Tag Archives: Reviews of the performing arts

Not your average flick

The Flick, by Annie Baker

Produced by ITSAZOO Productions

Presented by Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre

Directed by Phoenix alum Chelsea Haberlin

Reviewed by Chris Ho

It seems appropriate that The Flick, which takes place at “a falling apart movie theatre” in Worcester Country, MA, is being performed at the once run-down but beloved Roxy Theatre on Quadra. And even though the amusing bit of irony, combined with the fresh smell of popcorn may have already put me in a good mood as I entered the theatre, I can objectively say that this contemporary play by Annie Baker is a must-see.

As one can imagine, it isn’t easy to create a consistently engaging play that explores the subtle gems of self-discovery and change that sometimes emerge during the mundane moments of everyday life. The first 10 or 15 minutes of the play might be summed up as two employees bantering as they sweep popcorn off the floor. And yet when I took a glance at the audience, it seemed like they were at the edge of their seat like I was. Annie Baker touches on a very universal theme about the moments in life where we stand at a crossroad that then gives us insight into who we were, and who we might become. Yet she manages to do it in a way where it doesn’t feel overly cliché, or overdone.

This is something that ITSAZOO Productions clearly understands, and captures very beautifully in its rendition of The Flick. Kyle Sutherland (Set Design) and Simon Farrow (Lighting Design) seamlessly transform the Roxy from a movie house to a live performance space, — and stay true to the simplistic design that the playwright likely intended. Bits of popcorn are strewn about, surrounding the authentically creaky movie seats – and directly above, a small pane of glass looks into the projector room, as the projector looks out on us. To visually portray the idea that people’s lives can seem like a performance at times, the movie projector transitions the scenes by intermittently projecting clips of Hollywood movies toward the audience as the lights are dimmed.

For me, the appeal of this production lies in the fact that there aren’t really any missing components or weak links in its overall composition. The three characters in the play, Sam (Chris Cochrane), Avery (Jesse Reid) and Rose (Kate Dion Richard), were perfectly cast. Each and every one of them was consistently in tune with their roles, as well as with the nuances in their characters’ development throughout the entire play. Everything from the sound, lighting and set design were complementary and did a great deal to enhance the overall vibe of the play. Under the direction of Brian Richmond, these actors were able to bring out the thematic subtleties in Annie Baker’s writing.  I’d give it four out of five stars.

Chris Ho is a Victoria-based singer songwriter.

Kerr’s directorial debut of Unity successful

Unity (1918) 

 Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria 

 March 12- March 22, 2014. 

 Tickets: $14 to $24. Reserve at 250-721-8000 

 Reviewed By Nadia Grutter 

 The Phoenix’s production of Unity (1918) marks a special debut for Kevin Kerr’s dark and hilarious play. This is the first time Kerr has directed his play, which won the Governor General’s Award in 2002. The epic play is narrated by a young woman named Beatrice, who reveals the inner workings of a small town in Saskatchewan that is quarantined to prevent the spread of the devastating “Spanish Flu” of 1918. A handful of young female characters carry us through their stories of love, loss and absurdity during the epidemic that killed more people than the Great War itself.  

             The script itself is genius, detailed with lively dialogue and surprising scenes. In one of the opening scenes, a man drops his wife’s dead body, which releases gas in a startling low-pitched note. The man, thinking his wife has revived, kneels over her desperately, only to realize she has broken wind.  

             One of the three leading roles, that of Sissy, was played by Haley Garnett, who illuminated the stage with charisma and energy. She was joined by the talented Amy Culliford as Beatrice and Logan Mitev, who played the blinded soldier Hart with subtlety and respect. Marisa Nielsons expressive performance of telephone operator Rose contrasted with Keshia Palms serious, demanding role as the Icelandic undertaker, Sunna. Both actresses achieved  memorable performances. All performers made use of the theatre’s aisles, taking care to bring the action close to the audience. My only quibble was with the blocking, as the actors had their backs to the audience more than needed. 

