At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michel Marc Bouchard

Translated by Linda Gaboriau

Directed by Cole Alvis

Scenographer, Jay Havens

Costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound and composer by Deanna H. Choi

Composition by Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone

Cast: Walter Borden

Mark Cassius

Alexander Chapman

Waawaate Fobister

Ryan G. Hinds

Indrit Kasapi

Tsholo Khalema

Troy Emery Twigg

Joseph Zita

 The play has resonance for today since almost the whole cast is either black or Indigenous. Uneven acting adds to a rather lackluster production except for the last 10 minutes, which are shattering.

 The Story. Lilies; or, The Revival of a Romantic Drama by Michel Marc Bouchard, takes place in a prison and is about a love triangle that developed 35 years before. And it’s about a man’s quest for revenge and justice.

 Michel Marc Bouchard wrote Lilies in 1987. It took place in Quebec and was about gay love. Two school boys in 1912 fell in love when they were in a play about Saint Sebastian.  One of them, Simon Doucet was implicated in a crime and sent to jail. Now 35 years later Simon wants to know what happened that got him there. He arranges for another school hood friend, now Bishop Jean Bilodeau, to attend, because Bilodeau has the key to the mystery.  Simon also arranges for his fellow prisoners to put on the play for Bilodeau. By doing this he hopes Bilodeau will tell the truth of what happened.

 The Production. Lilies: or, The Revival of a Romantic Drama is the same play as Lilies but it’s been re-imagined to reflect our prisons today.  A program note explains that in Canada’s population 4.3% are Indigenous but in a federal prison’s population today 28% are Indigenous.  Similarly, black communities make up 3% of Canada and over 8% of the prison population.

So most of the actors in the production are Indigenous or black. I think this works to illuminate the situation with our prisons. It seems like a no brainer in fact. The structure of the play is still there but the participants better reflect the prison population now. My concern with the casting is that the acting is uneven.  Some are more accomplished than others and it creates a bumpy night. But Walter Borden as Simon is consistently strong and focused.  Alexander Chapman as Bishop Bilodeau is almost repressed in his reserve.

He knows what happened all those year ago because he too was in love with Simon, but the affection was not reciprocated.

Director Cole Alvis (who has Métis-Chippewa, Irish and English ancestors) does reasonable job of staging the actors and considering the uneven aspect of the cast, he does the best he can. But the production just blazes in the last 10 minutes as it realizes all the pent up rage of Simon after so many years, and the guilty conscience the Bishop has endured for 35 years when he comes clean to tell what happened all those years before.

Michel Marc Bouchard does a close, intricate dance of what forgiveness and guilt look like to characters after so many years.  Cole Alvis has the Bishop sitting ramrod straight in a seat to the side of the stage, while watching the play unfold. Close by him is Simon, watching for any crack in the Bishop’s steely demeanor. Still, this production is underwhelming.

I saw this late in the run. It closes May 26.

 

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At the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Robin Luckwaldt and Natalia Bushnik

Directed by Robin Luckwaldt

Sound and set by Phoebe Wang

Lighting by Waleed Ansari

Cast: Natalia Bushnik

Robin Luckwaldt

 

A well intentioned production that explores how two teens killed their mother that seems rather thin, even for a fringe show.

 The Story. The Bathtub Girls uses as its model the true story of two teenage sisters in Mississauga who drown their mother in the bathtub. The story is the first documented case of sibling matricide in Canada.

The Production. In the play the girls are identified in the program simply as “Older” (Natalia Bushnik)  and “Younger” (Robin Luckwaldt).  The family came to Canada from Europe. The father soon left them and the mother began drinking and was drunk most time. The girls had to fend for themselves.

When we are allowed into the theatre there is a recording of a woman’s voice talking some Slavic language it seems to me. There is no translation. The tape repeats itself until the production starts. The two women, Older and Younger are on stage, on the floor in white tights that go to the calf over which is a delicate dress of sorts. They look like they are simulating being in a bathtub (there isn’t one here) and they are in water. Their arms float in and out. It’s very difficult to see anything clearly that takes place if the women are sitting on the floor, unless one is sitting in the front row. If I’m reviewing and making notes, being in the front row is the last place I want to be.

