Measure for Measure

At the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tyler Seguin
Designed by Holly Meyer-Dymny
Composed by Melissa Morris
Cast: Genevieve Adam
Joella Crichton
Deborah Drakeford
Stephanie Folkins
Jacklyn Francis
Leah Holder
Helen Juvonen
Margaret Lamarre
Catherine McNally
Cara Pantalone
Alison Smiley
Victoria Urquhart

An interesting concept to set this play of corruption and hedonism in a Weimar cabaret with an all female cast that had rather mixed results.

The Story. The Duke of Vienna has allowed his city to degenerate into corruption and hedonism and doesn’t know how to fix it. He leaves the ruling of the city to his straight-laced, rigid thinking deputy, Angelo while he says he is leaving the city. In fact the Duke watches from close by to see how Angelo does. Angelo is unbending in his determination to clean up the corruption until he meets Isabella, a young novitiate who comes pleading for her brother’s life. Angelo gets weak at the knees when he sees Isabella and tries to be stiff in his resolve. It’s hard going.

The Production. Director Tyler Seguin has envisioned this production as taking place in the enlightened Weimar, in a cabaret populated by women in various versions of leather bustiers, garters and undergarments. A song (by composer Melissa Morris) explores the many ways that elements of she can be in he, and her in him. The song celebrates the fluidity of gender in some cases. This provides a perfect excuse for the women to perform an all female version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Getting into the spirit of the exercise one wonders why a woman didn’t direct the production. But I digress.

As the audience files in we pass by the ladies of the cabaret who slyly direct us to sit anywhere and buy a drink at the bar. The women take turns singing sultry songs of that time period as we file in and just after intermission. There are songs from The Threepenny Opera for example. This is not a pleasant diversion because too many of these woman sing sharp or flat or off key. I wonder why those who can’t sing are asked too. Tom Qu provides the piano accompaniment.

The acting in this endeavour is also hit and miss but I am grateful for some performances. Deborah Drakeford is a standout as cold, rigid Angelo. Drakeford’s blonde hair has been given a razor hair cut that makes it look like a model out of the Aryan textbook. She is dressed in a black suit, pants and shows and a white shirt. Her delivery is curt, cold and calmly formidable. When Angelo sees Isabella, Drakeford’s eyes flicker a touch, indicating a flash of heat. Drakeford plays with that confidence of a person in control who will not be thwarted.

Helen Juvonen as Isabella is an equal match to Angelo. She is righteous, just, as rigid as Angelo and desperate to prove her case. Genevieve Adam is a lusty, lascivious Lucio. Jacklyn Francis as the Duke gives a convincing performance of a man who is an incompetent leader and a lousy judge of character. Leah Holder as Claudio is a supportive brother, but is desperate that Isabella acquiesce to Angelo’s wishes to be free.

Director Tyler Seguin does some interesting business with the bar stools to create the Claudio’s prison cell. And there is some clever business with shadow play for lewd results.

Comment. This is one of those productions in which you say, there are some interesting performances for which I’m grateful, some that I’m not, and I can appreciate the curiosity of wanting to do it with a female cast. It didn’t blow me away.

Produced by Thought For Food:

First performance: Nov. 23, 2014.
Saw it: Nov. 24, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 4, 2016.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

The Angry Brigade

At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by James Graham.
Directed by: Act I, Eda Holmes
Act II, Kate Lynch
Set and lighting by Christopher Rayment
Costumes by Andrea Creighton
Sound by Ross Hammond
Projections by Cameron Davis
Cast: Andrea Creighton
Matt Dawson
Lauren Saunders
Cameron Sedgwick

A play about a British anarchist group of disillusioned youth in 1971 which seems so distant and unconnected with today’s apathetic youth.

The Story. London, 1971. A group of young anarchists called the Angry Brigade is making their dissatisfaction with the government known when they bomb embassies, the homes of politicians and institutions. Scotland Yard forms a special task force to find this cell and bring them to justice. The first Act focuses on the police, the second on the anarchists.

The Production. British playwright James Graham wrote this play in 2014. While these anarchist groups are not prevalent in England in this day and age, rampaging youth etc. protesting have made their ire known in recent years.

Because the tone of the two Acts differ so much, each Act was directed by a different director. Eda Holmes directed Act I focusing on the police as if it is a comedy of errors or buffoons. In Act II Kate Lynch directs. The anarchists are dogma-philosophy-drivel-spouting, self-absorbed idealists with little sense of the reality of the larger world. They want to shake society of its complacency and think violence is the way to go.

James Graham depicts the police as tea-drinking small-talking twits until they get their mitts on a plan to catch the bombers, then they turn into energized bunnies of activity. Eda Holmes establishes that stiff-upper-lip aspect of the always proper British officer. When the activity ramps up it’s like watching so many wind-up Charlie Chaplin toys.

Kate Lynch directs Act II with a keen eye to revealing the anarchists’ initial gleeful camaraderie that gives way to cracks in that idealism. They break down the physical walls in the house they are staying in, including the bathroom to get rid of restrictions of any sort.

The cast is fearless in its commitment to this piece and their abilities with accent, body language etc. gets a nice workout.

Comment. The police in Act I have diagrams that show points of focus for the bombing. They must find the links from bombings to bombings– joining the dots if you will. In Act I, one anarchist keeps calling the police telling them that the Angry Brigade is keeping a close watch on them. They (the anarchists) know the police’s every move. They know the private phone numbers to call. In Act II we see the other side of the story, from the anarchists’ side. We see the same anarchist making the call to the police, telling the coppers they are being watched.

