STUPID F____ING BIRD

by Aaron Posner
Directed by Vinetta Strombergs
The Bird Collective Presentation at Pop-Up Theatre
Toronto. February 28-March 19, 2017

(L-R): Daniel Maslany (Con), Brendan Hobin (Dev), Rachel Cairns (Mash), Richard Greenblatt (Sorn), Sarah Orenstein (Arkadina) and Craig Lauzon (Trigorin) (photo: Josie Di Luzio)

A loose, irreverent, contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, Aaron Posner’s off-Broadway hit receives a commendable production at a venue that is well-suited to site-specific theatre. Once a golf store, before it became the very famous Ed Mirvish Restaurant, Pop-Up is really a large space divided into sections that can be imaginatively used, budgets permitting. Vinetta Strombergs’s production capitalizes on the surviving mural expansively painted as a pastoral lakeside on long walls in what is being used as the first act setting—Madam Arkadina’s backyard. Chekhov’s 19th century characters—all of whom are unfortunately in love with those who do not or cannot return this love—have morphed into 21st century rough equivalents, though Posner conflates two of the original characters and drops a few others. Irena Arkadina, the famous, temperamental stage actress, is now Emma, a famous, egotistical stage, screen, and television actress, and her latest lover is not the Boris Trigorin of Chekhov’s original but Doyle Trigorin, a tattooed hunk -with an unfortunately mixed name. Konstantin, her neurotically insecure playwright son, is now Con, a neurotically insecure experimental playwright/director who inveighs against the contemporary theatre (calling Cirque du Soleil a hand-job that’s pleasurable but without producing real change) while pushing his own post-modernist agenda, including a site-specific theatre practice. Konstantin’s beloved, Nina, is still named Nina, and she does idealize the seagull (that appears only once, enclosed in a carrier bag) to the point where she identifies with it, but she falls in love with Trigorin and after having his baby (who dies), she goes mad or has an actress breakdown (with over-the-top Actors Studio realism).

Meanwhile, Mash (a self-proclaimed chef, still in black, as in Chekhov, though not simply in mourning for her life but because black is a slimming colour) loves Con, but he doesn’t return that love, while Dev (evidently a version of Medvedenko, the hapless schoolteacher, and Con’s best friend and supporter) is foolishly in love with her (his thighs ache, he laments with testosterone frustration) to little avail for most of the show. And, finally and not least, there’s Emma older brother, Dr. Eugene Sorn (a fusion of Chekhov’s Dr. Dorn and Sorin, Arkadina’s brother), who serves as chorus, divorced from his wife and a voyeur who infiltrates the imaginary fourth wall, as others do as a matter of course.

All this serves to enhance the raw, theatrically audacious nature of the script that follows the general contours of Chekhov’s play but with what one American critic has termed an endless self-awareness. The characters frequently speak directly to the audience, explaining themselves, sometimes seeking advice on how to go forward in their own particular private worlds, but this is where parody has its limits. When Con asks the audience to help him answer how he can get Nina to love him, Dev pipes up that the audience cannot do this because they know Con is fictional. Meta-theatre, you say? Of course, it is, upending Chekhov’s delicacy, though sometimes with admirable comic effect, as when Mash apologizes to Dev for not feeling any love for him, but then striking up a ditty on her ukulele: “Life is a muddle, life is a chore/Life is a burden, life is a bore./This apple is rotten right down to its core./Life…is disappointing.” A disappointingly flat line for such a funny and sharp parody, but this type of friction between parody and paraphrase, period convention and contemporary experiment occurs frequently, and often with striking effects, as the audience becomes literally ambulatory, moving their chairs from room to room (backyard to kitchen to garden), adapting to the changing spatial geometry, as well as to the tropes of style.

Whatever its inclination to be overripe or seem spontaneous, Posner’s play is not haphazard. It has a rough symmetry, making a fugue out of the phrase “Here we are,” which, at first, is the title of Con’s post-modernist theatrical experiment, replete with parody expressionism by Nina, then repeated at other points by other characters, including Con and Dr. Sorn. Well, where, in fact, are we—the we being both the characters and the audience itself? The actors watch us, as we watch them, engage in dialogue with some of us, then melt back into the action, only to re-emerge from point to point and challenge our expectations. There is little point in trying to match Posner with Chekhov because the play is a riff, a parody, a meta-theatrical reflection of how Chekhov’s characters are self-obsessed or self-aware.

