Part of Soulpepper’s audio series,  Around the World in 80 Plays.

Audio available until June 30, 2021.

Written by Luigi Pirandello

Translated by Edward Storer

Dramaturgical adaptation on translation by Daniele Bartolini and Luke Reece in collaboration with the cast.

Directed by Daniele Bartolini

Sound design by Matteo Ciardi

Cast: Diego Matamoros

Hannah Miller

Moya O’Connell

Beatriz Pizano

Gregory Prest

Anand Rajaram

Tom Rooney

A clear, compelling, production of Pirandello’s brain-twisting play.

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, debuted in Rome May 9, 1921, one hundred years ago, and it’s still going strong.  When Pirandello was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature the citation described “his almost magical power to turn psychological analysis into good theatre.”

A group of modern actors and their harried Manager are rehearsing a play—in this case the Canadian classic, Salt Water Moon by David French. This allows for the dramaturgical adapters of Daniele Bartolini, Luke Reece and the cast to insert cutting remarks about: the insistence of funders to produce “Canadian classics that nobody gets excited about anymore”; smarmy reviews, and the notion that critics don’t matter anymore because “how many critics are even left anymore, 2? 3? 1 ½?” (I love that barb).

It’s interesting to read Edward Storer’s own translation (without this adaptation) to appreciate the care that Daniele Bartolini, Luke Reece and the cast took in being true to the spirit and humour of Pirandello. In it The Manager says: “Is it my fault if France won’t send us any more good comedies, and we are reduced to putting on Pirandellos’s works, where nobody understands anything , and where the author plays the fool with us all?” Wickedly delicious!

Into this rehearsal came a strange group of six people, seemingly from another time. Their spokesperson (The Father) says they are six characters looking for an author. They say they each have a dramatic story to tell and give hints of it. But they need an author to put their stories together so there can be a dramatic form. The Father says: “The author who created us alive no longer wished or was no longer able materially to put us into a work of art and this was a real crime…”  because The Father feels they carry a painful drama.

We do get a sense of what the drama is, briefly. These characters are: The Mother, The Father, The Stepdaughter, The Son, The Boy, The Child and Madame Pace. The Father was married to The Mother and they had two children, one of whom was The Son. But The Father saw that The Mother had a kindred spirit in a clerk in his employ.  The Father became bored with The Mother and sent her away (without the son) to live with the other man. They then had two children (one of whom is The Stepdaughter). Then there are scenes in a brothel with The Father who makes a startling discovery regarding one of the young women there. So matters are pretty fraught with these six characters.

How does this play out with the modern actors, one might wonder? The Father is asked: “what do you want here?” And he answers “We want to live….for a moment.”  So the characters want to tell their story on a stage to get their dramatic story out to the world.

Here is where Pirandello’s psychological analysis comes into play. The Father says that the characters are complete and alive because of the way they are written. There is only one way to play their existence, their truth, and that is the way they, the characters will play themselves. The  actors however want to interpret what the playwright wrote for their own purposes. The characters want to play themselves on the stage. They look to The Manager to help by forming the drama.  The Manager and his modern actors want to take over the parts of the characters and the characters balk. For example The Stepdaugher looks at the actress who proposes to play her and she laughs hysterically at how absurd it is because they are nothing alike.  Pirandello being cheeky.

The arguments of the audio drama are clear, bracing and fascinating. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Six Characters in Search of an Author—or hearing it in this case—that it’s worked so well for me.  The adaptation and the dramaturgical result are dandy—as I said, clear, bracing and fascinating.

The play is directed by Daniele Bartolini who brings his Italian background to this play and the results are compelling. The acting is fine. Diego Matamoros as The Manager is so wonderfully harried and world weary.  But the standout is Anand Rajaram as The Father. His character is so passionate as to convey that what he is saying is a matter of life and death, because it actually is for that character. It’s vital that he be allowed to live exactly as the author wrote him and the others. It’s a play of mind-games.

Loved it.

Six Characters in Search of An Author plays on the Soulpepper website until June 30: www.soulpepper.ca

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Streaming on the Theatre Orangeville website until May 16, 2021.

Written by Kristen Da Silva

Directed by David Nairn

Cinematography and editing by Sara May

Set by Beckie Morris

Lighting by Dan Palmieri

Costume Co-ordinator, Lisa Lahue

Cast: Neil Foster

Liam MacDonald

Erin MacKinnon

A heartfelt, hilarious, smart, thoughtful play and production.

The Story. Garfield is an irascible, irritated, frustrated retired fireman with high blood pressure, among many ailments. He has a nurse named Maggie who checks his blood-pressure every two days, chides him about the use of salt and wants to help him take a bath or walk more, which ever is easier. All of this is met with a smart barb and irritation. 

Then Garfield gets a letter from the mother of his 14-year-old grandson that she wants Garfield to take care of him while she works. The grandson, named Brandon, is on house arrest and needs supervision so Garfield is contacted.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Garfield’s son David never actually married his pregnant girlfriend, although he loved her.  David died before Brandon was born.  Garfield saw Brandon once, when he was one-year-old. Since then, nothing. No contact, no cards. Nothing.  

There is also a mystery about Garfield, when he was a much younger man, and his then girlfriend, Wendy. When Garfield found out Wendy was pregnant there were difficulties but he was going to marry her.  But life interfered and Wendy moved away with their infant son, David. Garfield didn’t keep in touch as much as he should have.

