At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by Ted Witzel

Scenography by Michelle Tracey

Sound by Ben McCarthy

Projections by Wesley McKenzie

Cast: Samantha Brown

Carlos González-vio

Josh Johnston

Christopher Stanton

Conor Wylie

A play of war, its crushing influence on the boys and men who fight it in a production that smothers the play with distracting technology.

 The Story. In an unnamed land war has been raging for 20 years.  Jack has been fighting for 15 of those years. was orphaned and indentured to fight at 6 years old. After 15 years a soldier is allowed to be released from the military and join society. In Jack’s case he met a philosopher who taught him to read, perhaps how to think and would buy his freedom in exchange for marrying his daughter. This doesn’t go down too well with Sarah, the woman Jack was ‘engaged’ to (or rather had an understanding with) before he went away to fight.

The King who is at war with a faction of priests and he takes over the drug tracks. Everyone in Jack’s camp of soldiers, including the commanding officer Webb is addicted to morphine. With the King taking over the drug supplies everyone is going through painful withdrawal. There is precious little food. They are waiting impatiently for the next battle–a lousy combination.

 The Production. Scenographer, Michelle Tracey has opened up the Buddies in Bad Times space to the walls. There is a huge mound of black earth in the middle of the room. A path of wood slats leads up from the mound to way up stage.  A soldier sits at the bottom of the mound facing upstage. He is Ash (Conor Wylie). There are make-shift screens of sheets stage right and left. The stage directions indicating where we are and how long has elapsed are projected in various sized fonts onto a black screen stage right. Sometimes it’s hard to read what’s projected there either because the font is small or the lighting is not consistent. Frustrating.

When the play begins the earth on the mound moves and a naked man emerges from it wearing a gas mask. He cleans himself off and puts on his clothes. This is Jack (Josh Johnston). He has come home from battle. He’s been fighting for 15 years, since he was six. Now he expects to be released from his duties.

Ben McCarthy has created an almost constant sound design of low sounding rumbles in the distance, explosions or just noise of war that distract and bedevil. That, coupled with the desperate need for drugs, does ramp up the angst quotient. Ash is the camp’s supplier of the drugs. Conor Wylie as Ash is usually calm and watchful in trying not to give himself away. But then Commander Webb (Carlos González-Vio)  wants Ash to find the dealer,  (not knowing it’s Ash) which of course makes Ash anxious.

For all the space available in Buddies in Bad Time Theatre, the action generally takes place in a relatively small area—around the mound and downstage. Susanna Fournier’s story in this case is rather a ‘small’ one—men waiting for their interview to leave service, get their next fix of drugs, or join another battle. Director Ted Witzel uses all manner of technology to bombard us with ‘stuff’ to ‘inform’ the story. Videos of soldiers marching, newsreels of events and others are projected on two of the screens up stage. Because the screens are uneven sheeting the images are distorted and trying to make out what they are is not easy. Then there are the constantly changing stage directions projected onto the black screen stage left and the ambient noise. And in the middle of it all is a character talking presumably about stuff the playwright wants to convey. I find Ted Witzel’s productions to be maddeningly self-centered, as if the director and not the play is most important. His work in The Scavenger’s Daughter is no different.

Of the cast, Carlos González-Vio as Webb and Christopher Stanton as Cook give the most varied and credible performances. González-Vio is compelling in his stillness and perception at what is going on in that camp. Stanton as Cook is twitchy, obsequious and stoical in an impossible situation—no food!

 Comment. The Scavenger’s Daughter is the second play in Susanna Fournier’s Empire Trilogy. She has created an empire over 500 years full of war, overpowering male attitudes, the strong overpowering the weak, violence and brutality. When you consider that the men in the play seemed to have been orphaned, trained to kill and not taught to read since they were six-years-old, wouldn’t that thuggish, violent behaviour seem a natural result? Because Jack is taught to read are we to assume that enlightenment and a more human and humane person has developed? If that’s the intent, it isn’t clear in the play.

Ted Witzel writes in his Director’s Note—(he doesn’t use capital letters): “masculinity is in crisis. the patriarchal ethos of western imperialism is finally facing a substantial challenge. ‘toxic masculinity’ hasn’t just entered the lexicon, it’s gone viral.’ Several steps have been missed between Fournier’s play and Witzel’s assessment of what it’s about. Or is the audience supposed to fill in all the missing bits? Hmmm.

The Scavenger’s Daughter is not a person; it’s a device of torture. When Jack emerges from the dirt he sits on the ground, his feet flat on the ground and his knees bent up close to his body. His arms are around his knees and he pulls them in closer. The device of torture would have encased his body and tightened around the arms and the knees so that the person would have died as his organs were crushed and he would suffocate.

I’ve seen an example of The Scavenger’s Daughter up close. A few years ago I went to the beautiful medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. I went to two museums: the first was the Chocolate Museum and the second was the Museum of Torture. There in the basement of a well-kept building, with classical music playing in the background, was every conceivable kind of torture device to inflict pain, suffering and punishment. The Scavenger’s Daughter was one of them; bands of metal that encased the body and tightened around it.  Informative plaques in front of each example told of its origin and how it worked. At the beginning of the exhibit was a simple plaque that said that all these devices were invented by men. I wish this production of The Scavenger’s Daughter was as clear.