What James Graham hasn’t actually done in his over-long, long-winded play is connect the dots from Act I to Act II. We don’t see any anarchists actually planning to find and use the secret numbers; we get no hint of how they know who and where to bomb. They spend lot of time ruminating on dogma and philosophy and precious little time planning their destructive forays I don’t get the sense that the anarchist who phones is a rogue, unhappy in her position, so her call comes out of no where.

It’s a really rare play that has so little to do with our complacent times.

Presented by Elevated State.

First performance: Nov. 24, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 4, 2016.
Cast: 4; 2 me, 2 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes


At the AKI Studio in the Daniels Spectrum on Dundas St. E, (I do wish companies would put the theatre name and address on the front of their programs, along with an e-mail address to get tickets!)

Written by Diana Tso
Directed by William Yong
Music composed by Constantine Caravassilis
Movement and musical director, William Yong
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Costumes by Erika Chong
Set by William Yong
Cast: Vania Chan
Phoebe Hu
Jen Hum
Vicki Kim
Oliver Koomsatira
Timothy Ng
Jeff Yung

Musicians: Patty Chan
Cathy Nosaty
Brandon Valdivia

Well intentioned play about ‘the comfort women’ during WWII, performed by a committed cast. Alas so much is left unexplored or explained.

The Story. A poor Chinese fisherman, Zhou Ping Yang, loves a well-born, rich young woman named Li Dan Feng. She loves him too. Her father is a rich silk merchant doing business with the Japanese. To cement an alliance, her father arranges a marriage for his daughter with the son of the Japanese merchant. Li Dan Feng is horrified at this and runs away dressed as a young boy. Japan declares war on China and Zhou Ping Yang and Li Dan Feng are separated. She is discovered by a Japanese soldier and turned over to live and serve in a comfort home—a place where young women are used as sex slaves for the troops. Zhou Ping Yang vows to find her.

The Performance. One must be aware that Comfort is not a typical North American drama. It is fashioned as a Chinese opera of sorts. Because Li Dan Feng and her family love opera they go to a few concerts in which an opera singer performs. The rest of the time an excellent three piece ensemble plays Constantine Caravassilis’ evocative music almost constantly. It underscores dialogue; heightens dramatic moments; and expresses emotions.

Act I introduces the characters, their relationships and their attitudes. The love between Li Dan Feng and Zhou Ping Yang is gentle, loving and courtly. Act II reveals the brutality of the Japanese soldiers towards their comfort women captors. Diana Tso’s descriptions of what the soldiers do to captives and babies born to the comfort women takes a strong stomach.

William Yong directs, created the set with various moving sections to set off different locations and he created the movement. Everything about the production is stylized. The rapes are almost balletic but still brutal in its depiction. The acting is flat and dirge-like from a North American sensibility. Diana Tso’s dialogue is almost uniformly like poetry with esoteric descriptions of a character’s hair and sparkling eyes. When we hear Li Dan Feng express herself we are told later that those are some of her imagined poems. This distinction seems odd in light of the fact that all the dialogue seems like poetry.

At the end of the war and she is free, (sorry for the spoiler alert) Li Dan Feng and a fellow freed comfort woman go to Korea to protest. They stand on a high platform carrying two hand written signs, one in Korean and one in Chinese. It would have been nice to have some kind of translation of what the signs said.

Comment. While the intentions to bring this story of the resilience and bravery of these comfort women to the stage are noble, Diana Tso’s play does not go far enough. The program notes from both Tso and her director William Yong talk about the resilience of women in wartime and how this play gives voice to those woman still fighting for justice and human rights. But the play stops short of doing just that. Li Dan Feng and her fellow comfort women are so brutalized that they wish to die at one time or other. Resilience has little to do with it. When the war ends the play is resolved quickly and one is left to imagine, without concern by the two united lovers (sorry, spoiler alert again). Really? No concern at what happened to her? Really? We don’t get any sense of the lingering horrors and nightmares in these women’s lives except for those two quiet protestors. Many, many opportunities missed to make the intentions of the program notes a reality and not just good intentions.

Presented by the Red Snow Collective.

First performance: Nov. 26, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 10, 2016.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women.
Running Time: 2 hours.



The Enchanted Loom

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Suvendrini Lena
Directed by Marjorie Chan
Choreographed by Nova Bhattacharya
Set, props and costumes by Joanna Yu
Projections and video by Cameron Davis
Lighting by Arun Srinivasan
Sound by Suba Sankaran
Cast: Kawa Ada
Sam Kalilieh
Zorana Sadiq
Asha Vijayasingham
Peter Bailey
Peatriz Pizano

An intriguing play about keeping and forgetting memories, emotional trauma and the perils of the Civil War in Sri Lanka by Suvendrini Lena, a neurologist and first time playwright. An honourable effort.

The Story. Thangan was captured and tortured during the Sri Lankan civil war. To get his release so the family could move to Canada his wife Sevi had to make a terrible decision. The results are that the memories of what happened have prayed on all their minds. The damage done is emotional, physical and psychological. How they cope is the meat of the play.