             While the acting, directing and script were impressive, the set (and set changes) were somewhat distracting. The Phoenix’s thrust stage was strewn with wood shavings, which made for some interesting emphasis when dragged bodies left bare black strips in their wake. However, wooden coffins were noisily rearranged throughout the play, and consumed more space than needed. Two massive intersecting black structures were rolled together and apart throughout the production, which seemed arbitrary and inspired confusion during the intermission: “What are those big black things?” On the other hand, an electric track set with a coffin brought characters and objects on and off the stage, which added an interesting mechanical element to the utilitarian setting. 

             The costumes were tailored well to each character, with impressive attention to detail on military outfits. The actors wore lights under their costumes, which were used sporadically as (what I interpreted to be)  beacons of morality throughout the play. Live music was provided by a talented guitarist, who used a warping pedal to imbue the sound with eeriness. The entire cast sang collectively at the end of the production, making for an unexpected musical ending to a dialogue-packed play. It might have been more effective  to have all sounds created on-stage to keep with the wonderful realness created by the intimate thrust stage, but the recorded sounds worked well. 

             All in all, The Phoenix’s production of Kerr’s award-winning play did the university proud, and should not be missed by students and community members alike.  

Nadia Grutter is the Managing Editor of the Coastal Spectator and a fourth-year student at the University of Victoria.



Cabaret: Alive and Well in Victoria


Book by Joe Masteroff; music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb

Directed by Roger Carr

Langham Court Theatre


January 15-February 1

 Reviewed by Joy Fisher

 Some plays grow stale over time while others retain their vitality, sparkling with relevance decades after their first production. Cabaret falls into the latter category.

Opening on Broadway in 1966, Cabaret was one of two plays inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, based on the author’s life in Berlin between 1930 and 1933. The other play, I Am a Camera, written by John Van Druten, preceded Cabaret by 15 years, and, while I Am a Camera was not without critical acclaim, its success was severely curtailed by the acerbic commentary of New York Herald Tribune critic Walter Kerr. Kerr summed up his opinion with these words: “Me no Leica.” The play closed after 214 performances.

The original production of Cabaret, on the other hand, ran 1,165 performances. Furthermore, Cabaret has been revived every decade since, and its 1998 Broadway revival ran 2,377 performances, becoming the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical theatre history.

Why the difference? Kerr once wrote a book called How Not to Write a Play in which he asserted that plays will always be more successful if they are highly entertaining. He argued that entertainment can be at once enjoyable and artistically sophisticated.

The current Langham Court production, based on the 1998 Broadway revival, is both. While acknowledging the gay theme with a kiss between the main character, Cliff Bradshaw, played by Griffin Lea, and one of the Kit Kat nightclub’s “boys,” director Carr has chosen to emphasize the political theme inherent in the years of Hitler’s rise to power. It was an astute choice, for, while stories of gay history are quite rightly in vogue in these days of gay liberation, the theme of political oppression whispers daily in the ears of all of us.

In this charged atmosphere, the main story of the ill-fated romance between Cliff and Sally Bowles, played by Chelsea Kutyn, pales in comparison with that between Fraulein Schneider, touchingly acted by Susie Mullen, and Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schulz, played, heart in hand, by Alf Small. Cliff and Sally, after all, are expatriates, free to leave whenever they want, while Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schulz have no such free choice: they must act out their doomed affair in the land of their birth.

The starkness of their situation is highlighted by the song and dance number “If You Could See Her,” in which the Emcee of the Kit-Kat Club, admirably played by Kyle Kushner, dances with a partner in a gorilla suit pleading for the right to love the person of his choice.  “If you could see her as I do,” he sings, “she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.”

Kushner is in large part the reason this shocking narrative is entertaining. Projecting a guileless exterior, he nevertheless effectively conveys an inner knowledge of the evil of the world. When, at the end of the play, he rips away his cabaret costume to reveal himself in the striped uniform of a concentration camp prisoner, only the audience is startled.