Paradigm Productions presents:

Opened: Jan. 17, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 27, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours, approx.

www.empiretrilogy.com

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Review: 1979

by Lynn on January 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Healey

Directed by Miles Potter

Set by Steve Lucas

Lighting by Nick Blais

Costumes by Jennifer Lee Arsenault

Sound by Thomas Geddes

Projections by Scott Reid

Cast: Christopher Hunt

Jamie Konchak

Philip Riccio

A political play about a decent, principled man. Naaa, nobody would believe it, except that Michael Healey wrote 1979 about Prime Minister Joe Clark with respect, affection and perception.  Philip Riccio brings all that out in his performance of the man.

 The Story. It’s 1979. We are in the Prime Minister of Canada’s parliamentary office in Ottawa. Prime Minister Joe Clark has been Prime Minister for six months (since June 2) and he has worked all that time with his Finance Minister, John Crosbie, to present a budget to Parliament. It doesn’t look good. Clark has a minority government and if the opposition joins forces with Quebec then the budget could be defeated and an election will have to be called.

The Production. Steve Lucas has designed a spare but rich-looking wood paneled office. Two large stands with the Canadian flag on each are at the back. Centre stage is the Prime Minister’s desk made of dark wood and almost empty except for a few files and the push button phone. Stage left is drapery that comes down only enough to cover windows, one assumes. After the curtains is a bank of dark wood doors hiding shelves and a really impressive sound system.

At the top of director Miles Potter’s engaging, very funny production, music is blaring drowning out what John Crosbie (Christopher Hunt) is energetically trying to say to Joe Clark (Philip Riccio) who is sitting in his chair looking up at Crosbie as he gesticulates wildly. Finally Clark points the remote control at the sound system and turns off the music. (music from such disparate artists as Bruce Springsteen and the Tragically Hip will be played).  Crosbie has brought him the latest gossip/news about the upcoming budget vote and it’s not good.

Everybody has advice for Clark on how to get the budget passed—John Crosbie, Flora MacDonald (Secretary of State for External Affairs) and Clark’s wife Maureen McTeer—and some just want to needle him like Pierre Elliott Trudeau. There’s even a visit from a surprising younger Stephen Harper who bends Clark’s ear with his own philosophy about politics and his admiration of Margaret Thatcher.

The thing is that Joe Clark is a man of principle and that integrity and his principles come out in Philip Riccio’s performance. He proudly wears a three-piece brown corduroy suit while others who visit him are in somber dark blue or black.  Riccio plays Clark with a clear seriousness. There is the pensive look, eye-brows knit in thought. There is a bit of a scowl as Clark ponders a point of interest. Riccio has lowered his voice to suggest Clark’s low voice and there is his deliberate slow way of talking, methodical, careful always measured. Riccio as Clark is rather touching when he expresses his belief that by being elected he has the right and responsibility to govern for as long as the term should be. He can’t get his head around the fact that he could be out of office if the budget doesn’t pass. And while the more wily politicians in his party—hello, John Crosbie—have all sorts of schemes to win the vote for the budget, Clark won’t go that route. Merit is how he works.

Writer Michael Healey has captured Clark’s respectful stance to hear out all arguments against him in order to then give a careful reply. While Stephen Harper extols the virtues of Margaret Thatcher, Clark waits for a point in time where he can quietly rebut Harper and remark on the cruelty of Thatcher’s ideas.

All the secondary roles are played by Christopher Hunt and Jamie Konchak who sometimes play characters of opposite genders. When Jamie Konchak plays Flora MacDonald she is almost motherly in her support of the younger Joe Clark. When Christopher Hunt dons the same costume and wig as MacDonald it’s more a joke and a bit of a send-up.  The characters are there to spar with Clark over policy, philosophy and politics. It’s to Healey’s credit that he is able to realize the subtle differences in each stance.

The facts of who these characters are, the details of their jobs, their place in history, are left to projections appearing on a screen at the back to tell us who each character is as they enter. The projection for Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s entrance is particularly festive—his three names pulse bigger and bigger which is appropriate for the ‘star’ that he is.

At times there is so much information being projected that Healey does a joke on himself, with the caption, “not more reading.” I must confess, I thought the information in the projections went on a bit too much. Healey so loves this world of politics.

Comment.  Michael Healey loves the thrust and parry of the heady world of politics. Sometimes I find that Healey goes on too long with that kind of argument. While the extended scene with Stephen Harper is interesting to see that even in his youth, Harper had his cold-blooded idea of politics, I wondered if it was truly necessary to be there, except perhaps to be clever and foreshadow the kind of politician he would be.

1979 is just the latest of Healey’s plays to deal with politics in some way. (Proud looked at the world of Prime Minister Stephen Harper). Healey is a perceptive, clear-eyed writer and shows that while Clark’s intentions were honourable and he was a man of principle, he worked in a shark-filled world. Clark was mocked for being a man of principle, but Healey doesn’t do that. He shows that the world of politics was changing and principles had nothing to do with it.

