Ric Reid and Nicola Lipman co-star in The Matchmaker, which is at the Stanley until Feb. 24. (photo by David Cooper)
If you are an aficionado of the absurd, an enthusiast of the exaggerated, a supporter of slapstick and an overall buffoonery buff, then set a date to see The Matchmaker.
Thornton Wilder’s work has taken over the Stanley Theatre with all the intensity and madness a play can muster and keeps farce fans delighted from opening curtain to final applause.
Matchmaker, which was first staged in 1955, is the retelling of Wilder’s original farce The Merchant of Yonkers and was a precursor to Hello Dolly!, one of the most popular Broadway plays of all time. It was made into a movie in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand in the title role of Dolly Levi.
Levi – played by Nicola Lipman in the Arts Club production – is the thread in the play that winds its way through four relationships of star-crossed lovers and would-be elopers. She’s a woman who “arranges things,” but is generally bored with life. The forceful matchmaker goes to Yonkers under the pretence of finding a wife for the crotchety Scrooge-like storeowner Horace Vandergelder (Ric Reid). Her real motive, however, is to snatch Vandergelder for herself.
Along the way, Levi tries to cement the relationships of Vandergelder’s niece, Ermengarde, and struggling artist Ambrose Kemper; milliner Irene Molloy and Vandergelder’s chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl; and Molloy’s assistant Minnie Fay and store clerk Barnaby Tucker. Quite a bit of work for one day, but Levi is ready to put in the effort if it will get her what she wants. She even goes so far as to make up an extensive story that she tells Vandergelder about a fictional 19-year-old potential spouse, just to keep him from marrying anyone else. And she tells Molloy that Hackl is a millionaire known in the best levels of society in order to ensure Molloy loses interest in Vandergelder. And that’s all just in the first act!
The second act brings all the characters together at the home of Flora Van Huysen, a friend of Ermengarde’s late mother, who Vandergelder hopes will keep Ermengarde and Kemper apart. But, it turns out the over-the-top opera-singing spinster is a romantic at heart and, despite a series of confused identities, manages to bring all the relevant couples together.
Now, it’s understood that a farce is comprised of ludicrous situations, improbable plot lines, absurd characters, exaggerated fashion and just about anything that falls under the categories of irony, satire and bad wit. Even so, I expect there to be some consistency within a person’s character, some personality traits that remain the same despite the nonsense of any given situation. I found that missing (or misdirected) in Molloy, one of the key characters, and an original love interest of Vandergelder.
Molloy is a hat-maker who admits to never having adventure in her life, and being very limited in her socializing. Yet, when she finally goes out to a restaurant, she acts like she goes out on the town every night, ordering the best food, telling people what to do, convincing the two clerks to sing in order to get a date.
Also, Molloy and Hackl supposedly fall in love at first sight. The feelings are clearly evident from Hackl’s actions, but it’s hard to get any sense of interest from Molloy.
It makes sense that Hackl, whose experience with women is so minimal, basically falls in love with the first one he meets and laments the fact that he has so little knowledge about the opposite sex.
“I’ll bet you could know a woman 100 years and never really know if she likes you or not,” he says, presenting an observation that many would say holds true.
Now, just in case you were wondering if this level of farce is your cup of tea, here are a couple of examples of the humour you’ll see. When Minnie Fay kisses store clerk Barnaby Tucker, he goes all “aw, shucks” and falls down. There’s a knee-slapper!
In another scene, they need some help from a cabbie, so they ask him, “Do you want to earn $5?” The cabman replies, “I don’t know; I’ve never tried.” (Cue the ba-dum-tshh post-groaner sound effect.)
If you enjoy these types of laughs, then Matchmaker should be right up your alley.
In a final note, kudos go out to set and costume designer Drew Facey for absolutely gorgeous visuals, and composer and sound designer (Jewish community member) Mishelle Cuttler for a score that complements the frenetic action on stage.
The Matchmaker runs at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until Feb. 24. For tickets, visit artsclub.com.
Baila Lazarus is a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.
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.
Gili Roskies co-stars in Red Birds, which opens Nov. 2. (photo from Gili Roskies)
Jewish community member Gili Roskies co-stars in the world première of Red Birds, written by Aaron Bushkowsky. Presented by Solo Collective Theatre and Western Gold Theatre, the play opens Nov. 2.
Described as a “bittersweet comedy,” Red Birds centres around “three generations of dirt-poor women whose lives are thrown into chaos when a birth mother is revealed. She is both incredibly wealthy and ready to marry a charming gold-digger.”
“I play Ashley in Red Birds,” Roskies told the Independent. “She is Carol’s daughter and helps her mother navigate through difficult decisions and new relationships. Despite being the youngest character in the play and dealing with her own hardships (that most 30-year-old women experience), she is the voice of reason in the play.
“I love the female relationships in this story,” Roskies said, “and, also, I’m more and more appreciative of seeing and starring in shows that have more women on stage than men. It’s rare and shouldn’t be. This show deals with a woman diving into some sort of unknown and the support the other women in her life provide her with. That is timeless.”
According to the production’s promotional material, Red Birds is a sister piece to Bushkowsky’s The Big Blue Bird, which had “a workshop reading by Western Gold more than 12 years ago. The Big Blue Bird looked at the sad but poignant relationship between three generations of men: a grandfather, father and son. It was subsequently nominated for a Jessie Richardson Award for outstanding original script.”
Red Birds will be Roskies’ first show with Western Gold Theatre, but her third with Solo Collective Theatre.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Solo Collective on two other occasions. I was in a really fun musical called Cool Beans that was written by Anton Lipovetsky and directed by Rachel Peake in 2013. That show, I think, will always remain high on my favourites list. It was so hip and new. The music was catchy and fun, the story was relatable and relevant.
“I also was in Dressing for a Wedding, written by Aaron Bushkowsky and directed by Sarah Rodgers, in 2015. In both cases, I had the chance to assist in the creation of a new show, which is always an exciting process.
“I find Solo Collective really supports its playwrights, giving them time and space to better their pieces,” she said about what keeps her coming back to the troupe. “It’s an ensemble environment, which I consider myself lucky to get to be a part of. Aaron was my writing teacher at Studio 58 and has (thankfully) continued to allow me opportunities to learn about theatre-making.”
This summer, Roskies starred as Girl in Arts Club Theatre’s Once, which “was a blast,” she said.
