At various site-specific locations, Toronto, Ont.

An evening of three short plays:

The Stronger

A monologue by August Strindberg
In a new version by Julie Tepperman


Written by Samuel Beckett

What Doesn’t Kill You…

A monologue by Julie Tepperman

All directed by Aaron Willis.
Set and lighting by Nick Blais
Costumes by Michelle Tracey
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: Sheila Ingabire-Isaro
Mayko Nguyen
Julie Tepperman
Andy Trithardt

An evening of three short, sharp, compelling plays, presented by a superlative cast and created by the always inventive and bar-raising Convergence Theatre.

The Stories:

The Stronger. This is Julie Tepperman’s take on Strindberg’s monologue of a woman who meets a former friend in a restaurant, in which the woman lauds it over the friend (also a woman) about her happy marriage, with hints that the friend might have had an affair with the woman’s husband. There is a lot of snide sarcasm to the monologue of a wounded wife getting even with her husband’s former mistress.

Play. Samuel Beckett’s piercing, maddeningly difficult play in which three characters—two women and a man–give fragmented sentences of how the man was married to one woman but had an affair with the other woman and how he seemed trapped in both relationships. The women echo their unsettledness in their situations with the man and the other woman.

What Doesn’t Kill You… Julie Tepperman’s own stunning monologue when two former friends—Michaela and Sabrina– meet after a long estrangement. Sabrina is doing the talking and is the former mistress of Michaela’s former husband. Sabrina comes late to Michaela’s birthday party to try and make it up with her; to try and explain what happened in the affair and the guilt that Sabrina has felt since then. There is a twist that is beautifully created and comes at you sideways in a way you least expect it and it’s so right.

The Production. The three plays take place in three different site-specific locations, the first being upstairs at Aunties and Uncles restaurant. A charming waiter (Andy Trithardt) serves us small glasses of lemonade or Coke. Trithardt also plays the waiter in The Stronger, with a bit of a hiccup. In The Stronger Julie Tepperman as the Wife laces into the Mistress played with composed silence by Mayko Nguyen. The wife lets the Mistress have a stream of sarcasm, digs at how she-the mistress–is alone, and how the wife is content in her marriage. Tepperman flashes her eyes in moral indignation. It’s the performance of a wronged wife getting hers back. Nguyen conveys composure, but also embarrassment as the Mistress for being in this position.

We are led to our next locations by the Guide played with confidence and directness by Sheila Ingabire-Isaro.

In Play, three ghostly figures, a wife, a mistress and the man they share give their stories at break-neck speed but not so fast that we can’t hear every word. It is a masterful exercise of split-second timing in delivery by the cast of three and their superb director, Aaron Willis. A light illuminates each character in turn while he/she talks and since the pace is fast and even furious, this too is an example of the skill and proficiency of the acting and direction. That setting and that eerie lighting seem perfect for the gushing, rushing patter of dialogue. It’s a lovely touch that the hiccup from the waiter in The Stronger (played nicely by Andy Trithardt) is carried over to the Man in Play

What Doesn’t Kill You… by Julie Tepperman turns the tables on the story of The Stronger. Even her title is a tip of the hat to Strindberg, making a kind of pun between titles: “What Doesn’t Kill You….” Makes you “Stronger.” And Tepperman’s twist of an ending will leave you breathless.

Sabrina visits her old friend Michaela at the end of Michaela’s birthday party. All the guests have left and Sabrina comes in with a gift for the very surprised Michaela. It’s obvious Michaela does not want Sabrina there. Years before Sabrina, Michaela and Michaela’s then husband were very good friends. Michaela made a suggestion for the other two that changed the dynamic. Matters escalated and Michaela and Sabrina stopped being friends.

In this play it’s Julie Tepperman as Michaela the wife who is silent and Mayko Nguyen as Sabrina the mistress who is doing all the talking. Tepperman conveys all manner of discomfort, anger, impatience, exasperation and finally despair by facial expression, body language and breathing. Nguyen is frantic to make her points and win Michaela back as her friend. She rushes to express her thoughts to Michaela so she will continue to be interested. There is desperation in the argument; yearning in the desire; emotions laid bare.

Comment. Convergence Theatre continues to raise the bar on quality and excellence for independent theatre in this city. Creators Julie Tepperman and Aaron Willis have created a company that pushes themselves and their audience to explore and embrace theatre that is bracing, challenging and tremendous fun. Their site-specific discoveries will have you willingly going down dark alleyways if we know that at the end of the journey will be theatre that is as good as this evening is.

Presented by Convergence Theatre.

Opened: Oct. 13, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 4; 1 man, 5 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.


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

Written by Athol Fugard
Directed by Philip Akin
Set and costumes by Peter Hartwell
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Dance sequences by Valerie Moore
Cast: James Daly
Allan Louis
André Sills

An exquisitely directed and acted production of Athol Fugard’s searing play about life in Apartheid South Africa as seen through the eyes of three men.

NOTE: This production was first done at the Shaw Festival in July. It has since moved in tact to Toronto. It is still exquisite. I am reproducing the review here and urge you to see the production.

The Story. The play is set in the St. Georges Park Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950. Willie and Sam are two adult employees who take care of the room, serving, washing, doing cash etc. They are black. Hally (Harold is the actual name) is the privileged teenaged son of the white couple who own the tea room and have employed Willie and Sam for years.

