Lynn

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Dominique Morisseau

Based on the book, “The Temptations by Otis Williams”

Music and lyrics by The Legendary Motown Catalog           +

Directed by Des McAnuff

Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

Scenic Design by Robert Brill

Costumes by Paul Tazwell

Lighting by Howell Binkley

Sound by Steve Canyon Kennedy

Projection design by Peter Nigrini

Cast: Saint Aubyn

Derrick Baskin

Marqell Edward Clayton

James Harkness

Jeremy Hope

Jawan M Jackson

Rashidra Scott

Ephraim Sykes

Nasia Thomas

Christian Thompson

A run down memory lane of some of the greatest hits of the rhythm and blues group The Temptations with a smattering of biography. ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations is a show for those who think longingly of the music of the 60s and 70.

 The Story. This is about the rhythm and blues juggernaut that was The Temptations, from their early days (the 1960s) in Detroit when Otis Williams and his boyhood friend Melvin Franklin formed a singing group. Williams then added Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin and after searching for a distinctive name became The Temptations.

The basic biographical points are made in the broadest strokes. They sang where they could and came to the attention of major music honcho Berry Gordy of Motown Records who signed them and they were on their way. Smokey Robinson initially wrote their hit songs. At the height they were the number one rhythm and blues group. With fame came pressure. Outside relationships were tested. The members of the group squabbled. There was drug and alcohol abuse. All this took its toll on the group and their relationships. David Ruffin was replaced. This caused further rifts in the group, until one by one they either drifted away or died.

 The Production. Director Des McAnuff has a love of the rock, rhythm and blues music of the 1960s and 70s. He has directed various shows that celebrate that music: The Who’s Tommy, (based on the Who’s 1969 rock opera) Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s rock opera) Jersey Boys (about the 60s group The Four Seasons), ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations (on its way to Broadway) and Summer (about 1970s pop star, Donna Summer, also on Broadway). Excluding Summer which I haven’t seen, McAnuff has a blueprint for how to do these shows which he has repeated with ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations.

 The production is a bombardment to the eyes and ears. Robert Brill’s set is a constant movement of panels flowing in from and out to the wings or up to the flies and down to mid-air. Howell Binkley’s eye-popping lighting would not be out of place at a rock-concert, with beams and shafts of light lasering into the audience, sweeping the stage or blinking all over the space. Peter Nigrini’s projections that travel across the top of the moving set pieces, are a constant reminder of where these men started (Detroit) to the places to which they toured (Los Angeles, London, Paris, New York, back to Detroit. There are projections of notable historical events as well (the Detroit riots, the murder of Martin Luther King, etc.)  Interestingly there is almost no indication of when this took place, I assume because we are supposed to know.

And then there are the Temptations themselves with their blended harmonies, their soaring voices and the synchronized moves. Otis Williams, the ‘leader’ (a laid-back Derrick Baskin), Paul Williams (James Harkness), Melvin Franklin, (Jawan M. Jackson with his deep voice and imposing stature), Eddie Kendricks, the creator of their moves, (played by the engaging Jeremy Pope) and David Ruffin the showman with the powerful voice who never missed an opportunity to do the splits, (played by the energetic Ephraim Sykes).

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo looked at hours of videos and film of The Temptations performing to get a sense of their choreographed moves and then he created his own vocabulary for the group for this show. He started with the initial swaying, synchronized moves, referenced when it was decided to engage the female fan base by delicately outlining a woman’s body as they sang. That delicacy lasted one song. Then Trujillo’s moves became more muscular, aggressive, athletic, with fist punches and pelvis thrusts. Was he foreshadowing the moves of later singers who would ‘borrow’ the Temptation’s routines? When Detroit erupted in violence, the choreography of the group was angry and defensive. That reference to the political climate is touched on and then the group moves back into focusing on its own problems. Song after song saw choreography that became more breathless and sweat flinging. Of the whole creative team Trujillo’s shows a real imagination and creativity of how to create fresh choreography of the group, but still put them in a wider world.

