Review: BIGRE

by Lynn on April 18, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Co-written, created and performed at my performance by Pierre Guillois, Agathe L’Huillier and Olivier Martin-Salvan.

Set by Laura Leonard

Costumes by Axel Aust

Lighting by Marie-Helene Pinon and David Carreira

Sound by Roland Auffret and Loic le Cadre

An endlessly inventive wordless, slap-stick  show about the serious subjects of loneliness, making do with small spaces and friendship.

A portly man, a tall, slim man and a tall, willowy blonde woman live side by side by side in Paris in three small attic apartments. They are strangers. The portly man is fastidious, going so far as to hand-vacuum the soles of his shoes after coming in from work. His pristine white appartment is the latest in efficiency. He claps his hands for the lights to come on and off and for the toilet to miraculously appear from a wall. He also sings, “Carousel” by Jacques Brel but in a language that could be gibberish or Japanese,

The tall slim (skinny?) man lives next to the portly man in a cluttered apartment full of stuff. If he puts stuff in his cupboard and closes the door too hard, the stuff shoots out into the portly man’s apartment. This makes for huge opportunities of creating goofy humour. He sleeps in a hammock at night strung above the stuff below. The willowy woman lives on the other side of the slim man, in a neat place decorated in a stereotypically feminine way with frills and pink. Kudos to set designer, Laura Leonard.

Each occupant has caught a glimpse of his/her neighbour and is curious. They all eventually meet. Relationships are formed with one of the men at least being jealous when the other man gets the woman’s favour. Sometimes they all spend time together with the woman giving one of the men a shoulder massage as she reads the instructions from a manual. The relationships shift and change from platonic to romantic, to irritation of the familiar to estrangement and back again, all wordlessly, all totally clear, and very funny.

Certainly much of the humour comes from how the three performers look. A portly man doing complex physical moves is funny because it’s unexpected. The tall skinny man isn’t just slim, he’s almost concave in his posture and his ‘sad sack’ look is endearing but funny. And the willowy blonde is fidgety, anxious and that’s funny too.

The clown action ramps up as the relationships solidify. The woman crawl’s up onto the roof to sunbath, takes off her top and a fierce wind whips it away as it flits and flies just out of her reach. Then a helicopter flies over head…and on and on.

The group takes it’s well earned bow at what we think is the end, but then comes back to do another fifteen minutes of silliness. I couldn’t figure that out at all and think that addition (I can’t call it an encore can I?) should be cut. Confusion and overkill is not a good way to end a basically funny show.

There is no definition of “bigre” I was told by Joël Beddows, the Artistic Director of theatre français de Toronto and one of the producers of the show. It’s just a toss-off word as the Irish might say “Happy-days” meaning nothing.

A Compagnie Le Fils du Grand Réseau Production presented by Canadian Stage in collaboration with theatre français de Toronto.

Began: April 11, 2019.

Closes: April 28, 2019.

Running Time: 85 minutes.

www.canadianstage.com

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At the Columbus Centre, 901 Laurence Ave, West, Toronto, Ont.

Written, performed and directed by Daniele BartoliniAssisted by Raylene Turner, Franco Berti, Michelle Andrei and Kaitlin Saito.

Another absorbing, site-specific, immersive,  communal show about art, food and conversations with strangers from Daniele Bartolini.

 Many theatre companies do site-specific, immersive work that is intricate, intriguing and adventurous. And then there is Daniele Bartolini and his DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT) company who takes site-specific, immersive theatre to a whole new level.

For Talk is Free’s Curious Voyage adventure, Bartolini created site-specific narratives in two cities an ocean apart. It started in Barrie, Ontario. The audience had one on one interactions with various characters in various locations in the city. The audience was then flown to London, England to continue the voyage, where interactions took place on the street, in a hotel, in a basement restaurant, on a canal boat and in ones hotel room. It was all in preparation to see a site-specific production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in a derelict building. Wild.

This past Christmas, Bartolini created a more intimate production of If on a Christmas Night….in which part of the Columbus Centre was transformed into various rooms that the small audience visited for different interactions with characters, ending in a communal drink.

His latest creation, Leonardo’s Last Supper I think is Bartolini’s most personal, intimate work. There is only Daniele Bartolini as the story-teller and 12 of us in the ‘roving’ audience at the Columbus Centre, where he is artist-in-residence.

We are taken to a large room with a table on which are various dishes of antipasti. We are all given a glass of aperitif, invited to eat and we introduce ourselves. Food and drink always loosen people from their shyness and reticence at new experiences.

We are then taken to a secret location at the Centre behind the door marked: “Domestic Arts.” Another large table is there covered by a white tablecloth. We sit around three sides of the table. At the other end is a large screen. Wine is served. Raylene Turner is introduced and stands in one corner of the room behind an easel, sketching those around the table. Franco Berti is introduced. He will be preparing our supper. Both are part of the DopoLavoro Teatrale.

