May 11-13 & 18-20, 2012
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm (Doors open 7pm)
Sunday Matinees at 2 pm (Doors open 1:30pm)
By donation $0-$20. Limited seating.
Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre
Chief Simon Baker Room, 1607 East Hastings Street
May 11-13 & 18-20, 2012
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm (Doors open 7pm)
Sunday Matinees at 2 pm (Doors open 1:30pm)
By donation $0-$20. Limited seating.
Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre
Chief Simon Baker Room, 1607 East Hastings Street
Chelsea Hotel is inventive and theatrical – and probably more fun than a Leonard Cohen concert!
Adrian Glynn McMorran (The Writer), Marlene Ginader (The Lover), Steve Charles (The Sideman), and Lauren Bowler (Sister of Mercy) perform many dramatic and musically diverse collaborations of Leonard Cohen songs during “Chelsea Hotel” at the Firehall Arts Centre – photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre
Chelsea Hotel featuring the songs
of Leonard Cohen
Venue 8 February – 3 March 2012, 8pm, (2pm Weekend matinees
& 1pm Wedmatinees) | Firehall Arts Centre
Conceived and Directed by Tracey Power
Artistic Direction by Donna Spencer
Music Direction by Steven Charles
Performed by Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler, Steve Charles, Benjamin Elliott, Marlene Ginader, Adrian Glynn McMorran
DATES: February 8 to March 3, 2012
8pm, 2pm (Weekend matinees), 1pm (Wednesday matinees)
Today is opening night of “Chelsea Hotel” at Firehall Arts Centre –
featuring songs and poetry of Leonard Cohen…. AND the ACCORDION is a
featured instrument… actually it is the first musical instrument to play in
this amazingly theatrical production. There are constant visual surprises for the audience. And there are musical surprises too. Three
males and three females take turns on up to many different instruments
including violin, cello, double bass, electric guitar, electric bass, drum kit, acoustic guitar, keyboard, ukelele, tambourine, and kazoo…
I saw Chelsea Hotel on Friday Night – the first performance… a world premiere – preview version… and LOVED IT. I have had Leonard Cohen ear-worms in my head all weekend, as I listened to my Cohen cd's trying to figure out the titles of the songs that were included in the production.
There have been many musicals made of songs by specific songwriters. Mama Mia by ABBA… Jersey Boys is based on the music of The Four Seasons… Uptown Girl is the music of Billy Joel. And way before that, musicals were made of George Gershwin and Cole Porter songs. All of these have a story arcs, and dialogue to develop the plot lines.
But there is no invented dialogue in Chelsea Hotel, nothing but the songs and poetry of Leonard Cohen. Director Tracey Power has conceived and created a theatrical presentation that moves seamlessly from song to song with interspersed words of poetry. The drama is in the storytelling of the songs. The dynamic tension is in the body language and the faces of the performers. The story is in the words of each song, as they speak of love, break ups, regret, hate, and reconciliation. And somehow it all works.
Like the musical Chicago, these performances are part fantasy and part memory recall. The character called The Writer (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is trying to write at his desk and having difficulties. The inventive set is piled high with crumpled pieces of paper. The Writer is having writer's block in a room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City (where Cohen lived for awhile). He groans and crumples up another piece of paper to throw it against the wall. Suddenly a man pops up playing a tune on an accordion… and thus the interior workings of The Writer's attempts at song writing began, The Writer recalls a woman in his life – and a female performer steps onto the stage singing about their relationship. Then next another musician steps onstage for accompaniment, and another woman who joins in the singing…
Steve Charles (guitar), Benjamin Elliott (accordion), Marlene Ginader (violin), Rachel Aberle (voice), photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre
The songs are strangely familiar, as they take their turns like old shirts from a long forgotten box of clothes. They are comfortable, and in a variety of musical styles and arrangements. Some songs are old like Suzanne or Lover Lover Lover. Many are from Cohen's middle period of the 80's and 90's such as I'm Your Man, Tower of Song, First We Take Manhattan and Hallelujah.
