Theatres might be closed, for the time being, but there is theatre out there worth checking out, on line.

Thurs. Jan. 20, 2022, 7:00

From the Stratford Festival on line…..

Henry VIII

Stratford@home.

Join our free prèmiere of Henry VIII on Thursday, January 20 at 7 p.m. EST, or become a subscriber and watch this production now, with unlimited access.

Watch this searing drama about one of the most fascinating, romantic, yet brutal periods in English history. When England’s King Henry (Jonathan Goad) falls for the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn (Alexandra Lainfiesta), he must somehow remove his beloved Queen Katherine (Irene Poole) from his life. As church and state collide, the King’s closest advisor, Cardinal Wolsey (Rod Beattie), suffers calamitous consequences, and the course of history is changed forever.

This was the last production that Martha Henry directed. It’s terrific and worth a look.

https://www.stratfordfestival.ca

Monday, January 24, 2022 beginning at noon.

From 4th Line Theatre

Digital Festival of Light and Dark Programming Announcement
We are pleased to announce the programming for the 2nd annual Digital Festival of Light and Dark. The Festival has provided 10 regional artists with micro-grants to create five-minute digital showcases of their work. The Digital Festival of Light and Dark will launch online on January 24, 2022. The Festival enables audiences to engage with the artists’ creations from the safety of their own homes, through 4th Line’s digital gallery. The Festival is free of charge to watch.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel here  
  “We wanted to support local artists. That was the genesis for the idea which ultimately became the Festival of Light and Dark. These short, digital pieces will be a chance for 4th Line audiences to explore the nature of light and dark through the work of regional artists.” – Kim Blackwell, Managing Artistic Director
The projects encompass a myriad of artistic styles from experimental music to abstract painting to short film and more. The topics and issues explored include: the synesthetic experience of nature; fear of the dark; and finding the light within during the darkest times, to name only three.   The eight video projects will be released on 4th Line Theatre’s website and YouTube channel for viewing as of Monday, January 24, 2022 at 12:00 PM.   To view please visit 4th Line Theatre’s website at www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca/festival-of-light-and-dark, or on 4th Line Theatre’s YouTube channel.
Digital Festival of Light and Dark Details

This is a fantastic festival if last year’s iteration was any indication. Lots of talent in the Peterborough area.

Tuesday, Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2022

From Thousand Island Playhouse.

A wonderful opportunity to see the whole 2021 season digitally. It’s a fundraiser for the AFC (Actors Fund of Canada), an important organization. Funds donated to AFC are used to help actors and other members through hard times, and these are hard times.

The line up is eclectic and first rate. I saw Sexy Laundry and Serving Elizabeth when both were performed live at the theatre.

Now you can see them digitally. With Serving Elizabeth  by Marcia Johnson, you have the added bonus of seeing Marcia Johnson in her own play playing Mercy.

Announcing: 2021 Replay   JANUARY 25 – FEBRUARY 1 4 PRODUCTIONS | AT HOME | ON-DEMAND | PAY WHAT YOU CAN
For one week only, stream all four productions from the 2021 Season at home.   Best of all, Pay What You Can to access the series. You decide on the contribution amount and all proceeds go to The AFC, a national charity with a mission to help Canada’s arts and entertainment professionals maintain their health, dignity, and ability to work.
To gain access to the 2021 Replay series, click the button below and donate to The AFC. After your donation is processed, a link will be sent to you by email where you can watch all four productions any day and any time from January 25 at 10am to February 1 at 5pm.
Sign Up to Watch 2021 Replay
2021 Replay: The Line-up
Sexy Laundry
Armed with a copy of “Sex for Dummies,” Alice and Henry check themselves into a trendy spa hotel with a mission: to jump-start their 25-year marriage. Can they embrace all the wild suggestions Alice keeps pulling from her handy-dandy marriage-saving manual? Is Henry prepared to see his fifty-plus wife, and mother of his children, dressed in black leather?
Back in ’59
Four friends attending their 10-year high school reunion sneak away to an old hangout to reminisce and remember the music of their youth. Join them on this nostalgic trip through the 50s and 60s featuring over 70 hit songs, including Let’s Twist Again, Leader of the Pack, and It’s My Party. This musical mashup features incredible harmonies, clever medleys, and snappy choreography.
Serving Elizabeth
Mercy, a Kenyan independence activist, is asked to cook for the visiting princess Elizabeth, who turns out to have a few surprises of her own. Sixty years later, the making of a TV series about the royal family causes more than a few culture clashes for a young Kenyan-Canadian production intern. A fresh, funny, and smart new play about colonialism, monarchy, and who is serving whom.
Miss Caledonia
It’s 1955, and Peggy Ann Douglas is hitching her wagon to the pageant circuit in the hope it’ll steer her from her farm to the bright lights of a Hollywood movie set. A play packed with baton twirling, big laughs, and some fantastic fiddle playing. This is a play for anyone who knows what it’s like to dream big and hustle to make it happen.
ABOUT THE AFC   Proceeds from 2021 Replay will support The AFC. The AFC provides vital services to our community in the areas of emergency financial assistance, mental health support, financial wellness, career sustainability, mental health first aid training, personal support and advocacy, and more. Find out more about their programs, one-on-one supports, peer groups, workshops and events at AFChelps.ca.   Donate to The AFC Today

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022 7:30 pm

From the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company

THE SHOAH SONGBOOK RETURNS WITH RARE
MUSIC FROM KOVNO AND VILNA GHETTOS,
SHOWCASING HOLOCAUST COMPOSERS
New concert includes historic songs virtually unknown to Canadian audiences, to be released on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz


Today, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company announced the
much-awaited return of The Shoah Songbook series. This time, the Likht
Ensemble transports listeners to the ghettos of Lithuania in Part Two:
Kovno/Vilna. The recital, to be released on January 27, International Holocaust Rememberance Day, is part of a series sharing rarely performed music by Jewish composers from the Holocaust.


Part Two: Kovno/Vilna features the first ever North American recording of Edwin Geist’s Three Lithuanian Songs; a premiere recording from songwriter Percy Haid; and original arrangements of Yiddish songs from the Kovno/Vilna ghettos by pianist and co-creator Nate Ben-Horin.

The Shoah Songbook Part Two: Kovno/Vilna will be presented on January 27th, at 7:30PM ET through”

https://www.hgjewishtheatre.com

The performance is free for all attendees, tickets are available now.
Note: Content may be sensitive for some audiences.

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Review: PETER PAN

by Lynn on January 16, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on National Theatre at home.

https://www.ntathome.com/peter-pan

Written by J.M Barrie

Devised by the company.

Directed by Sally Cookson

Set designed by Michael Vale

Costumes designed by Katie Sykes

Lighting designed by Aideen Malone

Music composed and conducted by Benji Boner

Sound designed by Dominic Bilkey

Movement director, Dan Canham

Aerial direction by Gwen Hales

Puppetry designed by Toby Olié

Professional counterweighters: Keiran Gonzalez

Maurycy Kowalski

Barnaby Wreyford

Cast: Saikat Ahamed

Marc Antolin

Lois Chimimba

Anna Francolini

Felix Hayes

Paul Hinton

John Pfumojena

Ekow Quartey

Madeleine Worrall

If ever there was a show that could lift us out of this pandemic malaise this production of Peter Pan is it.

