Two Gentlemen of Verona – Theatre Thursday


(“Two Gentlemen of Verona” Poster Image, as always, lovingly stolen from Theatre Calgary. Their site is always adding more incredible, informative material about their shows, please take the time to explore it.)

First off: I probably should have written about this show a month again. Actually, if I were really good at my job, I would have seen the show early in it’s run and written an actual review to actually encourage my readers to go see it. But long-time readers know that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for ruminating on things for far too long and then vomiting my thoughts about important theatre onto this blog. And today? The #importanttheatre that I’m talking about is #ShakesBow‘s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

What’s #ShakesBow?

Shakespeare by the Bow is our forever evolving summer outdoor Shakespeare theatre in Calgary, Alberta. It’s varied in format over the years – sometimes two shows running in currently, sometimes just one… sometimes allowing experienced actors to work with those of all levels, sometimes emerging artists being allowed to tackle amazing roles. They have partnered with different theatre organizations in town and recently rebranded from “Shakespeare in the Park” with their most recent partnership with Theatre Calgary. ShakesBow has even experienced variety in its performance spaces when flooding in 2005 and 2013 damaged their usual space at Prince’s Island Park. (Note: this is an incredibly vague and non-detailed history. Don’t come at me.)

However, one thing that has remained consistent over the years is that ShakesBow offers donation-based, accessible classical theatre. It is Shakespeare to help people who maybe only ever read Shakespeare in high school – if that – “get it”. It is equal parts fun and touching. Above all else, it is completely understandable. (Note: Again, don’t at me. Anyone can understand Shakespeare when it is done well and ShakesBow does it.)

So, what makes Two Gentlemen important?

Aha! Great question! After all, why am I writing about this show over a month after it closed?

I don’t love Two Gents. Part of it may be that I saw an insane musical adaptation of it almost a decade ago. (Seriously. It was over the top. I thought I had an old livejournal review of it somewhere, but I couldn’t find it and also I don’t want anyone reading my old livejournal from a decade ago.)

A bigger part of it is that I don’t love watching Julia, who is spunky and fun and takes action, chasing around Proteus who immediately falls in love with his best friend’s girl. I don’t love that Proteus and Valentine are big ol’ dummies and Valentine volunteers to “give” his girl to Proteus. I know, I know, it’s a different time and potentially Shakespeare’s first play but I’m still allowed to not love it.

Unless…?

Unless. (tm. McElroy brothers)

ShakesBow does the play. And doesn’t actually change the dialogue, but completely reclaimed the play for the women. With a look, blocking and a very specific song choice, our heroines realize the boys are bozos and truly become heroines.

You guys. It was so good.

I love Shakespeare.

BOOM – Theatre Calgary

boom-final-rgb
(Note: This image comes directly from the Theatre Calgary website, as a girl can only take so many pictures in the semi-darkness of her wine and program in her theatre box before it gets weird and her readers get tired of looking at it.)

Much like Theatre Calgary’s first offering of the season, BOOM crazy surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I did a little reading on the TC website, as well as a little exploration of Rick Miller’s Official Boom website prior to seeing the show and I just felt like I couldn’t get a grasp on the show. The description made me think of a theme park variety show and, to my mind, did not do it justice.

Of course, I was wrong. Why do I even try to read about shows beforehand? The reason I love theatre is because it hits you in a visceral way, touching something inside you, that is hard to put into words so why do I expect copy written for a website to communicate that?

BOOM is a tapestry, not a variety show. It is a mixture of the sweeping world history between 1945 to 1969 and the personal stories of important baby boomers in the playwright/actor’s life. It is a collection of music, stories, imitations, news clips, advertisements, cultural touchstones. I personally don’t truly have a baby boomer in my life – my mom was born in 1961 so she didn’t remember any of the events referenced in the show, but my grandparents were already well grownup and established by 1945 – but I do love history and I was able to give myself over to the three characters that were growing up over the twenty years the show covers.

I don’t know that I can truly put into words what seeing BOOM is like any better than the Theatre Calgary website can – the show is running until October 29th, though, and tickets are available on at Theatre Calgary. I highly recommend seeing this one for yourself, I can guarantee it is like no other show you’ll see at Theatre Calgary this year. When picking your seats, I would pick ones in the centre section of the theatre (even in balconies) rather than any of the side boxes – though I loved being away from the riff-raff, I felt like I missed the full experience of some of BOOM’s projections from my angle.

Disclaimer: I know it sounds like I love every show I see. This is not the case… I just prefer to write about the shows that I love so that I can get other people to see them which thus gives me someone to talk to about them. I’m really terrifically selfish in that way.