For the most part, the acting is irrelevant, except for a lovely, detailed performance from Rashidra Scott as Josephine, Otis’ long suffering wife.

Comment. The show is billed as: ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations. That’s wishful thinking. Writer Dominique Morisseau is a very gifted writer but you wouldn’t know it from her paltry book for the show. She drops little dots of information really to act as a link for the songs. There is precious little character development no matter if we connect the dots. For example Otis Williams’ unhappy relationship with Josephine is handled in about three scenes—she gets pregnant and they marry; he tours and communicates by phone from the road; and when he does come home she says she’s met someone else and he’s sorry it didn’t work out! All in about three scenes.  The ‘times’ of The Temptations are given short-shrift. Aside from references to the riots in Detroit and the death of Martin Luther King we don’t know if anything in the outside world touches any of these men. There are practically no dates projected or otherwise that tell us the time frame of the Temptations trajectory. Are we supposed to know by osmoses? How about those of us who liked the music of The Temptations but focused our musical world on Broadway musicals. A little context please. I don’t blame Morisseau for this. She is adhering to the McAnuff blue-print-formula for creating this kind of musical.

As with Des McAnuff’s previous show Jersey Boys you begin to wonder if this is really a concert of The Temptations’ greatest hits—we hear: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “My Girl”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Shout,”  “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” (and of the 31 songs, some are sung by The Supremes, the Temptations’ contemporaries). But then that sketchy book gets in the way. It then becomes the monotony of, “And then we sang, and then we recorded and then we won this award, and then we found another singer”.

 

In sum, the singing in the show is terrific. The dancing is energetic and intoxicating even when it’s more and more aggressive. But the intensity of the efforts of all concerned to make us like the show is overwhelming and rather tedious. We are bludgeoned into submission.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Oct. 16, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.  

www.mirvish.com

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Review: THE WOLVES

by Lynn on October 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Amaka Umeh
Photo: Dahlia Katz

 

At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Sarah Delappe

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Set and Lighting by Jareth Li

Costumes and movement coach, Sarah Doucet

Sound and composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Rachel Cairns

Aisha Evelyna

Ruth Goodwin

Annelise Hawrylak

Ula Jurecki

Brittany Kay

Heath V. Salazar

Haillie Seline

Amaka Umeh

Robyn Stevan

A beautiful production that realizes the cohesive connection of the players on this soccer team as well as their individuality. That team is a microcosm of the world they live in.

The Story. The Wolves is a soccer team of high school girls in Middle America. As they go through their group warm-up and stretching routine they gossip, talk about the news of the day, usually get the information wrong, inadvertently reveal secrets and confidences and regret the lapse afterwards, wonder about the new girl and how come she’s so good if she says she’s never played on a team before and they try to stare down their opponents and psych themselves up if they feel the other team is better. There are jealousies, grudges, on-going feuds and a startling event that changes them all.

The Production. Jareth Li has designed a pristine, beautiful soccer pitch of short brilliant green grass. We are naturally told not to step on it to protect it. The team in shorts, spandex etc. jersey’s with the number on the back and smart running shoes, marches out at the top of the soccer pitch, down along the stage left side then forms a circle in the middle to do their all important stretching. It warms them up and makes them flexible. Becoming familiar with the young women by their numbers and their foibles keeps the audience limber as well.

The team is lead by their imposing captain, #25, a serious, no-nonsense Rachel Cairns who later gives over to heart-breaking emotion at the end. She leads the team in the warm-up routine of twists, stretches, lunges and balancing. They are in perfect synch and one can imagine their coordinated moves in a game. This speaks volumes for the exacting staging of director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (plus movement coach Sarah Doucet).  Number 13 is the irreverent joker of the team and Heath V. Salazar plays her with an edge and daring.  She never backs down from a fight that she usually initiates. The goalie  #00 (a watchful Amaka Umeh)  has very little to say but seems to know all the secrets of every player. Her anxiety before a game makes her rush off to ‘hurl’. One of the star players is #7 who is both confident and combative as played by Aisha Evelyna. She has a secret that she doesn’t want shared and of course it slips out. The anger and hurt in Aisha Evelyna’s playing of her makes one suck air slowly. Robyn Stevan plays Soccer Mom in a small part of a mother who comes to wish the team well. This is a woman who puts on a cheerful attitude and a winning smile in the face of a traumatic event. It’s an emotionally gut-wrenching performance.

