Fabulist Theatre, RedGate Revue Stage, Granville Island, until April 14th

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

My Two Cents

By Daphne Cranbrook 

 

There’s an outdated belief about the Vancouver theatre scene that it’s difficult, nigh impossible, to cast artists of colour. Historically, Vancouver has shied away from scripts that include a high number of artists of colour specified in the cast, claiming those actors just couldn’t be found in the GVRD. Thankfully (though entirely too belatedly), it seems that tired way of thinking is on its way out. Need proof? Check out Fabulist Theatre’s Once on This Island, playing now at Granville Island’s Red Gate Revue Stage.

Fabulist Theatre, founded in 2016 by interdisciplinary theatre artists Damon Bradley Jang and Mary Littlejohn, strives for representation and diversity both in the stories they choose to tell and in the actors they cast. For this, their third offering, the two founders chose Ahrens and Flaherty’s musical about “a young woman who strives to make the world a more inclusive place.” The large cast of 15 reflects the diversity found not only in our city, but in the specifications called for in the script.

 

In the confined thrust of the Revue Stage, director Jang made mostly smart choices in the use of the space, and kept the props and set pieces minimal. It was still tricky to move such a large cast around a tight area, but for the most part, transitions were smooth and without trouble. Choreographer Marion Landes, too, managed to incorporate plenty of effective dance numbers in the cozy space, complete with an Afro-Caribbean feel. The actors moved well, and brought a joy and commitment to their movement that was lovely to observe. The solidity of the chorus work is to be noted, specifically in their strength as singers. Stephen Flaherty’s score gives the cast and musical director Amy Gartner much to work with, and the chorus work was impressive. Voices blended beautifully and the sound was full, providing good support for the solo work. Some voices were outstanding, including YooRa Kang’s impressive riffs as Asaka, Mother of Earth, and the sweet and strong Goddess of Love, Erzulie, played by Alexandra Quispe.

 

We can’t go much further without talking about Brianna Clark, who portrayed the main character, Ti Moune. Clark is—to be cheesy and simplistic—a star. She shines onstage, completely absorbed in and committed to whatever her character is undertaking at the moment. Her voice, too, stood out, particularly when the music gave her a chance to belt, which she did with excellence. The innocence, strength, vulnerability, and stubbornness she brought to Ti Moune added a depth and interest to the plot that it begs for. Her presence seemed to ground the rest of the cast as well, as her confidence, in turn, gave them support. Clark’s performance was a pleasure to watch, and it’s easy to imagine her continuing her journey to become a successful musical actor if she chooses.

 

Costumes, by Chris Sinosich, added colour and interest to the stage picture, and were thoughtfully and creatively designed. The lighting, designed by Michael Methot was solid, however many of the cast members had trouble accessing their light at different points throughout the show. With such a young cast, surely this skill will come with time. Indeed, the  missteps along the way in this production seemed very much due to the greenness of some of the cast members, but that is part and parcel of taking risks, investing in new talent, and offering opportunities for young actors to discover themselves on the stage.

The final stage picture is something that will stay with me for a long time, and is one that gorgeously brought together the rich colour, themes, and beauty of the production as a whole. As I gave the entire cast one final look, I was again renewed by the diversity and excited at the prospect that this is the future of the Vancouver theatre scene. Congratulations to Fabulist Theatre for sticking to their mandate of providing “opportunities to performers of all races, ages, genders, and abilities.” Let’s hope other companies continue to follow suit.