I went out to see 52 plays this year, not quite as good as last year’s 74. Determining an order for my top ten this year was hard. This year, at any given time, the top six plays have held the top spot in my mind. This is the order I’ve finally decided on…
Mack Gordon here, sometime collaborator and contributor to TheatreisforSuckers.com. Every year I keep track of almost everything I consume: movies, books, food, friendship, theatre, and more. Last year I wrote a huge blog post analyzing the whole kit. This year I’m doing the same. I’m releasing my theatrical top ten as an exclusive for TheatreisforSuckers.com. If you’d like to see my other lists from this year and last, check out Mackgordon.tumblr.com or www.Mackgordontheatre.com.
I went out to see 52 plays this year, not quite as good as last year’s 74. I wasn’t able to see as many fringe shows due to rehearsals for The Foreigner but 52 is still a play a week and not bad for a guy who is not a reviewer and often has to pay or usher in order to see shows. There are a lot that I wish I was able to see but was out of town for or just couldn’t make the schedule work. I heard seriously great things about Except in the Likely Event of War, Speech & Debate, Becky Shaw, Lungs, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Boeing-Boeing, Winners & Losers, Hamlet, and Proof, among many others, but my absence from their seats has led to their absence from my list. Determining an order for my top ten this year was hard. Last year’s number one was a no contest, as All the Way Home was probably the most moving piece of art I’ve ever seen. This year, at any given time, the top six plays have held the top spot in my mind. This is the order I’ve finally decided on:
What a strange show. What an experience. The Russian Hall in East Van was converted into a grid of seats. The company created the story collectively, directed by Steven Hill, Nancy Tam composed probably the best soundscape and design I heard all year, Parjad Sharifi’s lighting design could’ve stood on its own as a piece of art, and the set – cardboard walls that slid along the lines of our grid – told massive stories of isolation and connection. The actors were great too, architects of the world the audience came to live among. At points they spoke secretly around us, at other points they spoke directly to us. But the story was almost indecipherable. We were lucky enough to be there on an evening with a talk back and I was allowed to air my frustrations and questions. Frustration: maybe once a year I can convince my non-theatre friends to come see a show with me. For 2013, this was the show. If they thought theatre ‘wasn’t for them’ before, I was terrified what they’d feel now. Question: In a piece that is collectively composed, why does it seem the writer is always the piece most absent? If you can have a lighting designer, and a sound designer, and a director, and actors – who are all the captains of their mediums, necessarily guided by the rest of the collective – why can’t you have a writer? Someone to collect the masses of experimentation and transpose them into intelligible form, the same way the director and designers do? The talk back portion of the show contributed as much to ‘Der Wink’ making this list as the performance itself. The creators were gracious and warm. It seemed like the plan for the show all along was to create avenues for connecting and communicating. And I think my friends actually liked it. Maybe I need to give them more credit.
The inaugural production for Yogurt Theatre was a very competent premiere. Christopher Gauthier’s set put you right out the window, peaking in at a father and daughter’s creepy little gas station house. Horror theatre as a genre can be very tough to pull off. How do you make an audience scared when they’re never alone? To really scare people you need to destroy artifice, even momentarily, and that can be nearly impossible to do in a conventional theatre setting. You need full suspension of disbelief. Still, everyone involved in Cold Comfort did a bang up job of telling an engaging, off-putting story.
I was in attendance on the first preview for Main Street Theatre’s production of the Neil Simon hit, but the cast was still rolling. For my money, Ryan Beil is the best actor on Vancouver stages. His commitment to his roles is absolute, his comic timing is surprising and tight, and his portrayals are always unique. I can never predict how he’ll react but I always believe him. He plays real instead of playing for the laugh. But he always gets the laugh.