When Brandon does arrive it’s obvious both he and Garfield are in different worlds. Brandon has a cell phone. Garfield has a rotary phone (!) Garfield hardly knows what the internet is except it costs money. Both have lots of pent-up anger with secrets that both are reluctant to reveal. Garfield tries to be caring in his clumsy way and Brandon is searching for a father figure. Both know how to lob a sarcastic line as a means of self-protection. They develop a bond, a meeting of the minds, when they play the game “Risk” that Maggie brought them.

(No, we never learn the rules of playing Risk except to know that Garfield thinks it’s a game of strategy and Brandon thinks it’s a game of luck. According to Google it’s about world domination that involves armies and occupying countries. Not a game for wimps.)

The Rules of Playing Risk is about absent fathers and the effect that has on those left behind. The result is that the play is hilarious, even though it deals with serious issues.

The Production and comment. The streaming is not presented as a Zoom event. It’s Theatre Orangeville’s foray into the new digital age—it’s a combination play and film. It was performed at Theatre Orangeville, on a set designed by Beckie Morris, of Garfield’s rustic front room, overlooking a lake, in Perry Sound.  It was safely filmed without an audience. So actors are directly interacting as characters. I thought the resulting production works beautifully

David Nairn has directed this with such care. It’s not cloying or sentimental. The cast makes sure of that. As Garfield, Neil Foster is beautifully irritated as his quiet life is disrupted, first by Maggie the Nurse, then by Brandon who reminds Garfield how bad a father he was. Foster lobs the one-liners with perfect aim. As Maggie, Erin MacKinnon is as quick with a barb as Garfield and is totally no-nonsense. But she is also caring without being cloying about it.  And finally, as Brandon, Liam MacDonald is as wary and suspicious as any kid who people thing is a looser. Beautiful performances.

As for the play, I am mighty impressed with Kristen Da Silva’s abilities as a playwright. She writes smart, sharp dialogue that is rich and just zings. At one point Maggie finds a large salt shaker in Garfield’s kitchen. He’s not supposed to have salt because of his high blood pressure.

Without any embarrassment at being caught‘ cheating’ on his diet Garfield say: “It’s decorative.” Maggie challenges that by saying that he “doesn’t have a single thing that doesn’t have duct tape on it.” I thought that was hilarious.

But Kristen Da Silva also has a keen sense of how people think and behave. She knows that a after a person has a traumatic life changing event they behave differently. During the play Garfield has one of these events and that leads him to drop his guard and confide in Maggie what happened to him earlier first with the mother of his son and then his son. The revealing of these secrets came naturally, organically from the moment. And both David Nairn’s direction and Neil Foster’s playing of it was exquisite. Garfield is sitting in his chair and Maggie is sitting in another to the left of him. During the extended speech Maggie is rivetted to Garfield as he spills his guts. Garfield on the other hand, never looks at her. He deliberately looks out or a little to his left but never directly at Maggie, because the nature of the revelation is so strongly personally and so revealing of Garfield, that he daren’t look at her in case he gets a reproving look. Only when Garfield is finished with his heart-wrenching story does he allow himself to look at Maggie.

The same thing with Brandon. He carries around the burden of what he thinks people thought of his father—that he was a loser. He says to Garfield: “He was a loser you didn’t want and I’m the same.” He also carries around the constant presence of the ‘absence’ of his father. As soon as he got off the bus in Perry Sound, he asked someone if he ever heard of his father. Brandon is haunted by that absence. Brandon has been reluctant to explain why he’s on house arrest, but he too has experienced a traumatic event and when his grandfather reaches out to him, vulnerable, that releases Brandon’s need to tell his secrets as well.

Terrific playwrighting. Dandy production.

The Rules of Playing Risk streams on the Theatre Orangeville website until May 16: for tickets go to:

https://www.theatreorangeville.ca

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

From the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City.

Streamed for Free: www.roundabouttheatre.org

Rarely done plays that are important as part of The Refocus Project.

CUS PROJECT.

ROUNDABOUT REMOTE

The Refocus Project’s free play-reading series will serve to elevate rarely produced and formerly marginalized theatrical voices from communities underrepresented or historically overlooked in the American theatre.

RACHEL
BY ANGELINA WELD GRIMKÉ (1916)
DIRECTED BY RTC RESIDENT DIRECTOR MIRANDA HAYMON

Available May 4-May 7

I GOTTA HOME
BY SHIRLEY GRAHAM DU BOIS (1939)
DIRECTED BY STEVE H. BROADNAX III

Available May 7–10

DIVE IN.

Throughout the coming weeks, dive into the project through our digital resource guide, panel discussions, historical information, education tools, and much more. LEARN MORE.

Join us for a special online Community Conversations event on Wednesday, June 2 at 6:00pm EST. Roundabout’s Community Conversations aim to foster reflection, conversation, and connection, striving to deepen an experience with the play and each other. REGISTER HERE.

BLACK THEATRE UNITED

We are pleased to offer The Refocus Project virtual presentations free to all. To support the work of BIPOC artists and help influence reform on the national stage, please consider a donation to Black Theatre United today.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

MISS SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR

Six Characters in Search of an Author. Luigi Pirandello. Adapted by Edward Storer.

