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The Mariposa Opera presents “Here I Stand”

Culture, Events, Showcase

May 2, 2017

Do you know what Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is?

It’s okay if you don’t. I didn’t. I don’t think anyone in our offices did, which is why things like this are important. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a disease that causes fatigue, loss of memory and concentration, unexplained muscle and joint pain, and sore throat.

It’s that last one that has special meaning here: sore throat. Jacqueline Ko has suffered with ME/CFS since she was six years old. She’s spent a good chunk of her time bedridden but has still helped found the critically acclaimed production company, Opera Mariposa and the Mariposa Theatre Wing, while mastering a range of vocal skills. Combining both these things, Jacqueline has managed to raise over $35,000 for ME/CFS research, hoping to find a cure and increase visibility.

“ME can change the course of your life forever – it certainly did for me,” Ko says. “I’ve seen studies that compare its impact to multiple sclerosis, late-stage cancer or congestive heart failure, but it’s still rare for this disease to be taught in medical school. They say as many as 9 out of 10 people aren’t even diagnosed. I was lucky in that regard – but the fact is, even with a diagnosis, they still don’t fully understand the cause or have a cure.”

By pairing with the ME/FM Society of BC, Jacqueline has put together a series of musical singles that are meant to tell her story through music, weaving together different stylings and making sure that her show has something for everything. The show draws from diverse genres – from pop to Broadway to opera. Her set will include pieces by Puccini, Verdi, Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, as well as songs from the hit musical Hamilton. Jacqueline will be joined on stage by pianist Angus Kellett and several guest artists, and the evening will include a reception as well as a charity raffle contest with over $2,000 in prizes.

You can learn more about her story in the new book, Lighting Up a Hidden World: CFS and ME, by Valerie Free.

The concert itself will take place on Saturday, May 13, 2017, at 7:30 pm at the Marpole United Church, located at 1296 West 67th Avenue, Vancouver. You can click here to buy tickets, click here to find out more about the ME/FM Society of BC, and click here to find out more about Jacqueline Ko and the Opera Mariposa

Banner photo credits goes to Kathryn Nickford Photography

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1139

Vancouver Theater: We Know Nothing

Books & Writing, Culture, Reviews

November 14, 2015

I’m not sure when I got my first copy of Game of Thrones. I think it was in Toronto, a little light reading for the plane ride home to Vancouver. Those of you that’ve read it know that Game of Thrones is not a little light anything; it’s a bloody tome, and the wait between volumes is equal to the weight of each of those books. Both are infuriating, and it’s one of the reasons I’m loving the TV show so much – at least there’s a chance for resolution there. Maybe. Possibly.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and find out.

Madhouse Productions has decided to chime in on this, both in terms of the stories themselves and the wait between books and seasons, with their inaugural production. We Know Nothing is a humorous look at both George R.R. Martin and the series he has inspired, as the Great Bearded Glacier meets and greets us. His plan is to introduce us to five characters that ended up on the editing room floor in a series of monologues by those characters, one from each of the published novels.

There is a secret sixth monologue from a character guaranteed to maybe be in the sixth book, but it is a secret part of the performance and not to be shared with outsiders. Only by going will you learn about this new addition to the cast, and find out what George R.R. Martin has in store for his characters.

We get a simple enough set up; Ruel Morales plays guitar and adds music all the way through the performance, starting with a stirring rendition of the Game of Thrones theme. He’s a simple but impressive addition to the ensemble, providing an audio backdrop to the proceedings. His ability to mimic other instruments when he’s not touching his own is inspiring, and sorcery worth of the Red Witch.

Troll!

Troll!

The whole of the performance is tied together by George R.R. Martin (Michael McIntyre). The performance here has to be strong enough to not only introduce the concept and build the narrative, but tie the diverse characters together and give them a connection to the series. The part is played to perfection, as George seems pleased to troll the audience, his editors, and his characters with a quiet glee that mimics that of the true author perfectly.

What follows are a series of characters and performances that lovingly mock the series as a whole, offering criticism of the narrative and structure and drawn out story, the preponderance of characters, the reliance on food and sex and tragedy to bring people in and keep them hooked. Each character lampoons moments within the books they’re from while hinting at the hilarity to come.

The Seer of Essos (Kenneth Tynan) is a Dothraki witch and soothsayer who gets to talk about dragons and Khaleesis and other things beside, talking about both the series and the monologues to come. Like all good prophets, she comes across as half-crazed and confused, but if you know what she’s talking about her madness becomes a peculiar sort of genius, instead. Her stubborn refusal to die at the end is played for laughs and quite effectively, mingling the tragedy the series is known for with the comedy Madhouse does so well.