It was thrilling just to see so many actors on stage at the same time on the tiny Culture Lab stage. The music and set were awesome and there were a few outstanding performances, Bob Frazer, Brahm Taylor, and Rachel Aberle in particular. Ami Gladstone did a pretty good job of putting together a compelling adaptation. While the pulse of the plot sometimes went a little cold, my inclination to philosophical musing kept me engaged for the whole ride.
I had heard a lot about Avenue Q when I was in university. During a trip to New York I got to see it on Broadway and was a little disappointed. The things I had heard made me believe that it was the most subversive thing on Earth. But something about that production just didn’t click for me. It was as if the punch lines expected milk-through-the-nose surprise. I had the opposite experience when I saw it at the Arts Club. If I had been drinking milk, it wouldn’t have made it to my stomach. Everything seemed so much fresher. Phenomenal performances from all in the cast, but Kayla Dunbar, Scott Bellis, and Shannon Chan-Kent particularly stuck out to me.
John Steinbeck really knows how to tell a story. You know what’s coming and it’s utterly inevitable and it’s still so so so sad. Sebastian Kroon pulled off the extremely challenging role of Lenny with absolute grace and sincerity. I know how much sweat Hardline puts into their shows, I know how hard Sean Harris Oliver, Genevieve Fleming, and Raes Calvert worked to transform Little Mountain into depression era California and I’m so proud of them for achieving a sublime vision of a show. These guys are unstoppable and still only sniffing at their potential for telling stories. Look out, Vancouver.
I love seeing shows that experiment with form. Marcus Youssef stands on stage and tells us the story of his mother, a story that he hasn’t yet told to his children. His son plays the piano, accompanying Youssef, and hearing the story for the ‘first’ time. The lengths that people will go to support family members in need might be proof of God’s existence. As Youssef listed off the bureaucratic hoops he had to jump through to aid his mother, I wondered if I was even capable of that kind of frustrating care. I took the play as a challenge, to love more unconditionally, to work harder, and to get to know the
deep histories of my own family members while they’re still able to remember the tales themselves.
A triumph for written (and spoken) word. I loved seeing a show that was so reliant on text and imagination. All the performances were phenomenal but what I found most interesting was seeing Leanna Brodie slow-play her character’s build and arc. In a show made of intercut monologues, it’s brave to sacrifice some of your high points per section in favour of a scenery shattering climax three quarters of the way through. It also reminded me of movies that take place in one room, and how at first you think, ‘how am I going to watch this for two hours?’ and then, so submerged in the world, when the credits begin to play, you’re surprised to see that you’ve just been in your chair the whole time.
Funny and touching and too real for a tender heart. Erla-Fay Forsythe put together one of the realest characters I’ve ever seen on stage. Sometimes you could strangle her but you always love her. Having read the script beforehand, I wasn’t sure how the playwright’s autobiographical cipher – Bill – could be pulled off without being whiney and annoying and self-aware but Anthony F. Ingram’s honesty to the world around him made him sympathetic and fully-formed, aware of his reality but never too omniscient to be surprised.
A really magical evening, during the PuSH Festival, in the Wise Hall in East Van. Prudencia Hart ends up in a strange town, meeting strange people. The show itself was part folk concert, part legend, part community tavern. It was the kind of experience, the kind of event, that I wish all theatre could be: a great story told in the most intimate way, with ingenuity and problem solving, stakes so high your very soul is on the line, and a twinkle in the performer’s eye that makes you wonder if they’re human at all, or, perhaps, some nighttime imp, some fairy, that comes alive at 8 pm on the dot when the show starts and then disintegrates to a fine powder in a yellowed jar right at the stroke of midnight, seconds after a post-show whiskey with an interested audience member or two.
Admiration of Ambition:
Sci-Fi Double Feature – Ramshackle Theatre @ Neanderthal Festival | Fall Away Home – Boca Del Lupo
Performances that can’t be ranked as plays:
Hive New Bees Vol 3 – Resounding Scream | Art Fight Vol 1 – Sum Theatre | Pull Festival Vol 2 – Sum Theatre