BUY AUDIO DRAMA NOW

The curtain rises on stories left unfinished. During a routine rehearsal, six strangers show up unannounced declaring themselves fictional characters who would like a word with their author. Finding humour in the absurd, their family drama unfolds in a conflict between illusion and reality. Pirandello’s metatheatrical masterpiece navigates the human search for meaning and the personal desire for control. Read the Playbill.

EXPLORE THE 9 OTHER PLAYS FROM ITALY TO ROUND OUT YOUR AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 PLAYS EXPERIENCE

Tickets are Pay-What-You-Choose, and audiences enjoy unlimited access to the audio drama from the premiere date until June 30, 2021. You will receive an email on May 5 with a link to log into your account and listen to an embedded audio file through your computer or device. To purchase a Passport Subscription and enjoy all eight productions, CLICK HERE.

Complimentary access for Front Line Workers  and members of our Free 25 and Under program sponsored by Sun Life. 

Thursday, May 6-9, 2021, at 7:30 pm.

 

A Singer Must Die begins streaming on Thursday! Join us on May 6th as we pay tribute to the inimitable Leonard Cohen. This is the final concert in our 20/21 Virtually Live season of free online concerts. Featuring highlights from our 2018 show, we explore Cohen’s extraordinary artistic legacy. See below for the full artist lineup and program highlights, as well as a special video preview.  
  A Singer Must Die will be available for FREE streaming on YouTube at this link from May 6th, 7:30pm EST through May 9th, 7:30pm EST. Bookmark the streaming link in your browser for easy access when the event goes live!  

Be sure to RSVP below to add us to your calendar and receive event reminders.    Share your experience by live-tweeting on Twitter (@artoftime) and posting on Instagram (@aotensemble) using the hashtag #aotvirtuallylive!     STREAMING LINK   CLICK HERE TO RSVP     PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS

Come Healing
Arr. by Andrew Staniland

Dance Me To The End Of Love
Arr. by Steve MacKinnon

A Singer Must Die
Arr. by Gavin Bryars

I’m Your Man
Arr. by Kevin Fox

Closing Time
Arr. by Jim McGrath

Who By Fire

Boogie Street

Arr. by Bryden Baird

Treaty
Arr. by Andrew Staniland

Anthem
Arr. by Andrew Downing

And more!

All songs by Leonard Cohen.     PERFORMERS & ARTISTS: Andrew Burashko, piano
Joseph Boyden, reader
Ian Brown, reader
Robert Carli, saxophones
Sarah Harmer, singer
Steve Heighton, reader
Gregory Hoskins, singer
Marni Jackson, reader
Sheila Jaffe, violin
Amy Laing, cello
Steven Page, singer
Joseph Phillips, bass
Rob Piltch, guitar
Sarah Slean, singer
Madeleine Thien, reader
Tom Wilson, singer

LIGHTING DESIGNER:
Kevin Lamotte

PRODUCTION MANAGER:
Arwen MacDonnell

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Streaming on the Young People’s Theatre (YPT) website.

Three plays that are part of Young People’s Theatre’s Right Here, Write Now Festival of plays for young people.


Right Here, Write Now
, features contemporary playwrights responding to these extraordinary times. From the information from YPT:

“Part of YPT’s programming vision is ensuring we create artistic works that speak to the contemporary lives of young people,” said Artistic Director Allen MacInnis. “We are in the midst of a time of enormous change and the writers of these short plays have all been asked to consider what might we make of this moment?”

The first play of the three play series is We Are Losing Time. Recommended for Ages 13-18 | Grades 8-12

Written by Tai Amy Grauman

Directed by Megan Watson

Cast: Julie Lumsden

Joel  Montgrand

Rose and Johnny are two Indigenous teens who have decided to get married that night. In reflecting on the pandemic and recent losses in their lives, they weigh the consequences of losing more time against the certainty of their love for one another.

I was impressed with the sweetness of Tai Amy Grauman’s writing of the piece. Rose and Johnny are loving and innocent in their devotion to each other, their respect for their elders and their reverence of their ancestors. Grauman beautifully establishes the Indigenous world for the reverence of tradition and respect for the teachings of those who have gone before. It is the bedrock of that world.

Julie Lumsden as Rose and Joel Montgrand as Johnny has a wonderful twinkling chemistry of the loving couple. The whole piece is directed with a delicate hand by Megan Watson.

Cassius

Recommended for Ages 10-14 | Grades 5-8

Written by Luke Reece

Directed by Natasha Mumba

Cast: David Collins

daniel jelani ellis

From YPT: “After an uncomfortable encounter on a walk with his dog, followed by another event at school, 12-year-old Cassius needs answers from his Grandpa about why he chose to come to Canada.  His phone call with Grandpa leads to honest conversations about dealing with racism. Cassius learns to find his value and worth not in the place that he lives, but through the experiences he goes through that ultimately make him stronger.”

Cassius (daniel jelani ellis) used to Facetime with his Grandpa (Michael Collins) once a month but has hesitated for a few months because he was upset by the racism he encountered and his anger at his Grandpa for coming to Canada to live. Cassius finally decides to call his Grandpa and confront him with his concerns. We get the sense from Cassius that his Grandpa came from an ‘island full of Black people.’ Cassius asks him: “Why come to a place (Canada) where we’re valued less if you’re used to living somewhere we’re just like normal people.” Grandpa carefully, passionately tells Cassius that he came to Canada because of the access to opportunities to build his dreams. Part of that dream was to raise his daughter (Cassius’ Mother) into a strong, Black woman who in term would instill that strength of character in her son.

