Spring arts preview 2017 theatre critics' picks: Plays span refugees and clowns

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      This spring’s theatre lineup includes some contemporary classics, a number of new plays that take a hard look at politically charged issues, and, on the lighter side, violent clowns and nasty waiters. Here are a few highlights.


      Bonjour, Là, Bonjour

      (At Studio 16 from February 28 to March 11)

      Théâtre la Seizième is on a roll this season. Up next: Gilles Poulin-Denis helms an outstanding cast for what Michel Tremblay reputedly considers to be his best play, a Canadian classic focusing on the secrets of a deeply dysfunctional family.

      The Draw: Iconic work in the right hands: the last time Seizième did a Tremblay play, it scooped up the lion’s share of that season’s Jessie Richardson Awards.

      Target Audience: Those wanting to enrich their knowledge of the Canadian canon. French proficiency is not required: there are English surtitles on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.


      Elbow Room Café: The Musical

      (At the York Theatre from March 2 to 12)

      Playwright Dave Deveau and composer Anton Lipovetsky pay homage to downtown Vancouver’s legendary breakfast spot, famed as much for its food as for the sarcastic service.

      The Draw: Sassy irreverence, which creators Lipovetsky (Cool Beans), and Deveau (Lowest Common Denominator) and director Cameron Mackenzie (5@50) have proven they can dish out in generous portions. Bonus: Allan Zinyk plays the flamboyantly verbally abusive server Patrice.

      Target Audience: Anyone who’s been chastised for leaving food on their plate.


      The Pipeline Project

      (At Gateway Theatre's Studio B from March 9 to 18)

      Creators Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring, and Quelemia Sparrow bring their personal perspectives on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project to a metatheatrical encounter with the issues surrounding pipeline expansion in this province. A facilitated talk-back will follow each performance; featured speakers include representatives from environmental, indigenous, and business groups.

      The Draw: Relevance and complexity. The show itself and the talk-backs acknowledge multiple positions on the issues.

      Target Audience: People who want their theatre to ask hard questions, not give easy answers.


      The Refugee Hotel

      (At Studio 58 from March 23 to April 9)

      Playwright Carmen Aguirre directs the long-awaited Vancouver production of a script she wrote more than 15 years ago, about her real-life experience of fleeing Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile for Vancouver in 1974. Aguirre’s youthful experiences, here in Vancouver and later back in Chile as part of the resistance movement, have been the basis for two best-selling memoirs.

      The Draw: A play about refugees couldn’t be more timely, and with a cast of 17, Aguirre’s play is truly an ensemble piece for a strong crop of Studio 58 talent.

      Target Audience: The compassionate and the curious.


      Angels in America—Part One: Millenium Approaches

      (At the Arts Club’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from March 30 to April 23)

      Rachel Peake’s stellar production at Studio 58 last fall reminded us what a thrilling piece of theatre Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play still is, and recent events south of the border have given a whole new urgency to its message.

      The Draw: The talent. Kim Collier is renowned for her visionary direction, and her superb cast includes Damien Atkins, Ryan Beil, and Gabrielle Rose.

      Target Audience: Despairing about the mess we’re in? Willing to believe in divine intervention? Let’s go.


      Mump and Smoot in Anything
      Ian Jackson


      Mump and Smoot in Anything

      (At the Cultch’s York Theatre from April 27 to May 6)

      When you’re ready for a break from the doldrums, tune in to the Ummonian gibberish of Canada’s most beloved “clowns of horror”, Michael Kennard and John Turner.

      The Draw: This is as live as it gets. Chaos is always on the verge of erupting in a Mump and Smoot show, and these two are pros at milking every opportunity for mass hysteria.

      Target Audience: Anyone who’s ever harboured fantasies of violent revenge on, say, an annoying sibling. But not kids—this show is for adults only.


      Children of God

      (At the York Theatre from May 19 to June 3)

      The Cultch’s world premiere of a new musical by Corey Payette will go on to a run at the National Arts Centre. Payette’s script tells the story of an Oji-Cree family whose children are sent to a residential school in northern Ontario.

      The Draw: Workshop productions have generated a big buzz, along with endorsements from theatre heavyweights across the country.

      Target Audience: People who recognize the pivotal role that storytelling has to play in the process of reconciliation.