by Lynn on September 23, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Wajdi Mouawad
Translated by Shelley Tepperman
Directed by Ken Gass
Set and Costumes by Jung-Hye Kim
Lighting by André du Toit
Sound by Wayne Kelso
Cast: Augusto Bitter
Danny Ghantous
Madeleine Heaven
Erik Mrakovicic
Kwaku Okyere
Cassidy Sandler
Angela Sun
Harrison Tanner

An interesting production of Wajdi Mouawad’s play about memory, the search for oneself and displacement performed by a new company of recent graduates from various theatre schools.

The Story. Wilfred is making love to a young woman when he gets the call that says his father has died. He is unsettled because he hardly knew his father and yet he is grieving. He decides to take the body back to his father’s home country. Playwright Wajdi Mouawad deliberately does not specify the home country. In light of recent refugee stories it could be any country. When he gets to his father’s village he’s told the cemetery is full and besides it’s only available to citizens of the town. Wilfred takes the body and moves off to find another place. As he makes the mythic journey carrying his father, trying to bury him, Wilfred attracts other wanderers also trying to find their homelands or at least a place they can call home. He is guided by his father who speaks to him as if he was still alive.

The Production. As is fitting for a play about a long journey, Jung-Hye Kim’s set is of a long white board walk of sorts that snakes from across upstage down the stage right side of the stage to the lip. Characters journey up and back and along the top as part of their journey. The writing seems like an epic poem although it’s not written in poetic form. The language is repetitive and lyrical but the images of wandering in the dialoge are quite startling.

This is a cast of young actors recently graduated from drama programs at Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, and the National Theatre school. The actors are part of an initiative of the Canadian Rep Theatre called ENSEMBLE: Canadian Youth Theatre. The most experienced of them is Danny Ghantous as Wilfred. He burst on to the scene in A Line in the Sand last season and continues his strong work in Tideline. As Wilfred, he is boyishly irreverent initially but then gets deeper and deeper into the task of finding a place to bury his father. Director Ken Gass guides his actors with sensitivity and a firm sense of establishing the relationships. While Gass is the Artistic Director of Canadian Rep Theatre, he is also a professor at the University of Toronto Drama Centre, so would know many of the members of the company from his work teaching at the University of Toronto. While it’s heartening to provide these young actors work, they need more work to get them on their way.

Comment. Playwright Wajdi Mouawad knows about growing up in a war-torn country, He was born in Lebanon. He moved with his family in 1977 to France and eventually came to live in Quebec. Tideline is part of a tetralogy; Blood Promises: Tideline Scorched, and Forest. It’s interesting to see a character from one of the plays pop up as the same character but in a different play. For example, a character known as “The Woman Who Sings,” is a woman who appears first in Tideline and then Scorched.

Mouawad’s plays are long and dense. This one could do with tightening and cutting—I know that’s sacrilegious. The repetitions after a time do grate. The effort is noble, however.

Produced in association with Canadian Rep Theatre and ENSEMBLE: Canadian Youth Theatre/Théâtre Jeunesse Canadien

Plays until Oct. 1, 2016.


At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Molière
In a new version by Richard Bean
From a literal translation by Chris Campbell
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Designed by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting by Michael Walton
Composed by Berthold Carrière
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Choreography by Stephen Cota
Cast: Ben Carlson
Luke Humphrey
Peter Hutt
John Kirkpatrick
Ian Lake
Trish Lindström
Stephen Ouimette
Shannon Taylor
Rylan Wilkie
Brigit Wilson

NOTE: Procrastination is a terrible thing. Time seemed to get away from me with this one and a few others. Here, finally is the review.

A rollicking, biting romp through Molière’s satire in a wild new version by Richard Bean given a dandy production directed by Antoni Cimolino.

The Story. Argan was born to kvetch about his health, make that ‘ill-health”. He is convinced he’s dying. He seems to be single-handedly making his doctor rich diagnosing all his ailments, mainly imagined. Argan takes enemas hourly. He ponders his poop with the precision of a scientist. His biggest wish is for his daughter Angelique to marry a doctor so he wouldn’t have to pay one, as he would be a member of the family. Argan has made moves to that end, to arrange the marriage of Angelique and Thomas Diafoirerhoea, a dolt who wants to be a doctor. To say “studying” to be a doctor, would just be stupid. Angelique’s biggest wish is to marry her love Cleante, who is not a doctor in any way.

Involved in all this is Toinette, Argan’s sarcastic, irreverent housekeeper. She knows everything—how gullible Argan is; how irresponsible his doctors are; how true and loving Angelique is; and how conniving and greedy Argan’s wife Beline is. Also involved is Argan’s brother Beralde who tries to shake Argan out of his ridiculous assumption that he is sick and to show the folly of many doctors, if not medicine itself.

The Production. Director Antoni Cimolino often likes to set up his productions with stage business to establish an atmosphere or mood before the ‘play’ actually begins. With The Hypochondriac the audience that is filling into the theatre is treated to jugglers, magicians and other artists that would be at home in Molière’s day. They are dressed in Teresa Przybylski’s colourful costumes evoking Commedia dell’Arte characters. Organizing the activity is La Thorilliere, a member of Molière’s company, who will later play Beralde, Argan’s brother.