Presented by the 1979 Group

Began: Jan. 9, 2019.

Closes: Jan 27, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

www.canadianstage.com

 

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At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields

Directed by Matt DiCarlo

Scenic design by Nigel Hook

Costumes by Roberto Surace

Lighting by Ric Mountjoy

Sound by Andrew Johnson

Original music by Rob Falconer

Cast: Scott Cote

Peyton Crim

Brandon J. Ellis

Angela Grovey

Ned Noyes

Jamie Ann Romero

Evan Alexander Smith

Yaegel T. Welch

Totally silly, wonderfully accomplished and a little bit dangerous.

The Story and the Production. The Cornley University Drama Society is presenting The Murder at Haversham Manor. The company has rehearsed very hard but many things have conspired against them. The door up at the back won’t close and stage management has tried valiantly to fix it. Nothing works and then it does. And then it doesn’t. And then….oh, never mind. The mantle piece falls off, as do curtains, pictures, and other stuff on the wall. People get bashed in the face with a door (that’s when it was working) or with something that fell from above the door. And the dog that is vitally needed in Act II has gone missing. Annie the stage manager (a very serious and funny Angela Grovey) goes into the audience as we are arriving at our seats to ask if anyone has a dog she could borrow. One woman did have one but it was in Mississauga. Annie asked how long it would take to go and get it. Trevor, a wonderfully dim lighting and sound operator (hurray, Brandon J. Ellis) usually missed his cues because he was eating cookies, checking his e-mails or listening to music through his headphones.

Through it all the corpse of the murdered person would not stay dead; more and more stuff of the set broke and something happened in Act II I wouldn’t dare describe to protect the faint of heart and the asthmatic.

The cast of The Murder at Haversham Manor continued through it all, improvising, keeping in character and making do.

Comment. Let’s get this out of the way quickly, shall we, The Play That Goes Wrong is nothing like Noises Off even though both plays deal with doing a production with lots of mishaps. The Play That Goes Wrong is about a university drama society putting on a show. All the action for the most part takes place on the stage as all the actors act their parts. The exceptions could be Trevor, the lighting and sound operator over there in sight as he checks his emails etc. and eats cookies, and Annie the stage manager has to pitch in to act when the leading lady is knocked unconscious (don’t ask). Ok, I’m not going to ask how it was possible for the phone to ring on stage during those times that Trevor was completely not at his station to make those sounds. I’m not going to ask.

Noises Off on the other hand is about a questionably professional company doing a play on tour in the British ‘provinces’ over a long stint. We see the actors on stage trying to learn the complicated play and the staging, as well as off stage as the personal lives of the actors intertwine. At the end of that long run, no one seems to actually be talking to each other and it affects the playing which is now lazy and haphazard.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a romp. It’s seriously silly fun with more and more things going wrong as the play goes on and should be approached with that in mind. If you want something deeper, read Schopenhauer.

David Mirvish Presents:

Began: Jan. 8, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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

Written by Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho)

Directed by Jonathan Seinen

Set, costumes and props by Christine Urquhart

Lighting by Jareth Li

Live sound design by Heidi Chan

Cast: Augusto Bitter

Virgilia Griffith

Thomas Olajide

PJ Prudat

Woow! Just terrific. A prefect blending of play, performance, production and direction.

The Story. Boy those Greek folks knew from never ending revenge. When Agamemnon was going off to fight in the Trojan War to get Helen back the winds were against him. He was told to sacrifice his and his wife Clytemnestra’s daughter, Iphigenia to get the gods to calm the winds. He was ready to do it but then Iphigenia was whisked away it was assumed by the god Artemis to Taurus. Thinking Iphigenia was dead, Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon in revenge. To revenge his death, Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, killed Clytemnestra. (are you getting this down—there will be a test administered by Stephen Fry). To escape the wrath of the gods Orestes is sent to Taurus to retrieve a statue that one of the gods wants. He arrives with his lover Pylades. There Orestes accidentally meets his sister Iphigenia, sort of proving that all this revenge killing was unnecessary because Iphigenia was alive. But never mind. The next challenge is to escape with his sister and the statue in tow. This is tricky because Iphigenia has a rather exalted position there—a priestess and revered. And there is a person called Chorus who notices Iphigenia’s behaviour with the two visitors to Taurus.

 The Production.  Director Jonathan Seinen has envisioned one humdinger of a production. He suggested that Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) write the adaptation of the story. The language is irreverent and modern but you get that snowballing sense of rampant revenge and it goes on and on and on.

The play is smart, clear, wonderfully acted, very funny, beautifully designed, lit, and costumed. The whole sense of ancient Greece is economically and beautifully suggested by Christine Urquhart’s two panels of crumpled off-white paper giving the sense of old stone or marble. Several door-frames are up stage with a striking design of stripes on the floor emanating from the frames. Urquhart’s costumes are comfortable for Orestes (a playful Thomas Olajide) and Pylades (an impish Augusto Bitter), functional for Chorus (PJ Prudat who is watchful, coy and astute)  and absolutely beautiful and elegant for Iphigenia (the always watchable, compelling Virgilia Griffith). She wears a shimmering, form-fitted brown and gold affair with feathery bits that spread out when she twirls. Stunning. Iphigenia as played by Virgilia Griffith knows how to play the game and protect herself there and longs for the moments she can be herself and let loose privately. For all the sharp humour of the piece the Chorus lets us know the futility and perpetuation of revenge as she let’s us know the endlessness of it all. It’s quite a sobering scene.