Bartolini begins by talking about his being born and brought up in Florence, Italy. He punctuates his story with family photos projected on the screen. There is a picture of his house, his glamorous grandmother, his bold, daring aunt, his art-loving grandfather, a nun who was a mean teacher, and art, from the ceiling of his school, the galleries in Florence and the museums—art everywhere. Bartolini believes that art communicates with all people. He notes that I look sceptical. I offer that I doubt that Doug Ford could appreciate art. Joël Beddows, the always gracious, courtly Artistic Director of théâtre français de Toronto quietly disagrees and feels that even Doug Ford would appreciate art in his own way and explains why. My mind is changed.

And at the centre of Bartolini’s world are two towering artists—Michelangelo and his Sistine Chapel and The David to name but two of his works and Leonardo Da Vinci and The Mona Lisa and the Last Supper to name two of his works. Projected pictures of each accompanied the narrative.  Daniele’s story-telling is enthusiastic, vibrant and intense. He shows a close up of The Last Supper. One of the participants next to Jesus in the painting looks like a woman. Is that Mary Magdalene? Another participant down from her holds what looks like a knife. Is that Judas? And a knife? Who knew? Bartolini did and gets us all to ponder these questions and more. He introduces all sorts of little known facts about the artists and their work.

When he is finished conversations between the audience members naturally, easily begin. One man talks about the difference in colours from today to Leonardo’s time and how that difference informs any restoration. Other audience members have a spirited conversation in Italian. Opinions are shared. I tell Bartolini the first time I saw The David in Florence and cried and cry every single time I see it, it’s so magnificent a piece of art.

Franco Berti serves us the delicious dinner he has prepared: bread, soup, greens, salad, lasagne, fruit, cake and coffee. As with a Bartolini production a group gathering is arranged at the end for a photo. We all part having been filled up with art, food, good will, laughs and wonderful conversation, all because of Daniele Bartolini’s glorious imagination and brimming sense of communal theatre.

I can hardly wait for his next site-specific extravaganza.

Produced by Villa Charities Inc. and DopoLavoro Teatrale

 Opened: April 11, 2019.

Closes: April 28, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.villacharities.com

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NOTE: While the play has closed it does deserve comment.

 

Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.,

Written by Sarah Burgess

Directed by Angela Besharah

Set and costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by André du Toit

Original music by Ian LeFeuvre and Jasper Gahunia

Cast: Christef Desir

Peter Keleghan

Rebecca Liddiard

Greg White

A brittle, predictable play about the cut-throat world of high-finance and private equity funds. Terrific cast.

 The Story. Rick is the head of a private equity fund who needs to make a killing in a deal. He’s smarting because the press recently reported on a lavish engagement party he threw, complete with one elephant that cost a ton of money, just as he was responsible for firing a lot of people. A deal is brought to him by an associate named Seth. A respectable businessman named Jeff wants to sell his business but needs assurance his workers will not be fired and the ethics of the company will be followed. Rick’s other associate, Jenny—a cold, calculating young woman who takes no prisoners—crunches the numbers and wants Rick to be ruthless. Seth, the good-guy has compassion. Who wins?

 The Production. Jung-Hye Kim’s set of Rick’s office is dark brown, spiffy in a cold sort of way and totally without any softening mementos. Rick (Peter Keleghan) enters wearing a smart suit and crisp shirt. He has the look and demeanor of a man of power, money and position and the charm that doesn’t put people off. He’s been rattled by the recent attention of the press to his excessive spending.

Jenny (Rebecca Liddiard) enters wearing a pencil slim black skirt, crisp white shirt and heels. Jenny as wonderfully played by Rebecca Liddiard, is without a shred of sentiment, compassion or even consideration of others. Her focus is on making money no matter how. She destroys opposition with cutting remarks, honing in on the jugular, and finding their weakness and going in for the kill. She crunches numbers with efficiency. No one has a chance against her, certainly not Seth, (Christef Desir) who is also an associate in Rick’s firm. He does have compassion and a gift for dealing with people. Seth brings Jeff (Greg White) to Rick hoping a deal to buy Jeff’s company can work out. As played by Greg White, Jeff is laid back, humble, quietly determined that the workers be protected and not fired, downsized, discarded, etc.

Angela Besharah directs in a very stylized way. Entrances and exists are regimented. Characters march up to the exit and make a sharp right turn into the wings, as if on army manoeuvres; ditto when they enter. It’s almost as if Besharah is directing them as if they are robots. Often a character would be downstage looking at the audience but having a conversation with someone up stage, looking at the back of the person downstage. Awkward, albeit deliberate. The positioning does convey a coldness and lack of connection these characters have with each other, but it all seems so stilted.

Sarah Burgess has certainly written a bracing play full of the lingo of high-finance (Dry Powder is the remaining capital in a private equity fund) and the total lack of integrity and moral responsibility to be ethical. Rick and Jenny certainly don’t. Seth does and while Jeff appears to be a man of integrity, he too turns without warning and becomes just as money-grubbing as Rick and Jenny. That last bit is a weakness in the play—it comes seemingly from no-where.

At times though Burgess’ play is too clever by half and it looks more like Burgess is trying to show off with her linguistic dexterity rather than writing a play that is not so predictable.

