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  • Musicals 'The Musical of Musicals: The Musical' by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart

    Back 'The Musical of Musicals: The Musical' by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart Presented by Theatre on the Ridge and now on stage at the Scugog Shores Museum Village, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry. Credit: Shannon Widdis L-R: Steven Suepaul, David Cardinal, Laura Murphy, Kayla Rankine Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter actor, director, adjudicator, arts educator "Opening night wobbles still make ‘The Musical of Musicals: The Musical’ a fluffy, fantastical farce of a show." Who doesn’t like a good musical?" Who doesn’t like a show that parodies good musicals? Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge continues its summer festival with Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogarts’s crafty parody ‘The Musical of Musicals: The Musical’ that walks a fine line between poking fun at and paying homage to some of the most popular composers of the twentieth century. You don’t have to be a musical theatre fan to enjoy this production’s luscious lampooning of Broadway’s best – but it’d certainly help if you are. The small-scale musical is a good fit for the company’s outdoor venue, requiring only a single set, one piano, a few props and four actors. It’s structured into five acts: ‘Corn!’ (parodying Rodgers and Hammerstein), ‘A Little Complex’ (Stephen Sondheim), ‘Dear Abby’ (Jerry Herman musicals in the manner of HELLO, DOLLY and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES), ‘Aspects of Juanita’ (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and ‘Speakeasy’ (the bawdy, gritty world of Kander and Ebb). Each revue-style sketch is essentially the same, centering around youthful ingenue June (Laura Murphy), who can’t pay the rent to her villainous landlord, Jitter (Steven Suepaul/David Cardinal). Will her boyfriend/admirer Willy (David Cardinal/Steven Suepaul) come to her rescue? And what good advice will her older friend/neighbour Abby (Kayla Rankine) be able to offer? This opening-night production is a lot of fun. It features tuneful songs, jokes, and groans aplenty performed by a dedicated cast that really sells the shenanigans. The format steals from the ‘Forbidden Broadway’ series mocking mega-musicals since the early 1980s. Make no mistake – you need to know your musicals to get the gist of what’s going on. Fortunately, I do – mostly. Unlike ‘Forbidden Broadway’ which replaces recognized classic tunes with hilarious new lyrics, ‘Musical’s’ tunes are skewed, played as ‘sound-alike’ versions – similar to the original without being the original. This is where the non-musical theatre folks may be left scratching their heads and wondering what show is being riffed. Additionally, the five vignettes segue into each other without the benefit of a narrator or storyteller. I was missing some pre-show context, pouring over the program in vain, looking for something to identify each segment, composer and song being roasted. If you don’t know your musicals well, this omission might confuse. Though initially clever, this follow-through threadbare theme of not being able to pay the rent starts to feel strained, obvious and contrived by the end of the first act. What the book and music lack in structure, the cast and artistic team more than make up for in enthusiasm and a dedicated desire for everyone to have a good time, themselves included. Carey Nicholson’s set design is simple and functional – an upstage framed curtain lit like a theatre marquee provided practical entrances and exits. While occasionally wobbly, the frame effectively masked the backstage area. Small props such as chairs, easels, and shoes (to name only a few) are easily brought off and on. Nicholson does triple duty as costume designer, placing the performers in a simple base of black T-shirts, dresses and pants. From here, the cast adroitly slip in and out of additional hats, vests, capes (again to name a few), identifying their musical personas and variations from one vignette to the next. Lyle Corrigan’s direction is fast-paced and fun. He places his dynamic cast effectively on the stage and has coached them well on when to ham it up, go more tongue-in-cheek or just bask in the silliness. I appreciated the upstage riser, providing levels in various scenes. Hats off to Corrigan’s unabashed inclusion of the backstage crew as on-stage helpers, dangling strings of plastic birds and swinging a plastic chandelier before crashing down to the stage. I am not a fan of backstage crew visible during a show, but I almost wanted to see more in this campy sendup. Corrigan’s lighting design is a kaleidoscope of colours and hues, aptly enhancing the mood in each scene. Musical Director Carol Salamone is a star on the keyboard. Not only is her accompaniment spot on, but she also deftly creates excellent ensemble harmonies and ensures focused, clear articulation on vowels during solos and duets. Karin Mahoney’s choreography nicely enhances each segment simply and effectively. However, the finale ‘Done’, a parody of ‘One’ from ‘A Chorus Line’ disappointingly lacked precision compared to some other numbers. Undoubtedly, this cast of uber-talented community theatre veterans will prop up the pace and find their stride as performances continue. As ingenue June, Laura Murphy is sweet and innocent with a pretty voice and spot on comedic timing. Her ‘Liza with a Z’ spoof in Act 2 garners lots of laughs. David Cardinal as boyfriend Willy and evil landlord Jitter is a formidable and funny baritone. His country-bumpkin romantic lead as he riffs ‘Oklahoma’ in the opening Act 1 number ‘Corn’ is delightfully goofy. Steven Suepaul, also playing Jitter and boyfriend Willy, is hilarious without taking himself one bit seriously. He seizes his villainous personas with glee – a great voice and lively to watch. Kayla Rankine as Abby has a joyful command of all her over-the-top characters (LOVED her ‘Follow Your Dream’ in the style of ‘The Sound of Music’ and her delicious ‘Did I Put Out Enough’ in the style of ‘Mame’). Rankine shows her full range as a dramatic soprano and powerhouse belter. The cast work well together, and all have tremendous power in their vocals; however, when the entire ensemble of mic-ed-up big voices starts belting out their tunes, the amplification is a tad overpowering, sadly sacrificing some of the intimacy. The Theatre on the Ridge tent has great acoustics. I’m sure these voices would sound fine without enhancement in such a small space. ‘Musical of Musicals: the Musical’ requires some serious staying power and extended energy levels from this cast. Keeping this train rolling at full steam for almost two hours is no easy feat. The cast lost much of its steam on this opening night throughout the second act. Like a tire with a slow leak, scenes seemed to be moving slower, and cues were not as tight. Again, I’m sure the pace will become propped up once the run catches its breath and shows continue. Despite its structural flaws, Theatre on the Ridge’s production of ‘The Musical of Musicals: the Musical’ is hugely enjoyable. It’s a fluffy, fantastical farce with a cast that shines individually and as a group. If you’re a musical theatre buff, you’ll find this show a gem of clever lyrics, puns and stabs at some of the most prolific composers. Summer theatre the way it should be. Running time: approximately one hour and 45 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘The Musical of Musicals: The Musical’ runs until July 27 at the Scugog Shores Museum Village, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry. For tickets: theatreontheridge.ca or call (905) 431-0977. THEATRE ON THE RIDGE presents ‘The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!’ by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart Directed by Lyle Corrigan Musical Director/Pianist: Carol Salamone Choreographer: Karin Mahoney Lighting Design: Lyle Corrigan Lighting Operator: Ari Leroux Sound Design: Lyle Corrigan Sound Operators: Lyle Corrigan and August Hofbauer Props/Costume Design: Carey Nicholson Stage Manager: Amanda Cook Performers: David Cardinal, Laura Murphy, Kayla Rankine, Steven Suepaul Previous Next

  • Profiles Scott J Kyle

    Back Scott J Kyle The Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres I was encouraged to enter the Twitter universe by the publisher and editor of OnStage Blog. I was a tad reluctant at the beginning to start using it as I was uncertain if Twitter would truly be of benefit personally and professionally. I was assured by my editor and publisher that, yes, it would be. And my publisher was right. I have made contacts with some professional theatre companies and individuals whose work I have admired tremendously and with whom I wanted to keep in touch. Some individuals have also tracked me down. One of these individuals is Scott James Kyle. When he started following me on Twitter, I’ll be honest and say I had no idea who this man was. When I read about him on line and in his brief Twitter bio, I was quite impressed with Scott’s credentials as an actor, both in stage work and film. Since Scott and his wife Karen live in Scotland, I didn’t recognize some of the television series except one – Outlander – where he played Ross. I know Outlander is a series of novels. When it appeared on Netflix, I thought I’d better start to watch it. I still have to fulfil that commitment. What strikes me as both out of the ordinary yet very humane is Scott’s manner of communicating with his followers and his fans. Just from his Twitter verse alone, he values people first and foremost and likes communicating with them. Very out of the ordinary for celebrities, but from what I read about Scott online in his Twitter feed and his website, he and his wife travel round the world meeting many people. He’s not one to shut himself off from communication with his followers and fans. I didn’t know if Scott would agree to this interview as he has over 730.1 K followers alone and he follows 660K individuals. Again, I thought, “What the hell?” and took a chance for an interview. I was pleased when the answers to the questions showed up in my online mailbox for Twitter. Thanks, Scott, for taking the time: 1. It has been just over two months right now that we have been under this lockdown. How have you and Karen been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? How are your immediate families doing? Everyone is safe and well at the moment, so we are blessed, and we are looking forward to getting together when we are given the green light by the powers that be. 2. Were you involved in any side projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down? Were you involved in the planning stages of any new projects? What will become of these new projects that were in planning stages? Yes, I had a new movie that I was supposed to be filming in March before going into rehearsals for a theatre show that was to be touring in April and May of this year. I’m hopeful these projects will be able to go ahead when the lockdown ends, and things can return to some degree of normalcy. 3. What has been the most difficult and/or challenging element of this period of isolation for you and for Karen? I think we’ve been okay with the lockdown actually and the restrictions to movement. We just got round to lots of work that we have been putting off in our home and garden. The most difficult part of the lockdown has been not seeing our friends and family. Karen and I are very sociable, so it has been sad not to be able to see everyone. 4. What have you two been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? Karen and I have been going on long walks or cycling to places that we have never been to before in our own area. We’ve also spent a lot of time on DIY projects and our garden. I’ve been working a few days a week with a local charity so that gets me out of the house and makes me feel like I am contributing something during these challenging times. 5. Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams? “Infinite patience produces immediate results” – this is a mantra that has served me well over the years and is helping me to get through this lockdown. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic? There will be lots of positive things people will take from this pandemic. One of them will be a newfound appreciation for their friends and family whom everyone has missed so much (this includes Karen and I). Another will hopefully be a realisation that we have been taking a lot of things for granted. 7. In your estimation and informed opinion, will the European performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? It will be very difficult for all venues to come back from this, but within those challenges is also a huge opportunity to right a lot of the wrongs in our industry, and give more performers a chance to have a career in the arts. Some of those careers might be an outdoor/online performance driven work which I think will be a part of the industry moving forward. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts about this format presentation? Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you participating or will you be participating in this presentation format soon? It’s great to see people are continuing to be creative even during the lockdown with the streamed performances and workshops. I have been asked to do workshops online and to be part of various online filming projects. However, I’ve decided to use the lockdown to spend more time with Karen as we have been busy over the past few years, and I really wanted to focus on her. Since the lockdown has continued, I have agreed to do interviews like this one and I’ve done some cameo videos, but that’s about it. 9. What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now? To me, acting and story telling are very spiritual processes and experiences for the performers and the audiences. If anything we need these connections now more than ever. I am looking forward to seeing how the creative minds of the artistic community respond to the new challenges. I think the future is bright for the arts. “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ was a weekly televised American program where its late host, James Lipton, used to ask the following ten questions to his guests at the conclusion of his interview: a. What is your favourite word? Namaste b. What is your least favourite word? Impossible c. What turns you on? Spending time with others d. What turns you off? Negativity e. What sound or noise do you love? A scratch at the window from Jess, the neighbour’s cat. f. What sound or noise bothers you? Babies crying. g. What is your favourite curse word? The “F” bomb. h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Motivational speaking. i. What profession would you not like to do? Being a soldier and killing people. j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You’re late” You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottJKyle1. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Tease'

    Back 'Tease' A Big City Kitties Production in association with Crow's Theatre. Now onstage at Crow's. A Big City Kitties Production in association with Crow's Theatre. Now onstage at Crow's. Joe Szekeres “A sexy, sassy, sultry and seductive show. Sometimes, the production is funny as hell. But it’s also more than that.” The show's title lives up to what it promises. The press release describes ‘Tease’ as “salty as it is sweet in its exploration of sex, politics, and what it means to be a woman in this reimagining of the burlesque comedy genre.” It’s 18+, so be prepared for what Val (from the musical ‘A Chorus Line’) calls “Tits and Ass” because there are lots and lots of peeks. There are also moments of audience participation. I don’t want to state what the first one is because that would spoil the fun. I even learned something about my accompanying guest after that game. Be prepared for ALL kinds of surprises, and I do mean that! But ‘Tease’ is more. So much more. That’s why it’s worth visiting Crow’s Theatre and seeing these sexy, sassy, sultry and seductive ladies do what they love doing – to entertain and to inform. We have entered the environs of a shadowy lit stage with three black chairs placed centre stage reminiscent of the Kit Kat Klub from the film version of ‘Cabaret’. I know it’s illegal to smoke indoors in public settings (and I rarely see smokers anymore), but I also expected to see lingering second-hand smoke. Thankfully, it’s not there, and I’m pleased the technical elements did not feel the need to incorporate it. Dressed in stylishly sexy black underwear and wearing stiletto heels with perfectly coiffed hair, exact makeup and ruby red lipstick, performers Lindsay Mullan, Glenys Marshall, and Mei Miyazawa sashay onstage with controlled abandon. At first, they reminded me of author Ira Levin’s Stepford wives in their sexy underwear having drank way too much caffeine. They begin erotic swivelling and gyrating to pulsing music to fire up the crowd. I was impressed at the number of ladies in the audience on opening night. From the sound of them, they wanted to have a good time. One ‘innocent’ lady came up on stage after she was the remaining one from the first game and was told she would be turned naughty by the end of the night. When that occurred, said lady was truly enjoying herself—as were all of us who were watching from behind the footlights. ‘Tease’ is also enlightening. Videographer Liam Grue and Video Editor Nigil Vasquez have compiled a collection of various moments of many women film celebrities caught in moments of feminine sex appeal. For instance, seeing a very young Lucille Ball in a black-and-white clip dancing in a chorus line was interesting. I kept an eye out in that video montage for Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn’t see her, or there’s a possibility that I missed it. If she’s not there, might a clip be added? Yet ‘Tease’ is more, thankfully more. For one, it’s reminiscent of the art of burlesque. I rarely get a chance to see this art form performed anywhere. Here at Crow’s, this reimagined burlesque show is terrific. ‘Tease’ is sass and seduction. It’s an evening’s worth of entertainment and handled with class. But be prepared going in. It’s adult-oriented. It pushes the envelope, which is what burlesque can do (especially in the eleven o’clock ‘Naughty Nun’ number). Creator Lindsay Mullan directs the show with integrity and pride. She never allowed it to veer out of control. I enjoyed the show, even the moment that made me feel a tad uncomfortable regarding anyone who practices the Christian faith. Along with Mullan, Glenys Marshall, and Mei Miyazawa smartly reflect what burlesque is meant to do. First, it’s meant to entertain us, and these ladies more than competently do that through sketch comedy and improv with the audience. There’s a comment about wondering if theatre reviewers would have been in the opening night audience, and these gals mentioned a well-known and respected Toronto person. The ladies did a quick scan from the stage to see if that person was in the house. (Side note: it wasn’t me. But I’m not going to spoil the reference. Who knows? These ladies may change the name in each show and mention other reviewers throughout the run.) Burlesque also parodies current world events, and Glenys Marshall magnificently does that in a rip-roaring vocal song satirizing world leaders (and Toronto’s Doug Ford) about climate change. The burlesque art form in ‘Tease’ comes from allowing the audience to see, I mean to really see, these women for who they are. I don’t mean necessarily for their bodies, although the ladies showcase themselves with pleasure and delight. Instead, these women know the game. They’re highly articulate, intelligent, and savvy. When the ladies drop the bimbo sound in their voices, Mullan, Marshall, and Miyazawa (I just recognized the alliteration) are hot and sexy. That’s when, according to the press release, the three “deftly challenge society’s patriarchal views and misogynistic expectations.” I laughed out loud a few times. There were moments when the roof was blown off from laughter because timing of the joke or reference is expertly achieved. Great fun. Highly recommend ‘Tease’. Keep an open mind and eye, though. Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘Tease’ runs until March 30 at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit crowstheatre.com or call 647-341-7390 ex. 1010. ‘Tease’ A Big City Kitties Production in association with Crow’s Theatre Created and directed by Lindsay Mullan Written and performed by Glenys Marshall, Mei Miyazawa, and Lindsay Mullan Choreography by Gabriel Gonçalves, Dana Thody, and Mei Miyazawa Lighting Designer - Mathilda Kane Costume Designer - Janelle Joy Hince Costume Accessories - Charlie Quinn Videographer - Liam Grue Video Editor - Nigil Vazquez Stage Manager - Sophi Murias Assistant Stage Manager - Emma Jo Conlin Producer and Production Manager - Emma Westray Previous Next

  • Comedies The Huns by Michael Ross Albert

    Back The Huns by Michael Ross Albert The Assembly Theatre The Assembly Theatre Joe Szekeres Nasty corporate office politics takes centre stage boldly at The Assembly Theatre Mean orporate office politics can take place in any kind of business. This unhealthy underlying threat is nasty and unfair especially if a worker is suddenly side swiped by it. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all probably experienced some element of this kind of politics. I know I did before I retired from my career as an Ontario Catholic educator. Michael Ross Albert’s ‘The Huns’ opened last week. From what I understand it premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2019 but I didn’t see it then. I didn’t get a chance to see the play opening night in the intimate Parkdale setting. However, I did see a physically staged reading of the play two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic with Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge. At that time, I remarked to the Director how Albert’s sharply written, piercing script humorously commented on the state of how supposed business conducts itself in the twenty first century. When I heard ‘The Huns’ would be staged at The Assembly, I didn’t want to miss seeing a full production. Corporate work politics can also make for one hell of a challengingly intricate play, but it’s boffo stuff when done well. The Assembly Theatre’s production of Michael Ross Albert’s ‘The Huns’ is just that. It closes May 8 and was announced last night of a transfer to Brighton, England so make sure you get to see it. Director Marie Farsi’s precise and exact satirical vision focused my attention on how artful and deceitful this kind of politics can be in rearing its ugly head when people least expect it. Impeccable comic timing and adroit pacing to deliver the quick-witted bantering back and forth remains crucial for the humour and to keep the plot moving quickly in this one-hour engrossing production. Not once did timing or pacing falter for me, even in the slightest during the comedy or the dramatic moments. We are in a corporate office where a robbery took place the night before. The next morning, three of the staff are aware of what occurred but they are to continue a powerpoint presentation via a phone conferencing program. One of the elements of perfect humour stems from the fact that those on the phone conferencing sometimes are knocked out of the presentation, come back into the presentation. There are also some bits where one person on the phone is saying something but the three staff (along with the audience) only catch snippets of the conversation because there is outside interference. Leading the phone conference is seemingly uptight control freak Iris, grandly played by Breanna Dillon, who seemingly appears and ironically believes she has everything under control. Truth be told, she’s not in control at all as the story progresses Seemingly dressed for success and to make a bold statement in a blood red top, black slacks, a gold necklace and what I thought were black stiletto pumps, Dillon thankfully does not make Iris become the classic office ‘b word’ especially when the secret she tries to conceal becomes exposed during the conference call. Instead, I witnessed a flesh and blood individual who is doing her best to cope with the results of where her life has taken her. Office temp Shelley (Cass Van Wyck) offers that much needed grounding force Iris so desperately needs and requires during the phone conference. As Dillon is dressed in bold colours, Van Wyck’s more refined earth tone of light beige and browns represented her grounding. The leopard looking dress, however, becomes a reminder that Shelley is a ‘tiger force’ underneath this calm exterior. This constant juxtaposition of these two characters sometimes offers comical humour, but more importantly Van Wyck’s performance remains consistently and subtly nuanced in never allowing her quiet strength of character to overshadow a domineering Iris. The token male of the group Pete (Jamie Cavanagh) does not want to be at this conference call as he’s on his way to the airport for a bachelor weekend with his pals before his upcoming nuptials. His clothing of a white top, black pants and white running shoes indicates his heart and mind are not at the office. Despite this superficial costume difference, Cavanagh also revealed his strong performance work many times. For example, during those moments when Dillon and Van Wyck are butting heads, Cavanagh intently listens to the zingers and the pokes back and forth between the two ladies. There are moments where Cavanagh’s facial expressions dutifully reveal what Pete is truly thinking underneath. Mercifully, Cavanagh does not remote merely to ‘face acting’ - there were a couple of moments where the raising of his eyebrows just instinctively revealed Pete’s thoughts and initial reaction without upstaging the ladies. Andy Trithardt’s adept sound design of the varied phone callers super finely underscored the comedy of the moment. I’m sure he probably had his hands full initially in getting the voices recorded first before looping them together and ensuring they were at the precise mark in the scene. Chin Palipane’s lighting design captured nicely the appearance of the fluorescent lighting within offices. Its reflection is beautifully highlighted on the back upstage wall of a post-modern looking painting of varied rectangular shapes, lines and colours by Aidan Hammond, Marie Farsi and Marvin Araneta. Marie Farsi’s original concept set design with Alexandra Lord as consultant specially captured the look of how vast this office setting must have been. I liked the suggestion of the laminate flooring running across the front apron. There is a white rectangular table with a push button office phone on it. Three white swivel office looking chairs are found at the head of the table and at the sides. Upstage right and left are entrances to the room. There are potted looking ferns at both entrances and exits to this office. Final Comments: A caustically biting and often times acerbic script combined with hearty performances. Go see it. Running time: approximately 60 minutes ‘The Huns’ plays through to May 8 at The Assembly Theatre, Queen Street West, in Parkdale: www.theassemblytheatre.com or visit the Facebook page which is always open. Covid protocols in effect at the theatre. THE HUNS by Michael Ross Albert Directed by Marie Farsi Sound Designer: Andy Trithardt Lighting Designer: Chin Palipane Stage Manager: Aidan Hammond Set and Costume Design: Based on an original concept created by Marie Farsi and design consultant Alexandra Lord. Scenic construction by Pascal Labillois; painting by Aidan Hammond, Marie Farsi and Marvin Araneta Featuring the voices of: Claire Armstrong, Blue Bigwood-Mallin, Izad Etermadi, Marie Farsi, David Lafontaine, Emile Leclerc, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Daniel Pagett, Tyrone Savage, Andy Trithardi, Jenni Walls and Richard Young Performers: Jamie Cavanagh, Breanna Dillon, Cass Van Wyck Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Withrow Park' by Morris Panych

    Back 'Withrow Park' by Morris Panych Now onstage at Tarragon Theatre Now onstage at Tarragon Theatre Joe Szekeres “Quirky and mysterious, ‘Withrow Park’s’ surrealism asks of its audience if we are to settle for the ordinary routine, or is there more with the remaining time left in our lives? At times, the script is hilariously funny. Other times, it prods deep into an important understanding of our temporal existence in the here and now.” The lives of three 60-year-olds are forever changed when a handsome young individual in a wrinkled suit enters their lives. Arthur (Benedict Campbell) and Janet (Nancy Palk) have been divorced for a few years. They still live together for convenience’s sake in the same house Arthur’s late mother owned. A retired Social Studies teacher, Arthur announced he was gay. He is trying to find himself again amid all this upheaval in his personal life. Janet is ‘civil’ to her ex-husband, but her voice has an underlying tension. She has her own health issues to monitor. Janet’s sister, Marion (Corrine Koslo), also lives with them. She has her own emotional and personal issues and uses sarcasm to cope. She also doesn’t like leaving the house. She likes to read and is seen at her first entrance hugging a novel. Does she prefer not to confront reality and embrace make-believe? Before Janet and Arthur were married, he dated Marion for a bit before ending it with her and then dating her sister. Arthur, Janet, and Marion seem to pass the days by looking outside their living room window across the street at Toronto’s Withrow Park. They’re indifferent about things at this point in their lives. For example, Janet shops at the local market because they will have the same thing they’ve always had for dinner. There’s little menu variety. The three also pay attention to meaningless activities of ordinary park activities – children playing, dog walkers passing by, and people chatting. At the top of the show, an unknown voice knocks at the door to introduce himself as he’s new to the neighbourhood. We learn later this is Simon (Johnathan Sousa) who alters the course of events. Janet and Marion become smitten with his appearance and notice his wrinkled suit. During dinner, there are snippets where Arthur hints at his attraction to the young man. But there’s something mysteriously surreal about Simon that the ladies just can’t decipher when he’s invited to dinner. A clue without spoiling the revelation – a clever onstage visual dramatic technique catches the audience’s attention just before he can be seen through the window. Ken MacDonald’s set design catches the eye. The living/sitting room is comfortably detailed. There are three wing-tipped chairs just slightly off-centre stage. Two chairs face forward, and one is angled slightly. The living/sitting room windows are another focal point. The panes appear distorted. When one looks out the window, does he/she see what is occurring at any given moment? Offstage and up centre left, there is a dividing wall where the front door is not seen, but we can hear voices at the door. There appears to be a swinging door to indicate the kitchen. Another door indicates another room of the house. There appears to be a fallen tree hanging over the action in the beautifully decorated set, creating a sense of figurative and literal hopelessness, uselessness, and sadness. Kimberly Purtell’s, at times, shadowy lighting designs enhance the mystery of this captured moment in time. Jacob Lin’s 林鴻恩 sound designs and set change musical compositions fluidly maintain the unfolding plot. Playwright Morris Panych’s quirky, unconventional script of quick-witted banter and one-line zingers provides an appropriate juxtaposition to wondering if there’s more to life than just the ordinary, daily routine. Arthur, Janet, and Marion appear to be looking out through a distorted windowpane and seeing the world in a certain way. But Director Jackie Maxwell, in her Programme Note, writes something that caught my attention about this play. During the pandemic, she would take walks through Withrow Park and admire the ‘tall, imposing [houses] with rows of large windows. These windows fascinated me as both a person on the outside looking in, but also imagining what it would be like to be on the inside looking out.” Is ‘Withrow Park’ a pandemic play that people thought would be written about that time? Well, not really. Instead, Maxwell calls the play a revelation of a world behind windows she stared at while walking her circuit through the park—ergo, significant changes in the world that we thought we knew produced revelations. The revelations within ‘Withrow Park’ might just defy logical reasoning. They certainly make for good theatre. Maxwell's direction is imbued with an inquisitive and playful spirit that engages the audience. We want to learn more about Janet, Arthur, and Marion - three individuals who have grown tired of being mere observers and long to break free from their self-imposed isolation and engage with the world around them. They invite Simon to dinner, an inexplicable and metaphysical individual who makes them question and test what they think they know. The fine cast drives the story forward with gusto. As wisecracking Marion, Corinne Koslo’s spitfire one-line zingers are often hilarious. But there’s more to Marion than her ornery approach to spying on the neighbours, and Koslo beautifully underscores this about the character. The audience learns something about Marion that cuts deeply into the heart. Marion longs to connect meaningfully with another individual, and Koslo underscores this in her performance without reverting to emotionally saccharine tactics. Benedict Campbell and Nancy Palk are credible as the marital exes. The traditional gender roles were not observed in their arrangement and were reversed. Palk’s Janet is upfront and direct, perhaps something she has learned due to the marriage breakdown. For example, she bluntly comments on his inappropriate clothing attire before Simon arrives for dinner. And she’s right. He is dressed rather slovenly in a shirt that is far too large on him. Arthur has sheepishly returned home because he does not want to be alone when his lover, a pediatrician, leaves and heads to California for another man, a dog walker. Campbell thankfully does not portray the character as weak and submissive. Arthur learns to decide what he wants in life through Janet’s direct and forthright manner in dealing with issues head-on. By the end of the play, Arthur might now have grown fully as an active member of the relationship. Campbell appropriately sets the character on a journey to discover what he wants out of his life and where he wants to go in the remaining time he has left. Johnathan Sousa invests a soupçon dash of the absurd in his work as the mysterious Simon. When invited to dinner at the house, he appears a tad underdressed (thanks to Joyce Padua’s selection of the worn looking black Nirvana t-shirt design underneath his ‘wrinkled suit’). As the conversation over dinner and dessert continues, something about Simon’s conversation starter remains peculiarly offbeat. Sousa quietly goes along with that for the time being. There’s an impish grin on his face with a cock of his head to show that he is about to take a commanding presence over the events that follow. It is in the second act where the audience sees another side of Simon as the character breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. It becomes an eye-opener, to say the least. And when Sousa does this, it does defy a sensible explanation. But it certainly makes for good theatre. Final Comments: As a 60 + year old who often wonders where things are headed both inwardly and outwardly, ‘Withrow Park’ at least lets me know that life still offers things to do that are out of the ordinary routine. Sometimes we must visit the odd and the peculiar in that uncertainty of life to have those AHA moments about who we are as we continue to grow in this short life we live. That doesn’t stop at any given age. 'Withrow Park' is most definitely worth a look. Running time: approximately one hour and 45 minutes. ‘Withrow Park’ runs until December 10 on the Mainstage at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For tickets, visit www.tarragontheatre.com . WITHROW PARK by Morris Panych Directed by Jackie Maxwell Assistant Director: Bryn Kennedy Set Designer: Ken MacDonald Costume Designer: Joyce Padua Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer and Composer: Jacob Lin 林鴻恩 Stage Manager: Sandy Plunkett Apprentice Stage Manager: Emily Cornelius The Cast: Benedict Campbell, Corinne Koslo, Nancy Palk, Johnathan Sousa Previous Next

  • Comedies 'The Master Plan' by Michael Healey. Based on SIDEWAYS: THE CITY GOOGLE COULDN'T BUY by Josh O'Kane

    Back 'The Master Plan' by Michael Healey. Based on SIDEWAYS: THE CITY GOOGLE COULDN'T BUY by Josh O'Kane Now onstage at Crow's Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto Now onstage at Crow's Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto Joe Szekeres Voice Choice ‘The Master Plan’ is why we go to the theatre. Glorious. Stellar. Happy Anniversary, Crow’s. And what a celebratory year ahead, which begins with the premiere of Michael Healey’s ‘The Master Plan.’ A jagged roller coaster ride of heated, intense dialogue of accusations and innuendos flung back and forth, Healey’s furious script is chock full of detailed information. It’s not only what is said but the implication behind the words that make this production one where you’ll have to pay close attention because it’s delivered at lightning speed. ‘The Master Plan’ becomes a biting satirical look at what was meant to become an innovative experiment in building a sustainable Toronto waterfront neighbourhood that would be called ‘Quayside’. The Crow’s press release calls it, ‘a messy affair between Sidewalks Labs and Waterfront Toronto’. The play is based on Globe and Mail journalist Josh O’Kane’s ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy’. America-based Sidewalk Labs (part of Google) funded just over $1 million dollars for: “the construction of this new model of inclusive urban development along Toronto’s eastern waterfront. This model would strive for the highest levels of sustainability, economic opportunity, housing affordability and new mobility.” (sidewalk labs.com) What comes to mind in knowing Sidewalk Labs is a subsidiary of Google and American-based? The money, of course. Who profits from this deal? Is it tech giant Google? Is the profit equitably shared? Additionally, where’s the Canadian control beyond merely setting this neighbourhood in Toronto? Even with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval in 2017, this project failed. Miserably. Why? Issues surrounding digital surveillance and privacy among those living in this development became of grave concern. Anyone could be pictured twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, without written or verbal consent. The often distraught and frantic boardroom discussions about the building of this waterfront become playwright Healey’s focus and concern. It’s a theatre in a round setting with Joshua Quinlan’s and Kimberly Purtell’s clever staging in full array. Quinlan has created a corporate boardroom environment, and tables smack dab in the middle. Purtell’s overhead lighting on top of the tables with its dusky overhead lights strongly resembles a boxing ring. The actors slowly appear on the stage about 20 minutes before the performance and chat as their characters with the audience. I went down to centre stage where actor Peter Fernandes discussed what had happened a few years ago at the waterfront. The other actors milled about chatting with audience members and gauging what they knew about this waterfront development a few years ago. Video Designer Amelia Scott projects news articles (The Globe and Mail, Forbes magazine) throughout the performance that reflect what was happening at the time. Chris Abraham directs the production with an assured hand. At times, Healey’s script is uproariously hilarious with its sometimes-vicious takes and quips. At the beginning of the play, we're told the events are fictitious. After intermission, the audience's laughter is released upon seeing the words ‘Still fictitious’ projected. The references to Frances Nunziata and Kathleen Wynne are two noteworthy, perfectly placed comic moments. Yanna McIntosh perfectly mimics John Tory’s horrible-sounding speaking of the French language. Green-clad Peter Fernandes’ Tree is a riot. At other times, a tremendous sense of dread envelopes the events. As Meg Davis (daughter of the late PC Ontario Premier Bill Davis), Philippa Domville’s breaking of pencils and then face-planting into a cake is at first initially funny. However, I felt an incredible sense of dread in watching her keep doing it. Davis was one of the individuals who fearlessly believed in this project. It’s alarming to think of how she must have felt with all the work done up to this point, and it comes crashing down in front of her. The ensemble cast remains extraordinarily stellar throughout. With a quick costume change, often within a matter of seconds, the actors become someone else. Another masterclass in acting performances from everyone. Mike Shara is a towering, blustery, vain Dan Doctoroff, American CEO of Sidewalks Lab. He struts vainly about the stage, cocksure that what he is doing is the right thing and the only way to do it. He bangs the table with incredible force to make his point and to get what he wants. He doesn’t. Sometimes narrator Peter Fernades provides much of the laughter needed throughout as Tree, especially when it becomes clear why he is called this name. As Waterfront Toronto CEO Will Fleissig, Ben Carlson provides as much fiery temper as Shara does. There are moments on Carlson’s face when the irritability of the situation desperately gets to Fleissig. However, Carlson’s turn as the Fire Chief, who at one point has eyes for an on-stage cake, effectively contrasts with the intensity of that of Fleissig. The final ‘monologue’ of the play delivered by Christopher Allen is delivered with natural credibility with the hope that perhaps the involved corporations might or could have some prominence going forward. Tara Nicodemo as Kristina Verner and Philippa Domville as Meg Davis leave an indelible impression near the end of the performance. As the Waterfront executives, these ladies are the two who seem to ‘pick up the pieces’ in their belief of this project even while Doctoroff is annoyed at the continual rewriting of the terms of the agreement for them. As I write this article the next day, I can still picture Nicodemo and Domville working away at their laptops as the lights come down. Final Comments: I was exhausted as I left the theatre after watching this intensely focused performance. I’m not a Torontonian (I only like to visit), but seeing this production makes me wonder about our future involvement with tech giants and what this could mean for all of us. Scary thought to consider, but damn it makes for good theatre. ‘The Master Plan’ is good theatre. I hear it’s been extended to October 8. Go see it. Running time: approximately two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. ‘The Master Plan’ runs until October 8 at Streetcar/Crow’s Theatre in the Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit www.crowstheatre.com CROW’S THEATRE PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF ‘THE MASTER PLAN’ by Michael Healey Based on ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy’ by Josh O’Kane Directed by Chris Abraham Sets and Props Designer: Joshua Quinlan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne Video Designer: Amelia Scott Stage Manager: Jennifer Parr Performers: Christophe Allen, Ben Carlson, Philippa Domville, Peter Fernandes, Tara Nicodermo, Yanna McIntosh, Mike Shara Previous Next