The Assembly Theatre is a small space. If people are sitting in front of you you can’t see what is happening if the actors are sitting on the floor let alone as if in a bathtub. Much of the play takes place in that bathtub. Frustrating. Perhaps director/performer Robin Luckwaldt (as Younger) might keep that in mind should she direct this play again.

Often the two women talk in unison about an observation of their family or their mother. If they talk individually if’s as if each woman is in a daze or at a distance from being present and aware.  There is a jealousy between the girls—the mother preferred one over the other—but both are united in wanting to kill their mother. Because they are the only characters it’s hard to say if they are the result more of societal neglect or family neglect. We don’t hear any other voice other than their own or reference to any other influence. The play needs a catalyst that gets that idea in place. At present there is only the two young women and they appear to be mentally challenged. Is that the intention? It’s hard to tell in this present form. Frustrating.

Comment. Yes with The Bathtub Girls there are many similarities to Mouthpiece that took place in an actual bathtub and the two actresses who played it: Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, wore white bathing suits and often talked in unison or one after the other.  The difference is that Mouthpiece is a compelling piece of theatre about a psychologically difficult dilemma and The Bathtub Girls is still a fringe show in need of more scrutiny to fill in the missing information and clarify a confusing and muddled story.

The program offers the following note: “This is a story of marginalized young women. It is culturally necessary that we uplift the stories and needs of young people; it is our responsibility to help them cultivate tools for their future. The Bathtub Girls is an effort to wake people to this necessity. The events of the story take place in part due to neglect and complacency from the girls’ community. Our play exemplifies the consequences of ignoring young people in their times of need.”

Sorry, but the play in its present form says nothing of the sort. It does not illustrate that the events take place in part due to neglect and complacency from the girls’ community.” The intentions are honourable. Now please re-work, rewrite your play so that it in fact exemplifies what you intend, rather than having to read a program note to find out what you intended but didn’t realize.

Produced by KAIROS Theatre presents:

Opened: May 21, 2019.

Closes: June 1, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

www.kairostheatrecollective.com

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Two final plays from the Wee Festival that closed this past long weekend:

 

Tricoter (Knitting)

 At the Assembly Hall, 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr. Etobicoke, Ont.

Artistic Direction: Julie Lebel

Hosting and facilitation: Julie Lebel, Candice Irwin

Dancer: Marie-Pier Gilbert

Musician: Anna Atkinson

This is a charming show for young children of all ages. Children sit in a circle, on ‘the grass’, a green carpet. Adults can sit on stools behind the kids. There are several balls of wool around the space. Candice Irwin sits on a stool knitting a scarf. Julie Label is knitting a cape for her cat. Marie-Pier Gilbert dances exuberantly around the grass bringing out balls of wool from a large knitted bag. She tosses them in the air and rolls them to children who might roll them back. Strands of wool wind around Gilbert’s body, and often winds around a willing child. Anna Atkinson plays the violin providing the only music necessary. At the end of the show the children are invited into the circle to play. Lovely.

Tricoter is an interactive dance piece for all ages that captures the spirit of the knitting circle. The children are engaged, encouraged to participate and play with the wool; they go on a journey following the winding trail of wool along the floor, ending in a high five at the end. It’s wonderful seeing parents leaving their children to discover what they are looking at, rather than showing them what an adult would find interesting for a kid to look at.

 Presented by Foolish Operations, from Vancouver, B.C.

Bonne Nuit (Good Night)

Created and performed by Csaba Raduly

Directed by Pavla Mano

Set and Costume by Ivan Stavrev

Puppets created by Csaba Raduly and Pavla Mano

Original music by François Landry and Petya Nedeva

It’s 10 pm and our impish performer is being lead around by his tie to get ready for bed. There is his pillow, his blanket and other stuff he needs for bed. But he’s prevented from resting. His pillow, blanket and even pajamas act up and keep him awake. The activity just to get his pajamas on takes on a life of its own. Even feathers fly out of his pockets etc.

Csaba Raduly, the creative performer here creates puppets with faces and personalities out of the pillow, the blanket and even his sleeping cap. No section is over played or over stayed. The young audience is engaged, lively and surprised. At the end, Raduly has a small wood box full of feathers and he gives one feather to each child as he/she leaves the theatre. A memento of a sweet time in the theatre.

Presented by Puzzle Theatre that was founded in Bulgaria and moved to Montreal in 2004.  

