Annual Visual Arts BFA show fills building with art

Always one of the most exciting events of the year for the Department of Visual Arts, the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) graduating exhibit is back and ready to showcase the work of nearly 40 emerging artists.

This year’s exhibit is titled Good Grief! and kicks off with a special opening reception at 7pm Friday, April 20. Expect to see over 50 pieces of art by the BFA students on view, ranging from sculpture and painting to drawing, photography, digital and multimedia. The pieces below are just an example of the kind of work that will be on view.

Good Grief! runs 10am to 6pm daily from April 20 to 28 in UVic’s Visual Arts building — if you can’t make the opening, be sure to pop in while the exhibit is on.

The annual BFA exhibit is a highlight of the year in Fine Arts. Much like School of Music students with their final concerts and Theatre students with their mainstage performances, the BFA show is an important milestone in the training of Visual Arts students.

“The work represents the self-directed nature of our program, where students learn to invest in their own research using a variety of artistic mediums to bring their projects to fruition,” says Visual Arts professor and faculty supervisor Megan Dickie.

The show is free, open to all members of the public and is fully wheelchair accessible.

Click on the images below to see the pieces in full.

 

Grand “Finale” for Wind Symphony Maestro Gerald King

It’s doubly fitting that the upcoming concert by UVic’s Wind Symphony is titled “Finale” — not only is it the final Wind Symphony concert of the 2017/18 season, but it will also mark the final bow for beloved conductor and highly respected music educator Dr. Gerald King.

Dr Gerald King

For the past 29 years, King has been the primary conductor of UVic’s highly praised Wind Symphony, but the maestro will put down his baton after the March 23 concert as he prepares to retire from UVic’s School of Music in June. And, fittingly enough, the program for this special concert includes pieces significant to both the Wind Symphony and to King himself.

“These are works which I consider to be cornerstone pieces,” he says. “They are not necessarily all incredibly profound, but they have contributed to the growth of the Wind Symphony and have very personal meaning for me.” This includes Fantasia on Klezmer Themes by Russian-Canadian composer Airat Ichmouratov, which he recalls “the audience went wild for when we performed it in 2013.”

Clarinetist Patricia Kostek — who retired from the School of Music at the end of 2017 after 28 illustrious years at UVic — will return for this encore performance. As colleagues, the two have collaborated extensively (clarinet is also King’s instrument), so it was fitting to bring the piece back to the stage in March with Kostek.

Other works on the program include Jack Stamp’s Gavorkna Fanfare — a nonsense title that King conducted in his very first concert with the Wind Symphony — as well as Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre, LOL by Robert Buckley, A Movement for Rosa by Mark Camphouse and others.

An enviable legacy

The UVic Wind Symphony is recognized as one of the premiere performing wind ensembles in the Pacific Northwest and among the finest university wind ensembles in Canada — and much of that credit goes to King’s expertise, commitment to the students, and his sometimes “tough-love” approach to teaching — as evidenced by the praises to Dr. King coming in on social media once word of his retirement got out.

Leading the Wind Symphony

“His seriousness encouraged us to put in maximum effort,” recalls Shannon McCready (BMus ’02). “He had very high expectations, which let us know that he believed in us, sometimes more than we believed in ourselves,” agrees Cooper Reed (BMus ’17), who feels especially grateful for all of his words of encouragement and support. “I have had so many wonderful performance opportunities since graduation because he gave me the confidence and tools I needed to be a successful musician.”

See below for even more reaction to Dr. King’s retirement.

But King’s work with the Wind Symphony is but one of the many legacies he will leave behind. He started his teaching career at UVic 30 years ago in the Faculty of Education, and his appointment as conductor of the Wind Symphony in 1989 was the first of many stepping stones in his vision to see Music Education formally housed within the School of Music; this became a reality in 2014 following King’s two terms as Director of the School of Music.

