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  • Dramas 'Pressure' by David Haig

    Back 'Pressure' by David Haig Royal Alexandra Theatre Cylla Von Tiedemann Kevin Doyle as Dr. James Stagg The rising, palpable tension of ‘Pressure’ becomes increasingly intensified thanks to the strong ensemble work. David Haig’s script centres around Dr. James Stagg and the weather forecasts that will determine the date of the D-Day landings as part of Operation Overlord. The play is set in 1944 in Southwick House, the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, during seventy-two intensively fraught hours with moments of humour to help ease the tension. General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) leads the Allied Forces that are looking to invade the European continent from Britain. Eisenhower recognizes the weather conditions over the English Channel could pose problems, so he hires two individuals to monitor the weather conditions: Stagg (Kevin Doyle of ‘Downton Abbey’), the Scottish chief meteorologist who has studied the weather patterns of the North Atlantic. Colonel Irving P. Krick’s (Philip Cairns) basic meteorological skills are at odds with Stagg’s as they analyze weather patterns to make future predictions about the date of the D-Day invasion. Stagg believes the weather conditions will deteriorate fast on June 5, the current date for the D-Day landing, and that the invasion should be postponed. Since there has been a heatwave for quite some time, Krick believes the forecast will be sunny and pleasant and therefore the invasion should continue as planned. Obviously, the tension rises as Eisenhower tries to decide which is the correct path to follow. At this opening Sunday matinee performance, I couldn’t hear the actors at the top of the show for several minutes. Whether the actors could sense it or not, this momentary glitch appeared to get fixed. The rising, palpable tension of ‘Pressure’ becomes increasingly intensified thanks to the strong ensemble work. Don’t let the conversation surrounding the weather data input confuse you. Stay focused and pay close attention because directors John Dove and Josh Roche have uniquely woven the principal storyline and personal backstories seamlessly to produce a modern suspense tale of the theatre. Kevin Doyle delivers a natural and believable nuanced performance of a torn man underneath a tough exterior. He questions whether the forecast he predicts will be the correct one. His wife is about to give birth to their second child in hospital and Stagg can’t be there because he would be deserting his post during wartime. Philip Cairns’ Krick is cocky and sometimes smarmy which makes his comeuppance at the end satisfying. One of the highlights of ‘Pressure’ is Malcolm Sinclair’s terrific portrayal of General ‘Ike’ Eisenhower from his gruff, surly voice right down to his aviator sunglasses. Sinclair regally commands the stage each time he enters. The silent standoff between him and Stagg is rife with complete uneasiness. The power of silence at that moment said so much about what the two were feeling at that moment. Laura Rogers’ Kay Summersby bravely stands her ground as the conversation grows heated moment by moment concerning the invasion. She is proud to be working with Eisenhower but the final conversation between the two of them in the second act again says so much in the silence when Kay realizes Ike cannot deliver what he has promised to her. What made Rogers’ performance as Kay so memorable for me was seeing that it wasn’t only just the men who kept things going during this time. Women also held a valued place. Supporting actors Matthew Darcy, Robert Heard, David Killick, James Sheldon, Stuart Milligan, Molly Roberts, and David Sibley solidly contribute to the development of the possibility that the landings could go horribly wrong. History tells us that many lives were lost here and that is one of the tragic sad realities of this story. The physical look and sound of the production have been greatly enhanced thanks to Tim Mitchell’s lighting design, Philip Pinsky’s sound and Andrzej Goulding’s video designs. Mitchell’s lighting design is striking to view as we watch the colours change from day to dusk to twilight. Pinsky’s sound nicely enveloped the theatre, especially with the sound of the plane flying overhead. I felt completely transported back to that time. Goulding’s video designs soundly reflect the date and time of the action within the play. Josie Thomas’s costume perfectly evoked the World War 2 era. Colin Richmond’s set design showcases how messy this room was in wartime. A much-needed laugh was at the top of the show when Kevin Doyle uses his arm to sweep all the unnecessary clutter from the desk to the floor. Perfect timing in execution which again says so much in its delivery. Final Comments: Listening to conversations from audience members around me upon exiting the theatre was enlightening, to say the least. One individual commented on how refreshing it was that it’s not the rah, rah story of Americans coming in to save the day. Yes, the Americans were part of the liberation but there were other countries also involved in the operation. ‘Pressure’ seems the most appropriate title. It refers to the barometric pressure of the weather as Stagg makes reference to the barometer on the wall a few times. Not only does it refer to the principal storyline of the D-Day Landings, but barometric pressure can also influence and affect those life moments of ordinary individuals where we are also put to the test to see how much mettle we are made from. ‘Pressure’ becomes a modern suspense tale of intrigue in the theatre. Go see it. Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. ‘Pressure’ runs until March 5 at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. JONATHAN CHURCH THEATRE PRODUCTIONS, JENNY KING, OLIVER MACKWOOD PRODUCTIONS and CAMBRIDGE ARTS THEATRE present THE ROYAL LYCEUM THEATRE EDINBURGH and CHICHESTER FESTIVAL THEATRE PRODUCTION OF: ‘Pressure’ by David Haig Directed by John Dove and Josh Roche Consultant Producer Canada: Paul Elliott Designer: Colin Richmond Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell Composer & Sound Designer: Philip Pinsky Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding Costume Supervisor: Josie Thomas Production Manager: Mark Carey Performers: Philip Cairns, Matthew Darcy, Kevin Doyle, Robert Heard, David Killick, James Sheldon, Stuart Milligan, Molly Roberts, Laura Rogers, David Sibley, Malcolm Sinclair Previous Next

  • Dramas Lesson in Forgetting, English Language Premiere

    Back Lesson in Forgetting, English Language Premiere Pleiades Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts Cylla von Tiedemann Joe Szekeres Sometimes, works of artistry defy commentary. In the right hands of a committed artistic team, live theatre is skillfully crafted to become either beautifully cerebral and/or sharply felt within the heart. This is Pleiades Theatre’s ‘Lesson in Forgetting’. But I will do my best to comment. I attended this production with a friend who was intrigued as I was. We dissected as many theatrical elements of the production during the car ride all the way back to Oshawa following and then wondered if we were doing justice and being fair regarding this extraordinary presentation. If anything, we hope there might be future talkbacks (at least one?) for future audiences as the depth and breadth of this, what I will call, ‘mystical production’ remains with me even as I write at this moment. HE (a stunning, marvelous performance by Andrew Moodie) has suffered a massive brain trauma as a result of a car crash some years earlier. At the top of the show, we hear the crash so a possible trigger warning for future audiences. Ever since, the only thing HE can remember is how much he loves his wife SHE (immeasurably poignant and emotional character arc work by Ma-Anne Dionisio). SHE is confined to caring for him for the rest of her days and wishes nothing more than for him to forget that he loves her so that she might yet start over on her own path of life. Initially Reese Cowley as the Narrator puzzled me. Why is the person there? I needed to sit overnight on this question. When I re-read Ash Knight’s Director’s Programme note, then it suddenly made sense to me. Cowley’s confident performance at the top of the show where we are introduced to these two characters is noteworthy. The Narrator becomes the split in SHE’s mind and (spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph), thus the reason why SHE is dressed in red and the Narrator is dressed in white. SHE has been broken and bleeding for so long as she does what she can to be of assistance to HE. The Narrator becomes that split in SHE’s mind as she is constantly wondering if there is something else for her beyond the struggles she now faces. How often have each of us wondered about this when we believe we can’t deal with our own personal struggles and challenges? Jackie Chau advantageously places the set in the middle of the auditorium with the audience on both sides. This sense of free flow allows for actor maneuverability and for the audience to be drawn immediately into the story action. Stages left and right are mirrors of each other as we see rectangular risers and boxes placed equidistant from each other. Marissa Orjalo’s selection of eerily sounding music coupled with Arun Srinivasan spectral lighting design foreshadows unearthly and metaphysical visions and movement. I loved that feeling of anticipation in hearing something and then wondering what might occur shortly. Denyse Karn’s Projection designs are breathtaking to watch as they appear so true to life that I felt like I wanted to reach out and feel the leaves falling into my hands. At one point, when SHE mentions how everything just stopped after the accident, the falling leaves are perfectly timed to cease at that moment. Exhilarating to watch and to take it all in visually. Jackie Chau’s costume designs suitably reflect the other worldliness captured in her set design. Dionisio majestically utilizes her deep red dress in a definitive, regal like movement. Moodie’s subtle earth tones of matching pajamas, beige housecoat and comfortable looking slippers offer a visual juxtaposition of two individuals who care deeply for each other but are worlds apart on account of the trauma and its aftermath. According to Andrey Tarasiuk, Pleiades’s Artistic Director, Haché’s script is super poetic and delicately written. How veritably true is this statement. Periodically, I found myself closing my eyes and just listening and hearing each spoken word of the text delivered with clarity, definition and understanding. Not once did Moodie or Dionisio’s monologue delivery ever sounded rushed. They instinctively allowed the words to speak and to sound what they mean and infer, an important task for all good actors to attain. To me, it appeared Director Ash Knight tenderly cares very much about the three individuals in this production. Might I even say he loves this piece as he asks us, in his Director’s Programme Note, if love is enough because by going deeper into the complexities of love between this man and woman, we realize love’s complexity challenges our minds and hearts. Both Ma-Anne and Andrew are certainly up for this challenge. I had the chance to interview her a few weeks ago and asked her how rehearsals are going. She stated the piece is a wonderful observation about the vulnerability and fragility of the human mind and heart, and the human spirit. And it is, but I’ll go one step further. What makes this production memorable for me is Knight’s vision in centering real grounded performances from Dionisio and Moodie. One example occurred in the dancing choreographed by Nicola Pantin. From my seat in the house, just watching Ma-Anne and Andrew move and sway themselves, their bodies and, ultimately, their souls in time with the music and with each other was sensually and sensitively arranged through Intimacy Director’s Siobhan Richardson’s coaching. There was nothing erotic or sexy about the dancing or movement between HE and SHE. It’s all about that spiritual and soulful connection we all wish to have in our lives, and that made the dancing bewitching to view. Again, in her recent interview with me, Dionisio reiterated how she has trained herself for the work to come through her, and never making it about her. How true this statement is for both actors. Never once during the heightened, tender, anguished, and wrenching emotions did either of them ever venture over the top into unbelievable melodramatic emoting, not once. Near the end of the production, I felt a gasp of breath as if I had been slapped in the face when we learn something about HE from SHE, but Dionisio moves forward as if to say it’s important to know, but going forward is it really worth it to know and to remember? Final Comments: There is a line from the play that resonated with me and I wrote it down in the dark hoping I could decipher it later: ‘Your body has forgotten desire, but not love.” In her playwright’s Progamme Note, Emma Haché asks of us if love is sufficient given what we may encounter in our lives? What kind of love then? Familial love, selfless love, unconditional love? Questions upon questions upon questions….but that’s what makes good theatre. This ‘Lesson in Forgetting’ is good theatre. Running Time: approximately 75 minutes with no intermission Masks in effect at the Theatre Production runs to May 22 in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-8666. LESSON IN FORGETTING by Emma Haché Translated by Taliesin McEnaney with John Van Burek Commissioned by Pleiades Theatre Director: Ash Knight Choreographer: Nicola Pantin Set & Costume Design: Jackie Chau Lighting Design: Arun Srinivasan Projection Design: Denyse Karn Sound Design & Composition: Marissa Orjalo Intimacy Director: Siobhan Richardson Stage Manager: Laura Lakatosh Production Manager & Technical Director: Madeline McKinnell Performers: Reese Cowley, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Andrew Moodie Previous Next

  • Dramas Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    Back Hamlet by William Shakespeare The Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival 2022 Jordy Clarke Joe Szekeres Despite a few puzzling choices, there are moments where this ‘Hamlet’ shines; however, it’s not what it could be. When ‘Hamlet’ was taught at the school where I worked, teachers of English used to call the play a tragedy. Director Peter Pasyk makes an interesting comment about this production which he helmed: “The play is arguably Shakespeare’s most experimental and metatheatrical work, but what is it?...one thing is certain, at its core it is an existential work. The play puts our mortality into stark focus.” Two things about Pasyk’s comment. First, I think it’s an important one that should be definitely shared with high school teachers of English in understanding ‘Hamlet’. Too often, the trap is to fall into whether ‘Hamlet’ is the proverbial tragedy or not. Next, did Pasyk’s production reflect what he says? Well, yes and no. I know I used to tell the students whom I taught that one can’t sit on the proverbial fence post and agree with both sides. Make up your mind when you defend something. Well, this is arguably one of these yes and no times where it’s important to see what worked well and what requires some polishing. How so? When we remember Pasyk’s comment about ‘Hamlet’ as existential and then consider Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino’s comment the theme for 2022 is New Beginnings and ways to start a new journey, sometimes the connective task isn’t as clear as it could be. Hamlet (Amaka Umeh) is clearly mourning the death of his father (a powering and towering Matthew Kabwe). He is disgusted and abhorred by how quickly his mother, Gertrude (Maev Beaty) quickly remarried her late husband’s brother, Claudius (Graham Abbey) who now wears the crown of Denmark. In turn, Hamlet sees his father’s ghost and vows revenge against Claudius while pretending to be mad until the crown can be rightfully restored. Herein lies the downward spiral where Hamlet’s actions affect Lord Chamberlain Polonius (Michael Spencer-Davis), Laertes (Austin Eckert) and Ophelia (Andrea Rankin) for whom Hamlet pines, but whether he is serious about it or not becomes an important element of the story. The story is set modern so we have guns instead of knives. Michelle Bohn’s costume designs are chic looking on the ladies and nicely fitted suits on the men which help delineate the characteristics of the individuals. Umeh is dressed appropriately in black for most of the play which reflects the mood of Hamlet. Upon entering the auditorium, Patrick Lavender’s stark set design immediately grabbed my attention as the body of the deceased king lies in state under glass. It looks as if there is preparation for the viewing by the family and then the public. Kimberley Purtell’s lighting design effectively reflects the majesty of this moment. The blackouts in some of the scenes did not distract my attention. Richard Feren’s sound design throughout remains solid. One thing about the set design which puzzles me is the upper level of the stage. It looks like a mirror is on top and then I wondered if it was an indication of holding a reflection up to the audience to show how these lives on stage are similar to our own. Then the upper area becomes a moment where Hamlet refers to Gertrude and Claudius and we see them dancing. I was confused because I couldn’t decipher if the dancing was occurring in the moment OR if this was occurring in Hamlet’s mind. Then the mirror is used to announce the arrival of the Players and we see them enter. There was some laughter from the audience at certain moments that made me think something was missing. For example, at the top of the show we know the sentries on guard have twice seen the ghost of the dead king. It’s one of the greatest moments where tension is established immediately to grab the audience’s attention. The sentry guard dressed in a dark-coloured suit wearing a dark-coloured mask gets to the top level, looks around and then removed his mask. The audience roared in approval with laughter but I didn’t. Was Pasyk perhaps giving a knowing wink to the audience about mask removals, hopefully very soon? If he made that choice, yes it’s clever BUT it didn’t set what was supposed to be a tension-filled scene of seeing ghostly images to pique my interest. The same thing occurred just before the ‘play’ of the travelling troupe performs for Claudius and Gertrude. The humorous musical ditty and the swaying of the players reminded me if this story for the king was taking place in Hawaii or Maui? As the audience is in the know about the ‘play’, we are waiting intently for how the king might respond. Didn’t feel any of that. There are some hearty performances all around. Amaka Umeh’s Hamlet remains grounded in reality with the various emotional swings given the heated moment. This was strongly evident in the Grave Digger’s scene. Andrea Rankin’s doe-eyed Ophelia poignantly runs the gamut of emotions when the reality of the situation hits her full on which struck my heart. Maev Beaty and Graham Abbey are regal as Gertrude and Claudius but also reveal their insecurities and fears with believable intent and focus. Michael Spencer-Davis is a warm-hearted Polonius. Austin Eckert is a feisty and fiery Laertes especially when he learns what happens to his father and seeks revenge. As Horatio, Jakob Ehman’s loyalty Hamlet is steady. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Norman Yeung and Ijeoma Emesowum are dutiful friends to Hamlet while also showing they can be easily swayed through their interactions by the powers at hand who are in charge. Final Comments: I do hope that future audiences will not continue laughing at inopportune moments that appear incongruous with the emotional level and intensity of the moment. Peter Pasyk is a gifted director who has worked with so many talented and gifted actors in this ‘Hamlet’ that I am hoping to see on stage in future. Running time: Three hours with one intermission. As of the publication of this article, Covid protocols are in place at the theatre. ‘Hamlet’ runs to October 28 at the Festival Theatre. For tickets, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare Director: Peter Pasyk Producer: Dave Auster Set Designer: Patrick Lavender Costume Designer: Michelle Bohn Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Composer and Sound Designer: Richard Feren Performers: Amaka Umeh, Matthew Kabwe, Maev Beaty, Graham Abbey, Michael Spencer-Davis, Andrea Rankin, Austin Eckert, Jakob Ehman, Norman Yeung, Ijeoma Emesowum, John Kirkpatrick, Tyrone Savage, Kevin Kruchkywich, Josue Laboucane, Anthony Santiago, Celia Aloma, isi bhakhomen, Rachel Jones, Ngabo Nabea, Hilary Adams, Mary Jay, Janice Owens, David Campion Previous Next

  • Dramas 'THREE SISTERS' by Inua Ellams. After Chekhov

    Back 'THREE SISTERS' by Inua Ellams. After Chekhov A Co-production with Obsidian Theatre in association with Soulpepper Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: AKOSUA AMO-ADEM PLAYING THE ELDEST SISTER LOLO, VIRGILIA GRIFFITH PLAYING THE MIDDLE SISTER NNE CHUKWU AND MAKAMBE K. SIMAMBA PLAYING THE LITTLE SISTER UDO Geoffrey Coulter, Contributing Writer, Actor, Director, Adjudicator, Arts Educator " A superb not to be missed re-imagining." “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming!” With the plethora of Russian theatre currently playing in Toronto, it looks like they’ve arrived. “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is currently breaking box-office records at Crow’s Theatre while Mirvish’s production of “Uncle Vanya” closed a successful run at the CAA Theatre just weeks ago. Now Soulpepper, in collaboration with Obisdian Theatre, presents a superb, not-to-be-missed reimagining of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” by Nigerian-born playwright Inua Ellams. He has masterfully taken part of Chekhov’s original plot and transformed the rest into a relevant, thought-provoking piece of social commentary about the delicate fabric of family and hardships. Ellams has transported the action of the original from nineteenth century Russia to late 1960s Africa and the cataclysmic Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, one of the bloodiest conflicts in that continent’s history. This fluid adaptation, a clear testament to the ravages of colonialism and disencumbered liberty, is thoughtfully directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu. It’s also boasts and impeccably fine cast featuring some of the finest, most compelling acting and ensemble work this reviewer has seen in quite some time. A year has passed since their father, a respected military commander, died but the three sisters are still grappling with his passing. Eldest Lolo (Akosua Amo-Adem), is a wise, hard-working teacher in the local school, Nne Chukwu (Virgilia Griffith), is married to the schoolmaster Onyinyechukwu (Tawiah M’Carthy), and youngest Udo (Makambe K. Simamba) – having just turned 20, is being courted by two soldiers, idealistic serviceman Nmeri Ora (Ngabo Nabea) and lovelorn Igwe (Amaka Umeh). The sisters live with their lackadaisical Cambridge-educated brother, Dimgba (Tony Ofori) in a small village in Owerri, Nigeria, longing to return to the cosmopolitan city of their birth, Lagos. Their father built the house from scratch with the intent of immersing his family in the Igbo traditions, set apart from the “colonial cultural erosion” that he believed infested the capital. What the siblings don’t know is that the Biafran Civil War is about to erupt and change their lives, their relationships, and their country forever. I strongly recommend a quick read of the program to get some much-needed historical context that serves as backdrop to this riveting drama. I wasn’t aware of the Biafran conflict and the resulting deaths of 30,000 Igbos people and the displacement of 300,000 more. You need this history going in to understand and appreciate the political dynamics and what’s driving the underlying conflicts – the unhappy, arranged marriage of Nne with Onyinyechukwu, the family’s uncle (Matthew G. Brown) who has turned to gambling and drink because, under British rule, he’s not allowed to practice as a doctor and housemaid Oyiridiya (JD Leslie), a northern refugee who witnessed her husband’s murder at the hands of the Hausa people and wants her revenge. Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu expertly directs this tremendous production with verve and sensitivity. The play is long, well over three hours. But Otu keeps the dialogue and the actors moving smartly. Her vision to explore the narratives of tragedy, humour, social class, dreams, reality, inaction, and despair is fully realized. She makes good use of the small stage by playing scenes to the edges to accommodate the 12-member cast but doesn’t shy away from intimate moments centre stage. Joanna Yu’s storybook set design is functional and practical, with fine African details such as the thatched straw roof of the home’s exterior and trees subtly flanking the property. Lighting designer Andre du Toit effortlessly evokes the African heat with a barrage of amber lights while providing darker hues and spotlights as the war marches to the very doorstep of the sisters’ lives. John Gzowski’s subtle and supportive soundscape of placid chirping crickets and festive radio broadcasts contrasts eerily with the sounds of rumbling storms, explosions and warplanes roaring above. Kudos to the inspired fusion of spot-on costumes of the late 1960s with traditional African prints and headwear by designer Ming Wong. Her bright colours, bold prints, extreme hemlines, loose-fitting shirts, flared trousers, and low heels gave a definite “swinging sixties” vibe while honouring the rich textures of the African working class. But it’s the extraordinarily talented cast that makes this play an event to remember. There isn’t a weak link. Characters are so well-defined that we know what makes everyone tick within minutes. Amo-Adem is thoroughly convincing as the wise, frustrated, and exhausted schoolteacher. Griffiths plays the married, bored middle sister with aplomb, while Simamba is the epitome of optimism and youthful exuberance. They enter and exit the stage with purpose and clarity. More impressively, each one has a life-changing experience that transforms and informs who they become by the play’s end. Perhaps this is most evident in the stunning metamorphosis of Oladejo’s Abosede, who goes from an insecure outsider with a detestable fashion sense to a glamorous but shrewdly scheming head of the household. These actors take us on their own personal journey. That’s storytelling. That’s acting. Umeh adds some much-needed humour as the socially awkward soldier Igwe, while Brown, Stephens-Thompson, Leslie, Herbert, M’Carthy, Nabea and Ofori bring tangible life to their supporting roles. Politics, greed, love, betrayal, envy, power, corruption, redemption, and the complexities of family. Chekhov knew 123 years ago the universality of these themes. They’ve been characters on the human stage forever. But add the irreversible and indelible effects of colonialism, racialization, and a country at war with itself, and you have in this production a reimagined classic that is perhaps more relevant today than it’s ever been. Running time: approximately three hours and 20 minutes with one interval. The production runs until March 24 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House, in the Distillery District. For tickets, visit Soulpepper.ca or call 416-866-8666. THREE SISTERS by Inua Ellams After Chekhov A co-production with Obsidian Theatre. Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu Set Design: Joanna Yu Costumes: Ming Wong Lighting: Andre du Toit Sound design and composition: John Gzowski Vocal music coach and arrangement, additional composition: Adekunle Olorundare (Kunle) Movement director: Esie Mensah Performers: Akosua Amo-Adem, Virgilia Griffith, Daren A. Herbert, Sterling Jarvis, JD Leslie, Tawiah M’Carthy, Ngabo Nabea, Oyin Oladejo, Makambe K Simamba, Odena Stephens-Thompson, Amaka Umeh, Matthew G. Brown. Previous Next

  • Young People 'The Adventures of Pinocchio'

    Back 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' Young People's Theatre YPT Site Joe Szekeres What a tremendously enjoyable opening night production of ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ at Young People’s Theatre! What a joy to see a show specifically geared to children and their families. And what a gift to give yourselves and your families this Christmas/holiday season. If you would like to introduce young school aged children to the wonderful world of live theatre, order your tickets now because I have a strong feeling ‘Pinocchio’ will sell out especially over Christmas and New Year’s. The press release speaks about a dream team behind the scenes with a cast of first-rate actors, and I agree wholeheartedly. This dream team all around makes this production come alive. As director, award winning actor Sheila McCarthy is at the helm accompanied by Canadians Brian Hill who wrote the book with cleverly written lyrics and music by Neil Bartram. The names I did recognize on stage and behind the scenes are some top-notch individuals. I know I will scan future programmes for the names I did not recognize and keep an eye out for them as these talented people are most deserving of the standing ovation at this opening night. I’m sure we all know the story of Pinocchio (Connor Lucas), the little wooden, energetic boy who wants to become a real boy. His father Geppetto (Shawn Wright) loves him not matter what happens. As the story unfolds, Pinocchio does whatever it takes to get what he wants. At times, Pinocchio is impulsive and rash while at other times he is obstinate and harsh. Pinocchio goes on a series of adventures and meets many strange and eccentric individuals who ultimately lead him to understand the difference between what he wants and what he truly cares about. In order to do this, Pinocchio must be honest with himself and others. This year, YPT focuses on the Seven Ancestral Teachings of the Anishinaabek people. Honesty is the focus in this production. And director Sheila McCarthy clearly and consistently maintains this focus throughout the seventy-five minutes presentation. Pacing is tight and fluid. David Terriault’s music direction helps to keep the production moving along. Joanna Yu’s gorgeous costumes and functional set design magically capture the storybook appeal. The puppetry of the large fish and watching how it swam across the stage mesmerized me. Connor Lucas is an energetically high Pinocchio who longingly wants to experience as much real adventure that he can in his quest to become a real boy. His tap-dancing sequence in ‘It’s Easy Being Me’ is one of the highlights of the show. There is a world-weary poignancy in Shawn Wright’s performance as Geppetto. My heart was breaking for this father who believes he has lost his son forever but keeps looking for him no matter the cost. The eccentric supporting players add intense drama and suspense to the fast-moving plot events. As the Blue Fairy who appears and disappears as she tells us the story and converses with Pinocchio, Malindi Ayienga ethereally reminded me how life can sometimes be mysterious. Jacob MacInnis is a deliciously campy and evil Puppet Master who pushes Pinocchio to his limits. Joel Cumber and Arinea Hermans as the shyster Fox and Cat theatrically and magnetically share an eleven o’clock number about money growing on trees. Great fun to watch Mr. Cumber and Ms. Hermans nimbly move across the stage with such grace and ease. Noah Beemer’s Lampwick teaches Pinocchio a very hard lesson about people who supposedly only like you to gain certain things. Susan Henley, Sierra Holder and Kelsey Verzotti beautifully round out this cast with memorable moments in song and dance. FINAL COMMENTS: An enchantingly delightful afternoon or evening of entertainment for the family. Don’t miss out. THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO Production continues to January 5, 2020 on the Mainstage at Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto. For tickets, call (416) 862-2222 or visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org for further information. Production recommended from ages JK/SK – GRADE 6 Performance runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission. There will be some Q and A sessions after performances so make sure you check first. Director: Sheila McCarthy; Music & Lyrics by Neil Bartram; Book by Brian Hill; Music Director: David Terriault; Choreographer: Julie Tomaino; Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand; Sound Designer: Adam Harendorf; Set & Costume Designer: Joanna Yu; Stage Manager: Kristin McCollum. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann. L-R: Connor Lucas, Arinea Hermans and Joel Cumber. Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Tilco Strike' by D'Arcy Jenish

    Back 'The Tilco Strike' by D'Arcy Jenish Now onstage at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ontario Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio Dave Rabjohn The world premiere of ‘The Tilco Strike’ written by D’Arcy Jenish is now running at 4th Line Theatre near the town of Millbrook, Ontario. Those familiar with this unique venue will recognize the creative adaptable theatre space that runs two productions every summer. A rustic outdoor space, using a barn as a backdrop (and a backstage) is perfect for a summer evening’s entertainment and for plays that reflect local history and culture. ‘The Tilco Strike’ fits both categories perfectly. A true story set in 1965 Peterborough, it recounts the labour battle at a small plastics factory between management and a number of feisty women workers who strike against difficult odds and personal hardship. To call this an ‘ensemble’ piece is not quite accurate due to the size of the cast – a parade of talent is more exact. And from that parade there are a number of highlights. Lil Downer and her counterparts have worked at Tilco for years earning a minimum wage of just over a dollar an hour. Each has their own story about family, difficult budgets and complex relationships. The factory is typical of the 1960s – time clock, factory floor and whitewashed cafeteria – each is cleverly blended into the unique space by designer Esther Vincent. The hardnose manager, Dutch Pammett, is barely civil with his employees. Enter a labour organizer who manages to sign the reluctant girls to a textile union. Lil then leads the cause with both victories and losses. Memorable performances begin with Katherine Cappellacci playing the resilient Lil who balances a difficult homelife and battles with management – she reinvents Sally Field standing on a table. Two actors stand out due to the range of emotional and philosophic changes their characters roll through. Ellyse Wolter plays a naïve and shrinking Rita who allows herself to be manipulated and bullied. As events move along, Rita becomes more self reliant and expressive while supporting her fellow workers. Jason Gray plays Donald Harwood who is the company president. He too, moves through a roller coaster of emotions as he balances his fiscal responsibilities to the company and his support for the workers. He just wants peace until he recognizes that Dutch Pammett’s hard line leads to all important profits. M. John Kennedy brilliantly plays the evil Dutch – tenacious and unbending. He is the cigar wielding mustachioed brute who you can virtually see tying his buxom secretary to the train tracks as the locomotive approaches. Sarah McNeilly, as Flossie, plays the most tragic figure as she tries to feed her family of seven while reluctantly supporting the cause. Her acting range is demonstrated with a clever comic turn as she imitates a local pastor’s sermon. Another comic delight comes from Hilary Wear as the eastern European factory supervisor who acts as a Greek Chorus trying to interpret the variety of events. Local references pepper the writing from well-known eating establishments to hockey rivalries. An important story with entertaining performances makes for a memorable evening as the sun slowly sets on the Winslow farm. ‘The Tilco Strike’ by D’Arcy Jenish Performers: Katherine Cappellacci, Matt Gilbert, Jason Gray, M. John Kennedy, Sarah McNeilly, Hilary Ware. For full list see: 4thlinetheatre.on.ca Director: Cynthia Ashperger Music director: Justin Hiscox Set Designer: Esther Vincent Production runs through July 22, 2023. Tickets: 4thlinetheatre.on.ca Previous Next

