July 17, 2016

“The Glass Menagerie: A Prism for your Soul” by Kimberley Johnston and PL Holden

TGM 2016

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is 1,000 points of light being refracted into a kaleidoscope of emotion. It will give you many feelings, big and small.  You may have feelings that you don’t know where they come from and you possibly never will. The performances are so raw they will reach you on a cellular level instead of an emotional one. Basically, The Glass Menagerie may break your heart into a million tiny pieces lying on the floor of the Watermark Theatre. You may not be able to mend it until you’ve had a good cry in your car after the show.

In Watermark Theatre’s 9th season Robert Tsonos, in his 1st year as Artistic Director, introduced this classic written by Tennessee Williams who wrote his first play as a teenager in 1935. Williams was a cutting edge playwright & most widely recognized for winning two Pulitzer Prizes, with “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1955). This play, I’m told, is partly autobiographical based on his college years in St. Louis providing him with a time & place for his first masterpiece.

Tsonos also took time to thank the interns that are part of the company this season as part of their Mentorship Program. We were talking with one of the stage hands during intermission who was grateful to get some hands-on experience through this program. Another example of how much this theatre continues to care about giving back to the next generation of talent. According to the program: This is a great set for learning. The theatre is small enough to be nurturing & large enough to have processes & policies in place to keep an intern safe.

In the early moments of the first act, Gracie Finley (raised in Charlottetown, trained in London, England, Ms. Finley is best known for playing Anne Shirley at the Charlottetown Festival from 1968 to 1974 and again in 1984 and 1985, being the first Islander to play Anne. She has had numerous roles at The Watermark including The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, & Lady Markby in An Ideal Husband) pranced around the stage cleverly decorated with antique furniture (compliments to set designer William Layton who created a convincing depression era St. Louis atmosphere on this unique in-the-round stage) as she reminisced about her younger days of entertaining her multitudes of callers. In a most intense performance, she plays a mother who is extremely worried about the future for her daughter & feels as though something has got to give for better or worse. Finley in my opinion is the face of Watermark this year & gets my vote for MVP of this company.

Leah Pritchard (who has worked throughout the Atlantic provinces & helped lead Watermark Theatre’s youth theatre conservatory for the past two summers) plays Laura, a china doll of a woman who has a penchant for collection glass trinkets. In the grips of the shyness of her character often loses her composure. She displays convincingly that she lives with a disability & very low opinion of herself. I had high expectations of Pritchard’s portrayal of the sensitive, delicate Laura and I was not disappointed. Similarly, Gracie Finley did an outstanding job in her interpretation of the aged Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield. The play was the perfect vehicle for both performers and they pulled out all the stops.

Daniel Briere (who has spent the last 3 seasons at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Recent credits include Hamlet (Shakespeare Bash’d), Antony & Cleopatra, & Romeo & Juliet (Stratford Festival) makes an appearance as the much anticipated dinner guest, and Laura’s high school crush, Jim O’Connor.  He is charismatic and dapper, and everything Laura deserves. The scene where Laura and Jim sit on the floor talking may be my favourite part of the show. This is where we see Laura turn into the ethereal, beautiful creature she has the potential to be. And the kiss was pretty spectacular as well.

Rounding off the cast of four, Joshua Browne’s (who has worked at IFT Theatre, Circlesnake Theatre, Theatre Gargantua & more) portrayal of Tom Wingfield is an excellent case study in how raw emotion can be conveyed just by standing still. I’m not sure what method Browne used to master the 1,000-yard stare Tom adopts, during critiques of his character by Amanda, who accused him of being as eloquent as an oyster, but it was effective. And universal. I felt scenes much like that one, between mother and son, were being played out in households all over the world in a million different languages. Often times getting poetic, the young low-wage warehouse worker spoke of magicians, late night travels, & a thirst for adventure. I must admit I was a little surprised to see him smoking on stage, but I later learned it was actually an e-cig, which is apparently acceptable indoors.

I’m not sure how much information to give about the much anticipated second half, for fear of spoilers, but it may not incorporate the ending audiences were hoping for. However, it could be the ending we needed in order to realize how invested we’ve become in the characters.

