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

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton

Set and costumes by Eo Sharp

Lighting by André Du Toit

Sound by Jennifer Gilmor

Cast: Jason Cadieux

Sarah Deller

Peter Fernandes

Maggie Huculak

Sheila Ingabire-Isaro

David Jansen

Reid Millar

Ngozi Paul

A provocative play about love, relationships and the information that glues them together from one of the most inventive playwrights alive today.

The Story. There is no story. The play is composed of a series of topics inside which are short scenes that explore those topics, such as: maths, home, God, memory, manic, grief, mnemonist, linguist etc.

The Production. Eo Sharp has created a revolving cube around and in which the action takes place. The walls are used to suggest a couple in bed as they lean up against it with a sheet partially covering them. Some action takes place atop the cube.

The subject of a scene is projected above the cube and that scene is acted out to illuminate some aspect of the subject. Each scene is not more than a few minutes long, often much shorter but always expressed in Caryl Churchill’s pristine dialogue. Emotions are explored; attitudes are too. Love is often discussed in terms of information that establishes it. Initially characters are asked if they will divulge a piece of secret information. The reply begins the exploration of emotions and why characters do what they do.

Directors Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton work in tandem to stage and direct the piece. The pace is as brisk as the revelations of the short scenes. They find the central nugget of each scene and focus on what it says in the context of the scene and the play as a whole. The cast of eight is very strong, compelling and eminently watchable. One does not luck onto a character for any length of time. The character is like a shard of light—brief and quickly noticeable but then it’s gone.

Comment.  Caryl Churchill has made a career of never writing the same kind of play twice. She has written plays that seem to redefine language, (Far Away, Escaped Alone, Blue Heart, The Skriker), that explore feminist issues, (Top Girls) , money (Serious Money), thorny politics (Seven Jewish Children), gender issues and history (Cloud Nine) and on and on. Her sharp gaze illuminates the most complex of subjects.  Love and Information, written in 2012, is no different. An eclectic mix of topics in various scenes with a set order to the topics but not the scenes. She challenges everybody—artists, directors and audience. It’s worth the effort.    

Canadian Stage Presents:

Opened: April 12, 2018.

Closes: Apri.29, 2018.

Running Time: 110 minutes.

www.canadianstage.com

{ 0 comments }

Alas a bit behind with this.

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

The RISER Project is a terrific initiative of Why Not Theatre that has created a unique collaborative producing model for merging and independent theatre artists.

From the press release: “Developed to help address the challenges of producing indie theatre in Toronto, the RISER Project brings together a community of senior leadership and emerging artists to support the artistic risk that independent artists must take in order to create and innovate. The RISER producing model is designed to maximize existing infrastructures by sharing resources, rise, and commitment to reduce the producing burden on indie artists, especially the high cost of production and the difficulty of building audiences.”

This is the fifth edition of RISER. From April 15 to May 12 the RISER PROJECT 2018 will consist of three world premieres and one workshop presentation of new Canadian work.

The first two pieces are: Mr. Truth (April 17-24, 2018) and Tell Me What It’s Called (April 17-24, 2018).

Mr. Truth

Created and performed by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton

It’s described as “an off-the-beaten-sketch-comedy-path parody.” From the press release: “In a series of nightmarish vignettes, a demon-like entity forces people to confront the repression of their erotic truths in spectacularly painful ways. A grotesque orgasmic hallucination, Mr. Truth offers a satisfyingly uncomfortable dose of the primal, the lurid, and the bizarre.”

The reason I quote the press release so much with Mr. Truth is because I found the piece incomprehensible in its intention and the only discomfort I experienced was intense boredom when the point evaporated in self-indulgence. “…confront the repression of their erotic truths in spectacularly painful ways.” What does that even mean?

The piece is not tightly written, not clearly formulated or well performed. I found Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton awkward, not assured or convincing. The piece needs more rigour in clearly defining its point. And a parody? No.

Runs to April 24.

Tell Me What It’s Called

A collective creation by Ximena Huizi (who directs it) and various colleagues

The collective explores vulnerability in its many guises using movement, dance, games and text. The group of eight are already in the room as the audience fills in. They warm-up with a series of exercises, games-playing, songs and reflexive movement. These activities would not be out of place in a rehearsal hall so the audience is privy to this usually private process.

When the show proper begins, Ximena Huizi explains some of the aspects of the creation. The group shifts from section to section seamlessly. There are exercises of trust, moments when the group assume the identities of insects or archetypes, sing and dance.

While this is a work in process it is clear that the preparation has been meticulous, detailed, deeply thought, playful and totally joyful.

I look forward to the next incarnation.

Runs to April 24.

Tickets.theatrecentre.org

{ 0 comments }

Time has gotten away from me.

If you have not seen the live performance of Timon of Athens at the Stratford Festival starring Joseph Ziegler, you have a chance to see the filmed performance of the production, this evening at the Cineplex Dundas Square. April 22, and you can also buy a copy of the film.