NOTE: I first saw this production of J.B. Barrie’s Peter Pan in 2017 at the National Theatre in London, England. Then I saw it when it was showing on the big screen as part of National Theatre Live. I saw it a few days ago on a ‘smaller’ screen as part of National Theatre at home. It’s still glorious.

The Story. A bit of a refresher course other than Peter Pan was a boy who didn’t want to grow up. Peter Pan has lost his shadow. He was at a window and overheard Mrs. Darling tell stories to her children, Wendy, John and Michael. Mrs. Darling thinks she saw the face of a little boy at the window, so she closed the window on Peter and trapped his shadow inside. Peter comes back for it when Mr. and Mrs. Darling are out at a party and the dog Nana, who is the nanny, is tied up outside. Sensible Wendy sews the shadow back on to Peter. Peter charms the children and teaches them to fly and they go off on a big adventure to Neverland where they meet the Lost Boys. It’s not all idyllic in Neverland. Peter cut off the hand of Hook (a nasty piece of work, due to the loss of the hand??), and Peter fed said hand to a crocodile. Hook has been looking for Peter Pan ever since to get even. The crocodile has also been coming after the rest of Hook.

The Production. While J.M. Barrie wrote the play, the company in this case worked on the adaptation—it’s a co-production between the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic. There are some interesting changes in this version and production with lots of double and triple casting. Nana is played by a sassy-speaking Ekow Quartey who wears a white frilly hat, apron and bloomers. Quartey also doubles as Tootles, a sweet, meek Lost Boy.

Peter Pan is played by a loose-limbed, petulant, stubborn, charming Paul Hinton, but he’s serious about playing him. He’s not play-acting like a kid—it’s serious business.

Madeleine Worrall plays Wendy as very sensible and kind-hearted but is up for a flying adventure. Wendy is a serious, mature kid who clings to that sense of child-like wonder, but you know she is the ‘grown-up’ there.

Hook is a woman with lots and lots of sarcastic attitude and metal teeth.  She is played by the wonderful and scary Anna Francolini who also plays the most loving, kind-hearted Mrs. Darling. Tinker Bell is played by an impish Saikat Ahamed who wears white wings and a kind of shorts outfit and speaks in a cross between baby gibberish and Italian.

It’s directed by Sally Cookson who I think is a master of physical theatre, dazzling in her invention of realizing the whimsy of the play, but always respectful of the seriousness of not wanting to grow up. She uses movement and simple imagery to create the most magical world.

Michael Vale’s set has created the world of the Lost Boys etc. with playground stuff; ladders, junk, ropes, piping and blinking lights. The floor is splattered with multi-coloured blobs of paint. The crocodile is made of separate sections of corrugated metal with a long snout and two lights for eyes. The separate sections are held by characters who move in a balletic sequence creating the slow, steady lethal movement of the crocodile, whose arrival is announced by a ticking sound.

Gwen Hales’ aerial direction of the flying of the characters is equally magical in that the audience does the work of imagining. The intention is to show how it all works, from the crocodile to the flying and yet the result is that jaw dropping world of the ‘unbelievable.’ Each character who is lifted off the ground is attached by hooks and ‘fairy wire’ on the side of their costume. The hooks in turn are attached to wires and ropes that are also attached to another person who scurries up and down a ladder on either side of the stage.  If the person is on the top of the ladder and drops down, the character he/she is attached to will in turn fly up.  When the person on the ladder scampers up the rungs, the character attached to that person then lowers down. It’s the combination of these two bodies acting as counterweights that give the sense of flying. Because it’s all visible to the audience they are in on the trick.

Wonderful.

There is a final bit of magic and faith that happens before our eyes. Wendy and her brothers come home from Neverland to their worried parents, bringing many of the Lost Boys with them. Wendy asks if the Lost Boys can stay. The Lost Boys stand in a line and are introduced quickly: Curly, Nibs, the twins, Tootles etc. Except that can’t be right. In Neverland the twins–Twin One and Twin Two–are always beside each other. But Twin Two is played by Felix Hayes who is over there as Mr. Darling standing with Mrs. Darling. We just take it on faith that when “The Twins’ are introduced that both of them are there and not just Twin One. It’s the magic of theatre. We take on faith what we are told to be true. I love that.

Whether one is in the theatre watching in person, or on the big screen or now on a smaller screen, this is a raucous show. Emotions are high. Everything is urgent. But it’s never one-noted. How does it work watching on a smaller (computer) screen? On the whole, I thought it worked really well. The acting is very broad but engaging. In a way you need the wide shot of a camera to capture all of the wild activity. Close-ups again are helpful in negotiating the various reactions of the characters. Occasionally the activity gets the better of the camera work and some things might get lost. The best advice is to look everywhere in the wide shot to get an idea of how it’s all done.

Comment. These are hard times with this lousy pandemic. Peter Pan is a joyous, magical, prickly show for fearless children and their accommodating parents.

Produced by the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Streaming….

https://www.ntathome.com/peter-pan

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Happy New Year, all….

Streaming on line until January 30, 2022.

https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/20/a-splinter-of-ice

Written by Ben Brown.

Directed by Alastair Whatley and Alan Strachan

Design by Michael Pavelka
Lighting Design by Jason Taylor
Sound Design and Composition by Max Pappenheim
Cast: Stephen Boxer

Sarah Crowe

Oliver Ford Davies

A gripping play and production about the cold war, spying, friendship and a masterclass in acting.

The Story and Comment. It’s Moscow, 1987, two years before the end of the Cold War. Graham Greene, the British writer, is there at a peace conference with politicians, Hollywood celebrities and other dignitaries.  But he’s also made arrangements to have dinner with his former boss when they both worked at MI6, who happens to be the infamous double agent, Kim Philby. They haven’t seen each other in 30 years.

Some background: MI6 is the British Secret Intelligence Service: Military Intelligence, section 6—its focus is international spying. In WWII both Graham Greene and Kim Philby worked for MI6—with Philby being Greene’s boss. But Philby was also a double agent for the Russians during the war (unbeknownst to Greene etc.).  Philby was revealed as a spy for Russia in 1963 and defected to Russia.

That’s the background. As for the play, because of the nature of who these men are, we can assume this is not just a dinner between friends. Both of these men were spies for their country and Philby was a double agent.  We want to know why Graham Greene initiated the visit, and from the dialogue it sounds like he did. Philby makes things difficult by saying at the top that Greene can’t ask him any questions.

How do you get around this detour? Both men are experienced in getting information from people who don’t want to give it. And playwright Ben Brown is quite smart in showing the clever dance both characters do around each other as Greene appears to be easy-going in his general conversation. He says he just has one question: “How is your Russian?” Philby naturally is on his guard as is Greene—Greene asks if the place is bugged. But when Philby appears to relax and trust Greene Philby tells Greene he can ask him anything he likes. That’s when the floodgates of information open. There’s a lot of information about both men and certainly about Philby, who was a spy, an organizer, a reporter and he knew where there were a lot of skeletons.

