BYOV Venue 46: La Cite Francophone - L’Uni Theatre
Playwright: Ken Brown
Director: Keltie Forsyth
Ken Brown starts this show by saying that this is not a typical Ken Brown show. It’s not character-driven like his epic World War II trilogy, Spiral Dive. Nor did was it conceptual, like Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow.
Instead, the show is a contemplative cabaret that uses memoir, storytelling, slides, animation and music to explore love and death: the man who brought us Life After Hockey tells us that the show is about “life after love, life after death.”
Brown gets personal, but never exclusively so. He invites us to recall the emotions we experience when we’re affected by love or death. He even outright asks us about our experiences and views. Most of the time we can answer by show of hands. You don’t have to share if you don’t want to, but it’s interesting to see the variety of responses. However, there were opportunities for all-out, get-on-stage audience participation.
However you wish to experience the show, it pays back according to how much you invest in it emotionally — and Ken’s storytelling invites you to do just that.
After the play
The show certainly resonated with me. The recent news of Robin Williams’s death reminded me strongly of the emotions I felt when my closed friend died five years ago, and newer feelings of loss as I had news of another friend’s death just days before. In fact, the person I attended the play with was in the early stages of planning our recently deceased friend’s memorial. With this going on in my mind, I found Love and Death interrogative, but healing as well.
The show actually reminded me of a Unitarian Universalist gathering. (I met Ken through the Fringe, but my guest and I knew Ken’s parents through our association with the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (parentheses-within-parentheses: I’m also friends with Ken’s nephew, Brendan, who contributed to the show’s design, but through film circles: I’ve met three generations of Browns through different cultural venues).) There was no set structure, no set dogma. We were challenged intellectually and emotionally. We sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. And we felt supported in our own inner journeys — even if they were left unarticulated — as we supported fellow travellers who had chosen different paths.
Buy tickets to see Love and Death, or If We’re Treading on Thin Ice, We Might as Well Dance
BYOV Venue 16: Sanctuary Stage at Holy Trinity Church
MAA & PAA Theatre
Book: David Cheoros
Music: Nick Samoil
Director: Heather D. Swain
Alberta provincial politics are as fascinating as they are confounding. Is the political culture dominated by religious fundamentalists? Godless cowboys? Fiscal conservatives? Free-spending government? Progressive and/or utilitarian educators? The answer is: yes!
If you’ve been curious about these contradictory but persistent ideas, I highly recommend the funny, entertaining and non-polemical Fringe show Bible Bill: The Gospel Musical. It’s about Premier William Aberhart, who was premier from 1935 to 1943. However, he was influential long before, as the driving force of an evangelical radio talk show from 1925 until his death in 1943.
The play is staged as if we, the audience, are the audience of a live taping of an anniversary edition of the radio show. Aberhart is the star of the show, while his “Ed McMahon” is Ernest Manning (Preston’s dad), who would succeed Aberhart as premier. Together they expound the gospel of social credit — or at least how Aberhart interpreted the it. The founder of the movement rejected Aberhart’s attempt to combine religion and politics as “daft.”
What follows is a variety show with gospel songs (you can sing along; if you’re lucky, like I was, there will be baritones in the audience who will spontaneously provide harmony), historical overviews, selections from memorable speeches, and original musical numbers (choreographed balloon shenanigans and failed fiscal reform legislation are surprisingly compatible).
Aberhart is played by Kevin Mott (a crown prosecutor in real life!), while Manning is played by Laura Raboud (in a brilliant bit of gender-blind casting as Raboud does resemble Manning). Two younger characters, a saucy aspiring singer (Vanessa Wilson) and a button-down radio technician (Aaron Casselman), represent the next generation of Albertans, whose views aren’t necessarily the same as their elders. Musical director Nick Samoil is also on stage with the non-speaking role of the musical director of the radio show.
I commend everyone involved in the production. They carried it off with good humour and dramatized some forgotten events (and obscure economic theory!) in a way that made you feel like you were part of that history. Of course, since many of Aberhart’s ideas still influence Alberta politics, we are indeed part of that history.
After the play
I reflected on how some of Aberthart’s most popular ideas are still popular with Albertans today, especially the Calvinist attitude tying good works with modest rewards. But knowing about current problems within the “ruling” Progressive Conservative party*, it was obvious that much of Aberhart’s appeal was his persona.
* (The term “ruling” is usually used without irony; I think it should always be written in quotation marks and spoken with air quotes: it’s not a monarchy, although the party’s 42-year “reign” makes it look like a dynasty, not a democracy.)
Aberhart portrayed himself as a benevolent patriarch who would protect us from the forces of evil (Eastern bankers) and lead us to the glory God intended for our land. In my view, Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein did much of the same, but in secular contexts. Other premiers did not fit the persona as successfully. are we more willing to overlook the flaws and failures of premiers in the Aberhart mould than those who don’t carry it off as well?
Buy tickets to see Bible Bill: The Gospel Hour
More about the MAA & PPA theatre project