l-rDerick Agyemang, Chelsea Russell
photo: Cesar Ghisilieri

 

At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest at Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Adaptation of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Adaptation and direction by Leighton Alexander Williams

Set, props and costumes by Julia Kim

Lighting by Logan Cracknell

Choreography by Christopher Clarke

Fight choreography by Phi Huynh

Cast: Derick Agyemang

Andrea Carter

Franckie Francois

Emmanuel Ofori

Demi Oliver

Alicia Richardson

Ryan Rosery

Chelsea Russell

Adrian Walters

Leighton Alexander Williams

A big, bold, sprawling mess of a play and production, and I mean that in a positive way, that explores the black experience using the Jewish experience as a framework and going further.

The Story. Judas Iscariot is on trial for betraying Jesus, his mentor and friend. His mother speaks passionately and glowingly of her devoted son, who might have had a weak moment. His lawyer tries to defend him but the impatient judge dismisses her. The obsequious prosecutor, who seems a bit shaky on the law, is on the other side. Satan and his followers arrive with their take.

The Production. A beautiful gospel hymn is sung in the dark—beautiful harmonies, but I wish I could see the choir (director Leighton Alexander Williams has his reasons for us not seeing the choir, fair enough). Then the choir disperses in the dark and the lights go up on a raised dais stage right (for me) with a barefoot man sitting in a chair head down, eyes closed, wearing a creme coloured shirt and pants. stage left. An imposing, serious judge takes his place.

I’m in the second row. A man in front of me is reading a book when the play begins. Do I tell him to put it down cause it’s rude? No. A woman directly opposite is writing constantly in the beginning of the first scene. Are you reviewing it, I wonder; I have some scribbling brethren who write all the time while the play is progressing—have you seen anything???? I want to ask her? Then the guy in front of me leans down to under his seat and brings out a ceramic coffee cup and takes a swig. AHHHH I get it. The people across the way see the title of his book. I have to wait until he puts it under his chair—“Law School for Dummies”. He is the ‘lawyer for the prosecution.’ The scribbling woman is the lawyer for the defense. The judge doesn’t like her and gives her a hard time. I stop thinking rude thoughts about a clod of an audience member who is actually in the cast.

The court is wild with zipping dialogue. Satan is called to testify. He is one striking fellah (Leighton Alexander Williams doing triple duty besides directing and adapting.) His eyes are soft and gentle, the red streaks across his forehead suggest another kind of personality characteristic—‘back off and don’t mess with me.”  He is seductive, has the most incredible body language that can strike terror in anyone and bend backwards suggesting that limbo dancing is his forte.

There is an orgy of sorts complete with sprays of white mist, rock music, drinking, fuzzy brains and debauchery. Leighton Alexander Williams’ staging is impressive because he negotiates the cast of ten around the space with ease and confidence. And his direction is bold and fearless as well. Christopher Clarke’s aggressive choreography is compelling.

Many of the cast have spent much of their time doing film and television and little theatre. Again, this is a bold effort with some making their theatrical debut.

Comment. Obsidian Theatre Company whose mandate is to tell stories of the black Diaspora has established an initiative called “Darktown” “to help develop and provide opportunities for theatre artists. Judas NOIR is part of that initiative and because the piece is part of development, I’m commenting and not really reviewing. What a great initiative. Don’t be put off by the word ‘mess’. Some desserts are called ‘mess’ and they are delicious despite the name.  I’m glad I saw Judas NOIR.

Obsidian Theatre’s Darktown presents BDB Productions:

From: Oct. 12, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.

www.obsidiantheatre.com

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The Royale

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

Written by Marco Ramirez

Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Michelle Ramsey

Composer and sound designed by Thomas Ryder Payne

Fight director, Simon Don

Cast: Christef Desire

Dion Johnstone

Diego Matamoros

Alexander Thomas

Sabryn Rock

Playwright Marco Ramirez has written a gripping play of ambition, racism and tenacity. The story of Jay Jackson, a black boxer, wanting to fight the retired heavyweight champion of the world, who is white, echoes the story of Jack Johnson who fought Jim Jeffries in 1910. The hopes and dreams of blacks rest on Jay winning. But the cost to him and his family is enormous.