Roskies was also in what she called “an incredible new show this past year called Glory. Tracey Power masterfully wrote and choreographed an important show about the Preston Rivulettes, a women’s hockey team from the 1930s. Steve Charles created the most intricate music for our insane hockey games/dances. James MacDonald directed a real winning show. It’s a must-see and will be on next year at the Richmond Gateway Theatre April 4-13. We were welcomed and loved debuting the show in Kamloops and performing in Calgary. We have a tour in the summer through B.C. and Ontario. Though I sadly won’t be able to be a part of this remount, I highly suggest going.”
As for future roles, she said she doesn’t have anything big coming up. “At least not to my knowledge!” she qualified. “‘I audition all the time,’ as my character Ashley states so aptly. I’ve been happy tinkering around with some music-making lately, that might take up some of my focus this year. Hard to say.”
Directed by Scott Bellis, Red Birds also stars Anna Hagan, Christina Jastrzembska, Gerry Mackay and France Perras. The set is by Stephanie Wong, lighting by John Webber, sound design by Ben Elliott, and costumes and props by Alaia Hamer.
Red Birds is at PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero St., Nov. 2-18, with shows Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets ($27/$32) are available from redbirds.brownpapertickets.com or 604-363-5734.
Colleen Winton as Mrs. Lovett and Warren Kimmel as Sweeney Todd in Snapshots Collective’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which runs Oct. 10-31. (photo by Nicol Spinola)
“To seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it, if seldom as well as Sweeney,” said Stephen Aberle, quoting from the finale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Aberle plays Judge Turpin in the Snapshots Collective production of the musical, which will take place at Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, or at least a facsimile of it, at 348 Water St., in Gastown, Oct. 10-31. Most shows are already sold out.
“Part of the power of the piece,” explained Aberle, whose character sets Sweeney on his murderous path, “is that we can identify with all of the characters, see their strengths and their flaws, and observe how much we share with them. That’s what makes it troubling, that irresistible doubt: would I do anything differently?”
Let’s hope most people would, as Sweeney Todd slits quite a few throats in his barber’s chair – providing the main ingredient for Mrs. Lovett’s pies – before getting to the object of his revenge, Judge Turpin, who abused Sweeney’s wife and exiled Sweeney for a crime Sweeney didn’t commit.
“When we decided on doing Sweeney Todd,” director Chris Adams and choreographer Nicol Spinola told the Independent in an email interview, “we knew we wanted Warren Kimmel as Sweeney, so we approached him first to see if he would be interested in playing the title character. He was on board almost immediately and we started moving forward to cast the rest of the show. We next approached Colleen Winton for the role of Mrs. Lovett and held auditions for the rest of the cast. We weren’t shy in letting auditioning actors know that our show was going to be different and that seemed to excite them. We were thrilled with the turnout and were able to cast the show exactly how we saw it.”
And the intimate audience – theatre capacity is about 56 – will be right in the midst of it all.
“The show is staged around the entire venue with some seats being directly in the action,” said Adams and Spinola, who are also co-producers of the show, with Ron Stuart, Wendy Bross Stuart and Kat Palmer. “There will be interactive moments between the actors and the audience, although there is no audience participation required. Sometimes the action will take place right in front of you and other times the action will be across the room.”
Kimmel looks absolutely terrifying in the production’s 44-second teaser.
“It’s always more fun, interesting, to play dark or evil characters than good ones and, for the most part, I am cast as good guys rather than bad guys so this is fun from that point of view,” said Kimmel of playing the title character in the musical, composed by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler. “Also, Sweeney Todd is probably one of the most challenging pieces in the musical canon to perform, so that makes it a stimulating and scary experience as well, which is, I suppose, fun in a twisted fashion.”
“I think this is a tremendously important story for our time,” said Aberle, “a time when the power structures that reinforce men’s privilege and women’s presumed subservience (as well as racialized, class-based and other power imbalances) are being challenged by some; desperately defended by others. We read about Judge Turpin analogues just about every day in the news. I think it’s particularly important for those of us who possess power to check in with a story like this and consider our own exercise of that power. To what extent am I being a self-serving brute in this situation? Are there ways I might reduce that extent? The play, it seems to me, asks questions like those pretty insistently.”
About how he has chosen to portray Judge Turpin, Aberle said, “I’m looking for him the way I generally look for a character: by trying to figure out what he wants in the context of the given circumstances. That context, for a judge in mid-19th-century England, was power, privilege and prestige.
“One of the things that makes Judge Turpin interesting, to me, is that he’s not merely a psychopath or even a simple, spoiled narcissist: he tries to do ‘the right thing’ according to social convention and struggles with his desires (though more because of deeply ingrained inner shame than because he really understands his own power to harm, or empathizes with his victims). There are some questions about the man that I’m interested in exploring. What was his blue-sky vision of the perfect outcome when he set this engine of vengeance rolling, 15 years before the play begins? Why, especially given the power of his urges, has he gone through life so far without marrying? Why did he adopt a year-old infant as his ward? There are several plausible answers – and plausible combinations of multiple answers – for each of these, and I’m enjoying playing with them.”
Echoing Kimmel’s assessment of the music, Aberle added, “And, really, let’s face it. This is Sondheim at just about his Sondheimiest. If I can sing the material more or less in time and on pitch, I’ll be pretty happy.”
“The music plays a central role in telling this story,” Bross Stuart, the show’s musical director, told the Independent, “and there is no one more brilliant than Stephen Sondheim to do this for us. Central to the core of this music is the Gregorian chant, ‘Dies Irae’ (‘Day of Wrath,’ ‘Day of Judgment’) theme, heard throughout this work. We hear fragments of this musical motif hidden everywhere. Extended, shortened, pulled out of shape, but it’s there. We know it is the underpinning of Sweeney Todd’s motivation. It helps us understand Mr. Todd’s state of mind; and how revenge morphs into mental illness. When we are in the asylum, in Act 2, some of the ‘patients’ sing a demented version of ‘Dies Irae.’
“Another example is Sondheim’s use of a repeated note for more than 100 bars. Why does he do this? It is Mr. Todd’s obsession with murdering Judge Turpin. Even while the men are having a seemingly ‘friendly’ conversation, Todd is thinking along more sinister lines.”