The Production. Director Marjorie Chan starts the production with a bang by taking playwright Suvendrini Lena’s overlapping dialogue of several characters and has each of the characters deliver this dialogue with urgency, conviction and clarity. For example Kanan is a medical researcher focusing on how memory works. As played by Kawa Ada, he circles the playing space quickly and methodically reciting the complex procedure of memory, as if in a trance to get it right. His father, Thangan, his mother Sevi and his sister Kavitha all have their individual thoughts with their own intricate path across and around Joanna Yu’s white, pristine set. It’s a hospital operating room in one scene; a room in Thankgan’s home, a jungle, a jail.

Dilemmas are explored one being how to excise a haunting memory; another being who do you chose if you have to chose one person over another in a situation. At the centre is Thangan, played with compassion and understanding by Sam Kalilieh.

Comment. Playwright Suvendrini Lena has written about what she knows. She is a neurologist of Sri Lankan descent. She uses both worlds to inform each other. Perhaps the references to neurology are too complex for one not versed in that subject; and perhaps there is not enough information on the Sri Lankan civil war for those not versed in it to understand the complexity of the subject. Honourable effort, though.

A Cahoots Theatre Production in association with Factory Theatre.

First performance: Nov. 5, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 6; 3 men, 3 women
Running Time: 2 hours


At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Rachel Aberle
Directed by Patrick McDonald
Set by Ken MacDonald
Video designed by Cameron Fraser
Cast: Olivia Hutt

A sobering play about anxiety and depression in young teens, beautifully acted by Olivia Hutt.

The Story. Nina and her family have just moved across the country to Vancouver. While her mother likes to present this as an adventure for her and her brother, Nina looks at this as a disaster. She has to leave everything that is familiar: her school, friends; places, everything.

She attends the new school with trepidation but soon fits in. She meets friends. She joins a drama club and writes scenes for the group. She has an attentive boyfriend. She has everything that would seemingly make her happy. But she’s not. She’s anxious, depressed, in dangerous mental health. She tries to talk herself into how lucky she is but matters spiral out of control.

The Production. Designer Ken MacDonald has created a set that is both simple in its efficiency and suggestive of an unsettled mind. A chair on a tilt is affixed to a wall, other items are on the wall as well. Two comfortable chairs are on a wildly designed floor. These represent the chairs of Nina’s therapist.

Nina bounds on stage in the ‘uniform’ of the young teen: skinny, torn jeans, hoody, trainers. She is slim, agile, animated. Olivia Hutt plays Nina with a specific body language. Her knees are often tight together when sitting; she hunches in her seat, closing herself off perhaps for protection. Ms Hutt also plays six other characters from Nina’s mother (a more relaxed, mature stance), her younger brother she refers to as “the creep” with awkward, boyish moves, various friends and even Nina’s boyfriend. Each character is distinct, clear and perfectly convincing including the specific voice. But it’s the performance of Nina, desperate to be in control that grips us. At times Ms Hutt’s performance as Nina is so vivid and compelling the young audience watching this shifts in discomfort and whispers their concerns. This is a raw performance and it’s hit its mark with this audience.

Director Patrick McDonald (also the Artistic Director of Green Thumb Theatre that created this show) keeps the pace driving for this play. You get the sense of Nina’s life spinning out of control.

Comment. Green Thumb Theatre specializes in creating and producing plays that address the issues affecting the youth of today. They are direct, hard-hitting and don’t shy away from telling the brutal truth. Green Thumb Theatre and Young People’s Theatre give voice to young people and their concerns where others might not care. Playwright Rachel Aberle has used her own issues with mental health in the past to write Still/Falling. She has something to say. Important work.

Young People’s Theatre presents a Green Thumb Production.

Opened: Nov. 33, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 9, 2016.
Cast: 1 woman.
Running Time: 50 minutes.


At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Choreographed by Kelly Devine
Musical director, Ian Eisendrath
Set by Beowulf Boritt
Costumes by Toni-Leslie James
Lighting by Howell Binkley
Sound by Gareth Owen
Cast: Petrina Bromley
Geno Carr
Jenn Colella
Joel Hatch
Rodney Hicks
Kendra Kassebaum
Chad Kimball
Lee MacDougall
Caesar Samayoa
Q. Smith
Astrid Van Wieren
Sharon Wheatley

Moving, joyful, throbbing with life, kindness and the decency of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, and environs who opened their homes and hearts to 7,000 strangers who ‘came from away’, when all hell broke loose in New York on 9/11, 2001.

The Story. When the two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the airspace over the United States was shut down to all incoming and outgoing planes. The hundreds of planes in the air flying to the States from other destinations had to land somewhere. Many landed in Canadian cities. Thirty-eight of them landed in Gander, Newfoundland.

Gander was once a main airport for transatlantic flights that needed to refuel. With modern planes that can make that journey on one tank of gas refuelling was not necessary. Gander was now a city used to receiving about six planes a day, until that fateful day in September. There were 7,000 passengers on those 38 planes. The population of Gander at that time was 9,000 which meant their numbers swelled to 16,000.

For the next five days the people of Gander and the surrounding towns welcomed, fed, arranged for the sleeping, showering, entertaining and caring for the people who ‘came from away,’ as the Newfoundlanders describe them. Over those five days the passengers went from being frightened about not knowing where they were or why to shedding their fearfulness for the most part and settling in with these quirky, kind Gander, Newfoundlanders until they could go home. Every single person involved had a story. >Come From Away covers a few of them and each one squeezes your heart or buoys your spirits and faith in people to do good in a catastrophe.

