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With Pride celebrations popping up as per usual throughout the summer months across the world, New York City was of course no different.  On the heals of the official ‘week’ the Shakespeare in the Park continues to celebrate as it inches closer to the fall theatre season.  Part of this year’s programme line up includes The Twelfth Night (June 10 – July 12) staring Private Practice’s Audra McDonald and big screen starlet Anne Hathaway as Olivia and Viola, respectively.  Hathaway celebrates many firsts within the casting, not only is it her debut in public theatre, it’s also the first time she’s ever kissed a woman!

McDonald & Hathaway in The Twelfth Night

McDonald & Hathaway in The Twelfth Night

Unfamiliar with The Twelfth Night? Shakespeare in the Park describes it as a beguiling comedy which follows the romantic adventures of Viola and her identical twin Sebastian, both shipwrecked in the enchanted dukedom of Illyria. At the helm of this time-honored story of cross-dressing and mistaken identity, all in the name of love, is Tony Award winning Director Daniel Sullivan.

For a little outdoor Shakespeare action a little closer to home for readers in Newfoundland, there is the reliable Shakespeare by the Sea troop who’ve worked hard to put together a brilliant summer season.  This year’s line up includes the classic Romeo & Juliet (July 5 – Aug. 10) and The Tempest (July 17 – Aug. 15) along with a Fairy Tale Mix Up (July 11 – Aug. 16) written and directed by Newfoundland’s own Krista Hann.  Also for the kids, Classics by Candlelight (July 4 – Aug. 16) returns this year and Tunes ‘n Tales (July 6 – Aug. 10) is an addition following Romeo & Juliet performances which celebrates authentic Newfoundland music and yarns.

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.

The ladies of Herstory

The ladies of Herstory

Originally commissioned by Rising Tide in 2005, Sara Tilly wrote the first draft of The (In)complete Herstory of Women in Newfoundland (and Labrador!).  She then developed it with Berni Stapleton through the RCA’s Write On! Program before a series of staged readings in 2006 and 2007.  Now on its sixth draft, the show will have its premier as a co-production between RCA and She Said Yes!  Tilly is co-directing with Lois Brown and the show promises saucy humour that will make you think.  It’s presented as a blend of traditional theatre with clown improvisation.  “This silly and strange show is grounded in familiar and universal human emotions,” says Tilly.  Both Sara and Lois spent some time to tell Current a little more:

Clown development can be difficult, can you speak to that?
ST – There’s a lot of different types of clown training and approaches to what ‘is’ a clown. I’m trained in Pochinko Clown Through Mask and the process begins with mask work using your own mask, then transference to a clown nose and potentially into a non-nose, Joey clown. We’re not in red noses for this show. These are sophisticated, adult clowns, not as innocent or as bumbling as the red nose variety, with a much larger vocabulary than your standard circus clown. You wear the mask and let it move you, then take that energy and keep it going when the mask comes off. This way, you allow your character to take the lead organically. We follow impulse in rehearsal and let it dictate how to create the show.

How do you turn your clown on?
ST – It comes from the mask. We spent a two weeks in January working with masks and taking that physical exploration; now we’re comfortable experimenting within these clowns and can find their full range of emotions and tics. There’s no need to have the nose if you are intent – we’re using headgear like swim caps as a character anchor.

Who is in the cast and how did they come together?
ST – The cast is my dream team and I’m glad they were all able to do it! Susan Kent is playing the director (Herr) and Ruth Lawrence is the star actress (Prima). Lois Brown is the old-school feminist theatremaker and visual artist and writer Craig Francis Power, in his first onstage role, as the lighting operator (Noseworthy). I play Squirrel, the stage manager, who is thrust into the show after Janice has an accident with her curling iron.

How have they all done getting into the world of clowning?
ST – This has been an amazing group to work with and I thank my lucky stars that I have such open, talented artists. They’re all naturals and it’s been a belly laugh and a half leading them through the clown work and watching these characters come into their own.

Who else is involved behind the scenes?
ST – I’m designing the set, costumes and props; Sean Panting is designing sound, Jamie Skidmore is designing lights and Craig Francis Power is doing the projection design.

How much of a history lesson will the show be?
LB – I think there is a fair bit of history there – but because Sara is showing us how we bend history for political reasons.

