Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets, Lunchbox Theatre, Calgary

Our youngest reviewer, a recent Grant MacEwan grad, was able to catch Lunchbox Theatre’s production of Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets on a sold out night! Make sure you book your tickets pronto as many performances are nearly full! Here’s what he had to say about the world premiere of playwright Dale Lee Kwong’s heart warming family story:


Upon entering Lunchbox’s theatre, a good sized venue for the large audience filling the seats for Friday’s performance, the tone of the show was instantly established. The powerful and somewhat ominous reds of the set (courtesy of Terry Gunvordahl) paired with the excellent sound design of Aidan Lytton, help to introduce the audience to the significance of Chinese culture in this story. While universal, the story also gives great knowledge and insight into this very present, very particular culture. To someone who is unfamiliar with a lot of Chinese culture, it was a revealing learning experience.

The lights go down, and from the darkness, a spotlight introduces us to the protagonist Jade, a young gay woman born in Canada to very traditional Chinese parents. Two other spotlights reveal them, and Lillian and Charlie Wong stand out as clear contrasts to their daughter. It doesn’t take long before we can empathize with Jade’s story as we witness the generational and cultural conflicts within her family; friction between old and new, contemporary and traditional, the differing definitions of love and loyalty. We see especially stark contrasts between Jade and her mother, played by Chantelle Han. Lillian Wong only wants what she thinks is best for her daughter, but struggles with the inevitable strain between them- one woman tied to her culture, the other desperate to break free.

The clever and sometimes slapstick comedy of the show never failed to raise a laugh from the audience. The dialogue was handled with good comedic timing, played out almost like a sitcom with witty interjections and cheeky one liners thrown in cleverly throughout. The overall tone of the show was light hearted, which really allowed the more serious moments to resonate. Once the question of Jade’s homosexuality begins causing conflict in the story, there is a powerful shift in the tone and pace of the show.

The themes of acceptance, culture, sexuality, and identity pose some very difficult and very relevant questions in Dale Lee Kwong’s play. Regardless of one’s cultural background, or the customs they follow, the dynamics within the Wong home are relatable to any family- dysfunctional or otherwise! Kelsey Verzotti’s empathetic performance gives an inner-strength to Jade’s struggle to find balance; to do what is right for herself, in her life, while also doing her best to please her parents.

Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets is a heartwarming, hilarious, and relevant show for this day and age that gives an insight into a world I’ve not seen a lot of theatre touch on. The commitment to one’s culture verses the commitment to one’s self is an intriguing and fascinating struggle to see performed.

Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets runs at the Lunch Box Theatre in Calgary from now until March 10th. Tickets at

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Leave it to Jane- Varscona, Edmonton


 Jocelyn Ahlf and Andrea House, photo by Marc Chalifoux 

The Plain Janes bring pops of colour, vibrancy, and camp to Jeffery Lane and David Yazbek’s 2010 musical adaptation of the 1988 Pedro Almodóvar film, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. 

It may be a dreary February evening in downtown Edmonton, but the stage of the Varscona Theatre – where the three-man band sit with their keyboards at the ready – is literally spattered with fluorescent paint of 1980s pop art. Big hair, padded shoulders, and impractical ladies’ footwear abound in this production, and the lively Latin beats make the theatre feel like a world apart from the grey Alberta winter outside.

If we weren’t sure how much camp the Plain Janes were going to bring to this story of love, betrayal, and gazpacho in 1988 Madrid, the random inclusion of a torero in the musical’s opening number banishes all doubt. Much like the original 2010 Broadway show, this production uses a variety of Spanish and Latin American cultural references (and accents) to add a flavor of farce to this sharp and witty comedy. Although the range of regional inflections occasionally verges on obscuring the clarity of the text as the performers hurtle through the dialogue, they also impart a particular musicality that reflects the controlled chaos of the marvelously ridiculous plot.

As befits a musical, the songs are the highlight of the production: despite the amplified quality (inexorable in a 1980s soundscape) the accomplished band on stage adds an intimacy and immediacy to the performance, and Yazbek’s challenging vocals are ably handled.

Vance Avery’s velvet-voiced Iván, in particular, is endlessly charming as he croons into his old-fashioned microphone with all the warmth, allure, and inconstancy of a telenovela heart-throb. At once enchanting and unapologetically faithless, Iván’s affections are not limited to the women on stage, but spill into the audience with an invitation for us to partake of his “ice cream sandwich” tomorrow.