The Production. Come From Away is an ensemble piece. There are few star musical turns because it is collectively about the people who take these strangers in and the grateful passengers easing into being there.

There is a constant pulse and throb of the lively songs of Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
The music captures the flavour of Newfoundland (“Welcome to the Rock.”); the sheer sense of being overwhelmed by what is happening to this community (“38 Planes”); the realization of what’s happened to these people who have ‘come from away’ (“Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere”); and even a personal reflection by the (woman) Captain of one of the planes (“Me and the Sky”).

Director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine keep that pace moving with a sense of foot-stomping urgency–how else would you describe it when these communities seem to go sleepless for the whole five days, constantly seeing that their guests are tended to and comfortable. While there is a constant swirl of activity, it’s not distracting, rather it’s embracing.

Beowulf Boritt’s set is simple and evocative of that rough place—a few trees at the sides, a few tables and many mismatched chairs that create a plane, buses, a Tim Horton’s, and various kitchens, among others.

The ensemble from top to bottom is wonderful, a bounty of riches. Petrina Bromley plays Bonnie (and others) who works for the ASPCA and is concerned about the animals on the plane. With resolve and determination she tends those critters with grace and compassion. Ms Bromley is also the only Newfoundlander in the cast and I’m sure she’s giving lessons in getting the accent just right. Astrid Van Wieren plays Beulah (and others) who works for one of the schools and is a tireless organizer and comforter. Beulah knows how to show compassion for a person alone and perhaps lonely and it comes out in Van Wieren’s beautiful performance. Jenn Colella as Beverley (the Captain) and others is spunky, commanding and bats her high notes into the stratosphere. Joel Hatch plays Claude (among others), the folksy, engaging Mayor of Gander. They all have their individual turns, but together they form a dream of an ensemble.

Comment. Irene Sankoff and David Hein, partners in life and in creating this show, did hundreds of interviews of the people of Gander and the passengers. They distilled the stories down showing a cross section of people, experiences, and relationships that formed. Their book is full of the wit and humour of those Newfoundlanders and of the diversity of the people who landed there. Sankoff and Hein have captured the quirky (that word again) traditions that embrace those who ‘come from away’ into being honorary Newfoundlanders (Kiss a cod? Really?) And without getting sentimental they capture the no-nonsense kindness of the hosts and how the guests then took that away with them and passed it on when they got home.

Sankoff and Hein do not shy away from the thorny issues of race. A Muslim man is looked on with suspicion by the passengers when they land in Gander and treated with the same suspicion and even a threat of violence when they are about to leave. If I have a quibble it’s that the resolution of this issue of possible violence at the end seems inadequate. We don’t really know how it is resolved.

What is not in question is that Come From Away is a healing musical for our troubled times. Without affectation or overstatement we see the true face of kindness and selflessness when the people of Gander and environs opened their hearts and took in 7,000 frightened strangers from away and made them feel welcome and safe.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Nov. 23, 2016.
Closes: Jan. 8, 2017.
Cast: 12: 6 men, 6 women
Running Time: 100 minutes.


At the Citadel, 304 Parliament St., Toronto, Ont.

Written by George F. Walker
Directed by Ken Gass
Lighting by Giuseppe Condello
Set by Ken Gass
Cast: Wes Berger
Sarah Murphy-Dyson

Bobby and Tina struggle to get by and deal with their various issues, including each other, in one of George F. Walker’s most affecting plays.

The Story. We’ve met Bobby and Tina before in the world of George F. Walker. We first meet them in TOUGH! when Tina was 19 and pregnant with Bobby’s child. Then two years later in Moss Park when Tina is pregnant again by Bobby, after one night of passion. And now in The Damage Done, 18 years later.

During the 18 years between Moss Park and The Damage Done Bobby and Tina marry briefly. Tina left him to pursue her dreams and better herself. She becomes a social worker. She marries a man who provides financial stability and a house in the suburbs. That marriage fails. There are other relationships that don’t last.

Bobby has not done as well. He drifts from job to job. He is now a fork-lift operator. He also wants to be a writer and has written some stuff on scraps of paper he keeps in his pants pocket. He has grappled with addiction. He has not been the most attentive father to his two daughters. He too has had a few tenuous relationships.

Tina has called Bobby to meet her in the park where they have met before when they had to talk about something important. She needs his help. Will he step up to the plate?

The Production. Ken Gass has created the set of a bench in a leaf-filled park. Suspended at the back is a bank of windows, one of which is broken. To the left of that is a garbage can half-filled with garbage. The set is spare but the design says everything about the place.

Bobby is the first to arrive. We see him standing on the bench, as he would have done when he was a teen. Tina arrives upstage. Bobby can’t see her because his back is to her as he faces us. She is agitated, uncertain and exits, quite ready to leave without talking to him. She comes back, still hesitant, but greets Bobby. He’s happy to see her. She’s still agitated. And angry. It’s not misplaced anger either. She’s probably been angry at him for a long time—for not being a better father; for not being more helpful to her in raising their daughters, for all sorts of things.

Director Ken Gass negotiates the two around the space and each other in a believable way suggesting this couple has a history; were once romantically involved but aren’t involved now. Gass doesn’t move a character for the sake of a movement. Bobby has only loved her. Tina is disappointed by him. It all comes out in the body language and staging.