It’s the story of Timon, a magnanimous, generous man of means in Athens. He showers his friends with gifts, money and rich dinners only to let this largess get away with him and he bankrupts himself. His staff try to tell him. He won’t listen until it’s too late. When he tries to collect back loans, his friends desert him.

He is so bitter about the whole experience he leaves Athens to live like a hermit in the wilds of the country.

The production was originally directed with style for the stage by Stephen Ouimette on the Tom Paterson stage. The production is large, vibrant and busy. Filming such an enterprise is a challenge.  And while Barry Avrich who did direct the filming of the stage production has captured many telling expressions in close-ups, there is a sense of whizzing activity that can be dizzying in the combination of longshots and closeups.

Matters are much better captured in the second half when Timon is on his own in the wilderness. Joseph Ziegler as Timon is masterful in the role–jolly and accommodating in the first half with all his sycophantic friends, and angry, bitter and unforgiving in the second half, living his life with the meager root vegetables he can fine  and disappointment.

Still this is the best option available if you did not see the stage version.

{ 0 comments }

At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Marc Bondy

Set and costumes by Emma Welsh

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Cast: Abby Weisbrot

Jake Runeckles

NOTE: Stop reading long enough to contact the Tarragon Theatre box office and buy a ticket NOW to this stunning production. The run is short.  The contact information is at the end. I’ll wait. Are we good? Ok, continue reading.

 Wow!!! A beautifully written play that packs a wallop at the end when you least expect it, in a wonderfully modulated, passionate production.

The Story. Caroline is a teen who has been troubled with health issues her whole life, mainly with her liver. She is convinced she will die young so she has shut herself in her room, listening to her music, taking artistic photos with her phone, keeping up with home work and texting her mother downstairs if she wants anything(!) She doesn’t like to yell downstairs if she wants anything, hence the texting.   We learn quickly Caroline does not want to be in contact with anyone. Relationships are too hard and she has to protect her time. Until Anthony (another teen) appears in her room.

He was allowed up to Caroline’s room with some cookies her mother gave him. He is there to seek her help with a tricky English school project. He requested her as a partner, even though she has not been in school, because she has that artistic something his project needs. And besides, she knows how to use glitter effectively. The project is about Walt Whitman’s epic work, “Leaves of Grass” and in particular his use of the pronouns “I” and “You”.

Anthony is intoxicated with the work. Catherine has never heard of it. She wants him gone. He is persistent because the project is due the next day and he let time slip by. And he needs an A in it and he’s hopeless at this stuff. It’s a subtle, gentle, fierce tug of war between the two until the stunning ending that leaves you breathless.

The Production. Designer Emma Welsh has created a warm, comfortable cocoon as Caroline’s (Abby Weisbrot) bedroom. Clothes are on the floor. The bed is messy because she spends a lot of time lounging on it. She has a plush turtle toy for comfort. The shelves are stuffed with knickknacks a young teenage girl collects and treasures.

Caroline is dressed in black tights, athletic socks and a sweat shirt. She is listening to music with heavy-duty headphones. She is caught unawares when Anthony (Jake Runeckles) just appears in her room, bearing the container of cookies. Anthony wears jeans and a top as teens would, and  brings his backpack, the container of cookies (under his arm), his large bristle board on which is his project and he also manages to hold his well read, neatly tabbed copy of “Leaves of Grass.” He takes off his shoes when he comes into Caroline’s room. He wears brightly patterned sock. (I wanted them. Sorry).

Director, Marc Bondy has directed his two gifted actors, Abby Weisbrot as Caroline and Jake Runeckles as Anthony, with care, sensitivity and a gentle hand. The set up is simple. Caroline wants Anthony out of her room. Anthony can’t leave until he convinces her to help him.

Abby Weisbrot plays Caroline as one tough teen. She is stubborn, verbally combative and wary of anyone who invades her space. It’s to Jake Runeckles’ credit as Anthony that he begins to win Caroline’s trust, first by convincing her that her mother said it was ok, otherwise why would he be bringing a container of her cookies, his desperation for her help begins to break down her defenses, and he begins to win her over with his enthusiasm for “Leaves of Grass,” reveling in Walt Whitman’s celebration of humanity, his philosophical musings on life, and the beautiful way Whitman celebrates relationships.

Eventually trust is earned between the two. Secrets and fears are shared. Caroline believes she will die soon and Anthony is determined to change that attitude. There is a kiss on the cheek of affection then later a more passionate kiss when Anthony kisses Caroline on the mouth and she returns it. In a way he is giving her the kiss of life, preparing her to embrace life outside that room and the key is Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The chemistry between Weisbrot and Runeckles is a thing of beauty. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard two young actors engage in such passionate conversation in which they listen so intently to the other and not just reacting automatically.

