At the AKI Studio, 585 Dundas St. E, Toronto, Ont,.

Written and performed by Meegwun Fairbrother

Co-created and directed by Jack Grinhaus

Set by Hans Saefkow

Lighting by Melissa Joakim

Projection designers, Andy Moro and Melissa Joakim

Sound by Marc Merialäinen

A moving journey to the truth for an Ojibwe man in a beautiful production.

The Story. Brendan is an idealistic Conservative young man who is part white, part Ojibwe. He is sent by Aboriginal Affairs of the Conservative government to a reserve to talk to Virginia Baptiste, an Aboriginal woman seeking a claim as a survivor of the residential schools. His purpose is to discredit her. Along the way he discovers the truth about Virginia’s situation, himself, his family and his place in the Ojibwe world.

The Production. Director Jack Grinhaus has created a shimmering, meaningful, sensitive production that evokes the spirituality and hard lived world of the indigenous people. A round disk with what looks like a ceremonial design of many pointed stars stands on the stage. Various shapes and patterns are projected on it thanks to Andy Moro and Melissa Joakim’s projection designs. There is another disk behind it. The emotionless, cold-toned voice of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper is heard in the haze issuing a formal, public apology to the Indigenous First Nations regarding the government’s handling of residential schools.

A man enters the space carrying a disk over his head. His body sways with the weight of it, both literal and figurative. He also dances gracefully with it giving full attention to its ceremonial nature. This is Brendan played with grace, sensitivity and clarity by Meegwun Fairbrother.

Fairbrother plays many characters including Brendan as an idealistic, curious, kind man, to Virginia’s drunk, opportunistic, joker of a brother. Each character is distinct, quickly created and absolutely clear. Brendan discovers his true roots and confirms that in a moving phone-call to his mother, Brendan then takes up a traditional drum, stands in the white haze of Melissa Joakim’s lighting and sings a traditional Ojibwe song  I assume, that is so full of anguish and pain you get the sense that Fairbrother is dredging it all up from his toes. It is both chilling and heart-breaking. It says everything about Brendan and his discoveries about himself and his new world.

Comment. The late, great Iris Turcott, dramaturg-extraordinaire, asked Meegwun Fairbrother to write a response to Stephen Harper’s apology regarding the residential schools. Fairbrother says that he could not find a word in Ojibwe that meant “sorry.” “Isitwendam” meaning “an understanding” is the closest. Fairbrother has taken his anger and hurt experienced as an Indigenous man and along with his co-creator Jack Grinhaus fashioned a piece of theatre that is full of forgiveness, compassion, understanding, and grace. This is quite a feat considering the blatant disrespect that was focused on the Indigenous people from the other side. This is a terrific piece of theatre.

 Native Earth presents a Bound to Create Theatre Production.

Opened: March 20, 2019.

Closes: March 31, 2019.

Running time: 75 minutes.

boxoffice@nativeearth.ca

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At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music and lyrics by Sting

New Book by Lorne Campbell

Original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey

Directed by Lorne Campbell

Designed by 59 Productions

Sound by Seb Frost

Lighting by Matt Daw

Costumes by Molly Einschomb

Orchestrations by Rob Mathes

Cast: Marc Akinfolarin

Joe Caffrey

Philip Childs

Susan Fay

Rebecca Gilhooley

Orla Gormley

Annie Grace

Sean Kearns

Frances McNamee

Jackie Morrison

Tom Parsons

James William Pattison

Sophie Reid

Oliver Saville

Sting

Jade Sophia Vertannes

Kevin Wathen

Barney Wilkinson

A valiant effort to tell the story close to Sting’s heart of the closing of a shipyard in Sting’s home town, but alas the effort is thwarted by a book that is confusing in the storytelling (though strong in character) and a blaring, distorting sound system.

 The Story. My travels for the most part are finished so I was able to finally see this March 19.

Wallsend, North East England, 1986. The main industry of this seaside town is shipbuilding and the shipyard is struggling to sell its ships. The people of the town are told that production will stop and the ship they are building will be dismantled for scrap. The workers and their wives protest, argue, wrangled amongst themselves. They fret about what to do. It seems hopeless. Then they get a wild idea.

There are many story lines here with a major one being that of Gideon Fletcher and his love of Meg Dawson. When Gideon was seventeen he left Wallsend, vowing never to go into the shipyard. He wanted adventure and to get out of there and he wanted Meg to go with him. She refused. She didn’t see or hear from him for seventeen years. That will certainly put a crimp in a relationship.

 The Production. (Note: The Last Ship opened on Broadway in 2014 to mixed reviews. The book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey was a problem. The show struggled to find its audience. Sting even stepped into the production for several weeks to bolster the box office. It wasn’t enough to keep the show open and it finally closed. In 2017 the show was revisited by Lorne Campbell, the artistic director of the Northern Stage Company of Newcastle upon Tyne. He wrote a new book for the show and directed it as well. The new production opened at Northern Stage with Sting in a major role. It then went on a UK tour and that is the production playing here until March 24.)