“Sweeney Todd, as far as we can tell, is a normal man with a wife he adores and a new young daughter,” said Kimmel. “Without spoiling the plot altogether, life deals him a hand that most would find impossible to survive, let alone overcome, and so we have a perfect vehicle to allow us to ask what we would do in his position and, if we are honest with ourselves and had the courage to follow through, we could easily imagine doing the same things he does.”
But, he added, “In the end, I think it is a very moral story and the final destination is morally inevitable – although we feel for him and want to see him get his revenge, and although he and Mrs. Lovett almost get away with what they have done, it cannot be…. The world is set to rights at the end of the piece.
“You could say that this is just a Victorian melodrama, a deliciously dark tale underlining all the Christian moral virtue of the period,” he continued. “However, like all great drama, I think the rules of the game are timeless – first dramatized in Greek times or even biblical times. You cannot fool God; you cannot escape the price that must be paid for transgressing His rules. There is a fashion now to believe that we have moved past these religious moral strictures and that religion has less to offer a modern society but, in the end, this is a morality tale that resonates with very deep archetypal themes. No matter how justified it may seem, revenge will lead nowhere good.
“From a performance point of view, it is always a gift to be able to play someone truly morally compromised and, in a broader sense, I think that is what the theatre is really for: to allow us to watch this story and go through all that life is able to throw at us, to imagine, to understand and even to justify truly extraordinary behaviour, and yet to laugh and cry and cringe and know that, at the end, the moral compass of the world is back on true north.”
An emotional connection to the show is one of the reasons that the Stuarts wanted to be involved in this production. “We saw the original Broadway production in New York City in 1979, with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou,” said Ron Stuart. “It was brilliant and riveting and unique in the genre – like West Side Story was 20 years before or Showboat before that.
“Our co-producers had the concept of an immersive version of the show at a Gastown venue around Halloween, and we thought it was an interesting way to present the work.”
In addition to funding, he said, “with projects of this scale, we are also very hands-on. Our director, choreographer, music director and assistant director are also producers. We readily share our contacts in a variety of specialities, such as costumes, set design, lighting, instrument rental, legal issues, marketing, etc. Moreover, we are a collective under Equity rules, so we all have ‘skin in the game.’”
This is Palmer’s first experience as a producer. “It has been nice to learn from professionals who have been through this journey from beginning to end,” she told the Independent.
Knowing that they wanted this show to be immersive, the venue not only had to work from a mechanical perspective, “but add to the experience,” said Palmer, who is also in the ensemble.
“It’s been a fun challenge,” she said, “to be switching between my assistant stage managing hat and my performer hat – ‘this prop will need to be pre-set here, oh no, this is the lyric, this person has a quick change.’”
Palmer described the show as being very difficult technically, “there is not just Stage Left and Stage Right to worry about, there is a whole building.”
This is part of the attraction for Bross Stuart.
“We, the musicians, are very close to the audience and to the actors,” she explained. “Communication, page-turning, singing as you play – could be problematic. And the action is very immediate and very gripping. Very exciting!”
“My favourite number in the show,” said Palmer, “has to be our opening number, ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.’ Our amazing choreographer, Nicol Spinola, has created something so eerie, unique and unsettling. It immediately brings the audience right into this dark and thrilling world of 1840s London. Not only does it sound fantastic to have our entire cast of 17 singing Sondheim’s challenging music, but it also sets the mood for the entire show. I get chills performing it and I am very confident the audience will have never experienced anything like it before.”
For more information and tickets to Sweeney Todd, visit sweeneytoddthemusical.ca. And plan to have dinner at the venue before the show – pies, of course.
“Our pies come fresh each day from the Pie Hole located on Fraser Street in Vancouver,” said Adams and Spinola. “We are offering a traditional steak-and-stout meat pie, an aromatic Moroccan chickpea vegetarian pie and a delicious Thai coconut curry vegan pie. Pies can be added on when you are purchasing your tickets.”
Ghazal Azarbad, as Siobhan, a special-ed teacher, and Daniel Doheny, as Christopher, who has Asperger’s, often work in tandem in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (photo by David Cooper)
Left, right, left, right. Follow the red line. Left, right, left, right. Through the tunnel. Up the stairs. Left, right, left, right. Take the A-Levels, get an A star, become a mathematical genius. Left, right, left, right….
Such are the thought processes of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old with Asperger syndrome, who is the central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum characterized by repetitive, single-minded actions, inappropriate social interaction and highly focused interests. In Christopher’s case, those interests involve solving a mystery about a neighbour’s dog that was killed with a pitchfork; writing a story about how he solves the crime; and doing his A-Levels math exams because he wants to be a mathematical genius.
The story he writes becomes a play within the play performed by the staff at the special school he attends. The audience is taken on this journey by his special-education teacher reading from the text he wrote; by Christopher narrating events in the robotic fashion that is often symptomatic of Asperger’s; and by the actual events interwoven through the show in present-day and flashbacks.
The pace is frenetic, even mind-numbing at times, and works as a metaphor for Christopher’s view of the world – where things we take for granted don’t make sense to him and he has to create his own processes and order for self-protection.
Christopher can describe and explain a black hole to the smallest scientific detail, but cannot understand that he shouldn’t call his classmates “stupid.”
He can quote statistics at random – “You are most likely to be killed by a family member on Christmas day” – but doesn’t like yellow food.
Similar to the character in the TV program The Good Doctor, an autistic surgeon with savant syndrome, Christopher is a genius in his realm of specialty – mathematics – but must do things his way, which is constantly putting him at odds with the rest of world.
Protecting him from this outside harm is his father, with whom he lives in Swindon, England. As patient as his father tries to be, the challenge of dealing with Christopher’s proclivity to be single-minded, as exhibited in his investigation of the dog’s death, drives his father to rage, eventually leading to a physical altercation in which Christopher is hit. Nonetheless, Christopher cannot let go of this obsession. “Sometimes, you have to ignore what people tell you to do,” he says, which is characteristic of someone with Asperger’s.
One day, Christopher finds out that his father has lied to him about what happened to his mother. Up until this point, his father was one of the few people Christopher could trust, even to just touch him or hold him. When this trust is broken, Christopher sets out on what, for him, is a terrifying and difficult journey.
In one of the more dazzling, complicated and mezmerizing scenes of the play, Christopher must make his way through the complexity of the train stations, dancing in and around the other travelers, while avoiding touching them, and then figuring out the timing of how one actually steps onto the train car from the platform, which he’s never done.