Comment. What an absolutely bitingly intelligent, funny, perceptive, impish, irreverent play Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) has written. His previous work Trace certainly showed a keen sense of theatre and imagination. He’s just built on that strength with Iphigenia And the Furies. I look forward to more from him.

Saga Collectif presents:

Opened: Jan. 10, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 20, 2019.

Running Time: 65 minutes.

http://sagacollectif.com

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Review: GRACE

by Lynn on January 18, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest (Scotia Bank Studio) Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jane Doe

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set and costumes by Juanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Projection designed by Laura Warren

Sound and composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Conrad Coates

Rose Napoli

Brenda Robins

Michaela Washburn

A docu-drama of a real event that was moving, sobering, beautifully written and acted.

The Story.  It’s a sobering docu-drama with touches of therapy mixed in. It’s written by Jane Doe, which of course is a pseudonym, as are all the names in the play.  In the play Jane Doe is known as Sarah. The play is about Sarah’s younger sister Grace. When Grace was seven-years-old she was raped by the father of a friend of hers. She didn’t tell anyone until she was 16 and then the news was revealed.  By this time the man and his family moved to the States. But Grace and her family (mother Diane, father Stephen and of course sister Sarah) went to the police and formally charged the man with rape.  This started a long legal battle to bring the man to trial.

In a way it’s an indictment of the legal system that seems to penalize the victim instead of protecting her or him.  That is certainly evident in the play. Information is revealed during the course of the play that makes it seem a satisfactory outcome will result. But there are twists and turns along the way.  The play asks where is the justice in such a system? A quote in the program says: “There was no justice, there was just a legal outcome.” Without giving anything away, one can also consider that there is a kind of just retribution.

 The Performance. The stage is bare except for chairs at the side of the stage and two standing microphones. To give that sense of the documentary aspect director Andrea Donaldson has characters often give their lines talking into the microphones, looking at the audience, as if they are testifying.

At first Sarah comes out to introduce what’s going to happen.  She wants to write a play about a terrible incident in her sister Grace’s life. We then meet Grace, and Sarah makes it clear to Grace—facing her, microphone in hand– she is only thinking of her well-being in this. Grace will write what happened and Sarah will add other touches, but this is Grace’s story.  When Grace was older she in fact was a writer so she would have experience documenting what happened, harrowing though it was.

What is also obvious in the production is how much this family loves and supports each other. Again Andrea Donaldson handles this beautifully; there might be an affectionate stroke of an arm, or a touch of a shoulder, or a kiss on the head that speaks volumes. When Stephen and Diane sit in chairs at the side, listening, her hand is on his knee and his hand is on her arm. It’s that tactile presence that speaks volumes.

Initially Sarah, played with exuberance by Rose Napoli, is bubbly and excited by the notion of doing something positive with this horrible incident involving her sister. As Grace, Michaela Washburn is calm and even laid-back. But later, Sarah gets angrier and angrier as the information comes bubbling up again. Brenda Robins  as Diane, is a loving, caring mother who just wants justice and comfort for her daughters. Conrad Coates as Steve, is also a calm, caring father. No one is hysterical, except Sarah in a wonderfully vivid scene towards the end. While the information is not graphic it certainly is dramatic.

In a way the play is not only docu-drama but also therapy—these people had to talk about this to move on.  I think Grace is an important play about trauma, facing it, moving ahead with what you think is right and even speaking out when you see something is wrong.

And it’s a fine production too.

Comment.  The writer identifies herself as “Jane Doe” because she wanted to protect her sister’s anonymity and reputation and that of her family.

Nightwood Theatre presents:

Began: Jan. 8, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 26, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.nightwoodtheatre.net

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At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Damien Atkins

Co-directed by Chris Abraham and Christian Barry

Design consultant, Julie Fox

Lighting designed by Kimberley Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne in association with Dylan Green, Peter Balov and Christian Barry

Engaging, inquisitive and questioning. Damien Atkins, a gifted actor and playwright, has questions of ‘what’s out there’ and he’s written a play to get us involved too.

Do you believe in extra-terrestrial life? Is there such a thing as an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), those strange things in the sky, possibly from another galaxy? Have you seen one? Have you or do you know anyone who has been abducted by a UFO? Do you believe we are alone in the universe or is there other life out there?

The title of Damien Atkins’ new play, We Are Not Alone, tells you where he stands. It wasn’t an easy journey. Damien Atkins is a gifted, thoughtful actor. All that is evident in his one person show. He tells us that while he wondered if there was other life out there, he thought he should query people he knew about their ideas of extra-terrestrial life first to see if he was on the right track. The answers varied of course but what was clear in Damien’s mind was that the question needed more research, rigor and investigation. He talks about the military pilot who saw UFO’s as he was flying his plane. He ‘opened’ the window of his plane to get a better look. Atkins impishly illuminates that bit—that the sighting was so long ago the pilot could actually open the cockpit window to get a better look. Atkins references other respected scientists, not the least of whom is Stephen Hawking in his quest for the truth.