While I won’t compare the Broadway production and this one of The Last Ship (totally serves no purpose except to show off and who needs that), I will make general and specific comments in context.

Lorne Campbell has cut some characters from the Broadway version and amalgamated some aspects of those cut characters into the remaining characters in this version. He has nicely fleshed out many characters so they are more three dimensional. This is certainly true of the adult Gideon (Oliver Saville) and the adult Meg (Frances McNamee.) McNamee in particular is feisty, confident and full of conflicting emotions when it comes to Gideon who comes back after all those years. She lets him know her total displeasure. For his part Oliver Saville as Gideon has a boyish charm and a manner than lets Meg and us know he’s screwed up but wants to make amends.

Lorne Campbell has also infused the script with a political agenda. The men of the town only know how to build ships. They are proud of what they have produced, but they are informed by Freddy Newlands (Sean Kearns) the owner of the shipyard and Baroness Tynesdale (Annie Grace) a politician responsible for this industrial portfolio, that this yard can’t compete in the larger shipbuilding world. Their ships are too expensive and buyers can get ships elsewhere, more cheaply. That’s why the yard is being closed and the ship they have been working on is being scrapped. Still the workers balk.

Regardless of the cut characters, amalgamation of some of them and creation of others, what has remained almost in tact is Sting’s score and songs. I love the score and play the CD often, but sometimes with this new script it seems as if the songs have been dropped or sung by a character that seems out of place. While it’s sacrilegious to suggest some of Sting’s songs should be cut to tighten the show, that’s exactly what should have been done.

The cast is almost uniformly strong both in their singing and acting. And then there is Sting, the reason we are in the room in the first place. He plays Jackie White, the yard foreman. For all of his charisma as a rock star Sting is rather understated and unassuming as Jackie White. His forte is not acting and sometimes he tends to mumble.

The sound volume in the Princess of Wales Theatre doesn’t help. It’s so loud it distorts what anyone is singing and you often can’t make out the lyrics. We’re talking about the lyrics of Sting, one of the great song-writers of the day and we can’t make out his often elegant, poetic lyrics. What is wrong with this picture? Please, can’t something be done about the ear-splitting volume in that theatre?

For all of Lorne Campbell’s efforts to write a strong, cohesive script, the script for The Last Ship continues to be a major problem. He has introduced a pointed political aspect to the show but has not established a solution to the shipyard problem until almost at the end of the show. I went into intermission with no clear reason or possible solution that would bring me back to see how it all worked out.  He has created some new characters, with their own stories who have little purpose in progressing the narrative. Davey Harrison (Kevin Wathen) is an angry drunk who rages at everything. Why is he there?

A young woman (unnamed it seems) dressed in a slinky black sheath with spaghetti straps, tells us at the beginning of the show about the people of Wallsend, their hopes, dreams etc. Who is she? Is she a narrator/chorus? We don’t know so in what context are we to pay attention to her? She disappears for the whole show and comes back at the very end of the show to say that all over the world workers let go from failed businesses are rising up and taking over the businesses and making them work. Really? Where? Surely not in this show and certainly not in Oshawa (hard not to think of the GM mess in Oshawa while watching the show). Campbell just drops ideas into the plot and then doesn’t develop them. How can one ignore the fact that this proud shipyard can’t compete in the real world?

Lorne Campbell also directs this mammoth production, quickly moving characters all over 59 Productions’ incredible set. But too often he directs characters to perform facing the audience and not facing the characters also involved in the scene. That gives the production a clunky feel.

In a musical, the first number is vital in establishing the tone, feel and mood of the rest of the production. In The Last Ship the first song is a softly-sung, almost hymn-like number called “In the Morning.” My eye-brows are crinkling. I know this score (I play the CD a lot) and if anything Sting’s score and songs are often loud calls to action, rousing and angry. What is “In the Morning” doing there (it’s new to the score)—it stops the show almost before it begins. Then the mystery woman in the slinky black dress tells us about the people of Wallsend. But then Jackie White (Sting) comes forward and sings the rousing “We’ve Got Nowt Else” that tells us of the hard work these people have to do in their lives and how they do it with conviction, heart and soul. That is the song that should begin this musical. It says everything about it and the people. Should there be another version of The Last Ship this song should begin the show and the stuff before it should be cut.

Comment. The real star of this production is the set and all the attendant projections and animation created by 59 Productions. The ship rises as it’s produced; beams, steel, girders appear and disappear. The world of that yard is beautifully, powerfully produced. I so wish the rest of this production was as effective in telling the story. One can’t help but be impressed with Sting’s tenacity in wanting to tell the story so close to his heart. I just wish this production was better.

David Mirvish presents:

Closes: March 24, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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At its Annual General Meeting, the Shaw Festival announced a healthy outlook because of increased box office, increased attendance and sold out performances. This is heartening news, but as a long-time member (donor) of the Shaw, a theatre critic and a ticket buyer, I find some of the facts and figures puzzling.

