Mary-Colin brings her magic to Ship’s Co.

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Karen Bassett and Martha Irving star in Mary-Colin Chisholm’s Hook, Line & Sinner, to July 29 at Ship’s Company Theatre, Parrsboro. (Jennifer Harrison)

Sister Vivian Salter is back in action solving crime and cracking up an audience in Mary- Colin Chisholm’s mystery-comedy Hook, Line & Sinner.
The third instalment in Ship’s Company Theatre’s series, this play is highly entertaining, wonderfully local and warm-hearted with a convivial, village community of old salts, arty new agers, an embittered single mother and various pets.
Chisholm’s play is smart and silly, well-crafted, and then produced with lovely details to make it the perfect summer theatre package.
Sister Salter, incarnated by Martha Irving, has come home to Parrsboro for a writer’s retreat at Dominion House, much like Ottawa House. (The cat is named Tupper.)
The sleuthing nun is happy to see two old, high school friends, the doctor Maureen and the heart-throb paleontologist Ken, who recently moved back to buy a fancy house with his second wife, the hot-headed Lucia (Natasha MacLellan).
But on the night of the Confederation gala Lucia is murdered and Ken is the prime suspect. Like Miss Marple or Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher, Sister Salter must use all of her keen intelligence to figure out the real culprit.
Director Natasha MacLellan — just named new artistic director at Theatre New Brunswick — has a wonderful cast in Irving as the satirical, astute, no-nonsense detective.
Karen Bassett is a scream as a non-stop-baking, single mother who loves to dance, criticize her neighbours and run community events, all the while seething with an unknown resentment. Her performance is a physical and verbal gem.
Julia Williams has a wonderful pacing, warmth and use of her hands as expressive tools  as Maureen. Her description of one amorous night is hilarious.
She and Bassett also play the wacky comical duo of Bliss and Felicity, neo-hippies who are enthralled by the area.
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Martha Irving as Sister Vivian Salter is flanked by a comical, neo-hippie couple played by Karen Bassett, left, and Julia Williams in this classic whodunnit.  (Jennifer Harrison)

Kevin Curran’s Scampy, the quirky fisherman who mangles the language and owns a misanthropic dog, is a comic highlight, while Stephen Cross anchors Ken as the suspicious, handsome academic. Micha Cromwell, a natural on stage, plays his daughter.
Chisholm cleverly combines the academics of paleontology and Sister Salter’s research into Hildegard with the pure comedy of local characters and Maritime humour. Her references run from Dante to fluff to the game of Clue.
The design elements are elegant and classy with Garrett Barker’s set of three housefronts, Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting, Andrea Ritchie’s costumes and the poignant, light touch of a sound design including medieval song by Aaron Collier.
Laughs are guaranteed during this good-hearted, two-hour play with intermission at Ship’s Company Theatre to July 29.
Interestingly, Mary-Colin Chisholm starred as Sister Salter in the first two mysteries. She and Martha Irving, who starred at Ship’s Co. in The (Post) Mistress, are friends and co-founders of Lunasea Theatre.

Uncle Vanya+Animal Farm=1 Great Night

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Matthew Lumley is Uncle Vanya and Andrea Lee Norwood is his niece Sonia in North Mountain Vanya, a Two Planks and a Passion Theatre outdoor production at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts near Canning to Aug. 18. (Malachy Schwartz)

Chekhov’s 1899 Uncle Vanya fits amazingly well into a Nova Scotia wood in 2018.
Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s stimulating, enigmatic and intense production at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts is heavily Russian in mood, character and dazzling period costumes for the women designed by Jennifer Goodman.

The samovar is ever-present along with decanters of brandy and vodka for these miserable people.

Uncle Vanya has a nihilism – much like today. Dr. Astrov decries the deforestation and loss of species in Russia – much like today. It’s wonderful to be sitting on bleachers looking into sunlit woods as he states his case.

