Search: tweet

At Wychwood Barnes, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Lindsay Goodtimes and Holly Treddenick

Directed by Monica Dottor

Set by Kelsey Carrier

Sound by Monica Dottor

Lighting by Ian Goodtimes

Costume by Tanis Sydney McArthur

Glorious!!!

This show was for wee ones from 9 months to three years old. (I just got in under the wire). It’s a contemporary circus show about two baby birds who are born at the same time, discover each other, learn to play and fly.

The children sit around a large circle outlined in material. A magical tree made of ropes is in the centre of the circle. A sturdy branch pokes out and a nest is on either side of the branch, held up by ropes.

When the show starts we see movement in the nests. Something is encased in a flexible covering and is moving and bursting to get out. When these birds to break out of their

‘eggs’ they do it to the wonderful “Flower Duet from Lakmé. The birds stretch, move and grow into the world to this incredible music. The two birds are in very colourful body suits, one red and one blue. The rise up and swing on the ropes holding the nests. They communicate with a simple “Tweet, Tweet”. Pretty soon they pull beautiful brightly coloured material out of their nests and throw them into the air to land on the floor. This is followed by long, slinky scarves and feathers. The music of Mozart and Elgar is played and there is a rousing rendition of “Rockin’ Robin” to boot.

It was directed with whimsy, wit and imagination by the always creative Monica Dottor.

What a wonderful addition Tweet Tweetwas to the Wee Festival. It only played this weekend. It was produced by Femmes du Feu. Look out for this group. They are wonderful.

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At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Rob Kempson
Set and costumes by Anna Treusch
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: Alison Deon
Daniel Ellis
Rose Napoli

The last in a trilogy of plays dealing with power in education and the various dilemmas that arise when students, parents and teachers engage and clash. Rob Kempson always creates challenging situations in his plays. Lots to ponder in this one.

The Story. Gabriella is a single parent and a math teacher. She is ready to go a bit wild and joins the world of Instagram with the intension of hooking up with a man for some dating fun. She has met someone on the internet and a rendezvous has been arranged. Gabriella is thrilled with the constant tweets and notices from her impending date. Her friend Susan is a substitute teacher and guidance counsellor in the same school where Gabriella teaches. She is single and pregnant. There is no man involved. Susan wants to be a parent and went to a clinic so that could happen naturally. Jackson is a teenager in the school where both women teach. He is not doing well in trigonometry and needs a high mark in order to win a sports scholarship. Gabriella is Jackson’s math teacher. The three characters are joined in their own way like a triangle.

The Production. The set by Anna Treusch is terrific. The audience is on either side of the playing area. Extensive mathematical formulae are painted in white on one (black) wall and over most of the (black) floor of the playing area. There is a long table in the centre of the space and a chair. As Susan, Alison Deon sits in the chair nibbling her sandwich. Susan is obviously pregnant and is hungry all the time. I’ve never seen a grownup nibble as sparingly as Alison Deon does on that sandwich. Just an observation. As Gabriella, Rose Napoli bursts into the room, cell phone in hand, thumbing out her messages and texts, delighting in every reply. Napoli is gleeful and pre-occupied with her Instagram friend but still gives Susan some of her attention.

When Gabriella interacts with Jackson, Napoli is formidable. Sharp, abrasive, almost condescending and combative. Jackson has put Gabriella in a corner and she fights like a tiger to get out of it. As Jackson, Daniel Ellis has that easy grace of a teen in control, who knows how to navigate his techno world at the expense of someone who doesn’t. Jackson has that sense of entitlement that is exasperating and frightening because the education system has changed to the point that the student and the unseen parents have the power. Jackson is also in his own tight corner. He needs to get that scholarship or his parents will really put the screws on him, or so he says to his teachers. In his dealings with Susan Jackson again regains the upper hand. He is not insecure when he faces her, even when she drops her bombshell of information. He is in control. Alison Deon, as Susan on the other hand is hesitant, awkward and certainly at a disadvantage. If I have a quibble, it’s that Rob Kempson has written Susan as too awkward and stammering. Her inarticulation slows down the pace and makes the scene frustrating to listen to. I don’t think that’s the intent. I can appreciate that Susan is certainly in an awkward position when dealing with Jackson but I think with less stammering and inarticulation, the same effect can be achieved and still grip the audience.

Rob Kempson also directs his play. He does it with great style and pacing that accelerates over the fast 75 minutes of the play. He knows how to establish each dynamic of this triangle.

Comment. I wish my high school trigonometry class, eons ago, was as bracing, intriguing and compelling as Rob Kempson’s play Trigonometry. This is the third in his Graduation Plays. In each play he creates a series of problems with a different focus but always set in the world of education. Kempson knows whereof he speaks because not only is he an accomplished playwright, he is also a substitute teacher in the education system.

Kempson has packed Trigonometry full of dilemmas that each character in this triangle creates for the others. Is it too much? Perhaps, but the result certainly leaves one with a lot to ponder in trying to figure out how various situations could be solved or dealt with. He certainly has created a world that is frighteningly credible. With Jackson we see a savvy student who almost defines a sense of entitlement. He is tech smart and knows how to navigate that world. Gabriella is the neophyte navigating the internet and Instagram world without a clear sense of the implications. But in her world as teacher she is formidable. Susan is emotionally needy. All three play the other in shifting the angles on this triangle. Sometimes it’s breathtaking in the execution. It is always engrossing.

