Live and in person at Harbourfront Centre, The Brigantine Room, part of JUNIOR, a festival for children 4-14. Until May 23, 2022. Toronto, Ont.

www.harbourfront.com

Created by Kitt Johnson

Lighting by Mogens Kjempff

Cast: Sture Ericson

Samuel Gustavsson

Samuel and Ericson are garbage collectors extraordinaire. First Samuel appears outside the Brigantine Room, carrying several black garbage bags and a pole on which is one bag, that falls off. He meets Ericson with his own bags. Samuel frets because he’s lost Accent, a pet. We follow the two men into the Brigantine Room. Children are invited to sit on the colourful covering on the floor, bordering the stage.

By this time Samuel and Ericson have emptied all the bags of stuff and tried to divide the contents into: paper, plastics, metal, electronics, keepers, and other stuff. Kids love to call out what category an item should be put in.

Samuel is active, curious, full of tricks and magic. I loved his sense of wonder. He juggles, plays slight of hand tricks with several cups that hide balls etc. I loved the mess of the garbage, scattering it, collecting it, sweeping it and organizing it. I wish it was that easy at home.  Ericson, on the other hand, is like the ‘grown-up’ of the two. He creates sounds on a console stage right or plays an instrument that could sound like a saxophone.

One trick revealed the true power and talent of these two performers. Samuel does a trick that reveals a cup of marbles. And then he tips the cup and the marbles fall all over the playing space. Then magically, the marbles did what marbles do to children–they become magnets. Each child sitting on the covering, leaned forward, reached out and grabbed some marbles. Samuel looked at Erickson. Ericson looked back. Samuel said to Ericson, “Are they yours?” (meaning the marbles.). Then slowly, each child leaned forward again and returned the marbles to the ‘stage’.

SPOIIIIIIIIING is a wonderful, funny magical romp using stuff we take for granted–garbage. You have to be young enough or old enough to buy into the magic of it, or at least appreciate the skill in doing the tricks, not the least of which is respecting and managing the young audience. Samuel and Ericson are masters at that too. Just terrific.

Harbourfront Centre presents, Kitt Johnson X-Act:

Runs May 21-May 23, 2022.

Running Time: 45 minutes, no intermission

www.harbourfront.com

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Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. until May 22, 2022.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

Written by Emma Haché

Directed by Ash Knight

Choreography by Nicola Pantin

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Arun Srinivasan

Sound and composition by Marissa Orjalo

Projection design by Denyse Karn

Cast: Ma-Anne Dionisio

Andrew Moodie

Reese Cowley

A man known only as HE (Andrew Moodie) has been in a horrific accident causing a catastrophic head injury. He remembers almost nothing of the accident or who he is or his world, but he does remember that he loves his wife, SHE (Ma-Anne Dionisio), fiercely. HE spends his time in a hospital, where he is cared for. SHE visits him every day. SHE gives him memory exercises showing him pictures of things. For all of them HE says it’s a chicken, except the picture of the Queen. He gets that one correct. There is no improvement there.

HE and SHE profess their love for each other. SHE says they have a daughter Adele (or is it Alice—both names are given). Adele is a dancer. HE can’t remember Adele, Alice or that he has a daughter.

What SHE wants more than anything is for HE to forget how much he loves her and thus allow her to go and make her life without him. But HE doesn’t forget and gradually as Emma Haché’s play evolves it’s clear that it’s SHE who can’t let go of being needed by HE or so she thinks. She vows to leave for a few days and not visit. HE says that’s good. SHE returns after a few days and it’s obvious HE didn’t notice her absence and SHE did. There is a glimmer that HE might remember something of their former life, but just a glimmer.

Director Ash Knight’s production references bits, pieces and shards of memory in many ways. Jackie Chau’s set is composed of various separate pieces set on the floor. Some slope, others are high enough to sit on. Each can represent the broken bits of HE’S memory. On either end of Jackie Chau’s set are screens on which are projected images, leaves, etc. The audience sits on either side of this playing area. I am not sure of the point of this configuration because, at times, with the projections going on and the extended narration (Reese Cowley), it proves a distraction if both HE and SHE are also there, in various poses of hugging or embracing.

Also problematic is that both Ma-Anne Dionisio as SHE and Andrew Moodie as HE very often speak so quietly to each other, it’s hard to hear them. And if they turn away to the other side of the audience, then hearing what they are saying is almost impossible. I can appreciate intimate conversation, but it’s also important to remember that an audience is there, trying to hang onto every word. Speak up please a bit so we can hear you! As SHE Ma-Anne Dionisio is earnest and committed. Andrew Moodie as HE has moments of absolute stillness when HE is lost in his absent memory, and when he is reminded of the accident, he is horrified. This plays out often, but it doesn’t mean that HE has recall.