 

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The Nether is a co-production between Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180.

Best Design

– Patrick Lavender (set and lighting), Richard Feren (sound and music), Michelle Bohn (costume) and Nick Bottomley (projection), The Nether (Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180)

 

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Toronto Theatre Critics Association Award Winners for 2018/19

 After much thoughtful, passionate discussion and the consumption of many snacks The Toronto Theatre Critics Association is pleased to announce the following Award Winners:

Best Lead Performance in a Musical 

Robert Markus, Dear Evan Hansen (Mirvish Productions, Stacy Mindich)

 

Best Supporting Performances in a Musical

Jessica Sherman, Dear Evan Hansen (Mirvish Productions, Stacy Mindich)

–  Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud (Mirvish Productions, Ira Pittelman, Tom Hulce

–  Mary Fay Coady, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (2b Theatre, Tarragon Theatre)

 

Best Ensemble in a Musical 

– The ensemble of Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life (Musical Stage Company, Outside the March)

 

Best Director of a Musical

Christian Barry, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (2b Theatre, Tarragon Theatre)

 

Best New Musical 

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (2b Theatre, Tarragon Theatre)

 

Best Production of a Musical 

Mary Poppins (Young People’s Theatre)

 

Best Lead Performance in a Play 

Eric Peterson, The Father (Coal Mine Theatre)

 

Best Supporting Performances in a Play

Akosua Amo-Adem, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (Obsidian Theatre, Nightwood Theatre)

– Sabryn Rock, The Royale (Soulpepper Theatre)

 

Best Ensemble Performance in a Play 

– The ensemble of The Wolves (Howland Theatre, Crow’s Theatre)

 

Best Design

Patrick Lavender (set and lighting), Richard Feren (sound and music), Michelle Bohn (costume) and Nick Bottomley (projection), The Nether (Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180)

 

Best Director of a Play

Nina Lee Aquino, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (Obsidian Theatre, Nightwood Theatre)

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, The Brothers Size (Soulpepper Theatre)

 

Best International Play

– The Brothers Size by Tarrell Alvin McCraney (Soulpepper Theatre)

 

Best New Canadian Play 

Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) by Ho Ha Kei (Jeff Ho) (Saga Collectif)

 

Best Production of a Play

– School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh (Obsidian Theatre, Nightwood Theatre)

 

The members of the Toronto Theatre Critics Association involved in the discussion were: Carly Maga, J. Kelly Nestruck, Martin Morrow, Glenn Sumi, Robert Cushman, Christopher Hoile, Steve Fisher, and me, Lynn Slotkin.

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At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Poems by Xu Lizhi

Composed, directed and performed by Njo Kong Kie

Set and lighting by Fung Kwok Kee Gabriel

Photographer/filmmaker, Ao Ieong Weng Fong

Sound by Ryan McNabbe

Video designed by Nicholas Yee

Shattering and exquisite.

Xu Lizhi was a promising poet in China. He wrote about the working class and the soul crushing, grinding work for the electronics complex of Foxconn in the Shenzhou. He worked there to support himself. The work was so emotionally, physically and spiritually debilitating that in 2010 fourteen workers committed suicide. In 2014 Xu Lizhi took his own life as well. He was 24 years-old. Interestingly his poems, essays etc. were first published in the company’s newsletter. Astonishing.

Njo Kong Kie, the force behind such beautiful pieces of theatres as: Mr. Shi and His Lover and Picnic in the Cemetery has helped create this show devoted to several of Xu Lizhi’s poems. He has created the music for several of the poems. He plays the music on a grand piano while he sings the ‘poems.’ The lyrics are projected on the back wall of the theatre for us to read as Njo Kong Kie plays and sings.

The poems describe a life of despair at the drudgery of the work and how the chemicals and metals poison a person both physically and emotionally. The writing is lyrical, sensitive, evocative, imagistic and so compelling. You listen/read the words of Xu Lizhi and you are heartsick at the gifted poet we lost by his having committed suicide.

I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron is a show that devotes all its attention to illuminating the words as simply and as clearly as possible. Njo Kong Kie wears pressed jeans, a work shirt and Chinese slippers when he plays the piano and sings. The lyrics are beautifully, clearly illuminated by Fung Kwok Kee Gabriel and the size of the font is perfect to read.