At times the play seems like an intensive history lesson, with tangential instruction in the various wars around Europe, spying, with lots of dates and places to the point your head was swimming with it all. Then there were Philby’s various wives. He seems to have been smitten easy and quickly by strong, independent women. The easy-going Rufa was his last wife.

But at no time did I get the sense that playwright Ben Brown was slowing down the pace to explain stuff to the viewer. We got it or we didn’t and there was so much that was fascinating I’ll look it up. For example, Philby mentioned the actor Peter Ustinov and how his father was one of Philby’s British agents in the war.  Who knew? I was stunned by this. The play deals with the psychological impact on both men of spying. Certainly Greene proved to be a defender of Philby—not as a spy against Britain, but as a friend, a man. Philby was a man true to his convictions towards Russia and Greene was impressed with that conviction. Greene wrote a foreword to Philby’s book “My Silent War.”

With the density of the information about both men, the play gives a sense at how they had to keep everything straight in their minds and certainly in the case of Philby who was spying on two countries as a double agent. There’s even reference to Greene’s novel “The Third Man” that was made into a film. Philby thought he was the model for “The Third Man”.

Again, no explanation was given about the film. It’s that Ben Brown expected you to keep up with the info. You weren’t completely in the dark because enough information is given about the characters and situations to get it. The intrigue just grips you.

In an impish wink to those who know, the wonderful theme music from the film of “The Third Man”, by Anton Karas is also the theme music for A Splinter of Ice. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you will know the music immediately.

The Production. This streamed version of the play works a treat. It was filmed on the stage of the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre where it played. Oliver Ford Davies plays Graham Greene. He’s distinguished, quiet, watchful and never unsettled. He wears a double-breasted suit and tie.

Stephen Boxer plays Philby and he’s equally careful and also relaxed. Philby is casually dressed in corduroy pants, shirt and casual bomber jacket and a tie—I loved that touch—once an Englishman, always an Englishman.

Sara Crowe plays the small role of Rufa, Philby’s last wife. She is a gentle bridge to the two men, a softener—she is welcoming to Greene and loving to Philby.

Designer Michael Pavelka has created a simple set for Philby’s apartment—two chairs, side tables and a cadenza where the liquor is. They spend the whole evening drinking—there’s a hint that Philby might have a problem with the stuff.  Neither man gets drunk.

The production is directed with great detail and care by Alastair Whatley and Alan Strachan. The camera is a pair of eyes. When one character says something of note or is surprising the camera can do a close up of a silent reaction from the other. The directors want us to see that reaction, hence the close-up. Not a moment is squandered.

And no one, including the audience. is allowed to get comfortable.  The conversation is going along with information being revealed when Philby quietly asks Graham Greene why he’s come to see him. It seems to come out of the blue but again Philby is adept at reading the room for clues as is Greene.  More startling information is revealed.

The action does not seem static with both men sitting and talking because of the excuse of Philby getting up for more drink. There is a natural motion and movement to the staging.

I found A Splinter of Ice and the production to be fascinating about two hugely fascinating men.

I highly recommend that people seek this out and watch it too.

Produced by The Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

Plays until January 30, 2022.

Streaming on line until January 30, 2022.

https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/20/a-splinter-of-ice

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2021 Tootsie Awards

by Lynn on December 21, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s winners:

PEOPLE

The Guts of a Bandit Award

Mirvish Productions

All four theatres belonging to this Toronto theatre company had been closed for the pandemic. But Mirvish Productions was the first company that welcomed audiences back into their building this August when the powers that be gave permission, for the production of Blindness at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It had been postponed from November of the previous year. Audiences were invited into the theatre in limited numbers, distanced and seated in disinfected seats. We had to wear disinfected headphones to hear the dulcet tones of Juliet Stevenson as she led us on the adventure of listening to and engaging with the compelling story of how an epidemic of blindness affected a whole city.  Being in a theatre with other like-minded theatre lovers was thrilling, moving and transformative.

Gil Garratt

He’s the Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. There’s a pandemic on. Indoor theatre has been bashed about or cancelled by ever-changing attendance instructions by a thoughtless Provincial Government, many of whom I’m sure have never been inside a theatre. What does Gil Garratt do? He builds a new outdoor theatre in a former soccer field, in record time, and he produces a season of original Canadian plays. The theatre is called the Harvest Stage and it’s beautiful and so were the productions.  

Weyni Mengesha

Weyni Mengesha is the Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre Company, Toronto. She planned a series of audio plays called “Around the World in 80 Plays”—(not really 80 plays, but a wonderful, challenging cross-section of eight plays that celebrated the different stories and cultures of Canada and the world):  Moonlodge by Margo Kane (Canada), The Seagull by Anton Chekhov (Russia), Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (Italy), The Walls  by Griselda Gambaro (Argentina), Hayavadana by Girish Karnad (India), The Parliament of Birds Guillermo Verdecchia (adapted from the Persian poem, “The Conference of the Birds”, by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar (Iran), She Mami Wata & the PxssyWitch Hunt by d’bi.young anitafrika (Jamaica), Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria). The audio productions, casts and quality were top notch.

Brett Christopher

Managing Artistic Director of Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque. For adapting quickly in producing Sexy Laundry by Michele Riml, starring Sarah Dodd and Shawn Wright, in August, when it was safe to bring his loyal audience inside the Firehall Theatre, safely distanced at 50% capacity. Audiences flocked and the show was held over.

Martha Henry

Martha Henry was a towering presence in Canadian theatre as an actress, director and teacher/mentor. She starred in Three Tall Woman by Edward Albee, directed by Diana Leblanc and starring Lucy Peacock, Mamie Zwettler and Andrew Iles this summer at the Stratford Festival. Martha Henry played the role of “A” while dealing with cancer. She began the production using a walker to negotiate the stage and by the end of the run was using a wheelchair to move. Martha Henry’s performance was a masterclass in fearlessness, guts, tenacity and determination. Her performance was incandescent. Martha Henry died 12 days after the production closed.

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Itai Erdal, Dima Alansari and Ker Wells.

Theatre makers Itai Erdal, Dima Alansari and director Ker Wells created a gripping, embracing production of This is Not a Conversation that took place digitally as part of the wonderful IMPACT21 Festival that originates in Kitchener, Ont.

Itai Erdal was born in Israel and lives in Canada. Dima Alansari was born in Lebanon to a Palestinian family and lives all over the world, but they met at a dinner party in Vancouver. The ‘conversation’ is about their ideas and attitudes about the charged political situation in Israel and Palestine. At times the conversation is difficult, challenging and unsettling. Both Erdal and Alansari speak with conviction but sensitivity to the other’s point of view. The discussion is never insulting or condescending to the other. Painful truths are told with respect. It was directed with care by the late Ker Wells. Erdal, Alansari and Wells have created a discussion that is bracing and hopeful.