As Fine Arts Dean Susan Lewis notes, King leaves behind an enviable legacy. “Dr. King’s service to the School, the province and Canada more broadly is significant — over the past 25 years he has worked with over 10,000 ensembles and soloists representing more than 500,000 musicians,” she says. “His vision and leadership of the music education program has led to UVic alumni directing music programs in the K-12 sector across the province; his mentorship of new and continuing faculty and students, his leadership of Music Education, and his expertise as a band conductor are most appreciated and will be missed. As Dean, former Director of the School of Music and a colleague, I’d like to express my warm congratulations to Dr. Gerald King as he retires after 29 brilliant years in the School of Music.”

Indeed, UVic’s Music Education program is nationally recognized and many of the province’s elementary and secondary school music educators were once students of his. “I owe Dr. King so much for helping shape me into the music educator I am today,” says Cameron Kenis (BMus ’15), band and musical theatre teacher at Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School. “He has influenced my teaching is so many ways and I thank him for it.”

During his eight years as Director of the School of Music, King was also instrumental in UVic’s 2008 designation as Canada’s First and only All-Steinway School (a title which still stands today), leading the campaign to equip all Music classrooms, practice studios and concert halls with over 60 Steinway pianos. Given that Steinway pianos are known for their outstanding acoustical and performance properties, the opportunity to play on the best pianos in the world puts UVic students at a tremendous advantage.

New scholarship looks to the future

One final nod to the future is the establishment of the Dr. Gerald King Legacy Scholarship in Music Education. This new student award will see one or more scholarships awarded to academically outstanding undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Music (Music Education) program. Selection of the recipients will be made by the Senate Committee on Awards upon the recommendation of the School of Music. Please join us in contributing to this outstanding scholarship worthy of Dr. King’s years of service to the students and the university community. Donation cards will also be distributed at the March 23 concert.

King describes his upcoming retirement as bittersweet. “I love the students and faculty that I’ve worked with over the years, but the new horizons are also very exciting,” he says. (Already on his calendar are numerous engagements for guest conducting, adjudicating, keynote speaking and working with graduate students at other institutions.) “The biggest change will just be my office,” he says with a chuckle.

Don’t miss maestro King’s Finale concert with the UVic Wind Symphony on March 23 in the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium — sure to be a memorable evening!

—by Kristy Farkas, with files from John Threlfall

School of Music alumni offer some thoughts on the legacy of Dr. Gerald King

“I thank my lucky stars to have been a student at the School of Music between 1998-2004,” writes Mandart Chan. “One of my favourite memories was being the Ensemble Librarian for the Wind Symphony and Orchestra. Gerry taught me so much about repertoire, programming, conducting, teaching, cooking and life; I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for his mentorship over those years and now. He will be missed at UVic!”

“I’m thankful to Gerry for modeling that a teacher’s job is to set a very high standard for our students while sharing our passion of music,” notes Jenn McVie-Britton.

“I basically put UVic on my dream-school list because of the awesome experience of playing flute and piccolo in the MB provincial honour band with Dr. King,” says Erin Bardua. “I didn’t get to take Education classes and I think I only spent one term in Wind Symphony, but he continued to terrify and impress me in the halls.”

“I am so honoured to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. King in my journey to become a music teacher,” writes Emily McDermid. “I have very fond memories of instrumental techniques where he suggested I learn the ‘most noble instrument’ — the clarinet. At the end of the semester he joined us in a barely recognizable version of ‘Jingle Bells.’ Point is, I got to play clarinet with Gerry!”

“Gerry recruited me right from high school to come to UVic,” recalls Ken Roberts. “I did four years of Wind Symphony on tuba and I also took his Music Ed classes. I have to say although my life took me in a different direction, I cherish the time I spent learning, laughing and playing. I’ll always remember the many looks I received from over the top of his glasses. Enjoy your retirement, Gerry!”

“I did directed studies with Gerry and have corresponded at length with him about social action through music,” says Jonathan Govias. “He is the kind of person you imagine will always be there . . . until he isn’t.”

“Gerry King jacked me up, military style, when I told him I wanted to quit the Wind Symphony,” recalls Nadia Pona. “I left in tears, got my shit together, and now I’m in the Navy. The irony is not lost on me. That conversation in his office was a pivotal moment in my introduction to professionalism as a young adult and a very important memory. I learned a great deal under his baton as well. I hope he enjoys a well-deserved retirement.”