In Richard Bean’s wildly funny, irreverent yet serious version we are actually watching Molière play Argan as he did in February, 1673, giving the production many layers to consider.

When the play is about to begin, the lights dim a bit but there is enough light for us to see that Louis XIV and his entourage enter down the central aisle of the Festival Theatre. A courtier carries his little royal chair and places it at the bottom of the aisle close to the stage, where Louis will watch. I don’t think anyone’s vision was obstructed by his ostentatiously high soaring wig.

Argan is wheeled on in a commode/wheelchair of sorts, the better to examine in minute details the colour, texture and frequency of his bowel movements. He keeps records of his bodily excretions. This wheelchair also gives the impression that Argan is in fact infirm and unable to walk. This of course is not true and he is quite able bodied, even spry, when he’s alone and gets up from the chair.

Director Antoni Cimolino packs every second of the production with humour that comes naturally from the situation or the character. Cimolino mines the humour in this scathing satire as carefully as Argan looks for any derivation in his fecal matter. Much of the humour comes first from Argan’s self-absorption with his health and his determination to think himself sick and his sparring with Toinette, his irreverent housekeeper. He wants sympathy and she won’t give it to him. What she gives him is sass; the brutal truth about what is going on in that house, and her determination to make him see the light.

The wondrous Stephen Ouimette plays Argan who in turn is played by Molière—and he does it all with consummate comedic skill and perfect timing. Ouimette’s sad-sack face gives Argan a constant look of worry; Ouimette’s droopy eyes suggest Argan might have sleep deprivation—well all that worry about his bodily functions will do that to a person; and there is easy irritation with anyone who is not totally focused on him. Ouimette is absolutely serious with this biting of satires, and that makes him and the situations in the play all the funnier.

I do note that Ouimette seems a bit subdued in his performance as Argan. I realize Argan thinks he’s sick when we know he’s not. Then I finally get it. Ouimette is also playing Molière (who is playing Argan—are you keep all this clear—there will be a test.) Molière dwelled on his health. Not to give too much away, Molière was ill when he was performing this play. In a lovely subtle touch we get that sense of Molière’s ill-health affecting his performance of Argan, and Ouimette conveys that beautifully.

Ouimette is wonderfully matched by Brigit Wilson as Toinette. Wilson plays her with an impish glint in her eye and a knowing smirk on her face. She knows Argan is a fool and doesn’t hide it. She is fearless with her employer and won’t back down. Her body language is confident and she’s not timid to raise her voice when making a point. She doesn’t yell, but she’s forceful in scoring her points.

As the young lovers Angelique and Cleante, Shannon Taylor and Luke Humphrey are charming. Taylor has the light, buoyancy of a young, pampered woman who is anxious for her father to allow her to marry her love. Humphrey is that awkward, boyish young man who is equally as anxious. Taylor also plays Armand Bejart, Molière’s wife, who is playing Angelique. When she perceives that her husband, Molière’s is unwell Taylor assumes a subtle maturity that is different from Angelique. It’s beautifully rendered.

While Toinette uses barbs and satire to prick Argan’s sense of entitlement and gullibility, Argan’s brother Beralde uses flat out moral outrage. He rails at the corrupt world of medicine to make his brother come to his senses. No one does moral outrage like Ben Carlson who plays Beralde. Carlson’s brow furrows; his body leans forward when he makes a point; his arms slice the air with authority. But when it’s clear in the production that Molière is unwell, his manner changes. This is serious and not serious comedy. The change again is subtle but the effect is sobering.

Comment. The Hypochondriac on the one hand is a bracing, funny satire about the quackery of medicine and the gullible people who fall for it, but then Richard Bean blurs the lines in his new version by introducing a moment of reality into the proceedings, thus (rightfully) unsettling the audience. Cimolino directs with a deft hand realizing the humour and sobering seriousness as well. Terrific production.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: Aug. 18, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 14, 2016.
Cast: 31; 19 men; 12 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.


In Barrie, Ont. in various places.

Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey
Directed by Jennifer Stewart and Herbie Barnes
Staging concept idea by Arkady Spivak
Choreography by Amanda Nuttall
Musical direction by Mark Camilleri
Set, props and lighting by Joe Pagnan
Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Cast: David Coomber,
Arlene Duncan
Alana Hibbert
Andrew McAllister
Glynis Ranney
Justin Stadnyk
Michael Torontow

A bold idea to perform The Music Man at various locations in Barrie, Ontario, with the audience embracing it. Some kinks on opening night have to be worked out though.

The Story. Professor Harold Hill is a charming scam artist. He breezes into small towns ready to convince the civic leaders that they need a band made up of the town’s young people and he will sell them the instruments and the uniforms and will guarantee that they will be ready to play their instruments. All they have to do is imagine the right note and it will follow. When he gets the money and they maybe get their instruments he scrams.

