2015 Year in Review — The Plays I Saw

Welcome to my fourth annual Year in Review. Last year’s review was done right here on Medium. If you’d like to check out 2012 and 2013’s, you can pay a visit to my tumblr blog at www.mackgordon.tumblr.com.

Each year, I keep track of several categories that I consume. This year I’ll be covering: the Plays I Saw, the Movies I Watched, the Books I Read, the Food I Ate (in a much smaller version than previous years), and, of course, the People I Spent Time With. I may also do a little ‘Year in my Career’ rundown at the end too.

I didn’t see as many plays this year as I have in years previous but here’s the comprehensive list followed by an honourable mention and then the top ten.

Underneath The Lintel — Pacific Theatre

The Competition is Fierce — ITSZOO Productions

Whipping Man — Pacific Theatre

Farewell My Lovely — Arts Club

Inside/Out — Main Street Theatre

The Duchess — The Cultch

Freud’s Last Session — Pacific Theatre

J Caesar — Escape Artists Co-op

Rip Van Winkle — (reading) Revolver Festival

Fool for Love — Clockwork Theatre

Scratch — Theatre Plexus

The Shakespeare Show — Project X Theatre (Kamloops)

The Night’s Mare — Caravan Farm Theatre (Enderby)

The Exclusion Zone — Martin Dockery (Vancouver Fringe)

Eurydice — Plan Z Theatre (Vancouver Fringe)

Alone in the Universe — Adam Pateman (Vancouver Fringe)

Middle of Everywhere — Wonderheads (Vancouver Fringe)

Grandma’s Dead — Sam Mullins (Vancouver Fringe)

The Four of Us — The Common Era (Vancouver Fringe)

He Roars — Kirsty Provan (Vancouver Fringe)

Hunger Games — District 13 Productions (Vancouver Fringe)

Edgar Allan — The Coldharts (Vancouver Fringe)

White Pants — Hip.Bang! (Vancouver Fringe)

Keith Brown Exchange — Keith Brown (Vancouver Fringe)

Diary of Anne Frank — Trinity Western University

Peter n Chris and the Hungry Heart Motel — Peter n’ Chris

Flee — Electric Company Theatre and Studio 58

Christmas Carole on the air — Pacific Theatre

Honourable Mention

Stationary — Delinquent Theatre

I’ve seen this show a ton of times so I didn’t want to put it in the main list but I did want to give the team at Delinquent a shoutout. When you work on a play as long as they’ve worked on Stationary, it can be easy to get lost in the mire of rewrites and reconfigurations, but man did they ever knock it out of the park this year. Sationary 2015 showed a phenomenal growth since its last appearance on the list. The performances, script, and directing were piano wire tight.

TOP TEN

10. Tender Napalm — Twenty-Something Theatre

Prepare for the year in white backgrounded press shots

A fantastic tour through the power of words — underscored with abstract dance choreography — Tender Napalm was sometimes overwritten and a little long but carried a significant emotional weight by the end. Claire Hesselgrave is one of my very favourite Vancouver actors and she didn’t disappoint a bit in this strange — incredibly challenging — lexical terrain.

9. Ebenezer — Seven Tyrants

Seven Tyrants is engaged and committed to the Brechtian style of storytelling, which is both its main strength and weakness. Ebenezer was unlike any other show you could’ve seen in 2015, and I’m not just talking about the Christmas season. It’s bizarre, kooky, and sometimes even scary. But above all, it’s never boring. Lots of great performances in this one, particularly Andrew Wheeler playing the titular Ebenezer and reinventing how I’ll hear the classic lines in my head from now on. Daniel Doerksen’s musical design and composition is some of the most interesting and exciting coming out of Vancouver right now. He paraphrases old, staple songs and throughout his own original music. It makes for a mystery of its own, underscoring Seven Tyrants already meta narrative. I can’t wait to see what happens when these guys start to pick and choose a little more liberally with Brecht’s style and their own inspirations.