The production is sooooo playful. There is a carnival cabaret atmosphere, with the performers all wearing whitened faces and exagerated costumes. Benjamin Elliot's character is called The Magician. Musical Director Steve Charles is performing as The Side Man. The arrangements vary from solo instruments to string trio, acoustic folk stylings, to full-on rock and roll.
I found the
musicianship to be surprisingly good… the performers pick up
their instruments and play them when you least expect it. Rachel Aberle and
Lauren Bowler as The Sisters of Mercy, both have amazing presence and create dynamic and sexual
tension with Adrian Glynn McMorran's The Writer and the audience. Marlene Ginader is innoculously beautiful to watch. She first seems to float down from the mountain of
crumpled paper after appearing first as musical supporting cast on violin, and her character The Lover, takes on increasingly important dynamics.
Friday night was the first audience performance prior to Wednesday's Opening Night on Feb 8th. I thought the production flowed well. There was a standing ovation for the performers.
don't sit in the audience far left side. It is hard to see some aspects
of the stage and performers – that are hidden by a set design.
Marlene Ginader (The Lover), and Adrian Glynn McMorran(The Writer) sing their hearts out to each other, after loving, hating, resenting, pining, forgiving each other to find resolution. - photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre
see other links about Chelsea Hotel:
Shigematsu (far left) and Todd Wong (right) granted the Gung Haggis Fat
Choy Intercultural Awards of Awesomeness to Vancouver Opera's James
Wright, poet Fred Wah, and Ricepaper founder Jim Wong-Chu.
“Politicians of all stripes must have had other business in this
postelection malaise, as the 15th annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie
Burns Chinese New Year dinner went off without them.
The only person to note this was Scottish-born-and-raised local political veteran Margaret Birrell, who told the Straight that Scotland is likely to vote for independence from the U.K. in 2014.
Other than Birrell, nobody seemed to mind too much, as there was music, poetry, whisky, haggis, banter, and fun a-plenty.
Tetsuro Shigematso and Gung Haggis creator Todd “Toddish McWong” Wong
made sure the night was seamless at the Floata Restaurant in Chinatown,
which culminated in a cross-cultural Mandarin-English version of “Auld
Lang Syne” (“Youyi dichang-tianju”), traditionally used to sing in the
New Year in Scotland and elsewhere.”
read more at:
Gung Haggis Fat Choy – the TV special!!
Will it ever be shown again?
It was a lot of fun consulting for this project. Moyra was great to work with, as was executive producer Rae Hull. And I also became friends with Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibuault of Silk Road Music, George Sapounidis of Ottawa, and also got to know The Paperboys. Neil Gray gave the Address to the Haggis. And my longtime bagpiper friend Joe McDonald and his band Brave Waves was featured performing Auld Lang Syne with singer La La – who was also featured later at Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner events.
In 2007 CBC created a documentary series about long time multi-generational families across Canada. The Rev. Chan Yu Tan family and descendants were selected to be the family from BC. This was also due to the work I had done in organizing Rev. Chan family reunions, blogging about the family, and helping create a photo exhibition at the Chinese Cultural Centre titled Three Pioneer Canadian Chinese Families in 2002.
Some of the footage from the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy tv performance special were included in the Generations: The Chan Legacy documentary, as well as footage from a 2004 interview I did with Peter Mansbridge for CBC's The National news show.
Here is the picture of me and write up about the Generations: The Chan Legacy documentary
The documentary begins with Todd Wong playing the accordion, wearing a
kilt. He promotes cultural fusion, and in doing so, he honours the
legacy of his great, great, grandfather Reverend Chan Yu Tan. The Chans
go back seven generations in Canada and are one of the oldest families
on the West Coast. Reverend Chan's granddaughter Helen Lee, grandson
Victor Wong, and great grandson Gary Lee recall being barred from
theaters, swimming pools and restaurants. The Chinese were not allowed
to become doctors or lawyers, pharmacists or teachers. Still, several
members of the Chan family served in World War II, because they felt
they were Canadian and wanted to contribute. Finally, in 1947, Chinese
born in Canada were granted citizenship and the right to vote.