The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award

I seem to celebrate Arkady Spivak every year. He is the wildly creative Artistic Producer of Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. (to be accurate, late in the year he became CEO of the company and gave the Artistic Direction job to Michael Torontow—more on him later). Spivak produced the “Bees in the Bush” Festival this year outdoors in parks and backyards. He continues to find talent in people, cultivates it, urges those talents to think outside anything that might be confining-a box, an envelope, a bubble, a world– and lets people run with their ideas. Glorious. Maja Ardal, another gifted theatre creator, said that Arkady should be given an award. Wise woman. Here it is.

The first recipient of The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award is:

Arkady Spivak

For providing some of the best theatre anywhere and making Barrie a theatre-going destination; for cultivating an audience of theatre goers who expect and value the unexpected in their theatre and who expect to be challenged; for recognizing the talent in actor/singer Michael Torontow to direct and the result was Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods actually produced in the woods in a conservation area in Barrie, and in the leaves of the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto; for getting me to willingly go into parks, woods, forests, backyards and patios of bars to see bracing theatre.

The One(s) to Watch Award

Ziigwen Miximong

For her play Mno Bimaadiziwin (A Good Way of Living). The play was performed at the Orillia Opera House.  It’s a look into Indigenous culture, set in a sweat lodge in Orillia. Ziigwen Mixemong illuminates the meaning of the title “a good way of living” that involves listening, sharing, respect, decency, forgiveness, kindness and caring for others.  Those who are not Indigenous will find echoes of their culture in this play. Theatre bridges our differences and illuminates our similarities. More than anything, I loved that Ziigwen Mixemong celebrates the all including embrace of Indigenous culture in the play. This kind of talent must be supported, embraced and championed.

Kate Besworth

For her play Done/Undone shown digitally from Bard on the Beach in Vancouver. A bracing, challenging exploration of the question(s): how well do Shakespeare’s plays stand the test of time—and should some of them not be staged anymore?

Playwright Kate Besworth looks at the questions from various points of view, pro/con/undecided in order for the audience to come to their own conclusions. The writing is sharp, smart, intelligent and compelling. Her arguments see all sides. Stunning work.

Iain Moggach

Iain Moggach is the whip-smart, Creative Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ont. I have found his productions inventive, unusual but still embracing theatre. If anything, he strives to attract a diverse audience that might not necessarily go to the theatre.

In The Ghost Watchers, audiences were invited to gather at a certain point by Barrie’s Bay, bringing their cell phones, a good data plan with internet connection, ear phones and lots of curiosity. And we met seven ghosts of the city’s history along the way.

Iain Moggach, also invited Ziigwen Mixemong to write a play for the company.Mno Bimaadiziwin is the result. Iain Moggach is young, creatively gifted, with a keen sense of theatre and how to engage an audience.

Gabe Maharjan

Gabe Maharjan is an ethereal actor adding so many dimensions to their work: Gabe Maharjan played a young character who was acknowledging their gender identity in The Best Friend Blanket Fort Show by Marie Beath Badian for Young People’s Theatre’s “Right Here, Write Now” new play festival; as Alphonse a young boy trying to get home, in Alphonse, as part of the “Bees in the Bush” Festival of Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. or as a serious, efficient elf in All I Want For Christmas at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, there is an otherworldly quality to Gabe Maharjan’s work that is grounded in truth and sensitivity and that is compelling.

Noah Beemer

Whether Noah Beemer is playing the sweet, innocent but hapless Jack in Into the Woods in Barrie and Toronto, or interpreting complex songs of coping with isolation and loneliness in the concert “Finally There’s Sun” at the Stratford Festival, or playing the charming but irresponsible Lord Alfred Douglas in The Judas Kiss for Talk is Free Theatre, Beemer gets to the heart and soul of every character he plays/sings. There is an innate calmness and confidence to his work. Without effort he engages and captivates his audience and takes them deep into the work.

PRODUCTIONS

In Person Productions.

I Can’t See You, But I know You’re There Award

Blindness

Written by Simon Stephens (adapted from Jose Saramago’s novel)

Directed by Walter Meierjohann

Presented by Mirvish Productions, Toronto, Ont.

In an unnamed city, citizens suddenly find themselves blind. There is no cause. No reason. It’s just sudden. The only one who can see is a doctor’s wife.

We sit in a large room with rows of distanced seats configured for one and two. Each seat has a pair of disinfected ear phones through which we hear the story.  

The lines are spoken by Juliet Stevenson, the celebrated British actress who plays the narrator, the Doctor’s wife and others over the course of the 75-minute show. The voice is measured, controlled and beautifully paced. The sound of that celebrated voice is remarkable. The inflection and diction are tempered, quiet and compelling as we listen through our ear phones. At times we are certain she is beside us, whispering in our ear. Thrilling.

The Enchanted Forest Award

Into the Woods

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Book by James Lapine.

Directed by Michael Torontow.

For Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

When this production of Into the Woods was first done in Barrie in it was billed as a concert that is ‘slightly staged.’ That doesn’t come close to describing the miraculous production director Michael Torontow has created with his gifted creative team and his cast of accomplished pros and up and coming student young performers.”

Michael Torontow has upped the ante on that production with a recent very short run of the show with lots of new cast members, this time playing outdoors in a clearing in Springwater Provincial Park, surrounded by woods, in Barrie, Ont. Stunning. Every single thing about this production is magical and exquisite. Michael Torontow directs with a sure hand, a keen eye for detail and an ability to get the absolute best performances out of his committed cast. The production also played a short run in Toronto at the Elgin Theatre.

The Family Ties Award

The Rez Sisters ( Iskoonigani Isksweewak)

(NOTE: lskoonigani lsksweewak is Cree for The Rez Sisters.

Written by Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

Produced at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

In The Rez Sisters, Tomson Highway has written a celebration of women who are quirky, resolute, funny, irreverent, smarmy, loving and true friends when it’s needed. The play is a joyful celebration of sisterhood in all its prickliness. When The Rez Sisters was first produced in 1986 it exploded onto the theatre scene in Toronto proclaiming Tomson Highway as a new, vibrant voice telling stories we needed to hear. He has been contributing his vivid plays and stories to theatre for 35 years. This production was terrific.

Towering in Every Way Award

Three Tall Women

Written by Edward Albee

Directed by Diana Leblanc

Played at the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.  

The play is about three women at three stages of life. It’s also about the eldest woman, “A” who is 91 and at the end of her life. The central point of the production was that “A” was played by Martha Henry. She was incandescent in the part and illuminated the art of acting to a level that was astonishing for those lucky enough to see it. Her director (Diana Leblanc) and cast (Lucy Peacock, Mamie Zwettler and Andrew Iles) enveloped Martha Henry with care, “rose to her occasion” and created a production that was blazing.

Digital Productions, streamed, etc.

The Go For Broke Award

Orestes

Written by Rick Roberts

Directed by Richard Rose

Produced by Tarragon Theatre, Toronto.

A wild, fierce, go-for-broke production of the Greek myth reworked to modern on-line times, that is endlessly inventive, sometimes over the top but encapsulates the world we live in.

Bless theatre folks. They find a way to adapt to every difficulty and manage to produce a play and production that is full of heart and guts.