Timeshare Presents:

First performance: March 16, 2017.
I saw it: March 18, 2017.
Closes: March 25, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.trigonometrytheplay.com

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Review: JOHN

by Lynn on February 3, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Jonathan Goad
Set and costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Sound by Michael Laird
Cast: Nancy Beatty
Nora McLellan
Philip Riccio
Loretta Yu

John is a play about relationships, loneliness, trust, truth, friendship, kindness and mystery. It’s been given an exquisite production by director Jonathan Goad and his terrific cast.

The Story. Elias and his girlfriend Jenny arrive at Mertis Katherine Graven’s bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, ready to begin a little vacation in which Elias wants to visit the various Civil War battle sites in the area. Mertis (called ‘Kitty’) is an accommodating but odd woman. We learn quickly that all is not smooth in Elias and Jenny’s relationship. She’s got secrets and he seems a natural depressive and does not fully trust her. The house also holds mysteries and secrets of its own. And there is Genevieve, Kitty’s blind friend, who hears noises in the house that no one else hears. Welcome to the world of Annie Baker.

The Production. In true Baker form we never see John, and are not totally sure who he might be. There are two mysterious possibilities we learn over the course of the play. One of the beauties of the play is trying to parse through the information given to find the truth.

A red curtain surrounds the playing area as the audience files in to the theatre. When the play is about to begin, Mertis draws the curtain back revealing Shannon Lea Doyles’ wonderful set of Kitty’s living room and the breakfast room. Every surface is packed with ‘chatchkes’, miniature doll figurines, dolls of various sizes, pictures of dolls, lamps, an upright piano. A sofa, chairs, stuff. The Breakfast Room has several tables and chairs with a small fridge up at the back and a shelving unit with cups, mugs, cereals etc. There is a small model of the Eiffel Tower on one of the tables, hence the room is called the Paris Room.

Kitty is taking care of her sick husband George whom we never see. We learn quickly that all is not smooth in Elias and Jenny’s relationship. She’s got secrets that she doesn’t tell Elias and he seems a natural depressive and does not fully trust her. The house also holds mysteries and secrets of its own. Kitty bristles subtly when she finds out that Jenny went into one of the rooms that is off limits.

And there is Genevieve, Kitty’s blind friend who hears noises in the house that no one else hears. She also thought she was going mad because she felt she was being bedevilled by her late husband John’s spirit so she checked herself into the hospital to cope. Welcome to the world of Annie Baker.

This is certainly a challenging play we are blessed to have a gifted director in Jonathan Goad and a wonderful cast. We know of Jonathan Goad’s wonderful acting abilities from his work at the Stratford Festival and elsewhere. Amazingly, this is his first effort at directing. It’s thoughtful, polished, intelligent and so knowing about the play and its quirks. There are a lot of pauses and silence in an Annie Baker play as the actors take their time in building moments and reveal their character’s inner selves. Goad gives them and the play the room needed to breathe. Baker is as challenging for the audience as she is for actors playing in her plays.

Because her scenes unfold and evolve slowly her plays can last three hours or even longer, and each moment is vital in building the atmosphere of the scene, or reveal something of a character or moment.

For example, Elias looks around the breakfast (Paris) room to see where things are. He makes himself a bowl of cereal and pours the milk and then eats his cereal by first sucking the milk out of the spoon then chomping on the rest of the crunchy cereal.
Since he’s alone in the room we see this first to establish this quirk.

When Jenny joins him after that, it drives her crazy and she gently tells him after he goads her. We can see how annoying that could be. It takes and needs time to be revealed.

The acting is fabulous. It’s a cast of four and each one shines. Philip Riccio plays the mournful, depressive Elias with an almost fastidiousness in his self-absorption. It’s easy to be annoyed by Elias because of the uncompromising way that Riccio plays him.

Loretta Yu plays Jenny with a different kind of angst. She has secrets that she is keeping from Elias and she has to lie about them in order to save the relationship. One wonders if Elias wants to safe it too, what with all his chipping away at her. Jenny does an interesting job of trying to cover up and hide her secrets, at the same time, letting Elias and us know she is irritated by him.

Nancy Beatty as Kitty, is an optimistic, accommodating host, but clearly lets us know things are not as rosy as we are led to believe in that house. Her smile is tight but her eyes are fearful. But Beatty has moments of breathtaking joy when simple things fill her full of pleasure. And Nora McLellan is masterful in the part of the odd friend, Genevieve. Genevieve is blind and wears sunglasses. McLellan is absolutely still on a sofa, facing us.

Every line is beautifully paced and so wildly funny because of the pacing, and deliberate way McLellan speaks, frames her jokes and sets us up. From her first line we are primed to pay close attention to this compelling woman she is so funny and odd. In a way it’s a ‘sucker part,’ a gift. The beauty is that McLellan never overplays it. She is always understated and focused.

Comment
. At 35 years old, Annie Baker is a force in the theatre. Her plays are substantial with a distinct voice and focus. They have won all manner of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for The Flick—fantastic play about an old fashioned cinema and the film geeks who work there.

Each successive play has the same characteristics of characters that are deeply drawn and quirky dealing with real issues. But each new play is totally fresh and provocative.