While one can come to The Damage Done and appreciate it without having seen the previous two Walker plays that deal with Bobby and Tina from their teenage years to now, seeing the other two plays does give this relationship context. Tina has always been the smarter, calmer, and more thoughtful of the two. Bobby has always been flighty, not a deep thinker, simplistic. But in The Damage Done Tina is unhinged with doubt, worry and lack of confidence. The pressures of raising two daughters, coping with a failed marriage and her own doubts take its toll.

Sarah Murphy-Dyson’s performance as Tina is both angst and anger filled but with nuance so it’s definitely not one long rant. Tina is hanging on by a thread and she uses anger as a kind of defence mechanism to hold things together. Murphy-Dyson gives a very strong, compelling performance of a woman almost disintegrating in front of us.

Bobby, as played by Wes Berger, is a flighty man with a tenuous grasp of reality. He’s like a man-boy. He seems to drift through life with little ambition and a poor sense of responsibility. He seems aware of his lacking as a father but just can’t rise to the occasion. But when Tina comes to him, so distraught and so unlike her usual confident self, Bobby might have to step up to the plate.

There is a fine sense of cohesion between Wes Berger and Sarah Murphy-Dyson’s performances. You can believe they have been a couple off and on for more than 20 years.

Comment. The Damage Done is one of playwright George F. Walker’s most affecting plays. While in true Walker fashion his characters are angry, lash out, criticize and condemn, there is a fragility to them. Both Tina and Bobby are emotionally needy. I love that George F. Walker has not provided a neat ending, but that Ken Gass’s subtle direction of the last scene suggests that there is room for both Bobby and Tina to trust each other.

Presented by Canadian Rep Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 22, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 11, 2016.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman.
Running Time: 75 minutes.



by Lynn on November 23, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle.
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Thom Allison
Choreographed by Kimberley Rampersad
Set by Judith Bowden
Costumes by Charlotte Dean
Lighting by Jason Hand
Sound by Michael Laird
Cast: Jahlen Barnes
Eric Breen
Arinea Hermans
Mike Jackson
Jacob MacInnis
Jeigh Madjus
Robert Markus
Grace McRae
Erica Peck
Claire Rouleau
Jonathan Tan.

A gentle show about important life lessons of being, becoming and accepting who we are and accepting others in the same way.

The Story. Seussical is based on the books of Dr. Seuss. Horton the Elephant hears faint voices calling for help. He soon learns the voices are those from the tiny inhabitants of Whoville. They are on a spec of dust which is on a clover. Horton carefully holds the clover and protects it in his efforts to convince those in the Jungle of Nool of the existence of these small creatures. Horton’s mantra is of course, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Also involved in this is a flighty, irresponsible bird who flies off for fun leaving the always responsible Horton to guard/keep warm the bird’s egg.

The Production. This is actor Thom Allison’s first effort as a director, but you would hardly know it from his assured work, guiding his production. It’s vibrant with colour, thanks to Judith Bowden’s witty set and Charlotte Dean’s bold costumes. I think it’s an added inspired move to have the ushers wear oversized white and red stripped Cat in the Hat hats. Thom Allison creates a whirlwind of activity as characters scurry here and there. But this is juxtaposed with the stillness of Horton the Elephant (a charmingly serious Jacob MacInnis). MacInnis creates a committed, concerned creature who cares for everybody, whether it’s people so small you can’t really see them, or taking care of an egg left by an irresponsible bird. The master of ceremonies of course is the Cat in the Hat—an impish Jonathan Tan.

Comment. Seussical is obviously a favourite show of Young People’s Theatre. They have done it three times: 2006, 2011 and now. It’s not hard to see why. The story is based on the beloved Dr. Seuss books. The infectious music is by Stephen Flaherty; the thoughtful lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens. And the message is one to live by: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Or how different or how odd-ball; or how they are treated as if they are invisible. The audiences at Young People’s Theatre are a mosaic of diversity. Each one of these young people would know instantly what the meaning of the show is and how important it is to have faith in the theme.

Lovely production. Joyful after a hard journey; characters who have conviction and ethics and those who don’t but still matter in the world.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 17, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 31, 2016.
Cast: 11; 6 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes.


At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Book adapted and directed by Tyrone Savage
Composer/ Lyricist/Musical Director, James Smith
Choreographed by Ashleigh Powell
Set and props by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Lighting by Melissa Joakim
Sound by Andre Stankovic
Projections and puppetry by Daniel Briere
Cast: Ghazal Azarbad
Tess Benger
Hunter Cardinal
Michael Cox
Kat Letwin
Nicole Power
Tyrone Savage
Shaina Silver-Baird
James Smith
Alicia Toner

Jason O’Brien
Justin Han

As it was last year when it was first done, this revival is a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, whiskey-soaked joy of a show.

The Story. The story takes place on New Year’s Eve. Four woodswomen who are working deep in the Quebec forest struggling to meet their quota of chopped trees. They are ballsy Michelle, pious Alex, meek with a strong streak Toba and tenacious Lea. They all dream of going to Montreal to meet their lovers for New Year’s Eve but of course can’t go because it’s so far and they are snowed in.

But then a mysterious man named Damien appears—he has been wandering in the woods, lost and without food etc,– and makes them an offer they can’t refuse, and should have. He will grant them their wish of going to Montreal for New Year’s Eve, by giving them a magical flying canoe (the Chasse-Galerie of the title) that will fly them to Montreal on three conditions, one of which is no swearing at all. That’s impossible—certainly with Michelle, but they will try. If they fail to adhere to the three conditions he gets their souls in exchange.

