Bittergirls Isn’t Bitter At All

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Immediately after a list of songs from the 50s and 60s by groups and singers I’m sure are unrecognizable to the average 30-some or younger audience members, the Bittergirls programme production summary promised “Audiences will howl in recognition at the fast-paced and heartbreakingly hilarious tale interwoven with their favourite hurting and loving girl-group songs.”

2015-07-04 19.38.14“Heartbreakingly hilarious” might sound like an oxymoron to you. After all, how can heartbreak be hilarious, especially        after you’re dumped by a your boyfriend, or live-in partner, or husband for some really lame reason you know is not true? I’m sure any girl-woman who’s been through “the one big heartbreak” understands that, and has spent hours, days, maybe even weeks and months, listening to the saddest and most depressing love songs to remind them of the heartbreak. Of course, years after, in much better relationships and places, we find that period laughable, to say the least, assuming we got over it.

2015-07-04 19.53.30It’s precisely that point when we find it laughable that we’re able to enjoy this rib-tickling, belly-achingly hilarious production where we follow three bittergirls through their break-ups through songs, and what powerful and memorable songs they are! We laughed because we were mostly an audience on the higher end of the number scale and did we know those songs! I was telling my companions at our table at The Mack, that those who sang along would be giving away their age. I have to admit that I knew those songs and listened to them, not necessarily because I listened to them going through a break-up—well, okay, maybe one or two—but because I listened to them as a kid. Of course, anything by Burt Bacharach, Donna Summer, Dionne Warwick, or Elvis Presley would be familiar to even some of the younger audience, but whom among the younger generation would recognize The Supremes, The Crystals, The Three Degrees, etc.? Back then, group singers were a really hot thing and there would always be harmonization and vocal arrangements, so having three women who are all powerful singers belting out these songs in true Broadway style was a throwback to that time.

2015-07-04 19.53.23While the musical was really about the Bittergirls’ biggest breakups with songs describing exactly how they felt and dealt with their personal tragedies, Jay Davis, who played everybody’s heartbreaker turned out to be more of a charmer and a heartthrob who stole the scene from the girls each time he sang in true King-ly fashion, complete with gyrating hips atop his very own pedestal with full marquee lights and glittering belt. A more rowdy audience would have filled the theatre with catcalls, whistles, and howls, but it was enough to bring the house down with mirth. Still, it was definitely a girl-show, and to quote Sean Casey as repeated to me by his wife Kathleen Casey, “Men had better park their egos at the door” before they watched the show.

2015-07-04 19.40.15I loved Steffi DiDomenicantonio with her Liza Minneli-sh cropped hair and big dark, thick-lashed eyes and just as powerful voice singing through her abandonment by partner-who-found-another. Rebecca Auerbach played the martyred breadwinner-mom-woman who sent her husband through university only to be abandoned so he can pursue other dreams. Women in her place shouldn’t be allowed to play with Barbie and Ken dolls! To round off the trio was Marisa McIntyre, the girlfriend who dreamt of the perfect love story and happy ending but never got the proposal. While their voices all rose to the occasion, McIntyre’s stage presence was not always up to par with the other two girls. With the quick pacing and turnover of lines and songs, however, this was hardly noticeable. That these three energetic ladies could sing through dancing and, yes, an aerobics workout, left me gasping and exhausted from the exertion, not to mention amazed and in total awe. Choreographer Nicola Pantin outdid herself there.

That the production entertained the audience thoroughly is completely undisputed. The one thing that would have increased my enjoyment would be a better modulation of the mics for the small space that The Mack is. Perfect miking means no echoes and no picking-up of each other’s voices—which happened in more intimate scenes, such as the bedroom scene—so that the voices sound perfectly normal rather than enhanced by microphones. McIntyre’s mic, in particular, echoed more than the others, and when she hit some high notes, there was a tad bit of shrillness to the echo, which was a little jarring to the eardrums.