Note: Orestes by Rick Roberts was supposed to have opened the Tarragon 2020-21 season in the theatre, but this little pandemic put a crimp in their plans. So Roberts re-worked the script and director Richard Rose and his crew adapted to the challenging times to present the production on-line and live every night.

The Never Irrelevant Award

Done/Undone

Written by Kate Besworth

Directed Arthi Chandra

Produced by Bard on the Beach, Vancouver

A gripping, challenging exploration of the question(s): how well do Shakespeare’s plays stand the test of time—and should some of them not be staged anymore? Watching Charlie Gallant and Harveen Sandhu play various characters sparing with one another is electrifying.

Playwright Kate Besworth looks at the questions from various points of view, pro/con/undecided in order for the audience to come to their own conclusions. The ‘play’ is divided into segments. The segments dealing with a pair of debating scholars is particularly compelling.

The Future is Bright Award

21 Black Futures

Various writers and directors.

Produced by Obsidian Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

To mark Obsidian Theatre’s 21st anniversary, Artistic Director, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu asked 21 Black playwrights to create 21 short monodramas to be filmed and streamed, focusing on the idea of the future of Blackness. 21 Black Futures was born.

The 21 plays illuminate a cross-section of ideas, forms of expression and different voices. The ideas of the future of Blackness are fascinating.

https://gem.cbc.ca/media/21-black-futures/s01

Beautiful Art Often Comes from Pain Award

The War Being Waged

Written by Darla Contois

Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones

Produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg.

A challenging, unsettling, exquisite story of the lives of three Indigenous woman in the same family told with grace, dance and powerful understatement.

Three generations of Indigenous women are woven into this new work by Winnipeg-based theatre artist Darla Contois. And three performance genres tell their story – monologue, poetry with video and movement, and contemporary dance – all tied together by the playwright’s story and an all-encompassing set design that has built a world for all three to live inside.”

I am so glad of the chance to see such compelling theatre, digitally, from this terrific theatre company. Last year it was Yvette Nolan’s play Katharsis, a love letter to the theatre from an Indigenous point of view. This year it’s The War Being Waged. Unforgettable work.

Honourable Mention:

FOLDA (Festival of Live Digital Arts)

This digital festival has been around since 2018, giving support to artists working in the digital arts. I only really discovered it this summer and it was terrific. Such productions as Frequencies, Zoo Motel, Katharsis (which I had seen on line at Prairie Theatre Exchange) and Good Things To Do were some of the mind-blowing work this festival presented. Just terrific. Looking forward to next year’s festival and so should you.

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Streaming on line, Dec. 18, 19. Ross Petty Production in association with Crow’s Theatre. www.rosspetty.com

Written by Matt Murray

Directed by Mike Flye and Tracey Flye

Music Supervision by Bob Foster

Director of Photography by Danilo Baracho

Choreography and musical staging by Tracey Flye

Costumes by Ming Wong

Cast: Thom Allison

Dan Chameroy

Eddie Glen

Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Hailey Lewis

Kimberley-Ann Truong

Alex Wierzbicki

This is the second year in a row that Ross Petty Productions’ family musical involving fractured fairy tales is taking place virtually because of the pandemic. It’s anticipated that for their 25th anniversary next year, it will be live and in person.

Allie (Kimberly-Ann Truong) is a bubbly, effervescent entrepreneur about to open her mushroom business to the public. But there is trouble ahead. Frostina (Sara-Jeanne Hosie), the evil villain of the story, plans on expropriating the Wonderland Castle and turn it into an ice palace with her magic powers. This would mean that Allie’s mushrooms would not last the frost. Something must be done.

Allie’s true identity is Alice of Wonderland fame, but she got such notoriety when she defeated the Red Queen that she changed her name and assumed another identity, hence the name Allie. Allie, two of her friends and Plumbum (Dan Chemeroy), an irreverent spirit with big hair and bad make-up join forces to defeat Frostina and her sidekick Algor (Eddie Glen). The journey is circuitous and requires they find the Chepfizer Cat (Thom Allison) for assistance.

There are actually two routes that the viewer can take with this story. The first is to watch the story unfold as it was meant to be. The second is that the viewer can pick their own journey, deciding at various points in the story in which direction to go. Each journey is fun and clever.

Matt Murray has written a story that at times is witty with double entendres for Plumbum that Dan Chameroy delivers with a delicious impishness.

The story is pared down for the digital presentation—in person the shows seem livelier, of course because the audience is that needed ingredient. In person the audience knows when to cheer and boo on cue. Digitally the audience is instructed first by Ross Petty himself to cheer Allie and boo the villain. When Frostina appears so does the word “Boo” and a sound effect of kids booing. Similarly they cheer when Allie prevails.

The background to every scene is in vibrant colours and creates a dazzling world that just invites the viewer in. It’s a wonderful melding of photography, animation and sound.

The performances are dandy. As Allie, Kimberly-Ann Truong is a lively, charming presence. She is a fine dancer and singer and imbued Allie with such positivity she is a natural leader. Dan Chameroy makes Plumbum as outrageous and endearing in equal measure. As Frostina, Sara-Jeanne Hosie is a villain who relishes the boos and meets each boo with an irritated “SHUT UP!” Hilarious. Eddie Glen plays Algor, Frostina’s hapless sidekick, with sweetness and irreverence, As the mysterious cat, Chepfizer, Thom Allison just dazzles in glitter and pizzazz.

The audience is so important in this kind of show when it’s live. These stalwart souls do their best to make this digital version work as well as the live version. It is fun entertainment for the family.

Ross Petty Productions in association with Crow’s Theatre.

Streams Dec. 18, 19.

Running Time: one hour.

www.rosspetty.com

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Live and in person at The Grand Theatre, London, Ont. Until Dec. 24, 2021.

www.grandtheatre.com

Curator/director, Dennis Garnhum

Curator/musical supervisor, Andrew Petrasiunas

Musical director, Alexandra Kane

Choreographer, Lisa Stevens

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Emily Porter

Cast: Justin Eddy

Gabi Epstein

Gavin Hope

Jacob MacInnis

Masini McDermott

Elena Reyes

Mark Uhre

Blythe Wilson

For many people the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. is a warm, welcoming place, as comfortable as coming home. Audiences have routinely flocked there for shows, especially the traditional holiday show. This year’s show was particularly special: it is the first in-person show to play the theatre after being closed by the pandemic for months; it’s the show that welcomes people into the space after a major renovation of its lobby and washrooms. So for Dennis Garnhum, the Grand Theatre’s Artistic Director, the title “Home for the Holidays” is especially symbolic. It’s like saying, ‘welcome home to your theatre.”

Dennis Garnhum and his co-curator Andrew Petrasiunas have compiled a collection of at least 23 songs (Christmas/Chanukkah/holiday) for this time of year and a terrific cast to sing them. There are Christmas songs, funny, irreverent, joyful, traditional and hymns (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” “I Hate Christmas”, “I Love Christmas”, “Do You Hear What I Hear”, “Home for the Holidays” etc.) Chanukkah is covered with “I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Hanukkah Blessingss.” (Gabi Epstein makes a special effort to express the CH sound in Chanukkah, so I’m spelling it this way, as opposed to how the song is spelled—something is lost without the “C” before the “H”).