“I had the pleasure of playing in Wind Symphony for one year with Dr. King,” writes Heather Raines. “It was a difficult year for the French horns, as it was the year that Dick Ely, our beloved horn teacher died. Dr. King was sympathetic and understanding. I’m not sure if it was intentional but he found a piece of music that was exceptionally challenging for the French horn. Before introducing it to the orchestra, he showed it to the horn section and asked if we’d be able to play it. By involving us in this decision, he managed to engage us and have us interested in the music, while we were grieving.”

“In my first or second rehearsal ever with Wind Symphony, Gerry tore me apart for not being able to play a tom solo,” recalls Jay Schreiber. “I practiced hard for the next week and nailed it at the next rehearsal. He looked at me in his signature ‘over the glasses’ glare and sincerely remarked, ‘percussion . . .good job.’ Taught me a lot about playing in a section, and doing a service to the greater musical cause. Next semester I was section leader in Wind Symphony until the end of my tenure at UVic.”

“I had never been in a band like the Wind Symphony before and I had never had a conductor like Gerry,” writes Ethan Shoemaker. “I was terrified and inspired at the same time; I knew from the minute he stepped on the podium that I didn’t want to let him down and that at the very root of it, all he wanted was for each and every one of us to succeed. From my very first rehearsal to my music education classes to our conducting classes, I was lucky enough to learn and grow from the careful and honest guidance of Dr. King. So much of how he taught, conducted, and carried himself off and on the podium impacted me personally and professionally. I can honestly say that a day does not go by where I don’t have a ‘What would Gerry do?’ moment in my teaching and conducting life. I am privileged to have been taught by Dr. King and I am honoured to call him my friend: this is truly the end of an era. All the best with your retirement Gerry! Thanks for more than you will ever know!”

“I am very thankful for Gerry’s guidance and support throughout my years at UVic,” says Kristen Birley. “I remember being unsure about whether I wanted to go into music education and he was pretty determined to encourage and convince me that it was where I belonged. He was right! Thank you, Gerry!”

 

Shakespeare for the iTunes generation

Shakespeare’s funniest and shortest comedy is getting a reboot for the digital age.

Self-professed Shakespeare nerd Jeffrey Renn — currently completing his MFA in Directing at the Department of Theatre — has been working to create a Shakespeare production that would truly engage the iTunes generation. This week, the director opens his unique adaptation of The Comedy of Errors at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, blending Shakespearean verse with contemporary music to create a zesty production that’s more Broadway pop musical than Elizabethan classical.

Of course, Renn isn’t new to either acting, directing or reinterpreting the Bard. From the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to both the Stratford and Shaw festivals and even Broadway, he has performed Shakespeare across the world. “I have been blessed to work with rare artistic genius when it comes to Shakespeare,” says Renn, “including the legendary Robin Phillips.” (Well-known as the artistic director who put Ontario’s famed Stratford Festival on the map, Phillips sadly passed away in 2015 ).

Comedy of Errors director Jeffrey Renn

“I’m grateful to have been included in a traditional process of giving, sharing and playing that was taught to me by my theatre mentors,” he continues. “There’s now a line that travels through Shakespeare, back to the Greeks and forward to these amazing young artists on stage today. I want to be able to have young people as excited about the Bard’s work as I am.”

Comparing Shakespearean theatre to music videos, Renn feels the cutting-edge technology in music videos offers a shared vocabulary  uniquely driven by youth—much as it was with theatre in Shakespeare’s day. As such, he wanted his pop-musical adaptation of The Comedy of Errors to look and feel like a contemporary music video, with an extensive use of mirrors to create a club-like environment and extend the themes of reflection right into the audience.

Two times the fun

First told in Roman times, The Comedy of Errors is an intricately-entangled farce of mistaken identity telling the tale of two sets of twins, separated at birth, who find themselves in the same city (and, coincidentally, also have the same name). Chaos ensues as their worlds collide and they end up questioning their own identities; of course, the crazy mix-up resolves into a tale of family reunion, love and self-reflection. (Cue the mirrors!)