Annie Baker’s plays are substantial. They are not for those who want their plays over in 90 minutes. They are not for those who think in tweets. Annie Baker’s world is full of quirky characters with weighty issues that they think about long and deeply. Her plays are full of pauses that might remind some of Harold Pinter, fragmented thoughts and ideas reminiscent of Edward Albee and head-shaking juxtapositions in language as found in the works of Caryl Churchill. But in truth Annie Baker’s plays are totally like no one else but Annie Baker. She has a definitive but subtle voice that is enhanced by the silences that envelope many of her scenes. They are deceptive in that one might be fooled into thinking nothing is happening. In truth everything is happening. The trick is this that when a scene seems to linger in languid action but no speech and one is tempted to turn off, that is when one must be most watchful. Baker is ‘talking’, saying volumes. Her characters and themes are illuminated in those silences.

Elias noisily eating his cereal; Jenny curled up in her blankets trying to get warm; Genevieve behind dark glasses quietly, methodically letting us in on her mysterious way of thinking; these are small moments that are resounding.

Annie Baker’s plays are not for those who want their plays over in 90 minutes. They are not for those who think in tweets. For those serious about their theatre, the payoff is enormous.

The Company Theatre Presents:

Opened: Jan. 31, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 19, 2017.
Cast: 4; 1 man, 3 women
Running Time: 3 hours, 10 minutes.

www.companytheatre.ca

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Comment: Swan

by Lynn on November 14, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont,

Written and directed by Aaron Jan
Set and costumes by Aram Heydarian
Lighting by Samuel Chang
Sound by Kevin Feliciano
Cast: Michelle Chiu
Isabel Kanaan
Bria McLaughlin
Marina Moreira
Christine Nguyen
Angela Sun

A very ambitious attempt at looking at the outsider in society and its consequences that could do with another rewrite to clarify and a seasoned director to clear up the clutter.

The Story. Six friends from high school reunite to talk about what happened years before. In high school they were considered outsiders either because they were lesbians or because of their ethnicity. They decided to do one good deed per month. One project was to find out who was responsible for killing a swan so brutally. They never could solve that mystery in high school. Years later they revisit that question to solve it once and for all. Deep-seated animosity of some of the group comes to the surface. They are all shaken by that and by the discovery of who was responsible for other troubling events.

The Production. The main playing area is a raised square wood platform. Around that are strategically placed mounds of (swan?) feathers. Over the course of the play there are sound effects of babbling water, birds tweeting, and an undercurrent of rumbling when director Aaron Jan wants to emphasize a sense of foreboding.

Aaron Jan’s direction is busy most of the time and frantically busy some of the time. When a character speaks she jumps onto the platform, faces the audience and speaks the lines, often at breakneck speed, suggesting the urgency of the thought, then jumps off. At times the jumping onto and off of the platform looks more like a gymnastic exercise rather than acting in a play. The result is complete annoyance. Action/dialogue also happens around the platform, but most of the time it’s on it. It’s a particularly awkward way of staging scenes. Also too often the various actresses playing the six characters sink into screeching the lines, again, when the character is excited, rendering the dialogue incomprehensible. I wish Aaron Jan had simplified the staging by getting rid of the platform and helping his cast to stop flapping their arms in wild emotion and calm the screeching.

Comment. I can appreciate a young theatre artist such as Aaron Jan wants to make his mark and have his say. I have no problem with that. My concern is that Mr. Jan is both the playwright and director and in both cases the writer needs a ruthless editor and the director needs to rein in his penchant for over-staging. In such cases the director suggests cuts to the play or at least questions the playwright. Similarly the playwright might query the director on the usefulness of some staging. But if the playwright and the director are the same person well then editing the script and simplifying the direction/staging aren’t going to happen, are they?

Aaron Jan’s script is unwieldy because of the excessive use of narrative to describe scenes or the actions of characters. One wonders if they are hearing the reading of a novel or actually watching a play. The dialogue is packed with accusations about the incidents and happenings of years before. I found the play bogged down in an ever complicated story without much point to it, longing for the conclusion.

I can appreciate Mr. Jan wanting to write a play that reflects the stories of people of colour or a certain ethnicity. Swan is not the best example of that wish. I hope that when Mr. Jan writes his next play, he has a trusted editor, and that when tempted to direct his own play he resists temptation.

Presented by Little Black Afro.

Opened: Nov. 4, 2016.
Saw it: Nov. 5, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 13, 2016.
Cast: 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours + approx.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2589371

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At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by François Archambault
Translated by Bobby Theodore
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Sound Design by Verne Good
Set, costumes and projection design by Denyse Karn
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Cast: Michela Cannon
Mark McGrinder
Nancy Palk
Kimwun Perehinec
R.H. Thomson

An exquisite play and production about memory, forgetting, patience, remembering and love.

The Story. Edouard Beauchemin is a celebrated professor, a television personality and fiercely believes in a sovereign Quebec. He knows his history; can philosophise eloquently, and can remember things from years ago. But he can’t remember what he had for breakfast. And once he discourses on a subject, he repeats the same speech, with the same enthusiasm, minutes later, forgetting that he just said the same thing moments before.