The press release of the 2018 Financial Results states: “The 57th Shaw Festival season welcomed 251,321 patrons to 755 performances while also increasing donations and financial support—all of which resulted in a $537,000 surplus.”

Of the $537,000 surplus, how much is attributed to operating surplus? For the Financial Results of the 2017 season, the Shaw Festival posted an ‘operating surplus” (without including donations and financial support) of $65 K. Being able to compare the precise terms from one financial year to the next would be helpful to see a transparent picture of how the Shaw Festival is really doing.

According to the 2017 Financial Result the 2017 season welcomed 236,824 patrons to 783 performances. I assume the drop of 28 performances from 2017 to 2018 is due to 2017 having ‘two Decembers” while the Shaw Festival established the ‘winter’ season of A Christmas Carol?

The press release of the 2018 Financial Results states: “A Christmas Carol sold out for the second season in a row ending the year on a high note.” The Shaw Festival’s own website of the 2018 Calendar dates for A Christmas Carol of November 14 to December 23, suggests otherwise.

I tracked the attendance of A Christmas Carol for a year when the box office opened and at the end of the run the show sold out two performances in November, 2018, and eleven of twenty-eight performances in December. Does this count as a sell out?  Where is the Shaw getting its figures? Interestingly the 2018 Calendar that did list the number of tickets sold has been removed.

For the 2017 sold out run of A Christmas Carol it was noted in the Financial Results that 44% of those who attended had never attended the Shaw Festival before. Similarly in the 2018 Financial Results it’s noted that 28% of tickets sold were to first-time buyers. Is this drop from 44% to 28% of first-time buyers good news? Of those new to the Shaw how many have then bought tickets for other shows in the upcoming season? Attracting new ticket buyers is good news. More important, is the Shaw attracting them to come again?

Is there any indication in the 2018 attendance statistics how these new ticket-buyers spread over the shows of the season? For example, the 2018 Financial Results claimed that Mythos: A Trilogy—Gods. Heroes. Men. written and performed by Stephen Fry “… saw new visitors from around the globe discover The Shaw.” How many new visitors did this show attract?

Much store was put on The Magician’s Nephew to attract families and/or new audiences. Some facts suggest that The Magician’s Nephew did not live up to its expectations. In March 2018 four performances of The Magician’s Nephew that were to play in August, 2018, were cancelled and four performances (at least) of Grand Hotel were scheduled in its place. Grand Hotel proved popular in that more performances were added within the scheduled dates of the Festival rather than extend the festival, which would have been costly.

As I said, it’s heartening that it appears the Shaw Festival is doing better financially according to the 2018 Financial Results.  My concern is that the facts and figures offered to prove this claim appear less than transparent.

 

 

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Review: THE FATHER

by Lynn on February 25, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Florian Zeller

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Ted Dykstra

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Beau Dixon

Trish Fagan

Paul Fauteux

Michelle Monteith

Oyin Oladejo

Eric Peterson

A delicate yet heart wrenching production of a play about dementia and how it effects loved ones.

The Story. André has dementia. People keep greeting him in his apartment and he can’t keep track if it’s his daughter Anne or not. He can’t remember if Anne is married to Antoine or is Antoine her lover. He thinks she said she was moving to London to be with him, but then she says she’s not going to London and doesn’t know where he got the idea from. She keeps hiring caregivers and he keeps driving them away, accusing them of stealing. Anne suggests André come and live with her and Pierre but isn’t sure if Pierre is her lover or her husband.

The Production. Director Ted Dykstra has created a beautiful production, languidly paced so that the play’s surprises are revealed with a quiet ease that always seems to keep the audience unbalanced, in a good way. Anne Treusch has created a set of grey walls and spare furniture that could suggest this is an apartment in Paris, where the play is set.

The production was had a startling glitch when Nicholas Campbell who was originally cast as André had to withdraw at the last minute. Fortunately Eric Peterson was able to step into the role because he had performed The Father late last year at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. I saw the last performance of that production and Peterson totally inhabited the character with heart, soul and conviction. For the Coal Mine Theatre Peterson has recreated the role of André with all his irascible frustration, certainty that people are trying to confuse him deliberately, and terrible concern that he is ‘loosing it.’

The relationship between André and his daughter Anne (Trish Fagan) is a beautiful creation of layers of nuance, subtlety, care, patience, impatience and confusion on both their parts. Fagan as Anne, kneels down in front of André (Eric Peterson) as a sign of respect, so as not to tower over him and present a sense of her power over him. She looks him in the face when she talks to him. She is tender but frustrated at the constant need for repetition of everything she tries to make him remember. “Don’t you remember I told you…..” is a phrase that peppers the dialogue of various characters to André. He reacts with anger that he doesn’t remember and rather than admit something is wrong, he covers it with his impatience at what is happening, refusing to admit he is sick. Of course dementia is such an insidious, lousy disease, perhaps he doesn’t know what is happening to him until the end, when he completely collapses in the arms of a nurse (Michelle Monteith, as he reverts to heartbreaking childhood. She caresses him and holds him so tenderly that the ache of that miserable disease gushes up.