ST – Well, most of the ‘facts’ are true. The truth was, in most cases, funnier or more bizarre than anything I could think of. It’s how we mess with the facts that make it a questionable lesson. More like a weird and hilarious dream involving a lot of historical detail. I think more than anything you might be tempted to look a few things up later to see if we made them up.

What’s the overall concept and storyline of the show?
LB – Legendary feminist theatre artist Janice pokes herself in the eye with a red-hot curling iron minutes before showtime on opening night and dies. Marco is debilitated after being trapped under the Death on the Ice set. Noseworthy is stoned. And Squirrel the stage manager turned actress is so scared that she pisses herself several times during the opening number. That leaves the director, Herr who is in love with her star, Prima. They say show must go on.  How will the Estro-collective do it? It’s a show that not only satirizes Newfoundland history and feminism – it satirizes itself. It takes the notions of patriarchy, feminism, Newfoundland history and the way we tell it and mocks it all. It’s irreverent. Takes the piss out of everything, really.

The show runs March 24 – 26th at the Majestic Theatre in St. John’s, check out www.shesaidyestheatre.ca for more information.

originally published December 2008

c2c theatre has been diligently working to establish itself as a producer of thought provoking scripts. Now in its fifth season they’re starting off with Montreal-born Francois Archambault’s The Leisure Society. This, the first of four in a basement series at the newly renovated Arts and Culture Centre, provided for a rollercoaster kick-start, directed by artistic associate Brad Hodder. Charlie Tomlinson importantly acknowledged that opening night was also the inaugural production in the refreshed space, thanking those involved for the investment and inviting the audience to share the traditional c2c opening night roasted turkey afterwards.

The Leisure Society

The Leisure Society

The four character show tackled everything from adoption to abortion and the difference between a threesome and an orgy. But despite the somewhat controversial subject matter of the events faced by Mary (Petrina Bromley) and Peter (Jonathan Watton) who are married and their ‘friend’ Mark (Aiden Flynn) who brings tag-along Paula (Jessica Power) for his visit, their mutual exposure makes its audience think. The dialogue of the show was engaging and Hodder’s direction combined with outstanding performances on all accounts kept it sharp. Bromley played a convincing drunk when her character’s taste for alcohol gets the better of her thanks to the box full of a dozen 26oz-er’s Mark brought with him. Power’s performance as his 21 year old “special” friend was breakout, believable and real – with her character becoming especially and surprisingly relative as the show unfolded.

The set design by Elyse Summers (5 Very Short New Plays In A Tub) was glossy and cosmo with canvas floor lights, a big furry rug with a leather top coffee table flanked by two leather benches on either side and a baby grand upstage centre. Hidden in the piano were packs of cigarettes and a flask, Peter and Mary’s hiding spots for their respective crutches. Both of which they helplessly try to fight, including the great debate of trying to smoke your last cigarette like your first when trying to quit.

Impossibly ignored, Mary and Peter have a birth child adding to mix of the evening crying constantly on a baby monitor, brilliantly added to the set and used. They are also in an adoption process and Mary’s pregnant considering abortion to protect the adoption procedure. All four evolved from being initially introduced through to the end. Mark who Peter and Mary plan to dump as a friend that night because of his wild ways and because they have nothing in common, eventually shows some disarming moments. Peter slowly seems to crumble becoming neurotic and irrational. The show’s devolution hovers around Peter’s fantasy of having a threesome. Mary ultimately decides that she is ready and suggests involving Mark – once they dump him, because then they won’t have to ever see him again. Problem was, Peter pictured the third party a woman. When Mark shows up with Paula drunken Mary asks to borrow her and the great debate ensues.

The scene transitions were particularly well executed in character, dropping to a dim light with an initial freeze then calm slow casual movement which continued to move the show forward. The soundtrack for the show was almost Charlie Brown styled piano and while subtle, fit perfectly. Notably well done transitions followed Mark and Paula butting heads and the very first with Mary and Peter having sex on the piano. The lighting after this transition scrupulously brought the audience back to the show leaving pause for post-sex satisfaction by back and top lighting both characters while they shared a cigarette before coming up fully once again.