Willie is fretting about a ballroom dance competition he wants to win but is saddled with a partner who doesn’t know the steps. He beats her up in frustration. She balks at this bad treatment and threatens to quit. Sam tells him to treat his partner better and he won’t lose her. He’s lost several to his bad behaviour.

Hally arrives to do his homework. Both Willie and Sam have known Hally since he was a young boy. Willie and Sam treat Hally in their own way. Willie is very deferential, even obsequious. He has always called him Master Harold. Sam has always treated the boy with respect and affection but not in a bowing, scraping way. Sam has helped Hally with his school work in his own way; challenging the boy to think about questions of his homework; fielded questions about the readings and about life. Sam made a kite for Hally when he was a boy and taught him how to fly it.

In a way Sam is a surrogate father to Hally. Hally’s own father is an angry, belligerent drunk who is disabled. At present he’s in the hospital but is coming home soon as Hally learns in a phone call with his mother. This throws Hally in a tizzy. He is not looking forward to it. He takes his anger out on Sam. Terrible words are spoken by Hally. Sam, always wise and thoughtful keeps his decorum as best he can. The rift looks almost impossible to fix, try as Sam does to help Hally see the error of his ways. But this is Apartheid South Africa and Hally has a lot to learn. Will it happen in the play or is the hope in Willie and Sam?

The Production. Peter Hartwell has designed a very small tea room of a few tables. A juke box is stage left of a curbed counter. Stage right at the back is the place where the food is prepared and then put on a shelf to be served to the customers. The floor is a black and white checkerboard design.

In preparation for the next day, the tables will be properly set with white table clothes. Every effort is made to make this place seem a place of some class. In reality it’s not. Business is slow. Sam reads a magazine and Willie practices his dance steps.

The energy level rises when Hally (James Daly) breezes in, confident, easy, irreverent and familiar with Sam and Willie. The loose-limbed body language of James Daly as Hally illuminates a young man, a teen who is pampered. While we see a petulant young man in this performance, we also see the sense of entitlement. Daly’s performance never turns us off. We are as disappointed in him as Sam is.

Willie (Allan Louis) tries to be as helpful as possible, jumping right in, almost trying too hard. Willie is a man who almost bows when Hally enters. Allan Louis’s playing of Willie is without guile, sweet, almost sad in his efforts to please. The result is a terrific performance

Sam is also energized when Hally arrives. Sam is confident enough in their relationship that he teases this young man. He challenges him on his homework. We sense that this is their routine. This is how Sam makes Hally take initiative and work. Sam encourages, supports, teases and compliments Hally when he needs it. He understands the challenges of this young man; his unhappy family-life; how he is afraid of his father. How he, Sam, is the father Hally deserves but doesn’t have. As Sam, Andre Sills gives a towering, subtle, nuanced performance. He throws out an idea to Hally and gives a sly look, waiting for the young man to catch the idea and run with it. Andre Sills makes the audience watch him look for a sign from Hally as well. This is a performance of dignity, decency and tremendous generosity.

Hally does something despicable to Sam and Sam reacts accordingly but still with a hurt compassion. He waits, as do we, for Hally to do the right thing. Young as he is Hally represents entitled white South Africa. Doing the right thing for them is years away. Rising above it and doing the right thing for Sam and Willie and for the people they represent is where the hope is in the play.

Philip Akin has realized the ache and hope in the play with his exquisite direction. Each revelation, tease and good-natured joshing unfolds with careful delicacy. There are moments of gut-twisting regret and heart-squeezing compassion thanks to this wonderful collaboration between gifted director and cast.

Comment. The title “Master Harold”…and the Boys is terrifically ironic and slyly offensive. It harkens back to the idea of white supremacy in black South Africa. Even the white boss’s son is called “Master.” And of course that two adult men, who are black, are called ‘boys’ makes one suck air. Playwright Athol Fugard sets up the trick in that title because the play goes so much further than those stereotypical notions.

With just these three characters, writer Athol Fugard has illuminated the various aspects of Apartheid South Africa in 1950. Hally is the entitled, arrogant white master. Willie is the obsequious black man trying to curry favour of anyone he thinks is superior to him and not offend him. Sam is a man who is confident in himself. He is courtly; good-humoured, respectful of his employers but not obsequious. His main role is to be a model, a guide, a surrogate father to Hally; to help him find his way and do his best. He is aware of the shifting world in which he lives, but he is so able that he can adapt.

Because Hally is really an immature young man with misplaced anger—it is really aimed at his bullying father—he zeros in on Sam and treats him disgracefully. Sam rises above it; tries to make Hally see the error of his ways and to bring them both to a place to try again to understand each other. That Hally does not take the opportunity could make one feel that the situation is hopeless. But the real hope in Fugard’s wonderful, moving play and Philip Akin’s exquisitely sensitive production of it is that the hope for South Africa is really with Sam and Willie. They are the ones who will move forward and change the world they live in. That Willie tells Sam he won’t beat up his partner again is a huge declaration. That they both support and encourage each other and understand each other’s pain is hope in neon.

The production is a gift. Please see it.

Produced by Obsidian Theatre Company and the Shaw Festival

Opened: Oct. 12, 2016
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 3 men
Running Time: 90 minutes.



