The Silliness in the Looking-Glass: A Review of Alice Through the Looking-Glass

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The Silliness in the Looking-Glass: A REVIEW*

By Cindy Lapeña

I have great memories of Lewis Carroll’s pair of books: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which I first read as a very young child in a single-volume Children’s Classics Edition. Back then, I didn’t know what to make of the jabberwocky or brillig and no dictionary search could help me, yet the poems did make sense in my child’s mind. Watching James Reaney’s stage adaption of Through the Looking-Glass as interpreted by directors Jullian Keiley and Christine Brubaker for the Confederation Centre of the Arts’s 2015 Charlottetown Festival brought back wonderful memories of my childhood reading and the zany characters that populated the pages of Carroll’s timeless stories. Kudos to set and costume designer Bretta Gerecke for the amazing and innovative sets. I thought that it was extremely clever to show the scene changes by having the cast wheel them about with bicycles. The stylized and whimsical designs for the sets felt like something out of a cross between Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, and Tim Burton—straight out of a child’s imagination.

Admittedly, there was a lot of cheesiness and tongue-in-cheek acting, but it enhanced the story so much so that, instead of the existing film interpretations, which feel like literal and somewhat serious interpretations of the book, the stage production created humour and evoked hysterical laughter from the audience at almost every turn. It was so entertaining with so many surprises dropping down or popping out at the audience that one could not help but be completely engaged with the performance. The use of human Zorb bubble balls was another huge surprise and I could only think of how much fun it would be. There was a great deal of complicated and complex choreography by Dayna Tekatch, interpreted by the Confederation Centre’s resident choreographer Kerry Gage and executed perfectly by the cast.

Speaking of which, the casting was brilliant, and way the chorus was dressed and acted was largely responsible for chortles that broke out from different parts of the audience each time they appeared. I had always read Carroll’s two books as somewhat serious adventures where the well-mannered Victorian Alice just could not understand why everything had to be so illogical and so silly, but this interpretation has given me a totally different and fun perspective on the story. It has made me see this from a child’s point of view, which could be just what the author intended in the first place. That the looking-glass world was also funny was evident throughout and magnified by the silliness of the acting.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by Natasha Greenblatt’s powerful and lower-register voice, which is the opposite of the almost shrill falsetto childishness of the Alices of film, but once you get over the it in the first scene, it grows on you and becomes a warm, conversational tone that does not jar the eardrums. The Red and White Queens, Charlotte Moore and Eliza-Jane Scott were spectacles on their own. Qasim Khan as the White Knight was a walking—or rather, rollicking, bouncing—comedy and the knight’s horses were a riot. While Hank Stinson as the Red King uttered nothing more than snores, his sleeping presence commanded enough attention to keep the audience in stitches. The White King, Rejean Cournoyer, on the other hand, stole his laughter as he executed his single-square moves in his scene.

As town councilor Greg Rivard said, it was a bit slow starting but was thoroughly enjoyable and interactive by the second act, so that his kids enjoyed it very much. That children will enjoy it is undoubtable, as one little child yelled out answers to Alice’s questions, adding to the entertainment value. Unless you are an avid reader, I would not suggest reading the books, though, as the turn-of-the-century language lacks the vibrancy, humour, surprises, and pacing that the play brings. The 2 ½ hours it took from beginning to end didn’t seem like 2 ½ hours at all, except, maybe, before Alice stepped through the looking-glass.

I could go on and on about each cast member’s performances and the clever costumes and props, but that would be giving too much away. Suffice it to say, there were surprises in every scene and you just have to see it for yourself. I do not know if the original performance of this play was meant to be interpreted this way, but I couldn’t care less because this version is what I want to remember from now on.

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 *Also available on www.onrpei.ca

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Letting Out Scribbling Skeletons: Island Fringe Festival Opener

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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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They Rock! Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue: A Review

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 2014-06-20 03.21.48

by Cindy Lapeña

It might have been a preview night, but the Company of Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue 2014 show delivered a performance that rocked the rafters of the newly-reopened Homburg Theatre in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. A 26-member cast, 14-member orchestra, and 4-man rock band regaled a full house with 74 songs spanning several decades of Canadian hits from the 60s all the way to Paper Lions, PEI’s rock band-winner of the 2014 Independent Music Award for Best EP – Pop (Pop/Adult Contemporary;See more at: http://awardsandwinners.com/ceremonies/12th-independent-music-awards/#sthash.Tvoi3GMH.dpuf).

