December, 2012

Vernus says surprise: CCC reviews from the Fringe

News from Capital Critics Circle

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Dec. 27th & 28th 8:00pm
Dec. 29th & 30th 3:00pm at The Gladstone Theatre

Blacksheep Theatre welcomes the Canadian Fringe Festival smash hit Vernus Says SURPRISE …

As Ken Godmere breathlessly thanked all his  team that created the soundscape of his new show -  where he only utters one single word -  he could scarcely contain his excitement, his  immense gratitude and the thrill of this first performance of his Ottawa Fringe appearance. It was  greeted with a  spontaneous  explosion of emotion and  pleasure  by an audience that hung on every movement, every facial twitch, every  recorded shuffle,  ring, knock, tick, rustle snap,  scrape and vocal sound  that filled the space of the capacity crowd in the  Leonard Beaulne studio. Standing ovations have become so commonplace on the Ottawa stage that they no longer mean anything, but in this case, it meant everything. It was real!  And Godmere deserved it.

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Ottawa Fringe 2012. Beautifully Textured Wordless Presentation by Ken Godmere

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Coming to the Gladstone, Dec. 27-28-29

vernus_says_surprise_2 Vernus says Surprise!    Technology can speed communication. Ask all the folks who cannot bear to be separated from their BlackBerrys, iPads, cellphones etc. But, for the generations that are more familiar with the horse-and-buggy era of face-to-face communication, it often results in isolation and confusion.

This is the key message of Ken Godmere’s Vernus Says Surprise, in which he presents a beautifully textured, almost wordless presentation of an 89-year-old man trying to navigate an electronically dominated world to buy a special birthday gift for his granddaughter.

The perfectly timed coordination of movement and soundscape, together with the visual of a shuffling, stooped-back old man with his pants up to his armpits and his too-short tie, create an extremely well conceived, well-executed and moving portrait with – as the title says – a surprise ending.

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Miracle on 34th Street: The Radio show. Thoroughly engaging family entertainment.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Adapted by Ottawa playwright John Cook and presented by Plosive Productions, this story about belief, generosity and the Christmas spirit is thoroughly engaging family entertainment.

The story is best known in its 1947 film incarnation but translates well to the stage in Plosive’s presentation as a radio drama that takes us inside the broadcast studio. There, several actors and a sound effects person create a sweet-tempered tale about a little girl named Susan Walker (the expressive Kelty O’Brien) who discovers that Kris Kringle (Tom Charlebois) is real.

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Miracle on 34th Street: A good Christmas show for the young ones!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Poster from the 1947 film featuring Edmund Gwenn. Photo from Art.com. Inc.

During the intermission a tiny tot of 4 years old…one of Santa’s elves no doubt, wearing a red tuque, was wandering through the audience with a big smile on his face. He told me he loved it!  Several other young francophone ladies from Lasalle High School for the arts were standing around munching cookies, also looking very pleased.!! That is the miracle of this play/musical/film/radio drama that Plosive theatre has chosen for the holidays. Bring your young ones. They will have lots of fun and leave feeling good, even if it might seem a bit schmaltzy for the more cynical of the older crowd looking for more interesting theatre. This is a piece of feel good fluff that works its magic, so don’t go expecting anything else. But it is a real treat for the children.

Valentine Davies’ novel has gone through multiple transformations: Four different screen scripts, several books for musical theatre, rewritten as radio plays and as texts for the stage. This version seems to be inspired by the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast adaptation as a radio play in 1948, featuring Edmund Gwenn as Kringle, who also played the role in the first screen version in 1947 where the essentials of this story first appeared on screen. A man who thinks he is Kris Kringle is being committed to a psychiatric hospital (not called that in those days) because no one believes that Kringle/Santa really exists. Lux Radio Theatre adapted some of the best plays of the theater repertoire and they were always performed before live radio audiences and this is where John Cook’s adaptation sends us – back to that era of Radio theatre where we the audience are in the studio watching the actors, musicians and sound effects people putting on a radio play. For me, that is the most interesting aspect of the show.

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La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast): A visual treat that falls flat dramatically

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Yves Renaud

For the second time this season Boston’s ArtsEmerson is playing host to a Montreal troupe. Early fall saw the return of Les Sept Doigts de la Main, a hybrid company that explores links between theatre and circus. December began with the experimental Lemieux Pilon 4D Art’s presentation of its intermedial La Belle et la Bête, complete with an updated plot.

