Adrian Chamberlain's Stage Left: Trad a fun break from seasonal fare

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If the prospect of CEO (Christmas Entertainment Overload) has you shredding your Santa hat in despair, you might enjoy a comedy being staged by Theatre Inconnu. The Fernwood company has just opened Mark Doherty’s Trad, a gentle satire of Irish theatre.

The award-winning play is about a century-old Irishman, Thomas, and his even older father, Da. Thomas reveals he sired a child 70 years ago. This spurs Da — who’s thrilled to learn his lineage will continue — into suggesting an epic journey to locate the long-lost offspring.

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Directed by Wendy Merk, Trad pokes affectionate fun at Irish theatre’s rich history. Son Thomas (Deirdre Tipping) is missing an arm. This, perhaps, is a tip of the cap to Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, in which one character has lost an arm in the War of Independence. In Trad, the duo meet such stock Irish characters as a whiskey-guzzling priest and a querullous old crone, both played by David Conway.

Not to be outdone in the missing-limbs department, Da (Gloria Snider) has only one leg. Such black-humour touches reflect a long tradition of finding comedy in the grotesque, displayed by Martin McDonagh and many other Irish dramatists.

Playwright Doherty, who began as a stand-up comic, is clever at coining amusing turns of phrase. When Da asks Thomas who the mother of his child was, he replies: “A girl, Da — a human lady.” Irish story-telling is skewered throughout. Da’s yarns include the tale of a man who urinates so furiously against a wall following an epic booze-up, it falls over and crushes him to death.

Almost unrecognizable underneath a luxuriant beard and long hair, Snider particularly impressed as Da on Thursday night. I’ve seen this actor many times in smaller parts. With Da, Snider comes fully into her own, finding the humour in the role, yet also tapping into Da’s dignity and humanity. She captures the musicality, poetry and poignancy Doherty intends to convey.

Projections are used successfully in this show, particularly a final sequence with moonlight and lapping waves.

There were times when the action lagged — Da and Thomas spent a good deal of time hobbling about the small stage exaggeratedly. At one point, Conway lost his way in the script, but was deftly prodded back on track by Tipping and Snider.

Those who enjoy the rich tradition of Irish theatre might enjoy this short play, about 95 minutes including intermission.

If you’re lucky enough to find a ticket, there’s still time to catch Victoria Operatic Society’s Rent, with final performances today and Sunday.

There’s plenty of favourable buzz about this one — and with justification. It’s a great show, indeed, one of the VOS’s best in recent years.

Now 22 years old, the late Jonathan Larsen’s musical was a massive hit, winning a Pulitzer Prize and a fistful of Tony Awards. Rent is a reinvention of Puccini’s La bohème, with Manhattan’s East Village taking the place of Paris’s Latin Quarter.

Tubercular Mimi of La bohème becomes another Mimi entirely. She’s a spunky 19-year-old (played by Alyssa Bryce with appropriate vivacity) who dances in a bondage club sporting glittering blue Spandex tights.

Rudolfo the poet is transformed into Roger (the excellent Sean Baker), a motorcycle-jacket clad rocker with songwriter’s block. Marcello is Mark (a strong, likable Liam McDonald), a videographer.

These cash-strapped artists live in a dilapidated loft, a gritty two-storey affair with a spiral staircase, industrial sliding door and wonderful lanterns.

This fine set was designed by the talented Barbara Clerihue, with moody lighting by Adam Wilkinson.

A love letter to youthful creativity and passion, Rent boasts the joie de vivre of Hair. And at its best, the accessible score — mostly rock and pop with gospel touches — offers the intensity and melodicism of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Led by keyboardist Brad L’Ecuyer, the production boasts a crack sextet.

The band, featuring some of Victoria’s most talented musicians, is strong but never overshadows the singers.

There are many good vocalists here. Among the standouts is Baker as Roger, who during a recent matinee not only sang with passion but displayed an ability to bull’s-eye high notes.

Also of note was Sarah Newton as the sassy Maureen, who nailed the spectacular and difficult showcase tune Over the Moon. (By the way, Maureen lobs one of the oddest lines in theatre: “There will always be women in rubber flirting with me.”)

Young Dan Comeau impressed as Angel, a drag queen bristling with life and fun despite having AIDS.

Displaying a pleasingly husky timbre, Comeau performed particularly well for the number Today 4 You B, drumming both a plastic tub and a table, which he vaulted onto with athletic aplomb.

There are no weak links in this cast, which includes Rae Paxton, Bret Newton and Liam Reitsma.

For those looking for entertaining alternatives to sugar plum fairies and Christmas choirs, Rent is a sure bet.

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