You Won’t ‘Boo’ This One

boo begins with a bang, a sheepish giggle from the audience and a ‘yay!’ The ‘yay’ is from Charlie Rhindress who has written and performs this one-man-show (in association with Mulgrave Road Theatre)- an exploration of an event in a man named Boo’s life, a something that “happened” that changed him and his life forever. But Boo is reluctant to talk about what “happened,” because it is truth and Boo doesn’t like the truth, he prefers to make people laugh.
Charlie Rhindress’ Boo is endearing from the moment he walks onstage with his big, earnest eyes and welcoming smile. His charm is instantaneous, and humble and his monologue feels unscripted. Indeed, this is a beautifully meta-theatrical world where the audience is unsure where the line between Rhindress and Boo begins and ends, and where the fourth wall stops- if there is even a fourth-wall at all.
Boo begins with his birth, and tells tales reminiscent of those in Augusten Burroughs’ novel Running With Scissors. The ‘stand up comedy’ quality of his vocal patter reminded me of Ellen DeGeneres as it drew witty connections between seemingly mundane experiences while appealing to sensibilities that an entire audience can relate to. The audience laughs nonstop, and then the lights change and Rhindress steps into a more winsome realm of storytelling.
There is a beautiful fairy tale that weaves throughout boo, a story that shows off the beauty of Rhindress’ writing. The fairy tale mirrors Boo’s experience and his stand-up routines, and as the stand-up captures a man attempting to deflect a painful issue, within a magical world he is able to speak tenderly, and is able to reveal the layers of the metaphorical lasagna and come to some poignant- albeit painful- realizations about marriage, love, contentment, and the beast in the belly who is always wanting more. Here, Rhindress has created a fairy tale out of an adult’s nightmare.
The direction by Daniel MacIvor is clear and makes good use of the entire space in a way that can be difficult for a one-man-show. He is able to use levels, lighting and even the microphone stand to differentiate Boo’s stand up from his imagined, more fanciful world. The music is beautifully effective, and feels characteristically MacIvor. The creative partnership here between Rhindress and MacIvor seems perfectly suited; their talents obviously work well together to create something that can make an audience so quick to laugh, and then moments later can wrench that same person’s heart without devaluing the power of comedy. This, I think, is also the case in all MacIvor’s plays.
There is so much heart and soul in boo, in the telling about an event that so many people have emotional experiences with. Whether we are in the theatre or not, everyone seeks in some way to connect, to look for the truth, and then constructs elaborate mechanisms in attempt to avoid both. As Rhindress quotes from Stephan Sondheim, “no one is alone,” and indeed, I think many people will see elements of themselves reflected back in the complex, contradictory, theatrical, emotional character named Boo.

boo is a drama for mature audiences only; 60 minutes. Tickets $10.
Schedule: September 4th, 7:40pm. September 5th, 1:50pm and 8:20pm. September 6th, 4:40pm and 9:00pm. September 7th, 7:20pm.

All performances are at the Bus Stop Theatre. 2203 Gottingen Street. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Fun, Frivolity and Free Food: A Fringe Launch!

The Neptune Studio Theatre was teeming with the ‘Halifamous’ on Tuesday at noon for the Official Launch of the 19th Annual Fringe Theatre Festival which opens tonight and runs until September 13th, 2009 and features two hundred performances from twenty-nine shows in six venues. The Launch was hosted by Jeremy Webb, who was not allowed to plug his own Fringe show, Shakespeare On Trial, (I’ve seen it, you’ll love it), so he suavely got Simon Henderson to plug it for him. jeremy webb and simon henderson shakespeare on trial
The theatre was also teeming with children, many of whom performed a number from J-Tel Presents…Canadian Folk Songs Super-Hits Sound Explosion which maxed out the entire festival adorableness quota. Other children were in the audience, providing an impromptu comedy show, much to chagrin of their parents, but, what the hay… What’s not to lurve?

one of the children in folk tales

The rest of the crowd was made up by the cast of 11:11 and their posters.

meghan hubley, rebecca falvey, kristin slaney, john han, jessica barry

Rhys Bevan-John and Eric Benson performed a scene from Feathers and Loam a play that will take you into the heart of an artist as Icarus attempts to fly.

rhys bevan-john and eric benson feathers and loam

We also saw sneak-peaks of a Leslie Carvery dance piece from Selena, Death after Life, a performance from Chug: the dancers who have perfected the art of drinking Beer and some improvisation from Vern and Gregory’s Show No One Wanted Them to Give!

vern and gregory… or gregory and vern?