The show was fast paced and crammed a lot into its almost 2 hour running time. The overall tone was almost that of a human drama film like The Shape of Things or Prime, just with way more punch. The show works towards getting to the things that matter, somehow amidst the jaw dropping shock comments, marital disputes and the unhappiness, confusion and boundless spontaneity. A shining start for the basement series which will next feature Paper Bags, Princesses, Puddles ‘n Pigs – Stories by Robert Munch, directed by Sandy Gow from December 11 – 21. c2c is covering all it’s bases with this will be one for the kids just in time for the holiday season, not to be missed!

originally published November 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament citing it was no longer functional, forcing Canadians to polls for the third general election in 4 years. That frustrated a large segment of an unfortunately already apathetic tax-paying population. The picture only seemed to get worse for voters as stock markets crumbled and Harper’s Conservatives government took a machete to arts funding. Bad enough Bill C-10 was a censorship wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing. All this served up inspiration for writer Edward Riche who seemed to be right on the arts community’s pulse when he wrote To Be Loved which debuted from October 10 – 12th at the Rabbittown Theatre just days before the election.

The 40 minute presentation was preceded by a video presentation called F*** The Arts, featuring a series of recognizable artists of every discipline satirically encouraging the funding slashes. The 3 short films were made by Brad Hodder, Neil Butler and Phil Churchil and edited into a more consistent piece for the prelude but are available to watch individually on the FTA group page on Facebook.

Hodder and Butler both starred in To Be Loved as well playing Harper and Stockwell Day respectively. The piece was set in 2040 and opened with Harper in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive with Day dropping by. The set was cluttered and easily recognizable as a home basement but also exaggeratedly peppered with Tim Horton’s paraphernalia. Day referenced the sweater vest Harper had on and they revisited how it was such a good strategy in 2008 joking the two should ‘go in costume’ for appearances, referencing Day in a wetsuit after winning his short-lived leadership. Day suffered more darts with Harper suggesting he was hard to keep on message and that if it was on cards it might have helped him.

Butler portrayed Day in an exuberant light that made him often appear innocently anxious which brought life to the lines that were just blurted out, seemingly without any prior thought. He exclaimed, “I never graduated. What a great country!” going on about his eventual position as Minister of Public Safety while digging through storage boxes for a “hat or sash” and ultimately snapping up with a helmet. He continued that “maybe pre-emotive incarceration” might help fix up the justice system and Harper eventually couldn’t help correcting him after saying “counter thunk” instead of counter intuitive.

The conversation shared by Hodder and Butler was trying to get at what might have triggered the motivation for cutting arts funding. When Day discovered Harper in the basement he was pounding away on a cardboard set of piano keys. Harper explained his teen asthma had precluded him from getting athletic so he opted for piano but the cardboard variety was all he’d got. Day quipped they should “offer a tax credit on cardboard piano’s, for everyone!” A joke referenced again when Harper shared his wife was also leaving him for a jazz musician, from Newfoundland, to which Day inquired “real or cardboard? He wasn’t ABC was he?”

There were other comedic references to the current political climate surrounding a government which will now be in power for at least another few years. The two joked about who had the best hair in cabinet (that went to Maxime Bernier) which led into a cardboard rendition of Canadian rocker Alanis Morrissette’s ballad Ironic. Harper also shared strategy with Day, letting him know that he’d shown Tom Flanagan the whole entire plan on the back on an envelope once.

To Be Loved is smartly written and created around a minimalist set that can be easily created with clutter. Featuring a small cast of two with only a few light changes, it was a great show that was easy to fully take in and appreciate, especially given the timely relevancy. The humour, although somewhat dark at points, didn’t presume a deep familiarity with politics either, instead lampooning campaign issues that were front and centre for the 2008 election but also some fundamental to Conservative Alliance policies. The reminiscing nature of the conversation between the two was somewhat laissez-faire, juxtaposing the opening video, but both unapologetically brought out their message that it is important to be loved and the arts are fundamentally important.

originally published November 2008

“A boat that floats on air has no heart,” Jack (John Dartt) says aboard the Miss Tilley, the rumrunners boat on which the entire play takes place, in the round, for Berni Stapleton’s latest comedic but historically relevant and poignant masterpiece, A Rum for the Money. The show had a long ‘rum’ itself, featured from June to September at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival before a final run in the capitol city.

Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

L-R: Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

The show is about Jack and two other men, Jim (Evan White) and his Uncle Frank (Colin Furlong). Jack and Frank were the seasoned experts of rum running but took Jim, a boat builder who’s afraid of the water, along for his young strength. Their conversations made references to life and culture of Newfoundland – the ‘divide’ of people smoking rollies versus tailor-mades, Hard Buns, “that’s a raisin bun without the raisins,” Tibbo’s store and Foote’s Taxi – not only helping to familiarize an audience with the setting but also the men themselves. The references weren’t overkill; interestingly, women so often wonder what men would say in the place of chick-chat and this seemed to be it.

They shared their stories as a way of allowing one another to get to know them. Though Dartt is from Halifax he can certainly talk like a Newfoundlander. Though the stories it was evident that while they are all quite different and rum running for their own reasons, they were all struggling against something. Uncle Frank is plagued with forcing doubt in his own polished abilities with no cause immediately given. He references his hateful wife but is on the run to afford her “one of them new fangled rotary phones.”

Jim’s reason is a baby on the way with his wife Lizzie whom he’s madly fallen for. Although his excitable and sometimes overactive personality is charming, Lizzie’s patience with him is clear by how he speaks of her. Teaching him to read and write, he shared, she said that “a man can’t be expected to learn all at once ‘cos his head’d get stogged!” Jack’s mission for the money is to move to the big city (St. John’s, not New York) and go out on Saturday, church on Sunday and Bingo on Monday, but the real prize will be his new dentures – “the good kind – the kind that fits your mouth.”

On the voyage back with the rum the three face perils of nature, being ill-prepared and themselves. The set was designed with half a dory cut to be creatively used for the entire show. The old boat’s wood creaked when the actors moved around on it which kicked up the ‘real’ factor. There was an engine aboard for which there was sound when it was being started but once it was ‘running’ the sound cue ended there was a calm silence again. Having a low hum might’ve been monotonous on an audience for as long as it would be needed but a faint sound of water rippling along the boat now and then might have held on to the realism. Vocal tracks leading in and out of the acts were good and a story told in act two by Frank with Jim singing underneath was surprising and beautiful.

Overall the show was very entertaining. The only beat missed was when a cobbled together wooden cross made in the darkest hour tumbled off the boat but it was handled with grace. The full package of ambient blue lighting, punchy and thoughtful script, the set and performances did an excellent job of dramatically telling the stories of three rumrunnin’ men and taking it’s audience back in time for an evening.

originally published August 2008

Donnie Darko Poster

Darko Poster

The 2001 mind bending thriller originally written by Richard Kelly who also directed the blockbuster film has been adapted by Jamie MacDonald, a project he’s been working on for quite some time. The story is set in Middlesex, Virginia back in 1988 and features a sleepwalking socially awkward Donnie who sees hallucinations and possibly borders as a schizophrenic though it’s never diagnosed. Frank, who only appears hidden in a rabbit costume, is Donnie’s imaginary friend who both saves him from a jet engine in his bedroom and warns of the apocalypse at midnight on October 2. Sound sensational? According to MacDonald, his stage version will not disappoint, he’s even got the jet engine to prove it.

For those that have no idea, what’s Donnie Darko all about?
It is about the ambiguity of life, the enlightenment and disorientation that everyone goes through.  It harnesses the harmony of anarchy, the optimism in apathy, and the destiny of chance.  Lost? Come see the show and you’ll understand what I’m saying, but somehow, you still won’t, and neither do I and maybe we’re not supposed too.

Why did you choose this film?
I wanted to do something that everyone would say was impossible and do it in such a way that people wouldn’t know how it was done.  I also wanted to show young people that theatre can actually kick ass.

Was it difficult to differentiate your adaptation from the film?
I feel like it’s not my job to differentiate from the film, just to make it possible and worth doing on stage, without compromising the themes and values of this incredible film.

What makes the “dark night” performances different?
Something tells me that it will be the audience that makes the difference in the ‘dark night’ shows (laughs). Truthfully though, the ‘dark night’ shows are less about what time they start, and more so about the time of night it will end. True Donnie Darko fans will know what time is significant to the movie, the time when all the chaos begins.

Sensational special effects – what can people expect?
An elaborate sound design which will blow people’s socks off and musical score that pays homage to the movie, without just straight up copying it. Film projections with digital enhancement that interacts directly with the actors as well as our UV light creations that I won’t divulge (it’s the ace up our sleeve). A full size jet engine that is more than just a jet engine; I’ve said too much already!