He is now in River City ready to work his magic. He hears that they have a pool table which he convinces the folks is the sign of the devil and means trouble, ‘which starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool.’ Harold doesn’t realize that the mayor bought the pool table for the town. The mayor believes that Harold is a fraud. Harold can handle him. What Harold has trouble with is Marian Paroo, the librarian who ignores his advances. Until she can’t.

The Production. Arkady Spivak, the spunky Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre has made a habit of programming little known musicals for his seasons. The Music Man is hardly unknown. It’s much loved for its well known score with such classics as: “Ya Got Trouble”, “Goodnight My Someone”, “Seventy-six Trombones”, “Till There Was You.” But Spivak likes to shake things up so he’s taken this popular musical to the streets, literally.

The audience meets at the Barrie Bus Station to hear the first scene in which various travelling salesman talk and sing about a man named Harold Hill who takes business from them. A man quietly reads a paper on a bench while this is going on. He is Harold Hill. Make that “Professor Harold Hill” as per his name on his briefcase. Then the salesman and Hill get on a bus and the audience follows in another bus.

Scenes take place in front of City Hall where the audience gets to vote on a motion put forward by Mayor Shinn; at the library, where Harold pursues Marian; at Marian’s house where a piano lesson is going on; in various parks where Mrs. Shinn, the Mayor’s wife is leading a yoga class; and a foot bridge where Harold woos Marian.

The whole cast is brimming with commitment and charm lead by Michael Torontow as Professor Harold Hill and Alana Hibbert as Marian. Torontow is confident, quick-witted, boyish, and sings well. Hibbert plays Marian with sass and a radar that can sniff out a phoney such as Harold, like a beagle sniffing out smuggled food at the airport. And Hibbert sings like a dream. Both Torontow and Hibbert make Harold and Marian an ideal couple.

Comment. Immersive theatre (when the audience is right in the middle of the action and not sitting in seats in a theatre, removed from the action) is nothing new. From Tamara, which played in Toronto about 25 years ago, and the audience would follow a character from room to room in a large house, to Sleep No More in New York, in which the audience follows characters around a building, immersive theatre of some kind or other has always been with us. With The Music Man the stakes are raised. The audience follows characters and action all over the downtown of Barrie, Ontario, either on foot or in two cases by bus. It’s a huge challenge logistically and on opening night there are a few glitches. Getting from one location to the next perhaps takes a bit longer than expected, after all there are about 100 people to marshal. There is a lot of standing while the audience gathers and the scene unfolds. There are a few folding chairs that appear for those who need them in the scenes in the park, so trying to get an accurate running time, is difficult. The sound system also is a bit finicky as the head microphones for Harold Hill particularly kept cutting in and out.

I am impressed that two elderly women in wheelchairs are part of the audience and seem to enjoy the evening immensely, as did the rest of the audience. I would hope that opening night glitches will be ironed out for the rest of the run. None the less, one has to admire the guts involved in pulling off the whole enterprise.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Sept. 16, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 2, 2016.
Cast: 31; 15 men, 16 women.
Running Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.


At the AKI Studio, in the Daniels Spectrum, Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written, directed, and performed by Anne-Marie Woods
Performed by Matthew G. Brown.

A well-intentioned look at relationships focusing on the black experience that is overloaded with issues that are generally dealt with in a simplistic way.

Background Note. She Said/He Said is a labour of love by Anne-Marie Woods, who has written, performed in part, and directed it and who also wrote the music and lyrics. While Ms Woods wanted another actress to play the part of She, the lack of government funding and economic realities necessitated she multi-task and play the part of She besides writing, directing and creating the music and lyrics. She also seemed to be her own stage manager. While this is a vanity production, Ms Moore sure does more than her share of the heavy lifting.

The Story. The show is part spoken work, rap, dialogue and songs all working to present what Woods describes as a deep and complex look at relationships between black men and women. Here are the details of the characters: She is originally from Nova Scotia where saying “Hello” to strangers is natural. She now lives in Toronto and the people she says ‘hello’ to, usually black men, ignore her and she’s hurt by it and lonely. She feels inadequate because of the snub and can’t come to grips with the fact that that’s how people act in Toronto (or perhaps any big city). She’s had several failed relationships and is very wary of any new relationship but keeps on searching for love with that one special guy. In one of the many songs in this show She vows not to be “blacktos intolerant”, meaning giving up on black men as her ideal partner as some women have done.

He is also searching for love as well. He did find the love of his life; they moved in together; she became pregnant; and she left him for another guy. He cherishes his daughter from that relationship. He’s still searching for love with that one special woman. She and he meet; are attracted; talk; share their thoughts and concerns; fall in love; and vow to be open and honest etc. She loves He’s little daughter. But….the road to true love is rocky.

The Production and Comment. Relationships is certainly a huge topic to explore and Anne-Marie Woods is determined to look at if from as many angles as possible, referencing that exploration with as many different aspects of relationships as possible.

At first She and He go through a clever bit about what he says to her and what she actually hears. For example, he says, “are you going to wear that?” She hears, “you look fat in that. You don’t look good etc.” Then the tables are reversed about what she says to him and what he actually hears. That’s clever.