  • Profiles Tanisha Taitt

    Back Tanisha Taitt Self-Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres During this time of isolation, I’ve been in touch with some of the Artistic Directors in Toronto, Stratford and Montreal to profile their work from home and online since they are isolated from their theatres. One of these companies has a unique sounding name I’ve always liked every time I hear it – Cahoots Theatre. To be in cahoots is clever. I had reviewed their production of ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ and wanted to learn more about this company. I was pleased when I got in touch with newly appointed Cahoots’ Artistic Director, Tanisha Taitt. Tanisha was appointed October 1, 2019. Her biography on Cahoots’ website is highly impressive, and I heartily recommend you read it. From 2013-2019, Tanisha was a Dramatic Arts mentor with the Toronto District School Board. She has worked in many theatre companies including National Arts Centre, Obsidian, Soulpepper, Nightwood and Buddies in Bad Times. She is fiercely committed to inclusion and to racial and cultural representation in the performing arts. I am looking forward to seeing what she has programmed for the next season and once it’s safe to return to the theatre. We conducted our interview via email: 1. How have you been keeping during this nearly three-month isolation? How is your immediate family doing? What a crazy time. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure. About three weeks after isolation began, I suddenly found myself feeling very ill, and ended up being quite sick for about ten days. I am much better now but that was scary. My family is doing well. Although I sadly have not been able to be with them in person since early March, we talk everyday. 2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy? Difficult? Being ill, being away from my family and friends, the incredible uncertainty with regards to the future of the theatre industry and carrying the weight of the racist murders of unarmed Black men. I’ve been writing a lot, reading a lot, listening to music that I love a lot. And I will very likely write a new album soon. There are SO many songs bouncing on the walls of my head. So very many. I was a singer-songwriter long before my life led me to theatre, for many years, and that is still my go-to place when life feels like it’s spinning off its axis. I’m also pondering who I want to be on the other side of all of this. This incredible shaking that the earth is experiencing right now cannot be for naught. I feel that I must emerge having learned and grown in some way, while at the same time not trying to force anything that isn’t true. One thing I’m trying to do more of is face-to-face, one-on-one conversations online, rather than quick emails or texts or Facebook messages. And good old-fashioned phone calls. So underrated. I want more time with my friends, even if we can’t be in the same room, feeling connected on a more intimate level. 3. Tanisha, I can’t even begin to imagine the varied emotions and feelings you’ve been going through personally and professionally with other key players and individuals with regard to Cahoots’ future. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts and theatre scene? I sure hope it does. If it doesn’t, then a lot of people lost a lot of work and a lot of money for no reason other than a virus. I’m not saying that to be trite, or to downplay the impact of this disease and the enormous suffering and loss attached. I’m saying that if the only things to come out of all of that are negative, that will be a second tragedy. I hope that this time is causing all of us to look deeper at what it is we’re doing as a species, and on more of a micro level, as an industry. I no longer take theatre for granted, at all. We’ve all seen how quickly that which we were certain of can vanish. So, I hope that the lasting impact of this is not a financial one, but an ideological one. 4. Do you have any words of wisdom to console or to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees at Cahoots who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? All I can say is that this will eventually end. Things won’t be the same afterward, but I don’t believe that we are out of theatres forever. I think that the most important thing is to stay in touch with your creativity, because creativity is innately hopeful. That doesn’t mean that you need to be making something all of the time, or any of the time for that matter. But it means that the part of yourself that is the visionary -- the designer or the director or playwright or actor or producer or teacher -- cannot be allowed to fade away. Because we will need you more than ever when we return. We will need to reignite the theatre, and it will take all of us holding onto our matches in order to do that. We can’t restart the fire if we’ve all thrown out our matches. 5. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene? I hope that we become more genuinely compassionate and less self-centered. There is a lot of genuine goodness in our industry, but there is a lot of machination and ego too. Like, ego that would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging and obnoxious. I am hoping that the vulnerability we have all been made to feel during this pandemic, on multiple levels, makes us kinder. 6. You Tube presentations, online streaming seems to be part of a ‘new normal’ at this time for artists to showcase their work. What are your thoughts and comments about the advantages and/or values of online streaming? Do you foresee this as part of the ‘new normal’ for Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? I think that each company needs to make that decision for themselves. I think there’s been some great stuff streamed, and some very-hard-to-sit-through stuff streamed. People are trying because this is all new to us. I do think that it’s been a bit reactive, like there’s a sense of sheer panic about getting stuff online right away or having things for people to watch all of the time. I don’t think that’s necessary at all. I think that it’s going to become extremely oversaturated and eventually people will just turn away from it altogether. Some of what is being thrown at the wall will stick and some won’t. There will be magic and there will be mediocrity, just like on real stages. We’re all likely to stream something that is a bit of a hot mess, and something else that works beautifully. A lot of trial and error is to come, because yes, I think that there is going to be a lot of virtual theatre coming in the year ahead. 7. What is it that you still adore in your role as Artistic Director of Cahoots that Covid will never destroy? Well I just began in the role last Fall, so it’s very new still. But I love what Cahoots stands for and I adore the enormous honour that I’ve been given -- to try each and every day to convert those values into art and community bonding. My commitment to that can never be felled by a little pandemic! With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he used to ask his guests: 1. What is your favourite word? Truth 2. What is your least favourite word? Retarded 3. What turns you on? Tenderness 4. What turns you off? False equivalencies 5. What sound or noise do you love? A baby’s gurgle 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Car alarms 7. What is your favourite curse word? I don’t really swear, but I’ll admit that hearing a truly horrible human called an MF has a certain and very- satisfying poetry to it. 8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt? A&R Director at a record label 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Gravedigger 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Well done, my love.” To learn more about Artistic Director Tanisha Taitt and Cahoots Theatre, visit www.cahoots.ca . Previous Next

  • Profiles Ins Choi

    Back Ins Choi "I hope we can fiercely support our Canadian playwrights and see to [writing, producing, directing and acting in] more productions that help us continue to find and define our collective voice.” Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres I saw ‘Kim’s Convenience’ when it was remounted at Soulpepper in 2012. At that time, Ins Choi did not play the central role of Appa, but this time, he does at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre. I’m most appreciative of his time to answer a few questions via email. Ins studied acting at York University in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Program. He’s also quick to point out that his training was from not only one institution but many influences. Skateboarding was one, although he acknowledges he wasn’t that good at it: “I’d practice for days, weeks on a trick - an ollie kickflip, for example, and then “perform” it in front of people once I was comfortable landing it in private. I also kinda liked playing the part of a skater - the clothes, the shoes, the hair, the attitude, the jargon. It was like a role.” Although he doesn’t consider himself an athlete, Ins played on his high school's volleyball, rugby, hockey and soccer teams. He never regretted this participation in sports because he recognized how they all added to the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Being kind to one’s teammates also figured prominently. To be kind, collaborative, and part of a team, he had to listen to others and find his part and voice. Ins is very family-oriented. As a child, at family gatherings, he would watch his father and siblings tell stories and reminisce about the ‘old days’ while making each other laugh. Ins’ father was the Pastor of a Korean immigrant church in downtown Toronto. At home, the young lad would watch his father research, read, write, and practice his sermons first. Then, at the church's regular Sunday matinee ‘gigs,’ Ins’ father would frame ancient stories for a contemporary congregation with humour, craft, and passion. Ins’ mother put her boy in several violin, piano and voice music lessons. He also recalled singing in many choirs and ensembles, where he learned the importance of musicality and rhythm. He credits his training as a writer with writing songs, poems, and short stories. The next bit of advice is something most of us have experienced at least once in our lives: ‘Failing at something but getting up and trying again.” How does he feel about the current state of Canadian theatre and where the industry is headed over the next proverbial five-year plan? “I think we’re still in a bit of a hangover from Covid, but I hope we can fiercely support our Canadian playwrights and see to [writing, producing, directing and acting in] more productions that help us continue to find and define our collective voice.” I was taken with the family unit behind ‘Kim’s Convenience’ the first time I saw it at Soulpepper. The Kims are an immigrant family with flaws, striving to make ends meet and raise their children in a culture that’s a little foreign. The story deals with a small family convenience-run store and what to do when the next generation doesn’t want to take it over. The family is not perfect, as none is. However, this family tries to express their love and care for each other despite language and cultural barriers. Feelings are hard for everyone around. That’s precisely one of the messages Choi wants audiences to come away with after seeing ‘Kim’s Convenience.’ He also adds: “I’d love for people to leave the theatre having fallen in love with a family that perhaps looks differently than theirs and for that to have had a positive effect in how to view and treat others in their day-to-day lives.” There’s a little bit of Ins in each of the characters. He was single into his thirties and pursuing an artistic career like Janet. Much like Jung, he has felt like a failure many times in my life. Like Umma, he’s tried to please others. The following statement made me laugh when I read it in his email: “And like Appa, I now have two children who don’t listen to me. I’m joking.” Ins has never considered continuing the story of the Kim’s in another script. When I taught high school English, I always sought new material with strong Canadian content about bringing contemporary drama to students. I asked Ins to imagine that he had the opportunity to go to the Ontario Ministry of Education and defend why ‘Kim’s Convenience’ should be studied in high schools across the province. Ins hated reading in high school. He states: “A pageful of words was intimidating.” ‘Kim’s Convenience,’ however, is an easy read for students. A page of the text can be flipped in ten seconds. The dialogue is quick and in contemporary speech with a variety of characters. Choi is proud to state that young people in the Ontario school system can relate to the play even if their parents were born here. The play deals with immigration, racism, gentrification and racial profiling, and these issues are part of our Canadian world today. The one crucial thing that will sell students to read the play. ‘It’s funny.’ What’s next for Ins once ‘Kim’s Convenience’ concludes its run at London’s Grand Theatre? He’s returning to being a real Appa with his family and taking a break in November. He’s then off to London, England, to perform the role of Appa in the United Kingdom’s premiere production of the play at Park Theatre. Esther Jun will direct the production there. Choi was also a tad coy in saying he’s also chipping away on a few projects in theatre and television but wouldn’t reveal what they are at this time. ‘Kim’s Convenience’ continues at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street, until November 4. For tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office at (519) 672-8800. Previous Next

  • Profiles Patrick McKenna

    Back Patrick McKenna Canadian Chat Janis Harvey Joe Szekeres My immediate family and I recall how much we really liked Patrick McKenna’s work in two shows for which he is well known: despicably ruthless and underhanded Marty Stephens on ‘Traders’ and as loveable nerdy bespectacled Harold Green on ‘The Red Green Show’ broadcast from fictional Possum Lodge. My family and I were impressed at the performance range McKenna revealed in these two opposite characters. Of most important note is the fact he was recognized for his versatility with 2 Gemini Awards in 1998, for best performance in a comedy series and in a continuing dramatic role for these two roles. A recent Zoom call with Patrick revealed just how down to earth this guy is, and what a good sense of humour he has. He put me at ease quickly. He’s extremely thankful for the opportunities he has been given. Like all of us, Covid made Patrick think about what is very important to him as you’ll see from one of his responses. Patrick has recently completed some voice cartoon work with Sesame Street and YTV. I also learned about his traveling improv group, ‘The Yes Men’, and yes, I do plan to catch one of their shows when they are in the region. I’ve included contact information for ‘The Yes Men’ at the conclusion of the profile. He is a spokesperson for the Golden Horseshoe Marathon for wheelchair athletes, the MS Society, McMaster Sick Kids, Lupus Canada, and Adult ADHD. Thank you so much for taking the time, Patrick. Very much appreciated: Tell me about one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful who believed in your pursuit of your career as a performing artist. The teacher would definitely be Steven Gaul; he was my Grade 11 English teacher. He took me to Second City because I was a pretty poor student. I wouldn’t do theatre because you had to wear tights in my mind. He said there was a lot of different kind of theatre so his wife and he were going to see Second City and he took me and another troublemaker to go see the show. I went, “Ohhhh, oh that’s what I want to do. I want to be on that stage (Second City).” He opened that door. And professionally, it was Andrew Alexander from Second City who at that particular time, because I have no training whatsoever, none. Other than being the class loud guy (not necessarily the clown, but I was loud). Andrew was the only one who said I’ve got something. I was the doorman at Second City for a couple of years, and people thought what I was even doing at an audition. I snuck in and away we went. Andrew was the one who said, “Let’s hire Pat.” Andrew was high enough up on the ladder to say, “Let’s put Pat there and see how it’ll go – he’ll sink or swim.” And luckily enough I swam, which was great. I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level? I guess I’m probably more cognizant of personal time and giving my time away to people. Work can sometimes do that. You get locked in that wheel and just start running and you realize that everybody is happy but you. I think these last eighteen months have given me the opportunity to say there’s way more I want to experience yet. Giving my time away to other people – that changed a lot. I’m slowing down and prioritizing to decide what I want to dedicate my time. How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? Well, quite a bit. A couple of things happened all at once. I turned 61 so you’re into a whole new category as an actor to begin. I’m an old white guy so that’s also happening in the new world and making me step back a few in the line. And Covid stopped production everywhere for quite awhile and made audiences go elsewhere and look for different things to entertain themselves and to fill up their time. You’re splitting any hope you had of coming back that there was going to be a new normal because everyone found a new normal. By the time we come back say with a new CBC show, audiences might be saying they’re into Netflix or Hulu. It’s going to be harder to find a dedicated audience, I think. I also got into a lot of voice work because I have a studio at home. I’m doing seven different cartoons right now. I never really did that before, so that was great. I was nominated for a couple of Screen Actor awards for voice work which is fantastic for me when you start something and you’re acknowledged for it right away knowing you’re going in the right direction. So this has opened a few doors for me. I’ve written a couple of screenplays that are floating around out there too. I wouldn’t have done this unless I had the time to follow through on some ideas. Professionally (and personally), it’s been a hand in hand of walking down the lane and wondering what’s next. In your opinion, how do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months? It’ll be interesting because I’m also working with an improv group. We’re called ‘The Yes Men’, we’re three old guys who go out and have some fun. Before the pandemic, we were booked every weekend. It was a lot of fun with crowds. Even in the early stages of the pandemic, we still had a few crowds even though there were some people who weren’t too sure if they could go out or not, do we wear masks? As a group, we decided to just stop as did the world. But watching now when we go back to book the theatres, we hear the hesitation in the voices over the phone of “We’re not sure yet. We’re not sure we can be open.” So there’s a real hesitancy on the part of the management as to when promotions can start once again. I think audiences are going to be sceptical being nudged shoulder to shoulder. Will audiences have to be so far apart that artists and the audiences themselves don’t get a community feeling and understanding that laughter and empathy can bring? That magic might be changed a little bit. I was just up in Iqaluit doing some improv shows and, because of Covid, the audience had to be so far back from the stage and they had to be six feet from each other, there was no laughter, no infectious energy. It became small individual groups around the room who might laugh but there was no collective laugh. That was a real learning curve of how do you communicate now to these people and will theatre do that? Can theatre do that? I think it’s going to be harder for the theatres themselves than the audiences. When they come back, I think shows are going to be huge, glorious shows, a lot of celebration. We saw this in the 20s, 30s, 50s, after the wars. All these big shows in history were a reaction to being shut down for awhile. It’ll be interesting to see how we’ll all pop back. From a Second City background, there will be reaction on every level. I think Second City will take a hard punch because it is such a cabaret experience with audiences shoulder to shoulder. There’s also a real division now of what we can laugh at in the real world. Two years ago it was Trump, anti Trump; now it’s mask, anti-mask. What excites/fascinates/intrigues Patrick McKenna post Covid? Well certainly audiences – that will make me excited to be in front of an audience and for audiences to be there and who can be there to feel free enough to experience that community again. Being on a set that doesn’t feel sick. I’ve been on a few sets where everyone has to go through so many protocols, it’s half a day to go through protocols. By the time you’re ready to shoot, some of us are tired on account of the protocols we’ve had to go through to get there. And if you have to leave set to go get something, then you have to go through the protocols again. I know we’re all over-reacting at times because we don’t want to be that place that perhaps gave Covid to an audience member or to a performing artist. So it makes it so difficult to proceed in an artistic way, there’s no flow. We’re constantly interrupted by reality. The ripple effect over the next five years is going to be felt tremendously within the industry. And that’s been interesting to watch on a set of how that functions. What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Patrick McKenna post Covid? To be honest, I’m going to have say the loss of some friends. There’s been a line in the sand of where some people stand on vaccinations. People whom I personally know who have passed away on account of Covid. I have a lot of close friends who surprised me in the way they are challenging the vaccinations and Covid. They challenged me on who I thought they were, and they were also challenged on who they thought I was. It really brought politics, beliefs and who you really to the forefront, and made you stand there and confront what’s happening. It’s more of a conservative world right now than my liberal point of view. I have to respect that as Conservatives believe their thoughts and they’re going to have to respect the thoughts and wishes of others. Post Covid, there are going to be a lot of different groups regarding who has been vaccinated and non-vaccinated. RAPID ROUND Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea: If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be? “Good eye.” (and Patrick and I share a good laugh). That’s probably too American. I’d have to say, “Thank you” especially to any teacher along the way who blows support and confidence into an individual rather than negativity. I look back to those people who nurtured strength and confidence in me, thank goodness for them. If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be? In an odd way, I’d have to say “Thank you” to them as well. Humour is such a subjective thing and that’s a huge lesson to learn especially if you’re going to be in this business. Just because you said something in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s going to be funny. There’s an audience and there are always going to be different ears. I remember there were those who did try to belittle me and say I wouldn’t make it, and I don’t miss that, but I have to acknowledge they made me work harder at being funny. What’s your favourite swear word? “Shite”. If I’m working somewhere and people think I might use the four letter “s” word, and then I surprise them with ‘shite’. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? “Absolutely” What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? “No” With whom would you like to share a meal and dialogue about the Canadian performing arts scene? It’s such a big table, really… “Erin O’Toole” What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? “Listen more.” With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Patrick McKenna from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist? “You have everything you need.” What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally? Personally, I want to be able to tour Scotland with my wife. We promised ourselves that, and then Covid just stopped everything. That’s our go to right away. Professionally, I would like to see one of these scripts I’ve written produced. As I said I’ve been lucky with acting and with voice work, and I’d like to conquer this new mountain of writing scripts and getting them produced. Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. Ooooh, there are so many great sporadic ones… To be completely selfish, I would say a second show doing stand up comedy at Punch Lines in Vancouver in 1988. There’s nobody on the stage but you, and if it’s working it’s because of you. What is one thing Patrick McKenna will never take for granted again post Covid? Friends. Would Patrick McKenna do it all again as an artist if given the same opportunities? Yes, but…(and again we share a good laugh) There are a lot of things that I would do better if given the same opportunities as an artist. The opportunities I was given were great, I might tighten things up a little such as listening more. To learn more about Patrick McKenna’s improv group “The Yes Men” (with Neil Crone and Kevin Frank), please visit the website: www.yesmenimprov.com or Facebook: The Yes Men Improv Comedy Troupe or Twitter: @TheYesMenImprov. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde

    Back 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde Shaw Festival Shaw Festival Dave Rabjohn The Shaw Festival is now running a delightful production of Oscar Wilde’s eminent play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ This period piece is subtly directed by Shaw’s artistic director Tim Carroll and highlights the delicious banter and cynical wit of these characters who exude a complete absence of moral commitment. Completely true to the traditional text, some surprises come from a unique set design and clever scene introductions that penetrate the social stratification. Indeed a comedy of manners, it features preposterous situations and comic confusions of identity. John Worthing (Ernest) has been raised as an orphan in the higher levels of society. In the flat of his friend Algernon, played boldly by Peter Fernandes, they discuss the various merits of love, marriage and proposing. Their dialogue is filled with the aforementioned cynicism. The core of their conversation is the admittance of getting away from the city and using fake identities to roam for pleasure. Enter Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell who uses her overbearing personality to intimidate the young men. Kate Hennig plays the imperious autocrat with overweening delight. Lady Bracknell refuses Worthing’s connection with her niece, but Ernest and Gwendolen commit to each other secretly. Moving to the country Algernon arrives and proposes to Cecily (Worthing’s niece) and then they are joined by “Ernest” and Gwendolyn and mayhem ensues as identities are mixed or lost. Ancient discoveries are made that comically return all characters happily to their trivial lives. Martin Happer, as Ernest, is efficiently cool and emotionless – physical humour was amusing as he flops with fake dread on a couch or spends too much time on his knees addressing various characters. Julia Course plays Gwendolen with great wry humour and excellent timing. Gabriella Sundar Singh, as Cecily, feeds energy into Act 2 with her saucy wit – big eyes and bouncy spirit poorly hiding her manipulative calculations. The unathletic Algernon (Peter Fernandes) is hilarious as he attempts to leap over a shrub and then abandons the attempt. The death of Banbury speech was a brilliant highlight. Gillian Gallow’s set design was traditionally elegant, but some twists were a signatory. A series of deepening prosceniums drew the audience eyes into almost a bandbox that moved forward in act one. This resulted in an intimacy with the opening dialogue. Pursuant scenes used various sized prosceniums to regulate outdoor venues or larger ornate rooms. The final library scene is cleverly fitted with a flat displaying a large bookcase, but no book titles exist. This subtly parallels the thin veneer of upper-crust society – all show, no substance. The manor house garden was largely filled with shrubbery, so finely tuned that it was almost cartoonish – again reflecting the pretensions of Wilde’s characters. Delighting the audience were comic entrances and exits through the silly labyrinth. Another clever surprise was a momentary treat that opened each of the three acts. Played by the servants, a small distinctive playlet or musical whimsy introduced moments in each scene. One could almost perceive, under the guise of droll professionalism, their disgust and wink-wink observations of the lampooned upper class. This production clearly displays the pretentious characters who do not change from beginning to end. Wilde skewers Victorian society unabashedly. This play seems to be governed by Wilde’s paradoxical aphorism – “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.” Fun fact: When the SARS outbreak hit Ontario in 2003, then director of the Shaw Festival, Jackie Maxwell, decided to take out pandemic insurance – one of the very few companies to do so. Because of that instinct, virtually all Shaw employees continued to work and be paid throughout the covid crisis. Well done, Ms. Maxwell! ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde Performers: Julia Course, Peter Fernandes, Martin Happer, Kate Hennig, Gabriella Sundar Singh, Neil Barclay, Patty Jamieson, Andre Morin, Ric Reid, Graeme Sommerville, Jaqueline Thair Director: Tim Carroll Set Design: Gillian Gallow Costumes: Christina Poddubiuk Music and sound: James Smith Production runs through October 9, 2022. Tickets at: shawfest.com Previous Next

  • Topical Points of Intrest A visit to Henry Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas' and now I'm hooked

    Back A visit to Henry Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas' and now I'm hooked Thank you to Toronto's Opera Atelier for the invitation Bruce Zinger Joe Szekeres After seeing Henry Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ staged by Toronto’s Opera Atelier on October 23, I’m keen to learn more about this gorgeous art form. And while Founding Co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg continue to reach out to new audiences to come to the Opera, I feel strongly convinced the two will succeed in their goal. They have a new audience member in me. I was always hesitant about attending Opera as I didn’t think I would understand what was occurring. With Opera Atelier’s forward thinking, I’m not anymore. What a terrific introduction to Baroque opera for those like myself who want to learn more. So many decisions made with this performance were the right ones. For example, I attended the pre-show introduction which helped to clarify and contextualize what I was about to see. I’m still looking at the beautiful programme each audience member receives as so much useful information was found there that sharpened further what I had learned in the pre-show introduction. Before the performance began, Pynkoski welcomed the audience with tremendous class. Just judging from the exuberant tone of his voice, he was elated to be back in the theatre and extremely appreciative we were in attendance today. Pynkoski then focused his attention on those in the audience who are considered ‘first timers’ to Baroque opera or who might have a basic understanding. He assured us that Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ was the correct opera to attend if one wants to learn more. How correct he was on this account. Dido, Queen of Carthage (Meghan Lindsay) is in distress, but we do not know why. It is her sister, Belinda (Mireille Asselin) who guesses her secret. Dido is in love with Aeneas (Colin Ainsworth), the Trojan Prince who has found refuge at her court following the destruction of Troy. When he appears to press whether the Queen will respond to his love, she declares that fate has forbidden their union but she ultimately succumbs to his charms and his love with the courtiers singing, dancing and celebrating with a hunting party. Meanwhile, the Sorceress (Measha Brueggergosman-Lee) plots the Queen’s downfall and the destruction of Carthage whereby Aeneas will have no choice but to leave and forsake his love, Dido. The witches present conjure a storm to separate the loving couple within the hunting party. Ultimately, Aeneas is convinced that he must leave as the gods have commanded him to do so. Dido is outraged and sends him away despite Aeneas’s offer to remain. Once alone, Dido is overwhelmed and takes her life. Aeneas will soon fulfill his destiny and become the founder of Rome – the new Troy. Yes, tragedy ensues within the opera. But with this production, there was so much to see, hear, listen to, absorb, and admire. Pynkoski’s direction remained firmly solid throughout the one-hour performance. He establishes dramatic focus where necessary to tell the story clearly. Kimberly Purtell’s stunning lighting design magically encapsulates this tragic love story. Gerard Gauci’s exquisitely gorgeous set designs are extraordinary to behold as was the wardrobe work of Michael Legouffe, Michael Gianfrancesco and Carrie Cooley Barbour. Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg’s graceful, spirited and lithesome choreography transported me to another world. Christopher Bagan was the Assistant Conductor at the matinee performance I attended. Oh, the sensationally stunning vocal work from the artists. Colin Ainsworth was a dashingly debonair Aeneas. Meghan Lindsay’s tragic Dido passionately resonated from the Elgin stage right to my very being. Mireille Asselin’s trustworthy Belinda becomes that hopeful safe space of hope for Dido even though the tragedy is inevitable. Measha Brueggergosman-Lee’s Sorceress was marvelous. She owned that stage. She moved with such flurry and purpose that I had to put my pen down from making notes and just admire a veritable vocal artist who just enjoys sharing her talent with all of us. I look forward to attending Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ in April 6, 8 and 9, 2023. To learn more about Opera Atelier, visit www.operaatelier.com . Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article Firebringer

    Back Firebringer Presented by Spark Call Productions Credit: Jenn Downey Aaron Kropf “Anticipating what Spark Call Productions will bring to Saint John next time.” Presented by Spark Call Productions, a new Saint John theatre company, Firebringer is a fun, campy, stone age musical about the discovery of fire created. First performed by StarKid Productions (best known for the Harry Potter parody A Very Potter Musical), ‘Firebringer’ is a collaboration with Nick Lang, Matt Land, and Brian Holden, credited for the Book; Meredith Stepien and Mark Swidersk, credited for music and lyrics and arrangement by Clark Baxtresser and Pierce Siebers. ‘Firebringer’ takes place at the dawn of the Stone Age, where we see the power struggle between the new tribe leader Jamilla (Jen Downey) and Zazzalil (Celeigh Lynne), a tribe member who wants more from life than work all day. Throughout the show, Jamilla leaves the tribe, leaving them to Zazzalil’s lackadaisical leadership. In true musical theatre fashion, Jamilla is called back to the tribe to help save the day, but it can only be done when she and Zazzalil work together to defeat Snarl. All of this is told to the audience by the former leader Molag (Meghan McCracken). One quibble. From where I was sitting in the house, it was difficult to see McCracken throughout much of the production as she stood on the floor far too much. This female-dominated production allowed many wonderful women performers in Saint John and the surrounding area to showcase the incredible talent we have in our backyard. It’s a light and fluffy production, yet there are some staging issues that could be examined again in future. They aren’t a huge distraction and shouldn’t stop anyone from going to see this first show. However, with so many involved, the creative team could have done some trimming as there are moments making the show outstay its welcome. The show has several songs that help move the story forward, but few are all that memorable. The notable numbers include ‘We Got Work To Do," one of the first memes to spread across the internet during the early days of social media. “Just a Taste” is a lovely duet between Emberly (Andrea Paddock) and Grunt (Dino Andriani). ‘Chorn’ is a Celine Dion-style song wonderfully performed by Meredith Ferris as Chorn. A few standouts are Jen Downey as Jemilla, Celeigh Lynne as Zazzalil and Meredith Ferris as Chorn (whose final number near the show's end was marvellous). Don’t miss the last opportunity to see the show on Saturday, February 24. It’s an entertaining evening for anyone over the age of 16; there is a lot of language that doesn’t make Firebringer a family show. Final performance at the Sanctuary Theatre, 228 Germain Street. Previous Next

  • Profiles Krystin Pellerin

    Back Krystin Pellerin "I couldn't be in better company with incredible artists from 'Casey and Diana' " Provided by The Stratford Festival Joe Szekeres A delightful conversation with Krystin Pellerin. This month she appears as Diana, Princess of Wales, at the Stratford Festival’s ‘Casey and Diana’ by Nick Green. The production opens June 1 and runs to June 17 at the Studio Theatre. During our Zoom conversation, I told the National Theatre School graduate she and I went way back. She smiled and quizzed me a bit further. I saw her work back in 2009 when she appeared on CBC’s ‘Republic of Doyle’. I was off on cancer leave from work that year and Tuesday nights were my ‘me time’ spent watching her, Allan Hawco (Jake Doyle), and a cast of wonderful actors tell the weekly story of the Doyles, their work as police officers, and all the other familial machinations. A big smile then came across her face as she was so grateful to hear how the show provided some relief for me and my family. Fast forward past 2010, I have seen Krystin’s work in Soulpepper’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ and at Stratford where she played a sultry Lady Macbeth. By the publishing date of her profile, Pellerin will be in performance of ‘Casey and Diana’. The play is a Stratford Commission. The story follows the Toronto AIDS hospice, Casey House, and the anticipation of the Princess of Wales’s arrival in 1991, the hope she brings, and the effect her visit has on the house residents. This historical moment saw the world in fear over the AIDS and HIV pandemic. Nick Green’s story vividly captures when a rebel Princess, alongside less famous caregivers and advocates, reshaped the course of a pandemic—and how those stricken by the virus found hard-won dignity, community, and love in the face of astonishing hardship. Krystin feels so fortunate to be a part of the production. It has been completely inspiring and fulfilling for her in ways that she could never anticipate. With an incredible script by Nick Green, Pellerin feels this is a perfect opportunity to return to the theatre: “This has been one of the smoothest rehearsal periods. I feel so well taken care of as an actor. I couldn’t be in better company with incredible artists. [Director] Andrew Kushnir has been facilitating all that. It has been a heartfelt and heartening experience. His vision has been crystal clear but entirely collaborative." As an actor, Pellerin acknowledges Kushnir’s mindfulness has allowed the artists to go deep into the intensity of the story. And on playing the late Princess of Wales? Pellerin took a moment and paused to try and find the right words: “It’s daunting and very, very big shoes to fill. It’s such a privilege to be inspired by her for a whole nine months. I was cast in September, and I’ve been absorbing as much as I can in keeping her close to my heart. I intend for Diana’s spirit to stay with me always. She is a gift.” She also spoke about how healing the research and rehearsal process has been. When Krystin gets past the initial moments of feeling scared, she says there is such a calming effect Diana exudes on the actor and the people in Nick Green’s script. Pellerin has said it has been a real treat researching online the videos of Diana and her work in visiting and being with others. There is so much out there, but what has been remarkable in this research was finding those candid and private moments of the Princess. These documentaries where Diana is herself and at home speaking privately were the most informative for Krystin. Any word from Buckingham Palace or the Princes about their mother? Rumours will always float around, and they can’t be verified. However, Krystin has heard there might have been reaching out to Harry and Meghan but that is unfounded. Who knows? One of us just might be sitting next to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As Krystin says: “That would be surreal.” What are some important messages audiences will take away from ‘Casey and Diana’? One thing Krystin has noticed is the lived experience many of the audience members have had about this time in the early ‘90s. She hopes the performance will bring healing to them. For those who are coming without any lived experience of this time, she also hopes the performance gives a glimpse of the people who lived with HIV in the past and those in the present. She trusts the play will remove that stigma that might remain today. How’s she feeling about the return to the theatre? She follows the advice she gives to anyone entering the industry: “Take care of your spirit and be always looking for ways to be inspired on a daily basis. If you’re living well and taking care of yourself you have so much more to give.” Change has been a part of the theatre industry. Nevertheless, Krystin feels this is the first year we are starting to come out on the other side bit by bit. The proverbial next five years of the theatre will be making up for lost time and she appreciates now more than ever to be with an audience again and how changing it can be. She avows we need the theatre industry now more than ever. It takes time for all to adjust and become comfortable again, and yes Krystin at times feels a bit tentative; however, that sense of relief with the personal connection of being in front of a live audience again after having been without it for so long has become a visceral experience. It’s ELECTRIC and so VITAL. Although ‘Casey and Diana’ is a short run, Krystin can sense she and many of the cast feel the play will have a life after its run at the Studio Theatre. Will it tour around the province? Krystin can only speak for herself but she’s almost positive everyone would be there in a heartbeat if it moves forward in that respect. As we concluded our conversation, what’s next for the busy artist once the play concludes its run: “Right now, it’s an open book. We’ll see what happens. I am looking forward to getting back to my family life. My husband and I have a two-year-old daughter. I’ve been away from her during the days and nights and am looking forward to having a summer and quality time with her. I’m open to anything.” To purchase tickets to see ‘Casey and Diana’, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. Previous Next