There were even photos of the small room in which Xu Lizhi lived projected on the back wall. Dispiriting is one word to describe it. The hot plate on which he made tea etc. was rusting. There were stains on the walls. The furnishings were junk. So imagine it, Xu Lizhi works endless hours in the factory screwing electronic parts of devices, thus subjecting himself to poisons from chemicals, rust and fumes etc. and then he has to go home to a ‘hole.’ It would take the heart and soul out of any man. And yet from this drudgery came exquisite poems, deep, rich and evocative of a life being ground down. Here is an example of the work. So worth your time to discover this gifted man:

“I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron

I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
I can’t swallow any more
All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
Into a disgraceful poem.”

— 19 December 2013

Canadian Stage Presents:

From: May 16, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running Time: 60 minutes

www.canadianstage.com

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Activities at the Junior Festival, Harbourfront, Toronto, Ont.

Harbourfront is hosting the Junior Festival for the second year in a row, over this long weekend, that caters to children 4 to 10 and older. It’s billed as ‘big thoughts for growing minds.” It’s a mix of ticketed shows in its various theatres and a lot of free events all over the Harbourfront site.

Woogie Boogie

Bush Theatre, (Republic of Korea)

Director, performer, Youngkyun Yeom

Performer: Heeae Lee, Seungeun Lee

Musician, Eunjae Sohn

“Woogie and his friend Boogie embark on a magical sea expedition when their trouble-making pet turtle drifts into the open water.”

The two performers: Heeae Lee and Seungeun Lee are young women and so I’m going to imagine that Woogie and Boogie are young women.  Woogie and Boogie are not identified clearly by who plays whom so I can’t attribute the actress to the character.  They establish the show by each drawing a large circle with a black magic marker on a portable whiteboard. Each woman takes her whiteboard into the audience and says “This is my face” and asks the child to draw her eyes, or nose or cheeks, mouth etc.

When they return to the stage and show the finished drawings to the audience the laugh level goes up. The two then draw on a large whiteboard on stage showing fish, a balloon with a face and all manner of sea animals. With the magic of technology the balloon with the face moves around the whiteboard; the features change from a smile to a frown. There is a bit of comic business with lights on the board. Each woman stands on either side of the board and draws a light switch with an on and off button. As one woman ‘pushes’ the “on” button on one side, the light goes on and goes dark on the other side of the board. When the other woman on her side presses her “on” button her light goes on and the light goes off on the other side. The split-second shift in light and dark is mighty impressive.

One woman draws a circle close to the edge of the board and then ‘pretends’ to blow into it as if it were a balloon. It expands with each puff. She ties it then it floats around the board. The imagination from this young company from Korea is very impressive. Musicians play keyboard and percussion. Another man takes care of technical bits. There are puppets, very clever drawings on the board that are eye popping.

The young boy beside me did not look too happy to be there. His father was beside him and talked to him sparingly. Before the show one of the performers gave high-fives to various kids in the theatre. He wasn’t one of them.  As the two women came into the audience with their whiteboard he slumped in his seat. One woman came over to him and asked him to draw her cheeks on her whiteboard. He didn’t hesitate. He drew a circle on either side of her round face on the whiteboard. He sat up after that. She ‘got’ him.’ He sat forward when the show started, concentrating on what was going on on stage. He laughed a lot. And he clapped at the end.  Wonderful.

May 20 is a relaxed performance.

For kids 4 +

Free Stuff.

Ants

Polyglot Theatre, Australia

Life-sized ‘ants’ roam the Harbourfront spaces encouraging young kids to leave ‘bread-crumbs’ all over the area. Several performers wear huge black headgear that look like the exaggerated head of an ant, with antennae, two large feelers, black tights with puffy knees, thighs and ankles. The feet are a regular person’s feet wearing black shoes. And the ants click when they walk; their hands are covered with black stretchy material and they hide castanets or something similar in their hands and click as they walk, letting people know they are coming. They are never intrusive. They lay down large pillow things (bread crumbs) and create a pattern. The kids then follow suit or not.  The ants are industrious, always working, walking, clicking and creating.

Fay and Fluffy’s Storytime

From Ontario

Drag performers Fay Slift and Miss Fluffy Soufflé read stories in the outdoor Stage in the Round. They make corny jokes and read stories with gentle morals about being kind and courageous—if they see someone being mean to another person they are to say “stop!” The costumes and wigs are outrageous, big and colourful. One wears a dotted muumuu,  an orange wig and has a full beard. The other has a white wig, a polka dotted top and a wild skirt. Their shoes are big and look comfortable.