Comment. This is the first production of Evermore Theatre Co. and the company of actors did a splendid job of taking an in-your-face-play and running with it. Some suggestions: It would be helpful to put the name of the theatre where this play is playing ion the program cover. I can’t find the name anywhere.. The dates of the run would be nice on the program. Also, a contact number or e-mail would be helpful too to order tickets should someone want to do that. This program is a perfect way of promoting the show. If there is no info on where it’s playing, how to get tickets and the dates of the run, the company makes it difficult for an audience to want to see the play or tell friends.

Produced by Evermore Theatre Co.

Closed.

 

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Short bits on shows about to close or have.

Under the Stairs

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont

Written by Kevin Dyer

Directed by Micheline Chevrier

Music by Reza Jacobs

Set by Teresa Przybylski

Costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by Adam Harendorf

A thoughtful, lively production of a serious subject—isolation of children and the effect of grief on a family.

Tim (Kyle Orzech) is a young kid who hides in the closet  just under the stairs  when his parents fight, and they fight often. There is a secret in that anger. A rag-tag group of kids seem to be Tim’s secret saviors who look out for him. When he goes in the closet a hand comes out of one of the coats and holds his hand in comfort.

The set by Teresa Przybylski is simple, efficient (the stairs revolve to reveal many hiding places) and colourful. Reza Jacobs, musician extraordinaire, has composed the music which encapsulates the feelings of both the children and Tim’s warring parents.

Micheline Chevrier creates a sense of momentum with her smart cast. There is a feeling of rushing around to either escape the depression that exists in that house or to express the anger that exists because of some secret. As Tim, Kyle Orzech is that sad kid you just ache for. His parents are always fighting and they seem to have forgotten him. There is something they aren’t telling him and he’s isolated because if it, finding solace in that closet.

Neema Bickersteth as a saddened Mum and Martin Julien as an angry, bitter Dad beautifully convey the conflicted feelings of a couple who are angry about something, hurt because of it, and anxious to solve the problem. And they both are mortified that their problems have affected their son.

Fiona Sauder as Violet leads a band of rag-tag mystery kids who are confident and know the secret and try and comfort Tim. Sauder is fearless as are the rest of the ‘kids’.

Playwright, Kevin Dyer has written a meaningful, important play about kids who are forgotten because their parents are at war with each other. It’s a terrible statistic that if a couple looses a child or something happens to a child because of their carelessness, it affects the marriage with each partner blaming the other for what happened, and it usually ends in divorce. That doesn’t happen here. Dyer gives his story the hard edge it needs and the second change this family deserves. Terrific.

Young People’s Theatre Presents:

 Opened: April 4, 2019.

Closes: April 16, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

 

Wedding at Aulis  

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Sina Gilani

A version of Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set by Michelle Tracey

Lighting by Itai Erdal

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Cast: Ghazal Azarbad

Derek Boyes

Alana Bridgewater

Leah Cherniak

Sascha Cole

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Raquel Duffy

Sebastian Heins

Stuart Hughes

Brenna MacCrimmon

Nancy Palk

Nicole Power

Alice Snaden

Sarah Wilson

Jennifer Villaverde

Liver theatre. And dull at that.

 NOTE: I might know one person who willingly eats liver because he/she likes it. The rest of us eat it (if at all) because it’s “good for us”. “Liver Theatre” is that stuff that we would usually avoid but know it’s good for us and so go. Which brings me to Wedding at Aulis.

The Story. The story is really fascinating and full of possible emotion. Agamemnon, a Greek warrior has pledged to his brother Menelaus to get his wife Helen back.  Helen has run off with Paris, a much better catch and gone to Troy. The whole of the Greek army pledges this. But the winds to sail are bad. However to appease the snotty god who demands it and get the calm winds to sail, Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. After some soul searching he agrees. The pretext to get Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, to bring her to Agamemnon, is that she (Iphigenia) has been promised as a wife to Achilles. So Clytemnestra thinks her daughter is to be married.

 The Production. The audience sits in two rows of the most uncomfortable seats imaginable. The seats are encased in metal bleachers around the round playing space. The soldiers where the kilt like garb of soldiers; or robes.

Director Alan Dilworth has the whole cast, all 15 of them, walk into and fill up the round space, facing each other. Then they half turn and look at us with pensive, accusatory, withering looks. Are we responsible for what happened? Should we hang our heads in shame, not knowing what those looks are for? Can we please put a moratorium on such pretension in future? I wish.

The three fates are unremarkable and confusing because there is a variation of styles (contemporary, earnest, hip etc. ) that make no sense. The chorus enter, singing, as if a dirge, The effect of both these groups is that it’s so dull. They are lifeless. There is no urgency to any of this and it all seems so precious.

For some reason Nancy Palk plays an Old Man. Why? What is to be gained by this gender-bent casting? And why does she have an accent (Yiddish??) when no one else does? Alice Snaden begins as an innocent Iphigenia. She is fearful when she is to be sacrificed but then euphoric. This happens so quickly. Where is the justification? She arrives for her sacrifice in a shimmering red silky long dress. As she lays on a table ready for her father to kill her, she seems to writhe as music plays. It’s almost sexual as her body tenses and she strokes herself. What is that about? With all this supposed attention to presenting a Greek drama I wonder why Alan Dilworth has the sacrifice—albeit suggested—done on stage, when Greek drama had all the gory stuff done off stage.