‘da Kink In My Hair – Theatre Calgary

da Kink In My Hair
Caption: Yaaaasss, Gaga, we got a box this year! We are tired of bozos and just want to enjoy good theatre and that is what the box is for, y’all!

Fall is officially here and that means theatre season is back on in Calgary. Granted, during the summer there is a smattering of theatre offering in Calgary – Shakespeare by the Bow, the Common Ground festival and the Calgary Fringe Festival being some of the most notable – but I tend to take the summer off to regroup and nourish my artistic spirit… by reading a ton of books, laying in the sun and taking fitness classes, I guess? I don’t know… and I actually started rehearsing my current show during August this year so I’m really just rambling now.

tl;dr – Theatre is back and I’m back.

Speaking of the Fringe Festival, the first show I’m writing about this year is one of those stunning Fringe Festival success stories that every theatre artist dreams of happening for them. Fifteen years ago Trey Anthony created ‘da Kink In My Hair for the Toronto Fringe Festival because she was determined to create the type of roles she deserved to play rather than accepting the type of roles that were being offered to her – and it became a runaway hit with productions in the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, across the US and London, and even a tv series. The Theatre Calgary production runs until October 1 and then transfers to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

In the interest of complete honesty, I was surprised by how much I related to this show. When I was a teenager, I was always trying to relate to shows that actually had nothing to do with my lovely Newmarket existence and since I was a teenager in the GTA in 2001, I sort of figured that ‘da Kink In My Hair fit into that box without ever having actually seen it. In the grand tradition of “Erin walking into the theatre with preconceived notions”, I was wrong and I’m very pleased. Bits and pieces of every one of the women resonated with me and Virgilia Griffith as Stacey-Anne absolutely stole the show, leaving me with a lump in my throat as she embodied such a real and joyous little girl. For the skeptics out there, the show does get a little bit “Fringe show”-y as it hits every single “big issue” but the performances are full of such heart and are so honest that I was able to fully put aside my inner skeptic and give in to the story.

It’s terribly on brand for me to love this show – after all, my theatre company was also developed to give a voice to all the incredible young female artists I know – but ‘da Kink was transformative and is important. To horribly paraphrase Craig Finn talking about the experience of performing music… There is so much joy in what they do up there.

‘da Kink In My Hair is a musical in its purest sense – as I remember so many of my best teachers saying, a show should happen in a musical when the feelings get too strong for mere words and you have to sing them instead. That is exactly where the songs in ‘da Kink spring from and though I didn’t walk away singing any of the tunes, I was completely carried away by each of them. (And, confession: I do sometimes catch myself humming “What am I gonna do with this hair? My hair my hair my hair…” as I try to wrangle my hair into a cute 1939 style for my show.) All the women have beautiful voices but Krystle Chance as Sharmaine in particular is just absolutely stunning. Her second act solo is a true standout.

‘da Kink In My Hair is a strong season opener and an interesting choice for a transitional season (Dennis Garnham has stepped down as TC Artistic Director and Shari Wattling has stepped in as Interim Artistic Director). It runs until October 1, 2016 and you can get tickets hereafter you come to see my current show, which also closes on Oct 1 and I will be writing about very very soon.

Sherlock Holmes – Theatre… Tuesday…?

Two Thursdays ago my mom, Bryan and I went to see the opening night of Vertigo Theatre’s season closer Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily. Normally this would be a weird time to write about it – the show is still on but it would only have a week to go so it may be hard to get out to see it. However, this show has actually been so well received (it just won a Critter award!) that it has been extended until June 18 (which incidentally is also the day my show closes…)

Sherlock-Holmes
Program Image belongs to Vertigo Theatre

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily was a bit of a revelation to me. I’ve seen the team of Haysam Kadri and Karl Sine play Holmes and Watson before, and I’ve seen Haysam in a variety of roles over the last nine or so years… but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Haysam be quite so funny. He – and the entire cast, really – was obviously having a blast onstage, and the enjoyment is infectious.

If Sherlock Holmes isn’t necessarily your jam, you still may love this show because it is peppered with real historical Victorian London references and characters. Paul Welch’s Oscar Wilde looks astonishingly like the real deal and lights up the stage with his witticisms. The script tends to stick to Wilde’s more popular works for its referential humour so even casual fans will be “in on the joke”.

I can’t imagine that I’m in the minority when I say that I love clever humour that throws around cultural references. This past month of theatre in Calgary has absolutely fed into this love and I hope that it is a trend that will stick around for awhile.

