Michael Scholar Jr. directs Lungs, which is at Studio 16 Nov. 13-22. (photo from Mitch and Murray Productions)
If you’ve not been to the theatre in many months, consider treating yourself to a COVID-19-safe performance of Lungs, opening at Studio 16 in Vancouver Nov. 13, and running to Nov. 22. Michael Scholar Jr. is the Jewish director of the play, which stars real-life married couple Aaron Craven and his wife, Kate Craven, who is also a member of the Jewish community.
Audience numbers will be limited to 25 in this two-actor performance, in which the couple discusses whether or not they should have a child. The discussion takes place over many years and the debate is over whether childbearing is the morally correct choice in a world brimming with overpopulation, hatred, racism and climate change.
“The ideas and issues brought up in this piece really resonate right now in the pandemic, with regards to questions like, Are we taking care of the planet, our neighbours and ourselves?” Scholar told the Independent. “This really resonates with us as artists and, to approach this during the pandemic, seems really timely.”
Lungs was written by Duncan McMillan, a British playwright, and debuted in 2011. Aaron Craven, the co-producer and owner of the Vancouver theatre and film production company Mitch and Murray Productions, determined a two-actor play starring a husband and wife would satisfy COVID-19 safety protocols. With small audiences and barriers between the actors and audience, the show will go on.
Scholar notes that Lungs is a much-loved play to mount not just because of its relevant subject matter, but also because of its production simplicity. “The author’s notes say there’s not to be any costume changes, furniture or set pieces, so 60 scenes happen without any indication as to where and when they are,” he said. “They keep jumping forward in time and it’s up to the audience to figure out where and when they are taking place. So, theatrically, it’s a relatively simple, low-fi production.”
While there’s no overtly Jewish content, Scholar believes that to be a Jew is to wrestle with G-d and, at the heart of this play, is a wrestling match about childbearing in a morally tenuous moment in time.
For ticketing information, visit mitchandmurrayproductions.com.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Michael Scholar Jr. co-directs the political comedy Born Yesterday, which opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre. (photo from ETC)
Garson Kanin’s comedy Born Yesterday opened on Broadway on Feb. 4, 1946, and was a hit. It has been made into a film (1950), returned to Broadway twice (1989 and 2011) and seen countless productions. About political corruption, it has a timeless quality.
“This play seems to have been written for this exact moment, when populism, corruption and bullying are an omnipresent part of our political and personal lives,” co-director Michael Scholar Jr. told the Independent.
Scholar co-directs the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) production with Shelby Bushell. Part of the company’s Annual Summer Repertory Festival, Born Yesterday opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre.
“Kanin wrote the piece while in Europe,” said Scholar. “While he was serving in the army to defeat fascism abroad, he seemed more concerned about those same tendencies within our own democracy back home. This play and one of its central figures, Harry Brock, the bullying millionaire who tries to buy his way into power, are sadly all too familiar 80 years on.”
In Born Yesterday, junkman Harry has come to Washington, D.C., to use his money to influence legislation. Despite his own uncouthness, Harry is concerned that his girlfriend, Billie, a former showgirl, will make him look bad, so he hires a reporter, Paul, to educate her. As her newly released intelligence begins to surface, she could prove Harry’s undoing.
The Independent last spoke with Jewish community member Scholar about The Enemy, another political play, which was at the Firehall Arts Centre late last year.
“Since The Enemy, a lot has changed for me,” he said. “I spent a semester teaching acting and directing at Arizona State University in Phoenix. And now, on my summer break, I’m co-directing Born Yesterday for ETC and, a day after opening, I fly to New York to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island, which I get to work on with my 6-year-old daughter, Alice.”
About how he came to co-direct Born Yesterday, Scholar said, “I was talking with artistic director Tariq Leslie while on a movie set here in Vancouver, and we got to talking about how ETC was hitting above its weight class and doing some powerful work in town. He had seen my production of As You Like It at Studio 58 and enjoyed my work. And so a match was made.”
Scholar described having a co-director as “a real blessing.”
“It means that we can tag team on rehearsals, and I actually get to have a day with my family each week,” he said of working with Bushell. “Also, having her perspective in the room has meant that we are covering more ground and that, together, we have fewer blind spots. This play is about a woman who is perceived to be a ditz, but whose sense of civic duty is awoken through education and intellectual stimulation. This play, written in the ’40s by Garson Kanin, is surprisingly relevant to our current political climate, but it also has some potentially problematic elements [so it is] worth having two sets of eyes looking at this material.”
One of those elements is the depiction of women.
“Brock is a bully and, without giving away too much of the plot, he is a violent character towards both men and women in his entourage,” explained Scholar. “The play deals with toxic masculinity, misogyny and stereotypes, but, in its time, it was working to subvert those ideas. So, we’ve reworked parts of the piece to highlight this intention and to not reinforce gender stereotypes, which has been another great reason to have Shelby as a collaborator on this project.”
Ensemble Theatre’s website highlights a quote from the play: “A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.” It notes, “By turns uproarious and sobering, and packed with a cast of vibrant characters throughout, Kanin’s play reminds us that a healthy democracy depends on its inhabitants to stay healthy, and that abuse of power cannot be stemmed without an informed and engaged citizenry.”
Scholar stressed that, despite the weighty issues tackled, the play is primarily a comedy. “It has a fast-pace banter and physical precision that is almost farcical,” he said. “It uses comedy as a way of dealing with challenging ideas, disarming us with laughter so that we can reflect on our situation with not just our heads, but our hearts, too. I’m sure audiences will have much to discuss afterwards, but they will also be entertained while on this poignant journey.”