Robert Tsonos, who directed the play and is doing great so far as Duncan MacIntosh’s successor as Artistic Director for the Watermark Theatre this year did an amazing job in leading the cast and crew to create something, I hope, they will always be proud of. After the show, I think I heard Tsonos’s voice crack as he invited the audience to a reception. He seemed to be quite moved by the performance, and rightly so.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay at the reception for long. I had to go to my car and cry.

pl kj

by Kimberley Johnston & PL Holden

This, much like other classics over the years in Rustico, is not light theatre, although there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout the script. The lesson I took from this play is the harsh reality present early in the Twentieth Century still holds true today that if we can’t believe in ourselves we simply cannot expect anyone else to & I can totally relate to that scenario, as I’m sure many others in the audience probably could at some point in their  lives. Bottom line: Great show all around. If it is not the ending audience members are hoping for, they can read A Pretty Trap by Tennessee Williams. That oughta cure what ails them!

July 16, 2016

“Blithe Spirit Transcends Time and Space” by Kimberley Johnston

blithe

Watermark Theatre

Director Alan Kinsella could help a cucumber sandwich achieve its fullest theatrical potential. I know this because I played witness to the managerial marvel at the Watermark Theatre in North Rustico Friday night. What he was able to do with a misbehaving wooden table during a séance was pretty impressive as well. With such direction, it is no small wonder the cast and crew of Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward pulled off a transcendent performance on opening night, July 15th.

The show was written in 1941 but the set, lights, and music were done in such a way the show could have been set in any decade. The play is no doubt British but, with some imagination and talent, it could take place in any village or city. That’s the joy of life, death and jealousy. The themes transcend both time and space.

Watermark stalwart Gracie Finley set the standard in her exuberant portrayal of Madame Arcati, a vivacious medium who unwittingly turns Mr. and Mrs. Condomimes’ lives upside down by granting Mrs. Condomine the Former, Elvira, a visit of indeterminate length. Mr. Charles Condomime is at first rattled by the sojourn of the free-spirited spectre and quickly becomes comfortable with the idea of being an ‘astral polygamist’. Charles is played marvellously by Daniel Briere who has a wide repertoire of facial expressions, reminiscent of Rowan Atkinson of Black Adder fame. Briere and Suzanne Roberts Smith (Elvira) play off each other nicely and make the relationship between Charles and Elvira quite believable and, oddly, not creepy.

Enter Ruth, Mrs. Condomime the Current, played by PEI native Bryde MacLean. Understandably, Ruth is not happy with the new living arrangement but she keeps a stiff upper lip. For a little while, anyway. MacLean’s portrayal of Ruth was fun to watch. It was exquisitely executed and made more visually arresting by MacLean’s resemblance to Anne Hathaway. Her presence was made ever more magnetic with the outfits put together by costume designer Kathryn Sherwin. MacLean’s absence for part of the show was very remarkable as I was excited to see what she would be wearing next.

Joshua Browne makes the most of his time on stage, as Dr. Bradman, who takes Madame Arcati’s jabs like a champ. I’m anxious to see Browne play Tom in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams on July 16th.

Leah Pritchard returns to the Watermark this year to work double duty in this piece; first as Edith, the ready-to-serve maid who may be more than she appears and, second, as Dr. Bradman’s chatty better half. I very much look forward to Pritchard’s portrayal of Laura in The Glass Menagerie. With Pritchard’s easy beauty, light complexion and nuanced performances, Laura may be the role she was born to play.

by Kimberley Johnston

by Kimberley Johnston

Robert Tsonos had a very successful first opening night as the new artistic director. Tsonos is no stranger to the Watermark stage and seems very eager to take on new responsibilities. In addition to his artistic director duties, of which I’m sure there are many, Tsonos will be directing The Glass Menagerie. Tsonos is making great strides in making the Watermark a community-integrated space. The theatre acts as a fine gallery for local artisans, serves local beer, and hosts a mentorship theatre program and teenage conservatory to foster the next generation of theatrical professionals.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for some cerebral comedy with a splash of slapstick, Blithe Spirit is the show for you. It’s playing now until August 27th at 7:30 p.m. on selected dates with one matinee on August 10th starting at 1:30 p.m.