The Atlantic Fringe Festival is the prime opportunity to see innovative, dynamic new work that you will have few opportunities to see again. Tickets are cheap and available at the venues of the individual performances and at the main Fringe kiosk at the Neptune Studio Theatre. Come out and support the artists who make Halifax one of the most vibrant, colorful, creative cities on the East Coast!

jessica ‘meow’ barry and john ‘chow’ han. 11:11.

Click here for the complete Fringe Schedule. For more information visit this website.

Anne of Green Gables Lets Her Imagination Sing!

It is always difficult to analyze a show that is immortalized in your childhood, and such is the case for me with The Charlottetown Festival’s Production of the Norman Campbell/Don Harron musical Anne of Green Gables: the Musical. I first saw this production in 1994 and subsequently, I have seen the musical at least twenty times, in three different provinces, with at least six different actors portraying Canada’s favourite redheaded orphan. Vivid in my memory is a nine year old’s perception of an epic performance as Anne from Tracy Michailidis that revolutionized the way I went to the theatre and the tour-de-force exquisiteness of Elizabeth Mawson’s Marilla. How could another production compare to the definitive three seasons I spent watching Michailidis and Mawson weave magic? In 2002, after seeing a weary, sloppy matinee performance of Canada’s longest running musical I wondered if I would ever again love Anne ‘just this way’? Tonight, I sat in the Charlottetown Festival Theatre, hoping to be impressed.
This production began its run in Toronto (with few casting differences) at the Elgin Theatre in May, 2009. While it was there, Meghan Hubley wrote a guest review of the show for TWISI and cited Amy Wallis’ portrayal as Anne as being “refreshingly honest” and I would agree. Indeed, Wallis’ interpretation of the vibrant Anne Shirley is unlike any other I have ever seen. At the beginning of the show, Wallis’ Anne is twelve years old (as she is described as being in the novel). Unlike all the other actors I have seen who play Anne as a fanciful, passionate teenager, Wallis enters as a dramatic, imaginative, sometimes soft-spoken, inquisitive, child. Wallis creates two very clear worlds for her young Anne, the world of her dreams and her world of reality, and her vocal timbre and physicality shifts seamlessly between the two in a way that seems extremely natural for a child to behave (especially one who has been through all the emotional turmoil that Anne has). As the musical progresses, Wallis’ Anne matures and blossoms and her worlds begin to converge. It is beautiful to watch. She also has an unbelievably outstanding voice, which thrills especially in the song “Apology,” which she milks to absolute perfection as her soprano reverberates throughout the theatre as though it were a cathedral.
Charlotte Moore’s gossipy Rachel Lynde is spot-on, although as Moore seemed to subtly mirror Wallis’ actions, it made me wonder for the first time whether Rachel Lynde was once a girl not too dissimilar from Anne? Janet MacEwen seems perhaps a bit too stern even for the resolute matron of sensibility Marilla Cuthbert until you realize that the moment she relaxes her face she gives away the fact that she is a. drop-dead gorgeous and b. nowhere near sixty-five years old. (Can we talk about why all the drop-dead gorgeous actresses over thirty-five are suddenly deemed appropriate to play senior citizens!?). Still, her characterization of this classic spinster is a moving one, and she sings “The Words” (perhaps one of the world’s simplest, yet most heart-wrenching songs from a musical) with enough emotion to make an entire theatre snot-cry (to borrow a phrase from Sharron Matthews). Conversely, I didn’t get the impression that Sandy Winsby’s Matthew was necessarily as painstakingly shy as he is usually played, but more that he was delightfully eccentric; but that didn’t change how endearing his performance was or his sweet chemistry with Wallis.
As I said in my review for Anne and Gilbert, sometimes actors portray Josie Pye with an exuberance of sauciness and not enough heart. It is therefore glorious to watch Laura Mae Nason be as feisty and underhanded as this Pye demands, but also infuse her with an earnest sense of humanity. In this way, Nason seems to be a perfect counterpart as the younger self of the Josie Pye Natalie Sullivan portrays in Summerside.
Despite the fact that I have seen Anne of Green Gables: The Musical with over a dozen different casts, there is always one particular aspect of the show that boggles my mind and irks my soul. For the past fifteen years, I have continually seen Diana Barry portrayed (to varying degrees– Heidi Ford being the most charming) as a boisterous, over-the-top, exuberant girl who starts out so brazen and brash that the Raspberry Cordial scene loses it poignancy. I am so pleased to be able to say that there is no doubt that Alanna Chisholm is the best Diana I have ever seen. Chisholm plays Diana with the exact same sincerity and grounded humanity with which Wallis plays Anne. Here, Diana becomes a delight, and the kindred spirit friendship soars into bliss, and the Cordial scene becomes the most charming and the most hysterical in the show.
I was not as impressed with Sean Hauk’s Gilbert as I hoped to be, and found his chemistry with Wallis left something to be desired. I was saddened to have missed the incomparable Glenda Landry, who was out this evening, playing Mrs. Spencer in her remarkable 39th Season with the Festival. It was the first time I had ever seen the show without Landry in it and it simply wasn’t the same. Although, I must give some credit to Shawna van Omme, who I have seen play numerous parts in this production over the years and who is a lovely performer: I can imagine being Glenda Landry’s understudy must rank as one of the hardest jobs in the world.
In all, however, this production rejuvenated my faith in Anne’s ability to seem forever young and it justifies for me the need for this production to continue like clock-work each summer in Charlottetown despite that fact that change comes slow and infrequent, and every year the musical runs the risk of becoming outdated. Yet, Prince Edward Island is an entire province dedicated to harkening back to another time, and as long as Anne continues to endear herself to a new audience as she did to the residents of Green Gables, I, like Matthew, will implore this theatre to never change and allow Anne to stay on the island that holds her heart forever.
Anne of Green Gables plays until September 26th, 2009 at the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. For more information please visit