It’s not surprising that the entire run of this production of Cabaret is sold old. If you are unable to slip into one of the remaining performances by hanging around the lobby begging, as I did with puppy dog eyes, for an unclaimed ticket, don’t despair. Another Broadway revival is scheduled for 2014.

Joy Fisher graduated from UVic in 2013 with a BFA in writing. She is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. 










Puppet theatre delivers adult message

Ignorance: the evolution of happiness

A play created by the Old Trout Puppet Theatre

Directed by Pete Balkwill, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer

Blue Bridge at the Roxy

 January 7-19

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

Shortly after I took my seat in the third row of the Roxy Theatre, uniformed middle-school students came marching in to fill the rows ahead of me. “Oh-oh,” I thought, “someone didn’t do the homework.”

Sure enough, during the 85 minutes of Ignorance: the evolution of happiness, these children were exposed to explicit sex scenes, death by hanging, murders, and a birth face-on to the audience. Only the fact that the characters were puppets tempered the impact of these scenes. (I surreptitiously tried to scrutinize the students’ faces as they left after the play. They didn’t seem traumatized. I can only surmise they didn’t understand what they were watching.)

Despite the innocent-sounding subtitle, “the evolution of happiness,” Ignorance is a dark tale, filled with the ironic conceit that the harder we pursue happiness, the more miserable we are. Beginning with Adam and Eve in a dark Paleolithic cave, the play moves forward to the modern era where, if anything, the plight of humankind is more wrenching than that of their ancestors.

The narrator, Judd Palmer, tells the audience right up front that the average human being is allotted only about 14 ½ minutes of happiness in his or her entire lifetime, “most of it before the age of 12.”

Eve was the transgressor, of course, but in this play, her fault was to have imagination. Having learned to imagine that the world could be better than it was, she taught humankind dissatisfaction. From then on, no matter how much better our inventive minds made the world, it was never good enough. Over and over again, humans are led astray by yellow happy-face balloons that evade their grasp, get popped, or the cords of which wrap around a pursuer’s throat, strangling him, the agonized spasms of his body quieted only by death.

Nicolas Di Gaetano, Viktor Lukawski and Trevor Leigh, dressed in identical black one-piece tights, each with a hood crowned by a single horn, gave voice (mostly cries of anguish) and movement to the puppets. As is fitting for this existential tale, their own movements were at once graceful and athletic, almost, at times, a ceremonial dance. So adept were they that, although always visible, they sometimes seemed to disappear, transforming the puppets from simple rocks, hanks of hair and arms made of sticks into trembling beings filled with human passion and suffering.

The dramatic effects were enhanced by a somber, almost classical, orchestral score and a rear projector used at times to illuminate a wall of the prehistoric cave, a nod to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

The Old Trout Puppet Workshop began in Calgary in 1999. Since then, it’s toured seven productions across Canada, into the United States and as far away as Europe. Ignorance was first developed at a creative residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2011, through a process of “Open Creation,” in which the basic idea of the show was posted on the Internet so that anybody could comment, contribute or criticize.

Ignorance is the first show in the new “Presenter’s Series,” a series of contemporary plays, hosted by Blue Bridge at the Roxy. It’s a powerful and auspicious beginning. If you can get to the Roxy before the play closes on January 19, you’re in for a moving experience.

But leave the kids at home.

Joy Fisher graduated from UVic in 2013 with a BFA in writing. She is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.



Homelessness: It’s Complicated

Home is a Beautiful Word

A play collected and edited by Joel Bernbaum

Directed by Michael Shamata

The Belfry Theatre, Victoria

January 7-19, 2014

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

The complexity of homelessness in Victoria B.C. shines like a multifaceted gemstone catching the sun one facet at a time in the world premiere production of Home is a Beautiful Word now playing at the Belfry Theatre.

Commissioned and directed by the Belfry’s artistic director, Michael Shamata, the play is the product of two years of hard work, most notably by playwright/journalist Joel Bernbaum, who interviewed more than 500 people from all walks of life and perspectives, including many homeless people, and then edited the resulting 3,000 pages of transcript into a two-act play that holds its own as both a work of art and an exploration of a persistent social problem. 