In fact that traumatic event changes everybody on that team. The body language, the awareness they have of and for each other again attests to Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s detailed, sensitive direction. The lines wiz through the air with precision as each player replies or subtly reacts. The playing is intricate and complex, like a game of soccer.

The team seems a microcosm of a world they live in; war, racism, violence, unfair competition, death, disappointment and loss. The team is multi-ethnic and the cast reflects that as well, including actors who identify as female and non-binary. They also illuminate joy, friendship, camaraderie, inclusion and compassion.

Comment. This is Sarah Delappe’s first play. Astonishing. She captures the language, short hand, swearing, idiosyncrasies, turns of phrases and awkwardness of some of these young women and the tough-minded confidence of others. Each young woman strives to be an individual and of course they are, but Delappe has us know them only by their jersey number and never by a name. I loved that irony. Delappe is challenging her audience as well as her characters. The Wolves is a terrific play given a wonderful, compelling production.

The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 12, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Tickets: (647) 341-7390 

 

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At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Mac Fyfe

Set and lighting by Chris Clifford

Sound by Andrew Dollar

Costume by Angela Thomas

Cast: Bob Nasmith

A remount as good as when this production first played earlier in the year.

The Story. A man reviews his life playing the tapes he recorded marking key events. And he eats bananas in the process.

The Production. This delicate, thoughtful, moving production played earlier in the year to great acclaim and has been remounted for those who missed it. Mac Fyfe directs with care and attention to detail. Time is spent watching. Krapp gets an idea. He takes a set of keys out of his pocked. He goes to his desk and opens a drawer and takes out a spool of tape to put on the tape machine. He also takes out a banana, looks at it, ponders, easily peels it, throws the peel on the ground,  then places one end of the banana in his mouth and stands there thinking. He bites down on the banana. He walks to the side of the desk sliding on the banana skin. This recounts the humiliations of everyday life that trip us up even in the simplest of things.

Bob Nasmith as Krapp, is white-faced, toothless and compulsive as he listens to his tapes documenting even the most mundane things in his earlier life.  Sometimes there is sweet regret as he recalls a lost love. Sometimes he is aghast at his pretentious younger self. It is the life of lost opportunities, emotional connections that were disconnected that weigh on him resulting in his solitary life.

Comment. Samuel Beckett’s play is so full of sly detail, hidden heartache and why Krapp is alone and forgotten. Mac Fyfe realizes all of it in his sensitive direction and Bob Nasmith’s frail but resilient Krapp illuminates one of Beckett’s towering characters. Don’t let this production pass you by.

Singing Swan Productions with the generous support of Theatre Passe Muraille and VideoCabaret presents:

Opened: Oct. 4, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 45 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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The Cast
Photo: Tim Leyes

 

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jennifer Haley

Directed by Peter Pasyk

Set and lights by Patrick Lavender

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Sound and music by Richard Feren

Projections designed by Nick Bottomley

Cast: Katherine Cullen

Hannah Levinson

Mark McGrinder

Robert Persichini

David Storch

Provocative play with a huge squirm factor and a production that does the play justice.  

The Story. It’s certainly provocative.  It’s written by American playwright Jennifer Haley. She is exploring the ethics of the world of virtual reality if some of the activity in the Nether would be unacceptable in the real world.  The Nether is a more sophisticated and perhaps sinister world of the internet continued.

Mr. Sims is being investigated by Detective Morris, a young woman,  for his site called the Hideaway in the Nether in which people, manly men, can change their identity and have a relationship, in this case with a little Victorian era girl named Iris, about nine-years-old.