Dion Johnstone plays Jay with a sheen of elegance, drive, laser focus and a determination that is breathtaking. The cast is superb.

Guillermo Verdecchia has directed a production that is muscular, nuanced, detailed and simply thrilling.

Full review shortly.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Oct. 18, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 90 gripping minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace,  Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Justin Miller

Accompaniment by Steven Conway

Directed by Byron Laviolette

Design by Joseph Pagnan

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Tent by Haley Reap

Puppets by Jesse Byiers

Part revival meeting, part lecture, part gentle hectoring. Totally entertaining in slightly eye-brow-knitting way.

 We negotiate our way around the outside of Haley Reap’s tent to the ‘creamy flaps of the tent’ (Pearle’s words, not mine). Joseph Pagnan has designed the production so we pass an old typewriter, old suitcases, vintage stuff to get us into the mood. Quite effective.

We are welcomed into Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua tent by Brother Gantry who holds a basket full of ping pong balls. We take a ping pong ball from a basket on the way in. Each ball has a number and “Chautauqua” printed on it. The number corresponds to one of 10 benches. I sit on my bench at the back. Strings of lights cross the top of the tent. On the four walls of the tent are sayings that we will come to know are the backbone of Pearle’s philosophy: Speak Truth, Live Pure, Right the Wrong and Follow the Way. Simple codes of behaviour.

At show time, we hear Pearle singing a hymn outside the tent. She travels around the outside of the tent, fluttering the tent wall on my side and then makes a quiet but arresting entrance. She is in full, high makeup: dramatic eyebrows worthy of the late Marian Seldes, false eyelashes as long and curved as skateboard loops, bright red lipstick, definite shadings on the cheeks and eyelids, wearing an auburn wig of waves and curls. She wears a vintage, form-fitting WWII jacket with a ‘wings’ pin on it, over a white blouse,  a string of pearls, well fitted Capri pants and heels. The smile is disarming and yet makes us wary. The voice is a deep purr.

Pearle is fervent in her efforts to create community, assure us we are not alone and impart wisdom. Several times during the gathering or “Chautauqua”, she makes us recite together the four wise sentences/dictates of a good life. She urges us to say “You Betcha” when we agree with her and we usually do. I don’t want to know her reaction if we don’t agree.

Pearle talks of the worrying world we live it with one leader with orange hair who obviously does not subscribe to her four rules of life. Are we worried? Will we find the way? You Betcha.

She approaches various people in the audience, asks their name, chats with them respectfully, even asking if she can touch then (usually on the arm or the shoulder) and it’s all very non-threatening. People are up for the involvement. And she remembers their names as she goes back to various people for further assurance. One woman at the back volunteers to drink some kind of pure Chautauqua water that Pearle pours slowly into a glass. It has a strange light amber? colour. Do I detect a little fish that poured into the glass? The brave woman drinks a bit of it without terrible consequence. You Betcha.

The audience is trusting, accommodating and it seems on the same wavelength as Pearle regarding the world and its problems. But occasionally that purring voice and charming smile suggest a more sinister, unsettling side to her.

She picks a person to participate in a game. The prize is a crèmesicle. Who would the woman share the crèmesicle with? The woman chooses her friend. Then Pearle says since there is only one to give away (there are two, one goes to another person) Pearle asks the woman if she would eat it herself or give it to her friend (note how subtly the sharing is cut from the equation). The woman gives it to her friend. Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua makes us think about such things.

Brother Gantry (the well-turned out Steven Conway) plays the guitar and  engages with Pearle and not always in a good way. He comes under some scrutiny and sharp words when something goes wrong. Another reason to be wary and respectful of Pearle.

Pearle re-enacts a play using hand puppets that she distributes to members of the audience who will play the various characters. The script for each puppet is in the sleeve of the puppet. It takes a special impish chutzpah to give the puppet of the old mother to Ronnie Burkett, marionette master extraordinaire, who was in my audience. Mr. Burkett does a brilliant job with the puppet and the old-crone voice. Of course! You Betcha!

This is my second? Third? Chautauqua and the format is the same with perhaps some tweaks here and there. It is all scripted, even the planned malfunction of a stubborn light that flickers on and off and then goes off. Pearle is not happy about that and chastises the stage manager, the accommodating Giuseppe Condello. Pearle replaces the bulb herself and voilá there is light! You Betcha. (however in my show Pearle accidentally stepped on a light at the side of the tent and apologized to Mr. Condello who then replaced the light during the show. That was a mistake that was not planned.)