Musical Director and Arranger Craig Fair led the orchestra and band in an almost non-stop score with only the intermission as a break, showing off not only great musical panache but the excellent new sound system as well. Renée Brode’s lighting design, sometimes intense and emotional, most of the time playful and spectacular, likewise exploited the extensive capabilities of the new lighting system—something I would want to play with myself. I only wish that the two spotlights set in the back of the stage were not so blinding when they were bare—a result of their being set so high on the raised stage they were pointing directly at the audience at the start. The production design by Charlotte Dean was enhanced by 23 screens, on which video images were projected—sometimes to create a single gigantic image, sometimes displaying 23 different images that were entertaining on their own; kudos to projection designer James Nesbitt.

The show was directed and choreographed by none other than long-time Charlottetown Festival Artistic Director Anne Allan, who, along with Doug Gallant, Terry Hatty, Wade Lynch, and Hank Stinson, wrote and conceived the whole musical revue, which took the audience on an East-bound journey from BC to PEI. Overheard from the audience was a desire to see a more consistent story line, with the train-trip theme more evident. That might have made the performance more theatrical than revue-ish, but it could not matter less to me. In fact, I had to look away from certain video footage because they induced a touch of motion sickness. Nonetheless, the projections enhanced the story of Canada’s music industry, creating a more synaesthetic and memorable experience in a way that the songs and narration alone cannot.

While I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres and avoid really loud music and wild concerts, I have to say that the loudness of the sound system was within tolerable levels and not deafening—something I really appreciated. Much more than that, however, is the way Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue is my first real lesson in Canadian music. Not having been born here, I was quite unaware of the who’s who of Canadian music, thinking all the music I heard growing up on the late Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was American—such was our exposure to the Western world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, in the few years I have lived on this Island but mostly through this Musical Revue, that so many songs I was familiar with and learned to love are actually Canadian; and so many musicians I liked—both singers and songwriters alike—are Canadian. This knowledge made the show not only enjoyable and educational—it made the show more personal: Canada Rocks! made me feel that I have truly come home.

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Anne & Gilbert: Island Through and Through

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“You’re never safe from surprises till you’re dead” is what Rachel Lynde always reminds Marilla. It’s perfect advice for the first-timer to a performance of Anne & Gilbert The Musical, running at The Guild until October.

As I do every time, I entered The Guild with no expectations and a lot of questions in my head, all wondering how this play would connect with my experiences watching Anne of Green Gables The Musical. I have been to The Guild several times and from the moment I learned that Anne & Gilbert would be staged there, I was thinking that the small stage and narrow hall would constrict the performers and box in the performance too much. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the black box had been completely transformed. The whole orientation was shifted 90 degrees so that the performance space included the whole length of the theatre, as did the audience space, which was transformed by several risers providing every row of the audience with perfect sight lines. Already, I was pleased.

Soon enough, the play began with the lively opening number of Avonlea schoolgirls in a passionate rendition of “Mr. Blythe” led by Brieonna Locche as Josie Pye. This song establishes the fact that Gilbert Blythe is the most sought after bachelor in town and Josie is out to make sure he becomes hers despite his known love for Anne. Margot Sampson’s portrayal of Rachel Lynde is livelier, wackier, and more endearing than the same character in Anne of Green Gables The Musical, albeit somewhat sedate in her first number “Gilbert Loves Anne of Green Gables.” Carroll Godsman’s Marilla Cuthbert still bustles around but her role as Anne’s adoptive mother has become stronger and more assertive. Ironically, it is through a letter to Anne at College that she reveals a depth of love for a former beau, which begins Anne’s journey to accepting her feelings of love. PEI’s most beloved character Anne Shirley, portrayed beautifully by Ellen Denny, is only slightly more restrained as a young adult, but still passionate and dramatic. Ellen Denny’s sweet, clear soprano voice reveals itself little by little and is at its best in her solos, my favourite being “Someone Handed Me the Moon.” Her best friend, Diana Barry, is played wonderfully by Brittany Banks, and shares Anne’s trepidation for married life. Unlike Anne, however, Diana is more excited, as she already has a beau and eagerly plunges ahead into marriage, while Anne continues holding Gilbert at bay, denying that she has any feelings for him. Patrick Cook is the perfect Gilbert, somewhat cocky, but utterly devoted to Anne, and certainly the best-looking guy in town. With his voice and looks, he most certainly will find not only all of Avonlea’s schoolgirls, but all of Charlottetown’s, hankering after him.

