Fall arts preview 2018 theatre critics' picks: Stage roster tackles identity, gender norms, and dazzling feats

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      Identity is a big theme on Vancouver stages this fall, and so is upending gender norms: two of the plays highlighted here have double-digit all-female casts. There are also shows that question the gender binary (the Cultch’s Testosterone, Pi Theatre’s Hir), and some that tackle issues of race and racism in unconventional settings (Presentation House’s Tales of an Urban Indian on a bus, and a remount of Universal Limited’s site-specific Japanese Problem at Hastings Park). For technical dazzle and an excellent cast and creative team, check out new Arts Club artistic director Ashlie Corcoran’s directorial debut at the Stanley, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time—already open by the time you read this. And virtually every show at the Cultch this fall looks fantastic: if you’re looking to subscribe, start there.



      (At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre from September 25 to October 6)

      Described as a ceremony rather than a conventional play, Kamloopa seeks to empower and celebrate Indigenous women with its story of two sisters and a trickster figure on a literal and metaphorical journey of self-discovery.

      The Draw: Writer-director Kim Senklip Harvey has established herself as an actor over the past decade. This, her first script, is supported by no fewer than five theatre companies from across the country.

      Target Audience: Those who see themselves in the work and those who want to witness.


      Melissa Oei, France Perres, and Agnes Tong (from left) star in Michel Tremblay's classic Les Belles-soeurs.

      David Cooper

      Les Belles-soeurs

      (At the Gateway Theatre from September 27 to October 6)

      It’s been half a century since the Montreal premiere of Michel Tremblay’s groundbreaking classic, about a community of women who gather to help a working-class housewife paste her windfall of food stamps into booklets. But incredibly, this production, from Ruby Slippers, will be the play’s first professional treatment in Metro Vancouver. Diane Brown directs.

      The Draw: The talent. There are 15 amazing women—some emerging, some very established—in the cast.

      Target Audience: The fortunate and the jealous.


      A Brief History of Human Extinction

      (At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre from October 10 to 20)

      Playwright Jordan Hall teams up with shadow puppet wizards Mind of a Snail for this Upintheair Theatre production, set 160 years from now as the last humans on Earth try to salvage some part of the planet’s now uninhabitable environment.

      The Draw: Brains and innovation. Jordan Hall’s smart scripts don’t sugarcoat environmental doom, and Mind of a Snail created one of last year’s most innovative shows, Multiple Organism.

      Target Audience: People who compost. And make art from their compost.


      Kill Me Now

      (At the Firehall Arts Centre from October 13 to 27)

      Brad Fraser’s new play—about a father whose role as caretaker for his disabled 17-year-old son is knocked sideways when he himself develops a serious illness—has been well-reviewed in earlier productions in London and New York. Touchstone Theatre’s Roy Surette directs an impressive cast.

      The Draw: Moral ambiguity.

      Target Audience: Grownups.


      The Wolves

      (At Pacific Theatre from October 19 to November 10)

      Sarah DeLappe’s script—a nuanced exploration of female adolescence through the lens of a high-school girls’ soccer team—made the New York Times’ list of the top 25 American plays since Angels in America. Director Jamie King helms an outstanding cast of young women actors who deserve to be seen more often.

      The Draw: Watching nine women kick a soccer ball around on Pacific Theatre’s tiny stage while delivering dialogue that perfectly captures the inarticulate awkwardness of teenage hopes and heartbreaks.

      Target Audience: You don’t have to like soccer to appreciate this play, but it helps if you’ve been through adolescence.



      (At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from October 24 to November 18)

      Valerie Planche directs this Arts Club/Citadel coproduction of Lynn Nottage’s timely exploration of racial and class tensions among a group of drinking buddies who work at a Pennsylvania factory. The New York production is currently on tour in the Midwestern states, offering free performances in advance of the U.S. midterm elections.

      The Draw: The script, for which Nottage won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it “the first work from a major American playwright to summon, with empathy and without judgment, the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House”.

      Target Audience: Bridge builders, not wedge drivers.

      gravity and Other Myths' Backbone is coming to the Vancouver Playhouse.



      (At the Vancouver Playhouse from October 30 to November 4)

      Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths blew away Vancouver audiences in 2015 with A Simple Space, a show in which they gleefully tossed each other’s bodies around on a tiny portion of the York Theatre’s stage. This new, bigger show (presented by the Cultch at the Playhouse) focuses on strength.

      The Draw: When these acrobats use the word strength, they’re measuring it in terms most of us can only imagine.

      Target Audience: Anyone who paid 10 bucks to try hanging by their arms for two minutes at the PNE—and everyone who watched.


      East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz

      (At the York Theatre from November 28 to January 6)

      Theatre Replacement and playwright Marcus Youssef take this year’s East Van Panto beyond the Brothers Grimm to the silver screen, with a politically charged take on The Wizard of Oz, replacing the Kansas tornado with a Poco pipeline explosion that sends Dorothy and Toto off in search of the Greenest City.

      The Draw: Veda Hille’s music, and Youssef’s wit. Dorothy’s companions include a Non-Binary Tin Person.

      Target Audience: Pipeline protesters and pipeline owners—oh wait, that’s everyone.