8. Post Secret: The Show— Firehall Arts Centre

Very moving and effective. I was sometimes annoyed by the execution of form — in a play that so relies on honesty and truth, the performances sometimes felt a little too pushed or disingenuous in an intense effort at honesty — but the content was great. TJ Dawe and his team did an amazing job of capturing what is compelling about Post Secret — a collection of designed postcards revealing an anonymous source’s deepest darkest — into a live show. The human capacity for identification knows no bounds.

7. The Fighting Season —Bleeding Heart Theatre (Vancouver Fringe)

A very mature script from Sean Harris Oliver that keeps you on the edge of your seat with earned intensity. The acting was stupendous and helped to carry the grit, in the close quartered Carousel Theatre space, without going over the top. Oliver is one of the hardest working young professionals in the theatre right now and I can’t wait to see the next incarnation of this script.

6. Cock — Rumble Theatre

Cock’s main strength was its focus on relationships. In fact, everything else was stripped away in order to tell these dialectic objectives as rawly as possible. The most fascinating aspect was how each of these four characters changed as they came into contact with different people. They were all real (particularly Duncan Fraser and Shawn Macdonald) and thanks to Stephen Drover’s deft direction, they all contained multitudes.

5. Here Lies Chris —Peter n’ Chris (Vancouver Fringe)

Nice use of the off-white background

This instalment of the ‘Peter n Chris’ series uses a dummie’s guide to sketch comedy as its premise and quickly launches into an “Edge of Tomorrow” esque adventure through time and space. I love how Peter and Chris use popular genre fiction as a starting point for making as many jokes as they possibly can. They’re the theatre version of Dan Harmon’s highly conceptual brain. They’ve now covered science fiction, western, fantasy, and horror. I can only hope romance is next!

4. In the Heights — Arts Club

A contagiously joyful musical, Luc Roderique was amazing, his cadence and urgency palpable throughout Lin-Manuel Miranda’s outstanding Hip Hop compositions. The rest of the cast was good too despite some mediocre Spanish. All in all, I was wide-eyed and excited through the whole runtime of ‘In the Heights.’

3. The North Plan — Up in the Air Theatre

Director Chelsea Haberlin is an important piece of Vancouver’s young theatre scene. She’s bringing back the thriller and she’s obliterating boredom in a genre that has suffered from it for too long. David Mott and Daniel Martin recently rewrote the mission statement for Up in the Air Theatre; they’re taking the company on a voyage through speculative fiction. The tough thing about framing your company into a genre is that it can be hard to find good plays that fit your minute focus. But man did they ever hit a home run with ‘The North Plan’. The show was exciting from start to finish with wicked performances (particularly from Genevieve Fleming) and dynamic staging (a couple of cement rooms in the basement of a Chinatown commercial space). All theatre should be as thrilling as this. Good luck tho.

2. Miss Shakespeare —Escape Artists Co-op

Tracey Power constructs an incredibly tight narrative while weaving relevant and topical 21st century themes into the nontopical 1600s. We get Shakespeare historical-fiction that bucks through the dust to find bloody beating hearts beneath. ‘Miss Shakespeare’ gives us great performances lifted through the stratosphere by Steve Charles’ stirring music that had me fighting tears throughout. The pace was relentless, if I let one tear fall, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop the rest of them. A passionate, hugely powerful piece.

  1. In Search of Cruise Control — James Gangl (Vancouver Fringe)

James Gangl is an endlessly compelling storyteller. His narratives are taught and complex, yet he has the bravery to drop what he’s doing at anytime to go in another direction. He’s better at speaking to his audience and living in the present tense, in absolute obedience to his instincts and impulses, than anyone I’ve ever seen on stage. He’s not afraid to go on a tangent he’s seemingly never gone on before to tell a fresh story, one for you and you only, just because of a slight kilter in the crowd he’s working on any given night. In ‘Search of Cruise Control’ is a subtle and complex script, filled with foreshadowing that you won’t notice or pick up on until the very last moments, when he works backwards to show you that all these funny little anecdotes add up to something far more vulnerable and human than you would’ve imagined. He tells an important story, but never in service to that importance. Instead he serves the audience by making his tender tale hilarious and relatable all the way through. I hope he brings the show back to Vancouver so that you can all see it.