Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Playing until Dec. 22, 2024.

www.shawfest.com

Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion

Co-directed by Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad

Choregraphed by Kimberley Rampersad

Music director, Paul Sportelli

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Sound by John Lott

Cast: David Adams

David Alan Anderson

Alana Bridgewater

Shane Carty

Sharry Flett

Kristi Frank

J.J. Gerber

Patty Jamieson

Allan Louis

Tom Rooney

Taurian Teelucksingh

And a chorus

A beautiful classic musical, with some wonderful performances, but on the whole I found it underwhelming.

The Story. My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is one of the most beloved musical of all time. It’s based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion which is in turn is based on the Ovid poem in his Metamorphosis of a sculptor named Pygmalion who created a sculpture of the perfect woman and then fell in love with her. The gods brought her to life.

We are in Edwardian London (1901-1919). Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics and speech. He wagers his friend Colonel Pickering that he can take a cockney accented flower girl named Eliza Doolittle whom he discovered in Covent Garden one evening, change her accent and demeanor and pass her off as a duchess in six months.

George Bernard Shaw was writing about the class-conscious English and how an accent can keep a person back from success—regardless of ability, intelligence and talent. Lyricist and book writer, Alan Jay Lerner was an educated, erudite man—he studied at Harvard. And he respected Shaw’s philosophical, shewed, social commentary in the play and kept most of the dialogue intact. It was Lerner’s partnership with the elegant European composer Frederick Loewe that resulted in such a strong and successful collaboration. My Fair Lady was one of Lerner and Loewe’s most successful musicals.

The Production and comment. Lorenzo Savoini has designed a gleaming set that is both the grunge of Covent Garden (1901-1919) and the elegance of the Ambassador’s Ball. There is a walkway above the stage for some scenes and a projection of St. Paul’s Church in the distance.  Higgins’ house is a two storied affair with a wall of books on the upper level and a winding staircase down to the stage and all manner of gadgets and gizmos for recording the voice.

Joyce Padua’s costumes are wonderful. For the Covent Garden scenes they are well worn, rough, dark in colour and sturdy. For the upper-class Ascot scene or Ambassador’s Ball they are beautifully tailored for the men and women. The men wear top hats, the women wear fascinators.

My Fair Lady is a wonderful love story between Professor Henry Higgins (Tom Rooney) and Eliza Doolittle (Kristi Frank), but of course it’s not that simple.  It also has one of the most romantic, lush scores by Frederick Loewe with classic after classic: “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly”, With a Little Bit of Luck”; “I’ve grown accustomed to her Face”: “On the Street Where You Live, “ “I Could Have Danced All Night.” And on and on.

Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics are witty, elegant and intellectual. He has taken Shaw’s play and been true to its philosophy, the social aspects of the class distinctions and the power of an attitude that thinks an accent suggests ability. His lyrics are full of nuance, subtlety and lyrical beauty.

Higgins is fascinating. We have seen the elegant and sophisticated curmudgeon of Rex Harrison. I’ve also seen Higgins played as if he’s on the autism spectrum—highly functional but a social cretin. He is rude, arrogant, pompous, a confirmed bachelor who seems to love his upper-class mother and drops in on her often. He also respects his mature housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce. He sees the phony world he lives in and has no time for the upper-class folks in it. He certainly knows how these snobs operate and can play in that world.  He is a confirmed bachelor. Interestingly he gets on well with Pickering who in turn appreciates Higgins’ phonetic work.

One might call Higgins misogynistic. Certainly his song: “I’m An Ordinary Man” (in which everything is fine until you ‘let a woman in your life.’) But he then changes enough to appreciate Eliza (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”) One has to consider the times and the attitudes towards women of the time. Then of course there is the perceived snobbishness of the British towards anyone ‘other.’ (“Why Can’t the English”).

Tom Rooney is one of our most gifted actors.  He mines his roles for clues and hints about his characters. And so I’m surprised that Tom Rooney as Higgins seems so understated, perhaps even underwhelming. This performance is less a social cretin and awkward, and more someone who is just ill-tempered and bored. He both knows the world in which he lives and works, and is clueless about the people in it, except as something to observe.  

Eliza Doolittle is perhaps in her 20s.  She sells flowers in Convent Garden—the first scene is late at night, raining but she is hustling to sell her flowers to the people coming from the opera house. She works long and hard hours to pay for her expenses. She wants to elevate herself out of her current state. She is intrigued by Higgins’ bet and takes him up on it to teach her/Eliza proper English, comportment and how to behave. Her main repeated refrain is “I’m a good girl, I am.” Which means she’s not a prostitute. Her biggest fear seems to be that she will be taken for a streetwalker.

This is not a throw-away line; she is fighting constantly for her sense of self-worth. She is illegitimate; her father ignores her and she just wants to do better, but because of her class and poverty, that is all but impossible, until Higgins arrives.

As Eliza, Kristi Frank has a lovely voice and gives a respectable performance, but she can go deeper to mine the many facets of Eliza. She has charm, but she is also driven, angry, and determined. I thought Kristi Frank just skimmed the surface in realizing Eliza in more detail.

For all their differences in their lives and upbringing, both Higgins and Eliza warm to each other as he toils away teaching her how to speak, act and carry herself.  He in a way is creating his ideal woman, who will be independent to a point, banter and volley with him and not want to change him.

