Category Archives: Reviews of the performing arts

Pride and Prejudice play up for scrutiny

Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austin

Adapted for the stage by Janet Munsil

Directed by Judy Treloar

Langham Court Theatre

October 1-18, 2014

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

“The movie wasn’t as good as the book” is a standard refrain. Whether that judgment should be applied equally to adaptations of great novels for the stage is currently up for scrutiny at Langham Court Theatre as it presents its production of Pride and Prejudice.

The audio book of Jane Austin’s 200-year-old novel runs about 11-1/2 hours. When well-regarded Victoria playwright Janet Munsil accepted a commission two years ago to adapt the book for a joint production by Theatre Calgary and the National Arts Centre, she had to condense the popular story to as close to two hours as possible.

There are perils attached to such drastic reductions. One is the danger of transforming a richly nuanced classic into a theatrical Readers Digest Condensed version of itself. That didn’t happen here, but the play does gallop from one plot point to the next, and the dramatization robbed the work of some of the delicate understatement of Austin’s prose.

For example, the necessity of repositioning the opening line of the novel had unintended consequences. The novel begins: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This line, assigned to an omniscient narrator, sets the novel up as an intentional, if subtle, critique of social mores. In the play, this line is spoken part way into the first act by Mrs. Bennet, the protagonist’s mother, a foolish woman. Thus located, it is reduced to a laugh line, and the overarching purpose of social satire goes unmarked.

All 19 of the major characters are retained in the dramatization, and drawn with such distinctness that there is never an occasion to confuse one with another. The credit for this success is attributable in equal parts to the novelist, the playwright and the capable actors who played the roles. Significant emotional depth, however, is lost in the adaptation. As I left the theatre on opening night, I overheard one audience member remark that one of the characters seemed more like a caricature than a character. “Oh well,” he added, sounding unhappy, “I suppose it had to be that way.”

Costumes, designed by Merry Hallsor, cloak this production in class. Credit is also due for the set designer (Caroline Mitic), carpenter (John Taylor) and production crew in charge of set decor (Maureen Colgan) for designing a flexible set that can quickly accommodate scene changes. As a result, the story plays straight through each of the two acts.

The confines of the Langham Court stage, combined with the large cast, did lead to some awkward moments. The repeated use of dance scenes in the first act became a bit tiresome. And, at least once, a group of characters was left onstage with nothing to do while two characters engaged in private conversation.

Why turn novels into drama? Michael Billington, theatre critic for The Guardian, tried to answer that question in a commentary he wrote a few years ago. Some novels, he conceded, might acquire more “texture,” but, he concluded, the “really great novels invariably lose more than they gain.”

Pride and Prejudice is a great novel. Pride and Prejudice, the play, was a sell-out hit in Calgary in 2012 and has since won acceptance in community theatres in Saint John, N.B., and in England. It awaits your judgment here through October 18.

Joy Fisher is a Victoria playwright and theatre lover. 

Rez issues still powerful

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway

Directed by Peter Hinton

Performed at the Belfry Theatre

Sept. 16 – Oct. 19

Reviewed by Madeline McParland

In The Rez Sisters, the dark realities of Indigenous women’s lives are staged with a blend of humor and truth.  Peter Hinton has headed theatre centers and organizations from Vancouver to Montreal and now he brings The Rez Sisters to life again after 28 years. Originally launched in 1986, The Rez Sisters is written by celebrated First Nations writer, Tomson Highway. As someone born after the play was first produced, I have grown up learning about the complex issues stemming from Canada’s colonization of Indigenous peoples; this play shows the “rez” issues are just as relevant as when I first learned of them.

The play follows a cast of female Indigenous characters living on Wasaychigan Hill Reserve in Northern Ontario. The women are all obsessed with their dream of winning the BIG BINGO. Pelajita Patchnose (Tantoo Cardinal) wants to stop roofing houses and move closer to her sons in Toronto; Annie Cook (Lisa C. Ravensbergen) wants to become a singer; and Marie Adele Starblanket (Tasha Faye Evans) looks to lighten the financial load of having 14 children. My favorite was Pelajita Patchnose’s (Tantoo Cardinal) comedic timing: nonchalantly threatening to hit her friends over the head with her roofing hammer and telling Annie Cook she has a “mouth like a helicopter.” Her quick lines always brought fast laughs that relieved any tension in the scene.