  • Young People 'A Year with Frog and Toad' by Robert Reale and Willie Reale

    Back 'A Year with Frog and Toad' by Robert Reale and Willie Reale Now onstage at Capitol Theatre, Port Hope Credit: Tracey Allison L-R: Haneul Yi and Joel Cumber Dave Rabjohn “It is the performance of Joel Cumber as frog and Yi as toad that invigorates the stage.” Apparently, my five- year- old grandson’s social calendar was too full to attend the theatre with Grandpa. However, taking his place, my wife was as enthusiastic about the performance as he would have been. Embracing the wider audience is the allure of this production of ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ now playing at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. Music by Robert Reale and book by Willie Reale, the play is based on the widely popular children's series of books by Arnold Lobel. It begins with an elegant set designed by Brian Dudkiewicz. This is not a cartoonish stage with cardboard flowers and primary colours from a Saturday morning kid’s show. The set is beautifully organic – swampy greenery giving the frog and the toad an authentic environment. Placing the musicians behind the heart of the foliage was a clever decision as the music emanates from nature itself. The cast of five energising performers drives this dynamic tale. The frog and the toad, with mostly an on-again relationship, move through the four seasons and various adventures that challenge and finally galvanize their friendship. Beginning with spring, three birds, complete with luggage announce their arrival after miles of travel. Waking a grumpy toad (Haneul Yi) is the first hurdle to overcome. Summer brings some embarrassment as he swims in a foppish suit. The fall is marked by a brilliant piece of choreography involving rakes. Winter is met with a tobogganing disaster and some tender Christmas moments. Two clever motifs run as threads throughout the performance. The first is a letter from frog to toad that is desperately being delivered by the sluggish snail. Played by Ben Page, his arms move furiously, but his legs can’t keep up – try this at home – it is difficult. The letter finally reaches its mark and the theme of friendship and communication is confirmed. The second thread is the search for a new clock. Time moves on so it is best to build and strengthen those important relationships. As mentioned, the five versatile actors propel this performance. The three ensembles are not just background colour – singing and choreography are top notch. Some lovely harmonies enrich and a lovely voice from Taylor Lovelace highlights the singing. Yunike Soedarmasto stands out as a dancer. As mentioned, Ben Page’s comic turn as the snail delights the audience. But it is the performance of Joel Cumber as frog and Yi as toad that invigorates the stage. Their clowning and dancing give a vaudeville feel that suits the highs and lows of their friendship. Stagecraft highlights include a piece of luggage that roars as the mouth of an evil animal. Scary yellow eyes hovering above the stage delighted (or frightened) the young audience. Fiona Sauder’s direction included some heartfelt tableaux that highlighted many tender moments. Sim Suzer’s creative costume work was punctuated by the aforementioned snail with housing on his back and a turtle with a similar comic shell. Silly perhaps, but not trivial – this energetic performance delivers on the message of enduring friendship throughout the seasons. ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ by Robert Reale and Willie Reale Performers: Joel Cumber, Taylor Lovelace, Ben Page, Yunike Soedarmasto, Haneul Yi Director: Fiona Sauder Music: Jeff Newberry Set Design: Brian Dudkiewicz Costume Design: Sim Suzer Production runs through June 2, 2024. Tickets: capitoltheatre.com Previous Next

  • Dramas "Four Minutes Twelve Seconds' by James Fritz

    Back "Four Minutes Twelve Seconds' by James Fritz Now onstage in the Extraspace at Tarragon Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Megan Follows and Sergio Di Zio Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE Tight direction and a masterclass in acting performances. Disturbing. An absorbing production of character nuance and surprising plot twists, Studio 180 Theatre’s opening night performance of James Fritz’s ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ elicits nervous laughter at one point and shocked gasps of disbelief the next. That’s real life for me. Playwright James Fritz’s Olivier Award-nominated drama is extremely dark and unusually comical. The script contains surprising plot twists that made me do some double takes, as they did to others sitting around me in Tarragon’s Extraspace Theatre. I’m trying my best not to spoil anything about the plot. You must experience this story live. Given ‘Four Minutes’ has been nominated for an Olivier award, I would have to assume many place references in Fritz’s script are from the UK. Here, the story takes place in Scarborough. These script changes didn’t bother me at all. Fritz’s themes of moral incertitude, consent, injustice, privilege, deception, and the horrific consequences of modern technology remain universal. The Studio 180 Theatre production becomes an alarming reminder this story can be any parent’s possible worst nightmare in a world of instantaneous feedback to gain online followers. Dave (Sergio Di Zio) and Di (Megan Follows) are the parents of seventeen-year-old Jack. Jack is a good kid, but like many young adults, he sometimes makes poor choices regarding his actions and friends. The production opens with Di holding a bloodied private schoolboy’s shirt. Jack has been involved in a fight outside the school grounds. This event threatens everything Dave and Diane have strived for with their son, as they only want what is best for him. Jack is up in his room, afraid to speak with his mother. Having spoken privately to him about what happened, Dave wants to speak to Di about that conversation. With events resulting from this fight spiralling out of control, it appears that Dave and Di may be unable to trust Jack, his closest friends Nick (Tavaree Daniel-Simms), Cara (Jadyn Nasato), or even themselves. The creative team has made many good choices in staging this North American premiere. Using Tarragon Theatre’s intimate Extraspace is the first. Jackie Chau’s set design is unchanging but allows the actors to move across the stage effortlessly. The diamond point shape at the apex closest to the audience places us right in the action. Logan Raju Cracknell’s lighting sharply focuses attention where needed. Two spotlit moments highlight Megan Follows beautifully. Lyon Smith has created exciting sound designs to invoke the rising tension. Mark McGrinder directs with controlled and tight precision. As a parent, he understands young people's actions and what makes them behave as they sometimes do. Every action, reaction, and response by the four characters has a valid reason for occurring. McGrinder exposes the harsh reality of raising a family in the twenty-first century amid virtual reality. It’s often challenging and complicated. It’s not pretty. McGrinder’s awesome cast makes him proud. As Jack’s friends Nick and Cara, Tavaree Daniel-Simms and Jadyn Nasato remain entirely genuine and convincing as young high schoolers about to graduate. Daniel-Simms’s initial shyness with Di as she comes to speak with him makes the young man appear very likable. He wants to remain neutral and stay out of any trouble himself. I was siding immediately with Nick and became annoyed that Di bothered the young man on his way home from school. Nasato, as Cara, has more of a direct connection and interest in what has occurred. To put it bluntly, she’s pissed about what has happened; however, that does not give Cara the right to be flippant towards a caring mother who wants to get to the bottom of what happened. There are moments where Cara’s treatment of Di becomes downright disrespectful. Nevertheless, Nasato effectively makes this irreverence work entirely in her favour as the story unfolds further. To explain further is to spoil what happens. Nasato is spot-on in her performance. Sergio Di Zio’s David is at first puzzling. He and Di don’t seem to be on the same page in raising their teenage son. Di calls David the ‘hippie’ and good-time father who wants his boy to experience what boys do and behave as they usually do. How long has this parental division been going on? Di Zio’s voice and personal stance appear nonchalant as a parental figure compared to his wife, who remains firmly grounded in her view that her son is still a good kid. Sergio makes this work to his advantage. Masterfully. His pauses and timing as David become stronger and more believable. Even eye-opening as the story continues. Megan Follows is utterly convincing as Di and is the reason to get tickets to see this production. She rarely leaves the stage and intently focuses on each person with whom she shares the scene. She delivers a remarkable performance as a confused mother and a tad overwhelming wife who learns disturbing truths about her son and husband. Grounded in a fiery and feisty spirit, Follows rears her mama bear temperament with gusto and zeal while never overplaying the emotional peaks and valleys. I walked with her step by step as she climbed that mountain of recognition that perhaps young people in the twenty-first century are not as innocent as they might appear. And Another Thought: In his Director’s Program Note, McGrinder calls ‘Four Minutes’ a play of questions—troubling questions, human questions. That becomes abundantly clear in Follows's last unsettling moment on stage, which is disquieting. Her final line delivery and state of mind took my breath away. Good theatre is supposed to do that. ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ is exceptionally good theatre. Running time: approximately 85 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ runs until May 12 in the Extraspace at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For tickets, call the Box Office at (416) 531-1827 or visit: https://studio180theatre.com/productions/four-minutes-twelve-seconds/ STUDIO 180 Theatre in association with Tarragon Theatre present the North American premiere of: ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ by James Fritz Directed by Mark McGrinder Assistant Director: Chantelle Han Set and Costume Designer: Jackie Chau Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell Sound Designer: Lyon Smith Stage Manager: Sandi Becker Production Manager: Charissa Wilcox Performers: Megan Follows, Sergio Di Zio, Tavaree Daniel-Simms, Jadyn Nasato Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Drowning Girls' by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic

    Back 'The Drowning Girls' by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic Now onstage until August 27 at 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough Raph Nogal Dave Rabjohn A haunting production full of subtle terror. This year’s summer season at The Guild Festival Theatre finishes with a haunting production of ‘The Drowning Girls’ – full of subtle terror. We often hear the phrase ‘dramedy,’ but this play tilts far more towards ‘dram’ than ‘medy.’ A solid ensemble of three actors, playing many more roles than their prime responsibilities, grimly displays the horrors of spousal abuse. Three women in the early 1900s share a common horror – each has married and been murdered by the same man. Each woman tells their story of societal pressure to marry at any cost. The stories vary only slightly as we hear of physical abuse, economic abuse, emotional abuse, and not to be flippant – abuse abuse. All three stories end with the same shock – murder by drowning. That brings us to the frightful image of Kalina Popova’s set. Three filthy bathtubs, pulled from some decrepit motel, face the audience with dread. Miss Havisham - looking wedding dresses hang forlornly above each tub. The audience is already anxious when the three brides enter ghost-like and slip into each death bed. Director Helen Juvonen brilliantly manipulates the tubs into social venues, relaxation spas or court proceedings. Actual water in each tub gives a sense of disturbing reality as the actors are wet throughout the production. Water is an effective motif throughout as we hear tormenting dripping sounds and see the victims with wet clinging dresses, much like Ophelia in the pond. Georgia Findlay plays Alice – her expressions have a great range as she can be demure, wilting one minute, and charged with anger the next. Her eyes are constantly intense, preparing us for the monstrous end. Alicia Barban plays Bessie who displays equal range – at one point, she leaves her character and launches into a brilliant scene as a doctor. Blythe Haynes plays Margaret with frightening, forced smiles. She also leaves her character and dives into a dazzling scene, along with Bessie playing lawyers and insurance agents. Humour offers some relief as the girls play silly giggly maids – imitating their future husbands or struggling with minor details such as uncooperative stockings. Each actor demonstrates a wide range of accents offering caricatures of Scotsmen or unseemly lawyers. Countering the horror of their lives (and their ending) is some brilliant poetic language. As we see their common bond, the three actors do a very sensitive recital of some powerful choral work. As mentioned in the director’s notes, the narrative of these tragedies often circles the perpetrator rather than the victims. To focus on the story of the three women gives the play veracity and strength. A final note: This particular evening in the middle of August was unusually chilly with a cooling breeze from the lake. The audience felt for the actors who, as mentioned, were wet throughout the night. We will save the term ‘heroes’ for our hundreds of firefighters, but the three actors showed great pluck in working with difficult conditions. And I’m sure they appreciated stage manager Lauren Allen and her crew running around with urns of warm water and towels aplenty. ‘The Drowning Girls’ by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, Daniela Vlaskalic Performers: Alicia Barban, Georgia Findlay, Blythe Hanes Director: Helen Juvonen Production Designer: Kalina Popova Stage Manager: Lauren Allen Production runs through: August 27, 2023. Tickets: guildfestivaltheatre.ca Previous Next

  • Dramas Richard III

    Back Richard III Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival 2022 David Hou Joe Szekeres (Note: My review is based on the final preview performance. There may have been some slight differences in the opening night performance.) This Richard III’s intellectual and emotional depth of characterization makes for a fascinating look at a British historical figure of whom I knew very little. Two notes to future audiences: make sure you read as much of the programme as possible before the performance begins as very important information is given about the historical character and the time frame. Additionally, leave yourselves enough time to walk around the beautifully restored and enhanced lobby. Truly magnificent to view. Director Antoni Cimolino has taken a story of political intrigue where Richard (wondrous work by Colm Feore) and the Duke of Gloucester (an intriguing André Sills) take advantage of all the desperate rifts now occurring among the English royals and has carefully woven a fascinating story of a “masterful manipulator” whereby the audience sees Richard’s mind in the “deliberate decision to use evil means for his own ends.” I have neither seen the play performed live nor have I had the chance to read it so I had to pay close attention; however, when you take the crème de la crème of some of the Festival’s finest actors and create a story of machinations mixed in with murder, this ‘Richard III’ became an engrossing master class in acting. I may not have understood every single element of the plot, but I heard someone tell the person behind her walking up the aisle at intermission: “If you didn’t understand everything, look at it this way. We saw how awful the character is before the intermission and now after we will see justice take course.” Let’s start with Stratford’s gifted Colm Feore as the titular character. I knew from the play that Richard was deformed and later learned that this quality was caused by scoliosis (curvature of the spinal cord, something of which I understand completely as I had this over fifty years ago). I also knew of the opening line: “Now is the winter of our discontent”, but that was it. So, how does one take this opening line and tell this story to an audience of individuals like myself who know very little about the story? Well, when you have someone like Cimolino, an artistic leader of prolific inspiration, he decides to bring it right out of contemporary news. I remember reading over ten years ago that Richard III’s skeletal remains were found in a British parking lot (or car park as it is called there). Cimolino spoke about this in his Director’s Note and we get to see the excavation going on within the car park (parking lot here in Canada) with the announcement that something of importance has been found. And with this announcement as the opening actors are gathered around what is supposedly the final resting place of Richard, Feore enters with the deformity of scoliosis already in place, his legs are turned in awkwardly and there is a hunch to one side. But I certainly paid attention. For me, Feore’s astounding entrance with his first soliloquy of “Now is the winter of our discontent” hooked me immediately and I wanted to see where both the actor and character would take me. To watch the transition to full stop evil is said master class in acting. Absolutely wonderful although some of the murders in the play especially of the young princes are a bit difficult to watch because they look horrifyingly real. The women in this production are top-notch artists whose work I’ve admired. Jessica B. Hill’s work as Lady Anne, widowed daughter-in-law of the murdered King Henry remained intensely captivating. Lucy Peacock as Queen Elizabeth is both surly and irascible. As Queen Margaret, Seana McKenna is a regal frightening force to be reckoned with. Wayne Best, Michael Blake, David Collins, Sean Arbuckle and Ben Carlson are indomitable towering figures of presence. What is at first startling near the end of the play is the transition of the actors to modern dress when Jamie Mac’s sturdy invincibility of presence as Richmond becomes victorious in establishing peace, but to beware of traitors (as Alexander Leggatt states in the Programme Note). I’m still puzzled by the reason why this decision was made, and am still in the process of trying to understand why this choice. Final Comments: So, what to make of ‘Richard III’ to a twenty-first-century audience emerging slowly from a worldwide pandemic? I mentioned earlier this production is a master class in acting. That it is because I am always interested in watching how actors continue to create, imagine, marvel, experiment and understand new perspectives. But why this play now? Why does it need to be performed? I go back to the opening line of the play. Is the winter of our discontent now made glorious OR are we to heed this as a warning of possible future political strife still exists within the world in which we know it? To quote from another tragedy now playing at the Festival: “That is the question.” Don't you just love what Shakespeare does? He gets us to think. Running time: approximately two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. As of this article, Covid protocols were in effect at the theatre. The production runs to October 30 at The Tom Patterson Theatre, 111 Lakeside Drive, Stratford. For tickets, please call 1-800-567-1600 or visit www.stratfordfestival.ca . RICHARD III by William Shakespeare Director: Antoni Cimolino Designer: Francesca Callow Lighting Designer: Michael Walton Composer: Berthold Carrière Sound Designer: John Gzowski Producer: Dave Auster The Company: Wayne Best, Michael Blake, Colm Feore, Diana Leblanc, Lucy Peacock, Hannah Wigglesworth, Chase Oudshoorn, Ezra Wreford, Dominic Moody, Bram Watson, Daniel Krmpotic, Chanakya Mukherjee, Sean Arbuckle, Seana McKenna, Andre Sills, David Collins, Sepehr Reybod, Ben Carlson, Jessica B. Hill, Peter N. Bailey, Emilio Vieira, Qasim Khan, Devin MacKinnon, Hilary McCormack, Christo Graham, Jamie Mac, Anousha Alamian, Jordin Hall, Elizabeth Adams, Ron Kennell, Wayne Best, Kim Horsman, Beck Lloyd, Lisa Nasson, Jon de Leon Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Frankenstein Revived' by Morris Panych. Music by David Coulter. Based on 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

    Back 'Frankenstein Revived' by Morris Panych. Music by David Coulter. Based on 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley Now onstage until October 28 at Stratford Festival's Avon Theatre Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann. Foreground: L-R: Marcus Nance as the Creature and Charlie Gallant as Victor Frankenstein. Background: Laura Condlln as Mary Shelley Joe Szekeres A daring and risk-taking world premiere adaptation of a classic novel. Morris Panych’s world-premiere adaptation of the young Mary Shelley’s 1818 science fiction/horror novel becomes a uniquely challenging one to stage. The poet Lord Byron initially encouraged fellow vacationers stuck inside a Lake Geneva villa during a rainy summer vacation to write a ghost story. The young Mary Godwin (soon-to-be wife to Byron) won the contest with this story of the brilliant student and budding scientist Victor Frankenstein, who sought to overstep the power and majesty of natural order by creating life alone and in secret. Over the years, literary scholars have deemed ‘Frankenstein’ a science fiction and a tale of horror. There’s truth in this statement. It’s a story of poetic exposition juxtaposed with an emotional array of personal feelings. But what makes this opening night world premiere one to which (borrowing from Arthur Miller) attention must be paid? Not a word is spoken throughout this engaging production. Instead, it’s told boldly through highly stylized choreographed dance movements that create haunting visual images long after the curtain comes down. During his university studies, budding scientist and brilliant student Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with Death. He devises a technique to give life to non-living matter. He tests this technique using body parts stolen from corpses in graveyards to build a Creature. Victor gives life to this being through electricity. Unfortunately, things go awry when Victor becomes shocked by what he has done. The Creature soon sees himself as hideous, as does everyone who comes in contact with him. Scarred by this understanding of the cruelty of human behaviour, the Creature vows to destroy all who mean a great deal to Victor: his wife, Elizabeth, his younger brother, William and his friend, Henry Clerval—even the building of a companion that the Creature demands of Victor will not suffice. However, Panych’s ‘Frankenstein Revived’ is more than a horror and sci-fi tale. It becomes a solid visual warning about obsessive and ruthless idealism, which still permeates the twenty-first-century world as we know it today. In his Director’s Note, Panych dutifully recognizes this production “is a composite of many things…but not made by one person alone. As a creative force we are a collection of essential parts, pieced together by our imagination.” The human imagination soars to the Avon Theatre rafters on this opening night. Panych’s fitting tribute respectfully recognizes other invaluable artistic contributions in creating a terrific macabre world onstage. Even the Elements of Nature (excellent work by a most skillfully trained ensemble of performers all dressed in black) underscore the dangers of obsessive and ruthless idealism. Ken MacDonald’s set and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting designs artfully showcase this world of the macabre. For example, the moon’s orbits are beautifully highlighted throughout the show. These orbit projections reveal how some might have believed human behaviour is strongly affected by this natural process. The striking visual image of a hospital/cadaver gurney brightly spot lit during the pre-show reminds us that all is not well in the world we are about to enter. Jake Rodriquez’s sound designs remain clear throughout. Dana Osborne’s costumes are solid replications from the era. David Coulter’s Music Direction and composition eerily heighten the building intensity of the suspenseful plot in wondering what’s coming next as the action unfolds. Seeing the gurney and hearing the pre-show music eerily reminds me that one is entering a world where something just does not seem correct. One of the production highlights is the demanding work of Movement Director Wendy Gorling and Dance Choreographer Stephen Cota. Such meticulous and necessary precision means these actors must remain in tip-top shape. And they most certainly are. Nary hands nor feet seem out of place in the Elements ensemble as they become necessary instruments that convey tremendous passion in their onstage fluidity. Laura Condlln, in her portrayal of Mary Shelley, becomes like a circus ringmaster, controlling and directing the show's events for effect. A writer also controls and directs what will be added to the page to create a specific effect. For example, at the top of the second act, Condlln stands centre stage where, like a ringmaster, she sets the Elements of Nature where she wants them to be. It’s a striking moment to watch this all unfold visually. As Victor’s younger and mischievous brother William, Garrett McKee nicely brings that wink of youthful play for a few moments. William’s death occurs off-stage. When Victor brings on the young lad’s body, there is complete silence throughout the house at this horrific realization of what has occurred. Kyla Musselman’s Elizabeth, Victor’s loving and devoted wife, is also horrifically taken at the hands of the Creature. Musselman shows her youthful joy at her wedding to Victor, which makes the audience believe there may be hope for happiness for the scientist. Alas, this is not to be as the audience horrifically witnesses the young woman’s murder onstage. A sense of paternal goodness emanates from Sean Arbuckle as D’Lacy, the old blind man who can only show kindness to the Creature since he cannot see what the being looks like. Devon Michael Brown’s Henry Clerval portrays a genuine friendship with Shelley’s protagonist. However, men can feel as profoundly emotional as women, and losing his friend brings Victor to his wit’s end again. As the story’s protagonist, Charlie Gallant’s Victor appears visually and youthfully strong as he goes off to pursue his studies. His character arc remains credible as he brings his story of how sad it is to a rightful conclusion. Marcus Nance’s performance as the Creature is absolute perfection. Nance is wholly grounded in the moment and embodies many feelings and emotions ranging from pity, pathos, regret, and vengeance. His scene with Sean Arbuckle’s D’Lacy heartfully showcases two unique individuals who yearn and recognize in each other how life has scarred them. This moment of personal connection is then woefully thwarted, with more lives lost. Final Comments: ‘Frankenstein Revived’ becomes an Honours masterclass in performance and movement. Actors must utilize and incorporate their bodies instead of language to tell a story. Audiences participate in learning to read human physicality instead of relying on words. A new challenge, indeed. Theatre audiences should always be challenging themselves. It makes attending even more worthwhile. Is it worthwhile to see ‘Frankenstein Revived’? Yes, it is. See it. And another thing: I sat in Row J on the aisle and had a perfect vantage point where I could see the visual images and pictures of Panych and his creative team. However, I could not see the expressions on the faces of the actors as I was too far back. I didn’t need to sit up close as the artists performed what they were supposed to do. If future audiences like to see the expressions on the actors’ faces, I’d advise sitting closer to the stage. Be aware that you may not capture the overall visual picture presented onstage. P.S.: As a retired secondary school English teacher, I would endorse seeing the production with students, especially if they study the novel. Seeing the production live would reflect at least one of the Ministry of Education document expectations. Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Frankenstein Revived’ runs until October 28 at the Avon Theatre. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call the Box Office at 1-800-567-1600. FRANKENSTEIN REVIVED by Morris Panych with Music by David Coulter Based on ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley Director: Morris Panych Music Director: David Coulter Movement Choreographer: Wendy Gorling Dance Choreographer: Stephen Cota Set Designer: Ken MacDonald Costume Designer: Dana Osborne Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Composer: David Coulter Sound Designer: Jake Rodriguez Performers: Eric Abel, Sean Arbuckle, Carla Bennett, Devon Michael Brown, Laura Condlln, Amanda De Freitas, Mateo G. Torres, Charlie Gallant, Eddie Glen, McKinley Knuckle, Gracie Mack, Ayrin Mackie, Anthony MacPherson, Heather McGuigan, Garrett McKee, Spencer Nicholas McLeod, Kyla Musselman, Marcus Nance, Trevor Patt, Jason Sermonia Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Richard II' by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Brad Fraser and Conceived by Jillian Keiley

    Back 'Richard II' by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Brad Fraser and Conceived by Jillian Keiley Now playing at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario Credit: David Hou. Standing: Jordin Hall. Kneeling: Stephen Jackman-Torkoff Joe Szekeres A ballsy adaptation that smacks hard. It sometimes stings as it rightly should, but it will be remembered. Henry Bolingbroke (Jordin Hall) and Thomas Mowbray (Tyrone Savage) argue and agree then to a duel which is in the form of a wrestling match (eerily similar to the wrestling scene from D. H. Lawrence's 'Women in Love') with their shirts off. King Richard (Stephen Jackman- Torkoff) eventually intervenes when the men just get a tad too rough and sends both into exile, Bolingbroke for ten years and Mowbray for life. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt (David Collins), Richard’s uncle, convinces the king to reduce his son’s exile to six years. After the banishment, John of Gaunt takes ill. When Richard pays his final respects, he takes offence to his uncle’s criticism of his Majesty’s heavy-handed rule and won’t allow Gaunt to leave his title and fortune to Bolingbroke. Upon Gaunt’s death, Richard seizes Gaunt’s fortunes to fund the war in Ireland. When the king leaves to fight in Ireland, he places the kingdom in his uncle, The Duke of York’s (Michael Spencer-Davis) hands. While the king is gone, Bolingbroke returns to claim his inheritance, convincing York of no other intentions for the throne. When Richard returns to England, the country is on the brink of civil war. As the story progresses, the audience witnesses the ineptness of Richard’s rule as king. I did my best not to listen or read anything about this ‘Richard II.’ Still, the word’s out that some audiences leave in disgust, shock, or a combination of both, as there are homosexual moments that may make some uncomfortable. So what? To be honest, more has been made of it than needs to be. This ‘Richard’ is ballsy. It sometimes stings as theatre should and must do. Recently I read an article in Intermission by Mira Miller about artist Maev Beaty who stated that live theatre: “is not up there to present good, clean work – we’re up there to try and catch some truth for the listener [and watcher] that is shared in real time. You can’t do that if you’re just presenting your good homework; you have to live.” This is precisely what Director/Conceiver Jillian Keiley and Adapter Brad Fraser have accomplished as their ‘Richard II’ is convincingly packaged. Designer Michael Gianfrancesco ably sets the production in the late 70s/early 80s disco scene of New York’s Studio 54. The production is a veritable candy store for the eyes, thanks to Leigh Ann Vardy’s terrific neon disco lighting. I loved the giant disco ball that periodically descends. Choreographer Cameron Carver’s dynamite 70s disco moves using the Angel Army remain stunning to watch them move in sexy and synchronized unison. Bretta Gerecke’s scintillating costume designs from the Studio 54 era are eye-popping, especially Richard’s opening white feathery outfit. Don Ellis’s terrific music selection and design for the ears fondly take me back to that 70s and 80s disco craze that was part of my undergraduate years. Keiley's direction is consistently electrifying. She and Fraser have made excellent choices to capture the vivid reality of a flamboyantly harsh and risky homoerotic lifestyle that never remains stagnant. For one, the dramatic choice to include The Angel Army remains most appropriately wise. Richard's unwavering belief in the Divine Right of Kings provides him with an unshakable sense of salvation, despite his visible decline before the audience. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff delivers a captivating performance as Richard, exuding unbridled passion and energy in his movements and marked by his unwavering resolve, rebelliousness, and conceitedness. Interestingly, Sean Carney raises a thought-provoking question in the Program Note - should we feel pity for the King or judge him? Personally, I lean towards the former. The image of Richard's grand entrance with his Army of Angels strewn across the floor at the end of Act One is just one example of why. The horrific look of surprising disbelief on Jackman-Torkoff’s face, combined with the utmost quiet from the audience watching, has etched an indelible image in my memory of that moment. Several performances also remain memorable. Emilio Vieira’s Lord Aumerle remains steadfastly grounded in his unbridled passion for his ruler, as evidenced in his passionate encounter with his King in a bathhouse. Yet, Aumerle is a troubled individual with political and familial conflicts. Religious implications are also skewered with Steve Ross’s Bishop of Carlisle as Richard’s rightful spiritual advisor. Instead, it becomes a complete shock to see the Bishop illicitly, willfully and actively participating in a gay bathhouse. Charlie Gallant’s Lord Willoughby whose persistent cough gets worse and worse grimly reminds once again of the 70s and 80s Studio 54 scene. Shakespeare purists have also commented that text sections have been removed or those from other plays have been added in this adaptation. Some articles I’ve read questioned why Fraser included lines from other Shakespearean plays. Again, who cares why he did this, but I would like to add something further as a retired secondary school teacher. From an educational perspective, I still have discussions with individuals about the value of Shakespeare’s plays in 21st-century schools. Nowhere in the Ontario English curriculum document does it state that a Shakespearean play must be studied every year, so what’s the benefit of doing so? As a retired teacher, I wouldn’t dare take secondary students on a school trip during the day to see this ‘Richard,’ and I’m positive Keiley and Fraser would agree not to do so. Ontario teachers have enough on their plates without having to add this. It would be beneficial for teachers to encourage young people to think and understand that it's okay to take some creative liberties with the text when it's appropriate. Jillian Keiley and Brad Fraser did so, and their ‘Richard II’ is completely justified in this respect. Let's move away from the idea that Shakespeare's plays must remain strictly purist in nature. Running time: approximately two hours and forty minutes with one interval. Richard II runs until September 28 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, 111 Lakeside Drive, Stratford. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. RICHARD II by William Shakespeare Adapted by Brad Fraser and Conceived by Jillian Keiley Director: Jillian Keiley Choreographer: Cameron Carver Set Designer: Michael Gianfrancesco Costume Designer: Bretta Gerecke Lighting Designer: Leigh Ann Vardy Sound Designer: Don Ellis Composer: Rhadsodius The Company: Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Jordin Hall, Emilio Vieira, Michael Spencer-Davis, Debbie Patterson, David Collins, Hannah Wigglesworth, Tyrone Savage, Sarah Orenstein, Matthew Kabwe, Thomas Duplessie, John Wamsley, Andrew Robinson, Steve Ross, Marcus Nance, Sarah Dodd, Justin Eddy, Celia Aloma, Malina Carroll, Mateo G. Torres, Matthew joseph, Wahsonti:io Kirby, Heather Kosik, Chris Mejaki, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, jane Spidell, Danielle Verayo, Alex Wierzbicki, Travae Williams. Previous Next