There are of course moments when Pearle, and her gifted alter ego Justin Miller, rise to the occasion and banter with the audience. The quips are good natured with just a little bit of edge occasionally. She is never insulting. It’s all directed with easy care by Byron Laviolette.

Justin Miller has written and created a character that stops us in our tracks; makes us pay attention to what she says and agree with her. She gives us a good time. And lots to think about. Does she ‘speak truth, live pure, right the wrong, and follow the way’? I think so, er, uh, “You Betcha.” And I will too.

Produced by Rebecca Ballarin and Justin Miller.

 Began: Oct. 11, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 28, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes

www.passemuraille.ca

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At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Dominique Morisseau

Based on the book, “The Temptations by Otis Williams”

Music and lyrics by The Legendary Motown Catalog           +

Directed by Des McAnuff

Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

Scenic Design by Robert Brill

Costumes by Paul Tazwell

Lighting by Howell Binkley

Sound by Steve Canyon Kennedy

Projection design by Peter Nigrini

Cast: Saint Aubyn

Derrick Baskin

Marqell Edward Clayton

James Harkness

Jeremy Hope

Jawan M Jackson

Rashidra Scott

Ephraim Sykes

Nasia Thomas

Christian Thompson

A run down memory lane of some of the greatest hits of the rhythm and blues group The Temptations with a smattering of biography. ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations is a show for those who think longingly of the music of the 60s and 70s.

 The Story. This is about the rhythm and blues juggernaut that was The Temptations, from their early days (the 1960s) in Detroit when Otis Williams and his boyhood friend Melvin Franklin formed a singing group. Williams then added Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin and after searching for a distinctive name became The Temptations.

The basic biographical points are made in the broadest strokes. They sang where they could and came to the attention of major music honcho Berry Gordy of Motown Records who signed them and they were on their way. Smokey Robinson initially wrote their hit songs. At the height they were the number one rhythm and blues group. With fame came pressure. Outside relationships were tested. The members of the group squabbled. There was drug and alcohol abuse. All this took its toll on the group and their relationships. David Ruffin was replaced. This caused further rifts in the group, until one by one they either drifted away or died.

 The Production. Director Des McAnuff has a love of the rock, rhythm and blues music of the 1960s and 70s. He has directed various shows that celebrate that music: The Who’s Tommy, (based on the Who’s 1969 rock opera) Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s rock opera) Jersey Boys (about the 60s group The Four Seasons), ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations (on its way to Broadway) and Summer (about 1970s pop star, Donna Summer, also on Broadway). Excluding Summer which I haven’t seen, McAnuff has a blueprint for how to do these shows which he has repeated with ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The production is a bombardment to the eyes and ears. Robert Brill’s set is a constant movement of panels flowing in from and out to the wings or up to the flies and down to mid-air. Howell Binkley’s eye-popping lighting would not be out of place at a rock-concert, with beams and shafts of light lasering into the audience, sweeping the stage or blinking all over the space. Peter Nigrini’s projections that travel across the top of the moving set pieces, are a constant reminder of where these men started (Detroit) to the places to which they toured (Los Angeles, London, Paris, New York, back to Detroit. There are projections of notable historical events as well (the Detroit riots, the murder of Martin Luther King, etc.)  Interestingly there is almost no indication of when this took place, I assume because we are supposed to know.

And then there are the Temptations themselves with their blended harmonies, their soaring voices and the synchronized moves. Otis Williams, the ‘leader’ (a laid-back Derrick Baskin), Paul Williams (James Harkness), Melvin Franklin, (Jawan M. Jackson with his deep voice and imposing stature), Eddie Kendricks, the creator of their moves, (played by the engaging Jeremy Pope) and David Ruffin the showman with the powerful voice who never missed an opportunity to do the splits, (played by the energetic Ephraim Sykes).