This intimate play is set entirely on a raked stage, on top of a shingled roof. Kudos to Tracey Nepinak, whose character, Philomena Moosetail, spent the entire play in heels. Other than minimal assistance by simple sound effects and lighting, the actors bring the play to life through animated dialogue. Although effective, I found the dialogue to be quite aggressive as it is riddled with swearing, characters screaming threats at each other and Emily Dictionary (Reneltta Arluk) telling Veronique St. Pierre (Cheri Maracle) to shove a great big piece of –ahem- something, into her mouth.

I felt a peculiar balance in tone throughout the play: emotional monologues about abuse are contrasted by frank jokes about Indigenous men and sociopolitical hardship. The audience eventually discovers each woman’s reality and the struggles she experiences — whether it be abuse, alcoholism, segregation, sickness or death.

To me, the play’s pivotal scene occurs when Pelajita Patchnose (Tantoo Cardinal) gives a moving speech after Marie Adele Starblanket (Tasha Faye Evans) passes away. Pelajita stands in the center of the stage with the women surrounding her as she addresses the injustices experienced by women living on the reserve: from lack of access to proper medicine, abuse and poverty. Tantoo’s character also consistently refers to the reserve’s dirt roads and how their chief always claims he will pave them. She declares if she were chief, if any woman were chief, things like this would get done.

The play’s opening night was particularly moving because it was introduced with a cultural song and drumming by two younger Indigenous performers, one male and one female. This made the reality of the issues raised in the play all the more apparent to me.  Twenty-eight years later, young women of my generation are aware and listening with acute attention.

Madeline McParland is a UVic student and freelancer.

My Rabbi makes for riveting drama

My Rabbi

A play co-created by Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly

Directed by Julie McIsaac

The Belfry Theatre, Sept. 16-28, 2014

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

When a Jew and a Muslim walk into a bar in My Rabbi, two old friends rediscover each other. But can they revive and maintain their friendship in a time when Palestinians and Israelis are locked in conflict? That’s the central question of the play. Their struggle makes for riveting drama.

Co-created and acted by Joel Bernbaum (Jake) and Kayvon Kelly (Arya), the play races along as it explores the question in a series of short scenes. The two actors capably take on other roles to advance the narrative. In one scene, Bernbaum plays a brutal interrogator; the snap of Arya’s broken finger is audible and convincing. Character changes were clear and convincing, testament to the talent of both of these actors.

The setting is spare—a table, a couple of chairs—a classic set-up for great theatre. And, in this play, that’s exactly what emerges.

My Rabbi is described as a comedic drama, and humour (too often sexist humour) leavens the drama. But I had tears streaming down my face for much of the 60-minute show, as the two characters struggled with increasing difficulty to be supportive of one another as they each faced life’s trials. In a monologue near the end of the play, Jake, by then a rabbi, questions how hate can be resisted in this polarized and polarizing world.

The play offers no easy answers, but the playwrights wisely disrupt the chronology to leave the audience with a glimpse of a happier time. The final scene is a flashback to a moment just before Arya is to leave on a cultural exploration of his father’s homeland, Syria. Jake celebrates with him. They clink drinks and salute each other. “L’Chaim,” they say—to life!

Kelly and Bernbaum, collector and editor of last season’s popular verbatim theatre presentation Home is a Beautiful Word, sketched out a first draft of the scenes in a pub after graduating from the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria in 2008. The characters were initially based on themselves (Bernbaum is of Jewish descent and Kelly, whose last name was formerly Khoskan, Iranian). But the play developed over the next six years into an exploration of what might happen if two formerly non-religious friends embarked on very different journeys of religious discovery in a world where adherents to their respective faiths are locked in mortal combat.

In 2009, the play had its first reading as part of Puente Theatre’s WorkPlay series, and, in 2011, it was featured at the Belfry’s Spark! Festival. The finished work was well-received in its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August during the height of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. The current run at the Belfry is the Canadian premiere. After it closes in Victoria, it will play at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre from Oct. 7-18.

