A Christmas Carol

At Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Justin Haigh from the novel by Charles Dickens

Directed by Sarah Thorpe

Costumes and props by Chelsea Driver

Musical Director, Pratik Gandhi

Cast: Jim Armstrong

Makenna Beatty

Christopher Fowler

John Fray

Tamara Freeman

Thomas Gough

Christopher Lucas

Margo MacDonald

Tiffany Martin

William Matthews

Amy Marie Wallace

Kholby Wardell

A wonderful story done beautifully.

We live in a city big enough to support various productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but one of the best productions on offer is the one playing at the historic Campbell House Museum until Dec. 22.

Campbell House dates back to the time of Charles Dickens’ and to the world of money-hungry Ebenezer Scrooge and so its old furnishings, creaky floors, and frayed carpet on the stairs lend atmosphere and a presence to the story.

It’s the Christmas Eve in London, England all those years ago that Ebenezer Scrooge learned the truth about the spirit of Christmas. Before that compassion, mercy and kind-heartedness had no place in his life. There was only money. Then he was visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley who lived as Scrooge had lived until he saw the error of his ways in death. He was now going to try and show Scrooge a better way to live. Three spirits of Christmas: past, present and future) would visit him with truths and visions. Would it change him? If you don’t know I assume you’ve been in a cave for about 175 years.

Writer Justin Haigh has written an eloquent adaptation of the Dickens classic, tightening the story in places, condensing scenes without harm to the tone and atmosphere of the piece.

Director Sarah Thorpe is such a sensitive, creative director who uses the gift of setting the story in Campbell House Museum to its full advantage. The audience gathers in a room in the basement of the building, just opposite from the kitchen. A man in clothes of Dickens’s time: pants, shirt, vest and fingerless gloves works diligently at a desk, writing in a book. He is cold and constantly rubs his arms and hands to keep warm. He puts on his scarf and then his coat to continue. He is Bob Cratchit (played beautifully by William Matthews as a well-eaning, anxious, kind man).

Ebenezer Scrooge (Thomas Gough) arrives quickly and smartly. He is dressed in a well tailored black frock coat and black pants. He too begins writing at his desk but keeps eyeing Cratchit who would love to add another piece of coal to the fire. If Scrooge is anything, he is irritable. He doesn’t express joy, or happiness or kindness. He is grumpy to all and begrudges people celebrating Christmas. But he gets his awakening when Jacob Marley (Christopher Fowler) arrives and tells him what to expect. Fowler arrives slowly from the back of the room and in a low, soft voice gives us the details. His face is haunted white.  He walks and moves slowly. He wears a long chain looped around his neck. This is his penance to bear the chains until he can be set free. He is our guide and leads us from room to room at a leisurely pace. With an arm half bent up, the back of his hand facing us, his eyes widen as he looks at us and then flutters three fingers in the air ever so subtly indicating us to follow him.

Up and down the stairs, into rooms that are well appointed or scarcely furnished but with atmosphere. Director Sarah Thorpe has set each scene in each room with economy, theatricality and clarity. We are never confused as to where we are and how important the scene is and what is conveying.

It is heart-breaking to see what Scrooge gave up for loving money full time. But Thomas Gough as Scrooge knows too what he gave up. He goes from an irritated, irascible man ready to foreclose on people’s houses over Christmas with nary a backward look,  to a soften man, tempered and able to find joy again, when he comes face to face with his fate.

The whole cast is exemplary as is the production. If you have never been in the Campbell House Museum, this is a perfect chance to put that right. It’s magical and so is this production.

The Three Ships Collective with support from Soup Can Theatre, presents:

Opened:  Dec. 13, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 75-90 minutes


A Very Leila Christmas

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace.

Created and performed by Leila

Directed by Leila’s Mother

Original set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Sound by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski

Leila is a force to be reckoned with. She is a Persian performer, singer, comedienne, actress, self-promoter and gracious host. This is her first Christmas and she has thrown her heart and soul into celebrating it, that is when she is not working at the Call Centre for Rogers.

She wanted to impress a co-worker and so invited them all to her small basement apartment she shares with her parents. She took the Rogers job to make extra money. What she lacks in resources she makes up for with garish taste. She is ably helped by designer Joe Pagnan who knows how to make ‘garish’ into a colourful room with style.

There is a big tree with some lights but not in any way decorated. She uses her beguiling charm to encourage us to take ornaments from various boxes that are passed along the rows of the audience. Leila personally hands me a paper menorah with candles on a backdrop in the shape of a Star of David and the words “Happy Hanukkah” on it. Leila is an equal opportunity celebrant of any holiday. We were then expected to go to the tree and place our decoration on it.

Leila’s ensembles are always colourful and eye-popping. This one is red. The pants are form-fitting and have sparkly bits on it. She wears a Christmas sweater of sorts and a long flowing head covering that is wrapped around her neck loosely just under her full beard (!!). It’s been said that actor Izad Etimadi is her alter-ego but Leila’s personality is so big that there is only room for Leila to be in our presence and not she and Izad.

As this is Leila’s first Christmas she is a bit hazy on what happens. She does believe there is a Santa Claus because she has seen him twice, once at a parade in his name. He’s got a parade named after him! They don’t do that if the guy doesn’t exist.

And she knows he brings presents if you are nice. Leila created her own “12 Days of Christmas” of what she wanted, starting with a Gucci bag and escalating from there. I won’t tell you what else because that would spoil the wit and humour of it.

Leila engages the audience with good humour, a wicked wit, charm and generosity. She flirts with the men in the audience and not in a pushy way. She even gets a bit political—how can she not, she’s Persian and that carries with it heavy politics. But Leila knows how to mention things that bother her without belaboring the subject or hectoring the audience. Perhaps it’s the bribe of little bags of cookies she gave all of us.