  • Musicals Nuns Just Want to Have Fun at Saint John Theatre Company for this 'Nunsense'

    Back Nuns Just Want to Have Fun at Saint John Theatre Company for this 'Nunsense' Saint John Theatre Company, New Brunswick Saint John Theatre Company Facebook page Aaron Kropf, Canadian East Coast blogger/reviewer Saint John Theatre Company welcomed audiences back to the theatre with the exuberant, joyous and often outrageous romp of Dan Goggin’s Nunsense. I have to start by saying that it was wonderful to see people back in theatre seats, even while I enjoyed the production from home. Saint John Theatre Company made some wise decisions during the pandemic and often had to change course throughout so they could continue to entertain New Brunswickers. Nunsense is one of those wise choices; this slot in their schedule was supposed to be ‘Mary Poppins’, but given the restrictions in New Brunswick something else needed to be brought to the stage. Nunsense is the story of five nuns, and one priest, putting on a show to raise funds to bury the last four sisters that died tragically of botulism that killed almost the whole order (except these five survivors, because they were at Bingo, of course they were). They decide to put on a talent show as a fundraiser. Each of the nuns gets a chance to shine, tell their own story, and let their musical talents shine. A major side story is that of Sister Mary Amnesia who was hit on the head with a cross and cannot remember anything about herself and joined the order after the incident. There is so much to enjoy in this production. One highlight was Sister Mary Amnesia’s (Jen Downey) number “So You Want to Be a Nun” done with a foul-mouthed puppet. Downey has a wonderful sense of comedic timing, and her interactions with the puppet were hilarious. Another gem in this production was Andrea Paddock’s portrayal of Sister Mary Leo the dancing nun. Her dancing was delightful to watch, and I was surprised to see some on point dance during her big dance numbers. Each time she danced I longed for more. Finally, it needs to be noted that “Holier Than Thou” was a real showstopper. Sister Mary Hubert (Jo-Anne MacDonald) lead the cast in this foot stomping, hand clapping, gospel crowed pleaser of a number. It is one of those songs that makes you want to get up and move. Nunsense brought a lot of humour, tones of joy, and such a fantastic show to welcome audiences back to in-person theatre. This was a show that welcomed audiences back to the theatre with a bang! And it was nice how they involved the at home audience throughout the production as well. After so many months of the pandemic and not being able to enter the theatre, and share those experiences with others, the thrill of it is back. I look forward to joining those that were at the theatre for the next production. Thank you, Saint John Theatre Company, for bringing us together again. Nunsense wraps Saturday May 22 with another hybrid in person and online show at 7:30 pm. There are still a few chances left to attend the show at Imperial. To reserve your socially distanced seats, call 506-674-4100 or go to https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/45542 if you wish to see tonight’s production from the comfort of your home. Previous Next

  • Profiles Eda Holmes

    Back Eda Holmes Self Isolated Artist Olivier Clertant Joe Szekeres Over the years while working as a full-time teacher, I’ve travelled to Montreal to visit relatives and friends in the summer, (et parler francais aussi). I’ve only attended The Centaur Theatre sadly just once as the theatre was usually closed for July and August. Since I’ve been reviewing for On Stage Blog, I made it a point to get in touch with The Centaur again as I was receiving word there was ‘good stuff’ going on, and I wanted to check it out since my retirement from teaching. I must credit a lot of the ‘good stuff’ going on for the last two seasons to Artistic Director, Eda Holmes, and her vision for the theatre. From 2010-2017, Ms. Holmes was Artistic Director of Ontario’s Shaw Festival. Her curriculum vitae reveals extensive professional experience she has had across Canada. Her training at rather prestigious ballet schools in New York City, San Francisco and Houston, Texas plus her training at Montreal’s National Theatre School in Directing are quite impressive. When I attended opening night productions to review the last two seasons, Ms. Holmes eloquently opened each performance with a warm welcome to guests and patrons. I thought to myself here was a lady who genuinely cared about The Centaur and wants it to be a leading spot for theatrical creativity. During this pandemic lockdown, Ms. Holmes still wanted to ensure audiences and patrons do not lose sight of the artistic and creative force of The Centaur. There are Saturday Salons where guests can listen to individual discussions. On Saturday May 23, the Salon features Playwright’s Workshop Montreal with Emma Tibaldo and Jesse Stong about our Queer Reading Series. On May 30, Eda’s guest will be Centaur’s former Artistic and Executive Director, Roy Surette. Roy is now Touchstone Theatre’s Artistic Director in Vancouver. We’re all looking forward for Eda and Roy to talk about their love for Centaur. The last Saturday Salon will be held June 6 with Imago Theatre’s Artistic and Executive Director Micheline Chevrier. Montreal’s Imago Theatre is a catalyst for conversation, an advocate for equal representation and a hub for stories about unstoppable women. Ms. Holmes and I conducted our interview via email: 1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well? I feel really fortunate that I am home and well with my husband Tim Southam. Even though Montreal is a real hotspot of the pandemic we are lucky to live near the mountain where we can be out in nature a bit without having to go very far. For the first two weeks of the whole thing Tim had just returned from LA so he had to self-isolate and I was in Niagara-on-the-lake where we were supposed to start rehearsals for The Devil’s Disciple - which we ended up doing entirely via Zoom. I was able to come back to Montreal after 2 weeks and that felt really good. Now if it would just get a bit warmer outside, I would feel really hopeful! 2. I know that ‘Fences’ was shut down at The Centaur when the pandemic was declared, and everything began to be locked tightly. How long was the production in rehearsal? How far was it from premiere? Will ‘Fences’ become part of any future slate at Centaur? Fences was supposed to start rehearsals 3 days after we closed the theatre on March 13th. At that point, the set was built and waiting in the theatre to be set up on the stage, the costume and set designer Rachel Forbes was in town and the costumes were just getting started. We had a video shoot planned for the first day of rehearsal as well to create a trailer for the show and the posters had just started going up inside and outside of the building. Since we didn’t really know the scope or scale of the situation yet, we decided together with our co-producers at Black Theatre Workshop to delay the start of rehearsals for one month in the hopes that things would calm down enough to make it possible to do the show a month later - how naive we were! By the end of March it was clear that nothing that involved people gathering was going to be possible for quite a while so we paid the creative team and the actors their cancellation fees and postponed the show indefinitely. Quincy Armorer the AD at Black Theatre Workshop (who was also going to play Troy Maxson in the production) and I committed to finding a way to make the production happen with this cast and creative team in the future even if it meant waiting 2 years. It was initially sort of stunning but eventually the numbness gave way to real sadness. 3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally? I think that the two most challenging things have been 1) trying to figure out how best to support the artists and core staff at Centaur as we navigate the upheaval of cancelling shows and finding ways to be authentically “online” in the short term, and 2) the fact that I did not get to have any creative time with all the artists that I was looking forward to being in a room with working on my show at Shaw. That said, the thing that has gotten me through has been the people both at Centaur and at Shaw - everyone has been so inspiring and supportive of one another it confirms that the theatre is the best family in the world. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? Every day feels like a week and every week feels like a year. For me the thing that is kind of surreal is the fact that even though everything has supposedly stopped, nothing seems to have stopped for me. I was rehearsing with the Shaw actors until May 10th by Zoom and at Centaur I have been planning and replanning how to keep the theatre creatively alive while we wait to see what is possible - something that changes almost hourly. I am hoping that it will all calm down soon and I will be able to at least read a bit, listen to music and spend some quiet time thinking, cooking and watching the Spring come alive. I might even dance a bit! 5. What advice would you give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What words of advice would you give to the new graduates emerging from the National Theatre School? Even though no one knows how long this extraordinary situation (where we are not able to gather in public) will last - I know that it won’t last forever and when it is over the need to share our stories and make each other laugh and sing and think will be immense. The thing that has been most impressive has been the way all the artists I know have simply taken what is in front of them in this crisis and looked to make something of it. It might be bread for everyone they know, it might be a new song or a series of photographs or paintings or it might even be a commitment to get back to the basics of their own lives without the crazy race that a life in the arts usually entails, but every one of them seems to be saying “What is in front of me right this minute and what can I do with it.” So I guess my advice is the same as I would give an actor in a play - be in the moment and listen - that is the only way that I know to bring the full force of your own ability to the table with real authenticity. 6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic? I can only speak for myself on this one but I know that this crazy time has reminded me that you have to work with what you have and not lament what you don’t if you want to find a creative way forward. We can’t try to remake the world in its old image once this over - that would be a tragic waste of the immense toll the pandemic has taken. Never before, in my lifetime at least, has there been a single event that has impacted people around the world the way this virus has. We can’t help but be affected by that. It may not all be positive - we are human after all - but it will change all of us and hopefully it will give us the courage to make choices politically and collectively that will provide a better future than the one we were heading toward before we were all sent home. 7. Do you believe or can you see if the Quebec and Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? It can’t help but be changed in both good ways and sad ways. I know that some companies will find it hard to survive or certain projects which were absolutely perfect before this crisis may fall away because the world will be so different afterward they are no longer as relevant. But the performing arts in Canada in general and Quebec in particular is full of intensely driven creative people who will be pushing at the gate to come forward and take on the new world and wrestle with what it all means. And the fact that Canada as a nation provides real effective public support for the arts at every level of government means that we have the best chance of coming out of this crisis ready to work. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts and comments about this? Are there any advantages or disadvantages? Will streaming/online/ You Tube performances be part of a ‘new normal’ for the live theatre/performing arts scene? The thing that we all crave in the performing arts is the experience of being personally in the room with something extraordinary - a brilliant performance or a perfectly cast audience that hangs on every word or note or step with the performers. It happens in real time with each person on either side of the footlights making a million choices in 3-dimensional real time together. The online world cannot reproduce that real time impact we have on each other in the room. Also we are all very sophisticated consumers of recorded media which at its best is the result of a very selective creative process that results in an intensely edited 2 dimensional final product. So I think that the theatre needs time to find authentic ways to create for an online platform - simply filming performances and broadcasting them will only work some of the time and only when the performance lends itself in some way to that selective edited final product. Painters have been playing with the surface of the canvas and all artists toy with the desire for or avoidance of verisimilitude all the time. It has always led the arts to innovate. I am sure that will happen during this period while we are not able to be in a room together - but it will never replace being in the room together. 9. As the Centaur’s Artistic Director, where do you see the future of Centaur headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us? I want to see Centaur continue down the path we were building toward becoming the theatre for all Montrealers. This city has changed so much in the past 10 years. The old notion of two solitudes is being dissolved by a young generation of artists who speak at least 2 languages, come from a variety of backgrounds and who have a wide range of influences. It makes the work that comes from here completely unique and I want to put Centaur at the centre of that creative energy and offer our audience the highest quality and most relevant theatre in the world - as soon as we can make theatre again! As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews: 1. What is your favourite word? Wicked 2. What is your least favourite word? Nice 3. What turns you on? Fierce Joy 4. What turns you off? Laziness 5. What sound or noise do you love? A purring cat 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Music at the wrong volume. 7. What is your favourite curse word? It is unrepeatable. 8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Chef 9. What profession would you not like to do? Accountant 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You’re late.” To read and learn more about Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, visit www.centaurtheatre.com . Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'In Seven Days' by Jordi Mand. World Premiere of a comedy about death

    Back 'In Seven Days' by Jordi Mand. World Premiere of a comedy about death A Co-production with Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. Now onstage at London's Grand Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Mairi Babb and Ron Lea Joe Szekeres ‘A commendable and smart world premiere that tackles life and death issues with grace, wit and dignity.’ Philip Akin shares in his Director’s Programme Note that ‘In Seven Days’ is a play of fine balance between people, between families and the seriousness of life and the laughter of that same life. One of the characters from the play states: “Sometimes things change when they change.” Isn’t that the truth? The valued principle of upholding the preciousness of life has now flipped upside down on its head in playwright Jordi Mand’s story. That sacred gift can now be terminated immediately and efficiently with the consent of any adult individual and supporting medical team. Heavy stuff to consider for a world premiere, whether one approves or disproves of the action. The bottom line is: Does this delicate subject matter make for good theatre? Under Director Philip Akin’s skillful hands, this wonderful ensemble cast tells Mand’s affecting story with grace, wit and dignity. The production never feels rushed in its pacing. Set in present-day London, Ontario, thirty-year-old Rachel (Shaina Silver-Baird), a big-time successful Toronto lawyer, has returned home for Shabbat dinner to see her ill father, Sam (Ron Lea), who lives with his much younger girlfriend and partner Shelley (Mairi Babb). Rachel is very close to her father. Her personal life is in upheaval. She and her DJ boyfriend, Darren (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett), are estranged. He has moved out. Upon her arrival, Rachel brings six bags of poppy seed bagels, which sends Shelley into highly comical paranoia of frenzy because it’s her turn to bring snacks to temple. Very few people at the synagogue don’t care for the poppyseed bagels and prefer sesame seeds. Watching these two ladies bicker over the bagels' differences is a hilarious opening. The story takes a serious turn when Sam enters. His health has deteriorated over the last few years. Sam has been in remission from cancer twice; however, he’s finding it more and more challenging to carry on because he’s in constant pain. He has chosen to die by medically assisted death in seven days. Even his dear friend and Rabbi Eli (Ralph Small) finds it difficult to talk to Sam about his choice. ‘In Seven Days’ confronts the audience with a serious question – do loved ones try to change the minds of those who have chosen to travel this path as Rachel does, or should the wishes of the ailing Sam be honoured? Sean Mulchahy has created an extraordinary set design of the upscale living room in Sam and Shelley’s home, beautifully lit by designer Siobhán Sleath. Mulchahy has also selected appropriate clothing for each character, from Shelley’s designer-looking fashion to Darren’s DJ grunge t-shirt, torn jeans, and sneakers. Lyon Smith’s sound design is perfectly timed for a comical effect with telephones (yes, there is a landline in the kitchen) after Sam announces wanting to end his life. When serious and complicated moments rear their heads (as they often do), it’s vital to maintain as much of a genuinely compassionate perspective as possible. Akin continues to underscore this reminder gently many times throughout the play. At one point, a heated discussion ensues between Rachel and Shelley over her father’s care. One complication arises for Rachel: is Shelley only interested in Sam for what she can gain financially in this common-law relationship? That may sound harsh since personal emotions are running high, but it’s also a fair question for any family member to ask. Mairi Babb handles that moment with class and self-respect as Shelley, and the look on Shaina Silver-Baird’s face as Rachel indicates how genuinely touched she is with the response. Wonderful work. This strong ensemble cast is the reason to see the production. They perform in believable synchronicity, listen to each other genuinely and respond believably. At the end of each scene, Siobhán Sleath places one of the characters in the spotlight, which I found visually appealing. That character has been most affected by events from that scene. Thankfully, Ron Lea does not play Sam as curmudgeonly. Instead, his Sam heartrendingly shows gradual exhaustion in his physical stance on stage, and that’s not easy to do. At the top of the show, he walks with one cane, but as the seven days pass, the character saunters with two canes. Lea’s Sam is gruff and point-blank. He either likes or dislikes a person, as there’s no in-between. Sam likes to call the shot even though he may be wrong periodically. Rachel’s mother died while she and Sam were separated, but they never divorced. For that reason, Sam calls himself a widower. Well, legally speaking, he is. At first, Sam never cared for Rachel’s estranged boyfriend, Darren, because he wasn’t Jewish. That drew a few giggles from people sitting around me, but there’s more behind Sam's feelings about Darren. As Darren, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett is hesitant. He instinctively knows Sam doesn’t care for him because he’s not of the faith. Near the end of the play, that all changes. There is an amusing episode of ‘male bonding’ over a tub of ice cream shared between the two, where each begins to understand and accept the other for who he is. This moment does not become teary-eyed because, realistically, that’s not how men would behave. Instead, Lea and McMurtry-Howlett emanate tremendous respect for each other through their facial expressions. Once again, wonderful work to watch. The religious faith perspective behind this touchy issue is bravely handled in Ralph Small’s Rabbi Eli, one of Sam’s oldest friends since childhood. As a religious leader in the faith, Small’s Eli is kind and sympathetic and genuinely wants what’s best for his friend. However, there is also the humane side. Eli and Sam are old friends. Eli tries hard to listen and accept his friend’s request, but it’s tough. Again, a top-notch stage moment of respectful male conversation between Small and Lea is strongly shown. The two keep their emotions in check as men do. However, I noticed Small possibly wiping a tear from his eye. Smartly handled if so because the reference is felt without emotional overkill. There’s strength and resilience behind the two important women in Sam’s life. Shaina Silver-Baird’s Rachel loves her father dearly and only wants the best for him. She’s a fighter and wants Sam to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ as poet Dylan Thomas once wrote. Mairi Babb’s Shelley is every bit of a fighter who indeed reveals her strength, resilience and love for Sam. Babb’s Shelley is not a pushover, nevertheless. As mentioned earlier, that moment between the two women over the insinuation of a gold-digger becomes pure stage magic. And Another Thought: I always believed the Hippocratic Oath by medical professionals is to prevent disease whenever possible with obligations to all human beings, those of sound mind and body, and the infirm. ‘In Seven Days’ alters this thinking. The subject material of medically assisted death charters into a world of more unknowns post-pandemic. This is good theatre. If you get a chance to attend a talkback following the performance, I hope you walk away further enlightened about an issue in our country that will continue to pose challenges no matter what we may think. Running time: approximately one hour and 45 minutes with no interval. ‘In Seven Days’ runs until March 2 on the Spriet Stage at The Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street, London. For tickets, grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office at (519) 672-8800. IN SEVEN DAYS by Jordi Mand. The World Premiere A Co-Production with Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company Directed by Philip Akin Set & Costume Design: Sean Mulchahy Lighting Design: Siobhán Sleath Sound Design: Lyon Smith Religious Consultant: Rabbi Debra Dressler Stage Manager: Suzanne McArthur Performers: Mairi Babb, Ron Lea, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, Shaina Silver-Baird, Ralph Small Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Wishful Seeing' by Maja Ardal based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough

    Back 'Wishful Seeing' by Maja Ardal based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough World Premiere by 4th Line Theatre presented at the Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook, Ontario Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio Joe Szekeres There’s a lot going on in this stage adaptation of ‘Wishful Seeing’ so pay close attention. (Note: I have not read Janet Kellough’s novel of the same name so I’m unable to make any comparisons to the book. Kellough attended the opening night audience. Writer Maja Ardal was absent as she appears in Canadian Stage’s production of William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ in Toronto’s High Park.) On this very warm summer opening night evening world premiere, 4th Line Theatre took me back me back to pre-Confederation Canada. The time is 1853. Robert Winslow ably portrays saddlebag and troubled Methodist preacher Thaddeus Lewis who struggles in his relationship with God and his faith because of the death of his wife, Betsy, and their daughter. We also learn Lewis is an amateur detective who has helped to solve criminal cases in Toronto prior to his arrival to living and preaching in Cobourg. 4th Line’s website describes Wishful Seeing as: “a historical thriller with a colourful cast of characters.” That it is, but there’s more in this production which deserves attention and another look. For one, although some of these small-town folk may be colourful in their disposition, several are nosy and close-minded in their treatment of outsiders. Both Thaddeus and his granddaughter experience this behaviour, unfortunately. When the preacher stumbles upon a murder mystery on the shores of Rice Lake, the rumours start flying quickly around town. When resident Ellen Howell (solid work by Kait Dueck) is imprisoned for this murder, Lewis sets out to discover the truth of what happened so she can be freed. Lewis hires charming lawyer Townsend Ashby (Conor Ling) to help defend Ellen. Martha Renwell (Kate Bemrose), who has come to tend the house for Lewis, her grandfather, becomes smitten with Ashby and the feeling is reciprocated. On top of that, Lewis’s assistant James Small (Tavaree Daniel-Simms) is smitten with Martha. Lewis has also uncovered fraudulent activity and scheme regarding the construction of a railway line from Cobourg to Peterborough which included the construction of a trestle bridge south to north over Rice Lake. A very cool special effect occurs in the second act regarding this trestle bridge. Visually ‘Wishful Seeing’ did not disappoint in the slightest. Michael Nott’s primo set design and Emma Gray’s realistic-looking props never appear cramped. Korin Cormier’s costume designs splendidly reflect the mid-nineteenth-century style with their various shapes, textures, and colours. Justin Hiscox’s musical direction and original compositions finely underscore scene changes without overpowering. From my seat, there were moments far stage left where I couldn’t hear the lyrics to a couple of the songs. Hopefully, both Sound Designer Esther Vincent and Hiscox can rectify this sound issue quibble for future performances. Several characters effectively support Winslow’s work onstage. JD Nicholsen is a surly, gruff, and untrustworthy George Howell. Daughter Caroline, played by Rylee Dixon, remains sweetly demure amid the trouble that befalls her family. Kate Bemrose remains steadfast in her performance as Lewis’s granddaughter, Martha Renwell. She is a young woman who has no fear to leave the home her father has provided for her after her mother died to be of assistance to her grandfather. As Townsend Ashby, Conor Ling believably maintains that sense of something just does not seem right about this young, cocky lawyer. Supporting characters provided elements of humour throughout the production. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Madison Sheward’s delightfully stylized choreography in having the townspeople move set pieces in the scene changes. Mark Hiscox provided a great deal of laughter as Baptist minister Phineas Brown in his conversation with Thaddeus over the benefits of the baptism sprinkling versus full immersion in water. As Thaddeus’s yes-man pastoral assistant James Small, Tavaree Daniel-Simms’s initial boyishly young attraction to Martha Renwell is amusing while a tad sad because he realizes his awkwardness will not win her hand. The gossipy town ‘hens’ in Pott’s General Store made me smile because they remained firmly in the moment both in their dialogue delivery and in their listening to what others were saying. But I’m also puzzled with ‘Wishful Seeing’. Yes, this cast has worked extremely hard to present an interesting story which reflects the local history with applause to Artistic Director (and director of ‘Wishful Seeing’) Kim Blackwell for continuing to showcase the richness of this area and its historical significance. But is ‘Wishful Seeing’ a murder mystery or a send-up of life in small-town Ontario Pre-Confederation? I don’t know what to call Ardal’s play at this point as this delineation has not been made clear to me in this adaptation. The courtroom scenes are strong reminders this production is a murder mystery while the humourous moments of small-town, slice-of-life rural pre-Confederation Ontario are solid indicators we are to remember this about the production. Perhaps it’s time to read the book for further information. Final Comments: Is ‘Wishful Seeing’ just that? Worth seeing? Yes, it is, as Kim Blackwell has staged an enjoyable story of panoramic scope of visual treats and good performances. The opening night standing ovation remains proof enough that live theatre is back safely in the hands of 4th Line Theatre. Running time is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. The production began sharply at 6 pm. so thank you for starting on time. ‘Wishful Seeing’ runs to August 27 at 4th Line Theatre at the Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook Ontario. For tickets call 705-932-4445, 1-800-814-0055 or visit 4thlinetheatre.on.ca for further information. ‘Wishful Seeing’ by Maja Ardal. Based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough. Directed by Kim Blackwell Musical Direction & Original Composition by Justin Hiscox Costume Designer by Korin Cormier Choreography by Madison Sheward Sound Design by Esther Vincent Stage Management by Jess Gordon The Cast: Mohamed Abdullah, Nathan Avila, Kate Bemrose, Kaleigh E. Castell, Tavaree Daniel-Simms, Rylee Dixon, Kait Dueck, Naomi Duvall, Huseyin Halil, Justin Hiscox, Mark Hiscox, Conor Ling, Ian McGarrett, Megan Murphy, JD (Jack) Nicholsen, Julian Pawchuk, Ryan Tobin, Hilary Wear, Robert Winslow Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Slava's Snowshow' created and performed by Slava Polunin

    Back 'Slava's Snowshow' created and performed by Slava Polunin Now onstage until December 31 at Toronto's Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street Vladimir Mushikov Joe Szekeres “A whimsical journey performed with wide-eyed, childlike innocence and a knowing, worldly and wise experience of adulthood. Tremendous joy emanates from the artists. A holiday treat.” I saw ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ in November 2018 at the Bluma Appel. When I heard it was returning for the Christmas/holiday season, I wanted to see it again. This time, I took two friends with me to share the tremendous joy of this story. There were moments from this production of 'Slava's Snowshow' that made my eyes well with tears. I became a young, wide-eyed, innocent child again, watching this absurd and surrealistic dream world. The programme note describes them as ‘idiots on the loose.’ Alright, I’m not sure I’d call them ‘idiots’; nevertheless, they’re adorably dressed foppishly in clown garb with bright red noses and huge feet with what I call winged floppy ears. Alistair Kerslake’s terrific soundscape of a train can be heard upon entering the Elgin Theatre auditorium. (I wish I could have placed the annoying couple sitting in front of me on that train to take them out of the theatre. They were taking pictures when the announcement was made not to do so. My friend and I had to tell them twice to stop taking pictures. That’s another discussion). Alexander Pecherskiy and Rebecca Lore visually set the Elgin stage in shadows. It’s a nice touch when juxtaposing that with the loud, but not deafening, sound of a train transporting us somewhere. Since the title indicates a ‘snowshow’, I assume we are travelling someplace cold. There’s no mention of a set designer but a technical director, so I’ll credit Vanya Yarpolskiy. His setting suggests a bleak and cold environment, making me smile as I write this article. Yesterday's (and today’s) weather is more of an April or November setting. Once again, I’ll credit Kerslake’s impressive selection of music to accompany the artists in telling the story. The music never seemed overpowering to my ears because the Elgin is a large auditorium. The actors want to ensure the audience in the back row of the balcony can also hear the music and songs. Those musical interludes also became earworms for me as I hummed them the next day as I wrote this article. ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ has been poetically created and staged by Slava Polunin, dressed in an oversized yellow onesie. There’s a sad sack quality about his eyes that you can’t help but wish you could go and hug him. He has performed this show for over 30 years in countries worldwide and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He’s still nimble and agile and moves with a bodily dexterity that is fun to watch. I’m still amazed that Polunin can walk on the backs of the seats in the house, and neither he nor any of the artists involved at that point slipped off the chairs with all of the water being splashed about. This return Toronto engagement is not disappointing (again, save for those audience members who felt they were obnoxiously above listening to advisories not to take photographs during the performance). Polunin and his eight ‘on-the-loose idiots’ continue to captivate with charm and charisma. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh out loud. The art of clowning is not an easy one to master. It’s not merely The Three Stooges or Lucille Ball (yes, I’m showing my age here). There’s a reason why clowning is considered an art form. It takes years of study and practice to master its focus of continually remaining in the moment and not being distracted if something goes wrong. At this performance, an audience member sneezed during silence. It didn’t break the concentration of the artists onstage. They went along with the noise and made it part of their shtick, making the audience laugh even harder. In this ‘Snowshow,’ the varied series of moments may look initially unscripted with no apparent connection at all to each other. However, a connecting feature does run through each moment of the show, and you must pay attention to discover what it is. Some amusing and poignant bits that are part of this feature are lovingly captured on stage. That’s part of the magic I don’t want to destroy here. The only hint I will give is that the spider web created on stage plays an integral part in connecting everything. Judging by the response from the audience around me, most notably, the children and young people appear to have understood the connection. They were indeed highly taken with the magic and antics of Polunin and his gang. One girl was pulled from the audience in the second act, and she became part of the storytelling for a few minutes as the audience began to settle in their seats following intermission. There are gigantic helium-filled balloons and large balls that fill the house thoroughly. Everyone has a turn being able to bounce these gigantic monstrosities throughout the auditorium. It is the moment involving a coat rack on a railway platform with the heartbreaking goodbyes where the audience witnesses the knowing the worldly view of adulthood and how goodbyes do become part of our lives. Final Comments: At times, the show is puzzling, while at other times, it is brilliant in its simplistic gestures. ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ is another holiday treat to give yourselves and see the production live. Running time: approximately one hour and 45 minutes with one intermission. ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ runs until December 31 at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. For tickets, https://www.ticketmaster.ca/slavas-snowshow-tickets/artist/907448?venueId=131082&utm_source=SOP&utm_medium=Website&utm_campaign=SlavaTO23 SHOW ONE PRODUCTIONS presents ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ created and performed by Slava Polunin Technical Director: Vanya Yaropolskiy Sound: Alistair Kerslake Lights: Alexander Pecherskiy, Rebecca Lore Company Manager: Eerika Yaropolskiy Ambassador: Gwenael Allan Performers: Slava Polunin, Robert Saralp, Dima Merashchi, Bradford West, Oleg Lugovskoy, Georgiy Deliyev, Nikolai Terentiev, Christopher Lynam, Jaime Rebollo Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K Jerome and reimagined by Mark Brownell

    Back 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K Jerome and reimagined by Mark Brownell Now onstage at Guild Festival Theatre, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough Now onstage at Guild Festival Theatre, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough Dave Rabjohn The premiere of Mark Brownwell’s re-creation of the original 1889 farce by Jerome K. Jerome is now playing at the dramatic “Greek Theatre” at the Guildwood Park in Scarborough, Ontario. Unapologetic full-bore schadenfreude is the rule of the day. A fine cast lets us laugh at misfortunes, but somehow we are also endeared with their antics. The production style is very austere with mime in lieu of props and movement suggesting place and scenery. The life force of this play then is dependent on the skill of the three cast members and, for the most part, they deliver. The three young, naïve “city” boys plan to get away from their comfortable lives to seek their adventurous souls. They clownishly plan a trip down the Thames in a small boat with large luggage. Intending to leave at a lively 6 am, they manage to get away by 10. Misadventures include stumbling through a maze of hedges, outdoor camping without the skills, fighting with a tin of pineapple, and the ever-requisite “fish story.” Finally soaked through from unrelenting rain, our boys escape to more familiar comforts of inns and dining rooms. The mentioned austerity is tempered by the costumes – gaudy primary colours remind us of a Mary Poppins adventure through a chalk picture. The clownish suits give zest to the characters while also underlining their foolish credulity. Jay is played with manic gullibility by Azeem Nathoo. Even as a hypochondriac, Jay is delighted to act as leader (even without the skills.) He is overly verbose and considers himself poetic. Some hesitation with a few lines tended to derail the important rhythm this play depends on. Harris, played by Jack Copland, is, again, naïve but thoroughly optimistic and positive. He is the most agile of the cast playing a variety of comic accents as a hilarious train supervisor and a variety of English fops in the “fish story.” His comic artistry is best established in a send-up of various Gilbert and Sullivan numbers that barely get off the ground. George, played by Suchiththa Wickremesooriya, is equally adept at a variety of accents. A highlight is the rendition of a grave and very droll German opera singer angered by an audience of Philistines. As mentioned, movement and tableaux create both scene and humour. Becoming lost in the maze is articulated by mincing footsteps and hilarious side-stepping. Putting up a mimed tent looked like a spirited wrestling match. A near drowning of the boat was a balletic tour de force which did not require an actual boat. Barbershop harmonies were generally a fine supplement to the action. Floor mikes instead of individual mikes were an odd option. The sound was sometimes inconsistent and a buzzy feedback from a stage right speaker lost some audience focus. If you have ever seen unprepared artless canoeists filling a sixteen-footer with three 24s and a backyard barb-b-que (I have), you understand our three guileless characters. It is fun to absorb their simple-mindedness and a riot to experience their Griswold-like adventures. ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Mark Brownwell/Jerome K. Jerome Performers: Suchihtha Wickremesooriya, Azeem Nathoo, Jack Copland Director: Sue Miner Production Designer: Ina Kerklaan. Playing through: August 13, 2023. Tickets: guildfestivaltheatre.ca Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article '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 The Theatre Centre Alex McKeown Dave Rabjohn Art imitates life imitates art. An extraordinary example of this adage is now playing at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova is produced by Punctuate! Theatre and The Theatre Centre. A true tale of love, marriage and family is told by the very couple themselves – the very couple who both wrote the play and performed the play. To publicly bare your own life and soul – its pain and its hope is a remarkable achievement. Matthew MacKenzie, artistic director of Punctuate!Theatre, travels to Odesa for some theatre workshops. He meets Mariya Khomutova, an actor from Kiev, and they slowly fall in love. Their relationship grows even among the most dire worldly events including the covid pandemic and the brutal attack by Russia. In spite of this and the fact that they come from opposite sides of the globe, Mariya becomes pregnant, they marry in Odesa and somehow they get to Canada to start a new life. This is a tale of contrasts which includes the pain of guilt and shame, and the hope of love. The strength of this production comes not only from the authenticity of the story but also from the very genuine performances of Mr. MacKenzie and Ms. Khomutova. Reinforcing the emotions of the play is the creative lighting and projection design of Amelia Scott. Mr. MacKenzie appears timorous and apprehensive in the beginning. This was not a weakness – he became charming. His constant questioning of decisions and fate becomes integral to their relationship. His halting manner and dry humour draw the audience in. He is often so deadpan that the poor pan never had a chance. Ms. Khomutova is equally charming, but her power comes through in the darker moments of the story. Her pain is, again, genuine – to relive an actual agony in front of an audience takes both strength and talent. The writing reflects the yin and yang of life’s humour and tragedy. Hilarious references such as a Kelsey Grammar forehead or the origins of Boston (not) Pizza contrast with the horrors of the pandemic and the war. The contrasts in their personalities include his pragmatism against her romantic side. She prefers the classics compared to his passion for more contemporary works. Her momentary contempt for the very work they are performing is a brutally dark juncture in the play. Two brilliant soliloquies in the second half of the play were astounding as they dug deep into each of their tortured moments. As mentioned, the work of Amelia Scott and her projection design was stirring. Her images were not a subtle echo of the story. They were full-throated blasts of energy that both moved the story along and reminded us of the horror and the beauty of the narrative. Images included striking northern lights, looming clouds of war, and a frightening floor of blood. An image of light moving up or down was a simplistic, but powerful reminder of airplanes leaving or landing. Again, the contrasts of war and peace, life and romance or the clashes of cultures made this work robust and potent. However, the true strength of ‘First Metis of Odesa’ was the courage of this creative pair to share, without dilution, their pain and joy. ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova Performers: Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova Director: Lianna Makuch Production Design: Daniela Masellis Projection Design: Amelia Scott Performances run through April 8, 2023. Tickets: theatrecentre.org Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare. Presented by The Stratford Festival