The selection of songs represents a cross-section of cultures. The cast beautifully represents those cultures too. Rachel Forbes’ multi-levelled set is packed with bells, wrapped stuff, dazzle and the glitter of the season. Kimberly Purtell’s lighting adds to the sparkle.

Dennis Garnhum also directs the cast to cover every inch of that set. It seems that they are always in motion going from one song to the next or swaying to the infectious music. The cast pay tribute to the returning audience and thanked them for their loyalty. Also thanked are the many people backstage who have worked at the Grand for decades in many cases—from a stage manager, to a carpenter, to a person in the lighting booth. All were brought on stage to receive a warm round of applause. That generosity and appreciation is probably one of the many reasons these hard-working folks love working at that theatre.

On a rather serious note, singer Mark Uhre re-worked a quote from American writer Toni Morrison saying that often the word “Canadian” means white but there are many hyphenated Canadians who don’t fit that description of being “white” and are proudly Canadian as well. (something worth remembering). This was followed by a song about Christmas. I must confess I smiled at the irony of the placement of that song especially after the quote. Many people don’t actually celebrate Christmas. They have other holidays at this time of year with their own traditions and songs. Perhaps another song might have been more appropriate.

Whether a person was going back into the theatre for the first time after the pandemic, or have already gone into a theatre for other shows, Home for the Holidays is a lovely show to celebrate the holidays, to note the specialness of the season, and to gather to enjoy being together.

The Grand Theatre Presents.

Plays until Dec. 24, 2021.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

www.grandtheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Until Jan. 2, 2022.

www.mirvish.com

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by Timothy Sheader

Choreographed by Drew McOnie

Scenic, hair and costume design by Tom Scutt

Lighting by Lee Curran

Co-sound design by Keith Caggiano, Nick Lidster

Music direction/conductor, Shawn Gough

Cast: Alvin Crawford

Tyce Green

Tyrone Huntley

Paul Lewis Lesard

Eric Lewis

Tommy McDowell

Pepe Nufrio

Jenna Rubaii

Tommy Sherlock

And many others.

This 50th anniversary tour production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is a pulsing, driving blast of a production that is loaded with theatricality, dazzle and all the buzzy stuff that appeals to a modern audience.

The Story. In the show we see the last week of Jesus’ life as seen through the eyes of Judas and the many people who surrounded him or considered him an enemy. Judas believes that Jesus thinks he’s more important than the words he speaks. Mary says she doesn’t know how to love him but does a nice job of doing that and singing about it. Caiaphas, a Roman official, considers him dangerous and an enemy. Pilate, the Roman governor is equally dangerous and finally orders Jesus’ crucifixion. His disciples will denounce and desert him. And as we all know, it ends really badly for Jesus.

The Production. This energetic, exuberant production comes to Toronto with a new Judas (the mesmerizing Tyrone Huntley) but only for the Toronto run. (The previous actor who played Judas was arrested by the FBI because of his involvement in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol Building.) Mr. Huntley played Judas to great acclaim in London, England in Regent’s Park and so was brought over to play the stint in Toronto).  

According to Leigh Scheps’ programme note on the show, this production of Jesus Christ Superstar is unlike any other production of the show. It pays “tribute to the musical’s original rock and roll roots….This production is heavily influenced by Superstar’s original Brown Album produced in 1970…”

In fact when composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice collaborated on the show they wanted to produced a musical but couldn’t get the backing. So they created a ‘concept album’ of the show in which Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to created a rock opera focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life. The rock opera stage musical followed in 1971. This touring version seems more a rock concert than a ‘musical’ or is that being too picky? Or if you say it’s based on an album does that mean one can’t approach it like a piece of musical theatre?

No matter, Jesus Christ Superstar is 50 years old and this production is full of all sorts of theatrical references that have informed this version so I’m going to approach it from the musical-theatre point of view.

Drew McOnie’s choreography has the chorus moving, gyrating, pulsing and flipping for the whole show. I thought of the constant swirl of choreography in Hamilton. It’s mighty impressive. I just wonder at the point of that if the dancers are over here while a character is singing over there….I guess this is when multi-tasking comes in. Something does suffer from split attention, though.

We get so many different ideas about Jesus (Pepe Nufrio) from so many different sources even before he opens his mouth, I thought that Jesus is like the Lady Bracknell of musical theatre. In Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell is described in great detail, and none too kindly by various people, so that when she does appear, the work has been done in creating her character as a difficult harridan. We just assume she is how she has been described.

With Jesus we hear all sorts of comments by those around him. When he does appear Jesus is mainly silent—He does appear with fanfare in a circle of disciples who sing-out “Jesus Christ Superstar” but there is precious little to explain the accolade. Hmmm. I guess we have to take it on faith.

Pepe Nufrio is rather laid-back as Jesus, but he’s written that way. When he does let loose later in the show. Nufrio has a strong, sure voice. The real star of Jesus Christ Superstar is in fact Judas, and Tyrone Huntley is giving a powerhouse performance. He is multi-faceted in his performance, not being a total villain, but a disciple with concerns. He has issues with the way Jesus is leading. He is passionate in his convictions and that comes out in song after song that displays a booming voice and total confidence as the character.

The whole cast is strong. Jenna Rubaii as Mary seems almost chaste and understated at first but her emotions come to the top when singing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” Alvin Crawford as Caiaphas is arresting because of his initially deep voice that then ‘lightens’ into a strong baritone. All the Roman characters are impressive standing in Lee Curran’s blazing light—they are in power and they have that arrogance. Very clever work is done with their staffs. Held one way they are staffs. Turned around they are stand up microphones.

Timothy Sheader’s direction is loaded with invention, creativity, dazzle and over-the-top symbolism. The money-lenders are covered in gold glitter. Judas throwing a rope over a beam symbolizes his suicide. The power of the Roman overseers is suggested in Roman masks. Jesus died from suffocation from being ‘crucified’ and this was chillingly realized as Pepe Nufrio gasped for breath.  

Some quibbles: the depiction of The Last Supper is positioned in such a way that the people on house centre and left see it clearly, those on house right do not.  There is a huge cross on the floor parallel to the stage, suggesting this might be used for the crucifixion. Not so. Jesus is positioned on a rather flimsy cross upstage, centre that eventually rises up, but I had to smile because in front of him, downstage, is Judas singing. As I said, quibbles.

Jesus Christ Superstar is given a compelling production. Well worth a visit to the Princess of Wales Theatre.  

David Mirvish presents, Work Light Productions, presents, the Regent’s Park Theatre, London Production:

Plays until: Jan. 2, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

www.mirvish.com

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Live and in person at The Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Until Dec. 11.

www.tift.ca

Warning: full frontal nudity.

Written by David Hare

Directed by Billy Lake

Set by Diane Frederick

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Jeff Pybus

Cast: Jason Allin

David Ball

Noah Beemer

Aidan Desalaiz

Justan Myers

Evelyn Wiebe

The Story and Comment. The Judas Kiss is about the fraught relationship between playwright Oscar Wilde and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie as he was nicknamed. The play centres on two pivotal points in their relationship.