A Very Leila Christmas is a wonderful romp of entertainment by a most charming, extroverted dazzler named Leila. The run is very short (only three days). It ends on Sunday Dec. 16, 2018. Too bad her alter-ego Izad Etimadi can’t get in the room to see it too (her personality is too big for both of them)—he would love it.

Theatre Passe Muraille and Bad Girl Leila Present:

Began. Dec. 14, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.



by Lynn on December 13, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre (Formerly the Panasonic Theatre), Toronto, Ont.

Directed, written and choreographed by Gypsy Snider

Cast: Maria Del Mar Reyes

Vincent Jutras

Jérémi Lévesque

Natasha Patterson

Hugo Ragetly

Émilie Silliau

Julien Silliau

Emi Vauthey

Reversible is absolutely divine. The glorious circus troupe, The Seven Fingers, takes circus and pares it down to its breathtaking essence with a loving narrative of memory, family and connection.

 For Reversible the newest show from The Seven Fingers, director-writer-and-choreographer Gypsy Snider (a name you can tip your hat to) asked her troupe of eight performers to delve into their families’ past and come up with a narrative regarding a character or characters in their lives.

As the characters flip, glide, somersault, juggle, crack whips, unfurl fans with flair, scurry up ropes, poles and silks and hang laundry, to name few, they meet the love of their lives, fall in love, run away from home to be with their ‘own one’ and they do it with a sense of wistfulness.

At the beginning each performer talks into a microphone and gives snippets of the information they learned about their family. One performer (Maria Del Mar Reyes) does it in Spanish. Another (Emi Vauthey) tells us of her Japanese grandmother who fell in love with a Swiss man and left home to follow him to Switzerland where they married and remained happy for the rest of their lives.  Each performer carries that character with them in their routines.

Every circus has jugglers. We ohhhh and awww when they juggle multiples of something that are on fire, or are sharp and dangerous. The Seven Fingers takes juggling and every other kind of circus activity to a different level.  When Natasha Patterson juggles her red, malleable balls it’s as if they are possessed or have a spirit and personality of their own. She not only tosses them in the air in ever increasingly difficult patterns, she also uses the walls of the set as an added aid, thus making us look at juggling in a different light.

Walking up a pole is big in circuses these days. Again, The Seven Fingers troupe takes this to another level. Julien Silliau and his wife Émilie Silliau climb the pole, balance on each other and flip out in death defying patters. One trick shows they are head and shoulders above any other circus. Julien climbs up the pole, his arms are straight out holding on to the pole as he rises up, fist over fist. Émilie stands on one of his arms and as his arms rise up the pole, she steps on his arms as if climbing stairs, balanced, poised, effortless. Astonishing.

The Seven Fingers is a decidedly low tech troupe. Glitz, glitter, dazzling projections, neon costumes and all the flashy stuff of others is not for them. Their costumes are comfortable and form-fitting for the women and loose and baggy pants etc. for the men. Walls factor heavily in this show and Gypsy Snider’s vision for it. The movable walls are made of grungy looking plywood that someone might have taken off a curb pile. In each wall is a door, a window with simple curtains and perhaps a small ‘animal door’ at the bottom. Snider has choreographed a pattern of quick entrances and exits through each door, a flip through windows and even a gasp of a scene when one performer on the floor bends forward so completely she is then easily pulled backwards through the ‘animal door’ at the bottom of the wall. You will not look at a baseball cap in the same way because of the way this troupe juggles, flips and tosses them around the set and over the walls.

Cirque de Soleil?  Feh!!!! The Seven Fingers is the bomb! It’s a circus troupe, like no other and performs with such a beating heart and such whimsy in its theatrics it leaves its audience dazzled as well as moved. Who knew that putting up laundry would be such a moving image? Who knew that creating heaven with smoke and billowing sheets could be so captivating?

You must see this. It’s a gift, no matter the season.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Dec. 12, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 6, 2018.

Running time: 90 minutes.


At the AKI Studio in the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas S. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by Leora Morris

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Christopher Ross-Ewart

Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Susanna Fournier

Danny Ghantous

Chala Hunter

This is a gripping story of a Philosopher who was exiled because he was an atheist, his mad wife who he chained up like a wild dog and the dog tamer he hired to tame her. There also is the dog tamer’s brother. A play and production dense with meaning, historical implication and compelling theatre. 

The Story. The Philosopher’s Wife is the first part of Susanna Fournier’s mammoth The Empire Trilogy that covers 500 years of an imagined empire.

The Philosopher’s wife is mad and dangerous so he chains her up as he would one of his wild dogs. He needs a dog trainer to tame his wife and so summons one. Thomas arrives with his quiet sister Tereza. The Philosopher didn’t expect Thomas to bring anyone with him, let alone his sister. Then the reality becomes clear. Tereza is the dog trainer, literate and accomplished. Thomas is her illiterate brother. Women are not allowed to have such jobs at that time and so Tereza is careful to assume a subservient attitude until the Philosopher realizes she is the trainer.

Tereza goes about taming ‘the wife’. She is wild, dangerous and growls instead of speaks. It will be a challenging effort to make ‘the wife’ civilized.

The Production. The production is stunning in its simplicity and all consuming atmosphere. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a large raised black platform that is the playing space. Outlines of rivers, terrain and areas of the Philosopher’s domain are etched or indicated on the playing space. The audience sits around the space. Lights are around the inside of the space. Kaitlin Hickey’s moody lighting also pours down but is evocative of the dark, sinister time of the play. Alexandra Lord’s costumes are rustic for Thomas (Danny Ghantous), Tereza (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), and the Philosopher’s wife (Chala Hunter) initially. The Philosopher’s (Susanna Fournier) clothes are befitting a man of learning and money—stylish, well tailored and maintained.