Comment. Florian Zeller is the new ‘big deal.’ His plays have been produced in Paris, London (the West End) and New York (Broadway) to great acclaim. They generally deal in allusion. What are we really looking at? In  The Truth is a man really having an affair? In The Height of the Storm a devoted, long married couple talk about their children, what she will make for lunch etc. And as the play goes on we realize that one of them is actually dead, but which one is the mystery. And with The Father Zeller deftly makes us see dementia and experience dementia from the point of view of all the characters. We see André’s terrible confusion and his concern as yet another ‘stranger’ presents himself or herself to him, in his apartment and he’s not sure who they are, even though they have a familiarity with him. We see the frustration that Anne deals with because her father is slipping away in the fog of the disease. And we see the sweetness and also coolness that many caregivers experience when dealing with this type of patient.

And while the play is contemporary and there is a whole world of information out there about the disease, every one tending and caring for André is totally incapable of understanding that a victim of dementia has lost the ability to remember so humiliating them with the phrase: “But I’ve told you every day for a week where you are,” is cruel and unhelpful.

That said, this production beautifully illuminates what every character is going through, none more than André because of Eric Peterson, in this tower performance.

The Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Began: Feb. 10, 2019.

Closes: March 3, 2019/

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.coalminetheatre.com

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Review: MULES

by Lynn on February 17, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic

Directed by Vikki Anderson

Set by Brandon Kleiman

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Sound by John Gzowski

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Fight Coordinator, Simon Fon

Cast: Eva Barrie

Anita Majumdar

Tim Walker

A gripping play and production about the desperation of two women who chose a dangerous way of getting out of poverty and despair.  Billed as “A dark comedy about friendship. And drug smuggling.”

The Story. Cindy and Crystal were friends in high school but lost touch when they both graduated. But a chance meeting brought them back together as friends. Cindy is an exotic dancer and possibly a sex worker in hock to a drug dealer. Crystal is a cashier in a grocery store. Both struggle to make ends meet.  Cindy, the more street smart of the two, suggests that Crystal  go to Bogota, get several capsules containing cocaine which she will swallow, and come back and ‘expel’ them so they can be sold (by the drug dealer) and they split the proceeds. There are complications, as there usually are. How they plan to get out of their jam is gripping.

The Production. Brandon Kleiman has designed a set of a washroom in the Vancouver airport. There are three stalls. There is paper toweling on the floor. Interestingly, the sink is pristine. The sink bowl is gleaming and the tap is spotless. Troy the janitor (TimWalker) takes his job seriously and tries to keep things clean.

Cindy (Anita Majumdar) puts a ‘sign’ up that says to stay out because maintenance is happening. She wears tight jeans and a sparkly “Guess” t-shirt. Anita Majumdar illuminates Cindy’s smarts. She is always thinking. Her eyes dart, sizing up a situation. She is wily and a great manipulator to get Crystal (Eva Barrie) to get in the stall and do her ‘business’ at get those capsules out of her body to be cleaned and gathered.

Crystal wears a frilly frock that looks girly and a bit frivolous. Crystal is naïve, sweet, stubborn and desperate to make a good life for herself and her 11-year-old daughter. Eva Barrie’s playing of Crystal is as impeccable as Majumdar’s is in playing Cindy.

Each actress brings subtlety and variation to their characterizations. Crystal seems even dim but eventually “gets it” regarding how deep she is in this scheme. While Cindy is street savvy, she is controlled by the drug dealer. He calls her several times wondering where they are and when they will deliver the drugs. It’s to director Vikki Anderson’s credit that we hear wisps of the conversation on the cell phone and we certainly get the clear idea of why Cindy is terrified of him. Anderson stages the play with a tight ease and aggressiveness as the tension rises. We breathe a little faster when Troy enters the bathroom to clean it. The dynamic changes and it’s dangerous. Simon Fon has created a fight between the three characters that is vivid, gripping and violent.

Comment. Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic are no strangers to creating plays that pack a punch. The writing here is bracing, muscular and compelling. There are moments that seem to lag suggesting that even this 90 minute play could be shorter and still be effective, but that’s a quibble.

Graham and Vlaskalic  wrote The Drowning Girls with Charlie Tomlinson, about a man who married and drowned his wives for their money. They have ramped up the suspense and desperation in Mules. A “mule” is a drug smuggler who ingests the drug in packets to smuggle it into the country. Desperation seems to be the watchword for this play. Both women are desperate to get out of their situation. Troy the janitor, also has his desperate issues—he needs the job and has only been at it for a month. His supervisor is tough and any slip could give him Troy the sack. The last thing he needs are two women preventing him from doing his job.

Mules is a gripping play that will have you clutching the armrests.

Presented by Theatrefront in association with Hit and Myth

Opened: Feb. 15, 2019.