Ash Knight has added the character of the Narrator and Adele/Alice played by Reece Cowley. Cowley narrates a poem about dead leaves at the beginning that symbolizes the death of the relationship/memory/a former life, etc. But the placement of this poem comes right after the sound of the horrific crash, without explanation, until much later in the play. Whether this is the placement in the play of the playwright, Emma Haché or not, it seems a bit awkward.

We see how graceful Adele/Alice is when she dances Nicola Pantin’s choreography. But again, I don’t see the point of this character when the essence of Lesson in Forgetting is that HE can’t remember anything about his life at all without prompts from SHE.

I can appreciate the care that Ash Night has taken with his direction in trying to create such a delicate production of such a delicate play. I fear that with the added character and perhaps the projections, it is all a bit fussy and weighed down the production.

Produced by Pleiades Theatre

Plays until: May 22, 2022.

I saw it, May 18, 2022.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

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Continuing this week:

Tuesday, May 17-June-12, 2022.

Tarragon Theatre,

The Herd.

by Kenneth T. Williams

 

Mainspace

Buy Tickets

A Tarragon Theatre presentation, in association with Citadel Theatre and NAC Indigenous Theatre of a Tarragon Theatre/Persephone Theatre Commission.

When twin white bison are born into a First Nation herd, an ambitious blog reporter posts it and the story goes viral. Is this a miracle in the spiritual life of a Saskatchewan First Nation or a one in a billion scientific event? Is this a prophecy coming true or laboratory gene doctoring?

Culture, science and politics collide when a media circus and a ‘new age mob’ descend on the herd to witness a sacred prophecy and the scientific goal to achieve 100% pure-bred Bison. Torn between honouring Indigenous traditions, scientific truth and economic necessity, one Indigenous scientist battles to keep her ethics intact and her herd alive.

Wednesday, May 18-22, 2022

Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Lesson in Forgetting

Produced by Pleiades Theatre Company

A couple trapped. The man is recovering from a severe brain injury and only remembers how much he loves his wife. She loves him, but wishes he could forget how much he loves her so she can live her own life.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

May 19-October, 2022.

The Shaw Festival:

Damn Yankees

Gaslight

Too True To Be Good

www.shawfest.ca

Thursday, May 19–29, 2022.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Distant Early Warning (from Pearl Harbour)

  > > >  Sneak peek trailer!!  > > >    “Just because the world ended, doesn’t mean the work stops.” Check out this NEW glimpse into Pearle’s apocalyptic romance! Distant Early Warning premieres THIS WEEK at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, and runs May 19-29.        DISTANT EARLY WARNING > TICKETS HERE

Friday, May 20-22, 2022

Harbourfront Centre

Sky Dancers

A’nó:wara Dance Theatre

QUEBEC

This stunning dance piece explores the devastating impacts of the Quebec Bridge disaster of 1907 and the generational connections between communities who ultimately persevere amid tragedy. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Junior Festival at Harbourfront.

JUNIOR
May 21–23, 2022

JUNIOR, Toronto’s international children’s festival, is Harbourfront Centre’s multidisciplinary festival for children ages 4–14. Through theatre, dance, music and art, JUNIOR explores what it means to be connected to each other and the community around us – at a time when personal connection has never seemed more important. 

It’s a terrific Festival for kids. You would think they would co-ordinate with the WEE Festival that will play May 28-June 12. Only makes sense.

Co-curated by Mary Francis Moore and Nathalie Bonjour.

Supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Icelandair, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, and NEXT Magazine

View Festival Schedules

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Live and in person at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City. Open ended run.

www.ParadiseSquareMusical.com

Book by Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan

Music by Jason Howland

Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare

Conceived by Larry Kirwan

Additional music by Larry Kirwan

Direction by Moisés Kaufman

Music supervision, music direction and orchestrations by Jason Howland

Choreography by Bill T. Jones

Scenic design by Allen Moyer

Costumes by Toni-Leslie James

Lighting by Donald Holder

Sound by Jon Weston

Projection design by Wendall K. Harrington, shawn Edward Boyle

Cast: Matt Bogart

Kevin Dennis

John Dossett

Sidney DuPont

Jacob Fishel

Aisha Jackson

Joaquina Kalukango

Chilina Kennedy

Gabrielle McClinton

A.J. Shively

Nathaniel Stampley

Dreadful. Every aspect of this enterprise is relentless in its desperate efforts to please and impress.