On their first date they make small talk and cover safe topics such as their favourite colour; or what they work at. But then their conversation gets deeper and more introspective. She tells He of being wounded in relationships and that it has made her wary and skittish. He talks about his daughter and how much he loves her. Conspicuous by its absence is any idea of how that relationship ended regarding the daughter. The press release indicates an acrimonious custody battle but there is no hint of it in the play and there should be something. That She doesn’t ask about the previous relationship is a misstep in the show.

He remembers the good old days when he went to a club and felt totally confident and empowered as a man when he was in there to dance. Now he doesn’t have that same feeling. She remembers the good old days when she had a better sense of herself. While they fall in love and He wants an open, honest relationship, She is still bedevilled by her previous bad experiences and seems unable to engage fully even though they love each other.

While the effort is good intentioned I find that She Said/He Said flits from topic to topic without a real focus or economy. And some of the choices are just weird. Anne-Marie Woods has written about 15 songs (I’m guessing as there is no song list) I suppose to augment the script. The music is unremarkable and the lyrics repeat what’s already been said before in the dialogue. Often songs introduce a topic that is not well expressed. In one song She sings of the relationship being torn apart and likens it to the separation of people during slavery. I thought, ‘Slavery’?! Really? That’s such a reach for relevance and it doesn’t work. Both She and He sing about love and confess that they don’t know what it really is. Then how can they search for it?

While Anne-Marie Woods is determined to make She Said/He Said about relationships about a black woman and man, we all can find resonances in our own lives, no matter what skin colour.

By the way, He is played very strongly and with conviction by Matthew G. Brown, who also sings beautifully.

While I can appreciate Ms Woods’ determination to get this show done in Toronto, after short runs in Nova Scotia and Montreal, I think she needs to revisit her show and decide what she wants to say and focus on a few topics—she needs a ruthless editor to get rid of the dead-wood dialogue in many cases.

She should review why she has songs and either cut or re-write them.

She needs a more experienced director than herself who will tighten and clarify. Too often She and He begin a scene by talking to each other but then for some reason they individually come forward and talk directly to the audience. Why? Who is really the focus of the dialogue, the characters or the audience. If it’s the characters then the audience will get that it’s also for them without the scene being played directly forward.

I also think the show could benefit from a stronger singer-actress in the roll of She than Anne-Marie Woods. I can appreciate Ms Woods has a lot of singing experience, it’s just that next to Matthew G. Brown her voice sounds thin and uncertain.

As I said,She Said/He Said is good-intentioned but it should be better.

Presented by Imani Enterprises.

Opened: Sept. 14, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 18, 2016.
Running Time: 80 minutes.


At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Canadian Stage Company, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Sean O’Casey
Directed by Sean Holmes
Set by Jon Bausor
Costumes by Catherine Fay
Lighting by Paul Keogan
Music and sound by Philip Stewart
Cast: Ian-Lloyd Anderson
Kate Stanley Brennan
Tony Clay
Lloyd Clooney
Hilda Fay
David Ganly
Rachel Gleason
James Hayes
Liam Heslin
Ger Kelly
Janet Moran
Ciarán O’Brien
Nima Taleghani
Nyree Yergainharsian

A poetic play commemorating the Irish Rebellion of 1916 set in contemporary times because, alas, this story of war, animosity, religious, philosophical and political differences doesn’t end. The production is both gripping and moving.

Background Note: The Plough and the Stars made its debut at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1926. There were loud protests regarding how the characters were depicted by relatives of the actual people involved. “The Plough and the Stars” refers to the banner used by the Irish Citizen Army. 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1916.

The Story. While the play deals with the build up to the 1916 Rebellion in Dublin, the play actually centres around the ordinary people trying to cope with the turmoil around them. Playwright Sean O’Casey focuses on the inhabitants of a tenement in the centre of Dublin. They long for privacy even though people just barge into their apartments. Protestant and Catholics have issues with each other with religion being at the heart of their animosity. The Young Covey is a socialist making fun of and spouting economic jargon to the elderly Peter Flynn, who dresses up in his Irish Citizen Army regalia full pomp and ceremony, but without really a trace of commitment to the fighting cause. The cause is for an independent Ireland, once and for all severing its ties to England. The 1916 Rebellion happened at Easter over 6 days in Dublin when the Irish Citizen Army took over several public buildings and did battle with the British Army. The battle was bloody and brutal.

At the opening of the play, many of the characters are getting ready for a meeting for the liberation of Ireland from British rule. Jack Clitheroe is a bricklayer and a former member of the Irish Citizen Army. He thought he would be promoted but it didn’t come so he’s bitter about it. Nora Clitheroe is his strong-willed wife. Peter Flynn is Nora’s elderly uncle who dresses in his formal uniform, complete with plumed hat ready for the meeting. The Young Covey is a fitter, a communist, a cousin of Jack’s and a constant annoyance to Peter. The Young Covey constantly razzes Peter about his old fashioned ways and lack of forward thinking. Bessie Burgess is a Protestant street fruit-vendor who still morns the loss of her son in the World War I. Mrs. Gogan is a Catholic charwoman. She and Bessie Burgess are at constant odds about the morals and character of the other. Fluther Good is a good natured carpenter, trade unionist, and sweet chap who refers to himself in the third person. Mollser Gogan is the young daughter of Mrs. Grogan who is dying of consumption.