After several references to ‘other’ life out there from respected sources, Atkins ventures into the weird world of conferences that talk about the very question. As Christian Barry, a co-director on the show writes in his programme note: “This search for the truth took us far beyond the theatre walls: into the Arizona desert, walking and talking with abductees, psychics and human-alien hybrids. Does that sound strange? Crazy? Unbelievable? Welcome to the theatre. We look forward to sharing our story with you, and introducing you to the extraordinary people we met.”

One of the many joys of this fascinating play is that Atkins and his co-directors Chris Abraham and Christian Barry take this very seriously and never talk down to or trivialize the people they met, even ones who believe they are ‘human-alien hybrids’ (people who believe they are the result of a pairing with an alien). And because Atkins and company treat everything seriously, perhaps even those in the audience who might question if we are alone or not might waver and at least think other life might be possible.

Damien Atkins is such a graceful, engaging actor he gently shares his uncertainty of the answers to his questions and his enthusiasm as he gets deeper into his research. He meets many people on the way and introduces us to each of them with their own voices and body language. Each character is distinct and simply expressed. A woman stands and her body language is demure and one hand holds the opposite arm just below the elbow, her voice is soft; another man has a deep voice and a bluster; others seem simple but happy. Atkins’ transitions from character to character is seamless and clear.

This is wonderful work. I for one have been gently lead by Atkins and his smart play to believe the title, We Are Not Alone.

Crow’s Theatre and the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in partnership with 2B Theatre Company present:

Opened: Jan. 11, 2019.

Closes: Jan 26, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.crowstheatre.com

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Continuing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Foreign Tongue

Book and lyrics by Lola Xenos

Music by Daniel Abrahamson and Justin Hiscox

Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski

Choreography by Colleen Snell

Musical direction by Tim Monis

Projection design by Michael F. Bergmann

Set by Joe Pagnan and Konstantin Roth

Costumes by Katrina Fletcher

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Cast: Cynthia Ashperger

Kailea Banka

Julius Cho

Jenna Daley

Victoria Houser

Phoebe Hu

Allie McDonald

Mladen Obradovic

Nicholas Rice

 Kathy is a successful businesswoman originally from Peterborough, Ont. now living in Toronto.  Out of the blue she had a kind of seizure that put her in a coma for several weeks and when she came out of it she had an accent as if she came from Bosnia. This horrified Kathy but pleased Visnja (from Bosnia) who was on the caretaking staff of the hospital. Visnja feels sorry for Kathy because no one visited her in all that time. Visnja suggests that Kathy go to an English as a Second Language course to try and get rid of her accent. This provides an opportunity to learn of other immigrant stories, how the other students are trying to fit into a Canadian culture and how they wrangle amongst themselves. Yuri from Russia thinks he’s better than his fellow students and has little good to say about his life there. Madeline from China is frustrated correcting people who mistake her ethnicity. Paul Lee from Korea always seems to be breaking up arguments. And Visnja from Bosnia just wants to land a good part in a movie so she can leave caretaking—she’s an actress with great enthusiasm no matter the part.

Lola Xenos has written a smart, sharply observed, very funny book and lyrics about the immigrant experience from her point of view and those of others with accents a.k.a non-standard speakers. Xenos immigrated to Canada from the former Yugoslavia. Daniel Abrahamson and Justin Hiscox composed the music. The songs are witty, refreshing and beautifully establish aspects of the immigrant’s experiences. The musical is brimming with charm and is worth a visit.

Continues at The Next Stage Theatre Festival until June 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia

Created by Kim Kilpatrick, Karen Bailey and Bronwyn Steinberg

Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg

Visual effects and projections by Trudy Wohlleben

Composer and sound design by Angela Schleihauf

Guide dog, Tulia

Model and muse, Stanley

Audio description by Bronwyn Steinberg and Karen Bailey

Performed by Kim Kilpatrick.

Kim Kilpatrick was born blind but that never stopped her from living an independent. At first she was encouraged by her parents to be as independent as possible. She used a white cane to navigate her world. Eventually she was convinced to get a guide dog to lead her safely.

With a chirpy voice, a gentle sense of humour and an infectious optimism Kilpatrick tells us of the trials, tribulations and joys she experienced through four guide dogs. Each had its own personality; each informed and filled Kilpatrick’s life in different ways.

Director Bronwyn Steinberg has Kim Kilpatrick navigate the stage of the Factory Theatre Studio with her white cane, either sitting at a table stage left or stage right, and standing facing the audience at centre stage. Tulia lounged patiently in her doggy bed stage left until it was her cue to perform.

At the same time paintings of artist Karen Bailey’s various dogs, especially her dog Stanley, were projected on the back wall that augmented Kilpatrick’s narrative. Bronwyn Steinberg provided a recorded narrative at what we were looking at with the paintings.

Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia is a sweet, gentle play that provides the audience with a different way of seeing the world of a person who is blind.

Continues to Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

Lucky

Written by Marie Leofeli R. Barlizo

Directed by Sophie Gee

Cast: Christian Jadah

Katharine King

Nina and Sylvain are in bed. As the lights in the theatre fade to black we hear a blood-curdling yell from Sylvain. The lights go up and Nina  wakes him. Sylvain has been having nightmares. He used to drive a Metro, (subway train) in Montreal and one day a young East Asian woman jumped in front of his train and died. That image of her jumping in front of his train has haunted him since then. He lost his job, his marriage failed and he misses his daughter. Nina is an East Asian woman he picked up in a bar that night. There is a lot of banter about ethnicity, success, status etc. Nina tells him she is about to go to university on a full scholarship. She has worked hard because her parents are rigid in their expectation that she will be a top student, get top grades and win scholarships to the top schools. The pressure has been terrible for Nina. Nina wonders if the woman who jumped in front of Sylvain’s train also suffered from excessively high expectations from her parents and found suicide was the only way out. Nina suggests something else to Sylvain.

Playwright Leofeli R. Barlizo was inspired to write her play by the true story of a Vietnamese woman who failed high school, and rather than tell her parents and endure their disappointment, arranged to have them killed.

One is keenly aware how some cultures put such pressure on their children to succeed and that failure is not to be endured, even though failure is a vital part of success. We read about the mental and physical damage done to young people who fail to meet expectations. Barlizo says in her program note she wrote the play to start a conversation about this terrible pressure put on children to succeed in the Asian community.

Much of the play is both Sylvain complaining about his lot in life and that he never had a chance and suggests that Nina had a luckier time than he did. They bicker and he hits her twice. She stays in that shabby apartment for some reason, and she hadn’t even come up with her proposition to him. An audience is expected to have a lot of patience when something in a play does not make sense. Did Nina stay in that apartmen because she felt she deserved to be hit since she felt she was worthless? Hmm not sure about that.

Lucky continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

Athabasca

At 77 Mowatt, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt

Directed by Aaron Willis

Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Sound & fight choreography by Richard Lee

Tom (David S. Craig) is being forced out of his Vice-President’s job for a powerful oil company in Fort McMurray. They are putting a gag order on him and preventing him to work in the industry. Tom prepares to get even. In the meantime Max (Richard Greenblatt), a journalist with a nature magazine has come for an interview. Max went through hoops to get the interview even going along with asking only those questions deemed acceptable by the oil company.

Both David S. Craig as a smooth talking Tom and Richard Greenblatt as a very accommodating Max put on the veneer of being agreeable to the other until the gloves come off. Max accuses Tom and his company and the whole oil industry of ruining the environment, killing wildlife and polluting the air and waterways. Tom apologizes for mishaps and notes the millions his company paid to help the environment. Statistics wiz through the air as each man makes his points with more and more passion and raised voices. Max has come prepared to make his points in such a way as to get Tom’s attention. The arguments are made on both sides but it’s hard to overcome big business, greed and money.

I won’t spoil any of the surprises in this bracing play. But it makes one mindful of the whistle blowers in the past who made secret documents public in order to reveal the wrong-doings of governments. The whistle blower had to go into hiding in another country. I can’t say that much happened to the governments about putting a stop to their wrong doings. Only in a few cases have the forces of good won. (The impeachment of Nixon because of Watergate comes to mind).

Athabasca by David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt is full of passion, intelligence, anger and conscience. Aaron Willis has directed with focused attention. Craig and Greenblatt are evenly matched  and right up until the last moments one was not sure how it will end.

It’s the first time that the Next Stage Theatre Festival has had a site-specific production in the programming. Anahita Dehbonehie has designed Tom’s beautiful, rich office with shiny bookcases, imposing leather chairs, and the attributes of a rich executive. And the production as a whole leaves you with a lot to think about.

Continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

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At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man

Written by Genevieve Adam

Directed by Emma Ferrante

Choreography by Adam Martino

Designed by Adam Martino

Cast: Ashley Harju

Alayna Kellet

Jacqueline Dos Santos

Luke Opdahl

Maddison Hayes-Crook

Matthew Eldracher

Micah Enzlin

Sam Black

Stéphanie Visconti

Robbie Fenton

I know everyone on this show worked hard and their intentions were honourable, but I am mystified as to what this show is. It’s billed as “Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man, but you had to look deep into the program to find that it’s the life of American dancer and film star Gene Kelly that was the subject.

Genevieve Adam is a wonderful writer as can be seen with two of her previous works: Dark Heart and Deceitful Above All Things. She has a sense of language, imagery, time and place and a particular way of creating characters. With such good work I was mystified as to what happened with Anatomy of a Dancer. This suggests something substantial. Alas the book of this very skimpy show is not even a sketch. We are given the barest of details about his life: born in Pittsburgh, went to New York to try his luck and came back to Pittsburgh and taught dance there. Then details get weird. It seems that out of no where he got a telegram from David O Selznick in Hollywood to come out there and work in the movies.