Higgins changes Eliza or rather just gives her the means to be the best person she always was, only this time with encouragement, support and instruction of how to act. While she has feelings for Higgins, and he tries to get over his aversion to touch anyone, she responds instantly to the consideration and good manners of Pickering. He treats her with respect and as if she was a lady. Higgins says that he treats all people the same and that seems fair to him.  He does treat them the same, with disdain.

One would think the Shaw Festival was the ideal place to produce a musical based on a Shaw play. There are indeed some wonderful performances in My Fair Lady. Sharry Flett is Mrs. Higgins and every gesture, pause and turn of the head speaks volumes about her wit, elegance and keen idea about how to inhabit that upper-class world. Mrs. Higgins listens to what is going on around her. If ever there is a character who does treat everyone the same—that is to say with respect—it’s Mrs. Higgins.

David Adams plays Alfred P. Doolittle beautifully, as a rough talking dustman. He has the accent, the swagger and the inebriated manner of a man of the lower classes. When Mr. Doolittle becomes a successful public speaker he becomes prosperous and rises up in class and that too is believable. If ‘clothes make the man’ it helps if the man knows how to wear the clothes, and David Adams is true both as a dirty, rough dustman, and a man who can wear a good suit.

Taurian Teelucksing as Fredder Eynsford-Hill is terrific. He’s elegant, comfortable in that world, and beautiful suit and he can sing.

As Mrs. Pearce Patty Jamieson has the bearing of a woman who knows the importance of her place as the housekeeper. While Higgins and Pickering see no problem with Eliza living in the house with them, while she is instructed, Mrs. Pearce is wise, smart and watchful, and knows exactly what the optics look like. She also plays the small part of the Queen of Transylvania and she is royally elegant from top to tow. Her one word: “Charming” spoke volumes about the graciousness of that Queen.

I wish I could be as positive about the rest of the production which strikes me as unremarkable (this for a musical that is remarkable). I found in too many places It lacks attention to detail and rigor.

It’s directed by both Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad. She also choreographs. This is Tim Carroll’s first musical so he wanted Kimberley Rampersad to co-direct with him because she is familiar with the musical genre. That might be true, but this musical is dripping in the class consciousness of the time. There is a way of holding oneself, wearing the clothes, knowing the difference between a person in the upper and lower classes, and that was hardly addressed, especially with the chorus here. They didn’t look at all comfortable in those beautifully tailored costumes—nor did they look like they knew how to wear those clothes or ‘work’ the clothes. A top hat has to be worn a certain way—news to some of them.  Sharry Flett is credited as a great resource at the Shaw to address these questions of style etc. Don’t they teach this in theatre schools anymore? Pity.

Everybody is microphoned as is the orchestra so there is a blaring to the sound.

Kimberley Rampersad’s choreography is generic and why they are choreographed to do the CanCan in Edwardian London is a mystery I can’t figure out.

The ending of the show has always been tricky—how does one deal with Eliza coming back? Co-directors Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad handle it with sensitivity.

I think the text offers insight….Eliza argues point for point with Higgins, something she never did before. He celebrates that he made her into a real woman—this is London in the early 1900s so it’s offensive to our modern ears. Consider the times.  She says that he treats people badly and others treat her well. His argument is that he treats everybody the same and does not fluctuate – true…he treats everybody rudely. Eliza will hold her ground.  Higgins gives the impression he might be ‘weakening’ into a decent human being….Interesting. I was glad of that, but wished that more rigor had gone into the whole enterprise.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Plays until Dec. 22, 2024.

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermission)

www.shawfest.com

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Live and in person at the Daniels Spectrum, in association with The Wee Festival, Toronto, Ont. Produced by ak Entrepôt (from Strasbourg)

This Production plays until Sunday, May 26, 2024.

www.weefestival.ca

Concept and direction, Laurance Henry

Performed by Harrison Mpaya and Jordan Malfoy

Costumes by Sophie Hoarau

Philosophical gaze and dialogue by Dominique Paquet

Music by Sylvain Robine

Two characters meet, each has their own language of speaking, of moving. They try to connect and communicate – through dance, through play!

Each uses a large wood block to create their own world, unbeknownst to the other, until they discover one another and one tries to get the attention and make friends with the other, and the other ignores him. This motivates the first person to be persistent and continue to try and challenge the other to be friends. The blocks are wonderful and contain stuff for the imagination. The physicality of the two performers and their whimsy is wonderful. The young children are totally engaged.

ak Entrepôt presents:

Plays until May 26 at 11 am and 2 pm

Running time: 40 minutes

www.weefestival.ca

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The Wee Festival continues at various venues across the city until June 9. It’s for children 5 months old to 5 years old. (ages are listed on each event)

www.weefestival.ca

Check out the rest of the festival for age appropriate shows.

Paper Playground.

This played from May 21-22.

Produced by Foolish Operations—a wonderful company from British Columbia who have performed at the Wee Festival before.

Set on a large paper carpet, young children are encouraged to explore the theme of water with the moving performers. Dance, drawings, live music and projections are used to create a magical world where boats, fishes, crabs and sharks merrily come alive.