North Mountain Vanya, an adaptation by director Ken Schwartz, starts at 6 p.m. on the North Mountain near Canning. At 9:30 p.m., people gather around a fire for a brilliant musical version of Animal Farm.  For its first time the company has a third summer production, also about the land, Elapultiek By Fire, commissioned from shalan joudry, of Bear River First Nation, opening Aug. 25, 8 p.m.

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Genevieve Steele is Helena, the pretty, young wife, of an aging, cranky professor (Ryan Rogerson) in North Mountain Vanya. (Malachy Schwartz)

Uncle Vanya is a mix of Samuel Beckett and Jerry Seinfeld – bleak and funny, essentially about nothing or everything.

The characters don’t hear the croak of ravens because they are consumed with self-analysis and the meaninglessness of their lives.

In Uncle Vanya the visit of an aging professor and his stunning, younger wife to their country estate is a torque for the frustrated lives of those trapped on the estate.

Uncle Vanya (Matthew Lumley), brother to the professor’s deceased, first wife, runs the meagre operation with his niece, the plain-looking, productive Sonia (Andrea Lee Norwood).

Dominating the landscape is the aged, wise nurse, Marina, in a wonderfully crafted performance by Burgandy Code.

Rushing in like a mighty wind is Jeff Schwager bringing all of his nuanced, tragi-comic forces and vitality to Dr. Astrov, a hard-working, under-rated country doctor and environmentalist who is also selfish.

Vanya is a frustrated, whining character but also a tragic one as he glimpses new life in his impossible love for the professor’s wife, Helena, as does poor Dr. Astrov.

Genevieve Steele plays this character – an idle, rich and selfish woman but also dramatic and earnest  – with potency and flair. Helena is like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, appealing but destructive.

Also in the cast are Ryan Rogerson’s comical, cranky, domineering professor, musical director Tim Machin’s guitar-playing, plodding, peacemaking peasant Tim and Chris O’Neill’s rigid grandmother.

Ken Schwartz directs this classic with lots of movement on his grassy stage but also with a slow, filmic quality as drama is captured in pointed facial expressions.

Sonia’s final speech about enduring life in favour of heavenly salvation – perfectly delivered by Andrea Lee Norwood – may be the honest truth or the deepest irony.

ANIMAL FARM BY FIRE

This year’s fun, fireside production with the audience seated on benches around a constantly-stoked bonfire is the one hour, 20-minute Animal Farm – the musical version – adapted from George Orwell’s book by director Ken Schwartz, who wrote the lyrics with composer and musical director Allen Cole.

This show is brilliant – so clear, swiftly paced and playful even as it is serious. In his story of animals taking over their farm with a descent into a brutal dictatorship by the pigs, Orwell was referencing Communism. Today, one’s mind quickly links to other  examples of power and greed trumping humanity.

Highlights in the cast include Matthew Lumley’s dignified horse, Andrea Lee Norwood’s wily, rapper-pig, Jeff Schwager’s increasingly menacing, dictator pig and Chris O’Neill’s confused, kindly mare.

Animal Farm by Fire is entirely an ensemble piece with seamless team work; music played in the dark by Rogerson and Tim Machin, and wonderful, clever, plot-moving songs including a twist on Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The  animal incarnations, done purely with movement and sound, are great – credible and incredible.

Giant cookies are for sale at intermission, and marshmallows to roast at the end of Animal Farm, also on to Aug. 18. The complete schedule is online (http://www.artscentre.ca/).

Highly international N.S. Tattoo

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This year the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is like going on a trip.

Now in its 40th year,  it has more international acts than ever with a sword-flashing Jordanian honour guard, German aerial bicyclists, Russian folk dancers, Brazilian acrobats and a Singapore police force band.

The culture clash is fascinating as you go from kilted Scottish pipers to friendly, highly-skilled Kenyan acrobats building amazing, body pyramids.

This tattoo, running at about two and a half hours through Monday, realistically features war in two frightening or exciting scenes – depending on who you are. Everyone jumps at the gunfire.

It’s a serious underpinning as the Tattoo pauses to recognize men and women in the audience who’ve served their country. In terms of a highly simplified analysis of war, you feel that all the colour and joy of life expressed in the entertainment is what has been fought for.

