September 1, 2014

Cast and Crew of Much Ado, ‘I thank you for your pains’ by Kimberley Johnston

William Shakespeare would have been proud to partake in his 450th birthday celebration from the cast and crew of Much Ado About Nothing in Robert Cotton Park this summer.

This is the third foray into Shakespeare in Stratford by ACT (a community theatre) and they have most assuredly risen to the occasion. Director Richard Haines has been involved as an actor in ACT’s Shakespearean efforts for three straight seasons but this is the first time he’s spear-headed a piece by the Bard. The cast and crew’s loyalty to Haines was evident this past Thursday as they subjected themselves to merciless mosquitoes, possible sudden downpours, and performing a lot of hilarious physical comedy in wet grass and mossy trees.

Despite their own plights, the intrepid troupe seemed quite concerned about the comfort of the audience, supplying mosquito repellent and golf cart transportation to those with mobility issues who could not walk from scene to scene.

I wish I could point out each actor individually but suffice it to say every link in the chain pulled its weight. Adam Gauthier and Olivia Barnes were delightful as Benedick and Beatrice, who swear against marriage but find themselves happily entangled at the end. Alexandra McDonald and Patrick Jeffrey are adorable as Hero and Claudio, who represent the more idealistic side of love. A newcomer to ACT, Jeffrey was the breakout star in Thursday’s performance. His intensity and skill held me spellbound and even the foreboding grey clouds seemed under his control. A cold rain made an appearance only once that night, during Claudio’s mourning scene at Hero’s memorial site. It was strangely fitting.

Father and son Tim and Danny Wartman did not disappoint as my favourite Shakesperean characters, the hapless watchmen Dogberry and Verges.

I was quite sympathetic to Leonato, played by Terry Pratt, even after he told his daughter Hero to die when her virtue is brought into question. That is the sign of a talented actor giving a nuanced performance.

Just a note about the white gazebo scene, if you find yourself directly in front of Conrade, played by Haines, have an umbrella onhand no matter what the weather.

You can still catch Much Ado About Nothing on Monday Sept. 1 for a Labour Day matinee at 2 pm. I highly recommend that you do, rain or shine.

August 28, 2014

“Eat Your Heart Out Rob Ford” A Tall Hat Chronicles review by PL Holden

By now almost everyone is well aware of Rob Ford’s “questionable” antics, but once upon a time before cameras rolled there was a whole other level of buffoonery where lewd behavior in the political arena was the norm and this summer in the very Cradle of Confederation it is finally celebrated in this outrageous comedy.

In a brilliantly Moo-rific time-travelling scheme to change the world as they know it, Alicia Altas (known for her script-writing abilities from Feast Dinner Theatres & PEI Love Story) puts her deep-rooted relationship on hold to travel with a screwy robot with a mind of it’s own named C.H.U.B.B.Y. & lands in the midst of an interrupted duel in the pivotal year of 1864.

From the moment the stage lit up to a bunch of passed out politicians and a circus strongman who were coming to & trying to figure out exactly what happened after an apparently colossal night of  crazy drinking this show was absolutely LOADED with laughter. With many quick wardrobe changes this group of 5 Island comedians played a total of at least 20 characters and even treated the audience to a spirited musical interlude!

In a two and a half hour epic masterpiece of nitwittedness that featured alumni from The Guild’s gems of seasons past like Sketch 22 & The Popalopalots, it was a bit of a reunion for some of Charlottetown’s funniest. A few of my favorite moments included a clever video intro, Lenny MacPherson playing that cocky, conniving, bad-ass Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, Josh Weale tripping out on Darwinism as Premier John Hamilton Gray, Rob MacDonald (also director & musical composer) leading a big ol’ 19th century snorting session as William MacDougall, & of course, Graham Putnam’s hilarious versatility showcase with a great many unique impressions, I especially enjoyed his portrayal of the Honourable D’Arcy McGee ruffling many feathers with his poetic put-downs.

There are a lot of 2014 Celebrations going on around Charlottetown these days, many of them free, but if you’re looking for edgy original comedy in an alcoholic haze that makes no apologies there is no better place to find it than The Guild on Wednesdays & Saturdays until October 4th.

August 26, 2014

 “Story: A Closing Night Review” by PL Holden

I usually try to get to the opening night but Story, however, was a different story. I made it to The Guild just in time for the final showing and was very curious to see what this Island original was all about.

After a great introduction by Producer David MacDonald (Paper Lions bandmate of Director Colin Buchanan) who paid homage to the people who made this show possible the show was set to begin. Leading things off, Mike Walker who played the personification of Story was like a ring leader from the circus. He was fantastic at drawing in the audience with his magical presence. He weaved tales about the elements & importance of story. So graceful & animated in his discourse, he did a great job reminding the audience about what makes a story a story and how many of us have lost that connection since the radio and all of its electronic descendants have become part of our lives.

Alan Buchanan & Hank Stinson were the chief story-tellers. These two good-natured, everyday old-timers gave us a great selection of rural PEI tales and the coincidental connections which showed how one person’s story might not necessarily be just theirs alone no matter what corner of the world it supposedly originated. I particularly enjoyed the exchange between Alan and Hank as they displayed a wonderful course on the art of conversion over tea while chatting about funerals.

The musicians, who told stories just as well as the old pros, were in fine form as well. Dylan Menzie, who can be found playing in Charlottetown venues regularly demonstrated how talented he was with great singing, guitar playing and drumming (all at the same time), folk-singer Ashley Condon shared some deeply personal songs which totally captivated the audience, and Brad Fremlin provided some great accompaniment on keys.

The Island was well represented at The Guild in this production, providing excellent entertainment & getting great attendance all summer. This performance was driven by storytelling and song, which alternated, even crossing over between each other at times. Some of my favorite moments included stories of the days when the Ferry was the only way off the Island (and even further back), Hank’s telling of some very interesting ghost stories, & a splendid 3-story rotation as Alan told of a slow-talking Wood Islands Liberal politician, Hank of a witty rural Minister & Ashley of a unique lady named Evelyn Christopher who held on to the old ways her whole life without ever giving in to modern technology.

The charisma of this cast definitely had an impact! I found myself getting very inspired throughout the show to incorporate more story-telling into my life. I’m hoping this one will return to the stage next year, all I can do is cross my fingers & wait. If it does come back & you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out. Writers David Weale and Colin Buchanan have definitely put something special together that has no doubt has touched many hearts during its run with memories, laughter, and great music.

August 8, 2014

Island Fringe Festival Reviews

The 2014 Island Fringe Festival is here with 8 awesome shows by local and international performers in some great Downtown Venues. Here’s are some reviews from the Opening Night… 

Bra-vo  A Review of Laura K. Bird’s  “Busted” by PL Holden

Along with a hypnotic soundtrack & projections of old pictures at a full house at Marc’s Lounge, Laura K. Bird shares some childhood recollections about dreams of ending up with big breasts.

Getting the invite to review this show made me debate whether I should opt out since I was guessing I’d feel a little out of place.  As a man, I have to admit the topic of this show made me wonder if I’d be comfortable sitting through a discourse normally reserved for a woman to woman conversation. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only guy there & I didn’t end up feeling embarrassed by the subject matter either.

In a chronological bra-nologue, the audience was given an honest, straight out, unabridged recital about the trials and tribulations of having breasts from teens to adulthood to motherhood & beyond. Laura proudly shared the laughs and heartaches of issues like how it feels to be developing faster than the others at school, being stared at by older men & some first-hand disclosures about bra shopping.

I was speaking with Director Kimberley Johnston after the show about how it is so impressive that Laura can reel off such a personal monologue to a room full of people she mostly doesn’t know and on top of that, deliver it in a profoundly funny & expressive way! Busted really makes the audience think (especially the men in particular I suspect) about how women feel about being objectified so much in the media and helps dispel the myth that women with large breasts are to be envied.

Gerard Harris Runs the Show At “Verbal Diarrhea”

In a delightfully unique British accent Gerard Harris gives a very funny intro  at Merchant Man Next Door about the ground rules on what he is about to deliver. It was apparent that we were about to witness a rhetorical cocktail of the pro’s & con’s of diarrhea with the art of story telling.