 

July 16, 2016

“Boys will be Boys” The Melville Boys Review by PL Holden

melville 4

The Mellville Boys

I was a little early getting to Victoria Playhouse on Wednesday evening & ran into Pat Stunden Smith who in recent years has taken on more of a creative role along with her Executive Directing duties. She paid tribute to Norm Foster, most successful playwright in Canada, whose scripts are accessible & humourous. She described Director Ted Price (introduced to her by 2012s On Golden Pond lead Bill McFadyen) as a gift to the Theatre & along with his wife & Rehearsal Stage Manager Anne Laughlin represent a dying breed as far as work ethic & dedication. “You can see his sensibility to leave an audience feeling entertained & that they’ve learned something”.  Production Stage Manager Kevin MacLeod was also on hand in the front of the Playhouse entrance to warn me to have some Kleenex on hand for the second act, to that I responded that “the only time I cry’s when I’m pluckin’ them noticeable hairs out my nose”.

From the get go the play was rife with laughter! Out comes a rootin’ tootin’, beer-guzzlin’, gun-totin’, gettin’-away-from-it-allin’ Owen (Jeremie Saunders star of Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun, Gemini Award winning kids TV show Artzooka!,  & co-creator & co-host of Sickboy Podcast as well as husband to Actress Bryde MacLean who stars in Watermark’s Blithe Spirit) bursts on to the stage with a mean John Wayne impersonation.  As far as good, clean (sometimes getting a little on the naughty side, but definitely nothing R rated) high energy comedy goes, Jeremie Saunders has taken his game to a whole new level & might just be the front runner on PEI this year. His performance, especially in Act 1 is over-flowing with humor as he absolutely hauls laughter from the crowd as if he were nitrous oxide personified.

The more reserved of the Melville bros, Corey Turner (who has studied theatre at Studio 58 in Vancouver, UBC, & York University in Toronto has worked with Ted Price at Theatre Northwest & has been active in TV & film as well), plays Lee & he puts on some funny displays of self-deprecating dimwittedness &  moments of embarrassment. He was the ultimate set-up man and wing-man for Saunders on this log-cabin get away but he had a serious challenge to face & showed a wide range of emotion as he reached out to the others about the fear he has been recently been forced to face.

The 2 ladies of the cast steal the show by times as well.  Star in the making, Loretta (Holland College SOPA grad, Rebecca Griffin, who reunites with Saunders for the first time since another Norm Foster gem Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun in 2014) shows off her acting chops as she re-enacts a car commercial in a very over the top manner.  Her sister, the self-proclaimed original nice girl, Mary (Helen Killorn, whose recent favourite credits include: Love & Marriage & The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at King’s Playhouse) was cute as a button as she lamented on her baking skills & put on the funniest display of torrential bawling I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure the rest of the audience would totally agree that her crying scene was something to remember. I was most impressed with the line one of the sisters (I believe it was Griffin, but I could be wrong) declared, “It wouldn’t be a dream if it wasn’t out of reach”, which to me was such a statement of what drives people to make the impossible a reality in our on-going collective evolution.

I loved the set designed by W. Scott MacConnell featured the interior of a cozy, 2 level cabin in the woods so realistic with its water view out the window & plenty of room for the cast of 4 to roam for some impressive comedic pairings. Seamless lighting cues (compliments of David Nicholson who according to the program holds the philosophy, “Every show is another opportunity to create living, breathing magic”. And dedicates his work at the Playhouse , with gratitude, to the memory of Erskine Smith) made the look of this production do justice to it’s splendid acting.

Without getting into a spoiler scenario, the script in the second set gets down into the harsh realities of impermanence & how hard it is to make a relationship work after the honeymoon stage has come & gone. We’re talking about a proven formula that Norm Foster & many other great playwrights can’t resist. It works well & has been used time and again in theatre as well as Hollywood. Like I’ve pointed out in past reviews from other shows across the Island, I personally would’ve enjoyed more laughter at the forefront again (I’m more of a comedy junkie who doesn’t have as much of a thirst for tears & heartache), although I admit, it might’ve been at the detriment of emotional impact & time constraints.

