Theatre review: VCDS’ lady in the red dress

The show explores discrimination against Chinese-Canadians, both past and present

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>lady in the red dress</i>

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) began 2018 with its production of lady in the red dress on Thursday, January 25 at The Cat’s Eye Student Pub & Lounge. The show examines the anti-Asian racism surrounding the Chinese head tax imposed by the Canadian government, as well as issues of sexism, violence, and death.

The play takes place in Toronto, and loosely follows the timeline of the Chinese head tax, alternating between present day and the early 1900s.

A talented young cast was on hand for this adaptation of David Yee’s play, portraying their characters in dramatic, yet realistic and comical ways. Max (James Hyett), a lawyer negotiating the head tax redress, encounters Sylvia (Kenzie Tsang), an enigmatic woman in a red dress looking for vengeance.

Sylvia drags him into the history of the Chinese-Canadian struggle, and her search for the elusive Tommy Jade (Nam Nguyen). Along the way, Max is shot, stabbed, suffers a heart attack, and discovers that his son Danny (Cy Macikunas) has been taken hostage. As the show progresses, Max experiences the discrimination against Chinese-Canadians and the effects of the head tax firsthand.

While the show is at first insensitive to these disparities, he comes to the realization that everyone has a collective responsibility to do the right thing and draw attention to the harsh history endured by past generations.

Gianni Sallese gives brilliant performances in the roles of Hatch and Coogan, and Alice Guo and Victoria Ngai’s non-speaking roles in the chorus also added to the dramatics.

Overall, lady in the red dress is an extraordinary play that portrays the diversity of a predominantly Chinese-Canadian story well with mostly Chinese and mixed actors. It reverberates the significance of Canada’s diversity today, especially in Toronto, and helps us to shift our perspectives on critical issues of injustice.

lady in the red dress runs at The Cat’s Eye until Saturday, January 27.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Rumors

The Neil Simon production is a farcical descent into chaos

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Rumors</i>

The best way to sum up the plot of Neil Simon’s Rumors is this: the dinner party’s host shoots himself, and hilarity ensues. The Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) presented a rendition of the 1988 play from November 22–25, directed by Vanessa Perruzza.

The setting of the play is the 10th anniversary party of Mira and Charles, although neither character actually appears in the show. Charles is unconscious and wounded from a shot to the ear and Mira is missing.

Rumors is a farce that combines slapstick humour and witty commentary on upper-class life, as well as the dinner party/murder mystery trope. It is full of big personalities and big misunderstandings. At times, neither the audience nor the characters know exactly what is going on, a recurring theme throughout the show.

The play opens immediately after an accident has occurred, although what exactly happened remains unclear. Through a conversation between two of the characters, Chris and her husband Ken, we find out that the host has suffered a minor bullet wound, perhaps attempted suicide.

As guests begin to arrive, the characters try to piece together exactly what has happened. Where are the hosts? Where is the help? Is a scandalous affair involved? Why were there gunshots?

Those who know try to keep the secret from those who don’t, and the miscommunications and rumours become increasingly elaborate and far-fetched. The characters spend the party trying to save their reputations, marriages, and the dinner itself, while their level of intoxication increases.

Gianni Salese gave an excellent performance in the role of Len, as did Kenzie Tsang as Chris. Perruzza did an outstanding job as director. The set and staging made the audience feel as if they were sitting in the dining room with the guests, experiencing the commotion firsthand.

Simon originally wrote Rumors to cheer himself up during a period of depression, and the dark comedy definitely lived up to this goal. Although it carries an undertone of sadness, Rumors was funny, smart, and featured some great talent.

Campus theatre preview: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Trinity’s Shakespeare in the Quad production focuses on the right to love

Campus theatre preview: <em>Love’s Labour’s Lost</em>

Trinity College’s iconic quadrangle was once home to one of the largest outdoor Shakespeare festivals in Canada. The Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) has continued this tradition with an annual Shakespeare in the Quad production each fall to begin their season. This year, the TCDS is shaking things up by staging a modern musical retelling of the Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, written by Alex Timbers and with music by Michael Friedman.

The musical is set in front of a hotel in a university town, where alumni students from said university are visiting for a school reunion. The King and his buddies swear an oath to stay away from women, which becomes increasingly difficult when girls from their past arrive. In classic Shakespearean comedy style, the story is filled with hijinks, miscommunication, and the chase for love.

Director Nicole Bell, a third-year theatre student, revealed that she was drawn to this show after listening to “Love’s a Gun” off the soundtrack. While the lyrics provide a commentary on heteronormative relationships, she realized that the songs in this show “are so easily steeped in queer narratives” as well. “I picked this show because it’s fun and it’s goofy, but I found meaning in it,” Bell said.

“This show is about love, [but] what I wanted to do with the show is ask the question ‘who has the right to love?’” Bell continued. By casting the show completely gender-blind, the production attempted to show that everyone has that right.

Moreover, most of the show’s five couples are queer and interracial, aspects that were particularly important for Bell to have represented on stage. “I really wanted to try to accent one or both, and I’m very lucky that I got to accent both,” she shared.

Bell mentioned that there are moments when actors break the fourth wall and interact with the audience, and these won’t be the only instances where reality and fiction intermingle. After Bell got a hold of the libretto, she discovered that the original production was also set outside, in New York City’s Central Park, and that the band had doubled as the one for the university reunion as well. This will be replicated in the TCDS production. “I’m glad that I have the opportunity to take some of the original aspects of the show and bring it into this space,” she added.

The Trinity College Dramatic Society’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost opens Wednesday, September 27 and closes Saturday, September 30.