We know what is happening to Edouard. His patient wife, Madeleine knows what is happening, and eventually so does Edouard. Edouard and Madeleine refer to it as “his disease”, never the actual name. Interesting detail, that.

Taking care of a person with Edouard’s condition takes its toll and Madeleine needs a break. Madeleine takes Edouard to their daughter, Isabelle’s house so she, Madeleine, can take a few days for herself. This proves problematic as Isabelle, a reporter, has to go and cover a flood away from home. Her new partner, Patrick, offers to take care of Edouard. Patrick has to remind Edouard who he is so often Patrick takes to wearing a post-it note with his name on it. Matters get complicated when Patrick decides to go to a poker game and leave Edouard in the care of his daughter Berenice. Patrick and Berenice have a prickly relationship at the best of times and this arrangement doesn’t help, even if Patrick is paying Berenice to do it. To complicate matters further Edouard thinks Berenice is his late daughter.

The Production. Denyse Karn’s set is stylish and spare. The floor is hardwood. There is a couch, centre and a moveable, square foot rest that is often used as a seat. There is a slight incline across the width of the stage on which is a bench and a lush background of forest and occasional projections of tree branches swaying in a breeze. Nature, plants and trees are important to Edouard. He knows the names of the various vegetations around the property. He finds peace here.

We are introduced to Edouard and Madeleine he is ebullient, articulate and expansive when talking about his knowledge of history, dates and wars. Madeleine is patient and gently teases him about his slipping memory, but is aware it’s serious.

R.H. Thomson as Edouard and Nancy Palk as Madeleine have a comfortable rapport. This is a couple who understand and know each other intimately and lovingly. But we know there is trouble when the smiles and easy teasing stops, Palk looks out in a moment of isolation and her face is a subtle crease of concern.

R.H. Thomson has described the part as climbing a mountain. He does it beautifully. This is a nuanced, detailed, thoughtful performance of a man who is slowly forgetting everything he knows and matters to him. A furrowed brow here, fear in the eyes there, the need to furiously write things down so as to keep the memory, all go into creating a character we want to know and not lose.

You get the clear sense of Isabelle’s unsettled world in the fine performance of Kimwun Perehinec. She is trying to make a new relationship work. She is torn by having to leave to cover a story. She is frustrated by her parents and we sense a tension there. It’s all in this performance.

As Patrick, Mark McGrinder is low key, patient, and hiding secrets from Isabelle. The easy-going nature hides deeper concerns for Patrick. He’s not working and he’s not trying to find a job.

As Berenice, Michela Cannon captures the quick impatience of a generation used to instant results. She furiously taps on her cell phone, texting, checking her messages, rarely looking up, easily impatient and totally uninterested in taking care of a man who can’t remember anything. For a member of the most wired generation of history, Berenice seems oblivious to Edouard’s disease. Berenice does change when she does ‘play’ out the notion that Edouard thinks she is his late daughter. Berenice is calmer, more patient when dealing with Edouard and they develop a kinship. A quibble, but I think that change could use more substance in the play to support it. It just seems to come from no where too quickly.

Director Joel Greenberg has created a beautiful production that illuminates the sense of strength from the characters who take charge and help and protect Edouard. And Greenberg also establishes that fragile, delicate situation with Edouard, the person they are trying to protect and with whom they are trying to be patient. Frustration, impatience, anger, tenderness, patience and love are emotions that simmer in this production. The result is subtly gripping. You ache for every character.

Comment. François Archambault has written an exquisitely poetic play about a frightening subject—the loss of memory for Edouard and the loss of the essence of Edouard for his family, as he disappears in clumps because of his fragile memory. Bobby Theodore’s translation is equally exquisite. The words shimmer in the air. The familiarity of the lousy subject pierces the heart.

Being a play of a French Canadian playwright it’s easy to recognize a metaphor. Edouard wanted an independent Quebec and didn’t get it. He wants his own independence and is losing it as well.

Archambault beautifully establishes the changing attitudes of the three generations of his characters. Edouard and Madeleine have seen it all and remember the glory days, both in their lives, and in Quebec and how it has changed. They have an appreciation of conversation, debate, and an exchange of ideas, face to face, with the person to whom they are talking.

Isabelle and Patrick are lost. He has no job or a desire to find one. She has trouble maintaining relationships and she is keeping secrets from Patrick. She tries to lose herself in work. She is at odds with her parents and her father’s ‘disease’ only ads to her frustration.

Berenice is the new generation. In a beautifully pointed speech Edouard captures the essence of what is happening to Beatrice’s generation. They “love, like, tweet and re-tweet” and that constitutes conversation. They don’t seem to have a sense of history or of yesterday. Everything is instant and now. Initially Berenice doesn’t have the patience or good will to deal with Edouard and his difficulties, but then she changes; looks up from her clinking cell phone and sees Edouard as he is.

You Will Remember Me is a beautiful play about so many important issues. Don’t ever forget that and remember to see it soon.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre in a co-production with Studio 180.