Brave New World

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont,

Written by Aldus Huxley
Adapted and directed by Matthew Thomas Walker
Set and lighting by Patrick Lavender
Costumes by Lindsay Woods
Sound and original music by Nick Storring
Cast: Nehassaiu deGannes
Jesse Dwyer
Sophia Fabiilli
Carlos González-Vio
Eli Ham
Ryan Hollyman
Adriano Sobretodo Jr.
Zoȅ Sweet

A brave effort to adapt Aldus Huxley’s 1932 futuristic novel to the stage that proves problematic, in a production that doesn’t help.

The Story. Aldus Huxley wrote his futuristic novel in 1931 (published in 1932) and set it in 2540. In it people are regimented and controlled in their working world and their lives. They take a pill when ordered to for that purpose. People do not commit to each other in relationships but flit from person to person in casual hook-ups. When people reach a certain age, they are shot into the atmosphere and disposed of. Babies are born in hatcheries. Those who are different are ostracized and sent away in exile. A couple—a mother and her son John—are discovered in their ostracized place by member of the fold and brought back to ‘civilization.’ John finds comfort and beauty in his book of Shakespeare. He does not fit into this brave new world and chooses to leave. In a case of ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’ John is constantly observed, stalked and finally driven to do something drastic.

The Production. The audience sits in two areas. One is on the stage itself, stage left, in bleachers parallel to the edge of the stage and facing stage right. The other area is a reconfigured section of the ‘regular’ seating in the theatre auditorium covering about half the area the seats usually occupy. All other space is playing area.

The cast is earnest and committed. They work very hard with Matthew Thomas Walker’s adaptation that for theatre purposes lacks drama and tension. Not his fault of course, the book is dense with exposition, and that is hard to translate into a theatrical situation. The characters are medicated to be controlled. They don’t have loyalty to each other, but do seem to have loyalty (fear) for the controlling body that runs their lives. That’s so hard to articulate in a lively fashion for the theatre. But this cast does valiant work.

Director Matthew Thomas Walker uses the whole theatre to suggest various locations in this dystopian world. Much of his blocking has me knitting my eyebrows. Where, for example, are those characters going as they climb to the very top of the theatre, out of sight, into the upper rafters? And how annoying that we can’t actually see them as they speak. Scenes take place in the side balcony section of the theatre, so that those audience members sitting in the bleachers have to contort themselves to turn around completely in their seats to see the scene, and even then it looks like some of those people can’t see what is going on. Why place the scene there? And where is this scene actually located in the context of the story?

Comment. I can appreciate that Matthew Thomas Walker and his Litmus Theatre Company like to challenge themselves and produce provocative theatre. But trying to adapt Brave New World does not come off as a success. Having characters scurrying around the set does not give the story momentum or the drama and tension a play needs. The most ‘compelling’ section concerns John going into the wilderness to fend for himself and being observed and subtly manipulated by those observing that leads him to his final scene. The thing about his final scene is that we are told almost all the details and not shown. This adaptation might better lend itself to film than theatre.

Produced by Litmus Theatre and Kabin with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: Sept. 29, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 16, 2016.
Cast: 8; 5 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Three Red Days and Italian Mime Suicide.

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Concept and direction by Adam Paolozza
Set and projections designed by Anahita Dehbonehi
Lighting by Andrć du Toit
Costumes by Allie Marshall
Sound by Sam Sholdice
Musical direction by Arif Mirabdolbaghi
Cast: Miranda Calderon
Rob Feetham
Viktor Lukawski
Adam Paolozza

Vibrant, compelling story-telling told through mime and music and it’s resoundingly clear, poetic and moving with a hint of impish humour.

Creator/director Adam Paolozza has taken an incident in the lives of two artists to fashion these two mime pieces. Three Red Days concerns that time in the life of Shostakovich when he was denounced in Pravda, the Communist newspaper for his music “that was formalist and decadent in the eyes of Stalin.” He came in for questioning on a Friday by the powers that be who then asked him to return the following Monday for more questioning.

Italian Mime Suicide was created because of a newspaper article Paolozza read about an unnamed Italian mime artist who jumped off a building because no one appreciated his art and his lover left him. Interestingly Paolozza read the article soon after he returned from mime school in France.

In both pieces Paolozza uses gesture, indication and body language. His program note details some of his way of working; the questions on his mind. It’s always fascinating to delve into the thought processes of the artist. In this case it’s the resultant show of Adam Paolozza and his gifted colleagues that matters more to us than his particular way of working. The results of both Three Red Days and Italian Mime Suicide are exquisite.

In Three Red Days three men in suits sit nervously in front of an officer, waiting to be interrogated. A huge likeness of the lower part of Stalin’s face (in profile) and uniformed chest is projected on the back wall, always present; always looking forbidding. One of the men adjusts his tie. Another adjusts his bowtie. One adjusts his glasses. This says everything about anxiety. With uniform and synchronized gestures the three men represent Shostakovich. His music plays over the airwaves; bold, melodic, arresting (no pun intended) and overpowering in a way.

In Italian Mime Suicide, a man enters wearing a classic Italian commedia dell’ arte costume. He sits and pulls out a small container with a sponge from his pocket and begins to apply white make-up to his face as per a clown. Audiences love this stuff—too see how the ‘magic’ is created. The clown (Adam Paolozza) is aided by three other clowns Victor Lukowski, Miranda Calderon and Rob Feetham) who mime gestures and business with a large ball and other props. A ladder is brought out for further business and also to act as the metaphor that will lead the first clown to his final gesture.