The cast of Comedy of Errors (photo: David Lowes)

For the Phoenix production, Renn has transposed the setting to modern-day New Orleans during the annual Mardi Gras festivities, and sought inspiration in the music of Nina Simone, Queen, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and many others. He adapted the play with music, integrating Shakespeare’s actual verse into versions of the songs he hopes will help student audiences better relate to the themes of the play.

“Young people have always been searching for a sense of meaning, a sense of recognition,” he explains. “In order to know ourselves, we mimic behaviour, we mirror it — or, in the vernacular of music culture, we’re sampling it, making a mashup. Today, millennials understand the journey of self-identity as a performative act, framing and reframing their world through their digital devices . . . I wanted to change the play’s context to help students see themselves through Shakespeare’s words, to have fun, and make it theirs.”

Get your glow on with illuminated costumes (photo: David Lowes)

To ensure the authentic sound of youth culture, fourth-year student Aidan Dunsmuir fills the auditorium with an energetic sound design while lights explode on to the stage; colourful spandex and bling bring out the outlandish costumes of Mardi Gras parades, as well as the razzle dazzle of the club scene, with costumes designed by fourth-year student Jivan Bains-Wood. Fast-paced choreography by Christina Penhale, of Salt Spring Island’s exitStageLeft, and a clever glow-in-the-dark skeleton dance (with high-tech EL Wire suits designed and programmed by fourth-year student Matthew Wilkerson) completes the allusion to music video aesthetics.

Also offering their professional skills to this production are School of Music performance instructor and Vocal Jazz Ensemble director Wendell Clanton as music director, Theatre design professor Patrick Du Wors as set designer, and Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Michael Whitfield as lighting designer

Sisters are doing it for themselves at the Phoenix (photo: David Lowes)

“We’re adapting Shakespeare’s adaptation of a Roman play that is almost 2,000 years old, proving that our basic humanity really hasn’t changed since then,” says Renn. “We might live differently technologically, but we’re still the same: we still have our human foibles, and we’re still really funny . . . and with what’s happening in our world today, we need laughter — silly belly laughter — and not the sort born of cynicism.”

By Kayla Foster-Brandt

Phoenix Theatre’s The Comedy of Errors runs March 15 to 24, Mondays through Saturdays at 8pm, with 2pm Saturday matinees on March 17 and 24. Tickets range from $16 to $26, with $8 same-day previews on March 13 & 14. Director Jeffrey Renn will also offer a Preshow Lecture at 7pm Friday, March 16, where he will discuss adaptations of Shakespeare plays he has been involved with over the years. (All are welcome to the Preshow Lecture, whether you’re attending the show that night or not.) For tickets, please call the Phoenix Box Office at 250-721-8000.

Theatre & Writing students ignite at Belfry’s SPARK Festival

One of the best parts of being a Fine Arts faculty in an arts-rich city like Victoria are the opportunities available to current students through our associations with local cultural institutions. From Pacific Opera Victoria and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to Open Space and the Belfry Theatre (to name but a few), our students don’t have to wait to graduate to gain valuable first-hand experience working alongside professional artists, technicians, designers and directors.

Case in point: the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival, running March 8 to 25. Beyond their outstanding lineup of fascinating shows — including the monologue Who Killed Spalding Gray? written and performed by Canadian theatre royalty Daniel MacIvor, who previously worked with Department of Theatre students to present the world premiere of Inside at the Phoenix Theatre in 2011 — SPARK 2018 offers current students in both the Theatre and Writing departments the chance to show their talents to Victoria’s wider community.

Noted playwright Janet Munsil

Playwriting students will have the opportunity to present scenes from shows-in-progress at a special New Play Cabaret. Working in conjunction with student actors and directors from the Theatre department, SPARK audiences will enjoy scenes from new plays by Department of Writing MFA candidates Janet Munsil and Elliott James, and fourth-year undergrads Sarah Pitman and Alaina Baskerville-Bridges.

