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I highly recommend Shadow Theatre's current production of Bless You, Billy Wilder by David Belke.

Bless You, Billy Wilder is a play about storytelling, which makes it a good choice to mark the 20th season of Shadow Theatre and the 10th anniversary of the play itself. Belke spent a year and a half revising the play, and now Shadow Theatre's John Hudson has staged a fresh and thoughtful revival.

Observations of the play and musings about the relationship between art and life )

Bless You, Billy Wilder is at the Varscona Theatre until 20 November 2011

Liz Nicholls wrote a great article about John Hudson and David Belke for the Edmonton Journal:
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Shakespeare week continues at Sequential Tart with an issue that's heavy on the meta.

I had the opportunity to interview Helen Hackett, who has written a book about the persistent myth of Shakespeare meeting Elizabeth. It's RPS that dates back to the Elizabethan era!

Also, I joined my sister Tarts in praising Kill Shakespeare, a kind of "Guildenstern and Rosenkrantz" meets "Six Characters in Search of an Author" comic featuring Shakespeare's characters in search of the Bard himself:

Speaking of getting meta, Supernatural Talk is about SPN 6.15 "The French Mistake," in which we learn that angels are big on morality plays:
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Years ago, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival eschewed the use of cute festival names incorporating the word "Fringe." They had their reasons, but none of them made sense to me. I miss the tradition, so I've resurrected in my little way with the title of this post.

I'm Fringing more than I expected this year. This is due to the change in Frequent Fringer Pass rules that forces me to buy one ticket per performance instead of however many I want. So instead of going to five shows with five friends, I have to book 10 separate performances. I'm definitely not going to make it all the way to 10. I paid cash for one performance and I gave a ticket away to a friend. I'm seeing a few more things in the next few days, but I'll still have one booking leftover. (So if you're in town, let me know and I can book something for you!)

Meanwhile, I have seen some interesting things.

The Playbill )
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I didn't Fringe a lot this year, but I Fringed well. Capping off my four-play fest was Edmund, written by my (Gemini-nominated!) friend, Matt Alden.

This was a great show: funny, beautiful, sad, Tetris-y!

The protagonist is Edmund (Jamie Cavanagh), an unflashy accountant with mental and emotional problems and a complex relationship with pills. Pills make him feel better, but pills they're also scapegoats. He blames them for problems he has when he's taking them, he blames them for problems he has when he's not taking them.

Either way, pills don't resolve Edmund's core issues. This might be due to Edmund's inability or refusal to really examine his situation, but regardless their effect, he decides to toss away the pills. This leaves the warring sides of his brain unchecked and going to extremes. The left side of his brain (Joshua Dalledonne) scolds him to buckle down and be a good, obedient employee, co-worker and fiance. The right side (Adam Cope) wants him to rebel, stand up for himself and generally be less of a wuss. However, Edmund is overwhelmed by the constant battles inside, outside -- and between inside and outside -- of his head, and he becomes suicidal.

Humour is a very useful tool for talking about some really difficult things. It may be a measure of how few punches Matt pulls that he lands so many quotable lines. One that really stood out for me was this exchange: "Is this a real story?" "No, this is just real."

I also loved the set and sound design, which were inspired by Edmund's favourite computer game, Tetris. Tetris is an important image in the script, conveying the idea of the irresistibly simple and sensical rightness of geometric shapes falling into place. Blue, yellow and red blocks made up the set. Blue, yellow and red comprised the colour palette for the costumes. And the music for the show? Tetris classics!

Edmund was a hit at the Fringe, but unfortunately, it is not held over. If you have any means to cajole Matt & co. to restage it, or if you feel like sponsoring 45 minutes of whip-smart, cathartic theatre -- please do it! I want to see it again!

(cross-posted to Facebook)
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I saw David Belke's new play, A Final Whimsy, on Thursday night. It was in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Anglican. I'm used to seeing David's plays in the basement, so this was a new, beautiful and appropriate setting.

The play is about two adult sisters who are organizing their father's wedding -- he's finally getting married to "the Viking". The women's mother left the family when they were young kids, so the girls really had to bring each other up while their father, while seemingly a good provider with good intentions, sounds like he was clueless about how to deal with motherless children. (I got a strong "Les Muses orphelines" vibe from this premise.)

As someone who recently organized a traumatic ceremony of passage, I can tell you that David got it just right. (Is the process stressful and tense? Yes! Is it also sometimes funny and absurd? Yes!). But the play is about more than that. The focus is really on how you can keep people in your lives when they've gone away.

There's a lot of music in the show, which is a great way to show off the sanctuary's acoustics and the harmonies of Andrea House and Nancy McAleer. But I'd have to say that Sandra Nicholls stole the show with her rendition of "Your Cheatin' Heart."

The show is being held over at Holy Trinity on Friday, August 28 and Saturday, August 29. Hankies are advised.


(cross-posted to Facebook)
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"Pipa" is a beautiful, charming piece of physical theatre.

Pipa is an accident-prone girl. Her mother told that she was born blind -- in the sense that she can't metaphorically see what's in front of her. But she just doesn't see the same relationship between things that the rest of us do. She can't quite seem to negotiate the spaces between objects and herself. On stage, she bumps into, or fails to stand in right relation with, everyday objects: a bench, a stool, a microphone stand.

We don't think we'd have that kind of trouble. But we're trained to go about our physical world in certain patterns; we move as if things aren't there. So really, we're the ones who are blind to our physical environment. As Pipa says, "People say butterflies are blind, but they don't see the same way we do."

(Speaking of butterflies, the very clever projection piece is an all-time Fringe highlight.)

"Pipa" was my Fringe roulette pick: I didn't know anything about the performer or the show. Turns out Minneapolis's Tamara Ober first came to the Edmonton Fringe last year, with a troupe that performed "The Gypsy and the General". She was so inspired by our welcoming theatre community that she biffed up the ginge to create her first solo work and to bring it here. That work is "Pipa". We're glad you came back, Tamara!


(cross-posted to Facebook)
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Spiral Dive, Episode One (as it is now known) was the heart of the Fringe for me last year. Spiral Dive, Episode Two is a great follow-up.

Both parts are playing at this Fringe, and can be seen in either order, so don't stress if you can't see One before Two.

I'm not going to get into spoilers because both shows have jam-packed plots with a great deal of suspense. But I want to share a couple of thematic notes.

In Episode One, starry-eyed Edmonton flyboy Jack discovers what it really means to be at war. Jack's emotional journey is a reflection of the nation's aspirations as well.

In Episode Two, Jack learns to live with war and its shifting demands. Being a hero isn't enough. It might not even be the point anymore as Jack, and Canada as a whole, must deal with new instruments of subjugation that have been incorporated into the war and its side effects: assembly line economics, tactical engagement, and structural inequities and abstractions.

There are a lot of great lines in the show. Here's the one that stood out most for me:
"There are two kinds of Jews. He's a rich Jew, and I'm... wandering in the desert."

To Ken Brown, cast and crew: thank you for creating an epic show with just four chairs and a lot of imagination!


(cross-posted to Facebook)


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