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo looked at hours of videos and film of The Temptations performing to get a sense of their choreographed moves and then he created his own vocabulary for the group for this show. He started with the initial swaying, synchronized moves, referenced when it was decided to engage the female fan base by delicately outlining a woman’s body as they sang. That delicacy lasted one song. Then Trujillo’s moves became more muscular, aggressive, athletic, with fist punches and pelvis thrusts. Was he foreshadowing the moves of later singers who would ‘borrow’ the Temptation’s routines? When Detroit erupted in violence, the choreography of the group was angry and defensive. That reference to the political climate is touched on and then the group moves back into focusing on its own problems. Song after song saw choreography that became more breathless and sweat flinging. Of the whole creative team Trujillo’s shows a real imagination and creativity of how to create fresh choreography of the group, but still put them in a wider world.

For the most part, the acting is irrelevant, except for a lovely, detailed performance from Rashidra Scott as Josephine, Otis’ long suffering wife.

Comment. The show is billed as: ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations. That’s wishful thinking. Writer Dominique Morisseau is a very gifted writer but you wouldn’t know it from her paltry book for the show. She drops little dots of information really to act as a link for the songs. There is precious little character development no matter if we connect the dots. For example Otis Williams’ unhappy relationship with Josephine is handled in about three scenes—she gets pregnant and they marry; he tours and communicates by phone from the road; and when he does come home she says she’s met someone else and he’s sorry it didn’t work out! All in about three scenes.  The ‘times’ of The Temptations are given short-shrift. Aside from references to the riots in Detroit and the death of Martin Luther King we don’t know if anything in the outside world touches any of these men. There are practically no dates projected or otherwise that tell us the time frame of the Temptations trajectory. Are we supposed to know by osmosis? How about those of us who liked the music of The Temptations but focused our musical world on Broadway musicals. A little context please. I don’t blame Morisseau for this. She is adhering to the McAnuff blue-print-formula for creating this kind of musical.

As with Des McAnuff’s previous show Jersey Boys you begin to wonder if this is really a concert of The Temptations’ greatest hits—we hear: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “My Girl”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Shout,”  “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” (and of the 31 songs, some are sung by The Supremes, the Temptations’ contemporaries). But then that sketchy book gets in the way. It then becomes the monotony of, “And then we sang, and then we recorded and then we won this award, and then we found another singer”.

In sum, the singing in the show is terrific. The dancing is energetic and intoxicating even when it’s more and more aggressive. But the intensity of the efforts of all concerned to make us like the show is overwhelming and rather tedious. We are bludgeoned into submission.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Oct. 16, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.  

www.mirvish.com

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Review: THE WOLVES

by Lynn on October 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Amaka Umeh
Photo: Dahlia Katz

 

At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Sarah Delappe

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Set and Lighting by Jareth Li

Costumes and movement coach, Sarah Doucet

Sound and composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Rachel Cairns

Aisha Evelyna

Ruth Goodwin

Annelise Hawrylak

Ula Jurecki

Brittany Kay

Heath V. Salazar

Haillie Seline

Amaka Umeh

Robyn Stevan

A beautiful production that realizes the cohesive connection of the players on this soccer team as well as their individuality. That team is a microcosm of the world they live in.

The Story. The Wolves is a soccer team of high school girls in Middle America. As they go through their group warm-up and stretching routine they gossip, talk about the news of the day, usually get the information wrong, inadvertently reveal secrets and confidences and regret the lapse afterwards, wonder about the new girl and how come she’s so good if she says she’s never played on a team before and they try to stare down their opponents and psych themselves up if they feel the other team is better. There are jealousies, grudges, on-going feuds and a startling event that changes them all.

The Production. Jareth Li has designed a pristine, beautiful soccer pitch of short brilliant green grass. We are naturally told not to step on it to protect it. The team in shorts, spandex etc. jersey’s with the number on the back and smart running shoes, marches out at the top of the soccer pitch, down along the stage left side then forms a circle in the middle to do their all important stretching. It warms them up and makes them flexible. Becoming familiar with the young women by their numbers and their foibles keeps the audience limber as well.

