2011 Theatre in Review: The Best

2011 was our first full year of reviewing theatre for Sound and Noise… and what a great time we had doing it! Starting off the year with Legally Blonde, continuing through the slight theatre lull in the summer before the storm that is the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, through to iconic plays like Wicked, and head-scratchers like Hroses, Edmonton’s theatre scene kept us entertained all year. Part one explores what Ana and I thought were the best plays we saw in Edmonton this year:

Jenna: Catalyst Theatre’sHunchback was absolutely amazing. The play’s aesthetics were wonderful – everything from the stage design (with its simple arches that reflected the stage lights) to the costumes was spot on, emphasizing the modern twist put on a classic story. The actors did a fantastic job – singing, acting, and dancing. Hunchback was one of those plays you don’t want to end… and when it does end, you rush to buy another ticket for it. Although it doesn’t look like Hunchback will be returning to Edmonton next year, according to Catalyst Theatre, it will be showing at The Vancouver Playhouse from February 18 to March 10. I’m glad this musical will continue to be shared with audiences, not just put back on the shelves.

Ana: Wicked has to be my favorite play of the year. I went to see it three times, and I wish I had time to go another three more. It is not only the deep and powerful message of the story, it is also the amazing production of this play that makes this musical my all time favorite–the play is so well produced, that it truly looks magical–the end of the first act can easily leave you with your mouth open in awe. The play deals with racism, discrimination, corruption, and nepotism in an interesting and different way. Having read the book (Wicked is an adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s book of the same name), I would say that the play is much better. The story of Wicked: The Musical is far more magical–although it is different from the book, to be completely fair. Sadly, I don’t believe there are plans to bring back Wicked for 2012, but if they do, I’m buying a ticket for every night show. Maybe they’ll give me a discount… Also, Jenna was disappointed by musicals because she did not go to see Wicked (see part 2 where we discuss the not-so-fantastic theatre moments).

Jenna: One of the best plays I saw at this year’s Edmonton International Fringe Festival was Jason – the story of a mentally challenged man telling the story of his rape to a condominium panel. Although the play was fairly short (about 45 minutes), it was one of those plays that leaves you speechless and questioning the way you live your life. I saw it on the last day of the Fringe, and the audience just kept applauding at the end. That’s the mark, not only of a really good play, but exactly the type of play that the Fringe needs to showcase. Seeing a show like this at the Edmonton Fringe Festival made me instantly understand why it’s the largest of its kind (and longest-running) in North America.

Ana: Stomp was another play that really surprised me, I was not expecting it to be so funny! When I saw the videos on Youtube, I was excited to see the wonderful act, and to experience first hand the energy that emanates from the performers as they play around with garbage and create music. But Stomp was much more than that–it was about communicating without words–with only body language, sounds, and music. The way that the energy flew around the audience was instinctual. Overall, it was a powerful experience. Another play that was a nice surprise was Pinocchio by Alberta Opera. Other than the uncommon use of props–there were only a few buckets and a couple of poles with which all scenarios were constructed–the play was refreshingly different. It was also funny, for both kids and adults–I hope this play runs again next year, since it is an original play that has all it takes to become an Edmonton Classic.

Jenna: Maybe I really loved monologues this year. Even the Walls Have Eyes – part of the one-act plays put on by the Walterdale Playhouse – was another great show I saw this year. The writing was great, hooking the viewer from the moment the actress walked on the stage. Plot aside though, the acting was fantastic. There wasn’t really any “action” per say in the play. Everything that was communicated was done so through the actress’ voice, the way in which she told her story. Probably the best moment for me, was the one in which one of the (older) audience members leaned to his wife and said, “I can’t take much more of this.” THAT is what avant-garde theatre should be. It should take you places you don’t necessarily want to go. And that’s where Even The Walls Have Eyes took me.

Ana: Perhaps the most interesting play this year for me was Falling: A wake. This play was full of meaning and metaphors that are too many too explain. The story deals with one of the most difficult scenarios one can possibly imagine: losing a child. As the play develops, you see that the way the night in which the death body of a young man falls into a farmers’ backyard develops, is the same way in which the couple has lived for the last eight years. Every single line has a meaning, every coincidence, and every movement of the actors. For example, the way in which Elsie wants to keep the body company until the army comes pick it up is a metaphor of the faith she still has of finding her son, and the reluctance of Harry to spend the night with a dead body, even though he does everything he can to make Elsie comfortable as well as to keep himself busy, is a metaphor of his way of dealing with the loss of his son–he wants to let go, but he can’t because of Elsie. They are comfortably waiting for an uncomfortable truth–they were waiting for a dead body. It was a play that left me in tears, as well as impressed with the level of detail put into every word and action.

– Ana Miranda and Jenna Marynowski
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