Verbal Diarrhea, much like Busted was a shameless recount of childhood. It may seem that this one is geared towards an all-male audience looking for some immature, push the envelope stand-up grossness, but surprisingly the audience was mostly female & the subject matter was, although immature at times, relatable to both sexes and not (although including profanity) offensive to the point of making anyone seem uncomfortable.

Besides that fact that Gerard has seen much more of the world than I, it was easy for me to relate to a lot of his situations including his search for inner peace, starting over in his mid-thirties after a divorce, and a love of writing. A rough entrance to the world, an underdog from day 1, he’s seen some big heights & walked some low valleys for sure. There are some deep thoughts from the silly to the serendipitous & deeply personal matters that would be difficult for anyone to share in public.

I learned much about how to weave a narrative from the heart of a true storyteller with a rawness that goes largely unseen. Believe it or not, this is a Fringe performance you can definitely take a date to. Gerard Harris is a class act & we’re pretty lucky to have him performing in Charlottetown 3 more times this weekend! Check out his blog at

Also Playing…

I had the pleasure of seeing In the Telling at Rochford Square & although time didn’t allow me to write a full review, in a nutshell it was magically delicious outdoor theatre with Sorcery, Spirits, & Song in a Shakespearean style by a very talented 4 woman troupe called  Vile Passéist Theatre. I’m  forward to seeing In Denial at The Island Dance Academy written & performed by Rachel Resnik. There are a few other ones out there to check out called Celtic Feet, Happy, The Art of Posing, & Allly & Emma. Here’s the schedule link… Check some performances out & Enjoy!

Letting Out Scribbling Skeletons: The Island Fringe Festival Opener by Cindy Lapeña

What was supposed to be a 2-hour evening stretched out to nearly 3 full hours as an appreciative audience applauded one reader after another at the opening show for the 2014 Island Fringe Festival. Marc’s Lounge on Sydney St. was filled to bursting by the time the show began. True to its advertising, Scribbler Skeletons brought forth some well-preserved diaries, scribblers, and school papers that selected Islanders and Island Fringers had unearthed from the closets where they kept their skeletons. The audience was regaled with a couple of ‘Dear Diary’ running stories of unrequited love, several sophomoric poems, amusing journal entries, and quite a few school writing assignments.

If I enjoyed the evening and found so much of it entertaining and priceless, I can only imagine how much more hysterically funny it was to those who grew up with the readers, knew them personally, or  had seen them growing up. As a teacher, I wonder how many of my students have kept all their journals, how many kept diaries, and how many more dabbled in out-of-class writing that they have preserved.

I must congratulate the Island Fringe Team, of whom three-fourths (unless I didn’t quite hear the fourth one, in which case I owe apologies to her) also shared some sophomoric writing that was very well-received: Festival Director Sarah Segal-Lazar, Festival Coordinator Megan Stewart, Volunteer Coordinator Andy Reddin, and Assistant Volunteer Coordinator Emma Russell Louder.  I’m looking forward to attending another one (or two, or more!) by the time this weekend is over.

I know that, at quite a few points in my life, I was so sure I did not want any of my earlier scribblings ever to surface later in life because they already embarrassed me then–what more when I was grown up and quite possibly famous (which has always been a dream and still is)? That brought about a moment when (horror of horrors!) I burnt two full notebooks (not just your 30-leaf scribblers, mind you, but those thick 100-leaf red-and-blue lined notebooks) of poetry I had written until I was 10 years old. I had locked myself in the bathroom with a box of matches to complete the dastardly deed. Another time saw me methodically and meticulously shredding to bits (by hand, mind you) my grade school diaries–or at least those pages that had entries in them. I thought that they could still be put to good use because the entries were so sporadic and some quite far between. I might have completely obliterated a few other incriminating pieces of evidence that would, I’m sure, bring about a lot of cringing and embarrassing laughter–mostly from myself–if any of it got out. I’m certain there are some things I can still dredge up somewhere–I’ve kept most of my poetry since 7th grade–that will be amusingly entertaining if not worthy of a few laughs at next year’s Island Fringe Festival!

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