Again, I can’t say enough about Marc Bondy’s direction in which the relationship between those two characters is paramount. Without fussiness he gently draws the audience into the play that then grabs you, pulls you in and leaves you breathless with the ending that packs a wallop.

Comment.  Playwright Lauren Gunderson has written a stunner of a play in I and You. Initially it looks like a play about teens coming of age, coping with growing pains, the desire for privacy, wanting to earn an A in a course, and discovering the beauty of “Leaves of Grass” from the point of view of a teenage boy who also loves jazz and wants to pass on that enthusiasm.

But it is much more than that. It’s about life in all its exploding beauty. It’s about passing on the appreciation of that beauty when you least expect it. As often happens when I see a gem of a play/production so emotionally exquisite, I wept all the way to the car. Then bought a tub of chocolate brownie cookie dough ice cream for solace. Life is full.

Outlook Theatre Presents:

Opened: April 20, 2018.

Closes: April 29, 2018.

Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission)

www.tarragontheatre.com/iandyou

{ 1 comment }

Review: MIKVEH

by Lynn on April 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Greenwin Theatre, in the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ont.

 Written by Hadar Galron

Directed by Liza Balkan

Set and projections by Steve Lucas

Lighting by Davida Tkach

Costumes by Alex Amini

Sound and composition by Keith Thomas

Cast: Jessica Greenberg

Brittany Kay

Rosa Labordé

Niki Landau

Maria Ricossa

Sadie Seaton

Alice Snaden

Theresa Tova

A thoughtful, sensitive production of a play that deals with troubling issues but veers towards soap opera instead of digging deeper into the concerns.

 The Story. Mikveh is  written by Hadar Galron who was born in London, England, and then moved to Israel with her family when she was 13. She was raised in the orthodox Jewish traditions.

The play takes place in Jerusalem in a mikveh, a place where orthodox Jewish women come for a ritual bath or cleansing after their period and before their wedding. Much is made about following the strict rules and regulations of the tradition of the mikveh.

Shoshona is the mikveh supervisor who oversees the women taking ritualistic cleansing ensuring they follow the procedures.

We hear the stories of the various women. Shoshona is secretly seeing and supporting her daughter, an artist, who has left the orthodox life. She hides this information from her husband who would not tolerate such a betrayal of the Jewish orthodox tradition.

There is Estie who revels in the tradition to be pure for her husband. There is Hindi, a stylish woman and gossip who comes every month and has a secret. There is Chedva who is being beaten by her politician husband and no one says a word because it’s not their business. Her daughter Elisheva is a young girl who does not speak ever since she saw her mother being beaten by her father. Elisheva embraces everybody at the mikvah. Tehila is an innocent going into an arranged marriage and she’s terrified because no one will tell her what to expect. And there is Shira, Shoshona’s assistant, a feisty woman not of that community who is not afraid to speak up when things are not right. Shira also has her own secrets as do they all.

The Production. Steve Lucas has designed a set that is both the waiting room of the mikveh and the mikveh (ritual bath) itself. The locked door to the mikveh is just off right.

A woman rings the bell and Shoshona (Theresa Tova) comes and opens it. The locked door is to ensure the women have privacy in this ‘holy’ time. Once inside the door there are chairs and lockers in the main room with, a table and phone a bit down from the chairs for the mikveh supervisor to take appointments.

Above the chairs is a square section that is covered by a heavy curtain. When the scenes are in the mikveh itself, the curtain raises to reveal a platform, a door at the back of that, for the women to enter, and the pool of pure water for the ritual cleansing. The women enter in white terry cloth robes, disrobe in discrete lighting by David Tkach, then climb into the mikveh and submerge themselves seven times.  Shoshona oversees that the rules of the ritual are followed scrupulously. When the scenes in the mikveh are finished, the curtain is lowered over the square. Sometimes a projection of water and submerging are projected on the curtain.

At the beginning of the production the curtain rises and we are right in the mikveh. Shoshonah  the mikveh supervisor, is guiding Estie (Jessica Greenberg) in her submersion (seven times). When Estie is ready to come out of the pool Shoshona is ready with a towel stretched out in such a way that we don’t see the naked Estie until she is discretely wrapped in the towel.

Director Liza Balkan’s sensitivity in directing this play is palpable. There is respect for the actor in the most intimate of scenes when they must be naked and submerged. Balkan knows the intricacies of establishing relationships and characterization when women have secrets from each other.

 There are projections of quotes from the Torah etc. about how a man is not complete without a wife and a woman’s role is to be a wife.

There is the whole notion of having children as a woman’s duty. Estie has recently given birth to her sixth child. She can hardly wait to rush home to her husband after her mikveh. There are those lines in Hadar Galron’s text that a woman must be ritually cleansed in order to have sex with her husband after her period.

The dialogue is peppered with Yiddish and Hebrew but one gets the sense of the meanings from the English dialogue.