It’s great to see such a celebration of culture in today’s world driven by dark forces of fear, hatred and exclusion incarnated by . . . .  (I’m having a Trump-free week.)

The show looks back at women in service in a moving, well-staged segment with singers Cyndi Cain and Brenna Conrad. It also honours the end of the First World War 100 years ago this November and the Battle of the Atlantic

The Singapore Police Force Band also honours women – the Samsui women. Known for their distinctive red headgear,  they came to Singapore from China between the 1920s and 1940s and worked as hard labourers in construction and other industries.

Unlike the Samsui women who rarely married, the male/female dynamic of the Circassian dancers is the sweet one of a courtship ritual. The men dance astoundingly on their knees as the women in exquisite costumes seem to hover in swift and graceful movements.

This troupe, The State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance of Adygea, dates back to 1936 and is connected to the 19th century displacement of Circassians from their North Sea homes.

The Circassians fought unsuccessfully against the Russian Empire in the Russian-Circassian War, were exiled and deported and live in over 50 countries, including Jordan where they form the Royal Circassian Honour Guard that is performing at the Tattoo.

A highlight this year is Cape Breton singer Heather Rankin making her Tattoo debut in Tell My Ma, the lively, 19th century, folk song first recorded by the Rankin Family on their 1990 hit album Fare Thee Well Love.

Rankin, in a glittering black evening gown, gives the song all its salty fun in a vigourous performance with the Tattoo highland dance squad in glittering green – a nod to the Belfast City reference.

Also lending his rich voice to this show as a soloist is Marcel D’Entremont, a Merigomish classically-trained tenor who has performed with the Tattoo for several years.

I first went to the Tattoo almost 40 years ago – believe it or not! It’s become increasingly sophisticated as a smoothly-running show with clever, rapid changes as large bands start to march on in darkness while the spotlight hangs on another act like Canada’s 10-year-old Spanish flamenco guitar phenomenon Harry Knight.

Named for the 1600s, Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe” (“turn off the tap”), to get innkeepers to send soldiers back to the garrison, it’s now an institution for Nova Scotia with big showtime traffic jams and thrilled crowds giving standing ovations. This year it’s still fresh, actively crafted and artistically satisfying.

A Sable Island dream come true

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Pieces of Sable Island, 5′ x 5′, oil on birch panel, is both a painting by Briana Corr Scott and the title of her exhibit at Argyle Fine Art to July 4.

Sable Island has such a hold on artist Briana Corr Scott that her haunting, layered still lifes and landscapes are about a real place and an enchanted, dreamed-of place.

“My work is about the beauty of decay and the fleeting quality of life,” says Corr Scott, at Argyle Fine Art where Pieces of Sable Island is on view to July 4. “Sable is  this symbol of the impermanence and the beauty of nature. ”

Her passion for the island began with regular trips to sketch shells, flowers and natural objects from life at the Museum of Natural History, which in 2016 installed a permanent Sable Island exhibit that captivated her. “I was definitely called there. I needed to go.”

Her first trip with Picture Perfect Tours, set for July, 2017, was cancelled when the beach runway was washed out by heavy rain.

Corr Scott  was so disappointed she wrote her feelings down — “everything I dreamed to see,”  she says. “I put all that longing into it and everything I imagined it would be.”  That poem, with her artwork, will be a book, to be published by Nimbus next spring.

Finally in late October, 2017, she made the one-hour flight from Halifax to spend one day on the narrow, sandy island.

“It was a gorgeous fall day, sunny and bright, really windy but warm. There were dark clouds that would roll in. I only got to see a small part; it’s 42 kilometres. I saw as much as I could walk. It was everything I had dreamed to see.”

She sketched obsessively, leaving her group to spend part of the afternoon with seals on the beach, returning for a session at the main station where the old, clear glass bottles found by rangers on the beach were lined up on window ledges. They become a subject for a still life with a view out to distant horses.

“Sable Island, because it’s protected you can go and experience the beauty. We passed a lot of seal carcasses and there was a horse that had died in childbirth lying on the beach. No one lives there permanently and it is this wild, isolated island. For me it was the last place still really wild and pure.”