Opened: March 9, 2016.
Closes: April 10, 2016.
Cast: 5, 2 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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At the Historic Aztec Theatre 1035 Gerrard St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anne Washburn
Score by Michael Friedman
Lyrics by Anne Washburn
Co-directed by Simon Bloom and Mitchell Cushman
Set by Ken Mackenzie
Costumes by Lindsay Junkin
Lighting design by Nick Blais
Sound by Samuel Sholdice
Puppet design by Marcus Jamin
Starring: Damien Atkins
Rielle Braid
Ishai Buchbinder
Katherine Cullen
Colin Doyle
Sébastien Heins
Amy Keating
Tracy Michaelidis

A production done without electricity, that references The Simpsons, that is often electrifying and always intriguing and provocative because of its dazzling imagination.

Mr. Burns is an epic three act play with songs (who ever heard of such a thing in this day and age of the tweet and quick retort?) that is huge in scope as is this eye-popping production created by Outside the March, perhaps Toronto’s most inventive, daring theatre company working today.

The Story. There has been a nuclear disaster. Mr. Burns owns the reactor that blew up. Imagine it—a post-apocalyptic world without electricity. A group of survivors light their way with flashlights scavenging for food. They pass the time reliving better times, namely retelling each other the minutiae of the dialogue and details of an episode of The Simpsons, namely The Cape Fear episode.. The joy of the character in the telling is palpable until reality appears in the form of a stranger, another survivor. The group is desperate to know about loved ones who lived far way might have survived. The stranger would know because he has a book of names, ages, descriptions of the people, where they came from and what they did for a living.

Act II is seven years later when those survivors are now re-creating those Simpson’s episodes as a living, as a tv/performance group. They are not alone in this endeavour, so competition and money muddies the waters.

Act III is seventy-five years later with references in song to two towers being destroyed and shafts of light taking their place. The tone becomes chilling as a real evil appears—Mr. Burns. He says he will always be there among them, wrecking havoc. Quite a sobering thought.

The Production. The first scene is an effervescent telling of The Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons between Matt and Jenny, devotees of the show. Colin Doyle plays an exuberant Matt as the details of the episode pop out of him like popcorn sprayed in the air. As Jenny, Tracy Michailidis is excited but in a calmer way than Doyle. You get the sense that this retelling is rare joy in their lives as they try and survive.

And for those of us who never watched The Simpsons (because some of us were at the theatre), and wouldn’t know The Cape Fear episode from the Caped Crusader, Anne Washburn impishly takes care of that problem by putting a character in that scene who hasn’t watched the show either. Maria (Katherine Cullen) watches quietly while the other two riff off each other.

Then a stranger named Quincy (Damien Atkins) arrives and the tone and exuberance instantly changes to chilling reality, fear, wariness and trepidation. It’s clear that the previous exuberance over the tv show is how these people kept sane and hopeful. At this point, the survivors reveal their desperation to hear about lost loved ones; to know if they survived and if Quincy knows about them. Damien Atkins is as concerned and anxious to tell them good news as they are to hear it. The anxiety ramps up. Danger is everywhere

Co-directors Simon Bloom and Mitchell Cushman, their creative team and their hugely talented cast pull this off with pure imaginative dazzle. They are producing this piece of theatre without electricity. The stage is illuminated with flashlights and the audience’s imagination. Set designer Ken Mackenzie has fashioned a set that looks like it’s a lost and found of rag-tag props with a makeshift curtain and other stuff that creates the sense that these characters create on the fly. At times the creativity is breathtaking. The use of puppets (kudos to creator Marcus Jamin) alone is stunning. Two giant hands with LOVE on the knuckles of one and HATE on the knuckles of the other, wave above our heads; the digits flutter ominously. There are scenes of poignant emotion when a community is created and embraced. It’s certainly made me curious about this phenomenon known as The Simpsons. D’oh.

Comment. Do you need to know about The Simpsons to get the references? No, Anne Washburn is too smart a playwright to keep part of her audience in the dark. The references are subtly explained. Those who know the difference between ‘d’oh’ and ‘duh’ will ‘get it’ in a different way. There is the challenge to pay attention to something with which we aren’t familiar (the telling of the episode). It’s too easy to shut off over things not familiar. Don’t. Stay the course. All will be revealed if you are receptive to it.

Please see this stunning piece of theatre that is about more than iconic TV show.

Produced by Outside the March in association with Starvox Entertainment and Crow’s Theatre.

Run: May 13 to June 7, 2015
Cast: 8; 4 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes. Approx.

Tickets: www.ticketfly.com

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At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Dean Paul Gibson
Set and Costumes by Sue LePage
Sound by Peter Boyle
Starring: Jennifer Dale
Ellen Denny
Audrey Dwyer
Luke Humphrey
Fiona Reid
Steven Sutcliffe

Christopher Durang’s affectionate mash-up of Chekhov, done with style and humour by a talented cast.

The Story. For years Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia looked after their aged parents. Their much married, movie star sister paid all the bills while she flitted around the world making second rate movies. It was her contribution since she was never home to care for the parents. Now, the parents are long dead and Vanya and Sonia still live in the family home, tending it while Masha is away. They don’t know how to do anything else.

Vanya is a middle aged, mild-mannered, philosophical man who is not coping with the new technology or modern attitudes. He longs for the good old days when you licked stamps to put on an envelope you hand-addressed, into which you put a letter that you wrote on paper with a pen.

Sonia is about the same age. A spinster. A more feminist word would not be apt for Sonia. She dotes on her brother and probably finds him to be a perfect partner, and since they are adopted she finds nothing wrong with that attitude. Vanya, always a proper gentleman, is not as accommodating and besides he tells her gently, she doesn’t attract him in that way.