For the second book, we’re introduced to the Romeo of Flea Bottom (Ryan Hache). Flea Bottom is where the lowest of the low live in King’s Landing, and the Romeo acts as the poor man’s Little Finger; he knows secrets, yes, but only about who is screwing who, and in what sort of ways he himself has been screwed. The whorishness of Westeros is explored in detail, and mad ways in which the Westerosi get themselves and one another off, mingled with the weird prudishness of high society. It’s good times.

All this takes about forty minutes, and leads us to the climax of the first act: the Red Wedding Singer (Nathanial Gordon). You know there was one, right? Every good wedding has an MC, and George himself admits that this character was the result of too much food and binge watching Adam Sandler movies. We get song and stand up, traditional fool fare that lampoons the various noble houses, hints at the betrayal to come, and plays upon series lore in the best possible way.

You have never seen a more paranoid audience.

You have never seen a more paranoid audience.

The segment ends with Ruel Morales playing the Rains of Castamere to signal the intermission, and the audience reaction was fantastic; primed by the Red Wedding Singer and that haunting melody, we all shuffled around, waiting for an attack that would never come. It’s a tribute to how effective both the season three climax was, and how brilliantly the previous three characters had immersed us in their world.

It also helps that George wandered off stage at this point, a knowing and evil look on his face.

His return was met with relieved smiles, his opening diatribe one that will delight feminists and those of us that enjoy strong characters that happen to be female. The Sand Snakes get a just amount of love from the fanbase, and Oberyn remains one of the most beloved characters we’ve seen on the small screen in some time. So, when Susan the Other Sand Snake (Chelsey Stuyt) takes the stage, there’s a sense of hope that quickly becomes the best sort of tragic comedy.

On a personal note… this segment dips into embarrassment humor, which is generally something I don’t find entertaining in the least, but it’s the concept of embarrassment humor that is being mocked here and the actress puts in such a strong performance that it becomes difficult not to love and feel for Susan, and impossible to keep a straight face throughout this monologue. This was, I think, the strongest performance in the show, though not where the show peaked.

George leaves behind a Feast for Crows and brings us to a Dance of Dragons with a character aptly named the Jackass on the Wall (Al Dales). Jon Snow is a polarizing figure: on one hand, he’s a bland ponce with an overabundance of plot armor and clear author favortism, while on the other hand he’s played by Kit Harrington. The fanbase both loves and hates him, and this character gives us insight into how badly, in-world, people perceive Ned Stark’s Bastard.

As was foretold.

As was foretold.

Which brings us to the Secret Character, whose name and presence I must not spoil. It is a stirring performance from one man, a powerhouse that ties all that came before together while commenting on the changing nature of what it is to be a fan, and how fans interact with the properties that they obsess over. We’ve come a long way from the days when Star Wars fan fiction writers were hunted like rabid dogs, and I have yet to see a performance that captures the insanity of fan created content better than this one.

And that’s it. The show runs two hours long for another two days – November 14-15, 2015, starting at 7pm and running til 9pm. It’s well worth seeing as winter comes, a means of staving off longer nights that are increasingly full of terrors and filling them with thoughtful laughter instead. You can and should be tickets by clicking here.

We know nothing except that we had a good time, and isn’t that a sort of magic in and of itself?

Susan thinks so.

Susan thinks so, but what does she know? Nothing.

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532

Vancouver Theater: Off Leash

Culture, Reviews, Showcase

November 9, 2015

Dogs are interesting.

Here’s a wild animal that we decided to co-habitate with – not tame, not really. Dogs are no more tame than we are; social animals looking for acceptance and adopting the behaviors they witness around themselves. They want to be loved as much as we do but are more honest about it, giving so much and asking only for a place to live, the occasional walk, and maybe a cookie.

The Fugue Theater is producing an operetta about that strange relationship. Off Leash, named for an off-leash dog park, is about four dogs and their humans, the lives they all live and the ease with which everyone can get a little lost in what’s expected as opposed to what is.

Every dog's worst nightmare - rain that keeps walks at bay.

Every dog’s worst nightmare – rain that keeps walks at bay.

Starting this theme off are the characters of Buddy, and his human, JB (both played by Kerry van der Griend). JB is a shy dog who spends much of his time at the off-leash park lying under a bench, staying close to his human. JB assumes that this is because his dog is shy, but we learn that this isn’t so much the case – Buddy stays close to his human because his human needs that support and comfort; he’s gone through a messy divorce from an emotionally abusive relationship that now has his questioning everyone he does.

