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July 18, 2019

 
Playwright Kim Harvey calls Kamloopa “a love story to Indigenous women”. (Photo of Kaitlyn Yott, Yolanda Bonnell, and Samantha Brown by Michael Potestio for Kamloops This Week.)  
1.   INDIGENOUS THEATRE RISING 
 
Counting up what companies and productions won the most prizes at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards — which took place in the big Bard on the Beach tent on Monday night — misses the real trend. Yes, Bard on the Beach snagged five, Théâtre La Seizième four, and the Arts Club a meagre two. But the real story is that Indigenous artists and shows with significant Indigenous content tallied up ten wins, including a lot of the big ones.  
 
Kamloopa, which follows three young women as they head to a powwow in Kamloops, scored the outstanding production award in the large theatre category and Kim Senklip Harvey, who wrote Kamloopa with the company, was honoured with the Sydney Risk Prize for a script by an emerging playwright. Harvey also shared a particularly significant Significant Achievement Award with Lindsay Lachance for “outstanding decolonization of theatre spaces and practices”: everything about Kamloopa including its dramaturgical process, the relationships among its creators, and its interactions with its audience, grew out of Indigenous principles. 
 
Les Filles du Roi, by Corey Payette and Julie McIsaac, won four Jessies, including Payette’s award for outstanding direction in the small theatre stream. Performed in three languages — English, French, and Kanien’kehá (Mohawk) — Les Filles du Roi, which is a musical, explores the relationship between two siblings from the Kanien’kehá:ka First Nation and a young settler woman in late-17th century New France. 
 
The Indigenous content in Bard on the Beach’s production of Lysistrata was less central narratively, but still fundamental thematically, grounding the anti-war story in the Indigenous value of respect for the land and in the horrifying history of Snauq, the Indigenous village once located on the land that's now called Vanier Park: it was razed by the BC government. Lysistrata took two prizes, including the Critics’ Choice Innovation Award. 
 
And Denesuline and Nakoda Sioux actor and playwright Taran Kootenhayoo received the Sam Payne Award for Most Promising Newcomer. 
 
That makes a total of ten wins. And one could easily argue for an eleventh: executive director Heather Redfern and The Cultch received the Vancouver Now Representation and Inclusion Award. The Cultch is the core producer of Kamloopa and a dedicated champion of diverse representation.
 
When she was accepting the Sydney Risk Prize for the outstanding script by an emerging writer, Harvey pointed out that she’s always been told that she can’t write. “I failed English 100 at UBC three times,” she said — then stressed the importance of thinking outside of colonial frameworks. 
 
+ Here’s a full list of the winners
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Dembe (Ato Blankson-Wood) and Sam (Robert Gilbert) have to be mindful of who might be watching them in The Rolling Stone.(Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
2.   WWJD
 
In August, 2010, The Rolling Stone, a newspaper in Kampala, Uganda published the names and addresses of 100 Ugandans believed to be gay — next to a banner that said, “Hang them.” In November, 2010, the Ugandan High Court ruled that The Rolling Stone had violated the rights of queer Ugandans and the paper shut down. Two months later, David Kato, one of the activists who sued the paper, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his apartment. 
 
That’s the context of Chris Urch’s play The Rolling Stone, which earned an enthusiastic review from The Guardian when it premiered in London in 2016 and praise from The New York Times for its Manhattan run, which has just begun.
 
In the story, 18-year-old Dembe is in love with Sam, a doctor recently arrived from Ireland. (Sam’s mother is Ugandan.) But Dembe’s older brother Joe is a Christian minister who preaches, “I ask the Lord what shall be done and the Lord tells me for us to look to our children. Look to our boys and if we see a limp wrist, we crush it.” 
...


 
Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti says that Life of Pi is about what happens “if you’re shipwrecked or shipwrecked in life.” (Photo of Hiran Abeysekera by Johan Persson)
3.   BRINGING A TIGER ONSTAGE

Canadian novelist Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is getting a theatrical adaptation at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in northern England. 
 
In a breathless review in The Guardian, Clare Brennan pants, “Everything about this production is amazing.” In WhatsOnStage, Ron Simpson agrees, adding that playwright Lolita Chakrabarti's "shrewd and sensitive adaptation works perfectly and much of it astonishes". And, in The Times, Ann Treneman declares, “Roar it out. This is a hit.”
 
If you’re familiar with the novel, you’ll know that the trick with theatricalizing Life of Pi is figuring out how to stage a story in which the main characters are a 17-year-old boy and a 450-pound tiger adrift together in a lifeboat. And it’s not just the tiger; there are other animals in the story, too — including giraffes, orangutans, and zebras.  
 
This production’s solution is puppets. 
 
In this videoFinn Caldwell, the puppetry director, explains that, in creating the tiger puppet, “We look at the skeleton anatomy of tigers and we get that quite precise so that, when the puppeteers come to work with the thing, when they’re moving it, the object, the puppet already wants to move the way a tiger does.”
 