Andrea House, as the territorial, self-obsessed, and wonderfully funny Lucia, tears down the fourth wall: fresh from the nut house, full of vengeance for her ex-husband (Iván), and clearly the most important person in any room, Lucia spends much of the play talking only to us.

Michelle Diaz’s delightfully energetic and refreshing Candela brings down the house with her technically tricky and skillfully executed “Model Behavior.” A professional model and our protagonist’s best friend – and lacking any filter between her mile-a-minute brain and her mile-a-minute mouth – Candela brings an endearing naïveté and heartwarming honesty into each scene, infusing the storytelling with vivacious spirit.

The Plain Jane Theatre Company has injected new life into this throwback musical, and audiences are sure to be warmed by this sharply funny and timely comedy.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown plays at Varscona Theatre until February 24th. Tickets at

What’s the Buzz- February

The first half of February may have buried us up to our ears in snow fall, but theatres across the province are heating up these long winter nights. With shows to warm our hearts and season announcements giving us lots to look forward to, here’s the buzz from Alberta’s theatre scene for February!

RE-IMAGINE: The Citadel announces 2018\19 Season


After taking the helm as Artistic Director in 2016, Daryl Cloran built an incredible inaugural season- a veritable candy shop of shows. Shakespeare in Love’s homage to the theatre gave us lush period costumes, a hilarious company of players and stunning replicas of the Elizabethan playhouse. Anaïs Mitchell’s darkly beautiful folk-opera Hadestown brought Broadway to Edmonton with Tony nominated director Rachel Chavkin at the helm of this gripping pre-Broadway run. The Citadel\Banff Program will soon show us a new perspective on the Robin Hood legend with spectacular acrobatics and a female protagonist in local playwright Meiko Ouchi’s The Silver Arrow. The Canadian premiere of The Humans, cross-cultural connections with Ubuntu: The Cape Town Project, blockbuster musical Mama Mia, the shop is bursting with theatrical goodies.

How could Cloran’s second season possibly match the excitement and variety of the first! Well folks, I believe the program speaks for itself:

  • Once: The Musical based on the 2007 film, this life-changing piece of theatre won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre album. Book your tickets now, you do NOT want to miss this on(c)e! (Runs September 22nd-October 14th 2018)
  • Redpatch is a gritty new Canadian play following the story of a young Métis soldier in the First World War (Runs November 1st-11th 2018)
  • Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberly will doubtless become a new Christmas tradition, featuring the beloved characters from Pride & Predjudice as imagined by female playwright Lauren Gunderson (Runs November 17th- December 9th 2018)
  • A Christmas Carol continues in its 19th year (Runs November 30th-December23rd 2018)
  • Sweat explores poverty and the changing cultural dynamics of heavy industry in Lynn Nottage’s (another female playwright!) working class drama class drama which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 during its Broadway run (Runs January 12th- February 3rd 2019)
  • Matilda is a Tony & Olivier Award winning musical based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. Renowned musician and comedian Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics make this an absolute MUST see! (Runs February 16th – March 17th 2019)
  • The Candidate and The Party continue to champion female artists with playwright Kat Sandler also co-directing the World Premiere of these paired pieces. And here’s the most exciting part: the two comedies will appear in two the same time…with the same cast! (Runs March 30th- April 21st 2019)
  • Shakespeare’s The Tempest closes out the season, with The Citadel\Banff Program in partnership with Sweden’s national deaf theatre, Tyst Teater, and will feature both deaf and hearing performers (Runs April 20th- May 12th 2019)

If this isn’t the most exciting line-up in Alberta this year, I’ll eat my tuque! For more information on The Citadel’s current and upcoming seasons, visit or follow them on twitter @citadeltheatre

…but maybe I’ll have to get my knife and fork ready, because Theatre Calgary’s Stafford Arima announces his first full season as artistic director later this month! Check out their heart-pumping teaser video on twitter @theatrecalgary and keep your eyes peeled to for the announcement! In the meantime, check out Alberta Theatre Guide’s review of their current production, Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s reimagining of Twelfth Night


Top Picks from around Alberta

As we look forward to the offerings of the future, let’s get fired up about theatre happening right now! Here are some of the most promising productions from around the province for February:

Mamma Mia!, Citadel Theatre (Edmonton)


While you’re marking up your calendar with all the fabulous shows you want to see next season, don’t forget The Citadel’s presentation of the ABBA show that took the musical theatre world by back in 1999 (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). With splashy dance numbers and uplifting ABBA classics, this zany rom-com set in sunny Greece is just the tonic for the drab winter blues.