A quick search of Google (yes you have to do that when the script tells you so little that makes sense) indicated there were several other jobs before that telegram. His marriages are given short shrift and then so are the shows he choreographed.

For some reason there are two actor-dancers who play Gene Kelly here. Why, I don’t know. Are they alter-egos of each other? There is no explanation. The cast is not identified by the characters they play which is soooooo unhelpful. Many of the actors playing principle roles are microphoned which is unfortunate because the sound is lousy and too loud. Why does one need to be amplified in such a small theatre any way—to compete with the loud recorded music? Then lower that sound. One actress had one line to speak and was not amplified and we could hear her loud and clear. Get rid of all the mics and fill the room with your voices—isn’t that why one is trained?

It takes huge confidence for such young performers to want to depict the life and times of Gene Kelly who made dancing and singing seem effortless.

All in all, not a happy time in the theatre.

Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 Lauren & Amanda Do It

Personable Lauren Cauchy and Amanda Logan present a comfortable 30 minute show about sex. No embarrassment, no wink-wink-nudge-nudge. Just smart, funny, thoughtful comments about sex. They spin a large wheel with various topics on sex: Sexual health, masturbation, Sexual transmitted diseases, etc. Where ever the wheel stops is the topic they discuss. For our purposes they talked about Sexual Health, use of condoms in a long-term relationship, diva cups etc. They were ably joined by Alli Harris who provided the musical accompaniment as well as insights into her sexual activity with her partner and their special guest Jennifer Walls, musical theatre performer extraordinaire. The show is good natured, irreverent and yet serious.

It continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

A Bear Awake in Winter

Written and directed by Ali Joy Richardson

Lighting by Steph Raposo

Cast: Hershel Blatt

Mchaela Di Cesare

Andrew Di Rosa

Bria McLaughlin

Danny Pagett

Natasha Ramondino

Andy Trithardt

Woooow!!! Ali Joy Richardson has written a stunning, complex, perceptive play for our times. It leaves you breathless at the sheer accomplishment of telling this difficult story with such sensitivity and balance.

We are in Halifax, Nova Scotia in a high school music class. Mr. Hill (the wonderful Andy Trithardt) is the new music teacher. He’s just moved there from Toronto with his husband. The students know each other already. Matt (Andrew Di Rosa) plays the trombone and has a certain attitude because he fancies he’s the best musician in the class. Diminutive, impish Bari (Bria McLaughlin) plays a large saxophone. A character known as ‘trumpet’ (Danny Pagett)  is the goof of the group and he plays the trumpet (duh). “Keys” (Hershel Blatt)  is a wise, laid-back young man who plays the keyboard. A forthright young woman plays percussion (Natasha Ramondino) and is listed in the characters as ‘Percussion.” Theresa (Michaela Di Cesare) is new to the school and arrives late. She plays the flute.

It’s obvious some of these young people have issues they are dealing with and some of the others either know about the issues or have caused them. Theresa works at a fast food place with Bari and they are friends. Theresa had something happen to her at her previous school and she was forced to transfer, something she keeps to herself, but it certainly had its effect on her. Theresa is guarded and when Matt shows interest she is standoffish which irritates him. Matters build from there.

Ali Joy Richardson also directs her script and she brings out the best in her cast. The image of Theresa facing Matt speaks volumes. Michaela Di Cesare is a scrappy, diminutive Theresa and Andrew Di Rosa as Matt towers over her. The ‘visuals’ of their scenes together suggest an overpowering power dynamic. How Richardson directs the scene suggests something else.

Truths are told and characters who have locked in their angst find the ability to face their demons and confront the bullies who tormented them. It doesn’t end neatly, but it ends beautifully.

If I have a quibble it’s that there are two speeches from the adults’ point of view with their own troubles that I think are unnecessary for the purposes of the play. But as I said, it’s a quibble. Ali Joy Richardson’s play and her direction blew me away.

A Bear Awake in Winter continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

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Part of Next Stage Theatre Festival, at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Thom Nyhuus

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Set, props and costumes by Julia Kim

Sound and lighting by Cosette Pin

Cast: Michael Ayres

Justine Christensen

Joella Crichton

Thom Nyhuus

Bridget has just seen her play produced and it seems to be a hit. Her agent Liza raps at her door the morning after the opening night to gush about the reviews etc. Bridget is still a bit sleepy, she’s also not alone. Her leading man Wyatt is there in his underwear wearing one of Bridget’s silky robes. When Liza leaves Bridget’s ex-husband Adam arrives to congratulate her and also to seriously question her. He wants to know why Bridget wrote about their son in the way she did. The son was ‘taken’ when he was four years-old and has never been found. This caused trouble in that marriage and it couldn’t survive. Bridget wrote about their son in order to cope with the loss. There are all sorts of intriguing details about these characters and secrets revealed and twists that come startling at the end.

Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster does a nice slight of hand with the tricky first scene, the reality of which reveals itself at the end of the play. Justine Christensen plays Bridget as cool and confident. Rather than call her a ‘cannibal’, I would call her a manipulative  barracuda. Michael Ayres plays Adam as a serious, sensitive man who is trying to make a good life for himself. As Liza, Joella Crichton tends to yell her lines and overplay too much. As Whyatt, Thom Nyhuus is a bit underwhelming.