In the same way she instantly befriends kindred spirits, Anne befriends the wealthy Philippa Gordon, played by Morgan Wagner, whose bubbly but ever-pragmatic personality dominates the stage so that the fiery red-head seems quite sedate by comparison.

The projected backdrops were amazing, the proximity to the audience making one feel part of the scene, especially at the end of Act I. The sets were completely manageable and the execution of scene changes was disciplined and efficient. The costumes were reminiscent of the times. The music original, varied, and covering every range of emotions felt by the characters. The lighting was spot-on although I wonder if the space restricted back lighting and side lighting so that larger-than-life shadows were thrown about on the floor and backdrop, sometimes in more than one direction. Because the stage was much wider than it was deep, certain scenes had characters at opposite ends beyond peripheral vision, which limited the view for the rows nearest the stage. Having to turn your head to one side then glance quickly to the other just to see if something significant was happening there was a bit of a stretch. The best thing, however, was the absence of mikes. Hearing natural stage voices is something I really miss, because so many productions take advantage of wireless mikes, which can be a problem with a big cast and a lot of movement. Overall, though, the technical aspects of the production enhanced every minute of the performance and helped to draw the audience deeper into the atmosphere of Anne & Gilbert’s Avonlea.

Indeed, the surprises were plentiful in this play and, I am happy to say, they were wonderful surprises! The thrill of courtship, the warmth of a close-knit community, and the cheer brought on by song and dance were conveyed over and over again throughout the play. Brittany Banks’s lively and masterful choreography enhanced every mood and the Young Company players and cast executed it precisely and enthusiastically.

Patrick O’Bryan, a gentleman from Chicago sitting a seat away from me at the performance aptly summarizes what everyone in the audience must have been thinking by the end of the first act: “I am very impressed with the professionalism. The dancing, the singing, the music—all excellent!” To add to that, I say Broadway move aside, Charlottetown is here!

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Meryl Streep and The Iron Lady: A Somewhat Feminist Perspective

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How does one review history? Or a life, at that?

 

Unquestionably, Margaret Thatcher was a powerful figure in international politics and her unwavering policies earned both the praise and the ire of many. While she rose to power and did what had to be done during her stint as Britain’s Prime Minister, it was the very same unwavering policies that made her lose her supporters and forced her to relinquish her position as head of Britain’s Conservative Party.

 

Many people will remember her as being The Iron Lady, forceful, strong, determined and always outspoken–commendable qualities, to be sure–but qualities that can lead to abuse and simple stubbornness. All that considered, the movie present a somewhat surprising and different side of Margaret Thatcher. While the movie represented a period of British history with great clarity and accuracy albeit in a pastiche of memories,

it was not about British politics or British politicians or even about the public life of Margaret Thatcher.
The film began and ended with an old woman who clearly has some difficulty walking. She is faced with the task of clearing out her dead husband’s closets, sorting out clothes and shoes and other bric-a-brac. All told, it takes her a couple of days to complete the task in between a doctor’s appointment and a dinner. The woman has not been able to let go of her husband’s memory and with every object she spies, every person she meets, every photograph or memento she comes across more memories of her husband and her past life rush back. She finds herself talking to her husband who really isn’t there, seeing him lurking in every corner of her life. This quite naturally might have alarmed her doctor or secretary or even her daughter and son, but she gently denies what she is experiencing, putting on a strong and brave facade that belie her confusion, self-doubt and deep feelings of loss. Only when she finally is able to send her husband’s ghost literally and figuratively packing does she finally gather enough strength and courage to complete her task. And then life must go on.

 

It is this frail, bent, confused, lost old woman that Meryl Streep so masterfully portrays. Despite the brave tilt of the head and determined, albeit handicapped gait, Streep’s Margaret Thatcher is just another aging woman mourning her loss, experiencing confusion and disorientation as a result of loss. Streep shows her audiences a woman not unlike others, who is human and subject to the frailties of the race as she approaches the end of a long, difficult life that has been a battle–nay a war–for all that she thought was right. To the end, she remains obstinate–as the ghost of Denis Thatcher made her state it herself–and in a sad state of denial. We see MT in a completely different light in this film, which highlights her journey from a young unknown grocer’s daughter who was more interested in politics and the public good than a woman of her times would normally have been, to being an MP and eventually the Prime Minister of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Her rise to power was unprecedented in the Western World, and her stance was always what she thought was for the greater good of England. Never mind that she was many times contradicted by her ministers and advisers. She retained her obstinacy and refused to see reason other than hers. When she is finally faced with certain defeat, she chooses to take a graceful exit, although with reservations. This graciousness and control in the face of adversity and emotional turmoil in the face of defeat is not what everyone saw when the real MT stepped down from office. It is the public persona that she consistently displayed that earned her the title of The Iron Lady, no matter what she truly felt inside. And it is Meryl Streep who shows us the woman struggling within, the woman smothered by her beliefs and principles insofar as politics were concerned, so that perhaps only her husband knew who she truly was–and then, again, maybe not.