One day Masha returns home in a blaze of melodramatic poses with her boy-toy Spike in tow. He’s a wanna be actor. A buff stud. Cheerful but dim. Perfect for Masha. Vanya is a bit smitten with Spike as well. Nina is the young woman next door. She reveres Masha and wants to be an actress. Spike meets her while he’s swimming in his undies on the property. He brings her up to the house to meet everybody. Finally there is Cassandra, the future-telling housekeeper. She bursts into prophecy when she’s not complaining about having to make lunch for everybody.

There is a costumes party to which they all go. It changes the life of one of them. Masha gives her siblings startling news that changes their lives as well. Chekhov country with a Christopher Durang twist.

The Production. Designer Sue LePage has created a comfortable, well-lived-in home. It’s not modern, but it’s not shabby. You get the sense that the furniture and everything in it has been the same for decades. It’s well taken care of. Vanya and Sonia have spent their time over the years waiting for the blue heron to appear in the morning mist, like an old friend. Theirs is a life of routine. She brings his morning coffee. They savour each sip. They look out at the water in the distance and wait for the blue heron. And then everything is disrupted when Masha blows in from wherever with Spike.

Director Dean Paul Gibson’s direction brings the understated world of Chekhov and the more off-the-wall world of Durang into wonderful balance in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Steven Sutcliffe is quiet and courtly as Vanya. He watches almost everything with a benign acceptance. He has patience for his high-strung sister Sonia; a heightened interest in Spike with a twinge of embarrassment that he should feel that way; a sense of capitulation when dealing with the over-bearing Masha; and finally an explosive release of frustration and anger when the modern world rears its ugly head. Vanya is lamenting the loss of the ‘good old days’ when he sees that Spike is bored and is tweeting. At that point Vanya lets loose with the best speech of the play if not one of the best speeches of the 21st century, not to put too fine a point to it. It’s a speech that goes on for pages about what we have lost of ourselves, humanity, compassion and other things we held dear. As Vanya, Steven Sutcliffe delivers that speech from the heart and soul of a wounded character. It’s phrased and parsed with delicacy, nuance, anger, frustration, and a power we have not seen from this character. And the way Sutcliffe says it is wonderfully moving.

Fiona Reid as Sonia, brings out the heart and angst of a woman who thinks life has passed her by. It’s a life without event. When Vanya gets his own coffee instead of waiting for Sonia as usual, it is the end of the world for her, and she isn’t being overly-dramatic. She dreads Masha’s visit because she feels even more inadequate in her sister’s presence. Masha never lets an opportunity pass without giving a shot to her sister; how mousy she looks, how needy, how hard she (Masha) works. And when Sonia fights back it’s with conviction, bravery and a giddy sense of being empowered. When Sonia assumes the persona of Maggie Smith in a certain film she is formidable. The impersonation is a bit over the top, but that’s what you would expect of Sonia.

Jennifer Dale plays Masha as a glittery movie star past her prime, but still with confident flair. Masha is both imperious and needy. Luke Humphrey plays Spike as a self-absorbed but buoyant bubble head. He knows his affect on people, especially when he’s stripped to his briefs and gyrating his pelvis, but he still has a kind of appealing charm. As Nina, Ellen Denny has the difficult task of not making Nina seem silly or frivolous. Nina is young, innocent and obviously admires Masha tremendously. Denny brings out the sweetness and gentleness in Nina. And finally Audrey Dwyer plays Cassandra with a fearless boldness. When she is looking into the future, “Beware Hooty-Pie!” Cassandra is serious and relentless. To us she’s hilarious. In Sue LePage’s costumes, Cassandra is an explosion of colour and pattern combinations. You don’t mess with this seer of the future.

Comment. Playwright Christopher Durang has let his considerable imagination run free and has done up a mash-up of several Chekhov characters from different plays all meeting in this one. Vanya and Sonia of course are from Uncle Vanya. Masha references The Seagull and Three Sisters. Indeed Sonia bursts out occasionally with “I am a wild turkey. I am a wild turkey,” which echoes Nina in The Seagull saying “I am a seagull.”

Do you need to know Chekhov to appreciate Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike? No. But it does add another degree of enjoyment, but Durang’s writing is so inventive within the framework of Chekhov that taken on its own it’s very funny. This cast does it proud.

Co-produced by Mirvish Productions and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Run: March 14 to April 5, 2015
Cast: 6; 2 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours.

www.mirvish.com

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Review: MOMENT

by Lynn on November 11, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At The SideMart Grocery 1362 Queen St. E.

Written by Deirdre Kinahan
Directed and sound by Christopher Stanton
Designed by Jackie Chau
Lighting by Nick Blais
Starring: Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Gordon Bolan
Deborah Drakeford
Ryan Hollyman
Janet Porter
Andre Sills
Bahareh Yaraghi

A cracker-jack production of a play bubbling with emotion and family angst.
The Story. The Lynch family has its challenges. Teresa Lynch, the matriarch, is forgetful, anxious and high strung. She has a complicated regimen of pills she needs to take. Keeping track of them is difficult for her. Her two daughters, Ciara and Niamh, try to help. Ciara, the youngest daughter, seems to be her favourite, perhaps because she visits frequently. Niamh, the older daughter, visits too, but not as regularly.

