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A Striking Year in Theatre

Articles and Reviews — Maeike van Dijk @ January 6th, 2011

Paul Wlech as She and Stafford Perry as He. Photo by Benjamin Laird.

Best play using video to show the drama between three dead characters making each other’s lives miserable

In the 2010 High Performance Rodeo presentation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit (the one with the famous line, “Hell is other people”), you marvelled at the precision of a choreography that has the three actors — who are hidden from our view, except as they appear via live video projections on three large screens — going through all the motions of 1950s technicolor melodramas and thrillers to convey the sense of something lurking just beneath the surface. Looming close-ups, multiple camera angles — the actors had to know exactly where to position themselves at any given moment in the locked room of their purgatorial hotel.

Best illustration of how you can be so good at playing bad that anything more to the play seems either an afterthought, or doesn’t really matter

In the Sage Theatre production of a stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth, actor Frank Zotter sank his teeth with such skill and gusto into the role of Bruce Robertson, a sex-obsessed, homophobic, racist crackhead of a cop, that you were left — despite the biographical details supplied by Bruce’s tapeworm late in the play — with nowhere to go but down in your estimation of the character.

But hey, there really wasn’t anywhere else to go in a solo play like this, as it turned out. And that realization left you kind of grateful Zotter hadn’t wasted any time in getting us there — which in turn could be construed as the only redeeming quality to the whole evening.

Best play that made you laugh a lot but only really made sense once you went home and thought about it (a lot)

Quebec playwright Larry Tremblay’s maddening but brilliant “tragedy achieved through comic means,” — Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre, which premiered in English translation at play-Rites — proved an exercise in the life-imitates-theatre-imitating-life kind of stuff you might come up with after immersing yourself in the genre of Jean Baudrillard postmodernist thought suggesting that simulation is more “real” to us than the real world. (OK . . .)

But for all the calculated absurdity of the scenario — two actors hired to play Laurel and Hardy come up against the charismatic actor hired to play the director playing the wax figure of Lincoln (and so on) for a re-enactment of Lincoln’s assassination — the lines are a real trip.

For example, his notion that “American fatness is a cancer,” leads Tremblay’s Lincoln to say, “American thinness is a trap. A fish hook cast in the eyes of newborns, who are pulled from their digestive torpor and thrown, still flapping about, onto the sets of commercials. Commercials for diapers. Diapers that will absorb their innocence down to the last drop. America loses weight only to rake in money. It’s a thinness that hides the fatness.”

Best deal on little wheels in a ballet based loosely on the life, troubled times and ultimate triumph of Sir Elton John

All eyes were on charismatic Alberta Ballet star Yukichi Hattori, who delighted the capacity Jubilee Auditorium audience for Love Lies Bleeding by zooming in and out of the show’s darkly lit Rocket Man sequence on rollerblades, with little jets of flame shooting out behind. (Could have sparked a fiery trend on the bike paths of Calgary, but so far hasn’t.)

Best bloody mad scene

You think you got troubles? Frail and castle-bound Lucia di Lammermoor is set up by her impecunious and conniving brother to believe her absentee fiance has jilted her to marry someone else.

Then, she is persuaded to marry someone of her brother’s choosing — which occurs just in time for Lucia’s true love to return and accuse HER of betraying HIM.

It’s enough to drive this poor girl past the edge. In the Calgary Opera production of the Donizetti masterpiece, soprano Sally Dibblee’s Lucia epitomizes making short work of your husband on your wedding night and then singing beautifully about it in your blood-spattered nightgown.

Best most unlikely subject for a musical

On the face of it, you might think that a little original musical treatment of the life of the author of Canada’s most famous war poem sounds kind of, uh, limited. But in the case of In Flanders Fields, which premiered at Lunchbox Theatre, quite the opposite proved true — which just goes to show that you could probably do a song-and-dance story about practically anything, or anybody, and still make it work. Or almost (Tailings of the Athabasca Tar Sands: A Musical, anyone?).

Best sustained image of impending doom

The dozens of ropes we see hanging from the start of the Alberta Theatre Projects production of Margaret Atwood’s poetic tragedy, The Penelopiad. As the play gathers momentum the ingenious rope decor (by Terry Gunvordahl) foretells how the burden of blame for the troubled home fires burning out of control in the Odyssean household during the master’s absence will ultimately fall on his wife Penelope’s innocent circle of female servants.

By the end of the play, the nooses have turned blood-red. Oh-oh.

Best walk on the wild side

In the Cirque du Soleil acrobats-and-clowns masterpiece, Kooza, two agile young guys from Colombia conspire, with clockwork precision, to cheat the overwhelming odds of fate or physics, or both. And they do. Their jaw-dropping act, the Wheel of Death, features one of the guys running, jumping and standing still on the outside of a wheel as it rotates — with increasing speed — in tandem with the wheel being spun by his buddy on the inside.

What could be next for these two, you wonder (after you’ve breathed a sigh of relief when the wheels stop spinning).

Doing it in the dark?

Best things-you-never-want- to-see-happen-to-you-in- a-public-place situation

In the Ground Zero production of Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty, one of the four characters — Steph, played by Jamie Konchak — blows up at her soon-to-be former boyfriend Greg (Patrick MacEachern) in a mall food court. If the litany of her blue tirade against Greg’s alleged shortcomings were ever offered within earshot of actual mall patrons eating their McMeals, it would surely be drowned out by the sound of people suddenly choking. Or worse.

Lucky we weren’t eating.

Best line for a drag-queen-dressed- like-a-Christmas-tree- stuck-in-an-elevator themed show

In Lunchbox Theatre’s With Bells On, actor Paul Welch’s Marie Antoinette-Goldilocks wig that lit up was a perfect fit for the double entendre tossed off by his character: “Dressing like this takes balls.”

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