Cassius is a wonderful play. Luke Reece has written two deeply layered characters in Cassius and Grandpa, each with issues, concerns, questions and mutual respect. Reece focuses on the thorny issue of racism with sensitivity as does his gifted director, Natasha Mumba. Under her guidance Cassius’ frustration, confusion and hurt and Grandpa’s love and respect for Cassius are gradually revealed.

As Cassius. daniel jelani ellis has the jangle and kinetic energy of a 12-year-old boy. daniel jelani ellis instills a sense of wonder and curiosity in Cassius as well as the ability to distill the information Grandpa gives him. It’s a conversation of a young boy that is both prickly and loving. As Grandpa, David Collins illuminates a complex man who had difficult decisions to make in his life, but is assured he made the right ones. Still he is able to tell his grandson clearly why he needed to come to Canada and why it was the right decision. Collins played Grandpa with the slightest of accents, which was helpful in detailing Grandpa’s background. We learn late in the play that Grandpa came from Barbados.

The metaphor of boxing, fighting and naming Cassius after Cassius Clay goes to also aid in creating the layers of the play—that this kind of activity does not just require force, it also requires, thought, movement, knowing when to jab and parry as well as mental skill.  

 The Best Friend Blanket Fort

Recommended for Ages 5-10 | Grades 1-4

Written by Marie Beath Badian

Directed by Mieko Ouchi
Music by Hugo Badian-Parker

Cast: Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks  

Gabe Maharjan

I appreciated the previous two short plays, but The Best Friend Blanket Fort blew me away. It so illuminates our changing with care and sensitivity.

From YPT information on the play: “ Auggie and Reggie are best friends who love to eat Pocky, play Minecraft, and film their YouTube series “The Best Friend Blanket Fort Show”. When Reggie decides to have a “FIERCE FEMINIST SUPERHERO ZOOM BIRTHDAY PARTY” and doesn’t invite Auggie because it’s for “girls only”, the dynamic duo dive into a discussion on gender, pronouns, and identity as Auggie explores their gender. Although the friends are not always on the same page, they must learn to navigate what it means to support someone being their authentic self.”

Auggie and Reggie are best friends, are in the same class in public school and are almost the same age (although Reggie will be 10 years old in two weeks and is a bit older than Auggie). They also live in the same building. Both friends love Pokey (what I can gather, is a kind of stick candy that comes in packages) and Reggie leaves a package at Auggie’s door, so they can both enjoy it while they talk to each other on Zoom.  They joke and josh with each other, finish each other’s sentences and seem to be on the same wavelength. They have even fashioned their own YouTube series called “The Best Friend Blanket Fort Show.” It has graphics placed around the screen, segments of entertainment and even a land acknowledgement in which Reggie does the acknowledgement in English and Auggie does it in French. (I thought this insertion into the text of the show was inspired—bravo to playwright Marie Beath Badian).

Reggie is particularly excited about her impending virtual birthday party that she is having for her girlfriends in which everybody dresses up as their favourite fierce, feminist superhero. Reggie babbles on as Reggie goes quiet, munching on a Pokey. Even though Auggie didn’t get an invitation Auggie looks forward to attending. Reggie is a little confused and notes that the party is for girls and Auggie is a boy. Auggie quietly says, “What if I’m not a boy?” This confuses Reggie: “What do you mean? Of course you’re a boy what else can you be?” Auggie replies: “I don’t know. Something else?”

What follows is a conversation about gender, pronouns, belonging and fierce friendship. Both Auggie and Reggie are taking this voyage on discovery and identity together, albeit in different ways. Reggie is confused by this new information on gender but wants to understand her friend. At one point Auggie wanted to forget the whole matter because he couldn’t make Reggie understand. It’s to Reggie’s credit that she won’t let Aggie back away but engages her friend to explain the situation further so she can grasp it.    

Marie Beath Badian’s writing conjures the vivid world of kid’s games, short-hand, tv shows and snacks. These difficult questions of identity and how to describe them are handled with such delicacy, respect, and tenderness as the friends question and discover more about each other.

Director Mieko Ouchi created a world of such close friendship between Reggie (Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks) and Auggie (Gabe Maharjan).  Both actors are “awesome’. The pace is quick but each actor picks up on the nuance of the other. Cynthis Jimenez-Hicks as Reggie is a bubbly kid, open-hearted, thoughtful when sharing her treats and curious about this new development with her friend. Auggie is more intellectual and serious because of the way that Gabe Maharjan sensitively delves into the character. After all, Auggie’s mother signs Auggie up for the on-line class: “Quantum Physics for Curious Kiddoes.” Maharjan beautifully conveys Auggie’s questions of self-awareness, and Auggie’s particular confidence. Both Reggie and Auggie care for each other to such an extent that they have patience with each other when information is hard to process. They don’t give up on the other. Love that. As I said, this play blew me away.

Right Here, Write Now Festival streams on the Young People’s Theatre website,www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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Streaming on the Soulpepper Website

Part of the Around the World in 80 Plays Series.

From Argentina.

Written by Griselda Gambaro

Translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz

Directed by Beatriz Pizano

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Augusto Bitter

Carlos González-Vio

Diego Matamoros

A stunning, prescient work beautifully produced in this chilling audio play.