Because the actor originally cast as the Philosopher left the production a few days before the opening, playwright Susanna Fournier took over the part. The original actor is 6’1”. Fournier is diminutive by comparison. No matter.  By force of her will and our willingness to suspend disbelief we believe Susanna Fournier is a formidable, thoughtful, keenly reasoned Philosopher. Aviva Armour-Ostroff as Tereza is a force to be reckoned with. Tereza might have initially stood behind her brother, head bowed and subservient, but when it’s revealed that Tereza is the dog tamer Armour-Ostroff looks anyone in the eye and stares them down, be they imposing Philosopher or his viciously growling, chained up mad wife. Armour-Ostroff firmly wrestles the Wife to the ground and quietly, firmly says “Ok. Ok. Ok.” without a shred of sentimentality. Armour-Ostroff is ably matched by Chala Hunter as the wife, fearless, frightening, and eventually human. Danny Ghantous as Thomas brings out how lost Thomas is. He is sick, an opium eater for various physical ailments and frightened when his sister isn’t there to help and protect him.

Guiding this compelling production is director Leora Morris. The few times she has directed here (she works in Atlanta, Georgia) you are keenly aware of how gifted a director she is. She has put such a  stamp on this production of The Philosopher’s Wife. With Christopher Ross-Ewart’s almost constant rumbling soundscape and the fine use of the moody lighting, Leora Morris has created a world with turmoil just under the surface. At one point the Philosopher’s wife escapes and runs, gasping. The lights blink around the inside of the raised platform while the wife gasps for breath as she runs.  It creates an eerie sound in the gloom. So many images are so evocative.

Political intrigue is everywhere in The Philosopher’s Wife.  This is a world divided. Tereza and her brother are from the south. The Philosopher and is Wife are from the North. The Philosopher has written a manifesto on Atheism which would have been forbidden. He is waiting for the king who exiled him to die and then he can publish it. It’s a world on the edge of upheaval. All this comes out in this bracing production thanks to Leora Morris’ direction.

On a quibbling note, it does seem as if the play could have ended a few times. Perhaps some tightening in the writing is in order.

Comment.  Playwright Susanna Fournier has conjured a mammoth trilogy of plays about empire, history, mythologies, the nature of power and how various systems have bound us, mainly women.

One thinks of plays where women are tamed as if they are wild animals. The taming of a falcon is the metaphor used in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio tries to tame Katherine of her ill temper. Here Fournier has imagined the Philosopher’s wife as a mad dog to be tamed. One also looks at a man who would chain her and think she needed taming. Lots to think about as we wait for the next two installments of The Empire Trilogy.

 Paradigm Productions presents:

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


Shorter reviews:

The Wonder Pageant

 At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Kayla Lorette and Ron Pederson

Lighting by Mark Andrada

Costumes by Sim Suzer

Set by Anna Treusch

Cast: Matt Baram

Jan Caruana

Kayla Lorette

Waylen Miki

Paloma Nuñez

Ron Pederson

Kris Siddiqi

Full disclosure: Improv is not one of my favourite forms of theatre. However, when it is done as well as this group of wildly gifted improv comedians then everything is right with the world.

The company of six (with their talented accompanist, Waylen Miki) is ready to load us with holiday cheer. They are dressed in appropriately cheesy Christmas sweaters with one person (Matt Baram) sporting a festive Hannukah version complete with menorah and the words: “Let’s Get Lit.”

Co-creator Ron Pederson tells us the rules: there are none. They have no idea what they will be doing or to whom they will be doing it. It’s obvious they have worked together before because there is a rapport, a short-hand and a keen knowledge of how to riff off each other to create the best comedy sketch. They are quick, smart, inventive and work as a cohesive unit with no one trying to out do the other.

The audience is encouraged to suggest words, subjects etc. for the company to use for their skits. The woman next to me was partial to the words: “sex”, “cocaine” and “booze.” (I want to know what she was smoking before she got to the theatre, but I digress).

There were skits about fidelity, relationships, love, faking singing Christmas songs and any number of things that pop up on various nights.

Brave Jan Caruana ventured into the audience to zero in on an unsuspecting person for inspiration. By talking to that person and getting information about their lives, Caruana and the rest of the troupe would fashion a skit. Caruana approached a woman opposite me on the aisle. She said, “Hi, what’s your name?” “Karen” came the answer. Caruana continued. “And what do you do?” (I subtly smiled and shook my head, thinking: “Oh Jan Caruana, you know not what you do…”) Karen said, “You don’t want to know what I do.” Caruana couldn’t turn back now. “Yes, I do.” Karen said, “I’m a theatre critic for the Toronto Star.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that the look that flashed over Jan Caruana’s face was terror, or even a hint of gas, in any case the revelation that Jan Caruana had approached Karen Fricker of the Toronto Star resulted in the room erupting in laughter—always music to a comedienne’s ears. Caruana gently learned enough about Fricker for her and her colleagues to create a funny and memorable skit. It was all done with wit, consideration, respect and humour.

The evening goes like the wind. Skits invariably end on a high note, just before they over stay their welcome. Perhaps there is a secret code the cast uses to convey the end a skit, but I couldn’t see it. Needless to say Connor Low, the troupe’s stage manager knew instinctively when to snap the lights out for full effect.

The holidays are upon us. It can be a stressful time. The Coal Mine Theatre has the perfect solution to relieve that stress and give you great cheer. It’s called The Wonder Pageant.

The Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 23, 2018.