The family also has its secrets. There is an absent brother to the two sisters—Nial. Fifteen years before, in only a moment, Nial did something that sent him away to prison. The family has been experiencing the effects of that moment ever since. Now Nial is out of prison and is coming for a brief visit, with his new wife. Emotions are high. Teresa is anxious that everything be perfect for her returning son. Ciara is surprised but curious. She was young when Nial went away and not clear on why. Niamh is furious and agitated. She remembers everything about that moment.

The Production. Designer Jackie Chau has configured the space so that the audience sits around the playing area. There are framed family photos on the walls. In the centre of the room is a well-used dining room table with six chairs around it. Against one wall is a smaller table where endless cups of tea are prepared.

Niamh arrives, concerned about her mother. She’s been calling all morning and her mother hasn’t answered. To add to her angst, Niamh has arrived with Fin, a friend from the office. He wants to stay and support her. He obviously is sweet on her. Niamh just wants to be left to deal with her mother. Fin finally leaves. After several shouts through the house, Teresa appears, bright, cheerful and off-handed. Niamh is questioning. Teresa had been shopping. No she didn’t take her cell-phone with her. No need. Yes she took her pills, she thinks, but she hasn’t been keeping track regularly. Niamh becomes agitated which makes Teresa anxious.

Ciara arrives, calming, even-handed. Teresa is happy to see her and seems to defer to her at the expense of Niamh. We see how that affects Niamh. She’s wounded every time her mother defers to Ciara. Ciara’s good-natured husband, Dave, arrives with beer and a smile. Then Teresa reveals her bombshell-Nial is arriving shortly with his girlfriend—she doesn’t know that they married the day before.

Director Christopher Stanton has beautifully created that family dynamic before Nial arrives. The two daughters are watchful of their mother in different ways; Ciara is compassionate and comforting; Niamh is anxious and needy. Teresa is just trying to hold on, appear cheerful and normal. She handles Niamh’s outbursts with an off-handed barb. Ciara is always there, helping; Niamh is not. Because the audience is so close to the action, Stanton just makes us look and watch harder. His direction is nuanced and subtle.

Nial arrives with his wife Ruth. No one is in the house at the moment—Teresa needed more pills so they all went. Nial really does not want to be there, but Ruth insists on meeting his family. She knows his history. She is accepting of this man who seems re-habilitated. He is an artist now, on his way to Spain for a showing of his work. We sense his agitation and desire to leave. Ruth is a calming, loving influence.

Then the family arrives and the emotions are ramped up. Teresa is giddy with delight that Nial is there and to meet Ruth. Ciara is happy and welcoming. Dave is charming. Niamh is wary and building with anger. Fin arrives too so all these emotions are bubbling.

Stanton is meticulous in building on these complex emotions so that by the time the end of Act I arrives emotions are so fraught the Teresa loses it (literally), throws up and unfortunately Fin is in the way and gets the major brunt of Teresa being sick. (Too much information? I will explain in the comments).

Act II takes place in the family basement, fifteen years before. We see how that fateful moment happened. The audience then goes back to the dining room of the house and the present where all the hurts, accusations, recriminations that have been pent up for fifteen years erupt.

The acting company is superb. As Teresa, Deborah Drakeford has that tight smile and bright face of a person trying to hold in her anxiety. As she gets more and more on edge she becomes more and more compelling. This is a woman who has had to suppress a lot in fifteen years and as much as she loves her daughters, Nial is her favourite.

As Ciara, Aviva Armour-Ostroff has an easy confidence. Ciara takes care of her mother lovingly, with no angst. She watches carefully and subtly gives her sister looks that speak volumes about what is happening.

Janet Porter as Niamh is like a tightly coiled wire ready to snap. Her movements are quick, agitated, almost frantic. She holds on to her anger like a kid clutching her teddy bear. She has allowed that rage to fester and poison everything about her. Her inability to sustain a relationship is part of the fall out.

As Nial, Ryan Hollyman is affectionate with Ruth but ultimately unsettled, twitchy and so reluctant to be in that house where his world changed in a moment. He paid for what he did, reformed and now wants to move forward with his life.

Comment. Irish playwright, Dierdre Kinahan explores the themes of family and forgiveness in the face of horrific events in Moment, which she wrote in 2009. Interestingly she explores similar themes in her most recent play, Spinning, which I saw in Dublin in October. In it a man has just come out of prison for being responsible for a death. Kinahan explores the man’s obsession with his family, especially his child. And we see a parallel story of a woman trying to cope with the death of her daughter. Can the man be forgiven for what he did? In Moment Nial feels he has done his time and now wants to live his life without recriminations. If that means not seeing his family, so be it. Niamh, on the other hand, resents losing her childhood because of her brother’s crime. She can’t let go of her rage. Fascinating from both angles.

While the language does suggest the play takes place in Ireland (or England) the cast plays it without accent, suggesting of course, that the story is universal. The production is gripping and thought provoking.