The Story. New York City, lower Manhattan, in the slum area known as The Five Points. The year is about 1863. Blacks and Irish live in harmony in this slum. The focal point of the musical is the seedy Paradise Square Bar owned and operated by Nelly O’Brien. She is a Black woman married to Willie O’Brien, an Irishman. Willie’s sister is Annie Lewis, married to Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis, a Black man. Annie also works in the bar with her sister-in-law Nelly. To the outside world the Paradise Square Bar is the home of prostitutes, degenerates and other miscreants. To the people who frequent the place it’s a safe haven from the outside world.

Into this story comes Owen Duignan, Annie’s nephew. He’s newly arrived from Ireland seeking a better life and hopes Annie can help him find work etc. Also newly arrived is a runaway slave named Washington Henry who has come there to wait for his girlfriend (also a runaway slave) Angelina Baker. Washington Henry refuses to leave and hide because he promised Angelina he would wait for her so they could both go north to safety.

During the comings and goings characters such as Willie O’Brien goes off to fight in the Civil War and ‘Lucky’ Mike Quinlan comes back without an arm that he lost in the fighting. Over time there is conscription. The white male population has to fight while the Black males are not allowed to enlist. ‘Lucky’ can’t get a job because he’s maimed and blames the Blacks who have jobs.  Animosity results.

Owen Duignan will be conscripted unless he can bribe a person responsible for picking names of those to be conscripted. Owen hopes to get the money by winning a dance contest and giving the money as a bribe to the guy picking the names. Then Washington Henry enters the contest too—he needs the money so he and Angelina Baker can escape. Emotions are high.  

The Production. A map of the Five Points area of Lower Manhattan forms the backdrop of Allen Moyer’s set. Nelly O’Brien (Joaquina Kalukango) enters and provides a quick lesson in the Five Points. A projection of what it is today is a metaphor for the musical. A video of the modern area of the Five Points is projected. Cars and motorcycles whiz by like a blur. People scurry along. It’s hard to tell the racial makeup of the people in the video. Nelly points to a sign in the video and says that that is now called Worth Ave. You can’t read the sign because it’s blurry and obscured. As I said, whatever that video was supposed to represent is incomprehensible because of lack of clarity and focus. As is this musical.

The book of Paradise Square by Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan, is a mishmash of stories, tangential off-shoots and so many disjointed loose threads that one can hardly tell what it’s about. We are led to believe that trouble started only when ‘Lucky’ Mike Quinlan came home maimed, couldn’t find a job and blamed the Blacks. A shady politician named Frederic Tiggens was always angling to cause trouble for the Paradise Square Bar and bided his time until he could cause trouble.

The show is choked with song after song by Jason Howland (music) and Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare (lyrics) with additional music by Larry Kirwan. Often songs follow each other without leaving breathing room to think about what the subject was before another song followed, introducing another theme or subject. Every song is delivered as if it’s a do or die anthem, blared at the top of the voice, urgent, desperate, frantic.  Perhaps the most shameless is “Let It Burn”, sung with impassioned power and real tears by Nelly (Joaquina Kalukango). At the end of it there is a moment when she holds the high note (as written and directed) guaranteed to stir the audience to rise in the middle of it for a standing ovation. Wretched, manipulative excess. Kalukango is a fine actor and singer. She has style and a formidable regality that she gives her characterization. But the desperation in a lot of the singing to move the audience is the worst kind of Broadway schlock and seems so dishonest and diminishes the characterization.

As Nelly’s sister-in-law Annie Lewis, Chilina Kennedy enters in a rage for some reason and never lets up. A.J. Shively gives an emotional performance as Owen Duignan. He is also a fine step-dancer and has many opportunities to prove it. Matching him in intense emotion is Sidney DuPont as Washington Henry. I hope someone takes Mr. DuPont in hand and tells him the importance of enunciating what he is saying because I could not readily make out anything he said, he seems to have such an aversion to consonants. His lines came out in an indistinct slur—impassioned to be sure, but incomprehensible.  I know the book is problematic, but not to ensure that the audience can actually understand what you are saying is unforgivable.  

Bill T. Jones’ reputation as a gifted choreographer has preceded him. I also get the sense that he thinks his choreography is the star of the show, there is so much of it, upstaging so many scenes. Often the choreography of one scene begins in the previous scene, usually upstage, when a character is speaking downstage. Talk about pulling focus. Choreography is there to aid and enhance the proceedings, not to upstage and ambush the entire show. Director Moisés Kaufman seems overwhelmed by the whole size of the show. At the end of the day Paradise Square is a noisy, desperate harangue of the audience to love it, appreciate it, take it seriously as important and meaningful. Like being bludgeoned with its own importance.

