Fall Arts Preview 2019 theatre critics' picks: Diverse survival stories take the stage

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      The overwhelming truth right now is that most people are just trying to survive. Some have more tools or privilege than others, but many of Vancouver’s fall theatre offerings address aspects of navigating, negotiating, or confronting that survival, be it through bravery and compassion (Arts Club Theatre’s Cost of Living), humour and horror (Direct Theatre Collective’s Hysteria at the Havana; Pacific Theatre’s Frankenstein: Lost in Darkness), defiance and hope (the Cultch’s Hold These Truths), or music and heart (Raincity Theatre’s site-specific Company; Broadway Across Canada’s Dear Evan Hansen).

      The most important step is, of course, listening to and centring the narratives, lived experiences, and creative voices of artists who are Indigenous, LGBT, racialized, and from other historically marginalized communities. Thankfully, this coming season boasts a variety of captivating and challenging shows from which to choose.


      The Shipment

      At the Firehall Arts Centre from September 24 to October 5 and at Presentation House Theatre from October 8 to 12

      Award-winning Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee (whose Straight White Men runs from February 6 to 15, 2020, at Gateway Theatre) is a powerful voice in contemporary theatre, thanks in part to her penchant for interrogating colonial violence and other so-called controversial subjects. Case in point: The Shipment prominently features a “modern minstrel show” that’s meant to confront racist stereotypes of black people.

      The Draw: This remount of SpeakEasy Theatre’s Jessie Award–winning 2017 production, with the original cast, gives audiences a rare second chance to either a) finally score tickets to the previously sold-out show or b) experience the subversive play about black identity for a second time and relish the exquisite performances.

      Target Audience: Those who enjoy challenging, bracing theatre that’s as fearless and funny as it is fraught.


      Take d Milk, Nah?

      At the Vancity Culture Lab from October 16 to 26

      Theatre artist Jivesh Parasram guarantees his new play is “the first Indo-Caribbean-Hindu-Canadian identity play, as far as we know, ever done. It’s also a massive attempt to destroy the idea of an identity play.” Parasram tackles race, religion, culture, and nationalism through storytelling and ritual, and he does it with candour and wit, as in his “Hin-do’s and Hin-don’ts” for navigating life.

      The Draw: Parasram is a massive new talent. He won the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award, and Take d Milk, Nah? was nominated for a 2018 Dora Award for outstanding new play. Also, in the play he talks about that one time he tried to assist in the birth of a cow, which sounds like a fun story.

      Target Audience: Those who value the invitation to explore complex topics through a cross-cultural lens while also enjoying a good laugh.


      The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito

      At Presentation House Theatre on October 26 and 27, and at Carousel Theatre for Young People from October 30 to November 10

      This story of a misfit mosquito trying to figure out her place in the world will resonate with children and grownups alike. This is a new piece from acclaimed Cree playwright Tomson Highway, and his background in Indigenous social work and education is a compelling source from which he can draw compassionate and relatable characters—and help kids feel seen.

      The Draw: The staging sounds spectacular, with live music and puppetry, as well as interactive elements that teach audiences Cree words and phrases.

      Target Audience: Those with young families and open hearts who want to celebrate and learn more about Cree artists and culture.


      The Diary of Anne Frank Latinx is a bold move to recontextualize a beloved and iconic work.
      Elvira Barjau

      The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX

      At the Norman Rothstein Theatre from November 6 to 9 as part of the Chutzpah Festival

      If this concept sounds audacious or controversial, then it’s important to understand Jewish American director Stan Zimmerman’s intentions behind the project. Zimmerman found out about the more than one dozen safe houses in the Los Angeles area hiding Mexican and Latin families from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he wondered about how these people were surviving. He thought about The Diary of Anne Frank and Jewish families concealed in safe houses to evade capture by the Nazis, and he couldn’t help but see parallels. Thus, The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX was created.

      The Draw: It’s a bold move to restage and recontextualize such a beloved and iconic work as The Diary of Anne Frank, but as Jewish Americans and countless others decry the American detention centres as contemporary concentration camps, this is a potentially brilliant way of bridging art and meaningful activism.

      Target Audience: Those who have turned a blind eye to what’s going on in America, those facing hate and injustice, and those who are ready to rise up.



      At the Cultch Historic Theatre from November 6 to 17

      Tetsuro Shigematsu is one of the city’s best artists, and his new play might be his most ambitious yet. Maya has spent six years in her bedroom, a total recluse, save for her world of virtual reality. But when a random player challenges her to save her father’s life, she must venture back into the real world, specifically Japan’s notorious Suicide Forest.

      The Draw: Shigematsu’s previous shows, Empire of the Son and 1 Hour Photo, were wildly acclaimed, and the show’s director, Amiel Gladstone, was the director and cocreator of the hit musical Onegin.

      Target Audience: People who love celebrating innovative creators who want to experiment and take risks.


      Anywhere But Here

      At the Vancouver Playhouse from February 4 to 15, 2020

      Carmen Aguirre’s new play follows a family in exile who end up on a “psycho-social-spiritual-physical journey” back to Chile from Canada, a reversal along their original path north as refugees. The darkly funny production utilizes magical-realist tropes to create a rich and vibrant framework through which the family can explore its history. But the play also has one foot in reality, set along the U.S.–Mexican border, celebrating “working-class Latinx culture”, and spotlighting “the invisible, undocumented brown workers that people the Americas”.

      The Draw: This is the world premiere and it includes original raps by acclaimed Rwandan-Canadian hip-hop artist Shad Kabango and compositions by Vancouver-based musician Joelysa Pankanea. The sprawling cast features 10 artists of colour, and the producers at Electric Company Theatre describe the show as a “celebration of Latinx theatre in Vancouver”.

      Target Audience: Those who gravitate towards ambitious, innovative shows, those who care about refugees and immigrants, and those who have yet to acknowledge the severity of the global refugee crisis.