As for the story, I don’t think there was really meant to be much of a story as much as it was meant to poke fun at how girls tend to (over)react to a break-up, making it a major tragedy of catastrophic proportions—the equivalent of the first act, until, in the end, they realize that they will survive à la Donna Summers. It also poked at men, on the other hand, who are portrayed as egotistic and insensitive, and yet we do fall over, bend over, gush over, and agonize over them.

2015-07-04 19.40.42It was a delight to see the creators, Alison Lawrence, Annabel Fitzsimmons, and Mary Francis Moore, who came up on stage as they were introduced by past Artistic Director Wayne Hambly. I think the hardest part of the writing would have been to find the perfect songs to match their scripts and pull them together seamlessly into one supremely entertaining musical extravaganza with a story line. Kelly Robinson’s staging was flawless with maximum use of Cory Sincennes’s highly versatile set that optimized every nook and cranny of The Mack’s diminutive platform. I found the slide-out sets and hiding places a delight and waited to see what part of the set would reveal something different. I like the fact that Robinson utilized the audience area as well, which was somewhat symbolic of a breakout and a breakthrough in the stages of breakup. I’m not sure it was meant to work that way, but it does work, when one looks more closely for what is significant. If it isn’t in the original script, I think Sincennes’s set design and Robinson’s stage directions should become part of it.

One final word in parting, though, and it has nothing to do with the performance: it felt like the caterers did not want the food served at the gala reception to be eaten at all—there were no plates, the fillings were unidentifiable by sight alone, albeit delicious, and they were impossible to eat with fingers, but no forks or picks were provided. I think, for that reason alone, there was so much left after most of the audience had gone.

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*Also available on onrpei.ca

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Come-All-Ye for the Time of Your Life!

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On its second year run, Come-All-Ye opened to a full house at The Mackenzie Theatre, better known as simply The MackCome-All-Ye brings together a stellar cast of five musicians and one comedian for an evening of live island music and, yes, comedy. The show runs for two full hours, possibly a bit more, since I got home really late and I’m sure I didn’t spend an hour and a half chatting with fellow-reviewer Michelle Pineau or Patrick Ledwell, the show’s sole comedian and co-creator or Acadienne singer Caroline Bernard. If I did, I certainly didn’t notice time fly, and fly it does when you’re having fun! What made the evening more entertaining was that Michelle and I were fortunate enough to be seated at the same table as the legendary veteran music radio host Eric MacEwen (the Director’s Notes misspelled it “MacEwan”) who was featured in videos presented during the show. Come-All-Ye is a multimedia show about PEI and its denizens, told through music, songs and witticisms, backed with photographs, slides and video clips that help the imagination and the mood. Except for the first time John Connolly and Patrick Ledwell used the center mike solo and the pickup was somewhat spotty—more likely because they were too tall for the mike’s position, which was rectified by the next number—the show was technically flawless. I just miss the presence of footlights or at least sidelights that would lessen the shadows on performers’ faces—which is what footlights are for.

Besides the music being an excellent representation of island music, the singers were top-of-the-line professional performers—stars in their own rights who, nonetheless, worked marvellously well together. I completely agree with Director Wade Lynch that there is so much talent on the island and to see it put together so magically is always a treat. Kudos to Music Director and performer John Connolly, who wove together a program of well-chosen songs with the right mix and mood that kept the audience clapping and stomping and singing along alternately with swaying and quietly listening to more introspective numbers.

And then there was Patrick. Most of my encounters with Patrick are of a more serious nature, although he manages to slip in some humour here and there, mostly tongue-in-cheek. The first time I saw him “at work” was when he emceed a mixer for Culture PEI. I thought he was quite the funny man there and his accompanying slides helped to emphasize the humour. This show was the first chance I had to catch him in full glory and all revved up in performance mode, bounding up the stage on his daddy-long-legs and keeping the audience charged and rolling with laughter after every two or three songs in the program. I guess the best thing about being a comedian is that you don’t really have to act and be someone else you really aren’t, and that’s just what Patrick was on stage—completely himself and at home, well, I’d say ninety-eight percent at home on stage—and only because he once in a while tripped over his own tongue or almost said something he didn’t mean to say, or seemed to be trying to recall a thing or two. Still, it was all very natural and very endearing as well as entertaining. Since he was also plugging his new book I Am An Islander, I’ll help him along and say that if the jokes in the book are as funny as the jokes he told in the show, I’m definitely buying that book and hoping he’ll sign it for me someday.