The babies at my performance were mesmerized, crawling all over the paper as the dancers danced around them, respecting the babies’ space. Without touching the babies who are particularly curious about what is in that bag of paper over there, the dancers, guide the babies with gesture and suggestion, and the babies respond. Always an education to see who is teaching whom: the babies teaching the adults, or the other way around.  

Artistic director and choreographer–Julie Lebel
Dance and Theatre collaborator–Caroline Liffmann
Composer–Meredith Bates
Animator–Jacquie Rolston
Dramaturgy support–Sarah Dixon
Props design–Amanda Lye
Scenography–Julie Lebel
Dancers —Julie Lebel, Sarah Gallos, Silene Razo and Isabelle Kirouac
Musician–Kathleen Nisbet

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Live and in person at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts, Kitchener, Ont. Produced by Green Light Arts. Playing until May 26, 2024.

www.greenlight-arts.com

Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Kwaku Okyere
Set and props by Jung A Im

Costumes by Nicole Del Cul

Lighting by Andrei Mamal
Sound by Janice Jo Lee
Cast: Ryan Hollyman

Dieter Lische-Parkes

Carin Lowerison

Tanisha Taitt

Matt White

A moving play and production about the effects of bullying, being gay,  and the resultant heartache of suicide.

The Story. Michael and Debora Shaun-Hastings and Bill and Tamara Dermot and their son, Curtis, meet over dinner to discuss the suicide of Michael and Debora’s son, Joel. Joel was bullied in high school because he was gay and flamboyant about it, almost seeming to taunt his detractors.  The bullies thought he flaunted it too much. Curtis is believed to be one of the ringleaders. The purpose of the dinner is to try and understand how this could happen, to talk about it and to find closure.  The importance of this dinner-meeting is obvious and Bill, Tamara and Curtis have called to say they will be late, offering that it was complicated finding the house.

The Production. Kwaku Okyere is a fine actor, who is branching into directing. He is directing his first show on his own with Late Company and of course he wants to establish his own concept and interpretation. He has envisioned Deb and Michael’s home as a place of elegance, taste and space.

Designer Jung A Im has created a beautifully appointed, spacious set of Deb (Carin Lowerison) and Michael’s (Ryan Hollyman) living room/dining room. The colour scheme is earth tones, greys and blacks. Some of Deb’s metal sculptures are on the shelves and other knickknacks. Michael is an MP in parliament so the set looks like it was designed by people with money and taste.  

The audience gets a good look at this set as they file into the theatre and settle. Before any character enters there are three screens at the top of the set in which we see a video of a young person—a teen?– wearing a full mesh-head covering, worn when applying make-up. Indeed this person is applying make-up while lip-synching energetically to various women singers about break-ups and being oneself. Lady Gaga sings “Born This Way.” The person seems to be in their room with all sorts of posters of women in flamboyant dress on the wall. We don’t know who the character is or if it’s a man or a woman. As more of the make-up is applied, it looks to be deliberately startling. The videos disappear when the production starts. That person is not one of the cast in Jordan Tannahill’s play, so the mystery continues as to who it is, until deep in the production.

The set table says it all about how important Debora and Michael view this dinner. Debora frets about something as simple as whether or not to put the napkins in napkin rings or on the plates. Most of the time, before the guests arrive, she fluffs and re fluffs the pillows on the couch. Michael tries to calm her fears even though he is also anxious about this meeting.

When Bill (Matt White), Tamara (Tanisha Taitt) and Curtis (Dieter Lische-Parkes) do arrive there is an obvious guarded effort to make the best of this awkward, emotional situation. There is the appearance that both sides want some kind of understanding of the other. The reality of course is something else.

Both women are initially considerate of the other. As Tamara, Tanisha Taitt beings a lovely humanity to the role, trying to be as accommodating as she can in this tricky situation. She is anxious to help Debora in the kitchen.  When Debora has an emotional moment Tamara’s natural instinct is to go and comfort her. As Debora, Carin Lowerison is initially forthcoming about her art, sculpting and emotional upheaval, until she isn’t, at which time she is searing. It’s a short journey to Debora’s pain at the loss of her son and angst at having to go through this. She was closer to Joel than Michael it seems. She knew he was gay even though he never came out to them. Both parents waited for him to make that declaration to come out and he didn’t.

The men are more wary. It’s as if Michael and Bill are challenging the other to get the best advantage and perhaps score points. As Michael, Ryan Hollyman tries to present himself as a father who tried his best. He is watchful of Bill. As Bill, Matt White is a macho man who believes in tough love. He flicks barbs at Michael for being away during the week for parliamentary work and suggests that Michael didn’t know what was going on with Joel.  Curtis, on the other hand is totally uncomfortable. As Curtis, Dieter Lische-Parkes sits at the table, mainly with his head looking down, to avoid stares or be invisible. He frowns and has a pained looked on his face. Naturally he doesn’t want to be there. Curtis knows how tough that school is and knows the students do not accept a person as flamboyant as Joel was, or even gay. Curtis was allegedly the ringleader of the bullies who harassed Joel. Or is it something else?  

There is a moment late in the play when Debora and Michael bring out photos of Joel to show to the others. It’s of Michael and Joel dressed up as George and Sarah Palin for Halloween. Debora asks: “What year was that?” Michael: “I can’t remember.” But Curtis does remember: “Grade nine. I remember the costume. He still had braces then.”