The acting style required for such a piece is difficult in that it has to be well calibrated to the tone of the writing. Strombergs’s cast largely succeeds because the director skilfully modulates between parody and paraphrase, melodrama and psychodrama. Though Rachel Cairns’s Mash pushes the depression a bit much, she can be disarmingly funny, especially in her hysterical catalogue of miscellaneous horrors of the modern world. Her Dev is splendid Brendan Hobin, whose instincts for stand-up comedy are used in a disciplined, effective way. Karen Knox’s thwarted Nina negotiates a line between earnestness and self-parody, naivete and shattering truma, and she is excellent in her scenes with Craig Lauzon’s masculine and not emasculated quintessentially restless Trigorin even when he seems at rest. Daniel Maslany makes a fair meal out of Con, playing him very much in the manner of a post-modern Hamlet, forever childishly anxious or excited, unpredictable, explosive, self-questioning, disillusioned. The most mature performances come, not unexpectedly, from two mature performers. Sarah Orenstein’s Arkadina is well-rounded: selfish and doting; careless and jealous. At once piercingly candid yet simply the 21st century’s Angst that excludes catharsis?

MY NIGHT WITH REG

By Kevin Elyot
Directed by Joel Greenberg
A Studio 180 Production presented by David Mirvish
At the Panasonic Theatre, February 14-26, 2017

(L-R): Jonathan Wilson (Guy), Jeff Miller (Daniel), and Gray Powell (John) (photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann

How do you make biting yet touching comedy about gay sex under the spectre of AIDS? One way is to choose to emphasize the sad, swift passing of time and the chain of lust, unrequited love, loss, and death, while withholding political comment or the very name of the disease but adding a veneer of Chekhovian melancholy. This is what the late Kevin Elyot did with his superb 115-minute satire on an all-male circle of six English gay men that first premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in England in 1994. There is full frontal nudity in one scene, and a wealth of sexual double-entendres that would delight any devotee of racy wit. The middle-class men change partners on stage, and reportedly offstage as well, and they channel or mischannel their assorted lusts, very much under the shadow of invisible, offstage Reg, a man who succumbs to AIDS after a reputedly hectic life of promiscuity and unsafe sex. Reg is actually an American named Rinaldo, a Hispanic version of Reginald, both derived from the Norse for “powerful ruler.” The erotic joke behind this connotation is that what evidently ruled Reg and his numerous partners was the power of his penis, but it is plainly evident that his penis power could not stave off the fatal disease. But no need to fear that the play is in any way a stern case against gay promiscuity. Elyot (who himself fell victim to the disease just as his playwriting career was in high gear) is no Larry Kramer. He is more in the line of the late Joe Orton, which is to say he can provoke sly or wild laughter and toast flamboyant prurience while undercutting the surface gaiety by a very real sense of regret, grief, and desolation.

Elyot’s excuse for the setup is a mid-1980s housewarming bash for plain, inhibited Guy, thin-haired, bespectacled, and bow-tied in Jonathan Wilson’s affectingly sensitive performance. Poor Guy is a timid romantic copywriter with covert sexual ardour: he wears mitts to masturbate and enjoy release presumably while having phone sex with someone named Brad, who always seems to mistime his calls. His most comic moment is on the sofa with the young housepainter, whose crotch becomes the very object of Guy’s furtive and frustrated look of yearning. Guy is most unlike any of the other males who drop into his flat through the ensuing scenes, as time passes and sexual interactions mutate. Daniel, for instance, who is Reg’s devoted partner, is a passionate extrovert whose boisterously camp humour (including a rendition of David Bowie’s “Starman” atop a sofa) cannot ultimately mask his emotional desolation as the most intimate and disturbing secrets of his unfaithful partner emerge. Jeff Miller portrays him with devilish rompishness until the ultimate breakdown. There is also a conflicted gay couple whose union is coming undone and a young housepainter who add to the sexual quotient with dollops of stress, distress, and lust. Bernie (Tim Funnell) is a conservative bore, decent and justifiably upset by his partner’s insensitivity, while Benny (a thickly moustached, rumpled Martin Happer) is coarse and blunt. Eric, the painter who loves The Police in addition to wanting to be a policeman, is a tall, gangly presence in Alex Furber’s performance that struggles a bit with a Birmingham accent but who serves as an erotic distraction and thickening agent for the sexual misconduct. He drops wounding bricks on the slightly older males (especially Guy) without meaning to be casually insulting.