Hello Gilbert: PEI’s Famous Pair Get Carried Away by Love

marla mclean and peter deiwick in the world premiere production, 2005.

I was born twenty-four years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My mother, Shirley was also born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and her parents, Florence and Joe were born in little adjacent towns, Souris and Little Harbour, Prince Edward Island. Lucy Maud Montgomery courses through my veins, and Anne of Green Gables has been tightly knitted into my heart since the first time I saw Megan Follows recite “The Lady of Shallot.” A nostalgic, homey, magic always leaves me watery eyed whenever a Montgomery tale is adapted, but there is a special, tender spot in me for Nancy White/Bob Johnston/Jeff Hochhauser’s musical Anne and Gilbert now playing at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre in Summerside, Prince Edward Island until September 19th, 2009.
I first saw Anne and Gilbert in its world premiere production at Victoria By the Sea, PEI in 2005 when I, like most people, was skeptical and worried about the “Anne Sequel.” How could this new show possibly measure up to Canada’s longest running musical, our cultural icon, the original classic Anne of Green Gables: The Musical? Anne and Gilbert has all the ocean spray, the dramatic arc and the sweet homey goodness of Anne, but while the music of Anne of Green Gables reflects that typical of other book musicals of its time, Anne and Gilbert’s score is at once of a very specific time and place, grounded in the Maritime Celtic tradition of the Island, while still remaining within the realm of musical theatre and with distinctive modern elements that give the songs a certain postmodern consciousness. For a musical based on novels written in 1909 and 1915, Anne and Gilbert is curiously refreshing, while still remaining as familiar, comfy, warm and wistful as a rainy day spent curled up in a quilt drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows reading John Steinbeck.
Anne and Gilbert continues the story of Anne Shirley, a young red-headed girl, who comes to live with an old spinster and her brother in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, as an orphan at the age of twelve, despite the fact that they had sent word asking for a boy. Anne (with an E) quickly happens upon the most handsome boy in school, Gilbert Blythe, who falls in love with her when she smashes a school slate over his head in a fury for being called “Carrots.” Gilbert loves Anne of Green Gables, that much is clear, but does Anne of Green Gables love Gilbert too?
I happened to see this production during a rare understudy show, and had the fortune of seeing Brittany Banks play the role of Anne Shirley. She has a lovely voice and she portrayed Anne within a hue of sensibility and modest poise which stood in dramatic contrast to Anne of Green Gables and alluded to how much she had grown as a young woman and strengthened the connection between her and strict non-nonsense Marilla. At the same time, there were moments when the precocious, verbose, vivaciously imaginative Anne of the past would peak out through the façade and I think Banks’ characterization could have been further enriched had there been more moments of Anne, still a teenager, struggling to keep her passionate soul at bay in favour of strong good sense.
Brittany’s brother, Brandon Banks was entirely loveable as Paul Irving, although I did prefer Paul’s character when I saw Banks play the role four years ago, because the younger that character is, the more poignant I think his friendship with Anne becomes. Brandon is currently fifteen years old and has performed across the Island, at Neptune Theatre in Halifax (in Oliver! and To Kill a Mockingbird) and at the Stratford Festival (Oliver!) and in Toronto (Ross Petty’s Peter Pan). I saw him play Oliver several years ago at Neptune Theatre and was blown away by his talent. He is certainly one to watch.
Josie Pye, Anne’s nemesis, is an extremely difficult role to play. She is characterized in the novels as having an aggravating personality, coupled with her penchant for acting haughty, spiteful and deceitful. The actor portraying Josie needs to strike the perfect balance between doing justice to Josie’s character traits, without annoying and entirely alienating the audience. I have seen many actors attempt this throughout my years as a faithful ‘kindred spirit’ of Anne’s, and I have never seen anyone come as close to perfect as Natalie Sullivan does in Anne and Gilbert. Sullivan’s Josie is sassy, playful, haughty, spiteful and deceitful, but she also has charm and allure, not to mention deep emotions that secure the audience’s empathy- at least to a certain extent. She also has a strikingly gorgeous voice, which helps her become the kind of nemesis that audiences love to hate.