The team is lead by their imposing captain, #25, a serious, no-nonsense Rachel Cairns who later gives over to heart-breaking emotion at the end. She leads the team in the warm-up routine of twists, stretches, lunges and balancing. They are in perfect synch and one can imagine their coordinated moves in a game. This speaks volumes for the exacting staging of director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (plus movement coach Sarah Doucet).  Number 13 is the irreverent joker of the team and Heath V. Salazar plays her with an edge and daring.  She never backs down from a fight that she usually initiates. The goalie  #00 (a watchful Amaka Umeh)  has very little to say but seems to know all the secrets of every player. Her anxiety before a game makes her rush off to ‘hurl’. One of the star players is #7 who is both confident and combative as played by Aisha Evelyna. She has a secret that she doesn’t want shared and of course it slips out. The anger and hurt in Aisha Evelyna’s playing of her makes one suck air slowly. Robyn Stevan plays Soccer Mom in a small part of a mother who comes to wish the team well. This is a woman who puts on a cheerful attitude and a winning smile in the face of a traumatic event. It’s an emotionally gut-wrenching performance.

In fact that traumatic event changes everybody on that team. The body language, the awareness they have of and for each other again attests to Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s detailed, sensitive direction. The lines wiz through the air with precision as each player replies or subtly reacts. The playing is intricate and complex, like a game of soccer.

The team seems a microcosm of a world they live in; war, racism, violence, unfair competition, death, disappointment and loss. The team is multi-ethnic and the cast reflects that as well, including actors who identify as female and non-binary. They also illuminate joy, friendship, camaraderie, inclusion and compassion.

Comment. This is Sarah Delappe’s first play. Astonishing. She captures the language, short hand, swearing, idiosyncrasies, turns of phrases and awkwardness of some of these young women and the tough-minded confidence of others. Each young woman strives to be an individual and of course they are, but Delappe has us know them only by their jersey number and never by a name. I loved that irony. Delappe is challenging her audience as well as her characters. The Wolves is a terrific play given a wonderful, compelling production.

The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 12, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Tickets: (647) 341-7390 

 

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At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Mac Fyfe

Set and lighting by Chris Clifford

Sound by Andrew Dollar

Costume by Angela Thomas

Cast: Bob Nasmith

A remount as good as when this production first played earlier in the year.

The Story. A man reviews his life playing the tapes he recorded marking key events. And he eats bananas in the process.

The Production. This delicate, thoughtful, moving production played earlier in the year to great acclaim and has been remounted for those who missed it. Mac Fyfe directs with care and attention to detail. Time is spent watching. Krapp gets an idea. He takes a set of keys out of his pocked. He goes to his desk and opens a drawer and takes out a spool of tape to put on the tape machine. He also takes out a banana, looks at it, ponders, easily peels it, throws the peel on the ground,  then places one end of the banana in his mouth and stands there thinking. He bites down on the banana. He walks to the side of the desk sliding on the banana skin. This recounts the humiliations of everyday life that trip us up even in the simplest of things.

Bob Nasmith as Krapp, is white-faced, toothless and compulsive as he listens to his tapes documenting even the most mundane things in his earlier life.  Sometimes there is sweet regret as he recalls a lost love. Sometimes he is aghast at his pretentious younger self. It is the life of lost opportunities, emotional connections that were disconnected that weigh on him resulting in his solitary life.

Comment. Samuel Beckett’s play is so full of sly detail, hidden heartache and why Krapp is alone and forgotten. Mac Fyfe realizes all of it in his sensitive direction and Bob Nasmith’s frail but resilient Krapp illuminates one of Beckett’s towering characters. Don’t let this production pass you by.

Singing Swan Productions with the generous support of Theatre Passe Muraille and VideoCabaret presents:

Opened: Oct. 4, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 45 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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The Cast
Photo: Tim Leyes

 

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jennifer Haley

Directed by Peter Pasyk

Set and lights by Patrick Lavender

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Sound and music by Richard Feren

Projections designed by Nick Bottomley

Cast: Katherine Cullen

Hannah Levinson

Mark McGrinder

Robert Persichini

David Storch

Provocative play with a huge squirm factor and a production that does the play justice.  

The Story. It’s certainly provocative.  It’s written by American playwright Jennifer Haley. She is exploring the ethics of the world of virtual reality if some of the activity in the Nether would be unacceptable in the real world.  The Nether is a more sophisticated and perhaps sinister world of the internet continued.

Mr. Sims is being investigated by Detective Morris, a young woman,  for his site called the Hideaway in the Nether in which people, manly men, can change their identity and have a relationship, in this case with a little Victorian era girl named Iris, about nine-years-old.