But the most charismatic, most developed character is John, whom Gray Powell turns into an utterly engrossing character—the handsome one who was a university Dionysus on stage and who uses Reg as his confessor as time begins to shake loose his sexual and emotional confidence. Powell makes a full portrait of the man, showing the pits of guilt, regret, and despair under the surface bonhomie and glamour. His emotional devastation sends shock waves through the theatre, and shows how surface mirth cannot disguise a soul in agony.

Joel Greenberg’s production, deftly designed by John Thompson for middle-class English comfort, and lit by Kimberly Purtell (especially with a medium blue sky wash that recalls Derek Jarman’s Blue), is the best for Studio 180 since The Normal Heart. Time passes without punctuation as one scene infiltrates another. Nothing is rushed, nothing is really extravagant, yet everything falls into place with apparent ease. From the musical epilogue—The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”—to the conclusion, bruised by heartbreak, this production is something to savour as it essays “wild laughter in the throat of death.”

THE LAST WIFE

By Kate Hennig
Directed by Alan Dilworth
A Soulpepper Presentation. Opened January 24, 2017.

Meav Beaty (katherine Parr) and Joseph Ziegler (Henry VIII). (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Kate Hennig is an exceptionally fine character actress who is presently striking sparks as Margaret Thatcher opposite Fiona Reid’s Elizabeth II in The Audience. She is also a budding playwright. In her first full-length play, The Last Wife, that debuted at Stratford last season, English-born Hennig reimagines a chapter of English royal history, using historical fact as a channel for contemporary insight. Although Henry VIII had a firm mythic grip on his era, he is challenged for the dramatic centre of Hennig’s play, and his challenger is Katharine Parr, his sixth and final spouse, who outlived him and even out-manoeuvred him in radical ways. In Joseph Ziegler’s honest but unflamboyant performance, we find a king who is older, gout-ridden, authoritarian, hot-tempered, lusty, and not easily outpaced politically. But it is Katharine Parr who knowingly and daringly contests him for domestic, emotional, and sexual power.  And Maev Beaty, fully into the character and text, refuses to sanitize the woman. Married to a third husband, who is sexually inadequate for her, she is involved in an affair with untitled Thomas Seymour, a man whom Gareth Potter fails to make an adequately charismatic sexual lure. Beaty nevertheless manages to be eloquently erotic, subtly powerful, and daringly avant-garde in her feminism. She has a maternal side that comforts yet controls Henry’s daughters, Mary, Bess, and Edward, and she is able to get her way with the king, while keeping her eyes steadily on the future.

Maev Beaty (Katherine Parr) and Sara Farb (Mary). (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Alan Dilworth’s production, pragmatically designed by Yannick Larivee and lit by Kimberly Purtell, shrewdly focusses on Henry and Katharine. Hennig’s play boldly brings English history smack dab into the modern century by using modern language and relishing an occasional anachronism. And her characters are put in modern dress as well. Neither strategy is particularly essential because a play does not uncover an essential truth merely by its language or its costuming. Nevertheless, the text is sometimes hard-edged, cynical, and grainy, and this is good if only because the production looks and sounds quite different from anything by Masterpiece Theatre. What is not so good is the coarsened texture that extends into some of the acting. While convincingly juvenile and naïve, Bahia Watson’s young Bess is never much more than a common little wilful girl. Sara Farb, Goth-elegant in hairstyle and black costume, is deliberately off-the-wall in her acting, though she does manage to be darkly droll and more than slightly sinister as Mary, an outsider not only by temperament but by deep down ambition as well. How these two young characters develop into future rival queens will undoubtedly be covered by Hennig’s next foray into English history.