Five actors, two women and three men, give voice to 58 individuals in this production of “verbatim theatre”—where all the lines are taken exactly from the transcripts of the interviews. The actors leaned heavily on their dramatic skills to distinguish one speaker from another, and this effort was augmented by changes in costume, positioning on stage and the timing of entrances and exits. One particularly effective example of stagecraft was the use of a rotating stage to simulate a car tour of the downtown neighbourhood conducted by one interviewee.

In spite of this careful attention to craft, however, it was sometimes difficult for the audience to keep track of changes in speakers, although some stood out more clearly than others.   

The expressed intention of the play is to allow theatregoers to see homelessness from a “new perspective.”  For this reviewer, that new perspective came from an interviewee whose story emerged gradually as the play progressed. This person had opened a beauty school, but unanticipated incursions of street people into his facility eventually ruined his business and he lost his own home after he defaulted on his business loan. He emerged from this experience with his own perspective changed, considering the possibility of a new career in the helping professions. What set him apart from the homeless, he believed, was that he still had his “pride.”

Other vignettes that stood out included a monologue by the mother of a homeless woman who described the anguish she experienced because of her daughter’s precarious situation and another of a homeless woman who felt shamed in her daughter’s eyes when she didn’t have enough money to pay for her groceries and had to leave them at the counter.

The play provides no easy solutions to homelessness, but it offers an opportunity to encounter the problem in all its complicated thorniness.

The theme of “pride” and “shame” emerged more strongly in the “afterplay” discussion, when two people rose to share their experiences of homelessness. The woman complained that the play didn’t depict the “positive” aspects of homelessness. She had been banned from many hostels because of her outspokenness, she said, but had found acceptance among her homeless compatriots. When she voiced criticism of some in the homeless “industry,” a number of audience members, presumably working in that industry, rose en masse and left.

The man, who said he suffered from a brain injury, spoke at length about his personal travails. In both cases, members of the audience grew restless at what they clearly considered disruptive behavior and eventually drove these speakers from the hall.

In the play program, Michael Shamata compliments Joel Bernbaum for his “humanity and generosity.” He “made it possible for everyone to feel safe enough to share their most intimate stories,” Shamata said. The interactions during the afterplay discussion stood out in sharp contrast.

 Joy Fisher graduated from the University of Victoria in 2013 with a BFA in writing; she is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada.







Play refuses easy solutions

Armstrong’s War

By Colleen Murphy

Directed by Mindy Parfitt

 Revue Stage,  Arts Club Theatre Company, Vancouver

 (World Premiere, Oct. 17 – Nov. 9/13)

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

When 12-year-old Halley Armstrong comes to the hospital room to read to a convalescing Afghanistan veteran, he tries to send her away. But she won’t take no for an answer. Thus begins an unlikely relationship that eventually enables each of them to reveal hidden secrets.

Halley, brilliantly played by 14-year-old Matreya Scarrwener in her theatrical debut, is determined to earn a community service badge as a Pathfinder. She has picked Michael off the “readers wanted” list because they have the same last name. But Michael, played by Mik Byskov, a recent UVic graduate, just wants to be left to his imaginings about his friend Robbie, with whom he shared a traumatizing war experience.

As it turns out, Halley and Michael have much more in common than just their last names. In different ways, the usual routes to conventional lives have been disrupted for each and they have both become “pathfinders” groping toward an ill-defined future. Halley is in a wheelchair and, when the play opens, Michael is under his hospital bed re-living his war trauma. As they read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage together, they gradually confront the face-saving narratives they have each invented as a means of survival and admit to each other the truth of what really happened.

Both actors responded to deft direction by Mandy Parfitt, Scarrwener catching perfectly the delicate balance of a 12-year-old between childish fantasy and brave confrontation of real life, and Byskov sending shivers down the spine when he voiced the pleading of a wounded buddy: “Killl meee.”