Running time: 75 minutes.


No Clowns Allowed

At the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Bri Proke

Directed by Katrina Darychuk

Designed by Bri Proke and Imogen Wilson

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Sound by Miss Langley

Cast: Emmelia Gordon

Xavier Lopez

Bri Proke writes about death in a wildly imaginative way. No Clowns Allowed is her first play. I look forward to more.

Death is not really final in Bri Proke’s intriguing play No Clowns Allowed. For example 18-year-old Emile (Xavier Lopez) is preparing for his birthday by decorating his tombstone with streamers, ribbons and a sign that says “Happy Birthday.”  His grave-mate, Sheila (Emmelia Gordon), is not impressed. Her grave is next to Emile’s. His space is neat. Hers is strewn with her empty beer cans. Even in death she drinks. Sheila is one unhappy dead person.

There are hints that both Emile and Sheila committed suicide but it’s deliberately not clear. Sheila was unhappy in her marriage. Her husband ran a bowling alley and spent more time there than at home with her. She drank to ease her depression at the situation. She was angry, perhaps vulgar and now that she was dead she didn’t think her husband thought of her at all. He certainly didn’t come and visit the grave. But even in death she was unhappy. There is a way of solving that. A radio station for the dead offers three pills taken over time that will erase all memory of the life before the dearly departed arrived at their grave site. Sheila is on that road. Emile tries to reason her out of doing it.

Director Katrina Darychuk has directed the production with a sure hand that never lets the emotions of the characters run away with them. She keeps a fine balance with both Emmelia Gordon as Sheila and Xavier Lopez as Emile either joke with each other or spar. The stakes are high. Emile wants Sheila to stay and keep him company, but he also knows that more ‘life’ in death can be rejuvenating.

Emmelia Gordon as Sheila is hard-edged, irritated when she drinks and when she doesn’t. She views Emile as an annoyance. She will defend her space as long as she can. She has a dark sense of humour and an anger to go with it. As Emile, Xavier Lopez is eager to please, wiry, boyish and has a delicate charm that is endearing.

Bri Proke’s play has a quirky, intriguing story. Her dialogue zips along and she has a neat turn of praise. No Clowns Allowed might take place in a graveyard with two wandering ghosts at odds with each other and the world they have departed, but make no mistake, this play is about challenging, difficult, bracing life in all its prickly, shining glory.

Blood Pact Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 16, 2018.

 Running Time: 1 hour


If on a Christmas Night… (Se una notte a Natale)

 At the Columbus Centre 901 Lawrence Ave, W, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Daniele Bartolini

Production designs and interactive environments by Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti

Costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Cast: Franco Berti

Danya Buonastella

Rory de Brouwer

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Raylene Turner

Daniele Bartolini

Heart-bursting, joyful, collaborative, wonderfully immersive, beautifully produced.

Daniele Bartolini, writer-director-theatre creator extraordinaire, is at it again. Not content to rest on his laurels by creating segments of three fascinating days of immersive street theatre in Barrie, Ont. and London, England as part of the Curious Voyage, his latest effort is If on a Christmas Night… that is interactive and immersive, that celebrates Christmas, family, community and Italian-Canadian culture. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas or be Italian to appreciate this wonderful embracing show.

The 30 or so audience members gathered in a large room in the Columbus Centre. We were shown a home movie of an Italian family that was newly arrived in Canada and about to celebrate Christmas. They were staying with an uncle, but they missed their own decorations that were locked in a trunk with their luggage. This set up a sense of longing but also opened us up to celebrate the season.

In a quick thrice the six actors of the troupe transformed that one big room into several smaller rooms using room dividers, doors, flats, curtains, tiles and chalk boards. Each room suggested a room in a house, full of mementos, photographs and old tablecloths.  The whole environment was designed by the wondrously inventive Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti. They create a whole world with such subtle detail your jaw drops.

Our large group was divided into smaller groups of about four or five people. We went from room to room with our group to watch and be involved in small scenes. In one room a young woman (Danya Buonastella) told us in great detail, sometimes tearfully, of her family history of escape from Italy and elsewhere, death, sacrifice, love and finally salvation in Canada. One wanted to do her the courtesy of remembering all the names of who was related to whom and where they all came from. It wasn’t necessary of course; listening hard and appreciating the story was all that was needed.

We found ourselves in a kitchen with chalk boards for walls with a large wood table, the top of which was covered in flour. A round of dough was in the middle. A man (Franco Berti) communicated with us silently—he didn’t speak—he drew on the chalk board that he was an artist. He flattened the dough, smoothed it out to a thin round. Then he carefully flipped it into the air and expanded it to large pizza size as he tossed it. Masterful. He drew pictures in the flour on the table. His need for art was touching. His striving for it was as well. Of course cooking beautiful food is an art too. The man let us see that truth.

Perhaps the most wildly imagined segment involved Rory de Brouwer. In a gush of words he talked intensely about “time” and its importance; how he spent it, reveled in it, used it and found peace in contemplating it. He was in a room full of books and papers to occupy his time. It was the bathroom and I’m not telling you what he was doing there.

Perhaps my favourite room was a dining room with a round table covered in an old, cherished tablecloth. There was a box on the table and in it were questions we were to ask each other to get to know each other. I knew Derrick. Carmen and Lucy were strangers. We had questions such as: “What is your first memory of Christmas?” “Who will you miss this Christmas?” After a while we didn’t pick a question from the box because we were too busy talking and asking each other questions from our curiosity. Wonderful.

The last scene was in one of the rooms and the whole group gathered and sat in chairs arranged around the room. Drinks and various cookies were brought out. We each were given a glass and had either wine, juice or water. We were each told to clink glasses with out neighbours to our left and right, looking them straight in the eye and toasting them. We did this for everybody in the circle. Then we were invited to partake of the sweets.