METIS MUTT

Created and Performed by Sheldon Elter
Directed by Ron Jenkins
A Native Earth Performing Arts Presentation at the Aki Studio
Toronto. January 26-February 5, 2017

Sheldon Elter (Photo: Ryan Parker)

 

Sheldon Elter (Photo: Ryan Parker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in a small, northern Alberta town, Sheldon Elter is not everyone’s Metis. Not does he try to be. This exceptionally talented Canadian (winner of two Sterling Awards and numerous other nominations; core member of the ukulele rock band, The Be Arthurs; stand-up comedian; and writer/star/co-executive producer for APTN’s CAUTION: May Contain Nuts and Delmer and Marta) is evidently a triple or even a quadruple threat in the performing arts. So, when he begins with crude, rapid-fire politically incorrect stereotypical jokes about native Indians, it is only to segue into vehement truth-telling. The self-inflicted jokes are no joke; they are really this country’s subversive way of unacknowledging its own cultural racism. His racial ethnicity is hybrid, making him part native, part white, and therefore he is a reservoir of contesting passions. His ninety-minute solo performance piece is an intense, semi-autobiographical narrative about his quest to free himself from a destructive cycle. Originally an eight-minute piece devised for the NextFest emerging artist festival in Edmonton in 2000. After graduating from the Grant MacEwan College’s Theatre Arts Programme, he expanded the show into a full-length piece in collaboration with Ken Brown, his instructor and mentor. Metis Mutt has now played various Canadian cities and New Zealand, and should be part of every major Canadian theatre’s season in some manner.

Huskily striking, Elter jumps back and forth in time and place, and plays an entire list of aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, and sisters in the course of his non-fictionalized narrative. Admitting that he has been called a “prairie nigger” and a “bush nigger,” he spares no one—least of all himself—in his exposure of some of the most sordid qualities of native life in general and his personal life in particular. “Women are sacred. We give great respect to Mother Earth,” he intones, and then proceeds to dramatize spousal abuse, exploitation, rape, and alcoholism. It is a tale as flashback retrospection. His father Sonny, his mother Patsy, his young, terrified brother Derek, cousin Kevin, and assorted other figures, such as Mrs. Hamelin and Bill the Medicine Man are all brought to vivid life with his multi-vocal impersonations. In fact, it is his voice and presence that bring a special authenticity to his cyclical tale, one that begins and ends with memories of his violently alcoholic father who visited physical, emotional, and psychological torment on his entire family. Sonny Elter died on New Year’s Day, 1999, in eerie circumstances, and this started his son’s downward spiral. Booze, hard drugs, rootlessness, depression, convulsions, suicide attempts, all create a hard-edged, grainy texture for the show that, nevertheless, manages to have flashes of sharp parody as Elter (with his guitar) proceeds from a blues parody and a Metis version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to a cutting vocal satire on the Lone Ranger through the voice of Tonto.

All jokes aside, this is a relentlessly honest tale that carries us into the heart of native visions, spiritual wisdom, and mystery. At the end, Elter returns to his father, now dead, to pay him tribute, express his own pained love, and earn some form of purgation. “He had a short, bitter life,” he summarizes. “I intend to do better.” He already has to a considerable degree.

SEQUENCE

By Arun Lakra
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Tarragon Theatre Production. January 11-February 12, 2017

The Sequence, Tarragon Theatre

Kevin Bundy (Theo) and Nancy Palk (Dr. Guzman) in “Sequence” (photo: Cylla  von Tiedemann)

Sequence won the Grand Prize in the 2011 Alberta Playwrighting Competition and later won an American award when it played in Bloomington, Indiana, so Calgary ophthalmologist Arun Lakra has been fortunate, indeed, and yet he is unfortunate in another sense. His eighty-minute four-hander is more a debate than a play. It is chock full of scientific knowledge, engages in witty cerebral discussion about luck and chance, God and science, love and despair, but the characters speak much more than they ever feel, and the dramatic action that crowds the final sequences seems forced and unconvincing.

There are two parallel story lines but Lakra’s attempt to balance them is erratic. Theo, (Kevin Bundy) described by Time magazine as the luckiest man in the world because he has a perfect 19-year record in predicting the winner of the Super Bowl, comes on like a circus star or ring-leader, walking under a ladder or yelling out the name “Macbeth” when he smashes a looking glass. His luck never seems to run out. But this is his charming side; the other side is sleazy, and is expressed by his breast and penis jokes. His antagonist is Cynthia (Ava Jane Markus), a math genius who also happens to be pregnant with her first child, who might be at real risk of a genetic disease. She doesn’t believe in luck.