Comment. Hell would be having to sit through Paradise Square again.

Produced by Garth Drabinsky and 38 other producers.

Open ended run

Running Time: 2 ½ hours approx. 1 intermission

www.ParadiseSquareMusical.com

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Newly Established Coalition Launches Canada’s First-Ever
National Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit
Led by Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre, National Consortium has Issued Public Call
for Applications to Paid 10-Month Mentorship & Development Program
Vancouver, BC — Zee Zee Theatre, in partnership with a consortium of Canadian theatre
companies, proudly announces the establishment of Canada’s first-ever National Queer and
Trans Playwriting Unit. 2SLGBTQ+ emerging and mid-career theatre makers from across Canada are invited to submit applications by July 5, 2022 for consideration in the new mentorship and play creation program.

The selection process will see five artists announced in September 2022 to participate in a 10-month process, during which they will receive living wage compensation and one-on-one mentorship as they write a new work. In addition to Zee Zee Theatre, the national consortium members include the frank Theatre (Vancouver), Gwaandak Theatre (Whitehorse), Theatre Outré (Lethbridge), Persephone Theatre
(Saskatoon), Theatre Projects Manitoba (Winnipeg), Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto),
Native Earth Performing Arts (Toronto), Imago Theatre (Montreal), and Neptune Theatre
(Halifax).
“Art has the power to elevate voices and ideas that can change the world. Now, more than ever,
the arts sector needs to prioritize those who have been systematically left out of the
conversation,” says Cameron Mackenzie, Zee Zee Theatre’s Artistic and Executive Director.
“The impacts of this project will be far reaching and numerous: For the playwrights, it offers
growth, stability, and a national platform for their voice and stories to be heard. For the
consortium companies, it creates a new body of work and connects them with vital queer and
trans communities. For our sector as a whole, it offers new representation and reflection in ways
that are meaningful and non tokenizing.”


The underrepresentation of such works in the Canadian theatre canon means that the 1 million Canadians who belong to the 2SLGBTQ+ community do not have adequate opportunities to see themselves, their lives or their families reflected on stage.


To rectify this, Zee Zee Theatre resolved to lead the charge in building the first-ever National
Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit that establishes a new model for play creation and
dissemination, leading to more equitable representation of 2SLGBTQ+ artists and stories on
Canadian stages – ultimately strengthening the bonds of professional artists and collaborators
across the country, while furthering equality for all queer and trans people.


Representing the full geographic spectrum of Canada’s coasts and the north, they have issued a call for submissions welcoming artists to learn about and submit for this opportunity by its July 5, 2022 closing date.

The consortium will act as a selection committee in identifying five emerging and mid-career
artists to participate in the unit, which will be run virtually across Canada. Each selected artist
will be paid a living wage for the 10-month program, during which they will work as a
collaborative cohort and with an assigned dramaturg mentor in a one-on-one relationship.
At the end of the 10-month process, each artist’s play will be produced as a staged reading by
one of the consortium members – while the other companies will offer streaming access to their
communities. The consortium will then commit to full productions or further development of all
five of the new scripts generated in the unit.
For more information and to apply to the National Queer and Trans Playwright Unit, visit:
zeezeetheatre.ca

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Streaming on demand from Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until June 30, 2022.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

Written and directed by Herbie Barnes

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Composition and sound by Cathy Nosaty

Film and editing by Joshua Hind

Cast: Ziska Louis

Kelisha Daley

Mike Petersen

Russell (Ziska Louis) is a lonely boy with a vivid imagination. He has just moved to a new neighbourhood with his mother. He doesn’t like his new school because he has no friends and hides at recess from others. He’s bullied by one other boy. Russell races home after school and barricades himself in his room by putting a chair against the doorknob. He finds sanctuary there with his teddy bear, book and jacket, all of which talk to him. He says that he has been chased by pirates, hence the barricaded door. His mother is not home yet. He has torn his jacket, again, and he feels his mother will be really angry and Russell is tense about that. I figure Russell is a ‘latch-key-kid.’

If he has fears he amply hides them with an overabundance of energy, enthusiasm and his vivid imagination. He conjures pirates who chase him and thus he tore his jacket. He is corrected by one of his talking ‘friends’ and Russell has to acknowledge that a kid named Tommy Wilson pushed him and so Russell tore his jacket. Russell imagines going into outer space with his teddy bear and book (both played by Kelesha Daley) and bravely fighting pirates and others with a ‘sword’ that looks like a kind of hockey stick. In such instances Russell is fearless and energized. But then he is harangued by the jacket that has a life of its own (Mike Petersen) who chides him for the tear. The bed sheet (Mike Petersen) conspires to overpower him until Russell just wishes he could move back to his old neighbourhood where he was happier.