This is compelling story-telling and is part of French-Canadian lore. Originally they were four woodsmen—but this is 2016 so Tyrone Savage adapted the story with four women now chopping trees. These women are hard-working, hard-playing and each has her own charm. But at every turn there is temptation and liquor and the devil in many disguises.

The Production. This is a remount of the glorious production created and performed last year at the small Storefront Theatre. The production was picked up almost in tact, but with a few cast changes, and is now presented in part by Soulpepper Theatre Company, and has some of its Academy members as part of the cast.

With a cast of 10 and two musicians who weave in and out of the story, Chasse-Galerie is as vibrant, raucous and joyous as it was before.

The playing space at the Young Centre is a more compact room. Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s set focuses the action on a large square platform in the middle of the room, with the audience on either side of the platform. To one side is the band lead by the masterful James Smith. On the other side is the bar. For this production the show even has its own brew. Daniel Briere’s evocative projections are flashed on the wall closest to the band to set the snowy, cold scene or to track the voyage of the Chasse-Galerie. In this format the action is more concentrated and high energy. Holly Lloyd’s costumes are rustic and have a wit of their own.

Tyrone Savage stages his large cast with efficiency, economy and maximum effect, using the space beautifully. The women are both friends and rivals at times but there is a camaraderie that is strong. Tyrone Savage’s direction brings that out as well. If anything I think the intoxicating energy is even more intense than last year.

The four woodswomen are a tight, cohesive unit, even with one cast change of the original four from last year: Tess Benger (Alex), Kat Letwin (Michelle), Nicole Power (Lea) and Shaina Silver-Baird (Toba) illuminate their characters with attention to both the broad strokes and the detail. They are all funny, charming, and tough-minded. They give Damien challenges he didn’t count on. In this year’s production Tyrone Savage not only directs and adapted the book, he also plays devilish Damien with a sensual charm and a sometimes crazed manner. Ghazal Azarbad plays Lucy Ferr with a kind of non-descript tameness. Surely the name would suggest some diabilical make-up, and considerably more edge?

The writing is smart, tight and hilarious. The musically masterful James Smith wrote the music and lyrics and added more songs this year to flesh out the characters and action from last year. He too does multiple duties by also conducting that band, playing many instruments and also plays a lovesick character named Francois. If one has a wish or two it’s that there be a song list and, one hopes, a CD of the show.

Ashleigh Powell has created the intoxicating, rousing choreography. The result is foot-stomping of the cast and the bopping to the beat of the audience.

. When Chasse- Galerie opened last December it was like a little surprise in the dead of winter. The run was short and some people missed seeing it even thought the clamour was loud to go. The show has been brought back to a larger space by a new company called Kabin with the help of the Storefront Theatre (who originally produced it) with a little help from Soulpepper Theatre Company. There is no excuse not to see it. It’s wonderful, again.

Presented by Kabin and the Storefront Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 12, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 1, 2016.
Cast: 10; 4 men, 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minues.


At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Will Eno
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and Costumes by Charlotte Dean
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Lighting by Graeme S. Thomson
Starring: Tom Barnett
Susan Coyne
Patrick McManus
Jenny Young.

A play about life and mortality by the linguistically dextrous playwright, Will Eno performed by an impeccable cast.

The Story. The play is written by Will Eno, an American playwright who does interesting things with language, humour and loopy juxtapositions as well as situations.

Bob and Jennifer Jones live in a small town. Bob has not been well. He has a degenerative nerve disorder. The symptoms are mysterious and the cure or treatment is illusive. Bob is pensive about it. Jennifer tries to be as supportive and up beat as possible. The doctor who discovered the disease lives in that town and is Bob’s doctor.

John and Pony Jones have just moved in to the house next door and have invited themselves over to introduce themselves. John is that bubbly, jokey kind of guy who pays attention to ever word said to him to make a joke about it. He doesn’t exactly pun but he does twist words around for his kind of humour. You need a lot of patience for John as he riffs and riffs on the words that are spoken in what should be simple conversation. We learn that John’s happy demeanour is a ruse. John has a secret he’s trying to hide. His wife Pony is a fidgety, flighty woman. John seems to have patience for Pony. The couples appear to be so different from each other. Or are they?

The Production. Director Richard Rose has put the two houses on a turntable for easy shifting of scenes. For Bob and Jennifer the scenes are in their back yard—simple lawn chairs sit in front of the back of the house. The set then revolves to the interior, kitchen of John and Pony’s house—nothing fancy about the kitchen.

The acting in all four cases is superb. As Bob, Tom Barnett broods on his situation. He sits with his hands folded in his lap, face grimaced, depressed. He does not engage in small talk even with Jennifer his wife. He seems almost annoyed when she wants to engage him in conversation that will try and cheer him. Susan Coyne as Jennifer has a buoyant smile and it’s obvious she’s trying to lift her husband’s spirits. Coyne has subtle body language that just makes us look and listen harder to what she is saying and why. It is a performance of quiet desperation, a silent ache to help Bob cope.

As John, Patrick McManus fidgets and shifts on his feet and has a lot of physical energy. He listens hard to make jokes of what he has literally heard and not figuratively. He could grate on one’s nerves, but McManus gives John a quiet sense of desperation that he makes us stay the course to figure him out.

And finally as Pony, Jenny Young has her own kinetic energy that comes more from awkwardness rather than an effort to take over the room. She also has an innocence that John wants to protect. He also thinks that telling her bad news is not helpful.