Closes: March 2, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.crowstheatre.com

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Review: OSLO

by Lynn on February 16, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by J.T. Rogers

Directed by Joel Greenberg

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Projections by Cameron Davis

Cast: Jonas Chernick

Patrick Galligan

Amitai Kedar

Omar Alex Khan

Mark McGrinder

Marla McLean

Sarah Orenstein

Jordan Pettle

Alex Poch-Goldin

Geoffrey Pounsett

Sanjay Talwar

Blair Williams

Anders Yates

A gripping play and production as two mortal enemies, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, argue towards peace and friendship.

The Story. Oslo was written by J.T Rogers in 2017. Rogers was invited by director Bartlett Sher, to meet a Norwegian, Terje Rød-Larson who had been a United Nations special envoy, focusing on Lebanon, and as a negotiator in the Middle East.

Larson told Rogers that in 1992 Larson and his wife Mona Jool were heavily involved in organizing secret talks in Oslo, Norway between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with the aim to negotiating peace and end the bloodshed. This had to be secret because it was forbidden for the government of Israel to negotiate directly with the PLO.

With that J.T Rogers knew he had a play. (And Bartlett Sher directed it at Lincoln Center Theater).

And that’s what Oslo is, it’s about the baby-steps in the negotiations, the intense secrecy, the volatility of the involved parties and quite often the gut-wrenching details that were needed to mutually agree on how to achieve peace.

The Production. Director Joel Greenberg has created a stylish, sleek production with some of our finest actors.  Ken MacKenzie has designed an off white set of the secret location of the talks. Large French doors up at the back lead to the negotiating room. The furniture is simple and off white. An ornate table and some chairs are there and later two sofas that face each other are brought on. The two sides relax in the room we are looking at. They are served food they both find delicious. They also each want to take home the lovely woman who cooks it for them. They drink, they tell jokes and tell each other of their families, wrangle. And they listen.   It’s a place where they can see their similarities.

Greenberg with his cast has captured the fraught atmosphere, its lightness as well and how delicate that balance is. The cast is superb. Blair Williams plays Terje Rød-Larson with a veneer of charm and a keen brain for negotiating and forming a new way of conducting the talks. He is surprised and delighted when the talks go on for hours behind those closed doors. To suggest the passage of time, there is a wonderful projection on the back wall of ribbons of cigarette smoke floating up. Everybody seemed to smoke back then.

Marla McLean plays Mona Juul, an official in the Foreign Ministry, and Larson’s wife.

McLean beautifully realizes Mona Juul’s nimble mind for politics and these negotiations and the fierceness with which she demands integrity from her husband. Is anything more formidable than the diminutive McLean looking up at the taller Williams as Larson, and saying in a hard, firm voice that he cannot lie about what is going on? I don’t think so.

Sanjay Talwar as Ahmed Qurie on the Palestinian side is courtly and illuminates a dignified man who knows the importance of these talks.  His Israeli counterpart is Uri Savir played by Jonas Chernick as cocky, brash with the graceful body language of a boxer.

Oslo is bracing, gripping theatre about the desperate search for peace between two mortal enemies.

I recommend anyone who loves a fine play and dandy production to see it.

Comment. Is Oslo a history play or a political thriller?  It’s tricky when a play deals in a historical event.  The playwright decides what facts and information to put in or leave out. I think the last place you go for historical fact is the theatre (hello Hamilton). And yet I do think it’s a historical play as well as a thriller.

While we remember that hand shake in the Rose Garden of the White House in Bill Clinton’s day between Israeli Prime Minister Yzthak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat, of the PLO, Oslo examines how the people working in the background got their sides to that handshake.

The theatre will take a historical event and create the world of that event, the background, players and how the event came about. I think that’s what J.T Rogers does here.

It’s a fascinating look at two mortal enemies—Israel and the PLO–who have been fighting each other for more than 50 years and realize they can’t continue killing each other.  Neither is about to just cave with demands but they will negotiate in good faith until they can’t because of something said or suggested.

T. Rogers has captured the delicate dance between the Norweigians, the Israeli’s and the PLO to keep the negotiations secret, but also move them forward. And because we know how it all ends, it’s heartbreaking.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2019.

Closes: March 3, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.

www.mirvish.com

 

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

From the original by William Shakespeare

ASL & visual translation by Dawn Jani Birley

Set and costumes designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Lighting by André du Toit

Cast: Dawn Jani Birley

Miriam Fernandes

Barbara Gordon

Jeff Ho

Christine Horne

Hannah Miller

Rick Roberts

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Karen Robinson

A bilingual (English and ASL) integrated production of a classic that engages us to ‘hear’ the play in a new way.

The Story. Even sheep-herders in remote area of the world know this story, right? Prince Hamlet comes home from school for his father’s funeral to find his mother has married his father’s brother, Claudius.  Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him. Hamlet plots and plans to get even and on the way lots of bodies pile up. It ends badly for just about everybody.