She is fascinated by the tiny island’s unique eco-system. “It has five different species of bees, one is endemic to the island. It has the largest, grey seal colony in the world. There are all sorts of beetles and moths and it’s amazing that there are flowers on the island. It’s so windy and salty.”

The history of shipwrecks adds to the mystery. “It makes Sable Island evasive; it’s so hard to get to, it’s like it’s protecting itself.”

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Moonsnail & Aster, 30″ x 30″, oil on birch by Briana Corr Scott.

As soon as she got home  she sketched out all her memories, tearing out pages and taping them together. On view at the gallery, this banner is like a diary including all the visual motifs to come in her paintings — even the mushrooms growing out of horse dung.

Corr Scott was struck by a strange yellow light at the horizon and the colour of the sea — “a shocking emerald colour.” She uses these colours literally in her landscapes and as stains of memory in still lifes.

The landscapes “express what I actually saw there,” she says. “I’m a still life painter but it’s hard to go to a place like Sable and not acknowledge it in landscape.

“What I saw is the landscape. The dream part of Sable and what I hoped to see, and my memory of it now, I project in my still life.”

A ghostly painting of irises as shadowy, fleeting figures points out a future direction, she says. “I didn’t see flowers but it was part of the dream journey.”

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Dartmouth artist Briana Corr Scott grew up in New Hampshire and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.

Corr Scott’s exhibit includes prints, postcards and scarves sewn by her mother from fabric designed by the artist, as well a Sable Island candle inspired by scents the artist experience like cranberry, bayberry, lavender and honey by Kara MacIntyre Quinn of The Wax Brewery. The exhibit may be seen online at http://brianacorrscott.com.

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Also at the 1559 Barrington St. gallery are Michelle St. Onge’s amazing, exquisitely crafted and  delicate watercolours of birds’ nests in Nesting Instinct. The images are so expertly rendered they don’t look like watercolours at all. Both  shows are up until July 4.

Go have an Art Attackk

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Henricus Gielis is a rule-bound security guard encouraged to pursue his dreams by a talking, folk art statue in Art Attackk, a trio of plays about art and life by Halifax Theatre for Young People.

Halifax Theatre for Young People’s Art Attackk is a trio of adventures for kids about life and art.

The company took this fun, kinetic, hour-long show on a school tour in May and recently performed it as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Theatre Festival.

There, in the Neptune studio theatre, a mainly adult audience laughed its way through three stories about friends helping the central characters come to terms with themselves and move forward.

In On the Right Track, by Jacob Sampson, a troubled teen from the foster care system is deposited at the art gallery by his foster brother who demands he do a school project on a painting.

Once his brother leaves, the furious teen throws his notebook across the room, only to have it picked up by a precocious, self-admittedly weird, little girl, who loves art and urges the teen to express himself. The two form a brief bond studying Alex Colville’s painting The Ocean Limited and the teen to writes a poem about determining his own path in life.

It’s fun to see Sam Vigneault as the teen and Henricus Gielis as the goofy, loving older brother quickly transform into two nerdy, urbane uncles helping their angry young niece (Rachel Hastings) cope with the loss of her cat.

One uncle, a curator at the gallery, has suggested she hold a life celebration for Carmen during off hours.

The fierce, direct little girl, wearing a ball cap and a T-shirt featuring her dead cat, lashes out at her guests then, with the help of her uncles, comes to terms with her grief.
Needless to say, it’s very funny with a cat dance, a lesson in rubbing a cat’s belly and homemade props.

This short and snappy play is also a good insight into how to give space to grieving people by letting them talk openly and by not avoiding the fact of death.

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Rachel Hastings as a grieving girl who has lost her cat and Henricus Gielis and Sam Vigneault as her uncles do a cat dance in Richie Wilcox’s Cats are More than Memes.   

Anyone who’s every been admonished by a gallery security guard will love Lindsay Wilson’s wacky, imaginative play There are Rules (but only sometimes), full of song and dance and comedy.

