On the waterfront

Reviews from the awesome theatre festival as plays open. Check back often.

Cirque de CJThe cult of celebrity is alive and well in HRM. This is a town where local weather girl Cindy Day can barely get a cup of coffee in peace and where audiences who shun other homegrown shows will come out with bells on for Cathy Jones' Cirque de CJ. For the most part, Cirque is reminiscent of a grade 12 talent show where the students are allowed to say "fuck.” There are glimmers of brilliance, but the whole production has a slightly thrown together feel to it. That being said, the final act, wherein Christine "Tiny" Taylor strips down to her pasties while eating chips and slurping wine, had the audience rolling in the aisles. But forget Cathy Jones; she was only mildly funny. The real reason to come out for this show is Greg Malone's hilarious American-aimed political bit. Perhaps a name change is in order. How about Malone's Madcap Review?

Stars in the Sky MorningHave you ever spent the evening with someone who chatters on about people you don't know and don't care about? Seeing Rhonda Payne's Stars in the Sky Morning is a little like that. It is a play without a dramatic arc---that rising action where conflict leads to a climax and resolution. Imagine random passages from a book by Donna Morrissey being strung together and labeled a play. However, there are two reasons to see this show---Petrina Bromley and Melanie Caines. Caines draws the eye with her puppy-like energy and physicality. She does an admirable job of bringing to life the three characters she plays. Bromley offers the perfect foil with her quieter more self-contained delivery. Watch for her eerie ability to segue from young to old characters. It's not hard to imagine how good these two women would be in a play with a plot.

God's Middle NameIt is impossible to make it through life without facing challenges in health or relationships or finances. God's Middle Name, written by and starring Jennifer Overton, follows the journey of one woman as she faces all these challenges after the birth of her autistic son, Nicholas. The play contains a lot of facts about autism, but avoids the feeling of dumping information by telling the story in a variety of creative vignettes. For instance, the strain that raising a special needs child can put on a marriage is dramatized by showing the Overtons in a dance contest where couples struggle to dance on despite crippling exhaustion. Rejean Cournoyer's portrayal of Nicholas at ages four, eight and 10 is spot on. His tone, speech patterns and especially his movements make it easy to see a special child instead of a grown man. The simple set is augmented by the effective use of visual projections, though avoid the back rows of the theatre if you don't want to hear every change being cued. This is an important play, not only for those facing the challenge of autism, but for those seeking to face any challenge with grace and humour.

Fields of CrimsonTravel back in time to London during World War II with Ruby Shoes' production of Fields of Crimson. Jack (Gordon Gammie) is a war artist who is struggling to express the horrors he has seen in the field. Maggie (Tessa Cameron) is a woman who chooses to use her artistic gifts to chronicle the war despite opposition from her family and fiancé. When the two are assigned to share a studio, sparks, both intellectual and romantic, fly. Music is used to set the scene and flesh-out the story. Katrein, as the sultry singer Simone, is outstanding. Her voice and persona are perfect for the role of music hall siren. The tempo of the play can be uneven at times, but all minor gripes are erased by the effective and affecting ending. It is worth the price of admission just to be there for the unveiling of two paintings that have so much to say about the price of war.

3 Dogs BarkingThe set-up of 3 Dogs Barking will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a police drama on TV: an interview between a criminal and a psychologist while a cop looks on. The cop (Kelly Peck) is foul-mouthed and brutal. The psychologist (John Beale) is brainy and reticent. The felon (Martin Burt) is bitter and manic. The familiar can be comfortable, but this isn't. A sense of unease is established with the opening scenes; the police station is under repair and things are not as they should be. The story of the criminal's crimes—real and imagined—is a labyrinth of lies that links the cop and the criminal through several generations. All three actors give performances that will make you glad that you turned off the TV and ventured down to On the Waterfront. There is no substitute for good live theatre.

Life After HockeyOn one level, Life After Hockey is the story of a stereotypical, self-effacing, beer-drinking, hockey-loving Canadian male. On another, it is an allegory that explores what it means to be human-to dream, to fear, to love. And on another, it's a chronicle of the country of Canada as it finds its place in the world. Whew! So many stories in a little one-man, one-act show. But don't let that intimidate you if you're looking for a night of simple entertainment. This is a gentle play with lots of laughs. Bruce McKay is delightful as Rink Rat Brown, a small-town man in love with the game of hockey. McKay also brings to life Rink Rat's mother, wife, daughter, teammates and even Guy Lafleur. In fact, the only wooden character in the whole play is Wayne Gretzky—and it actually is Wayne Gretzky, albeit recorded.

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