JB runs into an aging dog, Jacques, whose human happens to be his estranged uncle, Danny (both played by Simon Webb). Danny would like to reconnect in his old age, which JB assumes is coming from a place of guilt – so when Danny says that JB’s mother was terrified of her son catching “the gay” from her brother, it’s an admission that shocks JB and allows him to connect with someone he can feel safe around.

That moment comes in the first few minutes, but the entire play is full of those moments, the narratives we give ourselves getting in the way of the lives we can live.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the characters of Sasha and her human, Isola (both played by Laura Di Cicco). Sasha is a pure-bred show dog that has been trained to obey. Isola has gotten her for protection instead of affection, but a dog doesn’t understand that. Dogs love without condition, but accept the conditions put on them – they’re pack animals, like humans, but much more honest about what they need.

Paralleling that sort of control is Isola herself. Grounded in a world of unquestioning obedience, she’s moved herself up a social hierarchy to make that obedience work for her. She’s intelligent enough to recognize that some of what she does is evil, but is not invested in changing a system that works for her. She’s as wound up as Sasha, who, whenever given a free moment will chew the wall or bite her own tail from the stress she lives under.

Lastly, there is Ruby, a pitbull rescue dog that is being cared for by an older woman, Carol (both played by Karen Ydenberg). It amazes me that pitbulls are given such a bad rap when they were literally bred to watch over children – it’s their humans that have failed them, and not they that have failed us. Carol is all too aware of this, but the other humans are too wrapped in sensationalism to question what they’ve heard, and all too willing to believe the worst. That’s why pitbulls are to be muzzled at all times.

Dogs make good people.

Dogs make good people.

The other dogs, of course, have no such trepidation.

Carol is someone who cares for children and lost causes both. We get that right from the start, but it’s confirmed when we learn that she’s looking for people to help her save both the off-leash park itself and, later, her daughter. The off-leash park is in danger as humanity does its level best to develop and pave over the wild places that both dogs and humans need to thrive; there’s no plan for what to do with the park, only a desire to pave over it.

It’s been argued that the wildest parts of our nature have no place in the modern world. We don’t play unless it’s competition, we don’t run unless it’s in gyms, don’t climb unless it’s an organized activity in the proper setting. Dogs, being more honest than humans, are happy to run and play. Ruby is unmuzzled, then all four dogs make a break for the underbrush, and that’s when tragedy strikes.

Jacques is murdered by means of decapitation.

The immediate assumption by the humans is that the pitbull did it. Buddy and Sasha seem fine with Ruby, but Isola hears nothing of it. She knows how pitbulls are; she’s never met one until now but she’s heard about them in the news.

“Your dog is violent” Isola says. “She needs to be put down.”

There’s no evidence of this; Ruby doesn’t have any blood on her mouth. Despite this, the other humans are willing to believe this narrative, and even Carol seems doubtful as to her dog’s innocence. We’re too invested in the way things are supposed to be and doubt our own experiences because of it – and this can sometimes have fatal results.

At the very least, this discord between what is and what we want can cause damage within ourselves. Poor Sasha feels this intently – she remembers that another dog died in those bushes, but she also knows that she’s supposed to get the balls that Isola throws. So, when one gets thrown by accident really far towards and then past those bushes, she runs and reflects that she must have been bad, that maybe Isola is punishing her, but this is what she has to do to be accepted and even loved.

These concepts are the heart and soul of Off-Leash, and explaining the complexity of the play feels like explaining the benefits of having a dog to someone that’s never lived with one. It’s simple and cute and has a lot of funny moments, from human actors doing their best to be dogs, to some of the situations and dialogue. It’s touching, with the monologues and themes that it explores. It trots along the fine line of simple fun and thoughtful discourse, and does it with enough aplomb that anyone should be able to enjoy it, but it is a production that will give you exactly how much you put into it.

And it's worth putting the time into.

And it’s worth putting the time into.

Bill Murray once said “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” The rest of us could learn from that, I think, whether the person in question has two or four legs.

This is the second time we’ve been thrilled and surprised by the maturity and subtext of the Vancouver theater scene, and we’re looking forward to delving a little deeper.

***

Photography provided by Mark Halliday, who you can visit by clicking his name. 

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1061

A Modern Fairy Tale

Culture, Reviews, Why Aren't You Watching This?

August 26, 2015

There’s something about fairy tales.

We grow up with them, internalize them. They’re the first stories that many of us experience, whether it be through the auspices of Grimm or Disney. There’s something about them that resonates in the programming of our souls, that helps us make sense of the world. Big bad wolves and strange woodsmen and hunters. Lost princesses, dwarves, and villains. Animals granted the agency and wit of humans.

