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Laughs Come Easy

Tons of Money

Review by Katie Rankin

In the words of rapper The Notorious B.I.G., “The more money we come across the more problems we see.” This statement has never been more true than in the clever comedy romp Tons of Money now playing at The Montgomery Theatre. The play, set in roaring twenties England, is complete with ragtime music and gorgeous costumes that would make Daisy Buchanan green with envy.

It centers around husband and wife Aubrey and Louise Allington. It’s made clear early on that they’re extremely poor money managers when Louise rationalizes that they should throw an expensive party for all the people they owe money to in order to tell them they can’t pay off their debt. Their money woes seem taken care of when they receive word that Aubrey has inherited his dead brother’s fortune. That is until Louise, the more devious of the two, realizes their new-found fortune will go to their creditors, not to new dresses and champagne. So instead she concocts a scheme (the line “Aubrey, I have an idea” becomes a familiar one) in which Aubrey will fake his own death and return disguised as his cousin George (pronounced Hor-hey) who has been living in Mexico and is next in line for the inheritance.

This is where the madness sets in with everyone getting tangled in the mess of lies. Even the butler and maid have a George impostor coming to claim the fortune, while the real George is also on his way. Much of the comedy depends heavily on the cast’s delivery of the quick-witted script and Rebecca Parent as Louise and Bruce Davies as Aubrey pull it off. Davies must switch perfectly between a British and American accent on cue and eventually a Scottish one. As well, Rob Roy’s strange and befuddled farmer Giles is a treat, refusing to go into the kitchen because he’s fighting with the chef, he awkwardly places eggs on a living room chair.

The play also demands physical comedy chops and Parent shines, particularly in a scene after her husband’s “death” where she is gleefully reading a book alone one second and wailing and flailing herself all over the room the minute the butler enters. Jemima Sutherland, who plays George’s estranged wife is also excellent, throwing herself at every George, real or fake, that walks in the door.

As a comedy, there’s nothing new about Tons of Money, which is to be expected for a play written 90 years ago, and perhaps that’s why it works so well. Laughs come easy, like when Sprules the butler, played by Jim Watson, speaks to his boss after a brief make-out session with the maid, unaware his lips are covered in lipstick. The enthusiastic cast is what brings the script to life and whether it’s a character walking in wearing only fish netting or lines like “It’s dull being a widow,” you’ll laugh. Tons of Money runs at The Montgomery Theatre until August 24.

Molly Rankin

Talking Bands
by Katie Rankin

Molly RankinMolly Rankin [no relation] is a bit of an anomaly on Prince Edward Island. She’s a female singer-songwriter more likely to be found opening for sweaty indie rock bands at a bar rather than strumming her acoustic guitar at a cozy coffee shop. Along with her band, she plays folk-pop songs about love, heartbreak and loss, drawing influences from a range of music including Abba, Roy Orbison and The Smiths.

Rankin’s backing band is a rotating mish-mash of band members from Two Hours Traffic, Boxer the Horse and The Danks. “This is sort of a stereotypical thing to say but I’ve always been around boys,” she explains. Last time she checked her line-up included Phil MacIssac on drums, Alec O’Hanley on guitar, Andy MacDonald on bass and Jeremy Gaudet on guitar. “I’ve learned over time that at practice you have to be like, ‘No I don’t like that,’ and as soon as you show a little bit of backbone they have more respect for you.”

Since moving to PEI two years ago Rankin has been embraced by the music community. This winter she nabbed three PEI Music Awards including Female Vocalist of the Year for her recording SHE EP. However she admits joining the tight-knit scene wasn’t easy. “It was so intimidating, but I was sort of friends with everyone and they’re actually playing with me. The bands that I thought were cool—some of the guys were on stage with me.”

Rankin grew up in rural Cape Breton where she learned to create her own fun in a town where the closest movie theatre was two hours away. It was also where she was surrounded by her famous musical family. She says some of her songs, like fan favourite “Way Home,” have a Celtic melody. “It slips in no matter what, it’s just been ingrained.” Rankin and her band work to find balance between her lyrics and their instruments. “It’s always hard to find a good mix of heaviness and letting the songs breath, but I sort of eased into it in a natural way.”

