Volume 94, Issue 63

Tuesday, January 16, 2001


A witty, thoughtful theatrical romp

Disc of the Week

State and Main gets an amber light

'62 Cuban Crisis revisited - 13 Days a rivetting political drama

A witty, thoughtful theatrical romp

Gazette file photo
MARGOT AND TOMTOM WONDERED IF THEIR DAUGHTER WOULD EVER OUTGROW THAT SILLY BURGER KING CROWN. Penny Elzenga makes her grand entrance in the Grand Theatre's latest, the Phoenix Lottery.

The Phoenix Lottery
Starring: Hume Baugh, Jillian Cook, Bernard Hopkins
Directed By: Kelly Handerek

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

Junior Beamish is perplexed.

After becoming widely respected as a corporate philanthropist who seeks "capitalism with a human heart," Junior finds himself teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and must do something drastic in order to keep his prized Angel Foundation alive.

To save the charity, Junior needs $500 million and the only way he figures he can accumulate that much money is by selling a famous Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait. That is, until Junior decides to hold the painting hostage by selling tickets to the public for a chance to see the painting burned live on television, in front of millions worldwide.

As tickets for the lottery rapidly sell out, a chorus of interesting characters, from a Roman Catholic Cardinal to Van Gogh himself, corner Junior to try and make him reconsider his decision.

Currently making its world premiere at the Grand Theatre, The Phoenix Lottery takes the audience on a theatrical journey while demanding consideration of a number of compelling themes, including the relationship between fathers and sons and the ownership of art in modern society. The play also suggests that art is one constant in an ever-morphing society.

Although the first act flows quite nicely, the second act seems to get somewhat convoluted. The twists in the plot pull the audience's attention away from the story's central themes and render the play a little too textured. There's also a lull in the energy once the cast settles into the act, but by the final curtain, they regain their gusto.

The simple yet well-conceived set allows the cast to move smoothly across the stage. Meanwhile, the frequent use of two television screens and a newscaster acting as a narrator, lends the show a multimedia feel and plays into the media circus concept to which the script alludes. Designer Bill Layton (who is responsible for both set and costumes) should be commended for his work on the colourful and sometimes eccentric costumes, which add considerably to the overall presentation.

Like much of what's been seen on the Grand's stage this season, the acting is generally tight and well-directed. The cast does great justice to playwright Allan Stratton's engrossing work, effectively capitalizing on the script's humour and irreverence. The legendary Bernard Hopkins is outstanding as the scotch-sipping, red-robed Cardinal Wichita (aptly named for the American G.I. who had an affair with his mother while serving in Italy).

An equally impressive performance comes from Jillian Cook, who plays Emily Pristable, Junior Beamish's doting personal secretary. In the second act, Cook delivers a monologue with such vulnerability and deftness that audience members cannot help but be moved. The only disappointment was Penny Eizenga, who plays Lydia Spark, the winner of the lottery. Spark is by far the most energetic player, but her over-abundance of energy can be distracting.

All things considered, The Phoenix Lottery is a winning combination of a great script, impressive performances and above all else, some serious food for thought.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000