macbeth, played well by Melissa MacPherson), the happiest surprise for me was to recognize Peter Fernandes up on stage in a supporting role. I had taught Peter back during my student teacher days at Louis St. Laurent (no, not in drama), and even caught one of his performances at the Citadel Theatre when he was a student in one of their development programs. It’s great to see that he has not only continued with his studies, but is also securing roles in top Edmonton productions – congrats, Peter!

The Festival is in its final weekend, with two matinees and two more evening performances. If you’re not yet ready to dive into the frenzied crowds at the Ex, Indy or Taste of Edmonton, this is a great summer alternative.

Shadow Theatre: “The Liars”

Earlier this month, I took in a pay-what-you-can matinee at the Varscona Theatre. I know I don’t get out to as many plays as I’d like to, and on that Saturday, it was a great excuse to kill two birds with one stone, as I also got to pop into the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

Jocelyn Ahlf is one of my favourite on-stage talents, but in the last few years, has began presenting plays of her own creation. Space, at last summer’s Fringe, was an enjoyable, noncommittal romp, and even better, was Everybody Goes to Mitzi’s, the entertaining musical she co-wrote which capped the end on Teatro’s 2009 season. The Liars is her first play for Shadow Theatre:

“Audrey and Simon are invited to dinner with their best friends Gaby and Adam — whom they’re not even sure they really like. Before they know it, Gaby and Adam are dragged into a series of domestic disputes which grow ever more dissimilar and outrageous. But who is lying? So starts a comic journey into a place that no sane person should ever willingly go – someone else’s business.”

Along with others in the audience, I was able to relate to some of the awkward and almost passive-aggressive feelings experienced by Audrey and Simon. Still, for a play that I thought hinged so much on being able to empathize with the protagonists, I couldn’t help but finding myself being annoyed by Lora Brovold’s over-the-top portrayal of Audrey. She may have been trying to keep up with Gaby’s (Shannon Blanchet) frenetic breakdowns, but between the two women, I was emotionally overwhelmed. As a result, Andrew MacDonald-Smith’s relative sanity and calming presence as Simon was a welcome touchstone, and one that made me believe the too-neat engagement seemed forced – the audience wasn’t given much history into their relationship.

Still, though I didn’t enjoy this play as much as Ahlf’s previous work, The Liars had its moments (and clever one-liners that I wish I could remember). I look forward to Ahlf’s next work!

On an unrelated note – Northern Light Theatre announced its 2010-11 season, and I was delighted to see a new play by Leif Oleson-Cormack on the schedule! I attended high school and university with Leif – it’s always cool to see old friends succeed. Look for his play, Meat Puppet, January 21- February 6, 2011 at the Varscona.

Teatro la Quindicina: “On the Banks of the Nut”

Two weeks ago, Mack and I headed to the Varscona Theatre to check out the first production of the season from our favourite company – Teatro la Quindicina’s On the Banks of the Nut.

“…a plucky temp and affably inept federal talent agent [are] on a hare-brained talent quest in rural Wisconsin in 1951. Theirs is a madcap undertaking which involves pie, Mahler, bird-watching, embattled star-crossed lovers, a hapless lady tourist, and the abruptest civic election in history- all at the curiously appointed Nut River Lodge astride the noble banks of the River Nut.”

This play is another revival – from 2001 – and means that Teatro is drawing closer to restaging a play I may have seen in its original inception, as I started to follow the company around that time. I am also proud to say that we are season subscribers for a second year in a row.

Anyway, On the Banks of the Nut was most definitely a screwball comedy, and really asked the audience to suspend reason and logic on many levels. While I didn’t enjoy the storyline as much as other Teatro productions (though I had to chuckle at my favourite line, “Nut-ward ho!”), Kristen Padayas, who played the aforementioned temp Norine Cuthbert, was the shining star. I first saw Kristen in a mostly-forgettable role as a wealthy heiress in a Stewart Lemoine-penned MacEwan play, The Addelpated Nixie last March, then again a few months later in Space, a fun Fringe romp where she revelled in the role of a junior crew member. She was even better in On the Banks of the Nut – her comic timing and deadpan delivery put fellow cast member Eric Wigston (as the federal talent agent Pinkerton Sprague) to shame. I imagine she will be cast in more Teatro shows in the future, and I think she is a wonderful addition to the company! Mack and I also enjoyed Jeff Haslam (when don’t we?) – his hilarious accent and lovesick demeanour was fun to watch.

Next up for Teatro la Quindicina, the premier of  The Ambassador’s Wives, July 8-24, 2010, set in the French Riviera. It’s a great opportunity to get your feet wet in time for the Fringe in August!

Come One, Come All: Freewill Shakespeare Festival Picnic Contest

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival (formerly known as the River City Shakespeare Festival) is one of Edmonton’s most popular summer events, presenting live theatre at the Heritage Amphitheatre at Hawrelak Park. There’s nothing quite the same as taking in a play outdoors on a warm evening – between the story and the venue, I find I’m easily transported elsewhere, ushered away on a cloud of beautiful language and the calm of night.

The 2010 incarnation of the festival will see, as with every year, a comedy and a tragedy: Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth will be returning to the stage. It looks like Macbeth is getting a Cold War-era makeover, and with James MacDonald at the helm, it’s sure to be a powerful production.

This year, in an effort to reiterate the outdoor nature of the shows, the Festival has come up with a novel way of combining two of my favourite things: theatre and food.

FREEWILL Foodie Picnic Contest

Calling all foodies! The FREEWILL Shakespeare Festival is thrilled to partner with Sunterra Market in the search for the perfect picnic to bring down to the park this summer.

Post your perfect picnic details on the FREEWILL Facebook page, or include it in a post on your personal blog, to enter to win a great prize pack including: two Festival Passes, a $100 gift certificate to Sunterra Market, and reserved picnic seating on the date of your choice. Marianne Copithorne, Freewill Artistic Director, and John Kirkpartrick, Guest Director, will be judging the contest.

All entries must include the opening line:

“The FREEWILL Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 22nd season, June 29 – July 25 at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. My dream picnic from Sunterra Market…”

Entries must be posted to the FREEWILL Facebook page no later than 4:00 PM on June 28, 2010. If you are posting on a personal blog, please paste the URL link to the post on the FREEWILL Facebook page or email the link prior to the closing date.

I think this contest is a great way to remind people that the Freewill Shakespeare Festival is an opportunity to have a different night out – not only to take in wonderful productions in a beautiful setting, but also to make it a full experience with your favourite nibbles and snacks.

I look forward to seeing your picnic basket creations!