In honour of World Theatre Day (that’s today!) I thought I would do a little write-up about some of the most memorable theatre I’ve seen over the past decade. This is not necessarily award-winning theatre, or even a list of the best shows I’ve ever seen: simply theatre that has stayed with me over the years and has affected me in some life changing way. Enjoy! Oh, and feel free to add your own “most memorable productions” in the comments section.
Kalamay (2000, or perhaps a year or two earlier) Odyssey Theatre
This was the first Odyssey Theatre show I ever saw. My mother and my sister and I continued to attend their beautiful commedia dell’arte inspired productions for years afterward. Also, I signed up to be an administrative co-op student there during my high school years. I remember this production being colourful and magical, and I remember thinking “this is how theatre should be.” It reminded me of princess and sorcerer stories I knew as a child, but it had a certain air of sophistication that I found very alluring. It was created collaboratively by Laurie Steven, Lib Spry, and the cast.
Hair (2002) Act Out Theatre
I attended this show with my mum, and it was about the most fun we’ve ever had at the theatre. These community theatre actors were talented, committed, and skillfully playful. There was a lot of audience interaction and they really made use of the GCTC stage, climbing around as though it were a jungle gym. Fantastic stuff. The musical itself remains my favourite soundtrack for long car rides.
Whale Riding Weather (2003) Great Canadian Theatre Company
Perhaps it’s strange that I would include this Canadian drama about an awkward gay love triangle — right, because most love triangles are so comfortable. But I thought the play was very well-written, with fascinating power structures and ideas about ownership in love and… okay, let’s be honest: it was the first time I saw a naked man onstage. Actually, first time I saw a naked man period. Thank you GCTC for that experience.
The Taming of the Shrew (2003) The Stratford Festival
This was my second time attending The Stratford Festival with my Canterbury High School drama class. This version of Shakespeare’s problematic comedy featured rough cowboys and pistols. As one of my classmates noted: “It was as though it was meant to be a Western!” I loved that this production was approached as though the story was a romance, that Katherine and Petruchio are working together to find their place in a messed up society, and by the end this whole taming thing is a front and their love becomes their little secret. Perhaps that’s an obvious interpretation, but I thought it was very well done, and this is one of the few shows for which I have happily given a standing ovation.
Simpl (2004) National Arts Centre
Peter Froehlich wrote and starred in this fascinating show about German cabaret artist Karl Valentin, who resisted doing political comedy during the time of the Third Reich. It was a show rich with research, with actual skits drawn straight from old records and manuscripts. This sparked my fascination with theatre history and research.
Provenance (2005) Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes
Both beautiful and grotesque, this show had the same mystical quality that I loved in Odyssey Theatre, but with a touch of queer humour. I admired how Ronnie Burkett had such respect for his puppets, handling them carefully, occasionally giving one a kiss on the forehead. It wasn’t all tender, though: one puppet gets raped near the end, and that’s not something you soon forget. This show introduced me to adult puppetry; my love of which only increased when I began seeing shows by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Portrait of an Unidentified Man (2005) Sleeping Dog Productions
Oh, Pierre Brault. Even my mother’s friends who know little else about theatre in Ottawa will swoon over the mention of his name. I’m only exaggerating slightly. Since I missed Blood on the Moon (*gasp!*), this was my first experience with Pierre’s solo shows. I loved it. He shifts and slithers into different characters seamlessly; the story was really good, too. My friend Paul and I walked out of the theatre repeating our favourite lines, like “Dali doesn’t need wine. Dali IS wine!”
Kafka and Son (2006) Ottawa Fringe Festival
Some people complained that this show was too good. Some people just like to complain. Probably the most polished Fringe show I’ve ever seen, this masterful one-act shot through me like dark fire and got me spouting nonsensical similes for the sake of evocative imagery. Alon Nashman is a talented actor and a really nice guy. I will never forget that one white feather that appeared out of nowhere.
Betrayal (2007) Third Wall Theatre Company
Thank you, Natalie Joy Quesnel, for this fine introduction to Harold Pinter, and for giving Richard Gelinas the opportunity to really show his stuff onstage. I am forever grateful.
Iron (2008) SevenThirty Productions
A similar offering of thanks to John P. Kelly for directing this play: Margo MacDonald never looked so good. And what a fantastic set by Ivo Valentik. Special mention also goes to Kelly’s production of The Good Father because Kris Joseph and Michelle Leblanc were fantastic in that.
HIVE2 (2008) Magnetic North Theatre Festival
Yes, please! More of this! Eleven Vancouver theatre companies banded together to create this theatrical midway where you have to strategize effectively to see as many shows as possible. This event took place in a warehouse with a central area in which the companies set up meeting areas: if you managed to snatch the proper items in time, each company would lead you into a different room somewhere in the warehouse and shares with you a short piece of theatre. In one piece, I was dressed in an orange suit and blindfolded and dragged by force into another room; it was frightening.
A Midwinter’s Dream Tale (2009) A Company of Fools
I have always loved a Company of Fools, but I think this was their most creative show yet. Excellent clown work from Scott Florence and Margo MacDonald. Kris Joseph made the best gay fairy king ever, no matter how much he tries to deny it. For me, this is the perfect example of how theatre practitioners can be inspired by Shakespeare and still create their own new work that shines magnificently.
The Crucible (2009) Canterbury High School
I attended this production because my sister was in it. And man, was I impressed. Sterling Lynch and Nancy Kenny accompanied me to the show, and I remember one of them saying afterward “That wasn’t ‘good for high school’; that was just good.”
The Changeling (2009) National Arts Centre
I almost skipped this production because I didn’t like the poster (I’m not even kidding), but I think it was John P. Kelly who insisted I see it. I snuck into a school matinee – as this was part of the NAC family programming – and witnessed one of the most beautiful, touching productions I’ve ever seen. Kris Joseph and Alix Sideris play a young couple that take in a troll child to replace their own child that was lost in the woods. It’s about love and acceptance and sacrifice and all those wonderful themes that are so present in theatre for young audiences. Thanks, Peter Hinton, for that one.
Nevermore (2009) Catalyst Theatre
I saw this show 2 and a half times over a 5 day run. I found it addictive. After seeing it for the first time, I craved another taste of it: the haunting music, the dark-evocative design (courtesy of Bretta Gerecke), those moments of pure terror. I love Jonathan Christenson’s vision for the theatre, taking the spectators into another world and making them feel so intensely. It really got my imagination going. Again, thank you.