And if you’re on the fence about Holmes at all, let me just say… I was offered a ticket to see it again last Friday and I deeply considered it. I decided not to take it though so someone who hadn’t seen the show could have the opportunity. Soooo…

(Please note: This show did just win a Critter award for Best Direction of a Play so that may increase interest in seeing it. You can get tickets by visiting the Vertigo Theatre website.)

(Double please note: I know today is Tuesday… Thursday is the day before my show opens and if I thought I was stressed before… At least Tuesday still alliterates, guys!)

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

desdemona
Sometimes you see a show that takes you completely by surprise. For me, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) was that show.

I read it in university. I’m certain I read it in university – it’s a Canadian play. It was written by Ann-Marie MacDonald (yes, the author of Fall on Your Knees) in 1988 long before Fall On Your Knees. As director Kate Newby remarks in her Director’s Note, it explores a seemingly endless list of important historical, cultural and political themes. I apparently own two copies of this play. I absolutely read this play in university… and I don’t remember doing so at all, except a vague recollection that “this play seems kind of odd”.

My vague recollection is completely wrong.

This production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (a co-production between The Shakespeare Company, Hit & Myth and the newly re-branded Handsome Alice Theatre) absolutely proves the common refrain that plays are meant to be seen and not read. The show is equal turns clever, thought-provoking and downright hilarious.

The production also lands on so many levels. Though Shakespeare fans will have a million “Oh! I get it! I’m so clever!” moments (much of the show is written in iambic pentameter and MacDonald skillfully weaves actual Shakespearean dialogue into her own), the absolutely clear intentions and communication on the part of the five actresses in the show coupled with adept physical comedy allows audience members of any background to enjoy the show.

Oh yes, did I mention? The cast of Goodnight Desdemona is five powerhouse female actors – a virtual “who’s who” of young lady actors in Calgary – who play everything from a Henry V style “Chorus” (Julie Orton) to a swaggering Tybalt (Mabelle Carvajal) to Juliet (Genevieve Pare) and Desdemona (Allison Lynch) themselves. (Each of the aforementioned actors plays at least three different characters and it is never any doubt at all who they are. Stunning.) At the centre of it all, is Ayla Stephen as Constance Ledbelly, an academic who falls into the worlds of two of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies as she tries to sort out the truth of the plays and the truth of herself. Ayla and I attended university together, so I’ve seen her play a dizzying array of different roles, but she really does shine when she gets to play a fish-out-of-water and lean into her comedic side. She, and, actually, all the ladies in this show, can communicate more with a facial expression than the average person can with a whole speech.

I generally wait until shows close to write about them, but in this case, I couldn’t wait. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) runs until May 21, 2016 and absolutely everyone should go see it. I’ve done my best not to spoil any plot elements, but I genuinely think I could go see the show again tonight and enjoy it just as much as I did the first time even knowing how it ends. Tell your friends, get a girl (or guy) squad together, grab your lover or guilt your mom into hanging out with you and take in this show before it closes. Tickets can be purchased by visiting The Shakespeare Company’s website.

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for writing this blog post. I just really really liked the play and want everyone I know to go see it so I can talk to them about it.)

Theatre Thursday – Calamity Town

Thursday January 28 was an absolutely incredible day. Not just because I took the day off work, so I got to enjoy a leisurely sleep in followed by a morning on the couch with The Girl on the Train and a cup of my favourite “Read My Lips” David’s Tea. (And tried to take a very blogger-tastic picture of myself pouring my tea… go easy on me, I’m new at this whole thing!)

Tea StashPouring Tea I Guess

It wasn’t just because it was not only a typical sunny winter day in Calgary, it was also a warm, sunny winter day in Calgary.

Backyard Sunshine

It wasn’t even because I managed to carve out some time for the trip to Costco that I force myself to take every three months for the essential, super non-perishable bulk products that I crave. Yes, Costco was as crazy busy as always…

Costco Craziness

… and, yes, my shopping cart was a petite bit embarrassing…

Costco Shopping Haul

But, hey, there are some snap peas in there! And I always feel so incredibly productive and grownup when I come home with a full stock of toilet paper and frozen treats. And can we talk about some of the name-brand finds that will pop up at Costco out of nowhere? That day, Cucina (as in the delicious smelling soap that was once carried by the now seemingly non-existent Fruits and Passion) had a consultant on site and small booth set up. I was going to take a picture, but I was worried my excitement might make me look like a creep.

