Dionysus in Stony Mountain: A Review

Religion, morality, and the corruption of help thematically haunted the 2 hours plus traffic of the Rachel Browne stage last week. The stoic apparitions, brought to life by Theatre Projects Manitoba in their season-ending play Dionysus in Stony Mountain, felt both literally and figuratively possessed by the ghost of Friedrich Nietzsche, the German moral philosopher obsessed with will.

The first act, which originally premiered as a Winnipeg Fringe Festival production in 2009, features what is essentially a one-man monologue by Stony Mountain inmate James (Ross McMillan). Weeks away from parole eligibility, James has chosen to go cold turkey on his Lithium, causing him to manically memorize and recite long Nietzsche passages, much to the dismay of his therapist Dr. Heidi Prober (Sarah Constible).

Dr. Prober, a Jewish therapist that shows particularity towards Ross and his considerable intellect, worries for his mental health and, perhaps more pressingly, the flawed nature of the Canadian correctional system. But much of Prober’s concerns in the first act play considerable backdrop to James’s troublingly giddy ramblings. It is within this first act that we may bear witness to McMillan’s extensive talents, mostly grounding the dizzyingly troubled James in steady, firm roots of sincerity and powerlessness against a corrupt, flawed system. Constible’s presence is felt, though she plays mostly scenery to the electric presence of McMillan.

This first act is too dense for my taste. I felt instantly transported back to a post-secondary philosophy lecture as this is essentially what the first act is: a lecture. McMillan does strong work in humanizing Nietzsche’s verbatim script of will and religion, but ultimately his off-the-rails musings felt too much like dictated pages of a first year Philosophy textbook.

The second act pulls more focus towards Prober, as her character has moved on from her job as a psychiatrist and has found troubling new practices of her own. Visited by her upper-crust Uncle Eric (McMillan again), Prober has lost all faith in the correctional system and has practically become a recluse, as she refurbishes her shabby  new home.

This second act is a welcome addition to the original piece, and it does better work in providing realistic, interesting dialogue than the Philosophy 101-centric first act. Constible’s character has a much greater presence here, and her character’s personal struggles against her philosophically fraught work resonated deeply.

McMillan is once again a strong force as Uncle Eric, bringing a few much needed chuckles and a good deal of ethos to what would otherwise be a very one-note play. His work in both characters is sincere and detailed, making each characterization different enough to be believable and dynamic.

Although Dionysus in Stony Mountain as a total package reads as crowded and emulsified, its fragmented pieces are increasingly thoughtful and important work. Although it feels as both acts are not totally cohesive, there are strong and layered questions posed and the actors do exciting, interesting efforts in posing them.

For more information on Theatre Projects Manitoba, click here.


MTC Warehouse’s August: Osage County

I had the pleasure of taking in a performance of MTC Warehouse’ August: Osage County starring Canadian theatre icon Martha Henry. The three and a half hour epic was the most phenomenal play I’ve seen all year.

August: Osage County tells the story of the Winston family, lead by pill-popping matriarch Violet. Sick with cancer of the mouth, as well as the metaphorical illness of a venomous tongue, Violet (Martha Henry) meanders through her shadowy, cluttered home in a pill-popping haze. Her husband, Beverly (Frank Adamson), has hired Johnna, a Native American housekeeper enlisted to keep the house running, while enduring the racist verbal onslaught courtesy of Violet. But shortly after hiring Johnna, Beverly disappears. Scared, angry, and lonely, Violet calls in the rest of her family to aid in finding her husband. Trapped under one roof, the three Winston daughters and their various spouses and children come to head in a dizzy of sound, fury, and whiskey.

Besides the electrifying Henry, the play also features the phenomenal cast of local artists Frank Adamson, Sharon Bajer, Julia Arkos, Melanie Dean, Arne MacPherson, and Samantha Hill. The ensemble cast features not one weak link, and seeing these seasoned actors do live theatre battle is a deliciously vicious treat for the senses.

As August: Osage County has just received phenomenal reviews from Winnipeg Free Press and CBC, I’d run out and get your tickets fast. If the crowded Saturday matine that I attended was any indication, seating will be limited.