Anna Treusch’s set design of Russell’s bed room suggests a colourful cartoon of oversized drawers and cupboard etc. His bed is unmade. A drawer is open on his dresser with something hanging out. His cupboard is open and there is stuff laying around. Treusch also designed Russell’s costume of baggy orange pants black top and sneakers and socks.

Director Herbie Barnes has envisioned a larger-than-life world for Russell in which inanimate objects take on a life of their own. There is magical work bringing the jacket and the sheet to imposing life along with the voices that humanize them. Ziska Louis as Russell is always on the move either jumping on the bed, jumping over objects, scurrying here and there, sword in hand, fighting imaginary pirates and never seemingly to slow down.

I must confess I found a lot of Russell’s World troubling. While I can appreciate that director Herbie Barnes has directed Ziska Louise as Russell to be energetic, I found this performance to be more over-wrought than energetic. Also, there is much in Herbie Barnes script that is missing. We are almost 30 minutes into the 40-minute running time, full of adventure and pirates, and frenetic movement without actually knowing why they moved to this new neighbourhood (we’re never told); if there is a father (we’re never told); and what the mother (Kelesha Daley) is like. When she does come home we see that she’s lovely and not at all the angry person she is described as, regarding the jacket.

Herbie Barnes brings up important subjects in the lives of young people: bullying, loneliness, fear, fitting in, abandonment, but he has not explored them fully enough to be satisfying. I think another go-round of investigation in the script would be helpful.

I realize there was a talk-back at the end of the viewing but I don’t watch them to glean what the intention was of the playwright-director. I leave that to the play to illuminate and alas, I found this production fell short of exploring these important issues. Another re-write might be helpful.  

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Runs until: June 30, 2022.

Running time: 40 minutes approx.

For ages 5-10.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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Live and in person at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. Toronto, Ont. Running until May 22, 2022.

www.canadianstage.com

Written by Aleshea Harris

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set by Ken Mackenzie

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Raha Javanfar

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Projections by Laura Warren

Cast: Tyrone Benskin

Matthew G Brown

Oyin Oladejo

Savion Roach

Sabryn Rock

Alison Sealy-Smith

Vanessa Sears

Micah Woods

An American gothic tale of revenge and justice being given an explosive production.

The Story. Racine and Anaia are twin sisters. They have been navigating foster homes for 18 years, since they were three-years-old. When they were three-years-old they and their single mother, known as She, were in a terrible fire. Anaia suffered debilitating burns on her face and arms, Racine fared better with burns on her arms and shoulder. They were told their mother died in the fire. But then Racine received a letter from their mother from the “Dirty South” saying she was in a nursing home and dying and she wanted them to come quickly to her. She had something to say. She wrote to Racine because she thought Anaia was too emotional.  

When the twins got there, they found their mother in bed, breathing heavily, dying. She had been there since the fire. Burns covered most of her body. She thought it better the twins thought she was dead. But she then told them what happened. Her estranged husband (known as Man) broke into the apartment and set her on fire with the girls as witnesses. That’s how they got their burns. He took off for California to start another family (having twin boys).

She’s instructions to her daughters were simple: kill your father DEAD. Real DEAD and bring back proof—treasures. And because the daughters thought their mother was God (“she made us”) the sisters sought out their father and his new family to exact revenge and justice for what he did to their mother and them.  

The Production and comment.  In her play notes, African-American playwright, Aleshea Harris says: “This epic takes its cues from the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western hip-hop, and Afropunk.”

In her program note director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu says: “Is God Is takes the experiences of Black women and Black people and mythologizes them, creating a story that is truly unapologetic, free, and fueled with a kind of propulsive action that is so satisfying to bring to life.

What makes the play so exciting is that it challenges the idea of respectability politics and how we expect Black women to behave in society. It further humanizes the experiences and the complexities of how Black folk move in the world based on what we have inherited and what we desire to become.

Is God Is is at its centre about a desire for freedom and for justice. It is about breaking the cycles that bind us and fighting to take back the power that we are so often robbed of.”

And while every character in the play is African-American, for those in the audience who don’t have a Black perspective to bring to the play, they bring their own cultural experiences, different, but just as valid, to engage with the play. Such is the beauty of the theatre to join us together in story-telling, no matter how different our cultures. Is God Is has the rage of an ancient Greek story of revenge, the sweep of a Shakespearean story of an ongoing feud, the reason of which is long forgotten and the ‘ordinary’ story of getting even.  The need for revenge and justice is blazing hot. Reason doesn’t enter into it.