Martha Irving gives one of her best performances to date as Marilla Cuthbert. While I was growing up, watching Anne of Green Gables: the Musical in Charlottetown each summer, I became extremely attached to the only Marilla I had ever known at the Festival, Elizabeth Mawson. Mawson was the only Marilla most people had ever known, as she played the role for an astounding thirty-three years. When she left the Festival in 2003, I was dismayed and saddened because I was quite sure that no one again would be ‘my’ Marilla. It is most extraordinary because by all accounts, Irving seems like she should be far, far, far, too young to play Marilla Cuthbert (she’s also drop-dead gorgeous, for Lord’s sake!); but onstage she is transformed and as Marilla she is utterly heartbreaking. Her song “When He Was My Beau” deserved its own standing ovation. Somewhere, I believe, Elizabeth Mawson is smiling.
Michael Hughes is the Gilbert Blythe of your dreams. He portrays Gilbert with a precise mix of a disciplined, ambitious, responsible young man, and the charming, flirtatious, playful boy of his youth. Hughes is able to play the contradictions within Gilbert’s personality without calling attention to them. His performance appears so effortless and so sincere that it seems as though he just stepped out of a portrait from 1910. His beautifully smooth voice compliments the music nicely, and he also shows off his impressive dancing talents, especially in a rousing tap number in which a child gets catapulted into the air (and the audience has a heart attack). Nathan Keoughan plays Gilbert’s nemesis Roy Gardiner to great effect, and it is especially poignant to notice how Hughes and Keoughan have created their characters to stand in stark contrast with one another, down to the subtlest details.
The direction and choreography of Heidi Ford was especially top notch in this production, and the dancing matched the music in its ability to be at once of the past yet also so influenced by contemporary trends. In both the music and the choreography, the modern aspects of the musical act as a continual reminder that despite the backdrop of the Edwardian Period, the story revolves around a group of teenagers maneuvering around love, money, success and each other. I had the privilege of seeing Heidi Ford perform as Josie Pye, Diana Barry (numerous times) and Anne Shirley at the Charlottetown Festival throughout my adolescence, and I found that she was able to bring her expertise of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical to her direction of its sequel. There were numerous subtle moments in Anne and Gilbert where the direction mirrored a specific aspect of moments in Anne of Green Gables. This was cleverly executed, and added a layer of depth to the work as a whole.
We all love our stories about home, and for me, it is Lucy Maud Montgomery who tells that story. Anne Shirley longs to make a connection to her family, to her roots, and to forge her own connections for the future. It is for this reason that she is so adamant in connecting herself to the places she lives, Anne of Green Gables. Anne of Avonlea. Anne of Windy Poplars. Anne of Ingleside. She needs to root herself to feel secure, because she spent so much of her life without a home. Anne never fails to stir up emotion in me or to coax the tears to stream down my cheeks. Anne and Gilbert is as touching and heartwarming as a musical can be and if you are of the Race of Joseph, or you have more freckles on your face than turnips in a stew, and you happen to be within stones-throw from Summerside, I would like to share Anne and Gilbert, a taste of my home, with you.

Anne and Gilbert plays at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre in Summerside, Prince Edward Island until September 19th, 2009. For tickets please call 902 888-2500 or 1-800-708-6505 or visit the website. Also, on Sunday, September 6th, 2009 at 7:30pm, join host Martha Irving and Special Guests: The Cast of Anne and Gilbert and co-writer Nancy White for a Variety Show called Playing Our Part to benefit the PEI Cancer Treatment Centre. Tickets are only $15.00 and can be purchased at the lobby of the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre, or by calling 902 888-2500 or 1-800-708-6505.

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