Act I introduces the women involved, their stories and secrets. Act II develops the characters, expands on the stories and ramps up the tension. Matters are getting more dangerous regarding Chedva and her brute of a husband to the extent that Shira will not allow Shoshona or the others to ignore that they are complicit when they do nothing.

Theresa Tova plays Shoshona as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders because in a way it is—she is responsible for ensuring everything is perfect and pure according to the traditions and laws of Orthodox Judaism. She frets and worries about her own family, tending to her estranged daughter’s needs without telling her husband. Tova plays Shoshona a “mother-hen” type who is concerned about the women in her care insofar as the tradition is concerned. But when matters are fraught and a stand must be taken, Shoshona weakens and backs away from her responsibility as a human being.

Rosa Labordé is terrific as Shira, the forthright woman who is not afraid to stand up to Shoshona and the whole orthodox sect in order to be humane and true.

And I really liked the work of Alice Snaden as Tehila, the terrified young bride. She is timid, obviously troubled, desperate to put on a happy front, and failing. As played by Jessica Greenberg, Estie is a giddy devoted wife, gossipy, and seemingly a woman without depth. Estie does not have any concern that her gossip could be hurtful. Greenberg gives her a girlish charm.

Hindi, is played with style and sophistication by Maria Ricossa. You ache for the battered Chedva because Niki Landau plays her with an obvious need to hide the truth. She just wants the attention to go away.

Finally matters escalate and there is a clash of wills between the rule of Orthodox Jewish law and the larger issue of being a decent human being, adhering to a more encompassing law, personal integrity and a moral code of ethics. Shira manages to urge and rouse the women to ignore the centuries old orthodox laws and act as individual women.

I don’t believe it. A woman in front of me leaned over to her husband and said, “soap opera.”  Amen.  All of a sudden the truth comes out at the end. Women rise up and stand their ground.  I found the conclusion too neat and not earned.  And some of the conclusions can be seen a mile off.  At the end of the day I found the production much better than the play.

Comment. Mikveh certainly deals with some pretty sensitive issues in light of how intensely contained and secret  life is in Orthodox Jewry. Every aspect of living is dictated by the centuries old rules and regulation in the Torah. Modern life, feminism, individuality are not considered from the context of these women.

Everyone there knows that Chedva’s husband had been beating her for years but did nothing because as Shoshona, says it’s between a husband and wife.  Hadar Galron has provided a foil for Shoshona’s blinkered way of thinking in Shira who realizes human decency and modern law outweighs any archaic law governing the rights of husbands over wives.

 To a woman not of the orthodox sect, a lot of it is cringe worthy. I can appreciate that you have the character of Shirah who stands up and insists that someone interfere and say that a husband does not have the right to beat up his wife or threaten his child. Or that someone has to help a terrified bride if no one else will.

But the ending, suggesting a shift in thinking just does not ring true with this centuries old orthodox philosophy, ritual and form of Judaism. It’s not earned. While almost every woman in the play is unhappy, one does not get the sense that Galron has written her characters deeply enough to come to the conclusion to ‘revolt.’

I found the selection of Mikveh so odd a choice since it is obviously not a very supportive look into the Orthodox world.  And certainly it’s an odd choice when one considers that the play Yichud was chosen and cancelled several years before by The Harold Green Jewish Theatre because it was allegedly deemed critical of the Orthodox Jewry, a notion that was not true to anyone who actually saw the play.

Presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre.

Opened: April 19, 2018.

Closes: May 6, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes (approx).

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

 

{ 0 comments }

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Paula Wing

Directed by Stewart Arnott

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Brian Bisson

Daniel Ellis

Jamie Robinson

Ordena Stephens-Thompson

Tal Shulman

Playwright Paula Wing explores boys and their fathers in her interesting play, Risky Phil. It poses some thought-provoking ideas.

The Story. Phil lives with his colourful Aunt Gigi, a hairdresser. His mother is dead and his father is absent and never talked of. Then one day all that changes.

The Production.  The multiple locations in the play are efficiently established by Rachel Forbes malleable set: Aunt Gigi’s hair salon is simple and colourful. a bench suggests a park or even a hockey change room. The costumes are typical garb for a young teen and casual wear for the adults.

Phil (Daniel Ellis) gives a lively, thoughtful performance of a kid living with a strong woman, his Aunt Gigi (Ordena Stephens-Thompson), as his surrogate mother—her sister is Phil’s late  mother. Phil and Aunt Gigi have an almost official contractual arrangement. He works in her hair-dressing salon in exchange for other privileges. Often Phil wants to massage that arrangement and negotiate amendments. Daniel Ellis as Phil has sweet charm, a confidence that comes from someone who is loved and the goofiness of a kid.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Aunt Gigi is feisty, firm and hiding some truths that Phil should know about. They are revealed soon enough. One of them is that Phil’s father Junior, (Jamie Robinson) shows up to the hair-dressing salon, posing as a customer in order to get in the door. He left Phil’s mother without a word and does not know that his wife is dead and that he has a son.