The character known as Young Man has been brought to a large room where he is first questioned by Usher and then by Functionary. Young Man hears a scream in the distance and what he has heard is being questioned. He is not accused of any crime, but he is not able to leave. Every question he asks, either of Usher or Functionary, is turned around on Young Man so that eventually not only is he unsure of anything, but so is the listener. Is he accused of anything? Of course not, is the answer. Can he go home. Why do you want to go home he might be asked? Is there something wrong here? It’s a large, comfortable room? Until the room seems smaller than before.  

One thinks of Kafka regarding the situation of Young Man—a man held for questioning but can’t find out why and by whom. In The Walls the situation seems even more sinister. The country is never mentioned but there are phrases in Spanish. But the play could take place anywhere where people are ‘taken’ to other places for questioning.  I don’t use the word ‘interrogated’ because Gambaro’s use of language (and Marguerite Feitlowitz’s delicate translation) is so subtle and she makes you so aware of the differences in words. I am therefore ‘careful’ not to unbalance this beautifully balanced, frightening play.

At one time, Griselda Gambaro’s work was banned in Argentina. She lived in Spain, in exile, but then returned to Buenos Aires.  She is considered Argentina’s most fearless writer because she holds a mirror to state terrorism that still echoes today. One of the most important female playwrights in Latin America, Gambaro inspired a generation of writers to use theatre in the fight for social justice.

She wrote the play in 1996, fully 10 years before Argentina’s “Dirty War” in which people ‘disappeared’ and were never heard from again—taken for questioning and gone. Such a prescient, brilliant playwright.

Beatriz Pizano had directed The Walls with care and an ever-tightening grip on our ability to breathe. Except for those jarring moments of hearing a scream in the distance, the pace of the questioning and the delicate tone keeps both Young Man and those listening, just a bit unsettled. And then, gradually, more so.

As Young Man, Augusto Bitter is accommodating, aiming to answer questions, and seemingly unsuspecting or alarmed at his being there. I thought that interesting. Perhaps it’s because the listener has the benefit of historical hindsight and knows that this situation does not bode well. Eventually Young Man gets more and more agitated as the desperate reality sinks in. As Usher, Diego Matamoros is a weary questioner, seemingly unconcerned with Young Man’s situation. Carlos González-Vio as Functionary is a more hail-fellow, well met questioner. Both Usher and Functionary are not as obvious as ‘good-cop, bad-cop’ but something more sinister, as they play off each other, separately.

Bravo to Beatriz Pizano for deciding on the play and for Weyni Mengesha, Soulpepper’s Artistic Director for including this compelling play in Around the World in 80 Plays and introducing us to Griselda Gambaro.

www.soulpepper.ca

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Streaming on the Soulpepper Theatre Website until June 30, 2021.

As part of Soulpepper’s series of plays: Around the World in 80 Plays.

Written by Margo Kane

Directed by Jani Lauzon.

Cast: Samantha Brown

Soulpepper’s series, Around the World in 80 Plays, begins appropriately enough in Canada with Moonlodge, Margo Kane’s 1990 play for solo-voice or mono-drama.

The piece begins and ends in a ‘moonlodge’ the place where women would go during their ‘moon-time’ (periods) to be in the safe company of other women to laugh, cry, talk, reminisce and tell stories. In between this book ending moonlodge is Agnes’ story—sometimes harrowing, fraught, and eventually full of recognition and the embracing of her heritage.

She lived with her parents and four siblings. They scraped by on her father’s welfare cheque. Then her father was taken away ‘by some men.’ Later ‘two cars came with the priest and white people’ from the Welfare Officer came and took her and her siblings away. Agnes was shunted from foster home to foster home until she landed with a woman she called ‘Aunt Sophie.’ Aunt Sophie was a large woman with a large voice. She was practical, jokey but said some insensitive things to Agnes: “Get that hair out of your eyes or I’ll scalp you.” In the time she lived with Aunt Sophie, Agnes was not aware of her Indigenous background. In those days the word “Indian” was used including by Agnes. She said that there were no ‘Indians’ in her neighbourhood. Only on television. Her idea of an ‘Indian’ was created by Disney.

When she graduated high school Agnes’ school chums planned to hitchhike across the States. Agnes wanted to go to San Francisco, to Haight Ashbury, a magical name she heard of. Aunt Sophie was in tears about this—as insensitive as she was sometimes, she was a kind presence in Agnes’ life. Agnes promised to write to her.

Agnes had the optimism of the very young. She was not street smart but learned quickly. The listener comes to the story with life experience, hindsight and the knowledge that a young, innocent woman should not take a ride from a man riding a Harley Davidson, no matter how gleaming the ‘bike.’ On their first night the man raped her.

Agnes somehow made it to Santa Fe where there are ‘Indians’ everywhere. She appreciated the arts, sculptures, pottery etc.  The same optimism lead her to be picked up by a tall ‘Indian’ who wore turquoise jewelry. His name was Lance and he took her to a Pow Wow. There she began to appreciate her culture; she was embraced by families who had gathered there; she was fed, both with food and spiritually. She questioned her own story: who her people were, her tribe, what her ‘Indian’ name was; where her parents and siblings were. The result was that she wanted to go home.  