At one point when words are actually used, we are told that mime is considered theatrical suicide—Adam Paolozza telling a joke on himself. Rather than committing theatrical suicide by doing a show of two stories, all mimed, Adam Paolozza and his wonderful collaborators use mime to tell exquisite, detailed, nuanced stories that are resounding in their implications and clear in their intentions. Paolozza makes us listen hard, look harder and think about everything in front of and around us. Stunning.

Bad New Days presents:

Opened: Oct. 8, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 4; 3 m3n, 1 woman
Running Time: 90 minutes.


Review: HOW WE ARE

by Lynn on October 12, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 259 Palmerston Ave, Second Floor, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Polly Phokeev
Co-developed and directed by Mikaela Davies
Cast: Sochi Fried
Virgilia Griffith

A compelling play by Polly Phokeev of sexual politics, mixed-messages and raw emotions well-directed by Mikaela Davies.

This is a site-specific production that takes place in the second floor of a duplex on Palmerston Ave, below College Street. We are invited to take our shoes off and go into a dimly- lighted room at the end of the hall. There is seating along three walls for the audience. Along the other wall is a bed that looks like someone is sleeping under the covers.

The play starts when the stage manager turns off a light by the door and closes the door. An illuminated clock at the head of the bed says it’s close to 6:00 am. There is the easy moan of someone rousing out of a deep, satisfying sleep. The covers rustle. A woman wakes and rummages around in the clothes on the floor for something to wear. She goes out the door and pads down the hallway. This is Jess. Then there is more rustling of sheets and we realize there was someone else in the bed with Jess. When Jess returns to the room with a glass of water for the person in the bed, the lights are turned on and we see that Jess spent the night with Cassandra. They are very close friends; talk to each other every day; occasionally walk hand in hand because Cassandra just takes Jess’s hand.

When Cassandra is fully awake Jess’s behaviour suggests she wants to continue what they obviously did in bed during the night. The thing is Cassandra can’t remember a thing about the night because she blacked out because of all the drinking she did in a bar the night before. Jess on the other hand remembers everything clearly. As soon as Cassandra realizes she’s naked in bed, she is confused about Jess’s intentions. Jess confesses that she loves Cassandra and can’t believe the feelings are not returned in the same sexual way. Cassandra does love Jess but as a friend, not a lover. As Jess, Sochi Fried has a clear-eyed bead on how Jess loves Cassandra. Fried is sensual, seductive and alluring. She comes on to Cassandra but is rebuffed. As Cassandra, Virgilia Griffith is a touch tentative in her performance initially, but then gets her stride as Jess and Cassandra dissect their feelings about the situation and reveal a confusion of intention for the other.

Mikaela Davies is a young director who is not afraid of such a challenging play as How We Are. She establishes the relationships of the two women in this small space with thought, imagination and perception. She knows how to use space to create intimacy and estrangement. She knows how to take her time in establishing the quiet bliss of the deep sleep of these two women in bed with each other, and how they take their time in waking up from such bliss.

A slight quibble is that we aren’t quite sure when the performance is over, until the stage manager comes and opens the door and turns on a small light. Even this isn’t clear in telling us this is over. Perhaps a brighter light and a silent indication from the stage manager that we can leave might be an option.

Polly Phokeev has written an intriguing play about relationships, love, friendship and the confusion between one and the other. Jess is in love with Cassandra but Cassandra denies the same feelings. Both detail the reasons for the confusion. The audience is not just a fly on the wall watching this play, they are participants in a way, analysing the information and then deciding which woman is closer to the truth. Phokeev has written two well-developed characters, the games they play and the reasons they play them. Fine work from all of them, leaving you thinking about the play long after the play is finished.

Produced by Davies and Phokeev Productions.

Opened: Oct. 11, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 15, 2016.
Performances : daily at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm
Running Time: 1 hour approx.



by Lynn on October 10, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Zoomerhall? Zoomer Live Theatre? 70 Jefferson Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Kat Sandler
Sound by Sam Sholdice
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Cast: Nigel Downer
Rachel Jones
Kat Letwin
Michael Musi
Alon Nashman
Maria Vacratsis

A creation from the gifted Kat Sandler that is confusing as to what it actually is? A TV show that wants to be a play? A play that wants to be a TV show? Both?

The Story. We are in a TV studio for the live taping of Marty O’Malley’s final show as host of the talk show, The Early Late Show. He has been the suave host for 22 years and now he’s been pushed aside for a younger, hipper, new host, edgy comedienne, Sarah Goldberg. Sarah is introduced during the show and Marty and Sarah spend the rest of the show, sort of co-hosting.

Marty and Sarah banter, lob barbs and during the live show Sarah let’s a bombshell of a bit of news drop. The rest of the program is spent with Alanna the floor director, Davey the intern and the on stage hosts in damage control mode and trying to control the guests who get more and more out of control.

The Production. As we fill in to the playing area a young woman sits behind the host’s desk, greeting us. We learn later she is Sarah Goldberg. We are in an actual TV studio with the audience on either side of the playing area. TV cameras and their operators are to my left. To my far right is the desk behind which is a swivel chair on which Sarah sits. To the right of the desk are two very comfy seats for the guests. There are video screens across the way above that section of audience, I’m sure behind me and above the desk so that we can all see the action, especially in close-up.

Alanna and Davey enter to organize things before the actual live show begins. This being the only live show they’ve done—it’s usually taped–emotions are high. Alanna barks to Davey to bring her a coffee. He asks what kind with what added. She tells him vaguely and he rushes off to get it and brings back a coffee not to her liking. This gag goes on with him rushing off to correct the coffee order and coming back again with the wrong kind. Very funny. Pure Kat Sandler.