Gigi is furious with his abandonment of her sister. She’s furious that he seems to be as irresponsible as we always was. But Junior says he is a changed man. He’s in re-hab and as part of his treatment must make amends to the people he has hurt. One of them is his former wife. But Junior is told she’s dead. Jamie Robinson gives a dandy twitchy performance of a man not too steady in his life. He’s trying but boy is it hard to trust him.

Director Stewart Arnott keeps everything flowing at a brisk pace. The target audience is about grades four and five so the pace can’t drag. And some of the revelations certainly stirred up the kids. Recognition perhaps.

Comment. Risky Phil is a companion piece to Number One and Jamie also by Paula Wing. In Risky Phil Wing examines father-son relationships. There is another father and son in the play, David and his son Jamie. David had always dreamed of being a professional hockey player but squandered his chance. He now coaches little league hockey. He wants to go to Europe and try again but doesn’t tell his son Jamie who is crushed with the news.

Paula Wing is writing about the subject of absent fathers and their sons; irresponsible fathers and their dreams at the expense of their sons and all the other minute questions in those relationships. While Junior says he wants to come back into Phil’s life, Gigi is not sure because Junior is a bad father. But Phil says that a bad father is better than an absent father. What a tricky situation that is. One ponders if Junior will step up to the plate and be more responsible. Interesting question.

 Presented by Young People’s Theatre

 Opened: April 12, 2018.

Closed: April 27, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes, approx.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

{ 0 comments }

At the CAA Theatre (formerly The Panasonic Theatre), Toronto, Ont.

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron

Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel

Directed by Robert McQueen

Music director, Reza Jacobs

Choreographed by Stephanie Graham

Set by Camellia Koo

Costumes by Alex Amini

Sound by Michael Laird

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Cast: Evan Buliung

Laura Condlln

Cynthia Dale

Sara Farb

Hannah Levinson

Jasper Lincoln

Liam MacDonald

Eric Morin

Sabryn Rock

A joyous, moving, beautifully realized production of this glorious musical, of a woman’s journey to acknowledging she’s gay and her father who refused to acknowledge he was too.

 The Story. The story is told as a flashback by Alison Bechdel at 43-years-old. She is a cartoonist and a lesbian. She is remembering her family when she grew up in Pennsylvania. She remembers this from three points in her life: when she was 11- years-old and had stirrings that she might be different, 18-years-old when she was in college and realized she was gay and at 43-years-old when she was putting everything in focus.

The centre of her world was her father Bruce. He taught English at the local high school, ran the family funeral home business (amusingly referred to as “Fun Home” by his kids) and restored old houses as a hobby. And Alison learns he was gay from her mother who said he had slept with men for their whole married life. Four months after she came out Alison tells us her father killed himself. This is not a spoiler. It was told near the beginning of the show.

The Production. Alison (Laura Condlln) is unpacking a box of stuff she inherited from her father Bruce (Evan Buliung). Each item–a silver tea pot, a ring of keys etc.– pricks a particular memory. She notes: “Caption” as she draws the memory from each item.

We meet Small Alison (Hannah Levinson) at 11-years-old: impish, demanding, confident, loves to wear jeans, hates to wear dresses and berets in her hair. Medium Alison (Sara Farb) at 18-years-old is in college, insecure, unsettled, desperate not to be a lesbian and then embraces her lesbian self when she comes out after meeting Joan (Sabryn Rock), a gay woman with whom she is instantly smitten.

Sara Farb sings “Changing My Major” with intoxicating confidence, with freedom from her doubts and a reverie that is contagious. The constant concern is how her parents will deal with the letter she sent them, in which she comes out to them. She is anxious to know; especially what her father thinks. Then her mother Helen (Cynthia Dale) drops the bombshell about her father’s sexuality.

When Small Alison sees a dyke delivering supplies to a local luncheonette she has an immediate sense of recognition. “I know you” she sings in her glorious rendering of “Ring of Keys”. To see the glow of recognition on Hannah Levinson’s face and to hear her resounding realization of the song is to have gold in your life.

Fun Home  unfolds from the points of view of the three Alisons at those stages of their lives. Through it all Alison watches on stage, often focusing on her younger selves, often on her father, always still, never pulling our attention away from the main scene. Laura Condlln imbues Alison with sensitivity, compassion and a confidence that comes from living and accepting who she is and those around her.

The three Alisons are always drawing cartoons of moments that strike their eye and always with their left hand. I know it should be obvious but that small detail exemplifies director Robert McQueen’s attention to the myriad details in this moving production. (One assumes the real Alison Bechdel is left-handed.)

