A Theatre Buff Reviews A Few Good Men

Last week I commented on a stage performance (North by Northwest) that began life as a screenplay. Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men however first featured on Broadway before it became a film. I’ve never seen the movie. As a result of Theatre Aquarius’ production of A Few Good Men, it’s now on my Must See list.

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Ruby Joy, Benjamin Sutherland, Lovell Adams-Gray and Mike Shara in A Few Good Men. Photo credit: BankoMedia

A Few Good Men at its core is a fast-paced convoluted tale of two conspiracies within the U.S. Marines: a charge of murder against two junior marines, and the attempt to keep the charge from coming to trial. It’s bracketed by a sub-plot of confrontations: ideals vs. pragmatism; privilege vs. duty; female vs. male; seasoned vs. junior. The dialogue is intense and it’s riveting. The lead actors are compelling in their delivery.

As a result of seeing over thirty plays a year, and being a volunteer with amateur productions, I’ve paid more attention of late to how a production comes together. Yes, the actors are critical, but without the teamwork behind the scenes, the audience would see a variation of script reading. What struck me in this performance was the military precision of the fly system, the introduction and removal of set pieces (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly_system). At Theatre Aquarius this system is operated manually. I’m impressed.

As summer theatre at Shaw and Stratford comes to a close, the fall and winter theatre season elsewhere begins. I look forward this year to the lineup at our regional theatre, Theatre Aquarius. It’s varied and it’s professional. And yes, there is a musical—Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. This is a production I’ve wanted to see since it came to Toronto in 1992. At that time, the combination of babe in arms, a toddler at my feet, and a busy career meant that the only theatre I could see was within a thirty minute radius. Thank you for being there Theatre Aquarius!

A Few Good Men is playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until October 7, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews: The Nether

When consenting adults can put their imaginations together in virtual reality, what are the implications for morality and ethics? The Nether, a brilliant sci-fi crime drama, poses these questions and others through Jennifer Haley’s tightly written script. The production at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius is both spare and elegant; the cast and the creative team have excelled.

The story is set in the not so distant future where a coder extraordinaire has created a disturbing haven for consenting adults —The Hideaway.  Safely hidden by deep coding, adults can act out their most disturbing fantasies on children. The audience does not see these enactments. They are implied, and that’s probably how this PG14 movie and theatre goer was able to stay in her seat for the entire show. Although I have to say that for much of it, I was on the figurative edge.

The play is a series of vignettes that alters between a sparse nether1interrogation room and the lush space of The Hideaway. During the interrogation, a scrolling script details the charges as a detective from The Nether challenges two detainees (‘Papa’ the coder, and a site visitor) about the morality of their cyberspace activity. Their  responses are evasive and disingenuous. Only the threat of never being able to login again evokes an emotion of fear. The Victorian styled Hideaway, by contrast, is warm and welcoming, and there are gentle familial style interactions between Papa and one of the children, Iris.nether2 Any feelings of this being a safe space are severed when a visitor is received by Papa, and then brought to Iris. The drama plays out in the imagination of the audience, as much as it does on the stage.

The Nether is a play that deserves a much larger audience than Hamilton can provide. It would play well at Off Mirvish which is why Toronto theatre-goers should plan to make the hour-long westward trek to see this superb production.  The Nether is being performed at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, from October 26-November 12, 2016.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands.

Photos of Andrea Runge & Randy Hughson, and of Randy Hughson & Mary Maria Bourdeau are by Banko Media (http://theatreaquarius.org/onstage/the-nether/).

A Theatre Buff Reviews: The Ladies Foursome

If camaraderie, confessions, and competition are the hallmark of a golf foursome, then director Marcia Kash has hit this production of The Ladies Foursome straight down the fairway. Playwright, Norm Foster, has captured women’s voices and social tics in an uncanny manner. It’s funny to the point where laughing is not enough. Spontaneous applause and foot stomping broke out several times. There were moments when I wondered if Foster’s research had involved activating hidden recorders in golf bags — in my foursomes’ bags to be specific.

