Friday, December 19, 2008

Best of theatre, 2008

Steven Schelling and I picked our favourite theatre from 2008 for this week's WE.

STAGE: Last (curtain) call — Looking back on the year’s best in theatre

The problem with year-end theatre roundups is that the theatre, like most performing arts, doesn’t follow the guidelines of the Gregorian calendar. With most companies launching their seasons in September and closing them in May, and summer options filling the breach, the January 1 cut-off can seem maddeningly arbitrary.

Difficult or not, WE’s two chief theatre reviewers were strong-armed into conforming. Herewith, a few of their favourite theatrical things from 2008.

The Tempest
and Titus Andronicus shared the smaller of the two stages at Bard on the Beach, but watching the talented cast traverse the diametrically opposed material was like auditing a master class in Shakespeare. — Andrea Warner

Doubt — without a shadow of one. John Patrick Shanley created a crisp 90 minutes of moral ambiguity, refreshingly (and maddeningly) devoid of an obvious conclusion. And the sublime cat-and-mouse game between Jonathon Young and Gabrielle Rose? It just doesn’t get any better. — Steven Schelling

Being that it was mounted in an East Van warehouse, the venue wasn’t what you might call “small.” Nonetheless, the Virtual Stage/Electric Company live cinematic co-production of Jean Paul Satre’s No Exit — which had its cast locked in a small room and their performances projected in real time on a back wall — was the height of welcome claustrophobia. —S.S.

Rosa Laborde’s timely meditation on youth, politics, and art wasn’t without its flaws, but Léo made for a powerfully taut 90 minutes. A comely cast playing the sexually confused trio of frenemies (coming of age in ’70s-era socialist Chilé) didn’t hurt. —A.W.

The Drowsy Chaperone, the lovingly tongue-in-cheek sendup of the glory days of Broadway musicals, has it all: glamourous costumes, beautifully choreographed dance numbers, and silly songs galore. —A.W.

Despite a few small sound issues, The Drowsy Chaperone, with its great cast (especially Jay Brazeau), great costumes, great music, and great silliness was, ultimately, a great piece of frosted escapism — just as it should be. — S.S.

Into the Woods
, Stephen Sondheim’s challenging musical that messes with fairy-tale endings, marked the debut of the promising Patrick Street Productions, and introduced Vancouverites to the incredible Ingrid Nilson as a knife-wielding, wickedly funny Little Red Riding Hood. —A.W.

Into the Woods. Ambitious, well-executed, and a commendable first step for Patrick Street Productions. (Imagine, choosing Sondheim the first time out? That’s ballsy!) I look forward to seeing what they do with their upcoming spring production, The Full Monty. — S.S.

It’s a tie between the remount of November Theatre’s dizzyingly incomprehensible yet thrilling The Black Rider and Leaky Heaven Circus’ rollicking cabaret act about cannibalism, A Bone in Her Teeth. (Confidential to Sasa Brown: never has baby-eating been funnier.) — S.S.

Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre and its dark, brooding, and comedic original musical, Frankenstein, brought to the VECC as part of the PuSh Festival. Part goth nightmare, part Tim Burton copyright infringement, the overall effect was mesmerizing and hugely entertaining. — S.S.

Kim Collier, not only for the breathtaking genius of her multimedia No Exit, but for her masterful goth/bondage turn at Shakespeare’s often neglected sex-and-gore fest, Titus Andronicus. — S.S.

Although Kim Collier also rocked Titus Andronicus, fellow Bard on the Beach director Meg Roe’s debut in The Tempest cast a magical spell that was impossible to shake off. — A.W.

Charlie Gallant’s work this year (as a homophobic and violent teen in Steel Kiss and a Montréal Massacre survivor in The December Man, both with Green Thumb Theatre; and Demetrius in Titus Andronicus at Bard on the Beach), would be impressive for a well-established Vancouver actor. It’s even more so when you consider Gallant graduated from Studio 58 only last year. The winner of this year’s Jessie Richardson Theatre Award for most promising newcomer, his shirtless, hyper-sexual turn in Titus made him a talked-about matinee idol, and not just for the high-school field trip set. — S.S.

Itsazoo transformed Queen Elizabeth park into a fairy-tale playground with Grimm Tales, a twisted re-imagining of classic fables, led by first-time forest tour guides Hansel and Gretel. Funny and occasionally creepy, it was also the only theatre company to incorporate exercise with entertainment (with Boca del Lupo on hiatus), utilizing the entire park for each vignette. —A.W.

The rise of the “old man”: Jay Brazeau and Simon Webb, two of Vancouver’s most established theatre vets, brought wit and grace to stages big and small. Brazeau was a manic, money-hungry lech one minute (The Producers) and a cranky, hilarious, musical-loving agoraphobe (The Drowsy Chaperone) the next. Webb’s lean frame managed to fill out the sharp edges of Harold Pinter’s one-act plays (Pinter’s Briefs) and corralled the loose-cannon characters as the narrator in Into the Woods. —A.W.

Being able to see original plays before the movie versions hit the screens (at least in the cases of Doubt and Frost/Nixon). Even though it took far too long for The Drowsy Chaperone to come to town, apparently Vancouver has graduated from third- to second-tier when it comes to getting the rights to acclaimed Broadway and West End shows. —S.S.

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