The second story line is anchored in Dr. Guzman (Nancy Palk), a nearly blind but brilliant researcher with fiercely ironic wit. “Don’t test me. I have tenure!” she warns Adamson (Jesse LaVercombe), a young undergraduate with cerebral palsy who has got all 150 answers wrong on a multiple-choice test. His religious fervour has run into bad luck because he is confined to a wheelchair after a bad car accident, caused by a drunk driver. His bad luck deepens when he literally becomes Guzman’s captive and is threatened with dire torture.

Lakra appears to be channelling Tom Stoppard and John Mighton but he does not as yet possess the technical finesse or depth to create fully rounded human beings. Instead, he offers striking ironic parallels, dialectical talk about statistics, probability, and genetics, and absurd physical action in the penultimate sequences. With the honourable exception of Nancy Palk, whose Guzman is a cutting figure of snappily manipulative wit and irony, and flashes of intellectual bravado from Kevin Bundy, the cast doesn’t have an easy time of wit. LaVercombe manages to sound both nauseatingly righteous and vulnerable as the paraplegic, but he cannot transcend the incredible plot artifice, while Markus is more of an unchanging attitude than a character. And director Andrea Donaldson can’t camouflage the fact that the play is really not ready for a main stage.

WHO KILLED SPALDING GRAY?

Written and Performed by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Produced by Rework Productions
Presented by Canadian Stage. December 2-11, 2016

spalding-2

 

Daniel MacIvor (photo: Gunter Kravis) 

 

Daniel MacIvor is probably the foremost theatrical solo performer in Canada just as the late Spalding Gray (Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box) was one of the best-known (and most controversial) solo performers in the U.S. before he committed suicide by leaping off the Staten Island Ferry in 2004. MacIvor pays homage to Spalding Gray in this 80-minute monologue, but, as is usually the case with MacIvor, the work doesn’t have a linear simplicity. His piece has a visual economy: a single table, two chairs, a glass of water, and papers, illuminated by a cube of light from Kimberly Purtell. No projections, no special effects, no extraordinary sound design. Just the actor and minimal props. But these are a ruse for his meta-theatrical reflections: “I need to tell you the truth.” Oh, but what is the truth, and whose truth? MacIvor uses indirection to find direction out. A casual opening involving the participation of an (unsuspecting or planted?) audience member is effected in order to lead into answers of three of MacIvor’s fundamental questions: Who are you? Whom am I? Who is Spalding Gray?

The extent of MacIvor’s cleverness is evident even from his title that implies something dastardly, such as murder. But it is widely known that Spalding Gray had a host of psychological issues, and took his own life. Moreover, the title is not channelled into a single theme, for it soon becomes apparent that the answers to these underlying questions will not be direct or clear-cut. Instead, the audience gets three stories in one, and they encompass such things as psychoanalysis, suicide, “murder,” love, grief, depression, identity, and catharsis.

As MacIvor relates it, he was warned by an intuitive (euphemism for psychoanalyst) that he would have to remove the entity that was attached dangerously to him. So, he headed to the analyst in San Rafael, a town just north of San Francisco, for relief and therapy. The “surgeon” used trances to coax the entity to depart Gray’s body, but these sessions are interwoven into another story about a man named Howard who hires a hit man named Don to kill him at an unexpected moment. The plot in this story goes ironically awry, allowing MacIvor to indulge his superb penchant for wry black humour. Other bizarrely amusing and ironic subjects are added via discussions of the film Big Fish (the last film Gray reportedly saw and to which he had an upsetting emotional reaction), Helena Bonham Carter (who starred in it, directed by Tim Burton, her husband at the time), mythology, father-son relationships, and various signs of the universe. A rich stew, and a clever one for MacIvor’s overriding theme, which reveals itself as the nature, effects, and reliability of story-telling. We are such stuff as stories are made of, and in this piece, one story rests within another, making truth out of fiction.

