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Boasting a cast of 14, the latest production from this province’s World class Wonderbolt Circus is called Tricksters.  The show, unveiled for a sneak peak in St. John’s, is without disappointment.  Those that grew up familiar with early Wonderbolt days have a golden opportunity to feel the magic in its purest form again and with any luck the show will eventually (and hopefully) be available on DVD.  Ringmaster Beni Malone performs in his classic, beloved way; signature funny clown hips, on stilts and playing with fire – his cherished charming smile, popping out for a well timed laugh.

Beni Malone in Tricksters

Beni Malone in Tricksters

Malone is joined in Tricksters by nephew Dash Malone who takes on an anime-style Zoolander appearance, living up to his name, zipping and flipping around the theatre.  Also from the family clan is Anahareo White-Malone who returns home from Germany, where she’s very obviously blossomed from training and is a rising international aerialist sensation.  White-Malone takes on a number of characters in the show including an uptight foreign woman milling about the audience before the show struggling to find her seat harassing ushers played by Lauren and Jeff Smyth.

That character reappears throughout the show with Champaign.  For the second act, in a pencil skirt and high heals she proceeds to perform acrobatics in a hanging hula hoop dangling over the stage with white round Chinese paper lanterns floating around her.

Wonderbolt's Tricksters

Wonderbolt's Tricksters

Prior to that standout solo, White-Malone snuck down on white silk ribbons attached to a stage fly wearing a white mask.  She was followed down by Josh Oliver in the same piece, whose aerial strength was revealed off the top of the show when he’d been lowered from a hatch in the ceiling on black canvas straps right over the audience. Both performances were beautifully executed, visually stunning and easily trigged tears for some in combination with the soundscape.

The sounds by George Morgan and Bill Brennan were nothing short of outstanding.  Speaking with producers at the intermission revealed Morgan made certain percussion elements, such as a wall of more then 7 gongs.  A brilliant play fight shared by Oliver and David Mercer graciously shared the spotlight with the Wonderbolt band with class when the four used plastic piping to tap familiar tunes out on their thighs.

Mercer was joined by fellow Gentleman Juggler James Burke as the main through-line characters with Beni Malone.  Both attempted to lure Mercer to step away from being fixated by the formulas of a rubrics cube in lieu of their world of make-believe.   The second scene featured a touching but comedic shared campfire complete with roasting marshmallows between Beni and the Gentleman Jugglers.  All three strategically used vocal exclamations during times of surprise, when Oliver snuck down from a fly and grabbed Mercer by a harness made to look like the back of his shirt for example.

A number of times a big dog popped out on stage to alarm Mercer, Burke and Malone as an especially great way to draw the younger audience in.  Also vaguely familiar to the youth was a character that resembled the ever-popular Mary Poppins played by Kat Finck.  She impressively lowered on stage holding an umbrella by a wrist strap that was also attached to a stage fly.  Finck later reappeared opening the second act with an impressive costume change and diabolo performance.  The second act also heats up with an amazing two hoop performance by Allison Collins (Ali Hoops) with Smyth ushers dutifully standing by the fire exits of the Reid.

A clear audience favourite was the vignette including world champion Aboriginal hoop dancer Terrance Littletent who’s joined by Jayson Littletent for vocals and percussion.  This is a particularly relevant feature as the show moves from St. John’s to the 5th Annual Kamataukatshiuht Circus Festival.  After running from August 19-23rd at the Reid Theatre (matinees Aug 19/20 at 2:00pm), Wonderbolt will take Tricksters to Natuashush and Sheshatshiu before doing a cross-island tour of Arts and Culture Centres in February 2010 after becoming a part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympics.

For more information about Wonderbolt go to www.wonderbolt.ca.  Tickets for Tricksters at the Reid Theatre are available at the Holy Heart Boxoffice or by calling 579-4424.

Beni Malone as Greta

Beni Malone as Greta

When Martin Sherman‘s Bent premiered in 1979, audiences were still largely unaware of what happened to pink triangles in concentration camps. “Survivors didn’t talk about it, because in Germany homosexuality was still against the law when the war ended,” director Sandy Gow of c2c theatre points out. Now, three decades later, it has carved out a position of prominence amongst its contemporaries.

“The play always feels immediate to me. Most days I don’t even think of it as a period piece,” Gow admits. “It’s full of energy, and even though it’s set against one of the worst events in history, it’s allowed to feel good sometimes. I still remember reading the first scene and laughing out loud. We need those moments; otherwise the ending would be too hard.”

Bent is about a “self-indulgent, charming” character named Max who is on the run from the SS in Berlin following the Night of the Long Knives in pre-war Germany.  He is accused of homosexual relations, eventually caught and relegated to Dachau.  Gow approached the script’s serious subject matter knowing, “it was important to address it openly and honesty, but not to drown in it.”

Gow specifically noted the talents of Andrew Whalen, Calvin Powell and George Robertson who have taken on the roles of the Gestapo, SS Guard, Officer and Captain. “Sherman didn’t shy away from the brutality these men inflicted, so we’ve jumped into the deep end with him. Working with violence and weapons onstage has been part of the experience. It’s important for it to not overwhelm the play, but the physical danger of the time has to live alongside the love story.”

Before the casting process, Gow already had her Max in mind and wanted Philip Goodridge for the role.  Interesting considering Sherman also had the actor whom he wanted to cast in that role in mind as early as initial drafts – Sir Ian McKellen.  Gow confessed, however, that “finding Horst was a challenge since the relationship between the two prisoners is thorny but extremely intimate at times.”

Bent Poster

Bent Poster

Ultimately, Jon Montes’ memorable audition led him to the part and Gow couldn’t be happier, gushing that “his Horst brings out the best in Max,” which is the best anyone could hope for in a loving relationship, regardless of surroundings. “This is a play about Max embracing who he is in the face of hatred and cruelty and being strong enough to feel the things he so desperately tries not to.”

Bent is known for one of the greatest love scenes of all time, despite the fact that there is no touch at all and Gow says that Goodridge and Montes have been “fearless” about approaching the intense moments.

The show’s strong cast has fully committed to the show as well.  Gow’s favorite aspect of the show is that the audience never leaves Max and other characters weave in and out, exposing glimpses that show how they all effect, love and change Max. “There was a lot of excitement and many that auditioned already had copies of the script or had previously studied it. When I asked Beni Malone to play Greta, he already had his copy on the shelf and Mack Furlong had been to the original production in 1979.”  Rounding out the cast are James Hawksley and Keith Pike.

The set, designed by Sam Pryse-Phillips and lit by Brian Bishop, allows for the show to move through a number of transitory settings that include an apartment to a bar, park to forest and a train to the concentration camp. The sound design was created by Shannon Hawes.  c2c theatre’s presentation of Bent will run from April 1-5 2009 in the Basement Theatre with a PWYC matinee on Saturday, April 4th at 2pm. Tickets are $20.00 and are on sale at the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office or order them by calling 729-3900. In c2c theatre tradition, they invite those attending on opening night to stay after the show for a small reception with the cast.

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makin’ sense of it all

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