Gielis is an uptight security guard called Henricus who secretly wants to be a singer. He hilariously bursts out of his shell when a wooden folk art statue of a young fisherman comes to life, encouraging him to open his heart up to life and joy and his dreams. By the end Henricus is happy to say he’s had an “art attackk.”

Art Attackk, directed by Tessa Mendel with a set design particularly strong in There are Rules by Katrin Whitehead and sound design by Brian Riley, has a great cast in Gielis, Vigneault as the troubled teen and the wooden statue and Rachel Hastings in her vigorous, honest performances of the two girls.

Art Attackk grew out of Halifax Theatre for Young People’s brilliant idea last year to commission nine playwrights to write a short piece inspired by a painting of their choice at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

From those plays, company artistic producer  Mendel chose three that she felt flowed well together, could be cast with two men and one woman, were all set in a gallery and had connecting themes of art creation and how friendship helps people express themselves.

The show aimed at ages nine to 12 will be back in the fall for a school tour but if there is a public performance go see it. You’ll laugh and learn no matter what age you are.

Red is the colour of memory

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Green Room Marquee, oil on canvas, by Marilyn McAvoy, in her exhibit Red at Studio 21, 1273 Hollis St., Halifax. 

Marilyn McAvoy’s new paintings at Studio 21 to June 6 are fascinating, shadowland portraits of women at bars, caught alone in an empty space in dramatic reflection.

They are inspired by the 20 years she spent as the partner of a local musician going to shows at Halifax bars, being backstage and in the green room.

When she split up with her partner, “I found it hard to walk away from that world and the spirit and the energy,” she says. “It’s so exciting. I felt it was a wonderful large social group we shared.”

Already interested in exploring the figure, the artist invited women friends from that social group to pose as models. She borrowed props from Victor Syperek, bar owner and longtime props maker and collector.

She projected the photographs she’d taken at bars with their striking hot and murky lighting onto her model as the only light source.

The projections result in the mysterious, dark, shadowy, dappled light and all sorts of colours and images playing on McAvoy’s figures and in her abstracted backgrounds.
McAvoy has always painted a surface in a gorgeous, loose, lush and layered way. This style really suits her charged, theatrical subject matter.

By literally casting images from her past life onto her present reality she is tying her new life to the “positive” memories of her past, she says.
While the models are women friends and daughters of friends, most of the portraits share a mood of deep reflection, of being caught in an exotic though potentially damaging world. Everything is shifting.

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The Evening Waits, oil on canvas, by Marilyn McAvoy in her show Red. 

McAvoy was inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Degas and the Impressionist painters’  bar and back-stage scenes. She was particularly captivated by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a Moulin Rouge dancer with a green face, an artistically daring choice she copies in painting vivid blue and pink in women’s faces.

For this show called Red she was initially drawn into the lyrics of a Canadian song that “resonated with me symbolically with what I thought went down in that life, in the bars. It gave me power and strength and conjured up images for me,” she says. “For a long time I thought it’d be fun to bring the lyrics to life, to recreate a stage, a protagonist.”

Jennifer Huntley, co-owner of Lady Luck Boutique, ended up in five paintings with her  dramatic dark hair and strong, sculpted face. “I asked the models to come with something that defined them, something that gives them strength or power or is their armour in dress. Jen wore old-fashioned lingerie, that’s her comfortwear that makes her feel empowered. She had a lot of fun with it. She had a trunk full of hats. She was able to capture the mood and a character.”

In a way all these paintings are self-portraits. “Oh yeah, I think they all are because of the germ of the idea with the lyrics of that song that was very cathartic.  It was deeply personal.”

This series is evolving, says McAvoy. “I’ve always admired these women as strong, independent, professional women who had a focus of their own.

“Moving forward I think they’ll move away from me. It’ll be working with these women I’ve made strong bonds with but it’ll be more about where they’ve come from and who they are today. I’ll ask them for a found image from their own collection.”
“I’m excited by this. You’re always moving forward.,” says McAvoy, who teaches  drawing at NSCAD University.