I was grateful for Stuart Hughes, a commanding, reasoned Agamemnon. I also appreciated Raquel Duffy who plays a fierce Clytemnestra, who will do anything to defend her daughter. This is a performance full of fire, rage, clear-eyed motherly anger. It’s a jolt of life in this otherwise lifeless, dull production.

Comment. I think playwright, Sina Gilani has done an interesting, fascinating job in creating the world of ancient Greece. The language is not contemporary but has a sense of another time. The speeches from Agamemnon to his brother Menelaus are terrific, in which Agamemnon childes his brother for being a lousy husband. Why else would Helen want to get away from him. Gilani brings out the blinkered masculinity of the men of Greece, that a pledge to enter war is iron-clad, that a man’s honour is more important than being intelligent and smart. There were so many possibilities to realize this story with a better production. Instead we have this dull lump of liver theatre instead. You go because you think it’s good for you. Better theatre is good for you and tastier.

Soulpepper Theatre presents:

Began: April 8, 2019.

Closed: April 14, 2019.

www.soulpepper.ca

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At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont..

 

Written by Johnnie Walker

Directed by Tom Arthur Davis

Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Lighting by Rebecca Vandevelde

Sound by Jivesh Parasram

Cast: Daniel Carter

Willard Gillard

Kwaku Okyere

Craig Pike

Heath V Salazar

Johnnie Walker

Anders Yates

A fascinating story presented as a mystery to be solved, in a production that is incomprehensible, self-indulgent and leaves any thought of solving the mystery almost as an afterthought. Unforgivable considering the talent involved.

A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Pandemic Theatre co-production.

The Story. Johnnie Walker, theatre artist extraordinaire, read a newspaper item a few years ago about Luke O’Donovan who went to a party; was gay-bashed; defended himself by stabbing one of his attackers and was tried, convicted and imprisoned while the attackers were set free.

Walker was intrigued by that story. Why were the attackers set free? He wrote to O’Donovan who replied. He visited him and gleaned more information as well as realizing how complex the story was. And in true Walker-theatre-artist-extraordinaire form, decided to do a play about it.

The Production. Johnnie Walker appears in front of an impressive stage curtain and greets the audience with great charm. He talks of the ice-bucket challenge for ALS, where people doused themselves with a bucket of ice-water as part of a fund-raiser for ALS research. He then says that that initiative earned several millions of dollars. Instead of doing that initiative he was going to put his money into the case to free O’Donovan from prison. Walker tells us the story of what happened to O’Donovan at the party as well as he can given the shifting, changing story.

Then he parts the curtain to reveal the backstage dressing room in Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in which the walls are plastered with posters of past shows and perhaps other memorabilia. Kudos to designer Anahita Dehbonehie for her always detailed set. Also revealed is the group of performers who will help Walker explore the many questions he has on the case.

Walker pouring ice-water over his head to repeat the challenge and then changing his clothes and talking more,  certainly is a very long, winding and unnecessary way to begin a show.

Walker presents the case to his colleagues and then begins a process of exploring questions, role-playing, dancing, joshing, getting off topic, suggesting many and various ways of looking for the truth, and generally doing what should have been done in the rehearsal hall to discover and shape the play so that it was audience-ready. Whatever one wants to call this, it’s not a play; a question wasn’t answered or a problem solved or the truth found and it’s not audience-ready. At one point Walker tantalizingly tells us that O’Donovan told him everything that happened. One of the many problems with this production, is that Walker never actually tells us. Why else are we in the room?

Of the seven performers, only Johnnie Walker and Craig Pike create anything close to a character who has depth or interest in the search for the truth. The other performers are doing variations on themes of stereotypical gay behavior and give no sense that they care about what Walker is trying to discover.

Tom Arthur Davis is generally a thoughtful, intelligent director. I’ve liked his work elsewhere. I have no idea what he is going for in this meandering, unfocused, self-absorbed work.

Comment. Really, two hours and thirty minutes long? REALLY? Lots of self-indulgence here instead of rigor to present the truest, clearest work. The fact that I have great respect for Johnnie Walker’s work and that of Craig Pike saves this from getting the “Red Face of Fury.”  

Began: March 30, 2019

Closes: April 14, 2019

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com

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At Factory Theatre, Mainspace.

Written by Lorena Gale

Directed by Mike Payette

Set and costumes by Eo Sharp

Lighting by David Perreault Ninacs

Choreographer, Ghislaine Doté

Original composition by Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble

Cast: Jenny Brizard

Chip Chuipka

Karl Graboshas

Olivier Lamarche

Omari Newton

PJ Prudat

France Rolland

A fascinating play given a maddening production that buries the play under over-direction and a sound scape score that distracts from everything.

 The Story. It’s based on the true story of Marie Joseph Angélique, a woman of colour from a small island off Portugal. The play takes place in the 18th century in New France, now Quebec.  Angélique is sold to François, a rich iron factory owner to help his wife Thérèse around the house. Thérèse says she doesn’t need help but François insists. We soon see why. He quietly forces himself on Angélique unbeknownst to his wife and of course Angélique must comply.

Angélique is paired with another slave named César from another household, in the hopes she will get pregnant so there will be more workers eventually. It also shows that these people of power treated their slaves like cattle.

Angélique has a relationship with Claude, a white labourer who promises her he will take her away from there.  The play certainly gives a clear, dark picture of how Canada  treated people of colour all those years ago. Slavery didn’t just take place south of the border.

Angélique and Claude eventually escaped with Claude thinking he knew the way to a new city but they get lost.  In the meantime all sorts of rumours arose as to where Angélique was. During her escape Montreal was destroyed by fire and Angélique was blamed. It wasn’t true.

The play shows the brutality of the times and how worthless the people in power considered people of colour.

 The Production.  The action takes place on a raised platform in Eo Sharp’s set. Characters enter and exit in areas to the side of the platform. Action also takes place on several ladders arranged around the space. . The Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble that created and plays the music is situated on a stage width section above the stage.

Much of the production drove me crazy.  It’s maddeningly over-directed by Mike Payette with actors seemingly constantly on the move on the set, scurrying up and down those ladders used for effect. At times the company walks on slowly as if in a funeral procession and then off stage. What is that about? The production is cluttered with this movement and focus is needed. The complex history and story are drowned out by the lack of focusing a scene while characters are talking, or there is too much movement for no reason, again, pulling focus.

The worst aspect is the almost constant playing of the sound scape created and played live by the Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble.  It’s all well played but why is almost every scene underscored, if not drowned out by this chiming, banging of drums and whacking of cymbals?  Why does a scene that takes place in the iron works factory need sound effects of tinkling bits of metal while characters are trying to converse? Why does the preparation of food need a sound effect underscoring that? The result is that too often the actors are drowned out and I don’t know what they are talking about.

There is a nice effect when Angélique is being beaten and it’s underscored with the whacking together of two blocks of wood. Very effective. But that is a rare moment of an appropriate sound cue. On the whole the production is maddening with this excessive sound.

However Jenny Brizard as Angélique is terrific. She has gumption, confidence and yet your heart sinks for her when François (Karl Graboshas) lurks in the darkness and softly calls her name, beckoning her to come to him. Brizard’s reaction to this creepy man indicates this is not the first time she has to fend off the man of the house. Such sexual abuse is like a cliché by now in this sad history. It’s Brizard detailed and nuanced performance that realizes the full horror of what Angélique had to endure.

Comment. The late Lorena Gale was a respected playwright. Angélique received many accolades. So it seems churlish to say that the script could stand some tightening and cutting. Do we really need to hear so many witnesses at the trial condemning Angélique for setting the fire? We get the point after three false witnesses. This is a quibble. The real problem for me is the over-direction and the intrusive sound scape.  I’d love to actually see and hear Angélique again, but with a different director who doesn’t get in the way of it and no musical accompaniment that overpowers it.

Factory Theatre, Obsidian Theatre present a Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre co-production.

Began: April 3, 2019.

Closes: April 21, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

www.factorytheatre.ca

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At Tarragon Theatre, Extraspace, Toronto, Ont.

 

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman

Directed by Richard Rose

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by André du Toit

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Columpa C. Bobb

Vivien Endicott-Douglas

Virgilia Griffith

Michaela Washburn

A complex look at women prisoners in the Canadian prison system and how everybody around them is affected as well. 

The Story. Sid and Brit are two young women in prison. Sid is overactive, combative and often gets into trouble with the Guard. She is punished with frequent visits to solitary. Brit seems to be a model prisoner. She is accused of murdering her husband but says it was self-defence and apparently it was. Every person referenced in the story is intricately entwined in the lives of Sid, Brit and Kit, who will join them later. How they endure, survive, engage and cope is what the play is about and more.

The Production. White pails dot the stage. The pails will be used as a toilet, seats, hiding places, even weapons.  Sid (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) and Brit (Virgilia Griffith) sit on two pails that have been turned upside down. They banter, joke and josh each other. As Sid, Vivien Endicott-Douglas has a goofy humour about her, always ready to joke and tease. But she can just as easily turn nasty, hard and combative. Sid usually saves this harsh behaviour for the Guard (Columpa C. Bobb) who is equally as hard-nosed. Brit is much softer, easy-going, positive thinking, As Brit, Virgilia Griffith’s softer manner is a balanced foil for the more abrasive Sid. You can see it must have taken a lot of abuse for Brit to act in what she says was self defence. Brit is graceful, Sid is jumpy and unpredictable.

The Guard, as played by Columpa C. Bobb, is a stereotypical unsmiling, unsentimental woman of power. She treats Sid roughly when she takes her to solitary. When Sid returns she is subdued, almost drugged.

The Guard also brings more and more pails on stage and arranges them around the set until it seems the space if packed with them. One wonders why director Richard Rose (or the playwright, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman?) chose to do this, until it comes clear later in the scene. They are a device used quite violently. It seems a long way to go for a device and a scene.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Virgilia Griffith and Michaela Washburn play other characters besides Sid, Brit and Kit respectively. It soon becomes clear in the narrative that almost every reference to another character in any of the three prisoner’s lives are all intertwined so intricately it’s like trying to take apart a spider’s web to see how they are all connected.

If I have a quibble it’s that the Guard has a soliloquy to the audience. Columpa C. Bobb tears up and explains how she is emotionally invested in her prisoner’s lives. The speech comes from nowhere. The Guard has not shown any of her guarded girls any compassion, softness, or tenderness, so the tears and emotion is unsupported. Perhaps another look at her character and her behaviour might be in order to create a more truthful, supported scene.

It is a brutal world that Richard Rose has created in his direction. There is some laughter, as Sid and Brit tease each other, but playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman is focusing on the dark, hard world of women’s prisons in Canada.

Comment. We’ve seen these kinds of gripping dramas before: initially naïve, young women are hardened by life in prison. The guards are brutal. There is no escaping this relentless overbearing power grinding them down. What Corbeil-Coleman does to elevate her play above the others is to show how intricately their lives are affected and intertwined. A young child who witnesses a physical beating of her mother, who then acts in self-defence to retaliate with drastic results, is affected by the murder as much as her parent. A parent suffering in prison and a child suffering elsewhere experience the same emotions and damages. It’s not just the person found guilty who is in prison who is suffering, it’s all those people who are connected to the prisoner who are as well. We sometimes forget that. Corbeil-Coleman in her gripping play, reminds us of that.

 Tarragon Theatre in Association with Green Light Arts presents:

Opened: April 3, 2019.

Closes: May 5, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

www.taragontheatre.com

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 At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anton Chekhov

Translation by Elisaveta Lavrova

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Scenographer, Trevor Schwellnus

Costumes by Ming Wong

Sound and composer, Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Steven Bush

Colin Doyle

Arsinée Khanjian

Tara Nicodemo

Oyin Oladejo

Keshia Palm

Cliff Saunders

Andrew Scorer

Alix Sideris

Courtney Stevens

Diana Tso

Aaron Willis

A beautiful looking production with a few good performances, but there were too many superficial performances to make this one fly.

 The Story. The Cherry Orchard is Chekhov’s 1903 brilliant classic of life in Russia with an aristocracy that clings to its archaic notions of land, tradition and entitlement. It’s about people who don’t and won’t understand the world in which they live, who cope with loss, loneliness and lack of love.

It also deals with people from the lower classes who through hard work and savvy rise up, take charge and control there lives, while still trying to get the landowner to pay attention.

Lyubov is the matriarch of the family. She returns from Paris after being away for five years to attend to the unavoidable problem of paying the mortgage for the family’s estate.

At the centre of it is the family’s beloved cherry orchard although its trees don’t bear fruit regularly. If they can’t pay the mortgage the estate will be put up for auction and sold.

Lopakhin was once a serf on that estate as was his father.  And while the aristocratic family find him to be loud and uncouth, he has become a rich man through hard work.  He suggests that the family chop down the cherry trees and build cottages to rent and thus pay for the debts and make money for the future.  They won’t hear of it.  The folly of this blinkered family.

The Production. It’s produced by Modern Times Stage Company now in it’s 30th year.

Its artistic director, and the director of this show is Soheil Parsa, a courtly, thoughtful man with a keen sense of artistry.  He and his scenographer the ever-inventive Trevor Schwellnus have created a simple but evocative set.  The action takes place on a raised platform with a large rug in the centre with smaller set pieces on which to sit arranged around the space, that also have various coverings on them.  At the back is a sky full of twinkling stars. There is a sense of faded former glory and vastness too with that sky.

Parsa has created a household full of people coming and going, hiding, confessing, looking for connection and frustration. It’s a large cast of varying abilities, resulting in too many varying results.

At the head of the household is Lyubov played by Arsinée Khanjian. Lyubov has this “glitter”about her that attracts all manner of people from peasants to hangers on etc. After all she’s just come back from Paris and there is this allure about her. None of that is present in Khanjian’s performance.  It’s superficial at best. Rather than being compelling Khanjian seems like a dowdy woman who whines all the time.

Lopakhin is played by Oyin Oladejo, an interesting bit of gender-bending casting. Besides being a woman Oladejo is also a woman of colour and I think that is a fascinating statement since Lopakhin had been treated with disdain because he was a lowly serf. Oladejo has that swagger of a man in control but also a heart who wants to help the family when he suggests they chop down the trees and build cottages.

As Trofimov, a perpetual student with a philosopher’s outlook on life, Aaron Willis has that confidence of a man who knows how to debate and defend himself. As Yasha, a hanger-on and opportunist, Colin Doyle has an easy arrogance. He looks down on everybody but with a ‘careless smile.’ It’s a beguiling performance.

The standout for me is Tara Nicodemo, as Varya, Lyubov’s adopted daughter. Varya takes care of the estate, she is really no more than a lowly servant.  Nicodemo is always in the moment, watchful, reacting, listening and present.

Much hope is put on Lupakhin proposing to her. You feel for her as she anticipates one thing with Lupakhin and has to deal with another result. It’s a performance full of detail, heart and ache.

Comment. There is much to commend this production, but in the end it stands and falls on Lyubov and the cast and this one doesn’t fully rise to the level it should.

Modern Times Stage Company in association with Crow’s Theatre:

Opened: March 29, 2019.

Closes: April 13, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours approx.

www.moderntimesstage.com

 

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At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lisa Ryder

Directed, choreographed by Monica Dottor

Set and costumes by Monica Dottor

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Sound by Richard Feren

Music by Richard Feren and Selina Martin

Cast: Tess Degenstein

Selina Martin

Jordan Pettle

Lisa Ryder

A wild, creative play about postpartum depression in a production that is compelling.

 The Story. NOTE: While the characters have been created by Selina Martin and Lisa Ryder, Lisa Ryder is writing about her own experience with postpartum depression after she had her first child.

Ryder says in her program note that she had been birthing the play for a long time, 13 years to be exact. She is an actress who had been in a sci-fi show for five years.  Within a year and a half of leaving the show she got married, moved to the suburbs of Vancouver and had a baby.

Within three days of having the baby her then husband, also an actor, left town for an acting job, leaving her with a colicky baby, a leaky roof she has to arrange to have fixed, and a profound lack of sleep that is perhaps driving her squirrely. Lisa Ryder has put all this in her play, plus a lot of compassion and humour.

In the play Alice has just had a baby and is stressed with lack of sleep and having to be alert for her cranky baby who doesn’t seem to sleep much.  Alice’s husband Guy is not painted as totally heartless.  He is loving, attentive, always urges her to get some rest.

But he is pre-occupied with going to his acting gig.  And there is the leak in the roof and he expects her to call the roofers and get them to fix it, and take care of the baby, and get rest.

Here is where things get wild. Alice tries to get some sleep when the two roofers arrive, wearing jumpsuits, glitter footwear, wild hair dos and goggles.  They are named Fluff Pup and Cloudy Twilight. They scurry around the furniture, jump on it, act weird. And they take a keen interest in the baby. Ones antennae goes up…who are these people? Are they trying to hurt the baby?

I think it’s obvious that Alice is hallucinating, conjuring these two weird roofers, she is so tired. And there are those thoughts when a new mother is so tired and overcome with taking care of this helpless baby that her thoughts might turn dark.

The Production. Director, Monica Dottor, establishes this darkness right from the get-go. A young woman with a baby in her arms approaches a line on the floor of the set and on the other side it says, Mind the Gap, as in the subway system in London.  The woman wavers, looks distraught, blank, whatever you think.  We hear the sound of a subway train approaching and the mother doesn’t look like it will end well. Just as quickly we go into the play specifically with Alice, her husband and the baby.

Humour is there between Alice and Guy and certainly with the loopy roofers, but we have been primed to be watchful for strange behaviour. If anything Alice is obsessed with listening to the device that can tell her if the baby is crying in another room. If she hears nothing she thinks something is wrong besides the child being asleep.

Director Monica Dottor is such a rock star of a director.  Here she is also the choreographer and designed the simple set and costumes—the wild roofers are hilarious. There are puff-ball clouds above the set, a simple well used sofa and a crib.

Dottor’s production is bold, lively, graceful, and sometimes over the top with the two loopy roofers. Because Dottor is also a choreographer, there is a fluidity to the movement: characters follow each other around almost like the Marx Brothers routine.

And because the cast is so well suited there is an abundance of humour to it all with that undercurrent of seriousness not far away.

As Alice, Tess Degenstein seems so drawn and tired, but still tries to put on a brave face. You do believe she is a stressed out new mother.  She is fearlessly protective of her baby with these two strange roofers.

Jordan Pettle is sweet as Guy the attentive husband, but then scattered and thoughtless when he can’t understand how overwhelmed she is. Both Lisa Ryder as Cloudy Twilight and Selina Martin as Fluff Pup are both loopy and forbidding in their wildly humorous turns as the two roofers. Their smiles seem demonic and not at all friendly.

Comment. We have read stories of new mothers doing harm to themselves and their babies because of postpartum depression and that thought is front and centre with that first scene with the mother, baby and oncoming subway train.

I love Lisa Ryder’s bravery in writing about this really important subject that does not get much attention. And she has written about it in such a compelling, inventive way.

I do have a concern. I thought that the hallucination scene went on too long.  It leaves Alice in a confused, vulnerable position without self-knowledge on how to deal with it.

When the hallucination ends and Guy comes home Alice seems happy for his return, but the play goes on with another scene that echoes the one at the beginning with a different result (I hope I’m being properly vague). I feel the ending is too abrupt and the result not actually earned. I think that needs a rethink and perhaps a tweak here or there. But on the whole, it’s a needed observation of a taboo subject. And it’s given a terrific production.

Nightwood Theatre and Bald Ego present:

Began: March 26, 2019.