Will Eno lets his clues and his play unfold slowly and subtly, but when you realize the central mystery and how the various characters deal with their issues, it’s startling, in the best way.

Comment. Will Eno is a playwright with a fine ear for quirky dialogue that says everything about his characters. Perhaps John is not as happy-go lucky as we thought.

Often theatre requires that we have more patience for characters than we might have for real people in our lives, and perhaps there might be a spill-over. He’s exploring life, mortality, the inevitable we try to avoid, love, patience, not wanting to hurt a loved one with bad news and humour.

The Realistic Joneses has humour that comes out of it naturally and with finesse.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 16, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 18, 2016.
Cast: 4: 2 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.


At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Tony Diamanti, Liz MacDougall, Karin Randoja, Christina Serra and Dan Watson.
Based on an original play by Tony Diamanti.
Directed by Karin Randoja
Lighting and projections by Melissa Joakim
Set and costumes by Jenna McCutchen
Sound by Miquelon Rodriguez
Cast: Tony Diamanti
Liz MacDougall
Christina Serra
Dan Watson

A whip-smart play about love, sex and disability in all its gritty, messy, humanness.

The Story. This is based on the lives of the cast. Tony Diamanti is an irreverent, thoughtful, confident man who has cerebral palsy and manoeuvres his world in a motorized wheelchair. He communicates by spelling out words using a wand attached to a head piece that he uses to point to letters on a board propped on the front of his wheelchair. His girlfriend is Liz MacDougall. And he thinks of sex frequently.

Liz is as irreverent as Tony. She has speech and hearing issues and is an advocate for disability rights. She is watchful and opinionated with a wicked sense of humour. Dan Watson and Christina Serra are married with two children and one expected in January. They are wonderful theatre artists in their own right. For the purposes of This is the Point, they are the parents of Bruno who is about five years old and has cerebral palsy. Bruno is not in This is the Point in person, but he plays a big part via video because we see the tremendous effort and team work it takes for Dan and Christina to take care of Bruno.

The Production. The stage is bare for the most part. Tony Diamanti rolls on quickly in his wheelchair. Dan Watson carefully puts on Tony’s headgear so he can point with the wand to the letters on his letter board to spell out his words. A videographer occasionally films the board; the image is then projected on a large screen behind Tony, so we can see how he spells and we can decipher what he is saying. The props are minimal—a couch, a bed. Dan Watson takes care of Tony, dressing him; putting on the head-gear; attending to his needs. He is a kind of narrator and explains aspects of the show.

In video we also see how Dan and his wife Christina Serra take care of their son Bruno, who also has severe cerebral palsy. It’s an exhausting balancing act to wash, dress, feed and tend to Bruno while also taking care of their other child who does not have cerebral palsy. The care, good will, sense of humour and love Dan and Christina have for both their children is terrific. There are scenes (not videoed) when both Dan and Christina ‘play’ Bruno. Christina carries the dead weight of Dan (as Bruno) and hoists him on the couch. The roles are then reversed as they both work together to tend, care and deal with Bruno issues. If they are concerned for the health of their unborn child, they don’t show it. Neat directing from Karin Randoja to show the work, effort and difficulty it is to take care of Bruno.

Liz MacDougall is Tony’s partner/girlfriend. She has hearing and speech issues and she deals with them as well as Tony deals with his. Both have a wicked, raunchy sense of humour. They need it to cope with society’s cruelty towards the disabled. We are told that when Liz was walking beside Tony’s motorized chair a person spat on him. They have been insulted. Director Karin Randoja balances the humour and eye-opening meanness that they all have endured because of a disability, either directly or indirectly.

At one point Dan is furious with Tony because Tony fired him. Dan is livid and while he doesn’t physically hurt Tony he yells at him right in his face, and then does something that is unforgiveable.

As for the sex. Tony seems to have sex on his mind all the time. Liz tries to help out. The scenes between the two of them are sensual, even erotic. They certainly give us an eye-opener as to what might happen with an almost physically helpless man, and a woman determined to give him joy and pleasure. I love that they don’t let us look away no matter how uncomfortable it is to watch.

Comment. The five creators got together to create this show about many things, disability seems to be the last topic for discussion. And it’s unflinching in its handling of it. More important the show is about love to all of them; sex to some of them. And lastly, a distant third, disability.

Co-produced by Ahuri Theatre and the Theatre Centre.

First performance: Nov. 4, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 20, 2016.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.


Review: BEAVER

by Lynn on November 16, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Claudia Dey
Directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett
Costumes by Claudia Dey
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Toni Ellwand
Molly Flood
Waawaate Fobister
Carmen Grant
Chala Hunter
P.J. Prudat
Jimi Shlag
Katie Swift

A ninety-minute, one act play bloated to three interminable hours and two acts.

The Story. The dysfunctional Jersey family has gathered for a funeral. Rose Jersey has died. Rose’s 12 year-old-daughter Beatrice is there, as are Rose’s wise-cracking mother Edna and Rose’s sisters, Sima (a hooker) and Nora (up-tight and religiously righteous). Recriminations fly and old wounds are dredged up. Nora begins the paperwork for adopting Beatrice without consulting any one. She barely knows the girl but she is taking on the duty of adopting her. Beatrice seeks solace from her alcoholic father, Silo. She begins sleeping with men when she is barely 13. When she looses her virginity she changes her name to “Beaver.” I don’t think this is the Canadian version of “pussy” but ya never know. This animosity for each other continues for the whole interminable play.