Take a breath. Exhale.

Sims says he has done nothing wrong—his company that offers these opportunities is squeaky clean. He has created s virtual reality world that allows a person to act without consequence. And many are willing to indulge in that world. The Nether follows the various people who inhabit that world. Mr. Doyle is a ‘guest’ in Mr. Sims’ site. Mr. Woodnut is as well and he has a secret about his identity. Iris is the young girl who spends time with Mr. Sims and the guests.

Detective Morris is forceful in her investigation to get Sims to confess to that odd world and why he created it. His reason is chilling and no I won’t tell you what it is. Suffice it to say his reason mixes a reality with the virtual reality that is stunning.

The Production.  How successful is the production in conjuring the eerie world of The Nether and then Sims’ Hideaway? Very successful.

Peter Pasyk has directed a very clear, compelling production, with stark florescent lighting in the scenes when Mr. Sims (David Storch)  is being interrogated. Designer Patrick Lavender has created shafts of florescent light that barely illuminate the interrogation giving it a spooky feel. These shafts are coupled with short, sharp sounds for effect. (Thank you Richard Feren, who designed the evocative sound and music).  It’s always startling.

Sims sits in a chair centre stage, dressed in a black robe of sorts that covers his whole body and drapes to the floor. He is bathed in soft white light but the background is black. It’s eerie looking. As Sims, David Storch projects a commanding arrogance with a touch of concern that he might be found out. Detective Morris, a forceful Katherine Cullen, stands over him, also illuminated in the soft white light. She has a position of power. She leans over him, honing in, crowding him. Sims holds his own. He is wily. He’s gotten out of tough scrapes before and no rookie cop is going to intimidate him.

Richard Feren’s resounding sound effects punctuate moments in the play for effect. Patrick Lavender has also created a lush, almost idyllic Victorian world in the scenes with Iris and her guests and Sims. It’s a world with serenity, beauty, patterns, light and lush vegetation and gardens.

When Detective Morris interviews Mr. Doyle (a sullen, nervous Robert Persichini), a celebrated high school science teacher, Detective Morris is as combative as Doyle is. Doyle seems on the verge of being beaten down, but he will not go down without a fight.

Characters when describing their desires try to keep them in check, but we do get the sense of the dark world they inhabit.

A guest is Mr. Woodnut with a secret more mysterious than the others. He is played with an aching reticence by Mark McGrinder. He is at once gentle but eager for more with his relationship with Iris. That scares him.

David Storch plays Sims as a serious man who defends his right to create this virtual world where no one is hurt and thus no consequences. It’s the moral implications that playwright Jennifer Haley is exploring and Detective Morris is investigating.

Hannah Levinson plays Iris, the nine-year-old girl. Hannah played Matilda in the musical of the same name and also young Allison in Fun Home.  She is dressed as a Victorian child—frilly dress, white socks and black Mary Jane shoes. She wears a big blue bow in the back of her hair. She is forthright, serious, accommodating and seems mature for her years. That’s because in the Nether world there is an adult ‘behind’ her who has taken the identity of a little girl. We never get the sense that that girl is in any danger of being overwhelmed by an adult because her intellect will defend her. Sure it sounds creepy, certainly when casting a young girl to play the part.

Comment. I love that Jennifer Haley doesn’t set her play in the future. The time is: “soon” which is a more compelling notation, something to be concerned about and wary of.

Haley has stated that a young girl must be cast in the part of Iris for full effect because if an adult was cast to play the kid, the same powerful punch would not be achieved.

What is clear here is that Hannah Levinson is a young girl, but her language and her composure in playing Iris suggests that while we think she’s a young girl, we can also be convinced she’s a figment of the virtual reality world.

I loved this play and production. Jennifer Haley has written a bracing play about the murky world of the internet now called The Nether and makes us question a world with no consequences, no matter how morally reprehensible, even if no one gets hurt. It’s beautifully directed, designed and acted by these gifted people. I love that it makes us feel uncomfortable for all the right reasons. And gives us lots to chew on.

Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 11, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes, approx.

www.coalminetheatre.com

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At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont

Based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

“Ideator”?? and Director, Jackie Gosselin

Set and costumes by Pierre-Ėtienne Locas

Lighting by Martin Sirois

Composed and soundscape by Pierre Guy Blanchard

Cast: Rosalie Dell’Aniello

Jérémie Earp

Agathe Fouçault

Rémy Savard

 

I think this is a terrific production. The story is provocative; the action is hugely accomplished and the subtlety of having the cast of four so depend on each other, which is how a play is done, is really engaging.

 The Story. You know the story. I know you know the story. What if Romeo and Juliet….from Young People’s Theatre asks us to consider what if things in the play were different and it ended with Romeo and Juliet living and not dying?

The Montagues and the Capulets hate each other and no one remembers why but the feud continues.  So writer/director Jackie Gosselin asks us to consider that since Romeo and Juliet manage to fall in love, even though they are from the warring families: Juliet from the Capulets, Romeo from the Montagues, why can’t the families use better judgement and look deeper than the feud and get along?

Gosselin asks us to consider that Romeo was supposed to get a letter that told him that Juliet was going to take a potion that would make her look like she was dead, but then Romeo would come in time to see her wake up and they could then run off together. As we know, he missed getting the letter.

What if we went back and he actually got the letter. He would arrive and see her unconscious but know she was not dead. Then they could run off together.

Gosselin also asks: what if Romeo, Tybolt (on the other side) and Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, did not have a sword fight in which Tybolt and Mercutio didn’t die and so Romeo wouldn’t be banished.  So Gosselin in a way asks us to consider what we know about the play and what if much of the stuff was changed to result in a happier outcome.

The Production. First there is a voice-over (Christopher Gaze) telling us that everybody knows the story of Romeo and Juliet for the most part. The voice is calm, deep, comforting and assuring.  We know Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play.  But what if things could be changed.

Then the lights go up on two overturned red staircases set on a platform that revolves, and we can see there are four bodies on the stage (two men and two women:  Rosalie Dell’Aniello, Jérémie Earp, Agathe Fouçault and Rémy Savard).

Gradually they get up, put the two staircases upright and introduce themselves: Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio  (Romeo’s cousin) and the last character is a horse. That lovely joke keeps us on our toes.

This company called DynamO Theatre uses physical theatre, namely gymnastics for the most part to underscore the story. They each take turns switching characters.  A woman might say she is Romeo or a man might say he is Juliet. The relationships of the characters change too because as they flip off the stairs or reach out for a pose, the other actors support them or hold them so they don’t fall. Trust is a huge part of the physicality of the work, but it also works for the characters; each character has to trust that the others are out for their best interest. I thought that was terrific.

There is a sword-fight between two men only they mime the fight because they aren’t holding swords. Situated on both sets of stairs are the two women holding swords.  One clicks her two swords together rapidly suggesting the fight. The other slides her swords together each time the men on the stage mime that the two men are separating while their swords slide away. Brilliant.

Then the performers alternate fighting with the swords and perform an actual sword fight.

They are really accomplished in sword-fighting. The dilemma facing the characters is whether or not they continue the feud and continue fighting. How they solve this is one of the most moving parts of the production.

 Comment. Ok while it’s assumed that most people know about Romeo and Juliet, do you need to know the story carefully? The voice over is pretty clear in assuming the kids know it, but a refresher wouldn’t hurt.

I think there a larger issue here than just what if Romeo and Juliet didn’t die at the end, but something changed and prevented it? It gets kids, nine years old and up, to think in a different way.  It asks them how to solve the problem of blind animosity that goes on for years without knowing why and to find a way to make peace without embarrassment.

I think this is a terrific production. The story is provocative; the action is hugely accomplished and the subtlety of having the cast of four so depend on each other, which is how a play is done, is really engaging.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 10, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 19, 2018.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

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At the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont.

Written by Willy Russell

Directed by Andrew Kushnir

Set and costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

A beautiful production in almost every way that illuminated so many hidden secrets of this beguiling play.

The Story. Shirley is in a sad place in her life. She has devoted her life to her husband Joe and daughter Milandra and lost herself (her self?) in the process. Her marriage is stale. Joe expects dinner on the table as soon as he comes home from work. He is very set in his ways. If it’s Wednesday he expects to get egg and steak. If it’s Thursday he expects egg and chips. I might be mixing up the meals for the days, but you get my meaning.

