Monday, November 22, 2010


Images, Top to Bottom: Langham Court Theatre's poster for Memory of Water; movie poster for Wizard of Oz; VOS poster for Wizard of Oz

The Memory of Water continues until December 4th with tickets at 384-2142. Wizard of Oz continues until November 28th at the McPherson Playhouse with tickets at 386-6121.

1) This week's theatre-going was a bit lighter for you than last week's, I so?

A lot lighter, yes, after the trials of Rodelinda and Yerma last week it was great to get out to a fairly light comedy at Langham Court and the family favorite musical Wizard of Oz at the Victoria Operatic Society. Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water deals with a heavy topic, the loss of a parent, in an accessible way by focusing on how grief pushes people into behaviour they would never engage in otherwise. The endless bickering and chips-on-their-shoulders between three sisters who have just lost their mother is the plotline of this bedroom comedy. We watch these three fall apart in various ways as they prepare for their mother’s funeral. The Wizard of Oz requires no synopsis, of course, but the challenge to be faced here is how a staged version of the film can work when almost every audience member knows the 1939 original film and its iconic performances so well.

2) Let's begin with Langham Court's production of The Memory of Water. This play won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1997. Did you feel it lived up to this as a successful comedy?

This is not a great play, but it is a good play, and played well it crackles right along. I would call the play more of a dramedy, a horrible word but accurate here. There are a number of pretty serious revelations that occur as the three sisters try to pull themselves together long enough to get through their mother’s funeral. One major problem sister Mary has to face is that her mother Vi keeps turning up in ghost form, which is unsettling to say the least. But it does allow them eventually to put a couple of their own ghosts to bed, particularly in regard to a teen pregnancy that was hidden and kept secret for many long years. Although the play has some heavier dramatic elements it does keep the laughs coming. I think an audience can laugh at the recognition that we all tend to lose a grip on ourselves when placed in high stress situations like a death in the family. Drinking excessively may seem like a good idea at those times, but can also lead to amusing loss of repression and some vicious truth-telling between these three sisters, all of whom have their various axes to grind.

3) Any outstanding performances to watch out for?

The play features strong performances from the three sisters, particularly from Melissa Blank as Teresa, the most repressed of the three…her second act drunken breakdown is worth the price of admission as Blank is a gifted young actor who works very well both emotionally and physically in her role. Lorene Camiade as the successful doctor Mary and Odile Nelson as the flighty Catherine do some good work in their roles as the other two sisters, as does Rob Cruse as Teresa’s henpecked husband Frank. Less successful on opening night were the supporting roles of Mur Meadows as Mary’s married lover Mike and Elizabeth Brimacombe as ghost-mother Vi, both of whom look right in their roles but who would benefit from going more deeply into the emotions they are challenged to portray. Director Angela Henry keeps things moving along quite well but I could do with less of actors facing the audience straight on when making or dealing with some revelation or other, something people don’t tend to do in real life. Theatre for me is about the essential human struggle to communicate, and I like to see actors consistently engaged with each other in that attempt, rather than make it less believable by turning it into a ‘moment’ on stage.

4) Now turning to the latest musical offering from the Victoria Operatic Society...Wizard of Oz. How does a staged version work compared to the movie we all know so well?

I would have thought it somewhat a fool’s errand to tackle a stage version of this universal favorite, but this VOS show does an outstanding job translating the movie onto the McPherson Theatre stage. The professional experience of director Matthew Howe really shows well here as he has created a show that works on almost every level. He has cast talented and appealing young actors to play Dorothy (Chelsea Tucker) and her three friends the Scarecrow (Sean Baker), the Tin-Man (Chris Newstead) and the Cowardly Lion (Jeffrey Stephen). All four of these lead roles find close to the right balance between staying within the familiar parameters of the film and making the roles their own, as does the remainder of the cast. I did find the younger performers fared slightly better overall than their more senior counterparts, but all of them look quite right in their roles and were more than satisfactory actors, singers and dancers. A large chorus has terrific ensemble numbers as Munchkins, Emerald City citizens and the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys and henchmen. Musically and visually the show works as well, with effective sets by Guy Chester, colorful costumes by David Hardwick and solid musical direction by Heather Burns. A great show for the whole family.

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