At the centre of Alison’s world is her father Bruce played beautifully by Evan Buliung with a puffed up confidence and charm that is obvious to the outside world and an agitated ill-temper to his family. His true love is finding an object that is a treasure in a pile of junk. The sense of discovery and the care of the object is poetic when he sings about a tea pot to Small Alison: “Is it junk or silver?/With polish, we can tell./I love how tarnish melts away/Opening up to lustre.” Stunning.

On the edges of this family, trying to keep it all together, barely noticed, is Helen, Bruce’s wife and mother to Alison and her brothers. Helen is played by Cynthia Dale in a performance that is nuanced and aching. Helen knows the truth about Bruce and stays in that marriage trying to make things work and to be present and visible. Dale sings “Days and Days” about the days of cleaning and polishing and trying to keep order until this stunning lyric: “And no one clocks the day you disappear,”  with a self-knowledge that leaves you with a knot in your heart. This is some of the best work I have ever seen from Cynthia Dale.

Camellia Koo has designed an efficient set of movable pieces for easy change of scenes. There is the suggestion of the finery of Bruce’s clear eye for found treasures. Alex Amini’s costumes are also fitting for the characters: stylish preppy for Bruce, jeans and work shirts for the older Alisons and jeans and jersey for Small Alison. A dress for Helen.

Robert McQueen establishes the relationships and pairings of the three Alisons with style. The pace is swift and moments that require absolute stillness are riveting. This is a beautifully rendered production of this gem of a musical.

 Comment. Fun Home was written by the power-house duo of Jeanine Tesori (Music) and Lisa Kron (Book and lyrics). Individually they have made their mark in the theatre. Tesori wrote: Caroline or Change, Shrek the Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Violet to name a few. Lisa Kron wrote 2.5 Minute Ride and Well. Together they created a game changer in musical theatre with Fun Home. Not only did they win for best score and book of a musical but Fun Home also won as a Tony Award as best musical in 2015.

They have continued in the foot-steps of Stephen Sondheim in creating a provocative story in music and lyrics. Both the music and lyrics capture the personalities and inner thoughts of the characters. There is the anxious worry of Helen as she sings “Welcome to our House on Maple Ave.” as she lists the things that must be arranged, polished and sorted in the house for an important guest; there is the simple and melodic “Ring of Keys” sung by the Small Alison; the gushing, buoyant, sensual “Changing my Major” sung by Medium Alison, the literary college student; there is the grinding, looping cycle of disappearing of Helen as she sings the plaintive “Days and Days,” and on and on. Both Kron and Tesori have captured the personalities of the characters in lyrics and music.

I found one scene particularly interesting since it seemed out of place. For most of the musical, Alison looks on her younger selves as they dealt with revelations and discovers. But she is put in a scene where Medium Alison, her 18-year-old self, would be more appropriate, Medium Alison has come home to introduce her parents to Joan. It is right after she sent them a letter, coming out. Her father has not said a word. He suggests they go for a drive but it is Alison (grown up and 43) that goes on the journey with him. Perhaps this is Alison’s opportunity to go over that ride in detail to see what was missing. She is anxious, desperate to address the issue of her sexuality and her father’s and he won’t bite. It is an interesting moment in the musical, one that keeps us thinking, as does the whole show. Glorious theatre.

David Mirvish presents the Musical Stage Company’s production.

Opened: April 17, 2018.

Closes: May 6, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes (no intermission)

www.mirvish.com

{ 1 comment }

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Written by Adam Meisner

Directed by Brandon Crone

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes and properties by Holly Lloyd

Cast: Maja Ardel

Jakob Ehman

Xavier Lopez

Vanessa Smythe

Alexander Thomas

And endlessly fascinating play about the future and the past, given a meticulous, compelling production.

The Story. We are 150 years in the future and it’s a world without gender. Pronouns are not used in speech, nor are contractions. People are not referred to by name but by the word “ish” if it’s about a third person. The only particular identifier in the program of a character’s name is the word “ish” followed by a number such as ish62, ish34 etc., although no character calls any other character by that designation.  Ish62 seems to be the person in charge. Ish56 is her colleague who offers advice and ideas. Ish34 is an engineer who inspects the house. Ish 20 is a young woman working on the project and Ish84 is an elder statesman of the group. The number in the ‘name’ seems to suggest an age, but I could be wrong.

This Ish group of people is restoring the last house built in 1999. They are meticulous in recreating the furniture, props and other aspects of that time. The purpose is to create the house as a museum. Interestingly, when characters begin to spend time there when the house is finished they begin to speak with pronouns and to refer to others in that way. Contractions enter the vocabulary too. There is a mystery in that house that we soon find out about that is also an intriguing part of this play. Ish84 wants to make and wear an orange gown and heels. And having sex is re-awakened.