There are various other characters, usually in the military; a prostitute, and a barman, but the play centres on the inhabitants of this tenement.

The Production. Act I takes place before the rebellion. Act II takes place in the middle of the fighting.

At the beginning of Act I a young woman hurries on stage from the audience. She stands in front of a ‘curtain’. She wears modern clothes. She holds sheet on which she reads the lyrics to the Irish National Anthem. She sings it in an initially wobbly voice that gets stronger. Some members of the audience quietly sing it with her. She coughs. She coughs louder and more violently into the paper with the lyrics. She holds the paper out to us and it’s got splashes of blood on it. We learn later she is Mollser Gogan. In 1916 this is a sure sign that she has consumption.

The curtain then goes up slowly to the accompaniment of loud rock music. Jon Bauser’s set is spare and suggestive. Stage left is the outline of a high multi-level wood structure representing the tenement house where most of the characters live. Fluther Good repairs the door knob on the door to the Clitheroe apartment. People come in at will. Privacy is not an option.

The tenants in the tenement are slowly introduced along with all their gripes, complaints and winging about their neighbours. Relationships are established. The humour comes as easily as their irritation with their neighbours. While a scene is being played on the stage, I note that high up in the tenement a woman sits in profile watching what I imagine is a television. Stage right of that is Mollser, also in profile, looking intently at her cell phone.

For some of Act I the pace seems sluggish—the cost I suppose of all those characters having to make their points and to establish their relationships. That said, Sean Holmes’ staging is intricate but fluid in the characters’ interactions. And by adhering to O’Casey’s every word in his 1926 play, but seeming to set it in the modern day (rock music, modern dress for the most part, television, cell phone). Sean Holmes is making a clear statement. While The Plough and the Stars is specifically about the 1916 Rebellion in Ireland, it is as timely as the civil war in Syria or South Sudan, or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world there is political, religious, philosophical strife.

In Act II the wood structure representing the tenement is now positioned in the opposite end of the stage from Act I. At the beginning of Act II it slowly topples to the ground thus representing rubble and the effects of the Rebellion that is still raging. This time the pace of Sean Holmes’ direction goes like the wind as people run for cover when shots are fired; characters discover the glee in looting; there is danger from a sniper and the effects on the people in the tenement and he skittish British army desperate to find him.

The acting is superb from top to bottom with David Ganly playing a good natured Fluther; Kate Stanley Brennan playing Nora Clitheroe first as a formidable, confident women, and then a broken woman after she has a personal tragedy; and Ciarán O’Brien as a passionate communist who never passes up a chance to tease a gullible soul.

The Irish accents are clear and easy to understand from my point of view.

Comment. Sean O’Casey has written one of the most poetic, lyrical, angry, prescient plays about rebellion, conflict and oppression of the 20th century. And while it deals with a bloody, perilous time in Irish history it is full of the specific Irish humour; the turns of phrases are dazzling. And the humanity just burst through the play. For all the griping and complaining of their neighbours these are people caught in the middle of violence, taking great chances to help each other. It’s almost Greek in its structure in that most of the gory bits happen off stage, although you see the results of that violence on stage.

The Abbey Theatre Company hasn’t been here in 26 years. Short of going to Dublin to see them when you want you would be very wise to race to the Bluma Appel Theatre to see this wonderful production of The Plough and the Stars before they close their short run on Sunday, Sept. 18.

Presented by the Abbey Theatre

Opened: Sept. 14, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 18, 2016.
Cast: 14; 9 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

{ 1 comment }


by Lynn on September 13, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At The Dirt Underneath, 101 Niagara Street, Suite 205, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Scott Walker
Set by Pascal Labillois
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Costumes by Anne van Leeuwen
Cast: Lauren Horejda
Mark Paci
Anne van Leeuwen

This is a noble effort of this maddeningly difficult Pinter play with mixed results.

The Story. Deeley and his wife Kate live in a remote part of England. His work (never really explained) requires that he travel frequently. One assumes Kate stays home. She doesn’t seem to work. They are waiting for Anna to arrive. She is Kate’s best and only friend we learn from Kate. She is coming from Italy where she lives with her husband.

When Anna arrives she and Kate reminisce about all the great times they had in London; going out to the theatre and other cultural events; going to movies; going to bars; and perhaps the men they met along the way.

Deeley feels left out and so Deeley and Anna begin vying for Kate’s affections. They manoeuvre around each other with a memory that can out point the other. Are the memories true? They vary from character to character. Kate watches it all with a sphinx-like smile, enjoying the fight over her by these two.