But first a little background.In London, England in 1895 playwright Oscar Wilde was on trial for gross indecency.Wilde was homosexual which in England was illegal.He had a relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas whose father, the Marquess of Queensberry, famously called Wilde a sodomite, only he misspelled the word on a card left for Wilde at his club.Wilde lost the case of gross indecency and was sentenced to two years in prison.He sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel and lost that case too.

As for the two pivotal points in the play….

In Act I Wilde had just been found guilty of gross indecency in court and the penalty is two years in prison. He is desperate to see Bosie,( Lord Alfred Douglas) so they arrange to meet at a hotel known for its discretion—the Cadogan in Sloane Square. Bosie wants Wilde to continue the fight in court and has a cousin he thinks will help by talking to the Prime Minister.

Wilde’s friend, Robert Ross, with whom he had a previous relationship, wants Wilde to leave the country and has arranged for a cab to take Wilde to the train station and then to Europe by boat. What follows is Wilde, Bosie and Ross debating what the best course is. Bosie seems to want to get even with his father. Ross wants the best for his friend Oscar Wilde.  He says that the court will delay sending the police to arrest him, giving Wilde time to escape. Wilde feels escaping plays into the hands of those who think he is weak. Wilde decides to do nothing and have an elegant lunch instead.

In Act II Wilde is in Naples with Bosie. Wilde has served his time in prison and is a sick, broken man. Bosie has contented himself with other young men in the meantime.  So the whole relationship has changed and what to do next is again debated.

But because the play is written by David Hare, The Judas Kiss is much more than a play about famous lovers. Hare is a playwright who deals with politics and social issues in his plays, and The Judas Kiss is no different.

The play is about class and xenophobia for a start. Bosie is the aristocracy and has the arrogance of someone for whom everything comes easy because of his family’s place in upper society. He can afford to urge Wilde to continue his fight in court. Bosie has nothing at stake and Wilde has everything at stake. As has been hinted at, Bosie wants to get even with his father for trying to run his life. Wilde is a commoner. And he’s Irish, which to an Englishman at the time is worse, hence the xenophobia. The class-conscious British would have nothing but contempt for Oscar Wilde, no matter how celebrated a playwright.

Also the play is about the love of beauty—as Wilde elegantly illuminates. It’s about love—true obsession on the part of Wilde for Bosie, and something a bit more murky on the part of Bosie for Wilde—I think he liked the thrill of being adored.  As David Hare paints Lord Alfred Douglas, he was not a true, loyal friend.

For true loyalty and friendship, we have Robert Ross. He and Wilde did have a loving relationship before Bosie came on the scene and replaced Ross in Wilde’s affections. But Robert Ross remained true to Wilde as much as he could without having to compromise himself. He tried to save Wilde from prison. He acted as a go-between between Wilde and his equally devoted wife, Constance. He was there as a true friend and it ended badly.

The play beautifully captures the language and esthetic of Wilde; the tenor of the times in England regarding the law and homosexuality and the complex relationship Wilde had with Bosie and others.

The Production. The production totally lives up to the quality of the play. This is a splendid, elegant, thoughtful production. The look of the production is elegant and sumptuous without being overwhelming. Diane Frederick’s set has a few gleaming antique-looking pieces of furniture that set the scene of the world that Bosie and Wilde inhabit.

Laura Delchiaro’s beautifully designed clothes for Bosie and Wilde show their flamboyance and style; Wilde’s yellow vest matches his yellow socks; he wears his famous green carnation; a top coat is deep purple. Bosie’s clothes are beautifully tailored in pastels. The always discrete Robert Ross wears a fitted gray suit, vest and tie.

Jeff Pybus’ lighting at times shimmers on the skin of either Bosie or Wilde as they stand in profile with a ‘touch’ of sunlight glowing on them. Magical effect.  

Director Billy Lake is making his directorial debut with Talk is Free Theatre with The Judas Kiss. His work is confident, detailed and beautifully captures the rarified world of class, estheticism and beauty in all things from fine clothes, to furnishings, language and relationships. And Lake certainly gets wonderful performances from his gifted actors.

As Oscar Wilde, Aidan Desalaiz looks like Wilde and inhabits that world of beauty and sophistication with ease. Wilde is a man brimming with beautiful language, nuance and subtlety and all of it is in Aidan Desalaiz’s performance. As Bosie, Noah Beemer exudes boyish charm and an easy sense of entitlement. Bosie’s character is shallow but Noah Beemer plays him with such true conviction one is drawn into that world, mesmerized.  As Robert Ross, David Ball is a revelation. He illuminates Ross’s desperation to save Oscar with a controlled calmness that we know is boiling under the surface.  He never shouts to get Oscar’s attention, rather he continues urging him to act and move in the most determined way. It’s a performance that is watchful and knowing. Terrific work by all of them.

The whole world of this production, from the elegant costumes, furnishings and shimmering lighting and the wonderful acting, is one more reason to seek out the theatre gifts of Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie.

Talk Is Free Theatre Presents:

Plays until Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx. 1 intermission.

www.tift.ca

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Live and in person at Theatre Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont. until Dec. 23, 2021.

www.theatreorangeville.ca

Based on the novella by Charles Dickens

Adapted by and starring Rod Beattie

That’s right, Rod Beattie tells the story of A Christmas Carol playing all the parts himself. With judicious pruning here and there, Rod Beattie re-enacts Charles Dickens’ story of the reformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a miserly, Christmas-hating, constantly irritated ‘scrooge’ into a joking, fun-loving, open-hearted, generous man. Scrooge becomes a man who has re-discovered his capacity to love other human beings and not just money.

Wearing casual black pants, a stylish sweater and burgundy shoes, Rod Beattie (well-microphoned) announces solemnly that Jacob Marley was dead. In this well-paced, seventy-minute production, Beattie continues revealing Dickens’ story using a different voice, inflection and body language for each new character. Marley’s voice is deep and ponderous; Scrooge’s beloved sister Fanny is light and sweet since she was a kid in his memories; his fiancé, Belle, is delicate and disappointed when she had to end their engagement; Scrooge was hard, irritable and cantankerous. Occasionally music accompanies a segment that adds a lightness to it or a certain feeling.

No projections or special lighting are used to conjure the spirits because Beattie leaves that to our imagination, (the most powerful thing in the theatre). I don’t think the piece is diminished because of the lack of extra technology. Beattie uses the space well shifting a box-seat here and there; negotiating his way around the stage as her segues from character to character.

Everyone knows Rod Beattie from his wonderful Wingfield series of shows about Walt Wingfield, a former Bay Street lawyer who becomes a gentleman farmer, determined to make his farm pay, by working it himself. The series introduces all manner of crazy characters, all played with great dexterity by Rod Beattie. There arejust a few moments during A Christmas Carol when I hear hints of the Wingfield characters, but not many. Rod Beattie’s creations of the characters in A Christmas Carol are original and vivid. His telling of the story is funny, very moving and ultimately joyous because Scrooge finds his inner kind self when he comes face to face with his own miserable self. It’s a story of which we never get tired, and one that is always timely.