Kidding aside, Patrick Ledwell’s spiels explored various aspects of PEI, from history to geography, Charlottetown, the Acadian influence, the pros and cons of living on PEI, the Confederation Bridge and all the peculiarities of the typical islander, along with the unavoidable gibe at government. But only, in his words, “about what I know.” His penultimate spiel was a recitation of the poem “John of the Island” by his poet father Frank Ledwell, which pretty much summarized what PEI is all about. Without doubt, Come-All-Ye is the best and most entertaining way to learn as much as possible about this gentle island and its islanders. It is music and humour that will be appreciated by everyone, whether you are from here or away, as islanders would say. To quote my new friend Eric MacEwen, “it was a beautifully inventive celebratory show.” And to that, with a little intake of breath, I say “Amen!”

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The Recipe for Soup’Art: A Review

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The Recipe for Soup’Art

by Cindy Lapeña

What do you get when you serve nine different kinds of soup and a variety of visual art pieces at The Mack? You get Soup’Art!

No, it’s not a joke. The Societe Saint-Thomas-D’Aquin and Confederation Centre of the Arts were completely serious when they sent out invitations to a novel art exhibit where, instead of picking at trays of traditional cocktail fare, viewers were presented with nine varieties of soup, from the traditional vegetable soup to the exotic Kenyan soup and the innovative sweet potato and coconut milk soup. It was an adventure and in itself, with the soup ladled into coffee cups that were just the right size to get a good taste of the soup without being filled so that you had no room to try the other varieties. It was soup sampling extraordinaire created by innovative and skilled soup artists.

That was not the only part of this twin-event. Along with the soup buffet was an exhibit of works by francophone artists. On display were works by Norah Pendergast, Faysal Boukari, Noella Richard, and Alma MacDougall, including paintings, photographs, graphic art, and animation. Also part of the exhibit was a traditional animal-hide shirt by self-taught Mi’kmaq artist Alma MacDougall, whose vibrant photographs of Mi’kmaq dancing in their brilliantly coloured ceremonial costumes were captivating. She photographed dancers’ heads so that they resembled colourful birds with extravagant plumage. Similarly, she captured costumed dancers in motion so that they resembled birds in some sort of ritual dance, flaunting their feathers as they twirled around.

Throughout the whole event, short films created by Faysal Boukari with students from L’École François-Buote under the ArtSmarts Program were projected onstage. Faysal is a Parisian graphic and animation artist who has chosen to stay in PEI.
He brings with him a unique and contemporary style with a certain whimsy that contributes to the mélange of artistic styles in PEI. When not working with film, Faysal’s preferred medium seems to be pen and ink.

Norah Pendergast displayed a few works that reflected island life. A French teacher in rural PEI, she is also a writer. Her paintings are reminiscent of illustrations for storybooks, likely a reflection of her background as a school teacher. Her use of primary colours in focal images in her painting draw the eye to them immediately. Her human figures are disproportionate, with the legs elongated and the heads and torsos much smaller in relation to the legs, a lengthening of proportions that is similar to Modigliani’s methods.

Noella Richard’s portrait of a man called the most attention to it, with the man’s face spilling out of the canvas, pursing his lips over likely toothless gums. Unlike her smooth portraiture were paintings of a squeeze-box and a keyboard that were done in similar style with strong red tones, rough textures, and the paint applied with a palette knife.

The variety in the artists’ styles was a great complement to the variety of soups and viewers left sated, both aesthetically and gastronomically.

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Soup’Art visual artists and soup artists

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