Do yourself a favour and go see this play before it closes in Victoria on Sunday (Sept. 28). You’ll be glad you did.

It strikes where it doth love

Cruel Tears/Lagrimas Crueles

Blue Bridge Theatre at The Roxy

Written by Mercedes Bátiz-Benét, Directed by Brian Richmond

Show held over until May 18, 2014

Photograph by lijc Albanese

Review by Curran Dobbs 

Blue Bridge’s ambitious adaptation of Cruel Tears/Lagrimas Crueles takes the 1975 musical upon which it was based, itself a modernized loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello (think what West Side Story did to Romeo & Juliet) and places it on the Texan/Mexican border. Set in 1975, Juan (played by Indio Saravanja), a native Mexican trucker, falls in love with his boss’s daughter, Kathy (Alexandra Wever). As is natural for Shakespearean tragedies, death ensues, thanks to the manipulations of fellow truck driver Jack (Jacob Richmond), presumably out of bitterness from feeling underappreciated and his jealousy for being passed over for the promotion Juan received in his stead.

The atmosphere of this Tex/Mex musical is set with good use of a smoke machine (consider this a warning to those with respiratory issues) and lighting. The show opens with occasional conflict before developing a much darker tone in the second half. Cruel Tears paints a picture of 1970’s Texas, where overworked and underpaid characters attempt to scrape a living in a society where income and race prey on the minds of lower class blue-collar workers.

There were admittedly parts of the play where the pacing seemed rushed, such as Juan’s descent into jealousy and disillusionment in the second half, or the hastily resolved conflict in the first half between the lovers and Kathy’s disapproving father. This might have been a side effect of developing Othello to the musical medium. Fortunately, it does not detract much from the enjoyment of the play.

The Tejano style music was, for the most part, kept a comfortable low to moderate tempo that was easy to hear and understand. The Spanish lyrics were translated through the use of subtitles displayed on a screen above the stage— owing both to the talent of the performers and the acoustics of the venue. The band took their place on the side of the stage and acted as a modernized Greek chorus, occasionally interacting with the other characters and effectively expositing the relevant plot points to the audience. The music and dialogue made seamless transitions between English and Spanish.

The choreography was smooth, and while the trained dancers (David Ferguson and Jung Ah Chung) did not perform much, when they did, they did so impressively. The dancers also added a tongue in cheek element to the play, doubling as living props for certain objects that required an element of motion (such as truck windshield wipers or a jukebox).

Overall, Cruel Tears is a unique and lively show worth catching while it is still showing.

Curran Dobbs is a local reviewer and comedian.  


Belfry nails tri-level family drama

Equivocation: Telling the Truth in Dangerous Times

April 25, 2014

Playwright: Bill Cain, Director: Michael Shamata

Belfry Theatre, Victoria

April 22-May 25: (Belfry), June 11-September 20: (Bard on the Beach)

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

Equivocation is a play about family told on three levels. Politics, says Shagspeare (playwright Bill Cain’s favourite spelling of Shakespeare’s name), is “family writ large.” On this level, the play is about a country divided into the “old religion” (Roman Catholicism) and the new one (the Church of England).

These are dangerous times: it’s 1605, the “Gunpowder Plot” has fizzled, and dissident Roman Catholics, including Father Henry Garnet, are about to be executed. Shagspeare, played by Bob Frazer, has been commissioned to write the official history of the Plot, but he begins to suspect that the government’s version is not true. What to do? He fears he must choose between two equally unpalatable alternatives: “lie or die”.

Shag turns to Father Garnet, who wrote A Treatise of Equivocation, for help in resolving his dilemma. Garnet advises him to look for the “question under the question” in order to avoid both lying and dying. He illustrates with this story:

Suppose you are hiding the king, and his enemies come to the door and ask: “Is the king within?” If you say “no,” you are lying, but if you say “yes,” the king will die. However, if you look for the question under the question, you will discover they are really asking: “Can we come in and kill the king?” To this question, the true and moral answer is “no”.

Cain wrote his play in recognition of the dangers that exist whenever governments lie. The philosophical lesson of Equivocation thus resonates today as much as it did in 1605.