Mamma Mia runs from February 17th to March 18th at The Citadel’s Maclab Theatre, Edmonton. Tickets and info at

Métis Mutt, Theatre Network (Edmonton)


Sheldon Elter in Métis Mutt, photo by Ryan Parker Photography

Sheldon Elter’s depiction of one Métis man’s story has grown from its 2001 incarnation as an 8 minute vignette to a full blown touring one-man hit. Métis Mutt, directed by Ron Jenkins, tackles our ever changing cultural dynamics, from racism to definition of self, with humor, humanity, and master story-telling.

Métis Mutt runs from February 14th -March 4th at The Roxy on Gateway, Edmonton. Tickets and info at 

Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets, Lunchbox Theatre (Calgary)


Another exploration of mixed Canadian cultures, Ai Yah brings us to the table of the Wong family where, as the tag line says, “Dinner is served…So are juicy family secrets”! Winner of the Discover Prize in the 2006 Alberta Playwrighting Competition, this saucy play is sure to serve up something we can all identify with.

Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets runs from February 19th -March 10th at Lunchbox Theatre, Calgary. Tickets and info at


Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap, University of Lethbridge8BAC8F83-F088-4B3C-8C77-12AE9BB04ACD.jpegFor those of you in the south of the province, I know you’ve been buffetted by winter weather but if you’ve never seen Agatha Christie’s masterpiece on stage, take some time to bundle up and get out of the house this week! This fabulous play has been running on London’s West End since 1952 for a reason- it’s a great night out at the theatre. Support the U of L’s drama department and enjoy one of the most popular stage shows of all time!

The Mouse Trap runs from now until February 17th at the University Theatre, Lethbridge. Tickets and info at

The Drowsy Chaperone, Keyano College (Fort McMurray)


As for our theatre students up north, Keyano College is presenting the fabulously fun musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Set in the roaring twenties, this witty show is full of fantastic music and glorious spectacle so even if the bad roads mean you can’t make it out of town for blockbusters like Mama Mia, you can still get your Musical Theatre fix!

The Drowsy Chaperone runs from February 15th-24th at the Keyano Theatre, Fort McMurray. Ticketsand info at


Coming soon…

March will come in like a lion with some incredible new additions to the theatre calendar, including the femme forward Skirtsafire Festival in Edmonton, so watch for more news and listings out soon! Until then, we will keep posting all our “Good Reviews” as they happen for theatre around the province.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, reimagined by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop- Theatre Calgary

The cast of Theatre Calgary’s Twelfth Night, Photo by Trudie Lee

Sitting in the Max Bell theatre, the audience stares at the gigantic blue house curtain. We sit in excited anticipation, knowing there’s a sumptuous visual feast of Old Trout magic hiding just behind that heavy wall of fabric. Then, suddenly, the folds of the curtains begin to flap and flutter. Eventually finding the centre split, a disoriented Feste emerges dressed head to toe in off-white Victorian long underwear (complete with bum-flap and footsies), a crescent shaped cockscomb bonnet strapped to his head. He’s surprised- “This is NOT the bathroom”, and with one look at the giggling audience, he scrambles back behind the curtain- “Ok everybody, showtime! Put your pants back on”!

The house lights dim and our attention is drawn to the glow of the old time footlights perched inconspicuously at the lip of the stage. As the house curtain is lifted, we are transported into the magnificent technicolor world of the Old Trouts’ Twelfth Night. An intricate Baroque-style proscenium arch occupies most of the stage, framing a two dimensional world exploding with colour and comedy. On either side of the gilded arch is an asortment of classic backstage paraphernalia. More players in pj’s appear to operate the weights and pulleys which control the scenery flats flying into view. The nautical picture is complete as they hoist the theatrical rigging which brings a cartoon sea-scape to life within the arch. Pitching and tossing on the waves is a splendid ship, carrying twins Viola and Sebastian into a sea storm which will separate the pair and set them on their respective paths through this strange new land- “This is Illyria, lady”.