Curtis’ line is a feather of a statement that just floats down, unnoticed, but it speaks volumes. What young teen aged boy remembers the grade, the costume and the fact that his classmate had braces? A kid who is gay and in love with his classmate, and could not ever, ever tell him. Almost every line and action of Bill proves that Curtis could not come out to his father for any reason. So to hide his sexuality, Curtis becomes the leader of the bullies that tormented Joel.  

Dieter Lische-Parkes is a young theatre school graduate and is one to watch. He is sensitive, confident but so able to show Curtis’ distress and discomfort.

When the evening ends badly and Michael tells his guests to leave, he and Debora look at a video on YouTube of Joel in make-up dressed in drag singing Rihanna’s “Stay” and we realize the person at the beginning of the production putting on the make-up is Joel.

(SPOILER ALERT!!)

Jordan Tannahill’s play ends with an emotional punch, but director Kwaku Okyere upstages that scene and dilutes its power by showing Joel in the YouTube video on screens and in person (above the stage) in full make-up and drag in a formfitting red, sequined gown, lip-synching to “Stay”. The person then comes down the side stairs of the theatre, to the center of the stage,  microphone in hand, until he ends the song and gestures to the rest of the cast to come on for the bow.  

Director Kwaku Okyere does a lovely job of delicately establishing the relationships, pacing the discoveries and revelations so that they evolve naturally and not obviously. When the emotion of what happened is illuminated in a torrent it is not a surprise but it is still overwhelming. But with the inclusion of Joel at all I think Kwaku Okyere has had a mis-step in his concept. Late Company is not about Joel. It’s about how each character of the play copes with Joel’s absence. I can appreciate that a director wants to put their mark on a production, but in this inclusion Kwaku Okyere has ignored to play for his concept.

Comment. With Late Company Jordan Tannahill has written a play that looks at the various sides of bullying, parenting, responsibility, blame, grief and being true to oneself.  Tannahill is such a graceful writer. He has a deep understanding of this powerful, emotional situation. He has written a play that investigates a troubling problem today and he does it with compassion and understanding.

Greenlight Arts presents:

Plays until May 26, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.greenlight-arts.com

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Live and in person at Harbourfront Centre, as part of the JUNIOR FESTIVAL—A festival of theatre, music, dance, art installations, story-telling from May 18-May 20, 2024. Toronto, Ont.

www.harbourfrontcentre.com

I saw the following productions as part of the Junior Festival over the long weekend: May 18 – May 20, 2024.

Robot Song

From Bendigo-Dja Dja Country, Australia

Arena Theatre Company.

Writer/director: Jolyon James

Cast: Ashley Pyke

Phillip McInnes

Bridget A’Beckett

Inspired by the true story of a parent navigating life with a child on the Autism Spectrum.

Juniper May is 11 years old and she tries to fit in. She hates school because she is bullied. She misses most days and sees a doctor I assume is a psychiatrist once a month. Her parents are loving and very supportive. Her school mates send her a letter saying they want her to leave the school. And they all sign it. One wonders where is the teacher or the students’ parents?

Juniper May finds a robot in pieces in the dumpster and apparently puts it together. The Robot is impressive, although it appears late in the show.

I found it confusing. The synopsis here is clearer than the actual show. The performances were earnest and sweet.

Yassama and the Beaded Calabash

From Ontario

Cast: Lua Shayenne

Cécé Haba

It’s the story of a young girl in Africa who, with the help of the wise Baobab tree, saves her village from drought and starvation. A story of faith, hope and respecting Mother Earth.

It’s rooted in African oral tradition. Through dance and story telling and song, Lua Shayenne weaves the story with joy.

The show was commissioned and developed through the WeeFestival of Arts and Culture and Théâtre Français de Toronto.

One wonders why the WeeFestival and the Junior Festival don’t collaborate on their two festivals, since they overlap and are performed at the same time.

Make Me Dance

From Norway

Panta Rei Danseteater

Choreography: Anne Holck Ekenes, Pia Holden

Dancers: Nora Martine Svenning

Ian Yves Ancheta

Jon Filip Fahlstram

An immersive fast-paced live dance show that encourages the audience to make noise and dance.

Three dancers backed by a musician dance, tumble, jump and glide across the stage with enthusiasm. Each dancer/musician tells their story of how they had to dance or make music.

Lively.

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Live and in person at the Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, Ont. Created by Theatre Direct and Animacy Theatre Collective playing until May 20, 2024.

www.harbourfrontcentre.com

Created and performed by Alexandra Simpson and Morgan Brie Johnson

Original director, Rebecca Northan

Remount director, Adam Paolozza

Musicians: Stefan Hegerat and Sabine Ndalamba

Puppet design and creation by Alexandra Simpson, Morgan Johnson and Nina Keogh

Wise and uplifting regarding friendship, but playing inside a small venue as opposed to outside when it was first done last year, made this show seem loud and overplayed.

Finding Home: A Salmon Journey Upstream is the story of two best friends, Beagle and Sojo, who happen to be salmon from Lake Ontario. They do everything together (as true best friends do) – until one day Beagle starts to change and gets the urge to set off on an adventure upstream, whether Sojo wants to come or not. It’s tough to swim against the current of the Humber River and the two face all kinds of challenges together: fishermen, pollution, sharp rocks, and rapids. Along the way they learn what it means to ‘reach maturity’, what it means to be a real friend and how beautiful it is to complete your life cycle.