Margo Kane’s storytelling is compelling, harrowing and vivid in creating a world that Agnes forgot—her history and traditions. The listener is invited into the circle to hear the stories that will form Agnes’ re-awakening. The play was written in 1990 but much of the story has not changed, alas. Language has changed—it is jarring hearing the word ‘Indian’ today, instead of Indigenous, but one must respect the words of the playwright.

Samantha Brown performs the monodrama with a joyousness that is endearing but also makes us concerned for young Agnes. And while Agnes does not lose that joyousness after some challenging encounters, she does develop an awareness of who she is and where she came from.

Jani Lauzon directs this with wonderful sensitivity. The spareness of the scene where Agnes is raped is effective and gripping. Using a kind of ‘torch-song’ as background is inspired. Over the course of the story a subtle drum beats that underscores Agnes’ new awareness of her roots.

Moonlodge is a wonderful piece to begin Around the World in 80 Plays.

www.soulpepper.ca

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Review: My Hero

by Lynn on April 27, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

A reading streamed from the Norm Foster Festival

Written by Norm Foster

Directed by Sheila McCarthy

Cast: Jacob James

Gabrielle Jones

Andrew Moodie

Since the pandemic began, prolific playwright, Norm Foster, has written at least six plays. The Norm Foster Festival that usually runs in the summer in St. Catharines, Ont., will certainly have enough new Foster plays to satisfy its audiences when they ‘come back.’ One of the plays, My Hero, had a Zoom reading this past weekend so that Mr. Foster could get a sense of what it sounded like. He will now tweak the play and ready it for a performance, hopefully in the summer of 2022.

My Hero is about Corrine Devine a former lawyer, aged 62, and her son Jim, aged 40. Corrine has been a widow for 31 years. Her husband was a star professional hockey player who was killed in a car accident as he drove home in a snow storm after a game. He wanted to be there in the morning of Jim’s nineth birthday. It was not meant to be.

Jim is now 40, divorced for five years and a high school English teacher. He has lived with his mother Corrine since the divorce because the divorce left him broke and without furniture. Moving home was more comforting.

Corrine and Jim have always been close. She has been his defender and is his sounding board. At present he’s having trouble at school with a student who says that if Jim doesn’t give her an ‘A’ in the class she will accuse him of sexual harassment, because she won’t be able to get into her university of choice. Jim tells the student she didn’t earn the ‘A’ and he could barely justify the ‘C’ he gave her for her work. Jim says simply that he will give her an ‘A’. He will give her other friends an ‘A’, even the boys—he’s an equal opportunity enabler.

Corrine is aghast. Jim explains that no matter if the accusation is true or false, Jim’s career would have been over at the accusation. And his reputation would have been ruined. “An accusation is the end. It sticks to you like fly-paper. Like a bad stink.”  My eyebrows were knitting at how Norm Foster had Jim solve the problem—a huge one in education these days. Then Foster gave Jim this speech: “…and she can be one of the many half-wits that graduate from high school this year. I’m so tired of these entitled kids, not learning a damned thing, calling the shot and getting whatever the hell that they want with a snap of a finger.” Wow!

I can appreciate Jim’s frustration in dealing with this situation, but more than anything I think this is Norm Foster dealing with a serious subject with his pointed dialogue rather than the actual character of Jim. Jim never really addresses anything else in the play with this much ire or frustration. The scene is a thing of beauty because the playwright is finding a way of dealing with this onerous subject.

As Jim, Jacob James invests intense passion and emotion into the speech. I always believe it’s the character speaking but because it seems to come from no where and never comes up again, I think it’s more the playwright than the character telling a truth. Loved it. Jacob James plays Jim with a mix of innocence and knowing intensity and charm. Later when Corrine does something to take his side, Jim knows she might be going too far. Jim has a sense of honour and a need to fight his own battles. Loved that too.

Corrine (Gabrielle Jones) is going through her own changes. She is attracted to Randy Bartholomew (Andrew Moodie), her landscape gardener, who is a widower. They are to go on a date and Jim is surprised, shocked and perhaps jealous of a rival in his mother’s life. Corrine is beautifully played by Gabrielle Jones with a mix of awkwardness at this new situation and irreverence because she has such a flaky sense of humour. As Randy, Andrew Moodie is quiet, sweet, impish—he loves Shakespeare and quotes him often—and determined to win this woman.

Norm Foster delicately reveals the history of Corrine and her marriage to her hockey-star husband and the challenges she had. And we learn of Randy’s life. His life is devoted to his adult daughter, Olivia. Olivia has health issues. She is severely epileptic, is confined to a wheelchair and lives in an assisted living facility. The way Olivia is described she might be developmentally delayed, but she also seems to be wise if not aware.

If Norm Foster does tweak or rework the play,  I hope he would develop the information we hear about Olivia (she never appears in the play). I thought epilepsy was controllable with medication. Why is Olivia in a wheelchair? Is she developmentally delayed? Perhaps clarifying the information about her and if she is actually saying some of the things that Randy says she is saying, would be helpful.

In any case, I’m always glad to see a Norm Foster play, fully formed, or in a first reading, as this one was. And certainly when it is so expertly directed by Sheila McCarthy who massages the nuances, pauses, silences and freighted reactions as she does with this dandy cast.