  • Dramas Crippled by Paul David Power

    Back Crippled by Paul David Power Theatre Passe Muraille Chris Hibbs Joe Szekeres A sometimes funny and sometimes poignant two hander about trying to move forward from a moment that doesn’t cripple individuals from doing so. First, I must thank Theatre Passe Muraille for allowing me to re-live wonderful vacation memories five years ago in walking along the Water Street pier for my first trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Loved the city and am hoping to return sometime very soon to catch some theatre there as well as I’ve heard good things about the industry on the East Coast. When I heard ‘Crippled’s story takes place on the pier in St. John’s, well, at least I could visualize that area in my mind because I did walk along there during the day. Never at night, mind you, as the play refers at one point not to walk alone at night. ‘Crippled’ is a human and as described in the programme: “a brutally honest snapshot of a very specific time and place that has, thankfully, evolved and expanded.” It has also been described as a heartbreaking love letter to playwright Paul David Powers’ long-term partner, Jonathan. I hesitate to call ‘Crippled’ an LGBTQ+ play because the emotions expressed and felt are universal as we have all experienced this sense of wanting to belong, to be loved, to love and to fit in somewhere. As Tony at the top of the show, Power is walking alone at night along the Water Street waterfront peering down into the water. Just from the way he conducts himself ever so silently, there is an implication Tony is going to do the unthinkable as, for him, there is only one way to escape a life he no longer wants to live. Tony requires crutches to walk, as does Power. Power delivers such an uplifting performance that I chose not to look at the crutches as any kind of hindrance. They became an important tool Paul used for heightened emphasis in some dramatic moments. I chose to disregard the fact Tony considers himself crippled in the play; instead, I saw an emotionally and deeply hurt individual whose mind appears to be made up to do the unthinkable until Evan (Pat Dempsey, who equally matches Powers’ performance delivery), a stranger, appears on the scene. We also meet Carl (Matt White) momentarily, another individual from the bar where Tony had a drink before he left rather quickly after holding a conversation with the former. What follows is a heartfelt conversation between Tony and Evan about where their lives have gone, how they’ve transpired, and where do they go from there. Kirsti Mikoda’s set design nicely brought a wonderful personal memory back in my mind. The set appeared to be on risers with steps at the back. I really liked the stone design at the front because it looked exactly like the stone along the waterfront. There are four red benches signifying a place where people can sit along the dock. These benches will become focal points as both Tony and Evan tell their stories. Robert Gauthier’s lighting design ever so subtly creates that night lit whisp of moonbeams over the water. The glimmering moonlight water effect at the front of the playing space is beautiful to watch for a few moments as Tony walks the playing space area for a few minutes. George Robertson’s sound design nicely underscored many of the dramatic moments from Tony’s past. Compassionate direction by Danielle Irvine for this mostly two hander play is one of the highlights of the production. Both Paul David Power and Pat Dempsey offer august, sensitive performances of wounded individuals who are more than just a label the world places on them. Matt White’s final entrance as Carl also reinforces this reality. Power's script thankfully contains moments of necessary humour to break the tension. What also makes this script so true to life is the tough love element Evan uses to get Tony to recognize how important it is to keep moving forward from sadness and tragedy even when people believe their hearts may have been irreparably destroyed and cannot be healed. Final Comments: There was a person who sat in front of me opening night who was openly demonstrative and emotionally triggered by the story. I do hope this individual took advantage of Passe Muraille’s observance to assist those in the audience who may experience this sudden onslaught of feelings. Later, as I waited for the Uber to take me back to Union Station, that same individual walked by me and told their friends they were hoping to see the production once again. Just by quietly observing and listening to this moment, it came clear to me the power of live theatre and how much ‘Crippled’ influenced and affected that person extensively. They obviously missed live theatre during these last two years. I have too, and I’m grateful it’s back and feel safe while watching and experiencing this wondrous art form. Production runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Covid protocols in effect at the theatre. Crippled runs to May 21 on the Main Stage at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets and other information, visit www.passemuraille.on.ca or call 416-504-7529. Crippled by Paul David Power A production by Power Productions by Theatre Passe Muraille Director: Danielle Irvine Dramaturge: Robert Chafe Lighting Design: Robert Gauthier Stage Manager, Set Design & Construction: Kirsti Mikoda Sound Design: George Robertson Associate Lighting Designer: Frank Donato Cast: Paul David Power, Pat Dempsey, Matt White Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Three Ordinary Men' by Steven Elliott Jackson

    Back 'Three Ordinary Men' by Steven Elliott Jackson A Cahoots Theatre Production Michael Yaneff, Foreshots Photography Joe Szekeres Sometimes in the ‘Ordinary’, we find the ‘Extraordinary’. Such is the case with this premiere of ‘Three Ordinary Men’ As I exited The Theatre Centre opening night, I felt tears welling in my eyes in thinking further about playwright Steven Elliott Jackson’s extremely moving premiere of ‘Three Ordinary Men’. From a quick bit of online research, the film ‘Mississippi Burning’ is loosely based on the murders of three men and the FBI investigation. I’ve never seen this film, but now that I’ve experienced Jackson’s script, I will give the film a look. Directed with tremendous respect and extraordinary dignity by Cahoots’ Artistic Director Tanisha Taitt, ‘Three Ordinary Men’ remains a sobering tale of Michael Schwerner (Tristan Claxton), James Chaney (Jamar Adams-Thompson) and Andrew Goodman (Jack Copland). They were abducted and murdered in Mississippi in June 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement. These men were working with the Freedom Summer campaign by attempting to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote as Blacks in the state had been restricted from voting since the turn of the century due to barriers to voter registration and other laws. When I interviewed playwright Jackson a few weeks ago about his script, he commented his research detailed a horrible time in the aftermath of the murders. He wanted to know more about who these men were and what made them want to change the world in the way they were doing it. Thankfully, some humourous moments relieve the building plot intensity, but ‘Three Ordinary Men’ is not a proverbial comedy at all. Instead, much like some Shakespearean tragedies, Jackson prepares us for the inevitable that is going to occur since we know these men are moving towards their death. Jackson asks a good question: “Do we have that same kind of energy now that these characters exude in the play?” I will answer this at the end. The first thing that stood out to me was Tanisha Taitt’s simplistic set design which created a vivid picture in my mind of this area of Mississippi. There is a sunken floor on which four boxes illuminate lights throughout the production. One box is situated upstage right, two boxes are up from centre stage and one box is stage left. On the back wall is a torn scrim on which appears the burning of a church which ultimately burns to ashes before our eyes during the preshow. This image of the burning church is of importance to the events within the story. There is a closed captioning screen on stage right with the dialogue on display for audience members who require it. Christopher-Elizabeth’s pre-show soundscape is highly appropriate. Thankfully it’s not overpowering but it made me pay careful attention as to what I was hearing in a range from spiritual songs to fire burning to the sound of crowds. As the production moves forward, the sound design remained clearly sharp. At one point, the sound of a car being forcefully bumped from behind which made me jump in my chair since I had just experienced a car accident a few weeks ago of the same nature. Shawn Henry’s Projection Designs are grim reminders of the racial tensions. I was five years of age during this time, but Henry’s projections still make me think about just how horrendously awful this time and era were and as Taitt so aptly states in the Programme Director’s Note: “It is a terrifying, gut-wrenching prospect.” Claudia Tam’s costumes nicely reflected the mid-60s era as the short-sleeved t-shirts the men wore were reminders of the literal and figurative heat of the day and the time. The performances remain consistently strong as Messrs. Claxton, Adams-Thompson and Copland solidly and emotionally demonstrated what it means to work as a true ensemble. There were moments when I sat forward in my chair as I was riveted by the engrossing plot unfolding in front of me. A quick look around at other audience members and I noticed several of them were doing the exact same thing as I did. There are some excellent monologues delivered so movingly. If actors are looking to update their repertoire of monologues for future auditions, I would strongly recommend looking at Jackson’s script. On a side note here, I wanted to acknowledge how much justice Jackson has paid to this story and these three characters. In that same vein, I also wanted to pay justice at one point to something mentioned in the script regarding Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. At one point, the character Tom Robinson is accused of rape by a young woman. Jackson's script refers to the character of Luella whereas, in Miss Lee's novel, the character's name is Mayella. I'm sure this will be changed in future revisions. Since I've taught the novel to young people for over 30 years, I wanted to make sure that point of reference is fixed. As the ‘leader’ of the trio on account of his ‘goatee’ (you’ll understand the connection in seeing the story), Tristan Claxton’s Michael Schwerner commands the stage confidently when he enters at the top of the show and begins his story of how everything began. Jamar Adams-Thompson’s James Chaney assuredly becomes that voice of rational and clear-headed thinking initially, but I’m going to try not to spoil the conclusion. Jamar’s work in that final scene remains powerfully grounded and honestly realistic. As the youngest of the trio who also receives some of the teasing and ribbing from Michael and James, Jack Copland believably and heartfully responds to the stark reality of Andrew Goodman in recognizing how dangerous this situation truly is. Final Comments: Once again, Tanisha Taitt makes another comment in the Programme that I find interesting: ‘This story reminds us that there are those who will walk into the lion’s den for another, and those who reside there permanently.” In a historical literary sense, his theme is familiar to Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’, a play I used to like teaching to high school students. Although Sir Thomas More was not certainly an ordinary man as he enjoyed favour with King Henry VIII, More too walked into the lion’s den and resided there permanently as he would not place his sovereign king before the rule of God. For this belief, More was assassinated and became a martyr. Going back to Jackson’s question I posted earlier if we have that same kind of energy now that Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman exude in the play. As a practicing Catholic, I do believe so. Seven days ago, 40 people were killed and 61 injured in a Catholic Church massacre by a possible suspect insurgent group The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Those murdered and injured walked into the lion’s den and were in the presence of God when they lost their lives. Jackson hoped he did justice to the story of these ‘Three Ordinary Men’ because he avows this is what they deserve. Jackson has dutifully succeeded. ‘Three Ordinary Men’ is one not to be missed. Running Time: approximately 70 minutes. Covid protocols are in effect at the theatre as of the publication of this article. I felt very safe and comfortable in the auditorium. ‘Three Ordinary Men’ runs to June 26, 2022, in The Incubator at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto. Tickets are available @theatrecentre.org or call the Box Office 416-538-0988. THREE ORDINARY MEN by Steven Elliott Jackson Producer: Lisa Alves Production Manager: Maya Royer Lighting & Projection Designer: Shawn Henry Sound Designer: Christopher-Elizabeth Costume & Prop Designer: Claudia Tam Stage Manager: Lily Chan Lighting & Projection Assistant: Michael Fillier Dramaturge/Set Design: Tanisha Taitt Intern Producer: Tiffany Ledesma Captions Operator: Caitlin Farley Production Assistant: Jillian Cooper Performers: Jamar Adams-Thompson, Tristan Claxton, Jack Copland Director: Tanisha Taitt Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD' by Aaron Sorkin The Touring Company

    Back 'Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD' by Aaron Sorkin The Touring Company Now onstage at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre Julieta Cervantes. Pictured Richard Thomas and Melanie Moore Joe Szekeres “Ontario Boards of Education need to re-think their position on excluding Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from school curricula. This fine touring production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play of the ‘slice-of-life’ American classic still speaks volumes about racial inequalities and social justice. Some wonderful performances that are not to be missed.” Directed by Bartlett Sher with gentle compassion and empathetic kindness, Aaron Sorkin’s fresh perspective script of the iconic ‘slice-of-life’ small-town Americana in the southern United States rolls into Toronto for a short run until November 27. This touring production returns to Mirvish at the end of May/beginning of June 2024 for another run. Please get tickets for it. It’s a vital story that still speaks volumes about racial inequalities and social justice for twenty-first-century audiences. Parents, if your child’s school has removed the book from the curriculum for whatever reason, please take him/her/them to this production. Based on Miss Lee’s novel, Sorkin’s script is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the early 1930s, just after the Depression began. Principal narrator Scout Finch (Melanie Moore), her older brother Jem/Jeremy Atticus (Justin Mark) and their childhood friend Dill/Charles Baker Harris (Steven Lee Johnson) break the fourth wall periodically and talk to the audience. At one point, Scout is an adult when she speaks to the audience. We learn of the childhood games the three youngsters played years ago. One of them was trying to make their unseen and scary neighbour Boo/Arthur Radley (Ian Bedford) come out of his house. The young characters refer to the time Jem broke his arm years ago on account of a horrific attack he and Scout endured. Scout, Jem, and Dill believe this incident and several others within the town stemmed from Tom Robinson’s (Yaegel T. Welch) unfair trial, where he was accused of rape by Mayella Ewell (Mariah Lee) and her father, Bob (Ted Koch). Scout and Jem’s father, lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas), is asked by Judge Taylor (Jeff Still) to defend Tom. Atticus is aware of Maycomb’s usual disease of prejudice that runs rampant throughout the town. Even though he knows Tom will be found guilty, Atticus takes the case and does his best for his client because it is the right thing to do. Taking on Tom’s case will also show Scout and Jem an essential message about courage – “it’s knowing when you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what.” Sorkin’s new production does not follow the novel's linear presentation of plot events. Some have been altered for dramatic effect. I couldn’t help but connect to the terrific production of Christopher Sergel’s dramatization of the novel at the Stratford Festival a few years ago under Nigel Shawn Williams’ direction. That production also introduced Scout breaking the fourth wall and contained one of the most exciting, yet frightening moments captured live on stage – the night Scout and Jem were attacked on their way home from the pageant. What makes Sorkin’s new production of this classic story work if you did not see the Stratford version? Most importantly, is Sorkin’s script worth seeing and doing? To answer the former, the performances are the reason to see this fine play. To answer the latter, yes, Sorkin’s script is worth seeing and doing. Although the production clocks in at three hours, the pacing never seems to drag. The cast moves Scenic Designer Miriam Buether’s set pieces with fluidity and ease. Ann Roth’s costumes are faithful recreations of the Depression era and help delineate the social class structure within Maycomb. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design assist in creating specific emotional effects especially when Boo/Arthur Radley (Ian Bedford) is introduced near the end of the story. Richard Thomas is remarkable as Atticus Finch. His final address to the jury (where we learn the significance of the title) before it goes to deliberate Tom’s fate still packs a wallop of a punch. Thomas gallantly delivers it with dignity and class. Those moments he shares with Melanie Moore as the young Scout are touching. Moore nicely captures an introspective precociousness of childhood innocence in her performance as Scout, as do Justin Mark and Steven Lee Johnson in their work as Jem and Dill. Jacqueline Williams as the Finch housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Yaegel T. Wilson as Tom Robinson deliver poignant work. Williams and Thomas remain in harmonious synchronicity and respect with each other as the adult role models within the Finch household. When she tells Scout she likes what she sees when she looks at her, the line is delivered with care and love that it brought tears to my eyes. Wilson’s first-rate work as the wronged man unjustly accused of a horrible crime remains one of the highlights. He delivers his courtroom testimony with genuine conviction that it is still hard to see how anyone could find this man guilty. As Bob and Mayella Ewell, Ted Koch and Mariah Lee thankfully do not appear as the story's proverbial ‘bad guys.’ Instead, as Atticus says, Koch and Lee carefully zero in on moments where they are to be pitied for what life has thrown at them. They both make their testimony credibly sound as if they have been rehearsed by their prosecuting and racist lawyer, Horace Gilmer (Christopher R. Ellis). However, that does not give the father and daughter the unforgivable right to do what they did in accusing a sympathetic and caring man of something he did not do. Another highlight of this performance and for this portion of the tour is seeing Mary Badham’s work as morphine addict, Mrs. Dubose. Badham was the original Scout nominated for an Academy Award in the film version of ‘Mockingbird’ opposite Gregory Peck. Badham utters some horrible things as the suffering woman that are extremely tough to hear in knowing her work from the film. Contextually, though, these words are grim reminders of a time when intolerant mentality prevailed in southern US society. The only thing I did wish from this production was Jem’s timed reading to Mrs. Dubose to help cure her addiction to the painkiller. That message about learning courage and knowing when, as Atticus says, “you’re licked before you begin, but you do anyway and see it through no matter what” is lost. Final Comments: Although I’m not one to make comments about latecomers to the theatre, this time I feel as if I must. Future audiences, the evening performances begin at 7:30 pm. Please check your tickets. Granted, I can accept if people are 5-10 minutes late on account of traffic. However, it was about 30 minutes into the show and I was paying careful attention to the performance when five people came to their seats. My guest and I had to stand up to allow these people in. What’s frustrating? Not only did we lose our concentration and attention for that brief moment, so did the audience members behind us when we had to stand and let these people in. There, rant over. I won’t mention it again. Please get tickets for this touring production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Call or check daily to see if rush tickets are available or if there are any cancellations. I may just return in May/ June to see it. Running time: approximately three hours with one intermission. The production runs until November 27, then returns May 28, and runs to June 2, 2024 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street. For tickets, visit mirvish.com. ‘HARPER LEE’S TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ A New Play by Aaron Sorkin Directed by Bartlett Sher Scenic Designer: Miriam Buether Costume Designer: Ann Roth Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton Sound Designer: Scott Lehrer Music Director: Kimberly Grigsby Production Stage Manager: Eric H. Mayer Company Manager: Katie Cortez Performers: Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore, Jacqueline Williams, Justin Mark, Yaegel T. Welch, Steven Lee Johnson, Ted Koch, Jeff Still, Christopher R. Ellis, Melanie Lee, Travis Johns, Greg Wood, Anne-Marie Cusson, Ian Bedford, Lance Baker, Stephen Cefalu, Jr. Denise Cormier, Rae Gray, Greg Jackson, Joey Labrasca, David Andrew Morton, Andre Ozim, Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham. Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Bad Roads' by Natal'ya Vorozhbit with translation by Sasha Dugdale

    Back 'Bad Roads' by Natal'ya Vorozhbit with translation by Sasha Dugdale North American premiere now onstage at Crow's Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured Katherine Gauthier and Andrew Chown Joe Szekeres ‘Daring and compassionate direction by Andrew Kushnir, but the play may not be for everyone because of its sometimes brutal and graphic depictions. ‘Bad Roads’ becomes an explicitly horrific reminder of the gaping wound of war and its vicious aftermath of human atrocities that can never be erased. The breathtaking ensemble remains raw in their performances throughout the intermission-less running time.” The North American premiere of Natal’ya Vorozbhit’s ‘Bad Roads’ at Crow’s left me speechless at the conclusion. It was wise to stage it before, on and after Remembrance Day. Vorozbhit’s play remains a stark reminder that war casualties are not just historical facts and data. Instead, the story graphically brings to life that same terror felt by those from years ago continues to this very day. Thus, it’s crucial to continue to remember and never forget there are no winners in war. This time around, however, I’m at a crossroads. Understandably, ‘Bad Roads’ may not be for everyone. Future audience members who are easily triggered, consider yourselves warned. At times, the language is graphic. Intimacy director Anita Nattoly’s meticulous staging of the implied violence is still a graphic depiction of war on civilians. The play is a staggering, wallop-to-the-guts tale of real people. The horrid, cruel toll of human atrocities remains paramount in my mind as I write this article. There were moments when I closed my eyes because I did not want to see signs of violence, however implied. Nevertheless, when reviewing, it’s essential to keep emotions at bay and examine if the production is worth doing. Is ‘Bad Roads’ worth doing and seeing in the theatre? The six-episode script remains compelling and riveting for the same reasons listed under the triggered warnings. Andrew Kushnir’s daring and compassionate direction shapes the breathtaking ensemble’s work to become acutely raw. The cast skillfully weaves and connects events together, leaving a sense the plot has concluded, even though that apprehension and dread of war still hovers in the air. Another caveat, though. Intimate relationships between people have been severed. The women and men in the play are victims of war. The latter are sometimes seen as callous, heartless, and cold-blooded, either useless in bed or constant need of ‘oral’ stimulation. ‘Bad Roads’ is set in the Donbas region of Ukraine. A war is raging. Civilians are trying to understand why. The play (divided into six episodes) is based on testimonies from the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Within these six episodes, we are introduced to two reporters who have gone to the front lines to research, one who has been kidnapped by an angry Russian entirely out of his mind. A medic mourns the death of her lover killed in action. Three young women prostitute themselves to soldiers to survive. Pre-war, a young woman appears at a farm because she has run over the owners’ chickens. A witty and comical setup of meaning and words first ensues, quickly heightening the moment's dramatic intensity. Sim Suzer’s stark set design immediately sets the action in the Studio Theatre's centre with the audience seated on both sides. A brightly intense and circular white spotlight is sharply focused centre stage. Stage right is a brick wall with a bench and what appears to be a tin can, perhaps used for cigarette butts? It is used to spit out the shells from the seeds three of the actors eat. On stage left is another wall with rickety small brick steps leading up to a playing area. Christian Horoszczak’s harsh and shadowy lighting effectively adds to the building tension. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design eerily kept me on guard throughout. There are moments when shelling in the distance can be heard; there are moments with the sound of a bomb detonation that made me jump at least twice in my seat. Snezana Pesic’s costume designs are faithful recreations of war-torn clothing. Seven extraordinary ensemble performances remain the highlight of this edge-of-the-seat story. The one haunting episode involves Katherine Gauthier as the kidnapped young reporter and Andrew Chown as the crazed soldier. The frightening realistic synchronicity of these two in the cat-and-mouse staging has me watching every move either makes. Will she outwit him? There were moments when I felt like I was watching a tennis match. I could feel my eyes moving back and forth. Michelle Monteith’s opening monologue sets the grim tone appropriately for what the audience is about to see. Diego Matamoros and Seana McKenna provide that momentary and necessary bit of humour during pre-war times as Vasya and his wife when the unsuspecting Girl (Shauna Thompson) runs over one of the couple’s chickens. But the motive behind the humour strongly permeates in a matter of seconds. Craig Lauzon as the Soldier and Shauna Thompson as the Girl who mourns her lover’s death are resonant in their performances as two shell-shocked persons destroyed and who can never recover. Final Comments: ‘Bad Roads’ begs to be discussed immediately following. I have no idea if any talkbacks will take place. After the one hour and fifty-five-minute running time with an outstanding and intensely focused cast who is probably emotionally spent, they might not want to talk immediately following the show. By all means, see Crow’s production. Just go in with your eyes open. Kushnir wrote he sees the story as more than a play but as a portal where we can enter the world of war and then exit at the end. Those involved in any war cannot do that. And that’s what makes the play a powerful one, one to remember and an appropriate one to stage during the month of Remembrance. Is ‘Bad Roads’ good theatre? I believe so. Running time: approximately 1 hour and 55 minutes with no intermission. ‘Bad Roads’ runs until December 3 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010. A CROW’S THEATRE PRODUCTION The North American Premiere of ‘Bad Roads’ by Natal’ya Vorozhbit with translation by Sasha Dugdale Director: Andrew Kushnir Set and Properties: Sim Suzer Costume Designer: Snezana Pesic Lighting Designer: Christian Horoszczak Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne Stage Manager: Liliane Stilwell Fight and Intimacy Director: Anita Nattoly Performers: Andrew Chown, Katherine Gauthier, Craig Lauzon, Diego Matamoros, Seana McKenna, Michelle Monteith, Shauna Thompson Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Rubble' by Suvendrini Lena

    Back 'Rubble' by Suvendrini Lena An Aluna Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille co-production ​ Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator When I think of the arts, I revel in its ability to entertain, communicate, inspire, and teach through acting, music, dance, sculpture, and painting. I need to remind myself of how poetry can be just as provocative, just as enlightening. Theatre Passe Muraille, in co-operation with Aluna Theatre’s current production of 'Rubble' by Toronto playwright Suvendrini Lena powerfully transforms poetry into a theatrical event. Based on the poetry of Palestinian writers Mahmoud Darwish and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and inspired by the playwright’s own visits to the West Bank, Rubble is set in 2014 against the backdrop of the Palestinian crisis and is as much about the value of art as it is the indomitable spirit its incarcerated, besieged peoples. Five excellent actors portray a family striving for normality, living out the day-to-day beauty and horrors of their country’s recent and ancient past as prisoners of occupation. Despite their hardships and subjugation by their Israeli and Egyptian neighbours, we see the humanity of the people of Gaza and their beautiful power of poetic preservation. A shockingly realistic set (courtesy of designer Trevor Schwellnus) depicting a bombed-out apartment building with broken concrete and cracked, high walls (for projecting statistics, videos and poetic text in English and Arabic), pieces of cinder blocks strewn about, floor lamps and wooden crates provides the canvas for this extraordinary tale. Interestingly, just moments before the show began I noticed English translations of Arabic poems printed in chalk on the walls of the theatre. An effective choice to encircle the audience, watching a play about poetry, with poetry! From the ruins of a theatre stage right the narrator, or poet emerges (Roula Said) and speaks directly to the actors, encouraging them to tear up their scripts and beseeching the audience to open our hearts to the poetry of words and music. What follows are multiple short scenes or vignettes illustrating the barbarity and seemingly daily acts of violence heaped on a single family as the Occupation continues. Excellent lighting (designer uncredited in my program) and video projections by Avideh Saadatpajouh of Arabic poetry projected at select moments on the walls of the set created thought-provoking images as each line of text gracefully falls in a heap creating a visual stockpile of the spoken narrative. The set’s high walls create a wonderful screen for well-placed images of deadly statistics, thoughtful verse, a full moon, buildings collapsing and militant rally cries (“Besiege the Siege”). Creative use of square-shaped spots and high-angled specials create shadows that transport us from apartment to tunnel, to beach to the interrogation room to excavation site. Unfortunately, not every location was obvious to me. More on that later. Thomas Ryder Payne’s original music and sound effects evoke terror and foreboding with harsh stings, resonant drones, disembodied voices and startling explosions. Traditional Arabic folk music and lulling live vocals from the Poet fully enhance the Palestinian plight. Authentic “everyday” costumes by Negar Nemati contrast nicely to the flowing colourful gown of the “poet”, who’s garbed as a wise sage, the very personification of Palestinian history and culture. Director Bea Pizano says in her notes this play is “about a people and a land”. Hats off to her for realizing a chilling modern malady and telling it with such visual expression. Excellent blocking and use of the stage made the actors comfortable in their surroundings. Despite this, I wasn’t always sure of the chronology of events, where and when we were. The events of the first scene seemed to take place after an important and shocking event much later in the play. Was this a flashback? Other things were not immediately obvious to me such as the ages of the children as adults are playing the juvenile roles. Additionally, it wasn’t obvious what certain props were, especially in the beach scene with Leila and Majid. These abstractions caused these scenes to lose some resonance for me. The role of the Poet, who recites in both English and Arabic is commandingly played by Roula Said. Her focussed line delivery, social commentary and political posturing is delicately balanced with her gorgeous singing voice. Though she sings in Arabic (songs which she composed!) her soothing rendering transcends language, her graceful presence a perfect foil to the tumult of the scenes playing out around her. Laura Arabian plays mother, wife, and archaeologist Leila. Her sensitive portrayal of a matriarch trying to keep her family’s life as “normal” as possible with little food, basic amenities, and questionable shelter. She’s a calming, encouraging rock to her children and loving wife to Majid. Her adept range of emotions – laughter, love, and loss, convinced me of Leila’s bitter reality. Majid, the family patriarch, and engineer is convincingly played by Sam Khalilieh. A proud man, loving husband and doting father, his monologue of the history of Gaza from 332 AD to the present provides some thoughtful context revealing this land and its people are no strangers to foreign occupation. Gripping! As Mo, the son with aspirations of playing football for the Al Helal Academy, adult actor Yousef Kadoura (curiously playing a 12-year-old) adds youthful petulance and naivete to the situation surrounding him. His portrayal of personal loss and his struggle to process it reveals his resilience but also the man he will need to become to overcome his physical challenges and fulfil his dreams of life outside the “largest prison on earth”. Noora, the 16-year-old daughter with rebellion in her heart, is wonderfully played by Parya Heravi. She delivers her lines with staunch resistance to her family’s situation. Yet underneath her hardened shell, she would do anything for her family, even face the adversary head-on to protect what she loves. An invested performance. Rubble is a poetic tale with political undertones. It forces the actors to engage in rather difficult conversations while invoking the audience to reflect and engage in those same conversations. Sadly, the events of modern-day Palestine are not often in our mainstream media. I don’t remember the last time I heard “Gaza” in prime time. This play’s thoughtful analysis and dissection of poetry in a state of siege give audiences reason to pause. Poetry speaks truth. Art truly imitates life. 'Rubble' runs to March 18 on the Mainstage Space at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.passemuraille.ca An Aluna Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille co-production 'Rubble' by Suvendrini Lena Directed by Beatriz Pizano Scenography by Trevor Schwellnus Costume Design by Negar Nemati Sound Design by Thomas Ryder Payne Associate Video Design by Avideh Saadatpajough Featuring Sam Khalilieh as Majid Roula Said as The Poet Lara Arabian as Leila Parya Heravi as Noora Yousef Kadoura as Mo Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The House of Bernarda Alba' by Federico Garcia Lorca

    Back 'The House of Bernarda Alba' by Federico Garcia Lorca Presented by Aluna Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company John Lauener Dave Rabjohn ‘The House of Bernarda Alba,’ now playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, is a fiercely powerful production from the great poet and dramatist Federico Lorca. Lorca writes with primitive earthy zest and often uses folk tales and ballads from his native Andalusia. As a poet first, Lorca’s play is brimming with imagery and potent language which the director, Solheil Parsa embraces with vigour. This cast is stocked with talent and one would assume correctly that the title character Bernarda Alba, played by Beatriz Pizano, is the formidable actor. However, her extraordinary performance is equally matched by the dynamic work of Rhoma Spencer who plays the fiery maid Poncia. Upon the death of Bernarda’s second husband, she demands years of mourning from her five tortured daughters. They have been submitted to years of rule and cruel manipulation from their mother who denies them the colour of the outside world and the passion of outside relationships. Ms. Pizano’s unrelenting voice of anger fills the theatre. Her dark flashing eyes help to choreograph the daughters as Von Trapp-like children. She makes superb use of a walking cane that sparkles with brass and punctuates with regal knocks on the floor. As mentioned, Ms. Spencer plays the formidable role of Poncia, who acts as muse and confidante to Bernarda. She is also Bernarda’s conscience - much like a Shakespearean fool, who we know is not a fool at all. Poncia is also a bridge between the mother and daughters and the dueling daughters themselves. Her performance ranges from quiet anger to amusing comic effect. Her movements are all angular with boldly rolling hips and arrogant shoulders. She sometimes hides beneath the role of meek housemaid, but more often rails against Bernarda’s injustice, coming within inches of Bernarda’s anger, and the cane. At one point from Poncia, a simple “mm” is full of weight. The oldest half-sister, Angustias, is played by a smoldering Lara Arabian who is engaged to the spirited Pepe. The sisters are jealous, none more so than Martirio, played by Liz Dar, who uses a sour face to perfection. The tension in her face is subtle at first and then explodes in raging self promotion. But it is Nyiri Karakas, as Adela, who is most rebellious of all. She refuses traditional mourning and has been discovered to have an affair with her sister’s fiancé. Teamed with Ms. Dar, the two offer a wealth of talent as they match each other’s characters with seething anger and unrelenting savage dialogue. Finally, Bernarda takes matters into her own hands which ignites the tragic end for the sisters. As a poet, Lorca fills the play with imagery of passion, lust, and bloody despair. While the frustrated daughters watch the men working in the fields, we hear of wild stallions kicking their stalls and horses running free. One potent scene has the girls following the song of working men into a crescendo of orgasmic tension. Another powerful scene follows the horror of the daughters as they witness the bloody torture of a young unmarried girl accused of killing her illegitimate child. The motif of eyes and eyesight depicts Bernarda’s control over her daughters and defines Poncia’s skills in observation. At one point, Poncia proclaims, “my whole body is full of eyes – I watch.” In the end, Bernarda wants no tears. A separate mention goes to Thomas Ryder Payne for an extraordinary sound design – funereal bells almost pound us into submission as directed by Bernarda. In the two scenes just mentioned, the sound rises and falls dramatically with the horrors of each scene. Booming knocks on the door reflect the challenge from the outside world. Lorca’s work dwells on the conflict of generational divides and the problems of conformity. He was murdered at the age of thirty-six by Franco’s army due to his homosexuality. This luminous cast has embraced the challenge of Lorca’s beautiful lyricism and demonstrated the bitterness of a house of pride. ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ by Federico Garcia Lorca Director – Soheil Parsa Performers – Beatriz Pizano, Lara Arabian, Theresa Cutknife, Liz Der, Soo Garay, Nyiri Karakas, Monica Rodriguez Knox, Rhoma Spencer Lighting/Set design – Trevor Schwellnus Sound design – Thomas Ryder Payne Performances run through April 24, 2022. Tickets – buddiesinbadtimes.com Previous Next