Take a breath. Exhale.

Sims says he has done nothing wrong—his company that offers these opportunities is squeaky clean. He has created s virtual reality world that allows a person to act without consequence. And many are willing to indulge in that world. The Nether follows the various people who inhabit that world. Mr. Doyle is a ‘guest’ in Mr. Sims’ site. Mr. Woodnut is as well and he has a secret about his identity. Iris is the young girl who spends time with Mr. Sims and the guests.

Detective Morris is forceful in her investigation to get Sims to confess to that odd world and why he created it. His reason is chilling and no I won’t tell you what it is. Suffice it to say his reason mixes a reality with the virtual reality that is stunning.

The Production.  How successful is the production in conjuring the eerie world of The Nether and then Sims’ Hideaway? Very successful.

Peter Pasyk has directed a very clear, compelling production, with stark florescent lighting in the scenes when Mr. Sims (David Storch)  is being interrogated. Designer Patrick Lavender has created shafts of florescent light that barely illuminate the interrogation giving it a spooky feel. These shafts are coupled with short, sharp sounds for effect. (Thank you Richard Feren, who designed the evocative sound and music).  It’s always startling.

Sims sits in a chair centre stage, dressed in a black robe of sorts that covers his whole body and drapes to the floor. He is bathed in soft white light but the background is black. It’s eerie looking. As Sims, David Storch projects a commanding arrogance with a touch of concern that he might be found out. Detective Morris, a forceful Katherine Cullen, stands over him, also illuminated in the soft white light. She has a position of power. She leans over him, honing in, crowding him. Sims holds his own. He is wily. He’s gotten out of tough scrapes before and no rookie cop is going to intimidate him.

Richard Feren’s resounding sound effects punctuate moments in the play for effect. Patrick Lavender has also created a lush, almost idyllic Victorian world in the scenes with Iris and her guests and Sims. It’s a world with serenity, beauty, patterns, light and lush vegetation and gardens.

When Detective Morris interviews Mr. Doyle (a sullen, nervous Robert Persichini), a celebrated high school science teacher, Detective Morris is as combative as Doyle is. Doyle seems on the verge of being beaten down, but he will not go down without a fight.

Characters when describing their desires try to keep them in check, but we do get the sense of the dark world they inhabit.

A guest is Mr. Woodnut with a secret more mysterious than the others. He is played with an aching reticence by Mark McGrinder. He is at once gentle but eager for more with his relationship with Iris. That scares him.

David Storch plays Sims as a serious man who defends his right to create this virtual world where no one is hurt and thus no consequences. It’s the moral implications that playwright Jennifer Haley is exploring and Detective Morris is investigating.

Hannah Levinson plays Iris, the nine-year-old girl. Hannah played Matilda in the musical of the same name and also young Allison in Fun Home.  She is dressed as a Victorian child—frilly dress, white socks and black Mary Jane shoes. She wears a big blue bow in the back of her hair. She is forthright, serious, accommodating and seems mature for her years. That’s because in the Nether world there is an adult ‘behind’ her who has taken the identity of a little girl. We never get the sense that that girl is in any danger of being overwhelmed by an adult because her intellect will defend her. Sure it sounds creepy, certainly when casting a young girl to play the part.

Comment. I love that Jennifer Haley doesn’t set her play in the future. The time is: “soon” which is a more compelling notation, something to be concerned about and wary of.

Haley has stated that a young girl must be cast in the part of Iris for full effect because if an adult was cast to play the kid, the same powerful punch would not be achieved.

What is clear here is that Hannah Levinson is a young girl, but her language and her composure in playing Iris suggests that while we think she’s a young girl, we can also be convinced she’s a figment of the virtual reality world.

I loved this play and production. Jennifer Haley has written a bracing play about the murky world of the internet now called The Nether and makes us question a world with no consequences, no matter how morally reprehensible, even if no one gets hurt. It’s beautifully directed, designed and acted by these gifted people. I love that it makes us feel uncomfortable for all the right reasons. And gives us lots to chew on.

Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 11, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes, approx.

www.coalminetheatre.com

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At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont

Based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

“Ideator”?? and Director, Jackie Gosselin

Set and costumes by Pierre-Ėtienne Locas

Lighting by Martin Sirois

Composed and soundscape by Pierre Guy Blanchard

Cast: Rosalie Dell’Aniello

Jérémie Earp

Agathe Fouçault

Rémy Savard

 

I think this is a terrific production. The story is provocative; the action is hugely accomplished and the subtlety of having the cast of four so depend on each other, which is how a play is done, is really engaging.

 The Story. You know the story. I know you know the story. What if Romeo and Juliet….from Young People’s Theatre asks us to consider what if things in the play were different and it ended with Romeo and Juliet living and not dying?

The Montagues and the Capulets hate each other and no one remembers why but the feud continues.  So writer/director Jackie Gosselin asks us to consider that since Romeo and Juliet manage to fall in love, even though they are from the warring families: Juliet from the Capulets, Romeo from the Montagues, why can’t the families use better judgement and look deeper than the feud and get along?

Gosselin asks us to consider that Romeo was supposed to get a letter that told him that Juliet was going to take a potion that would make her look like she was dead, but then Romeo would come in time to see her wake up and they could then run off together. As we know, he missed getting the letter.

What if we went back and he actually got the letter. He would arrive and see her unconscious but know she was not dead. Then they could run off together.

Gosselin also asks: what if Romeo, Tybolt (on the other side) and Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, did not have a sword fight in which Tybolt and Mercutio didn’t die and so Romeo wouldn’t be banished.  So Gosselin in a way asks us to consider what we know about the play and what if much of the stuff was changed to result in a happier outcome.

The Production. First there is a voice-over (Christopher Gaze) telling us that everybody knows the story of Romeo and Juliet for the most part. The voice is calm, deep, comforting and assuring.  We know Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play.  But what if things could be changed.

Then the lights go up on two overturned red staircases set on a platform that revolves, and we can see there are four bodies on the stage (two men and two women:  Rosalie Dell’Aniello, Jérémie Earp, Agathe Fouçault and Rémy Savard).

Gradually they get up, put the two staircases upright and introduce themselves: Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio  (Romeo’s cousin) and the last character is a horse. That lovely joke keeps us on our toes.

This company called DynamO Theatre uses physical theatre, namely gymnastics for the most part to underscore the story. They each take turns switching characters.  A woman might say she is Romeo or a man might say he is Juliet. The relationships of the characters change too because as they flip off the stairs or reach out for a pose, the other actors support them or hold them so they don’t fall. Trust is a huge part of the physicality of the work, but it also works for the characters; each character has to trust that the others are out for their best interest. I thought that was terrific.

There is a sword-fight between two men only they mime the fight because they aren’t holding swords. Situated on both sets of stairs are the two women holding swords.  One clicks her two swords together rapidly suggesting the fight. The other slides her swords together each time the men on the stage mime that the two men are separating while their swords slide away. Brilliant.

Then the performers alternate fighting with the swords and perform an actual sword fight.

They are really accomplished in sword-fighting. The dilemma facing the characters is whether or not they continue the feud and continue fighting. How they solve this is one of the most moving parts of the production.

 Comment. Ok while it’s assumed that most people know about Romeo and Juliet, do you need to know the story carefully? The voice over is pretty clear in assuming the kids know it, but a refresher wouldn’t hurt.

I think there a larger issue here than just what if Romeo and Juliet didn’t die at the end, but something changed and prevented it? It gets kids, nine years old and up, to think in a different way.  It asks them how to solve the problem of blind animosity that goes on for years without knowing why and to find a way to make peace without embarrassment.

I think this is a terrific production. The story is provocative; the action is hugely accomplished and the subtlety of having the cast of four so depend on each other, which is how a play is done, is really engaging.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 10, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 19, 2018.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

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At the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont.