Potato Soup

Laika from Belgium

On-line registration is recommended even though it’s free.

A woman enters the space breathlessly hoping she’s not too late. She has been asked to prepare soup for the classroom, so she gets comfortable. She puts on an apron and comfortable shoes. She has bowls, a contraption on which to chop and collect stuff for the soup, and even a portable sink that with the press of a foot dispenses water.

She brings out a huge pot and puts it on an element on which to cook the soup. She has a huge tub full of veggies. (she and her assistant had been chopping and dicing all morning). She tells us the secrets of an onion. I’m not telling. You see the show for yourself.

She pulls a parsley plant out of her purse and picks off some leaves for the soup. As she delicately does this she talks about her country of Slovenia and how it was plagued with war. And how her family was starving except for potatoes. Woow, what a segue. She talks about bombs dropping and accentuates this with aggressive chopping. A mandolin slices furiously through more veggies as she talks of machine guns. The juxtaposition is jarring but mighty impressive and appropriate. And the soup is delicious. She gave us the recipe.

Fashion Machine.

 Theatre Skam, British Columbia

“Imagine a live fashion show where the designers are children and audience members are the muses.” The young fashion designers pick willing participants in which their clothes will be reconfigured, decorated etc. culminating in a fashion show at the end.

The Jerry Cans

From Nunavut

This says it all: “Drawing inspiration from their hometown of Iqaluit, Nunavut, The Jerry Cans blend traditional Inuit throat singing with Inuktitut language roots-rock, adding a bit of Celtic punk to the mix to shake things up. Celebrate the May long weekend with a true-North concert that feels like a party.”  YES! They rock. They are loud and they are joyous. They did a cover of “Ahead by a Century” by the Tragically Hip, in Inuktitut.  How cool is that!

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra

 Ontario.

Toronto’s original guerrilla-folk music ensemble. The self-described Balkan-Kretzmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk Super Band had the people up and dancing at the Stage in the Round even when they were doing their sound check.

For full details: www.harbourfrontcentre.com

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The Sandbox

At Théâtre français de Toronto, 21 College St., 6th Floor, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Denys Lefebvre

Directed by Denys Lefebvre

Designed by Patrice Daigneault

Music by Guido Del Fabbro

Lighting by Thomas Godefroid

Marionnettes and costumes by Diane Loiselle

Cast: Denys Lefebvre

Diane Loiselle

A charming play in which two comedic characters both in toques, raincoats and boots explore the many ways of working with sand. They encircle their playing space with sand they get from a small paper bag. Sand pours from their coat sleeves. They play in a magical sand box with sand ‘water’ falls. They drag small carts around the space. It’s a show full of colour, imagination, creativity and whimsy. This was their first show in English.

The final show is in French on May 19 at 2 pm.

 

Mwana and the Turtle’s Secret

At the Assembly Hall, 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr. Etobicoke, Ont.

Adapted for the stage by Patricia Bergeron and Patience bonheur Fayulu Mupolonga

Story tellers and puppeteers, Patience Bonheur Fayulu Mupolonga and Patricia Bergeron

Visual Illustrations by Steve Beshwaty

Shadow Play by Marie-Ève Lefebvre, Patricia Bergeron, Salim Hammad and Patience Bonheur Fayulu Mupolonga

Set by Fanny Bisaillon Cendron

Lighting by Mathieu Marcil

Music by Dumisizwe Vuyo BhembeCredits

Mwana is a little girl who lives in a village deep in the forest. Her best friend is a turtle. When a monster keeps steeling the village’s food supply and the adults can’t solve the problem, Mwana offers a suggestion on how to solve the problem. She is initially ignored as being too young to solve such a problem. Eventually she wins the day.  The moral is that sometimes the very young are very wise and should be taken seriously.

The story is told using puppets, shadow play, storytelling and directly engaging the audience.

This is for children 3 +

The moral is lovely—pay attention to children for they are wise. The good people who created and perform this piece should take their own advice and note their audience because at 45 minutes in length, this piece is 15 minutes too long. The children will tell you. At my performance at various times they fidgeted, talked, squirmed and were bored. The piece could stand to be cut and edited judiciously.

