Theatre critics' picks: Curtains rise on strong works

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      Alternative theatre is where it’s at in Vancouver, and a See Seven pass is a passport into that world. See Seven is a marketing initiative put together by some of Vancouver’s smaller companies. It includes established groups such as Pi Theatre, Rumble Productions, and Touchstone Theatre, as well as up-and-comers like Zee Zee Theatre and the TigerMilk Collective. With a See Seven pass, you can catch any seven of the 11 shows on the roster for just $97, and this year’s impressive package includes Aaron Bushkowsky’s The Project and Shawn Macdonald’s Demon Voice, which are featured in the individual picks below.

      The Vancouver Playhouse and the Arts Club are both offering individually appealing shows within generally conservative seasons. Their rates are similar: $259 for a six-ticket pass at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre, and $285 for the same number of shows at the Playhouse.

      Any Night (October 6 to 16 at the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab)
      A young dancer who suffers night terrors moves into a basement suite and falls into a trusting affair with the man who lives upstairs. But should she? The script is a meditation on privacy, paranoia, and the power of the subconscious. The Draw: Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn. This two-bodies-one-spirit phenomenon makes up the producing company, DualMinds. Arnold and Hahn, who wrote and perform this piece, were wildly successful on both fronts with their previous collaborative outing, Tuesdays & Sundays. Target Audience: It’s a date play. But watch your back.

      The Miracle Worker (October 15 to 31 at the Playhouse)
      The story about blind and deaf Helen Keller, and Annie Sullivan, the young teacher who unlocked the world for her, is a gut-wrenching classic. The Draw: Director Meg Roe. She knocked it out of the park in her directorial debut at Bard on the Beach when she helmed The Tempest last year. What will she do with such potent, actor-loving material in this Playhouse production? Target Audience: The openhearted—or those with hearts in need of opening.

      The Project (November 5 to 15 at Performance Works)
      In the latest from Solo Collective and local playwright Aaron Bushkowsky, Hollywood North takes on starvation in Africa. Trying to make a movie, members of a documentary team run into trouble with their own hungry egos and other forms of corruption. The Draw: The writer. With last year’s My Chernobyl, Bushkowsky proved that he has a wickedly hilarious way with political tragedy. Target Audience: The weary socially conscious. God knows they need a laugh.

      Demon Voice (November 19 to 28 at Performance Works)
      Part of an impressive season from Touchstone Theatre that features four B.C. playwrights, author Shawn Macdonald’s script shows us six characters bumbling their way toward freedom and communion: an injured woman tries to remember what happened; a judge runs into an ex-con she sentenced; a one-night stand goes further than planned; and Pete searches the streets for Darryl. The Draw: The writer. In 2006, Shawn Macdonald showed huge promise in his first work, Prodigal Son. How has that talent developed? Target Audience: The wounded and the hopeful.

      Mrs. Dexter and Her Daily (January 15 to February 7 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage)
      This new script from playwright Joanna McClelland Glass looks at the upstairs-downstairs relationship between a Toronto woman and her maid. The Draw: The actors. Fiona Reid plays Mrs. Dexter and Nicola Cavendish is Peggy. Talent doesn’t get larger than this. Target Audience: Connoisseurs of the art of performance should relish this coproduction from the Arts Club and the National Arts Centre.

      The Passion Project (January 27 to February 6 at the Pacific Theatre)
      In this spectacle from New York—presented in Vancouver by Pacific Theatre and the PuSh Festival of the Performing Arts—director Reid Farrington deconstructs Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Solo actor Shelley Kay interacts with images of film performer Maria Falconetti, which are projected onto parchment screens that hang from ropes and hooks, making moving sculpture. The Draw: The staging. The audience stands for this show, jostling in a small area surrounding the performer like witnesses at the saint’s burning. Target Audience: People who want to experience the best of New York—without paying the airfare.

      The Blue Dragon (February 2 to 21 at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s)
      In Robert Lepage’s newest work, he plays Pierre, a gallery owner in Shanghai who is surprised when Claire, a former lover from Quebec, shows up wanting to adopt a baby. Claire doesn’t know that the young artist Foo is Pierre’s current partner. Culturally and personally, this production from Ex Machina is about reinvention and ties to the past. The Draw: Lepage. No one speaks the language of theatre more fluently. Here, a giant filmed hand tattoos an on-stage actor’s back, and Foo dances in the styles of both Beijing opera and Mao-era ballet. Target Audience: If you know what genius means—or you want to find out—you’ll attend this production.

      Dance Marathon (February 9 to 13 at the Roundhouse)
      Put on your dancin’ shoes. In this performance event from bluemouth inc., a theatre collective based in New York and Toronto, audience members participate in a dance marathon—along with embedded performers from bluemouth, local dancers, and celebrity guests. As couples are cut from the competition, the audience grows. The Draw: Toronto’s NOW magazine calls this “one of the most intimate works this year”. Target Audience: Exhibitionists and voyeurs. Face it: you’re one or the other.