The free New Play Cabaret starts at 7pm Sunday, March 18, in the Belfry’s lobby.

Talented Fine Arts students and alumni are also heavily on display during SPARK’s annual free Mini-Play Festival, which offer short 10-minute productions staged all over the Belfry’s building — from hallways, offices and storage rooms to the basement and the attic, you’ll never know where you’ll see one of these micro-plays.

This year’s Mini-Plays feature work by Theatre alumni Pamela Bethel, Charles Ross (of One-Man Star Wars fame), Monica Ogden and Tony Adams, current Theatre student and 2016 City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas (directed by fellow student Karen Saari), plus Writing alumni Kai Taddei (formerly Kat Taddei), and Visual Arts alumna Lindsay Delaronde, currently Victoria’s Indigenous Artist In Residence and creator of Pendulum, the contemporary Indigenous artist showcase recently seen at the Belfry.

Have you heard? Mini-Plays are back at SPARK!

This year’s Mini-Plays are all commissioned by the Belfry and inspired by 6ixty 8ight, a new play by former Department of Writing instructor Charles Tidler. But be warned: most Mini-Plays only offer space for less than 10 people, so be sure to get there early to get a spot.

Mini-Plays run in two batches March 14 -17, and March 21 – 24: Wednesday/Thursday at 7:00 & 7:15 pm and Fridays/Saturdays at 7:00, 7:20 & 7:40 pm.  Week one features Lindsay Delaronde, Charles Ross, and Monica Ogden & Tony Adams, while week two features Pamela Bethel, Kai Taddei, and Ann-Bernice Thomas.

Also on view during the SPARK Festival is the annual Belfry 101 Live presentation, a new play created and performed in just one short week by local high school students. This year, Belfry 101 is directed by Theatre alumna Erin Macklem, and local improviser par excellence Dave Morris of Paper Street Theatre. Belfry 101 Live starts at 7:30 pm on Sunday, March 25, on the Belfry’s mainstage.

En’owkin alumna Krystal Cook

Also part of SPARK is the new play reading of Sunday in Sodom by noted playwright Jordan Tannahill, which is being performed by a number of Phoenix alumni including Trevor Hinton, Paul Terry, Jack Hayes and Laura Jane Wallace, as well as longtime Theatre professor Jan Wood. That free reading starts at 7:30pm Monday, March 19, in the Belfry lobby.

Finally, Krystal Cook, an alumna of the En’owkin International School of Writing — which jointly awards the Indigenous Fine Arts Certificate with UVic’s Writing department — is part of the creative team behind Why We Are Here!, a site-specific pop-up choir production on Monday, March 12.

Cue the spotlight!

Get interactive with writing, music & art at Ideafest 2018

Whether you’re a regular part of the UVic community or simply a visitor to campus, Ideafest 2018 offers an ideal chance to explore the vast and diverse range of research and creative activity happening all around the Ring Road. Fine Arts is offering five distinct events this year, and participating in some others as well.

Rightfully described as being about “ideas that can change everything,” UVic’s week-long festival of research, art and innovation runs March 5-10 and features over 40 events on topics ranging from climate change and chamber music to Indigenous law, optimistic art, antibiotic resistance and so much more.

All events are free and open to the public — please join us at any or all of our signature Fine Arts events, and be sure to take time to explore the full schedule as well. You never know what your new favourite topic might be!

First up on the Fine Arts schedule is the annual reading night featuring Department of Writing MFA candidates. Hosted by award-winning playwright and Writing professor Kevin Kerr, All Lit Up: Creative Writing’s Bright Lights offers live readings and performances by the next generation of Canadian literati, including Levi Binnema (poetry), Sarah Hamill (nonfiction), Daniel Hogg (screenwriting), Elliott James (playwriting) and Kari Teicher (fiction).

Enjoy this lively (and licensed) literary cabaret from 7 to 8:30pm Monday, March 5, at the popular Copper Owl — one of downtown’s most unique and charming arts venues, (upstairs at Paul’s Motor Inn, 1900 Douglas). Doors open at 6:30, and this event always packs out so do arrive early. Note: no minors.

