BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR
Written by John Gray
Directed by John Gray and Eric Peterson
Presented by The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company
Plays Nov 16th - Dec 12th
Tickets 873-3311 - 280-3311
Eric Peterson showcases handbag of many talents.
by Frank C. Scott
It is befitting that Eric Peterson, a modern day 'Made in Canada' legend of stage and screen would steal the show about a 'Made in Canada' legendary war hero. To fully appreciate the value of Billy Bishop Goes To War, one must first understand our colonial and cultural heritage. Only then can you see the complete nationalistic significance this play contains and how it helps define our Canadian identity, or lack of it.
Back in the 1970s when Canada was first experiencing the growing pains of an independent nation, and governments screamed nationalism as a smoke screen for soaring inflation, high taxation and budget cuts, a group of talented Canadian writers emerged with a post-hippie style of musical theatre. These writers, including John Gray and Eric Peterson, creators of Billy Bishop, answered the call; they came to the charge and provided Canadians with a truly Canadian view of our colonial heritage, and helped create a nationalistic form of English- speaking Canada.
While Billy Bishop Goes To War captures a colourful piece of our Canadian colonial history, it also captures a piece of our modern day cultural history and our cry for a Canadian identity. But that is where the ambiguity lies. In reality, through no fault of its own, the play has become the victim of its own message.
Just like Billy Bishop is left to fight the Hun with no gun but only hand -held bombs, and still comes out on top a hero, so too does this stage production with only two performers and a piano. As beautifully as this production is done, as eloquently as Eric and John captivate their audience, lift them up, set them down, hold them in their hands, lead them to a standing ovation, it needs something more. It worked beautifully in the 70s, but today in the 90s, it lacks luster and cries for give-me-more. Just like our modern day war hero's soar across the skies in high-tech machines at super-sonic speeds, so too does our theatre community need to soar across the stage with big budget productions and fully orchestrated musical scores. Only then will our Canadian Theatres continue to act as a window for our talent pool to show the world our national values and heritage.
I say this not as slight to the cast, crew, or directors of Billy Bishop Goes To War, or even The Vancouver Playhouse, particularly The Vancouver Playhouse, as they are a dedicated group to developing Canadian material and talent, but rather as a wakeup call to corporate sponsors, and governments. In short boys and girls open your pockets and give more money that's the only way it's done, plain and simple.
For those of you who have not seen a past Billy Bishop Goes To War production, go see this one it's worth it. It's an older, wiser version that represents the show's 20th Anniversary, with Vancouver being its second stop on a Canadian tour. The Playhouse first produced Billy Bishop back in 1982, and it originally premiered at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in 1978. Since then, it has been seen in over 50 cities, played to more than 350,000 people and received awards in Canada, the United States and Britain. In this current production, Eric Peterson is a chameleon of sorts with his character changes, a veritable grab bag of multi-talent that joyfully picks you up and playfully holds you until final curtain call.
When it looked like artistic director Judith Marcuse couldn't come up with the needed funds to present The Kiss Project this year, along came her friend and philanthropist Mohammed Faris to save the day. Many thanks must go to this generous man for it would have been a cultural calamity for Vancouver if this wonderful and highly creative dance project hadn't come about.
Who says Canadians are apathetic? Certainly not the full house at Performance Works! The boisterous and appreciative audience at Friday's show was a testament to the great love many people have for the art of dance in this city. Some of the audience, with their lithe frames and slim hips were obviously dancers. The rest of us certainly wished we were by the end of the night. I was pleased to see several of the tap dancers were nicely rounded, not anorexic.
Copyright 1998 Frank C. Scott