Ken Mackenzie’s set of large, moving screens are effective in establishing different locations, with set pieces, She’s bed etc. easily moves on an off. Ming Wong’s costumes for Racine and Anaia are rough, individual and don’t adhere to a code of others in their age group. Costumes for the other family are fashionable and hip. The make-up of the burns don’t go for realism, but they are effective in illuminating what these sisters and their mother went through.

Raha Javanfar’s effective bands of red light at the top of the screens and the moody illumination throughout are evocative. Thomas Ryder Payne’s subtle sound builds until we know that trouble is brewing. Laura Warren’s projections flash on the screens and back wall to indicate the scene titles. My concern is if the people sitting extreme house left can actually see through the ‘wall’ to get the full effect of She in her bed and the projections on the wall behind. It seemed that a wall was in the way.

Is God Is is a play full of violence, both impending and in the past. Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is such a gifted director that she knows that the suggestion of violence is more effective than squirts of blood, guts and gore. She navigates this fraught story with care, nuance and an ever-increasing pace.  

Playwright Aleshea Harris is smart in creating her specific dialogue for Racine (Oyin Oladejo) and Anaia (Vanessa Sears), two women shunted from foster home to foster home, with no sense of stability, education or learned ‘polite ways.’ Racine, beautifully played by Oyin Oladejo, is the more street-smart and scrappy. She takes no prisoners but has a kind of innate loyalty to their absent mother. As Anaia, Vanessa Sears plays her with a heart-breaking insecurity. Anaia is the more physically damaged and because of her facial burns, people don’t look her in the face. She is the more emotional of the two, but there are surprises lingering beneath the surface.

When She (Alison Sealy-Smith) comes into the story, we get a sense that she was a caring, loving mother just from her describing what happened on the day of the fire. She picked up her girls from day-care. She gave them a healthy snack while she prepared supper. She touched them affectionately. She railed when her estranged husband looked like he would even touch them. Alison Sealy-Smith as She, gives a performance full of subtlety and nuance. Her gasps for breath are urgent and desperate. She must tell her daughters the story.

Aleshea Harris gives us another side of the family dynamic with Man’s (Tyrone Benskin) second family in California. He, his wife Angie (Sabryn Rock) and their twin sons, Riley (Micah Woods) and Scotch (Savion Roach), live in a good house on a hill; Angie has a car and money to shop for all the food the sons demand. The sons are encouraged to pursue their interests, Riley loves succulent plants and Scotch loves writing poetry. Their language suggests education and engaging with like-minded friends. But Angie is frustrated. The sons ignore her when she needs them to help with the groceries and while she says her husband is not physically violent, he is distant and she feels frightened. As Angie, Sabryn Rock is consumed with frustration, loneliness, and angst. It’s a contained but blistering performance. She plans something drastic to help her out of that situation, until Racine and Alaia turn up.

Is God Is is a ‘grab them by the throat’ play given a production that holds the audience until the end, an even after.

An Obsidian Theatre Company, Necessary Angel Theatre Company and Canadian Stage Co-production.

Runs until: May 22, 2022

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission).

www.canadianstage.com

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Hi Folks,

CIUT.fm, 89.5fm is the community radio station for which I do reviews for the radio show, CRITICS CIRCLE (Saturday morning at 9 am to 10 am) (Formerly CIUT FRIDAY MORNING) We are all volunteers because we believe in the value and worth of such an enterprise. “The Media” in Toronto has been decimated. We used to have four daily newspapers that reviewed the arts, especially theatre. We now have only 1. Our National Broadcaster stopped reviewing theatre, dance and music, 11 years ago. Other outlets have slowly disappeared.

CIUT.fm and certainly CRITICS CIRCLE takes up the slack. I have been reviewing theatre all across the city and the province because it’s important to me. This is CIUT.fm’s 35 anniversary providing radio that is the voice of the city. Twice a year we have a fund raising drive. We urge you to donate to continue the work of the station. The fund raising ‘week’ will end May 15, but you actually have until the end of the month to donate. Please mention CRITICS CIRCLE when you donate. Go to CIUT.fm and hit the donate button.

Thanks.

Lynn Slotkin

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Live and in person at VideoCabaret, 10 Busy St. Toronto, Ont. until June 5, 2022.

www.VideoCab.com

Written by Michael Hollingsworth

Directed by Mac Fyfe and Michael Hollingsworth

Costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill

Lighting by Andrew Dollar

Sound and score by Richard Feren

Wig designed by Alice Norton

Props designed by Shadowland

Projection design by Maxim Bortnowski

Cast: Aurora Browne

Valerie Buhagiar

Greg Campbell

Richard Alan Campbell

Richard Clarkin

Kimwun Perehinec

Cliff Saunders

Canadian history given the VideoCabaret treatment, meaning it’s sharp, irreverent, pointed, dark and very funny. Yes and we all lament that history isn’t taught as entertainingly as this in school.