The Production. Pascal Labillois has designed a warm, well appointed room with a window created on the back wall with foliage on the other side of the window. Director Scott Walker and his cast of three generally handle Pinter’s languid pace well. Voices are low and even seductive. Those pauses seethe with emotion and mystery. But too often Scott Walker directs Mark Paci as Deeley to explode in anger and frustration. It’s a normal reaction generally, but this is Pinter country and ‘normal’, does not apply. I think it a wrong choice because to explode like that puts Deeley at a disadvantage too early in the play. It should be an equal race to ‘win’ Kate for the whole play, not part of it. While Lauren Horejda as Kate does have a sphinx-like smile, she seems too obvious in her body language, making an effort to be mysterious. Anne van Leeuwen is right on the money as Anna. She is coy, seductive, alluring and comes on to both Deeley and Kate. This is one confident, dangerous woman.

Theories abound about the play. Is it all in the mind of Deeley? Did he really know both women before? Who was the man in the other bed when Anna and Kate were home? Pinter never tells and it’s up to each viewer to decide for himself/herself. One wonders who invited Anna? Did she invite herself after all these years? Did Kate invite her? After all Deeley is away a lot travelling for his job and they live in a remote part of England so perhaps Kate wanted company. And another mystery is why do they live in such a remote part of England if Deeley is away so often? Perhaps he wants to keep Kate to himself in every way—to keep her isolated and far from anyone who knew her. I love the mystery of the play. I wish the production kept digging at creating more of that mystery.

Comment. I love Unit 102 Actors Co. I love their guts and fearlessness to do theatre. I enjoyed seeing their fine work at their previous space on Dufferin St. But things being what they are these days, the building changed hands and the company was forced to find another theatre for their work. They found a temporary space in a building at 101 Niagara Street. Trying to find clear signage as to where exactly in this building Old Times was being performed was as elusive as trying to come up with the meaning of Pinter’s play.

While the performing space is called The Dirt Underneath and I thought that would mean the space was in the basement, that was news to the courier company guy I spoke to, in the basement. He didn’t know of any play. Did I mean that group of 20 young girls in tutus that just went by the building? I did not, but isn’t that fodder for a Pinter play?

I climbed up to the second floor and saw a hastily scribbled sign giving directions which I obviously mis-read because I wandered down corridors leading to nothing. I wended my way back and waited outside the second floor door. People came who did read the scribbled sign better than I did. We went through another door down more corridors without any proper signage to tell us WHERE in this dispiriting building the play was. Eventually I saw a sign with an arrow pointing in the right direction but no room number. (God you have to have such patience for indie theatre….but I digress). I was told where the play was by a young man who turned out to be the stage manager.

Folks, better signs please, beginning with signs on the outside of the building, up the stairs, on the door we go through clearly marked, then other signs on the walls of this dispiriting building clearly marked and the actual room number we enter. Come on, this is important to you and to us who want to see your work. Thank you.

Unit 102 Actors Co Presents.

First performance: Sept. 8, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 24, 2016.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.


At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr
Directed by Rachel Cairns
Set by Bryce Hodgson and Bri Proke
Lighting by Jacq Andrade
Sound by Bryce Hodgson
Cast: Allie Dunbar
Michael Eisner
Libby Osler
Jimi Shlag.

A wild, dizzyingly funny play that makes an art form of family dysfunction. What were the playwright smoking when they wrote this?

The Story. A family funeral has brought the three Turtle siblings together to grieve, complain, accuse, argue, sign papers and eat sundaes. Their grandmother has died and the siblings gather reluctantly. They haven’t seen each other for a long time.

Susan (Allie Dunbar) is the efficient housewife who wants to keep a perfect home, complete with stress-free, argument free zones. Her brother Frank (Michael Eisner) is on parole, living in a half-way house. He is also getting help for his addictions. Perry, (Libby Osler) their sister, has bladder and date problems. She has to pee often. She doesn’t date at all, perhaps because of her attitude. She has just broken up with her girlfriend. She is close with Frank but not with Susan whom she thinks is a twit. Paul (Jimi Shlag) is Susan’s dim husband.

Perry and Frank have driven a long way in a snow storm to be at Susan and Paul’s house. Frank seems to be the peace-maker between Perry and Susan who squabble constantly. They obviously have grudges and animosity that has festered for a long time. It all comes out on this one night. Susan’s husband Paul initially appears benign, but he too has things that bug him.

The Production. Kill Your Parents in Viking, Alberta is a good old fashioned kitchen-sink play that takes place at a kitchen table in Susan Turtle’s pristine, kitsch-filled kitchen. Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr have written a zinger-filled, wildly off-the-wall comedy with a few surprises along the way. The writing is sharp, funny and pointed. And while I am impressed with the imagination of the two writers I did think that some of the revelations would have been things that would have been discussed by the siblings years before instead of thinking that these folks never talked. It could be true, but they all talk and I just thought that surely Perry at least would have given Susan get an earful when things arose and not have waited until this funeral.

The cast of four are dandy and know how to give and sell a laugh line. Or create a funny situation. They know how serious comedy is. Rachel Cairns directs with smart economy—none of this business of moving a character for no reason. Most of the action is at the kitchen table and the body language, the shifty in a chair or leaning forward to face down a sibling speaks volumes about relationships and the emotions they cause. Cairs also has an eye to ramping up the energy and suspense. As matters get heated the volume of the cast gets louder. After a while it’s all yelling. I think it would be more effective if that yelling was varied and tempered and not bellowed all the time. The audience stops listening if it’s all yelling. Those characters have important things to say; best that they be presented so that we do hear them.