He eventually finds what he’s looking for, but the result is not what had hoped for. He ends up returning to Swindon to take his A-Level maths, in an effort to get an A-star rating, and to try and rebuild the relationship with his father.
While local rising star Daniel Doheny is stellar in this challenging performance, and Todd Thomson is compelling as the tormented father, what really makes the play brilliant is the creative team. The direction, movement, blocking, timing, set design and lighting are remarkable. Jewish community member Itai Erdal was the lighting designer of the production. And particular mention must go to a simple but highly effective prop that lifts and drops part of the stage, turning it into a train platform for one scene, then lowering it to form the seat on the train in another.
As a caution, the actors bring everything to bear in this performance, so be prepared for very loud yelling, moaning and frenetic action – often by multiple actors at once, as the chorus works to amplify Christopher’s feelings and racing mind – as well as some swearing. A “relaxed” special performance runs Sept. 30 that includes lower sound levels, lights and projections that are more subdued, and a relaxation station in the lobby equipped with a live feed so audience members can take a break from being inside the theatre without missing what’s happening on stage.
Though this play can be troublesome, chaotic and even exhausting to watch, it is one of my favourites of the past year and I highly recommend it.
The Curious Incident runs until Oct. 7 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (artsclub.com).
Baila Lazarusis a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.
Naomi Vogt performs in Big Sister, written by her real-life sister, Deborah Vogt. (photo from Fringe)
The Vancouver Fringe Festival has started and there are (at least) a few shows that readers should try to fit in around the High Holidays. Jewish community members Deborah and Naomi Vogt, David Rodwin and Gemma Wilcox are presenting very personal works that examine issues with which we all deal, such as self-esteem, family relationships, finding and losing love, and the search for meaning. And they do it with humour and energy.
Local playwright Deborah Vogt and her sister, actor Naomi Vogt, “are still making tweaks” to Big Sister (Revue Stage), Deborah Vogt told the Independent. “However, I’m not sure if there will ever be a ‘final version,’ given that the script is a reflection of our ongoing conversation as sisters attempting to learn more about each other. Additionally, Naomi loves to ad lib and so the play will be slightly different every evening depending on who is in the audience. However, the dream would be to take it to other Fringe festivals, especially Edinburgh (the world’s largest Fringe Festival – and my personal dream). There is something very special, however, about premièring this show in the city that we grew up in and the community that we know and love.”
The idea for the show came up last summer at the Edinburgh Fringe. “Over there, I saw so many beautiful, personal solo shows that tread the line between monologue and standup. I thought, ‘I would love to do this, but I can’t act. Who do I know that could perform a solo show that I could write?’ The answer was obvious: my sister. We spent two weeks traveling together shortly after the Fringe, where we brainstormed ideas for shows in between hikes and wine bars. We abandoned most of those ideas when we realized the only story we could honestly tell was that of our relationship as sisters, and specifically how our relationship has changed over the last few years in the wake of Naomi’s 75-pound weight loss.”
Camp Miriam makes an appearance in Big Sister, said Vogt, “because my sister Naomi went there for a few summers as a preteen and our mother went there for many, many years when she was younger…. The show focuses on Naomi’s weight loss, and talks about what being a fat kid at camp was like. Naomi loved Camp Miriam, but we also acknowledge that no camp experience is easy if you don’t look like the other children.”
Naomi Vogt performs the whole play. “For the most part,” said her sister, “she is playing herself, but the version of herself that I have written through my perspective. And, on occasion, she plays me as well. I just have to sit in the audience every night and hear the ways she’s manipulating my words. Part of the joy of the show is the various power dynamics at play – as a playwright, I have shaped Naomi’s personal story but, as an actor, she is able to change my words at any moment.”
There were many challenges to writing Big Sister, said Vogt. “First of all, it was difficult trying to find the balance between Naomi as my real human sister and Naomi as a character. We wanted this show to be entirely truthful, while still presenting a piece of theatre. And this show touches on painful aspects of both of our lives (in a funny way, of course), so trying to write that without overstepping my place or lying to the audience about what actually happened (two sides to every story, right?) was difficult to manoeuvre.”
In a nutshell, the show is about weight loss. “It touches on how being heavy can affect all aspects of life, and particularly sibling dynamics,” said Vogt. “Both of us have lost weight … but Naomi’s journey was far more significant than mine. Through telling her story of weight loss, we’ve learned a lot about each other, our childhoods and the community we live in.”
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“F* Tinder is 100% autobiographical,” said David Rodwin. “Only the names have been changed. But I only have 75 minutes to talk about dating 120 different women over two years, so there’s a lot I have to leave out. But every story I tell, I do so as accurately as I can recall – with a theatrical flourish.”
F* Tinder: a love story (Performance Works) began as a book, when a friend who was writing his first book challenged Rodwin to do the same.
“I’d moved to San Francisco after my last serious relationship ended in L.A. and, over a year and a half on Tinder and other apps, I’d experienced some bizarre and noteworthy experiences in the lawless dating wilds of the Bay Area,” he said. “So, I had an unorganized collection of short stories I’d been developing…. Around that time, I met the one woman I truly fell in love with. That inspired me to write like crazy. But (spoiler alert), when she dumped me, I got writer’s block for the first time in my life.
“Though I wasn’t able to continue sitting alone at my desk typing out these tales, I couldn’t stop telling them to friends and in storytelling shows like The Moth, which I’ve done for years. Finally, it became clear that, rather than just a bunch of short anecdotes, this was a full evening of stories with its own narrative integrity…. And though I’d written half the book, I threw out everything and started over because I find that writing with my mouth creates a more natural, humorous and vibrant live performance than when I type something, memorize it and recite it.
“It’s a thrilling and terrifying process for me each night, not knowing quite how it’s going to go and I hope it creates a more visceral, authentic and deeply intimate experience. And it’s a technique I inherited from my mentor Spalding Gray. But it’s meant that the show has changed a lot over time. The first version was 60 minutes long, then it grew to 90 minutes. Now, it’s 75 minutes. But there have been multiple versions of each one…. I’m also able to adjust certain sections to fit specific audiences. I’ve even added a curling joke for my Canadian audiences, making fun of Americans’ inability to understand the sport.”