The story begins on the first tee. It’s the morning after one of the members of the foursome, Katherine, has been buried. Her place has been taken by Dory who is a stranger to the remaining three members. Dory had known ‘Kathy’ for twelve years; the three remaining members have known each other and ‘Katherine’ for fourteen years. The knowing and not knowing of Kathy/Katherine creates a core of tension which leads to the revelation of secrets. The character profiles are strong: the narcissistic, flirtatious Connie (Gabrielle Jones); the anxious but pretty Tate (Stacy Smith); the tough talking, beer guzzling Margot (Karen Wood); and the earth mother, scripture spouting Dory (Carmen Grant).  Foster gives them lines that have the audience howling. Each of the actors has a powerful grip on her character, and her clubs.

The set by Douglas Paraschuk is spectacular— a lush golf course which has the actors entering and exiting from three different points. It supports the illusion that the tee box at centre stage is specific for each of eighteen holes. The lighting by Siobhán Sleath produces the effect of the passage of time during the course of four hours of play.

The Ladies Foursome is the final production of the 2015-2016 season at Theatre Aquarius. It should leave theatregoers eager to come back for more. The Ladies Foursome plays until May 7, 2016.

2016-the ladies foursome

A Theatre Buff Reviews: If I Were You

If I Were You is billed as a comedy, but there is little to smile about in the first act. My advice… stay for the second act to appreciate the humour. It’s there, and it provides an engaging and welcome redemption of social roles based upon gender. Not only is the writing and acting cleverly done, it’s laugh out loud funny.

The first act introduces us to a series of dysfunctional conversations between and amongst family members: an entitled father/husband, a depressed mother/wife, an angry teenage son, a married and anxious daughter, and a brash son-in-law. The exchanges are raw, angry, and had me cringing; I felt like an unwilling voyeur. Not surprising, a number of audience members left at intermission. That was their loss. They missed out on what was an uplifting resolution of family distress. 

Through the intervention of magical realism, one night the father/husband and mother/wife mysteriously have their personalities switched. Each is left to inhabit the other’s body. They are horrified, but decide to maintain a front of normalcy, and that is where the humour and the insights kick in. It’s a premise that could lead to some interesting conversations during the ride home from theatre, or over breakfast the next day.

Brigitte Robinson and Brad Dury do a magnificent job of playing their own gender roles, and each other’s. They are capably supported by Maria Dinn, Sean Hauk, and Kyle Orzech. The set is superb in that it works as the interior of a modern home and as a furniture showroom. The transformation between the two is accomplished by something as simple and as powerful as lighting.

If I Were You is well worth your time…if you stay to the end of the second act! It’s playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until March 19, 2016.

  

A Theatre Buff Reviews: It’s A Wonderful Life

Theatre Aquarius’ It’s A Wonderful Life is a superb transformation of a classic Christmas movie to the stage. Thomas M. Sharkey’s re-working of this piece comes complete with an engaging mash-up of secular songs and Christmas carols. Tunes will be sufficiently familiar, such that some theatre attendees may find themselves humming, as did the lady behind me!

It’s A Wonderful Life is a retrospective for George Bailey who has decided one Christmas eve that his family would better off if he were dead. Over the course of an evening, his guardian angel, the bumbling Clarence, is able to show George what life in Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never been born. It’s an opportunity for reflection that many of us might benefit from, and that’s probably why It’s A Wonderful Life is a movie that many families watch year after year.

The triple-threat cast for this production is strong. They act, sing, and dance with ease. With the bridge as the backdrop, the set is a creative interpretation of life in small towns — from the intimacy of living-rooms, to the commerce of offices, and the sociability of front porches. The series of suspended windows that frame the stage are used effectively to illustrate the health and well-being of a community. The period, World War II, is represented well in the costumes. I noticed details that were attended to, like a fur stole complete with head and tail, and seams in the nylon stockings.

My only regret is that I did not get to see and write about this play earlier in its schedule. If you can find the time between now and December 27th to see It’s a Wonderful Life, it will be an afternoon, or an evening, well spent.