Daniele Bartolini created this show to connect to and celebrate his Italian roots and his new Canadian community. He’s been here for six years. It is specifically about Italians, new Canadians, Christmas and celebrating. As is true of every story that is specific in its focus the rest of us who are not Italian and don’t celebrate Christmas will find resonance in our own lives that is comparable. It’s about community, celebration, embracing the lives of others, and connecting to strangers who become friends.

This is a wonderful show.

Presented by Villa Charities and the Columbus Centre, and created by DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT)

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 23, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes


Review: THE CODE

by Lynn on December 10, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, in the Studio, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Rachel Aberle

Directed by Patrick McDonald

Costume and Sound by Elizabeth Wellwood

Set by Ruth Bruhn

Cast: Elizabeth Barrett

Nathan Kay

Mason Temple

Writer Rachel Aberle puts us right in the world and mind of today’s teens in this gripping play about how simple ideas can be misinterpreted and then spread by a lack of thought and the speed of the internet. The production is terrific.

The Story. “The Code” refers to the dress code for young women for an upcoming dance at a high school. It seems that a young woman was sexually assaulted by a young man because she was dressed provocatively according to the school administration. So for the dance the school has decreed how a young woman should dress.

Moira, about 17 takes exception to this. She feels the school administration should focus on the young man’s behaviour and not how a young woman dresses. Moira proves her point by saying the young woman was dressed in a floor length dress that was not revealing. She holds a rally to gain support. The school reacts by cancelling the dance. The student body turn on Moira because of this cancellation.

Her two friends, Simon and Connor, support her in her indignation at the turn of events. Simon is secretly in love with Moira. For Moira, Simon is her best friend and that’s it, even though they go on a ‘date.’ Connor urges Simon to tell Moira how he feels. Simon, awkward at the best of times, musters the gumption and tells Moira. In the kindest of ways, Moira says she doesn’t feel that way about him and she’s sorry he misinterpreted her friendship. Simon is hurt and embarrassed at his admission to her and does something terrible by social media—he posts a doctored video of Moira speaking to the student body at the rally. It goes viral. Moira can’t stop it or offer the truth. She is bombarded by bullying remarks. She feels her life is over. When she leans the truth from Simon she reacts in a blunt, honest way. She is given solace by Connor, but makes sure their friendship is understood to be ‘friendship’ and nothing more.

This info does not reveal the whole play, but focuses on how important these details are.

The Production. Ruth Bruhn’s set is very simple: a back wall suggesting the school with a structure or two to sit or stand on. The costumes for the three characters are typical of high school students: hoodies, jeans, t-shirts.

There is an easy rapport between the actors: Elizabeth Barrett as a forthright Moira, Nathan Kay as the awkward Simon in puppy-love with Moira and Mason Temple as Connor, thoughtful, intelligent and knows how to weigh the arguments. It’s directed by Patrick McDonald with his usual clear vision and efficient staging to guide the actors to do justice to their parts and the story. The revelations and results are swift and you get the breathless sensation at how fast a rumour travels with a click of ‘send’, changes, twists on itself and ruins reputations until trying to stop and correct the inaccuracies are futile.

Rachel Aberle has written a compact, taut play that creates that fragile world of today’s teenager. It seems to be a world where pausing to think before hitting ‘send’ is getting rarer and rarer. I was shaken by how swift Simon reacted to Moira’s revelation—that she did not like him in the way he liked her—resulted in his recklessly sending a damning e-mail into the internet. Simon’s seeming lack of conscience at someone he cared about came so fast and believably so, that it was and is unsettling. Aberle has created a balance in the three characters. Moira and Connor are responsible and pause to think, and while Simon may be decent deep down, he does a reckless thing and almost ruins a person’s life. These are totally believable events and Aberle captures them beautifully. The language is captivating, articulate and appropriate.

Comment. I love being unsettled and unbalanced by this play. I love seeing these plays in a student audience the ages of the characters in the play. I love how these young people  react instantly to something they agree with or are upended by in the play and the air is a hiss of their whispering to each other. They can’t contain themselves. Wonderful. And their comments are interesting too.

What a play! Typical of the good works from Green Thumb Theatre, and bravo to Young People’s Theatre for continuing to being them here with their bracing plays and productions.

Green Thumb Theatre Presents:

Began: Nov. 27, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 14, 2018.

Running Time: 55 minutes.


At the Commons, 587a College St., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Erin Courtney

Directed by Jay Turvey

Set and costumes by Christine Urquhart

Composed by Paul Sportelli

Sound by James Smith

Lights by Mikael Kangas

Cast: Julia Course

Cameron Grant

Jeff Irving

Catherine McGregor

A quirky, odd and compelling production.

Alice (Catherine McGregor) is a magnet for the insecure, the overexcited, the narcoleptic and those deemed to be troublemakers. Alice motivates her followers to find their truth and run with it. She holds seminars for those followers who want to find their way. She encourages even the most questionable people, seeing only the positive in everybody. Her office manager is John (Jeff Irving), trim in a stylish suit and tie, who always thinks of making money and growing the company, even though Alice is not that interested. John is the narcoleptic. Louise (Julia Course), oddly dressed in miss-matched clothes, applies for a temp job at Alice’s office after she had a melt-down as an art history teacher. Louise comes under Alice’s wing and soon takes over for her leading the seminars. Arthur (Cameron Grant) is a young man who used to be in Louise’s art class, quit and is now an intern in Alice’s office.