The play isn’t perfect. Too much time devoted to reading aloud interrupted the dramatic action, and the decision to have Halley read the dialogue of union soldiers with a Southern accent and to depict Michael as a poor reader added to the tedium because the words and meaning were difficult to understand.

The most unsatisfying aspect of this play, however, may be the fault of unrealistic audience expectations. We want transformation, to see the characters rising whole and perfect out of the fires of devastation. But life isn’t like that, and playwright Colleen Murphy won’t let us kid ourselves that it is.

At one point, in a rage, Michael tears a book to pieces. When he gives it back to Halley, it is a patchwork of taped pages. Halley is shocked, but later reports that her teacher has accepted her cover story and assured her that there is a “replacement fund for books,” That may be true for library books, but not for the books of our lives. When our lives are destroyed, Murphy seems to suggest, all we can do is patch them up and move ahead as best we can.

Neither of these characters is transformed; they both cling to whatever they can of the conventional rules of life. By the end of the play, Michael is back in uniform, ready and willing to return to war despite the horrors he has experienced.  Halley is no doubt making plans for acquiring her next community service badge.

“That’s your trouble,” Michael says to Halley toward the end of the play. “You hope too much.” So do we all, and sometimes it leads to disappointment. But Halley has the final rejoinder. She reminds Michael of the family motto she tries to live by: “I remain unvanquished.” May it be so for us all.

Joy Fisher is a Victoria writer.

Cleese kept crowd engaged

By Curran Dobbs

A master of black humour and vocal critic of “mindless good taste,” British actor John Cleese was nonetheless a class act in his one-man show, “Last Time to See Before I Die” at the McPherson Playhouse recently.

The show, while continuously infused with Cleesian wit, wasn’t strictly comedic. Regaling the audience with his life story, starting with how his parents met, walking the audience through his childhood and his pre-Python days, and movie career, Cleese offered bittersweet moments as he remembered with fondness friends and family who had passed on.  When Cleese recalled David Frost,  he started to tear up, infusing the show with some pathos and creating a humanizing element that would have been absent had the show been strictly comedic (or strictly dramatic).

Admittedly, throughout the show, Cleese didn’t seem too energetic, but after all, he is 73. Nevertheless, the time flew by;  when he announced that he had kept us for about an hour and it was time for an intermission, it came as a surprise. Considering my tendency to fidget and check my watch constantly when sitting for long periods of time, I was impressed.

The second half of the show was mainly a discussion of offensive or black humour.  Cleese talked about it being passed down from his mother, and explored reactions from audience members, mainly to Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese reported that during the test screen for A Fish Called Wanda, the three bits the audience identified as the funniest bits were also the  bits that were identified as most offensive.  He also made much more use of video clips in his second act.  Many of the clips were familiar to Cleese fans, from the previously mentioned shows as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Showing the clips took some of the strain and effort out of filling up the second half while entertaining the audience. Again, I sat through the second half without checking my watch.

The show ended with a standing ovation, with members of the audience eventually clapping in rhythm to The Liberty Bell song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The man hasn’t lost a thing at 73 – except the usual, youth, original hair colour . . . I would certainly recommend this show for anyone who appreciates dry humour.


Curran Dobbs is a local reviewer and comedian.  

A triumph of battlefields and bed sheets


 At Theatre Inconnu

 Starring Clayton Jevne

 Adapted by Clayton Jevne from Robert Nye’s novel

 Oct. 4 – 19th


Reviewed by Leah Callen


 Sex!  And now that Falstaff has your attention, let the laughter guide you somewhere unexpectedly divine.  Clayton Jevne is incredibly authentic as he fills the boots of John Fastolf, a lusty English knight who is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Falstaff.  As he tells us tall tales about his wars and whores in rich detail, this one-man confession had me laughing, blushing, and crying.  With characters such as Pistol and Shallow, you’re bound to crack a smile. 