Anyway, why was Thursday so great? Because it was the opening night of Vertigo Mystery Theatre’s Calamity Town and, as a subscriber, I was off to see it with my mother and my brother! (Yes, I am very fancy. Obviously. And this is the reason I have always considered Thursday to be the day for theatre – we’ve been a part of the Thursday opening night crowd since I was in university.)

First, of course, we had to eat! We had a few errands to run before dinner so when the time came to eat, we needed something reasonably quick that would satisfy even my brother Kevin, the king of picky eaters. We briefly considered whipping into a Vietnamese place, but our last errand took us to the Fabricland off of Macleod Trail and once on Macleod, we saw the sign for Open Sesame and our minds were made up!

I absolutely love Open Sesame – it may not be the newest or trendiest of restaurants, but I have so many fond memories of hosting 19th birthday parties in the small raised loft area, having deep conversations in the tent-inspired bar or eating an entire huge dessert each with my dear friend, Claire, after the waiter expressed his uncertainty that we could do it.

Open Sesame Signage

Once we made our way through the elaborate wooden door and down the Arabian Nights-inspired staircase to Open Sesame (going up the stairs takes you to sister restaurant, Bolero, a Brazilian steakhouse), we were greeted by the special of the night – martinis!

Welcome Sign - Martinis!

I briefly considered a martini, but with all of my leisuring, all I had really eaten that day was two eggs on toast and I figured straight gin was perhaps not the best idea I had ever had. I selected a Malbec instead, while Kevin opted for an Aladdin’s Passion fruit shake.

Our Drinks and Chopsticks

Now, Open Sesame offers a range of Asian fusion menu items… but I don’t know that I’ve ever known anyone to order off the menu. The real star of the restaurant – and the whole reason you go there – is for their make-your-own-stirfry bar. You select a protein and a carb off their menu (coconut rice is a delicious and recent addition to the carb list), are brought a bowl and little paper with your selections marked, and then you hit up the veggie and sauce bar to design a delicious bowl of all your favourite things! (Their great chefs do the actual stirring and frying, of course.) I find the easiest way to put it together is throw every single vegetable you like into the bowl and then mix together 4-6 scoops of fish sauce and one of the spicy sauces. Easy-peasy and hits the spot every time… and I almost always have leftovers too!

Empty Bowl

I’m a failure at blogging and only took a before picture. My stirfry was too delicious and I was too excited to remember to snap an after. Just picture calamari and a zillion vegetables over coconut rice.

I was sharp enough to ask my mom to snap a picture of Kevin and I while we anxiously awaited our creations. On the other hand, I forgot that he was wearing the hoodie that reflects light like he is Iron Man, so he somewhat steals the show in our picture. (He’s also obviously very thrilled to be a part of this.)

Me and Kevin at Open Sesame

Once the food arrived, our table fell silent for a good 15 minutes while we eagerly dug in to our delicious meals. In, chat, eat, out… and all in an hour during the dinner time! We grabbed fortune cookies on our way out the door…

Fortune Cookies

… And it was off to Calamity Town!

Calamity Town Program

Opening night is one of the very best times to see theatre, in my opinion. There is such a buzz of excitement in the lobby and it is always thrilling to see the “who’s who” of the Calgary arts scene that comes out for opening. What would a Vertigo play be without Louis B. Hobson’s distinctive laugh following all the best moments? Or Craig Hall’s utterly charming welcome and thank you speech?

This year, Vertigo received an updated liquor license that allows patrons to bring their drinks into the theatre – as long as they are in a plastic glass – which is also all too exciting. No more trying to throw back a glass of wine or entire beer during a 20 minute intermission! (Oh yeah, and there are snacks after the show on Opening Night. Usually involving a cheese tray of some type. I’m not saying it’s the best part of the event, but it just makes a great night all the better. Their caterer rules.)

Back to Calamity Town. A world premiere script, inspired by Ellery Queen’s 1940 novel of the same name. Of course, it is always great to see old favourites including Tyrell Crews, Julie Orton, Jamie Konchak back on the Vertigo stage, but it was also such a delight to see Lindsey Angell back on the Calgary stage after last year’s Liberation Days. However, Christopher Hunt stole the show in his tour de force performance as numerous witnesses during the second act trial scene. (When does Chris Hunt not steal the show, though?… I may be biased. He taught us scenework during our fourth year acting course in university. But he really is so great!)

The greatest part of any mystery is trying to unravel the plot before the characters figure it out, so I won’t give away anything right now. Calamity Town is running at the Playhouse at Vertigo until February 21, 2016 – the theatre is tucked under the Calgary Tower so grab dinner and cocktails at one of the numerous restaurants nearby then enjoy an absolutely incredible night at the theatre. Love it!