II originally saw this last year outdoors not far from the Humber River where Beagle and Sojo would have had part of their adventure. For the Junior Festival at Harbourfront the show is played indoors at the Studio Theatre. This playing indoors has lost some of the joyousness of the free-wheeling show.

Sojo (Morgan Brie Johnson) and Beagle (Alexandra Simpson) are still energetic, frisky, irreverent and have their own special code of communicating. Their special code involves flapping hands and bumping bums with stuff in between. But too often the microphoned musicians drowned out the microphoned performers and overplaying happens quite often. This is unfortunate.

Theatre Direct presents an Animacy Theatre Collective production:

Plays until May 20, 2024 at 1:00 pm

Running time: 50 minutes.

www.harbourfrontcentre.com

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Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont. An Obsidian Theatre Production in association with Crow’s Theatre, playing until June 2, 2024.

www.crowstheatre.com

Written by Jasmine Lee-Jones

Directed by Jay Northcott

Set by Nick Blais

Costumes by Des’ree Gray

Lighting by Christopher-Elizabeth

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Video by Laura Warren

Cast: Jasmine Case

Déjah Dixon-Green

Gripping production, terrific play.

The Story. Kylie Jenner is the youngest daughter of Kris and the former Bruce Jenner before they transitioned to become Caitlyn Jenner. Kylie is a socialite, tv personality, famous for being famous and a business woman who has a clothing and makeup line that has made her a billionaire at 26. Her half siblings are the Kardashians.

seven methods of killing kylie jenner, is the first play by British playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones who wrote it in 2019 and it was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Eng. It won all sorts of award and Jasmine Lee-Jones won awards as the most promising playwright of 2019.

The play is about two Black women—Cleo and Kara—who are friends in their early 20s and deep into social media especially Twitter. Cleo in particular is raging. She loathes Kylie Jenner because she’s promoted as a self-made billionaire, when in fact she comes from money to begin with. Cleo has posted a tweet expressing her animosity towards Kylie Jenner and notes the seven methods Cleo has come up with of killing Kylie Jenner.

Initially the reason for this animosity is that Kylie Jenner filled in her lips to become fuller and Cleo is offended as a Black woman because she feels that by making her lips bigger, Kylie Jenner is appropriating one of the physicalities of a Black woman. There are more reasons for this animosity that come out in the bracing production.

The Production. Designer Nick Blais has created a set that says ‘modern’ and personal. It takes place in I assume is Cleo’s (Déjah Dixon-Green) bedroom in which a large circular bed is the center. The coverings are red plush with lots of red pillows. Several computer screens are suspended in the air, with many old-fashioned televisions are on the floor. As the play begins, two women haul on something wrapped and bound in a black garbage bag. It’s heavy. They deposit at the back of the bed. Is the body of Kylie Jenner in the wrapping? One can wonder.

Cleo dressed in pink shorts, a top and fluffy pink boot, begins an angry ‘rap’, tirade into a microphone as if she’s doing stand-up. Cleo’s best friend is Kara, Jasmine Case who is dressed in black parachute pants and a midriff top with a small tie.

Cleo is raging because so many things have piled up on her beginning with being dumped by her present boyfriend. As a Black woman she feels diminished, unseen and insulted. And here is this celebrity appropriating full lips and exploiting them for her own image.

Kara tries to reason with her, offering another point of view, and challenging her thinking. This dredges up past slights over their friendship beginning in public school.  Kara is a light-skinned Black woman and Cleo is darker skinned. So the whole subject of colourism is debated. Cleo believes that Kara’s light skin is considered more beautiful and desirable than her own dark skin, and itemizes the times Kara has been called beautiful and Cleo has not. The suggestion is that Kara’s life has been easier because of her light skin and Cleo has had it tougher. Kara is queer, Cleo is straight. They wrangle about that.  

We do hear of the seven methods to kill Kylie Jenner involving such physical abuses as poison, being shot, drowned, skinned but then there are psychological methods like disgrace and displacement, and the play takes on a larger shape and reference after this.

Cleo references Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, a Black woman who lived from 1789-1815—was born in what is now South Africa, and because of her pronounced physicality was exhibited in circuses and freak shows across Europe and treated as a specimen by doctors and scientists. Sarah’s treatment negated her as a human being.

seven methods of killing kylie jenner then becomes a metaphor for humiliation of Black women because of their physical traits and how they are treated in general. And so Cleo wanted Kylie Jenner killed because of that appropriation of Black womanhood. The play is raucously funny but then with the introduction of Saartjie Baartman, it becomes sobering as well.

Of course, social media, especially Twitter enters into it like gangbusters. Both Cleo and Kara are devoted to posting tweets on Twitter. They talk in that language for the most part even using as part of their conversation the internet abbreviations such as: BW (Black Woman), DPMO (Don’t piss me off), ROFL (Rolling on the floor laughing), along with WTF (What the Fuck), BS (bullshit), CBA (can’t be arsed). The programme helpfully lists a dictionary of many and various abbreviations and their meanings. As they play goes on, the use of these abbreviations become more frequent and involved so that one not used to them can get lost trying to figure them out.