The Production. The audience sits in two rows of chairs on either side of the room-length playing area. Because the back rows of chairs on either side are not raised those sitting there are guaranteed to miss a lot of the production. Why director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett decided to configure the space this way is a mystery. For much of the play the cast rushes through a door frame at one end of the space to the other to play scenes or establish where the scenes are taking place. Depending on where you sit (I was right in the middle of the back (second) row) t is like watching a tennis game with the players on one end of the space playing someone on the other and because the space is so long, one is constantly turning one’s head from side to side. Peripheral vision doesn’t work here. Cue the chiropractor.

McMurtry-Howlett directs Beaver with broad strokes—big movements, declarative performances with little variation, as if each character is a ‘type’—making the whole endeavour seem like a cartoon. Some stage business is just weird. A character flicks a real lighter, producing a light, twice, to light an imaginary cigarette. Now what’s that all about? In a production of a play with so little going for it, one can do without an eye-brow-knitting scene like that to add to the disappointment. And can we please put a moratorium on rumbling sound effects to underscore moments of serous drama? Please? Surely the words should do that, and if they don’t then all the sound effects in the world won’t help.

The cast are accomplished actors in their own right and they do herculean work trying to lift this slight but over-written play. For example, Toni Elwand as Edna Jersey spouts sharp barbs with a perfect dead-pan. Once she lobs the first barb with aplomb and then the second we expect that that’s what she does for the show. Writer Claudia Dey tries to be clever with the barbs but does not give any other information about Edna as to where such cleverness comes from other than Dey has written her as a smarty pants. Carmen Grant, as Nora is dressed in black, buttoned up to her neck. Her jaw is tight; her voice harsh as she vents about her sad, disappointed life—loneliness, unrequited love, resentment, trying to live purely, but having to live in Timmins. That small-town mentality is supposed to get a laugh. Not funny.

Comment. There are hints that Beaver could be an effective dark comedy if only it wasn’t for Dey’s laboured efforts to be quirky-funny. The effort is so obvious that the result is a leaden, over-long, over-wrought harangue.

Storefront Arts Initiative and We Will Meet Productions Presents:

Opened: Nov 11, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 8; 2 men, 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours + approx.

{ 1 comment }

Comment: Swan

by Lynn on November 14, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont,

Written and directed by Aaron Jan
Set and costumes by Aram Heydarian
Lighting by Samuel Chang
Sound by Kevin Feliciano
Cast: Michelle Chiu
Isabel Kanaan
Bria McLaughlin
Marina Moreira
Christine Nguyen
Angela Sun

A very ambitious attempt at looking at the outsider in society and its consequences that could do with another rewrite to clarify and a seasoned director to clear up the clutter.

The Story. Six friends from high school reunite to talk about what happened years before. In high school they were considered outsiders either because they were lesbians or because of their ethnicity. They decided to do one good deed per month. One project was to find out who was responsible for killing a swan so brutally. They never could solve that mystery in high school. Years later they revisit that question to solve it once and for all. Deep-seated animosity of some of the group comes to the surface. They are all shaken by that and by the discovery of who was responsible for other troubling events.

The Production. The main playing area is a raised square wood platform. Around that are strategically placed mounds of (swan?) feathers. Over the course of the play there are sound effects of babbling water, birds tweeting, and an undercurrent of rumbling when director Aaron Jan wants to emphasize a sense of foreboding.

Aaron Jan’s direction is busy most of the time and frantically busy some of the time. When a character speaks she jumps onto the platform, faces the audience and speaks the lines, often at breakneck speed, suggesting the urgency of the thought, then jumps off. At times the jumping onto and off of the platform looks more like a gymnastic exercise rather than acting in a play. The result is complete annoyance. Action/dialogue also happens around the platform, but most of the time it’s on it. It’s a particularly awkward way of staging scenes. Also too often the various actresses playing the six characters sink into screeching the lines, again, when the character is excited, rendering the dialogue incomprehensible. I wish Aaron Jan had simplified the staging by getting rid of the platform and helping his cast to stop flapping their arms in wild emotion and calm the screeching.

Comment. I can appreciate a young theatre artist such as Aaron Jan wants to make his mark and have his say. I have no problem with that. My concern is that Mr. Jan is both the playwright and director and in both cases the writer needs a ruthless editor and the director needs to rein in his penchant for over-staging. In such cases the director suggests cuts to the play or at least questions the playwright. Similarly the playwright might query the director on the usefulness of some staging. But if the playwright and the director are the same person well then editing the script and simplifying the direction/staging aren’t going to happen, are they?

Aaron Jan’s script is unwieldy because of the excessive use of narrative to describe scenes or the actions of characters. One wonders if they are hearing the reading of a novel or actually watching a play. The dialogue is packed with accusations about the incidents and happenings of years before. I found the play bogged down in an ever complicated story without much point to it, longing for the conclusion.

I can appreciate Mr. Jan wanting to write a play that reflects the stories of people of colour or a certain ethnicity. Swan is not the best example of that wish. I hope that when Mr. Jan writes his next play, he has a trusted editor, and that when tempted to direct his own play he resists temptation.

Presented by Little Black Afro.

Opened: Nov. 4, 2016.
Saw it: Nov. 5, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 13, 2016.
Cast: 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours + approx.