Friday, April 22, 2022

Self-Renewal: New Tricks by Christopher House

Christopher House in New Tricks. (Photo: Ömer Yükseker)

Canadian modern dance innovator and Order of Canada recipient Christopher House officially became a senior citizen when he turned 65 in 2020. That’s the age of retirement in Canada and after 25 years as artistic director and chief choreographer of Toronto Dance Theatre, House exercised his prerogative and announced he was quitting the company.

He had planned to have a big send-off – a retrospective season showcasing some of the work he had created over the decades for one of the country’s leading modern dance troupes, in addition to a couple of new commissions made especially for him to dance in. But then the pandemic rudely disrupted what was to have been his grand finale, compelling House to leave his position without the anticipated fanfare.

The curtain never did come crashing down on his dancing career, which in retrospect is a good thing. Without a fixed ending, House has just kept on going, creating, and performing now as an independent solo artist. New Tricks, a multipart work whose premiere took place at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance during the last two weekends of March, is the first choreography he has made since becoming a pensioner, and it's among the best he has produced in years.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Disintegration of the American Theatre: A Report from the Front

The cast of The Minutes, the new play by Tracy Letts at New York's Studio 54.

This is a review of The Minutes. It includes spoilers.

For the first half of its ninety-minute running time (sans intermission), Tracy Letts’s new play The Minutes (at Studio 54) is an inconsequential but frequently hilarious chronicle of a meeting of the government of a small town called Big Cherry located in an unspecified state. Working on David Zinn’s evocative set, the fine director Anna D. Shapiro – whose Broadway credits include Letts’s August: Osage County as well as The Motherfucker with the Hat and the beautiful 2014 revival of Of Mice and Men – and a flawless cast flesh out the idiosyncrasies, the long-festering petty tensions and the various ineptitudes of this motley group, two of whom (played by Blair Brown and the delightful Austin Pendleton, whose timing is both eccentric and unequalled) have served on the town council for decades. There are three main points of focus. One is the attempt of Mr. Hanratty (Danny McCarthy) to obtain funding for an accessible fountain in the town center, which goes down because hardly anyone in the room has any interest in Hanratty’s spirit of inclusiveness: as Mr. Breeding (Cliff Chamberlain), the most forthrightly insensitive person in the room, expresses it, the definition of “disabled” is an inability to do things that “normal” people have no trouble with. The second is the proposal of Mr. Blake (K. Todd Freeman) to institute a game called Lincoln Smackdown for the annual town heritage festival in which attendees try to knock down someone dressed as Abraham Lincoln (who, in real life, had no connection to Big Cherry). Meanwhile the newest addition to the council, Mr. Peel (Noah Reid of the TV series Schitt’s Creek), who missed the last meeting because he was out of town for his mother’s funeral, is struggling to catch up but hits a brick wall: another member has been unaccountably ousted, and he can’t get anyone to tell him why. Equally mysteriously, the town clerk (Jessie Mueller) has not distributed the minutes from the previous week that might explain his absence. Whenever Peel tries to stop the proceedings and address the mystery, the mayor (played by Letts himself) shuts him down on one pretext or another.