And thus, may I conclude that I think the film is simply brilliant.

 

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Inimitable Anne

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No other heroine of children’s stories will match the spunky freckle-faced red-headed Anne Shirley of Green Gables as is proven once again in the 2012 production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. Her shoes are big ones to walk in, but that didn’t seem to bother Tess Benger, who hollered it out for the second year in a row with her best dramatic flair captivating the audience from the first moment she appeared on the stage until the final bow at the curtain call. She was well-matched by Justin Stadnyk, in his second year as well as Gilbert Blythe, although his voice seemed a tad bit hoarse in the second week of performances. New to the cast and certainly well-added attractions are veterans Marlane O’Brien as Marilla Cuthbert and Tim Koetting as Matthew Cuthbert. Add to that a solid cast of strong singers, actors and dancers and an excellent live orchestra and you have the perfect mix for this ever-popular long-running musical that is as much an institution on PEI as red lobsters.

The audience was greeted by soft nature sound effects with pealing church bells in the distance, a leafy gel-shadow canopy on the stage and, instead of the traditional masking for the wings, stylized floating legs that served as extensions to the multimedia backdrop that added to the realism yet pushed the boundaries of creativity by providing changing and animated scenery. The realism was just so good that there was even a scene-stealing mouse scampering around on the stage while Anne and Marilla bewailed her green hair in the upstairs bedroom set in the second act. Oops. Was the mouse not supposed to be there?

As if foreboding a technical disaster, the voice-over recording greeting the audience at the start of the play had a bad glitch and stopped at the same spot twice over—to the amusement of the audience, eliciting much laughter—before finally playing smoothly through—which then elicited applause. At least the audience, you knew, would be appreciative. The second glitch in the sound system was when someone’s mike rustled loudly in the first classroom scene. Finally, the mikes just squealed their feedback and up and died in the second act for a part of some dialogue. Other than that problem, everything else technical was superb. The sets, which were a mixture of old and new, were changed with amazing efficiency and speed so that there were barely any breaks in between scenes or even during some scene changes, which went on with the singing and dancing.

The other new aspect of the production that definitely made it more lively and more entertaining was the refreshing choreography, which challenged the performers much more. There was just so much exuberance in the chorus numbers that the whole musical seemed completely new. I’m pretty sure even the way the songs were performed was updated, because the whole play seemed more jaunty and upbeat than I last remember it. Or maybe it was just Anne of Green Gables meets 21st century stage technology. Either way, it was a smashingly good way to start the week and it will most certainly be a crowd-drawer and a crowd-pleaser this summer.

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Great Performances and the Lack Thereof

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In staging their First Annual Student Showcase, the students of the Holland College School of Performing Arts gave it their all, a performance that was much applauded by the full house present at The Guild the evening of the 21st.

To say the least, the title of the show was interesting, considering it’s not the easiest thing to title a musical revue, which was essentially what the show was all about. Certainly, there were snippets of scenes from plays as well as an original scene by a couple of the students. Transition poems and music were very cleverly used and kept up the pace so that there was not a single dull moment.

Before I launch into any comments on anything else, I must commend the band. They were just great! Plain and simple. I must mention that the first time I heard Max Keenlyside play was as an extra act after Canada in Love and his original ragtime compositions and improvisations on O, Canada were just fantastic! Playing with a band, he was no less adept at the keyboard. Amazing talent was revealed by Zack Squires, whose virtuoso at playing the guitar shows a great maturity as well as creativity. His solo Guitar Seduction used oriental techniques for playing stringed instruments, quite unlike what Westerners are used to, but exactly how oriental stringed instruments are played. Deana Joka was just cool, cool, cool on bass. I would love to have heard her doing a solo, as well.

I thought it was really good that the students put the whole show together by themselves. The pieces selected were just right and worked well all together. The only piece that didn’t really contribute much to the show was the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together” performed by Sarah Macphee and Kyle Sherren. The piece just didn’t work out that well.