Rodwin continues to work on the book F* Tinder and, later this year, he said, “I’ll begin directing a web series of F* Tinder set in San Francisco, and also a feature film of my previous show set in Los Angeles, called Total Novice. That one has an even edgier narrative than F* Tinder, if you can believe. Let’s just say I was a ‘nice Jewish boy’ who went to Princeton and I was a very late bloomer who became fearless (and occasionally stupid) in my pursuit of things that I considered off limits when I was younger.”
F* Tinder includes Jewish elements, said Rodwin, “because they directly affected how I look at relationships.”
In the show, he shares how, on one Shabbat, while chanting prayers he’d said for 30 years, he stopped midway through the V’ahavta, “when I said, ‘And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.’ It suddenly hit me that I didn’t have children, and I couldn’t fulfil this prayer in a literal way. I always thought eventually I would. But, at 45, when I read that, I fell silent, contemplating how I’d lived my romantic life in such a way that I was childless. And what it meant for me. And what I should be doing with the woman I was in love with. And it directed my next choice in how that relationship went.”
Rodwin shared another touching, and Jewish, element of his show.
“The woman I fell in love with told me she could tell I was falling for her and I shouldn’t do that because she’d already decided we weren’t going to work out in the long term, and she didn’t want to hurt me. So, she told me to build a wall around my heart, or she wouldn’t see me again…. I agreed to do so because I was afraid if I told her the truth, that I was already hopelessly in love, I’d never see her again. Now, I’m not a biblical scholar, but the next morning a piece of Torah came to my mind, out of the blue, while she lay sleeping next to me. Deuteronomy 30:6 – I’d studied it eight years earlier with Rabbi [Sharon] Brous and I didn’t understand it, so it stuck in my mind. The phrase, ‘You must circumcise your heart … so that you may live,’ baffled me. But, that morning, it suddenly made sense to me, and I decided I had to circumcise my heart and careen it against the wall around her heart until I either broke through or I broke. And people can come see the show, to discover the surprising ending.”
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There are many twists and turns in Magical Mystery Detour (Studio 1398) by Gemma Wilcox. Set in the United Kingdom in 2012, the action is prompted “by a letter from her dead mother, [and] the protagonist, Sandra, and her dog, Solar, take an unexpected car journey from London to Land’s End, Cornwall, at a pivotal and sensitive time in her life.”
Created in the summer of 2012, Magical Mystery Detour premièred at the Boulder, Colo., Fringe Festival that year.
“It is a semi-autobiographical piece, heavily based on aspects of my life at that time,” Wilcox told the Independent. “I wrote this show very shortly after the death of my mother and the ending of a very significant love relationship with a man I thought I would marry and have children with. It was inspired by the tender and vulnerable process of dealing with and letting go of my mother’s death, the getting over and releasing this powerful love relationship, as well as some of my magical journeys through the sacred, beautiful landscape in the southwest of the U.K.
“The show reflects some of the themes I was fascinated by and exploring at that time in my life,” she continued, “such as learning how to trust and surrender to the detours that happen in life, when we think our life is going in a certain direction, but then it dramatically changes. I was also interested in exploring how we can find and trust our own centre when those we love are not there anymore, and when we feel lost or that life is too chaotic or not going the direction we want it to.”
Wilcox was born and raised in London, and moved to the United States in 2001. She has been based in Boulder since 2004. “I moved to the U.S. to explore yoga and embodiment practices, was in the Shakespeare Company in Austin, Tex., for a couple years, and found my theatrical/creative family in Boulder, as well as touring across the U.S. and Canadian Fringe festival circuit every summer for the past 11 years,” she said.
Magical Mystery Detour is one of a handful of shows that Wilcox and director Elizabeth Baron have worked on together. In creating it, said Wilcox, Baron was incredible, advising “me on how to stay both open and vulnerable as a performer, whilst also staying protected and safe and able to show the many shades and subtleties of a character.”
Wilcox writes comedy-dramas. “I find that it is highly important to balance the ‘light’ material with the ‘darker’ material, humour with seriousness – for me as a performer, and also for the audiences,” she said. “It is easier to receive and digest more poignant or shadowy material when juxtaposed in appropriate moments with humour and lightness. Humour is a huge aspect of my work – humour that comes from identifiable and sometimes embarrassing situations or honest admissions.”
Left to right are Jennifer Lines, Quelemia Sparrow and Marci T. House, who form part of the cast of Lysistrata. (photo by David Cooper)
At Bard on the Beach this summer, there is an eclectic mix of plays. There is Macbeth, set in its proper period, which runs in repertory on the BMO Stage with a Beatlemania version of As You Like It. On the more intimate Howard Family Stage, there is an experimental gender-role reversal take on little-known Timon of Athens and Lysistrata, a somewhat X-rated farcical romp through an ancient Greek tale, with a contemporary twist.
For Lysistrata, University of Victoria professor Jennifer Wise (Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition winner) collaborated with director Lois Anderson to adapt Aristophanes’ 411 BCE comedic protest play about a group of Athenian and Spartan women who, tired of their husbands’ endless war-mongering, reluctantly decide to withhold sex until the men vow to give up fighting and stay at home with their families. You can probably guess what ultimately happens. But, to get there, the audience is led through a Monty Python meets Saturday Night Live series of misadventures replete with double entendres, an interesting use of plastic pool noodles and plenty of rollicking action.
The play’s backstory is Bard’s scheduled production of an all-female Hamlet that morphs into a dramatis interruptus as the company decides, at the last minute and with profuse apologies to the audience and artistic director Christopher Gaze, to stage Lysistrata this one night only to protest the pending rezoning of Vanier Park to make way for a shipping terminal. This leads to a lot of backing-and-forthing through ancient Greece and modern-day Vancouver interspersed with the ever-sublime Colleen Wheeler, as Hamlet, trying to get her “to be or not to be” soliloquy in, despite the change in plans, as she hauls “poor Yorick’s skull” around the set.
This is truly an ensemble cast and every member shines, but special mention must be made of Luisa Jojic’s role as the eponymous ring leader, Jennifer Lines as Mother Earth and Quelemia Sparrow’s poignant performance as an indigenous actor.
Mention must also be made of the two male artists (Sebastien Archibald and Joel D. Montgrand) who, as uniformed police officers, “stop” the performance to arrest one of the actors – who has defaced the rezoning signs and plastered graffiti all over the crab sculpture in front of the Planetarium – for public mischief. It all seems very real and is very funny, especially since one of the cops plays Wheeler’s husband, Ross.
