All posts by Vance Brews

Review: The Glorious Ones (The Civic Light-Opera Co.)

The humorous styles of Commedia Dell’arte are brought to life in The Glorious Ones at the Zion Cultural Centre in Toronto

There’s something exciting about seeing a play about one of your passions. When I was in university my very first research paper was on an Italian theatrical style called Commedia Dell’arte: an improvisational, sketch based style that catered to the common people with bawdy humour, slapstick and acrobatics that was at that time completely unheard of. The influence of Commedia Dell’arte is still felt in todays comedies with the most notable being the character of Harlequin, a witty servant character who often outsmarted boisterous villains with his athletics and humour, whose personality can still be seen in characters like Bugs Bunny or pretty much every Disney sidekick ever.

When I learned that The Civic Light-Opera Company was putting on a production of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ The Glorious Ones I was very excited. Not only is it a play all about the origins of Commedia Dell’arte, but it was also written by the duo responsible for such Broadway hits as Ragtime and Seussical. Such an exciting choice was perfect for The Civic Light-Opera Company’s 100th production, so I had high hopes going into the show.

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Review: Dinner with Goebbels (act2studio WORKS)

Three of history’s most notorious names in propaganda gather in Dinner with Goebbels at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre

Going into act2studio WORKS‘ production of Dinner With Goebbels I can’t deny I was nervous. Watching a play about Karl Rove, Joseph Goebbels and Edward Bernays having dinner together is a challenging and intriguing idea, but also one that requires some very careful navigation on behalf of the playwright to make sure it doesn’t dissolve into an uncomfortable caricature.

The good news is that for the most part the script is well written and fascinating, giving an hour long lesson on the art of propaganda and three of its most infamous practitioners that, on its own, shows that playwright Mark Leith knows his subject matter.

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Review: The Video Game Show (Bad Dog Theatre Company)

Retro 8-bit gaming blends with rapid-fire improv in The Video Game Show at Toronto’s Comedy Bar

I love video games. Ever since I was a kid I loved sitting in front of a screen and making pixelated characters run around fantastic environments, saving worlds using only my finely honed hand-eye coordination and wits. In today’s modern world, “Interactive Storytelling” has become a constant in our daily lives, which makes Bad Dog Theatre Company‘s Video Game Show an almost inevitable occurrence. Really though, is it surprising? Improv theatre is the most interactive of stage performances (short of the audience getting up and doing it themselves) and blends easily with the interactive soul of gaming; it’s a wonder it hasn’t been explored more often.

Upon arriving at Comedy Bar for the performance, I was immediately struck by the choice in décor the company made in the Main Stage area; dark lighting, lots of tinfoil and neon lights all framing a projected image of the demo program of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) port of Contra. It felt like I’d gone back to an early 90’s arcade, and aside from having some trouble getting around due to the near-darkness I already found myself getting into the mood for some 8-bit fun.

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Review: n00b (Young People’s Theatre)

Perfect for Family Day, n00b is a story of teen addiction to video games, at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre

In today’s digital world, the analogue universe of theatre seems anachronistic. All too often playwrights seem to avoid technology as a theme, choosing to let the multi-million dollar world of film and television explore such concepts. Those that do choose to embrace technology on the stage often come across as latecomers, cashing in on trends that have long since passed, making their stories quaint at best or obsolete at worst. Going into Vertigo Theatre‘s production of n00b at Young People’s Theatre I found myself considering these obstacles, alongside the concern anyone pushing 30 might have of going into a production advertised “For ages 9 and up”.

It is truly a delight to say that my worries were almost completely unfounded. Calgary-based Vertigo Theatre has clearly recognized that Christopher Duthie’s script is about far more than simply “pwning n00bs”. The story of a teenager running away from home after his parents dismantle his gaming console when it takes over his life is rife with explorations of themes like the importance of belonging, the need for recognition from one’s peers and the constant struggle for balance and identity in a world that is still trying to find its own in the second decade of the 21st Century.

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