Written by Willy Russell

Directed by Andrew Kushnir

Set and costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

A beautiful production in almost every way that illuminated so many hidden secrets of this beguiling play.

The Story. Shirley is in a sad place in her life. She has devoted her life to her husband Joe and daughter Milandra and lost herself (her self?) in the process. Her marriage is stale. Joe expects dinner on the table as soon as he comes home from work. He is very set in his ways. If it’s Wednesday he expects to get egg and steak. If it’s Thursday he expects egg and chips. I might be mixing up the meals for the days, but you get my meaning.

Shirley plans to shaking things up. She is serving Joe egg and chips and it’s not the right day for it.

Shirley has a free-spirited woman-friend who has decided to take Shirley on a vacation with her to Greece. The thought of going off without Joe to a place she’s always wanted to go, makes Shirley lightheaded. But she accepts. And waits for the fallout.

 The Production. Jung-Hye Kim has created a compact working kitchen for Act I and a simple beach set, with a beautiful blue sky, for Greece in Act II.

In Act I Shirley (Deborah Drakeford) drinks wine, talks to the wall for company and prepares Joe’s egg and chips. She takes the groceries out of the Tesco shopping bag, and puts them away in the working, full fridge. Initially I am concerned about the layout of Jung-Hye Kim’s kitchen. The shape of the kitchen is a V with the tip of the V pointing to the middle of the audience, rather than a slightly thrust stage. The door to the outside is upstage left. The fridge is to the right of the door with the sink beside that. Then along the stage right edge of the V there is a stove facing into the kitchen with the back of the stove rising up. Then there is a counter beside that. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the kitchen. My concern is that half of the audience does not get a clear view of the stove where Shirley will make the egg and chips. Audiences love watching actors make real food. They are transfixed by the activity. The stove back blocks the view of the people on the extreme right side. I am just off centre and I don’t clearly see her make the eggs. I also wonder if that counter next to the stove is too small to prepare the chips.

Not to worry. Andrew Kushnir solves this neatly by having Shirley peel the potato and cut it into chips by doing it in clear view at the table in the centre of the kitchen. She fries the chips in a fryer she brings out from under the counter, which she then puts on the counter beside the stove. Nicely solved, but it’s the fryer that blocks my view of Shirley preparing a frying pan for the eggs. Frustrating.

Kushnir creates moments that are intensely moving. At one point Shirley takes the airline ticket to Greece out of her purse and shows it to us. She then holds it to her with such reverie it takes your breath away. Shirley remembers a terrible moment when she was in school and the teacher humiliated her in public to the class that again is handled with care but for the maximum effect on the audience. During intermission there is a sound effect of a plane taking off and later landing. Nice touch, that.

Deborah Drakeford imbues Shirley with a winning sunniness, a hope that there has to be something better, a tenacity to try and create that better life, a willingness to be surprised and the faith in the love she has for Joe and the hope that he rises to the occasion that Shirley offers him. There is a sense in Act I that Shirley is hanging on, trying to make the best of things, yet being brave to challenge the norm. In Act II Drakeford gives Shirley a new confidence that in her search for her self. It’s a lovely, subtle transformation. Drakeford gives a performance brimming with life, optimism, the wisdom to embrace the sadness she is feeling at the loss of her self, and joy when she finds what she is looking for. Lovely performance and production.

Comment. I never get tired of seeing this play. I saw Nora McLellan do Shirley Valentine earlier this year in a lovely performance of it at the Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia and not I won’t compare the two performances. They are each their own entity. It’s a play in which a gifted male playwright, Willy Russell, can dig deep into the unhappy heart and mind of a woman who is lost. It’s without anger, vengeance, getting even or boiling regret. Instead it’s about love, a marriage that has settled into sameness and grinding repetition and a woman who wants to change that. Quiet, unassuming Shirley Valentine wants to change her life and her husband’s. She wants to grab at life, talk to her husband again and not the wall, and find her self. It’s a play rich with subtlety, nuance, details of the heart and with each production I discover a bit more and see things I missed.