Tobin Stokes’s non-diegetic music powerfully underscored the sense of danger, while the lighting design by Alan Brodie provided an apt visual metaphor for the concept of equivocation: grey fog swirled in a spotlight above stark black and white lighting throughout the show.

I was keen to see how Shag would equivocate his way out of his dilemma. Alas, it was not to be. Somewhere in the middle of Act Two, the commission to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot fizzled like the Plot itself, and so did the plot of the play. On the political level, Equivocation is a play without a climax, and this was disappointing.

The emotional heart of Equivocation is embedded in the second level, which is about the family created in theatre companies. During the period depicted, Shakespeare was a member of The King’s Men, a company in which the actors owned shares that entitled them to participate in decision making. They squabble among themselves, but are held together by their mutual love of theatre, the nature of which they debate at length. Cain, who once ran his own theatre company, writes this story with great affection and high humour.

The third level is about Shagspeare’s relationship with his daughter Judith. The audience is told that both Judith and Shagspeare understand that Shag wishes Judith had died instead of her twin brother, Hamnet. To Judith, stoically played by Rachel Cairns, goes the last line of the play: as she washes Shag’s dead body, she says: “I never knew I had a story until he wrote it.” This line sours the ending because Judith did indeed have a story, but neither Shakespeare nor Bill Cain wrote the truth of it and Judith, who lived it and therefore did know it, was illiterate, and could not.

This co-production runs until September 20, so the actors have plenty of time to perfect their roles. Four of them, Anousha Alamian, Shawn MacDonald, Gerry Mackay, and Anton Lipovetsky have dual roles as both players and characters. They clearly delight in this complexity.

The play runs two hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute break—inordinately long. It’s nevertheless easy to understand why Michael Shamata, the Belfry’s artistic director, directed it himself. This play may not be perfect, but it’s rich faire, intellectually stimulating and an emotional treat for anyone who loves theatre—two very good reasons to go see it.

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

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.



What happened was…

What Happened Was…

A play by Tom Noonan

Directed by Clayton Jevne

At Theatre Inconnu, ends March 8

Reviewed by Leah Callen

What if you were a fly on the wall during a frictional first date?  Noonan’s play invites the audience to peep into an open window as Jackie tries to bag her co-worker Michael in a sad attempt at romantic connection.  So used to being alone, at first our heroine doesn’t even hear her hero ring the doorbell.  But when Jackie opens the door to Michael, will he ever reciprocate?

The two characters make up stories to colour in the tedium of their actual lives, yet struggle to hear one another over the “mental static” in their own minds. One tries to rekindle a wild past and the other puffs up a non-existent past.  What’s peculiar:  each character seems unworried by the alarming traits that surface in the other. Whether it’s a confession that one hears subliminal voices in a Beatles song or a disturbing preoccupation with baby bones, not a single eyebrow is raised.  Ironically, these unsettling idiosyncrasies are the only charge the pair shares.  Weirdness turns them on.

The delicious icing on this theatrical cake is a nightmarish children’s story that Jackie serves Michael over dinner.  Much like the characters, I found myself hoping here for an entertaining shock, and it did not disappoint.  Though you expect something grotesque to scare off a man, Jackie’s Freudian fright somehow encourages Michael to unpack his own emotional skeletons.

The claustrophobic set itself is strangely menacing, with its palette of roses and ash. Everything is whitewashed and darkening around the edges, and door and window frames feel bare as bones.  When Jackie stands in the kitchen door frame, responding to verbal thrusts from her guest, I couldn’t help but think of a guillotine.

Catriona Black plays a woman who attacks her date with hungry enthusiasm.  The keenness of her character had me flashbacking to an edgy British cartoon I read in my youth, Minnie the Minx.  It feels like Jackie’s wearing a social mask, the one many wear on first dates when they’re trying too hard, and you wait for the moment when it dissolves.  Meanwhile, Michael Romano plays secretive Michael with cool, reptilian calm.  Right from the start, it’s clear these two are mismatched, yet Jackie forces the date forward, half in desperation and half in politeness.  The situation is wonderfully awkward.  Typical to life, the man is arrogant over nothing, and the woman is self-effacing over everything.