My problem with Mr. Nyhuus’ play is that I don’t believe one word of it especially coming from the mouths of these characters. They talk to each other all right; pride themselves on knowing someone better than they know themselves, it’s just that I don’t believe them. Liza who professes to be Bridget’s best friend and knows her better than Bridget does, doesn’t seem to know that Bridget never reads reviews so Liza’s gushing is out of place. If as Bridget’s agent Liza can’t tell the review she’s reading to Bridget is terribly written and lame, then I suggest Bridget get another agent (or Mr. Nyhuus write a better example of a review). Bridget also doesn’t know that Liza has moods and often wants to be alone.  There is a twist at the end, that is startling because it comes from no where and there are no hints along the way. The twist involves Bridget and Adam’s son and trust. If you are going to trust someone with your son then it would be helpful if you actually knew the person was up for the job and it was obvious that wasn’t the case. And yet Bridget wasn’t aware of it? Nope that’s too hard an improbability to believe.

Mr. Nyhuus has a nice facility with a turn of phrase. Now if he can go back and rewrite the play and the characters so that they can be believed.

Next Stage Theatre Festival continues to Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

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At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Matthew MacKenzie

Directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

Sound by Dean Musani

Set and costumes by Alison Yanota

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Cast: Sheldon Elter

Jesse Gervais

Louise Lambert

Kaitlyn Riordan

The Fort McMurray fire destroyed more than homes and land. It pitted loving friends and relations against each other. After the Fire is full of myths, traditions, human frailty and loving loyalty. Matthew MacKenzie’s play is small in execution but huge in implication. And it’s darkly funny.

 The Story. After the Fire is a play about misplaced anger. The ‘fire’ in question was the devastating fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta that started in May 2016 and raged until the fire covered 85,000 hectares of land, displaced the entire city and destroyed 2,579 homes. And for our purposes the fire and its aftermath have brought Barry, his wife Laura, her sister Carmell and Carmell’s estranged husband Ty, almost to the brink of madness.

Barry and Laura lost their home in the fire and were taken in by Carmell. It’s close quarters. The sisters don’t get along perhaps because of close quarters or lingering hurts. Carmell and Ty are on their way to divorce. He’s unemployed, a cocaine addict, a hot-head and seems to live in his truck since Carmell threw him out. She is keeping company with a man who is nicknamed “Green Peace.”  This further enrages Ty. Added to that, there was a recent hockey game in which Carmell’s teenaged daughter played and they lost on a technicality and while Carmell is upset at the outcome, Laura is furious. Everybody is raging at each other, hurts and accusations come out but it’s really the fire’s fault that is the cause and ignites this simmering animosity.

 The Production. The audience sits on four sides of the playing space. There is a large mound of black dirt in the middle of the space, thanks to designer Alison Yanota.  Barry (Sheldon Elter) and Ty (Jesse Gervais) arrive with a shovel. We are lead to believe that they are in the middle of some forest or deserted place outside of town.  Barry begins shoveling from the top of the mound down. Ty says to dig about six of seven feet. Why is the mystery.  In the meantime Laura (Kaitlyn Riordan) and Carmell (Louise Lambert) make their way in the dark through this forest or desolate place for some reason. In each case those simmering hurts and slights bubble to the surface and the sisters go at each other for perceived inadequacies and the two men do the same.

Ty loves his children.  Barry muses on his Cree heritage and hopes that the fire wasn’t his fault because he has not been faithful to his Cree traditions. He respects and reveres the land. He does most of the digging. Laura is judgmental towards her sister and angry at the loss of the hockey game. Carmell is just angry at her failed marriage, disappointed in her husband and perhaps embarrassed at people’s perceptions of her boyfriend.

Director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett has some nice touches to this atmospheric piece. Dean Musani’s sound creates a sense of foreboding; Kaileigth Krysztofiak’s lighting is properly moody and eerie. While the cast is strong and knows how to realize the dark humour of the play, I thought McMurtry-Howlett directed them to shout relentlessly. Tiresome. Sheldon Elter as Barry is notable for his nuance, subtlety and variation. (If you haven’t seen him in Bears, also by Matthew MacKenzie, get your tickets now! It’s coming to Factory).

 Comment. Matthew MacKenzie is a whimsical, thoughtful writer, with a depth of feeling that bubbles up from his plays. This was clearly seen in his wonderful play Bears and again here in After the Fire. His sense of humour is subtle and doesn’t hit you over the head. It arises naturally from character and certainly situation. MacKenzie has a twist in his story that will pop your eyes. And it’s the thing that brings out the humanity in his four characters, no matter how irritated they feel towards each other. MacKenzie makes you hold on while you wonder where those women are going and why those men are digging.  The fire might have changed their lives forever, but Matthew MacKenzie illuminates the strength of the ties that bind them no matter what.  

 Presented by Punctuate! Theatre and Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts in association with Native Earth Performing Arts and The Theatre Centre.

 Opened: Jan. 10, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 19, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.theatrecentre.org

 

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