The Production.  Director Brandon Crone and his creative team have imagined the world of Adam Meisner’s play with such care and distinction I kept shaking my head and smiling at the inventiveness of their imagination. Joe Pagnan’s set is simple but evocative of 1999: round dining room table, old-fashioned sofa, shelving for knickknacks, big TV and not a flat screen either.  Holly Lloyd’s costumes are grey tunics for both the men and the women. They all wear the same kind of head covering, something like a felt cap with short strips on either side of the head that drop down from the ears like sideburns. There is a bit of extra fabric on the top. The result is that gender is not an issue or regarded separately. They all look androgynous.

Because there are no contractions in this speech, for the most part, the result sounds stilted and artificial, which is the intent. The voices are soft, almost uninflected but never dull sounding. ISH62 (Maja Ardel) is commanding, forceful and one assumes is in charge. Ardel’s body language is brisk as well, movements are quick and matter of fact. As Ish52, Jakob Ehman is gentle in his quietness, mindful of the rules of his time and curious about what went on in 1999. Time spent in the 1999 house changes things. Ehman as Ish52 because more animated. He is attracted to Ish20 and convinces her to have sex with him. The subtle change in the characters because of the time (1999) and the house in that time,  is fascinating.

 Comment. In his play, For Both Resting and Breeding, Adam Meisner has written an intriguing, imaginative look into the future. He doesn’t explain the change from going from ‘today’ when we are sex crazed and perhaps keenly aware of the shifting focus in gender fluidity to 150 years in the future to a world without gender or the defining pronouns. Language, attitudes, individuality and history are examined. Imagine picking 1999 as a year on which to focus attention, and making every effort to recreate that time. Has Meisner written a satire of our times by focusing on the far future? Not sure. But he does have a compelling imagination and a smart facility with language that in turn gets us to examine think about our world and the future he has created.

And of course, leave it to Arkady Spivak, the gifted Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie to produce it. I have seen work that is consistently imaginative, beautifully produced and acted in Barrie. I look forward to seeing more, both from Adam Meisner and from Talk is Free Theatre.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: April 13, 2018.

Closes: April 21, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.tift.ca

{ 0 comments }

At the Assembly Theatre, Toronto Ont.,

Written by Adam Pettle

Directed by Jessie Fraser

Projection designer, Christopher Lewis

Sound by Aaron Collier

Costumes by Janelle Hince

Cast: Luis Fernandes

Cass Van Wyck

The Story. Moira and Alan meet in a hospital where both of them are getting radiation treatment for cancer. The machine that gives them their radiation doses is called Therac 25 hence the title. Moira has also had chemo treatments. There is an attraction between them probably in part because of their shared experience with cancer. A relationship and trust results. They are falling in love between treatments. Both have boundary issues. Alan can’t bear to be touched. Moira can’t bear to be asked how she is feeling. Love has a way of breaking down boundaries.

The Production.  Cass Van Wyck as Moira has shaved her head to show the results of Moira’s chemo treatment. She sometimes wears a toque to conceal her bald head. Alan wears a toque too, probably because it’s cold outside. He has his hair because you don’t lose it through radiation.

It’s reasonable that Van Wyck plays Moira as depressed, brooding and anxious that the treatments end. The future is uncertain for her at this point. But her attitude changes when she meets Alan in the waiting room of the hospital, waiting his turn for treatment. She flirts, she becomes bold in chatting him up.

As Alan Luis Fernandes is sweet, kind and  funny in return to Moira’s flirting. They are guarded at times but gradually lower their guard to allow the other person into their secret concerns, fears, longing. Both Van Wyck and Fernandes create characters that are believable, are fearful of the future and care deeply about each other.

The back wall of the set is white (there is no set designer listed), with an examining table and a white sheet on it. There is an effective projection design by Christopher Lewis. Moira stands with her back to the wall and projections of Therac 25 with its rays of radiation zero in on her. A soundscape of a whirring machine accompanies the projections. The image rotates and revolves suggesting the working of the machine. Other times a location is suggested—a mall, a café etc. Occasionally one gets the sense all these projections are a touch too much but one copes

Jessie Fraser has directed Therac 25 with efficiency, clarity and has not fallen into the trap of sentimentality. I do have a quibble. It is staged in such a way that the audience doesn’t know the play is over. Both Van Wyck and Fernandes have their last scene, the lights fade and they leave the stage. And there the audience sits, watching an empty stage. The lights change to the illumination of the stage when the audience first came into the theatre and still the audience looks at an empty stage. The actors are not coming out for a bow. The audience still waits until finally someone at the back of the theatre—and I would wager, someone connected with the production—begins to applaud. The rest of the audience joins in and then Cass Van Wyck and Luis Fernandes come out together to take their shy bows and go off awkwardly, as if they aren’t sure what to do either. No, don’t do that to an audience. If the audience doesn’t know the show is over, they don’t know they must applaud to cue the actors they can now come and take a bow. Too awkward. The audience has to clearly know the show is over. Enough with this waiting for them to twig and then applaud. The audience would know they should applaud when the actors take their bow. Neat. Clear.