English Words

Talking Bands
by Katie Rankin

English WordsEnglish Words keyboard and saxophone player Todd MacLean is talking about the new Subway flatbread, but it could be a metaphor for the band’s new sound. “There’s more space now and everything is not as filled out as it used to be. Everything can just breathe.” Lead singer Ryan Crane chimes in semi-seriously, “We went from being Subway foot-long whole grain to being flatbread.” This winter, the Charlottetown group took a five month break from performing and spent their time writing new songs and rehearsing. Crane says it was one of the most rewarding experiences since starting the band.

The hiatus prompted a new sound from the Words that they debuted in April at the ECMAs. Ryan’s brother Aaron Crane gave up his drumsticks for samplers and a drum machine. There’s also only one guitar player, Andrew Murray, with Ryan focusing solely on singing. “I have to be more of a frontman. I can’t hide behind my guitar, I have to move around and engage people a lot more, which is challenging,” says Ryan. Bassist Josh Byrne will keep up his unique, chest-high playing ways. The Words say the new sound moves away from the aggressive, serious rock they were known for and has more of a hip-hop influence; it’s an electro-pop vibe without sounding like an 80s revival band. “It’s a lot less white-boy indie rock. There’s a little more funk and a little more soul in it now,” says Ryan.

The group notices the new songs get an immediate, positive response from the audience, making it more enjoyable for them to play. “It’s way more communal than our other stuff. There’s a lot more interaction between us and the audience. We are looking to entertain, but still be ourselves,” says Ryan. Despite the warm reception they’ve been getting at shows, the Words recognize there’s always a risk of backlash when a band changes so drastically, especially in a small music community like PEI. “You’re always going to get the people who are going to want to hear Young Flare,” says Murray, referencing an old fan favourite. Ryan points out it doesn’t make sense to stay the same. “It used to be a thing where a band had to evolve in order for people to stay interested,” he says. The group says it was a natural progression to drift towards happier, more upbeat songs. “This is a new English Words,” says Ryan. “Not just in the sound, but in the headspace,” adds Aaron.

Here it for yourself at Hunter’s Ale House on June 30 and at Baba’s Lounge on August 5.

Clearly Befuddled


One of two views: Sheep for Wheat Production

by Katie Rankin

When I first read French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist comedy The Lesson for one of my classes I thought it was a well-written play, but would be almost impossible to stage, and that if it was, it would be pretty boring. The breadth of dialogue between the two main characters, along with how much of the action depends on this dialogue could prove extremely difficult for players. However, Sheep-for-Wheat’s production of The Lesson at The Guild proved my amateur theatre-critique theories wrong. They took a challenging script and transformed the one act into an engaging, intimate, and intense performance.

Focusing on a lesson between an overly-confident pupil wishing to apply for her “total-doctorate,” played by Meaghan Blanchard, and a knowledgeable but impatient professor, performed by Chris Doiron, the play begins with the naive student verbally overpowering the seemingly meek professor. The success of building tension throughout the play greatly depends on the dynamic between these two characters, and Blanchard and Doiron work extremely well together, bouncing scholastic banter off each other at rapid speed.

As the professor, who becomes increasingly frustrated with the pupil, Doiron carries much of the emotional weight and he does so spectacularly, rhyming off long-winded and absurd explanations of linguistics, yet never allowing the dialogue to slip into boring meaningless jargon. Instead, he and Blanchard, along with cast-mate Kelsey Moore as the maid Marie, create and maintain suspense through their actions and diction.

In fact, dialogue and the sound of words are the most important components of The Lesson, not only in keeping the audience’s attention but in the development of the plot. As Doiron becomes more immersed in his lecture, he describes ridiculous linguistic ideas such as his friend who couldn’t pronounce “F,” while Blanchard continuously interjects complaining of a toothache. Amongst all of these sounds, the play reaches its climax which literally cuts through the jargon when the professor takes out a knife and suggests learning all the different ways of saying “kni-fe.”