How big is the cast?
I believe it is 36 people, 22 leads and 14 people in the extra roles.  This doesn’t include backstage or promotions so our grand total of folks helping out may be around 50 or so.

Were there blocks omitted from the film either for personal choice or because of known challenges translating them for stage?
We have faced all the challenges that Donnie Darko presents head on!  We have bridged certain characters into one but pretty much all the classic dialogue is there, as well as extending certain scenes that we would’ve loved to hear in the movie. Some scenes that take place in the same location have been [blended] together (hopefully seamlessly). For example, the audience gets one 5 minute scene, which in the movie were five one minute scenes.

What are some of the highlights of the show and people to watch out for?
Things that fly, morph, glow, float and go bump in the night.

How to check it out?

Call Holy Heart Theatre at 579 4424 for tickets. Show nights are August 28-30. Regular start time is 8pm, plus Friday and Saturday have the “dark night” performances at 10:30pm.

S. Darko Poster

S. Darko Poster

Film Follow Up
For Donnie Darko fans who’ve hoped for more, a sequel for which Fox has already acquired North American distribution for is in the works and titled S. Darko. Being made for $10 million, Donnie will not return however Daveigh Chase will reprise as Samantha Darko, the story now focusing on her. This time Richard Kelly isn’t involved having said he never wanted a sequel to maintain the integrity of the original. The sequel will be directed by Chris Fisher who “hopes to create a similar world of blurred fantasy and reality.”

The initial plan had been to review No Exit, as that was a theatre script that was familiar, it would’ve been interesting to see how it was translated through modern dance. Opting to attend the performance of Nora Chipaumire was certainly no second prize though. Her one woman show called Chimurenga, meaning ‘struggle’ was, in a word, fantastic. It had the ability to transport an audience from St. John’s, Newfoundland to small and untouched corners of nature in Africa.

The show is a three part presentation with an incredibly dynamic soundscape that is a clash of nature, “civilized” modernity, and cultural expression. Even the stage was designed beautifully. Chipaumire started stage left between two small piles of rocks, the three of them framed in a rhombus of light. Behind her, up stage right, was a delightful mobile of different shapes and sizes of handmade African bowls, with one sitting on the stage next to the massive cluster. For the majority of the first act, a video projection from Californian composer and filmmaker Alex Potts lit up the black brick wall behind the art piece representing African culture like an elephant in the theatre. This juxtaposition is what ultimately communicated what the show was going to be about.

Nora Chipaumire in Chimurenga

Nora Chipaumire in Chimurenga

Chipaumire was born in Mutare, the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe – boasting only a few thousand more then St. John’s. She now lives in self-exile as a result of the war and second revolution that she was born into and Chimurenga is an unapologetic and assertive expression of what life was like, what was lost, and cultural preservation. It was a privilege to be taken to Africa with Chipaumire on a journey that showed raw personal struggle and protection of identity in a world where the technological pace towards modernity is sometimes crushing.

Most of the movements throughout the first act were circular and repetitious, but presented almost in a choral round. She would swing her arm left to right in front of her then pull and rub the fabric of her shirt on the right side. It was almost like she was perhaps washing clothes in the Mutare River. She mixed this in with glimpses of an African dance she would later show to the audience in its entirety. At one point in the first act under dimmer lighting, Chipaumire knelt down to the small pile of rocks and moved them around frantically, running her hands through them then stacking them up and allowing their clamour to contribute to the African drums and sounds.

Bridging into the second act she sang in a native language that instantly brought the Métisse song Boom Boom Ba to mind, mainly because that too has African lyrics and let’s face it, it’s not a language often heard – but it was so beautiful. Chipaumire not only sang through a blackout, she did so while changing on stage. The first act saw her in a top and pants style outfit and she was in a dress for both the second and third acts, though the colour changed from black to red during her second change.

The second act of the show was the conflict, the soundscape introduced a modern song with rapped lyrics and dance movements became sharper, harder, even aggressive. Chipaumire at one point stood on one leg and put the other directly up in the air and moved her arms as if she was running. The perspective was like a bird’s eye view, looking down at her below. When the intense movement stopped, she stood down close to the audience and cried out that she was a child of trauma, a child of repression, and a child of revolution among many other things. Then she broke out in to the chorus of the African dance, showing a little more of it this time, literally as well as she’d pulled down her dress and was bearing her chest, bearing her soul.