  • Dramas Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor

    Back Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor Staged by Port Perry Ontario's Theatre on the Ridge Joe Szekeres Joe Szekeres There are moments when I’ve stopped making notes during a performance, put the pen away, and simply revelled in watching and listening to fantastic story telling take place before me. Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge’s production of Drew Hayden Taylor’s ‘Cottagers and Indians’ is another of these plays where it occurred once again. I did not want to miss anything, not even for a second, if I averted my eyes from the stage to write something down. This ‘Cottagers and Indians’ is wonderful story telling at its finest deftly handled by two actors of solid accomplishment. Carey Nicholson acutely directs the playwright’s 2019 script with perceptive care as Hayden Taylor incorporates humour and wit periodically to get the audience to face head on the, at times, extremely sensitive elements of environmentalism versus consumerism and Indigenous versus non-Indigenous issues. ‘Cottagers and Indians’ introduces Indigenous man, Arthur Copper (James Dallas Smith) who decides to repopulate the nearby Kawartha Lakes Region with wild rice, known among the Anishinaabe as manoomin. Non-Indigenous cottager Maureen Poole (Amanda Jane Smith) disapproves sharply of Arthur’s decision. She feels the planting of the wild rice interferes with boating, fishing, swimming, and is generally an eyesore that brings down the property values of her cottage and those of her neighbours. Ms. Nicholson designed and used the outdoor playing space to full and maximum effect. It’s a multi level set on embedded rock which actually makes it appear as if I was transported right to a cottage lakeside setting. There is a red canoe down stage right. Up left is a circular barbecue with a side table containing a bottle of wine, a wine glass and barbecue tongs. Just slightly off-centre left is a colourful Muskoka chair with what appeared to me to be a white coat draped over the back which I’m assuming is the cottage of Maureen Poole. Liquid blue drapery along the front of the playing space represents the lake water. Both Ms. Smith and Mr. Smith (no relation to each other) create distinctly unique personas initially just through their physical appearance even before the story begins. He sports what looks to be a Tilley hat, aviator sunglasses, khaki cargo shorts, bright red sneakers, a blue t shirt and a khaki looking vest. She wears white capri pants and a striped white and red summery looking blouse/shirt with comfortable looking blue and white fuzzy house slippers. They both bring to life intriguing people whom I wanted to get to know even more. Mr. Smith’s Arthur Copper is self-assured, confident and, at times, rather smug but with good reason upon delving further into the plot. Ms. Smith’s Maureen Poole is racist, pompous as well as self-righteous. Both actors maintain a consistent, natural pacing in their dialogue exchange. When tempers flare, attitudes are heated, and tension is palpably hot, that’s when Ms. Smith and Mr. Smith reveal their exceptional prowess in performance level. I saw flesh and blood individuals in front of me who made me laugh, made me think, made me pause and made me aware that all individuals are not cut and dried and that not every thing can be considered black and white. There will always be unique grey areas when we encounter unaffected human emotion coupled with honest behaviour and, as Hayden Taylor told us in the audience talkback following the performance, that’s where he finds the drama that makes for articulate and interesting character development. This was especially true near the play’s conclusion. As Arthur sits in his canoe and Maureen on the rock, each exchange emotionally heartfelt and poignant words resulting in complete silence among the audience members. I could sense each of us was on every clear word uttered by these two terrific actors and wondering how they might respond to the other. Good stuff happening on that stage. Don’t miss this one. Running Time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission As of Friday July 16 extreme weather will no longer be an issue when selecting your performance night. Now that Ontario enters Step 3 of the province’s re-opening plan, Theatre on the Ridge will be able to provide an alternate venue for any performances that may be impacted by severe weather. ‘Cottagers and Indians’ by Drew Hayden Taylor Production Staged by Theatre on The Ridge with the generous support of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation Producer and Director: Carey Nicholson; Stage Manager: Christina Naumovski Sound: Lyle Corrigan; Lighting: Andy Williamson Performers: Amanda Jane Smith, James Dallas Smith Performances: July 17, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 at 7 pm in the West End of Water Street Parking Lot #5 (Water and North Streets), Port Perry. To purchase tickets online: http://www.theatreontheridge.ca/whats-on.html. Theatre on the Ridge is a member of the Safe Travels Stamp program and observes all current mandated Covid gathering protocols and restrictions. Previous Next

  • Young People 'Jungle Book', A New Adaptation

    Back 'Jungle Book', A New Adaptation Young People's Theatre YPT Site Joe Szekeres I’m hoping I’m not that old in pointing out how we’ve all watched the dancing, singing and cuteness version of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. Whenever I’ve seen the film advertised on television, it’s always Baloo’s memorable ditty to Mowgli, “Look for the Bare Necessities”. There’s nothing wrong with this adaptation as it introduces Rudyard Kipling’s stories of Mowgli, the wolf boy, to new audiences. However, don’t allow Disney to be the only experience you have of this story. An exciting, colourful and eye-catching production of ‘Jungle Book’ from creators Craig Francis and Rick Miller opened at Young People’s Theatre with theatrical flair and musical excitement right from the top of the show. According to the release, this production is part of a North American tour after a recent appearance in New York. Four rousing actors entered grandly from the house and moved their way down to the stage in a fanfare of audience participation that even the adults around me clapped along in fun filled unison with the kids. And I was taken on a wild adventure ride through an immersive technology and multimedia to the urban jungle of Mowgli’s childhood in the forests of India. I loved every minute of it and am pleased it’s playing here for just over a month. For me, this touring production was magical as it took me back fondly to my childhood when I first read Rudyard Kipling’s tale. The set design consisted of three see through scrims. Behind the scrims, there is a large rectangular raised platform with a large white hanging screen which I’m assuming will be to view projections throughout the show. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting design was fascinating at the top of the show as the swirl of red and green was intriguing to watch. The reflection through the scrim made it appear as if water was nearby. Irina Litvinenko’s multimedia designs are exquisite to the eyes. Ms. Litvinenko’s work in capturing the fast-paced world of New York City where the adult Mowgli (Levin Valayil) is an architect is exquisite. The multimedia designs colourfully and cleverly place us in the richness verdant jungle where such characters as Shere Khan, Bagheera and Kaa inhabit and roam. What is also remarkably dazzling to watch are the use of puppets co-designed by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill. I’ve always been fascinated with puppetry as part of theatre, and the extraordinary creations of these two women is astounding. Make sure you pay careful attention to Tahirih Vejani as Kaa, the snake. With the puppet, she slithers in front of the audience with the elongated ‘s’ sound sinisterly sibilating in her voice as the puppet slithers in front of the audience at one point. Under a guiding vision of dignity for life in co-direction by Messrs. Francis and Miller, this ‘Jungle Book’ gently balances the theme of Respect in exploration of the consequences of colonialism and continuing human domination of the animal world. The four principal ensemble players merrily bring to life (through songs by composer Suba Sankaran and clever lyrics by Kipling/Miller and Francis) several of the famous characters whom we have come to know. Levin Valayil is a charming and affable adult and architect Mowgli who leaps and moves around the stage with gusto. And can he ever sing and hold a musical note. I especially liked Mr. Valayil’s work in the adorable young boy puppet of Mowgli. I heard some audience members around me along with some children utter and affectionate, “Aaaahhhh”. Matt Lacas becomes a comfortable, genial teddy bear as Baloo, the sloth bear. His relationship with the young Mowgli in teaching him to become more than just a wolf boy is sweet. As the panther, Bagheera, who is out to protect the young Mowgli, Mina James is solid in her work as she contorts her body to an animalistic pose in the puppetry costume she dons. FINAL COMMENTS: There is rapturous joy in this ‘Jungle Book’. It’s a definite go to and must see for the family. It’s here for Family Day and the March Break, perfect for day or evening shows. Performance runs approximately 65 minutes. There will be some Q and A sessions following certain shows. Photo of Levin Valayil as the adult Mowgli by Rick Miller. JUNGLE BOOK Runs on the Mainstage to March 21 at Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East. For tickets, call the Box Office (416) 862-2222 or visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org . Written & Directed by Craig Francis & Rick Miller. Adapted from the Works of Rudyard Kipling. Produced by Kidoons and WYRD Productions in association with The 20K Collective. Creative Team: Co-creator/Director/Stage Manager (select performances: Craig Francis); Co-creator/Director/Production Manager: Rick Miller; Production Manger/Technical Director: James Kendal; Stage Manager: Andrew Dollar; Set/Costume/Props Puppets Co-Designers: Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill; Lighting Designer: Rebecca Picherack; Multimedia Designe: Irina Litvinenko; Sound Designer/Composer: Debashis Sinha; Puppetry Consultant: Frank Meschkuleit; Song Lyrics: Kipling/Miller/Francis; Original Song Composer: Suba Sankaran; Shadow Puppetry Consultant: Eric Woolfe; Fight Consultant: Siobhan Richardson; Cast: Mina James, Matt Lacas, Levin Valayil, Tahirih Vejdani Previous Next

  • Young People 'Celestial Bodies' by Jacob Margaret Archer

    Back 'Celestial Bodies' by Jacob Margaret Archer The Studio at Toronto's Young People's Theatre Jimmy Blais Joe Szekeres A challenging dramatic monologue of body imaging which is difficult to discuss, ‘Celestial Bodies’ is treated with the utmost care, dignity, and respect for the human person. Young People’s Theatre once again handles youth issues with care, class, and dignity for the human person. Produced by Montréal’s Geordie Theatre, ‘Celestial Bodies’ becomes a hard-hitting, poignant tale of a young girl entering high school who becomes self-consciously aware of her diverse body image and how she appears different from others. But, though, when we look at the galaxy and the universe, there are diverse shapes, bodies and sizes that are beautiful and extraordinary in their own unique way. As a retired 33-year schoolteacher, I will admit this is an issue which truly hasn’t become any easier to discuss with young people. If anything in our social media age, some young people become fixated on maintaining the perfect body image to the point of health and relationship issues with others. Protagonist Stella is what I will call the normal teenage girl from my years in education – a fast talker because she’s trying to relay as much information as she can and how she is feeling about it. At the beginning of the story, she is sitting in a hockey locker room deep breathing to calm herself down after a panic attack. To calm herself down, Stella shares with us she is interested in the galaxy and dreams of becoming an astronaut. Whenever she feels panicky, she imagines she is wrapping herself up in the universe and the galaxy and this seems to calm her nerves. Stella is at the pharmacy with one of her two mothers conversing with the pharmacist about weight gain. Her mother Imma who is overweight is very warm and accepting while her other mother, Andie, was a former Olympic hockey player from the Turin Olympics who is always giving pep talks to her daughter. She’s going into Grade 9 and like any other young person going into high school wants to fit in. She tells us about a boy who was in her French class in Grade 8 and used to wink at her when he handed out the homework. Stella took a fancy to his winks and hoped more would come from this connection he made to her. Going into Grade 9 poses its new set of problems. The boy who used to wink at her in Grade 8 is now very mean to Stella. He and another girl end up throwing a yogourt cup at the back of Stella’s head. She leaves the room with her dignity intact but loses her composure in the bathroom as she’s trying to get the yogourt out of her hair. A girl, Essie (who is different from the others at the school) comes in to help Stella wash the blueberry yogourt of her hair. They later become friends. Essie encourages Stella to become part of the hockey team with her brother, Noah, whom Stella calls a cute guy. Noah learns of Stella’s interest in the galaxy. The next day, when she is at school, Stella’s science teacher makes a comment about her size and her wanting to become an astronaut which he realizes afterwards was a huge error on his part, but the damage inflicted through words is already done. While in the cafeteria, bullies start taunting Essie and Stella once again and throw another yogurt cup. Because Stella has been practicing goalie moves, she captures the yogourt cup, and tosses it to Essie who then flings it back at the bullies. Essie and Stella are then given detentions even though they are the ones who did not start this teasing incident. A staff-student hockey game in which Stella participates becomes a high point of interest where she maintains her dignity about herself and her place in the world, including the galaxy. As Stella, Riel Reddick-Stevens remains most believably and consistently grounded in the moment and very real in her performance of a young girl who is confronting so much stuff in her life. She never ventures into tears or overacting but allows the words of the monologue and their meaning to speak for themselves. Director Jimmy Blais envisions this story with dignity and compassion for all diverse body individuals because he writes in his Director’s Note: “This play hits home for me and for whoever has struggled with body image.” Thank you so much for your candour, Jimmy. Tim Rodrigues’s lighting design fluidly moves from shadows to warmth with ease from scene to scene and from moment to moment naturally. The multitude of colour hues from the galaxies has been effectively captured on stage. I especially liked Eo Sharp’s set design. On the floor are pictures from the galaxy where there are pictures of planets from space. Reddick-Stevens believably moves from around the Studio playing space sometimes while standing on a planet or at other times in the middle of the galaxy. Reddick-Stevens also maneuvers around the stage in what looks like three mushroom stands. You’ll see them in the picture above. These set pieces are quite effective in providing an interesting visual perspective because nothing in the galaxy ever appears the same. Things are constantly changing shape and size continually. As Blais says in his Director’s Note: ‘We are like stardust’. Final Comments: As a 33-year retired schoolteacher, I would heartily recommend ‘Celestial Bodies’ as a trip for elementary and secondary students, first as an opportunity to discuss with students the importance of self-care, self-image, accepting and loving ourselves in the way we have been formed. Second, this is an extraordinary performance to watch a recent theatre school graduate share a story that gripped the attention span of the young audience members I saw around me. Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. There are some Q & A after the performance so check when you purchase tickets if you are interested. ‘Celestial Bodies’ runs until December 9 in the Studio at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto. For tickets, call 416-862-2222 or visit youngpeoplestheatre.org. ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jacob Margaret Archer Produced by Geordie Theatre Directed by Jimmy Blais Set and Costume Designer: Eo Sharp Lighting Designer: Tim Rodrigues Design Assistant: Sorcha Gibson Production Manager/Technical Director: Aurora Torok Stage Manager: Annalise Pearson-Perry Performer: Riel Reddick-Stevens as Stella Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Queen Maeve' by Judith Thompson

    Back 'Queen Maeve' by Judith Thompson World Premiere presented by Here for Now Theatre Ann Baggley Joe Szekeres A Voice Choice for a ferocious performance by Clare Coulter. 88-year-old Mrs. Nurmi (a glorious performance by Clare Coulter) lives in Providence Manor, Cornwall, Ontario. She says the residence remains ‘dark’ and ‘dank.’ The PSWs and nurses rarely come if the call button is pushed. The mealtime food is horrible. At least one of the residents dies per week. It appears Mrs. Nurmi suffers from some form of dementia. When triggered, this ‘lonely and unremarkable’ woman transforms into Queen Maeve, Irish Warrior Queen, also known as ‘The Wolf Queen.’ As the story unfolds, Mrs. Nurmi confronts her grandson Jake (Michael Neale). He has substance abuse issues but has come to visit because he has an idea and needs money to get his idea of a YouTube series off the ground. Nurmi’s daughter, Georgia, (Allegra Fulton), leads a complicated and ‘drama queen’ lifestyle. Caroline Gillis is Maeve’s PSW (Personal Support Worker) who sometimes becomes the only individual with whom Maeve can make any kind of personal connection. Immediately on stage left of Mrs. Nurmi’s residence room, musician Cait Watson’s accompaniment effectively underscores moments of emotional impact. The lone Celtic pipe tune she plays at the top of the show becomes a haunting invitation for the audience to listen. There are several moments when Watson quietly becomes a silent and sympathetic onlooker to what occurs in Mrs. Nurmi’s life and mind. It seems appropriate then for Watson to be clothed in a costume which resembles warriors from long ago. She never upstages the action, but her presence is always felt. Bonnie Deakin’s drab-looking set of an easy chair covered with a sorry-looking bedsheet and throw blanket gives an immediate glimpse of what life is like at Providence Manor. The side table contains a mess of papers and stuff thrown in the two drawers. Barbara Kozicki Beall has selected an appropriate-looking mismatched costume for Mrs. Nurmi - an oversized sleeper top with pyjama bottoms that have seen better days. She wears pink open-toe slippers. In their Director’s Note, Murdoch Schon writes: “Queen Maeve is more than about an elderly woman trapped in a care facility.” Schon compassionately directs Judith Thompson’s engaging one-act script with a clear vision of family, purpose, death, belonging, and resilience. It’s not a clichéd story about lonely seniors in a nursing home. It’s more. Far more. And this production hits right in the gut. Clare Coulter's opening monologue becomes a masterclass in acting. She’s focused intently while sitting in the chair. She commands attention by pausing a few seconds and looking at the audience before speaking. Coulter remains in the moment believably and naturally. She tells her story plainly and as a matter of fact. It’s a gripping monologue that makes me want to journey with Mrs. Nurmi, however long that may be. Coulter’s transformations to Queen Maeve are sublime. These transitions smoothly become elegant, physical, and regal gestures. For example, as Queen, Coulter takes a sword from Cait Watson and stands before one of the characters as a royal warrior in battle long ago. There is a surprising moment of suspense at this moment. As Maeve appears to be in a rage, Coulter has the sword raised so that I honestly thought it would come right down and lop off the head of the individual in question. Maeve embodies the ferocity of Shakespeare’s King Lear. They both rage against oppressive familial confines that threaten to destroy. But she’s more than Lear. Instead, ‘Maeve’ learns she will leave this world accountable to no earthly bound individual. At one point, she says her body is in two places. The outer shell remains, but her spirit and soul will have departed from this world on her terms. As an attentive audience member, to watch Coulter attain these emotional performance highs and lows is an absolute joy. The supporting characters equally match this level of intensity. Allegra Fulton captures Georgia’s manipulative childishness solidly. Her costume choice of being dressed entirely in black accentuates how any remaining energy life force has been sucked right out of her. Georgia claims to be depressed. Her alcoholic husband has left her. She brings home many men when her young son is asleep to fill the void in her life. Mrs. Nurmi, however, doesn’t buy any of this and demands that Georgia accept the consequences of her actions. In contrast, Michael Neale’s Jake initially emanates warmth and compassion towards his grandmother when he first sees her after a long bus ride from Sudbury. Neale wears earth-tone colours and carries white lilies, beautiful but fragile flowers like his grandmother. The initial encounter between the two is palpably credible since she raised her grandson when her daughter Georgia left her child. Jake’s badgering of his grandmother for the cash becomes a grim and sad reminder of what his mother, Georgia, probably did a long time ago to Mrs. Nurmi. When the truth is finally revealed about Jake, Mrs. Nurmi recognizes he holds those same qualities as his mother. She gives into Jake’s demands, knowing it may have disastrous consequences. As PSW Siobhan, Caroline Gillis becomes a welcome respite of a personal connection for Mrs. Nurmi. Gillis becomes precisely what the old woman requires at this time in her life – someone who will stand up to the petulant demands, albeit caringly, of a woman who suffers from significant emotional distress. Siobhan has dealt with Mrs. Nurmi’s dementia outbursts many times. Gillis' performance has a calming sense of reason as she connects with the old woman in a way that her own child and grandchild cannot. Final Comments: Once again, in their Director’s Note, Schon asks each of us to search through the legacies of our own families and ask ourselves what we’ve inherited. It is a tough challenge, especially if we have elderly parents who might be going through precisely any form of dementia or mental distress. ‘Queen Maeve’ becomes that reminder to connect through those challenges of the darkness of the disease of the mind and continue to find the beauty of the moment no matter what has occurred. This world premiere is an important one to see. Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. ‘Queen Maeve’ runs until September 23 at the Stratford Perth Museum, 4275 Huron Road, Stratford. For tickets, call the Box Office at 519-272-HFNT or visit herefornowtheatre.com. HERE FOR NOW presents the World Premiere of ‘Queen Maeve’ by Judith Thompson Directed by Murdoch Schon Set Design: Bonnie Deakin Costume Design: Barbara Kozicki Beall Stage Management: Patrice Bowler Performers: Clare Coulter, Allegra Fulton, Caroline Gillis, Michael Neale, Cait Watson Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Tyson's Song' by Peter N. Bailey

    Back 'Tyson's Song' by Peter N. Bailey Presented by Pleiades Theatre and now onstage at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann. Foreground: Kyle Brown Background: Jamar Adams-Thompson Guest reviewer Peter Mazzucco "An important story about men’s mental health smartly directed with sensitivity and precision.” As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Peter N. Bailey’s “Tyson’s Song’ examines the dominant thoughts surrounding Black masculinity and mental health. Bryan (Jamar Adams-Thompson) and Tyson (Kyle Brown) are two best friends out on their last boys’ night together. When the evening goes awry, the two Black men are compelled to examine their pasts and the genuine bonds of their friendship. Peter N. Bailey has penned a powerful play that achieves his goal of establishing the need for a positive dialogue and new conversation around mental health for Black men that could potentially provide “the necessary love and care needed for them to heal and flourish.” “Tyson’s Song” also pays homage to Toronto. This thought-provoking piece opens with the two men running on the stage chasing a Toronto Transit Commission bus that has just hurriedly pulled out of a stop on its route. Friends since childhood, Bryan and Tyson traverse the city to different parties to celebrate Bryan’s last day in Toronto before he, his wife, and their young daughter move to Vancouver. As they wait for another bus, they begin to discuss topics they have not addressed for many years, if ever. One of Bailey's play's foremost and fundamental themes is mental health. Tyson has a history of incarceration resulting from and consequently affecting his mental health. In his discussion with Bryan regarding this period in his life, Tyson asks Bryan, “How come you never visited me?” Tyson’s empathy has created a view of himself and his world that comes across as antipathy when it is self-loathing. The life-long antagonism he has developed toward himself bares itself when he tells Bryan, “Everyone I love leaves me and takes their love with them.” He mentions to Bryan that he, as well, has his own plan to leave. Another principal theme is the question of what it means to be a man, specifically a Black man. Bryan believes being a man revolves around having a family and a steady job. He chastises Tyson for being unable to maintain a steady job or a relationship since his release from the detention centre. At the onset of the play, Bryan seems like the jovial, easygoing one, and Tyson appears to be brooding and serious. We see Bryan dancing on the bench at the bus stop, talking about the party they just attended. Tyson is not impressed with Bryan’s behaviour at the party because he believes it is inappropriate for a married man to carry on like that. He asks Bryan if he would like it if his wife behaved that way at a party. It seems odd to have Tyson empathize with Nathalie, Bryan’s wife, when we discover Tyson believes that she does not like him. Bryan explains to Tyson that he needed this one night because his life has become one of “daycare and diapers.” He believes Tyson needs a real plan for his future. At one point, Bryan tells Tyson to “Man up.” We discover Bryan’s idea of being a man comes from his father’s notion of being a man, a cycle that Bryan is trying to break. Visually, Anahita Dehbonehie's design is sparse yet effective on the Studio Theatre stage, which is ideal for a vision of a crowded, impersonal metropolis that can be inaccessible or insular. A bench positioned at stage left provides the two men with a place to sit and talk while they wait for another bus. The placement of the bench becomes vitally important. It was a substitute for a dancehall stage. Another time it became a provisional pulpit during their Bible verse exchange. Dave Degrow’s lighting design emphasizes the calmer moments between Tyson and Bryan by narrowing the light on the bench or the bus stop to draw the audience in and focus on the earnest conversation between the two men. As quickly as the lighting brings us into those intimate instants, a quick lighting change dissonantly transports us back to the reality of their current situation. Overall, the lighting creates a sense of urban isolation at night. The combination of the lighting, stage, and Stephon Smith’s sound design made the urban setting at night palpable with its bus and police car lights, the T.T.C. bus stop, and the revving engine of buses. I felt as if I was watching the drama unfold from an apartment building across the street. Costume Designer Des’ree Gray dresses both actors stylishly. Tyson wears a denim jacket with many pockets, one of which holds a revelation. Bryan wears fashionable pants and a checkered shirt that contains secrets he openly reveals to Tyson during their conversations. Director Ash Knight directs smartly with sensitivity and precision. He has challenged the two actors to find a compassionate and empathic way to express their character’s voices. Jamar Adams-Thompson genuinely plays Bryan with charm and a carefree attitude. As the play unfolds, Bryan's complexity develops, and Jamar does a beautiful job of bringing out the many layers of his character. He even creates some arresting mannerisms that are fun and unexpected. As Tyson, Kyle Brown makes me feel the internal conflict within his character with his parley, movements and body language. On stage, we see a caring man who feels misunderstood by society. During one of the hostile, harsh verbal and physical exchanges with Jamar as Bryan, there is a sensitivity rather than brutishness to which Kyle as Tyson performs his actions and accomplishes his intention. He portrays Tyson with poignancy and pathos, not as a common thug. Running time: approximately 70 minutes with no intermission. ‘Tyson’s Song’ runs until May 19 in the Studio Theatre at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street. For tickets, visit factorytheatre.ca or call the Box Office at (416) 504-9971. PLEIADES THEATRE presents the World Premiere of TYSON’S SONG by Peter N. Bailey Directed by Ash Knight Set Designer: Anahita Dehbonehie Costume Designer: Des’ree Gray Sound Designer: Stephon Smith Lighting Designer: Dave Degrow Fight Director: Siobhan Richardson Production Manager: Shawn Henry Stage Manager: Heather Bellingham Performers: Jamar Adams-Thompson, Kyle Brown Previous Next

  • Dramas Salt Water Moon by David French

    Back Salt Water Moon by David French Guild Theatre Festival Raph Nogal Photography Joe Szekeres A beautiful August summer evening sets the stage for a most splendid production of David French’s iconic Canadian classic script of the Mercer family which introduces the early lives of parents Jacob and Mary. I’ve seen this play several times before, but this is the first I’ve experienced ‘Salt-Water Moon’ in an outdoor setting. And what a wise choice Director Helen Juvonen made as the Guild’s production is utterly charming to watch as two charismatic and engaging artists create very real, flesh and blood people before my eyes while handling the intricate Newfoundland dialect and speech patterns crisply and with tremendous grace and dignity. A shout out of recognition to Dialect Coach Leah Holder for ensuring authenticity to my ear. The setting is 1926 in Coley’s Point, rural Newfoundland. It is a moonlit night (just like the performance I attended) in September in front of a late 19th century home. Seventeen-year-old Mary Snow (Sarah Gibbons) is waiting for her fiancé, Jerome, to come visit her after Bob Foote's wake, and she is looking through a telescope at the moon and stars to pass the time. A voice is heard in the distance and Jacob Mercer (Alex Furber), six months older than Mary, and her former beau, appears. Mary is taken aback to see Jacob who left Newfoundland abruptly for Toronto a year before to seek his fortune. Mary and Jacob spend the evening making small talk, stargazing, arguing, and discussing the past, including Jacob's sudden departure. There is a simple set design which works very well in this case as the primary focus remains on the tip-top performances of Sarah Gibbons and Alex Furber. There are three entrances to the playing space. Centre stage and stage left are several lanterns with tea lights that glowed as the sun set and the evening approached. Just off-centre stage right and angled slightly is a wooden rocking chair. At stage right is a trellis of leaves with small white lights attached. Sarah is dressed attractively in a yellow dress and Alex looks dashing in a light grey pin striped suit with a deep blue tie nicely contrasted with a white dress shirt. In her Programme Note, Ms. Juvonen writes how envisioning ‘Moon’ has become an homage to the place she calls home and to celebrate her maternal family. Her profound respect for the play and maintaining consistent verisimilitude certainly came clear to me in some of the minute details she emphasizes in the 90-minute production. One example of this occurs in the convincing performances of Gibbons and Furber. ‘Salt-Water Moon’ is heavily dialogue driven, and these two actors continuously listen carefully to each other’s words and their meaning and respond so believably and realistically on an emotional level that I periodically put down my pen from making notes in my book and just wanted to watch them move with clear intent and purpose all the time. I especially relished the moment as Mary calls Jacob over to point out something in the sky with the stars and constellations. I got caught up in the moment to the point where I had to restrain myself from physically turning around in my chair and look to the sky to see where the actors were pointing. Every inch of the playing space on that stage is used to its fullest and I especially enjoyed watching how the ‘who has the power in the moment’ volley back and forth between the two. Alex Furber’s Jacob is confidant, cocky and, at times, self-assured who remains intent on trying to win back the heart of the girl whom he left the year before. I loved watching how he skillfully utilized a playful and genuine smirk on his face at times to acknowledge that he is doing his best to win back Mary’s trust and love. Sarah Gibbons is a feisty and ‘fire in the spirit’ Mary (as she is described in the text at one point) who obviously is not a push over emotionally as Jacob comes to recognize as the plot progresses. I saw just how Mary can poke at Jacob’s soft side to remind him that what he did was wrong. Gibbons knows and senses inherently just how and when to utilize playwright French’s words to fire back emotionally at the beloved beau who left her suddenly the year before. Final Comments: There was something magical about watching a live performance outdoors. The term ‘Theatre under the Stars’ took on a new meaning for me in this delightful production of a captivating ‘Salt-Water Moon’. Get tickets for this one. A wonderful evening spent at the theatre. ‘Salt-Water Moon’ continues to August 15 at the Greek Theatre in the Guild Park and Gardens, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Toronto. For tickets and information, please visit www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca . ‘SALT-WATER MOON’ by David French Production Staged by Guild Festival Theatre, Tenth Anniversary Season Directed by Helen Juvonen Production Designer Simon Flint Design Mentor Nancy Anne Perrin Dialect Coach Leah Holder. Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Effect' by Lucy Prebble

    Back 'The Effect' by Lucy Prebble Now onstage at Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Leah Doz and Aris Athanasopoulos Louis Train, Guest Reviewer Profound themes in THE EFFECT tackled with a blend of intellectual depth and sensuality "THE EFFECT" at Coal Mine Theatre is a play that delves into the intricacies of human connection and the complex interplay between mind and body. Connie and Tristan, participants in an antidepressant trial, navigate a tumultuous journey of emotions as they grapple with their deepening mutual attraction. The question underlying this play’s dramatic tension is not whether Connie and Tristan will get together - that’s a given from the opening scene - but why they are attracted to each other. Is it a result of chemical manipulation, or is love? And what is love anyway, if not a neuro-electro-chemical process? Under Mitchell Cushman's skillful direction and Lucy Prebble's thought-provoking script, "THE EFFECT" tackles these profound themes with a blend of intellectual depth and sensuality. At its core, "THE EFFECT" wrestles with the enigma of the mind-body problem, delving into the intricacies of our psychological and physical selves. It also sheds light on the prevalence of antidepressant usage and raises ethical questions about the pharmaceutical industry behind it. Yet, the play avoids didacticism and instead adopts a structure reminiscent of a Platonic dialogue, engaging the audience in a captivating and nuanced exploration that stimulates both the intellect and the senses. The performances from the entire cast are commendable, but Aviva Armour-Ostroff stands out, revealing her character's layers with a captivating air of mystery and tension. Each scene deepens the audience's investment in her portrayal of Dr. Lorna James, unravelling the complexities she embodies. The inventive set design by Nick Blais makes excellent use of the small space of the stage while nodding to the show’s roots in science and invention (you’ll see what I mean when you see those amazing transforming chairs in action). Likewise, the incorporation of techy music, composed by James Smith, and projection, by Jack Considine, pays homage to the scientific setting of the play while eliciting a visceral response, quickening the pulse of those in attendance. I've often considered mental health as the uncharted frontier of dramatic storytelling. In our modern era, directors conscientiously avoid perpetuating stereotypes about most marginalized communities, yet, for some reason, the realm of mental illness often receives a pardon. While many scrutinize "Othello" for its problematic aspects, "King Lear," with its profound exploration of madness ("The tempest in my mind..."), is usually exempted. Madness becomes a thrilling plot point, while few writers undertake the necessary research to portray characters with mental illness accurately. However, "THE EFFECT" stands apart, displaying meticulous attention to detail and heightened sensitivity in portraying these characters (credit again to the remarkable Aviva Armour-Ostroff). In this regard, "THE EFFECT" proves itself truly ahead of its time, breaking new ground in mental health representation on stage. Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. The production runs to July 30 at Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue. For tickets, visit coalminetheatre.com. ‘The Effect’ by Lucy Prebble Directed by Mitchell Cushman Set, Lighting and Prop Design: Nick Blais Projection Design: Jack Considine Costume Design: Cindy DEzib Sound Design and Composition: James Smith Psychiatry and Mental Health Consultant: Eloise Ballou Stage Management: Jeff Soucy and Scotia Cox Performers: Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Aris Athanasopoulos, Leah Doz, Jordan Pettle Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Earworm' by Mohammad Yaghoubi