When Alice’s beliefs are shattered because of an incident, she is unhinged in life and unseated in the office by the ambitious John and the newly confident Louise. Arthur realizes that all that Alice stood for and seemingly was supported by her staff of two, is now in jeopardy. John goes after making money and Louise flips the meaning of Alice’s positive message into something more ominous.  It’s left to Arthur to continue Alice’s message in his own way.

American writer Erin Courtney has written a quirky, odd play that riffs on the burgeoning self-help business. At its core is an interesting, reasonable message: to follow your truth and find the positive in the world. It’s interesting to see how greed and fear also appear to drive people in the play and that too is compelling to watch.

The cast and creatives of Theatre Animal Company, that is producing this compelling production, are members of the Shaw festival both past and present. Their work is dandy. Jay Turvey as director and Christine Urquhart as designer have created an economical production that flows seamlessly from scene to scene.

There is a wonderfully telling bit of business in which Alice instructs both John and Louise to move their desks together so that they are facing each other, interacting, connecting in the work place. When Alice is out of the picture John takes over and separates the desks so that he is in his own separate space and Louise is in hers; they don’t interact or seem to connect. John goes on to grow the company as he sees fit and Louise, now transformed into a stylishly dressed, frighteningly confident speaker with an unsettling message.

Catherine McGregor as Alice, is calm, focused and draws everybody in. Her gaze and conviction that everybody can be their best, is almost hypnotic. The body language is poised, open and trusting. When she loses her way she is almost fetal in her position in a chair, meek and completely unhinged. Julia Course as Louise is careless in dress and attitude as a teacher out of her element and a temp in Alice’s office. She transformed into a confident, take-no-prisoners person when she ‘spiffs-up,’ dresses for success and finds she rocks as a speaker. Jeff Irving, always a tight smile as John, is driven (except when he nods off in the middle of a sentence), efficient, and a corporate animal. This is a smooth operator. Cameron Grant plays Arthur as a sweet, often lost, but eventually found, confident man who believes in Alice’s mantra. He is the one character who is able to carry on from where Alice left off.

Paul Sportelli, the gifted music director of the Shaw Festival provides the music. Besides composing for the production he also programmed Vivaldi’s “Summer” from his  “Four Seasons” as the signature music for the production. Brilliant and impish. The music is frenzied, full of heat, distraction and stuff to race the heart. Perfect for Alice the Magnet.

Last year Theatre Animal Company presented the equally compelling play Grimly Handsome. This year they invite you to join them for Alice the Magnet. Feel the pull. Give in. See it.

Theatre Animal Company presents:

Closes: Dec. 9, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.



{ 1 comment }

At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Matt Murray

Inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Directed and choreographed by Tracey Flye

Set and costumes by Cory Sincennes

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Projections designed by Cameron Davis

Cast: Eric Craig

Michael De Rose

Camille Eanga-Selenge

Eddie Glen

Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Matt Nethersole

Daniel Williston

Irreverent, topical, charming and one of the best productions of the yearly pantomime to come out of Ross Petty Productions.

 The Story.  This is the annual Ross Petty pantomime with a twist.  He has not been in these productions for a few years but his presence is in every word.

The story takes place in Toronto and Oz. Dorothy is a lovely environmentally conscious, politically aware young woman who lives in Toronto and feels things are getting out of hand.  Miss Gulch is a rich landlord who wants to gouge her tenants by raising the rent 20%. She wants them out so she can build a big polluting factory. She does not believe in climate change and wants to destroy the environment and make lots of money. Dorothy tries to stand up to her.

Then there is that tornado that blows her and some of her friends to a strange and colourful land where they meet odd people, including Sulphura, a terrible witch, who looks a lot like Miss Gulch.

The Production. This is the 23rd year that Ross Petty has been producing these family musicals based on fractured fairy tales, or beloved books given a twist.

This is a typical twisted (or ‘twistered’ family musical to a point. We still have a story of good vs. evil. There is a villain—or villainess in the case of Miss Gulch. There are the decent people—Dorothy and her friends, and even Sulphura’s side kick, Randy is secretly fed up with her bad behaviour and is really a good guy. There are topical jokes, some rather risqué humour for the adults and lots of interplay with the audience and the kids in the crowd. And like a well oiled machine the audience knows instinctively when to boo. Of course it helps that the chords of foreboding that play just before Sulphura’s entrance give a good indication when to puff up to boo.

 I say this is typical to a point. How is this production of The Wizard of Oz: A Toto-ly Twistered Family Musical different?

It’s one of the best productions of these pantos I’ve seen in a long time.  Matt Murray has written one of the best scripts for this show. The jokes are sharp, funny and clever. The story is topical and local. It’s about the environment, climate change, affordable housing, fairness in politics and wanting to serve the people. It takes place on Ossington during its annual summer street fair.  It has a lovely dog playing Toto.  And the talent is terrific.

Dorothy is played by Camille Eanga-Selenge who is feisty and a powerhouse singer.

Eddie Glen plays Randy with his usual impish flair and he also plays the mysterious wizard. Glen is a mainstay of these productions.  He’s always wonderful.  Miss Gulch and Sulphura are played by Sara-Jeanne Hosie. She earns every boo. She owns the stage; she stares down and challenges the audience. She takes no prisoners and she’s wonderful.

There is a creature named Sugarbum who is a hapless fairy who mixes things up and gets things wrong. She is played by Michael de Rose in his debut here, and he’s hilarious, quick, seemingly offhanded and a total joy. Many of the main cast are debuting here and they are so solid in their roles.

It’s directed and choreographed by Tracey Flye. She has created a world of neon colour, wit, dazzle and eye-popping images.  The choreography is dazzling. The production is slick. It never drags except for the insertion of those annoying but funny ads from their sponsors.  But that’s a quibble.  This is a strong, tight, very funny show.  Loved it!