ETC’s summer festival runs to Aug. 16. In addition to Born Yesterday, it features Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, which opened July 12, and Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts, which opens July 19. For tickets, visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca.
Jenn Griffin and Paul Herbert in Firehall Arts Centre’s production, The Enemy, which runs to Dec. 1. (photo by Pedro Meza)
A doctor in a small B.C. town discovers that the main tourist draw, the springs, are polluted. As she tries to raise the alarm, she runs into harsh resistance – after all, the town’s economic well-being is completely dependent on the tourism the springs, spa and waterpark attract. Among other things, her findings are discredited, the truth is characterized as “fake news,” and she ends up regarded as a pariah instead of a saviour.
This very current-day scenario is actually based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People, the themes of which are as relevant as ever. Firehall Arts Centre artistic producer Donna Spencer has adapted Ibsen’s drama, not only bringing the spa to British Columbia, but making the character of Dr. Stockman a woman in her version, called The Enemy, which runs at the Firehall until Dec. 1.
Spencer, who also directs the production, said in a press release, “Recently, we witnessed a decision south of the border that many of that country’s constituents did not support for good reasons. But the majority of those who had the power to vote supported the choice, angering thousands and potentially impacting hard-earned freedoms and rights. With the Firehall’s presentation of The Enemy, I have adapted Henrik Ibsen’s drama – which asks the question, is the majority always right? – and applied it to a contemporary issue not unlike the one faced by Ibsen’s version of Dr. Stockman. In this contemporary context of The Enemy, the role of Dr. Stockman is written as a female and illustrates the challenges that women face when confronting and disputing the ‘powers-that-be’ or, as some would say, ‘the old boys’ club.’”
Jenn Griffin plays the role of Dr. Stockman in The Enemy. Jewish community member Michael Scholar Jr., is also part of the cast.
“I play the role of David Horseman (after Captain Horster in the Ibsen), who is a pilot who charters flights to remote fishing and hunting locations across B.C.,” Scholar told the Jewish Independent. “He’s someone who used to work for oil companies, but is now his own boss, trying to keep a low profile, and stay out of political frays. David is a friend of Dr. Stockman, who tries to help her when she is censored and vilified. Throughout the story, we find the otherwise complacent David find his political voice, when he sees a restriction on freedoms of expression come to his small town.”
The Enemy explores the role of the media, the mob mentality, political extremism, corruption, elitism, the environment.
“Theatre is a very powerful medium,” said Scholar, who is also the founding artistic producer of November Theatre. “The way in which ideas are communicated in theatre are through emotion, images and even moral ambiguities. There have been scientific studies done on what happens to theatre audiences when they experience a play live, showing that, when a play is effective, the mirror neurons are firing on all cylinders, creating an emotional, engaging experience that can lead to feelings of empathy and, therefore, understanding.
“The poetic form of theatre, with its use of imagery and physicality, allow for abstract thought and even an awakening of the mind and spirit that is unlike any other form,” he explained. “The ancient Greeks presented dramas to allow their people to wrestle with moral issues communally. It was an important form of public discourse. And The Enemy and other socially conscious theatre are carrying on that tradition.”
Scholar said he is excited to be working with Spencer.
“I’ve known Donna for years, and am thrilled to be working with her and this amazing cast,” he said. “Some great friends of mine are in this show, like my old U of A school chum Daniel Arnold, Green Lake cast mate Donna Soares, and clown extraordinaire Peter Anderson. And I’m getting to know some other incredible talents, like Sharon Crandall, who I saw at Bard [on the Beach] this summer; Paul Herbert, who I’ve seen act since living in Edmonton; Agnes Tong, who was great in Les Belles Soeurs; Braiden Houle, who just did Kill Me Now at the Firehall; and our leading lady, Jenn Griffin, who I know as a playwright and is doing incredible work as Dr. Stockman.”
One of the many intriguing aspects of the play – both Ibsen’s original and Spencer’s adaptation – is how the hero, Dr. Stockman, is portrayed. The doctor is not a sympathetic character, in ways that liberals and progressives especially should note. Dr. Stockman considers herself superior to her critics and those who believe them. A recent article in the New York Times – about why Ibsen’s play is seeing so many remounts in the United States these days – compares some of Stockman’s language to that of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement, “or other comments that people – perhaps audience members themselves – have made that imply that those they disagree with are inferior.”
There is an excellent article in a 2010 issue of Public Health Ethics that can be found online. In it, Terrance McConnell uses Ibsen’s play to examine the competing responsibilities of a physician: to their own ideals, to their family, to their fellow citizens and to public health.
“One message of the play is that those with vested interests will try to silence the idealist,” writes McConnell.
“A second message in the play concerns how the idealist is portrayed by others,” he adds, giving examples of how Dr. Stockman’s opponents succeed in branding the doctor as crazy.
“In this age of divisive rhetoric,” said Scholar, “this play wrestles with the concept of speaking truth to power even at great personal cost. Ibsen’s story is sadly still relevant today, and Donna’s adaptation puts it in the here and now. I think this production will elicit much discussion, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
The Enemy runs at various times Tuesdays through Sundays at the Firehall Arts Centre, with post-show talkbacks Nov. 22 and 29. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased from firehallartscentre.ca or 604-689-0926.