Today, Todd Wong, represents a younger generation of successful
professionals and entrepreneurs scattered across North America. He
promotes his own brand of cultural integration through an annual event
in Vancouver called Gung Haggis Fat Choy. It's a celebration that joins
Chinese New Year with Robbie Burns Day, and brings together the two
cultures that once lived completely separately in the early days of
What to expect at the Gung Haggis Fat Choy 2012 Dinner…
Dr. Jan Walls is beloved in both Chinese and Academic and other circles. He is a scholar of Chinese language, as well as a former cultural attache for the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. We love him because he performs the ancient tradition of Chinese clapper tales. We are daring Dr. Walls to set the poetry of Robert Burns to the rapping beat of Chinese bamboo clappers.
performers include Gung Haggis Pipes & Drums, and the Black Bear Rebels celtic ceilidh ensemble…
More on them in later posts…
What are you wearing? Kilts and tartans, as well as Chinese jackets and cheong-sam dresses are preferred. But our guests are dressed both formal and casual – be comfortable, be outrageous, be yourself. If you want to wear a Chinese jacket or top, paired with a kilt or mini-kilt… that is great!
We might have a kilt fashion show for 2012… we might have a Chinese cheong-sam fashion show… we will see what happens. One year, one guest dressed up like a Chinese mandarin scholar. Another year, two guests dressed up as cowboys.
The doors will open at 5:00 pm, All tables are reserved, and all seating is placed in the
order that they were ordered.
you bought your tickets through Firehall Arts Centre, come to the
reception marked Will Call under the corresponding alphabet letters. We
have placed you at tables in order of your purchase. Somebody who
bought their ticket in December will be at a table closer to the stage
then somebody who bought it in mid January, or on the day before the event. We think this
is fair. If you want to sit close for next year – please buy your ticket
you are at a table with one of the sponsoring organizations: Historic
Joy Kogawa House, ACWW/Ricepaper Magazine, Gung Haggis dragon boat team -
then somebody will meet you at the reception area and guide you to your
The Bar is open at 5:00 and Dinner Start time is 6:00
expect a rush before the posted 6:00pm
time. We have asked that the 1st appetizer platter be placed on the
table soon after 6pm. Once this is done, we will start the Piping in of
our performers and head table. We sing “O Canada” from the stage, and
give welcome to our guests. “Calling of the Clans” is done for sponors, and reserved table clans – if you would like to have your clan or group announced, please reserve a table of 10.
Buy Your Raffle Tickets:
raffle tickets… this is how we generate our fundraising to support
this organizations dedicated to multiculturalism and cultural harmony.
Food prices have been rising, but we have
purposely keep our admission costs low so that they are
affordable and the dinner can be attended by more
people. Children's tickets are subsidized so that we can include
them in the audience and be an inclusive family for the evening. We have some great door
and raffle prizes lined up. Lots of books (being the writers we
are), gift certificates and theatre tickets + other surprises.
FREE Subscription for Ricepaper Magazine:
Everybody is eligible for a subscription to RicePaper Magazine,
(except children). This is our thank you gift to you for attending our
dinner. And to add value ($20) to your ticket. Pretty good deal, eh? Ricepaper Magazine
is Canada's best journal about Asian Canadian arts and
culture, published by Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop,
This dinner is the primary fundraising event for:
The Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dragon Boat team
continues to promote multiculturalism through
dragon boat paddling events. Some paddlers wear kilts, and we have been
filmed for German, French, and Canadian television documentaries + other
Since 2001, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop,
has been a partner in this remarkable dinner event. ACWW works actively
to give a voice to ermerging writers. ACWW is the publisher of Ricepaper Magazine.
Historic Joy Kogawa House committee joined our family of recipients in 2006, during the campaign to save Joy Kogawa's childhood home from demolition. The Land
Conservancy of BC stepped in to fundraise in 2005 and purchase Kogawa House
in 2006 and turn it into a National literary landmark and treasure for all
Canadians. In 2009, we celebrated our inaugural Writer-in-Residence program.