The final act left the chaos behind and the stage was lit with nature gobo’s, splashing leaves and light through the tree tops onto the stage. Chipaumire went to retrieve the bowl and held it on her head in a blood red dress. The mood that she was communicating through movements was completely opposite to what had been seen prior. In this act she performed a dance that seemed a little familiar. It only became obvious when she reached a point in the dance that she’d shown the audience a glimpse of before. The performance had a superb and beautiful crescendo that was very enjoyable to sit back and watch as the story unfolded. It was clear that so much thought had been invested into the performance that represented triumph and survival in more ways then one.

Before taking in Nan Loves Jerry there’d been cautioning as the first night was ‘just a preview’. Preview or not Sherry White and Sue Kent have put together a terrifically entertaining presentation. The show struck a delicate balance between tongue in cheek humour with moments that almost seemed raw and delicate.

Sue Kent as Jerry

Sue Kent as Jerry

Nan Loves Jerry is a one person show that’s both written and performed by Kent. The initial character, Jerry, is the one that anchors the show and is by far the more publicly recognizable of the two. In fact, there was no expectation to see anyone other then Jerry, though that was quickly dispelled when lights went up revealing a bed with none other then Nan herself in it. Although “Nan” was only physically present three times, her character is who ultimately lent weight to the plotline.

First introduction to Kent and Jerry was through a short video Kent had made with director Jordan Canning when the ideas for a full script were still nothing more then conceptual. The video was entertaining in its own right but seemed to lack the depth needed for a full show. A second presumption quickly destroyed as it was so easy to laugh and listen to Nan as if she was family. She brought up her own values in a tidy bundle, clearly important to her as they were listed a good three or four times when the moment invited her to do so, even with slightest opportunity. They showed a younger side, even in her aged wisdom. Kent delivered Nan’s values as though they were meant to be adhered to but also with the slightest uncertainty and variation each time so it was questionable as to whether she herself followed them.

It makes sense to look at Jerry and understand why he is the way that he is. Kent’s worked hard to show that people are products of their environments. But more touching is how she’s demonstrated that it’s possible to find emotional profundity within people typically dismissed casually by general society. Jerry is abrasive, rude, and vulgar in many ways at many times. But it seems Kent has written the show with ‘excess’ in mind, an accessory in her execution of comedy.

Even though Jerry is less then colloquial when speaking about women and hardly graceful about how he goes after ‘Brown Eyes’ (a young woman whom he tries to woo in his spare time away from Nan’s errands for bananas). A scene comes to mind with Jerry hovering over a series of five or so cordless phones in Nan’s bathroom, trying to rotate handsets to call her so as to seem a little less compulsive. Jerry’s actions aren’t always the best thought out plans but more precious were the seconds where his motivations for doing so shone through almost defensively.

Nan Loves Jerry was pensively creative and made full use of a completely stripped stage space. The legs and all curtains had been removed and the full black space was turned into an imaginative playground. Kent pulled on just enough to set a room’s tone and left creating the rest of the space up to the audience. The creation of the bathtub scene was brilliant, using the old cot style bed to double as the tub draped in white fabric with a portable very classic 360 degree chrome shower curtain stand. Kent then climbed on top of the bed and poked through the curtains as Nan.

While this was an invariably creative way to create the tub space, Kent then led into a conversation between Nan and Jerry. She stood on the bed to poke out over the top of the curtain, becoming Jerry in the shower. Understandably, the dialogue between the two moved too quickly for her to have gone from standing in the shower as Jerry to poking out through the curtains again as Nan. So the solution was to just look left for Nan speaking and right for Jerry. The profile approach did work very well, but it seemed like the setting should have changed to accommodate that part. This is probably a fair place to also admit that taking in Nan Loves Jerry was a first time experience at a one-person show; and there was an effort to keep reminded of that fact.

It would be unfair to not give a nod to the fantastic lighting design as well. It was nothing extraordinary, but again, creative approaches to making the space work and encouraging the audience to envisage their own familiar reality, or in a personal case, the various settings from the YouTube short as they seemed to fit easily enough. The lighting was framed to form boarders and blocks on the stage that created doors, which worked particularly well for the many times Jerry was buzzed in (often after 11pm much to Nan’s chagrin).