    Back 'Earworm' by Mohammad Yaghoubi A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crows Theatre. Now onstage at Crow's Theatre Dahlia Katz Dave Rabjohn “An outstanding world premiere that is pensive and shocking” Years of Iranian civil strife as a result of violent revolutions in 1979 and 2022 are depicted in Mohammad Yaghoubi’s new play ‘Earworm.’ This outstanding world premiere is both pensive and shocking as it deals with how Iranian discord can echo across the world and specifically in Canada. From Yaghoubi’s notes, facing horrors one thought you had escaped and learning that heroes can be otherwise are prevalent themes in the story. Homa (Aida Keykhaii) is an immigrant from Iran who clearly has a dark past as a victim from her days in Iran. Living with her soft spoken son, Pendar (Amir Maghami), she clearly plays the role of social consciousness as she rails against the clerical regime of Iran. As a blogger in Toronto, she is open about her past and bitterly condemns events in Tehran. Conflicts arise as her son’s fiancé, Fatemeh, fiercely played by Parya Heravi, is perceived as a conservative Muslim with an extremely conservative father. A dinner invitation is fraught with possible conditions – must Homa wear a hijab, tone down her rhetoric, even avoid smoking? The conditions are not met, but the invitation stands. Fatemeh is less conservative as perceived with bare arms and amorous advances on Pendar – until her father appears played by Amir Zavosh. Homa’s Iranian nightmares are ignited as she comes face to face with horror and the story spirals into blackness. Keykhaii’s performance is strongly understated – her passions are keen but controlled. Anger at the regime is quietly forceful. Her frustrations with Pendar are open but loving. This subtlety gives strength to her second act where she finally blazes and careens through anger and horror. As the quietly frustrated son, Maghami also is subtly controlled. At times, though, he is too much arms and fingers as he points at his mother wildly. Heravi brilliantly plays the naïve girl friend. As the crisis mounts, her shock is alarming, but her reaction is more inward than explosive. We can’t imagine her horror as she grabs at the hems of her dress reeling and barely standing. Zavosh as the father is also staggeringly subtle. His arms are often folded with a wry grin. He does indeed become the “smiling damned villain.” Several moments gave way to very quiet dialogue. Perhaps this was part of the understated conflicts that are seething below the surface, but it was frustrating at times for the audience. Sina Shoaie’s sound design was forceful with music underscoring the abhorrent animus. The constant barking of the dog signified the intrusion of one family on another. Projections were artful and, at times, staggering. The double ending (not double switch) was inventive, frightening and added thoughtful dimension. Yaghoubi’s writing achieves his pronounced goals as the horrors of unrepresentative governing are displayed in the broken lives of family and lovers. A number of listed dates are performed in Persian (Farsi) with English subtitles. These diverse talents add to the exceptionality of this cast made up mostly of Iranian background. ‘Earworm’ by Mohammad Yaghoubi A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crows Theatre Performers: Aida Keykhaii, Amir Maghami, Parya Heravi, Amir Zavosh Director: Mohammad Yaghoubi Set design: Amin Shirazi Sound design: Sina Shoaie Stage manager: Sabrina Weinstein Production runs through March 3, 2024. Tickets: crowstheatre.com Previous Next

  • Dramas Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka

    Back Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka Onstage at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival Akosua Amo-Adem. Photo credit: David Hou Joe Szekeres 'Death and the King's Horseman' hits deep to the emotional core I had the opportunity to hear this play as part of Soulpepper’s ‘Around the World in 80 Plays’ series in June 2021 when the theatres were shut down for the pandemic. At that time, the audio version was also directed by Tawiah M’Carthy. Seeing it live for the first time, I noticed just how incredible of an epic spectacle it became for me but the play’s conclusion hits deep to my emotional core. I had forgotten ‘Horseman’ was based on actual events from Nigeria during World 2. Under colonial British rule, the village was trying to uphold its culture amid the struggle of the British who considered Elesin’s action horrific and awful. District Officer Simon Pilkings and his wife, Jane, epitomize the lack of cultural understanding. Given the fact that our country remains in mourning over the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, this play hit even harder for me. In the first act, we meet the King’s Horseman, Elesin Oba (Anthony Santiago). His Yoruba King has already passed away. Tradition states that the Horseman is to follow his King to death, and yes this means Elesin must kill himself. Elesin considers this act of suicide an honour to fulfil, and he plans to follow through. But before he does this, Elesin plans to marry the most beautiful girl in the village, have the wedding night and the consummation, then fulfil his promise to follow his King into the afterlife. Elesin knows he is most handsome and doesn’t hide this fact, but some of the women in the village take him to task for his actions. There is the Praise Singer, Olohun-iyo (Amaka Umeh) and Mother of the Market, Iyaloja (Akosua Amo-Adem). These women stand up to Elesin for his bravado. But to complicate things even further, Elesin selects as his bride a woman who was promised in marriage to the young son of Iyaloja. We then meet Simon and Jane Pilkings (Graham Abbey and Maev Beaty) who are preparing for a costume party and are quite disrespectful as they are wearing costumes which take on a completely different meaning for the Yoruba culture. Rather than removing the costumes out of respect, the Pilkings flagrantly disregard and continue to wear them. To me, this seems as if the British at this time were forcefully (perhaps violently?) robbing the people of their traditions and enforcing Christianity on them. Rachel Forbes’ set design works extremely well on the new Patterson stage. There is so much to take in at the marketplace setting at the top of the show I just sat for a few moments and looked. Sarah Uwadiae’s colourful costume designs are outstanding. I really liked Debashis Sinha’s opening soundtrack of voices in the marketplace as I knew I wasn’t in Stratford anymore but overseas in another place and time. The off-stage sound of the distant drumming perfectly resonated just enough to create interest as to what might come next once it ceased. I also loved hearing the incorporation of the music and the dancing in the marketplace which, once again, made me aware I was not in my home country. I was in another country and living vicariously through the times. What struck me about the audio story when I first heard it as part of Soulpepper’s series? It was poetic language and visually appealing imagery. I remember just closing my eyes as I wanted to hear the words being spoken last year. I didn’t have to do this today as the actors solidly captured the sounds for me. Tawiah M’Carthy’s direction remains unhesitating throughout the entire production. Not only do the actors continue to capture the poetic language and rhythmic free verse style (most noteworthy in the opening scene in the market, but also the cultural representation issues strongly remain at the forefront throughout the nearly three-hour running time. Anthony Santiago and Amaka Umeh are extraordinarily impressive in their respective performances as they both regally command the stage with passionate ardour. Graham Abbey and Maev Beaty mightily capture that distinct colonial aloofness in their scoffing of native belief as they mock how Sergeant Amusa (Ngabo Nabea) reacts to their wearing of the sacred clothing connected to death. Nabea resoundingly revealed his escalating frustration and anger over the times he was called back by the Pilkings. As Olunde (Elesin’s eldest son), Kwaku Adu-Poku sharply handles how he feels about the cultural issues between Nigeria and Britain. Olunde has dutifully returned home when he hears the King has died. Olunde has been studying medicine in England for four years, but is not happy about the state of England. I love the line when Jane Pilkings asks Olunde if he is upset by what they wear. No. Olunde is not upset but he tells her: “You have no respect for that which you do not understand.” A perfect comeback to this cultural representation of the era. Final Comments: ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ is a long one clocking in at nearly three hours; nevertheless, the strength of this production lies in the detailed script to the eventual build to the tragic outcome in the second act that I had completely forgotten and was completely shocked when it does occur. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission. ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ runs to October 29 at the Tom Patterson Theatre. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ by Wole Soyinka Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy Set Designer: Rachel Forbes Costume Designer: Sarah Uwadiae Lighting Designer: Christopher Dennis Sound Designer: Debashis Sinha Cast: Amaka Umeh, Anthony Santiago, Akosua Amo-Adem, Graham Abbey, Maev Beaty, Ngabo Nabea, Pulga Muchochoma, Kwaku Adu-Poku, Josue Laboucane, Kevin Kruchkywich, Tyrone Savage, isi bhakhomen, Dejah Dixon-Green, Espoir Segbeaya, Celia Aloma Ijeoma Emesowum Bola Aiyeola, Norman Yeung, Matthew Kabwe, Andrea Rankin, Rachel Jones Onstage Musicians/Drummers: Amade Dedeu Garcia, Adekunle Olorundare (Kunle), Erik Samuel, Oluwakayode Sodunke Previous Next

  • Dramas ‘Gloria’

    Back ‘Gloria’ An ARC Production in Association with Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre Jeremy Mimnagh Joe Szekeres Magnificent. A must see For actor Andre Sills’ directorial debut, he searched for a play that would inspire him, would challenge him, and would drive him as if he was in the production himself. He wanted to get back to telling the truth in stories, and not harbour any fear in showing the world as it really and truly is to others. He certainly made an extremely wise choice in the selection of Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ satirical ‘Gloria’ to achieve his goal. In a conversation I held with the engaging actor a few weeks ago, Sills commented that it is the writing, the echoes, the wit, and the questions that drew him to the play. For me, ‘Gloria’ became all this and even more. It was an ‘edge of my seat’ remarkably exciting ensemble ‘dark comedy’ of office politics and behaviour performed by exceptional actors who kept me riveted for the two hours. I usually bring a book in which to write notes during the performance, but I closed it and put the pen away as I did not want my attention diverted from this extraordinary production where I heard myself gasp at least twice because I wasn’t expecting what occurred in front of me. We are in a Manhattan magazine office of ‘Culture Now’. At least that’s what I was led to believe as there are posters and artwork on the walls of the playing space with this title. We are then introduced to the denizens of this office who, by all accounts superficially, are far from professional at least from my understanding of working thirty-three years in the field of Catholic education. These office workers in ‘Gloria’ are very unhappy people who dream of something else for themselves, and whether they are successful becomes part of the unfolding plot. The previous night before there was a party held at the home of the office weirdo Gloria (Deborah Drakeford) who appears sporadically throughout the first act and is acting rather strangely in front of everyone before she disappears. Ms. Drakeford also plays office manager Nan. Most in the office either forgot or did not attend the party except Dean (Nabil Traboulsi), Nan’s assistant, who stumbles in hungover from the night before at Gloria’s place. We are also introduced to the office intern, Miles (Savion Roach) who is finishing his last day. During his internship as part of his degree program, Miles has become the ‘Joe job gopher’ for everyone else. The selfish and ungrateful worker who spends more time away from her desk Kendra (Athena Kaitlin Trinh) at times becomes that one person in the office whom everyone despises and wonders why she hasn’t been turfed out. From her vantage point, receptionist Ani (Jonelle Gunderson) has the perfect vantage view of everything. Just slightly down the hall we also meet the harried fact check checker for the magazine Lorin (Carlos González-Vio) who comes rushing on when the noise level gets extremely loud, and he can’t concentrate because he is checking the facts for all the articles. Jackie Chau’s open set design sharply incorporated various angles, three walls and designs to open the playing space. The single desks nicely worked as cubicles. The overhanging fluorescent tubing lights which hum, fade, and burn out periodically become a select example of pathetic fallacy. (Hopefully you’ll remember your high school English lesson terminology). Christopher Stanton’s sound design and composition remain clearly sharp especially his composition of ‘Glitter Witch’. Jonelle Sills’ solo soprano vocals near the end of the production hauntingly remained with me as I exited the auditorium. Chris Malkowski’s lighting design cleanly highlights the action of the stage. At one moment, I was so taken with the shadowed lighting on Savion Roach as he cleans both the windows and the countertop all in stylized slow motion while never upstaging the conversation between Drakeford and Gunderson. Sills’ vision for the play as director becomes sharply delineated. He holds a mirror up to all of us in the audience and wants to see how humans really do behave and makes us question why we behave in the manner we do, sometimes wittingly, sometimes humorously, and sometimes ghastly. This highly acclaimed ensemble of actors reached the bar Sills set high for this production and told the story unabashedly without any fear whatsoever. To experience its truth, its pathos, its wit, its bravado, its bravery, and its clarity in enlightenment, I strongly encourage you to see this ‘Gloria’ and experience it firsthand yourselves personally. Final Comments: ‘Enthralling and gripping, this ‘Gloria’ with its passionate and provoking storyline is one that needs to be discussed after the curtain comes down. Magnificent.” Running time: approximately 2 hours with one intermission Production runs to March 20 in the Guloien Theatre, at Crows, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets call the Box Office (647) 341-7398 or visit www.crowstheatre.com . Performers: Deborah Drakeford, Carolos González-Vio, Jonelle Gunderson, Savion Roach, Nabil Traboulsi, Athena Kaitlin Trinh GLORIA by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins An Arc Production in Association with Crow’s Theatre Director: Andre Sills Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Tamara Vuckovic Producer: Paolo Santalucia Associate Producer: Rob Kempson Production Manager & Technical Director: Holly Hilts Set and Costume Designer: Jackie Chau Lighting Designer: Chris Malkowski Sound Designer and Composer: Christopher Stanton Fight Director: Daniel Levinson Previous Next

  • Dramas 'A Streetcar Named Desire' by Tennessee Williams

    Back 'A Streetcar Named Desire' by Tennessee Williams Now onstage in Toronto's Distillery District at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured L-R: Mac Fyfe, Amy Rutherford and Shakura Dickson Joe Szekeres “Intensely raw and, at times, animalistic emotional responses. Palpable and tawdry grit makes this ‘Streetcar’ thrilling.” We find ourselves in the French Quarter of New Orleans not too long after World War Two. The city and the production are drenched in sweat with intoxicating ‘bluesy’ music, a seductive lure that draws the characters (and even me) into this district of broken dreams and relationships. It’s the hottest of summers. It’s also a time of misogynistic relationships that appear to be accepted as the norm. Women did as the men wished. There are moments when Stella and Blanche will not acquiesce to Stanley’s wishes. It’s also a world where people shout and scream at each other with racial epithets periodically thrown in for emphasis. A delicately nervous Blanche DuBois (Amy Rutherford) arrives at the cramped two-room apartment of her younger sister Stella Kowalski (Shakura Dickson) and her brutish brute husband Stanley (Mac Fyfe). Blanche has no money on her. She has taken a supposed leave of absence from her English teaching position at a school on account of her nerves. We eventually discover the truth of what happened there. She has never met her brother-in-law, and the two clash with each other because Blanche becomes critical of her sister and the life she has chosen to lead in New Orleans. Stanley is a working-class son of Polish immigrants and resents Blanche’s high and mighty superiority of airs. Blanche and Stella are the daughters of southern plantation owners of Belle Reve Estate. When Stanley learns what happens to the estate, he’s annoyed that perhaps he and Stella (on account of the Napoleonic Code) may have been cheated out of an inheritance. We also meet Stanley and Stella’s upstairs neighbours, Eunice Hubbell (Ordena Stephens-Thompson) and her husband, Steve (Lindsay Owen Pierce). Steve is also part of Stanley's weekly poker game in his apartment. The other poker players are Pablo (Sebastian Marziali) and ‘Mitch’ Mitchell (Gregory Prest), Stanley’s best friend and an all-around nice guy who lives with his mother and takes care of her because she is ill. The contentious animosity between Blanche and Stanley continues to heat up continually because he senses his sister-in-law is not being honest about why she has shown up. Mitch develops feelings for Blanche, which does not sit right with Stanley. Throughout the three-hour running time, secrets upon secrets are revealed by individuals who, according to director Weyni Mengesha’s programme note, are “connected through their desperate need to survive.” This opening-night production is the heightened climax of what every working actor wishes and hopes to accomplish on stage – a chance to showcase how these characters manage to survive against the odds thrown at them. Mengesha weaves Williams’ intriguing theatre classic craftily. Once again, she writes in her programme note that the audience will “not see[ing] anybody truly, but all through the flaws of their own ego.” These are iconic literary characters constantly living on the brink of possible emotional and mental distortion. Lorenzo Savoini’s sparse set design at the pre-show caught my eye immediately. He has carefully captured the gritty look of a downtown setting. Corrugated aluminum siding along the back wall with a staircase leads to Hubbell’s apartment. There is a single door centre stage. A rolling suitcase sits slightly downstage, just off-centre. Kimberley Purtell’s, at times, silhouetted and jarring lighting design perfectly accentuates and captures the intensity of the mood within the scene at a given moment. Rachel Forbes’ costume designs evoke everything from Stanley’s torn wife beater undershirt to Blanche’s frilly undergarments and dresses. Debashis Sinha’s terrific soundscape of rumbling streetcars noisily passing by Stanley and Stella’s apartment awakens the ears to create an, at times, suffocating atmosphere. Thanks to the work of original director Mike Ross, the New Orleans music sound remains prominent. It’s loud and haunting, but Divine Brown, Oliver Dennis, Kaleb Horn, and Sebastian Marziali must be recognized for evoking this musical era and sound with marvellous aplomb. Buckle in because the story’s pacing flies. It never feels rushed at all, ever. There are moments when Mengesha places the action smack dab in the audience’s faces where we can’t look away - nor did I want to do so - as the performances are damn good. Actors will sometimes enter from and exit through the audience, often with much fanfare, either with music or boisterously loud voices. The stormy and chaotic lives of upstairs neighbours Steve and Eunice Hubbell (Lindsay Owen Pierre and Ordena Stephens-Thompson) strongly reflect those of the Kowalskis. Mengesha’s choice to showcase and balance how the two couples are similar, disregarding the racial element, remains quite effective. Gregory Prest is solidly heartfelt as nice guy ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, Stanley’s best friend. Prest remains genuinely believable in his smitten infatuation with Blanche. As their summer romance begins to turn a corner in the second act, Prest’s eventual turning against Blanche may seem entirely out of character for the gentle Mitch, but damn believable because she has hurt him. Shakura Dickson’s Stella remains feisty but oh-so compassionate towards Blanche. Dickson and Mac Fyfe become a jaw-dropping, fiery, sensual, and carnal syncopation of animalistic lust and rawness. The attraction, repulsion, magic, and reality between Amy Rutherford’s coyly teasing, beautiful Blanche and Mac Fyfe’s brawny, muscled and dominant Stanley drive this performance forward with a powerful thrust of a definite sexual kinetic rawness. That moment in Act Two is handled with a loud crashing bang against the corrugated aluminum siding and a flourishing theatricality of light and sound, leaving me momentarily speechless. And Another Thought: Blanche tells Stanley in Act Two: “I don’t want realism; I want magic.” This gripping opening night performance makes me reconsider this line: “I want the realism to be magic.” It may seem odd to call this ‘Streetcar’s’ realism magic, but it is for me. The magic stems from a stellar cast and crew entirely focused on creating a world of fragility susceptible to demons, as mentioned in the programme. It’s not just Blanche at the end of the play who must face her demons. This ‘Streetcar’s’ final tableaux reveal how each character must fight his/her past of demons and recognize how they have been changed through the arrival of Blanche DuBois. Running time: approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with one interval. ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ runs until July 7 in the Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane. For tickets: Soulpepper.ca or call (416) 866-8666. SOULPEPPER THEATRE COMPANY presents ‘A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE’ by Tennessee Williams Directed by Weyni Mengesha Assistant Director: Tanya Rintoul Set Design: Lorenzo Savoini Costume Design: Rachel Forbes Lighting Design: Kimberly Purtell Associate Lighting Designer: Imogen Wilson Sound Design: Debashis Sinha Original Music Director: Mike Ross Original Fight Direction: Simon Fon / Fight Director: Daniel Levinson Remount Intimacy Director: Burcu Emeç Dramaturg: Joanna Falck Stage Manager: Robert Harding Assistant Stage Manager: Laura Baxter Performers: Divine Brown, Oliver Dennis, Shakura Dickson, Mac Fyfe, Kaleb Horn, Sebastian Marziali, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Gregory Prest, Amy Rutherford, Ordena Stephens-Thompson Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Casey and Diana' by Nick Green

    Back 'Casey and Diana' by Nick Green Now onstage at the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival Cylla von Tiedemann. Krystin Pellerin and Sean Arbuckle Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE 'Casey and Diana' serves as a masterclass in acting from start to finish. It is a powerful, inspiring, emotional, and hopeful experience. Toronto’s Casey House opened in 1988 and was one of the first hospices in the world to provide palliative care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. In October 1991, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, visited the hospice. Her historic visit helped to change public attitudes toward people living with HIV/AIDS. The late Princess was photographed shaking and holding hands with one of the residents. The picture went viral in newspapers worldwide putting a recognizable human face of care and compassion against the anxiety and homophobia at that time. Playwright Nick Green’s world premiere of ‘Casey and Diana’ dramatizes the Princess’s (Krystin Pellerin) visit. The play opens that morning. Excitement builds as the residents and the caretakers realize how significant this moment truly is, especially Thomas (Sean Arbuckle) who is fascinated with the British royal family. He remembers everything about Diana’s wedding to the then Prince Charles. ‘Casey and Diana’ also incorporates flashbacks where Thomas meets his new roommate André (Davinder Malhi). We also meet hospice nurse Vera (Sophia Walker) and volunteer Marjorie (Linda Kash). Thomas’s sister, Pauline (Laura Condlln), also becomes an important individual in the story. The hospice room designed by Joshua Quinlan for Thomas and André is spacious. The stained-glass artwork reminded me of the pieces found at Casey House from pictures I've seen. The lighting design by Louise Guinand expertly captured the emotional highlights of the production, including a visually stunning moment where several characters were individually spotlighted. Debashis Sinha’s work as Composer and Sound Designer is noteworthy. The selection of the choral singing of "I Am Who I Am" from "La Cage Aux Folles," heightens the drama and adds to the overall beauty of the performance. Andrew Kushnir's gentle direction of Nick Green's extraordinary script exudes unparalleled human compassion towards the subject matter. This exceptional production evokes an important message from Anne Frank's diary: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart." Despite the fear and homophobia at that time, the goodness radiating from each of the characters' hearts left many in tears around me. The entire production remains an acting masterclass from beginning to end. Sean Arbuckle's Thomas is a unique blend of a grumpy old man and a stylishly sassy individual, as evidenced by his sarcastic humour and clever banter. His references to the popular TV show 'The Golden Girls' and the film 'Steel Magnolias' are strategically placed for comic relief and hit home with their poignant message. As Thomas’s often petty and bitchy sister, Pauline, Laura Condlln meanness remains palpably cruel. Davinder Malhi’s André exhibits a palpable sense of unease regarding his stay at Casey House, as well as the challenging circumstances in store for him. Nevertheless, André displays a mischievous wit that elicits laughter from the audience during a well-timed "gotcha" moment with Thomas. Krystin Pellerin emanates the same kind of magnanimity that Princess Diana was known for. At the beginning of the play, Pellerin conveys immense warmth and kindness towards Arbuckle when she first meets him. That iconic handholding between Thomas and the Princess is truly breathtaking as there is a great deal conveyed in that silent moment. 'Casey and Diana' is remarkable for its ability to establish a connection with and understand healthcare workers at Casey House who tirelessly provide care despite facing homophobia and stigma related to the HIV/AIDS virus at that time. This message is especially relevant today, given the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic and the heroic efforts of healthcare workers that deserve appreciation. The play's message is timeless and has a profound impact. Vera, portrayed by Sophia Walker, exudes a professional and efficient demeanour as a nurse who acknowledges the need to maintain emotional distance from the residents' struggles. Despite her composed appearance, Walker effectively conveys Vera's underlying emotional distress when expressing her apprehension about confronting individuals like Thomas's sister, Pauline, who can be cruel. Meanwhile, Linda Kash delivers a convincing portrayal of the at-times bubbly and chipper Marjorie who has suffered the loss of numerous friends to AIDS/HIV. Despite this, Marjorie remains optimistic and resilient, recognizing the importance of moving forward amidst the turmoil both inside and outside of Casey House. Vera and Marjorie allow themselves to grieve their losses at their own pace, but they draw strength from their sense of purpose and their commitment to connecting with the residents and maintaining a hopeful attitude. Despite the challenges, they persevere. It’s not easy, though. There is one rather poignant moment in the second act when Kash's wrenching response tugs at the heartstrings. Final Comments: A tremendously moving story of tears and laughter, ‘Casey and Diana’ will most assuredly become an important part of the Canadian theatre canon. While there is a sense of beautiful finality as the story has concluded, Nick Green’s story will continue to remain within the heart long after the curtain has come down and the audience leaves. A story not to be missed. I hear some performances have been added so check the website as the play closes soon. Running time: approximately two hours and forty minutes with one interval. ‘Casey and Diana’ runs to June 17 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street, Stratford. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. ‘CASEY AND DIANA’ by Nick Green World Premiere of a Stratford Festival Commission Director: Andrew Kushnir Designer: Joshua Quinlan Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand Composer and Sound Designer: Debashis Sinha Producer: Dave Auster Stage Manager: Michael Hart Performers: Sean Arbuckle, Laura Condlln, Linda Kash, Davinder Malhi, Krystin Pellerin, Sophia Walker. Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Red Priest' (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye)

    Back 'The Red Priest' (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye) Guild Festival Theatre at the Guild Park, Scarborough Raph Nogal Joe Szekeres A smartly directed production of two distinctly unique individuals from different social standings who movingly connect through music, art, and words. A wonderful musical treat at the end finely provides the proverbial nightcap. Enchanting to watch on a gorgeous opening night summer evening. Fun fact I did not know. I had to look up the meaning of ‘the red priest’ and its connection to the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. He had a crop of red hair inherited from his father. Ah, the things we can still learn in retirement. Mieko Ouchi’s ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) is the story of a fictional relationship between Vivaldi (David Whiteley) and the wife of one of the most powerful noblemen of the French court simply known as The Woman (Sierra Haynes). Her husband has wagered the King of France that Vivaldi can teach the countess to play the violin in six weeks at which time she will then play for the French court. This boorish behaviour by the Woman’s husband to treat her in such a cavalier manner remained unseemly to me, but it’s also the era when everyone had secret lovers while married, and no one batted an eye at this reprehensible behaviour either. Period piece settings always fascinate me and I’m curious to see how a theatre company uses and dresses the space appropriately. I’ll acknowledge Production Designer Wasifa Noshin’s astute work here in creating simple but elegant touches that allowed me to fill in my mind the grandiosity of the French drawing rooms in this outdoor Greek theatre setting. A nice touch was the lighting of the flames over the portcullis entrance centre stage. They didn’t stay lit for too long for the beautiful summer breeze, but no quibble there for me. Costume designs are splendid re-creations of the period. Helen Juvonen’s clear-sighted direction made me care about these two individuals from their appropriately different social strata. What fascinated me about Mieko Ouchi’s script is listening to the highly detailed monologues Whiteley and Haynes deliver to the audience as we see the world from their points of view. It does take time to warm up to Vivaldi and the Woman, and that’s a good thing. David Whiteley becomes a fastidious Antonio Vivaldi who recognizes, at times, an improbable task he has at hand to teach the haughty unfocused countess who initially wants events to unfold the way she desires them. While maintaining that air of superiority of social class structure in Vivaldi’s presence, Sierra Haynes makes an interesting choice in developing the Woman’s character. Haynes affirms a ‘street smart’ sense about the Woman in some of her monologues to us while maintaining her proper place within the French court. She knows she is played by her husband over this wager with the King. To maintain her dignity about learning to play the violin in an unheard-of time allotment over which she ultimately has no control, the Woman does what she can do to maintain control. She goes toe to toe with a man who will either make her look foolish in front of others or make her the envy of others through her musical talents. I don’t believe it’s spoiling the plot to say the latter wins out. One moment that spoke volumes to me was the silent look Vivaldi and the Woman gave to each other during a shared dance. It was that compassionate and caring moment between two individuals who get what the other person is all about. It’s that moment where two individuals allow each other to look into their eyes and their souls of who they are despite the call of fame, fortune or societal duty, as Juvonen stated in her Director’s Note of the programme. Those moments where actors just inherently connect with each other make live performance the extraordinary craft it is. Both Whiteley and Haynes are extraordinary musicians as well, and what a bonus it is they play the violin and fiddle. I put my book down at the end where I was making notes and just listened and watched these gifted artists share their talents with us. What a wonderful way to cap off the evening. Where I do feel bad for the company and through no fault of their own is the noise spilling out from the nearby clubhouse on the grounds. On this opening night, a wedding celebration was in full swing with loud tunes blaring for what seemed an eternity. I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration Sound Designer Sean Meldrum experienced as he did his utmost to adjust the levels of the underscoring Vivaldi music when Whiteley and Haynes began speaking. The noise level did abate about fifteen minutes into the performance, but c’mon. It has been an empty two years without live theatre and GFT gives us a welcome back gift of a wonderful show and experience we’ve been sorely missing. Can something be done in future to ensure it’s a win/win situation for all? Final Comments: I’ve heard the judges on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’ say, “It’s a yes from me.” “It’s a yes from me” to see ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye). Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. The production runs to August 7 on the grounds of Guild Park, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough. For further information on dates and times, visit www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca . THE RED PRIEST (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) by Mieko Ouchi Presented by Guild Festival Theatre. Director: Helen Juvonen Stage Manager: Tara Mohan Production Designer: Wasifa Noshin Sound Designer: Sean Meldrum Assistant Director: Alecia Pagnotta Performers: Sierra Haynes, David Whiteley Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Cavan Blazers' by Robert Winslow