Story and performance. The beauty of a VideoCabaret show is that you can’t really separate the story from the way it’s performed. When Michael Hollingsworth and his late (great) co-founder Deanne Taylor created VideoCabaret in 1976 they wanted to combine the world of video (projections, newsreels, tv. etc.) and the irreverent world of cabaret—live performance. The productions are performed in a ‘black box’ of a stage with various levels in it. Scenes are no more than one minute long and are accompanied by heightened, ‘cheesy’ music for melodramatic effect. Lighting is bright against the black background and often characters enter and exit a cone of light for their scenes. Costumes, wigs, props and make-up is exaggerated for full effect.

The production of The Cold War – Part 1 begins in 1945 with a newsreel showing the dropping of the atomic bomb on either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, ending the war. It then segues to the live performance of women who built the tanks, guns and ammunition in the factories while the men were away, fighting. The women were proud of their contributions. Then the announcement came that the war was over (cheers); their men were coming home (more cheers), and thanks for all the hard work but you can go back to being housewives again cause the men will be taking over the jobs (looks of disappointment and confusion out to the audience). Writer, Michael Hollingsworth always finds the darkness in a situation and deals with it with a barb of humour.

What follows are scenes that deal with the politics and the nasty backroom deals that cheat the opponent out of elections, or involve graft to get pipelines built that disadvantages Canada but always gives an advantage to the United States. There are scenes involving Russian spy Igor Gouzenko (Richard Alan Campbell), Mackenzie King (Cliff Saunders), a slippery wimp of a Prime Minister, the blustery but endearing John Diefenbaker (Richard Clarkin), some duplicitous psychological experimentation on unsuspecting souls using damaging drugs that turned them into ‘zombies,’ and politically charged events such as the Suez Canal.

Writer, Michael Hollingsworth distills the huge amount of history of Canada in this Cold War Period and finds the nasty truth and the cutting joke that illuminates it all. The Cold War-Part I is co-directed by Mac Fyfe and Michael Hollingsworth with the requisite attention to detail that packs each short scene with nuance. At the last moment of a scene, a character looks out at the audience, gives a sly smile or a frown of doubt or look that adds irony to the proceedings and puts a different spin on the meaning. It is all a cohesive piece. If there is a quibble it’s that the pace lags a bit in some scenes that deal with exposition.

As always, the costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill are properly overstated, appropriately garish and beautifully express the personality of the characters. For example, the boxy jacket of Zubutin, (a Russian military man) with pointy shoulders, laden with medals says everything about this arrogant, condescending character whose clothes speak to his power. Added to that is Richard Clarkin’s sneer as Zubutin and smarmy delivery and you have perfection. Andrew Dollar’s stark lighting adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. Alice Norton’s wig designs are explosions of curls, marcelled waves, flips and exaggerated swoops, again to illuminate characters. Cliff Saunders as various characters manages to move his wig with a shift of his forehead for hilarious results. Richard Feren’s sound and score captures the melodramatic nature of the enterprise and focuses attention to moments of importance and humour. The exaggerated, oversized props of Shadowland, be it Mackenzie King’s twitchy-red-tongued-dog, or Roosevelt’s elongated cigarette holder, or the large vials of Dr. Ewen Cameron’s mind destroying drugs, conjures images that enhances each scene.

The acting company is exemplary. They each play many characters and every one is clear, distinct, and if playing a real person, captures that person to perfection. It’s impossible to pick one example but: Aurora Browne makes us squirm when she plays Mary Muffet in a dastardly mind-bending experiment; Valerie Buhagiar is sultry and dangerous as Natasha, a Russian spy; Greg Campbell as Tom Muffet, is the stereotypical husband who wants to be served dinner immediately when he gets home—we love to hate this guy; Richard Alan Campbell is a watchful Igor Gouzenko; Richard Clarkin nails Diefenbaker from his toothy smile to his puffed up self; Kimwun Perehinec is whiny and wonderfully annoying as the child Nancy Muffet and Cliff Saunders is a mass of twitches and business as the easy to manipulate Mackenzie King and the jovial Lester Pearson among others. All wonderful work.