Don’t despair.

Knowing that that is how Cleo and Kara talk to one another is the point and the abbreviations don’t hide information the audience needs to follow their arguments. Both Cleo and Kara are intelligent women who read and study and the arguments are articulate, thoughtful and reasoned. Cleo has to take the heat of the Twitter world and the comments of the (anti)social media regarding her posts on Kylie Jenner.

Initially I thought that if Kylie Jenner so upset Cleo, just because she was a white rich woman, then ignore her. But that’s not Cleo and Kara’s world. Cleo particularly is bound to that world of likes and shares and comments. She is really wounded when Kara does something to show her displeasure with the way the discussion went. Cleo needs that world of instant gratification. The play is fascinating and terrifying.

Jay Northcott has directed a tightly wound production, using the space to create a sense of intense confrontation and also loyalty and friendship of the two women. The acting is stellar. Déjah Dixon-Green as Cleo is fierce. She is formidable in an argument and at times gives her thoughts in a torrent through a microphone, as if she is doing stand-up or a performance. At times it’s so overpowering and loud, some words get lost, but the attitude is clear.

Jasmine Case as Kara is more tempered but just as formidable. She offers Cleo the voice of reason, understanding and compassion, until Cleo goes too far. Both actors are beautifully matched.

Playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones has written a startling play that begins as the personal rage of a Black woman that then builds into a deeper anger using the humiliation of Saantjie (Sarah) Baartman as a metaphor for the humiliation, disgrace and displacement of Black women in general.

One of the most interesting facts about Saantjie (Sarah) Baartman is not that she has been forgotten by history. In fact she has been memorialized, dramatized and noted in novels, plays and scientific papers since the time of William Makepeace Thackery in the 1800s when he noted her in his novel “Vanity Fair right up until a few years ago when Meghan Swaby was inspired by Saantjie (Sarah) Baartman’s story when Swaby wrote her play Venus’ Daughter (2016).

Comment. Interestingly the only hint that seven methods of killing kylie jenner is set/written in Brittain is the use at the end of the play of the British word “crisps” for “potato chips” in North America. The play’s title is deliberately noted in small letters and not capital letters, including the proper name, Kylie Jenner. The Obsidian/Crow’s production is the Canadian premiere.

An Obsidian Theatre Production in association with Crow’s Theatre

Plays until June 2, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.crowstheate.com

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Live and in person at the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley St. Toronto, Ont. Produced by the Wee Festival, Teatro Gioco Vita (Italy). Plays May 19 at 11 am and 2 pm.

www.weefestival.ca

For children 4+

Performances are in English

Theatrical adaptation by Enrica Carini & Fabrizio Montecchi

Based on the story and illustration in the children’s books by Catherine Pineur

Direction and set by Fabrizio Montecchi

Shadow puppets by Nicoletta Garioni and Federica Ferrari

Music by Paolo Codognola

Costumes by Rosa Mariotti

Lighting by Anna Adorno

Cast: Deniz Ashar Azari

Andrea Coppone

A wonderfully moving story and production about friendship, belonging and home.

Alfred (Andrea Coppone) is a bird who was forced to leave his home and seek refuge elsewhere. He carries a small red chair on his back as a reminder of home. None of the birds on his journey will welcome him or give him shelter. One day he comes to Sonia’s (Deniz Azhar Azari) house on the edge of a forest and she makes him feel welcome and offers him a cup of coffee. Alfred feels safe in Sonia’s company. They become friends. One day that friendship is tested. Will Sonia rise to the challenge?

Fabrizio Montecchi has directed a tender, inventive production using shadow puppets and theatricality. Andrea Coppone as Alfred and Deniz Azhar Azari as Sonia are vibrant, sensitive actors. Sonia gives Alfred a book—she holds it out to him like a treasure. He is beaming with pleasure. He opens it and takes time to read the inscription, then seems to melt in emotion. Alfred gives Sonia a treasured stone his his pocket. He puts it in her outstretched hand and then carefully folds the fingers over the stone. He puts his hand on Sonia’s and she puts her other hand on his. It’s a gesture of such enfolding friendship that one is moved to moist eyes.  

Plays at the Alumnae Theatre 70 Berkeley St. Toronto, Ont.

Until Sunday May 19 at 11 am and 2:00 pm.

www.weefestival.ca

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Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Parlous Theatre. Playing until May 19. 2024.

www.theatrecentre.org

Written and directed by Kendelle Parks and Jacob Willis

Production designer, Irene Ly

Lighting by Mathilda Kane

Sound by Christopher-Elizabeth

Cast: Ella Berger

Kole Durnford

Margot Greve

Atlin Ofer

Nicole Kleiman

Inserted Clown: Courtenay Stevens

Accomplished and wonderfully silly.

Kendelle Parks and Jacob Willis, the founders, movers and shakers of Parlous Theatre have written a sweet, rather esoteric ‘Creators’ Note’ explaining their show, the reason for it, the kind of metaphor of it. All well and good. What needs to be known, is that Insert Clown Here is a lively, seat-of-the-pants show with an established cast that has rehearsed a story about a Victorian family of a Grandfather (Atlin Hofer), Mother Margot Greve), Daughter (Ella Berger) and Son (Kole Durnford) with designs on a rich Baron. Apparently both the Daughter and Son have written extensively and passionately to the Baron. Who knows, perhaps secretly even the Mother and Grandfather. There is also a Butler (Nicole Kleiman) who oversees everything with a raised eyebrow and a mystery arrival other than the Clown.