The first 15 minutes of the show is bursting with enchanting spectacle. Elaborate sea monsters emerge from the two dimensional depths, Neptune rides in on his fish-puppet steed, and Viola and her rescuer burst forth onto shore through a door hidden in the painted wooden waves. In this world of mayhem and silliness, puppets are as dynamic as human characters and human characters are sketched out with cartoon-like simplicity. Both are at their best when one is hardly distinguishable from the other.

Unsurprisingly, the real delight of the production lies in its visual story-telling. It’s as if our favorite Monty Python animations have joined a cast of Black Adder characters in a life-sized pop-up book where (almost) everyone speaks in verse.

Layers of flats create the various landscapes and great houses of Illyria.  They fly in from above and wheel in from the side wings, forcing the actors downstage towards the footlights and onto a shallow plane not unlike the playing space of a bijoux music hall. Though classic music hall style is difficult to master, most actors rise to the challenge and play to the strengths of this timeless genre by banishing the fourth wall and addressing the audience as much as possible. The nostalgic glow of the footlights helps to further focus our attention as light is thrown upon the figures directly in front of us. It dissipates towards the upstage space, creating the illusion that nothing exists beyond the back-most scenery flat.

Shakespeare is secondary in this reimagining and although the text has been drastically cut to accommodate a 110 minute running time, the visual story-telling makes up for the gaps. Credit is certainly due to the actors for tackling the multi-tasking challenge of delivering some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful late verse whilst also operating intricate puppets and scenery.

Christopher Hunt as the lanky, dim-witted dandy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, provides a masterclass in characterization. Each choice is simultaneously true to Shakespeare’s text and perfectly suited to the pop-up book music hall à la Trout. Hunt’s Sir Andrew is both absurdly silly and effortlessly pitiable, melting our hearts and cramping our sides with laughter. He capers nimbly in his buckled shoes, fabulous wig and powder-white face (complete with beauty spot), and for this reviewer, absolutely steals the show.

Janelle Cooper’s open hearted Viola brings joy to each scene with her kindness and strength. A change to the text allows Viola to serenade the Count Orsino (whom she secretly loves) and we are as bewitched as Tyrell Crews’ love-sick Count by her  “mellifluous voice- Very sweet and contagious i’faith”.

Bruce Dow, who also associate directs the production, is irresistibly pathetic as the steward Malvolio. His exchanges with Feste are marvellously uncomfortable as Feste, played by Kayvon Khoshkam with the dry, irreverent wit of a signature Shakespearean fool, constantly interjects with well-placed contemporary ad-libs to the audience…and for some reason can’t restrain himself from humping Malvolio’s leg.

The production as a whole handles the text of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedy loosely, but the story has a lightness to it which ultimately works in its favour. Though some performances tend towards over simplified, restoration theatre-style stereotypes, Julie Orton’s fun-loving Fabienne is a breath of fresh air amidst the more hysterical characters as she delivers her difficult prose with clarity and class.

Ultimately, The Trouts are masters of creating magical visual “bits” and the audience buzzed with chatter as we left the theatre- “I loved that bit with the tiny boat! And what about that bit with the portrait, or Orsino’s reveal in that bit with the bathtub”! This Illyria is different to any Twelfth Night you have ever seen, or are likely to see again, and in so many refreshing and joyful ways. Each audience member is sure to take away something wonderful from this smorgasbord of creative showmanship.

Old Trout Workshop’s Twelfth Night plays at the Max Bell Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons until February 24th. Tickets at Please note this production has no intermission. 

Turning off the Ghost Light at AB Theatre Guide

ghost light

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine suggested I share my uncut theatre reviews in a blog. Hoping to make a positive contribution to the theatre community, I decided I would write only “Good Reviews”. I did my best to cover as much theatre around the province as possible to encourage audiences to dip their toes in the rich theatrical waters of both Edmonton AND Calgary, and everywhere in between.