Puppeteers manipulate the tiger from outside. There’s also a performer, Kate Holbrook, inside the puppet and, as Caldwell tells The New York Times, “Kate can swing a tiger’s paw as fast as she can swing a punch.”
 
In her Guardian review, Brennan says of the magic: “ All of this is achieved in full view of the audience with almost no trickery (Pi’s disappearing dive into the waters is an astonishing exception).”
 
In this rehearsal video, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, actor Hiran Abeysekera, and puppetry director Finn Caldwell talk about making magic in Life of Pi.
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The cast of Newsies is about to spring into action. And, when they do, they’ll take your breath away. (Photo by Lindsay Elliott)
4.   SEEING THINGS
 
Newsies   You know a show's choreography is good when you have to fight back tears describing the tap dancing to a friend. Harvey Fierstein’s book, which is a cleaned-up account of an actual newsboys’ strike that took place in New York in 1899, is predictable. But director and choreographer Julie Tomaino’s staging is SO GOOD that all quibbles fall away. Newsies is a major dance show and Tomaino’s choreography is athletic, acrobatic, gorgeously surprising and heartbreakingly cool. The leads in this production are swaggeringly confident — as they should be — and every single person in the ensemble can dance their little tushie off. This is one of the best shows that TUTS has ever produced. 
 
Here’s my full review. Buy your tickets here. This Theatre Under the Stars production is running in rep at Malkin Bowl until August 17. 
 
 
Mamma Mia!   Director Shel Piercy’s mounting is cluttered: too many bodies onstage, too much unfocused activity, too much dumb comic business. But the songs are great: they will not leave your head, which is good news for ABBA fans and fair warning for the unenthusiastic. Although the performance levels are inconsistent, there’s strong work in some key roles, including Caitriona Murphy as the taverna owner Donna, Keira Jang as Donna’s soon-to-be-married daughter Sophie, and Sheryl Anne Wheaton as Donna’s pal Rosie, who gets to sing “Take a Chance on Me”. 
 
Here’s my full review and here’s where to get tickets. This Theatre Under the Stars production is running in rep at Malkin Bowl until August 16. 
 
 
All’s Well That Ends Well   This is the show to see at Bard on the Beach this summer. The script is hugely problematic: Helena is in love with Bertram, who is an unrepentantly elitist — and maybe racist — dick. But this production, which was co-directed by Johnna Wright and Rohit Chokhani, is a marvel. They’ve set the story in India in 1947 on the cusp of the Partition: Helena and several other characters are Indian, portions of the text are spoken in Hindi (there is no confusion), and all levels of the design are rapturous. Sarena Parmar, who’s playing Helena, is stellar. 

Here’s my full review and here's where to get your tickets. Book now: All’s Well That Ends Well only runs until August 11 and it will sell out. This Bard on the Beach production is playing in the Douglas Campbell tent in Vanier Park.


Shakespeare in Love  The cast is terrific. The production is sumptuous. The script is shallow. Lee Hall adapted the screenplay of the 1998 movie to create this stage version, but the story is the same. Young Will Shakespeare is experiencing writer’s block until he falls in love with Viola de Lesseps, who comes from a moneyed family. The jokes are often silly (Shakespeare is working on a play called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter) and sometimes cruel: the script exploits the supposed humour of a stammer. Too casually, the play celebrates the idea of a woman sacrificing herself to a man’s genius. Still, playing Viola, Ghazal Azarbad makes moving sense of the borrowed Shakespearean text and Charlie Gallant is a sweetly swashbuckling Will. You couldn’t ask for a better acting company. And Cory Sincennes’s astonishing costumes will make you want to order your own pair of pumpkin pants. 
 
Here’s my full review. Here’s the link to tickets. This Bard on the Beach production is running in rep at the BMO Mainstage tent in Vanier Park until September 18.
 
 
The Taming of the Shrew  It’s a disappointment. Lois Anderson can be a visionary director, but her production of The Taming of the Shrew is peopled by yelling actors and burdened with forced comic business. Anderson tries to put a feminist spin on the famously problematic script by softening Petruchio and by giving Kate more agency — and more lines. But Anderson's strategy confuses the story and robs it of its tension. Still, there are upsides to this production, including Anton Lipovetsky’s understated comic turn as a suitor named Hortensio, and the dreamy dresses with which designer Mara Gottler clothes Bianca, the object of his attentions. 
 
Here’s my full review and the link for tickets. This Bard on the Beach production is running in rep in the BMO Mainstage tent in Vanier Park until September 21. 
 
 
 
You can always check out next-day reviews on my blog. I saw Ensemble Theatre Company’s Born Yesterday last night, so that review will be up later today. On Friday, I’m seeing ETC’s Superior Donuts, so look for that critique on Saturday. And Saturday night, my colleague David Johnston is seeing ETC’s The Drawer Boy, so look for David’s coverage Sunday or Monday.
 

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