This year haggis dim sum appetizers will
be served. Haggis is mixed into the Pork Su-mei dumplings which we introduced a few years. This year we are adding vegetarian pan-fried turnip cake to represent “Neeps and Tatties.” Our signature dish is our deep-fried haggis won-tons served with a special sauce.
after 6:00 pm the dinner formalities begin. People
are seated, and the Piping in of the musicians and
hosts begins. We will lead a singalong of Scotland the Brave and give
a good welcome to our guests, and have the calling of the clans – all
the reserved tables and large parties of 10. This is a tradition at
many Scottish ceilidhs (kay-lees), or gatherings.
From then on… a new dish will appear somewhere around 15 minutes -
quickly followed by one of our co-hosts introducing a poet or musical
performer. Serving 40 tables within 5 minutes, might not work
completely, so please be patient. We will encourage our guests
and especially the waiters to be quiet while the performers are on stage.
Then for the 5 minute intermissions, everybody can talk and make noise
before they have to be quiet for the performers again.
Check this video from past year's Dinner
Expect the unexpected: This year's dinner event is full of surprises. Even I don't know what is going to happen. The idea is to recreate the spontaneity of the very
first dinner for 16 people back in 1998 – but with 400+ guests. For
that very first dinner, each guest was asked to bring a song or a poem to share. I
don't want to give anything away right now as I
prefer the evening to unfold with a sense of surprise and
wonderment. But let it be known that we have an incredible
array of talent for the evening.
by Robbie Burns and Chinese Canadian poets. What will it be? We often
like to read “Recipe for Tea” – a poem by Jim Wong-Chu, about the
trading of tea from Southern China to Scotland
Our non-traditional reading of the “Address to the
Haggis” is always a crowd pleaser. But
this year, audience members might also be reading a different Burns poem to
tie their tongues around the gaelic tinged words. Will it be “A
Man's A Man for All That,” “To a Mouse,” My Luv is Like a Red Red Rose,” or maybe even “Tam O-Shanter?”
The evening will wrap up somewhere
between 9:00 and
9:30 pm, with the singing of Auld Lang Syne – we start with a verse in Mandarin
Chinese, then sing in English or Scottish. Then we will socialize further until 10pm. People will
leave with smiles on their faces and say to
each other, “Very Canadian,” “Only in Vancouver could something
like this happen,” or “I'm telling my friends.”
Tickets now on sale
through Firehall Arts Centre
Tetsuro Shigematsu (centre) tells wild and crazy stories about co-hosts Toddish McWong (left) and Jenna Chow (right), as Todd and Jenna prepare to read the poem “Recipe for Tea” composed by Jim Wong-Chu, one of our traditional Gung Haggis Fat Choy poems – photo Lydia Nagai
Tetsuro himself is very intercultural, very Gung Haggis. While he is of Japanese ancestry, he was born in London England, and raised in Quebec. His wife is Persian… He speaks Persian as well as English, French and Japanese… And his beautiful spirited children are Japanese-Persian-Canadians.
I first got to know Tetsuro back in the early 2000's when he was a member of the sketch comedy group, The Hot Sauce Posse. Soon after he was the new radio host for CBC Radio's “The Round Up” replacing Bill Richardson.
In February, Tetsuro was a speaker for TedX – the topic sounds soooo Gung Haggis. Chinese in Kilts? A walking Oxymoron?
www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHlSuPe0imA22 Feb 2011 – 17 min – Uploaded by TEDxTalks
Stick out your thumb. That's the thickness of my press package. If you flip through it, fanning past you would …
This past summer Tetsuro has been very busy. He hosted the Asian Comedy Night by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre in June.