But my efforts soon groaned under the weight of immense negativity, resulting in a year of radio silence on this blog. I’ve pinpointed three major contributors to my recent disenchantment with theatre and review writing which I hope other “theatre people” will relate to:

ONE– I found good theatre very hard to come by. There were a handful of truly stunning performances, but those few beacons of artistry were soon engulfed by a flood of terrible theatre experiences and my positivity waned. I’m not just talking about smaller theatre companies or younger emerging artists performing their way through inevitable growing pains of professional self-discovery. I found the big houses were among the most disappointing offenders. These illustrious pillars of the theatre community seemed to have little or no interest in their audiences. I saw more self-indulgent bull***t than my spleen could handle and the immense privilege certain theatre companies enjoyed was, in my view, “most notoriously abused”. Where was the truth? Where was the story-telling? Though tempted, I still believed that bad reviews were hardly constructive and I found a previous statement of mine to be all too true: it is infinitely more difficult to write a fair review for a lacklustre production with redeeming features than an unnecessarily scathing review for a mediocre performance. My writing, and my theatre-going, ground to a halt.

Two– The arts columns of many local papers slashed their theatre coverage, if not eliminating them all together. The voices of much-loved reviewers, whose passion for story-telling had stretched through decades of critical writing for theatre, went quiet. This felt like a big fat strip of duct tape over the mouths of all theatre-lovers. The professional platform for artistic discourse became dangerously shallow, often with room for only one perspective, and theatre articles in the major papers became more about advertising than journalism. Critics, though often mercurial, are vital contributors to our theatre communities and a lack of investment in our critics can point towards a lack of interest in ideas. When we are removed from the conversation, when we are discouraged from sharing our opinions, those artistic mediums which are designed to provoke discussion inevitably lose their purpose.

Three– World-wide political upheaval and scathing professional scandal became daily headlines, and it was exhausting to behold. Current events seemed bent on championing extreme views, polarizing the masses and opening deep chasms between “left” and “right”, between “us” and “them”. Brexit had artists across the UK in a panic as the clock began to tick down on their right to freedom of movement, the removal of which will no doubt paralyze inter-cultural collaborations in Europe. The American election devastated women, minorities, and sane people the world over. We looked on as the glass ceiling, rather than shattering, was reinforced by an unforgiving steel frame.  Trump administration has since realized more of our nightmares than we thought possible. Trumpian productions of Julius Caesar seemed more than topical, incurring the wrath of POTUS’ temper-tantrum thumbs and bombarding innocent Shakespeare groups nation-wide with undeserved hate-mail.

Then, the entertainment industry was set ablaze by a series of explosive sexual harassment allegations. The stories of artists who have suffered under the twisted power structures of “the business” have provided kindling to a veritable bonfire of sexual harassment campaigns, and it feels like this is just the beginning.

Despite these lowering clouds, the theatre community has well and truly trounced all of my excuses to disengage.

Good, even great theatre is still engaging audiences around the province and some major changes in the “Big Houses” have led to some of the most exciting and diverse theatrical initiatives in the province.

Reviewers have branched out from major media sources to create their own platforms for critical discussion, free from censorship and sponsor-centric agendas.

And although each day seems to bring a new sexual harassment scandal, the performing arts sector’s proactive approach to discussion and policy reform has shown unprecedented mutual support. Theatre professionals are fighting marginalization and endemic sexual harassment from every angle. Intimacy directors are becoming major players in the rehearsal room, allowing theatre to continue to take risks whilst also keeping actors safe. Female identifying artists are getting more attention than ever as statistics begin to show just how male-dominated our industry is. The stories of minority groups are charging through adversity and onto the world stage, giving us some of the most beautiful theatre we’ve seen.

Deep tremors of change reverberate through every aspect of our world, seemingly hell-bent on exposing and exploiting our differences, but theatre has proven it has a major part to play (get it?) in reminding us just how much we have in common.

I decided I needed to extend the reach of this blog to include more than just my own voice. I’ve enlisted the help of some fantastic theatre-goers to contribute their own “Good Reviews”, covering more local theatre from different local perspectives. I hope Alberta Theatre Guide will grow into community of reviewers who can provide dynamic critical responses to our vibrant arts scene and encourage us all to get out and see more theatre.

This blog will also be featuring a special segment highlighting gender representation statistics in our province. The study breaks down local productions by ratios of male/female identifying actors, directors, playwrights and designers, as well as evaluating the shows on the Bechdel Test, asking questions like “Are there two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man”?

So after a year of silence, here’s to the revival of Alberta Theatre Guide with the addition of some brilliant new reviewers! Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!