Shirley plans to shaking things up. She is serving Joe egg and chips and it’s not the right day for it.

Shirley has a free-spirited woman-friend who has decided to take Shirley on a vacation with her to Greece. The thought of going off without Joe to a place she’s always wanted to go, makes Shirley lightheaded. But she accepts. And waits for the fallout.

 The Production. Jung-Hye Kim has created a compact working kitchen for Act I and a simple beach set, with a beautiful blue sky, for Greece in Act II.

In Act I Shirley (Deborah Drakeford) drinks wine, talks to the wall for company and prepares Joe’s egg and chips. She takes the groceries out of the Tesco shopping bag, and puts them away in the working, full fridge. Initially I am concerned about the layout of Jung-Hye Kim’s kitchen. The shape of the kitchen is a V with the tip of the V pointing to the middle of the audience, rather than a slightly thrust stage. The door to the outside is upstage left. The fridge is to the right of the door with the sink beside that. Then along the stage right edge of the V there is a stove facing into the kitchen with the back of the stove rising up. Then there is a counter beside that. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the kitchen. My concern is that half of the audience does not get a clear view of the stove where Shirley will make the egg and chips. Audiences love watching actors make real food. They are transfixed by the activity. The stove back blocks the view of the people on the extreme right side. I am just off centre and I don’t clearly see her make the eggs. I also wonder if that counter next to the stove is too small to prepare the chips.

Not to worry. Andrew Kushnir solves this neatly by having Shirley peel the potato and cut it into chips by doing it in clear view at the table in the centre of the kitchen. She fries the chips in a fryer she brings out from under the counter, which she then puts on the counter beside the stove. Nicely solved, but it’s the fryer that blocks my view of Shirley preparing a frying pan for the eggs. Frustrating.

Kushnir creates moments that are intensely moving. At one point Shirley takes the airline ticket to Greece out of her purse and shows it to us. She then holds it to her with such reverie it takes your breath away. Shirley remembers a terrible moment when she was in school and the teacher humiliated her in public to the class that again is handled with care but for the maximum effect on the audience. During intermission there is a sound effect of a plane taking off and later landing. Nice touch, that.

Deborah Drakeford imbues Shirley with a winning sunniness, a hope that there has to be something better, a tenacity to try and create that better life, a willingness to be surprised and the faith in the love she has for Joe and the hope that he rises to the occasion that Shirley offers him. There is a sense in Act I that Shirley is hanging on, trying to make the best of things, yet being brave to challenge the norm. In Act II Drakeford gives Shirley a new confidence that in her search for her self. It’s a lovely, subtle transformation. Drakeford gives a performance brimming with life, optimism, the wisdom to embrace the sadness she is feeling at the loss of her self, and joy when she finds what she is looking for. Lovely performance and production.

Comment. I never get tired of seeing this play. I saw Nora McLellan do Shirley Valentine earlier this year in a lovely performance of it at the Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia and not I won’t compare the two performances. They are each their own entity. It’s a play in which a gifted male playwright, Willy Russell, can dig deep into the unhappy heart and mind of a woman who is lost. It’s without anger, vengeance, getting even or boiling regret. Instead it’s about love, a marriage that has settled into sameness and grinding repetition and a woman who wants to change that. Quiet, unassuming Shirley Valentine wants to change her life and her husband’s. She wants to grab at life, talk to her husband again and not the wall, and find her self. It’s a play rich with subtlety, nuance, details of the heart and with each production I discover a bit more and see things I missed.

Produced by the Thousand Islands Playhouse.

Began: Sept. 21,2018.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours

www.1000islandsplayhouse.com

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Writing Theatre Reviews Workshop

I’m doing a two day workshop on how to Write Theatre Reviews on Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 at Hart House.

Nov. 5. I cover the details of writing a review, the nuts, bolts, and bits to it. The class will see a performance of The Penelopiad at Hart House and write a review.

 Nov. 19. The reviews will be discussed.

It should be fun.

 Here are the details:

 https://recreation.utoronto.ca/Program/GetProgramDetails?courseId=066b680e-56ef-4fc1-a760-8822fb5590a4&semesterId=099c622a-88c6-4069-8258-7a319584156e

 

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