That said, this is Rachel Cairns first time directing for the theatre. Talented woman. There is a fight at the end of the play that is dandy, thanks to Nate Bitton. And an ending that leaves you with your eyes popping. Woow.

Comment. The play and production are wild and woolly, sometimes on the verge of going too far, but then they come back. Blood Pact Theatre is a group of young, emerging artists, many of them from out west who have settled here. Make them feel welcome. We want them back with more mayhem.

Presented by Blood Pact Theatre.

Opened: Sept. 9, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 25, 2016.
Cast: 4; 2 men and 2 women.
Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, approx.



by Lynn on September 11, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

commercial_shipping-container_20_The Berkeley Street Theatre–Courtyard, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Clare Bayley
Directed by Zachary Florence
Set and Lighting by Jennifer Lennon
Costumes by Erin Frances Gerofsky
Sound by Nick Carney
Cast: Bola Aiyeola
Lara Arabian
Victor Ertmanis
Ubah Guled
Constantine Karzis
Adriano Sobretodo Jr.

A fine production of a gripping play that puts the audience in the middle of a harrowing journey to freedom, as they sit in a 20 foot shipping container with refugees desperate to escape their countries.

The Story. Five refugees, fleeing their war-torn countries (Somalia, Turkey, and Afghanistan), have paid a lot of money to be taken to England. They have all made circuitous journeys to find themselves in a 20 foot long shipping container that is taking them by truck to what they hope is freedom in England. Fatima is from Somalia. She is travelling with Asha, a fifteen year old. Fatima is referred to as Asha’s mother or aunt. She is neither. Jemal is a Kurd from Turkey who has tried three times to get to London to see his girlfriend and their baby. Ahmad is a ‘businessman’ from Afghanistan. Mariam is a young widow from Afghanistan. There is a sixth person, the Agent who is co-ordinating this journey with the truck driver. The Agent is from Turkey.

The five refugees keep their distance from each other. They don’t trust each other and the stakes are too high to give too much information away about themselves. Then the Agent comes in the container to tell them that the driver wants $50 more for the journey or he doesn’t go another step. Generally they don’t have it. The manoeuvring, negotiating and minutiae of how they shift and vary their stories is fascinating. The truck moves on. Will they get caught? Will they reach their destination?

The Production. The audience files into the 20 foot long container in the Courtyard of the Berkeley Street Theatre. They sit on a bench along each long side of the container. A blanket on a hook hangs down in a corner. This is where the characters would go to relieve themselves. They draw the blanket around them for privacy but we hear everything. The audience is also joined by four of the five refugees. Fatimah and Asha wear long flowing robes. Their heads are covered but not their faces. Jemal is in well-worn jeans. Ahmad is in traditional tanned coloured pants, top and sandals. Miriam is let into the container at the last minute. She also dresses in a flowing robe with her head covered. The Agent wears pants, trainers, a zipped top and many, many bracelets. The refugees sit amongst us or navigate the space.

Director Zachary Florence negotiates the action around that small space for maximum dramatic affect without compromising the audience even thought they are right in the middle of the action. The clanging sound of the container door being unlocked is quite startling, as is the sound of it banging shut.

The only light in the container is supplied by flashlights held by the characters. Nick Carney’s sound design is terrific. There is ambient sound of what is happening outside. We hear the truck starting and revving up. There are occasional startling sounds of banging outside which can be alarming to the refugees. To be nit picky what is missing is the sense of movement and rocking of the container on the truck. Short of having people outside the container pushing on the walls to give it a sense of movement for the hour of the performance, imagining the movement will do.

The cast is exemplary showing a group of people coping in extraordinary circumstances. As Fatima, Bola Aiyeola is reprising the role she played in the Summerworks 2014 production of The Container. Fatima is secretive and determined. As her ward of sorts, Asha, Ubah Guled is watchful and perceptive. For one so young she can size up people and situations. Guled gives an accomplished performance—she is one to watch for one so young. Victor Ertmanis plays Ahmad as an irascible, irritated man who has to travel with people he deems beneath him and since he is consistent in saying he’s a ‘businessman’ one can understand his irritation. As Jemal, Adriano Sobretodo Jr. is properly excitable, in control and in the end, desperate to see his girlfriend and daughter. This is a man who does not give up, no matter how bad the odds. Mariam has many secrets and Lara Arabian plays her with heightened emotion. She is a character who has much to lose and hide. And finally Constantine Karzis plays the Agent with swagger, confidence, arrogance and a wonderful sense of the bluffer. This terrific cast makes the play sizzle.

Comment. The Container was first produced in England 10 years ago. It was first produced in Toronto as part of Summerworks 2014, where I saw it and was bowled over. Ditto with this production. The audience is assured that while it will be hot in the container, there is ventilation. The audience is given bottles of water. They are told that if they have to leave they just have to stand up and someone will lead them out of the container. Every effort is made to make the audience feel safe. But of course the audience has a vivid imagination. It’s hot in there. The refugees are desperate to get to another country for safe haven and therefore they are desperate to get out of the container and end the uncertainty. The audience feels that desperation and perhaps even a bit of their own.