Comment. See It!

Produced by Ross Petty Productions.

Opened: Dec. 6, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 5, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes.



At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Julian Fellowes

Based on the Paramount Movie written by Mike White

Lyrics by Glenn Slater

New music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by Laurence Connor

Choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter

Set and costumes by Anna Louizos

Lighting by Natasha Katz

Sound by Nick Potter

Cast: Merritt David Janes

Madison Micucci

Layne Roate

Lexie Dorsett Sharp

Wild, rocking; a shiftless musician becomes responsible when he teaches uptight privileged kids who loosen up and find their inner rock star.

The Story. Dewey is a loser. He’s thrown out of his rock band for various reasons. He’s crashing on the couch of his friend Ned and Ned’s wife Patty. Patty is miffed that Dewey doesn’t pay rent, sleeps all day and doesn’t help out. Patty leans on mild Ned to tell Dewey to leave.

One day Dewey answers the phone at Ned’s house and learns that there is a substitute teaching job opening for Ned and Dewey pretends to be Ned to take the much needed job. Dewey shows up at this private school looking like his usual dishevelled self. And he’s an hour late for the class. He is to teach regular subjects but Dewey wants to teach them rock and roll. These kids don’t know ‘from rock and roll’ and Dewey takes it upon himself to teach them.

It turns out that Dewey unleashes the inner rock star of each of these repressed, prim and proper kids. He whips them into a frenzied kind of shape to form a band and the rest is a lot of loud riffing.

 The Production. Imagine it, a musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and it’s fun, raucous and enjoyable. No lush orchestrations, even though the Lord Lloyd Webber did the orchestrations.

Julian Fellowes has left any hint of his writing of Downton Abbey outside and packed his book with irreverence and dialogue that zips along.  Fellowes captures the irreverence of Dewey and the upper-class snootiness of the kids before they see the light of rock and roll.

Laurence Connor directs making sure the pace is at break-neck speed and that Merritt David Janes as Dewey is always moving and breathless. Janes is a dynamo of the guitar. He sings with heart and rasp and with such energy I could not understand a lot of what he is singing. The others in the cast are clear. It’s rock music. Am I really supposed to understand the lyrics? Well, it would be helpful.

Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie, the up-tight principal of the private school, is compelling in her cool composure. You know that sparks will fly between Dewey and Rosalie. Ned is a wonderful wimp as played by Layne Roate and Patty is assertive and commanding because Madison Micucci plays her with such sass.

The young kids, all who seem to be eleven with the musical chops of people in their thirties, play their instruments live with heart and fierceness.

Comment. This is a musical that when you least expect it leaves you tapping your toe, bopping to the music, smiling unabashedly and thinking that owning the CD of School of Rock would be a good thing.

Presented by Mirvish Productions.

Opened: Nov. 28, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 6, 2019.

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.


At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by David Greig

Based on the book by Roald Dahl

Music by Marc Shaiman

Lyrics by Scott Wittman

Songs from the motion picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Directed by Jack O’Brien

Choreography by Joshua Bergasse

Set and costumes by Mark Thompson

Lighting by Japhy Weidman

Sound by Andrew Keister

Puppetry and illusion design by Basil Twist

Cast: Jessica Cohen

Madeleine Doherty

Kathy Fitzgerald

Nathaniel Hackmann

Claire Neumann

Daniel Quadrino

Amanda Rose

David Samuel

Clyde Voce

Noah Weisberg

Brynn Williams

Matt Wood

Rueby Wood

James Young

Terrific for kids and adults of all ages who like dazzle, pizzazz, loudness, charm, cute kids and seniors, lots of eye-popping distraction and chocolate. There is also a lovely moral  hidden in all that stuff and the mean kids get their just desserts and it doesn’t come with whipping cream.

 The Story.  Charlie is a sweet kid from a poor but loving family. He loves chocolate and he wants to win a contest to visit the Willy Wonka chocolate factory. But first he has to buy a special chocolate bar and he doesn’t have the money. By a miracle he gets one and enters the competition with the other four kids who have a special bar of chocolate. It’s a competition really between the privileged, spoiled, arrogant kids and the decent, kind, generous Charlie. Who will win???

 The Production.  The show of course is based on the Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name. Charlie loves chocolate. He also has the most wonderful imagination and thinks of all manner of ideas related to candy. He writes to the mysterious Willy Wonka who owns the chocolate factory and includes his suggestions. And of course he hopes he wins the contest.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie has the love and support of his family, especially his Grandpa Joe. But they too are suppressed by an unfair system that favours bad behaviour, money and status. But they carry on.

As seems to be the norm when adapting kids books to Broadway the production is overblown with blaring sound, dazzling, neon-coloured sets and costumes (thank you Mark Thompson), and eye-popping lighting effects (thank you Japhy Weidman).  And while some of the songs (by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) are from the motion picture, the majority of them were written expressly for the musical by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

This is not to suggest that the show is cheesy. No Sir. A lot of talented people had input in this enterprise. Jack O’Brien is a smart, intelligent director who has done justice to such musicals as Hairspray and the Full Monty.  And he has been equally successful in directing such challenging plays as The Coast of Utopia, Henry IV, Macbeth and The Nance to name a few. He directs Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with flair, imagination and a sense of whimsy. Basil Twist did his magic in creating the puppets, especially for the diminutive Oompa Loompas. It’s a joke that keeps on giving. Their creation is brilliant.

As Charlie, Rueby Wood has confidence and sweetness for days. He plays Charlie’s innocence, his moral centre without being prickly about it and his boyishness. Plus he sings beautifully. Willy Wonka is played by Noah Weisberg with both a sense of reserve and an impish streak that gives the spoiled brats their comeuppance, but has a keen sense of who is decent, as Charlie is.