For over 50 years, UVic’s School of Music has had a long history of producing outstanding string students — helped along in no small measure by the Lafayette String Quartet, who have been artists-in-residence here since 1991. Now, you can discover the next generation of outstanding string talent with Cuarteto Chroma — Canada’s first graduate student string quartet. The event String Quartets at UVic: A Musical Continuum offers an interactive performance where Cuarteto Chroma will invite the audience to suggest how they should perform a particular piece — deciding things like tempo, vibrato and the balance between each instrument — which will allow the audience to hear the effects their choices have on the musical outcome.

Afterwards, Chroma will join the Lafayette String Quartet for an informal Q&A session, followed by a Lafayette-taught masterclass for UVic string students — that’s three opportunities to catch a glimpse of the intimate world of chamber music and explore the hidden facets of life in a string quartet.  A Musical Continuum runs 11am-2:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in room B037 and the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, both in the School of Music’s MacLaurin Building B-Wing.

Performers will include the Lafayette String Quartet (Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, Joanna Hood and Sharon Stanis) and Cuarteto Chroma (Felix Alanis, Manuel Cruz, Ilya Gotchev and Carlos Quijano), as well as undergraduate string students. Interactive performance runs 11am–12:15pm in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, while the Q&A session runs 12:30–1:20pm in B037, and the chamber music masterclass runs 1:30-2:20pm back in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, just next door to the classroom.

If Bobby McFerrin’s classic singalong ditty “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” isn’t quite cutting it for you these days, art may be the answer: in troubling times, optimism can feel like a scarce commodity, but for centuries people have found hope and joy in visual art. Art and Optimism in an Age of Worry offers a lively series of short presentations as Art History & Visual Studies faculty members and graduate students will explore how artists and their works have long offered new messages of hope, healing and empowerment. While showcasing a wide range of styles and movements, they will also collectively demonstrate how art can ignite optimism and agency in your own life.

Join host and AHVS professor Catherine Harding from 5-7pm on Tuesday, March 6, in room 116 of UVic’s Engineering & Computer Science building (ECS), where she’ll be joined by fellow AHVS professors Erin Campbell and Carolyn Butler Palmer, plus grad students Holly Cecil, Gonzalo Gutierrez, Alexa Heenan, Ambreen Hussaini, and Katayoun Youssefi.

If you think Fine Arts is just about paintbrushes, sheet music and words on the page, get ready to enter the digital realm and discover a whole new world of creativity when you go Beyond the Digital Frontier: Exploring Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts. From virtual-reality filmmaking and innovations in digital art to interactive gaming, artifact handling, new theatre technology and into the recording studio with Vancouver rockers Bend Sinister, find out how UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is a leader in 21st century creativity at this interactive, drop-in, self-guided exploration event.

Professors Kelly Richardson (Visual Arts), Kirk McNally (Music) and Victoria Wyatt (AHVS), plus technician Simon Farrow (Theatre) and both graduate and undergrad students will showcase recent innovations in the world of digital media from 5-6:30pm on Wednesday, March 7, throughout UVic’s Fine Arts Building.

And you’ve got the entire week of Ideafest to explore the Visual Arts exhibit Math Garden. Conceived of as an outdoor concept exhibition by Visual Arts instructor David Gifford, Math Garden explores some of the visual aspects concerned with popular mathematics. Topics such as amounts, shapes and change will be imagined by the undergraduate drawing class of ART 300, whose motive is to celebrate a handful of patterns that are present in this abstract discipline.

Math Garden is inspired by Mathematica, an exhibition of mathematical concepts by Charles and Ray Eames that debuted at the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. The self-guided exhibit in the Fine Arts Building courtyard will also include didactic panels for the purpose of intellectual entertainment, including the explanation of potentially difficult concepts through pictures and interactive sculptures and installations.

While those are our signature events, Fine Arts students will also be participating in the likes of the annual Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair from 11:30am-3pm on Wednesday, March 7, in UVic’s Student Union Building, as well as the new creative writing contest On the Verge: Student Voices, co-hosted by UVic’s Libraries and Equity & Human Rights, from 4:30-6pm on Thursday, March 8 in Libraries room 129. And will any of our short films about creative practice in Fine Arts make the final cut of the second annual Research Reels contest? To find out, you’ll have to drop by the screening event running from 5-6:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in the David Lam Auditorium, room A144 of the MacLaurin Building.

Crimes of the Heart offers a memorable sister act

Sophie Chappell, Lucy Sharples and Sara Jean Valiquette in Crimes of the Heart (Photo: David Lowes)

Is there anything more lovable — or more maddening — than sisters? With an unshakeable bond that can often escalate into emotional heights unmatched by any other familial relationship, sibling rivalry and reconciliations are in the spotlight in Crimes of the Heart, the latest mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre.

It’s Hazlehurst, Mississippi, circa 1974 and, after a difficult childhood, the three Magrath sisters have grown up and gone their separate ways: Meg escaped Mississippi to pursue her Hollywood dreams; Babe married an ambitious young lawyer; and Lenny remained at their Granddaddy’s side in the family home. But after Babe commits a violent crime, the three sisters reunite back home for the first time in years; utimately, each sister must come to terms with the consequences of her own crimes of the heart.

Crimes of the Heart runs February 15 – 24 at the Phoenix Theatre, with 2pm matinees on February 17 and 24. Tickets run $15-$26 at 250-721-8000.

Humorous and heartfelt, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by American playwright and screenwriter Beth Henley captures the incredible power of family. Department of Theatre professor Peter McGuire says Crimes has “been on my list for a few years.”  In this Times Colonist preview, McGuire felt this was the right time to mount this female-fronted production. “Looking around the department, and watching which actors were coming up, I knew I’d have the right cast for this play. This made sense — it has six actors and four wonderful female roles.”

Sara Jean Valiquette (left) & Sophie Chappell (photo: David Lowes)

First produced in Kentucky in 1979 and again in New York City in 1980, the original Broadway production of Crimes of the Heart not only won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize but also the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best new American play; Henley also received a Tony Award nomination for best play and, five years later, an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for the movie adaptation, which featured Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek.

But accolades alone weren’t what attracted McGuire to the project. Even though plans to produce Crimes were in place more than a year ago — long before the #MeToo movement — McGuire feels the timing couldn’t be better. “We weren’t predicting this,” he told the Times Colonist. “But the timing is incredible. As an instructor, I’m always mindful of the fact that the gender ratio is really skewed. There are some great plays for women, but there aren’t many great plays for women.”

Phoenix’s Crimes has been receiving some nice local coverage, including the Times Colonist article and this Oak Bay News preview, as well as this review by local arts blogger Janis LaCouvee. And local entertainment monthly Monday Magazine declared Crimes “a triumph” in their review, which noted that even though it’s set in the ’70s, the show “has a fresh relevance today.”

Stefanie Mudry’s set with lighting by Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors (Photo: David Lowes)

Monday‘s review went on to praise the designs by current Theatre students Stefanie Mudry (calling her set “perfect to the last detail of the period”) and costumer Madeline Lee. “The play will surely touch the heart of anyone with a family . . . . it reveals the fact that the family is stronger than the sum of its parts . . . . I think the playwright, Beth Henley, would approve.”

The Times Colonist also reviewed the show, describing it as being “smartly directed” by Theatre professor Peter McGuire, praising the cast and noting designer Stefanie Mudry’s “beautifully detailed set . . . is a pure joy.”

And Camosun’s Nexus newspaper said they “highly recommend this play and would go see it again. The show’s well-timed comedic nature doesn’t detract from the more serious parts of the story . . . . Overall, the whole production meets the high-quality standard that has been set by the Phoenix Theatre.”

 

And don’t miss the final mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre, The Comedy of Errorsa pop musical reboot of Shakespeare’s classic mistaken-identity farce. Directed by MFA candidate Jeffrey Renn, and running March 15 to 24.