Theatre Orangeville Presents:

Plays until: Dec. 23, 2021.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

www.theaterorangeville.ca

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On-line from Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, Manitoba, until Dec. 12.

www.PTE.mb.ca

Written by Darla Contois

Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones

Set, lighting and projection design by Andy Moro

Costumes by Andy Moro and Brenda McLean

Composer/sound design by MJ Dandeneau

Choreography by Jera Wolfe

Film director, Sam Vint.

Ice River Films

Cast: Tracey Nepenak

Emily Solistice Tait

The voice of Tantoo Cardinal

A challenging, unsettling, exquisite story of the lives of three Indigenous woman in the same family told with grace, dance and powerful understatement.

The Story. From the production’s information: “An Indigenous mother becomes an activist while her brother becomes a soldier. A grandmother raises a granddaughter with love, in community. A granddaughter full of turmoil, finds her voice. Three generations of Indigenous women are woven into this new work by Winnipeg-based theatre artist Darla Contois. And three performance genres tell their story – monologue, poetry with video and movement, and contemporary dance – all tied together by the playwright’s story and an all-encompassing set design that has built a world for all three to live inside.”

From the Playwright:

“The story you are about to experience is incredibly personal to me. It is based on one of my deepest fears, my experiences and as well is a response to one of the most important questions we ask ourselves as Indigenous people: What are you fighting for? 

In it you will find remnants of real people, real conflicts and real relationships. I hope you’re ready to listen with an open heart.”

The Indigenous woman quietly tells her story. She was the youngest of three children. She had two older brothers. The eldest brother bullied her mercilessly. She was only a teenager when she considered suicide because of this bullying. She considered her second oldest brother her ‘protector.’ He protected her from the bully brother and other issues in her life. Her protector soon distanced himself from his sister when he got a girlfriend. They spent a lot of private time together.  The girlfriend became pregnant. Her parents—white, racist—felt the Indigenous man was not good enough for their daughter. So, the protector brother went into the army to prove himself. The Indigenous woman was alone. She too became pregnant by her boyfriend who didn’t want anything to do with the baby. The woman was determined to get an education and leave the reserve. She moved to Toronto and took care of her baby. At another point in her story the Indigenous woman and her daughter moved back to Manitoba and her mother took care of the child, while the daughter went to work. She became an activist for better treatment of her Indigenous people, following a path of service to her people in that way, as her brother followed service in the military. At one point these worlds clash.

The story is such a litany of the trials and challenges of Indigenous life—addiction, displacement, broken treaties, the trauma of residential schools, polluted water etc.– one is tempted to look away and shut down from the burden of absorbing it. But because of the sensitive artistry of playwright Darla Contois, director Thomas Morgan Jones and actress Tracey Nepenak we don’t look away. We meet the story face on, open-hearted and heart-broken.  

The Production. Andy Moro’s set is a clear raised oblong floor, with various clear panels sectioning off the space. A clear box with a lid is placed within two narrow panels. The Indigenous woman (Tracey Nepenak) enters the space wearing a long brown dress with lighter sections. The sleaves have a latticed pattern along the arms She also wears a shawl of brown with a delicate pattern on it. There is a fringe of silver ribbons around the edges of the shawl. Initially the shawl looks not only functional but also ceremonial, perhaps sacred. We find out a deeper meeting at the end of the monologue.  

The woman sits on the box and addresses an unseen stranger. The woman seems happy to see her. We get the sense of who that is at the end of the monologue. At the top of the monologue, there is a subtle sound effect of gently babbling water. The water sounds clean and clear, an irony from what the woman will talk about later in her monologue. When the woman begins to speak, the sound subsides. Nothing obscures the monologue. Occasionally film director, Sam Vint focuses the camera on the woman’s stripped tattooed fingers as they caress the fringe of the shawl. The camera work is never fussy or intrusive. It focuses on the woman’s face.  

The woman says that she grew up with nature, birds, air and brooks. One gets the whole sense of that bracing nature from MJ Dandeneau’s unobtrusive sound scape. As the woman, Tracey Nepenak’s voice is measured, calm, nuanced and controlled. The woman gently laughs when she admits she attempted suicide when she was a teenager because of her older brother’s bullying and her desperate loneliness. The juxtaposition of that laugh and the seriousness of what she did adds more weight to the attempt. Director Thomas Morgan Jones’ sensitive direction of this piece and Tracey Nepenak’s careful revealing of the story, keeps one gripped to the story and its implications. The telling is so nuanced and gradually builds to the point when the woman is more defiant when she illuminates how aware she became because of the injustices to her Indigenous people. The tone is more commanding but not angered in shouting. Nepenak and Jones both have a command of storytelling in all its shadings.

As the story reaches its heart-squeezing conclusion Nepenak slows the pace, guiding the audience to consider the full impact of what is happening.  At the end of the monologue Tracey Nepenak carefully takes off the shawl and one sees another aspect of what it is when she turns and we can read the words on the back. She carefully folds the shawl, as if it’s a sacred ceremony and carefully places it inside the box and stands aside.

Appearing behind the Indigenous woman is a young dancer (Emily Solistice Tait).  Her face has slashes of red across her eyes and down her arms; her hair is pulled back and is fashioned in tight braids. She wears a costume with stripes across her front that looks almost skeletal, a red outline is behind the stripes; there is a latticed pattern on the back (the same lattice work as on the arms of the woman’s dress) and pants in the same colours and pattern as the Indigenous woman’s dress. She is barefoot.

She moves the confining walls around the box where the woman sat, and frees up the space. Piano, drums, bead-crashing music plays during the section, insistence, sometimes urgent. The dancer investigates the space slowly, carefully as the Indigenous woman watches. Sometimes their arm movements are the same, as if they are mirrors of each other. Sometimes they engage, sitting on the box, their backs to each other. But for the most part, the second section is the dancer’s. I would not presume to interpret the dance—not my vocabulary. But Jera Wolfe’s choreography does tell the story of this young woman, and Emily Solistice Tait’s dancing is compelling and clear. The dancer can also be representative of the spirit of Indigenous women, confident, fearless, curious, determined.

During the dance section, the lilting voice of Tantoo Cardinal acts as the loving voice of the Indigenous woman, continuing the story and we learn who this young woman is. The voice says: “My greatest gift, my blood is yours and we are tied together, forever. My baby girl. I will protect you. And you will know love.”

The dialogue here is full of teachings of listening, hearing, seeing and embracing nature and its bounty. It’s a mother trying to instill the culture of Indigenous life in her child. Darla Contois’ dialogue is poetic, vivid, and vibrant in realizing a culture that might be so different than our, but is also embracing.

The camera work/dance sequence is more complex, with smoke, shifting scenes, and variations in Andy Moro’s light. The dance section is no less compelling in its storytelling that the first monologue section.

Comment. The War Being Waged is a stunning piece of theatre. Darla Contois has created a story that is familiar, harrowing, compelling, nuanced, full of love, grace and art.

Prairie Theatre Exchange in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts.

Streams until Dec. 12.

Running time: 70 minutes.

www.PTE.mb.ca

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