In addition to Wise, other Jewish community members play prominent roles in the production. Mishelle Cutler makes her Bard debut as music director and one-woman orchestra. She uses 1930s Weimar cabaret-style music for the contemporary scenes, and opera and choral works for the more classic Greek theatre bits. Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg takes that music and provides novel dance moves, especially for the quirky geriatric men versus women Athenian reel.
In keeping with the environmental theme of the night, the costumes and accessories are simple, to give credence to the improvised nature of the show. Head gear is made of hand bags, recycled water bottles and paper toilet rolls, a Starbucks cup does double duty as a wine chalice, costumes made from curtain rods and drapes (à la Carol Burnett’s iconic Gone With the Wind outfit) mix in with the actors’ own street clothes.
Ultimately, this mélange of Shakespeare, Greek theatre and contemporary activism should resonate with all of us, as we grapple with the reality of development in this city and its impact on our heritage and our way of life. While this show is a lot of fun, it may not be suitable for children under the age of 13.
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Sometimes, you have to take risks with Shakespeare and director Meg Roe certainly does so with this adaptation of Timon of Athens. She admits in her notes that it is a “difficult play” and that it may not have been written solely by the Bard. It is the tale of a wealthy Athenian who wines and dines his friends and showers them with expensive gifts until he gets into financial difficulty. When he approaches those friends for help, they refuse. This sends him into a rage and, ultimately, to his death.
In the original version, the cast is predominantly male. In this adaptation, it is 2018, the set is a high-end condo in Vancouver and the cast is reminiscent of the Real Housewives women – uber wealthy, stiletto-heeled and shallow, constantly on their pinging/chirping phones.
Wheeler is sublime in her role as Timon and her manic meltdown into madness alone is worth the price of a ticket. She literally destroys the set. You have to give kudos to the stage crew, who have to rebuild the set for every performance, and to the costumers, who have to replace her white pantsuit every show. The set is stylish and sleek and the couture frocks divine. But, in the end, the basic takeaway is that money can’t buy you friends.
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This summer’s Macbeth is the way Shakespeare intended it to be – in its proper Elizabethan period, with a stark set and eerie smoke and lighting effects. Perfect for a tale of greed, lust for power and revenge.
Early in the play, Macbeth (Ben Carlson) encounters three witches (the ones with the famous brew that includes the “liver of a blaspheming Jew”) who predict that he will be king of Scotland. Once Lady Macbeth (Moya O’Connell) hears of this, she sets out to convince her husband to murder King Duncan when the king visits their castle so that he, Macbeth, can reign. And so begins their downward spiral towards murder, death, destruction and madness.
Carlson and O’Connell are the crème de la crème of Canadian acting and exude an intense chemistry as the plotting Scots. Special mention must be made of Andrew Wheeler as a gruff Macduff and Craig Erickson as a ghostly Banquo.
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Bard’s As You Like It is the must-see show of the summer. It is definitely a crowd-pleaser. And you will want to see it over and over again. Director Daryl Cloran has taken out half the Shakespearean text and inserted 25 of the Beatles’ top hits where appropriate in this tale of four pairs of young lovers (and the obstacles in their paths) so that, when one of the pairs, Rosalind (Lindsey Angell) and Orlando (Nadeem Phillip), locks eyes the for the first time, he breaks out in, “She loves you, ya, ya, ya.” Every situation easily morphs into a Beatles’ moment through songs like “Help,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Eight Days a Week” and so forth. The 1960s setting is split between urban Vancouver and the Okanagan, where various characters are exiled by the new duke on the block. There, in the wilderness, the four love stories unfold.
In addition, there is a pre-show display of Wildcat Wrestling, a psychedelic VW van parked on stage, a terrific four-piece band led by musical director Ben Elliott who does double duty as love-struck Silvius and is one half of a memorable and raunchy pas de deux with Jojic as Phoebe the shepherdess. That girl can belt out a song.
The standouts are the protagonists Angell and Phillip – they both sing and dance up a storm – Kayvon Khoshkam, who is simply terrific as the wrestling master of ceremonies and then later as the court fool, Touchstone, and Ben Carlson who, as the stereotypical beatnik, intellectual elitist, gives the audience a new take on the “all the world’s a stage” speech.
This is a fast-paced, fun night of music, song and dance that will have you humming these tunes all the way back home. Even old Will himself is probably rocking in his grave over Stratford-upon-Avon way.
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Bard on the Beach runs to Sept. 22. For tickets to any of the shows and more information, go to bardonthebeach.org or call the box office at 604-739-0559.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Warren Kimmel and Cathy Wilmot in Arts Club’s Mamma Mia. (photo by David Cooper)
Warning: The song titles mentioned in this article have been known to cause stuck-song syndrome for several weeks. Read at your own peril.
So, let’s say it’s Friday night and the lights are low, and you’re looking out for a place to go. Is the music in your head yet?
Even if the simple mention of the name Mamma Mia doesn’t have you drumming up ABBA songs in your head that get stuck there for days at a time, don’t jump to any quick conclusions about whether you’ll enjoy this play. I am not a raving ABBA fan, but highly recommend it – for the singing, the characters and, very last but far from least, the outrageous closing number.
If, for some reason, this were the last review I were able to write, I would put down my pen feeling complete, having seen Warren Kimmel prance around stage in a hot pink jump suit singing ABBA. Does this man’s talent know no bounds?
It’s also worthy to see, at least once, the show that has had such lasting power and whose celluloid “offspring” has broken records.
The title of the 1999 musical was taken from the group’s 1975 hit. In London’s West End, it became the eighth-longest running show in history, as well as the ninth-longest-running show in Broadway history, closing in 2015 after 14 years.
In 2008, Mamma Mia became the highest-grossing film to ever be released in the United Kingdom, beating Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
But, if you’re not one of the huge Mamma Mia fans out there, you may not know the story.
We open on a Greek island, where Sophie and friends are planning for her wedding. Sophie reveals that, upon reading her mother’s journals, she may know the identity of her father, whom her mother left before Sophie was born. Sophie has narrowed the list to three potentials and, without telling her mother, invites them to the wedding.
When the possible dads show up, mom is more than a little surprised and curious that they all ended up coincidentally on her island at the same time, but even they don’t know at first the real reason they were summoned.
Dad potential Bill Austin (Warren Kimmel) is the early favourite, but the question of who the real father is stays up in the air – and please, no bribes this time. I’m not telling.
