Looking Back – Looking Forward

For my last post of the year I thought it would be appropriate to collect my thoughts on all that I’ve seen in 2011 and what I’m most looking forward to in 2012.

Since I began Applause Meter!  in May of this year, I have reviewed 31 plays and been exposed to countless actors, directors, sound and lighting experts, a myriad of other crew professionals and venues that vary from tiny church basements to large expensive theatres. Anyone who says that there isn’t a vibrant theatre scene here in Calgary must be living under a rock. It’s here and it’s happening all the time. It may not be as original, brilliant, innovative and risk-taking as I would like it to be, but I have seen many jewels in the last eight months in the form of great performances and great plays and I’m grateful for them all.

Yes, I have been sorely disappointed as well. And no, I’m not afraid to comment on it. Of all the feedback I get from readers of this blog or listeners to my spots on CBC’s Eyeopener, the thing I hear the most is appreciation for the forthrightness of my criticisms, whether they are agreed with or not.  But as I look back, I’d rather not dwell on what didn’t work and instead end on a positive note and once again send kudos to the people and productions that lit my imagination and made me remember why I love the theatre in the first place.

Great performances are  interesting things. They can come about from the culmination of a wonderful production that lends it’s patina to all involved. Or they can be good in spite of a lackluster plot or other theatrical accoutrements.  But regardless of how they emerge, good performances for me are the equal core of enjoyment in a production on par with the story itself. Below are the men and women that excited me, made me think and whose characterizations stay with me still:

Mikaela Cochrane, Elaine Weryshko and Scott Morris’s performances as the prototype factory robots in i-Robot  were uniformly impressive with their combination robot/human delivery and intense portrayals. Immensely interesting to watch, all three could teach a class on how to infuse believability into fantasy-conceived characters.

Bob Brader’s autobiographical performance in Spitting In The Face of The Devil was energetically volcanic and humorous with a measured pathos. Hard to do when you are in a one man show about your horrifically abusive father.

Without a doubt, my favourite performance was Mikaela Dyke playing the victims of the 1960’s Newfoundland fluorspar mine in Dying Hard.  Her ability to not simply “act” as these men and women, but to actually become them on stage with such ferocious intensity blew my mind and still gives me tingles when I think of it.

True Love Lies brought us three outstanding performances. Sarah Koury and Alexander Plouffe as rebellious and troubled teens took what could have been clichés and instead delivered uncomfortably realistic characters that resonated at every turn.  Just as wonderful to watch was Rejean Cournoyer who played his cynically gay ex-lover character with a beautiful restrained arrogance that just oozed charisma.

Edwin Curr and Marcus Trummer in To Kill A Mockingbird proved to me that young actors really can hold their own as major roles in a major production without just relying on the cute factor to get by.

Nothing made me laugh harder than Ryan Luhning’s monologue in A Behanding in Spokane. His deadpan delivery of absurd stream of consciousness was a slice of brilliance that seemed to never run out of steam.

A great play cannot be great if the artists on stage aren’t performing at top-level. But often magnificent shows have less to do with any one outstanding performer and more to do with a splendid cast effort combined with a compelling story and method of storytelling. These are the plays that by virtue of their holistic excellence, ranked as great for me.

Ghost River Theatre’s Reverie was the kind of brilliantly original outside of the lines production that makes going to the theatre a thrilling adventure. Even though the second half of this play fell quite flat, the first act with its part play, part musical performance, part video installation, part sound experiment, part spoken word and part dance presentation, packed more into one-act than most shows can ever hope to achieve. It was a spectacular intellectual and sensory sweet-spot tickle.

Chase Padgett’s  6 Guitars was a one man show that introduced us to 6 different characters, each a musician of a different genre, talking about their particular type of music and what drew them to their style of playing. Armed with only a guitar and speaker, Padgett played their songs and told their stories and gave us a show that was as intelligent as it was funny. Pure joyful entertainment.

Ghost River gets another nod from me for their remount of The Highest Step in the World, a play about the risk and rewards of flight. I would always rather see a daring attempt at brilliance by a company with passion and vision than a play that is safe and sure to please. The majority of the time the brilliance worked in this production and once again Ghost River wowed with its multimedia theatre experience.

Calgary Opera’s Gianni Schicchi was for me the perfect opera experience. Beautiful voices, outstanding theatricality and staging that would make any modern director jealous. Funny without being corny, gorgeous without relying on grand set design and relevant to today’s audience without having to over–modernize the production. Bravo!

With the theatre season just half over, there’s still much to look forward to in 2012. Below are some of the productions I’m most excited to see:

Moby Dick

Calgary Opera

Jan 28, Feb 1 &3

This Canadian Premiere is a co-commission /production with the Dallas Opera, State Opera of South Australia, San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera.  Starring Ben Heppner, who is recognized worldwide as the finest dramatic tenor before the public today, the opera is based on the spirit of the original Melville story with the novel’s famous first line, “Call me Ishmael” placed instead as the last line of the production.


Engineered Air Theatre/ High Performance Rodeo

Jan 25 to 28

New Zealand’s Silo Theatre Productions brings the award-winning No.2 to the Rodeo. The matriarch of a Fijian family living in Auckland wants a large feast. She gathers together her grandkids, but none of her children – they are all “bloody useless.” She wants tablecloths, a priest, dancing, some beers and hopefully several squabbles. At the end of the day she will name her successor or “No.2”.  Madeleine Sami, in this one woman show, portrays the matriarch plus four generations of a complicated family.


Theatre Calgary

Jan 31 to Feb 19

Canadian premier of the smash hit play from London. Based on the real-life Enron scandal, the play combines modern multimedia, vaudevillian comedy and classical tragedy to tell the tale of the rise and fall of the industry giant and exposes a dangerous game of perception versus profits.

Fool for Love

Sage Theatre

March 7 to 17

In a co-production with Edmonton’s Shadow Theatre, Sage brings us Sam Sheppard’s 1984 Obie Award Winning play for Best New American Drama. The play takes a look at the dark side of the American West and centres on a struggle, mostly of words, between two on-again/off-again lovers, Eddie and May.


There are many more plays on offer for 2012 and as always, if there is something that you think I should see, don’t hesitate to drop me a note.

In the meantime – have a wonderful holiday season, all the best for a happy and healthy 2012 and remember, going to the theatre more often is one of the best resolutions you can make!

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