Monday, December 21, 2015

The Play's the Thing

I think this year I've seen more live theatre than in the past five years combined.

Dramatic, comedic, experimental, amateur, musical and even amateur musicals. I loved them all. Well, mostly. One regret was Sherlock, spectacularly awful, with the headlining actor forgetting his lines and a mashed up script with uncomfortable staging. Shows like that make me appreciate other productions.

I try to save reading the reviews and comparing notes for afterward, so I can enjoy the experience unfolding before me as it happens. The less I know going in to the theatre, the better. Other than knowing the general gist, whether it is a tragedy or comedy, I prefer to be surprised and form my own opinions.

Our friends' son debuted in a couple of plays, occupying the starring role in the second, a rom-com called 40 Carats. Dylan has always been a great mimic, but still I was struck by how perfectly he fit the roles.

This was the year I discovered House Seats, where you pay an annual subscription fee to qualify for free tickets when productions become available. I saw a great variety of shows this way. Stories by Alice Munro was performed by a troupe from San Francisco, who essentially read through two short stories by Munro, word for word, as they enact scenes. Bombay Black featured a male starring in the female role, a puzzling casting choice. Empire was a Cirque training ground, with a couple of acts lifted from their past productions.

One of the most interesting experiences this year was Elizabeth-Darcy, performed at the historic Campbell House. We happened to go on Jane Austin's 175th birthday, and watched Pride and Prejudice come to life, courtesy of two actors. With minimal costume changes and strong performances, they inhabited more than ten different characters, gender-bending quite believably.  Scenes took place in different rooms of the house, and the audience literally followed their story from place to place. I felt as though I was invisible. It's great when the audience gets their own superpowers.

It's also great when there is the opportunity to poke behind the scenes. When we booked Can Stage productions, we chose performances with 'talks.' Harper Reagan offered a chat with the playwright Simon Stephens, and it was interesting to hear comments from writers in the audience about  how difficult it was to get their own works staged. Simon was somewhat sympathetic but made no apologies for his international success, and why should he?  Domesticated, an ironic black comedy, had an after-show chat with performers. Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, happened to be there, and questioned the feminist message of the play; Paul Gross, who had the role of the philandering husband, talked about dramatizing how this particular archetypal male would soon make himself redundant.

Last summer, when I went out for a walk at lunch, someone handed me a coupon for a reduced ticket price to see Kinky Boots when it was new in town. Since I hadn't been to see a big-scale spectacular in a very long time, I thought it was overdue. Kinky Boots turned out so be much fun I actually subscribed to the entire Mirvish season. The best spectacles leave me singing and humming their tunes, feeling good, hopeful, and openhearted.  Next week is Cinderella, and I'm looking forward to how they will show the glass slipper, and the pumpkin coach, and the evil step mother...

Harper Regan  (March)
Stories by Alice Munro (April)
South Pacific (May)
The Mumberly Inheritance (June)
Kinky Boots (July)
Empire / Spiegelworld (August)
Motown (October)
40 Carats (Oct)
Sherlock (Nov)
Bombay Black (Nov)
Domesticated (Dec)
Elizabeth-Darcy (Dec)
Cinderella (Dec)
Traces (Dec)

post script 
Cinderella was so much fun! Little girls in pink frothy dresses were sitting behind me, squealing and laughing all throughout the performance. Great staging, particularly when Cinderella's dress changed into a ballgown. No puffs of smoke or fairy-helpers, Cinderella twirled and it seemed the dress turned inside out... only a small fabric add-on. 

The last day of the year, we saw Traces, a troupe who combined acrobatics and trapeze with singing and dancing on skateboards. 90 minutes flew by...

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