Look out for this play to be in the 2022 season of the Norm Foster Festival.

www.fosterfestival.ca

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I’m posting this whole press release from Talk Is Free Theatre that is a repeat of its initiative for a dinner and some theatre. it’s a great idea to aid the restaurant business in Barrie, Ont. and elsewhere. Give a look:

For Immediate Release April 23, 2021
  TALK IS FREE THEATRE BUILDS ON LATEST STAR-STUDDED PROJECT’S MAJOR SUCCESS TO INCLUDE AND BENEFIT ALL LOCALLY OWNED RESTAURANTS IN BARRIE.
  “The readings were accomplished, the stories were clear and the humour and drama were expertly realized.” – Lynn Slotkin, The Slotkin Letter. Barrie, ON….Building on the wildly successful Dinner à la Art project launched earlier this month, TIFT Artistic Producer Arkady Spivak announced today the exclusive online readings, starring iconic international artists including Eric McCormack, Len Cariou, Chilina Kennedy, Ed Asner, Colin Mochrie, Cynthia Dale, Gavin Crawford, Daren A. Herbert and more, will be rebroadcast to benefit a greatly expanded  number of participating businesses to include all of Barrie’s locally owned restaurants and qualifying retailers.   
 
Patrons can now choose from over 100 of Barrie’s diverse community of locally owned restaurants and Downtown Barrie BIA businesses to purchase a meal or gift card and receive a complimentary link to an exclusive online reading. Individuals living outside of Barrie or are unable to redeem their purchase have the option to donate their purchase to a stranger.   “The response to Dinner à la Art was overwhelmingly positive both artistically and as a community supporting project. We are thrilled to expand this initiative to help benefit so many of Barrie’s restaurants and retailers with TIFT’s brand of unique theatrical experiences.”  – Arkady Spivak, Artistic Producer, Talk Is Free Theatre. BROADCAST DATES
(IN EASTERN STANDARD TIME)
May 7, 2021 at 7pm
 
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted & Directed by Richard Ouzounian  
International star of Broadway, television and film, Emmy Award winner Eric McCormack, along with Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical star Chilina Kennedy lead this brand-new adaptation of the seminal novel.  
  May 9, 2021 at 7pm
 
She Stoops to Conquer
By Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Richard Ouzounian  
Comedy superstars Colin Mochrie, best known for his work on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, alongside Gavin Crawford, alumni of This Hour Has 22 Minutes both star in this uproarious comedy.
  May 11, 2021 at 7pm
 
Heartbreak House
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Richard Ouzounian  
Award winner and star of television series Blue Bloods, Len Cariou and seven-time Emmy Award winner Ed Asner star in this tragicomedy by acclaimed dramatist and literary icon, George Bernard Shaw.  
  May 13, 2021 at 7pm
 
Riot
By Andrew Moodie
Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy  
Dora Award winners Daren A. Herbert and star of Mirvish Productions’ Kinky Boots, Vanessa Sears star in this award-winning drama that follows the Canadian response to the Rodney King Trial results in 1992.
  May 15, 2021 at 7pm
 
Bright Lights
Written & Directed by Kat Sandler  
This razor-sharp dark comedy by Dora Award winner Kat Sandler features award winning actor Jeff Lillico and star of the popular television series The Expanse, Vanessa Smythe. HOW IT WORKS Purchases of a $30 CAD meal or gift card to any locally owned restaurant in Barrie or participating member of the Downtown Barrie BIA will qualify for access to any one of the exclusive readings. Individuals living outside of Barrie or those unable to redeem their purchase have the option to donate it to a stranger living in Barrie.  
 
All purchases must be made through the qualifying restaurants or retailers of choice. After the purchase is made, send a picture of your receipt to dala@tift.ca with your name, phone number, and the reading you would like to attend. After your name has been registered, a confirmation email will be sent. Technical Requirements A valid email address. A good internet connection.

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Streaming for free from the Mint Theatre in New York City until June 13, 2021.

Written by N.C. Hunter

Directed by Gus Kaikkonen

Set by Charles Morgan

Costumes by Sam Fleming

Lights by William Armstrong

Sound by Jane Shaw

Cast: Helen Cespedes

Christian Coulson

Barbara Eda-Young

Mark Emerson

Katie Firth

Jonathan Hogan

George Morfogen

Paul Niebanck

Jill Tanner

An interesting look at a story that is all too familiar, this with a British twist.

A Picture of Autumn by N.C. Hunter first done in London in 1956 and then mainly forgotten. It was revived by The Mint Theatre in New York City in 2013. This is an archived streaming of the production.

The Story. A Picture of Autumn was written by N.C. Hunter, once a popular British playwright. The play takes place in a once grand country house in the 1950s, in Britain. Sir Charles Denham, his wife Margaret, and Charles’ brother Harry live there. There is one servant called “Nurse” who has been with the family for decades.  She seems to make cocoa all the time and sings hymns the rest of the time.  Margaret takes care of the house and laments it because the house is so big and unwieldy. It’s shabby, needs repair and certainly more servants to tend it and it costs a lot of money.

Sir Charles and Margaret are expecting their son Robert, his wife Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s daughter Felicity to arrive any minute. Robert, Elizabeth and Felicity have been in Africa for 10 years and are returning home. As soon as they arrive, Robert suggests that the house is too much trouble for his aged parents and uncle to tend and wants them to sell it to people who want to transform it into a technical school. This will allow his parents and uncle to buy a smaller home closer to town.  To give us a sense of the size of the house, there are 18 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms (!) stables, acres of gardens, now weeds, lousy wiring, no phone and it’s two miles from town with no transportation. Margaret knows that selling is a wise suggestion, but of course she and her husband and brother-in-law dither about selling because it’s been in the family since 1762. And Harry’s wife died there 40 years before in her 20s and that huge house is where he lived and at 83 Harry is too old to move.  