This is really the feel-good play of the summer. The singing is fabulous and many of the dance numbers (including seven guys doing a can-can wearing diving flippers) are highly entertaining.
If you’re a fan of Absolutely Fabulous, you’ll recognize a lot of Joanna Lumley’s character Patsy in Mamma Mia’s Tanya. One half-expects her to pull out a cigarette and bottle of booze and start tripping around the stage.
Even a mild ABBA fan will enjoy the music and the way the lyrics are woven into the story. Since the words of many of ABBA’s songs talk about relationships and life, they lend themselves well to being adapted into dialogue and plot.
I am left with two complaints, however. The first is the exaggerated movements and over-acting that permeate the first quarter of the production. It seems to be a fault of many musicals, as though every sentence that isn’t sung needs grand arm gestures or running around the stage for no reason. Once that dies down, however, you are free to sit back, tap your toes and enjoy the fun.
The second has to do with a dream sequence that completely lacks any esthetic cohesion. A chorus in full-body leotards, leaves on their heads and arms, left me with more questions than answers about what was going on.
But this is where the story ends, this is goodbye. I know some JI readers might think Mamma Mia is just going to be a silly romp. However, if you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down, if you change your mind, be the first in line … oops, there I go again.
Mamma Mia is at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until Aug. 12. For tickets and information, visit artsclub.com.
Baila Lazarusis a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.
Morgan Hayley Smith as Anne and Gabriele Metcalfe as Peter in Fighting Chance Productions’ The Diary of Anne Frank. (photo from FCP)
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” This iconic quote from Anne Frank’s diary is known the world over. Can you imagine having this outlook after hiding from the Gestapo for two years in an Amsterdam building annex with seven other people, never being able to go outside and living in constant fear of discovery? These words exemplify Anne’s character – innocent yet resilient, courageous and optimistic. But she also personifies the tragedy of the Nazi genocide of six million European Jews – their only crime: being Jews.
Anne’s legacy is her diary, vignettes of daily wartime life in hiding, as seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. The diary has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into 60 languages. In 1955, husband-and-wife writing team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted it for the Broadway stage. The result was a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony for best production. However, the script omitted most references to Judaism (to make the show more “universal”) as well as any thoughts Anne had about sex, the latter at the request of her father, Otto, the sole survivor of the annex. Now, a local theatre company, Fighting Chance Productions (FCP), is staging the 1997 Wendy Kessleman adaptation that puts the Judaism and Anne’s budding sexuality back into the script to present a more authentic portrait of what happened in that annex at 263 Prinsengracht.
FCP presents the piece in the round at the intimate 50-seat Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive on a minimalist set – eight chairs on the bare floor. The first row of seats is also on the floor, so most of the audience is on the same level as the actors, or only a step up, making us part of the narrative.
Anne (Morgan Hayley Smith) and her family – father Otto (Cale Walde), mother Edith (Gina Leon) and sister Margot (Diana Beairsto) – are hidden in a secret annex behind a bookcase in Otto’s office building. Their protectors are friends and neighbours Mr. Kraler (Drew Hart) and Miep (Tori Fritz), who are the provisioners and news-bearers during the family’s sojourn in hiding and their only contact with the outside world. The Franks are soon joined by the van Daan family – father (Bruce Hill), mother (Leanne Kuzminski), 16-year-old Peter (Gabriele Metcalfe) and Mouschi, Peter’s black cat. Months later, they are asked to take in neurotic dentist Mr. Dussel (Thomas King). Within the confines of the annex, these very different people have to learn to live and let live as they try to bring a sense of normalcy into their daily routines. And they manage to do so – until Aug. 4, 1944, when they are betrayed and taken to concentration camps.
On opening night at the Havana, you could have heard a pin drop as the audience experienced this compelling story in the small theatre, which was both cozy and claustrophobic. Some audience members could have reached out and touched the actors as they moved about the shadowy set.
All of the acting is strong in this production, but Smith is the stand out, seemingly born to play the role of Anne. She is lovely and has the right mix of emotions as she faces the usual teenage girl issues – first kiss, mother problems, sister rivalry. She is coy when she has to be, outspoken on all subjects and feisty when verbally sparring with her fellow annex occupants (Hill, Kuzminski and King are stellar in these moments). Metcalfe presents a believable, shy and awkward Peter, just learning how to navigate his way around girls, and he and Smith have real chemistry on stage – what a tender moment when they first brush lips. Walde is strong as the reliable father figure while Leon and Beairsto lend quiet dignity to their roles. During intermission, the cast stays in character and on set, a reminder that, while we, the audience, have the freedom to move about, Anne and the others cannot escape their prison – a brilliant directorial artistic choice.
There is a last poignant moment just before the group is captured. Peter says that, when he gets out, he is going to make sure that no one knows that he is Jewish, as life would be a lot easier as a Christian. Anne quickly responds, “I’d never turn away from who I am. I couldn’t. Don’t you know, you’ll always be Jewish … in your soul.”
This production, in its simplicity, succeeds on so many levels – the set, the sound design, the muted tones of the costumes, the lighting and, notably, those all-important moments of silence, which often have more impact than the dialogue itself. The Diary of Anne Frank is a rich, powerful drama.
A great responsibility comes with staging this type of play. Kudos to this company and co-directors Ryan Mooney and Allyson Fournier, who have met the challenge – it is essential for Anne’s story to continue to be told.
The JI interviewed Smith (MHS) and Mooney (RM) by email during the rehearsal period.
JI: What made you want to do this show?
RM: I have always been a fan of the Anne Frank story. I remember being drawn to her book when I was in elementary school and seeing the classic movie in high school. I have seen several productions in the past and always wanted an opportunity to direct it myself. The story is timeless and hopeful and I like playing with the dark and light of humanity.
MHS: I played Anne in a drama festival production in junior high. I felt a connection because of this and also because I dreamed of being a writer when I was a teenager. The story moved me even back then and I have always been amazed at how this young girl viewed what was happening in her country.
JI: What was the audition process like?
RM: It was trickier than usual for this show. We saw a lot of people but wanted to take the time and care to ensure we had a perfect cast. I am very happy with how we ended up.
JI: How did you feel about getting the role of Anne?
MHS: I felt surprised and very lucky to be selected, as I actually went in to audition for Margot, her sister. I am an older sister myself and felt I could relate to Margot. It was a nice surprise to be asked instead to call up my bright-eyed inner child and set aside the responsible sister side. It was even better to find that inner child still there as lively as ever.