I found Lauren Thomson’s dance to ”Too Lost in You” a tad bit too short. She has great potential there, but needs to work on dancing from inside, but as far her acting is concerned, she was just perfect in the scene from Crimes of the Heart. Kayla Shaw, on the other hand, had all the feeling and tension in her dance “Apologize.” As for “Inka,” Samantha MacKay was completely captivating and charming. What a surprise that she could also be powerful and expressive as a singer in her “Stepsisters’ Lament” with Justeann Hansen.

Ryan Rioux’s voice has a beautiful, clear quality as well as great control. His renditions of “Being Alive” and “They Were You” reminded me why I love musical theatre…If only their mikes didn’t share feedback for that one ruinous moment. Sharisse Lebrun has a good soprano albeit a bit thin (her voice, that is) but with great potential. She certainly has the makings of a good actress as far as expression and expressiveness goes, but she needs to learn how to maintain body tension in all her movements and gestures. Clearly, Dan Byrne sings from his heart and his toes. He is worth watching out for, but he needs to learn to sing more to the audience when doing a band act, as opposed to singing for himself. It is, after all, a performance. He was great in “Another Day” but could have been better matched. Hailey LeClair does well when she’s belting out, but needs to work on her higher registers as well as on internalizing her characters more deeply. Jenna McDonald needs to be mentioned as well. From beginning to end, she was just full of life and character and I can just imagine her in big musical roles! She was her characters and projected that every single moment she was on stage.

As a company, the opening and the closing ensemble numbers (“All You Need is Love”) were well done, although someone entered too early in the closing a cappella. The opening number singing wasn’t bad either, but the blocking was terrible and the movements needed better coordination.

That said, this was a showcase of raw and budding talent and with perseverance and training, this company will certainly be going places.

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Golden Moments in On Golden Pond

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The first time I watched On Golden Pond was the 1981 film version starring Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda with the screenplay written by the playwright Ernest Thompson. Definitely a hard act to follow, but I really liked that movie, so I was eager to watch the production staged by Victoria Playhouse.

It was my first time to ever watch a play at the Victoria Playhouse and I was eager to see this theatre that had been out of my reach until now. I’ll have to say that, apart from the really tight rows that have barely a hair’s breadth between your knees and the back of the seat in front of yours and no elbow room to either side unless you sit in the aisles, the theatre was pretty impressive. The seats were comfortable if not very roomy, the atmosphere cozy, the stage compact. The lights were more than enough for the stage, which was designed by the Playhouse’s resident scenic designer W. Scott MacConnell. Scott did a pretty good job of making the set look nice and cozy with a view of the pond from the porch window. I’ll overlook the fact that the walls and beams of the Thayer’s summer house didn’t look very much like real wood, if it was meant to look that way because all the other details were well executed anyway. I just thought the fishing rod rack right in front of the hall mirror was a little odd. I don’t imagine real people would want to see themselves in a mirror behind a row of fishing rods. The tiny love seat that stood in for a couch made some of the blocking just a tad bit awkward since the actors looked really cramped sitting on it. I like the fact, though, that there was a lot of seating around, although the dining table didn’t serve a whole lot of purpose and the bench seat next to the fireplace was hardly used. Neither was the door adjacent to the front door. Set design is not just about the appearance but the functionality of the set as well. But enough of that. This isn’t about the set.

As Norman Thayer, Bill McFadden did great justice to the role. He was as much of a curmudgeon as the character could be and he definitely commanded the stage when he was on it. That’s not to say that Sharlene MacLean in the role of Ethel Thayer didn’t keep up. It would be totally unfair to compare her to Katherine Hepburn in the same role, and I wasn’t always convinced that she was Ethel, but all things considered, she fit in nicely with the rest of the cast. Kathleen Hamilton as the daughter, Chelsea, seemed a mite too stiff in her role. Granted her character was carrying around a huge chip on her shoulder, the emotions she showed didn’t always seem very genuine. The opposite was true of Mark Fraser as the postman and Chelsea’s past summer love, Charlie, who was constantly jolly and carried on buoyantly. Josh Weale as Bill Ray was a perfect match to Kathleen’s Chelsea. Elijah Smith as the young Billy Ray was a delight to watch and was definitely less surly, more friendly and ready for action than Doug McKeon’s Billy Ray in the film version. All together, the cast played together very well. The pickup of lines was excellent and the jokes never fell flat. That’s also probably because of the very attentive and appreciative audience, and a full-house at that! Definitely a feel-good performance that was applauded with a standing ovation.