Playwright Clare Bayley has written a tight, gripping play about surviving in terrible circumstances. She has focused on the human stories and how such incidents affect a person. It illuminates how even the youngest refugee must be wily and cunning. The audience is always guessing who is telling the truth and who is not and does it matter, considering what these people have endured. And while each character is out for him/herself, Bayley has written a play full of humanity and kindness.

In light of the Syrian refugee situation that has been filling our newspapers for months and the galvanizing effect it’s had on Canada and the rest of the world, The Container is a sobering, unsettling play that is so timely, alas.

Presented by Theatre Fix

First performance: Sept. 4, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 18, 2016.
Cast: 6; 3 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 60 minutes.


sneak previewSneak Preview Review: KILL YOUR PARENTS IN VIKING, ALBERTA

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr
Directed by Rachel Cairns
Set by Bryce Hodgson and Bri Proke
Lighting by Jacq Andrade
Sound by Bryce Hodgson
Cast: Allie Dunbar
Michael Eisner
Libby Osler
Jimi Shlag.

A family funeral has brought the three Turtle siblings together to grieve, complain, accuse, argue, sign papers and each sundaes. Susan is the efficient housewife who wants to keep a perfect home, complete with stress-free, argument free zones. Her brother Frank is on parole, living in a half-way house. He is also getting help for his addictions. Perry has bladder and date problems. She has to pee often. She doesn’t date at all, perhaps because of her attitude. She is close with Frank but not with Susan whom she thinks is a twit. Paul is Susan’s dim husband.

Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr have written a zinger-filled, wildly off-the-wall comedy with a few surprises along the way. The writing is sharp, funny and pointed. The cast of four know how to give and sell a laugh line. They know how serious comedy is. Rachel Cairns directs with an eye to ramping up the energy and suspense. It’s her first time directing for the theatre. Talented woman.

The play and production is wild and woolly, sometimes on the verge of going too far but then they come back. Blood Pact Theatre is a group of young, emerging artists, many of them from out west who have settled here. Make them feel welcome. We want them back with more mayhem.

Full review soon.


At the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre, 79A St. George St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Justin Miller and Sandra Balcovske
Directed by Rebecca Ballarin
Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan
Additional props and costumes by Amanda Wong
Sound by Kelly Anderson
Performed by Justin Miller
Accompanied by Steven Conway

Pearle Harbour is determined to inform her Sunday School ‘class’ about the evils of the world and her pointed take on it all.

The Story and Performance. Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School is a show in which Ms Harbour wants to impart the difficulties of living in today’s world. Pearle Harbour is the soft-spoken, sharp-tongued female alter ego for Justin Miller.

There is a pulpit upstage with cotton ball clouds hanging above. There are tables with crafts close to the pulpit where some audience members can sit and doodle. For those not so inclined there are chairs behind the craft tables.

Ms Harbour has thick red hair, full-makeup, especially false eyelashes, lots of black eyeliner and mascara and she wears a slim-fitting skirt and blouse and a jacket with sergeant’s stripes. She holds court over this Sunday school class in which she imparts her many and various attitudes about the world we live in.

While she and sings that everyone makes mistakes and can be forgiven, there are some for whom she can’t be so magnanimous. God is one. She is not particularly impressed with God. His mistakes come under her intense scrutiny. She’s not impressed with the Church, or Kathleen Wynne (almost right up there with God) or Facebook, especially when she gets some hateful, nasty comments and tweets. She has strong words for white privilege, appropriation, LGBTQ issues, equality and all manner of things that affect us today.

And when things get sticky she says: “wwJTd” (translation) “What Would Justin Trudeau do?”—there is a picture of him with a halo holding religious items.

Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School is written by Justin Miller and Sandra Balcovske. The songs are witty and the patter is pointed. Ms Harbour is accompanied on the guitar and also assisted by Steven Conway.

I do think those sections that don’t work should be re-examined and re-worked—You know there is an issue when the audience doesn’t laugh at a bit. The show does have edge and examines important issues, so further examination is in order to smooth out the kinks.

I think Justin Miller as Pearle Harbour has a lot of style and attitude. Pearle has a lot of grace and convincing body language, albeit with eye makeup laid on with a shovel. And that demure attitude adds to the zap of her barbs.

There are scenes in which she zeros in on members of the audience to participate and in both cases the people are accommodating. I always think that’s dangerous when you have to hope that the person who is singled out will engage.

The whole idea of Pearle Harbour holding court in this Sunday School reminds me of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie who held sway over her class of young, impressionable girls and made them assume her ideas and attitudes without question and her attitudes were rather questionable. Pearle Harbour’s attitudes are rather questionable too.

The ending is rather awkward and confusing and I think Justin Miller and his director Rebecca Ballarin should look at it again.

I do have time for Justin Miller and his alter ego Pearle Harbour. The show does touch on issues of today that are troubling and uncomfortable to watch and that means it hits nerves, I just think it should be tightened and rethought in a few places.

Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse at 79A St. George St. until Sept. 18.