 Comment. Theac 25 is Adam Pettle’s semi-autobiographical play about his treatment when he got cancer in 1995. It’s a deeply emotional play. He has realized the black humour that one uses to protect oneself from the unknown—will they get better or not. It’s a solid production, except for my quibble about the awkward ending.

And can I please reiterate my pet peeve about what’s needed for a programme if you are a small theatre company such as Unit 102 Actors Company? The programme is your best opportunity of publicity but if you don’t have the needed information on the programme then you are denying yourself a good way of getting the word out. For example, no where on this programme does it list the name of the theatre and the address where the play is playing. Doncha think that would be a good idea?! WHERE IS THE PLAY AT, EH? No where on the programme does it give the dates of the run. No where does it have a box office number or website. On the cover there is the title of the play, the name of the playwright, the director’s name and the two actors. At the bottom is the nice logo of Unit 102 Actors Company and a whole lot of white space that could be used for the missing information. Come on, folks. This is important to you. Please do better.

Produced by Unit 102 Actors Company

Closes: April 21, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, approx.

http://www.unit102actors.com

{ 1 comment }

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Jivesh Parasram

Director/dramaturge, Tom Arthur Davis

Created by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis and Graham Isador

Lighting by Rebecca Vandevelde

Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

 It’s a bracing, deeply thought, intellectual, comedic look at identity, marginalization and cows as seen from the point of view of Jivesh Parasram.

The Production and Comment. Jivesh Parasram is an Indo-Canadian-Hindu-Trinidadian so trying to define his identity is a bit of a challenge taken to the 4th degree. He’s a theatre practitioner, writer, performer, researcher and educator.

During the ‘lights out’ that begins the show, Parasram appears in the colourful confines of Anahita Dehbonehie’s set—a tall square space with yellow and red swaths of flowing material that hangs down from the flies. The fourth wall of the space is open, so that Parasram can address us.

In the space is a wood table on which are various things” candles, incense, a book etc. that Parasram will need. Stage left of this is a stand on which is a microphone and a laptop. He will use the laptop to create sounds and effects during the show.  He is dressed in dark pants and shoes, layered tops over each other of various lengths. A beautiful light yellow scarf is beautifully arranged over his right shoulder and around his neck.

Parasram starts by saying he hates solo shows about identity and beautifully expresses why they don’t make the grade. One realizes why because compared to those shows his are head and shoulders above them.

He uses Hindu tradition, language, history and his life experiences from travelling around so much and how it affects him to tell the story. He speaks with reverence of how a person can feel a part of a place when his/her blood mixes with the soil. He speaks about his grandfather who was a farmer in Trinidad and raised cows. Cows are sacred in the Hindu religion and Parasram carries that reverence with him. He was present at the birth of a cow. His storytelling of the event is mesmerizing and moving. His demonstration of what sound a cow in Trinidad actually makes is hilarious.

While Parasram was born in Canada, (Nova Scotia) and lived with his family in Trinidad and elsewhere, he has not actually felt as if he fit in. Others made him feel as if he was not ‘white or black enough.’ Or not Muslim when he is Hindu and a whole raft of qualifiers that does not apply. A man can feel marginalized with it all and Parasram does.

He has something deep, angry and very funny to say to this blancmange of an agreeable audience. He layers his show with intellectual, philosophical musings, complex history and humour. At times I find the information overwhelming, so the trick is to listen and hear and let the information through, but not overpower.

Parasram can tell a story, phrasing and pacing his way along to a punchline that is pure and resounding. It’s a thing of beauty to see him land a laugh-line.

Also a thing of beauty is how Parasram works the audience, first embracing them then sending a graceful dart to skewer an attitude. He says that in fact we are all Jiv—a notion in the Hindu religion that we are all one. So when he asks people in the audience who they are they went from giving their real name to saying (with gusto) they are JIV! Moments later he asks who thinks they are mainstream and who thinks they are marginalized. He does something to work on that schism (which I won’t say here), that suggests that in fact we aren’t all JIV…How Parasram works the audience to show a contradiction is fascinating.

Is he playing head games with us? Sure.  But he works us, envelopes a pointed argument in charming, self-deprecating humour and let’s the argument land. He knows how to see the humour in a fraught situation and when you least expect it, he leaves you weeping with the outcome.

Jivesh Parasram is a fascinating theatre creator in that he has four hyphenated reasons to feel marginalized. But he’s such a confident, self-deprecating, performer, obviously who has been watchful from many vantage points, that he can be blistering in his observations.

This is a solo show about identity that is light years to the forth power away from those Jivesh describes at the beginning of the show.

He has something to say about identity, marginalization, belonging and the birth of a cow. Go hear and watch him say it.

Produced by Pandemic Theatre, b current with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: April 12, 2018.

Closes: April 22, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

{ 1 comment }