But in August, I saw Tetsuro in the play Salmon Row, about the history of the Steveston community in Richmond. It was a brilliant play that told the history of BC and the salmon and cannery industry which also focused on the interactions of the non-White communities. The audience witnessed the effects of the provincial legislation against Chinese workers such as the head tax and Exclusion Act, against the First Nations workers such as the Potlatch Law and Residential Schools, and against the Japanese fisherman such as reduction of fishing licenses, and the internment during WW2. Tetsuro did an incredible job, playing multiple roles and
Enjoy this clips from Tetsuros's video website www.shiggy.com
This is the video that went viral – a response to the Maclean's article “Too Asian?” – As
seen in the National Post, Global Television, Vancouver Sun, Geist
Magazine, Epoch Times, Vancouver Observer, etc.
Tickets now on sale
through Firehall Arts Centre
Seattle Met magazine features a story
about Toddish McWong
and Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner in Seattle!
Check out this story in the Seattle Met magazine, about Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner history, Toddish McWong origins and the upcoming Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner in Seattle.
A Vancouverite brings his Chinese and Scottish mash-up to Rain City. WHAT DO ROBERT BURNS, Wong took a shine to the poetry recitations—including Burns’s He hosted the first public Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner in Vancouver,
Adventures in Multiculturalism
haggis, lion dancers, and the Chinese New Year have in common? That
would be Toddish McWong, aka Todd Wong, a fifth-generation Chinese
Canadian. Wong created Gung Haggis Fat Choy, a Scottish and Chinese
cross-cultural holiday that has spread from Canada to China and
Scotland, and earned him an introduction to the Scottish First Minister.
In 1993, as a student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia,
Wong was asked to slip on a kilt and help out with a campus Robert Burns
supper, a nod to the eighteenth-century Scottish poet.
“Address to a Haggis”—but not to the music (bagpipes) or the food
(haggis: sheep innards minced with oatmeal and simmered in the animal’s
stomach). He donned the tartan, but complemented his costume with
elements of the Lunar Chinese New Year—he covered his face with a lion
mask and carried Chinese food instead of haggis. “I thought, This is a
really interesting way to look at multiculturalism—to flip stereotypes.
So I called myself Toddish McWong.”
BC, in 1999, celebrating Scottish and Chinese cultures. And people from
all over the region have flocked to it, including Bill McFadden of
Seattle’s Caledonian and St. Andrew’s Society (he’s Clan MacLaren).
McFadden convinced Wong to bring the event to Western Washington in
2007. Since then hundreds of Seattleites have showed up to devour
deep-fried haggis wontons, sing along to “My Haggis-Chow Mein Lies Over
the Ocean,” and hear McWong perform his “Address to a Haggis” rap,
surely the way the Scottish bard intended.
A Vancouverite brings his Chinese and Scottish mash-up to Rain City.
WHAT DO ROBERT BURNS,
Wong took a shine to the poetry recitations—including Burns’s
He hosted the first public Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner in Vancouver,
Vancouver Opera: La Clemenza di Tito – Leadership or culture bending subtlety?
Expect an evening of subtlety and sublime beautiful music. No big action scenes or over the top drama of people taking 10 minutes to die. It's a salon-style opera with beautiful and exquisite Mozart music. Do pay attention to the costume changes, and the spiritual metaphor of the Greek-style chorus. Also keep your eyes open for gender bending roles, as castrato singers are now non-existent, but replaced by female sopranos.. The story is about the “clemency” or “mercy” of Emperor Tito. As he strives to be a leader for all of the empire, valuing forgiveness and belief in the goodness of others, he faces the ultimate challenge – the betrayal of a loyal friend, and a chosen consort.
An All-Canadian cast give strong lead performances as Toronto's Krisztina Szabo as “Sesto”, carries out the wicked revenge plot of New Brunswick's Wendy Nielsen as Vitellia against Edmonton's John Tessier as Emperor Tito. The roles of Sesto and also Servilia (Campbell River's Kathleen Brett) were originally written for castrati males, but now played by female mezzo-soprano and soprano, made for some interesting gender bending romance. As in traditional Chinese opera, female roles were traditionally played by males, because “only men knew how women should act”, according to the line in the David Henry Hwang play and movie “M. Butterfly. Technically, the roles are male, but it's interesting to play with a female + female context. And of course we go to opera for the music! But in a town such as Vancouver with a large GLBT population, this is a good market for such a piece.