The Production and Comment. Director Ravi Jain wants to challenge our pre-conceptions and expectations with this Shakespeare classic. And so Prince Hamlet is played by Christine Horne. Jain has placed Horatio, Hamlet’s close friend, as the central character of the adaptation and cast Dawn Jani Birley in the part. Ms Birley is hearing impaired and plays the character and communicates Horatio’s lines by signing her part and others in American Sign Language, usually at centre-stage. Horatio observes everything. So when Prince Hamlet is speaking to another character, Birley is upstage a bit, signing what the characters are saying as they speak it. Often when Birley has a scene with Christine Horne as Prince Hamlet, Horne is signing to Birley as well as speaking her lines.

There are several other gender swappings besides Christine Horne playing Hamlet and Dawn Jani Birley playing Horatio. Miriam Fernandes plays Rosencrantz, the Player King and the Gravedigger—usually played by men. Barbara Gordon plays Polonius, Cordelia and Laertes’ Father, usually played by a man.  Jeff Ho plays Ophelia, of course usually played by a woman.  Hannah Miller plays Guildenstern and Osric, usually played by men, and The Player Queen. Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah plays Laertes.  And Rick Roberts plays Claudius and Karen Robinson plays Gertrude, so these last two castings are not gender-swapped.

One might ask, “What is the point of all this gender swapping and communicating by sign language? How does this inform the play?”

For the English and ASL aspect, Ravi Jain says: “Our production is bilingual, both English and ASL are fully integrated, which is rare, and provides unique access to Shakespeare’s text for both Deaf and hearing audiences….By changing the perspective of the storytellers, we break expectations, discover new aspects of the story and contemporize it—without changing the language.”

So using Ravi Jain’s thinking it’s to hear/consider the story in a new light.

There were many hearing impaired people in the audience for the performance I saw and it was fascinating watching them watching the show and how animated and excited they were at intermission as they signed to their friends.

Does it work as a production? First of all, the production looks exquisite, thanks to Lorenzo Savoini’s design and André du Toit’s shimmering lighting. Three mirrors are upstage on the back wall and reflect various scenes that are performed in front of it. A tasteful chandelier. A rich wood square is the playing area. There are mounds of black earth around the space. When not in a scene, an actor sits in chairs flush against the walls of the space.

 Christine Horne as Prince Hamlet certainly has an intensity and melancholy about her that I think is effective. She’s waif thin, wears black and looks like a character worn down by grief, not eating or sleeping.  And I think she handles the text well.

Dawn Jani Birley as Horatio is very present and full of conviction as she signs at an energetic pace. She’s in riding breeches it seems with high boots and sturdy clothes.

One willingly suspends ones disbelief to embrace the idea of a woman playing Horatio who communicates through sign language at that.

Rick Roberts is a wily, politically savvy Claudius. Karen Robinson plays a lusty Gertrude. Together they are so tactile and sexually charged you get the sense that they were having an affair way before the play starts which is always intriguing.

But the performance that really caught my attention when it was first done last year and now is Jeff Ho as Ophelia.  Jeff Ho is a slim man and gives Ophelia that demur but frightened deer in headlights look. And Ho beautifully captures the sense of loss that Ophelia is experiencing—her brother, her protector, has left her to go to Paris; her father Polonius has little use for her except as a person on whom to spy, and Hamlet tells her to shut herself away in  nunnery. You get every sense of Ophelia’s anguish because of the way Jeff Ho plays her.

Is it a great production of Prince Hamlet? No, but that’s not its intention. It’s to hear the story in a different light because of the languages in which it’s been spoken and the person speaking. In that light Ravi Jain and company have made their point.

 A Why Not Theatre Production presented by Canadian Stage

Began: Feb. 6, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 24, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

www.canadianstage.com

 

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REVIEW: DOCUMENTS

by Lynn on February 10, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

 

At the Theatre, Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Conceived and performed by Autumn Knight

Performed Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, 7:30 pm only.

From the program and other blurbs:

Documents centres dialogue, gesture and the voice of both the artist and the audience to uncover and critique structures of power. Troubling the division of labour between the performer and the audience divisions, Documents involves a public read-ing of the documentation that serves to authenticate or legitimize citizenship. Central to this work is a filing cabinet that both holds the props required for the performance, while also serving as a portrait or trace of the artist. The interactive reading of the doc-uments in the files addresses the embodied specificities of race, class, gender, sexuality to contrast whether these categories accurately reflect the bodies that are meant to represent—while underlining how different audiences and relationships to power may influence this reading.”

This is fine if Autumn Knight is in fact reading the ‘document.’ Her reading and presence gives the piece context and power. But if Autumn Knight is not there as she wasn’t on Friday, Feb. 8, the only date of her advertised show, then the result totally lacks context and thus becomes something else–pretentious drivel.