Marty O’Malley rushes on from makeup with his shirt and jacket collar protected by paper towelling. He looks fit, tanned and dapper in his suit and polished shoes. He warms up the crowd with his easy chat. There are bits dropped about this being his last show. He’s emotional. We sense he’s been pushed out.

When the ‘show’ starts proper Marty introduces Sarah as the new host, he says she is a woman who started on the show bringing him coffee. There is a close-up of Sarah’s face, tight smile, obviously hurt by the remark. She spars back. Sarah is a noted comedienne who takes no prisoners and that includes Marty, her former boss and mentor. The banter is lively. Then Sarah says something that is shocking.

In the commercial break that follows immediately Alanna goes into full warrior-woman mode and demands that damage control begin with her new host. A guest, Kevin Lee Hicks, comes on to add to the electricity in the air. He is dressed as a sassy older woman. The hosts are told not to mention something in Hicks’ past. Naturally it’s mentioned. Matters degenerate from there.

Because the audience’s attention is focused on the ‘live TV show” going on (to my right), perhaps not noticed (and should be) is Alanna the floor director (to my left), reacting with a definitely escalating sense of emotion to all the mayhem on stage. Alanna’s reactions add another layer to a rather one-sided situation in the TV show.

Kat Sandler’s direction of her actors, including, I assume the camera angles and close-ups, keeps the pace fast and sometimes furious. Every single actor in this production is terrific. Alon Nashman gives Marty O’Malley an elder-statesman distinction. He’s personable, charming, knows how to put on the emotion and work the audience. He also shows a sexist attitude to women. Kat Letwin plays Sarah Goldberg as an edgy, take-no-prisoners-comedienne. She has the energy of the young woman ready to take her best shot. As Alanna, the volatile floor director, Maria Vacratsis is fierce, focused and cutting. Just giving Davey her coffee order is nuanced and hilarious. Michael Musi plays Davey as a nervous, twitchy, sweet man who tries to do right and isn’t very successful. Nigel Downer as Kevin Lee Hicks is a wonderfully understated comedic actor. I’ve seen him do improve. He’s brilliant. He’s terrific here as well. And Rachel Jones does a lovely melt-down as Vivien Lawrence, Marty’s movie star wife who has taken too many anti-depressants along with good scotch to keep things on an even keel.

Comment. Playwright Kat Sandler has proven herself to be a funny, provocative, perceptive writer. She creates humour from her characters, their relationships, attitudes, from situations and from her loopy sense of what’s funny. Her writing is clean, spare and lethal in the humour department—as can be seen in such Sandler works as >Mustard, Liver and The Retreat. She wrote Late Night as part of the Fringe 24 hour playwriting contest, which she won. It has her trade-mark sharp, funny jabs; wild situations; and intriguing characters.

One comes to a Sandler play with high expectations. So I have to ask, what is this? What exactly is Late Night? Is it a play wanting to be a send-up of a TV show that melts down, and an American TV show at that? Why bother since we have seen plenty of these TV talk shows that inadvertently melt down all on their own and don’t need to be sent up?

Is it a TV show wanting to be a play? If so it’s a stretch that doesn’t work. Kat Sandler has peppered her play with all manner of hot button topics such as ageism, sexism, misogyny, infidelity and anti-gay banter without really fleshing out these comments more than just offhanded references. Kat Sandler has done better work elsewhere. Is Late Night trying to blur the lines between TV and theatre? The only place blurry lines are useful is in an optometrist’s office and they can fix it.

The involvement of Moses Znaimer, head of Zoomermedia in this effort, suggests he wants to combine some TV-theatre presence in an endeavour called “ZoomerLive!” of which Late Night is its inaugural production. If this is the best they can do, then it’s an experiment that needs more thinking.

How about a proper program for the audience so they can know the ‘players’ and their credits. (The press release is helpful but the whole audience doesn’t get them). How about some clarity on where the event actually takes place. The ticket we were expected to print lists the address as 64 Jefferson Ave. in Zoomerhall as the venue but when I went there it was shut tight and dark, with no reference to Zoomerhall. Most of the whole Zoomer complex was dark. Again, the press release listed the correct address of 70 Jefferson Ave. as the venue, but that address also applies to Zoomer Radio which was closed and dark. Fortunately I saw a woman exiting a door and asked where Zoomerhall was and she pointed to the dark door from which she exited. There was no signage of the show Late Night outside the complex and no proper lighting showing us the door to the venue. Once inside the building the small lobby was full of signs for the mock TV show, The Early Late Show with Marty O’Malley. When I mentioned this lack of clarity to the greeters to the building they tried to excuse the lapse by saying that this was the first time that Zoomer was doing this kind of show. I’ve seen better signage and lighting from novices doing theatre, in holes in the wall venues down dark alleys, than this conglomerate could muster.

Produced by Zoomermedia and Brouhaha

Opened: Oct. 7, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 6: 3 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.



Part of the RUTAS (Panamericanas) An International Performing Arts Fesitval

At Artscape Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E.

Information: 416-531-1402;

Te Rēhia Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand

Performed by Tainui Tukiwaho
Directed by Craig Geenty
Created by Regan Taylor

After Othello by Shakespeare.

Because this production had only three performances and closed tonight (Oct. 8, 2016), this is just a comment.