The problem is that the actor playing the Baron has never shown up for rehearsal! And the actor is also missing in action for this performance!!! What to do? Well the word went out and a Clown was engaged and inserted into the action, albeit without one second of rehearsal, or even a note or two on how to dress for this Victorian adventure.

The Clown inserted for the performance I attended was Courtenay Stevens. There is a different Clown for every performance. Courtenay Stevens is not ‘just’ a Clown, he is an accomplished actor, creator, improvisor and wood-working wizard, but that’s another story. He is not just funny, he is formidable.

Not to give too much away, while the family is in formal Victorian garb, Courtenay Stevens’ Clown arrives wearing clothes that have nothing to do with the Victorian era—I don’t think baseball caps were invented then, or high-top sneakers. Red socks, yes. I won’t go into the other clothes.

Courtenay Stevens’ uses a smiling charm to assess the situation and carefully, artfully replies to any and all challenges. His retorts are not smarmy or showoffy. But they are hilarious and play into the oddness of the situations and his position there—an outsider inserted into the action.

The general structure of the show would be established by writers/directors Kendelle Parks and Jacob Willis. They have a light, serious, funny touch. What they do with the inserted Clown is one of those wonderful secrets of Theatre/Clown/Improv/and esoteric musings.

There are situations that are physically ridiculous and very funny because the accomplished cast also know how to improvise and ‘clown’. The beauty of improve and clowning for the audience is when the cast crack up too—and try to suppress it. Artists appreciating artists. Lovely.

Insert Clown Here plays at the theatre Centre until May 19 with a different clown each performance. Enjoy.

Parlous Theatre presents:

Plays until May 19.

Running time: 65-75 minutes (no Intermission)

www.theatrecentre.org

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Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until June 9, 2024.

www.coalminetheatre.com

By Henrik Ibsen

Adapted by Liisa Repo-Martell

Directed by Moya O’Connell

Composer, Emily Haines

Set and costumes by Joshua Quinlan

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Michael Wanless

Cast: Nancy Beatty

Diana Bentley

Andrew Chown

Shawn Doyle

Leah Doz

Qasim Khan

Fiona Reid

A powerhouse cast in a contemporary adaptation which seems strangely unfinished. The production has intriguing moments but generally is obvious and lacking in subtlety.

The Story. At the best of times, Hedda Gabler is a popular play. This summer it’s doubly so: Stratford is doing its own production. It’s a powerhouse part for an actress because the part seems relentlessly driven.

Hedda Gabler was considered a catch for any man in that Norwegian town. She came from an upper-class family—her father was the highly regarded General Gabler. Many of the men Hedda seemed to keep company with were less than ideal. She was attracted to men who were dangerous and exciting. But she was also a product of her society and its attitudes towards women. Women must be respectable and scandal-free. Hedda knew that and respected it. More than anything, she feared scandal.

So Hedda Gabler married the first respectable man who showed interest, Jorgen Tesman. The problem was he was dull. He was a studious, boring historian who was in line for a promotion at the local university.  Jorgen adored Hedda and tried to give her everything she wanted.  This promotion would be very helpful for Jorgen to make money to cater to Hedda.

Hedda and Jorgen have just returned from their six-month honeymoon where Jorgen was also doing research. Hedda got the sense of what marriage to him would be on that honeymoon and she wasn’t happy. When she got home, to a house she told Jorgen she always wanted, we learn that Jorgen’s aunt is dying; that his promotion might not be assured and that an old rival, Eilert Lovborg and a former suitor to Hedda, is back on the scene. There is also Judge Brack, a rather shady but suave character who has arranged for Jorgen to buy the house. He too is interested in Hedda. To make matters even more complicated, Hedda is probably pregnant. There is a lot going on.

The Production and comment. Joshua Quinlan has designed a beautiful, spare set that establishes the size and elegance of the house that Hedda said she coveted (in fact she was toying with Jorgen). There is a piano up at the back wall, a table and two comfortable chairs are in the middle; they are on an elegant patterned rug, and up at the back behind a gauzy curtain is a large backyard.

As the audience files into the theatre, director Moya O’Connell has Berta the maid (Nancy Beatty) fuss with the many flowers that have been delivered to the house to celebrate the return of the ‘happy’ couple. Berta has put the flowers in vases, at least four, but doesn’t know where to put the vases. She hesitates to put them on the piano. So she arranges them all on the table in the main room. This bit of business nicely establishes Berta’s concern that she will not measure up to the standards of the imperious Hedda Gabler. Berta has always worked for the undemanding Tesman family of Jorgen and his two elderly aunts. Now she will work for Jorgen and his demanding bride.

When the production ‘begins’, the lights go up on ‘something’ in front of the piano. In fact it’s the bare back of a woman whose dress is undone. She sits on the piano bench with her head on the keys. She lifts her head and begins to play a mournful but beautiful piece of music (kudos to composer Emily Haines). It’s the middle of the night. This woman can’t sleep. We can assume it’s Hedda Gabler (Diana Bentley) and she is not happy. Again, director Moya O’Connell beautifully establishes Hedda’s ennui at her situation.