Closes: April 14, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

www.nightwood.net

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At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Written by Nikolai Gogol

Adapted by Selma Dimitrijevic

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Sound by Joshua Doerksen

Cast: Izad Etemadi

Nicky Guadagni

Alana Hibbert

Tyrone Savage

Giovanni Spina

Rachel Vanduzer

Jean Yoon

A wild ride of a show. Nikolai Gogol puts his laser gaze on the world of the shyster and out scams the scammer (in this classic from 1840). Director Esther Jun has assembled a cast of smart, funny operators who blow open that world.

The Story. Iharev is so devoted to gambling that he even has his own special deck of cards. The better to win a game against various unsuspecting marks. His latest scam scored 80,000 rubles. He checks into a small hotel in a small town ready to scam more unsuspecting folks. He meets three gamblers in the hotel who tell him of a rich landowner, Mr. Glov who would be a perfect mark. So they decide to go into scheming to get Mr. Glov in a game of cards to relieve him of some of his money. But it doesn’t go according to plan. Or does it? Or who is zooming whom?? Gogol gets you again.

The Production. Designer Joe Pagnan has designed a kind of ‘peek-a-boo’ maroon coloured set of a hotel suite (a bedroom and living room). The bedroom is partially hidden by a wall but you can still see what’s going on there through a doorway. The layout gives it a sense of mystery—and isn’t cheating at cards based on mystery? The maroon colour gives it a kind of brothel feel to it, that what goes on there is often not very nice. I love the whole look of it. There is a bed in the bedroom and in the main room a table with some chairs and a white covering. The furnishings etc. gave it a Russian feel to it.

Iharev is  played by a very dashing Tyrone Savage with a jaunty mustache, dapper, fitted suit, coat, vest and shirt and pants. (Kudos to costume designer, Michelle Bohn who captures the flair for clothes of high rollers.) Iharev checks his decks of cards that he keeps in a suitcase and ensures that his decks are used in the games.

He enlists the aid of a smooth talking, agreeable but questionable man named Alexei Zamukhryshkin (Izad Etemadi) who works for the hotel and will set up the card game. Izad Etemadi plays Alexei like a watchful imp of a man. When Alexei watches the card game his eyes widen. No one can widen eyes, say nothing, and bring the house down like Ezad Etemadi. He swigs right from the various wine bottles as he tries to guess who will succumb first in the various scams going on, Iharev or the marks he thinks he’s playing cards with.

Each character is created with a large roster of tricks, tics, and loads of details. Glov (the main mark), is beautifully played by Nicky Guadagni (a woman). Glov wears a stylish suit and his coat is draped around his shoulders. He is like a wise old man (only played convincingly by a woman). His moustache flops, his white hair is short. Guadagni plays a good natured father who laments of his children. Alana Hibbert plays Shvonev, a shark watching to see who is cheating whom. Hibbert is joined by Rachel Vanduzer as Krugel, very laid-back, hands always in ‘his’ pockets, who everyone thinks is German. Vanduzer is quiet but sizes people up. Giovanni Spina plays Gavryushka and Glov Jr.  Spina is the obsequious servant when playing Gavryushka, and the confident rich kid when playing Glov Jr.  Jean Yoon plays Uteshitelny (a man) with quick wit, quick movements like a person eluding being trapped and caught. Why cast women to play men’s parts in this case? Because it’s part of the world of the trick.

Once again director Esther Jun stages her actors to scurry around the set like so many farcical characters, following each other trying to keep up. Her subtle stage business also brings out the humour of the piece. For example, Alexei sits in a chair upstage,  taking everything in with the scamming, eating chips, swigging wine, but never pulling focus (at one point a cork pops adding humour perfectly to a moment).  But she also directs the cast to be seriously in the moment—comedy is serious business, if you telegraph the joke, it will fail. It’s always a pleasure to see the work of this gifted director—it gets better and better.

Comment. Nikolai Gogol didn’t write many plays. His most famous is The Government Inspector, also about duping a whole lot of people who seem to want to be duped. It’s about using the system to get ahead and if chicanery is called for then all the better. He writes of not very nice people who act badly to each other; are always trying to get ahead with their next scheme; who fail sometimes but keep on going.

In The Gamblers we have a variation on the theme of scamming the scammers. Each character does not seem to have any redeeming quality except charm and even charisma. Charm and charisma  are  always good. Besides we do spend a lot of time in the theatre with characters we wouldn’t spend time with in ‘real’ life and seem to enjoy it. Richard III anyone? Dracula? I rest my hand-bag.

In The Gamblers we almost feel sorry for Iharev as he is duped by six or seven people and is so upset about it. The irony is that he doesn’t see that he is as guilty as the parties who stole from him. The scheme to give Iharev his comeuppance is so masterful in its creation and so perfectly executed we are never actually sure who is being duped. That often keeps the audience on its toes. I like that and when you have a director like Esther Jun so in tune with the wild world of Gogol and a cast as gifted as this one that finds the truth and humour in every cranny of that world, the result is a sparkling yet dark romp of a comedy. But I wouldn’t want to play cards with any of them.

 Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: March 29, 2019.

Closes: April 6, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tift.ca

 

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