RUTAS is such a good festival, organized by Bea Pizano of Aluna Theatre partnered with Native Earth. As the brochure says, “Connecting the Americas through the arts.” Of course New Zealand is not considered the Americas, but because this was performed by a Māori performer some latitude is in order.

From the brochure: “A bold and humorous Māori twist on the classic tragedy in which Te Reo, original prose, and contemporary English come together. Using traditional Māori masks (Te Mata Kakako o Rēhia), this solo interpretation of Othello puts the spotlight on the characters Iago, Rodrigo, Othello and Desdemona, and places them into the context of a war between tribes in pre-colonial New Zealand.”

There is a wonderful sense of tradition with this production. First the audience is welcomed from the lobby into the playing space by a woman singing a traditional song of greeting. Then we are greeted by Tainui Tukiwaho, the solo actor of the piece. He wears cargo pants that come to mid-calf; flip flops, a sweatshirt that says “Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls” and a black baseball cap, worn backwards. He shakes each person’s hand; asks their name and tells them his. Then when we are all seated he acknowledges the space, the place and the audience in Māori. He then repeats it in English.

He then gives a convincing argument that Shakespeare stole all his ideas for his place from New Zealand, Othello being one. Then with three masks he assumes the roles of the various characters he will play and acts them using a very cut down version of Othello.

Tainui Tukiwaho flows from character to character switching masks and characters effortlessly. The story is clear and concise. Director Craig Geenty has staged the show beautifully. The suffocating of Desdemona is particularly affecting. Lovely piece of theatre and so moving.

It only played Oct. 6, 7, 8. Pity.



At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jonny Sun
Directed by Michael Orlando
Lighting by Melissa Joakim
Sound by Jason O’Brien
Special Effects Design by Megan Fraser
Costumes by Roselie Williamson
Cast: Ceridwen Kingstone
Christian Smith
Chris Wilson

And off-the-wall comedy of seriousness in a way echoing the ‘nothing happens’ situations in a Seinfeld sketch, but done with tremendous style.

We are in some kind of apocalyptic time where zombies lurch everywhere. Those not dead try to escape them.

When the lights go down and the theatre is in darkness, a woman’s voice gives us an overlong speech telling us we are in a certain deserted high-school; that there was a catastrophe at another middle school with almost the same name as this high school
The speech goes on for so long and tries so hard to be funny and misses as far as I am concerned, that I think playwright Jonny Sun is being prophetic when he calls the play Dead End. My advice—cut that speech. Have the program tell us where we are. But then the play proper starts and matters settle into a wild, loopy, sometimes metaphysical examination of living, being a zombie, friendship, inclusion, exclusion and moving on.

Two nameless men run breathlessly into a dark room in the deserted school. They only have flashlights for illumination until they find the light switch. When they do find the switch to light the room, they also see a bloody, twitching, gasping zombie in their midst. The zombie seems harmless to me (of course I’m safely far away in the audience) in that its movements are so erratic I don’t see what harm it could do to the guys. One of the guys says he wouldn’t touch it because it would be like touching a pigeon, then he grimaces. I think we know what he means.
The two men converse very seriously about their situation and how they will cope; what do they do about escape; they talk about their last meal; one has a gun with one bullet in it and wants to save it in case he will need it for himself.

All through this back and forth banter I’m wondering where the story is. Is there a story? Is this play about something? I think it’s a perfect mirror of a Seinfeld sketch about nothing. There is philosophy that seems to make sense—what is life? What is death? Interestingly the definition of a zombie is not expressed, perhaps because it’s not needed. But around all this philosophy there is no solid center of a story and I think that’s deliberate.

There are just two desperate characters who have found sanctuary, they think, and that they have to share it with a twitching zombie. Christian Smith and Chris Wilson are the two men. These actors are also improv comedians and it shows. They are serious, beautifully in tune bouncing dialogue off each other with ease and perfect timing. As the zombie, Ceridwen Kingstone is a marvel of physical business, mouth agape, gasping, lurching, almost unbalanced and perfectly balanced. It’s an interesting note that no gender is given to the zombie by the two men when they reference ‘it’. It is directed with skill and imagination by Michael Orlando.

Except for that unnecessary set up of where we are Jonny Sun has an intriguing facility with language, idiosyncratic character, off situations and a command of what is funny.

The place is packed with millennials. They get this kind of loopy humour. I recommend Dead End for them.

Presented by Theatre Lab and Factory Theatre.

Opened: Oct. 6, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 3; 2 men, 1 woman.
Running Time: 61 minutes.

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>Antigonas Women’s Tribunal
(Antigonas Tribunal de Mujeres)

At Artscape Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Part of the 12 day RUTAS Festival of Panamerican works from South America, Switzerland and New Zealand.

The work is presented by Tramaluna Teatre, Bogatá, Colombia.

Directed and designed by Carlos E. Satizábal.
Choreography by Wilson Pico
Music by Nicolás Uribe
Video by Francesco Corgeletta and Karen Roa
Cast: Luz Marina Bernal Parra
Lucero Carmona Martinez
Karen Liseth Roa
Maira Milena Lopez Severiche
Orceny Montañez Muñoz
Fanny Palacios Romero
Maria Ubilerma Sanabria Lopez
Lina Marcela Tamara Vaides
Angela Del Pilar Triana Gallego

Antigonas Women’s Tribunal takes as its reference point, the ancient Greek tragedy of Antigone she tries to bury her brother, who has been killed in war. Because her brother was perceived as a traitor, the law was that he could not be given a proper burial and should be left to rot. Antigone defied the law and buried him and suffered the consequences.