Vitellia has her eye on the crown of the empress, and has been passed over by Tito several times, in favor of other women such as Servilia. She takes advantage of Sesto's “love” for her, and asks Sesto to murder Titus. But before this can happen, Servilia admits to Tito that she is actually in love with Vitellia's brother Annio (Calgary's Norine Burgess – in the 2nd castrato role). This is all acted and sung out in lovely tension-filled arias, as the plot unravels up to the intermission.
Titus preaches forgiveness as a leader – like Mandela preaches forgiveness in the movie Vindictus, as he struggled to move South Africa beyond Apartheid – so suggested Michael Byers @ Opera Speaks panel discussion at Vancouver Public Library
Picture of the Chorus costumes, while taking bows, from the Vancouver Opera flickr stream.
The chorus is presented in the style of a editorializing Greek Chorus, that comments on the actions and thoughts of the lead characters as if they are the gods, that these Romans blame or pray to. Interestingly, they are dressed in toga-like robes of saffron, orange and reds that would seem to be more commonly found on an ashram in India. A gold dot also adorns the forehead of each chorus member.
The background of this rarely performed Mozart opera is very interesting. Not as bombastic as Don Giovanni or The Magic Flute, or as full of musical flurries such as Cosi Fan Tutte, La Clemenza di Tito is a delight in its subtlety. Supposedly written in three weeks while Mozart was ill, and while he was still working on the Magic Flute. It was a rush job, for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as the new king of Bohemia.
The libretto was adapted from a fifty
year old work by the Viennese court poet Metastasio (Pietro
Antonio Domenico Trapassi) that had already been used many times by
other composers – but as I sat in the theatre, all I could hear was Mozart. From the opening bars of the overture, it reminded me of how much Mozart has meant to both my musical education and pleasure. It recalled the days of my youth when I played Mozart's Titus Overture in an accordion ensemble, and in my college days, when I performed the Sallieri soliloquy from the Peter Shaffer play “Amadeus.” And like so many of the audience, I became lost in the beauty of the music, as the orchestra dissolved to the simplicity of a solo piano forte performed by Conductor and musical director Jonathan Darlington, accentuated by solo cello, clarinet or basset horn. We were very pleased to see the soloists from the orchestra, Ari Barnes, Mary Backun and Caroline Gauthier brought up on stage for bows along with Chorus Director Leslie Dala.
Check out the wonderful videos from the Vancouver Opera website
Last week CBC Radio One was discussing the opera audience as white-haired and caucasian (which I don't fit into – okay maybe the age demographic since I turned 50 last May). The Vancouver opera is very aware of trying to reach a more culturally diverse audience. While some of the bloggers commented that it was a very mixed ethnic crowd on opening night Saturday on Feb 5th, the audience that I saw on Tuesday Feb 8th, was very white haired and caucasian. But I did see a number of gay and lesbian couples.
Cultural diversity can take many forms. If the opera does want a more ethnic mix in the audience, the best route to go is to feature more ethnic leads in key roles, not just in Madame Butterfly and Turandot, or Nixon in China – but in all productions. Afterall opera in Hong Kong, and Japan feature Asian singers in many roles. The costumes in La Clemenza di Tito were 18th Century, while the opera is set in Ancient Rome. In the first half, the principles are wearing black, in the second half they are wearing white. The chorus appears to be wearing South Asian style religious robes, all in the name of artistic merit – not historical accuracy. Female singers have replaced male in the original castrato roles. A few singers of colour in lead roles would not look out of place in this production.