As I walked past the back door when I left I heard many excited audience members raving to the cast about how much they loved the performance, which must’ve meant so much after the hard work getting a show like that ready would’ve taken. It’s lots of fun onstage in that scenic little village of Victoria by The Sea & I think it’s pretty safe to say in this 35th season, performances like these should keep PEI’s Longest Running Little Theatre going for many years to come!

July 12, 2016

“A Gentleman & A Stargazer” a Salt-Water Moon review by PL Holden

The Stage was set just like If These Shores Could Talk (minus the instruments) which I was lucky enough to be able to attend last Wednesday. Chairman (as well as Set Designer/Head Carpenter) Randall Fletcher filled in on the intro for Executive Director Haley Zavo  talking ‘bout that great line up of  4 Tellers on Monday, Tuesday Ceilidhs, If These Shores Could Talk on Wednesday, Thursday’s Ghost Walk, It’s Good To Be Home (Friday’s Dinner Theatre with 50’s themed music), & Sunday’s Salt-Water Moon! I was thinking on the drive to Georgetown how much I love this summers format. It packs a high dose of entertainment into every week of the season with what seems to have a little something for everyone. Tonight David French’s Salt-Water Moon comes to life on the stage at The King’s Playhouse!

Set in 1926 at Coley’s Point, Newfoundland, an unwelcome old flame named Jacob, (Fraser McCallum who I’ve seen at The Guild in Sar’day Noights with Lennie & Fraser & Cinderella: A Fairly Tall Tale @ The Confed, not to mention being the front man for PEI music scene favs Racoon Bandit & Communications Manager at Confederation Centre of the Arts) who from my angle the picture of moon behind him on the screen made him look as though he were wearing a halo, makes himself at home as he tries to break the ice in the yard of a fiery (though sometimes stone cold) stargazer named Mary, (Holland College School of Performing Arts grad Marli Trecartin who is also working at Feast Dinner Theatres’ Scandalous at Rodd Charlottetown this summer) a beautiful young woman with a hardened heart & a soft side. For Jacob, this is a tireless Newfie-Style serenade to the woman he shares a special connection with & wants to marry. In his words to Mary, “It’s just you, me, & da moon”. These 2 former sweethearts were engaging in deeeep personal as well as playful conversation on a “some lovely oat” night.

One thing in particular I really enjoyed were the jousts of verbatim Newfoundlanders seem so talented in (I used to love shows on CBC like CODCO & The Mercer Report). Winning smiles from this couple were plentiful as the tables often turned from her, to him, to harmony & back again on the scales of upper-handedness. Both get poetic by times paying tribute to; their fathers bravery in their real-life roles of soldiers of misfortune, Lot from The Book of Genesis & his story of high potency, non-urban legends like the Jack-o’ Lantern or St. Elmo’s Fire, & da chree tings aboat Tom Mix.

The hard work put in was well worth the effort. According to Lead Actor Fraser McCallum, “Getting the chance to perform this iconic play is an honour. Rarely does an intimate piece run such a gamut of emotions and themes. Salt-Water Moon is a Canadian gem, air-tight in its writing and charged with emotional peaks and valleys, humour, storytelling, legend, and whip-sharp dialogue. It’s been such a fulfilling journey to explore with Melissa and Marli; I’ve learned so much and can’t wait to share it with Islanders and visitors all summer!” He also stated, “This production is a huge mental challenge each night, a marathon of sorts, but so much fun to perform for everyone. It’s filled with lots of laughs, electricity, and tenderness.”

Perfect show to bring a date to for its 80 minutes of flawless recital in a convincingly Newfie accent packed into 1 Act. These 2 came prepared under the direction of Melissa Mullen (after 5 or 6 weeks of rehearsal, according to an interview on CBC’s Mainstreet) & audiences should be prepared to have their hearts warmed by the magic of Salt-Water Moon!

http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2691472236

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