The highlight for many though was likely the first of three times Jerry picked up his bicycle with almost celebrity audience appeal. Before switching from Nan to Jerry, after trading in the bright pink fuzzy house coat for Jerry’s signature blue windbreaker suit, Kent unapologetically turned around to face the audience, sharply putting on a mascara moustache with two confidant strokes. It takes guts to bare all and perform personal work on stage and while Nan Loves Jerry may not be flawless, it was performed extremely well, showing Kent’s incredible diversity as an actor.

originally published May 2008

With more then a dozen of the arts scene’s finest fused together, hailing from a variety of disciplines, newfoundlandartistx (N.A.X.) created one of the most entertaining nights of original theatre to be experienced in St. John’s in a while. Part way through the show the realization came that it was already one of those memorable shows you feel you can relive in your head whenever you’d like. 5 Very Short New Plays in a Tub lived up to its name, both literal and critical. Lois Brown is the Artistic Director of N.A.X. and also one of the four writers that came together to make the production come to life.

Brown was joined by all-stars Robert Chafe, Mary Walsh, and Lynn Panting to ink the words for Sue Kent, Philip Winters, Dave Sullivan, Ruth Lawrence, Kira Sheppard, and Aiden Flynn (in order of appearance). As the name of the series suggests, every one of the five shorts took place in the bathroom, either immediately or eventually incorporating the luxurious spa tub full of water into the scene.

Gloria written by Chafe and directed by Brown featured a stunning performance by Kent who started the scene “a little over dressed for the tub” in an ardent red dress. Opposite her was Winters who shared a rather implied in-depth conversation to ensure Gloria was “ok,” leaving a guessing audience to try and sleuth out the situation. All the while, Winters’ character was left struggling with trying to deflect and lighten her mood with short comedic quips.

Because they couldn’t have bubbles in the tub for the opening number, the first of four somewhat lengthily scene changes started. Although the first was the longest, the crew executed a stellar distraction and got some willing audience members out of their seats and up to their elbows to shake up the suds.

5 Plays in a Tub

5 Plays in a Tub

Up next was Walsh’s contribution as directed by Amy House called Introducing Romanticism, which abrasively shattered the more somber tone of the prior scene. It featured a ‘present’ and ‘past’ setup with Lawrence in the tub recounting a confrontation. She had signature Walsh sarcasm in her lines which offered relief from the loud and drunken memory being played out behind her. Impressive was that with little eye contact Lawrence delivered lines in sync with her character’s younger-self portrayed by Sheppard.

The ‘very short’ short that probably had the most meat on its bones was Leona and Ruth written by Brown, directed by Roger Maunder. It told a story that left an audience wanting more. More back story and a deeper background of how Leona had come to share this conversation over, her caregiver, Ruth’s bath. It recalled childhood memories with Leona now telling stories to Ruth while parting the bubbles and dropping a homemade and quite symbolic raft made of popsicle sticks into the tub.

Both of the last two shorts could have served as the final piece in the line up. Whichever one was chosen, however, would drastically effect the audience’s final impressions. Two Witnesses which was written by Panting and directed by Nicole Rousseau featured a take on the apocalypse and opposing emotional approaches. Sullivan’s skittish character appeared with Lawrence’s more accepting and go-with-the-flow nature. She was prepared and ready for the end, in the tub (conceivably to stay warmer) with a party dress on and offered Sullivan his top hat with invitation to join her.

Death Would Be a Relief completed the evening and featured Flynn’s only appearance with Kent’s fourth for the night and Sullivan for his third. This, serving as the final piece, allowed the audience to leave with an amusing and charming scene that eventually went over the top. It worked though once the satiric observational comedy had enough time to compound upon itself.

It was an incredibly satisfying way to spend an evening with bite-sized pieces that were easy to digest and didn’t convolute themselves. It was easy to leave not only with a new play to revisit in my imagination but also plenty of great personal bath time memories revisited. The show made me realize how pensive and memorable that place can be. In fact I’d always said it was where I went to clear my head but perhaps all this time I’ve just been organizing it better and filling it up with more thoughts.

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June 2017
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