By James Fagan Tait
Boca del Lupo
Prospect Point Picnic Area
Stanley Park
July 28-August 14
Free at 604-684-2622

In years past there was usually very little theatre here in summer, the argument being that sun-starved Vancouverites wanted to be outside in good weather, not indoors watching a play. Nowadays, enterprising producers solve that problem by merging their shows with our great outdoors.

Theatre Under the Stars has been doing it since 1940. Bard on the Beach has shown us Shakespeare under their Vanier Park tents against backdrops of the North Shore mountains and the kite-filled sky since 1990. This summer Kendra Fanconi treated us to Other Freds along the shore of Granville Island. And Boca del Lupo has established a tradition of free, all-ages summer shows that roam the trails of Stanley Park, featuring actors hanging from the tops of high trees.

Vasily the Luckless, Boca’s latest, is an absolute charmer. James Fagan Tait has adapted a Russian folk tale in which rich, ruthless Marco (Alex Ferguson) is visited by angels who tell him that a boy named Vasily (Jonathon Young) will end up with all his money. Marco throws him off a cliff, tries to drown him, and sends him to collect rent from King Dragon (Mike Enns), all to no avail. With the help of the angels, hapless Vasily marries Marco’s daughter Anastasya (Tara Fynn) and turns the tables on his father-in-law, much to the delight of the audience which follows the characters along the trails of one of the most beautifully wooded areas of the park.

Along the way an angel (Jay Dodge) appears to us hanging on guy wires between trees 100 feet above our heads. We meet Marco at his desk atop a 20 foot high stump, Anastasya suspended in a hammock above him. Two black-clad priests go up and down like counterweights attached to a giant church bell way up in the crook of a Douglas fir. Vasily reaches King Dragon’s lair by crossing a river in a ferry, a remarkable two-person cedar contraption like a PNE ride in the middle of the woods.

All the while we’re accompanied by composer Joelysa Pankanea and two other musicians on accordion, banjo and percussion who help tell the story in delightful songs, like Anastasya’s lullaby to baby Vasily: “Sweet kitty, pretty kitty, I think your baby fat is more like fur.”

Director Sherry J. Yoon’s inventive staging is aided by the lovely acting of everyone involved (including Donna Soares and Mac Dodge), especially the always likeable Young as Vasily and sweet, gap-toothed Fynn as Anastasya. Even nasty Marco endeared himself to the kids at the matinee I attended, muttering “Excuse me” as he plowed through the audience, “I’m evil but I’m polite.”

I would have liked a little more adult substance to the story, but hey—it’s magical, it’s free, and you can bring your kids.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, August 5, 2005 2:32 PM
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