The final show is May 19 at 11 am in English.

 

TWEET TWEET!

At the Redwood Theatre, 1300 Gerrard St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Created and choreographed by Lindsay Goodtimes, Holly Treddenick and Monica Dottor

Birdwatcher, Weston Horvath.

Performed by Lindsay Goodtimes and Holly Treddenick

Directed by Monica Dottor

Set by Kelsey Carriere

Sound by Monica Dottor

Lighting by Ian Goodtimes

Costumes by Tanis Sydney McArthur

TWEET TWEET! Is a gem of a show that is performed without words but plenty of bird sounds. Two small birds awake in their nests high in a magical tree (created with ropes), discover each other and the world in which they live. The gifted Monica Dottor directs and co-choreographed the piece. The birds wake up to the Flower Duet from Lakmé with liberal sprinklings of music from The Magic Flute, Ode to Joy, and others selections. Glorious.

For children 0-6.

It plays until May 20.

www.weefestival.ca

 

 

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

Created and performed by Jani Lauzon

Directed by Franco Boni

Environmental design by Melissa Joakim

Movement consultant, Julia Aplin

A deeply moving, eloquent exploration of what is sacred from the sky, the stars a pebble to a rock.

 The Story and production. Prophecy Fog by Jani Lauzon explores the question: “Can a site still be sacred if it has been desecrated?” Lauzon comes to the question with lots of experience and background. She is Métis and has had her mother, grandmother and elders to teach her to appreciate the world in which she lives: the air, rocks, water, sky, stars and earth.  She has been collecting rocks of all sorts her whole life. She says that each one has a story.

Melissa Joakim’s environmental design of the set is amazing in establishing Lauzon’s connection to rocks.  The audience sits in a circle in chairs or on pillows.  Inside the circle are bowls and bowls of rocks of various shapes and sizes from boulders to pebbles.

Lauzon stands in the centre, swaying and dancing on a round piece of red/orange material with spokes of material jutting out from it; it’s the sun I assume.  As the play goes on Lauzon upends the bowls of rocks, spreads them around the space, and even holds various ones up and tells us where she found it and what it means.  From her mother she learned that if you rub a rock in your hands and feel its warmth you will hear its stories.

Lauzon chose to investigate her question by going to the Mojave Desert in California, specifically to Giant Rock which had been revered and deemed sacred by the Indigenous peoples of the area. I believe Lauzon picked Giant Rock because it has been defaced with graffiti in spray paint and other materials and many of the writings are despicable.

In the theatre there is a bank of TV screens on one of the back walls for those of us lucky enough to face them so we can see video footage of the slogans that Lauzon took when she went to the site with her daughter.  (It’s unfortunate there isn’t another bank of TVs on the other wall behind us so that everybody can see what startling footage was taken of the trip.) “WHITE POWER” is sprayed across one side of Giant Rock; a swastika is right under it.  There are not just one or two slogans; the face of the rock seems splattered with this stuff. So when Lauzon was filmed delicately, respectfully passing her hand over the rock, even including those areas with graffiti on it, she illuminated the sacredness of the rock in spite of the desecration of it by some cretins.  She answered her question.

The moments in that film are all the more poignant because Lauzon in person plays a tubed instrument that when blown sounds like a flute: mournful, somber and so moving.

Lauzon is a compelling storyteller with a dancer’s grace. The piece is directed with care by Franco Boni. There are moments of stillness, joy, sadness and a real sense of wonder at her vast collection of rocks.

Comment. Lauzon sets up the lead up to seeing the graffiti so that we have a vested interest in any rock let alone a sacred one. We won’t look at rocks in the same way after this show.  And she will have her audience wondering about the question too.

The Theatre Centre, Paper Canoe Projects and nightswimming present:

Opened: May 16, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.theatrecentre.org

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

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set by Ken MacKenzie

Costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Raha Javanfar

Composer/musician, Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Mazin Elsadig

Darren A. Herbert

Marcel Stewart

An elegant, fierce poem to brotherly love, temptation, devotion and wanting to belong.

 The Story.  The play was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the screenplay for Moonlight and won the Academy Award for it.