This storytelling is unapologetically profane, but surprisingly sacred and poetic at the same time. As Fastolf relives every sexual exploit of his life from the cradle to old age, we hear episodes that are both pornographic and beautiful – from a young woman’s creamy breasts and cherry nipples, to the butterflies that magically burst out of a bishop’s hand.   Just when one may get too uncomfortable with all the innuendo about his “soldier,” “in a flash of sack” the story takes a soulful turn.  Don’t let the prim music at the start fool you, though.  Hold onto your seats!  I felt my cheeks glowing in the dark.


Fastolf shares an intriguing point of view on some of the most famous medieval battles, witnessed from the edges of history. Audience members can get a little lost on this history map if they don’t have a built-in compass for it, but the accounts are so vivid that it doesn’t matter. While he miraculously conquers the French by throwing jewels and herrings at them, philandering Fastolf is conquered by chaste women. The saints slay his heart. Jevne paints a stunning image of Joan of Arc that is beyond human and, to me, the most bewitching part of the narrative. 


Jevne’s full costume reminded me of a naughty Puss in Boots.   The character certainly tries to spin his life in magical proportions, moving from the mindless thrusts of youth to the far sight of age.  But Fastolf travels a touching arc from a hyperbolizing hedonist to one humbled.  We see both a public and private persona in this play – a man embellished with bravado and the bare soul hiding inside him.  As he spins these far-out tales, Jevne creates an iconic pose, his lower half leading the way.  It suggests a character led by his worldly appetites.  But he is reduced to his knees before God, turning away from the audience.  The faceless humility of that pose is striking. 


Though the protagonist is larger than life, Jevne’s masterful acting never fell into caricature.  There was a natural flow to all his facial expressions and gestures that made the whole show feel genuine.  It was enthralling, watching him light up with lust and melt gently into tears.  Perhaps this play’s final wish is for us to be more promiscuous in our compassion and love for other human beings.  When our lives fade out, which will be the most powerful memories left behind: our selfish joys or our random acts of humanity?


Leah Callen is an MFA student at UVic.




Old-fashioned Russians steep in the blues

Uncle Vanya
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Brian Richmond
Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre
@ the McPherson Playhouse
Until June 16th

Reviewed by Leah Callen

In Uncle Vanya, life is a painful operation that begs for morphine, and the woods are heavy with sadness. When a famous professor and his young wife arrive on their Russian country estate, the locals lose their minds. Melancholy catches on among the forest inmates.  These human shadows squint psychologically through darkness, pining for light to brighten their dull lives. Drunk on vodka and unrequited desire, these Russians moan and steep in their misery. When tempted by romantic risks and revenge, some decide that living on a ledge is better than dying of boredom.

As the matriarch Marina pours the tea, characters boil over and grow cold. The doctor Astrov feels as numb to joy as a patient who has been chloroformed. Jacob Richmond plays his drunken scenes with an entertaining abandon and I feared for his safety as he balanced precariously on furniture. As self-righteous Sonya, Casey Austin portrays a pragmatic idealist, invisible to all the bachelors because of her plain face.  She often brings out the best in people with her simple purity, but develops a weary patina over time that is fatalistic. She really just wants to be loved.

Vanya despairs that he has wasted his life and wants to do something about it. Duncan Ollerenshaw’s performance ranges from subtle to over-the-top. Drowning in a deep midlife crisis, Vanya is attracted to the red flash of Yelena’s hair as she graces an outdoor swing like a rare songbird. Amanda Lisman was beautiful as the free spirit desperate for passion to heat her lukewarm life. She suffers from a loveless marriage, unable to spread her wings in her marital cage.  Her controlling husband Serebyakov, played by Chris Britton, was both starchy and wilting as he rules the roost with his whims. When Yelena broke down, I cried too. I wanted her to be free. This actress emoted even when she had no words.

The birch-coloured costumes blended elegantly with the set; characters were human trees cutting one another down. Their clothing had a nineteenth-century uniformity, but over time it struck me as olden-day beige–a symbol of hopeless ennui. Only Yelena wears some sky blue when she tries to soar, or maybe it’s the sea since the men see her as a siren. The diffuse lighting, Russian chant, and hints of guitar brew up potent atmosphere. Uncle Vanya seems more driven by mood than plot. This play creeps inside you like nightfall as the birches grow from gentle to suffocating.