Production and comment.  The story of course sounds familiar? There are echoes of Russia and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and even Uncle Vanyain the play. Although those echoes of Russia and Chekhov are so strong, A Picture of Autumn is quintessentially British.  N.C. Hunter’s humour and language have that air of the upper classes. These characters embrace tradition, history and family but they also see the wisdom of Robert’s suggestion, or at least Margaret does.  Director Gus Kaikkonen and his design team: set by Charles Morgan and costumes by Sam Fleming have created a set that seems huge because of a wide, curved staircase that you know leads upstairs to lots of room. The furnishings are faded. The men wear ties, all the time. Harry goes shooting for a pigeon and he comes back in his hunting jacket and wears a tie. Charles doesn’t go anywhere and sleeps most of the day but he too wears a tie. I always smile at this ‘formality when I see it in films of the Royal Family. Fascinating.

Hunter beautifully creates the maddening dithering of the three seniors. Sir Charles, a gentle Jonathan Hogan, spends his time napping, as does his brother Harry (a doddery but also commanding George Morfogen) when Harry is not noting in a book the highs and lows of the day’s temperatures and then comparing them to last year. Margaret (a gracious, busy Jill Tanner) tends the house which is a monster of a job, and the others don’t have a clue.

It’s an observation of another time and a class that those not in it don’t understand but perhaps find fascinating. In Chekhov at question was what to do with the valuable cherry orchard. Chekhov solved it in a moving, poignant way. In N.C Hunter at question is what to do with the grand manor house. Hunter’s solution was fascinating in its own way.

I found his writing smart and funny. For example, a character who was really bad at business had this line: “In the business world one wants to get in at the bottom and move steadily upwards, like yeast.” Loved that line.

N.C. Hunter filled his play with terrific dialogue and a situation so beautifully established with these characters you wanted to yell at them to make a decision! They had other ideas. 

A Picture of Autumn streams for free on the Mint Theatre website until June 13

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Streaming for free on the Factory Theatre website.

Part of their audio drama series: You Can’t Get There From Here

Written by Keith Barker

Directed by Akosua Amo-Adem

Sound Design by Michelle Bensimon

Cast: Allison Edwards-Crewe

Marcia Johnson

Initially it looks deceptively like a story of reconciliation but then it quietly turns into something even more important.

The Story. Every Minute of Every Day  by Keith Barker is part of Factory Theatre’s five part radio drama series called You Can’t Get There From Here.An episode drops every week and this one is from last week.

It’s about two sisters, Mia and Fran, who have been estranged but Mia has asked Fran to come to the city—Tkaronto (Toronto). We get the sense that Fran lives in a small town. Mia lives in the big city, Toronto.  Fran drove in the day before and was stunned by the traffic on the 401, the price of a cup of coffee and a room at the Royal York Hotel.  She and Mia start bickering immediately.  It seems as if they are reverting to their younger selves that might have foreshadowed the rift. One tries to boss the other. There is pushback. Each stands her ground. But there are also fond memories.  Every Second of Every Day has been described as a memory play and how one’s memories differs for others’ memories.

We never really find out what caused the rift. We learn that one sister was emotionally hurt by the other and the other sister was disappointed.

Why them did Fran come to Toronto? Without giving too much away, I think there was a need to attempt a reconciliation. On this trip the sisters were going to go to various places that meant a lot to them: the CN Tower, Massey Hall, Maple Leaf Gardens, Jet Fuel Café on Church Street, St. James Cemetery and finally the Scarborough Bluffs. In the course of the tour we learn that when they were younger these sisters were close. They went to concerts together. They went to the Brunswick House together often on the weekends—Fran is shocked to learn it is now a pharmacy. They reminisce about their father and how he got Wendel Clark’s autograph and the laughs that resulted.  A lot of the radio drama is the sisters burying their hurt and remembering better times.

Production and Comment. I think Keith Barker has written a beautifully deceptive play.You think it’s going in one direction and then it veers off in another that has you wondering what you are actually listening to. What is the story I thought I was listening to and what is actually happening?There are wonderful subtle hints in the text that keep you alert and wondering.  Rather than being a play about reconciliation you see it’s about gratitude.They visit places that gave them pleasure, that meant a lot to one or the other of them.  Mia has planned out the sites they will see.If you know the city you can see where they are going.Each stop is meaningful. The last one is the most poignant.

It’s directed by Akosua Amo-Adem with meticulous attention to detail. She knows when to bring in music (kudos to Michelle Bensimon for the sound design)  for the best effect and when to just let the words and silence speak.  The acting by Allison Edwards-Crewe as Mia and Marcia Johnson as Fran is terrific. There is a careful balance to the give and take of the two actresses as sisters. They carefully build the relationship until we realize the weight and importance to this trip.

And as for the title—Every Minute of Every Day—perhaps Keith Barker is saying that we should take every minute of every day and live it to the fullest.  I liked this latest edition of You Can’t Get There From Here, a lot.

Every Minute of Every Day is streaming for free on the Factory Theatre website.

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