We are in the Louisiana Bayou. It’s the story of three black men. Ogun Size owns a garage and works very hard at the job. He is a quiet, decent man who does not want trouble or to cause it. His brother Oshoosi Size has just gotten out of prison and wants to let loose and have fun. He wants to meet women and party. His brother puts him to work and be respectful and not get into trouble. Then Elegba shows up. He was Oshoosi’s cell mate. He’s pure charm and perhaps devious plans. He wants Oshoosi to join him for some fun. He has a beat up old car and Ogun works on it so it becomes a souped up car.

A note about the characters’ names: From the program: “The character names come from the gods, or orishas of the West African Yoruba tradition. In the cosmology, Ogun is the patron deity who works in metal, known for his strength in battle. Oshoosi is the hunter: quick-witted avenger of those seeking justice, and Elegba is the trickster, whose temptations are meant to teach human beings.”

So Ogun in the play works on cars—hence the metal—and his strength here is not just physical but mental strength.  He works hard to keep his brother on the straight and narrow.  He has to have moral and spiritual strength not to be brought down because people might think that because his brother did not succeed that Ogun must also be responsible.  Oshoosi is a hunter of sorts, he is on the lookout for fun or mischief. He is quick witted.  He remembers slights. But he has a strong opponent in his brother Ogun.

And then there is Elegba who is a charming, smiling trickster here, tricking Oshoosi to come with him for fun.  We have an inkling trouble is ahead.

The Production.  The production is terrific. Ken MacKenzie’s set is striking. An old car is half-buried in sand. Its head lights are blinking. The windshield is missing. Characters will slide into and out of that windshield as well as slide out from under the car.

The playing area is a square filled with sand around the car. The audience sits on three sides of the square.  The musician/composer Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison provides the music which he plays on percussion instruments and sings off to one side.

As befitting a play with so much attention to the West African gods, the three actors arrive on stage dressed in undershirts and stretch pants, to mid thigh. It’s as if they are ready to fight each other. And considering the Yaruba tradition the characters have white spots painted on their legs and feet and there are black and white stripes around their fingers. Elegba has a tattoo around his right upper arm. There are no markings on their faces.

When they enter they do a ceremonial dance that is both energetic and fierce. Then they delicately touch the ground together as if in prayer and the play begins.  This is a wonderful ensemble beautifully directed by Mumbi Tyndyebwa Otu. She knows how to establish the relationships among characters without being intrusive. And she knows how to use stillness to great advantage. Characters listen without unnecessary movement. There is a such a clear focus of one character listening to another, that it compels the audience to listen too. Ogun (Daren A Herbert) sitting and listening to Oshoosi (Mazin Elsadig) spill his guts abut his concerns is stunning. The same focus on listening  is there when Ogun talks about Oshoosi growing up—Mazin Elsadig is riveted to listening to his brother.

While the three actors create a tight ensemble they are also standouts individually. The acting is compelling. There is such a sense of concentration between the three actors.

As Ogun, Darren A. Herbert is quietly arresting.  He has that bearing of a decent man who knows the world he’s in and keeps his head down. Ogun was aware of what people said about him and his brother as they were growing up. Ogun raised Oshoosi. Ogun knew about malicious gossip about his family and he knew that people did not look kindly on Oshoosi and probably thought Ogun was responsible. It was a burden he endured with dignity and grace.

As Oshoosi, Mazin Elsadig has that energy of a person who has just been let loose from prison.  He’s combative with his brother but not a bad person, just easily lead. He remembers slights from his growing up. They stay with him. Ogun does not let that happen to him. How both brothers deal with their demons is fascinating.

And then there is Elegba, played with smiling charm and a sense of danger by Marcel Stewart. There is subtext with Elegba. We know his plans with Oshoosi will not be good. Elegba has that easy way with manipulation. Oshoosi will not know what hit him.

Comment. The Brothers Size is one gripping play. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has such a facility with language that he makes it both poetic and musical.  Ogun describes how his mother was pregnant with Oshoosi: “There she was, belly full a you.”

It’s musical, particular and so eloquent.  McCraney writes of black men trying to find their way in the world, not just a white world but their own world as well. There are so many rocky places for these three characters in defining what makes a man. They want to fit in but also want to be true to themselves.  And he wrote the play when he was still a student in playwright at Yale. He now heads the playwriting department.

Astonishing. As is this production.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: May 10, 2019.

Closes: June 1, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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