Cabaret

A superb rendition of the Broadway hit with no one there to see it

Cabaret

Not many people showed up to see Cabaret, which was put on by the Trinity College Drama Society (TCDS). The George Ignatieff Theatre is a small, intimate space, but I still felt rather lonely occupying one seat in the otherwise vacant left side of the theatre. It was only the centre section that had more than one occupant. The trickling turnout was disappointing, considering that it is certainly one of the best shows I’ve seen at the university this year.

In Cabaret, financially and creatively destitute American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (played by Kevin Matthew Wong) travels to Berlin in the dying days of Weimar Germany to find inspiration for his novel. Upon arrival, he falls in love with British singer Sally Bowles (Rachel Hart), who works at the Kit Kat Club, a decadent, gratuitously racy cabaret with a mysterious, polyamorous master of ceremonies (Shak Haq).

Sally, Clifford, Clifford’s landlord Fraulein Schneider (Jocelyn Kraynyk), and her close admirer Herr Schulz (Jeffrey Kennes) must confront the political tension and growing hatred brought on by the rise of the Nazi party. 

With its sin city setting and dramatic historical backdrop, Cabaret has no shortage of shocking moments. The show’s real haymaker, however, is a romantic song and dance between the Emcee and one of the cabaret dancers (Alice Guo), who is dressed in a gorilla suit.

“I understand your objection,” the Emcee sings (it’s a gorilla, for goodness sake). The metaphor becomes clearer when he elaborates, “but if you could see she through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” Cabaret is a defense of love and a defense against hatred — a theme that sounds trite but is hard to pull off convincingly.

It’s all the more impressive that TCDS’s production deftly handles those themes in a polished, confident, and gorgeous manner. Haq’s Emcee really holds the show together. He has a colourful sense of showmanship, and the true spirit of his character comes out in his moment of vulnerability toward the end. Kevin Matthew Wong’s performance is more puzzling, in neither a good nor bad way. There’s something overzealous about his acting, which is not ineffective but definitely inconsistent with the style of the rest of the cast. When he speaks, he seems to address the audience rather than the other characters. He acts very earnestly to the point of awkwardness.

The set’s centrepiece is a gauze-like, sequined curtain that veils the band and hangs from a metal frame. Low round tables are added to make up the Kit Kat Club or the armchair and desk that represent Clifford’s room. Generated fog, coupled with the small size of the stage, expressed a smoky, claustrophobic atmosphere appropriate for the setting.

Costumes are detailed, evocative, and bountiful. Most characters get at least three full costume changes (except for Clifford, who never seems to change his clothes), including various cabaret performance dresses, sailor outfits, Nazi officer uniforms, and plenty of fishnet tights. The costumes look expensive, too, which makes it even more disappointing that there was such a small turnout. 

The tech crew assembled a thoughtful lighting design, complete with window-frame gobos for “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” and evocative green lighting during “Money.”  I also appreciated the live percussion sound effects that accompany Clifford’s fight scene with Ernst Ludwig (Matthew Fonte).

The confidence of the performers alongside the support of the tech crew created a strong, stable performance. The set transitions and general infrequency of actors exiting the stage lent the show a certain honesty. All of this combined with the homeliness of the George Ignatieff theatre made for quite an intimate experience. It certainly deserved a full house.

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Rope

TCDS’ latest production strings Nietzsche with murder

Rope

Have you ever encountered a classmate so stupid that you wanted to strangle them? So did Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, the two main characters in TCDS’s latest production, Rope, a play that is part thriller, and part cautionary tale of what can happen when you take your philosophy readings too seriously.

The story, adapted from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, is about a real-life murder case that took place in Chicago in 1926. The two students (who, in the staged version, attend Oxford University) were said to be obsessed with Nietzsche and the philosophy of the Übermensch. In the words of director Marie Trotter, the characters become “fascinated by the idea of dominating a weaker human being, and so decide to do this through murder.” The murderers then proceed to celebrate their own cleverness by vainly throwing a dinner party for their friends over a large wooden chest, where the bloody remains of the victim are hidden.

The TCDS version of this gory tale captures the 1920’s schoolboy atmosphere perfectly. The play is chock-full of ritzy costume designs, static gramophone music, and a book-covered dining room set, which evokes a gothic, Brideshead Revisited-esque aesthetic. 

Much of the story’s set-up relies on establishing the characters that are sharp and those that are vapid. Unfortunately, the vapid characters have a hard time standing out in the production, and aside from delivering a few funny lines here and there, largely fall to the background.

Instead, much of the tension comes from the interactions between the two murderers, Brandon and Granillo, played by Joanna Decc and Max Levy respectively. Decc especially, whose looming presence and slow mental deterioration — which occurs as her character begins to lose control of the situation — delivers meritoriously and constitutes much of the driving force behind both the plot and the performance. This deterioration is consciously reflected in the general state of the set, which grows increasingly turbulent as props are moved, shoved, and thrown out of place as the dinner party progresses — a factor that helps the audience see the transition from order to chaos.

The most outstanding performance, however, comes from Jonathan Dick, who plays Rupert Cadell. The most perceptive of the aforementioned ‘sharp’ characters, he is the only guest present who suspected there was something “queer” about the evening. 

Cadell smoke, drank, and discussed philosophy at the same pace as the play’s ostentatious murderers, and Dick portrayed this expertly by maintaining the same conduct as his counterparts, while keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not he would show himself to be the leads’ moral superior. 

Overall, the production is a valuable addition to TCDS’ season, as it no doubt gave many a young Trinity student — who may still be determining whether the philosophies they learn from the dusty tomes have any worth in our day-to-day lives — something to think about.

The trailer from Hitchcock’s Rope: