by Lynn on January 8, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Good Morning, Viet Mom

 Written and performed by Franco Nguyen

Directed by Byron Abalos

Franco Nguyen is a charmer. He begins his sweet show by saying he’s not Chinese. And repeating it so it sinks in and the audience starts to think about what Mr. Nguyen is saying. He’s Vietnamese. He then pronounces his name correctly as well as the many ways it’s been mispronounced.

This is Mr. Nguyen’s journey and that of his fractured family from Vietnam to Canada. It’s the story of his stalwart mother, his absent father and how he (Nguyen)  negotiates between living his life independently and living his life at thirty years old, while still living at home with his mother.

Initially he admits that he is still living at home with a touch of embarrassment. At the end of the journey the embarrassment is replaced with love and pride. Nguyen has an easy way with his humour. It’s never abrasive or harsh. He is not an angry son, just a frustrated one. He was embarrassed to have to translate for his non-English-speaking Mom, but his telling of the various stories is told with kindness and sweetness.

Lovely show. Director Byron Abalos moves Mr. Nguyen around the set sparingly, but enough for the action not to be static. And Abalos aids in keeping the tone lively but not extreme.  I will look out for Franco Nguyen in future.

Rumspringa Break!

Book by Matt Murray

Music by Colleen Dauncey

Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal

Director, Steve Gallagher

Choreographer, Kirstyn Russelle

Rumspringa Break!  Is about two young Amish sisters, Hannah and Ruth, who want to take a break (Rumspringa Break) and experience the world before they are baptised into the church. They plan to visit a cousin in the big city. When they get there the cousin has gone to Florida. The sisters plan to make this into a positive move and depend on the kindness of strangers to take them in. And they do. And the strangers are drug dealers. And one of the sisters is good with plants and helps bring the drug dealer’s plants back to life. We know what kind of plants they are. And it’s a musical.  And it’s wonderful.

Matt Murray’s book is fresh and original and bursting with humour and insightful musings on the human condition, families, responsibility and love in the strangest places. Colleen Dauncey’s music is tuneful and melodic and Akiva Romer-Segal’s lyrics are fine in establishing the tone, mood and world of that show, although a few of the songs seem out of place and unnecessary.

Giving new meaning to sisterly love are: Georgia Bennett as Ruth, supposedly the clingy, insecure sister who blossoms before our eyes into a confident grower of ‘weed’, who also sings like a dream, and Arinea Hermans as Hannah, the in-control-sister who took care of everybody and resented it, until she was shunted aside. Hermans also sings and acts beautifully. Steve Gallagher directed this (double-duty with Birthday Balloon) again showing a sense of flow, pacing and serving the story.

A smart, inventive story with a terrific score.

Leila Live!

Written and performed by Leila

Directed by Leila’s Mother

Designed by Leila

The charming and diminutive Leila greets those lining up to get into her show, taking selfies along the way. She wears her traditional flowing head scarf, a bold patterned two piece ensemble and her full black beard is nicely trimmed. Once the show started she panned her dark demur eyes over the crowd and fluttered her eyelashes at a few selected men, asking one, “Are you Persian?” He was and then became her willing participant.

Leila tells of her adventures with Jane on the internet. They become fast friends and Leila is invited to a party at Casa Loma. I won’t go further except to say that things don’t work out as planned.

What one can expect from Leila Live! is that you will laugh at the wild sense of humour of Leila and the disarming charm in which she tells her story and plays her audience. We also get a primer in Persian culture and why we Canadians don’t get it, but with Leila’s help that will change.

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