by Lynn on May 12, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer


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

Created and directed by Judith Thompson
Set by Brett Haynes
Costumes by Denis Huneault-Joffre
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Song composer, Victoria Carr
Choreography by Allen Kaeja and Karen Kaeja
Cast: Sarah Carney
Nicholas Herd
Michael Liu
Dylan Harman Livaja
Suzanne Love
Krystal Hope Nausbaum
Andreas Prinz

An unsettling look into the dark treatment of people at a mental institute that considered them to be idiots, that asks gritty questions, performed by a compelling group of actors.

Comment. With Wildfire, Judith Thompson’s latest creation, she continues to challenge our perceptions, conceptions and assumptions. In this instance her focus continues to put a human face on ones definition of ‘disability’ in general, and Down Syndrome in particular through her RARE Theatre Company. In the past, the company has presented plays performed by people with varying degrees of abilities, including Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder. With Wildfire all the actors live with Down Syndrome.

The backdrop of the story is the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia for developmentally delayed patients. The Centre was built in 1876. The treatment of its patients was despicable.

The Production. Two cots, each with a thin mattress and a thin blanket are up at the back of the set with various props on each. Suspended above the stage are seven white ‘smocks.’ When the cast reach up to pull down the smocks and put them on, they then become patients at the Huronia Regional Centre.

The cast of seven stand in several lines, face the audience directly and enumerate how they have been treated, including being called an imbecile and an idiot. They tell the audience how society, family and others have treated them. The writing is spare, concise and almost “point form” as the dialogue passes smoothly from actor to actor, “randomly” in their formation, as each speaks a word or thought and is picked up by another actor.

They pose thorny questions one of which is, what if a person with Down Syndrome and one who is ‘normal’ fall in love? What would be the implications? What if these two people were the same sex? The cast enact a play within the play. A scene from Romeo and Juliet is enacted with two men—Andreas Prinz and Dylan Harman Livaja—as the two star-crossed lovers. It is poignant, tender and illuminating.

Krystal Hope Nausbaum, who has acted in other RARE productions, did what any actress worth her salt would do when she was preparing to play a patient at Huronia, she went there to do research. Nausbaum is a diminutive dynamo with a quiet command. She describes the place in chilling detail, especially the cemetery. There are many graves with the number of the patient but no name on the grave marker. Some have no information at all.

The cast corrects this omission when they each hold a cardboard sign with the name and date of birth and death of seven people who were ‘imprisoned’ there. The signs are left in view for us to ponder. You swallow hard at that.

Comment. As with other RARE productions, the camaraderie of the group is heart-warming and impressive. At one point in a group setting, Dylan Harman Livaja put his arm around Andreas Prinz and Livaja’s fingers subtly tapped on Prinz’s shoulder, perhaps in a quiet signal? Support? Livaja also spoke to Prinz quietly, perhaps giving instruction of what to do? Comment? I am assuming. But the support of these two actors is impressive, and it applies to the whole group.

There is much to learn from these actors: to listen, hear, observe, ponder, watch, be unsettled and be moved. Most important I think is patience. Sometimes an actor pauses to find his/her line (they are not forgetting, they are processing). We see the ‘struggle’ to get the line. We wait patiently, confident the actor/actress will find it. The message is not diluted by the pauses. And the patience is rewarded.

Wildfire is important and their message is delivered by a group of seven actors who speak with authority and hard-earned experience. See it.

Presented by RARE Theatre Company

Began: May 2, 2017.
Saw it: May 6, 2017.
Closes: May 20, 2017.
Running Time: 75 minutes.

Liars at a Funeral.

At St. Vladimir Theatre, 620 Spadina Ave., Toronto, Ont.
Written by Sophia Fabiilli
Directed by Ali Joy Richardson
Set and wardrobe by Lindsay Woods
Sound by Nicholas Potter
Lighting by Steph Raposo.
Cast: Rhea Akler
John Healy
Ruby Joy
Daniel Pagett
Terry Tweed

An ambitious, often funny play about family secrets and squabbles.

The Story
. We are in a funeral home for Mavis’ funeral. The family is gathering which will be tricky because no one seems to be talking to each other. Mavis’ daughter Evelyn is divorced and her ex-husband Frank will be there. Evelyn has a secret that only her friend Frank seems to know (he’s there too to give Evelyn moral support). Evelyn’s twin daughters DeeDee and Mia haven’t spoken to each other in years. Mia hasn’t seen the family for years. She has a surprise to tell them. All the characters have secrets. There is one whopping lie but the rest of the stuff are secrets.

The Production. Playwright Sophia Fabiilli has set herself a daunting task: to create a play in which four of the five actors play two parts and in one case, the two parts are identical twins. Director Ali Joy Richardson is certainly up to the challenge, as is the energetic cast.

We are in a funeral home. Mavis’ gleaming casket is raised on a table in front of us waiting for the guests to arrive. Evelyn (Rhea Akler) is the first to show up with her friend Frank (John Healy). She has an urgent request of him. He’s surprised and so are we. (no I won’t tell you what the surprise is.)

In swift succession an actress with her hair down, looking scruffy exits over here and a few seconds later re-enters over there with her hair up, looking spiffy and pregnant. Kudos to Ruby Joy who plays the identical twins DeeDee and Mia. A timid, awkward, glasses-adjusting, quiet man who works in the funeral home, exist stiffly and re appears over here as a loud fellah with no glasses, an easy but grating manner. Kudos to Daniel Pagett for the distinguishing details of his characters, Quint of the funeral home and Cam of the loud-mouth.

John Healy plays both a drunk, philandering ex-husband named Bruce and a solid friend named Frank. Rhea Akler plays Leorah as a hair flipping, over-sexed funeral home director, and a skittish Evelyn. Well sure she’s skittish—she has her secret she must keep; her mother has died; and her twin daughters who have no spoken in years are expected and she’s a wreck.

In this mad-cap comedy even Mavis appears. Terry Tweed plays her with spunk, confidence and a real cough that is worrying but seems to fit with the nature of the character.

Comment. While Liars at a Funeral does have its humorous moments, I can’t help but think that Sophia Fabiilli tries a bit too hard to be funny and complex with her dizzying play. Still it’s a brave, almost fearless effort, so kudos for that too.

Truth ‘n Lies Theatre presents.

Began: May 5, 2017.
Saw it: May 7, 2017.
Closes: May 14, 2017.
Cast: 5; 2 men, 3 women.
Running Time: approx. 2 hours.

It’s All Tru

Written and directed by Sky Gilbert
Set by Denise Lisson
Lighting by Oz Weaver
Costumes by Elizabeth Traicus
Cast: David Coomber
Caleb Olivieri
Tim Post

A disappointment in part because the story is so clichéd; the revelations are too obvious as is the direction and in one case the dialogue is almost incomprehensible because the actor mumbles and doesn’t project.

NOTE: It’s All Tru is not to be confused with Jason Sherman’s 1999 play, It’s All True, about Orson Welles’ efforts to produce the Marc Blitzstein musical, The Cradle Will Rock.

The Story. Travis is a young actor who is engaged to Kurt, his former drama teacher. They are planning their wedding in a month and a half. But, well, uh, it seems that Travis got lonely when Kurt went on a trip, and well, uh, he partook of the pleasures of a street boy. It seems that Travis and Kurt have a sort of open relationship in which one or the other might have sex with someone else but they aren’t supposed to tell the partner really but should make sure they are taking the various meds necessary in the time of AIDS. In any case Travis tells Kurt the truth and says he had sex and the street boy did wear a condom but then when Travis looked behind him, the guy was not wearing a condom. Then the street boy, named Gideon shows up one night when Travis isn’t there but Kurt is and Gideon just wanted to drop off a keep sake of their time together. Kurt is mighty upset. Travis and Kurt thrash it out. Kurt has his own secrets. This triangle of relationships is being tugged and it’s coming apart.

The Production. Denise Lisson’s pristine, elegant set of Kurt’s beautifully appointed home is created with the simplest of props. A chaise downstage left is framed in floor light. There is a side table with a few perfectly placed knickknacks A counter stage right is empty except for a silver trivet and silver bowl of chilli. Up stage is a long, grey table with two chairs, and plates at either end and a vase with about 6 lilies in the centre of the table. Each set piece is subtly illuminated by Oz Weaver.

Kurt (Tim Post) is fastidious in his home. Everything is perfectly in its own space. He is exuberant in his greeting of Travis (David Coomber) because Kurt has been away on business. Travis is just as exuberant and a bit flirty. Travis also has a confession and once David Coomber as Travis attends to the awkward dialogue on the page, and his awkward performance as directed by Sky Gilbert, Travis manages to finally blurt out that he had a one night stand with a street boy. And yes the guy wore a condom at the beginning, but then, well, uh, hehehehe, it seems when Travis turned around, the guy was not wearing a condom. He doesn’t know what happened or how that came about.

Kurt was not worried because he was sure that Travis was taking the various medications for possible HIV they had both agreed to take. Right? Heheheh, uh, well, again Travis is awkward when he says that no he had not been taking it but promised to go to the hospital and fill the prescription immediately.

When Gideon (Caleb Olivieri) the street boy arrives at Kurt’s house late that night looking for Travis, Kurt is none too pleased. Gideon inveigles his way into the house. He wears scruffy, torn jeans, a jacket and t-shirt and carries a small backpack with various stuffed toys in it and a precious rock for Travis and a piece of glass from an old theatre. Much of what Caleb Olivieri says is unintelligible either because he mumbles or he doesn’t project.

Kurt is firm in telling Travis about the visit and that Travis must never have that man in the house nor must Gideon be encouraged. And while Travis tries his best to do it, Gideon comes around the next day and makes himself at home, putting his take out coffee cup on the pristine table when he leaves. So we know how important this cup is director Sky Gilbert has it illuminated. There is no way that Kurt could miss seeing it when he comes home. By the same token, there is no way that Travis would have missed it either—he spends so much time cleaning the immaculate counter in the kitchen and then the table while Gideon is there. (sigh).

There is discussion about why Gideon took off the condom. He says that Travis told him too. Travis denies it, but seems unsure. Kurt decides to handle it in his abrupt way. Travis seems confused and Gideon is frantic about what might happen to him.

Comment. What seems painfully obvious in this painfully obvious play is that nothing is true. There is no truth in the relationship between Travis and Kurt; there is no effort for taking responsibility in sex and after. Travis lies about filling the prescription for the needed drugs to be safe. He lies when he invites Gideon in. Gideon might be lying about why he took off the condom. Kurt lies in his own way as well.

When we find out in about three minutes of their appearance that two characters are lying, then trusting those characters becomes a waste of time. We find out a bit later not to trust Kurt. While it is possible to have compassion for a loathsome character, I think it’s stretching one’s patience when we are expected to have compassion for three loathsome characters in a three character play.

I also think it really dangerous for a playwright to direct his own play. Who will tell the playwright to cut or re-write? Who will tell a director that no, you do not need to have such elaborate set changes? Not a happy night in the theatre.

The Cabaret Company presents:

From: May 3, 2017.
Saw it: May 10, 2017.
Closes: May 14, 2017.
Cast: 3 men.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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