The Neanderthal Arts Festival

Dates and Venues 21 July - 1 August 2010 | The Cultch Historic Theatre & Cultch Rehearsal Hall

Architect Theatre's Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show

Dates and Venue 28 July - 1 August @ 10pm| The Cultch Historic Theatre, Vancouver

Reviewer Robyn Thomas

At times comical, at times touching, the play reveals the mysterious Fort McMurray from the perspective of the residents themselves. An Albertan town that thrives on oil sands, Fort Mac births many negative stereotypes. The play shares the message that this “boom town” is filled with people just like us, who care about the environment and each other.

The story begins with a Newfoundlander, played hilariously by Greg Gale, who is there to reap the economic riches and have a bit of fun while he’s at it. He moves in with a sincere and somewhat timid young scientist who is attempting to deal with the environmental repercussions of the oil sands. Both fall in love with Mary, a spirited girl who can’t wait to fly off to Toronto to pursue a career in dance. Amid the political, economic and environmental concerns, the heart of the play centers on the love triangle between the three. Tender, awkward and often drunken moments will have the audience blushing along with them.

Part of the play’s success rests in its simplicity and tight pacing. A barren stage with only a table and three chairs, the three actors flow seamlessly between different characters. Each have their own accent and physical transformation. The necessary expositional moments are balanced with drunken romances and the occasional karaoke or guitar scene.

Easy as it is to condemn and stereotype the residents of Fort Mac as coke heads and red necks, the play focuses on the humanity of those who depend on the oil sands for work. Much of the play is based on portraits of various residents who are hard working and honest. Although the goings on of Fort McMurray are incredibly socially relevant, the story of Alberta Oil sands isn’t exactly an easy premise to sell. Due to its unique, comical and touching portrayal, Highway 63: The Fort Mac show succeeds in enlightening as well as entertaining.

© 2010 Robyn Thomas

Spectral Theatre's Hanging Judge

Dates and Venue 28 July - 1 August @ 10pm| The Cultch Historic Theatre, Vancouver

Reviewer Cassie Silva

I always go into Opening Night of a World Premiere performance with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Of course, one expects a reasonable amount of lighting goofs and sound blunders and the occasional line slip, as the cast and crew learn to roll with audience reactions to their lines and determine which cues need to be tweaked for the next night’s performance.

It’s equally exciting to see how an audience reacts to a play the first time it is performed; as they enter the auditorium with zero expectations, not knowing what they are about to experience. “Hanging Judge”, the brainchild of local playwright Andrey Summers, greeted the world with a similar effect as baby Pubert must have had on parents Gomez and Morticia Addams…the first lucky enough to lay eyes on it were in awe of this new baby’s greatness, yet slightly creeped out at the same time.

I tore my eyes away from the stage momentarily to see how my fellow audience members were enjoying the show, and saw that they were each staring at the action with expressions of bewildered glee - likely similar to my own.

Entering the Cultch’s Historic Theatre to the eerie pre-show music was like stepping into a surreal music box world. The music automatically set the tone for what was about to transpire, and the intimate old-fashioned theatre was the perfect setting for such a show. One brave soul was seated alone in the balcony, something I wasn’t nearly brave enough to attempt as coyotes howled and crickets chirped in the shadowy graveyard setting.

The play takes place in 19th century London and essentially revolves around two flesh-eating trolls pondering whether or not to consume their latest catch. The cleverly written play explores topics like morality, prejudice, and judgement, and asks the ultimate question: How do we measure the worth of a person?

The acting was top-notch, with Kevin Stark masterfully portraying the wise troll Chantecler and Michael Cope bringing a surprising amount of life into the role of a decaying corpse. Aslam Husain especially stood out as the hungry yet humorous troll Blemish, a comedic character who reminded me a bit of Gollum from Lord of the Rings – once even referring to his prey as “Precious”.

Mike Li had the tough job of being onstage for a full ten-minutes before uttering his first line but more than made up for his lack of initial dialogue with his physical character. I appreciated the directorial decision to allow the actors to play multiple roles without the cumbersome task of costume changes. You wouldn’t expect that an actor dressed as a troll could pull off a serious scene as a different human character, but the actors pulled the feat off believably and the audience’s belief was suspended enough to become engrossed in each new scene. Perhaps the highlight of the show was a mesmerizing scene where Cope, the judge, played two characters conversing with one another at the same time.

The production is chock-full of dark humour and irony, with a slight Tim-Burtonesque feel to it. I would definitely recommend that Neanderthal Arts Festival goers add this show to their list of must-see’s. Written and directed by Summers, the show is produced by Vancouver-based Spectral Theatre, a company that dedicates itself to producing “dynamic theatrical works which awaken the imagination and challenge the mind”. “Hanging Judge” certainly fits the bill.