This is the first performance of VideoCabaret since the pandemic closed the theatre and since the death of co-founder Deanne Taylor who died in Dec. 2020. Her spirit is all over that building. After the company bow, Greg Campbell introduced a tribute to Ms Taylor. It was a silent video/home movie of a young girl in a dress interacting with an older man while the credits of the evening rolled over the video. For those who knew Deanne Taylor, the face of the young girl was unmistakably a young Deanne Taylor. For those who didn’t know her they would have been mystified. I think this video was too ‘insider-information’ and not helpful in its intent. And you couldn’t read the credits because the writing was light scrolling over a light background. It would have been better to scroll the credits on the black wall beside the video.

And what better tribute to Deanne Taylor than just to project on the wall her beguiling picture (that’s on the inside of the program) underneath which would be the dates of her birth and death and that she was the co-founder of VideoCabaret. The attempt at a tribute to Deanne Taylor with that video was a missed opportunity.

However, the production of The Cold War-Part I is terrific.  

VideoCabaret Presents:

Plays until: June 5, 2022

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Opened: May 5, 2022.

I saw it, May 10, 2022

www.VideoCab.com

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Live and in person at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre, Greenwin Theatre, Meridian Arts Centre, 5040 Yonge St. Toronto, Ont.  until. May 15, 2022.

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

Written by Alix Sobler

Directed by Avery Saltzman

Set designed by Brian Dudkiewicz

Sound designed by Lyon Smith

Costumes designed by Alex Amini

Lighting Designed by Siobhán Sleath

Cast: Mairi Babb

Darrin Baker

Sarah Gibbons

Tal Gottfried

Lawrence Libor

A sobering, earnest look at the life of immigrant Jews in New York City in 1911 as they toiled in a terrible sweatshop with horrible results.

The Story. Rosa and her friends have gathered to tell a story as a play. It is less about entertainment and more about bearing witness. They have done this before with variations but this time seems particularly important.

Rosa describes life in Russia for Jews at the beginning of the 20th century: pogroms, racism; freezing weather, hunger, poverty, little opportunity for a better life there. She dreams of going to American where life is better. Women can work, earn a living, be educated and make a better life. Her brother Avram choses to stay in Russia believing he can make a difference there. Rosa and her sister Saidie and Saidie’s husband go by ship to New York. It’s a rough journey but hope for a better life is high.

Rosa gets a job in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company as a seamstress. The work is arduous, the hours are long, the pay is minimal and the working conditions are horrible. She makes friends and is intrigued with a firebrand named Clara who urges the works to form a union for better conditions and pay. Rosa attracts the attention of Jacob, a cutter at the factory who professes his love. Rosa is hesitant.

With the telling of the story/play we learn that it ended horribly—this is not a spoiler because it’s noted throughout the telling.

The Production and comment. Brian Dudkiewicz’s set is evocative of the dingy factory. The back wall is black as if sooty, as in the remnants of a fire. Benches are used to suggest a change of location. Suitcases of the various immigrants are placed around the set from which characters will get props. Very efficient. Alex Amini’s costumes suggest the poor immigrant life: well-worn clothes.  Lyon Smith’s sound scape is subtle and very effective as we hear the distant rumble of the fire, that would become full of screams as people were trapped in their sewing room because the door was locked to prevent theft, and the elevator didn’t work.  Because of that fire, 146 workers died, most of them young women. Avery Saltzman’s staging is efficient and not flashy.

There is a compelling earnestness in the telling of the story because as Rosa (Tal Gottfried) says they have to make sure that they mattered, because without the fire she says that nobody would have cared about them. Rosa had to be convinced by the other characters that conditions improved after that. In fact the fire was considered the worst in the city until that ‘milestone’ was surpassed elsewhere in the world with worse situations: Bangladesh, China etc.  

I did wonder for whom were they ‘performing’ the play and when Rosa would come forward, I realized it was for the modern audience. The character of Rosa is hard-nosed, full of conviction when she wants to do something, single-minded and unbending when Jacob (a caring Lawrence Libor) professes his love for her. She just can’t commit. When she was faced with a decision in that terrible fire she gives a moving speech of what she wants from life, but again, she is faced with an important decision and can’t make it. I also thought it interesting that Rosa never actually ‘asked’ the modern audience to note their sacrifice she just assumed they wouldn’t care. I think the decision by playwright Alix Sobler to make Rosa unbending weakened her a touch.

Because the material is so earnest, I found that often the cast ‘declared’ their positions rather than presented them, in an effort to heighten the importance of what they were saying. We get it. Please bring the level of expression down a few notches.

The Great Divide recounts a heartbreaking, unsettling story of immigrant life for Jewish immigrants in American with commitment. The guts and sacrifice it took those people to come to a new country is there in the play. No matter where they landed we are the beneficiaries of that conviction.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre presents:

Plays until: May 15, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

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