The stage bloomed with visual metaphors: the winding of yarn as characters discuss fate, the unloved Sonya embracing roses that were given to another woman, Vanya pushing the swing of the woman he’s trying to seduce.  A touching moment arose when two women share a cup of wine, a peacemaking communion. However, I struggled with how abruptly chaos explodes on stage later. The sudden intensity of the most dramatic scene seemed slightly comical. Though I enjoyed the emotional fireworks, it was a touch melodramatic.  Still, the plot is perfectly frustrating in this forest of futility.

Chekhov’s moody masterpiece is deeply poetic, but it also made me laugh. It was both darker and lighter than I imagined–a theatrical chiaroscuro. Perhaps only a Russian writes that our best hope is to dream in our coffins. One can’t help feeling that these people bury themselves alive. They think goodness equals boredom and only destruction leads to joy, that life is a dull pain to be endured until it’s over. I wanted to shake them out of their emotional comas or prescribe them anti-depressants–to beg them not to give up on happiness. Perhaps that was Chekhov’s point. And I really wanted a shot of vodka when the play was over.

Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter in Victoria.

Six Tudor roses open after death

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
@ The Uno Festival, Intrepid Theatre
Written and Directed by Ryan Gladstone
Starring Tara Travis
May 29-June 1

Reviewed by Leah Callen

Tara Travis performs a theatrical feat in Til Death as she channels seven ghosts: Henry VIII and his six wives. The former queens of England, now stripped down to their skivvies, fall into purgatory. Poor Anne Boleyn is bodyless while the shameless hussy Catherine Howard somehow coaxed St. Peter to return her body (there is sex in Heaven, folks). The British bureaucratic angel informs the women that only one of them will be allowed to spend eternity in Royal Heaven with Henry. They must vote amongst themselves: who did their precious patriarch love the most? Let the irony begin as women who were divorced, abandoned or chopped up by the man fight to win his heart

The grandiose drama queen Catherine of Aragon slurs the feisty Anne Boleyn as being a puta, and the horsey Anne of Cleves becomes the naive butt of all their jokes. Catherine Howard is the oversexed valley girl of the group, missing a few gemstones upstairs as she flirts with St. Peter by swooshing her skirt. Katherine Parr remains the most stalwart and patient, having survived four husbands.

I marvelled at how one woman could emote such varying voices and I bought it, sometimes forgetting this was one actor. Each character has her idiosyncrasies; each even reacts uniquely to finding herself in underwear–from indignant to self-indulgent. This individuality carries through to physical gestures, accents, and nicknames. Catherine of Aragon demands her formal name Caterina while childlike Catherine Howard prefers to be known as Catie, Queen of the Fairies. The play is peppered with modern slang, which spices up the farce and makes this otherwise historical harem more human. Alongside the laughs are some poignant confessions from the Tudor roses as they open up to each other on the other side. We hear their romantic regrets and secret hardships.

Though these queens and their rivalries are familiar to anyone who knows the history, the ending is anything but. Things are not in Heaven as they were on earth. I think I was most pleasantly surprised by the prim Jane Seymour. The physical way in which she explains childbirth to Anne was too far-fetched for me, but I loved the courageous thorns she grows. The six ex-wives bond in unimaginable ways with uplifting results.

Personally, I was gobsmacked that the nymphet Catherine Howard wasn’t Henry’s first choice as a companion for all eternity. The kitten-in-heat seems like a philanderer’s paradise. Though the queen whom Henry once called his rose without a thorn was one of the most strongly developed characters, her superficiality robs us of hearing her pain about dying so young. Her ghost is said to scream to this day, so that seems an oversight. Still, Catie was the star of this show for me.

This Anglican Heaven is full of red tape, but open-minded about sex and gay marriage. As an Anglican, I had to laugh out loud at the religious pokes. Though the angels seem very forgiving, I still think Henry VIII should go to hell.

Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter at the University of Victoria.