From where I’m sitting, it looks like the upcoming year in Vancouver theatre is more diverse—or less blindingly white—than previous years have been. Four of my nine top picks for the fall season explicitly explore the experiences of people of colour. This is a very good thing.
This is a great season for theatregoers in other ways, too. Once again, Heather Redfern, executive director of the Cultch, is batting it out of the park with her programming. Four of my nine fall picks are playing Cultch venues—and that excellence continues into the new year. If you buy a Choose 5 or Choose 8 package, you’ll save money and set yourself up with a nice little theatregoing habit.
At the Gateway Theatre, artistic director Jovanni Sy is also rockin’ it. Four of his six shows are B.C. premieres. Lots of the work, including King of the Yees (listed below), is inclusive. And The Pipeline Project and The Watershed, which hit the boards in 2017, both promise complex takes on environmental and cultural issues. That’s daring in a market often considered conservative. At the Gateway, a subscription will save you 18 percent.
(At the Penthouse Night Club from September 27 to October 2)
So cool it hurts. Billed as a theatrical documentary, Sonic Elder explores the lives of the on-stage musicians, who range in age 65 to 75, and who helped to shape Vancouver’s youth culture in the ’50s and ’60s. B.C. Entertainment Hall of Famer Bill Sample leads the band.
The Draw: Soul, jazz, R&B, rock—and a meditation on art, mortality, and legacy. Book early for this offering, which the Chop Theatre is producing with Holding Space Productions.
Target Audience: Mortals.
Helen & Edgar
(At the York Theatre from September 29 to October 8)
Southern gothic redefined: in this Cultch presentation, storyteller Edgar Oliver revisits the Savannah, Georgia, childhood he shared with his sister Helen and their mentally ill mother.
The Draw: Director Catherine Burns and producer George Dawes Green are both major players in the storytelling phenomenon the Moth.
Target Audience: Fucked-up people looking for company—and artistic thrills. See you there.
(At the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage from October 5 to 29)
In Annie Baker’s play, three people working in a movie theatre lean into their unarticulated longing.
The Draw: Critics. Trust us. In the Guardian, Michael Billington said this play “magically exposes the souls of lonely people”.
Target Audience: Pulitzer Prizes usually go to conservative scripts, but Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called this slow, subtle Pulitzer winner “a work of art so strange and fresh that it definitely freaks people out”. Adventurers should enjoy this Arts Club offering.
Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night)
(At the York Theatre from October 11 to 22)
Piya Behrupiya is a Bollywood musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
The Draw: Are you not paying attention? Piya Behrupiya is a Bollywood musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. London’s Globe Theatre commissioned the Company Theatre, an innovative troupe from Mumbai, to create this joyful entertainment, which the Cultch and Diwali Fest are bringing to us.
Target Audience: If you don’t speak Hindi, you’ll have to be able to read the English surtitles—or, you know, ignore them and just have a good time.
King of the Yees
(At the Gateway Theatre from October 13 to 22)
Lauren Yee is dismissive of her father Larry’s involvement in a men’s club she considers obsolete. But when Larry suddenly disappears, Lauren searches for him in San Francisco’s Chinatown—and finds that she must embrace her past to get her father back.
The Draw: Playwright Lauren Yee. According to David Henry Hwang (author of M. Butterfly), “The fourth wave of Asian American playwriting has arrived.”
Target Audience: Daughters, fathers, and their relatives will all be welcome at this Gateway production.
Three Stories Up
(At an undisclosed East Van location from October 22 to 31)
In Mack Gordon’s script, which is being produced by Alley Theatre and Level-Headed Friends, a female transit cop investigating her husband’s murder gets sucked into Vancouver’s underworld.
The Draw: Darkness. The whole thing takes place in the pitchy black, so voices, other sounds, smells, textures, and spidey senses will all come into play.
Target Audience: Do you wear your sunglasses at night?
Empire of the Son
(At the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab from November 1 to 13)
In this exquisite solo show, author and actor Tetsuro Shigematsu explores his relationship to his sometimes distant father. It’s about generations, cultures, and love.
The Draw: Conception, writing, design, and performance: it’s perfect. Last season, the first run of Empire of the Son, produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, sold out.
Target Audience: Do you have a heart? Give it this gift.
(At the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab from November 17 to 27)
In Anusree Roy’s script, a young woman named Rekha is sold into sexual slavery in Kolkata. Local talent Adele Noronha will become Rekha. And Vancouver native Laara Sadiq will return to play the lead role of Jamuna, an older prostitute.
The Draw: Complexity. Although some characters appear monstrous at first, they are all human.
Target Audience: Aware of gender? Show up.
East Van Panto: Little Red Riding Hood
(At the York Theatre from November 23 to December 31)
I know, I know: I recommend Theatre Replacement’s pantos all the time, but they’re a fabulous local institution and they keep getting better.
The Draw: Mark Chavez is writing the script this year. As part of the surrealist comedy duo the Pajama Men, Chavez has made me laugh so hard I thought I might lose my marbles.
Target Audience: Pantos are family entertainment, but this is an East Van panto, so you can define family any way you want: you could even be “family fluid” or “family neutral”. Pronouns could get tricky, but we’ll roll with ’em.