    Back 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare. Presented by The Stratford Festival Now on stage until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford Credit: David Hou. Pictured: Jonathan Mason and Vanessa Sears Joe Szekeres “In this current production of ROMEO AND JULIET, there’s a sense of re-assured predictability because the story remains solid with this cast of up-and-coming artists performing with seasoned veterans." As a retired 33-year Catholic high school teacher who understands how to bring literature to life in a secondary school setting, Stratford’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ becomes the ideal production for young people to be introduced to the world of Shakespeare. If this is one’s first time experiencing the play, you’ve made a good choice. With her unique and thoughtful choices, Director Sam White breathes exuberance, freshness, vitality, and boundlessness into the story right from the Prologue, creating an intriguing experience for the audience. The play opens with two feuding families – the Capulets and the Montagues – who have been at odds for years. On a hot summer afternoon, a fight breaks out again between both families. Prince Escalus (Nick Dolan) arrives just in time to avert disaster but issues a stern warning. If the families spark one more fight, their lives will pay forfeit for the peace. That evening, the Capulets prepare to host a ball at which his lordship (Graham Abbey) will present his daughter Juliet (Vanessa Sears) to the suitor Paris (Austin Eckert). Romeo (Jonathan Mason) from the house of Montague and his friends Mercutio (Andrew Iles) and Benvolio (Steven Hao) crash the party in disguise. Romeo has been hopelessly lovesick over Rosaline. His friends hope that by seeing other girls, Romeo will forget about Rosaline. That event does come to pass. As soon as Romeo sees Juliet, all thoughts of Rosaline vanish. Tybalt (Emilio Viera), Juliet’s beloved yet hot-headed cousin, sees Romeo enter uninvited and wants to fight him. Capulet sternly advises the hot-headed Tybalt not to do such a thing since Romeo is not causing trouble. When the party breaks up, Romeo leaves his friends and rushes to Juliet’s balcony, where they declare their love for each other. Juliet advises Romeo to make plans for marriage secretly at Friar Laurence’s (Scott Wentworth) chapel, with the holy man and her Nurse (Glynis Ranney) knowing what’s going on. Friar Laurence advises Romeo: “Wisely and slow/they stumble that run fast.” More valid words are strongly spoken as the world the young lovers envision for themselves does not come to pass. There’s a sense of predictability and re-assuredness about this current Stratford production. That’s a good thing. More about this near the end. Sue LePage has returned to the traditional and simple set design of the Festival Theatre, which I recall from years ago when I attended my first production as a high school student. This simplicity allows the audience to focus on the plot and the characters' emotional growth. Ensemble members seamlessly bring on and remove set pieces and props. LePage’s lovely and colourful costume designs are reminiscent of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film version. Louise Guinand’s seductive mood lighting during the balcony scene effectively heightens the youthful intensity of the young lovers' strong feelings. Several of Debashis Sinha’s sound effects hauntingly echo throughout the auditorium. White has assembled a cast of Stratford veterans and new company members who succinctly capture what the play encompasses: an energetic, fun, entertaining beauty with love, levity, and banter. When the tide shifts and great sorrow erupts in Verona, the story captures the frightening and sad tragedy of events that spiral out of control when unresolved, age-old conflicts and youthful, impressionable lives intertwine. The casting choices are solid. Graham Abbey is a stern presence as Capulet, who believably ranges in emotional authenticity from a loving and doting father one minute to a feared parent the next. Jessica B. Hill’s youthful-looking Lady Capulet strongly emphasizes what life was like in Verona then. Young girls were seen as trophy wives. Emilio Vieira is a fiery and emboldened Tybalt. Andrew Iles’ flights of fancy as Mercutio are one of the production's highlights, especially his handling of the Queen Mab speech. As Benvolio, Steven Hao’s eyes convey plenty about the goodness in his heart, especially when he wants to tell the truth. As the trusted adult role models for the young lovers, Glynis Ranney’s bawdiness as the Nurse still makes me smile. Ranney conveys tremendous warmth and compassion, especially in the second act when the story turns quickly and Juliet faces the unknown. Scott Wentworth’s Laurence remains a calm and dignified figure of hope for Romeo for as long as possible. I find it interesting that a line from the Prince at the end of the play is missing when he acknowledges that the friar is still a holy man even though he has made some grave errors in his actions. The one unusual choice at first is Nick Dolan as Prince Escalus. For some reason, I couldn’t connect how his youthfulness as a leader would stand up against the commanding Graham Abbey’s Capulet and Michael Spencer-Davis’s Montague. I then smiled at how coy Director White’s casting decision in selecting Dolan became apparent at the end of the play. His youthfulness in addressing adults who should know better heightens the tragedy even more. I heard a young girl behind me sobbing, indicating that White’s casting choice and staging worked. Theatre is to move us emotionally, as it did for that young girl behind me. As star-crossed lovers, Jonathan Mason and Vanessa Sears convincingly capture the intense fickleness of youthful love. Sam White chooses not to capture that intimate moment from the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli that still haunts its Juliet, Olivia Hussey. Instead, Sam White trusts that Mason and Sears lovingly and longingly speak to each other and that the suggestion of the intimate moment they have just experienced off stage lingers as they enter fully clothed. That trust given to Mason and Sears at that moment is solidified, as far as I’m concerned. Thoughts from a retired and certified Ontario teacher: Director Sam White wisely stages this ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as it should be—predictably, meaning that one will expect certain things to be delivered. Predictability for teachers can also bring assurance that things will get accomplished. For example, when I taught ‘Romeo and Juliet years ago, it was predictable (and expected) that the 1968 Zeffirelli film would complement the teacher's efforts to bring the play alive for students. I know there are other versions (1996 Baz Luhrmann is one), but I chose the former. As a well-known television show once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” To the best of their professional ability, teachers could be assured upon finishing the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unit that they had done their best to try and encourage young people to enjoy and appreciate one of the Bard’s works. Yes, teaching strategies have advanced into the 21st century. However, sometimes predictability ensures students (and audiences) receive the best possible understanding of the play. This current Stratford production accomplishes this goal. Director Sam White and this cast have set out what their vision intends—to enjoy, experience, and learn something in the process. White even says in her Director’s Note that’s the beauty of this play. Neither she nor the cast should feel any qualms about its predictability. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending that schools studying the play this fall make a trip to see this current production. A side note to teachers: If you have shown the Zefferelli film to students to allow them to see and hear the story, there’s no need to do that if you bring them to this current production. Running time: approximately two hours and 50 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ runs until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street. For tickets: stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. The Stratford Festival presents ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare Directed by Sam White Set and Costume Design: Sue LePage Lighting Design: Louise Guinand Composer and Sound Designer: Debashis Sinha Fight and Intimacy Director: Anita Nittoly Choreographer: Adrienne Gould Performers: Graham Abbey, David Collins, Howard Dai, Nick Dolan, Thomas Duplessie, Austin Eckert, Steven Hao, Graham Hargrove, Jessica B. Hill, Jenna-Lee Hyde, Andrew Iles, Jasmine Jones-Ball, John Kirkpatrick, Derek Kwan, Tarique Lewis, Jonathan Mason, Marissa Orjalo, Glynis Ranney, Antonette Rudder, Vanessa Sears, Michael Spencer-Davis, Emilio Vieira, Scott Wentworth, Rylan Wilkie, Angus Yam. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Cottagers and Indians' by Drew Hayden Taylor

    Back 'Cottagers and Indians' by Drew Hayden Taylor Presented by the Atlantic Repertory Company and Saint John Theatre Company Presented by the Atlantic Repertory Company and Saint John Theatre Company Aaron Kropf “Saint John audiences shouldn’t miss their chance to see Drew Hayden Taylors’ Cottagers and Indians presented by the Atlantic Repertory Company at the BMO Studio Theatre.” Billed on the Saint John Theatre Company website, 'Cottagers and Indians's is the story of: "the cultivation of wild rice that incites a fierce dispute between a native farmer and a white cottager, which escalates into a symbol of reconciliation. Through an endearing and amusing narrative, this story tackles important themes of community, respect, and ownership. 'Cottagers & Indians' is a timely tale that culminates in a legendary food fight." Arthur Cooper (James Dallas Smith) is that very native farmer determined to bring manoomin back to the lake in the heart of cottage county. It is an area that has become overrun by seasonal interlopers from the big city believing they must protect the waters for their recreational needs. Maureen Poole (Martha Irving), leader of the cottagers, is determined to keep the lake a haven of peace and relaxation, free from wild rice. Often throughout Cottagers and Indians humour is used to punctuate either side of the debate. The production is solidly directed by Samantha Wilson. She understands the importance of Taylor’s use of humour to punctate either side of the debate. James Dallas Smith and Martha Irving are strong actors who amply incorporate humour to punctuate their side of the debate while pushing the other to come and accept what each is trying achieve. They bring to life two extremely determined, charming, well developed yet flawed characters trying to recover from the anguish of loss while feeling like they have to do more for their departed loved ones. Drew Murdock creates a tranquil setting for Cottagers and Indians. He transforms the BMO Studio Theatre into Ontario’s cottage country with a deck to one side of the stage festooned with an BBQ and Muskoka chair. A dock stretches across the waters of the lake, the central character of the story. To the other side is a canoe surrounded by a few stalks of manoomin (wild rice). Behind the lake are a series of abstract trees completing the serene setting. In a crisp, snappy and entertaining 90 minute piece of theatre, the Atlantic Repertory Company and Saint John Theatre Company present a thought provoking story ripped from the headlines. It is one not to be missed. The show continues to February 25 at the BMO Studio Theatre, 112 Princess Street, Saint John, New Brunswick. For tickets call (506) 652-7582 or visit saintjohntheatrecompany.com to purchase online. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Paul and Linda Plan a Threesome' by Jane Cooper Ford WORLD PREMIERE

    Back 'Paul and Linda Plan a Threesome' by Jane Cooper Ford WORLD PREMIERE Presented by HERE FOR NOW THEATRE at on the grounds of the Stratford-Perth Museum, 4275 LINE 34, Stratford, ON. Presented by HERE FOR NOW THEATRE at on the grounds of the Stratford-Perth Museum, 4275 LINE 34, Stratford, ON. Joe Szekeres NOTE: I attended the Saturday, June 22 matinee performance, which was moved indoors due to the heat warning outside. There were no lighting cues but a few sound cues. I’m unsure if others were missing. “Coyly suggestive script.” “Smartly directed by Megan Watson with nifty performances.” In the Programme Note for Stratford Festival’s ‘Twelfth Night,’ director Seana McKenna writes she rarely reads Director’s Notes before she sees a play. She wants to see ‘the thing itself’ without any preparation for it. She wants to receive the play as it unfolds without any preconceptions of what it might be. I wanted to do the same with this world premiere of ‘Paul and Linda.’ Even though I had a possible preconception of what it might entail (and I’m sure the same thing went through everyone’s mind), I did not want to know anything else. I told my guest to remove the programme from my hands or gently tap my wrists if she saw me looking at any notes inside. What did I already know about playwright Jane Cooper Ford’s world premiere of ‘Paul & Linda Plan a Threesome’? It received a workshop production at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times in 2015. We find ourselves in the upscale living room of Paul (David Keeley) and Linda (Laura de Carteret). They’re an affluent couple who enjoy a good life, and Rebecca Chaikin’s set and costume choices appropriately indicate that. Keeley sports a comfortable-looking aqua blue dress shirt with rolled sleeves, Khaki pants, and dress/casual shoes. De Carteret wears a nice-looking dress and appropriate shoes. The living room setting is tastefully decorated in a minimal style. A matching loveseat and chair in ivory-looking fabric are centre-staged. Both furniture pieces are slightly angled. In front of the loveseat is a circular coffee table with a charcuterie board. There are also four drink coasters. The hilarious plot twist behind this idyllic look? Paul and Linda’s marriage is in trouble. To salvage their relationship, Linda invites the eccentric Sienna (Shannon Taylor) as part of a threesome to save the marriage. Linda is open-minded about this possible menage à trois. One of the most noteworthy elements of Taylor as the interloper are her eyes. As she listens intently to responses in conversation, her eyes become quite hypnotic. Initially, Paul hesitates but appears to give his consent to this ‘arrangement’. The arrival of Paul’s sister, Gwen (Stacy Smith), then completely changes the dynamics; however, will Paul and Linda see their choice through with Sienna? Will Gwen somehow be involved as well? Megan Watson directs Jane Cooper Ford’s smartly crafted script with a coy wink and a smile. Watson knows there's more here. There are some wonderfully funny jokes – the one about the golf shirt still makes me smile. Watson keeps the play’s pacing moving along where it doesn’t feel dragging. The at-times hilarious, back-and-forth banter begins to unravel secrets upon secrets. This fine ensemble finds genuine human reactions and behaviour underneath the characters' choices. Are these choices flaws? Are they signs of something else the characters don’t realize about themselves yet? Shannon Taylor is delightful as the eccentric Sienna. Her makeup is perfect, almost too perfect. It looks as if perhaps she is not of this world. One captivating element of Taylor are her eyes. As she listens intently to responses in conversation, her eyes become quite hypnotic. Sienna wears a white dress with a unique design on her coat. She knows her identity. She seems to have this innate sixth sense and isn’t afraid to share what she knows with Paul, Linda and Gwen. Taylor’s Sienna can size something up in seconds and respond immediately or wait until the appropriate moment. She immediately senses that Paul and Linda are trying to save their marriage and asks them point-blank questions. Sienna has also sized Gwen up to ask questions that might seem as if they are nobody’s business. Stacy Smith bursts on the scene as Gwen. She’s robust and lively. The moment she initially realizes what her brother and sister-in-law have been contemplating with Sienna is quite amusing. However, Sienna’s involvement with Gwen deserves closer examination, which I’ll speak of shortly. Laura de Carteret and David Keeley are realistic and believable as the troubled Linda and Paul. Their blocking throughout the approximate 70-minute running time resembles an interesting and shifting dance between the two. It is fascinating to see how each one holds power and control at any given moment. Paul and Linda might appear to have it all together when they don’t, and Sienna ultimately makes that reality apparent to them. Is that perhaps why Paul appears to be thinking about giving his consent to this ‘arrangement’? Has he become hypnotized by Sienna’s seductive eyes? Hmmm… And Another Thought: The Programme bills this 2024 season under the theme: ‘Season of Self-Acceptance.’ Hmmm…this theme gets me thinking further about Ford’s script. Is it appropriate that ‘Paul and Linda’ opens Here for Now’s summer season? Near the end, the topic of love is raised as a point of conversation. What does it mean to love? All that matters is the love. Did you love? Were you loved? Well, in this uber-permissive twenty-first society of sexual behaviour, dubious mores and 'Pride' bandwagon,’ the connotation of the word ‘love’ takes on a different meaning for different people. From this logic, the same exists for the term ‘threesome’ which takes on a different meaning. And why can’t it? Or is the play a social and comical comment on this uber-permissive society in which we now live? Or is it a social and comical commentary on the logic? It's all of these combined. Using 'woke' logic, 'Paul and Linda' becomes a social and comical commentary on the uber-permissive society in which we now live. To refer back to the question, yes, the choice to open the season with ‘Paul and Linda’ appears appropriate. The ‘woke’ world we live in constantly takes words and adjusts new meanings and connotations, regardless of whether we want that to happen. Without spoiling the plot for future audiences, ‘threesome’ means something entirely different in Ford’s play. Even Megan Watson says in her Director’s Note that working on this wild play has been layered, and the premise leads to unexpected places. Yes, I did read the programme eventually. This premise certainly raised my eyebrows, but it’s clever. Running time: approximately 70 minutes with no interval. ‘Paul and Linda Plan a Threesome’ runs until July 13 on the grounds of the Stratford-Perth Museum, 4275 LINE 34, Stratford, ON. For tickets, visit www.herefornowtheatre.com . HERE FOR NOW presents the World Premiere of ‘Paul and Linda Plan a Threesome’ by Jane Cooper Ford Directed by Megan Watson Set and Costume Designer: Rebecca Chaikin Stage Manager: Sam Snyders Performers: Laura de Carteret, David Keeley, Stacy Smith, Shannon Taylor Previous Next

  • Comedies 'La Bête’ by David Hirson

    Back 'La Bête’ by David Hirson Presented by Talk Is Free Theatre and now onstage at Harbourfront Centre Theatre Presented by Talk Is Free Theatre and now onstage at Harbourfront Centre Theatre Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE ‘A rollicking, side-splitting, laugh-out-loud high-style comedy presented by crafted stage artists. ‘La Bête’ is terrific.’ The time is 17th century France. Playwright Elomire (Cyrus Lane), with his second in command Béjart (Richard Lam), and their acting company have found favour with the Princess (Amelia Sargisson) and enjoy the lifestyle that comes with this patronage. However, the Princess has grown tired of Elomire’s acting troupe and finds them mundane and boring. To combat this, she has selected Valere (Mike Nadajewski), a full-of-himself, swaggering braggart, to join the acting troupe and instill some new blood into their travelling plays. High comic voltage sparks as Elomire cannot stand the sight of Valere and what he represents in the theatre world. To that end, a decision is made to perform ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ (one of Valere’s plays) in front of the Princess to show her just how unhinged and what a beast of a man Valere is. (thus, the reference to the translation of the title) That’s all you need to know about the plot. Be prepared for a terrific evening of theatre. I saw the production in Barrie last year. It was a rollicking and welcome addition on a very cold winter night. This time, the production is tighter thanks to director Dylan Trowbridge’s observant eye for utilizing every inch of the stage and the auditorium to maximum effect. Joe Pagnan and JB Nelles have again finely created a set design of colours, textures and fabrics reminiscent of a 17th-century French palace drawing room beautifully highlighted by Jeff Pybus’s lighting. The slightly askew large frame suspended high above the stage indicates that the scene playing below does not align with perfectly caught moments in pictures. James Smith effectively times his sound designs to the comic action on stage. Laura Delchiaro has carefully captured the 17th costume choices, from the pristine look of the Princess’s gown to the dishevelled and filthy appearance of Valere’s clothing. I especially liked Valere’s uneven sock length and the baggy, un-kempt costume. It says so much about how looks can be deceiving if one is willing to see beyond the superficial. David Hirson’s script is not easy to stage. For one, the wordplay within the text’s rhyming verse could be deadly if mishandled by artists who don’t understand how to incorporate iambic pentameter structure both in delivery and enunciation. That doesn’t occur here under Director Trowbridge’s watchful eye in sight and sound. He ensures continued reason, purpose and intent behind every action and reaction of the characters. The required and necessary frenetic pacing never appears to veer out of control. It is the performances that make this opening night a VOICE CHOICE. This marvellous ensemble is a theatre treat. As the leaders of the royal acting troupe, Cyrus Lane’s Elomire and Richard Lam’s Béjart firmly represent the stability of what the theatre represents in the court. The fact that Elomire is clothed entirely in black becomes a reminder of how things have become lifeless in the acting company. There is more colour in Béjart’s costume. Still, his yes-man mentality toward his superior, Elomire, strongly indicates that both are cut from the same cloth regarding their laissez-faire understanding of what the artist represents in royal life. However, Lane and Lam ably complement the daring craziness behind Mike Nadajewski’s bold and extraordinary Valere. Lane and Lam never upstage, and that’s a good thing. Instead, their silent looks and reactions toward Nadajewski become a reminder of how high comedy works when it is handled by artists who understand what must occur. Amelia Sargisson is a fickle and flighty Princess who can be easily swayed. She is aware that Valere is out of the ordinary. When she is forced to listen to Elomire’s logical reason why Valere must not become part of the acting troupe, the Princess begins to re-think her stance. However, Sargisson also shows as royalty, she is still in control of what happens in court. When she raised her authoritative voice as Elomire and Valere quarrelled, Sargisson made me sit up momentarily because I could sense who was in control. It’s not the arguing men; it’s the Princess. Madelyn Kriese, Courtenay Stevens, Amy Keating, Justan Myers and Katarina Fiallos are important supporting characters who become reminders of the importance of the nature of art and art in society. Their opening dance number at the top of the show courtesy of Movement Assistant Monica Dottor is a reminder of the gentility of the era. It drew my attention to the story quickly. The ensemble’s performance in Act 2 of ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ is decent and sound because they remain in synchronicity with each other as the play within a play is told. Mike Nadajewski becomes one of the reasons to rush, steal, beg, borrow, or do whatever you can to get tickets and see this performance. Upon his first entrance in Act One, Nadajewski inventively performs his opening monologue of almost twenty-five minutes with élan and fervour. It’s an absolute joy to watch an actor who truly understands what he’s saying and, most importantly, how to deliver it. Nadajeweski’s Valere remains vulgar, crude, and lascivious. Still, there’s also something inherently engaging and charming about the character that made me silently applaud every time he is on stage. Why? Nadajewski shows Valere to be a genius in his art and love of the spoken word behind all that bravado and buffoonery. And yet, the conclusion of the production is quite touching. There was complete silence in the auditorium. I was on every word uttered. That’s why I go to the theatre. ‘La Bête’ is an absolute must-see. And Another Thought: The Harbourfront Centre website describes ‘La Bête’ as an outrageous commentary on the nature of art and the artist in society. It’s the word ‘outrageous’ that makes me think more. Yes, playwright David Hirson explores some outrageous behaviour of some characters within his play. Nevertheless, is it also outrageous how we respond to the nature of art and the individual whom we know is gifted? Are we doing enough for those who are gifted in any respect to make us appreciate our world even more? Watching this opening night performance made me understand the validity of this statement. Running time: approximately 2 hours 20 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘La Bête’ runs until March 16 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto. For tickets: https://harbourfrontcentre.com/event/la-bete/. TALK IS FREE THEATRE in presentation with Harbourfront Centre present ‘LA BÊTE’ by David Hirson Director: Dylan Trowbridge Assistant Director: Tess Benger Set Design: Joe Pagnan Assistant Set Designer and Props: JB Nelles Costume Design: Laura Delchiaro Lighting Design: Jeff Pybus Movement Assistant: Monica Dottor Stage Manager: Sam Hale Performers: Mike Nadajewski, Cyrus Lane, Richard Lam, Katarina Fiallos, Amelia Sargiasson, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens, Madelyn Kriese. (Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured Mike Nadajewski as Valere) Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Koncan

    Back 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Koncan The Studio Theatre at The Stratford Festival The Studio Theatre at The Stratford Festival Geoffrey Coulter, Guest writer, actor and arts educator ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ is a silly, sometimes dizzy examination of a period in our country’s history…it’s a wildly entertaining, giddy and thought-provoking lesson. I would never have considered Louis Riel and the pre-Confederation days of the fur trade and the Red River rebellion stuff of sarcasm and satire! But then I witnessed an extraordinary and offbeat history lesson told by three women from this country’s turbulent past. A Métis fan-girl pines over the “gorgeous” but unkempt Riel while another sells furs and decries John A. Macdonald as a misogynistic colonizer with a hate-on for the Indigenous population. At the same time, a married settler woman has her eye firmly planted on Riel’s assistant, Thomas Scott. They sit on their rocking chairs, drinking and spilling tea, working, gossiping, and writing letters to the objects of their affection with hilarious results! “Women of the Fur Trade” is equal parts rom-com, farce, theatre of the absurd (zipline mail delivery) and magic realism (radio-controlled toy trucks and letters dropping from above!). It’s a creative, engrossing, campy, and whimsical look at Manitoba’s turbulent history. Set in a frontier fort near the “Reddish” River during the "18-somethings”, the play follows three women stuck in a single room. A battle rages outside, harkening to the beginnings of a new province. Although it’s not clear why this trio is together, one thing is sure, they can’t leave (or can they?), so they dish on Indigenous-settler relations, which side of the Métis resistance they stand on, and what this all means concerning their futures and friendships. Métis Marie-Angelique (Kathleen MacLean) has been sent to the fort by her mother for a better life and wants her heartthrob Riel to be part of it; Eugenia (Joelle Peters) is a scrappy Ojibway trapper from northern Manitoba who can more than look after herself. Cecelia (Jenna-Lee Hyde) is a settler woman waiting for her husband to return home. When heartthrobs Louis Riel (Keith Barker) and Thomas Scott (Nathan Howe) finally appear, they don't quite live up to Marie-Angelique’s hype. Riel is the self-absorbed man Eugenia warns the other women about while Thomas Scott hides a secret. Though dressed in authentic and culturally appropriate garb by costume designer Jeff Chief, this narrative is not a pioneer tale. It’s told in modern slang and references many of today’s pop culture icons like Britney Spears, Keanu Reeves, and even Tyra Banks. An ingenious device to engage a modern audience! Playwright Frances Koncan (of Anishinaabe and Slovene descent) affirms that the many Indigenous issues from our past are still relevant today. Her characters take us beyond the history books with palpable tales of being Indigenous, white, and women, all under the watchful eye of the imperious patriarchy. This refreshingly different play trades the traditional colonial male’s perspective for that of Indigenous women. Each character is clearly defined and recognizable from the outset, thanks to the fine acting talents of each company member. Their impeccable comedic timing and engaging, often hilarious, portrayals make singling out any one the 5-member cast a trifling and unfair exercise. Theirs is a masterclass in ensemble work. Director Yvette Nolan deftly handles some of the dark history of this country. She tackles the themes of misogyny, racial tensions, and cultural appropriation without it feeling preachy or politically aggrandizing. She heightens the pace while effectively engaging the audience by continuously moving her actors inside the small thrust space of the Studio Theatre; no one faces any one direction for very long. Samantha McCue’s wood-slat walls and planked stage feature a constantly flickering campfire where teacups and twigs magically appear from the earth around it. Suspended portraits of modern and historical men of fame and power (Rob Lowe, Oscar Wilde, Jean Chretien, even William Shakespeare) are strikingly incongruous as they peer down at the stage and the audience. Michelle Ramsay’s lantern-like lighting design transports us with aplomb between the fort and the forest. It’s clear where each scene takes place in such a small space. “Women of the Fur Trade” is comedy genius. It’s a silly, sometimes dizzy examination of a period in our country’s history that most of us don’t know anything about. But it’s a wildly entertaining, giddy, and thought-provoking history class. The production runs until July 30 in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article The Man That Got Away (A Special Appearance) by Martin Julien

    Back The Man That Got Away (A Special Appearance) by Martin Julien Buddies in Bad Times Theatre HAUI Joe Szekeres An absorbing performance of a gutsy, complex individual who has lived life the way he wants in all its glory, its warts, and its divineness. This is my first time seeing Martin Julien in a live performance. Why have I waited this long? According to a release I received, ‘The Man That Got Away’ was developed in the Buddies Residency Program. It’s a “genre-subverting piece deconstructing the cabaret and confessional forms, delving into Julien’s queer upbringing as the child of a lesbian and gay man in mid-twentieth century Toronto, as well as the loss of his father to HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s.” There’s a great deal going on just in this description alone. Suffice it to say Julien took me on a deeply personal journey with him through a Toronto I remember reading about it in the papers and seeing the various stories on the news. As a young teacher at that time, I remember the tremendous heartache, the fear of the unknown and the personal suspicions about those deemed different which irreparably destroyed lives. Martin ably and heartfully captured these emotional highs and lows with respectful class and dignity. ‘The Man that Got Away’ took on a completely different meaning for me in hearing it from an individual who was there, who lost loved ones, and who will forever be changed by what he saw, heard, and encountered during the AIDS crisis. And as a member of this opening night audience, I was richer for listening to Julien share and sing his fascinating story about his family supported by two fine artists, Tat Austrie and Ben Page. Austrie played a vocally astounding Judy Garland while Page ably accompanied on the keyboard (and provided the odd voices from Julien’s past). ‘The Man that Got Away’ is not simply a cabaret piece. In his Playwright’s Notes from 2020, Martin writes he wanted both “to use and subvert the tropes of cabaret/nightclub/concert hall performance.” For me, the show is more than just that. It becomes a call to action to truly hear and listen to not only this story but all stories that are not like our own. Director Peter Hinton-Davis subtly directs with intimacy and compassion as he moulds and shapes Julien at various stages of his life that are sometimes moving, sometimes heartbreaking but most often always credibly real. Stephen Woodjetts’ musical arrangements are soundly placed at crucial points in Julien’s life as the song lyrics led me further into going deeper in understanding this complex individual. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Judy Garland sing ‘The Man That Got Away’ from the 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’. Here, I found this rendition mesmerizingly haunting and permeated the auditorium walls and remained with me long after I got home. Sean Mulcahy’s starkly simple set design gripped my attention immediately. A lone spotlight hazily reveals a chair centre stage. It reminded me of those tv talk shows from the mid–late 1950s where the host smoked a cigarette and interviewed his guests. Bonnie Beecher’s full-on cabaret style of lighting at one point sets the stage fiery ablaze as Julien sings in a style that reminded me of Liza Minnelli’s rendition of ‘Cabaret’ in the Fosse film. HAUI’s striking video designs referenced, when necessary, the time frame or Julien’s state of mind at various points in his life. The press release also states, “while the play is deeply personal, the production grapples with broader questions of queer identity, struggle and history exploring the liminal spaces between the unobserved and the public, the closet and the stage, escape and encounter.” Once again, a great deal to ponder from my audience’s perspective on how I am to look at the subject material with an open mind, eye, and heart. The odd bits of humour especially in how Martin and his father used Broadway show tunes in their personal lives did make me smile and utter a low chuckle behind my mask as it did, according to Hinton-Davis’s programme note “described a time, distant and unrecognizable to another generation…we challenge and teach each other in the exchange.” Final Comments: An engaging performance, ‘The Man That Got Away’s’ success remains incumbent on us to listen to other voices, to hear their stories, to digest and to think really about what is most important in life. For Martin Julien, he’s lived life the way he wants in all its glory, its warts and its divineness. I respect that truly. Running Time: approximately two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission. ‘The Man That Got Away’ (A Special Appearance) runs until December 18 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit buddiesinbadtimes.com or call the Box Office at (416) 975-8555. ‘The Man That Got Away’ (A Special Appearance) by Martin Julien A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Production Director: Peter Hinton-Davies Musical Arrangements and consultation: Stephen Woodjetts Assistant Director and Dramaturge: Monice Peter Stage Manager: Fiona Jones Set and Costume Design: Sean Mulcahy Lighting Designer: Bonnie Beecher Video Design: HAUI Sound Design: Wayne Hawthorne Performers: Martin Julien, Tat Austrie and Ben Page Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' adapted and written by Justin Haigh