    Back 'The Cavan Blazers' by Robert Winslow Now onstage at 4th Line Theatre, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook. Credit: Wayne Eardley. Photo of the 2023 company including Colin A. Doyle and Robert Winslow Joe Szekeres "The Cavan Blazers" emphasizes the significance of and for religious tolerance, but it often comes at a costly price. Background: Playwright Robert Winslow’s ‘The Cavan Blazers’ is in its seventh remount at 4th Line Theatre. It was the flagship production of the theatre company back in 1992 and again re-staged in 1993, 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2011. This is the first time I’ve seen the production. 4th Line Theatre’s mandate promotes Canadian cultural heritage through regional and environmentally staged dramas, and the company is to be commended for it. This production of ‘The Cavan Blazers’ features more than 50 actors, including both local performers and those belonging to the Equity Union. Additionally, an advisory to dress appropriately for the elements. A play does not stop at the Winslow Farm if there is a brief rainstorm, so pack appropriate gear just in case. Opening night was halted briefly for a heavier rain twice in the second act. Lightning ultimately forced the show's postponement for safety reasons. I returned the next night. There was another brief rainfall, but it cleared. The Play: Set in 1854, ‘The Cavan Blazers’ dramatizes the conflict between the Protestant and Catholic Irish settlers in Cavan Township outside of Peterborough. Justice of the Peace Patrick Maguire (JD ‘Jack’ Nicholsen) wants to establish a Catholic parish in the township. Dane Swain (Colin A. Doyle) leads the vigilante group ‘The Blazers’ who do whatever they can to stop Catholicism's ‘threatening influence’ in the township. Commentary: As a practicing Catholic, I wondered how the story would unfold. After watching Winslow’s play, I couldn’t help but make a connection to Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Both works contain hurtful language towards Catholics and members of the BIPOC community, respectively. Yet, Miss Lee’s book has been removed from some school districts’ curricula. Should practicing Catholics be upset about treatment towards them in Winslow’s play? Yes, because it is horrible to hear and witness on stage. Should Catholics avoid Winslow’s play as some school districts have recommended for Miss Lee’s book? Absolutely not. Approaching the ‘Cavan Blazers’ requires an open mind. The same applies to reading "Mockingbird." These were horrible times in our collective history, but they cannot be erased or ignored. They must be confronted head-on. The Winslow Farm setting works well for this ‘Blazers’ remount. Although unintentional, the opening night impending thunderstorm and dark sky were a perfect example of the literary term ‘pathetic fallacy’ we learned in school, where the outside weather reflects the characters' internal feelings. The sound of periodic rolling thunder increased the dramatic intensity at various moments. But this is not going to happen at every performance. On the second night, chirping birds at sunset also added to the mystique of the outdoor setting. Productions I’ve seen at 4th Line always strive for realism and have been successful. For the most part, Korin Cormier’s costumes replicate 1854 nicely. One quibble. In the first act, Matt Gilbert (Father Phelan) enters wearing the sacred vestment of a priest after performing a wedding ceremony. He then proceeds to dance in it. I have taken courses in Roman Catholic church history. A priest would not wear the vestment outside of the celebration of the Mass and most certainly not dance in it either. This might be seen as disrespectful of what the vestment represents. I checked the program to see if a local parish priest was mentioned, and a thank you was extended to one. Did this thank you extend for the loan of the vestment, for clarification regarding the wearing of the robe, or both? The selection of pre-show and post-show music duly reflects the conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants. A choice made in the set design puzzled me. There is a picture of Bobby Sands (1954-1981). I had to take a few moments to look up the significance of this individual to Ireland. I’ve included date of birth and death. Since ‘Cavan Blazers’ takes place in 1854, I couldn’t understand why Sands’ picture is there, and I missed the connection. Maintaining accent consistency always remains a challenge for actors—a nod of appreciation to Dialect Coach Melee Hutton for the work involved. For the most part, the actors are successful; however, there are some audibility issues. I can’t hear clearly what is said when there is overlapping dialogue. The same goes when groups of characters may be angry. I couldn’t hear the conversation. It’s admirable that the actors strive for believability—make sure you can always be heard in future performances. Project, but don’t holler. 4th Line Artistic Director Kim Blackwell directs the production with a sure hand. The 50-actor cast energizes Robert Winslow’s intense script of brewing troubles between the Catholics and the Protestants. J. D. Nicholsen remains a stubborn but determined Patrick Maguire throughout to ensure a Catholic presence in Cavan. Solid work from Katherine Cullen as Patrick’s wife, Ann, who is a Protestant and also dutifully stands by her husband even with the harassment and taunting she and her family receive from the Blazers. Ann can only take so much as anyone can. A poignantly touching scene between the two in the second act is heightened when the youngest daughter waves at her father. Colin A. Doyle’s Dane Swain is a passionate and fiery Protestant leader of the Blazers who makes it his duty to ensure no Catholic influence permeates Cavan. Like Nicholsen, Doyle also brings some very human character moments to the surface. In Act One, Swain allows Father Phelan to continue his journey into town after a taxing encounter with the Blazers and, in Act 2, when he confronts Patrick’s wife, Ann, in the tavern. Playwright Winslow assumes the role of Justice of the Peace, John Knowlson. In a drunken conversation he shares with Maguire in the second act, Winslow’s monologue of the reasons why he assists in helping to build the Catholic settlement is powerfully delivered. Complete silence in the audience around me when we learn about Knowlson’s backstory. Nicely done. Why audiences need to see ‘The Cavan Blazers’: It is a timely play which speaks to the 21st-century audience. There are countries still pitted against each other. Russia and Ukraine are only one example. The 2023 remount is handled with the utmost care not to hide the truth. No one emerges victorious as fault lies on both sides, and everyone involved dearly pays the cost. This production can lead to meaningful discussions about tolerance's true meaning and understanding. See it. Running Time: approximately two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission. Production begins at 6 pm. ‘The Cavan Blazers’ runs until August 26 at 4th Line Theatre on the Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line in Millbrook. For tickets, visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca or call the Box Office at (705) 932-4445. Previous Next

  • Dramas The Herd by Kenneth T. Williams

    Back The Herd by Kenneth T. Williams Tarragon Theatre Citadel Theatre Dave Rabjohn Dubbed as a “homecoming,” a brilliantly meditative and cerebral play from Kenneth T. Williams arrives at Tarragon Theatre after a number of years of development and delay. ‘The Herd’ is a unique junction among themes of indigenous rights, scientific ambition, capitalism, spirituality and cultural claims. Each character in this cohesive cast evokes part of this list. A special salute goes to costume designer Samantha McCue whose work individualizes each character and helps to promote the various themes while also avoiding stereotyping. Set in a First Nation town in Saskatchewan, miraculous white twin bisons are born into the herd. A genetic scientist and veterinarian, Vanessa Brokenhorn, is studying the unique phenomenon and is protective of her “laboratory.” The town mayor sees an opportunity for improvement monies, while an overzealous blogger sees exploitation for fame. A local artist wants to preserve cultural interests and refers all questions to elders. Thrown into this unlikely mix is a beautiful Irish businessperson/politician who lobbies for an investment from the European Union. Anger and crises mount as mobs of fanatics descend on the town asking questions about scientific ethics, cultural forces, political motivation and true aboriginal identity. The scientist, played by Tai Amy Grauman, is feisty and business-like as she secures her interests. She wears the dungarees and rubber boots of a farmer with a white labcoat overtop, reflecting both her bonds to the land and to the scientific community. She is at odds with almost everyone including her brother, the mayor, played by Dylan Thomas-Bouchier. He wears local garb along with professional football team logos suggesting his interest in Canadian sports culture. A colourful vest subtlety reflects his leadership position. The Irish entrepreneur, energetically played by Cheyenne Scott, is dressed in all business, with a touch of unreserved sensuality. Her Katy Perry-like rapid costume changes are part of her brassy political and business-power façade. A particular dialogue with the artist Sheila, played by Shyanne Duquette, was deeply moving as they discuss family and relationships even when they are from different worlds. Sheila wears loose, informal gear representative of an artist working in various materials. The character of Coyote Jackson, Todd Houseman, is perhaps the most acute of the cast. Shrewd and hyperactive, he plays the character with excited force. He represents the highly sensitive issue of “pretendian” or false identity claims. In this context, even his costume is mocked as a decades old reference to the “Oka” crisis – a suggestion of stereotyped history. His red bandannas, sometimes on head and sometimes on ankles, contrast with multilayered denim. Bringing technology into his lust for fame, he looks more foolish with a camera bouncing on an angular selfie stick. Pace was problematically slow in parts of the first half. Some comic opportunities were solidly embraced, such as the hilarious “leader voice” mockery by Sheila but some others lost momentum. Visual images on creative “screens” gave an eerie, but important background – especially the slow movement of the bison herd. Coyote’s whipping up of the unseen crowd was a major political factor in the play – sound effects suggested their influence, but more visual suggestions around the periphery would lend stronger drama. The use of the screens in this sense would add tension. The playwright notes that a suggestion from former artistic director Richard Rose about writing an “indigenous” ‘Enemy of the People’, was a happy challenge. Ibsen’s play also features the issues of balancing public good with economics and cultural responsibility. This solid cast, brilliantly costumed, managed to balance these many difficult themes that resonate in our world today. ‘The Herd’ by Kenneth T. Williams Players: Shayanne Duquette, Tai Amy Grauman, Todd Houseman, Cheyenne Scott, Dylan Thomas-Bouchier Director: Tara Beagan Set Design: Andy Moro Costume Design: Samantha McCue Lighting Design: Spike Lyne Sound Design: Mishelle Cuttler Runs through June 12, 2022. Tickets at tarragontheatre.com Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Heroes of the Fourth Turning' by Will Arbery

    Back 'Heroes of the Fourth Turning' by Will Arbery A Howland Company and Crow's Theatre Co-Production now onstage at Crow's Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Foreground l-r: Cameron Laurie and Mac Fyfe. Background: Ruth Goodwin (sitting) and Hallie Seline (standing) Joe Szekeres ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ is a challenging look at a dense text that disturbs on the human level. Piercing and raw, the production becomes refreshing to watch a skilled ensemble of actors tell one hell of a good story. After the curtain came down, I desperately wanted to discuss this opening night of Will Arbery’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ right then and there in a talkback. The play has been called a daring look at a country at war with itself. I’ll take it one step further. A 2020 Drama Finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, ‘Fourth Turning’ becomes a daring look at the conservative view of the tenets of the Catholic faith and the characters who adopt hardcore stances that do not necessarily reflect the basic principles of what Catholicism asks of its followers. Arbery nearly crosses the line into Catholic/Christian bashing of strong conservative views, but he stops short and never does it. Why? These are likeable young people educated in the Catholic faith who have their whole lives ahead of them. Yes, each has crises of faith, turmoil, and personal regrets. They are also acutely aware of the recent ‘Unite the Right’ Charlottesville 2017 white supremacist rally; however, these four characters still believe they can make a difference in a world that continues to be divided and will ultimately become woke in the future. What frustrates me as an audience member about ‘Fourth Turning’? Another social ideology I had yet to learn. On a simple basic premise (which I hope I have right), the Fourth Turning involves dividing historical events into recurring generational personas. The twenty-century Western culture as we know it currently divides people on many controversially confusing social issues. Do we need to add more fuel to the fire of our already fragile world? It’s late at night in Wyoming, 2017. Teresa (Ruth Goodwin), Kevin (Cameron Laurie) and Emily (Hallie Seline) gather at a backyard after-party at Justin’s (Mac Fyfe) house. They have returned to their alma mater college home to toast their mentor, Gina (Maria Ricossa), Emily’s mother, newly inducted as president of a tiny Catholic college in town. The college reunion of these four young people doesn’t become uniquely special for them. Instead, the gathering spirals into far more destructive questions, thoughts, and accusations regarding religion and politics, leaving wounds that may never heal. Philip Akin directs with an assured hand of gritty and realistic conviction. Wes Babcock’s functional set design in the intimate Studio Theatre allows for maximum sightline views and a solid connection to the unfolding events of the plot mere centimetres away. Laura Delchiaro’s costume designs delineate each character's varied social strata levels. Jacob Lin’s sound design of what is the generator’s malfunction made me jump each time I heard it. Logan Raju Cracknell’s lighting design sharply focuses on many of the volatile conversations overheard between the characters. The five-member ensemble remains the solid highlight of the opening night production. They’re in blissful synchronicity with each other. They listen, respond, and deliver top-notch quality performances of natural believability. Mac Fyfe is towering and bold, yet quietly observing and listening as Justin, the eldest member of the reunion. Fyfe is riveting at the top of the show. He’s an outdoorsman. Watching his actions with a gun and what occurs immediately following is unsettling. It initially appears Justin might be someone to fear; however, that all changes when the audience sees how compassionate he is towards a chronically in pain Emily. Justin never seeks anything in return for assisting her in any way. Hallie Seline gives a sweet and lovely performance as an empathetic Emily, but there is that nagging question of what is causing such distress that it affects her physically. Emily has had to learn to suppress her emotions, especially in her work with Planned Parenthood. One client in particular left quite an emotional scar. Emily’s hesitant relationship with her bombastically belittling mother, Gina, also doesn’t help. As Gina speaks to the others in the yard, Seline watches the action silently unfold. She listens intently and may not say much. Nevertheless, her eyes and physical sitting stance powerfully convey far more about how she feels regarding her mother. Seline’s delivery of a monologue near the end of the play remains riveting in all its gritty vernacular. Maria Ricossa’s Gina is a deliciously pompous academic elite as a mother and mentor. She’s direct; she’s bold. She’s also a bully, but it’s understandable why as the play unfolds. Ruth Goodwin is terrific as Teresa, a mirror image of Gina. The latter provided mentorship and guidance years ago to the former. Teresa incorporates many of her mentor’s abrasive qualities now that she writes for a right-wing publication, which Gina bluntly questions. Goodwin’s Teresa, nevertheless, smartly goes one step further to create an underlying tension between her and her classmates. She becomes sarcastically bitchy even after she is cut off at the knees by Gina. Additionally, Goodwin’s Teresa is also hurtfully cruel and vicious. She shares a secret with someone present at this gathering, ultimately becoming known. Cameron Laurie’s Kevin is a pathetic, sad man when the audience first meets him. He’s an alcoholic who desperately craves a girlfriend and longs for a female to touch him—Laurie’s nuanced performance nails what it means to be a Catholic Christian. While Teresa, Justin, and Emily repress, retreat, and stifle their reaching out to others, Kevin, in his lonely, adrift, lost soul manner, becomes fascinated with the outside world. He is willing to take the hard knocks in connecting to others and would love to accept the ‘Dean of Students’ post that Gina offers him. Final Comments: ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ remains disturbing and enlightening. It’s disheartening and invigorating. Director Philip Akin says in his Artistic Note, “Not all big ideas are easy to grapple with. So that is our challenge.” And what a challenge when a play makes an audience think. There are no immediate answers, only more questions. That’s a good thing. It’s also a good thing to go and see ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with no intermission. ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ runs until October 29 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. Call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 ex for tickets. 1010 or visit crowstheatre.com. A HOWLAND COMPANY AND CROW’S THEATRE CO-PRODUCTION ‘HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING’ by Will Arbery Directed by Philip Akin Sets and Props: Wes Babcock Costume Designer: Laura Delchiaro Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell Sound Designer: Jacob Lin 林鴻恩 House Technician: Zach White Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan Assistant Director: 郝邦宇Steven Hao Production Manager: Jeremy Hutton Performers: Mac Fyfe, Ruth Goodwin, Cameron Laurie, Maria Ricossa, Hallie Seline Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Intimate Apparel' by Lynn Nottage

    Back 'Intimate Apparel' by Lynn Nottage Now onstage at the Firehall Theatre until August 27 as part of the Thousand Islands Playhouse Series Credit: Randy deKleine-Stimpson. Jonathan Silver as Mr. Marks and Gloria Mampuya as Esther Joe Szekeres A Voice Choice. ‘Intimate Apparel’ remains a gripping production with an empathetic vision in direction and highly credible performances. Playwright Lynn Nottage had been helping her grandmother move from her family home when she came across an old passport photo of Nottage’s great-grandmother. For Lynn, that photo invited questions about her great-grandmother that no living person could answer. ‘Intimate Apparel’ resulted from questions Nottage gathered about her great-grandmother, Ethel, who lived as a seamstress in New York City at the dawn of the twentieth century. The production is set in 1905, in New York City (and in a segregated America). ‘Intimate Apparel’ focuses on central protagonist Esther Mills (Gloria Mampuya), a 35-year-old unmarried black seamstress living in a boarding house for women. Her landlord is Mrs. Dickson (Kirsten Alter). Esther makes intimate apparel for women ranging from high society white individuals like Mrs. Van Buren (Olivia Neary-Hatton) to prostitutes like Mayme (KhaRå Martin). Esther is in high demand for her work as a seamstress. She has set aside money over the years and has stuffed it into the quilt on her bed. She hopes one day to open a beauty parlour for black women where they will receive the same treatment as wealthy socialite white women. Esther is also lonely. She has watched other women from the boarding house marry and leave. She longs for a husband and her own life as well. Her heart appears to lie with the Hasidic fabric shopkeeper Mr. Marks, (Jonathan Silver), from whom she buys the fabric to make the garments. Mr. Marks is also smitten with Esther; however, his strict faith does not permit him to pursue this relationship. Additionally, he is part of an arranged marriage set by his parents years ago. An unseen mutual acquaintance introduces Esther to George Armstrong (Fode Bangoura), who works in Panama building the canal. They correspond by letters. Throughout Act One, we never see George but only hear his voice as he reads his letters. Esther is illiterate, so she has someone write for her. Soon, these letters move from formal introductions to intimate connections where George suggests he and Esther marry without seeing each other. Great care has been taken to accurately depict the early 1900s down to minor details in the three-quarter theatre setting of the Firehall. Sarah Uwadiae’s has created four distinct playing areas. At centre stage on a raised circular dais is Esther’s room. There is a bed and a quilt stuffed with her money. A turn of the twentieth-century century foot-pumped Singer sewing machine figures prominently centre stage. Stage right is the boudoir of Mrs. Van Buren. Stage left is Mayme’s apartment where she entertains her ‘guests,’ and Mr. Marks’ fabric shop. Frederick Kennedy’s sound design is solid in hearing the sound of the door knocks and bells as Esther moved around the stage. Jareth Li’s lighting design adroitly sets the appropriate mood. Joyce Padua’s costume designs finely replicate the early 1900s. This ‘Intimate Apparel’ remains a gripping production. The creative team has taken great care to ensure the poetry of Nottage’s language is never overshadowed by the, at times, underlying violent tones. Director Lisa Karen Cox clearly shows empathy for Esther and the role of women in the early 1900s. Gloria Mampuya delivers a graceful and human performance of the central character. Although not school-educated, Esther has worked diligently to reach her current position in life. Despite Esther’s illiteracy, Mampuya duly reveals the protagonist’s determination to succeed in establishing her future beauty parlour and in wanting to find a husband who will love her for who she is. While she falls prey to George Armstrong's hands, Mampuya duly maintains Esther’s dignity and worth. Women at the turn of the twentieth century were not highly valued. Playwright Lynn Nottage shows these opposing societal standards in the socialite Mrs. Van Buren and prostitute Mayme. Olivia Neary-Hatton’s Mrs. Van Buren is vain and egotistical at first. There are moments when she, too, shows her white privilege over Esther. However, once Van Buren's backstory of a loveless marriage is revealed, Neary-Hatton's emotional outburst and desire for connection with anyone, including Esther, become heartfelt. Esther's friend, Mayme (KhaRå Martin), has personal interactions with men, of which Esther disapproves. Mayme may initially be viewed as "the tart with a heart," but Martin wisely reveals more on stage. Like Mampuya, Martin’s solid performance duly asserts dignity and worth in Mayme, elevating her to a significant influence in Esther's life. Kirsten Alter is likeable and commanding in the role of boarding house landlady Mrs. Dickson who becomes the voice of reason in Esther’s life. It becomes interesting that Dickson is the only person who speaks the truth to Esther while the other characters all have hidden secrets lying underneath. Lynn Nottage effectively reveals how patriarchal societal norms affect the life paths of her male characters. As shy fabric retailer Mr. Marks, Jonathan Silver's initial bashfulness in concealing his feelings for Esther remains quite touching. Director Cox skillfully utilizes this initial meekness to heighten the sexual synchronicity between Esther and Mr. Marks. Whenever the retailer brings forth new fabric, Silver lovingly and intimately strokes the material with his fingers as he presents it to Esther. Mampuya responds by touching the material with the same long finger strokes. These scenes are intensely passionate moments between the two without touching each other. Throughout Act One, we only hear Fode Bangoura’s voice read the letters as George Armstrong. Bangoura’s voice is mellifluous and sultry. As the letters become more intimately personal throughout Act One, Mampuya dreamily listens to them read like a bride on her wedding night and finely responds as one. She is a woman who hopes George is the one who will sweep her away and allow her to open the beauty parlour. However, all is not right as Mrs. Dickson suspects. When the audience finally sees George at the end of Act One, he is not what his letters sound like. For instance, when the audience first sees George, his ill-fitting suit with the slightly ripped fedora indicates he is not the man he says he is. Bangoura delivers more than just the proverbial ‘snake oil’ salesman in his performance. His George Armstrong is deceptively cunning and dangerous, filled with a desire for destruction. His relationship with Esther is not one of sexual attraction but rather a violent and twisted connection lacking in passion. Final Comment: In her Director’s Note in the Program, Lisa Karen Cox writes that she is deeply vested in celebrating and sharing Esther’s perspective (and the perspective of others that look like her) with the theatre-going public. While Esther may not be ‘school educated,’ this production clearly shows a woman who is deeply intelligent because she has lived life and will continue to do so despite repressive societal standards for women. The audience is richer for this experience as this terrific cast has successfully captured Cox’s wish and heartfully honours it. Please see ‘Intimate Apparel.’ Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Intimate Apparel’ runs until August 27 at the Firehall Theatre, 185 South Street. For tickets, call the Box Office at (613) 382-7020 or visit 1000islandsplayhouse.com. THOUSAND ISLANDS PLAYHOUSE presents ‘Intimate Apparel’ by Lynn Nottage Directed by Lisa Karen Cox Set Designer: Sarah Uwadiae Costume Designer: Joyce Padua Lighting Designer: Jareth Li Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy Stage Manager: Rebecca Eamon Campbell Intimacy Choreographer: Corey Tazmania Performers: Gloria Mampuya, Kirsten Alter, Olivia Neary-Hatton, Jonathan Silver, KhaRå Martin, Fode Bangoura Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Doubt: A Parable' by John Patrick Shanley

    Back 'Doubt: A Parable' by John Patrick Shanley B&E Theatre in association with The Church of the Holy Trinity (behind Toronto's Eaton Centre) Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres B&E’s production of Shanley’s viscerally explosive ‘Doubt: A Parable’ becomes a meaningful conversation-starter Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 Pulitzer prize-winner is one way to begin an important dialogue amid the changes in our world. I attended the performance with my sister, a practicing Catholic like I am. We had several minutes of meaningful discussion about how the 1964 world culture and its people saw things completely different from the 2022 world we know today. The time is 1964. We are at St. Nicholas Church and School in the Bronx, New York. A charismatic, youthful Father Flynn (Brian Bisson) delivers a homily at Sunday mass about doubt. We then enter the school’s office of Principal Sr. Aloysius (Deborah Drakeford) busily working at her desk. Grade 8 teacher Sr. James (Emma Nelles) enters to check on how a student is doing after an incident with a bloody nose. After a bit of chit-chatty discussion about the events of the school day, the topic then turns to Fr. Flynn and his most recent homily concerning doubt. As the story continues, palpable, rising tension simmers between Aloysius and Flynn, especially concerning the young (and only Black) student in James’s class and school, Donald Muller, and the possibility of improper relations between the priest and the boy. What made this production ring convincingly true were several good choices made that kept me riveted as the plot builds to its crescendo of the final confrontation between the headstrong principal of staunch values juxtaposed with the ‘modern world’ Vatican II understanding of the priest. First, the decision to immerse the play in a Church worked well. Did it bother me that the 175-year-old beautiful Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity was used as the Catholic setting for the story? Not at all. I completely bought it without any hesitation whatsoever. Many of the overhanging light fixtures reminded me of the Catholic Church I attended in south Oshawa in the late 60s. What cinched it for me was the recorded pre-show organ music. Many are hymns sung at Sunday masses today. I even found myself hearing the words to the hymns in my head so a nod to Stewart Arnott, Jack Considine and J. D. Smith. I liked how portions of the church were effectively used to draw attention. Aloysius’s office and the church garden are on riser steps on stage left and right. Flynn enters from the back at the top of the show. His second homily concerning the topic of gossip is gloriously delivered from the beautifully ornate pulpit stage right. The hallway to Aloysius’s office is the long aisle in the nave in front of the altar. Above the altar was the verse: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty’ and underneath unfolds a story that mightily contradicts this verse. If I did have a slight quibble, and minor at that, it is the echo within the church. It was difficult to hear Bisson, Nelles, and Drakeford for a few minutes at the opening for some sound issues. It did improve considerably about 7-8 minutes in and remained fine for the rest of the performance. Stewart Arnott’s carefully nuanced direction of the sub-text layers of possible underlying meaning remains consistently solid and valid throughout. He counterbalances those dramatic moments with humour in the script and allowed me to laugh while realizing the very real and possible horrific implications of abuse. The Catholic faith teaches us to search for truth since certainty can also imply a slight hesitation. For me, the search for the truth in wondering if Flynn is guilty of these improper relations had me scratching my head at times. Director Arnott and this terrific ensemble of actors made me think and made me sit in the deep discomfort of uncertainty as Kim Nelson (who plays Mrs. Muller) pointed out in an earlier interview I had with the cast this past week. Brian Bisson is an engaging Father Flynn who instinctively and securely knows how to speak to young, impressionable boys as shown in the basketball drill. Bisson’s emphatic final confrontation with Deborah Drakeford’s Aloysius becomes enthralling to watch and hear. As Sr. Aloysius, Deborah Drakeford initially appears headstrong and unfeeling, especially in the second scene where she deflates Sr. James’s confidence as a teacher. Drakeford confidently excavates further to show us an Aloysius who has experienced veritable struggles prior to 1964 and survived but perhaps was scarred and altered in the process. She was previously married and lost her husband in what she states, “the war against Adolf Hitler”. Aloysius knows and adheres to her place in the Church hierarchy but that doesn’t stop her from exposing what she believes to be her certainty about Flynn and what he might have done. Aloysius only comments about her certainty and not the truth that the Catholic faith teaches, and this makes Drakeford’s final scene with Sr. James in the garden even more poignant. Playwright Shanley dedicates his play to the many orders of the Catholic nuns who have devoted their lives to serving others. From my research, Shanley had a teacher whom he adored like ‘Sister James’ when he attended Catholic parochial school. Emma Nelles offers a lovely, touching performance as Sister James. Nelles exudes a quiet strength as the young teacher which Aloysius respects since the two become confidantes. A strong bond of emotional connection and conviction between Bisson and Nelles piqued my curiosity when she states she doesn’t believe the rumours about the priest. Although she only appears in one scene, Kim Nelson’s Mrs. Muller is suspicious and hesitant initially as any parent would be when called to the principal’s office (combined with the truth her son is the only black child in the school). Nelson intently listens and responds with clear assuredness all the while standing by her son and recognizing his strength and goodness amid his present hard home life. When Muller drops her bombshell that still makes me gasp every time I hear it, Nelson’s performance strength of quiet stoicism of “It’s just til June” strongly underscores the search for trying to understand the truth of this situation involving Donald and Flynn. Final Comments: For its inaugural production, B&E Productions made a wise choice to stage Shanley’s unquestionably relevant play which is even more so today. It might have been interesting to listen to what others in the audience thought. I look forward to seeing what B&E has planned for future productions. Running Time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. ‘Doubt: A Parable’ runs to November 13 at the Church of the Holy Trinity, 19 Trinity Square (right behind the Toronto Eaton Centre). Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm. For tickets, please visit www.bneproductions.ca . Future audience members are asked kindly to order tickets online. B&E Productions in association with The Church of the Holy Trinity presents ‘Doubt: A Parable’ by John Patrick Shanley Produced by Brian Bisson & Emma Campbell Directed by Stewart Arnott Costume Designer: Lara Berry Lighting Designer: Gareth Crew Props: David Hoekstra and John Rubino Sound Design: Stewart Arnott, Jack Considine and J. D. Smith Stage Manager: Meghan Specht Performers: Brian Bisson, Deborah Drakeford, Emma James, Kim Nelson Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Michael Kohlhaas' presented by Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre

    Back 'Michael Kohlhaas' presented by Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre Played at the BMO Studio Theatre, Saint John, New Brunswick Courtesy of Saint John Theatre Company Aaron Kropf After many delays, Germany’s Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre in Germany arrived in Saint John and presented their stunning production of Michael Kohlhaas. This show is based on the novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist. This is a bare bones production, breathing new life into an centuries old text. Loosely based on a true story of a horse trader who is done wrong by nobility in Saxony, the titular character does everything he can to right the wrong done. He wanted his horses returned to him in the same state they were left. Kohlhaas takes to the courts and seeks help from other nobles. When he fails in these attempts he raises a mob which commits murder and burns down cities. ‘Kohlhaas’ is one of those folk hero stories that many places have. The script pushes the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in bringing about end goals. The story of Michael Kohlhaas has many of the same characteristics of these other stories. Ultimately it asks the question: “Has Kohlhaas gone too far?” Walking into the theatre the room is draped all in white. The stage is covered in a white canvas with large streaks of red, symbolizing the blood that has been shed. Centre stage is a black saddle, which passes between the company of seven. The stark look of the set and the theatre space are reflected back by the various characters in the story. Because this is a German company presenting the story, surtitles were displayed on three of the four sides of the theatre. The use of surtitles was an important decision and choice. It was easier to watch both what is going on stage and read the text regardless of where the action is taking place. The minimalist approach to this production is what really makes it shine! The company wearing black suits, white shirts, and grey and black suspenders which becomes a striking contrast visual look against the red and white covering the space. There are few defined roles as the company rotates and takes on different characters throughout the production. Nevertheless, since I relied on the surtitles and rotation of roles, there were a few moments I wasn’t clear who was who. It’s a quibble, but I want to acknowledge each member in the company were strong. When not part of the story they remained on the side of the stage and did not draw attention away. It’s difficult to be on stage for an hour and a half and keep up the energy required, but this company maintained their intense energy from beginning to end. It’s unfortunate that Michael Kohlhaas was here for such a short time. This is the type of theatre that many North Americans might not be familiar with, or have seen before. This is a third German production for me, one at the Stratford Festival, the second was a Shakespearean production that was part of an international Shakespeare festival that happened in South Korea. Each of these productions was similar in style, and intensity. It was really exciting to be thrust into a story presented in a unique way. I only wish more people in Saint John and across Canada would have had the opportunity to experience this show. Previous Next

  • Dramas “First Métis Man of Odesa” by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova

    Back “First Métis Man of Odesa” by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova Now onstage at Toronto's Distillery District in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova Guest reviewer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, adjudicator, arts educator VOICE CHOICE “A wonder in its sheer simplicity.” Soulpepper Theatre, in the heart of Toronto’s Distillery district, hosted a wonderful evening celebrating all things Ukraine. Not only was a fantastic play on offer but an entire evening celebrating the heritage and crisis facing the Ukrainian people. The theatre’s atrium was transformed into the Odesa Bazaar replete with Ukrainian artists and artisans showcasing and selling their eclectic offerings of hand-crafted candles, stained glass, fine art, kids’ books, jewellery, beaded embroidery, charity organizations – all helping to raise funds and awareness for the plight of war-torn Ukrainian families. After the play, the audience was invited to remain for a post-show reception and experience Ukrainian Heritage Night, a free event celebrating authentic Ukrainian cuisine, music, and community. The Bazaar and Heritage Night were memorable bookends to a heartwarming play full of equal parts charm, wit, angst, tumult, and hope as a young couple captivatingly share their real-life love story set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “First Métis Man of Odesa” is a multi-Dora Mavor Moore award winner and was the most popular touring show in the country last year. It’s easy to see why. It’s relevant and engaging with an easily relatable narrative of the transcendent resilience of love defying the odds. Edmonton-Born Matt Mackenzie, a Métis playwright travelled from Canada to Ukraine to workshop one of his plays. Native-born Mariya Khomutova was one of the actors in that performance, and their romance blossomed between rehearsals and after shows. Together they recount their burgeoning romance, meeting the parents, getting married on the banks of the Black Sea, leaving Odesa for Edmonton, life in a new country, becoming parents, homesickness, relationships and what it means to be an artist in a time of crisis and what ultimately makes their bonds unbreakable. The play just works! It’s 90 uninterrupted minutes of pure joy and unencumbered vulnerability. Not only are the performers instantly likeable, but their storytelling is superb, their chemistry as a real-life couple undeniable! Many of the best scenes in the show are so deeply improbable (early conversations, dates, and marriage ceremony) or so straightforwardly honest (travelling during COVID, pregnancy, war), one wouldn’t believe it as a work of fiction; but as the true stories they are, they triumph. The simple set - a theatre within a theatre, with dramatic red curtains and glorious textiles inspired by Khomutova’s Ukrainian and MacKenzie’s Métis heritage — is perfect. Their stories are told with the help of two white chairs, a creative testament to director Lianna Makuch’s considerable talent. Matthew Mackenzie, Artistic Director of Punctuate! Theatre, an average guy in conservative grey pants and shirt, proclaims before the show begins that he’s not an actor, but a playwright as if apologizing upfront that we weren’t getting an experienced performer, rather someone making his acting debut! Despite his disclaimer he was thoroughly delightful and authentic. He has wonderful comic timing, heart-felt sympathy, good physicality, and a clear connection to his scene partner. Isn’t that what every actor strives for? He’s a natural. Mariya Khomutova is absolutely lovely as Matthew’s life partner. In simple grey skirt and blouse, she’s very much at home on the stage. Like Matthew, I found it difficult to think of her as an “actor”, so natural an unforced is her performance. She fully utilizes her excellent vocals and engaging storytelling ability with a twinkle in her eye and more than a few loving gazes to Matthew. Khomutova and MacKenzie are experts at drawing the humour out of every possible moment, building their stories around the most incongruous of details and adding to each other’s lines with perfectly timed bits of banter. They are each other’s perfect foil and perfect partner. But it’s Lianna Makuch’s inspired, respectful, and innovative directing that catapult this production skyward. She makes the most out of the minimalist set and brilliantly creates vivid images by simply changing the positions of the two chairs. Angled to the left and Matt and Mariya are having their first date, to the right, we’re meeting their unseen parents for the first time. When the chair is toppled it becomes Mariya’s hiding place in the rubble of a war-ravaged town, then the handlebars on a bicycle. Every part of the stage is used to full effect, we never doubting where we are or how we should feel. Her clever use of the moveable centre upstage column and suspended panels is sheer brilliance. Incredibly, this is her directorial debut. I see a very bright future for this emerging artist and storyteller. A production’s sound design needs to enhance each scene with appropriate music and sound, enhancing mood and crating auditory “images”. Edmonton’s award-winning composer and sound designer Aaron Macri’s and audiovisual group Daraba, work incredibly immersive magic. Daraba’s original scores and stings are wonderfully thematic while Macri’s ethereal drones and sound effects guide us from the joy of a beach wedding to a Russian attack on Mariupol, from airports to baby cribs. Soft and innocuous and booming and intrusive as the scene required. This team’s wonderfully understated work provides maximum impact. Projections has always been a bit dubious for me. I’ve seen them used to dreadful effect, washing out actors' faces, or being too washed out to see the images being projected. However, they can also be used very effectively to provide context, location, and mood. Amelia Scott’s vivid lighting and projection design is proof positive of the power of simplicity. Rather than projecting solely onto a back wall, Scott creates depth and dimension by projecting video images and animations simultaneously onto the arched proscenium resulting in an immersive tapestry that, like the music and sound, beautifully enhances but never distracts. We are taken to dozens of locations across years and continents in brilliant detail. Lighting design utilizes rich colours, shades of grey, a couple of spots ensuring that there wasn’t an inch of the stage in darkness when it wasn’t supposed to be. Kudos to the use of sharp geometric projections on the stage floor to denote the perimeter of a queen-sized bed. Dazzling! “First Métis Man of Odessa” is a wonder in its sheer simplicity. One wonders how, with the war raging on, this couple can expose these open wounds of grief, terror, and trauma to an audience of strangers every night. But their co-written script and the intensity of their shared performances make a bold statement; these moments are too important to forget, these stories too impossible not to share. Particularly laudable is the loving care with which the production team nurtured this narrative, lovingly elevating it to a story for our time. Khomutova and MacKenzie are resolved to return to Ukraine and perform this play in Odesa. On that remarkable day, their son Ivan will celebrate that his parents’ love story will have been told in both his homelands. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. Soulpepper and Punctuate! Theatre present “First Métis Man of Odessa” written and performed by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova. Directed by Lianna Makuch Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Sizwe Banzi Is Dead' by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona

    Back 'Sizwe Banzi Is Dead' by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona Presented by Soulpepper and now onstage in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District Dahlia Katz. Tawiah M'Carthy (kneeling) and Amaka Umeh (standing on chair) Joe Szekeres An emotionally gut-wrenching production that hits the core of my being. The beauty of Amaka Umeh and Tawiah M’Carthy’s gifted performances shamefully reminds me I still have a long way to go in learning more. ‘Sizwe Banzi Is Dead’ opens in Styles’ (Amaka Umeh) photography studio in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He reads a newspaper and has finished an article about an automobile plant and then, in a fascinating monologue delivery, begins to tell the audience a funny story about the time he worked at the Ford Motor Company. The audience also learns that Styles had a former job before becoming a photographer. Sizwe Banzi (Tawiah M’Carthy) enters and would like to have his picture taken. When Styles asks his customer’s name, Sizwe hesitates momentarily and then uses the fictitious name of Robert Zwelinzima. Sizwe confidently addresses the audience, delivering a monologue in the form of a letter to his wife. He reveals that he will inform her of his death upon arriving in King William’s Town, where he plans to search for employment with the assistance of his friend, Zola. Despite facing difficulty finding work, Sizwe persists and stays with Buntu (Amaka Umeh), a friend of Zola’s, in order to continue his job search. One evening, Sizwe and Buntu visit a local bar, during which Sizwe steps outside to relieve himself and discovers the deceased body of Robert Zwelinzima. Upon noticing the man's passbook, which grants permission to work, both Sizwe and Buntu decide to take it, with Sizwe now assuming the identity of the deceased man. At this part of the play, an intriguing question is raised: What motivates someone to take on the identity of a deceased individual? According to Assistant Director Tsholo Khalema's I never thought about “the proverbial deaths of Black persons who were forced to modify their behaviour in order to avoid being perceived as aggressive or threatening.” I never knew they were required to carry a passbook dictated by the Dutch colonial government indicating the individual’s right to work or reside in a specific town. To assume the identity of a deceased individual with the proper passbook would be the only option for safety. And that’s exactly what happens when Buntu removes the photo on Robert's passbook and replaces it with Sizwe's. Buntu convinces Sizwe to burn his passbook and adopt Robert Zwelinzima's identity. He assures Sizwe that he can always remarry his wife. Do I blame either of these individuals for doing what they did? Absolutely not. That’s why the play resonates with me emotionally as I was not fully and compassionately aware of what was transpiring overseas. Seeing ‘Sizwe Banzi’ makes me deeply regret my lack of knowledge about this dark period in history and wish I had taken more initiative to educate myself. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu clearly focuses her inspired direction on the value of all black human lives. A story like this requires two gifted performers who tell with the utmost grace, keen humour, frank observation, and candid reactions. Amaka Umeh and Tawiah M’Carthy magnificently do just this. As Styles, Umeh’s recounting of the photos she has taken of individuals over the years is riveting to watch. There is such happiness and confidence in the way she speaks about those whom Styles has photographed. As Sizwe, M’Carthy is the exact opposite of Umeh’s Styles. Sizwe appears initially hesitant and nervous when he enters the shop. Much-needed humour occurs as Styles poses Sizwe in some unnatural stances for the camera. But Amaka and Tawiah also do more for me. Their impactful performances continue to remind me I still have a long way to go in learning more about “how we can learn from our past to move forward” as Director Tindyebwa Otu writes in her programme note. Ken Mackenzie's set design effectively immerses the audience in a different era and location. Raha Javanfar's enigmatic lighting design establishes a foreboding tone. Richard Feren's sound design serves as a stark reminder that we are not in North America. I particularly admired Ming Wong's costume design for Tawiah M'Carthy, as his suit's pinstripes and pristine appearance conceal the true identity of Sizwe from the audience initially. Final Comments: Although I remember during high school and completing my undergraduate degree that the situation in South Africa was bad, I never fully understood the immense human suffering caused by apartheid. Tindyebwa Otu’s Director Notes reveal South Africa’s apartheid laws were inspired by Canada’s own policies towards Indigenous people. I felt tremendous anger at this realization and sadness in recognition I didn’t learn more. ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ is one very important theatrical work to see. I hope there might be some audience talkbacks before the show concludes its run. Continued work and guidance need to be evident after the performance. Running time: approximately one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ runs until June 18 in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s Distillery District. To purchase tickets: visit soulpepper.ca, youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-6666. Soulpepper Presents: ‘Sizwe Banzi Is Dead’ by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona Director: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu Set Designer: Ken Mackenzie Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Raha Javanfar Sound Design and Composition: Richard Feren Stage Manager: Sarah Miller Performers: Tawiah M’Carthy, Amaka Umeh Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Misery' by William Goldman. Based on the novel by Stephen King

    Back 'Misery' by William Goldman. Based on the novel by Stephen King Now onstage at the Imperial Theatre, Saint John, New Brunswick Credit: Andrew Finlay. Sarah Rankin as Annie Wilkes Aaron Kropf Most people are familiar with the film version of ‘Misery’ with James Caan as Paul Sheldon and Kathy Bates as “number one fan”, Annie Wilkes. Many came to the Imperial Theatre because they anticipated a particular scene in this production, and I’m sure they weren’t disappointed. It’s always tricky to be a part of something that so many people either already know or have an impression. Nobody wants to be compared to what has come before them; the exception might be if it has a poor reputation. Sarah Rankin (Annie Wilkes), Stephen Tobias (Paul Sheldon), Bob Doherty (Sheriff Buster) and director Dean Turner have nothing to worry about there! For anyone unfamiliar with the film or the novel by horror master novelist Stephen King Misery, playwright William Goldman compiles the story of famed writer Paul Sheldon and his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes. Through a raging snowstorm, Wilkes follows her favourite author of the Misery Chastain stories from the inn Paul goes to write all his novels (an author full of habits and superstition). Luckily, or perhaps not for Sheldon, Wilkes saves his life after an automobile accident. During his recovery, the latest ‘Misery’ novel is released. Annie isn’t happy with the way the novel ends, which quickly makes the saviour into a hostage taker. Brian Goodwin’s compact set design increases the tension and confinement felt by Paul and the audience, thanks to the small area of the stage that the set takes up. Thanks to the revolve that holds up the set, it moves quickly from the bedroom to the hallway, to the kitchen, and finally to the front of the house. Not only does it make the movement from one part of the house quick and seamless, but it also adds to the show's suspense. Saint John Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Stephen Tobias returns to the stage as writer Paul Sheldon. It was refreshing to find out he was back on stage the day before the show's opening (thanks to a social media post by the company); it came without the typical fanfare that comes with most artistic directors taking to the stage after a hiatus. The role of Sheldon is a difficult one. For much of the show, his movement is restricted to a bed. It’s a challenge to act like you’re in pain. At times, director Dean Turner seems to ignore this vital component to move the story along. That aside, Tobias’s Paul Sheldon genuinely drew the audience into the horrific predicament he finds himself in. ‘Misery’ hinges on the psychotic Annie Wilkes, aptly played by Sarah Rankin. Wilkes is a complex, sometimes challenging character, thanks to the film and Bates's performance. It foremost requires the audience to believe initially that she is full of good intentions, genuinely wanting to help Sheldon recover so that he can write. Rankin can ramp up the tensions at the turning point in the show as she feels she must do everything in her power to get Sheldon to bring back her beloved character. The moments Wilkes’ rage peaks are the times Rankin shines in this production. It is a delight to see Stephen Tobias tackle such a challenging role on stage. It’s equally delightful to see Sarah Rankin shine as she makes Sheldon’s world smaller and smaller. These two performers command the stage during the brief 1-hour and 40-minute production. If you think you know this story because of the novel or the film, you don’t know Misery until you’ve experienced it live on stage. See it. The production runs until March 23 at the Imperial Theatre, 12 King Square S. Saint John, New Brunswick. For tickets: 1-800-323-SHOW or imperialtheatre.ca Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' by Edward Albee

    Back 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' by Edward Albee Produced by Zippysaid productions. The show has now closed Courtesy of Zippysaid productions Dave Rabjohn A revival of the classic 1962 play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ by Edward Albee opened at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto on April 24. Fiercely directed by David Agro, the play is a smash up of booze, infidelity, caustic relationships and unrelenting denial of reality and truth. No wonder it won a Tony award! A brilliant cast of four delivers bout after bout of flaming language and emotion. Agro also stars as George, a college history professor who moves around the stage like a wounded cat and thinks he is conducting the games of the evening. George and his wife Martha (Deborah Shaw) stagger home from a party given by the college president – Martha’s father. The air seethes with choler as Martha announces that she has invited a young couple for after party drinks. Nick, a new professor, played by Josh Palmer and his silly wife Honey (Chloe Matamoros) arrive while sobriety leaves. Martha and George strike out at each other, embarrassing the guests. There is a mention of a “son” and Honey admits that Martha alluded to him which infuriates George. During a series of taunting arguments – one being about George’s lack of ambition and ability – Honey (clearly an alcoholic) gets very drunk and leaves to vomit. While George and Nick are alone, George tells a story about a strange friend who killed both his parents apparently by accident. When the girls return, music is played and Martha openly cavorts with Nick and George pretends not to care. George continues to” play games” such as something called “get the guests” where he wickedly describes the young couple and taps into personal difficulties. Martha taunts George to the point where she defiantly takes Nick upstairs - clearly to seduce him. Martha returns, unsatisfied, and the discussion about their son spirals even more furiously. Nick finally realizes that the son is imaginary – a game they play as solace for their infertility. George’s final vile act is to “kill off” the son and Martha swoons to the floor as Nick and Honey stagger away. Shaw and Agro are brilliant together as his eyes keep popping at her vulgar braying. Their drunkenness accelerates with subtlety. Moments of false tenderness explode into vitriol. Shaw’s brash toughness is belied by Agro’s power to kill the game of the “son.” Shaw’s skill is being drunk, angry, and self-despairing all at once. A highlight of George’s work is a splendid speech about chromosomes. As director, Agro blocks George often with his back to the audience. Cleverly, this suggests George as a conductor, trying to control his “games.” Josh Palmer, as Nick, demonstrates versatility with a range of emotions. He somehow balances his drunken lust for Martha and concern for his infirm wife. Lack of confidence is displayed by moments of staring at nothing and nervous knees chattering back and forth as he sits nervously. Chloe Matamoros, as Honey, hides her fears in austere clothing and wrapped up hair. But she clearly exposes her alcoholism while she stares at a bottle (not the pourer) as it gurgles. Honey is an enigma – a seeming witless minor character, she breaks out into moments of clarity underscoring George and Martha’s evil. She is almost a Greek chorus, hovering above the fray with pitiful commentary. Agro’s direction (and I guess Albee’s writing) allows for wild modulations in voice and volume. In most works the “braying” would be a concern, but here it fits. The tiny Red Sandcastle space could have been a concern for such a wild ride, but it ironically helped to focus the free-wheeling action. Albee’s work blurs the distinction between illusion and reality – this talented cast delivered the theme. ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ by Edward Albee Cast – David Agro, Deborah Shaw, Josh Palmer, Chloe Matamoros Director – David Agro Producer – Deborah Shaw Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Hooves Belonged to the Deer' by Makram Ayache

    Back 'The Hooves Belonged to the Deer' by Makram Ayache Now onstage at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre Cylla von Tiedemann. Foreground: Bahareh Yaraghi. Background: Makram Ayache and Eric Wigston Joe Szekeres A disturbing theatrical work that rocked me right to my core. Theatre can do just that. Two stories intersect and ultimately collide in Makram Ayache’s daring script. Izzy (Makram Ayache) a young, queer Muslim boy and his family have immigrated to a small rural Canadian Alberta town. He has established one close friendship with Will (Eric Wigston) who later becomes Izzy’s partner. They end up at the local church centre run by Pastor Isaac (Ryan Hollyman). Isaac sees it as his duty and personal project to convert Izzy to become straight. In their later early adult years, Will and Izzy meet Reza (Noor Hamdi). Pastor Isaac was previously married and was a widower. We don’t know how long ago that was. Isaac confides in his second wife, Rebecca (Bahareh Yaraghi), a Christian convert from her Muslim faith, about his frustrations in working here in this small town. Underlying issues threaten this family dynamic with the arrival of Isaac’s estranged adult son Jake (Adrian Shepherd Gawinski). In an attempt to reconcile his sexuality and faith, Izzy invents an imagined Garden of Eden story: Hawa (Yaraghi) and Aadam (Hamdi). Hawa means ‘Eve’ in Arabic. Their relationship is forever changed by the arrival of Steve (Gawinski). And yes, the homophobic connection of ‘God created Adam and Steve’ instead of Adam and Eve is implied. Anahita Dehbonehie’s set and Whittyn Jason’s lighting designs intriguingly create what appears to be an underworld of some kind. A ladder leads up to a huge circular hole. Is there another world up there? The stage is covered with sand. A pool of standing water is located along the apron of the stage. There is a bench around the three-quarters perimeter of the stage. Sometimes the actors will sit on this bench. On the wall prominently (and proudly?) sits a deer’s head. It looks as if there might be room for more displays of heads along this wall. The actors are barefoot. To walk in the sand without shoes indicates perhaps a willingness to want to connect physically to the world underneath them. But is that going to be enough moving forward in this apparent underworld where one can also lose a strong footing within the sand? There are beautiful moments of the imagery of deer as both majestic creature and victim created with Corey Tazmania’s inventive choreography. Ayache’s graphic script of colourful language and simulated sexual activity pushes the boundaries. Periodically the characters climb the ladder in possible search of something else from the world they know. There is an inherent and foolish sadness in doing this because the characters have no particular focus. Izzy and Will call themselves committed to each other while only living for the moment and any kind of immediate gratification from wherever they can get it. I’m reminded of Matthew 7:26 where Jesus tells those: “who hear these words of mine and do not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Peter Hinton-Davis directs with a remarkably clear purpose and intent. Performances are focused and delivered with passionate intensity. Bahareh Yaraghi delivers two interesting and unique performances. As Isaac’s second wife, she understands the importance of her marriage and vows in standing side by side with her husband on all matters of religion and faith. She does her best to help bridge the gap between her and Jake no matter the head-butting she receives from the young man. Ultimately, Rebecca is truly blind to what ultimately faces her. In contrast, Yaraghi’s Hawa is a demanding first woman of the world and expects her husband Aadam to be as clear in tune with the relationship as she is. It’s a big world out there and Hawa recognizes the responsibility she has in it while foolishly her mate does not when he begins the relationship with Steve. Adrian Shepherd Gawinski’s blond-haired look and buff build Steve and Jake duly reflect the foolishness of Matthew’s Gospel teaching above. Gawinski carefully never overplays the physical and sexual attraction. Instead, his surreptitious glances in eye contact speak volumes about how he can get what he thinks about. Ryan Hollyman is a charismatically trustworthy Pastor Isaac who cares about the young people in his community and wants to be of service to them. When the truth is out about Izzy, Hollyman as Isaac believably and humanely casts no aspersions while only gently asking the young man to do one thing. It is this gentle asking of Izzy that becomes foolish for Isaac. His ultimate confrontation with Izzy later in life is sickening and Hollyman handles that moment with frank and frightening candour. Noor Hamdi’s disastrous friendship as Reza (friend to Will and Izzy) and mate to Hawa markedly changes the course of events in both stories. Eric Wigston and Makram Ayache deliver absorbing performance work as Will and Izzy. At the beginning of their love affair, they are provocatively untamed like the mighty roaming wild deer. But there is just a hint that perhaps (figuratively speaking) Will and Izzy’s heads may end up on the wall next to that of the deer. Final Comments: A controversial story, ‘The Hooves Belonged to the Deer’ is sharply written and performed. It’s one that needs to be discussed after seeing it. I hope Tarragon has plans for doing that. Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. ‘The Hooves Belonged to the Deer’ runs until April 23 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For tickets, call (416)531-1827 or visit tarragontheatre.com. THE HOOVES BELONGED TO THE DEER by Makram Ayache Directed by Peter Hinton-Davies Assistant Director: Michelle Mohammed Set and Costume Design: Anahita Dehbonehie Lighting Design: Whittyn Jason Sound Design: Chris Pereira Stage Manager: Fiona Jones Performers: Makram Ayache, Noor Hamdi, Ryan Hollyman, Adrian Shepherd Gawinski, Eric Wigston, Bahareh Yaraghi Previous Next

  • Dramas ‘Room’

    Back ‘Room’ London Ontario’s Grand Theatre Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres This ROOM bravely tackles traumatic issues with sensitivity and sincerity. Be aware this North American premiere of Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, which transfers to Toronto’s Mirvish Theatres in April, might trigger some individuals who have suffered psychological trauma. Placards found throughout the Grand Lobby and website guide those who may experience any significant reaction to call for assistance. With this warning, however, please, please don’t allow this to stop anyone from seeing such emotionally moving performances. Theatre lovers want to get back to experience these feelings. At least I know I do. On my bookshelf, I’ve got a copy of ‘Room’, and still, it sits there. I remember watching the film several years ago and wanting to read the book. Seeing this unique adaptation has now made me want to pull it from the shelf and start when I get home. Kidnapped as a teenage girl, Ma (Alexis Gordon) has been locked inside a purpose-built room in her captor’s garden for seven years. Her five-year-old son, Jack (played at this performance by Lucien Duncan-Reid) has no concept of the world outside what he calls ‘Room’ and happily exists being there with the help of Ma, her games, and his vivid imagination where Rug, TV, and Wardrobe are his only friends. Ma makes an intense decision for her and her son to escape and face their biggest challenge to date: to learn to exist and be outside Room. Entering the Spriet auditorium to take a good look at the stage was eerie, but it works soundly in this case. There was an unsettling buzzing and humming noise (it sounded like fluorescent ceiling lighting tubing). Lily Arnold’s set design effectively captured a claustrophobic visual look in the first act. The circular turning floor perfectly allows for excellent vantage points in Act One and functions extremely well with the prodigious turn of events in Act Two. Projection Designer Andrzej Goulding black silhouetted scrim with child drawings on stage right and stage left remind me what we are about to see comes from a child’s perspective. A large rectangular box visually looks down on the room where we can see the movement of the actors. Above the rectangular box is a drawing of what I thought was a child’s drawing of a window. We learn later it represents the skylight. When the story opens, that sickening claustrophobic tone of this purpose-built becomes intensely magnified. There is a toilet downstage left. A bathtub is located behind the toilet with the sink behind it. The wardrobe closet in which the young Jack sometimes sleeps or hides out is upstage far left. Downstage right is Ma’s bed (and sometimes Jack will climb in with her). A large rug is found down centre stage with the kitchen table just behind. There are cupboards behind and a bolted door with keypad up right serving as the entrance to the Room. Bonnie Beecher and John Gzowski’s Lighting and Sound Design fittingly and efficiently capture their respective tasks. Beecher’s stylized silhouettes continuously assist in building tension within the moment. Gzowski’s smart sound selections work extremely well, especially at pivotal dramatic highlights. A marvelous choice was made to incorporate music and song, so a huge credit of acknowledgment extended to Kathryn Joseph, Songwriter and Lyricist. I gleaned so much from listening to the lyrics and hearing the music surrounding the plot action on stage. Ms. Gordon’s vocal range soars in height in her song at the end of Act One and what has just occurred plot-wise made me gasp. It’s made clear in the program that ‘Room’ is not a musical by any means. The only slight quibble I did have was Gavin Whitworth’s music direction sometimes overpowered the singers and I couldn’t clearly hear some of the lyrics from where I sat in the balcony. I remember seeing the film ‘Room’ several years ago and was quite taken with the young Jacob Tremblay as Jack. In filmmaking, the action can be stopped for whatever reason. The same does not apply to live theatre so when I heard a stage production was in the works, I wondered what child actor could even attempt to maintain the stamina necessary for the role. And in an excellent decision creatively made, there is the young Jack and SuperJack, the elder, who can comment and deliver lengthy monologues. At this performance, an up-and-coming Lucien Duncan-Reid as Jack precociously took control of my heartstrings at key moments. As SuperJack, Brandon Michael Arrington suitably and bravely complements the youthful energy and physicality of the young Duncan-Reid in juxtaposition. In Act Two Arrington breaks the fourth wall twice momentarily and comes downstage to speak to the audience, and the visual effect is remarkable. The final tableau in Act Two with him, Duncan-Reid, and Alexis Gordon remains embedded in my mind even as I write this article the next day. Alexis Gordon is triumphant as Ma. Her range and display of emotional intensity remain consistently believable and naturalistic throughout. Never once did she venture over the top, not once, and all the while remaining in complete control of her being present in the moment. Wonderful. Supporting characters mirror optimally the highly charged fervency. Ashley Wright’s Old Nick is a greasy, sleazy slimeball. Tracey Ferencz and Stewart Arnott as Grandma and Grandpa poignantly reveal how their lives have also been terrifying changed on account of these horrific events of the last seven years. Shannon Taylor as the Interviewer and Popcorn Server strongly yet garishly shows the insensitivity of people who have never fully understood the devastating effects of trauma. Final Comments: Director Cora Bissett wrote in her Director’s Note of the Programme how she has returned to looking at the story through a whole new lens. She has changed as we all have over the last two years. Bissett writes about surviving through enormous uncertainty, holding onto the tiniest hope in the darkest of places, and finding strength in love even when one feels there is nothing left to give. Her enlightening vision for this ‘Room’ honourably does justice to Donoghue’s unforgettable story. ROOM is unforgettable. It is a stirring tale of the immeasurable resiliency of those who have suffered psychological trauma. See it. Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. ‘Room’ runs to March 19 at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre to March 19 on the Spriet Stage, 471 Richmond Street. To purchase tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office (519) 672-8800. It then opens at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre from April 5 – May 8, 2022. GRAND THEATRE, COVENT GARDEN PRODUCTIONS AND MIRVISH PRODUCTIONS present ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue Adapted for the Stage by Emma Donoghue Songs by Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph Directed by Cora Bissett Associate Director: Megan Watson Movement Coach: Linda Garneau Set and Costume Designer: Lily Arnold Projection Designer: Andrzej Goulding Lighting Designer: Bonnie Beecher Sound Designer: John Gzowski Music Director: Gavin Whitworth Stage Manager: Suzanne McArthur Fight and Intimacy Director: Siobhan Richardson Actors: Stewart Arnott, Brandon Michael Arrington, Lucien Duncan-Reid, Isaac Chan, Tracey Ferencz, Alexis Gordon, Shannon Taylor, Ashely Wright Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Counter Offence' by Rahul Varma

    Back 'Counter Offence' by Rahul Varma Onstage at Montreal's Segal Centre for the Performing Arts Courtesy of Teesri Duniya Theatre's Facebook page. L-R: Arash Ebrahimi, Oliver Price and Howard Rosenstein Joe Szekeres A highly complex drama of integrity and grit. It is the mid-nineties in Québec. ‘Counter Offence’ follows the story of Shazia (Amanda Silveira), an Indo-Québec woman caught in an abusive marriage with Shapoor (Arash Ebrahimi), an Iranian man who deals with parental problems and immigration concerns. Shazia’s mother, Shafiqa (Ambica Sharma) and father Murad (Andrew Joseph Richardson) are at their daughter’s side during her ordeal. Shapoor is arrested on domestic violence charges by Sgt. Galliard (Oliver Price), a Québec police officer. Galliard shows his true colours in how he feels about what Shapoor has done. Moolchand (Aladeen Tawfeek) a lawyer/activist comes to Shapoor’s defence by accusing Galliard of racism. Clarinda Keith (Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards), a social worker, defends Galliard even though the Québec police are noticeably racist against people of colour to support the voices of vulnerable women. Ultimately a dramatic turn of events occurs which changes the lives of these characters. There was a talkback after the show, and I stayed because I wanted to hear both what the playwright had to say and what the other audience members were thinking. The audience sits on opposite ends of the auditorium with the action taking place in the centre. The stage is divided into smaller playing spaces from Gilles Prougault’s office to Shapoor’s holding/prison cell to Clarinda Keith’s office. The play is set in the mid-nineties as there is a reference to then Québec premier Jacques Parizeau’s racist incendiary comment of the reason why the 1995 provincial referendum did not sway on account of the ethnic vote. As the play moves forward, the actors sometimes will sit on stage left in chairs. Playwright Rahul Varma’s script is part courtroom drama. At times, the transition seemed clearly obvious. At others, I wanted to see a bit more of the personal drama playing out first. Periodically, the characters break the fourth wall and speak to the audience as if they are in a courtroom. It appears as if the audience becomes the jury trying to make sense of and get to the truth of what happened. The audience sits on opposite sides of the auditorium with the story’s action taking place in the centre. Marie-Ève Fortier has nicely designed the front of where the audience sits as the jury box. Aurora Torok’s lighting design effectively spotlights those individual scenes with a clear focus. Since the play takes place in the mid-nineties, Diana Uribe has selected appropriate contemporary clothing of the time period. Playwright Rahul Varma has written a highly charged edge-of-the-seat drama that kept me focused to the end. Murdoch Schon’s direction remains assuredly clear throughout. The tight-knit ensemble cast offers uniformly solid and believable performances. The topic of racism not only in Québec but in any province is a complex and troubling one for other underlying associated issues. Schon points this out in the Director’s Note when Schon stated: “Counter Offence is not a single-issue play [as it cannot be reduced]…to shrink the enormity of what [the play] grapples with. Varma writes in his Programme Note the play: “addresses the struggle for justice at the intersection of race, gender and culture simultaneously.” Indeed, with this background, it becomes extremely important to keep our eyes and ears always open and try to get as clear of a picture as we can. It’s not easy to always do this during the performance because the language gets nasty and hurtful. Arash Ebrahimi is a tortured Shapoor who credibly showed he wants to make amends with Shazia, but can he be trusted? Amanda Silveira’s performance singlehandedly made that clear to me he can’t, and I bought it. Anytime a man raises his hand to a woman is the last time he will raise a hand to her, and I was pleased both Andrew Joseph Richardson and Ambica Sharma supported this in their performances as the parents. Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards quietly assumes her strength of character as Clarinda in her interactions with Shazia and Guy Galliard. Oliver Price’s Guy is a hard-hitting and in-your-face brutal police officer. Yes, Guy’s heart is in the right place when he believes violence against any woman is wrong; however, to hear the language he uses when speaking to someone from another race is difficult and awful to hear. I persevered nevertheless and let him tell me what he wanted to say. Howard Rosenstein is a tough-as-nails Gilles Prougault who does his best to ensure he can keep Guy from losing his job. Aladeeen Tawfeek delivers a trustworthy performance as Moolchand. I truly believed he wants to help Shapoor at all costs. Even when Shapoor declares he shouldn’t have behaved as he did with Shazia, Tawfeek’s Moolchand becomes that strong parental figure Shapoor so desperately craves that is lacking from his own life. The surprise at the end of the play certainly made me do a double-take. That’s why I wanted to stay and hear what Rahul Varma had to say. Final Comments: The production closes on April 2. Go see it for the strong ensemble work. Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. The production runs until April 2 in the Studio Theatre at Montréal’s Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, 5170 de la cote Ste. Catherine, Montréal, Québec. For tickets, call (514) 739-7944. TEESRI DUNIYA THEATRE presents COUNTER OFFENCE by Rahul Varma Director: Murdoch Schon Stage Manager: Ava Bishop, Set Designer: Marie-Ève Fortier Costume Designer: Diana Uribe Lighting Designer: Aurora Torok Sound Designer: Violette Kay Performers: Arash Ebrahimi, Oliver Price, AndrewJoseph Richardson, Howard Rosenstein, Ambica Sharma, Amanda Silveira Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards, Aladeen Tawfeek Previous Next