Modern Fairy Tale 001

Or more wit, in the case of Boots.

As the formation of language and culture, fairy tales inform our norms, give us things to aspire to be or people we can measure ourselves against, for good or ill. It’s easy to dismiss them as simple fables and leave them at that, but there’s a rich tapestry to draw upon. It’s why we’ve seen such a resurgence of the old stories, through the Disney Princess line, Once Upon a Time, and even considerate inversions – like this one.

The Orthos Theater Company has put together a Modern Fairy Tale. It’s a deep look at the tropes that make fairy tales work, while dismissing much of the window dressing that gets in the way of the core underlying themes. Gone are the reliance on gender identity as a forced construct – the good people of this town accept gender and sexual identity on a casual basis, having evolved past discrimination on that front, but they still suffer from an underlying prejudice against anthropomorphized animals.

And that’s where our story begins: There’s a royal ball coming up and everyone is invited, even the animals. One of the royals, Cinder, remembers his roots and how the animals made his cute outfits, and the Prince cannot argue against their impeccable talent for crafting fashion. Wolf is trying to work up the courage to ask Red Riding Hood to go along with them.

There’s problems, though. Red’s parents were eaten by wolves, and she’s now living with her overprotective granny and being stalked by her incredible douche-bro of an ex-boyfriend, both of whom are very anti-animal and so obsessed in the rightness of their causes that they refuse to see the damage they’re doing to everyone else.

Bringing out a whole new kind of despicable.

Bringing out a whole new kind of despicable.

I don’t want to give away the story – you really should go see this – but the villains need to be talked about. Imagine if Dolores Umbridge and Gaston got together and hatched a scheme to strip away the agency of someone they both claimed to love, all the while demanding that it was for that person’s own good. Imagine them dancing on that person’s very identity and memory, trying to strip away from them choice and reason.

They’re loathsome, and played to perfection by Natalie Schreiber and Bradford Pellerin. They’re evil people convinced that they are acting in the best interests of everyone around them, which makes them all the more terrifying for how reflective they are for the worst parts of our society. They are the people who will make decisions on your behalf without consulting you, and scream about you not respecting them if you try to stand up for yourself.

And the people standing against them? They’re not heroes, not in the classical sense. Instead, we’re given people that are vulnerable, characters that are given new purpose under the skill of this pen. Standing out especially is the performance of Sasja Towe, who plays Wolf. Their performance is soulful, haunting, and touching all at once, a high energy hope built on facial expression and body language.

Stand out performances also come from Bev Rapley and Julia Fox, who play Cat in Boots and Red, respectively. Bev’s performance as Cat in Boots was so strong that several members in the audience were entertaining the idea of just watching her improv doing cat things, as there is a moment in the show where this happens and it’s easily one of the funniest moments you’ll see in the whole show. Julia’s Red is full of indignation and a desire to find herself, and her journey into self-mastery is hard fought and earned.

Lovers gotta love.

Lovers gotta love.

Kay Lozada plays a Snow White that has been traumatized, and she gets a musical number towards the end of the first act that is chilling in content and imagery, and her voice takes on an ethereal cast as she walks us through the nightmare she lived through.

The rest of the cast also pours their hearts into this performance. Notably, Chris Lovatt turns in an excellence background performance as a Peter Pan who flits through the background, while James Hussen and Shaun McHale slither through each act as Captain Hook and Scar, shadowing the Hunter and making him a much larger menace than he might otherwise be.

Eventually, of course, the villains get what’s coming to them, and this where I had a few problems – but, upon reflection, I realized the problem lay with me. The villains in this show are reprehensible and vile creatures, perversions of familial and romantic love. They’ve caused so many people so much hurt over the course of this story, and their punishment is to be arrested rather than killed.

My heart demanded vengeance. The script, thankfully, is better than I am. A civil society has laws for a reason, and the villains revealed are brought low before the law, to face justice instead of revenge. They are crass and banal creatures, and the energy that could be spent punishing them is better spent fixing the damage they’ve done. The script gets this right, and the actors sell it.

Better still, the minions that obeyed them abandon them as they fall, and end up taking them to face whatever justice awaits them. Evil does not have friends, and cannot command love or loyalty because it understands neither. This story tells that, sells that, and does it beautifully.

A Modern Fairy Tale was written by Lisa Simon, and is showing at the Metro Theatre until the 30th of August. You can pre-buy tickets by clicking here, or by calling 604-266-7191. They go for $20, and are worth every penny. The photos used in this article were taken by Haley Bouchard of Little Cat Photography.

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