From the program: “Nine women (actresses and victims) arrive at an imaginary tribunal and become modern Antigonas requesting justice for the murder of their loved ones…to address the horrors of political and social violence, transforming pain into power and rebelliousness, and making women key actors in the Peace Process in Colombia.”

The women tell stories of their dead or missing sons who just simply disappeared. The mothers spend years trying to find the truth about the disappearance or their deaths. We are told of the brave lawyers, judges and others advocating for peace and justice who were murdered by the various factions controlling the country. The government is heavily involved in the murders.

Through movement, music, projections, gripping imagery and simple story-telling, the cast of nine are very moving in conveying the tremendous bravery these women have shown to stand up to the authority in Colombia and to keep fighting for justice. This work is particularly timely in light of the recent referendum on peace this Sunday where the population of Colombia defeated the call for peace. To further make the case for this play’s importance, one of the nine participants is Luz Marina Bernal Parra, who is a nominee this year for the Nobel Prize for Peace.

The show is presented in Spanish with English Surtitles. Well worth a visit.

Produced by Aluna Theatre in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts

Opened: Oct. 5, 2016.
Continues, Oct. 6, 8, 2016
Cast: 9 gifted women.
Running Time: 60 minutes approx.


At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Erin Brubaker and Cara Spooner
Lighting by Kimberley Purtell
Composition and sound by Christopher Willes
Cast: Madison Baines
Theo Gallaro
Ofa Gasesepe
Davinder Malhi
Jovana Miladinović
Jessica Munk
Franco Pang
Mick (Micaela) Robertson
Rashida Shaw
Melisa Sofi

A sharply written, beautifully directed and performed play about the complex, unsettling world of teenagers and a mystery they are desperate to conceal.

The Story. Concord Floral is an abandoned greenhouse in the suburbs. A couple who sold flowers owned it but then let it go when one of them died. It’s now a place where teens would go to party, have sex, smoke-up and escape the scrutiny of adults. On one such occasion two friends, Rosa and Nearly Wild, wander through the broken glass of the place and discover a body of a young woman at the bottom of one of the dried up wells. The shock of seeing the body is so startling one of them drops her cell phone which then disappears into the body below. What follows is the chilling unravelling of the mystery of who the body is and how a group of friends are implicated in the woman’s demise.

The Production. The production takes place at the Bluma Appel theatre which in its present set up is too big for the purposes of this small production. So the space has been reconfigured in that the audience and the cast are situated on the Bluma Appel stage. The audience sits in bleachers at one end of the stage, facing the rest of the stage where the production will unfold. The playing space is a large square of green that is illuminated by the lights of Kimberley Purtell. Strangely there is no credit for the set designer.

While a beautiful soprano’s voice (Eleanor Hart) echoes out of the space a young woman (Jessica Munk) in her underwear is illuminated as she stands in the balcony of the theatre-proper. Once that image is established the lights go down on her—with us wondering who she is—and then the lights go up on the playing space in front of us. Nine teenagers representing a cross- section of ethnicities, more women than men, all with different attitudes, stand at the back.

They come forward one by one to begin the journey of the play, each speaking one word followed by another word spoken by another actor and so on until the whole thought of a sentence is established. It’s to the huge credit of directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner that they have guided these teen actors (some with experience and some without) to speak their word with split second timing. The result is an ensemble of young actors in complete tune with each other.

Rosa (Ofa Gasesepe) and Nearly Wild (Jovana Miladinović) make the discovery of the body in Concord Floral. They vow not to tell anyone of their discovery and certainly not the police. That last bit makes one squirm uncomfortably. But of course the secret gets out and soon their group of nine all know about the body in the well. Then matters ramp up when one of the two teens gets a call from the cell phone that was dropped into the well, into the abdomen of the dead person there. Who is she? She knows these people?

The group of teens speak of a shadow that is slowly covering them. Kimberley Purtell’s evocative lighting has the group standing in the back, dappled with shadows and dim light—as if they are being covered slowly by the encroaching shadows.

Brubacher and Spooner use simple chairs to establish the attitudes of the teens. Often they sit in small groups with their friends. Occasionally they sit in a configuration that excludes others. Characterizations are established efficiently and clearly. And while the level of acting experience varies both Brubacher and Spooner get performances from these young actors that are impressive.

Even when actors play an inanimate object, the Greenhouse (Rashida Shaw), the Couch (Mick (Micaela) Robertson), or non-human, the Fox (Madison Baines), the Bobolink (Davinder Malhi) each actor instils a humanness and compassion into the part.

Comment. Playwright Jordan Tannahill has used The Decameron by 14th Century writer Giovanni Boccaccio as his framework for Concord Floral. In The Decameron 10 young people try to seek refuge from the plague in an abandoned villa. There they told 100 stories over the time they were there. For Tannahill’s purposes only 10 stories are told and they are powerful and unsettling.
Tannahill has captured the language and slang of teens that is secretive, particular and inclusive to them that excludes those not in the group. He has put us right in the middle of that world, with its petty jealousies, cruelties, isolation, bullying, neediness, innocence and naivety. It is a particular world that is both troubling and compelling.