The show was to start at 7:30 pm. I was waiting to go in by 7:15 pm. The door to the venue, the Franco Boni Theatre was closed. Folks from the Theatre Centre went into and out of the Theatre several times. What were they checking?  At 7:30 pm a woman obviously involved with the show quietly said that she would be back in a few minutes to gather the people who might have been waiting downstairs. The doors were opened at 7:35 pm. At 7:45 pm the woman introduced herself as Shannon Cochrane, the Artistic Director of FADO Performance Art Centre and the curator of Documents. There was a filing cabinet and two desks, one up stage and one downstage with the cabinet in the middle. The lights remained on. She asked/picked? a volunteer to read ‘the document.’ The person selected mumbled and stumbled over reading and was mainly unintelligible and totally inexpressive.

Someone with the Theatre Centre asked if we were all over 19 years old. A drawer of the filing cabinet was opened and plastic cups were passed out to the audience. Then white wine from the bottle was poured into the cups for those who wanted that, or red wine in plastic baggies, or water, or beer, or even bourbon. Then the ‘volunteer’ still reading from the document, read off questions to the game “Never Have I Ever.” If the statement was false for those in the audience they drank. Buried in the questions were some dealing with race and class. For this predominately white audience  without the woman of colour who created and should have performed the piece, there is no context. Photos of celebrated women of colour were passed around. We had to wait until every person passed those photos. No context. (They mean something to Autumn Knight, the show’s creator). At points in the ‘script/document’ the volunteer had to go to the filing cabinet to get something, flipping through files, looking. We waited until the volunteer had to ask Shannon Cochrane for help. And we waited. Then another ‘volunteer’ was chosen who didn’t mumble, but needed help trying to figure out what was expected when that volunteer went to find something in the filing cabinet. Again, Shannon Cochrane was there to help. And we waited.

Then the script/document instructed the volunteer to make a call on a cell phone. A woman, answered. “Hello?” said the person called. “Hello” said the volunteer. “Hello” said the person called. “Hello” said the volunteer, until the person called asked questions of the caller. A person in the audience called out to the person on the phone: “Who are you.” The answer? “Autumn Knight (the person who should have been doing the show!). The audience member asked, “Where are you?” Autumn Knight side-stepped the question. She instructed the volunteer to take a bow and the volunteer and the audience were to leave “and don’t fuck it up any more,” or words to the effect. Too late Autumn!

Autumn Knight apparently had a special presentation of the show on Thursday, Feb. 7 for an invited audience for which she was present. Apparently it was a terrific evening. She allegedly told them she would not be there for the ‘real’ performance Friday, Feb. 8.

No one told us. There was no sign, note, announcement that the creator and performer of the show wouldn’t be there for this performance. What kind of mean farce is this?

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At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Haley McGee

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Mathematics collaborator, Melanie Phillips

Scenic design by Anna Reid

Lighting by Lucy Adams

Sound by Kieran Lucas

Haley McGee takes her audience on a wild, breathless, often poignant and hilarious ride through her various relationships and the stuff she was given along the way she wants to sell. What was it worth? Priceless.

The Story. Haley McGee, theatre artist extraordinaire, had just moved to London, England, had credit card debt and needed to get rid of it. She considered selling herself but was unsure of what to charge and how often etc. She had received stuff from eight former boyfriends and thought a yard sale might help with the debt. Again, how much do you charge for items given to you in a relationship? McGee asked mathematician Melanie Phillips to help. Phillips methodically came up with a formula that was determined by such things as: the market value of the item; how much was invested in the relationship emotionally; who broke up with whom first; was the sex good; were there lots of laughs over the relationship; was there bliss, etc. While Phillips provided the formula, McGee seemed to have suggested a myriad of questions to come up with value.

The Production and comment. The eight items for sale are: a t-shirt, a typewriter, a bike, a mixed tape, a necklace, a backpack, a coffee pot and a vintage, beat-up guitar, which she never learned to play. They are all on display in the performance space. Haley McGee greets us and asks us to wander around the items and then fill in what we think they are worth for sale on a slip of paper and drop the paper in the slot at the back of each item.

When the show starts McGee strips to her undies and socks, perhaps signifying how exposed she is at having to reveal the background of each relationship.  At one point she puts on the t-shirt given to her by a man she truly cared about. McGee writes out bits of the formula on brown paper on a wall the width of the space. Every aspect of each relationship is examined from questions of: was the kissing good, was their laughter, bliss, heart-ache, the prospect of violence, etc. Each answer is then translated into a quantitative part of the formula. Extensive props, graphs, statistics, quotients etc. are used to explain how emotional investment can translate into a tangible number. Envelopes are sent down a line to McGee who reads the contents explaining an aspect of the show. She has charts hauled out from doors leading off stage. A book of stats is pulled down from a rope in the flies, referred to, then snapped back up and out of place. McGee flits from one corner to another revealing many and various props. Initially we don’t know the story of each item. Then we learn their emotional investment. Does that change our ideas of our pricing? Interesting thought.

The energy ramps up and she wraps bubble wrap around her head and body followed by masking tape used to keep it all in place and more and more stuff wrapped, snapped and attached to the stuff already enveloping her. She gets more and more breathless with the quickness of the telling as more and more ideas are thought of for the formula, and it’s all overwhelming  until she says that her director, Mitchell Cushman told her to stop. And I secretly say “bless you, Mitchell.”

The Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale is exhausting for all the right reasons. Aren’t relationships exhausting? The euphoria, the light-headedness, the sleeplessness, lack of appetite, the questions of ‘do you love me?’ or ‘why don’t you love me anymore’, or any number of questions that keep one thinking, worrying, pondering etc. It’s all blissfully exhausting, and Haley McGee puts us right in the middle of it. And in her own inimitable, deeply personal, impish way, McGee makes us see that a numerical value can’t be put on something that came from something so inexplicably emotional. That’s one of the many joys of this show. The biggest joy is seeing Haley McGee again, performing here in such fine form.

Curated and presented by the red light district and in collaboration with Outside the March, and presented in partnership by SummerWorks and the Theatre Centre.

Opened: Feb. 5, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

www.theatrecentre.org

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Review: OTHELLO

by Lynn on February 7, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton St., Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare, of course.

Directed by James Wallis

Cast: Jeff Dingle

Jennifer Dzialoszynski

Dylan Evans

James Graham

Melanie Leon

Wilex Ly

David Mackett

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Catherine Rainville

Natasha Ramondino

E.B. Smith

A clear, energetic production that grabs the audience and never lets up until the heart-breaking conclusion.

The Story. Everybody knows the story, right? Othello, the Moor, celebrated for his leadership and diplomatic abilities, marries Desdemona, who is white. Racist attitudes arise. Iago, Othello’s ensign, is passed over for a promotion and that sets in motion Iago’s plan to get even and cause as much mischief as possible. Jealousy is a terrible thing, as Othello learns.

The Production. It’s to the credit of Shakespeare BASH’d, a spunky, feisty company if ever there was one, that the whole run was sold out before they opened. But as always, the producers have held back some tickets to be sold at the door, so come early and be patient.

The production takes place in the Monarch Tavern on Clinton St. The audience sits on either side of the playing area, drinks in hand, ready to engage. Up at one end is a raised stage with two panels of curtains that are held back revealing an area that could be a person’s house, or Othello (E.B. Smith) and Desdemona’s (Catherine Rainville) bedroom, or whatever director James Wallis wants it to be.

Much of the action happens in the long space between the two facing sections of the audience. Iago (James Graham) plays his nasty tricks on various characters, trying to convince Roderigo (Jeff Dingle) that Desdemona can be convinced that Roderigo is worthy of her—never-mind that she’s married to Othello. Iago nonchalantly plants the seeds of jealous doubt in Othello’s ear. in that space, and just casually walks away. Characters are either crossing up or down the space and someone has to waylay them. Occasionally actors would exit by the doors of the tavern and then appear instantly up stage making another entrance. This meant they had to go outside and race to the other door for their scene. All this action, carefully directed by James Wallis gives the production a sense of urgency that matters are spinning too quickly to stop.

When Othello enters he’s full of dignity, confidence but not swaggeringly so, because of the performance of E.B. Smith. Othello, as played by E.B. Smith is imposing, deep voiced but mainly soft-spoken. Othello doesn’t need to raise his voice to command attention. He does it with stillness, a direct stare, and a confidence that is not easy to shake. That makes his downfall into blinding jealousy all the more poignant.

Desdemona is no wimp. Othello calls her “his fair warrior”.  They are a perfect match. As Desdemona, Catherine Rainville is buoyant, proud of her marriage to this imposing man, supportive, caring and loving. When Othello shows his jealous streak she knows this is not like him. She is concerned but patient it will work out. Rainville is playful and confident when she tries to negotiate that Othello take back Cassio (Dylan Evans) into his books. Desdemona doesn’t know that evil forces in the person of Iago are at play.  As Iago, James Graham has that cold smile and manipulative way about him. He is raging with his own kind of jealousy and contempt for being passed over. What I miss from Graham’s performance is charm. It’s not just manipulation that is at play here, there has to be charm to draw people in to being duped. How else to explain why Emilia married him in the first place, if not for a charm to win her over.

James Wallis also has impish touches in his direction. Julia Nish-Lapidus plays not only the Duchess (changed from the Duke in the text) as well as a clown who is never without a large drink. Just before Act II is to begin, Nish-Lapidus as the Clown enters with a large inflatable chair that she has to inflate. She sits on that stage and blows and blows into the ‘spout’, looks exhausted but continues. When she is finished she puts on sunglasses and lays back on the chair until the Act begins. Humour is everywhere in Shakespeare, even when it ends badly for many characters. You just need a director like James Wallis with a sense of whimsy and adventure to realize those moments.

Comment. Shakespeare BASH’d is a company that produces consistently high quality work. There is nothing fancy about it. The costumes are rudimentary. The sets are almost non-existent. But the company’s commitment to being true to the spirit of the Bard’s plays is second to nobody. They are worth a trip to the Monarch Tavern to see what I’m talking about.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Feb. 5, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 3 hours approximate.

admin@shakespearebashd.com

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