About Teresa’s projectile vomiting….While the aim of the scene is to hurl on Fin’s pants, there was residual glop on two audience members sitting behind him—me and my colleague Glenn Sumi of NOW magazine. Glenn’s shoes were ‘anointed’ with whatever it was that was hurled—chicken soup we were told. I got a bit on my arm but more on my pants. I don’t think the estimable Deborah Drakeford was making a comment about critics. We just happened to be sitting there by chance. It made for some lively tweeting and laughs.

It’s a worthy production. See it, but be aware of the splatter zone.

Presented by ARC

First Performance: Nov. 6, 2014
Closes: Nov. 22, 2014
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.arcstage.com

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the novel by Sara Levine
Adapted by Karen Woolridge
Directed by Kate Lynch
Lighting by Christopher Ross
Sound by Mike Fowler
Costumes by Jody McLennan
Puppet Design by Gemma James-Smith

A quirky look at a classic boy’s adventure, turned on its ear and given a gender twist.

The Story. Our Girl wants a better life than the one she has. She becomes obsessed with the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island. Sure it’s a boy’s adventure story, but Our Girl thinks she can try to live her life according to the story’s various “core values” of boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing. We never actually see Our Girl blowing a horn, but I take it on faith.

She works at a pet library—people can rent animals for various occasions. Her boss, Nancy, is a fretting micro-manager. Our Girl has a hectoring, ineffectual boyfriend. Her own mother is not very supportive. A good friend tolerates her but in the end disappoints her in a big way.

In keeping with the parrot’s presence in the original Stevenson novel, Our Girl buys a parrot in the hopes she will teach it to talk and give her companionship. The parrot in turn twitches and quietly squawks. Talking, it seems, is not on this parrot’s agenda. But at various points in the story the parrot channels Our Girl’s boss, Nancy, with her impenetrable accent; her quiet mother; her valley-girl speaking sister; her best friend, and her boyfriend. Is the parrot really speaking? Is it Our Girl’s imagination? Our Girl is so obsessed with Treasure Island and living her life according to what she thinks are its values, she ignores reality. Real life is a challenge to her. Even replacing the birdcage newspaper liner is one of them.

The Production. The production begins with a frantic banging on the outside door of the building of the theatre. Christopher Douglas (I believe), the Stage Manager of the show, rushes down the aisle of the Backspace from the booth at the back, across the front of the stage, off-stage and opens the heavy door. Douglas then charges up the aisle to the booth at the back, ready to continue. Lots of flurry of activity as Our Girl arrives. A curtain is drawn across the stage as she prepares. Then there is another frantic banging at the same door, Douglas rushes down the aisle from the booth, across the front of the stage to off stage to open the door again, and then back up the aisle to the booth. A bit more activity behind the curtain, and then an arm comes out, waiving up to the booth to start the show.

The curtain is parted. There is Our Girl played by Caitlin Driscoll and behind her, on a solid, wooden perch, is a gorgeous green parrot puppet and behind it is Gemma James-Smith, the parrot’s creator and the voices of every character except that of Our Girl.

As Our Girl tells her story—falling in love with the book of Treasure Island—referencing everything that’s happened to her—the parrot quietly tweets and gurgles. Our Girl looks at it and says something like: “A bit distracting.” Our Girl is giving voice, I’m sure, to what we in the audience are thinking. The result is that the parrot’s sounds now become part of the story and not distracting from it. Brilliant!

Director Kate Lynch delicately creates this odd world of Our Girl playing off a parrot and its many voices. Lynch’s collaboration with her two gifted actresses establishes a cohesive whole. It’s a delicate dance deciding when that parrot chirps, twitches, or coughs etc. without pulling focus. It’s to everybody’s credit that the result embraces us into the telling.

As Our Girl, Caitlin Driscoll is open faced, trusting, and has that confidence that to her everything she is doing makes sense even though we know she’s off-the-wall-loopy. Driscoll is such an engaging actress (even when she has scared me in other productions) that we buy into her story, but know she’s deluded. And her involvement with the parrot is a case in point—she treats it as if it’s human, and it is when those voices come out of it. Driscoll gives Our Girl charm so we are not put off by her obsession and loopiness.

Equally as gifted is Gemma James-Smith, not only as the various voices of other characters, but also as the creator and manipulator of the parrot puppet. As the puppeteer James-Smith is totally focused on the puppet without expression. It’s the audience that gives that parrot expression, not the puppeteer. James-Smith has learned puppeteering from a master—Ronnie Burkett is her step-father. The various voices that James-Smith gives to the various characters in Our Girl’s life are distinct, funny and so appropriate.

Comment. My Treasure Island!!! Is a quirky, sweet, entertaining night in the theatre. I must confess, though, I am mystified with that bit at the beginning when it appears that the two actresses are locked out of the theatre. I don’t know what that is all about. It can’t be a set up for humour because the story and its telling is funny on its own.

Sara Levine has taken a decidedly boy’s adventure story and turned it on its head, making it a story with women being the focus. She then has Our Girl imagine that there are subtle layers to the story, worthy of deciphering, only to have the sane voice of one of the characters remind her it’s only a boy’s adventure. Terrific imagination.

Karen Woolridge’s adaptation of Sara Levine’s novel is quirky enough to make me want to read the novel and then Stevenson’s original source material again. Good theatre does that.

Produced by Johnson Girls with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille

Opened: Oct. 28, 2014
Closes: Nov. 16, 2014
Cast: 2 women, 1 parrot puppet
Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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