    Back Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' adapted and written by Justin Haigh Presented by Three Ships Collective and Soup Can Theatre, now onstage at Toronto's historic Campbell House Laura Dittman Dave Rabjohn “An engaging story which helps to define Christmas.” From the Three Ships Collective and Soup Can Theatre, and now in its fifth year, ‘A Christmas Carol’ continues to charm sold out Toronto audiences. This Dickens classic is an immersive promenade through the historic Campbell Museum. The venue is both a delight and a disadvantage. The intimacy of the small rooms and low ceilings seems to plant us in Victorian England. The audience moves from room to room through the various scenes in the very company of the actors. We sit with them in their kitchens and bedrooms and lean on their furniture. The disadvantage is simply that audience size has to be quite restricted leaving many theatre goers without this unique experience. Watch early for 2024 tickets! Justin Haigh’s adaptation maintains Dickens striking tale of greed and redemption through a Christmas prism. Some distinct additions are made to further personalize the well known story. A fine example is the meek Bob Cratchit boldly trying to hide a foreclosure note to avoid a Christmas tragedy. Alecia Pagnotta’s musical direction also adds colour to the story with both sombre violin pieces (Manon Ens-Lapointe) and some rousing choral pieces. The multi-talented cast is a combination of veterans from previous productions and newcomers. In Dickens’ novel, Jacob Marley’s ghost is a short-lived character in the early part of the story, however, his influence controls the narrative and Scrooge’s awakening. It is an ingenious twist to use Marley as the host and the guide as we move from room to room. Played by Nicholas Eddie, Marley is a statuesque force – Eddie is both a powerful presence, but also a strangely calm and comfortable guide. With eerie chains and regal height, his eyes can’t help but look down upon us – again with a touch of both menace and warmth. An extraordinary performance. Thomas Gough, as Scrooge, delivers a performance that must range through seething anger, distrust, and final humility. His meanness is often controlled and sometimes brash and wild. As he moves from desperate avarice to his final self-effacement, his voice softens – sometimes to the disadvantage of the audience when we strain to hear his mournful pleas for forgiveness. Justine Christensen is remarkable as Scrooge’s young love interest. Her quiet scene with young Ebeneezer is heartbreaking especially when juxtaposed with Ebeneezer’s descent into lonely avarice. Younger performers brighten the cast with both zeal and talent. Chloe Bradt plays both Martha Cratchit and the ever- popular Gus – the Goose-Fetching Lad. Alyzia Ines Fabregui is equally appealing as Tiny Tim Cratchit – she is paired with Ava Marquis alternating performances. As with Dickens original novel, all three ghosts are varied and distinct. This is accomplished by Manon Ens-Lapointe as Christmas past and Jonnie Lombard as the excitable Christmas present and the ominous Christmas future. Sare Thorpe’s fine direction is further remarkable as they navigate the production in a non-traditional venue. However, special credit is deserved as we were notified post-performance of an actor’s mid-performance illness where Thorpe quickly threw on a wig, stepped in and finished the job. Dickens engaging novel helps to define Christmas. This production both reminds us of his genius and finds new ways for us to enjoy the remarkable story. Even though the production is sold out for the rest of the run, you can sign up on a standby list for a given performance: soupcantheatre@gmail.com . Even if no additional tickets become available this year, people who sign up for the wait list will also be notified about next year's production. ‘A Christmas Carol’ Charles Dickens, Adaptation – Justin Haigh List of cast members see: christmascarolto.com Director: Sare Thorpe Stage manager: Scotia Cox Music director: Alecia Pagnotta Previous Next

  • Musicals 'Freedom Cabaret' at Ontario's Stratford Festival

    Back 'Freedom Cabaret' at Ontario's Stratford Festival Stratford Festival Stratford Festival Site David Rabjohn (By David Rabjohn, Associate writer for Our Theatre Voice) The “Cabaret” series continues at the Stratford outdoor festival with a rousing display of black music surrounding the theme of freedom. Program notes suggest that black music, from its beginnings of Negro spirituals through to contemporary rap music have always been closely associated with the need and longing for freedom. Curated, directed and music directed by the versatile Beau Dixon, the night’s agenda is remarkably far-ranging and thorough. The result is an entertaining evening of both introspection and joyful celebration. Joining Dixon’s vigorous performance are three outstanding voices that both contrast and compliment. Robert Ball’s beautiful voice is on full display with the haunting “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Alana Bridgewater’s strength and range is demonstrated with an animated “Hound Dog” that had some males in the front row fearfully hanging on to their seats. Her versatility is displayed in the powerful “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Thomas Dorsey. Camille Eanga-Selenge’s high soaring voice captivated the audience in a number of selections. The evening had a true “cabaret” style feel to it with some high barstool seating and a rustic circular stage with red drapery. Dixon’s opening wail on the harp produced the infectious beginning. The band was strong from the outset with a large dose of rhythm with both a full drum kit and a diversified percussion set managed deftly by the bandaged fingers of Joe Bowden. Dixon’s research must have been exhaustive. He found dozens of gems that did indeed reflect the constant yearning for freedom. Traditional songs such as “Hold On” represented the working slave who is holding on to the plow that is both killing him and keeping him alive. The evening moves through hits by black writers which are both acclaimed and less well known. You realize it will be an entertaining night when the program lists Lead Belly, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce and Sam Cooke numbers. Bob Marley was well represented and, as the singers warn us – he is not just a touchstone for stoned hippies. The tragedy of black music being appropriated into the mainstream was subtly but strongly observed. Some narrative about black musicians losing their political messages and the issues of racism in general gave some sobering support to the program. The genius in this support was that it was not consuming, and the big messages were left to the songs and the musicality to tell their own story. Returning to the singers (the heart of the program) solos were not the only fare. Gorgeous harmonies carved out some rich numbers. Back up voices were equally important, especially under the tutelage of Dixon’s entertaining conducting. A nod should go to the technical engineers as outdoor programming must create special challenges. The evening’s message is that the history of black music and musicians is deep, rich, and very closely connected to freedom in all its forms. And the entertainment was elevating! ‘Freedom Cabaret’ curated and directed by Beau Dixon closed September 5 but will stream virtual selections October 14 – December 3, 2021. For further information, please visit www.stratfordfestival.ca . Photo of Alana Bridgewater and members of company of ‘Freedom Cabaret’ by David Hou. Produced by The Stratford Festival Performers: Robert Ball, Alana Bridgewater, Beau Dixon, Camille Eangu-Selenge, Gavin Hope. Band: Beau Dixon, Rohan Staton, Roger Williams, Paul Antonio, Joe Bowden Lighting Design: Kaileigh Krysztofiak Sound Design: Peter McBoyle Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes' by Alison Lawrence. Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter

    Back 'Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes' by Alison Lawrence. Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter Presented by 4th Line Theatre at the Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook to July 20. Wayne Eardley Joe Szekeres “The at times uneven script certainly doesn’t detract from the importance of learning about Canada’s Farmerettes.” God Bless 4th Line Theatre. The company aims commendably to help audiences learn more about local Canadian history, especially the ‘unsung heroes,’ as director Autumn Smith aptly puts it in her program Notes. This opening night performance of ‘Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes’ made me aware of the significant contribution of women during World War 2. Based on Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter's book, playwright Alison Lawrence honours the story of these young women who ‘live outside the box.’ These young women left their homes from across the country and sometimes big cities to work as farm labourers. In this production, the ladies master the art of removing fuzz from peaches and skins from onions. But these feisty gals also learn more. They learn a great deal about themselves and the value of their strength (physically and internally) while wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. The Farmerettes’ work supported Ontario farms and the troops overseas. Act One brings to life working on Grimsby farms in 1942, and the second focuses on Thorold farms in 1945. Lawrence turns English and Sitter’s book from a collection of essays, letters, photos, and memories into a narrative play. Was that choice by the playwright a successful one? More about that shortly. The Winslow farm is the ideal setting for a play about farmwork, set in rolling green hills. On this opening night, the sky opened, and it rained steadily for about 15 minutes, which would mean nothing to farm workers unless there was lightning. Thankfully, the sky cleared, and the show continued. During the pre-show, there was that sense of less being more on the stage. A few props and set items indicated that the audience has been transported to another time. There is no mention of a Set Designer in the Program, but there were a few wooden boxes centre stage. Clotheslines were strung near the back with some pegs which looked as if perhaps pictures or other items would be clipped. Korin Cormier, Avelyn Waldman and Samantha Addams’ costume designs appropriately reflect the mid-1940s. The matching blue uniform outfits catch the eye and are built for wear and tear since they are removed and put back on during the show. Justin Hiscox’s selection of pre-show music and scene transitions are perfect reminders of another era in which we have been magically transported. Steáfán Hannigan’s sound design is nicely set to audibility so that we can hear the actors and the lyrics of the songs without deafening the audience’s ears. Autumn Smith directs the production with a clear purpose in mind. The entire playing space is used to its maximum. Through the ‘muck and mire’ as Smith states in her Director’s Note, these Farmerette women serve as a guide to gratefulness for what Canadians all have had historically and presently. That is something important I’ve learned from this production. Thanks, Autumn, for that gentle reminder. Rebecca Birrell, Aimée Gordon, Reena Goze, Megan Murphy, Carina Salajan, and Alicia Salvador pay due respect to Smith’s vision for these young women who lived outside the box, as playwright Lawrence had written in her Programme Note. The performers deliver lovely work on stage. The different sounds, cadences, and nuances of their voices and vocal ranges made me pay attention to their individual stories. Now to return to the question asked earlier. Was Alison Lawrence's choice to turn this story from English and Sitter’s book into a narrative play successful? For the most part, yes. However, the script doesn’t fully and consistently maintain the needed dramatic tension in Act One. For example, the individual letters the characters read aloud are essential. That’s an important dramatic tool for the audience to learn more about these women. But that learning gets lost somehow. Is it possible to look at this element? Additionally, song and music don’t add to the required tension in the first act. Instead, it detracts. I appreciate the work that has gone into the vocal preparation and the use of music and song under Justin Hiscox’s fine direction and original compositions because it’s endearing to hear it. Nevertheless, the dramatic intensity and building tension grind to a halt while the cast sings or music plays. It takes several moments for that tension to build before it stops yet again. while the cast sings or the band plays during a scene change. Again, is it possible to look at this too? It is in Act Two that the dramatic tension builds effectively and consistently maintains attention. Smith opportunely creates some fascinating on-stage moments of tension regarding the Japanese internment camps in Canada. Some terrific moments here, especially from Reena Gooze and Alicia Salvador. And Another Thought: I was glad to meet these ladies and to hear and to see their stories. A trip to the public library will be in order to read the book. Running time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one interval/intermission. The production runs until July 20 at The Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook. For tickets, visit the website: 4thlinetheatre.on.ca or call 705-932-4445. 4th LINE THEATRE presents ONION SKINS & PEACH FUZZ: THE FARMERETTES Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter Playwright: Alison Lawrence Directed by Autumn Smith Music Direction and Original Compositions by Justin Hiscox Performers: Rebecca Birrell, Aimée Gordon, Reena Gooze, Megan Murphy, Carina Sa Previous Next

  • Profiles Nabil Traboulsi

    Back Nabil Traboulsi Self Isolated Artist Emily Lambert Joe Szekeres Just before the pandemic shut everything down, I had the chance to attend a terrific production of Ella Hickson’s ‘Oil’ at ARC. I had never heard of ARC theatre before but was seeing many online advertisements for the play that piqued my interest. I was pleased to have written a profile of Bahareh Yaraghi, one of the artists from this production. As I was thinking about other artists whom I’d like to invite for an interview, I remember that Nabil Traboulsi also gave a memorable performance that evening. I was pleased when I had contacted him and he agreed. Nabil has received solid training as an actor according to his biography from his website. He has performed in New York, Toronto and Brussels. He is fluent in English, French and Arabic so I will have to practice my knowledge of the French language with him sometime. I see he has also performed at Theatre Francais de Toronto so I will have to attend a performance there as well. We conducted our interview via email: 1. It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation? How have you been doing? How has your immediate family been doing during this time? I’ve been doing well given the circumstances. I mostly feel gratitude for being here in Canada where there has been some support provided to help us through this difficult period. There have been things that could’ve been more successful bug as a whole I believe we are doing well. Of course, some days are more difficult than others and it’s a time to be especially kind to ourselves and each other, but I live with my partner and we keep each other happy. My parents live in Beirut, Lebanon (which is where I grew up). I have two brothers living in Berlin and Dubai and they are all safe and healthy. We talk regularly. 2. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? We make our living by being around people, collaborating with other artists, and putting on shows for live audiences, so it’s been hard to have that taken away so abruptly, but it’s what needs to be done to get to a place where it’s safe to get together again. Looking ahead has also been a source of anxiety because it feels like theatres won’t be able to open safely for awhile. 3. Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? I was in performances for ARC’s production of ‘Oil’ by Ella Hickson when the world came to a standstill. Thankfully, we were able to have two weeks of performances and we only had to cancel the last of our three-week run. I’m so grateful that we were able to share this very important play with our audiences and I wish the people who were planning on seeing it during the last week had been able to do so. Who knows, maybe a remount in the future? My heart goes out to all the artists who were involved in shows but weren’t able to share their work with their communities. I know that theatres are working hard to incorporate these plays in future seasons so I have high hopes. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I’ve been doing a lot of things that I usually do or want to do but didn’t have enough time for because of work. It’s been lovely to just be able to spend some time with my partner, Margaret, and sip a cup of tea in the backyard. We’re both actors so she’s been organizing weekly play readings on Zoom which has been a great way to discover new plays or revisit familiar ones so it’s a different experience from reading it alone. We also go for daily walks and I try to exercise as much as possible. I quickly notice that when I’m not active, I tend to feel ‘smaller’ and more prone to having a bad day. And then more of the common pastimes that a lot of us have resorted to: cooking, reading, watching films and tv shows, podcasts, tuning into Zoom readings and/or live interviews and panels. Music has been a part of my life since I was a teenager and it’s been an important creative outlet. Oh, and I seem to have developed an interest in birds, which is something I never thought I would be into. They’re fascinating and incredibly unique and watching them makes me think of characters and acting. This makes it sound like I’m accomplishing a thousand things a day so I want to clarify that there has also been A LOT of just sitting on the couch mindlessly browsing the internet or social media and some very unproductive days. 5. Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty? I’m trying my best to take it one day at a time and take in what’s happening around me. The actor in me is always and forever will be a student of human behaviour so I think it’s a good time to check in and see how I feel on a regular basis, but also to tune in and watch other people around me. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Yes, I see a lot of positives. The status quo we were operating under before the pandemic hit was bad. The dominating capitalist and consumerist paradigm that we’ve developed over the past 50 + years is wreaking havoc on the planet and our ability to live in a fair society. I think it’s interesting that from a purely biological perspective, a virus has spread to curtail humans’ need (?) to drill for oil, pollute the planet and produce mass quantities of useless products. It feels like a self-regulation of sorts and it should be a wake up call going forward. The success of societies should be gauged by how the most vulnerable people are faring, and not by how many billionaires we produce or how much value we’ve created for shareholders and large corporations around the globe. I sincerely hope that on a macro scale, we will adjust in a way that is appropriate, before irreversible damage is done. The only thing is that this has allowed us to stop and reflect on what truly matters in our lives. Even our industry can be a bit of a rat race, where we’re all trying to book the next job. I think a lot of people have been able to take a deep breath and feel like they have time to rest and organize their thoughts. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that even this is a privilege and that a lot of vulnerable people don’t have that luxury and have to hustle even harder to make ends meet during the pandemic. 7. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene? On a practical level, I think all industries worldwide will be impacted. It will take some time to recover economically as a country and a lot of our theatres depend on public funding. Overall spending is going to decrease which means less tax dollars for governments, in addition to the burden of making up for the crucial emergency benefits that were created and helped so many of us stay afloat, will make the recovery difficult but not impossible. However, we’ve been putting on plays and telling stories for millennia so the core of what we do as artists doesn’t change and the core of how we experience art as an audience doesn’t change. It’s deeply ingrained in our DNA and our culture, and that is a comforting thought. We are resilient and we will adapt to the circumstances. 8. Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? I love it! I’ve watched a lot of performances online and it’s been a blessing. Live readings are even better. However, I don’t think this will replace live theatre in any way, shape or form. Theatre needs an audience to exist and nothing can replace that. If I wanted to experience something through my screen, I’m more likely to watch a movie or TV show because that was created for that medium specifically, and so it will be crafted more successfully than say, a video recording of a play. This is a temporary situation and we will be back in our theatres when it is safe to do so. You can’t replace the live experience of the theatre the same way you can’t equate watching a concert online with being there. 9. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? The connection with my fellow actors and creatives. The community around it. The pleasure of being in front of a live audience. The joy of crafting a performance and finding the nuances and subtleties, and most importantly, understanding the human story that is being told. Those are some of the reasons why I love being an actor and they exist independently of Covid. As a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests: 1. What is your favourite word? Pamplemousse 2. What is your least favourite word? NO 3. What turns you on? The idea that all humans are connected through biology but also through our stories and myths, no matter when and where. 4. What turns you off? Negativity 5. What sound or noise do you love? Birds chirp in the morning. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? The air show. 7. What is your favourite curse word? COCK AND BALLS ! 8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? Musician or investigative journalist 9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Soldier 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Come on in, man, they’re waiting for you.” To learn more about Nabil, visit his website: http://www.nabiltraboulsi.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Paul Constable and Steve Ross

    Back Paul Constable and Steve Ross “Something as light as a panto takes away the darkness of this time” – Paul Constable Selfie provided by Messrs. Constable and Ross Joe Szekeres These two personable guys kept me smiling during the Zoom call. I had the opportunity to profile Steve Ross at the height of the pandemic almost three years ago. A National Theatre School graduate, I’ve seen Steve’s work on the Stratford Festival stage. He’s been a member of the company for fifteen-plus years now. Go here for Steve’s first profile: https://www.onstageblog.com/profiles/2021/2/3/theatre-conversation-in-a-covid-world-with-steve-ross Paul Constable appeared as Gary in the Canadian Tire commercials for ten years. He attended the University of Windsor and attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the School of Dramatic Art. His comedic training came from Second City classes, just doing improv shows in Toronto. With a smile, he stated he’s done other things, and his work as Gary was only one job. What draws these two affable guys together? They’ve recently opened in Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre’s annual panto during the Christmas/holiday season. This year’s production is ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ written and directed by Rebecca Northan. There’s singing and dancing. The story is a very loose presentation of the fairy tale with loose meaning many liberties can and will be taken. The Capitol’s panto has two versions: the Family and the Naughty. Naturally, I chose the latter. Audiences can decide which one they would like to attend. I will attend the show this week. Look for my review to follow. From seeing Paul’s limited work in commercials, he had a wry sense of humour as Gary. I’ve seen more of Steve’s comedic work at Stratford – Amos Hart in their production of ‘Chicago,’ Mr. Mushnik in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and as the Narrator in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Who can forget those fishnet stockings, Steve? What perfect timing for writer/director Northan to put these two together in a panto. This is Constable’s first time performing on the Capitol stage. Ross did a reading of Yasmina Reza’s ‘Art’ years ago but never an entire show. Rehearsals went well. According to both, everyone was in a really good space before opening. Paul said it’s amazing what can be accomplished in two weeks and comically mentioned how the first day lifting a rock in front of him might not have been possible. Two weeks later, the rock is over his head, and he’s doing okay. He added further: “We’ve run the show many times. Now we got to tech week, and everything became stop and start, that’s wrong, take two steps, and now take three steps back. It didn't push us back because we were in such a great place for tech week. There’s always the excitement of the preview crowds coming to the show, hearing the laughs, and figuring out where the pacing is and timing issues, it put us in a really good place for opening.” Compliments galore from both Paul and Steve about their cast members. Steve called Rebecca a great ship captain; he took this gig because he’s been a fan of hers. Every day, she knew what she wanted to get done, and it was completed. For him, an exciting part of working with Northan was noticing she was in the cleaning process of the show on the second day. Cleaning is something usually not done until a tad closer to show dates. Steve also commented on how quickly the rehearsal process went for the show. It’s a three-month process at Stratford, but there’s been a brain shift in thinking about how to tackle the panto. It was an intensive two-week process, but it went well for him. The talent of the cast still amazes Paul. He jokingly said he is becoming a two-and-a-quarter threat. Steve said that Paul can get the t-shirt because it’s true. Both agreed Rebecca wanted clean comedy. That’s what she’s getting, and that’s what audiences will be getting. Everyone is having fun; it’s a good time, which has made this show a good opportunity for everyone involved. The two coyly said chickens weighed into the show and would leave it there. If you’re a chicken fan, you will like the show. Was there any distinction about the chickens between the Family and the Naughty version? Ross said the show is universal chicken and will be played as such. The two versions are fun, but Constable prefers the Naughty. Steve has never been involved in a show with two versions, so he doesn’t have a preference. For him, it’s virtually the same show with the dial turned up for the Naughty. Along with Rebecca, the guys clarified an essential item for the audiences on how the actors will approach the show's subject material. The Naughty version will not push into a place of blue and dirty for the sake of being blue and dirty. Paul is thankful the naughty version didn’t go there because his parents, wife, son, and friends are coming. He didn’t want them to feel embarrassed, and he didn’t want to cringe at any blue material. Steve also felt the same way as Paul. Instead of being blue: “It’s fun. It’s smart. Rebecca knows a line to walk. You’re laughing because it’s a joke, not harmful or hurtful. Sometimes stuff happens in life, and it’s silly. It’s the kind of show you’ll talk about with your friends and say: “Maybe we shouldn’t say this.” Sounds like double entendres and second glances are on the menu for the Naughty version. Nothing’s hurtful, except ‘anti-chicken people’ might consider it bothersome. I’m sensing the show might just make a few comments on how our woke world has become extremely sensitive to the point where no one feels comfortable laughing anymore. Oh, by the way, now I’m curious how these barnyard animals will figure into the show. The two are excited to gauge the audience's responses from both versions. There’s improvisation involved from everyone. Sometimes, a joking improv on a Tuesday audience might kill, and the actor might consider bringing it back on Wednesday. However, that audience might not respond in the same way. For Paul, that’s the beauty of improv. Are there messages in the show that the cast hopes audiences will take away with them when they exit the theatre? When Rob Kempson (Artistic Director of the Capitol) and Rebecca first approached Steve with the offer, the term ‘forward thinking panto’ was coined. He’d never heard of it. Body shaming gets addressed, and fluidity of sexuality gets addressed (not directly). These are only two messages. None of the messages is ever hammered over the audience’s heads. Doors are open; if people want to see that stuff, it’s there. Steve also shared Rebecca had seen pantos in the UK and even in the GTA, where the dame, always in drag, also gets booed. Rebecca is not interested in someone getting booed. The panto is crafted in such a way that no one will feel the need to boo. Steve admires Kempson and Northan for trying to do something different within the genre. Paul concurred and added that the show will have its own message subconsciously. There are mixed characters and situations, but no one will ever feel as if they are being preached to or told how to feel: “At the end, you’ll probably be exhausted from laughter. Something as light as a panto takes away the darkness of this time, and you’ll forget about whatever you were thinking about when you came to the theatre.” As we neared the end of our conversation, it turned to some changes in the industry that hit the live artists hard. Steve referred to the Writer’s Strike. Since returning to work, he has noticed gratitude at Stratford. He set himself that goal of gratitude for the two years he sat inside his house, not working. If he is lucky enough to be back, he will not complain about anything, whether it’s a 12-hour day or why something might be missing. Steve has also noticed there’s an understanding that artists do work hard and that it’s okay to say one must take care of him/her/themselves for the day. Steve is also quick to add it’s not just him. He sees so much gratitude for the profession because Covid was the reminder it was taken away for two years. Gratitude is easy to forget in the theatre/performing arts industry, and Steve doesn’t want it to happen again. Paul agreed Steve nailed it. The former returned to a different rehearsal process, and Covid permitted people to acknowledge what was bothering them. Paul mentioned a joke I hadn’t heard before – how do you make an actor complain? Give him a job. That joke couldn't be any further from the truth. Since the return, Paul has noticed a check-in at the beginning of each rehearsal. Rebecca and Rob set that tone right from the start. That was something new, but it was welcomed because Paul just saw so much of the attitude of learning lines, showing up, doing what is asked of you, saying nothing, and going home before Covid changed the world we know. Once the panto concludes its run at the Capitol, what’s next for Paul and Steve? A piece of advice was shared I had never heard either – as actors, you just get used to not knowing, and somehow you will land on the ground. Paul was Gary for ten years with Canadian Tire. The actors are in a strange place, and there’s some hope union actors can return to work in commercials. If that happens, Paul hopes to be a part of it. Paul is pleased he took the panto job because it allowed him to step back into theatre. He hopes artistic directors are listening and looking for his talents (hint, hint, call his agent). Steve will put his writing hat back on before returning to Stratford for the upcoming 2024 season. He has two drafts he’s working on. He’s excited to sit at his laptop and write for the month. There will be some free days during the panto run, so he’ll continue writing. (Rob Kempson, are you listening? Steve will send you the drafts). ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ runs to December 23 at the Port Hope Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call the Box Office (905-885-1071) or visit capitoltheatre.com. Previous Next

  • Dance Tango In the Dark at Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto's Harbourfront Centre

    Back Tango In the Dark at Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto's Harbourfront Centre Toronto Fringe's Next Stage Theatre Festival Toronto Fringe Joe Szekeres A sensually divine dance of life and breath Please note I hold no background, education, or training in the art of dance. For this review, I will comment on the theatricality of the presentation. I think it’s safe to say that if we saw a couple dance the tango, just by the music alone with specific choreographed movements, we would know what they are doing. I really didn’t know the history of the tango, so I thought I’d better do a quick bit of online research. I discovered the tango is a partner and social dance originating in the 1880s along the Rio de la Plata in the impoverished areas of Argentina and Uruguay which had predominantly African descendants. The tango was frequently practiced in the brothels and bars of ports, where business owners employed bands to entertain their patrons with music. The tango then spread to the rest of the world. Many variations of this dance currently exist around the world. Just from this superficially brief definition, it appears the tango came from the dust, dirt and grime and, when it spread to the rest of the world, the dance became something exciting and exhilarating whether through participation or just watching. The release for 'Tango in the Dark' states this film “lights the way through the shadows and mysteries of Buenos Aires and tells a story of two dancers moving to the rhythms of the city night.” Jacob Marsh’s lusciously gorgeous cinematography becomes a strong feature of this film. He juxtaposes between the dullness of black and white and sharp vivid colours which become hypnotically enhanced through the exquisite sounding music of the Payadora Tango ensemble members of Rebekah Wolkstein, Drew Jurecka, Robert Horvath, and Joseph Phillips. Alexander Richardson held a mammoth task in both directing, choreographing, and dancing in this film. Let me just say it’s extraordinary to watch he and his dance partner Erin Scott-Kafadar. ‘Tango in the Dark’ takes place in several locales where Alexander and Scott-Kafadar sometimes represent the shady and unwholesome beginnings from where the tango came up to the present moment where the dance is a stunning work to view. Final Comments: ‘Tango in the Dark’ is sultry and sexy. At times it becomes a wild entity. At other times, Scott-Kafadar and Alexander breathe an intimate synergy of a heightened and life-giving sensuality of passionate connection. Worth a look. ‘Tango in the Dark’ presented by Pointe Tango in collaboration with Payadora Tango Ensemble Directed and Choreographed by Alexander Richardson Cinematography by Jacob Marsh Featuring Erin Scott-Kafadar and Alexander Richardson Previous Next

  • Profiles Jennifer Walls

    Back Jennifer Walls Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Graham Isador Joe Szekeres Jennifer is one articulate artist who is most passionate about what she does. After our hour plus long conversation the other day, I got the impression that not even Covid can ever destroy her zeal for the arts. Jennifer is a Toronto based actor, director, producer, and voice actor. She is also the host/co-producer of Singular Sensation Online. A graduate of Sheridan College's Musical Theatre Performance program, Jennifer's diverse career spans almost two decades. She has been featured in the Globe and Mail and the cover of NOW Magazine for her work in Toronto theatre and gained critical acclaim for both her portrayal as Liza Minnelli in her solo show Liza Live! as well as her autobiographical rock cabaret Jagged Little Me, based on the music of Alanis Morissette. Before the pandemic hit she was slated to make her debut as a writer at The Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. As a director, she led the teams behind Hart House Theatre's hit productions of Heathers the Musical and The Rocky Horror Show as well as Mandy Goodhandy's Just Call Me Lady. She was also the Assistant Director with Talk As Free Theatres' production of Into The Woods. As a producer she has worked with many Fringe solo artists including Rebecca Perry and Adam Proulx as well as with Tweed and Co., The Musical Stage Company, The Toronto Fringe, Pride Toronto and Second City Toronto. She was also a producer for the Sunday Cabaret Series at the 120 Diner which was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic. As a voice actor she is the voice of the Family Channel networks. Currently, she is the host and co-producer of Singular Sensation Online, a live monthly musical theatre event (celebrating its tenth year this March) turned online performing arts talk show. Originally a live weekly event at Statler's on Church (now The Well) turned a monthly event at the 120 Diner for just over a year when the pandemic hit, Singular soon went online combining their live and online presence into an online show. Since April 2020, they have produced 20 episodes celebrating the inspiring efforts of the theatre community during the pandemic with conversations, performances and sign-up guests including appearances by TSN's Michael Lansberg, Juno Award nominee Stacey Kay, Broadway choreographer Marc Kimelma and director/choreographer and advocate David Conolly. The show's mission is to continue to offer a safe and supportive platform for marginalized voices and make the world more accessible for the theatre community through new segments dedicated to self-care and world issues. Season 2 will be debuting in February of 2021. We held our conversation via Zoom. Thanks again, Jennifer: In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shut. It was a year ago the first case was reported. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? It’s crazy. I was at the gym and I was thinking, “Oh, that sounds scary.” And here we are. I guess we didn’t see it coming even though the signs were all there, and we still wonder where it’s going. Like anybody, it’s been up and down and a bit of an existential experience. There’s been a lot of practices in mediating emotions. To give you a succinct answer I’ve been doing okay, a bit of a roller coaster in dealing with an extreme loss in our entire community and world and trying to mediate everything’s that happening. I’m very lucky, fortunate and blessed my health is fine. I’m not special in my experience. My immediate family is fine. They’re healthy. My mom works in long term care. She’s a PSW but there haven’t been any cases where she works luckily. I’m from a small town where I am now so I’m helping her out a bit. My mom’s really tired but doing well, thank goodness, and thank you for asking. How have you been spending your time since the industry has been locked up tight as a drum? I’ve been really lucky to be out of the city for the most part which has been a blessing because it’s tough to social distance in the city when everyone is close together in Toronto. I’m based in Toronto. For the first weeks, it felt like a vacation maybe a couple of weeks, just a bit of hanging out. And then things started to shut down and lock up. As of April, we took my show ‘Singular Sensation’ online so that’s been taking up the majority of our time. My partner and I co-produce the show together and it’s been a really uplifting way to spend our time. I’ve been teaching online. I’m a voice coach and learning. I also do voice work for The Family Channel. I’ve been lucky to have some sense of normalcy which has been good but trying to re-examine what I’m doing with my life, so it’s been part normal and part existential crisis. And listening to the conversation being held on what’s occurring in the world and re-discovering what the show is all about and using our platform wisely in a way that is conducive to working online. I’ve always wanted to be able to combine my interest in journalism along with my degree from Sheridan, so it’s been a gift to bring the journalistic aspect to ‘Singular’ and celebrate the work people are doing or celebrating the community hub of the show. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence as something else? I don’t think I’d call this time an escape, more a suspension of reality but we have to move forward. It was a bit of a vacation. I’d been burned out when Covid hit so yes, it was part an escape for a small amount, but it was also tough because my partner and I were on the doorstep of the biggest seasons of theatre in our careers. He’s at Stratford and I was about to direct and make a debut as a writer. You work so hard towards these milestones and then to have it taken away from us….. Wow! I didn’t want to escape from this, but I was happy to escape from a joe job. Okay, it was an escape, but I didn’t want an escape from the milestone my partner and I were about to experience. I love what I do, and I didn’t want the summer off. It’s hard with all this because I don’t know what direction to travel when everything was shutting down and we were thinking two-week shutdown? Three-week shutdown? Do I pursue a new discipline? Do I get a part time job through all of this and weather out what’s coming? How do you invest in your future when you don’t know what it is? It feels like treading water. I’m grateful for the diverse skills set I’ve recognized that I’ve had so that’s been a good thing about Covid. It’s allowed me to work through this time, yes at a limited capacity as I’m not making millions, but I’ve been able to keep a sense of normalcy. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? Oh, Joe, if I had an answer for that I’d be making millions off it. (Jennifer started laughing and so did I) I wouldn’t need to work at theatre ‘cause I’d be rich. I’m a big believer in manifestation and that makes it hard for me to be realistic. If I say 2022, am I going to manifest that? I struggle between my belief in manifestation and my rational realistic part of my brain. I don’t know, I don’t know. We have this vaccine, and we have this one school of thought that by the fall things may look very different. It’s that suspended and I don’t know how to answer that and I’m afraid to have it placed here in print. I know this sounds ridiculous, but we hold on to whatever hope gets us through the day. I don’t know. I think it’s really complicated as there are a lot of things to take into consideration from actors to audience to technical crew, it’s almost like four different industries in one. Before it’s back traditionally in the way we saw it before, yah, maybe, that could take awhile. Yes, there might be pockets and new ways of performing theatre as you mentioned earlier, but the full experience? I think there might be some realism to that prediction, but God I hope it’s before…. My epidemiology degree is about as imaginative as my Tony that I received. (Jennifer has neither, by the way 😉) I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? I understand it’s transformed me to needing a bigger pant size. My experience has been up and down. I’m running again so that’s a positive start for me. This is an interesting question. We’ve done 20 episodes of ‘Singular Sensation’ and our goal is to chat with people about what they think will happen in the future and transformation of marginalized voices, inclusion, equity and creating the theatre these theatre companies want to see. I feel privileged to get to see these initiatives from the ground up through Singular Sensation. This pause has given us a time to reflect from where we have come from to where we are going, and to what needs to change. This time is allowing us to look and see what are we doing, what’s the result and how do we move forward. And it’s obvious we need to do something different. The transformation is coming in the way we see traditional theatre – I’m a big fan of non-traditional theatre and this is a positive step forward. ‘Singular Sensation’ has been transformed in the way we see creation and performance. We can’t do open mic online, so we had to figure out how to go from open mic to online performance talk show that morphed into bringing on new theatre companies focused on perhaps marginalized creators, for example. When I graduated from Sheridan many years ago, it was either Mirvish or bust. Now, that has all changed as theatre companies are springing up. At Singular Sensation, we have a platform that is safe and supportive to all artists and for all artists, but our goal is to show how the arts are transformative. We’ve had guests on from Broadway and from Mirvish, but we are also reaching out to the newer companies that did not exist when I graduated from Sheridan but have every right to have their voices heard. To be transformed, we have to listen more to each other and to hear each other’s voice. The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre? Danger is a big word here. I wonder when she had said this because words and context can mean so much given what has happened. This is a really tricky question. I would prefer to use the word ‘thrilling’ rather than ‘danger’. I feel danger has a real connotation to it whereas thrilling – movies are called thrillers, they’re not called dangers, but there is danger in thrillers. This is a touchy subject for me to answer as the world we know right now is in danger of all sorts. In my understanding, I wouldn’t agree because we are in a time right now where we are examining verbiage and position. It’s too easily misunderstood right now. Thrilling feels more responsible to me during this time instead of using danger. I’ve felt danger many times during Covid but that danger feels like that I might lose my home or will I be able to afford my home or pay for my taxes. If I claim CERB and yes we have to pay it back but this has real endangering consequences and circumstances for some artists. The time we’re living in now is dangerous, and theatre is supposed to be an escape but now, in Covid, why do I want to be reminded in a theatrical piece about danger if I know I’m living in endangering circumstances. This is a polarizing question because I have felt danger during Covid because we went from seeing empty shelves at Walmart to many of us not taking this time seriously about wearing or not wearing a mask. We live in a world steeped in danger right now. When we understood the world or some of it, then we could be enticed with danger since our world wasn’t in danger. I can see the want for theatre to feel dangerous when the world is not in danger as a general state of being. Right now, people want to feel nostalgia, comfort, and joy rather than be reminded of the danger. Danger has visceral consequences whereas theatre shouldn’t. That’s the polarity of the question for me. When I emerge from this pandemic, my partner and I are leaving for sunnier destinations. (Jennifer laughs). Seriously, we’re focusing on ‘Singular Sensation’ right now as our immediate future. For us, we really want this show to stay past Covid in order to bring the struggle of the artist. If we aren’t able to understand what is happening in our industry, that is dangerous. Hopefully ‘Singular Sensation’ can offer a life raft and place things in a succinct platform to offer insight. The danger in theatre is not evolving and when we come back, hopefully, we will be aware of those issues that might be troublesome or a potential hazard. The danger is being stagnant. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? To be completely honest, it’s what has helped ‘Singular’ in the resonance of our show, in our work, in having these conversations. In the beginning we identified with the fact that yes we wanted artists to come on ‘Singular’, but we’re also cognizant of the fact that an artist will also be reminded of the fact he/she/they have lost work as well. It’s complicated and heavy and we never know where someone is at. At ‘Singular’ we’re trying to be sensitive and cognizant and aware of the loss of the artist when they are invited; however, we understand everyone is at a different place so if the artist only wants to chat and not perform, that’s perfectly fine as well. No pressure. We are being sensitive in the way we conduct our show. That’s a big part of our mandate. In having this sensitivity, we’ve been able to have 20 episodes of the show and not pressure artists not to be anything other than who they are at that moment. In my producing, mentoring and coaching I try to be in tune with other artists. I have anxiety myself so I find that I’m extra sensitive to people’s needs because there are days when I struggle. It’s tricky. We’re going mental health shows right now which comes from a place of sensitivity. It’s important people feel comfortable and not have to present if they don’t have that desire. We can’t be so product driven right now. We have to be sensitive to ourselves and each other. And I hope this brings us to a more compassionate and humane industry when we emerge from Covid. Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? I’m very curious as to how all of this revolution will be put into practice. I feel we are coming up to this understanding of what is this renaissance going to look like. We’re speaking out about things that don’t work, systems that are in place that do not work, so let’s fix that and how is it going to be applied. I’m really curious to see how this is all going to be done. We’ve had so many glimpses of what that renaissance will look like through ‘Singular’, through conversations with our guests, even pre-conversations before recording. How will this transformation, this pause, this new understanding be practically applied? And what kind of industry will we come back to after all this? I’m really curious about it, and how to implement it. I think it’s needed. It’s going to change the theatre experience. We have the opportunity for more people to see themselves represented on stage which is so important. People are speaking up and are being brave and courageous. What is the ‘Last Supper’ painting of the theatre industry going to look like? We have the potential to change the game and I hope we do. I hope Covid is not for nothing. I hope this pause is for nothing and to allow us to open our minds and hearts a bit more and go in a new direction where people feel safer, valued, included, heard and seen and that the audience feels valued in that. To connect with Jennifer at Instagram: @jeniwallsto and the handle for her show Singular Sensation is @singular_senation. Previous Next