MTC’s production of August: Osage County runs until March 24 at The Tom Hendry Theatre Warehouse. Tickets can be purchased at MTC’s website or by phone at (204) 947-3741.

The Second Coming – Altar Boyz at PTE

Last night, I took in the opening performance of PTE’s Altar Boyz and let me tell you, it was a heavenly night full of toe-tapping pop songs, cute twenty-something crooners, and tongue-in-cheek bible thumping.

 This wasn’t my first foray into the sweetly-satired world of Altar Boyz; PTE’s production is a remount of Winnipeg Studio Theatre’s 2009 Fringe reincarnation of the off-Broadway hit. I was one of the lucky few who got to see one of those original performances, as Altar Boyz proved to be the best-selling show of the 2009 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Score one for the bible and boy bands.

For those unfamiliar with Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker’s off-Broadway hit, Altar Boyz tells the story of a Christian boy band that is traveling the country on its Raise The Praise tour. Fronting the Altar Boyz is Matthew (Jeremy Walmsley), the cute, sensitive heart breaker who leads the group in their pop-infused holy set. Mark (Joseph Sevillo) is the sensitive one, with silky-smooth, Mariah-esque vocal stylings and a love of a good dance solo. Luke (Michael Lyons), the rapping bad boy, has just been released from a rehabilitation centre for “exhaustion”. Juan (Marc Devigne) is the Ricky Martin inspired Latin Lover, who is searching for his long-lost parents in between Meringue steps. And finally there’s Abraham (Simon Miron), the only Jewish member, who masterminds all of the group’s lyrics, while trying to keep his own faith amongst his Christian counterparts.

Together, the Altar Boyz have landed in Winnipeg in what is the last stop in their holy tour. Their mission is to cleanse the souls of the entire PTE audience, all in 90 minutes or less. But secrets, hidden desires, and doo-rags litter their paths to righteousness. The result is a hilarious, fun, smart, and infectious pop-musical of Godly proportions.

Backing the charismatic cast is a fabulous 6-piece band, as well as an epic concert-style set conceptualized by Sean Neville, Janelle Regalbutto, and Shane Stewart. The choreography by Winnipeg veterans Sofia Constantini and Brenda Gorlick is fun, funky, and pleasingly referential. Director Kayla Gordon, whose past credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hersteria, and Spring Awakening has once again delivered the Winnipeg audience with an exciting taste of Broadway, er off-Broadway. Get your tickets fast, folks. Chances are it’ll be a hit.

Altar Boyz runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange from February 23 – March 11. Tickets are between $25-$45 and can be purchased by phone (204) 925-5269 or at pte.mb.ca . All students with valid ID can take advantage of a $10 ticket for any unsold seat 30 minutes before show time.  

2012 Shakespeare In The Park Lineup Announced

“Bitch, get excited.”

Now we to take a break from awards season to tune into my daily daydreams of  “if I lived in New York”. In this edition, you see me imagining that I will be spending this summer working for Vulture and taking in Shakespeare In The Park’s (SITP) 2012 summer lineup.

That’s right, the Public Theatre announced today that SITP’s 50th Anniversary summer season will feature Shakespeare’s As You Like It, with Lily Rabe starring as Rosalind, and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods directed by Timothy Sheader. Jalouse.

Celebrating its fiftieth season at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, SITP has featured such talents as Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Earl Jones, Anne Hathaway, and Al Pacino, to name a few. What amateurs.

For more information, or to hang your newly purchased SITP tickets over my head, click here.

The Beatle and the Ballet

Who knew that former Beatle Paul McCartney had a love of the ballet? Turns out, McCartney has written the score and the liberetto for new ballet Ocean’s Kingdom, which opens at Lincoln Center in New York on January 19th.

Chereographed by New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins and with costumes by McCartney’s designing daughter, Stella McCartney, Ocean’s Kingdom tells the dreamy story of Princess Honorota, daughter of King Ocean, romance with Prince Stone, son of King Earth. I wonder if it will be anything like Back to the Future’s Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. Here’s hoping.

I Believe

You might as well know this about me: I am a huge Broadway dork. It’s not even to the point where it’s funny or kind of cute. It’s mostly just annoying and socially awkward. For example, doing the Evita arm raise and singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina every time I am on a balcony isn’t charming to those around me. And singing Carrying the Banner when I try on a newsboy cap in a public store makes those accompanying me embarrassed. Whatevs. Thems the breaks for someone with a specialty Playbill album that I had to order online from Ohio and pay $45.95 in shipping and handling fees for. Don’t be hatin’.

Me after failing to get Daniel Radcliffe’s autograph after “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. I’m the coolest.

Needless to say, this passion can be accompanied by a bit of pretension. I tend to feel alienated or annoyed by a show that I once enjoyed, simply because it grows exceedingly popular. I had the pleasure of seeing Wicked in New York during the first year of its run. I initially loved it. But as years passed and the amount of Youtube videos of 38 year old accountants singing Popular grew, I lost my taste for the over-hyped Schwartzepic.

I assumed this “oh thaaaat musical. Yeah, I got in the ground floor of that shiz, original cast all the way and now I’m over it” shtick would be the same when I saw The Book of Mormon. After all, it’s not exactly a small, low-key little show. Conceived by South Park wunderkinds Trey Parker and Matt Stone, scored by Avenue Q hot-shot Robert Lopez, and produced by Hollywood big wig Scott Rudin, it wasn’t exactly a sleeper hit. However, I was one of the lucky few who got to see it in its first month of production in New York, before buzz and Tony wins ruined the ticket prices and the fun. Yeah, the informational segment of this blog has now transitioned into pretentious bragging, just fyi.

I naturally assumed that as soon as the inevitable huge Tony nominations and subsequent wins came for the not-so-little show that could, I’d immediately be sick of it. But please, let me be the 8 millionth person to tell you how amazing this show is. Seriously, it defies the coolness expiration date that most Broadway a-holes such as myself subscribe to.

The basic story, for those living on a rock or for those who don’t know the difference between Broadway and Off-Broadway (sorry, I’m the worst),  is of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two 19 year old Mormons, sent to Uganda on a Mormon mission. Needless to say, hilarity ensues. However, not in the way you would expect.

When I first heard the concept and team behind The Book of Mormon back in ’08 (I’m so sorry, I’m just the worst), I didn’t know how it would work. After all, a big-budget, traditional Broadway musical doesn’t exactly mesh so naturally with Parker and Stone’s patented poop humor and veiled atheism. I initially assumed that it would be a two hour, expensive, well-produced Saddam Hussein reference. I assumed it would condemn Mormonism and organized religion altogether in one blaze of glorious farting. I thought it would be cynical and crude and awkwardly crammed into a traditional Broadway format. Boy, was I wrong.

Yeah, I suppose it was all that. It had some poop jokes, some famous dictator jokes, it was cynical about religion. But somehow, it was also one of the most joyous and hopeful shows I have ever seen. It somehow managed to be a typical South Park off-shoot, as well as a critique of blind faith, as well as a celebration of the endurance of the hope in the face of unimaginable horrors, as well as a traditional Broadway musical that paid homage to the medium’s past greats, all at the same time. Parker, Stone, and Lopez managed to make a show that unabashedly spoke the terrifying truths of Aids, famine, female castration, and genocide while still making it funny, hopeful, full of Broadway glitz and originality. How does this happen? How, I ask you???? (That was mostly directed at Stephen Sondheim, who I assume reads my blog weekly).

Anywho, I’m being super original here in urging everyone to pay the now exorbitant but well worth it ticket  prices and go see this show. The national tour is set to kick off in Denver in December ’12, four months early. Hopefully it will make its way to Winnipeg and we can all bask in the glory that is this incredible feat of cynicism and optimism. I’ll be there with bells on, while still reminding anyone who will listen that I got to see it original cast. Yeah, I’m the worst.

Am I just the worst? Please tell me. Comment, comment, comment!