I hoped Michael was recording the conversation as he hinted, that he had some malevolent purpose beyond being a passive date. The voyeuristic pleasure of an audience watching an intimate moment feels watered-down when the main fall out is simply some hurt feelings.  Michael’s briefcase became a physical ruse to me, as I kept waiting for some sinister secret to be revealed, but he never opens it.  The real risk in this play is figurative:  people opening up to each other, not knowing whether that truth will be accepted or rejected.

Perhaps that is the dramatic cake underneath the icing: in our cubicled lives, we are so used to talking to ourselves and singing along to pre-written lyrics that we rarely risk being original and reaching out to other people. Romantic heroes and heroines no longer exist.  Most men just want to live safe lives where they’re told what to do, and women are left alone listening to their own echo.

Leah Callen is pursing her MFA in writing, with a drama focus.

Proud: parsing a farce

February 7, 2013

Playwright: Michael Healey

Director: Glynis Leyshon

Belfry Theatre, Victoria

February 4-March 9

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

Photo by David Cooper

When I emerged from the Belfry Theatre after seeing actor-playwright Michael Healy’s latest play, Proud, I felt confused. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Billed as “political satire” by its distinguished director, Glynis Leyshon, Proud was somehow unsatisfying despite “crackling” dialogue, fast pacing and polished acting by some of Canada’s finest, including Rick Roberts. Roberts, you may recall, played Jack Layton in the CBC biopic. In Proud, he shows his range by playing an unnamed Prime Minister modelled after our current Prime Minister. Now that’s versatility.

Proud proposes an alternative universe in which the Conservatives won Quebec in the last federal election and the Prime Minister has a massive majority including a feisty political neophyte named Jisbella Lyth, played assertively by Celine Stubel.

The Prime Minister, and his Chief of Staff, Cary, played by award winning actor Charlie Gallant, soon learn Jisbella has something in common with them: political amorality. Recognizing a kindred spirit, the PM concludes Jisbella is worth mentoring—and using. Having Jisbella author an anti-abortion (“pro-life”) bill to distract the press so the PM can slip through a change to government unnoticed seems like a fine idea to them all.

What’s the big change the PM wants to slip through on the QT? Muzzling government scientists? Ditching environmental laws? No, the PM wants to reduce the size of the Privy Council Office—a modest goal.

So where is the dramatic conflict in this play? There isn’t any, and, artistically, that’s this play’s main problem.

There are others. A fourth character, Jisbella’s grown-up son, played by UVic Theatre grad Kieran Wilson, talks about political morality from the vantage point of 2029, when the Prime Minister is still in power; but he’s too removed from the principal action of the play to matter. Finally, Proud is a “talky” play. During all the political yak, the Chief-of-Staff makes the point that “politics is fundamentally an emotional event.” Plays are also fundamentally emotional events, and a play that’s too talky can kill emotional response in the audience.

It might be argued that laughter is an emotional response, and it can’t be denied that Proud is humourous. But analyzing its humour reveals its genre confusion.

Although satire, like farce, is usually humourous, unlike farce, satire has a greater purpose: to draw attention to troubling social issues and offer constructive social criticism. Proud doesn’t do that. Since all the principal characters agree that political amorality is just fine, that issue isn’t examined; and since the PM’s goals are so modest and reasonable, no substantive issues are critiqued. Proud confused me because I expected satire; but what it offers isn’t satire: it’s only farce.

So if we can’t be proud of Proud as political satire, what can we be proud of?

We can be proud of Michael Healey for not giving up when Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, fearing a libel suit from the Prime Minister (the real one), nixed his play despite the fact he had been a playwright-in-residence there for more than a decade.

We can be proud that other theatre companies all across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver staged readings of Proud, both to raise money for its independent production and to support the principle of free artistic expression.

And we can be proud that the Canadian public rallied to the cause by contributing almost $18,000 in twenties and hundreds in response to a crowd-funding campaign to pay for its premiere in Toronto.

As a work of art, Proud may disappoint; but the circumstances surrounding its realization are cause for celebration.

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

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.