  • 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare. Presented by The Stratford Festival

    Back 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare. Presented by The Stratford Festival Now onstage until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. Credit: David Hou. Pictured: Jonathan Mason and Vanessa Sears Joe Szekeres “In this current production of ROMEO AND JULIET, there’s a sense of re-assured predictability because the story remains solid with this cast of up-and-coming artists performing with seasoned veterans." As a retired 33-year Catholic high school teacher who understands how to bring literature to life in a secondary school setting, Stratford’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ becomes the ideal production for young people to be introduced to the world of Shakespeare. If this is one’s first time experiencing the play, you’ve made a good choice. With her unique and thoughtful choices, Director Sam White breathes exuberance, freshness, vitality, and boundlessness into the story right from the Prologue, creating an intriguing experience for the audience. The play opens with two feuding families – the Capulets and the Montagues – who have been at odds for years. On a hot summer afternoon, a fight breaks out again between both families. Prince Escalus (Nick Dolan) arrives just in time to avert disaster but issues a stern warning. If the families spark one more fight, their lives will pay forfeit for the peace. That evening, the Capulets prepare to host a ball at which his lordship (Graham Abbey) will present his daughter Juliet (Vanessa Sears) to the suitor Paris (Austin Eckert). Romeo (Jonathan Mason) from the house of Montague and his friends Mercutio (Andrew Iles) and Benvolio (Steven Hao) crash the party in disguise. Romeo has been hopelessly lovesick over Rosaline. His friends hope that by seeing other girls, Romeo will forget about Rosaline. That event does come to pass. As soon as Romeo sees Juliet, all thoughts of Rosaline vanish. Tybalt (Emilio Viera), Juliet’s beloved yet hot-headed cousin, sees Romeo enter uninvited and wants to fight him. Capulet sternly advises the hot-headed Tybalt not to do such a thing since Romeo is not causing trouble. When the party breaks up, Romeo leaves his friends and rushes to Juliet’s balcony, where they declare their love for each other. Juliet advises Romeo to make plans for marriage secretly at Friar Laurence’s (Scott Wentworth) chapel, with the holy man and her Nurse (Glynis Ranney) knowing what’s going on. Friar Laurence advises Romeo: “Wisely and slow/they stumble that run fast.” More valid words are strongly spoken as the world the young lovers envision for themselves does not come to pass. There’s a sense of predictability and re-assuredness about this current Stratford production. That’s a good thing. More about this near the end. Sue LePage has returned to the traditional and simple set design of the Festival Theatre, which I recall from years ago when I attended my first production as a high school student. This simplicity allows the audience to focus on the plot and the characters' emotional growth. Ensemble members seamlessly bring on and remove set pieces and props. LePage’s lovely and colourful costume designs are reminiscent of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film version. Louise Guinand’s seductive mood lighting during the balcony scene effectively heightens the youthful intensity of the young lovers' strong feelings. Several of Debashis Sinha’s sound effects hauntingly echo throughout the auditorium. White has assembled a cast of Stratford veterans and new company members who succinctly capture what the play encompasses: an energetic, fun, entertaining beauty with love, levity, and banter. When the tide shifts and great sorrow erupts in Verona, the story captures the frightening and sad tragedy of events that spiral out of control when unresolved, age-old conflicts and youthful, impressionable lives intertwine. The casting choices are solid. Graham Abbey is a stern presence as Capulet, who believably ranges in emotional authenticity from a loving and doting father one minute to a feared parent the next. Jessica B. Hill’s youthful-looking Lady Capulet strongly emphasizes what life was like in Verona then. Young girls were seen as trophy wives. Emilio Vieira is a fiery and emboldened Tybalt. Andrew Iles’ flights of fancy as Mercutio are one of the production's highlights, especially his handling of the Queen Mab speech. As Benvolio, Steven Hao’s eyes convey plenty about the goodness in his heart, especially when he wants to tell the truth. As the trusted adult role models for the young lovers, Glynis Ranney’s bawdiness as the Nurse still makes me smile. Ranney conveys tremendous warmth and compassion, especially in the second act when the story turns quickly and Juliet faces the unknown. Scott Wentworth’s Laurence remains a calm and dignified figure of hope for Romeo for as long as possible. I find it interesting that a line from the Prince at the end of the play is missing when he acknowledges that the friar is still a holy man even though he has made some grave errors in his actions. The one unusual choice at first is Nick Dolan as Prince Escalus. For some reason, I couldn’t connect how his youthfulness as a leader would stand up against the commanding Graham Abbey’s Capulet and Michael Spencer-Davis’s Montague. I then smiled at how coy Director White’s casting decision in selecting Dolan became apparent at the end of the play. His youthfulness in addressing adults who should know better heightens the tragedy even more. I heard a young girl behind me sobbing, indicating that White’s casting choice and staging worked. Theatre is to move us emotionally, as it did for that young girl behind me. As star-crossed lovers, Jonathan Mason and Vanessa Sears convincingly capture the intense fickleness of youthful love. Sam White chooses not to capture that intimate moment from the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli that still haunts its Juliet, Olivia Hussey. Instead, Sam White trusts that Mason and Sears lovingly and longingly speak to each other and that the suggestion of the intimate moment they have just experienced off stage lingers as they enter fully clothed. That trust given to Mason and Sears at that moment is solidified, as far as I’m concerned. Thoughts from a retired and certified Ontario teacher: Director Sam White wisely stages this ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as it should be—predictably, meaning that one will expect certain things to be delivered. Predictability for teachers can also bring assurance that things will get accomplished. For example, when I taught ‘Romeo and Juliet years ago, it was predictable (and expected) that the 1968 Zeffirelli film would complement the teacher's efforts to bring the play alive for students. I know there are other versions (1996 Baz Luhrmann is one), but I chose the former. As a well-known television show once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” To the best of their professional ability, teachers could be assured upon finishing the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unit that they had done their best to try and encourage young people to enjoy and appreciate one of the Bard’s works. Yes, teaching strategies have advanced into the 21st century. However, sometimes predictability ensures students (and audiences) receive the best possible understanding of the play. This current Stratford production accomplishes this goal. Director Sam White and this cast have set out what their vision intends—to enjoy, experience, and learn something in the process. White even says in her Director’s Note that’s the beauty of this play. Neither she nor the cast should feel any qualms about its predictability. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending that schools studying the play this fall make a trip to see this current production. A side note to teachers: If you have shown the Zefferelli film to students to allow them to see and hear the story, there’s no need to do that if you bring them to this current production. Running time: approximately two hours and 50 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ runs until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street. For tickets: stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. The Stratford Festival presents ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare Directed by Sam White Set and Costume Design: Sue LePage Lighting Design: Louise Guinand Composer and Sound Designer: Debashis Sinha Fight and Intimacy Director: Anita Nittoly Choreographer: Adrienne Gould Performers: Graham Abbey, David Collins, Howard Dai, Nick Dolan, Thomas Duplessie, Austin Eckert, Steven Hao, Graham Hargrove, Jessica B. Hill, Jenna-Lee Hyde, Andrew Iles, Jasmine Jones-Ball, John Kirkpatrick, Derek Kwan, Tarique Lewis, Jonathan Mason, Marissa Orjalo, Glynis Ranney, Antonette Rudder, Vanessa Sears, Michael Spencer-Davis, Emilio Vieira, Scott Wentworth, Rylan Wilkie, Angus Yam. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak

    Back 'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak Now onstage in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival Tim Nguyen Joe Szekeres An often deliciously wacky and sometimes unpredictable look at a Shakespearean tragedy that, at times, is just plain ol’ fun. There's an endearing quirkiness to 'Goblin: Macbeth'. Is it possible to have fun watching a Shakespearean tragedy? That’s quite an oxymoron. Anyway, I sure did. In this Ontario premiere, three goblins, Wug, Cragva and Moog, will perform ‘Macbeth’ to see if they can learn more about this Shakespeare fellow from their ‘Good Book’ - ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.’ They have read it from cover to cover and discover he knows a lot about goblins, fairies, monsters, wood nymphs and all creatures. Wug, Cragva and Moog also hope that in the performance of ‘Macbeth,’ they will learn more about human nature. Wug plays the central character and several other roles. Cragva plays Lady Macbeth and several different parts. Moog plays supporting characters and provides musical and sound accompaniment. Why have the Goblins selected ‘Macbeth’? It’s the shortest one in running time. That’s it for the plot. Don’t worry if you can’t recall anything about the play because the Goblins will give you three essential pieces of plot information to remember. Rebecca Northan directs with a signature panache and flair for misbehaviour with the text. She has the actors constantly on the move throughout the intimate Studio Theatre. Using improvisation, the macabre, the fantastic and the tragic moments of the Bard’s play, Northan and Bruce Horak adhere to the original text we all know. Nevertheless, their text sharply nails and pierces several contemporary references that made me laugh out loud. One of them was the current state of the Ontario education system. Another had to do with trying to understand all 100+ genders in our woke world today. A third deals with which pronoun people prefer to use. ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ thankfully never veers from its course to tell the story. The actors have given internal permission to each other to stop the plot action for a few minutes. If they halt the action, it better be for a good reason. There are good reasons for the halts. The actors make these stops work. Skillfully. First, they are having fun with the words and context of the scene. They know something about improvisation and when to permit themselves to use it. However, the three of them are not mere clowns. They remain acutely aware of what’s coming next and how that momentary improv can heighten interest in the next scene. Wug, Cragva and Moog never allow their playfulness to derail from telling the story. There are moments when all three poignantly heighten the tragedy of the moment. Thus, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ remains just plain ol’ good fun. Combine all this above and mix it in a cauldron of cool, nippy, and frosty night air. You have the makings of a terrific fall theatre evening outdoors and indoors. Part of the fun occurs a half hour before show time when the three pull up in a car and park with one wheel lodged over the curb outside the Studio Theatre. Their grand ghostlike entrance is initially mysterious, as it looks as if they might be coming to take the world over. They comically interact with the audience outside. The ensuing hilarity continues inside the Studio as the three begin to set up for tonight’s performance while mingling and interacting with the audience. Some ask politely for selfies, and these creatures are happy to oblige. Take a few minutes; sit back and watch the three do during the pre-show. It’s most entertaining. In her Director's Note, Northan makes an interesting comment about not knowing who any of the actors are in a production. She discourages the audience from seeking out their identity. Instead, allow the actors to work their magic on the audience and let their performance hit us in new ways about ‘Macbeth.’ What a novel idea! It works for me! Magnificently! I will respect what Northan asks and not seek out the identity of the players. (Side note: I know who they are, and if you are interested in cheating, go here: (https://www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items/rebecca-northan. ) The facial coverings by Composite Effects remain stunning. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. You can see the veins running through. True, the masks do appear ghastly at first, but that soon ebbs away, and they become a natural part of what we are witnessing in front. There is some give and take in the face when the actors speak. Philip Edwards’ costume designs are stark, subtle, futuristic reminders of the jet-black clothing worn by Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix.’ Anton deGroot’s specifically focused lighting effectively reveals an impending sense of doom throughout. These ‘unknown’ actors become masterful storytellers. They listen intently and never upstage each other. Their comic moments are beautifully timed, especially at one point when they ask Stage Manager Lili to turn on the spotlight. But, as Northan states in her Director’s Note: “The pairing of tragedy with humour, as Shakespeare intended, is a profoundly human impulse that highlights the horror, while allowing us to bear it.” This line speaks volumes when the audience learns Lady Macbeth dies. Someone gasped as if he/she/they weren’t expecting it. There was complete silence in the house. My eyes were fixed on Wug when he delivered Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech with tremendous dignity in remembering his wife - such tenderness and compassion. Final Comments: As a retired English Language and Literature teacher, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ challenged me to revisit why I chose to pursue an undergraduate degree long ago in the Arts and Humanities. I can now recall why - to appreciate the sound and meaning of words, either in print or hearing them spoken. The production is a terrific way to get young people to appreciate and enjoy the works and words of William Shakespeare. Be aware that some adult humour with language may be unsuitable for anyone under 16. Teachers, you should call the Box Office to see if there are matinees and if some wording might be re-phrased. For weekend matinee and evening performances, rush now to get tickets because I hear they're selling quickly. Running time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. (Make sure you go to the bathroom before) The production runs until October 28 in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival, 34 George Street, Stratford. For tickets, stratfordfestival.com or call 1-800-567-1600. A Spontaneous Theatre creation and part of the Meighen Forum GOBLIN: MACBETH Created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak Directed by Rebecca Northan Musician: Ellis Lalonde Costume Designer: Philip Edwards Masks: Composite Effects Props Designer: Hanne Loosen Original Lighting Designer: Anton DeGroot Stage Manager: Lili Beaudoin Performers: Wug, Cragva, Moog Previous Next

  • 'Wendy and Peter Pan' adapted by Ella Hickson. From the classic story by J. M. Barrie. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

    Back 'Wendy and Peter Pan' adapted by Ella Hickson. From the classic story by J. M. Barrie. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE Now onstage until October 27 at the Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival Credit: David Hou. Pictured L-R: Jake Runeckles and Cynthia Himenez-Hicks Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, adjudicator, arts educator "Peter and Wendy don't soar in this slow and underwhelming trip to Neverland!" The North American premiere of “Wendy and Peter Pan,” now playing at Stratford’s Avon theatre, is this season’s Schulich Children’s Play. Although the characters in the title and their story are universally familiar to all, the hook here is that this “update” turns J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s novel into a dark, dissonant, and unengaging production, with characters as flat as the pages from which they are conceived. As a child I remember experiencing Peter Pan through books, movies, plays and laugh-out-loud pantomimes. I couldn’t wait to be whisked away with Peter and the Darling children to a land of adventure and fantasy, full of Lost Boys, Pirates, and fairies. I marvelled at the Darling’s huge dog, Nana, the mystical twinkle of the disembodied Tinkerbell and the fearsomely funny Captain Hook. Pity that Stratford’s production of Ella Hickson’s 2013 adaptation retains little of the magic, mystery and revelry and the lovable, iconic characters I remember from the original. Instead, we’re left with a haphazard mix of dull performances, confusing antics and sets that aren’t quite up to Stratford’s normally high standards. In this retelling, the story is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Wendy Darling. She’s a daring heroine determined not to play den mother to little boys. Peter Pan appears in her nursery and, along with her brothers Michael and John, she flies away to Neverland, teaming up with the Lost Boys and gaining allies of Tink and Tiger Lily to fight the evil, aging Captain Hook. This feminist re-working prominently uncovers some darker themes from the original narrative and introduces new characters such as Tom, a fourth Darling child. The production blatantly explores themes of death, childhood, grief, spirituality, envy and aging—relevant topics to a modern, young audience. There’s lots of flying and sword fighting, colourful costumes, and silly antics. Still, most characters don’t play enough to the children in the audience and end up two-dimensional and uninteresting. The unhappy result? Humdrum storytelling. Several children sitting around me at the opening matinee exclaimed to their adults, “What’s happening?” and “Why are they doing that?” I’m still pondering whether it’s the banal script or lacklustre performances and direction that makes this trip to Neverland rather…average. Director Thomas Morgan Jones, in his production notes, uses words such as “adventure,” “humour,” “alive “pace,” and “engagement.” Ironically, there’s not much of any of these in this production. He seems to have left his cast to their own devices. When a production features a classic villain or hero from Disney, literature, comic books, or even cartoons, kids expect everything they know about that character to come alive on stage. We know these characters and are eager to take their journey with them. Unfortunately, major characters seem watered down and lifeless. Peter (Jake Runeckles), Wendy (Cynthia Himenez-Hicks), Tink (Nestor Lozano Jr.), and even Hook (Laura Condlln) are underplayed and, curiously, lack charisma. Peter is missing his mystical whimsy, and Captain Hook (without a hat!) seems more like a wicked stepmother than a menacing, conniving, over-the-top cutthroat. Even Tink is played more the sarcastic drag queen than an enchanted sprite. Yet there are moments of inspiration, such as The Shadows, Peter’s mischievous team of reflections who move objects, open windows, and carry off humans. The result is an unbalanced, flighty mashup of complexity and commotion. Robin Fisher’s set is sparse and confusing with a noticeable lack of detail, especially in Darling’s nursery. Nothing seems to be made solidly. Wood seems fake, and small hand props, like Tink in fairy form, are hard to see. The bay window that heralds the arrival of Peter and his shadows is recessed and relatively small, making for unexciting entrances and exits (likely because the other side serves as the entrance to the back-end Hook’s Jolly Roger). Neverland is represented by dangling green fabric from a large arch over the stage. The telescoping palm trees seemed flimsy and delicate. Several thatched mounds (rooftops) with an attached highchair upstage are mysterious and confusing. What was this location? Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger featured a large prow with a skeletal figurehead rolled in from backstage. An impressive piece that looked like it still needed some paint and weathering. The wheel end of the ship and a single mast evoked the rest of the vessel. The highlight was the tick-tocking metal framed crocodile ingeniously fashioned over a recumbent bicycle operated around the stage by Marcus Nance. Fisher’s costumes were appropriately Victorian for the Darlings, cut rags and old ripped coats for the Lost Boys. Pirates looked right for 18th-century buccaneers, with some splashes of colour and cut, but I did miss an eye patch or even an occasional hat, especially on Hook. Where was her hat? It’s in the promo photos. Pirates need hats! Lighting designer Arun Srinivasan once again proves his mastery of the art. His designs have shape, contrast, and colour that augment the story with every cue. Romeo Candido’s original compositions and sound design do their part to move the story along with nice twinkling underscores. Andrea Gentry of ZFX nicely achieves flying effects. Actors seemed very comfortable being surreptitiously connected to a wire and pulled up 50 feet into the air. Performances, as collaborated with the director, largely fall short of their potential. As Wendy, Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks does a fine job playing a feisty 12-year-old with bravery and loyalty to spare but her squeaky high voice never modulates. Noah Beemer and Justin Eddy are just fine as the inquisitive and daring John and Michael Darling. Agnes Tong and Sean Arbuckle make the most of their brief appearances as Mr. and Mrs. Darling. Jake Runeckles as Peter Pan is mysterious but not enigmatic. He never quite engages. His one-note performance lacks chemistry, especially with Jimenez-Hicks’ Wendy. As Captain Hook, Laura Condlln saunters on and off stage, trying hard to scare and cajole but ultimately coming off as an irrelevant aging villain (a real surprise as her performance as Malvolio in Twelfth Night this season is brilliant!). Tara Sky as Tiger Lilly is colourless and unremarkable. James Daly, as the analytical, smart-mouthed pirate, Martin, had genuinely funny moments, but many of his punchlines were lost due to his hushed and mumbled line delivery. Fortunately, there’s some fine comedy brought by Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Smee. Her none-too-subtle scenes pining for her captain and love interest are cute and way over the heads of the kids. While there’s plenty of swordplay, colour, and high-wire work, the production is disjointed and struggles to find its vision. The characters we love and love to hate are reduced to watered-down shadows of the literary classics we know and expect them to be. It is too bad that the fun of the original “Peter Pan” has been traded for this dissatisfying doppelganger. Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with one interval. Performances of ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ continue to October 27 at the Avon Theatre. For tickets: stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan

    Back 1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan World Premiere of a Stratford Festival Commission David Hou Joe Szekeres What makes 1939 work quite beautifully are its gentle moments of humour which never overpower what Director Jani Lauzon calls the incredible resilience, courage, wit, and ingenuity of five incredible student survivors from Residential schools. What makes this Stratford commission so remarkably poignant is the very fine performances of Richard Comeau, Wahsonti:io Kirby, Kathleen MacLean, Tara Sky and John Wamsley. Their seamless ensemble work of keenly listening and appropriately responding contributed a great deal to their individual character growth. The gentle moments of humour made me pay attention and want to learn more about them. I was thankful none of the horrible atrocities from the schools were played out in front of me. I am already aware of the awful repercussions as that information subtly hovers within playwrights Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan’s touching script. Instead, the gentle moments of humour truthfully made me pay attention and want to learn more. Okay, perhaps the running gag about Father Williams farting when he gets anxious and nervous might be a tad overplayed. We are at an Anglican church-run Residential school in Northern Ontario in 1939. Father Williams (Mike Shara) acts as the school liaison for an upcoming visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother in later years). Although Father Williams’ enthusiasm is for hockey, it has been agreed the royal couple will be entertained with a student performance of Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ to be directed by the school’s English teacher, Sian Ap Dafydd (Sarah Dodd). Ap Dafydd does everything she can to impose an outdated and unfamiliar style of learning to ‘speak white’ on her Indigenous students as the students rehearse and prepare for the performance. She even uses a recording of an English actress to demonstrate to the students how to ‘speak properly’ with big round vowel sounds. As the students rehearse and prepare, they begin to note just how similar the situations of the characters in Shakespeare’s play parallel their own lives. When they see this connection, they want to make the play their own instead of trying to be something they are not. There are cringeworthy statements which emanate from Sian Ap Dafydd and Father Williams that certainly made me put my head down in shame when I heard them. A few audience members around me did that as well and the gasps/uncomfortable laughs from some indicated how they felt at hearing these derogatory comments about First Nations people. I have heard of the statement ‘in laughter/jokes there is truth’. I’m going to take this one step further as it dawned on me when I left the Studio Theatre – the uncomfortable laughter was a reminder of the truth these situations occurred, and it is up to all of us to ensure they never occur again. Joanna Yu’s set design of the huge blackboard slate centre stage and the smaller spaces leading to the top level was quite effective and most noteworthy. Throughout the set changes, the five students would write ideas, thoughts, words, and pictures on them while Father Williams and Sian Ap Dafydd would erase them. It became clear this was a representation of the thoughts, ideas and words of First Nations being simply wiped away by the colonial education system. A simple ordinary gesture in a school setting which became disconcerting to see it being repeated over and over. Visually impressive. There are some very strong performance highlights worth noting. I really hope to see the five artists who played the students on stage in the near future because they were dynamite. I had completely forgotten how siblings were not to mix in Residential Schools. Richard Comeau and Tara Sky (as brother and sister Joseph and Beth Summers) are together quite striking in their believability. Wahsonti:io Kirby as Evelyne Rice is firmly grounded especially in the moments where she will not allow the ‘Indian to be killed within her’. Kathleen MacLean’s Susan Blackbird becomes that one grim reminder of the terrible atrocities within the Residential schools when she appears with the horrible gash across her back – kudos to the individuals who made the wound as it looked excruciatingly real from my seat. John Wamsley’s Jean Delorme half-breed (Algonquin and Metis) is far more comfortable on the hockey rink than in the play as evidenced in his dance moves. Sarah Dodd’s crispy clipped and clean-looking English teacher/director Sian Ap Dafydd is a reminder of some teachers within the Residential schools who did what they could to change the First Nations’ voice by encouraging the emulation of ‘big round vowels’. To me, it appeared as if Dodds made Ap Dafydd’s proverbial ‘bark worse than bite’ strongly apparent. However, there is one moment where Dodds in a strongly worded monologue to the students increased the tension within me and made me feel just a bit uneasy. Mike Shara’s doofus of bumbling Anglican priest Father Williams would rather be coaching hockey than being involved with the play. Shara motors up and down the stairs and exits stage left and right at such a fast pace, I kept wondering if the KeyStone Cops would be following behind. Final Comments: Jani Lauzon wrote the following in her Director’s Note: “I get to hear amazing, young, inspirational, Indigenous actors speak Shakespeare inside a story that I hope will inspire you all.” Your inspirational vision of a reconciliation task before us spoke a great deal to me, Jani. Thank you for letting me laugh and smile as I continue my journey in Truth and Reconciliation. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. The production runs to October 29 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East, Stratford. For tickets, stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. 1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan World Premiere of a Stratford Festival Commission Directed by Jani Lauzon Set Designer: Joanna Yu Costume Designer: Asa Benally Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand Composer and Sound Designer: Wayne Kelso Performers; Richard Comeau, Sarah Dodd, Jacklyn Francis, Wahsonti:io Kirby, Kathleen MacLean, Mike Shara, Tara Sky, John Wamsley Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Come Home - The Legend of Daddy Hall' by Audrey Dwyer

    Back 'Come Home - The Legend of Daddy Hall' by Audrey Dwyer Now onstage at Tarragon Theatre Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann Pictured: Daren A. Herbert as John "Daddy" Hall Joe Szekeres “A mystical mystique permeates Audrey Dwyer’s ‘Come Home – the Legend of Daddy Hall,’ closing out Tarragon’s 2024 season.” That’s the first word that came to my mind – mystique - when I sat down and studied Jawon Kang’s intriguing set design softly lit (almost darkly) by Michelle Ramsay’s terrific designs that evoke an array of varied emotions throughout the production. Musicians Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan provide the sound effects and sometimes underscore the scenes with soft music that heightens the tension of the moment. Dwyer’s script about John Hall (Daren A. Herbert) is a compelling exploration of a lesser-known figure from Canadian history. It’s a story that, despite my own educational oversight, has managed to captivate attention with its profound influence on the man who (according to Audrey Dwyer’s Programme Note) spent miles travelling and searching for home. Be prepared to delve into a wealth of historical information as the audience follows along with Hall on this journey. The script contains a lot of plot information, so pay close attention. On the verge of death, Hall’s mind begins to flood with memories of events from his life as a husband, father, freedom fighter, and war scout. He is confronted by his ancestors and forced to live the relationships he has had with others throughout his very long life. We meet the various people with whom he came in contact. The introduction of Billie (Troy Adams), a descendant of Hall’s, drew me into the story. Billie struggles with this acknowledgement and must help his young children do the same. The supporting company of actors deftly tells the story with nuanced emotional connections. As the central character, Daren A. Herbert is an engaging John Hall and becomes the reason to see the show. At times feisty and fiery and not always the most likable individual. Herbert’s Hall is also compassionate and caring. Running time: approximately two hours with no intermission. The production runs until June 9 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: tarragontheatre.com or call the Box Office (416) 531-1827. TARRAGON THEATRE presents COME HOME – THE LEGEND OF DADDY HALL by Audrey Dwyer Directed by Mike Payette Set Designer: Jawon Kang Costume Designer: Christine Ting-Huan 挺歡 Urquhart Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay Musicians, Sound Designers and Composers: Unsettled Scores (Spy Dénommé-Welch & Catherine Magowan) Fight Director: Louisa Zhu Movement Consultant: Natasha Powell Assistant Stage Manager: Hazel L. Moore Stage Manager: Emilie Aubin Performers: Troy Adams, Helen Belay, Daren A. Herbert, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Brandon Oakes, Emerjade Simms Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov in a new version by Liisa Repo-Martell