Onstage actors relate to and with virtual ones. Of the three live characters, the Lady (Diana D’Aquila), Belle (Bénédicte Décary), and the Beast (Vincent Leclerc), only the latter appears in computer generated form, and then rarely. Belle, the young alienated artist usually dressed in black, attempts to work through the loss of her mother by hurling blood red paint at canvasses. The Beast, grief stricken because of the death of his beloved years earlier, lives alone in a castle metaphorically worlds away from Belle’s studio. His ugliness is barely suggested by facial scars, too faint to be seen by audience members sitting at a distance from the stage.

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Grease: Hard work does not grease the wheels of this show

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Alan Dean

The popularity of the Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey 1972 musical Grease has always surprised me. The storyline is weak. The subliminal message is immoral (Put out if you want to get the guy) and most of the characters are one-dimensional.The positive aspect of the show is that it is a good vehicle for a display of high energy dancing and strong singing voices.While the Suzart production does feature some good voices and occasional bouts of lively dancing, the main impression is of a lack of energy. Verbal exchanges are stilted and punctuated with long pauses as the show drags along painfully slowly. The attractive but over-ambitious set causes further delays. For example, while it may seem a neat idea to have a car on stage, the action would move faster without all the movements required to bring it on and take it off.

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Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook) : A war story narrated from the perspective of twin brothers and enhanced by the exciting physicality of the director’s vision of the stage!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo de Marie-Claude Hamel.

Olivier Morin and Renaud Lacelle-Bourdon

This is a striking and engrossing piece of theatre, both because of the originality of the play and the highly imaginative work with the actors by director Catherine Vidal who is also responsible for the adaptation of the novel of the same name. The published work is one part of a trilogy composed of Le grand cahier, La prevue and Le troisième mensonge. The Grand Cahier is narrated alternatively by the voices of two male twin, young men who have been left by their mother in the care of their grandmother with whom they live through a disturbing family experience in an unidentified country ravaged by war.

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The Number 14: What seems to be entertainment for the Jackass crowd is a actually a brilliantly executed performance of popular theatre.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: courtesy Axis Theatre Company

On one level, The Number 14 represents a brand of populist entertainment that finds humour in demented street people, fart jokes, picking your nose in public, peeing your pants, randy clerics, mooning and the use of a Cheesy as a phallic symbol.

So notwithstanding the hyperbole surrounding this 20th anniversary production from Vancouver’s celebrated Axis Theatre Company — including the “classic” label applied to it by Eric Coates, artistic director of GCTC, which under whose umbrella the Ottawa engagement is happening — it seems sensible to keep things in perspective.

Under normal circumstances, much of the material in this zany catalogue of happenings on an imaginary Vancouver bus route could be dismissed as painfully sophomoric, dominated by the sort of calculated, nose-thumbing bad taste associated with mindless adolescents who refuse to grow up. In brief: entertainment for the Jackass crowd.

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The Number 14: A Busload of Eccentrics creates an enjoyable evening of physical comedy

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Barb Gray

You meet some of the strangest people on buses, particularly it seems, on The Number 14 now making its twentieth anniversary tour around the country.

The Number 14 route in Vancouver is between Hastings and the University of British Columbia, so the passengers are likely to be varied. In life or on the Axis bus, you may meet passengers on their way to work or school, seniors off to bingo, street people coming in out of the cold, neat freaks and other weirdos — even an Italian realtor late for work and dressing on the bus as she tries to close a house deal by phone. The last, depicted by Morgan Brayton, is one of the most successful sketches in the collection. Two others of note are the extraordinarily athletic performance by Neil Minor as he uses the bus poles as trapezes and Stefano Giulianetti’s depiction of a fast-talking crazy man.

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Bus Number 14 : Dont Miss The Bus

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo Barb Gray

If you’ve never seen the Axis Theatre Company’s clever and very funny production THE NUMBER 14, now’s your chance. Originally directed by Roy Surette, this version in the show’s 20th season of touring is directed by Wayne Specht and features six incredibly versatile actors from Vancouver. The piece was developed by a group known as The Number 14 Collective.

The series of improvisational sketches provide a hilarious look at a day on a downtown bus. Using wonderful masks created by Melody Anderson, inventive costumes by Nancy Bryant, (one robe has printed on it “William Blake slept here”), and their own mobile and expressive faces the six performers play over sixty characters. Enhanced by Pam Johnson’s cartoon-like bus, Gerald King’s effective lighting and Douglas MacAulay’s excellent music and sound, the high-energy performers have the audience giggling and gasping to keep up.

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Past Reviews