I must say that another thing I like about the Playhouse is the acoustics. I firmly believe that thespians must learn to project their voices as well as their characters and the high-tech sound systems in Charlottetown have spoiled actors so much that they need wireless mikes even in as small a venue as The Guild. The Playhouse holds as many seats as The Guild does (I estimated seating for 150) yet the actors’ voices were perfectly clear even in the back row, where I was seated. I am definitely coming back to the Playhouse!

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Get Thee to Nunsense Funsense!

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This being my first visit to Summerside’s Harbourfront Theatre, I must admit that I like the theatre very much. The seats are comfortable with good sightlines because even from the very edge of a row near the front, I had a clear view of the stage. The wings were well-masked and the sets were well-built with excellent and sufficient detail. I just wondered about the sort of vow of poverty the Little Sisters of Hoboken that they could have such a glamorous bed and frilly window dressing, not to mention the huge plush toy and plush bedroom slippers and robe owned by novice Sister Mary Leo. That is my one little quibble for the night, besides the couple of times a costume piece latched onto a mike. Everything else makes me want to just see the play again.

The musical accompaniment was provided by the Musical Director Leo Marchison a.k.a. Brother Leo, complete in clerical black with a signature white clerical collar on an electronic keyboard, which went well with the Little Sisters of Hoboken Benefit Show setting. Brother Leo certainly provided a rousing overture that set the audience in the mood for what promised to be interesting, to say the least.

I knew from a couple of times the play had been performed back in Manila that it was a riot, and all the more fun because the play poked a whole lot of fun at Roman Catholics and made several references to common RC practices. Dan Goggin’s script, on its own, is extremely funny especially if you are Catholic. Even if you aren’t, there is just so much witty repartee and banter, not to mention the completely hilarious if not absurd situation of a group of nuns who have to raise funds to bury four deceased congregation members who have been temporarily housed in the convent freezer until the nuns have enough money for the burials. What is new is the incorporation of a multimedia presentation with the nuns watching themselves in a silent-movie video “Nun on the Run.” This mini-feature is a unique, creative and certainly shameless but hilarious way to promote the city Summerside. A couple of localized jokes were especially funny and I thought the recipe for Stuffed Turkey Steven Harper very clever and pretty apt. The cast also interacted with the audience, making the play’s audience the audience of the play’s Benefit Show. Audience participation was rewarded as well, which added to the novelty of theatre.

Not unexpectedly, the five nuns who are selected to participate in the show all have the human frailty of wanting to be a star, having come from backgrounds where they had a taste of the spotlights. The nuns are led by the energetic Sister Mary Regina, played by Robin Craig, who does her best to be a role model, mother and mediator among the sisters. Regina has a performing background, having been one of a family of tightrope artists and who, through a fluke of fate, has to fulfill a promise to dedicate herself to religious life. From the start, Regina/Robin has the audience in stitches. She was at her most hilarious in the scene where she investigates a sniffing bottle and gets high, but her best number, by far, is when she gets into full throttle in the throaty jazzy Turn Up the Spotlight. The growling gets better when she sings in harmony with her No. 2, the Novice Mistress Sister Mary Hubert, played by Marlene Handrahan. Marlene shows off her tap-dancing skill as well as her powerful voice in a couple of numbers, and delivers the grand finale with a parody of a roof-raising singing Baptist preacher.

Brieonna Locche as Sister Robert Anne has the Brooklyn accent and swagger to go with her streetwise ways as she constantly tries to get into the limelight and finally does it with a smashingly hilarioius number. I remember a nun I used to know who also played with her veil but never in as many creative ways as Robert! Sister Mary Leo was the novice who hadn’t quite learned to suppress her desire to be a star or to be famous, but remains an expressive dancer, using ballet to express herself, including in prayer. Natalia Gracious is a skilled ballet dancer who, with her beautiful clear voice fits the role of Mary Leo perfectly. Her solo, “The Dying Nun Ballet” is a hilarious parody of “The Dying Swan.”

A great deal of the story hinges on Sister Mary Amnesia’s inability to remember who she was before she lost her memory from being knocked on the head by a crucifix. Natalia Sullivan, with her amazing soprano, plays Amnesia with a sweetness and innocence befitting a mindless nun who, nonetheless, is a great ventriloquist as well!

The music was wonderful, the singing was almost sublime—and I use almost because sublime is not exactly the word to use with the throaty belting and growling in the jazzy numbers—certainly accomplished, the acting was superb, the story absurd and the script hilarious. What more can you want of a comedy?

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