    Back 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov in a new version by Liisa Repo-Martell Now onstage in the Guloien Theatre at Crow's Theatre Bahia Watson and Tom Rooney. Photo by Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres An astounding adaptation by Liisa Repo-Martell of Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ that remains firmly riveted in my mind. Not merely just to see but to experience an opening night of Liisa Repo-Martell’s new version of Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ is one of the reasons why we must continue attending the theatre. Again, I confess that I’ve not seen a live production of ‘Uncle Vanya’, but I briefly knew the story. But when a play hits me on many emotional levels, I want to share and encourage everyone to attend this ‘must-see production’. Chris Abraham and Liisa Repo-Martell’s Programme Notes spoke about how sometimes the “opening up of dormant dreams, passions and ambitions is risky because sometimes we must risk everything to get something new.” Abraham has majestically captured a truly stunning vision of this statement in his risk-taking about the “telling of the truth of the lives of these characters – just as they were” when we meet them. There appears to be something uniquely different about this world of ‘Uncle Vanya’ upon entering the Guloien. When we do, we’re instructed to go either left or right depending on the colour code of our ticket. And as I saw the world created inside the auditorium, I felt my jaw drop as if I’d experienced something sacrosanct. Those in front of me appeared to feel the same as we tried not to cross the sacredness of the stage. It’s not a traditional proscenium arch setting for this ‘Uncle Vanya’, and that was a wise choice by Abraham and co-set designers Julie Fox and Josh Quinlan. We are in a theatre in the round which magnificently captures how grand this estate must have been in the waning days of Czarist Russia. The actors always make tremendous use of the entire stage, and never, ever does it look as if they are crowding in one spot. Instead, I always felt as if I was that proverbial fly on the wall watching with anticipation what was playing out before me. Kimberly Purtell and Thomas Ryder Payne’s lighting and sound designs gorgeously reflect the era and the historical moment in which we find ourselves. Purtell’s soft lighting designs nicely reflect the glow of the oil lamps used throughout. Ryder Payne’s richness in sound design magnificently underscores the tension within the scene. The growing sound of the impending storm caught my ear so many times and I kept wondering when the heavens would open it. And when it finally does, breathtaking to hear. Ming Wong’s costume designs splendidly reflected the muted earth-tone colours of the era. I’m reminded of the line “Attention must be paid” from ‘Death of a Salesman’ and, once again, Fox and Quinlan have done just that in the selection of many noteworthy period piece props from a Victrola to the fine bone china right to the gorgeous chandelier suspended over the stage. Before the performance began, my eyes scanned every inch of that stage noticing so many of the intricate details of the set dressing that I encourage future audiences to do the same. Ivan “Vanya” Voinitsky (sublime work by Tom Rooney) and his niece, Sonya (a passionately emotional performance by Bahia Watson) toil ceaselessly to run the family estate. The arrival of Sonya’s father celebrated and retired professor, Alexandre (a fervently ardent Eric Peterson) returns to live on the estate with his young and glamourous second wife, Yelena (believably vulnerable and grounded work by Shannon Taylor) which adds turmoil and conflict to this group of those gathered because we so learn she does not love the older man. We learn about the lives of other individuals on this estate. Carolyn Fe is a matriarchal Marina who offers solace and comfort, especially to Sonya in intense moments. We also meet the handsome country doctor Astrov (a gallant performance by Ali Kazmi) whom Sonya has secretly adored for quite some time but never feels validated because she considers herself homely. It is in Astrov’s opening comments in the play that he recalls his first visit to the region when Vera Petrovna (Alexandre’s first wife and Sonya’s mother) was still alive. As Astrov, Kazmi heartfully reveals his selfishness regarding life in this part of the country as boring and dull and he doesn’t have time for anything including love and affection. Astrov has appeared on the estate to treat Alexandre’s painful gout. Upon Alexandre and Yelena’s arrival at the estate, we also meet Maria (dtaborah johnson), Vanya’s mother who clearly has issues of her own to deal with but manages to provide brief moments and bits of humour. And there is Telegin nicknamed Waffles on account of his pockmarked face. I found there to be a great sadness enveloping him, and Anand Rajaram steadfastly infuses the character with great gusto. The one believable yet sad moment of humour he does provide with Astrov occurs in their drunken stupor where they begin singing a ditty which brought applause from the opening night audience. I’ve always wondered why this play is named after Vanya. Tom Rooney’s sensationally staggering portrayal amply explains why. Vanya is more than just a sad sack of a man. Here is someone who truly envelopes that strong sense of lethargic unhappiness because he cannot have the one thing he wishes he could have in his life – namely, Alexandre’s wife, Yelena. It is this same sense of unrequited unhappiness that envelopes each of the characters. For example (and it isn’t Vanya) one of the characters asks another if they are truly happy, and the response from that character is a definitive no. That was then I knew why the title is an apt one. There are many moments in the production where the chemistry between the actors is electrically charged and a sight to behold in watching, listening and in hearing. As mentioned earlier, the drunken scene between Astrov and Waffles is a tour de force comic moment. Another occurs in a dream sequence dance movement between Tom Rooney and Shannon Taylor upon Vanya revealing his true feelings for Yelena and she rebukes them. This moment made me hold my breath as I watched two individuals inherently trust each other in their graceful swanlike rhythm intertwining of body and soul. I will only share two examples (although there are more) of what I will call a master class in acting pivotal moments. One occurs in the extraordinarily painful look of rejection of Bahia Watson’s Sonya as she learns Ali Kazmi’s Astrov does not feel the same about her as she does. The silence between the two and the heartbreakingly realistic look within Watson’s eyes in realizing the truth becomes achingly real. The other moment occurs at the end of the play when a quietly sobbing Vanya turns to Sonya in the realization that this life of unhappiness is all that they will ever know or attain. I felt my jaw drop as I was witnessing such remarkable delivery of regretful poignancy which tore my heart in two. Final Comments: A story of intense impassioned magnitude told with gut-wrenching honesty, this ‘Uncle Vanya’ deserves to be at the top of your list to see and to experience. It is an evening at the theatre I will never forget. I’m reading more and more about Critics’ Picks in the theatre industry. This is one of my picks. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission. The production runs to October 2 in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Nest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, call (647) 341-7390 or visit www.crowstheatre.com UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov in a new version and adaptation by Lisa Repo-Martell World Premiere Directed Chris Abraham and Assistant Director: Lisa Repo-Martell Set and Props Co-Designers: Julie Fox and Josh Quinlan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne Stage Manager: Jennifer Parr Cast: Carolyn Fe, dtaborah johnson, Ali Kazmi, Eric Peterson, Anand Rajaram, Tom Rooney, Shannon Taylor, Bahia Watson. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Three Sisters' Adapted from Chekhov and Directed by Paolo Santalucia

    Back 'Three Sisters' Adapted from Chekhov and Directed by Paolo Santalucia The Howland Company and Hart House Theatre, University of Toronto The company of 'Three Sisters' by Dahlia Katz. Joe Szekeres Adaptation of Chekhovian works appears to be in fashion on the Toronto theatre scene these last couple of months. A smart choice to adapt the classics like ‘Three Sisters’ for modern audiences. After seeing a top-notch ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Crow’s, The Howland Company and Hart House Theatre’s absorbing production of ‘Three Sisters’ hits the boards. I’ve never seen either of these plays in their original form performed live, but these two terrific adaptations assuredly make me want to do so. Director Paolo Santalucia’s modern-day story adaptation remains dense with information regarding the characters’ relationships with each other and with this world they, at times, just seem merely to inhabit. In his Director’s Note, Santalucia spoke about what it means to yearn for a world these characters deeply and truly cannot return to for many reasons. There are layers upon layers of plot and contextual information underscoring this yearning so audiences will have to remain focused throughout the two hours and forty minutes running time. But that’s good theatre when we must pay careful attention. An inviting set design courtesy of Nancy Anne Perrin made me study the playing space for a few minutes. The four suspended palladium windows suggest the grandiosity of the house that was left to the sisters upon their parents’ death. It is a three-level set piece which serves as several important focal points. Christian Horoszczak’s ultra-fine lighting focuses attention on specific areas of the playing space. It is Irina’s (Shauna Thompson’s) birthday and people have gathered for a luncheon celebration. She simply appreciates and enjoys the wonders of this day and appreciates just living her life. Her sister Olga (Hallie Seline) is a schoolteacher who is busy marking and preparing her lessons. Olga shares how difficult a challenge the profession has become for her. The other sister Masha (Caroline Toal) sullenly lounges on the couch reading a book. We also meet their brother Andrei (Ben Yoganathan) who is hiding in his room at the top of the show. Other individuals present at the celebration are part of these sisters’ lives. Ivan (Robert Persichini) who was a friend of the sisters’ deceased parents lives with the girls in the house. He’s obnoxiously loud on account of his drinking problem. The dimwitted elder housekeeper Anfisa (Kyra Harper) experiences difficulties in keeping up with the duties of running the household. We also meet Masha’s husband, Theo (Dan Mousseau at this opening night performance), a teacher at the local school who comes across as a bit of a dweeby know it all which at first is hilarious; however, as the story progresses it’s rather sad when the truth is revealed. Rounding out the people present at the party are Nicolas (Cameron Laurie) and Val (Maher Sinno) who develop a love interest in Masha. Peter (Ethan Zuchkan) and Carl (Steven Hao). We also meet Natasha (Ruth Goodwin), brother Andrei’s love interest. In the first scene, there is the sense the sisters do not care for Natasha. As the story progresses, it’s clear why they didn’t trust her earlier as she does not turn out to be what’s best for Andrei. The arrival of Alex Vershinin (Christine Horne) who knew the sisters’ father throws this world into turmoil, especially that of Masha and the world she knows and her relationship with Theo. Was ‘Three Sisters’ worth doing and worth seeing? Yes, and yes. Santalucia has assembled a primo cast of a tightly cohesive ensemble of actors who relish playing Chekhovian characters who often feel immobile in this stasis world where they seem to exist like the spinning top in the picture above. How often during these last two-plus years of the worldwide pandemic have we also felt we were in grave periods of spinning like a top and not going anywhere? This is the reason why that moment of the onstage tableau where the actors watch this gift Irina received on her birthday remains completely etched in my mind. His clear direction remains carefully controlled throughout as Santalucia made many good choices to keep the plot moving along. For example, creating a modern-day adaptation with colourful vernacular language I’m sure many of us have used at one time in our lives allowed me to make a viable connection to these characters and their fleeting emotions. The moments of humour (and there are quite a few) heighten and underscore even further those poignant moments of emotional connections of love, longing, trust, affection, and time. What also worked nicely for me were the set changes from the actors to indicate the passage of time in moving the props and the adjustment of the lighting design. Thankfully, Santalucia never allowed the actors to veer out of control emotionally or histrionically as many of the actors deliver engrossing performances. I do have one quibble, though, and I found this with all the characters. At times, enunciation needed clarity especially if the actor was facing upstage delivering a line with a back to the audience. Again, it’s a minor quibble but for someone like myself who does not know the story then it’s important that we are able to follow as much of the plot as we can. Shauna Thompson, Caroline Toal and Hallie Seline remain consistently believable in their development of three unique siblings who are on their life trajectories. How they arrive at their destination becomes the integral focus. Thompson’s initial happiness at the top of the show becomes sharply contrasted with her emotional lows at the end. Toal’s longing for the love she knows is missing from her marriage becomes poignantly and viscerally real when Alex leaves. In the final scene between Christine Horne and Caroline Toal, the heartrending goodbye between the two becomes deep-rooted and so highly lamentable that I wondered how Masha would ever recover. A fine moment between them. Seline precisely clinches the tough-as-nails Olga who regretfully recognizes how she didn’t follow Ivan’s advice of “Look for beauty. Look for love. And Don’t look back.” Robert Persichini is a monstrously gruff and foul-mouthed Ivan whose humanely felt act of generosity tugged at my heartstrings. My head still shakes in astonished disbelief at the mismatched Andrei and Natasha (Ben Yoganathan and Ruth Goodwin) who become so convincingly real in the story that I kept wondering when Andrei would see through Natasha’s fudging, fibs and lies. As the dimwitted housekeeper Anfisa, Kyra Harper’s genuine fear of losing connection to this family during the fire in Act 2 is quite poignant. I wasn’t prepared for the ultimate reveal of the truth between Nicolas and Val. Both Cameron Laurie and Maher Sinna gave signs of what was about to occur but the shock of the incident certainly made me re-think again about the signs that were there as if something terrible was going to happen. Terrific work here to make me unsuspecting until the eventual does happen. Final Comments: This modern adaptation of ‘Three Sisters’ brings Chekhov’s messages of personal fulfilment, yearning and longing to heights of clearer understanding for a twenty-first-century audience. Fresh, invigorating, poignant and sad, ‘Three Sisters’ remains another must-see this fall for Toronto theatre lovers. Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. ‘Three Sisters’ runs until November 12 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. For tickets, call (416) 978-2452 or visit harthousetheatre.ca The Howland Company and Hart House present the premiere of THREE SISTERS Adapted from Chekhov and Directed by Paolo Santalucia Lighting Design – Christian Horoszczak, Set and Costume Design – Nancy Anne Perrin Sound Design – Andy Trithardt Stage Management – Kat Chin Performers: Shauna Thompson, Caroline Toal, Hallie Seline, Ben Yogoanathan, Ruth Goodwin, Kyra Harper, Robert Persichini, Christine Horne, Cameron Louie, Maher Sinno, Ethan Zuchkan, Steven Hao, Dan Mousseau Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article ‘The Shape of Home – Songs in Search of Al Purdy’ at Toronto's Crow's Theatre

    Back ‘The Shape of Home – Songs in Search of Al Purdy’ at Toronto's Crow's Theatre Created by: Frank Cox-O’Connell, Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Marni Jackson, Raha Javenfar, Andrew Penner. Dahlia Katz Dave Rabjohn The players ambled into the space, resembling a 60’s era Riverboat coffee house, and plunked themselves down as if they were a family meeting around the kitchen table. Such was the casual opening of ‘The Shape of Home’ – a ‘song cycle’ of Al Purdy’s life and work. Presented by Crow’s Theatre and Festival Players, the casual opening reflects much of Purdy’s poetic style. The strength of this production comes from the collaboration of the cast of talented musicians in experimenting with Purdy’s literary works. Al Purdy had a long and varied career and is often considered Canada’s unofficial poet laureate. Born near Prince Edward County in Ontario, he often wrote about the land in his home province and other parts of Canada. Living a hardscrabble life, he jumped among a number of working-class jobs while continuing to write with little early success. Success came later and Purdy became partly responsible for a coalition of Canadian writers during an early rise of prominent Can-lit. This production poignantly observes the various highs and lows of his life and career. Each of the performers/creators invokes different parts of his personality while using his writings to create powerful music. Opening with gorgeous acapella harmonies, the musicians then took turns with a variety of instruments, solos, and duets. Beau Dixon was compelling with his signature harmonica. Raha Javanfar also invoked some haunting lyrics with her signature violin work. Moving through the diverse parts of Purdy’s life, humour is marked as many of his works have comic elements. He was also very self-deprecating as personified brilliantly in a scene by Frank Cox-O’Connell where he demurely performs an embarrassing piece of doggerel. Cox-O’Connell was also particularly poignant in his piece about loading bags of dried cow’s blood. Hailey Gillis has a soaring and moving voice in many of the stunning duets. Andrew Penner displayed amazing diversity with a variety of instruments and performances. The relaxed set design, by Steve Lucas, displayed a variety of instruments installed on the wall from tubas to a base drum eight feet above the floor. What became fascinating was that every instrument was used in the performance – they were not just window-dressing which gave the production integrity. After building his ‘castle in the woods,’ an A-frame cottage near a small lake in Prince Edward County, Purdy’s success grew and a number of emerging Canadian writers began to visit and gather – sort of a Canadian version of an Algonquin roundtable. Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee and Irving Layton were among them as was Milton Acorn. These academic meetings were tempered by some raucous nights of drinking and arguing as displayed in a riotous drunken scene with Acorn. With a casual and colloquial tone, Purdy became one of Canada’s best storytellers and this was fully on display with ‘The Shape of Home.’ This production was magnificent in, through brilliant musicianship, echoing Purdy’s ability to perceive the universal in the Canadian commonplace. ‘The Shape of Home – Songs in Search of Al Purdy’ Performers and creators – Frank Cox-O’Connell, Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Marni Jackson, Raha Javenfar, Andrew Penner. Director – Frank Cox-O’Connell Set Design – Steve Lucas Sound Design – Steafan Hannigan Production runs through September 25, 2022. Tickets at www.crowstheatre.com Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Universal Child Care'

    Back 'Universal Child Care' Now onstage at Toronto's Berkeley Street Theatre Courtesy of Canadian Stage website Zoe Marin “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I sobbed. I laughed. I screamed. I need the cast album yesterday.” The new show from Quote Unquote Collective, ‘Universal Child Care’ uses a capella singing, stand-up comedy, physical theatre, and projections to discuss the four richest countries with the least accessible child care: the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Japan. Co set designers Lorenzo Savoini and Michelle Tracey present the households of specific families from each country. In the top left is a former dancer (Takako Segawa) unable to secure a spot in Japan’s fussy daycare system. To her right is a queer mixed-race couple (Fiona Sauder and Anika Venkatesh) forced to move to a smaller, less progressive neighborhood when London becomes too expensive to support a child. Below them is an American couple (Germaine Konji and Joema Frith) from Detroit, Michigan overwhelmed with the costs of raising a baby in the U.S. To their left is a Canadian couple (Sadava and Alex Samaras) falling victim to the ways “maternity leave” affects future job security for women. To tie it all together, there is our Emcee: Teresa (Mónica Garrido Huerta), an undocumented nanny/ stand-up comedian from Mexico. ‘Universal Child Care’ begins in-vitro, engulfing the audience with swirls of fog, melodic ensemble breathing, and colorful backdrop projections (designed by potatoCakes_digital) representing the womb. A pregnant woman (Konji) steps out and walks to the center stage mic. In labor, she moans/screams/sings/cries as the ensemble’s vocalizations grow louder and more complex in solidarity with her. She then gives birth to a round luminous ball which henceforth will represent babies throughout the piece. Finally, harsh reality swiftly ends the magic of this birth scene when the hospital presents the American parents with the bill. The exact numbers for each individual part of the birthing process inundate the set, too hectically to understand fully the information but just enough to understand how it feels. What this production does best is express how incredibly overwhelming, exhausting, and incomprehensible parenting can be with such little support available. In addition to the statistics that are presented on screen, Matt Smith’s sound design features compilations from pop culture, news clips, real testimonies, and the characters to show the innumerable ways lack of affordable child care affects families. While we don’t get many specific details about each family, we understand their plights, their desires, and their exhaustion with every song they sing. There are some very catchy upbeat songs such as a British rock song about how unaffordable London is or the doo-wop style anthem to underpaid child care workers (which I CAN NOT get out of my head). There are also several ballads that made me cry so hard I thought I might start dry heaving in the audience. While all the parents feel shunned out by their respective systems, there is still a sense of togetherness within the individual couples. They’re all drowning financially, the women in the straight relationships are stuck at home while their husbands go to work, and we know the struggle is perpetual because they can’t afford child care. However, even within those tough situations, we at least get moments of the couples struggling together. The performers have great chemistry with each other, which really shines in the duets. It is the isolation of the Japanese mother and Teresa that I found the most emotional. ‘Universal Child Care’ first introduces the former through a voice over of the woman explaining why she can’t get a spot in a nursery. She has a husband, which means she doesn’t need the nursery. If she divorces her husband, but he lives nearby, then she doesn’t need the nursery. If she moves, but her child’s grandparents live nearby, she doesn’t need the nursery. If she has groceries when she picks up her child from the nursery, it means she has time to shop, and therefore doesn’t need the nursery. She is losing points at every turn, and begins to accept that she may never return to her life as a dancer. The scene is overwhelming through the frantic English subtitles surrounding her “room” in the set, vocalizations from other cast members to match her emotions, and especially through the movement. Orian Michaeli’s choreography throughout exemplifies organized chaos, filled with fast, erratic movements that often settle in the same repeated gestures. The ensemble performs a set of baby-coddling gestures that become a central motif of the show– reminding us what the characters’ focus could be if there weren’t a million other issues surrounding them at all times. The comic relief in this relatively depressing story comes from Teresa, the show’s host and magical nanny who steps in and out of the different households as needed. Throughout the show, we learn bits of her personal story. She’s an undocumented immigrant from Mexico working as a child care worker for American children. She is paid far below minimum wage, and is taking care of far more children than legally permitted. After spending the entire show tending to parents’ and audience’s needs, she finally takes a sick day– throwing the cast into a frenzy. They step into the audience and beg people to take care of their kids, highlighting how underappreciated yet essential child care workers are. In a turn of events, her own two small children show up on screen. Maybe it’s because Spanish is a language I associate with my own family, but when the kids started speaking to Teresa, tears shot right out of my eyes. Then when Teresa finally sings the show’s 11 o'clock number about loving her children, tears just kept pouring out of my eyes. Regardless of your experience with parenting, 'Universal Child Care' will make you angry, sad, happy, or at the very least, empathetic to these experiences. So when Teresa invites everyone in the theatre to scream with her for a full ten seconds, it’d be hard to find anyone who doesn’t feel compelled. Running time: approximately 80-100 minutes with no interval/intermission. The production runs until February 25 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit canadianstage.com or call (416) 368-3110. To learn more: https://www.canadianstage.com/show/universal-child-care Universal Child Care Created by Quote Unquote Collective commissioned by BroadStage, Santa Monica, in association with Nightwood Theatre, Why Not Theatre and the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund, presented by Canadian Stage. Story: Akosua Amo-Adem, Vicky Araico, Seiko Nakazawa, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava, Stephanie Sourial. Book by Nostbakken and Sadava (Quote Unquote Collective co-artistic directors) Music & lyrics and direction by Amy Nostbakken. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'The Tragedy of King Lear' by William Shakespeare

    Back 'The Tragedy of King Lear' by William Shakespeare Presented by Shakespeare BASH'd at The Theatre Centre in the BMO Incubator for Live Arts Kyle Purcell. Scott Wentworth as King Lear Joe Szekeres The adage ‘Less is more’ perfectly applies to Shakespeare BASH’ds production of ‘The Tragedy of King Lear’. Good choices were made throughout by the director which allows for attention to be paid to absorbing storytelling. It’s a modern take on one of Shakespeare’s classic tales. The tragic hero of a king, Lear (sensational work by Scott Wentworth) foolishly divides his land between his three daughters Goneril (Melanie Leon), Regan (Madelaine Hodges) and Cordelia (Breanne Tice) in a game of ‘who doth love the king most’. Trouble immediately erupts when Cordelia refuses to participate in the childish game. The Duke of Burgundy (Steven Hao) will not marry her because he is interested only in what he can get from the dowry. An exasperated Lear, however, banishes his youngest daughter from England. She is dowerless, yet her husband, the King of France (Tristan Claxton) recognizes his new wife as someone more valuable than any material item. Meanwhile, now that the other two daughters have gained control of the kingdom, they join forces to bring their father to his knees. Another family’s troubles run parallel to that of Lear. Just like Lear, Gloucester (terrific work by David Mackett) foolishly entrusts his illegitimate son, Edmund (Deivan Steele) over his true loving son, Edgar (Ngabo Nabea). Edmund forges a letter from his brother which indicates a plan to murder their father. As the two stories intertwine, we are introduced to several others who play an important role in the plot’s development. As Lear’s loyal servant, Kent (Mairi Babb), she sets to keep an eye on the king after her banishment as she too remains faithful to her ruler given his errors in judgment. Goneril’s husband, the Duke of Albany (Ben Yoganathan) and Regan’s husband, the Duke of Cornwall (Daniel Briere) at first join forces with their wives to claim their portion of the kingdom but trouble soon erupts between the couples. There is also the King’s Fool (Julia Nish-Lapidus). She often plays word games, sings songs, and shares anecdotes about the ways of the world with Lear. Periodically, the Fool will shake a tin can of coins to be duly paid for her given advice. Quite humourous in the moment but whether it is heeded is another point. James Wallis directs the production with a clear vision of insight. He made many tremendously wise choices to make the story come alive starting with modern clothing. This immediately caught my attention. It’s a bare stage save for the concealed throne and two benches at the top of the show. The Incubator’s theatre in the round setting offers ample audience sightlines from everywhere in the room. There are eight hanging light bulbs which add mystery and intrigue to the rising tension of any given moment. The actors enter and exit from all four corners of the room which keeps the audience’s attention span continuously maintained throughout. The contemporary setting works well. Colour choices throughout reveal a great deal about individual characters. For example, at the top of the show during the game, the characters are dressed in dark clothing as such that would be worn to a solemn event. Cordelia is dressed in earth-tone colours which reveals she is unlike everyone present at that moment. It was a clever way to maintain focus on appearance alone and who represents the goodness of the human heart. The pacing is tight and that beautifully works for this three-hour running time. There is a continued fluidity throughout which made the transitions seamless from one scene to the next. As one scene concludes and actors leave the stage, there is an immediate entrance with no lag time in between. Bravo for this choice and sustaining it throughout. There are some riveting performances that must be seen and heard. The conversational dialogue just naturally and believably flows from one character to the next. The iambic pentameter verse sounds so good to the ear. Scott Wentworth regally commands the stage each time he appears as the foolish Lear. From his childlike petulance at the top of the show to the powerless king who rails he “is a man more sinned against than sinning”, and then to a man who issues others into the hovel and out of the storm first before himself, Wentworth delivers a masterclass acting performance of strength, endurance, and credibility of character. It’s one not to be missed. David Mackett’s Gloucester offers a poignant performance to balance Wentworth’s impending and spiralling doom. Mackett fascinatingly utilizes his eyes a great deal to convey his feelings and emotions which makes what happens to him most heartbreaking. Melanie Leon and Madelaine Hodges become dominatingly powerful and vicious as Goneril and Regan. It was a nice touch by Wentworth as the father touches both ladies in such a way that he did indeed want to convey sterility in his two eldest daughters to prevent childbirth. Breanne Tice’s Cordelia is gentle and sweet. Deivan Steele’s Edmund comes across as deliciously nasty right to his very soul. Ngabo Nabea’s portrayal of Poor Tom (Edgar disguised) is engrossing to watch when he first sees his father, Gloucester. Nabea moved around the stage in what appeared to be chess-like movements that intriguingly battered between closeness and distance. Mairi Babb is a strong and genteel Kent, most certainly in the final moments of the play. Steven Hao’s haughty Duke of Burgundy becomes a reminder of how money and wealth can cloud over what is truly beautiful, good, and honourable. As husbands Albany and Cornwall, Ben Yoganathan and Daniel Briere do appear initially shocked at the way in which Lear responds to Cordelia’s banishment from the kingdom. Yet we see two very different types of men: Yoganathan’s nobility regarding Goneril’s treachery and threatening to shove a damning letter in her mouth regarding her faithfulness as a wife emitted silent applause from me. Briere’s despicably brutal treatment of Gloucester later also elicited silent applause from me again as Cornwall deservedly receives recognition for the horrible atrocity he has committed. Several of the actors play dual and sometimes triple roles. Thankfully, Julia Lish-Napidus’s bubbleheaded Fool in the beginning never remains like that after witnessing what happens to her master. Lish-Napidus’s Fool delivers the sage advice of someone who has endured the harsh trials of life just like her father. Tristan Claxton’s Oswald surprisingly came across to me as someone who is more than just a servant to his mistress, Goneril. At one point, Breanne Tice plays Curan. What worked extremely well when this occurred? The scene involved both Goneril and Regan and there was the mention of Cordelia’s armed forces in France. It appears as if Cordelia is present in the scene watching over what her sisters are plotting. Again, a nice touch to have an actor play a dual role. Final Thought: Hindsight being 20-20, I really wish I had students now to encourage them to see this ‘King Lear’. Shakespeare BASH’d’s production is a winning and top-notch adaptation directed with a clear vision by James Wallis and performed by a winning cast. See it. Running time: approximately three hours with one intermission. ‘The Tragedy of King Lear’ runs to February 26 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office at (416) 538-0988. To learn more about Shakespeare BASH’d, visit shakespearebashd.com. SHAKESPEARE BASH’d presents ‘The Tragedy of King Lear’ by William Shakespeare Directed by James Wallis Sound Designer: Matt Nish-Lapidus Stage Manager: Milena Fera Assistant Director: Kate Martin Performers: Mairi Babb, Daniel Briere, Tristan Claxton, Steven Hao, Madelaine Hodges, Melanie Leon, David Mackett, Ngabo Nabea, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Deivan Steele, Breanne Tice, Scott Wentworth, Ben Yoganathan Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

    Back Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Presented at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre Evan Zimmerman Joe Szekeres (Note: This review is based on one of the last preview performances. With the publication of this article online, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will have officially opened.) Visually resplendent with superlatively exquisite technical wizardry in ‘Cursed Child’, but is there anything else? Yes, this rhetorical question is to hook you into reading, and I’ll answer it shortly. I’ve only read the first two of the Potter series and have seen the first three film adaptations so I’m coming at this review not as an aficionado, but as a theatregoer. I was still able to follow the story closely for the most part. Additionally, there are excellent refresher notes in the programme so take advantage to read as much as you can before the performance begins. It also helps my invited guest and friend, Darlene, is a ‘Potter head’. There are moments where ‘Cursed Child’ becomes jaw-droppingly engrossing for formidable technical special effects and Jamie Harrison’s mind-blowing wizardry and magical illusions. Three examples come to my mind. One is the entrance of the Dementors at the end of the first act, especially with one flying and gliding over the orchestra and stationed close to the balcony. Enchantingly and horrifically mesmerizing. Another hypnotic moment occurs visually when time travels backwards. You must see it for yourselves to experience it. The third is the entrance of some characters through the fireplace floo. Wow! However, I do want to point out a few things that drew my attention for concern. ‘Cursed Child’ becomes very dark as the story unfolds and I wondered if it is appropriate for young children to see. Advertising might say the show is suitable for 10+, but I strongly advise it should be 12+. Parents, if you have already purchased tickets for young children, prepare them well, please, before arrival at the theatre. My friend, Darlene, said there was a young girl in the women’s washroom at intermission crying her eyes out and telling her mother she wanted to go home because she was so frightened. The mother was trying to calm her daughter down by saying she would be fine and that nothing would happen to her. As Darlene and I walked up the aisle at the end, we both looked around and saw many young children had fallen asleep in their chairs possibly (probably?) because of the play’s heightened emotions. Big bucks spent here, folks, so be aware and prepare if you are taking the kiddos. Visually the production remains incredibly stunning throughout. Renovations were completed in the Ed Mirvish Theatre to accommodate the show’s staging requirements. Upon entering the auditorium for the preshow, we are at the train station and hear the customary usual sounds thanks to Gareth Fry’s designs. Christine Jones’s set design is magnificent to take in. Moving back from the proscenium arch, the house is covered in the brick found in the train stations of the United Kingdom. Neil Austin’s lighting design eerily illuminates moon ray beams ghostly reflected off the floor. I loved the flourishing and hearing the ‘whooosh’ sound of the black cloaks of the ensemble as they changed the scene settings. Katrina Lindsay remarkably captured an effusive array of colours and textures in each of the splendid costume designs. The story begins where Harry (Trevor White) and his wife Ginny (Trish Lindstrom), Ron Weasley (Gregory Prest) and his wife Hermione (Sarah Afful) are seeing their children Albus Potter (Luke Kimball) and Rose Granger-Weasley (Hailey Lewis) off at London's King Cross Station Platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts. It is at school where the young Albus meets the young Scorpius Malfoy (Thomas Mitchell Barnet), son of Draco Malfoy (Brad Hodder) who was Harry’s arch-rival years ago at Hogwarts. Circumstances quickly erupt and unfold which leads the young Scorpius and Albus off into a nether world of darkness, mayhem and mischief that threatens to destroy them and their families. Just like the principal players, the supporting characters in the ensemble are also many of Canada’s finest stage actors who have appeared across Canada from Canadian Stage, Soulpepper, The Stratford Festival and The Shaw Festival to name just a few places. It was tremendously exciting to go through this list. When I read the Covers who substitute for the listed performers, again the names there are top-notch so the production is most assuredly in capable hands going forward. I’m not going to be able to mention each of them for the sake of space. The show most definitely belongs to Thomas Mitchell Barnet and Luke Kimball who deliver ardent performances in their character arc of development as Scorpius and Albus. Exciting to see youthful, emerging talent given their chance in this show that I’m almost certain will change the course of their professional careers. Several supporting moments drew my attention. Steven Sutcliffe brings a touch of decency and humanity as Severus Snape in his Act Two encounter with Albus. Brad Hodder’s death-like stare as Draco Malfoy is memorable. Trish Lindstrom’s Ginny becomes that voice of calm and reason often in the face of confusion and flusters. Fiona Reid is a stately and elegant Professor McGonagall who means what she says with her students (and Ms. Reid looks as if she is having a great deal of fun with some of the wand effects she enacts). Since I’ve neither read the completed series nor watched all the films, Trevor White’s Harry Potter has come full circle for me. I only remember seeing the young lad on film and reading about him breaking a million school rules. White’s convincing performance certifies that eventually troubled young lads must begin to take responsibility as an adult and as a parent. Director John Tiffany and Associate Director Pip Minnithorpe have magically and memorably created an enticingly surreal world of loss and trauma which threatens many lives in the story. However, the ultimate message behind ‘Cursed Child’? No matter the hardships and deep troubles that will occur in life, nothing will destroy the unconditional strength and bond of familial love. Now to answer the question posed earlier. Along with the beguiling look and sound of ‘Cursed Child’, is there a good story told underneath all this veneer? Let’s not forget that is the prime reason why we attend the theatre – to become wrapped up in the story told by the artists. Yes, Potter lovers will most certainly adore the story with its flash and dazzle. Theatre lovers will ask (demand?) a bit more which is what I’m doing regarding some quibbles that hopefully have been addressed. For one, there appears to be a great deal of shouting, yelling, and screaming throughout Acts One and Two which started to hurt my ears since the actors are wearing head mics. Sound design is magnified for several of the special effects but why have actors try to do the same thing with their voices? Was something amiss with Shawn Wright’s headpiece as Lord Voldemort? From my seat, it looked as if it wasn’t fitting his head properly and appeared just slightly askew. A sense of dreaded fear had to be felt at Voldemort’s entrance, and I wasn’t feeling any of it at that moment. Just minor issues which I’m sure have been addressed. Final Comments: Before I retired from my teaching career, I can recall some Ontario school boards wanted the Potter series removed from the shelves for concern about the use of ‘black magic’. After seeing ‘Cursed Child’, I can honestly say there is no cause for concern regarding this issue. The story deals with troubled father and son relationships and their eventual repair through familial and unconditional love. That is the important message audiences leave with after seeing ‘Cursed Child’. The feats of wizardry and spectacle are a bonus. Running time: approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. As of the writing of this article, As of the writing of this article, the show has an open-ended run. Mask-wearing remains in effect at the theatre. To purchase tickets, visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD Based on an Original New Story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. A New Play by Jack Thorn Director: John Thorn. Associate Director: Pip Minnithorpe. Movement Director: Steven Hoggett. Set Designer: Christine Jones. Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay. Lighting Designer: Neil Austin. Sound Designer: Gareth Fry. Illusions & Magic: Jamie Harrison. Music Supervisor & Arranger: Martin Lowe. Hair, Wigs & Make-Up: Carole Hancock. The Company: Sarah Afful, Kaleb Alexander, Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Michael Chiem, Mark Crawford, Raquel Duffy, Sara Farb, Bryce Fletch, Brad Hodder, Luke Kimball, Hailey Lewis, Trish Lindstrom, Lucas Meeuse, Kyle Orzech, Gregory Prest, Fiona Reid, Katie Ryerson, Yemie Sonuga, Steven Sutcliffe, Brendan Wall, Trevor White, David D’Lancy Wilson, Shawn Wright. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Jack: A Beanstalk Panto' (The Naughty Version) Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan

    Back 'Jack: A Beanstalk Panto' (The Naughty Version) Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan Now onstage at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, until December 23. Credit: Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres "Just plain ol’ good and naughty fun with the occasional eyebrow-raising double entendre mixed in. Allow this terrific cast to whisk you away with its slapstick and shenanigans and leave your troubles outside." Barista Jack (Zoë O’Connor), short for Jacqueline, gets the day underway for customers at ‘Beanie,’ the local Port Hope coffee shop, with a warm, inviting smile. She’s also known for helping the town's residents if they are down on their luck, sometimes by giving free coffee away. Gus (Steve Ross), a local and friendly guy, comes to the coffee shop daily. Although he is down on his luck, Gus likes to see and speak with Jack, talk to other customers, and spend time there, often reading. Milk is desperately needed for the café. For some reason, the café cow (Milky White) cannot produce enough milk for the business. Gus knows why cows might have this problem. He massages the cow’s udders and finds the animal dry. The owner of the café and villain Pearson (Paul Constable) orders the cow to be sold and the money brought to him. Instead of doing this, Jack trades Milky White for some beans from a mysterious stranger. When Pearson hears this, Jack is fired from the coffee shop. Jack scatters the beans, and a beanstalk grows skyward. Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets a not-so-nice Giant (Paul Constable), his frenzied housekeeper (Christy Bruce), and some disco line-dancing Hens where one of them lays a golden egg. There’s also an always-in-heat rabbit and a handsome coffee shop patron (Robbie Fenton). If you recall the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, a harp plays lovely music to put the giant to sleep. A deadpan, gorgeous, and buxom, Steve Ross appears as the harp. One of my personal highlights in getting ready for the Christmas season these last few years has been the travel to Port Hope to see the Capitol’s panto. Always the naughty version, especially this year. I needed to laugh after surviving my first-ever bout of Covid. ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ is just plain ol’ good fun with the occasional eyebrow-raising double entendre mixed in. Make it a night to watch some slapstick and shenanigans and “leave your troubles outside” (as the Emcee tells us in ‘Cabaret’). With an excellent creative team behind the scenes, writer/director Rebecca Northan and Music Director Chris Barillaro add a decent amount of rum to this delicious eggnog of a celebration of the panto. The resulting taste in performance work never overpowers. The script and song lyrics are cleverly and tautly delivered with a piquant punch of several double-entendre meanings that had my guest and me laughing hard. For example, at the top of the show, when the stage goes black, we hear Jack ‘moaning in pleasure’ (I don’t think I need to say more) before she bursts into song. It certainly sets the tone without needing to go into specific details, but my guest and I, at that point, were howling with laughter. But the naughty nature never ventures over into the dirty for dirty’s sake. That was an intelligent choice because such puerile thinking can and does grow tiresome. The script ventures into spot-on comments about gender fluidity and pronoun usage where it’s possible the show could turn woke. I also wondered how far the adult nature would go when Gus massaged the cow’s udders rather suggestively in a manner that could appear to be something else. I held my breath. That’s the beauty of the panto in the naughty version. It suggests without ever being dirty or vulgar. Bravo to a cast that knows when and for how long to revel in these delectable double-entendre moments. Adam Campbell’s terrific sound design remains a bonus. His selection of pre-show music took me back to my years at high school, where disco and platform shoes remained the style. I could hear every word of the song lyrics thanks to Campbell's meticulousness in design. Too often, I’ve attended several musical productions where the sound balance was out of sync, and that’s frustrating, especially when the plot and humour push forward through the songs. That did not occur at this performance. Some of Anna Treusch’s set and props designs gloriously remind the audience that a fairytale is being told to us. Many of the props appeared larger than life from my seat in the house which adds to the comedy. Hollywood Jade’s choreography succinctly keeps in time with the music. I was amazed at how Steve Ross could walk down those steps in high heels and wearing a dazzling gold evening gown. Joyce Padua’s costume designs are reminders of the story as a fairytale. For example, Milky White’s costume is a reminder of Julie Taymor's character designs from ‘The Lion King.’ Nick Andison’s lighting design nicely creates specific locales. The lighting in the Giant’s castle remains shadowy to underscore the ‘drama’ of wondering when he will appear to wreak havoc. The cheeky cast remains delightful throughout. They’re well-versed in improvisation in front of a live audience. They continuously break the fourth wall. We boo at Pearson and yay with Jack in the Giant’s castle. Yes, they’re corny sometimes, especially in the disco line-dancing of the Hens and then asking if the audience wants them to continue returning to the music of a given specific era. But who cares if it’s corny at times? That’s the appeal of the panto, and that’s what brings people back to the theatrical form. Zoë O’Connor is lovely as Jack. She initially introduces this concept of gender fluidity, but O’Connor wisely does not make her performance revolve solely around that. Steve Ross is excellent in his juxtaposing performance work as the goofball, slow and dimwitted Gus (who is sharp when understanding the workings of a cow) with the deadpan, drop-dead, ‘bosomy’ Giant’s Harp. What a treat to see Paul Constable live on stage for the first time. Yes, he was Gary from over 150 televised Canadian Tire commercials; however, his comic timing remains smartly in tune throughout, especially when he is bad guy Pearson and improvising with the audience. Clea McCaffrey played the Magic Hen with the perfect dash of sass and silliness at this performance. As the Giant’s Housekeeper, Christy Bruce never ventures out of her control in her frenzy and harried nature. Robbie Fenton and Hal Wesley Rogers round out the ensemble and keep the zaniness clipping along without ever making the play's pacing feel rushed. Final Thoughts: It has been a long time since I’ve heard ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Thank you to this company for sharing your twist on the story with such abandoned glee. I’ll never look upon this fairy tale in the same way again. Great fun. We all need this kind of entertainment to get us into the Christmas/holiday spirit. Get tickets, dine, and spend a few moments in downtown shops. Running time: Approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ (The Naughty and Nice versions) runs until December 23 at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street. For tickets, capitoltheatre.com or call 905-885-1071. JACK: A BEANSTALK PANTO (The Naughty Version) Runs in repertory with the Nice Version Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan Music Director and Arranger Chris Barillaro Choreographer: Hollywood Jade Sound Designer: Adam Campbell Set and Props Designer: Anna Treusch Costume Designer: Joyce Padua / Associate Costume Designer: Arielle Voght Lighting Designer: Nick Andison Stage Manager: Alice Ferreyra Galliani / Assistant Stage Manager: Charlene Saroyan Musicians: Chris Barillaro (Pianist), Alex Panneton (Guitars, Drums & Synth) Performers: Christy Bruce, Paul Constable, Robbie Fenton, Clea McCaffrey (at this performance for Madison Hayes-Crook), Zoë O’Connor, Hal Wesley Rogers, Steve Ross. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Končan

    Back 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Končan Now onstage at the Aki Studio in Toronto's Daniels Spectrum Kate Dalton L-R: Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, Cheri Maracle, Lisa Nasson Joe Szekeres “A 21st-century Canadian history lesson that hooks its audience initially with humour in its quest to begin recognizing the truth of what actually happened. Strong performances marked by an assured and confident direction.” The time is eighteen hundred and something something. The setting is on the banks of a Reddish River in Treaty One Territory, Winnipeg, Manitoba today. At first glance, playwright Frances Končan’s ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ is hilarious. Set inside a fort, three uniquely distinct women of voice and character use twenty-first-century slang to share their views of life, love, and the ‘beefcake’ hottie of the day, Louis Riel (Jonathan Fisher). The married European settler Cecilia (Cheri Maracle) sits in a rocking chair in the centre. Cecilia sometimes becomes a referee between the other two in their discussions. She sometimes exudes a maternal instinct between the two and harbours an attraction to Thomas Scott (Jesse Gervais), Riel’s assistant. Métis Marie-Angelique (Kelsey Kanatan Wavey) sits in her rocking chair to Cecilia’ s right. Marie-Angelique is Riel’s number-one fan. She becomes smitten with him and will do anything to meet her heroic idol. Ojibwe Eugenia (Lisa Nasson) sits in her rocking chair to Cecilia’s left. When we first meet her, Eugenia is sullen; she struggles to understand why men behave as they do. Eugenia wears her heart on her sleeve. Her facial reactions usually indicate her internal feelings throughout most of the story, but that all changes as the story continues. Through a series of misguided letter correspondence and people pretending to be someone they’re not, ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ becomes an opportunity for Toronto audiences to see a Canadian historical satire of survival and cultural inheritance shift perspective. Končan’s script utilizes humour nicely to propel the story forward. This is smart because the modern vernacular dialogue hooks the audience into listening to what these women tell us. Some wonderfully staged moments also bring laughter. Floating down from the flies are Canada post baskets into which the women place letters to be mailed. At one point, a FedEx basket floated down, which brought laughter. The women also use sock puppets, and there’s one with a noticeable male appendage. The mix-up in the letter correspondence provides the impetus to ponder the subtextual meaning. I did not see the Stratford summer/fall 2023 production under Yvette Nolan’s direction or the Ottawa January 2024 production under Renae Morriseau’s direction, so I don’t have any reference points as a comparison. At the talkback, we were told Morriseau was suddenly called away due to a family situation. Kevin Loring directed the Toronto production, and Joelle Peters was the assistant director. The play takes some poetic licence in its Canadian history lesson. I am the first to admit shamefully that I can’t recall much about Riel’s influence in Canadian history. Hence, I researched before and after the production to refresh my memory about this iconic figure. There’s a great deal to admire about this production. For one, the visual look remains top-notch courtesy of Vanessa Imeson’s colourful and distinct costumes for each of the five characters. When I sat down, Lauchlin Johnston’s scenic design, set on risers on wooden slats in a diamond shape, caught my eye. The units of ribbons along the back wall are striking. The black-and-white pictures of men on the back wall became a sharp and stark reminder of a truth that I am prepared to admit—our Canadian history has been seen and told from the perspective of white males. These individual photographs look genuinely realistic. These men could jump out of the picture frames and take over the fort—credit to Candelario Andrade for creating this stunning visual effect. A second glance at those pictures on the back wall reminds us that the men in these photos look privileged in their dress and comportment; this is another vital fact to remember about ‘Women.’ Kevin Loring directs the Toronto production with an assured hand. He doesn’t allow the comic moments to overshadow the simmering tension the women experience as they sit and wait in the fort for news of any kind, especially the planned Rebellion. Under Loring’s capable hands, Cheri Maracle, Kelsey Kanatan Wavey and Lisa Nasson actively and attentively listen to each other from their rocking chairs. There’s nothing static as these ladies speak to each other with genuine conviction. They’re entirely grounded in their belief systems and ensure that others know exactly where they stand on issues. As Louis Riel, Jonathan Fisher is a bit of a drippy jerk. His Riel is haughty, pompous, and arrogant. Jesse Gervais’s Thomas Scott becomes an appropriate foil to Fisher’s Riel. Gervais is fastidious and particular in his performance as Scott when he wants to ensure Riel’s fan mail has been answered. Gervais and Kanatan Wavey’s seduction is excellent fun, and they never overplay the moment. One theatrical highlight involves the black and white pictures hanging on the back wall. Not only is that moment handled carefully in its execution, but it also becomes an impressive visual image I can still picture in my mind two days later as I complete this article. The Toronto production of ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ is admirable, but the question remains—is it necessary for audiences to see it? Yes, it is for its solid theatrical presentation. But there’s more in this production. Frances Končan’s vital Canadian history lesson reminds us to continue listening, paying attention, and hearing the First Nations' stories while ensuring they are never forgotten. And Another Thought: During the talk-back session, I asked if there would be a student matinee performance of the production. There is one. I don’t know about others. As a retired secondary school teacher, I agree wholeheartedly that young people should see this production. Teachers and parents, be advised that some adult situations are involved. I’m not one for censorship, and I don’t believe Končan’s script should be doctored in any way for student matinées. Nevertheless, teachers and parents, prepare young people before they come to the theatre. Running time: approximately one hour and 50 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ runs until April 21 in the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East. For tickets, visit www.nativeearth.ca or call (416) 531-1402. WOMEN OF THE FUR TRADE by Frances Končan Original Direction: Renae Morriseau Revival Director: Kevin Loring and Assistant Director: Joelle Peters Stage Manager: Jackie McCormick Lighting Designer: Jeff Harrison Scenic Designer: Lauchlin Johnston Projection Designer: Candelario Andrade Costume Designer: Vanessa Imeson Sound Designer/Composer: MJ Dandeneau Performers: Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, Cheri Maracle, Lisa Nasson, Jonathan Fisher, Jesse Gervais Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Sweeter' by Alicia Richardson

    Back 'Sweeter' by Alicia Richardson Now onstage to December 17 at the Aki Studio, 585 Dundas Street East Credit: Foreshots Photography. Pictured: Daren Herbert as Ralph and Alicia Plummer as Sweet Pea Zoe Marin, Contributor “With the ongoing discourse about whether or not kids should learn about race in schools, ‘Sweeter’ proves that it’s not only necessary, but also doesn’t have to be difficult.” ‘Sweeter’ takes place in American South in 1887, only two decades after the abolition of slavery. Ralph (Daren Herbert) widowed and newly emancipated, seeks a better life for him and his daughter, Sweet Pea (Alicia Plummer). This brings him to Mr. Zucker’s (Sébastien Heins) small farm in Eatonville, Florida, where he is currently unable to afford the small patch of land Zucker offers him. Eager to have something of his own, Ralph agrees to “lease” the land and work for Zucker until he’s able to buy it. Here. Ralph begins to tend to a withered mango tree that he promises will prosper with the right care. As it turns out, “Mango Tree” (Emerjade Simms) can talk, leading to a close bond with Sweet Pea and making an enemy out of Zucker. ‘Sweeter’ approaches the topics of slavery and anti-black racism with a directness that makes it easy for children to understand, as well as a humour that eases them into the more intense discussions of these issues later in the play. Director Tanisha Taitt further elevates that joy through her usage of music and dance that is sure to keep children and adult audiences equally engaged. I also thoroughly enjoyed how she kept the energy going through her transitions that often involved unique portrayals of the tree growing (through ladders with leaves attached), or flipping the flowers “planted” on the set (designed by Sim Suzer) to show a change in season. With the mix of human characters, along with with a talking sun Dee (Uche Ama) Mango Tree, the show never loses its playfulness, even as it delves into serious issues The Mango Tree metaphor works incredibly well as a clear way to portray the anti-black rhetoric of the time, while also not suscepting the audience into two hours of ‘trauma porn’. When Zucker, a light-skinned black man, first sees the Mango Tree, he calls her ‘ashy’, ‘dark’ and ‘scary’. When he first hears her talk, he says she’s demonic and spews Bible quotes at her. Then when he finds out how much money he can make off her fruti, he starts exploiting her. The metaphor is clear. The treatment is still vile, but the mango tree allegory cushions the hateful rhetoric without ever censoring it. Although ‘Sweeter’ is intended for young audiences, there are many nuanced layers to Richardson’s script that invite different audience interpretations. In addition to portraying anti-black racism, ‘Sweeter’ also touches on how class, proximity to whiteness, and gender can lead to certain privileges or further subjugations within the black community. I don’t think a small child would explain it like that necessarily, but the play definitely opens up the floor to those discussions. In the programme’s Playwright’s Note, Alicia Richardson says her purpose for writing ‘Sweeter’ was: “to explain the adult Black experience to a Black child.” As someone who is neither black, nor a child, I can’t speak to whether that specific mission was fulfilled. However, at ‘Sweeter’’s opening performance, there were so many moments where I heard the audience become disgusted by something Zucker said, or gasp, give a big “Aww” at a moment between Sweet Pea and Ralph, or even just laugh at a joke about Florida. Sometimes it was many people, other times it was just a few. Either way, it’s clear that Richardson’s very speific writing for her target audience led to a deeply personal and nuanced story that engulf’s the entire audience for each of their own reasons. A really memorable moment for me happened when Mango Tree talks about previously not benign able to grow fruit, and she says: “Can’t nobody expect you to grow if you’re too busy surviving.” Although the use of the mango tree metaphor could have risked deluding the show’s message, witnessing the collective ‘Mmh” and nodding of heads after this moment realy solidifed the importance of this story right now. Slavery may have already ended by the time ‘Sweeter’ begins, but its lasting effects continue to prevent Sweet Pea, Ralph, and even the antagonistic Zucker from ‘growing’. By focusing on the years after the abolition of slavery, ‘Sweeter’ fights against the anti-reparations/anti-affirmative action/anti-CRT/ pro-bootstrap myth crowds of today who believe that society is far removed from slavery, or the Jim Crow era, or police brutality incidents from a coupl of years ago. The same crowd who believes that people need to just ‘move on’, and that there’s no need to teach kids about it. By showing how bad society still was decades after abolition. ‘Sweeter’ puts a magnifying glass up to how society is still not removed from this dark history, and how it needs to be educated. On the note of education, I would also like to appreciate the ‘Study Guide’ provided by Cahoots, written by director Tanisha Taitt with contributions from playwright Alicia Richardson. The Guide includes further context about the characters and setting, discussion questions, curriculum connections, and additional themes for students in Grade 3-6 and 7-12. The Guide isn’t necessary for appreciating the play, but I would encourage teachers, parents, or even less-educated adults to read it over to have a more profound understanding. Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Sweeter’ runs to December 17 at the Aki Studio, 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto. For tickets, https://www.cahoots.ca/production/sweeter SWEETER by Alicia Richardson A Cahoots Theatre Production in association with Roseneath Theatre. Directed by Tanisha Taitt Set by Sim Suzer Costumes by A.W. Nadine Grant Lighting by Shawn Henry Sound by Miquelon Rodriguez Featuring: Daren Herbert, Alicia Plummer, Uche Ama, Sébastien Heins, Emerjade Simms. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Dead Elephants' by Alexander Offord

    Back 'Dead Elephants' by Alexander Offord Presented by Good Old Neon and now onstage at the Aki Studio in the Daniels Spectrum Credit: Connor Price-Kelleher L-R: Nicole Wilson and Hayden Finkelshtain Joe Szekeres ‘Thought provoking. The opening night production triggered some around me, so it’s important to know that going in.” Performer Nicole Wilson utters a line at the end of ‘Dead Elephants’ that rings true for me: “I’m not what I once was.” Isn’t that the truth for all of us, depending on what occurs in our lives? Seeing a live theatrical production that touches the essence of who we are as individuals will also not make us who we once were. I applaud Good Old Neon for following through on its mandate to invoke shock, inquisition, and visceral responses in its productions. ‘Dead Elephants’ does that. It deserves to be discussed. From the Facebook site, there is an opportunity for post-show discussion before the March 17 closing. Avail yourselves of that chance. Allan Cooke, Hayden Finkelshtain, and Nicole Wilson play twelve characters across four timelines. Alexander Offord’s dense script contains much that is said and not said, so pay careful attention. ‘Dead Elephants’ is billed as: “Paris, 1870: a pair of French soldiers plot to kill and eat the elephants in the city zoo. St. Thomas, Ontario, 1885: P.T. Barnum’s famous elephant, Jumbo, is struck by a train. Coney Island, 1903: an elephant is publicly electrocuted in what becomes the earliest recorded footage of the moment of death. These three stories are braided around the contemporary struggle of a young couple (Finkelshtain and Wilson) grieving the loss of their infant child.” I seem to recall that elephants can also feel the pain of death, just as humans can. For example, I can also recall elephants carrying their dead calves to be buried. However, I’m unsure if elephants (or any animals) cry like humans when death strikes. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting thought to consider. Periodically, though, I was slightly puzzled about this mammoth task playwright Offord and the directors set for themselves. The story of Topsy the Elephant piqued my curiosity. Was I to watch and experience a story regarding the dehumanizing treatment of elephants (which would have been an interesting look knowing about the YouTube link), or was I to watch and experience a story about a couple and their responses to the death of their infant baby girl (which would have also been compelling.) A quibble, I know, but there are two good stories that would most certainly draw an audience's attention. I can recall once hearing a theatre adjudicator tell a group of students to be wary of a director taking a role in a play. Director Nicole Wilson takes on a role in this play. According to that adjudicator, that is not a good choice. How can the director be that watchful eye during the rehearsal process? That didn’t bother me at all. That’s why there is an Assistant Director. When I refer to the direction of the play, I’m going to group Nicole Wilson and Nicola Atkinson together. They’ve made some good choices for the most part. For one, they care deeply about the story and want their audiences to feel the same. Wilson and Atkinson keep the production’s pacing clipping along. Set Designers Kris Van Soelen and Nicole Wilson decided to keep some scenes on trolleys rolled on and off with nary a squeaky wheel. Connor Price-Kelleher’s Lighting Design securely highlights some dramatic moments, but there are a few times when the three performers appear in shadow while speaking, and I couldn’t see their faces. The choice was also made to stage ‘Dead Elephants’ in a three-quarter theatre in the round setting. For the most part, it is a good choice, especially when the action comes downstage in front of the three sides of the audience. From where I sat, there were important plot development moments I couldn’t see, and I wished I could do so. Alexander Offord’s sound design carefully highlights and appropriately sets each moment's tone and mood. Performances are strong and never revert to histrionics. Upon entering during the pre-show, Allan Cooke (dressed as a pigeon) sits on a trolley, suspiciously eyeing audience members entering the auditorium. Cooke also incorporates his movement around the three sides where the audience sits and makes eye contact. I sat in the front row, and he came right in front of me, stared at me momentarily and then cocked his head to one side as a bird might do. I could feel a smile underneath my mask because I was watching a bird do what birds do – surveying the scene before them. I’ll be honest. For the longest time, I wondered what a pigeon had to do with the story. And I don’t want to spoil where it finally becomes clear. Quite clever! Nicole Wilson and Hayden Finkelshtain quickly and believably become many of the characters in the story. They are the soldiers. Wilson becomes the lover of the man who is trampled to death by the elephant in St. Thomas. Their opening bits in Acts One and Two as the circus ringmasters (a la Barnum and Bailey) with their shtick are effective reminders that life is sometimes a rowdy, fast-paced and at times incomprehensible circus of oddly curious individuals. Wilson and Finkelshtain shine in their poignant portrayals of a husband and wife torn asunder in the sudden loss of their child—some heart-rending work to be applauded. And Another Thought: In their Programme Note as Co-Artistic Directors of Good Old Neon, Alexander Offord and Nicole Wilson write that ‘Dead Elephants’ is in part about finding the liveness in things, even in dead things. I like that term – the liveness in things. That’s what theatre is supposed to do. Find the liveness in things. I look forward to hearing more about Good Old Neon in future and their stories about finding the liveness in their storytelling. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one interval/intermission. Masks are required. DEAD ELEPHANTS runs to March 17 in the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East. For tickets: https://www.nativeearth.ca/akistudio/dead-elephants/, call (416) 531-1402 or boxoffice@nativeearth.ca . Good Old Neon presents DEAD ELEPHANTS by Alexander Offord Producers: Nicola Atkinson, Sebastian Biasucci, Allan Cooke, Hayden Finkelshtain, Alexander Offord & Nicole Wilson Directed by Nicole Wilson Assistant Director: Nicola Atkinson Set Designers: Kris Van Soelen and Nicole Wilson Lighting Designer: Connor Price-Kelleher Sound Designer: Alexander Offord Stage Manager: Sarah Brawn Performers: Allan Cooke, Hayden Finkelshtain, Nicole Wilson Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus' by Gillian Clark

    Back 'Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus' by Gillian Clark An immersive theatre experience from OUTSIDE THE MARCH and FACTORY THEATRE in association with NEWORLD THEATRE Amy Keating as Ned. Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh Joe Szekeres Hearty stamina in this energetic ensemble At 3 hours and 10 minutes running time, I’ll call ‘Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus’ an epic. I’ve never been a Greek mythology enthusiast. Yes, I know, an English Language and Literature major who has no background in Greek mythology. Don’t remind me because I’m aware of this fact, but I just never developed an interest. For those who do, I’m sure you’ll love the licence that has been taken in the re-telling of the lives of the characters. Playwright Gillian Clark even acknowledges this play is not a perfect Ancient Greece or Grease adaptation in the Programme Note. When Greek stories are told cleverly to maintain my interest, I’m all in with the hope I may learn something. At least, that’s what I was hoping for here. With very little knowledge about these Greek characters, off I went to be transported to another world. Upon arrival at Factory Theatre, the audience is divided into two groups with two plays performed simultaneously by this same group of actors. Half gather outdoors around the campfire (this is where I began) and the other half enters the Duck n’ Swing Hall inside the Studio Theatre. At the intermission, the audience switches and experiences the other side of the story. The time is August 2009, the place, New Troy, Canada. Time appears to stop in both worlds where these characters collide. There are connections to the film and stage versions of GREASE, THE MUSICAL. (Notice the homonym connection.) At the conclusion, all attendees gather inside the Studio Theatre. Odysseus (Jeff Yung) is planning an Evel Knievel motorbike Prom-posal. (I’ve been retired from teaching now for five years and thought prom-posals were finished. Was I ever surprised they’re still popular). Nestra (Katherine Cullen) and King Memnon (Sebastien Heins) rendezvous in the Outhouse for some summer lovin’. (This I found rather odd – summer lovin’ in an outhouse? Well, it got my attention) while Cassandra (Amy Keating) noshes on raw hot dogs (Ewwwww!) while sooth-sayin’ the world’s destruction. Along with these plot elements listed above, the audience sees the heartache, trauma and a sense of loss pervading the lives of the other characters. Sebastien Heins is a suavely sexy Menelaus/King Memnon. I loved Amy Keating’s portrayal of old guy ‘Ned’ who sells 50-50 tickets. Even those moments when the scraggly beard didn’t fit properly across her face, Keating naturally re-fitted it and believably made it a part of Ned’s odd nature. Jeff Yung becomes a cocky self-assured Odysseus. Katherine Cullen’s perfectly nailed the valley girl Helen (yes, my age is showing) with aplomb. Liz Der and Elena Reyes’ created strong, feisty women who are most definitely not to be messed with attitudes. Cheyenne Scott is a scrappy Penelope on many levels. ‘Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus’ remains a visually visceral production with its strength in the keenly focused ensemble work so I will credit Director Mitchell Cushman here. For one, I applaud the hearty stamina and energy as the ensemble moves back and forth from outdoors to indoors in mere seconds sometimes with quick costume changes. We were told at the beginning that sometimes an actor may not make his/her/their cue because everything is timed beautifully. Part of the fun is counting down how many seconds it takes before the actor comes racing onto the scene to continue the story. Whether it was intended or not, there were at least two ‘miscues’ where we started to cut down until the actor entered. Anahita Dehbonehie’s outdoor set design becomes eye candy of that dreaded sense the world is about to end. There’s fencing surrounding the perimeter which contains graffiti of all kinds written on the burlap. The playing space appears to be charred grounds as if the area was once on fire. There are remnants of objects from long ago – an old bathtub and a circular fire pit are just two items. I loved how the Bathurst Street siding of the Factory Theatre was used to its fullest. It’s a three-story building with lots of stairs to climb and windows to open. What worked nicely for me was watching Jeff Yung prepare for his ‘motor bike’ to jump out of the window. I’d like to give credit to Michael Laird’s Audio System Design for the use of headsets outside. What a good idea for the audience to wear them because I could hear the dialogue.. The outside traffic noise did not disturb me in the slightest. After the intermission, my group was led into the Studio Theatre of Factory where it appears we have entered the dilapidated bar of the Duck n Swing Hall resplendent in toilet paper strung ceremoniously along the walls and atop of the overhead lighting. On the stage was the Outhouse of Atrea where the characters go to make decisions of all kinds. I laughed out loud at one point because one of the characters slides to the floor and sits there for a few moments talking to someone ‘on the throne’. Just the thought of sitting on any outhouse floor makes me shudder and laugh trying to wipe that image from my brain. But some choices made puzzled me. For one, the shouting and yelling in actor enthusiasm led to problematic enunciation issues for me. Merlin Simard as Thalthybius and Hermes provided a great deal of comic relief and the occasional pearly words of wisdom, but I lost a lot of their dialogue because I couldn’t hear them. I have a working knowledge of the French language and was looking forward to hearing the language spoken, but I didn’t catch a single thought. That was a tad disappointing because I wanted to hear what Simard had to say. Hopefully, they will be mindful as performances continue. Factory Theatre emailed to let me know smoke will be used throughout the performance. Okay, so I was aware; however, the smoke became overpowering for me from my seat to the point where I started coughing and felt as if I couldn’t breathe. Future audiences, please be aware, and if you do have breathing issues of any kind it would be a good idea to let the front-of-house staff know upon your arrival. Another question I also jotted down in my notes – what is the point of having all that smoke if it makes audiences uncomfortable especially if one is also caught in the crosswind of the firepit centre stage? Ultimately, I’m still puzzled by the running time of three hours for the production. Too long. Could this have been pared down say to two hours maximum with an intermission? I was in overload and couldn't receive any more information. Running time is approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. The production runs to August 28 and plays both indoors and outdoors at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. For tickets, call 416-504-9971 or visit factorytheatre.ca for more information. TROJAN GIRLS & THE OUTHOUSE OF ATREUS by Gillian Clark An immersive theatre experience from Outside the March and Factory Theatre in association with Neworld Theatre Producer: Mark Aikman Director: Mitchell Cushman Set Design: Anahita Dehbonehie Costume Design: Nick Blais Lighting Design: Jareth Li Sound Design: Heidi Chan Audio System Design: Michael Lairs Stage Manager: Daniel Oulton (plus many other names listed in the program) Performers: Katherine Cullen, Liz Der, Sebastien Heins, Amy Keating, Elena Reyes, Cheyenne Scott, Merlin Simard, Jeff Yung Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes'

    Back 'The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes' Now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto Credit: Kyra Kind Centre: Sarah Mainwaring. L: Simon Laherty R: Scott Price Joe Szekeres “Timely production. ‘Shadow’ pierces honestly and openly the human emotions regarding disability.” The story is set in a public meeting in a community hall in Geelong, Australia. In his Programme Note, Director Bruce Gladwin calls ‘The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes’: “the type of public meeting one would hope to happen in a certain kind of democracy. What’s unique about ‘Shadow’ is the use of human conversation between three neuro-divergent actors, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, and Scott Price, to move the story forward. The play becomes an emotional gut punch regarding how individuals and mega corporations treat neuro-divergent individuals. It sent me back over forty years ago to my first year of teaching. ‘Robbie’ was a thirteen-year-old student in my class who, like Sarah Mainwaring, had suffered a severe head injury. There was always this sense that ‘Robbie’ didn’t truly feel like others accepted him, just as Sarah had experienced. That’s how powerful this story becomes personally. Good theatre gets its audiences to think, and that’s precisely what this opening night did for me. Had I done enough as a first-year teacher to meet Robbie’s education requirements and help him feel he belonged in the class? I hope and pray so, but ‘Shadow’ makes me think otherwise. Laherty and Mainwaring enter at the top of the show. Costume Designer Shio Otani has the two of them wearing comfortable clothing. Simon looks like he’s trying to follow the latest fashion, as his designer-looking jeans are stylishly ripped and frayed. Sarah is comfortably dressed. About fifteen minutes after Scott enters, he is smartly dressed, wearing a blazer, plaid shirt, comfortable-looking trousers, and shoes. Set Design is basic. Laherty places five chairs side by side on centre stage as he and Sarah converse. Through the assistance of Screen Designer Rhian Hinkley, the audience follows Simon and Sarah’s dialogue through voice activation. Surtitles are projected onto a screen above the stage so the audience can follow. Some amusing moments ensue between Simon and Sarah at the top of the show. Like anyone who feels comfortable with another person, the odd swear word is injected into the conversation. There is also some frank discussion between Sarah and Simon about sexual activity and consent. This discussion gives way to the two of them sometimes snapping back and forth at each other. Sometimes, Scott becomes the referee in a few heated moments between Sarah and Simon. Bruce Gladwin directs with careful sensitivity. He allows Simon, Sarah, and Scott to voice what they have experienced personally or learned on their own. We must listen to them. And it’s revealing when the truth is out. Laherty, Mainwaring and Price admirably deliver honest performance work. I felt my eyes well, and from what? Shame? Embarrassment? Anger over how neuro-divergent people have been treated historically? The honest answer is YES. ‘Shadow’ also examines the controversial use of AI (artificial intelligence), which is troublesome in our twenty-first-century world. It isn’t very comforting to consider its implications. For example, television, film, and stage artists have discussed how AI can unfairly capture their images without fair recompense. These actors have every right to continue the discussion because AI robs these individuals of their likeness. And yet, we’ve embraced AI. Much of the audience appeared to follow the dialogue on the screen for the entire one-hour performance. I certainly did. Was I being fair to these three talented actors on stage? Did I give my full attention to listening and hearing what Simon, Sarah and Scott were saying without looking at the screen all the time? Ashamedly, I didn’t. I relied on AI to help instead of listening and hearing what the three were saying. And that again made me think further about my actions. That’s when the significance of the title became clear. Will AI continue to hunt the essence of who humans genuinely are as it continues to creep slowly into the world we know today? What human voices will become the next prey? Final Comments: I had no clue what this production was about when I knew it was coming. Even its title remained puzzling at first. I left the theatre after the one-hour performance speechless for some time at some historical truths I discovered about the treatment of neuro-divergent people. I will not look upon toy company Hasbro and the games I used to play as a child in the same way ever again. Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries is a horrific time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. ‘The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes’ becomes an important one to see. The production, thankfully, never becomes shaming and blaming. Instead, it sets out what it intends to do in the Programme Letter from the producing company Back to Back Theatre. It is a play about individual and collective responsibility. We are not self-sufficient. That is the reason why you should go and see it. Running time: approximately one hour with no interval/intermission. ‘The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes’ runs until January 28 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets: canadianstage.com or call 1-416-368-3110. A BACK TO BACK THEATRE PRODUCTION presented by Canadian Stage ‘The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes’ Authors: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben Directed by Bruce Gladwin Composition: Luke Howard Trio (Daniel Farrugia, Luke Howard, Jonathan Zion) Sound Design: Lachlan Carrick Lighting Design: Andrew Livingston, bluebottle Costume Designer: Shio Otani Screen Designer: Rhian Hinkley, lowercase AI Voice-Over Artist: Belinda McClory Performers: Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price Previous Next

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