The cast, along with director Rob Reddin, do an excellent job of working with the comedic and absurd aspects, while creating a frightening and dramatic conclusion. This mood was greatly aided by music interspersed throughout by Keith Baglole and the introductory video of Doiron frantically solving math equations filmed by Jeremy Larter. A talented and hard-working company, Sheep-for-Wheat put on an intimate and immersing production, demonstrating that there is vibrant young theatre community in Charlottetown.

Why two reviews? Our absent-minded editor managed to assign two different people to review the play. Well…more for the money this way.

 

Dazzling Portrayal

…and stockings for the ladies

Review by Katie Rankin

Usually when I hear the theatre term “one man play” I cringe and imagine a mustached-man sitting on a stool on a blackened stage with a single spotlight on his glistening, bald head as he laments about his life. Fortunately for me, in Attila Clemann’s play ...and stockings for the ladies this notion of one actor on stage is transformed into actor Brendan McMurtry-Howlett’s dazzling portrayal(s) of several distinct characters, all while never changing out of his Canadian military costume.

Inspired by a true story, the play follows Canadian soldier Ted Aplin’s tireless and unauthorized devotion to Aushwitz survivors in Germany after the second World War as he provided them with various forms of relief, including everything from chocolate to surgery. The play also considers the lengths Aplin went to in order to ensure that these victims received the care and “normalcy” that he so strongly felt they were missing and deserved. As well, it reflects on the effect his work ultimately had on his family back in Canada, his surrounding officers, and himself.

What is so fantastic about this play and what kept me enthralled by the terrific script throughout the entire performance was not a flashy set or fancy costumes. Rather it was the superb performances given by McMurtry-Howlett that makes this one-man show truly incredible. The audience’s understanding of the plot and its emotional arc depends entirely on McMurtry-Howlett’s ability to make us believe that he is every character he plays, even when this means he is literally having a conversation with himself, going back and forth from one character to another. He does so through tone, diction, body language, as well as how characters interact with each other, from Aplin’s wife to his toddler son to Aplin’s second-hand man Daniel Friedman.

In particular there is one scene near the end when Aplin’s wife Jackie and their children wait at the train station for Aplin as he finally returns from Germany that demonstrates the actor’s talent, including his ability to jump from one character to the next. Alone on stage, McMurtry-Howlett creates a sense of chaos in this busy station as all the children desperately try to spot their father and Jackie attempts to control her brood. As well, he creates a very touching moment when Aplin finally surfaces from the crowd and is reunited with his family. It is not only interesting to watch how McMurtry-Howlett creates a feeling of chaos through his characters, but it is also amazing to witness his ability to fabricate bonds betweens these characters as he plays them back and forth.

However, some of the most touching moments from McMurtry-Howlett come from his accounts of concentration camps and the moments and months after freedom as told by puppets that the actor speaks through from behind various props on stage. One child puppet speaks of the chocolate given out by Canadian soldiers and the pure joy of this gift, while an older survivor recounts the horror of freedom as he and others exhausted themselves by killing SSR soldiers. The puppets deepen the audience’s understanding of the conditions that the people Aplin is helping have gone through, and, therefore, our understanding of Aplin’s blind compassion.

An extremely heart-wrenching and enthralling play, McMurtry-Howlett’s performance fills it with energy and passion (p.s. Degrassi fans, he played JT’s killer).

Unstoppable Energy


British Invasion II: America Strikes Back

Review by Katie Rankin

So here’s the thing; I’m not the biggest fan of musical revues and although I find myself tempted on cold March nights to sit down and watch American Idol contestants belt out their best versions of the classics, I usually like to stick to the originals. However, confessions aside, the Confederation Centre’s British Invasion II: America Strikes Back! exudes so much talent, glitz, and, above all, energy, that I couldn’t help but shed my slightly cynical opinion and genuinely enjoy this entertaining trip through British and American contemporary music history.

Opening with a medley of “God Save the Queen” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” as a traditional British guard and an American soldier wave their respective flags, the tone is set not so much for a battle over which country had better music, but a revue of how each country responded to the music coming from across the sea. With the entire ensemble singing the Dave Clark Five classics “Bits and Pieces” and “Glad All Over,” it was clear from the beginning that this revue would be full of great vocals, superb choreography, and an unstoppable energy.

Essentially, British Invasion II exists in two parts that have the important ability to appeal to two types of audiences. One part of the revue is full impersonations of famous singers which are often very good, such as the Beach Boy harmonies in “I Get Around” and Bee Gees falsetto of singer John Edwards in “More Than a Woman.” However, sometimes the impersonations lean more towards cheese-y, something that makes me slightly embarrassed and uncomfortable. But it was clear from the audience as they chuckled when Ozzy Osbourne stumbled around stage mumbling “Crazy Train” or when Keith Richards almost coughed up a lung during the Rolling Stones section that many people love these over-the-top performances.

The second part of British Invasion II, and the part that I tend to enjoy much more, is when a vocalist takes a song that has been sung thousands of times and brings something new and original to the performance. Although it’s been done before, the ensemble performance of “Imagine” by John Lennon with John Edwards on lead vocal was very touching and visually stimulating as the cast, dressed in white, held candles. On that note, all the visual aspects of the play, from Cher’s elaborate costume and headpiece to the protest signs held up during the Peace Rally section, were extremely eye-catching and almost always relevant to the time period or the song.

What the producers of British Invasion II wisely realize is that pace in a musical revue is crucial, and although the show may run a little longer than necessary, it is the energy of the cast and the efficient shift from one song into the other that keeps the show exciting for the audience. Enough cannot be said about the cast and the energy they share with the audience throughout the show. In particular, during the Rolling Stones section, when Gerard Everard as Mick Jagger strutted around the stage and played to the audience, even getting into it at one point, he proved how important an audience’s enthusiasm is in a show like this.

In the end, a musical revue is successful if it can entertain the audience and maybe jog a memory about that song you danced to at a junior high sockhop or the record your dad used to put on when your were little. In that case, this revue is a hit. British Invasion II: America Strikes Back! is now playing at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Baba’s Birthday


Charlottetown live entertainment club celebrates 15 years

by Katie Rankin

Owner of Cedar’s Eatery and founder of Baba’s Lounge, Maroun Abdallah with his son Ryan, whe helps look after Baba’s these days.On the 21st of December Baba’s Lounge will celebrate 15 full years of business with the return of one of the bar’s most popular bands Eyes for Telescopes, plus another musical guest, as well as food and drink. Opened in 1991 as a holding bar by the owners of the restaurant below, Cedar’s Eatery, the former attic was torn down and rebuilt in 1996 and expanded to twice its former size. Since then, Baba’s, which means “father” in Lebanese, has been one of the most popular bars in Charlottetown, as well as a musical venue that showcases both local and touring talent.

Staff member Ryan Abdallah, Maroun’s son, explains that the bar’s intention is to promote original music and never book cover acts. Showcasing bands that have just started out, many local acts have gotten their start playing the bar, including the anniversary’s feature act Eyes for Telescopes. The band played at the bar so regularly that they were considered Baba’s house band, and according to Abdallah, Baba’s and the band go hand in hand. “When people think of Eyes, they think of the best times that we ever had in this bar and vice versa.” Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the band to celebrate, along with all of Baba’s faithful patrons, the longevity of such an establishment.

Eyes for Telescopes will re-unite for a special show to commemorate Baba’s first fifteen years.Baba’s supports and celebrates local music and is an environment of constant creativity as seen by the bar’s Open Mic nights. According to Baba’s staff, it is not unusual, and actually quite incredible, to watch musicians meet and perform for each other, and eventually collaborate together as a band. Baba’s has also been a constant in supporting musical celebrations such as the ECMAs and this past summer once again hosted the 8th Close to the Coast music festival.

The bar, once described by Much Music as the biggest little rock bar, has had hundreds of performers grace its stage, showcasing every type of music from hip-hop to rock to folk. Diverse acts such as Sam Roberts, Dawson and Zubot, The Rude Mechanicals, Buck 65, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, Skratch Bastid, The Trews, Grand Theft Bus, Wasabi Collective, Jimmy Swift Band, and Sweet Oblivion have played the bar, demonstrating a wide range of music, as well as the bar’s impressive reputation.

However, it is not only the music that makes Baba’s such a desirable location, but the atmosphere of the bar and the people who help create this comfortable atmosphere. According to Michelle Morrison, owner of Back Alley Music and a Baba’s patron, the bar is a place where customers can feel like they are at their house hanging out with their friends. Amazingly it is also a business that does not cater to any particular age demographic or type of customer and everyone is welcome, no matter what brand of jeans they’re wearing.

Instead, Baba’s focuses on celebrating the arts and supporting local businesses by buying locally-grown food and working with other businesses such as Back Alley Music and The Buzz. Come celebrate Baba’s achievement December 21st as the bar shows its appreciation to its customers and acknowledges everyone’s support of both the bar and the numerous musicians that play there.

Questions of Existence

The Outsider

Review by Katie Rankin

I won’t pretend I’ve been reading French existentialist literature for years and that I was at all familiar with Albert Camus’s L’Étranger when I walked into The Guild to see The Outsider, Thomas Morgan Jones’s adaptation of the novel for the stage. However, I will assert (with a pending Philosophy 101 credit on my transcript) that I really did like it.

Presented by Vagabond Productions and directed by Greg Doran, the play centers around Meursault (Ben Rayner), whose mother has recently died in a nursing home. It focuses on his struggle with the guilt of her death and his growing pessimism towards human existence.

Walking around like Hamlet in his funeral suit for most of the play, Rayner plays Meursault in a way in which the audience can feel both pity for his misery and frustration with his deadpan responses to the people around him. In the play, and especially in the beginning, there is very little dialogue and much of scenes’ emotional weight relies on Meursault’s physical reactions to other characters and situations. In a trance-like state for much of the play, Meursault’s calm and contemplative manner is underscored by anger and confusion and it is not until the final scene that we see all of the character’s burdens unleashed in a frighteningly realistic and cathartic performance by Rayner.

Throughout the play, Rayner is supported by the surrounding characters who act as foils to the serious and reflective Meursault. Notably, Marie, played by Kelsey Moore, as Meursault’s girlfriend is the antithesis of her boyfriend and is naïve, optimistic, and content with her reality. Another distinctive character is Meursault’s neighbor Raymond, played by Ian MacDonald, who not only portrays an irrational man who quickly befriends Meursault, bringing trouble with him, but provides comic relief from the seriousness of the play. Finally, there is the character Salamano played by Jon Deagle who frantically searches for his dog which he abused for most of play. Through the loss of his dog, Salamano highlights the inevitability of death, stating that there is “no cure for that.”

One of the play’s most moving scenes was at the end of Act One, when, after Raymond has been attacked on the beach by the family member’s of his mistress, Meursault is left alone with one of the injured men, played by Brian Ansems. With no dialogue, the scene uses musical cresendo, and Rayner and Ansem’s reactions to each other, to create an almost nauseating scene (in the most positive sense of the word). Later on, Meursault speaks of the heat of the day and the scorching sun, and during this scene the combination of music and the actors’ performances, made me feel like I had sun exhaustion.

As the director’s note in the program points out, the play doesn’t really answer any of the “big questions” about the reason for and the value of life. However, it gives us many questions concerning death, religion, condemnation, and a person’s value.

Presented by an extremely talented young group of actors and crew, The Outsider was an intense night of entertainment that left me thinking about it for days after it was over. I might even read L’Étranger over Christmas break.

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