In the course of the play the Greenhouse quietly gives a statistic “that 10% of any population is cruel; 10 percent is merciful and the remaining eighty per cent can be moved in either direction.” And the Greenhouse that has seen so much activity then offers that (she) has a lot of hope for the future.
With his exquisitely written, deeply thoughtful play, Jordan Tannahill sends us out into the night thinking about those teenagers, the body in the well, those stats and the hope for the future.

Concord Floral is an important play that should be seen by teenagers, their parents, their grandparents and anyone familiar with all of them.

Produced by the Canadian Stage Company

Opened: Oct. 4, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 16, 2016.
Cast: 10; 3 men, 7 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.



by Lynn on September 30, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Ted Dykstra
Set by Patrick Clark
Costumes by Erika Connor
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Creighton Doane
Cast: Oliver Dennis
Raquel Duffy
Matthew Edison
Christopher Morris
Oyin Oladejo
Anand Rajaram
Brenda Robins
Myrthin Stagg
David Storch

HEHEHEHEHE (gasping for breath)HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, (OH God) (gulping air) hehehehHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE, (bent over paralyzed with laughing) (red-faced—BREATHE!! (gasp—gulp air) laugh some more. Which is a long way of saying that the production of Noises Off at the Young Centre is rib-busting funny.

The Story. A group of ‘B’ actors are stumbling through the dress/tech rehearsal for a play that they will tour for several months around the British provinces. It’s not going well. The leading lady forgets her lines, the order of business and endless plates of sardines. The stereotypical dumb blonde loses her way in the show and her contact lens. One senior actor drinks and the trick is to prevent him. Disruptions are many and the director is about to explode or kill someone.

Act II takes place backstage a month later, during a matinee of the same play. The leading lady is having a hissy fit in her dressing room and won’t come out. She was having an affair with a young actor in the company and it has been rocky. The director was having a fling with the blonde and that’s going badly and he arrives to make it up to her. Meanwhile, the stage manager has had a fling with the same director and she needs to speak with him urgently. Animosity between actors is high. The show is going on on stage while all hell is breaking out back stage where all the dialogue is indicated in extravagant mime, as talking is not allowed while the show goes on. A big axe figures prominently.

Act III is two months later at the end of the run. Everyone is exhausted and on automatic pilot. We are on stage again watching a performance from hell. Props don’t work. Cues are missed. The sardines fall on the floor and actors accidentally slip in them. Doors malfunction, as a matter of fact, everything malfunctions.

The Production. Director Ted Dykstra knows from comedy. His gifted cast knows from comedy. Together they have taken Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s exquisitely funny 1982 farce and ramped up the laughs. While there might be a Frayn laugh every 50 seconds, Dykstra adds stage business, visual humour and witty detail every 10 seconds. Resistance is futile.

A character slides down a banister. Another falls down a flight of stairs. Other characters bang into beams. There is that ubiquitous and disappearing plate of sardines. The production is not just in your face high jinx, there is wondrous subtlety too. Each character has a signature ‘look’ because of the smart, gifted actor playing him/her and that seriously attentive director guiding them. Oliver Dennis plays Selsdon Mowbray, the senior actor, with a slouch, a distracted look, and a longing gaze at any bottle of liquor. Raquel Duffy plays the always smiling Belinda Blair, who knows everybody’s secrets. She’s kind, quiet and watchful. Matthew Edison plays Garry Lejeune, a boyish, eye-glasses-adjusting man who never met a sentence he could finish. His speech is peppered with “you know” which is obvious nobody knows what he’s talking about. Christopher Morris as Frederick Fellowes makes an art-form of posing with swivelled hips and professing how silly he is about plot and reasons for doing a line the way he is asked. Oyin Oladejo plays Poppy Norton-Taylor, the harried stage manager, who cries easily and has cause to cry as well. Anand Rajaram is Tim Algood, the sole tech/administrator/jack of every single trade in the world. Rajaram is a master of comedy. He can bulge his eyes in terror/surprise and get a laugh by just shuddering. Brenda Robins plays Dotty Otley. She is confused about where that damned plate of sardines is; when to take that damned plate off stage and when to leave it. She is the actress who needs this job for her old age. You can see the quiet desperation in Robins wonderful performance. Myrthin Stagg plays Brooke Ashton, the stereotypical blonde who plays her part mainly in her ‘smalls’. She has that vacant look, especially when she is on stage, but ‘not in the scene’, that is masterful. She is wispy voiced, ‘air-headed’ and wonderful. David Storch plays Lloyd Dallas, the director, frantic to get the rehearsal over with before the actual opening night performance. Psychology aside in trying to manoeuvre all these difference personalities, Lloyd Dallas is an educated man relegated to directing third rate plays for second rate actors, even though they give it their all. Each and every one of these characters is made flesh, blood and beating heart by this gifted cast.

Comment. Michael Frayn got the idea for the play while watching a farce from backstage. On the surface Noises Off is considered one of the funniest farces of all time, if not the funniest. I don’t know how you decide that—by vote? By a collection of sore ribs from laughing?

Noises Off, in the play-within-the-play, is also a reflection of the subjects, prejudices and uncomfortable situations of its time, the 1970s. There are racist references to Arabs. There is the sexist assumption that blondes are stupid and just sexual beings. There is the suggestion that theatre people jump into and out of a raft of changing beds. Farce is provocative as the extraordinary note from the company of Noises Off suggests. It reflects the changing world. But first you will laugh.

You will laugh so hard your cheeks will hurt—all of them.

Presented by Soulpepper

Opened: Sept.29, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 22, 2016.
Cast: 9; 5 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.