Patron Saint of Stanley Park, written by
Hiro Kanagawa, is welcome addition to Arts Club Theatre's Vancouver's Holiday Theatre repertoire
The Patron Saint of Stanley Park
Arts Club Revue Theatre
written by Hiro Kanagawa
Starring Jillian Fargey, Brian
Linds, Derek Metz, introducing
Valsy Bergeron and Joseph Gustafson
Director Stephen Drover
Think of Christmas in Stanley Park, and we normally think Bright Lights Christmas Train… but if it was December 2006, there was an ice storm that destroyed many trees in Stanley Park.
Now imagine that a teen-aged girl and her techno-geek younger brother are going to Stanley Park to lay some flowers in memory of their father who mysteriously disappeared on Christmas Eve last year, while flying his seaplane to Vancouver Island while dressed in a Santa suit. They are supposed to be taking the bus to their Uncle's Christmas Dinner on the North Shore. But their mother is pre-occupied working two jobs. They are each working out their grief in different ways, acknowledgement, denial and false hope.
We are introduced to Skookum Pete, a homeless man in Stanley Park, who speaks to the audience, breaking down the fourth wall. Pete talks about the park, the weather, and about the voices he hears – through his fillings! Brian Linds does a wonderful job playing Pete. He is friendly and the audience quickly builds trust, while laughing with Pete at his distorted yet perceptive view of society. Pete pushes a shopping cart and carries a torch with a cheese grater to protect his lantern.
Valsy Bergeron wonderfully plays the older sister Jennifer, on the brink of womanhood, looking out for her brother Josh, played by a young Joseph Gustafson. They easily capture the family dynamics of push and pull, caught between Jennifer's rebellion against her mother, and her wish to memorialize her father. Meanwhile Josh continually asserts that he believes that their father will turn up somehow, while recognizing that their mother is spending lots of her time at work.
The Arts Club has really developed a Christmas theatre repertoire for Vancouver. “It's a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” are currently playing at the Granville Island Stage and the Stanley Industrial Arts Alliance Stage. They have also brought original theatre to Vancouver for Christmas with Nicola Cavendish's “It's Snowing on Saltspring” and Ann Mortifee's “Reflections of Crooked Walking”, as well as “Beauty and the Beast” in past years.
“The Patron Saint of Stanley Park” was commissioned to Vancouver area playwright/actor Hiro Kanagawa as part of the Silver Commission, helping to develop new work. Kanagawa is probably more familiar to Vancouver television audiences on many Vancouver filmed shows such as Caprica, X-Files, Highlander, Smallville (as Principal Kwan), and Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Kanagawa often appears on stage, and was recently in “After the Quake” at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. His past work has also included “White Balance” and he wrote “Tiger of Malaya.”
This family Christmas tale fantastically integrates Science Fiction, mythology and Stanley Park icons. It is amazing to think there once really was a signal tower and bunker on Prospect Point, as there houses along Brockton Point. Kangawa wanted to incorporate elements of Vancouver such as seaplanes into the play, to help build Vancouver's own theatrical references and recognizability. And the audience loves it! People can relate to the huge trees in Stanley Park and imagine the trees crashing down during the infamous 2006 windstorm that dramatically re-arranged the landscape of the park.
The multi-leveled stage is plain, covered with grays. At first it appears boring. But it soon comes to life, full of surprises as “trees” drop from the ceiling, darkness envelopes the theatre during the storm sequence, and bright lights appear in unexpected places. Stage direction is clever and inventive, making good use of the levels, and the projections into the audience. I am also pleased to note that music is by Noah Drew, whom I've known since he was a child 24 years ago. Drew has matured into one of the city's finest theatre sound composers. His work is subtle and unobtrusive, while being ambient and enhancing to the action on stage.
The play development is good. At the end of the first act, the children have been rescued during the storm by Skookum Pete, meanwhile their mother is frantic and trying to reach her children by phone. This perfectly sets up the second act for revelations for each of the characters, as well as resolutions to their issues. There are some wonderful surprises in the second act which I won't reveal. This play is definitely suitable for families, as the young characters carry the play along with Skookum Pete. But as expected of a Christmas play, we are encouraged to empathetically share emotions with the characters, and discover what makes Christmas meaningful for each of us, while recognizing what is also meaningful for others.