That ennui is palpable when Diana Bentley appears as Hedda in the morning.  She is beautiful and impatient. Hedda if almost quivering with impatience and frustration at having to contend with her dim husband Jorgen (Qasim Khan), his aunt Julia (Fiona Reid) who has come to visit, Thea Elvsted (Leah Doz) whom Hedda terrorized when they went to school together, and Judge Brack (Shawn Doyle). Brack offers Hedda some relief from these tiresome people. He is a kindred spirit, with whom she can joke about the others. She visibly relaxes in his presence. They share knowing looks and jokes.  

While Hedda hated scandal, she loved hearing about them and sordid events and so Judge Brack, with his colourful but sort of respectable background, was a perfect friend, as long as he didn’t get too friendly. But Judge Brack wanted to get close to Hedda and her husband, forming something like a triangle. Then Eilert Lovborg  (Andrew Chown) came back into her life. He had been trying to live a respectable life, acting as a tutor to two children. In the process he had an affair with the step-mother of the children. That was Thea Elvsted. She left her husband and his children to follow Eilert to this town.

Hedda is stifling. She’s married to a bore. She is pregnant and that is trapping her in another way. Judge Brack is posing an untenable connection. Hedda’s world is closing in on her. She is frantic to cope until she sees only one way out. I don’t think this is a spoiler alert, since the play has been performed since its debut in 1891 in Germany.

The cast is very strong, led by Diana Bentley giving a terrific, imperious performance as Hedda Gabler. Qasim Khan as Jorgen Tesman is a satisfied man. He has married the most unattainable woman in the town; he is in line for a promotion which will ease the worry of the debt he has incurred trying to please Hedda. And his beloved aunt Julia has given him his old slippers. He is buoyant with joy. Simple things please him. He is dim to every one of Hedda’s little slights. His glasses intrigued me. Jorgen wears wire-tipped glasses that he often takes off to wipe his eyes for effect, or to take them off to stare at a person to make a point, again for effect. Indeed, he took those glasses off to hold them so often, I wondered why he wore them at all. Hmmm.

As Judge Brack, Shawn Doyle is dapper, smooth, charming and dangerous. He and Hedda have a past. She is attracted to dangerous, unsuitable men. Brack served a purpose to amuse her until she found respectability with Jorgen. But Brack knows he has a hold on Hedda and he intends to tighten his grip.

Leah Doz is a highly charged Thea Elvsted. And joining her is the equally impressive Andrew Chown as Eilert Lovborg. These two characters are hanging on by a thread. They are trying to reform and cope. Wonderful work from Leah Doz and Andrew Chown.

Hedda Gabler is directed by Moya O’Connell, who herself is a very fine actress. She played Hedda Gabler in 2012 in a stunning production at the Shaw Festival. She is now adding directing to her many talents. Moya O’Connell has a good feel for staging and a clear idea of the world of the play. And one cuts some slack when O’Connell is beginning work as a new director in the theatre. But I couldn’t ignore the sense that the production seems tentative, unsteady. The pace sometimes is laggy. And dare I say it, it lacks subtlety. Moya O’Connell goes for the obvious in her direction.  Ordinarily there is a sexual innuendo between Hedda and Judge Brack. Here the sexuality is overt. When Brack first visits Hedda Shawn Doyle as Brack sits with his legs wide apart, one foot raised on something, widening the position, when talking to her. This removes a subtle inuendo that is hinted at. Here there is no mystery. Sex is what Brack is conveying. It’s more like, wham, bang, thank you ma’am that is too abrupt.

And the ending in Moya O’Connell’s production is absolutely bizarre. At the end, Hedda does something drastic to end her sense of being trapped. The ending is abrupt with little dialogue.  But then Hedda seems to resurrect herself to perform a frantic, crazed dance upstage with her back to us, her arms flailing and her hair flying. What does that mean, that Hedda will be eternally damned to hell and will not find peace in her drastic end? Bizarre. Moya O’Connell is smart, it’s just that I could not make head no tail of that ending.

This text of Hedda Gabler is adapted by Liisa Repo-Martell. She’s a wonderful actress in her own right who has gone into writing and adapting as an expansion of her art. Liisa Repo-Martell did the wonderful adaptation of Uncle Vanya that originally played at Crow’s Theatre, a year or so ago, and recently was presented in a co-production by Mirvish productions and Crow’s earlier this year.  Liisa Repo-Martell has a wonderful facility with language as is evident in Uncle Vanya. And she shows the same sensitivity in Hedda Gabler. There is a certain freshness to the adaptation in giving a sense of the claustrophobic society for women. But I couldn’t help but feel that the adaptation is unfinished. Of course, there are many adaptations of the play out in the universe, but there are aspects of the play that are similar in each adaptation. With this version they seemed to be cut completely. The ending in particular is abrupt without Hedda offering teasing lines along the way—that she is resolved and will fling knowing lines to those who will remain. I thought that this abrupt ending so strange, if not jarring.

So while there are things to admire in this production of Hedda Gabler, on the whole, I found it a disappointment, sadly.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Playing until June 9, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)

www.coalminetheatre.com

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