  • Dramas Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau

    Back Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau Now onstage at Toronto's Soulpepper in the Historic Distillery District Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres A production of high calibre quality that left me speechless at the conclusion. To be so heartily welcomed back to Soulpepper after a two-year, too long absence with a production that left me speechless at the conclusion made me realize just how much I have missed this precious gift of live theatre in our lives. What a smart choice Soulpepper made in staging Dominique Morriseau’s ‘Pipeline’ to invite us back to the theatre. This top-notch cast led by Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha’s secure visionary direction constructively deals with an issue that, I believe, has eluded the twenty first century educator which Akosua Amo-Adem mentions in her Programme Artist Note: “How can we do better as a city to ensure that all our young Black kids have a chance to reach their potential in the space where they spend the most amount of time?” This is a question front and centre in my teaching career from 1984- 2017. Amo-Adem also refers to the title of the play in her Note. To fall down the pipeline means some youths have perhaps made poor educational choices which could tarnish their future. From my professional experience as a 33-year Catholic educator, this is not the goal for any teacher to see young people fail. If young people have made a poor choice, we as teachers, should be able to help students realize there are other alternatives they can choose to succeed and get out of the hole and not dig in deeper. Teachers are not perfect by any means. Seeing ‘Pipeline ‘reminded me of this very fact. It engaged a few personal memories in my own mind, (sometimes where I realized I didn’t handle the situation as best as I could) on how I dealt with several black students. More about this in a moment. Lorenzo Savoini’s Set and Projection Design with Kimberly Purtell’s whispered lighting are visually strong upon entering the auditorium. Hanging centre stage is a long rectangular school black board with a table in front that to me looked like a teacher’s desk. A door stage right is angled to make it appear as if that is the entrance to a classroom. Behind the blackboard is a bed made which ultimately becomes Jasmine’s dorm room. The rotating stage allows for easy movement of set pieces. Sound Designer and Composer Lyon Smith appropriately selected a song by Yasper for the opening soundtrack: ‘Birds Fly Higher Than the Moon’. The final moment between the central character and her son finely reflects this strongly felt emotional sentiment. We are introduced to Nya (a knockout performance by Akosua Amo-Adem), a single mother who teaches high school English in an inner-city school. Nya sends her son Omari (Tony Ofori) to a private school because she just knows and understands that opportunities for young black men like him do not exist in the public school system. When Omari becomes involved in a school incident that ultimately threatens to get him expelled, Nya must confront the brimming rage within the young man and the reasons that led him to this point. As the troubled, young man who tries his best to keep his seething rage under wraps, Tony Ofori offers a subtle and strongly controlled performance of deeply felt emotions. Omari’s girlfriend, Jasmine (Chelsea Russell), instinctively just knows which buttons to push to make Omari either open up completely to her or to close himself off at all costs. What I liked about Russell’s work was the fact she deliberately has chosen not to turn her performance into the typical needy girlfriend who always wants her guy by her. Instead, Jasmine has Omari’s back continually, and Russell beautifully reveals this loyalty especially in her head-to-head confrontation scene with Nya at the school. We are also introduced to Omari’s father and Nya’s ex husband, Xavier (Kevin Hanchard). Both Hanchard and Ofori have established a credibly natural synchronicity in juxtaposition of their strained father son relationship which kept me on the edge of my seat at one point. I honestly thought a physical fight would have taken place on that stage between the two of them. Believable to watch and to hear these two performers go toe to toe as I got caught up in the passion of the moment. Playwright Morriseau also weaves a subplot into this main story where she duly makes her opinion of the American public school system duly known. As a retired Catholic school teacher for 33 years, once again I was on every single word uttered about these comments regarding the North American public school education system. We meet Laurie (Kristen Thomson), a colleague of Nya’s, who remains positive even after she was absent from her work on account of one of her students physically assaulting her. Thomsen says at one point under a most trying of plot circumstances that she has given her life to her work and her students. Thomson’s bang on natural portrayal of an educator who believes she is doing the best she can under one of the most stressful moments in her career made me both empathize and sympathize because all teachers have been there and experienced what Laurie does in the play. We also meet security guard of the school, Dun (Mazin Elsadig). There appears on the surface a playful chemistry between he and Laurie. She makes a comment to him that possibly might be construed as a tad inappropriate in our woke world today, but what this early introduction work for me was the fact that Thomson and Elsadig are strong actors to establish immediately in their demeanour that context meant everything, and that Dun and Laurie meant nothing in this playful ribbing. This initial context within their introduction to the audience scene became even more profound for me after Laurie is accused of grave unprofessionalism in her dealing with some students. Elsadig’s delivers a monologue that captivated and riveted my attention to every single word he uttered to Nya and Laurie. A terrific scene at that point. Now where I realized I didn’t handle the situation with several black students as best as I could. It occurs the first time I hear poet Gwendolyn Brooks’s ‘We Real Cool’ read aloud by Amo-Adem. I remember teaching that poem to my Grade 11 English classes and using the provided Teacher’s Manual for assistance. The poem’s reiteration throughout the performance underscored it’s an anthem for the voice of young black youth. That I remember teaching to my classes. However, where I felt I did a disservice was not knowing there are two versions of ‘We Real Cool’. The first (the one I used to teach) was simply written in one stanza form. I had no idea this version was not the one Brooks intended but was used for educational purposes or, as alluded to in ‘Pipeline’, a ‘white’ version of the poem. There is another form of ‘We Real Cool’ which Brooks did not write in this simple stanza form. Instead, the lines of the poem are placed on the page in an altering format and when the poem is read aloud, the voice of these young black men in the Golden Shovel Pool Hall becomes totally different. We begin the process of listening to the voice of black youth in this latter version. I truly wished I had known this as I have a new found appreciation of the poem. Final Comments: A couple of weeks ago, I had seen at Why Not Theatre ‘An IMM-Permanent Resident’ where an audience member at the talk back told the actors that border service agents should see that production. I’ll buy that and go one step further. Seeing ‘Pipeline’ and its messages is something all educators should do as well. Dominique Morisseau’s ‘Pipeline’ becomes that important conduit discussion starter to begin to listen and to hear (and sometimes to back off, as Omari tells his mother) the voice of black youth. Running Time: approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Covid protocols in effect. ‘Pipeline’ runs to May 8 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane in the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre at Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. For tickets, visit youngcentre.ca or call1-416-866-8666. To learn more about Soulpepper, visit www.soulpepper.ca . 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  • Dramas Where the Blood Mixes

    Back Where the Blood Mixes Soulpepper and Native Earth Performing Arts Dahlia Katz Dave Rabjohn A revival of ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ by Kevin Loring is now playing at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto. Loring is N’laka’pamux and comes from Kumsheen otherwise known as Lytton B.C. recently in headlines due to devastating fires – this alone makes the play more contemporary. Although some of the writing is over-extended, the strength of this production comes from the agile acting, especially in the two main characters – Sheldon Elter as Floyd and Craig Lauzon as Mooch. They spar over a series of indigenous issues that focus mainly on the theme of home and origins. Samay Arcentales Cajas’ work is also noteworthy for her dynamic and creative video projections. Two lifelong best friends, Mooch and Floyd, live difficult lives due to a variety of factors including suicide (Floyd’s wife) and the ills of residential schools' history. They clown around in a seedy bar, drink heavily, rely on lottery tickets for any kind of hope and pretty much ignore their families. Skillful acting moves them from comedy to pain in a moment’s time. Mooch is most comic with all arms and hands as he exhorts. Almost a Laurel and Hardy routine, quickly and effectively changes into a darker Waiting for Godot sequence as the grief in their lives is exposed. Floyd has not seen his daughter, Christine, played by Tara Sky, for decades. The loss of the wife/mother and the interjection of government institutions has pulled the family apart, but Christine feels the need to revisit her roots and reconnect with her father. Floyd is anxious about their different lives and buries his anxiety in alcohol. Mooch’s parallel problems are exacerbated by his own drinking and his mistreatment of his girl June – played with passion by director Jani Lauzon. Christine’s entrance into these lives is rocky as Floyd rejects her need for connection. Various forms of reconciliation put a dent in the darkness, but it seems only temporary. Oliver Dennis plays an affable barkeep as he strives to temper the tumult in his customers’ lives. Much like the ever-present musician in the shadows (James Dallas Smith,) he serves as a Greek chorus, echoing and reacting to events. As mentioned, the work of Ms. Cajas is spectacular. Projections have become a theatre staple, but her work raises the bar. Highlights include soaring osprey and gorgeous natural beauty. Most creative are scenes of interaction between actors and projections – Floyd fighting to hold onto a sturgeon or running down the path of a railroad track. Ms. Cajas reveals how the beauty of the natural world tempers the greyness of the mortal world. Mr. Loring’s writing can be clever with humour and wit, but he has embraced a large tract of themes and issues that tend to overwhelm – suicide, alcohol abuse, difficult relationships, residential schools, criminal activity, abandonment, government and institutional intervention – a lengthy list to pack into ninety minutes. All topics of importance. Perhaps it’s an effort to jolt an audience into a necessary awareness, but highlighting just two or three of these themes may provide an opportunity to drill deeper and develop more depth of understanding and possible solutions. Some of the repetitive writing slowed the pace at times. Two brilliant moments offered some shimmer in the darkness of their lives. After going through an exhaustive reconciliation, Christine bursts out to her father without any preface – “would you like to see your grandson?” The audience shares his shocked and happy moment. The other instant is Floyd’s fear that Christine is reacting to poor bathing habits. No, she says, “you smell like home.” Perhaps the heart of the play. ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ by Kevin Loring Performers – Oliver Dennis, Sheldon Elter, Craig Lauzon, Jani Lauzon, Tara Sky, James Dallas Smith Director – Jani Lauzon Set design – Ken MacKenzie Video and projection design – Samay Arcentales Cajas Stage Manager – Cole Vincent Runs through June 16, 2022 Tickets – soulpepper.ca Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Innocence Lost: The Steven Truscott Story' by Beverly Cooper

    Back 'Innocence Lost: The Steven Truscott Story' by Beverly Cooper Presented by Theatre on the Ridge and now onstage at Scugog Shores Village and Museum, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry Credit: Barry McCluskey. Pictured: Karly Friesen as Sarah Joe Szekeres The strong Theatre on the Ridge ensemble cast handles the dramatic intensity with dignity, tact, and grace. There’s nary a weather of histrionics in the performance. Set in 1959 in Clinton, Ontario, Beverly Cooper’s ‘Innocence Lost’ dramatizes the unfortunate tragedy that erased the innocence of the lives of many young people in the town. Based on the true story of the Steven Truscott judicial case, the play describes the murder and rape of Lynne Harper (Sarah Kaufmann) through the eyes of the fictional character Sarah (Karly Friesen), the story’s narrator. At times, the production describes graphic narration that forever changes the town of Clinton when fourteen-year-old classmate Steven Truscott (Liam Ryan) is charged with Lynne Harper’s rape and murder. ‘Innocence Lost’ recounts how rumours, fearmongering, and lies turn people against an innocent man as the town of Clinton desperately want to close this part of its residents’ lives. The play spans from 1959 – 2007. It’s unfathomable to think it took forty-eight years to dismiss the rape and murder charges against Steven. Additionally, has Lynn Harper's family been able to find any closure? A possible clue is given in the second act I saw ‘Innocence Lost’ at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre several years ago. At the time, that edge-of-the-seat production begged to be discussed later because a lot happened underneath the characters’ lives, words, and actions. Theatre on the Ridge audiences are fortunate that playwright Beverly Cooper will attend the July 19 performance and be available for a Q and A following the show to discuss these issues. Please check Theatre on the Ridge’s website for further information on Cooper’s speaking engagement. Does the same edge of the seat feeling still hold for Theatre on the Ridge’s production? It most certainly does, save for a few minor technical issues that can be fixed immediately. The strong ensemble cast handles the dramatic intensity with dignity, tact, and grace under Carey Nicholson’s solid direction. Make sure you pay close attention to the pre-show activity that takes place outside the tent. Director Carey Nicholson shows life in this small southwestern Ontario town in 1959 before the awful events. She captures that feeling thanks to Sarah Jewell’s period costumes and props. A young boy and girl walk by, with the boy steering a bicycle. This is Steven Truscott and Lynne Harper. Two boys are playing catch. Two ladies are walking and talking to each other, perhaps gossiping. Lyle Corrigan’s opening musical soundscape aptly captures the era’s tunes. A slight quibble in Act 2 near the end can be fixed. The dialogue is difficult to hear because the song is too loud. Carey Nicholson has designed the set where the audience sits on both sides, and the action takes place on the raised stage in front. There are steps around to allow the actors to exit and enter. Plot action also takes place on the floor in front of the stage. Nicholson makes a wise choice to do this. Not only does it allow for the use of levels to maintain audience interest, but it also becomes a symbolic reminder that people will always see events from different perspectives since the audience sits on both sides. But another slight quibble regarding the set design. From where my guest and I sat, it is sometimes tricky to hear any upstage dialogue or if an actor’s back is turned to deliver dialogue to the audience on the other side. Hopefully, all the actors will take this note as a reminder about audibility issues in playing to both sides. Most of the eleven-member cast assume multiple roles. For the sake of space and time, I cannot comment on all. As the fictional narrator Sarah, Karly Friesen shares her perspective of the events as a believable 14-year-old classmate of Lynne and Steven’s. Sarah’s wavering between believing and not believing Steven and recognizing how the potential of darkness existing in all human souls becomes genuinely heartfelt. As the young Steven and Lynne, Liam Ryan and Sarah Kaufmann eerily capture a sweetness of youthful innocence where I can’t even begin to imagine the atrocities both endured. As the older Steven Truscott, Austin White exudes tremendous frustration in maintaining his hope of innocence. As Lynne’s parents and Steven’s mother, Adrian Marchesano, Emily Templeman, and Annette Stokes-Harris’s palpable fear and the eventual reality of what has happened to their respective children cuts right to the heart. Thankfully, these three performers do not revert to histrionics. Instead, they allow the meaning of their words to sink into the audience’s understanding in formulating an opinion as to what happened. Reid Martin and Briony Merritt are convincing as mother and daughter who view this volatile situation in the town from opposing views. Elyssia Giancola’s eye contact with the audience as she shares her perspective of the story is intently firm. Regarding Isabel LeBourdais’s book concerning the trial in the second act, Michael Serres’ moment as Reverend Bagnall in confrontation with Adrian Marchesano as Mr. Harper becomes riveting to watch for the few minutes it occurs. Serres and Marchesano remain intently strong, especially when the latter discovers how the former becomes involved with LeBourdais’s book. Again, another quibble in audibility issues comes with Emily Templeman as Isabel LeBourdais. The second act focuses on the book she writes. However, there were moments when Templeman is upstage and I had difficulty hearing what she said. I also found moments when some of her line delivery was rushed with garbled words. My guest and I couldn’t decipher what she said. I could also hear others around me saying, ‘What did she say?’ Final Comments: Watching ‘Innocence Lost’ grimly reminds me of the 1984 wrongful conviction and eventual overturning of the Guy Paul Morin case concerning the rape and murder of his neighbour, nine-year-old Christine Jessop, in Queensville, Ontario. Steven Truscott and Guy Paul Morin’s stories and accusations were horrible. Again, I can’t even begin to imagine what the two men endured in the judicial atrocities thrown at them. These stories need to be told and shared. We need to understand how these mistakes were made and avoid this happening again. I applaud Theatre on the Ridge for staging important Canadian theatre and social justice issues like this. ‘Innocence Lost’ is one important story you must see this summer. And, if you can, go to Beverly Cooper’s Q and A. I’m out of town that performance otherwise I would have attended. Running Time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott’ runs until July 29 at Scugog Shores Museum, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry. For tickets to the production and to learn about Beverly Cooper’s question and answer following the July 19 performance, visit https://theatreontheridge.ca/ INNOCENCE LOST: A PLAY ABOUT STEVEN TRUSCOTT by Beverly Cooper Directed by Carey Nicholson Stage Manager: Emma Church Production Assistant/ASM/Lighting Technician: Parker Drebit Costumes/Props: Sarah Jewell Sound Design and Technician: Lyle Corrigan Technical Direction and Lighting Design: Colin Hughes Digital Production Coordinator: Jana Tolmie Performers: Karly Friesen, Elyssia Giancola, Sarah Kaufmann, Andrian Marchesano, Reid Martin, Briony Merritt, Liam Ryan, Michael Serres, Annette Stokes-Harris, Emily Templeman, Austin White Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare

    Back 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare Presented by SHAKESPEARE BASH'd and now onstage at Theatre Centre Credit: Kyle Purcell Pictured l-r: Emilio Vieira and Michael Man Zoe Marin "By fleshing out the sexual repression of the original characters in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’, SHAKESPEARE BASH’d makes a case for why this seldom-performed dramedy deserves a place in the popular Shakespeare canon." Unlike other Shakespeare productions that are begging for modernization, the plot of ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ already feels straight out of an HBO young adult series. In short: Two sexually repressed bisexual men fight over a lesbian. To expand: In Athens, three widowed queens interrupt the wedding of Hippolyta and Duke Theseus to ask him to go to war against King Creon of Thebes for denying their husbands proper burials. Despite being against his cruel tyranny, the ‘two noble kinsmen,’ cousins Arcite and Palamon, fulfill their duty to protect the city of Thebes and fight on Creon’s side. However, after Theseus wins, the cousins are imprisoned. While imprisoned, the cousins catch sight of Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, and immediately fall in love with her – inciting the rivalry that tears their relationship apart. Eventually, Arcite is released while Palamon escapes with help from the Jailer’s daughter who is in love with him. When the cousins meet again, they agree to fight to the death, with the winner marrying Emilia. Theseus catches them but ultimately revokes his death sentence. Instead, there is a tournament to decide which cousin marries Emilia and which gets executed. While there continues to be a series of complicated events in the second half of the play, in the end, one of them dies, and one of them marries Emilia. Mind you, at no point does Emilia express interest in either of them. And yet, she feels that it is her duty to marry one, just as Arcite and Palamon think it’s their duty to either marry Emilia or die. While the original text may have focused more on the ‘chivalric code’ of its source material (Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale’), this production really leans into its criticism of compulsory heterosexuality and toxic masculinity. Michael Man and Emilio Vieira’s portrayals of Arcite and Palamon, respectively, are as hilarious as they are heart-wrenching. Director James Wallis further showcases the different ways the two characters repress their feelings for each other through their physicality. Palamon is more prone to violence, moving in large gestures and speaking boldly, while Arcite is much more subdued. Arcite rarely initiates touch, but always leans into it when he can – whether that be when Palamon embraces him or when the two are dueling to the death. In these moments, we see how their chivalric sense of duty forces them to be violent or avoid intimacy when they very clearly want the opposite. At one point, we watch Arcite reach out to put his hand on Palamon’s shoulder but then decides against it at the last minute. These missed opportunities to be earnest remind us that we’re watching a Shakespearean tragedy, and these characters have no hope of happiness. As she explicitly states, the funniest and most tragic part about these two cousins fighting over Emilia (Kate Martin) is her absolute lack of interest in all men. She shows a clear indifference to both cousins throughout the play, and in the end, her marriage to Palamon is just as tragic as Arcite’s death. Throughout the play, the entire cast has great energy that never falters during the almost 3-hour running time. ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ is performed on a thrust stage, which Wallis uses effectively, especially during the dances (Breanne Tice) and fight choreography (Jennifer Dzialoszynski). The show opens with a great movement sequence that serves as an overture, full of images alluding to moments the audience sees later. However, since the rest of the staging was more straightforward, I was left craving more movement. I also enjoyed the productions, metatheatricality with the actors entering as themselves and putting on costume pieces to become their characters. ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ in itself portrays an unclear time period, historically taking place in Ancient Greece, with all the action and characters presenting medieval times. Therefore, rather than leaning into either, the costume design captures the inherent anachronism and metatheatricality through its mix of modern clothing and Elizabethan elements. I will admit that some costumes were much better than others. I particularly enjoyed the Jailer, the Jailer’s Daughter, and Pirithous because the elements mixed well together. On the other hand, I found myself distracted by anybody wearing a jogger or a long belt. I also think actor Kate Martin was not set up for success with that skirt so long she’d step on it anytime she had to change levels. Overall, I really enjoyed SHAKESPEARE BASH’s production of ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ and felt that its portrayal of masculinity and sexuality makes the original text extremely relevant to a modern audience. The production runs until February 4 at the Theatre Centre Incubator (1115 Queen Street West). For tickets: https://theatrecentre.org/tickets/?eid=110137 or call 416-538-0988. ‘THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN’ by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare Presented by SHAKESPEARE BASH’d Directed by James Wallis Stage Manager: Milena Fera Sound Designer: Matt Nish-Lapidus Fight Director: Jennifer Dzialoszynski Choreographer: Breanne Tice Lighting: Sruthi Suresan Jailer’s Daughter Songs: Hilary Adams Performers: Daniel Briere, Joshua Browne, Tristan Claxton, Jennifer Dzialoszynski, 郝邦宇 Steven Hao, Madelaine Hodges (賀美倫), Melanie Leon, Michael Man, Kate Martin, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Breanne Tice, Le Truong, Emilio Vieira, Jeff Yung 容海峯 Previous Next

  • Dramas The War Being Waged

    Back The War Being Waged Streamed by Winnipeg Manitoba's Prairie Theatre Exchange Joey Senft David Rabjohn This month, Prairie Theatre Exchange is offering an online production of Darla Contois’ potent drama ‘The War Being Waged.’ It is a searing portrait of indigenous issues that have become even more highlighted in recent months. Sovereignty, suicide, missing women, intergenerational conflict and connections are major themes told through the lives of two women connected by blood and tragedy. The force of this production comes from the brilliant combination of colour, sound, narration, music and dance. Structured in three parts, we hear the narrative of the grandmother and the over-riding tragedy, the link with her grand-daughter, and the grand-daughter’s own voyage through pain. The grandmother, played with cool understatement by Tracey Nepinak, traces for us her family roots and relationships. Some of the voice over is supplied by Tantoo Cardinal. Her brothers are, interestingly, never named and the older is a severe bully while her other brother is supportive but to a limited degree. She speaks calmly with a neutral expression, allowing the words and her eyes to express the pain of a lonely childhood and then the events leading to tragedy. Camera angles are tight close-ups or regal medium shots giving her a sense of dignity – only limited shots of her nervous hands belie her shame. She speaks of much injustice in her family and her country – moving to Toronto and getting a liberal education further divides her from a family of limited motivation. The irony of the tragedy is that her brother joins the Canadian forces – an institution that supports only “Canadian” interests. This sets up the family crisis and the grandmother is incarcerated and divided from her family. The pain is echoed as she sheds a beautiful traditional shawl which is enclosed in a transparent box and she is left in her prison garb. The grand-daughter, Lillian (the only named character) is played by multi-talented Emily Solstice Tait. As a dancer, we leave the written narrative and movement becomes the emotional force. Lillian moves through a series of glass walls, manipulating them trying to connect with her grandmother. The connections come close, but are agonizingly difficult. The third section is all Solstice Tait. Her brilliant dance at times is balletic fluidity as she is calmed and then transitions into staccato rhythm that climaxes with grand mal-like seizures as the emotion becomes severe. Her startling eyes communicate as her hands then seamlessly follow her eyes. Like the walls and the box, the stage is transparent plexiglass giving us the image of Lillian dancing above the earth, seeing all, but still separated. This set design, and the lighting and costumes were developed by Andy Moro, and, as mentioned earlier, were a large part of the force of the play, along with MJ Dandeneau’s composition and sound design. Flashes of red in the make-up, costumes and lighting suggest her reflection that “my blood is yours.” Soft and harsh strobes of light constantly reflect snow, water and fire. Strong greens and yellows offer the basic indigenous connections with nature. Dandeneau’s music can be raucously percussive and then transition into some elegant piano and violin while Lillian calms herself toward some reconciliation with her past. The technical brilliance is almost poetic and it enhances the tragic issues expressed by playwright and actor. As the grandmother is engaged at university, she tells us that “the truth broke my heart.” The audience (one would hope) is left with the understanding that awareness and action are both necessary. The War Being Waged’ by Darla Contois Performers: Tracey Nepinak, Emily Solstice Tait, Tantoo Cardinal Direction: Thomas Morgan Jones Set, Lights, Costume design: Andy Moro Composer, Sound design: MJ Dandeneau Choreography: Jera Wolfe Prairie Theatre Exchange: Runs through December 12, 2021 online. Tickets: PTE.mb.ca Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Icemen' by Vern Thiessen

    Back 'Icemen' by Vern Thiessen World Premiere presented by Theatre by the Bay now onstage at Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie Credit: Hollinshead Media. L-R: Tom Keat, Nathan Howe, Isaish Kolundzic Joe Szekeres "Suspenseful! Thrilling! Entertaining! ‘Icemen’ is a Canadian story, and it’s ours!" Vern Thiessen’s newest world premiere takes place on the icy banks of Barrie at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Times are tough for everyone, not only for the characters of ‘Icemen’ but those who live in Barrie. When times are tough, sometimes the unthinkable can very well happen. The setting is a wooden icehouse. We meet two desperate brothers: Joe (Isaiah Kolundzic) and his not-too-swift brother, Rennie (Tom Keat). The two commit an act of vengeance and defiance against their upscale employer, F. F. (Nathan Howe) and hold him hostage. F. F. threatens to destroy the brothers’ livelihood – ice harvesting on Kempenfelt Bay. I won’t spoil here what F. F. stands for, as you will find out. This opening night edge-of-the-seat thriller has a great deal going for it. For one, Barrie’s Theatre by the Bay's mandate is to continue showcasing and producing rich local stories. The company commissioned Thiessen to write a play about Barrie. He had never been to the city before and didn’t know anything about it but discovered a treasure trove of stories – one of them being the ice harvesters who worked on Kempenfelt Bay. In the playwright’s programme note, Thiessen writes how the ice harvesters saw their livelihood taken away by greed and refrigeration, an ‘innovation’ that, over time, has contributed to the climate change that now threatens Canadian lakes and oceans. I did not know the local history of Barrie, and this bit of information piqued my curiosity about how it would tie into the story. So, “Icemen” is a story of high stakes. The world of the Depression was one of gradual change and innovation. There was great social inequity and economic disparity, as playwright Thiessen tells in his Programme Note. People in the Depression had a tough time making ends meet. There were also individuals at this time who had too much power. Sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it? We’re experiencing this right now in our twenty-first century woke world. The big question – did this opening night production work on the Five Points Theatre stage? Yes, it does. Skillfully, I will add. This world-premiere production is one of which I hope other Canadian theatre companies will take notice. Not only is it suspenseful, thrilling, and entertaining, but ‘Icemen’ is one of our stories as Canadians and for Canadians. Joe Pagnan’s gorgeous set design of the rugged wooden icehouse prominently figures centre stage. I closely examined what I could do from my seat about three-quarters of the way up in the house. Brenda Thompson has paid meticulous attention to the selection of 1930s-period piece props. I loved the icepick that would have been used to help drag the ice blocks to the wooden house. Like all good suspenseful stories, nevertheless, some of these items become nefariously used for shocking purposes. Logan Raju Cracknell’s shadowy lighting designs duly enhance the suspenseful atmosphere of both the ruggedness and the sense of loneliness that might also surround the lives of these ice harvesters. Madeline Ius’s costumes are believable period recreations of the clothing the brothers would have worn as they worked outside. F.F.’s clothing strongly gives the impression there is a social and financial strata division. Mathew Magneson creates an extraordinary soundscape of howling winds that strongly emphasizes how cold it must have been for these harvesters. Not only that, but the sound also underscores how lonely and abandoned it must have felt for these individuals who worked out on the Bay. Magneson also places the sound of the howling wind throughout to help in the growing and suspenseful plot momentum. It’s effective in the aural sense, that’s for sure. Vern Thiessen’s gripping script makes the audience listen carefully to the spoken dialogue, which becomes crucial to the suspenseful intensity of any edge-of-the-seat story. Thiessen surely knows how to grab an audience’s attention right away. At the top of the show, F. F. is tied to a chair, and Joe casually smokes a cigarette while talking to F.F. and the audience. A strong word of advice - make sure you do listen carefully because the play is wordy but oh, so very important in building to the story’s climax. Iain Moggach directs with an assured confidence that never wavers. Not only does he envision believable characters, but he also creates one hell of an excellent Canadian story that makes our culture a unique one. As he writes in his programme note, “Icemen” is more than just ice. ‘Icemen’ is a story of history repeating itself in new ways. Yes, that’s a scary thought, but it also makes for good entertainment. The three-member cast remains solid throughout, always listening and responding with a credible believability. As brothers Joe and Rennie, Isaiah Kolundzic and Tom Keat deliver bold and fearless performances. Rennie is not a dimwit, but he doesn’t have the ‘smarts’ like his brother, Joe. Kolundzic and Keat are in synchronicity with each other. They behave and speak as brothers often do, especially when the two might not agree on handling the situation with F. F. I applaud Nathan Howe’s work as F. F, Joe and Rennie’s supervisor. For a good portion of the play, Howe is tied to a chair, so there is little room for him to move about the stage like Kolundzic and Keat. Instead, Howe’s performance strength emanates from his listening carefully to the other two and using his voice to indicate the varied emotional levels he experiences. When freed from the chair, Howe effectively controls his energy level and doesn’t allow it to upstage Kolundzic and Keat. There’s a bubbling, boiling and ultimately scalding intensity watching the events unfold at the end. And it’s good theatre. And that’s why you should get to the Five Points Theatre to see this Canadian piece that will hopefully be picked up and produced around the province. Running time: approximately 85 minutes with no intermission. ‘Icemen’ runs until November 12 at the Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie. For tickets, call the Box Office at (705) 739-4228 or visit https://tprocob.ticketpro.ca/en/pages/COB_TBTB_Icemen Theatre by the Bay presents the world premiere of ‘Icemen’ by Vern Thiessen Directed and produced by Iain Moggach Stage Manager: Khaleel Gandi Production Manager: Rochelle Reynolds Set Designer: Joe Pagnan Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell Music Director/Composer: Mathew Magneson Costume Designer: Madeline Ius Props: Brenda Thompson Performers: Nathan Howe as F. F.; Tom Keat as Rennie; Isaiah Kolundzic as Joe Previous Next

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