© 2010 Cassie Silva


Mi Casa Theatre's Countries Shaped Like Stars

Dates and Venue 28 July - 1 August | The Cultch Rehearsal Hall, Vancouver

Reviewer Stephanie Dodd

If you like your theatre short, sweet, and interactive, Countries Shaped Like Stars makes for an entertaining place to start. Directed by Patrick Gauthier, Countries is a two-player piece starring its creators, Emily Pearlman and Nick Di Gaetano, as Gwendolyn Magnificent and Bartholomew Spectacular, a couple of shy, lonely, and rather awkward people who meet and are mutually smitten at a Sunday market.

The story takes place some time in the past, “when countries were shaped like stars,” as we are told several times. In their strange, star-shaped land, we follow Gwendolyn and Bartholomew through their courtship, carried along not only by the action, but also by their personal narration and expository singing.

That’s right, folks -- it’s also something of a musical. (CDs of the soundtrack are available in the lobby.) Actually, there’s a little something here for fans of a few genres. Countries Shaped Like Stars is a love story as well as a quirky comedy. Indeed, there is quirk here to spare. If a bit of melancholy drama is more your cup of tea, well, there’s some of that too. And if, by some strange chance, you were looking for a play where the characters dole out cookies to the audience, then look no further.

In all honesty, my initial reaction to what I was seeing was that it was exceptionally strange. I still think that’s an accurate description. But as the hour (less than, actually) progressed, the adjective that took over for me was “charming,” and that would be down to the leads. Both Pearlman and Di Gaetano are clearly having a lot of fun on that stage. They show energy and enthusiasm with every word and movement, and it is nearly impossible to avoid letting them drag you into sharing that exuberance.

As Bartholomew, Di Gaetano is both witty and manic, playing his little heart out on his mandolin and providing most of the play’s comedic moments. It is Pearlman as Gwendolyn, however, who absolutely shines. In her wacky dress and knee-high socks, this gal positively drips with charm, and every expression that crosses her face renders description of her emotions unnecessary.

The theatre space itself is tiny, and this is fully taken advantage of by the even tinier cast. The audience is kept close to the action, and is brought into the story not only through the engaging plot and interaction with the actors, but also through simple proximity.

As a whole, Countries Shaped Like Stars is a sweet and unique show. Strong leads with a keen sense of fun keep it a fast-moving and enjoyable watch.

© 2010 Stephanie Dodd

4-H Club

In this Genus Theatre production, playwright Frano Marsic comes up with his comedic version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with a dysfunctional quartet of Death, Famine, War and Pestilence barging their way through history. Desperate to rehabilitate their image and trying to bring about the end of the world, the foursome face their biggest challenge: they can't get along with each other.

This was a highly entertaining show, fast-paced, with 14 characters playing different roles. The audience as well as the actors seemed to have fun with the petty non-sensical and absurd antics of the members of the the 4H Club. Good acting and a good play!

Kudos to director Heather Doerksen, playwright Frano Marsic (who also plays the role of Famine), and dramaurgists Victor Mariano and Kelly Sheridan (playing the role of War). The play is based on an original 15 minute work created and performed for a 48 hour theatre festival by Kristian Ayre, Jordan Bodiguel, Frano Marsic, Aidan Maxted, Frank Nickel and Kelly Sheridan. EF


I congratulated Jessie award-winner director David Bloom at the end of the show and he commented that he was lucky he found these highly professional actors. In his play, dramatist Martin Gover mixes magic surrealism with today's hardcore issues of "freemarket" libertarianism.

The plot is about Peter (Josh Drebit) who has had an experience in Nigeria -- perhaps magic, and now is back in Canada and relates his experience to the uber-capitalist Kris (Quelemia Sparrow), the global opportunist taking advantage of the economic woes of third world countries.

Then there's Joan (Jody-Kay Marklew), Peter's former lover and now married to another capitalist, Sebastian, a friend of Peter, wanting out from her marriage because she now has her husband's money.

The intimate staging at the Cultch Lab Theatre was well-done, with the audience on both sides of the stage. Bloom is well-known for his innovative direction. I reviewed a show last year he did for New World Theatre.

Congrats to Nigeria Project's cast (Great acting! ) and crew, particularly for the high-quality sound and light effects by Kevin Loring and stage management by Sebastian Kroon.EF

Tiny Replicas

Thirty Below Theatre's production of Dave Deveau's play deals with today's gay issues. Gay lovers Simon (Nicholas Carella) and Ethan (Sean Hewlett) want a baby. Unfortunately, neither of them has a womb. So Simon asks his "dyke" friend Dayna (Marlene Ginader) to donate her "eggs" and with his sperm, asks Audrey (Julie McIsaac) to be the surrogate mother. Ethan feels left out, and Simon goes to his wealthy best friend Jude (Greg Armstrong-Morris) for help. Apparently, Jude is in love with Simon.

The acting of this play is high-class, as most of these actors are CAEA professionals. The only thing that bothered me was that there was too much smooching and kissing between Simon and Ethan. I noticed some members of the audience feeling uneasy with this.

However, this was a good play as it touched on gay issues and governmental policies regarding gays raising children here in Canada. On the one hand, you have the anti-gay attitude of Christians, and on the other, the government that is liberal about gay marriage and gay families.EF

© 2010 Ed Farolan