Also on view at Studio 21 and in  contrast to McAvoy’s work are Charley Young’s austere, exquisitely rendered drawings on drafting film  of fragments of mountain tops.
Her exhibit, Ascension, is based on helicopter travels through the Rocky Mountains and is remarkable in the tender detail she uses to illuminate and express her feelings about the lines and force in rock, striations, tree lines and peaks.

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Treeline, graphite, watercolour pencil on drafting film, by Charley Young in Ascension.
Studio 21 is part of the new Halifax Talks Art program of art talks Wednesdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m.; May 30, Argyle Fine Art, Take a Chance on Me: discovering and supporting emerging artists; June 13, Zwicker’s Gallery, Looking at historical work: the secondary art market; Sept. 19, Studio 21, Building your collection: prints, paintings and more, and Oct. 3,  Secord Gallery: What to do with your art once you have it: framing and installation.

THEATRE THAT MAKES YOU THINK

DrunkenGod-Jeff and Sean (2)Halifax actor Jeff Schwager, left, and Ontario Metis actor Sean Hauk, bring award-winning Ojibwe playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s intense and funny drama,  In a World Created by a Drunken God, to life at Neptune Scotiabank Studio theatre to May 20. (Stoo Metz)

Ojibwe playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s In a World Created By a Drunken God is a thought-provoking, funny play about big issues in life.
Would you give a kidney to a stranger? Would you give a kidney to a family member? What if that family member were a stranger?
That’s the issue for Jason, the son of an American father and an Ojibwe woman. He’s packing to move back to his reserve just when the doorbell rings. In sweeps the annoying, gnat-like but compassionate Harry, the half-brother he never knew he had.
Harry has been raised in Providence, Rhode Island, by a happily-married man who only once in his life transgressed by meeting Jason’s mother on hunting trip to Canada. He abandoned her and her baby.
Harry has arrived to ask Jason to take a blood test to see if he’s a match for a kidney for his dying father. Needless to say, Jason is reluctant.
This drama is a tug of war and the author plays the dilemma of will-he-or-won’t-he right up to an atypical and lovely, piercing ending
Jason, fully realized by Ontario Metis actor Sean Hauk, is a hostile, lonely man who dominates the space in his crappy Toronto apartment. He is both difficult to like and easy to pity.
He physically overpowers the slighter, urban Harry, played by Halifax actor Jeff Schwager with a lot of fire and poise.
Harry’s life has been framed by a belief in a Leave It To Beaver family. A divorced father and not the most likeable guy either, he is a frustrated, passionate, verbal fighter capable of chipping away at Jason’s armour.
However, he has idea of Jason’s experience as an abandoned infant and a First Nations man. He can’t step into those shoes – like most of us in Canadian society when it comes to Indigenous pain, identity and social issues.
In his intense play Hayden Taylors questions identity, definitions of family, social responsibility, the cultural differences between Canada and the U.S. — to comic effect – and the cultural differences between white and First Nations people — also to comic effect but not always.
If you like theatre that makes you think and get inside people you’d normally never meet this is it.
This fine production, directed with a great sense of emotional rhythm and timing by Pamela Halstead, has a great, gritty set of a run-down apartment with the sound of traffic and a lighting design that keeps the space feeling claustrophobic.
These are mere men but also mythic titans wrestling in a small space about life and death, love and hate, the loner and the communal man.
Set design is by Katherine Jenkins-Ryan and lighting design by Jess Lewis. Also on the creative team are: Helena Marriott (costume designer), June Zinck (sound designer), Jacob Planinc (assistant director), Karen Bassett (fight director), Laurie Fleet (apprentice stage manager), Raven Davis (cultural sensitivity consultant) and Ingrid Risk (stage manager).
In a World Created by a Drunken God, a finalist for the 2006 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, is the final Studio series production for Neptune’s 2017/2018 season. It runs at Neptune’s Scotiabank Stage through Sunday, May 20.
Tickets are available online at neptunetheatre.com or by phone (902-429-7070) or toll-free (1-800-565-7345), or in person at the box office, 1593 Argyle St., Halifax.