JI: Has the play impacted your life in any way?
RM: I think seeing how the cast has really come to the table for this one has been touching to me. The way the cast has been affected by the characters has surprised me. It should not though, because they are compassionate and empathetic actors and people.
MHS: I definitely feel an impact. I find myself so thankful that I have the smallest freedoms, like going outside and walking in the fresh air, and that I have been able to grow up and get answers to questions about myself, questions that Anne never got to answer. What might surprise people about this show – and Anne’s diary itself – is how joyful and full of life it is. I have been feeling inspired to take in beauty from the day-to-day and really appreciate things that are taken for granted.
JI: Is the play appropriate for all audiences?
MHS: I highly encourage audiences of all ages to see this play. I think it is very easy to lose a degree of connection when a story is as widely known as this one is. This play shows these characters and their circumstances not as grand ideas, but as everyday people, people with clashing personalities, people who have vices, prized possessions, teenage crushes and lingering questions. Despite the tragedy, at its core it’s a story about people and about the universal experience of growing up.
JI: What would you like audiences to take away from this production?
RM: I hope they walk away with a remembrance of this tragic time and its focus on the individual. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the six million-plus deaths during the Holocaust but it is appropriate to sit and see the effect on one individual, the humanizing factor.
MHS: Above anything else, I hope audiences take away from this play what I did: a renewed human connection for the people these events touched, and an appreciation for the privilege it is to be able to grow up.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
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• Last month, researchers using digital technology uncovered two new pages of Anne Frank’s diary, which contained “naughty jokes” and discussions about sex and prostitution.
• A biography about Dutch resistance activist Elisabeth “Bep” Voskuijl, who was of one of Otto Frank’s employees, suggests the possibility that it was Voskuijl’s sister who outed the annex residents to the Nazis.
In Euripides’ play, the Phoenecian women represent the innocent who are displaced and otherwise impacted by conflict. (photo from Arts Umbrella)
Some families are, quite literally, cursed. In Euripides’ The Phoenician Women, it is brothers Eteocles and Polyneices who are condemned to fight each other to their tragic end, but they are not the only ones harmed by the curse. During their conflict, the chorus, aka the Phoenician women, are trapped in Thebes.
The brothers’ father, Oedipus, had been sent away from his parents when he was a baby, in an effort to avoid the fulfilment of the dreadful prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. However, fate cannot be so easily avoided, and Oedipus unwittingly does end up marrying his mother after unknowingly killing his father. Four children later, Oedipus discovers the truth, gouges his eyes out and leaves his kingdom (Thebes) to his sons – but he also curses them for their treatment of him, pledging they would have to “draw the sword before they share this house between them.” As did their father before them, the sons try to escape their fate, but, well, that never seems to work out.
“In The Phoenician Women, I play the role of Eteocles, one of the sons (and, technically, half-brother) of Oedipus, who exiles his other brother in order to hold onto the throne,” actor Naomi Levy told the Independent. Levy is in the Arts Umbrella Senior Theatre Troupe, which is presenting The Phoenician Women as part of the Expressions Theatre Festival at the Waterfront Theatre. Two performances remain: May 19, 9 p.m., and May 24, 7 p.m.
“What I love about my character,” said Levy, “is, at first, it seems Eteocles has exiled his brother to satisfy his own lust for power; however, upon further inspection, it seems Eteocles has done this in order to protect the city of Thebes, which he rules. He knows Polyneices, his brother, is not fit to be a king.
“The Phoenician Women is such a relevant commentary on displaced people, as well as a timeless tale of greed, protection, loss and grief. It’s an incredibly beautiful story, and I am so grateful to be a part of telling it.”
To pay homage to the play’s roots in ancient Greece, Levy said, “we are performing in mask, which is such an unique experience. The masks allow me to explore parts of myself and my character I may not have been able to without it – while the mask hides my face, it also forces me to articulate my character through my entire body and explore his unique movements.”
Levy was born in Vancouver, and has lived here all her life except for one year, when she lived in the United Kingdom. She is currently in Grade 12 at West Point Grey Academy.
“I was raised a secular Jew,” she said. “It was important to my parents that I be raised Jewish, which is one of the reasons I was given my mom’s last name, Levy. I went to Peretz community centre from a young age, and [was part of] a b’nai mitzvah there, where I did a project on Jewish stereotypes.”
She said, “Though I am not personally religious, I find that both the cultural and religious parts of Judaism are important in my life. It’s always so incredible to meet a fellow Jew, as there is this automatic connection that is derived from shared culture and experience.”
Ever since she was a young kid, Levy has loved performing. “It was my brother who initially introduced me to acting, when he participated in a Bard on the Beach summer camp, and him again who introduced me to the Arts Umbrella theatre troupe of which I am now a part. I was so jealous that he was able to perform and I wanted to be like him. I was instantly transfixed by theatre and performing.
“I have also been heavily involved in choir and musical theatre since I was young,” she said. “I have attended several years of Bard on the Beach summer camps, performed with Encore Musical Theatre, acted in my school’s plays, sung in my school’s choir and, most recently, participated in the Senior Theatre Troupe at Arts Umbrella. This troupe specifically shows me the beautiful intricacies of acting and pushes me as a performer, which I love.”
Arts Umbrella’s Senior Theatre Troupe is a yearlong program for students between 15 and 19 years old, who are selected by audition. According to Arts Umbrella’s website, successful candidates rehearse twice a week every week from September to June, exploring “professionally developed theatrical works, from the classic to contemporary.” Among other things, the troupe tours the works to secondary schools and performs at the Expressions festival.
“Music and theatre in my mind are similar, and they are the two passions of mine, which make me so incredibly happy,” said Levy. “For a long time, I had told myself that, even though acting makes me happier than anything else has in my life, I was going to explore my other academic interests. I am passionate about gender and sexuality studies and its activism, as well as the humanities, and would love to be a social worker. I had originally thought that would be the path I would follow. It still may be, as I can’t say what the future will hold, but, for the time being, I am following what I love to do most, which is acting, music and performing, and hope to make a career out of it.”
In an effort to make that happen, Levy will soon head to Montreal.
“I am very excited to be going to Concordia University next year in the theatre program with a specialization in acting,” she said, adding that she also will explore her other academic passions, as well. At the least, she is aiming for a master’s degree.