The rest of the cast is strong and engaging.

Comment. There is nothing sweet and sentimental about Dahl’s kids’ books. They are dark in tone, attitude and generally show the challenging world that kids live in.

Certainly in Matilda we saw a plucky little girl named Matilda who had terrible parents, a brute of a head mistress in her school and all manner of challenges in just getting through the day. She also had a kind librarian who encouraged and supported her in her love of books.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has its own sense of darkness when Charlie has to go up against kids who have had more privilege then he has; who have more money and are spoiled rotten. Charlie can see the inequity in it all but he has character, and the others don’t. In the end that’s what makes the difference.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Opened: Nov. 21, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 6, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.



by Lynn on December 3, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Christopher Morris

Directed by Daniel Brooks

Set and costumes by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer and sound design by Alexander MacSween

Cast: Gord Rand

A beautiful, gripping production of a compelling story about a man who just wanted to do good.

The Story. Jacob is an orthodox Jew who is single, lives with his mother and is a volunteer paramedic with Z.A.K.A, a group that goes around Israel and internationally collecting the body parts, skin and blood of Jews involved in terrorist attacks. He has no other life/job but this one and he takes it very seriously. (Note traditionally Jews must be buried intact, hence the need to collect the body parts from a terrorist attack etc. for a proper burial.)

One day he comes upon an Israeli soldier lying dead in the road and near him is a young Arab woman who has been shot in the back. She is still alive and Jacob goes to her to try and save her life. He is reprimanded by the others in his group and by his superior for helping the Arab who they assume killed the soldier. Jacob can’t assume anything because he wasn’t there. All he saw was a woman in need of help and since he took an oath to “do no harm” he helped her. He has been taking criticism and enduring the bad treatment of his co-workers, his mother and his righteous brother. All of this leaves him conflicted about what he should have done and knowing he did right.

 The Production. Daniel Brooks directs this production with his usual flair creating vivid images, stark lighting (thank you Bonnie Beecher) and directs a performance of Gord Rand as Jacob that is full of generosity, heart, air-gulping life, confusion, determination and compassion. There is such a firm but gentle hand in the direction; the orchestration of when to run, walk, speed up and shade the dialogue.

Because Jacob must be ready at a moment’s notice to rush to an incident, accident, terrorist attack, Jacob is always rushing. To create this sense of constant movement Gord Rand as Jacob does the whole play on a narrow, long strip of the stage that juts out into the space in front of the audience. It is in fact a treadmill. Beams of light from Bonnie Beecher’s stark design pour down on him. Sometimes he runs but it’s not enough to stop him being sucked into the black of upstage. Very effective image, a voice coming from the dark void upstage.

Often he is running as the treadmill speeds up. He talks urgently of what he has discovered. He talks with speed, purpose and determination of giving the Arab woman CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation to keep her alive.

There are also moments when the treadmill slows and Jacob walks and ponders the things he has encountered and remembers. Moments in his life. He notes that his mother always has dinner ready for him but never knows if he will be home to eat it. She wants him to get married. She hasn’t twigged to the fact that that won’t happen.

There are moments when there is a loud bang sound; Jacob is on the ground and thinks he’s wet. He gets up confused about what has happened. He continues walking. His righteous brother has a job and is prosperous and has contempt for Jacob because Jacob does not have a job; he doesn’t pay taxes; he lives with their mother. In a blistering speech Jacob’s brother feels Jacob he is useless and should go back to London to live and get a job. His brother has disgust for his brother for saving the Arab girl and has contempt for all Arabs. Jacob asks his brother how he can live there under such circumstances and Jacob said his brother yelled: “BECAUSE IT’S MINE!” It’s a particularly chilling moment in a production full of them.

Gord Rand gives a towering performance as Jacob. Jacob is thoughtful, fastidious in a way, desperate to pass on good will to his fellow Jews and towards others, There is such detail, from trying to keep his yarmulke on his head, to his adjusting his glasses up on his nose with his finger,  Of course there is stamina, energy and a sense of exhaustion as Rand runs and walks for the whole hour of this important show. It’s not exhausting for the audience, interestingly enough. It’s the message that writer Christopher Morris wants us to hear and what we realize happens at the end that leaves us emotionally drained.

Jacob sees the negative attitudes around him. He knows in his heart he did right for saving the Arab girl. He is a mensch. And while we know he is kind he laments that that is a rare emotion with his fellow Jews? Volunteers? He does find kindness in the most unexpected place and while the situation there in Israel seems so hopeless that moment of kindness leads one to be optimistic.

Comment. I read somewhere that the basis of Judaism is that it is ‘life-affirming, man-revering.” That is embodied in every single thing that Jacob does in his life. He wants to save lives, no matter whose life it is: Arab, Jew, Palestinian. A life is a life. “Do no harm.”

Christopher Morris has written a compact, taut play that depicts in Jacob’s clear, pristine dialogue the history of the Jews coming to this rocky land with no oil or resources because it was promised to them. Through Jacob we glean the animosity of Jew against Jew and the thorny relationship with the Arabs.

Morris has created in Jacob a generous, open-hearted, gentle man who is searching to do good, to be scrupulous in that search. He is mindful of the explosive nature of his surroundings and tries to hold on to his humanity and find it in others. It’s a measured look at a situation that can be so lopsided. It’s an emotional exhausting,  eye-opening, gripping piece of theatre and I did what I usually do when I see something as moving as this about a troubling subject: I sobbed all the way to the car.

A Human Cargo Theatre Production with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: Nov. 10, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 9 2018.

Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission.