University Player’s “An Experiment with an Air Pump”

I had the absolute pleasure to see the University of Windsor’s latest offering An Experiment with an Air Pump last Saturday night. As usual, it was a thrill for me to walk into a play with no expectations other than the good word I had heard buzzing about the show. With some of my cast members by my side, we were thrown into a world of science, art, love and intrigue which certainly did not disappoint.

The set was immediately striking, and set the tone perfectly for the rest of the play. Swathed in curtains and centring on a large arch/doorway, you immediately felt the sense of grandeur that the piece calls for. The use of projection throughout the play was certainly one of the most interesting aspects to me. When entering the theatre the curtains are scrawled with scientific jargon (my more scientifically minded comrades assured me it was quite legitimate though) about DNA, next there was the painting the play is based off of, then a dove, and then finally the noose that does in poor Isobel. It was not only visually stunning, but also made moments that would have been otherwise difficult to stage powerful and meaningful. The costumes for each period so beautifully complimented each other, allowing for ties to easily be drawn between the two scenarios and yet capturing the strong individualities of each character.

The play itself takes place in two different time periods, 1899 and 1999. “On the threshold” as the play discusses of two centuries, we see the juxtaposition of science, what it means, how it clashes with the arts, and how two families living in the same estate but generations apart are dealing with both similar and vastly different issues. I think this is the element that I have been puzzling over the most in regards to this production: How is it possible for science to have progressed so much in a hundred years, and what on Earth will it look like in another 84 years from now? In 1899 the scientists are obsessed with the human anatomy, and dissections are still practically public entertainment. We see these sorts of fascinations in Frankenstein with its chopped up bodies and creating life. In Air Pump we see Thomas Armstrong (played by Brendan Kinnon) pine for Isobel Bridie (Emerjade Simms), not truly for her love, but for the opportunity to asses her deformity. We see how all life was submitted to science, great or small, in an age where discoveries were abounding. But then when you flash forward to 1999, and we start looking at the Human Genome Project, and all of the ethical questions surrounding that, there is a sense that while the technology has come a long way, our fascinations with “fixing” humanity and understanding all of its facets certainly has not depleted. Armstrong’s character comes off as monstrous for engaging in such machinations in the name of science, yet Ellen (Clarisse Reid) thinks the world will see her as similarly cruel for the work she intends to pursue. It brings about a great moral debate, how far is too far? Or does too far even exist? All of this is contrasted with the spouses of the scientists. Isobel who loves words, Tom who is an out-of-work English Prof, and Susannah Fenwick, wife of Dr. Joseph Fenwick (Ryan Iwanicki) whose experiments on his daughter’s dove we see at the very start of the play. The struggles between the minds and hearts of artists versus their scientific counterparts becomes paramount to the play, as the artists tend to bring the moral issues to the fore for the scientists. And all of this is brought down on the heads of the Fenwick daughters, Harriet (Natalia Bushnik) and Maria (Andrea Meister). Harriet especially possesses the scientific mind of her father but is forced to attempt to apply it to creative activities by her mother. While Maria’s mind is purely romantic and wistful, that is much to the chagrin of her logical minded twin. We watch them bicker and fight, just as their parents do, and just as their descendants will do 100 years later. How much has changed, really? It would seem like everything and nothing, all at once.

The actors handled this dense, deep text with an ease and grace well beyond their years. Simms’ physicality especially was impressive, as she convincingly played her hunchbacked deformity. Also, the amount of quick changes that occurred in the second act were astounding, and both the cast and crew deserve huge kudos for pulling off such seamless changes. I’ve watched these actors bloom from their first year into these impressive young adults who are ready to take on the world. For some of these actors this was their last time on the University stage, and they have every reason to be VERY proud of themselves.

I was enthralled with this play, and I feel like it has changed the way I see the world, which to me is the hallmark of a great piece of theatre.

University Player’s “Anna in the Tropics”

The Univeristy of Windsor is starting off their 2015/16 season with a bang! Nilo Cruz’s beautifully crafted story was an inspiring way to get the season going.

On a cold October day, there is nothing better than to be transported to the hot Tampa, Florida of Cruz’s play. The sets and costumes exude the heat of the setting, while also providing a functional and beautiful backdrop upon which the story can unfold.

One of my favourite aspects of Cruz’s script was its use of literature and its awareness of itself as a piece of literature, and also theatre. As an English Major who loves the theatre, it’s lovely to see a piece that revolves around a well-known and much beloved novel. 

The story itself is downright captivating. I was totally swept up in the romance, turmoil and lush language of the play. Conchita, a cigar roller in a Tampa factory, falls in love with her Lectore (Juan Julian) as he reads her and the other workers Tolstoy’s Anna Kerenina. However, it is more than their affair that stirs up the emotions of the other workers, creating a climax that happens so quickly you barely have time to register the event before it’s over. It is a truly gripping story expertly told.

The cast of Anna in the Tropics provided engaging, real and beautiful characters. The ensemble was spearheaded by Emerjade Simms and Callum Gunn as the aforementioned Conchita and Juan Julian. They were joined by the wonderful talents of Marina Gomes, Dani Zimmer, Ilya Ilyashyk, David Hudyma, Brian Haight, and Isaiah Kolundzic. The whole cast told their story with an excellence and talent beyond their years; they should be highly commended for such an awesome performance.

There are only 2 chances left to see this amazing show! Today at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm! 

University Players’ “The Nerd”

Okay, so I know this is a long time coming, and no lies, I have very little excuse as to why I haven’t written this review yet. But better late than never!

This experience was very interesting for me, as I got to see the final performance of the final show of the University Player’s season. And while this play was not what I’d call a traditional comedy, it was wonderfully funny, and is well worth seeing if it’s ever on in your area.

The Nerd is the story of a man who for his birthday wants to invite the man who saved his life during the war. However, the guest who arrives to his dinner party isn’t quite who he seems to be. The hilarity that ensues is almost too much to bear! Honestly I thought my sides would split or my lungs would give out I was laughing so hard. The comedy is physical, witty and tension based humour that just had us all on the edge of the seat!

The performances were wonderful. The contrast of characters involved in this play made for easy and hilarious comedy. Everyone’s performances were fabulous, and for Alice Lundy, Andrew Iles and Hailey Joy it was a wonderful show to end their University Player’s careers. Special mention has to go to Isaiah Kolundzic who played Rick Steadman, the ‘war hero,’ the absolute absurdity of his character was amazing, and I honestly had to be talked into the fact that it was Isaiah at all. His mannerisms and characteristics so perfectly contrasted the other characters that I just had to laugh.

I don’t really want to spoil the whole show, because honestly I hope it gets done more, but the end few moments make the whole play worthwhile. I was so disappointed that the couples beside me left at intermission, because they truly missed the punchline of the play! While it’s not all that conventional, it made it all the more fun for me. I love getting to experience new plays, and while I normally like to read the play beforehand, I was so happy to have taken the advice of my friends and just went and experienced it. It made it so much more enjoyable.

I’m looking forward to many new experiences with next year’s UP selections.

University Player’s “Twelfth Night”

To be fair, I was involved in the beginning processes of this play, and therefore have a soft spot for it. That being said, the show that I saw on the 14th of March was certainly well beyond what I had last seen. I was so impressed, so pleased and just overwhelmed with the beauty of this production. By the way, there will be spoilers, so read on if you dare!

First off, I’d like to talk about the setting of the play. Being set in the 1920’s the play had a very distinct flair, and yet I found that it was one that didn’t dampen the text at all, rather it enhanced the sense of excitement and carnival that is prevalent throughout Twelfth Night. Gordon McCall, the play’s director, made sure that every detail adhered to the theme, from the set and costumes, to the music, even the props all evoke the fabulous roaring 20’s. By further setting it in Windsor and Detroit, it gives the play a local flair that highlights the history of a city that has fallen on hard times and is hopefully on the way back to its former glory.

The set for the play itself was a wonder. It’s amazing to see something go from a picture and 3D computer model to real life in front of me. I won’t say too much about it, but let’s just say that at the performance I attended, there was a round of applause for the sheer beauty of the set. It encompassed so many of the architectural ideas of the period as well as the fabulous warmth of a beautiful bar.

The costumes were likewise awe inspiring. It’s hard to even pick out a favourite amongst the beautiful ensembles on display during this play. The glitz and glamour of the dresses paired with the pinstripe tailored suits and then the leather and wool was just a feast for the eyes. Even Malvolio’s cross gartered stockings were perfectly suited for the period, and everyone looked perfect from their hair to their shoes.

The actors themselves were wonderful. There are so many in this play, and it is such an ensemble piece that it seems impossible to pick out one actor over another. However, I have seldom been more impressed with a Shakespearean production at the University. They had such a handle on the text, and made it come from such an organic and real place that there wasn’t a single one of them that wasn’t believable. They made the text easy to understand and fun to watch, and truly embodied these funny wonderful people that not only Shakespeare created but then were transformed with the setting of the play. Their voices, physicality, the way they make the jokes undeniably funny, all make this production something so special and an absolute must see!

I have known most of these actors since their first year of University. I have had the pleasure of being a classmate of theirs, a cast mate to some, and a teacher to some as well, and I have to say I could not be more proud of them than I was with this production. I could see their futures paved out before them, bright and shining like they are. I only hope that I will be able to continue to watch them grow and prosper and be that friendly face in the audience for them.

There is only one weekend left to catch this amazing production at the Hatch Studio theatre in the Jackman Building. For tickets you can go to http://www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers/ or call 519-253-3000 x2808.

University Player’s “To Moscow”

To Moscow was certainly a play for people who love theatre, this reviewer included, and I had an amazing time watching the lives of two of the most revolutionary theatre practitioners unfold in front of me. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get out and see it ASAP!

Liza Balkan made an amazing decision to have the cast get ready for the show out on stage. For a play that looks at actors and acting, to have the cast talk to the audience, get ready and basically let us in on what would be going on backstage onstage was fascinating, educational and just perfect in my opinion. The seamless transition from “backstage” to the world of the play was fantastic, and it really gave an organic feel to the rest of the play.

The plot of the play itself is rather incredible considering how famous and how much work Stanislavski and Chekhov did in such a short period of time. These two men essentially created our modern notion of theatre, without them we would be still using the declamatory style of melodrama rather than Stanislavski’s more natural theatre. To watch how these two theatre giants met, developed careers, how their personal lives intertwined and developed, it made for a wonderful piece of theatre.

The actors portrayed their characters wonderfully. I was so impressed. Mauro Meo and Andrew Iles who played Stanislavski and Chekhov respectively were the centerpiece of a phenomenal cast. Gwendolyn Tofano’s performance as Masha Chekhov was powerful, and Rebecca Young as the actress Olga Knipper was enchanting. Breanna Maloney and Tamlynn Bryson embodied their characters so well, and Maloney especially made us have such empathy for her character and her situation. Robin Ross and David Hudyma rounded out this small but definitely mighty cast.

The costumes and set were amazing. It was a lot of fun getting to watch the actors get dressed. There are so many layers and the costumes are so intricate, that it makes you appreciate them even more. There was such beauty in the simplicity of the set, and the multimedia aspect of the play was awesome. To get to think about all of the amazing quotes from both the writings and plays of these two men were amazing, and set the tone for the scene very well.

When I see a play like this, which talks about the real lives of these amazing theatre artists, I wonder what they’d think of it. Would they like how we remember them? Did the events and conversations really go this way, or are we missing some unknown element to the story? To me, plays like this one are so important because they preserve in some way the amazing lives of men whose story cannot be forgotten.

Honestly, this is an amazing play. There are only two performances left, tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 2. Get there if you can! It’s definitely worth the trip and has nice romantic tones for Valentine’s Day weekend!

University Player’s “The Crucible”

I remember reading this play in Grade 11 English class and not really being a huge fan of the play; however after seeing this production I must admit my mind was changed. I thought that this production was exceptionally well cast, and most certainly well performed. It changed my perspective on the play for sure!

The play itself is a difficult read but a wonder to behold. The events of the play are so frustrating and infuriating, and yet that’s Miller’s point. His audience was in the midst of the same sort of “witch hunting” during President McCarthy’s reign and with that social injustice in mind he is able to show his audience, as well as all audiences since, the ridiculous injustice of such unfounded prying into people’s lives. I’m not sure if it moved the people then, but it certainly moved me. To watch these people being charged, and hanged, all because of the supposedly good word of a few young women was practically unbearable. It’s amazing what ignorance and fear can do to people. And yet we see it all over the world today, people who are willing to do anything in the name of the cause they believe in purely because they think it’s correct. The people of Salem believed they were in danger of witches and witchcraft; they weren’t the first town to think so and they certainly won’t be the last.

The prologue of the play, which was added in by director Gordon McCall, was fabulously done. I loved singing the hymns before the play begins; it put the audience into the proper mindset of the play. Plus it provided a huge contrast to the rest of the prologue. The part with Tituba and the girls in the woods is written in the script, and needs to be acted out for the play to truly make sense. The only issue I had was that the music got very modern the more the prologue went on; at first it was very tribal and drum based (which I really liked because the voodoo magic itself is very tribal in nature) but then it turned into a very pulsating beat like at a dance club. While it created an even more stark contrast than it already possessed, it was a choice I don’t think I would have made (although it really was the only one!)

The way the show looked was incredible as well. I loved how the set worked with negative space and therefore was able to be everywhere the play needed it to be. At the same time the empty beams also resembled the gallows that so many of the characters were destined for. The costumes were lovely. I was so happy that they were of the period; it made the play so much more real to me. I’m always impressed at how amazing and professional these productions are. You can tell how dedicated everyone is to their craft, and the professors that lead these talented students are certainly no exception.

This play was expertly cast. The cast itself was huge, and had students who were as young as first or second year mixed in with the fourth year students. An ensemble cast of that size is not often seen in a University Players production, so this was a real treat. With such a large ensemble it seems almost unfair to select a few to praise, especially since everyone impressed me so much. All I can say, is that there were some of them I wanted to punch, some of them I could have strangled myself, some of them I wanted to hug, and if the play had have gone on much longer, I don’t think I could have made it. I was almost crying by the end of it as it was!

So the University Players have definitely changed my opinion about The Crucible, and I am thankful for it. I felt like I really went through a very difficult experience with these characters. There’s something about seeing this raw human nature on stage that makes for an unforgettable ordeal. Plays like this are why I am so passionate about theatre.

University Player’s “Blood Relations”

The University Player’s production of Blood Relations is a perfect play for this time of year. It’s spooky, thrilling and a perfect Hallowe’en treat! I saw the show with a friend of mine on October 30th, and we both had nightmares that night about people with axes! While it’s not gory at all, it’s like an Alfred Hitchcock movie; it’s not scary at the time, just later, when the lights are off and you’re all alone.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the theatre was the set. I loved all of the articles about the real Lizzie Borden that created the centerpiece of the set. It was amazing, and really made it hit home that this story was based on real events. And it helped to show the difference between the parlour and the dining room. But I loved the staircase and the couch, everything was so beautiful, and the fact that everything was black made the paper stand out all the more. The same can be said for the costumes. First of all, they were stunning. However what was interesting was the characters who wore white. It was only the real Lizzie Borden and her sister Emma who wore any hint of white, along with their Uncle, other than that everyone else was in black. I found it fascinating! Agatha Knelsen and David Court are a dream team, and the University is definitely lucky to have them!

The story itself was fascinating, with a fabulous frame narrative that makes the ending totally mind blowing (I won’t spoil, I promise). However the story would not have been nearly as entertaining if it hadn’t been acted so well. Vanessa Lancione and Breanna Maloney were particularly impressive. These two women shared the role of Lizzie Borden, and yet neither of them was off the stage for very long if at all. The amount of text and characters that they had to know for this play was amazing; their physicality was awesome, and they were truly wonderful. However this was definitely a big ensemble piece and the rest of the cast should not go without mention. Andrew Iles, Tamlynn Bryson, Duncan Rowe, Hayley Joy and Joseph Zita were all marvellous, some of them also having to inhabit multiple characters. But truly, the whole cast so expertly brought these people to life, making us try to understand the mind of the killer, and simultaneously make us feel bad for the poor woman who was driven to such desperate action.

One thing that I found particularly interesting that I wanted to analyze a little more deeply was the space itself. It’s very interesting to be in a very small theatre like the Studio for this show. The space makes a great difference in how we as the audience feel depending on the type of play. If the play is a comedy, then the audience very much so feels a part of the play, as the actors are apt to move through the audience and it feels like a very inclusive event, which is the overall goal of comedy. However, with tragedy or with a tense drama like Blood Relations, the small space has a very different effect. For me, I felt like I was trapped, especially during the second act when you know what Lizzie is going to do. With the space so small, you realize that the action of the play is merely feet away from you, which is fun…except for when someone is murdering someone else. Suddenly you realize there’s nowhere else to go, you must stay there and watch what happens, and there is not an easy way to distance yourself by saying “oh, but that’s up there, on stage, not here” when ‘here’ is only a few feet away from ‘there’.  Therefore I felt that this space worked so well for this play, and it certainly had the desired effect on me and my friend. I’ll never look at an axe the same way again!

There is still this weekend and one more weekend to catch this terrifying thriller! You can call the Box Office at 519-253-3000 x. 2808 or you can order tickets online at http://www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers/61/box-office