There is no doubt that the show is a triumph for MacIvor as both writer and performer. Director Daniel Brooks seems unnecessary, but this is not to deny that his contribution remains virtually invisible, and therefore a good thing for he doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of MacIvor’s storytelling. Few performers can match MacIvor in absorbing an audience in his reflections, seemingly offhand or deliberate. Some of this themes may be well-worn but they are redeemed by his unique humour, lightness of bearing, and self-expressed vulnerability. In his interaction with the participant from the audience, he is sometimes charming, sometimes goofy (certainly his solo disco dancing is), and his main commodity is himself, of course, but what a compellingly interesting self that is, even though it is not necessarily exempt from questioning. In fact, questioning and self-questioning are part and parcel of MacIvor’s performance dynamic. He is not boxed in, and neither is his audience.

SLEEPING BEAUTY

(The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical)
by Jeremy Diamond
Directed by Tracey Flye
A Ross Petty Production at the Elgin Theatre
December 1-January 7, 2016

sleeping-beauty-cover-001

Sleeping Beauty follows the tried and tested formula of a Ross Petty Christmas pantomime: lots of puns and physical gags, a mashed-up fairy tale mixed together with pop tunes to constitute a rough form of update, strategic breaks for parodic commercials, and a kids’s participatory routine. The libretto is more streamlined than it was in years past, which is all to the good, and the main plot emerges clearly. The newborn royal princess is blessed by three fairies and cursed by Malignicent, the upshot of which is that Her Royal Highness Rose must avoid contact with any sharp object whose prick will put her into a coma. One of the most comic inventions in the libretto is the device used by her parents to protect her from such harm: a large plastic bubble in which Rose is uncomfortably cocooned. Another interesting invention is the irony near the end where the sleeping beauty has to rescue her beau from his own sleeping spell. I leave you to figure out how the plot works itself out, but I can report that on opening night, the audience reaction was modified rapture.

Some of this was, no doubt, due to a sense that the show was somewhat under-rehearsed. Some of it was due to the fact that the show seems to miscalculate its effects. Although the duo of Eddie Glen (Jacob Grimm) and Laurie Murdoch (Wilhelm Grimm) pretend to be as sour as sauerkraut and with a firm taste for grim fairy tales, this freewheeling pantomime take on Sleeping Beauty is joyous stuff for the young. Oh, yes, there is Hillary Farr of Love It or List It television fame, playing the evil witch Malignicent in sparkling black, and she does get booed a lot for her nefarious schemes, but she is a glamour puss with show-off gams, and she doesn’t really enlarge the possibilities of theatrical wickedness. Farr’s singing voice is thinner than her speaking one, her wonderful legs aren’t given much of a choreographic workout, and her acting seems unnecessarily confined. She doesn’t indulge very much in repartee with the audience or encourage its partisan disapproval. So, she is only half as wide in her ham as Ross Petty used to be, and therefore less effective in her villainy than he was in theatrical terms. The comparison is brought home by the fleeting appearance of Petty as Hook via visual projection. He is missed more than even he thought possible.

Also sorely missed is Dan Chameroy, whose transvestite camp Plumbum was an utter scream every year. But Chameroy is starring in the musical Mathilda this season, so the gap is filled to a degree by comedian Paul Constable as cross-dressing Sparklebum, who has his moments as a fairy in training. A.J. Bridel, who was a real hoot as the embarrassingly shy and comic ingenue in Kinky Boots, is not allowed to exercise a similar gift this time around, though her Princess Rose is lovely to look at, and she sings very well. Her counterpart, tall, handsome James Daly makes a nice, shy, clunky lovelorn royal lutist as Luke, even though his lute is really a guitar, and he wears a green wig for much of the show. These two are an effective romantic duo, overbalanced, happily however, by the comic partnership of Laurie Murdoch as the King with a penchant for endless rhymes and Lisa Horner as the henpecking Queen, who has a pronounced taste for tinsel and an equally pronounced distaste for rhymes. The duo later transform in an unnecessary dreamland sequence as pyjama-clad Morpheus and Melatonin, attended by baaing sheep (baaing their puns) and a revival of melodic hits of yesteryear from the Eurythmics, Mama Cass, Aerosmith, the Chordettes, et cetera.

Director Tracey Flye doesn’t show an ability to get the most out of her cast. Neither does choreographer Julie Tomaino. Which is surprising. The best things about the show may well be the set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco. They show an extraordinary quality of fantasy, combining glamour, silliness, and playland horror. But, perhaps, the top billing should be shared by the husband-and-wife team of Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson that extends the fantasy by their magnificent projection design. The design is very much the thing this year.