Produced by the Thousand Islands Playhouse.

Began: Sept. 21,2018.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours

www.1000islandsplayhouse.com

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Writing Theatre Reviews Workshop

I’m doing a two day workshop on how to Write Theatre Reviews on Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 at Hart House.

Nov. 5. I cover the details of writing a review, the nuts, bolts, and bits to it. The class will see a performance of The Penelopiad at Hart House and write a review.

 Nov. 19. The reviews will be discussed.

It should be fun.

 Here are the details:

 https://recreation.utoronto.ca/Program/GetProgramDetails?courseId=066b680e-56ef-4fc1-a760-8822fb5590a4&semesterId=099c622a-88c6-4069-8258-7a319584156e

 

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

Written by Lucas Hnath

Directed and designed by Adam Belanger

Costumes by Jenni Lee Manis

Cast: Christo Graham

Francis Melling

Brandon Thomas

Laura Vincent

An early work of Lucas Hnath that has aspects of his better later work but does not have quite a solid centre.

The Story. Isaac Newton (Jan 4 2643-March 31, 1727) is desperate to get into the Royal Society to establish his reputation as a viable scientist. It’s early in his career and sends his many notes on his discoveries and experiments to Robert Hooke, the most noted scientist of his day and the president of the Royal Society. Hooke ignores him for the most part. Then they meet. Hooke was prodigious in his discoveries and theories in mathematics, architecture, physics, the use of the microscope, the coining of the word “cell”, work on gravity.

Newton too worked on gravity independently of Hooke and on light. Newton challenges Hooke’s discoveries and his comments on gravity and light. They spare over intellectual rights and the love of a woman. They trick each other to gain the upper hand. Newton does an experiment to prove that the eye sees light refracted into many colours with startling result.

The Production. Director Adam Belanger has also designed the set (he is a designer, this is his debut as a director) and on its own it’s impressive. The set is rustic. The walls are made of narrow wood slats. Sam (Francis Melling) is a scruffy, mournful character who narrates the work telling us about what is true and what is not. All truths are written in chalk on the slats. Sam itemizes the discoveries of Isaac Newton (Christo Graham) and Robert Hooke (Brandon Thomas). The problem is that while we can make out what is written as it’s also being spoken, we can’t easily read the writing on its own later. I think it’s a misstep to have the writing scrawled on the narrow slats.

Playwright Lucas Hnath has not written Isaac Newton as a confident scientist. He’s a bit of a bumbler and Christo Graham plays Isaac Newton as that—inarticulate, halting in his speech, who seems to spend a lot of time trying to bluff his way through an argument rather than presenting clear findings. This is interesting since Newton sent Hooke a lot of his experiments. When Hooke does appear, Brandon Thomas is dapper in a modern day stylish haircut, a well cut suit, tie and vest and a confidence of a man who has worked his way to the top.

When Hooke challenges Newton to prove a theory of how the eye refracts light into colours, director Adam Belanger and Christo Graham as Newton create a trick that I won’t dare reveal, but it’s a scene that will have you riveted to your seat, blinking. It’s interesting to see how each man tries to get the better of the other—Isaac knows of Hooke’s rather colourful private life; Hooke knows where Newton hides his written findings.

Comment. Lucas Hnath has only been producing plays since 2012. Isaac’s Eye is his third play, written in 2015. It shows the wild imagination of the playwright with an interest in moral issues—what will you do to gain notoriety and then hold on to it.

His most notable work to date is A Doll’s House, Part II, a terrific reimagining of Ibsen’s play 15 years later. Isaac’s Eye is the work of a writer finding his way. The centre doesn’t quite hold. I did think while watching it that Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke were like Mozart meeting Salieri. Mozart was this genius upstart, desperate for advancement and Salieri held the key. Similarly Newton looked to Hooke for advancement. The problem is that while we know who Isaac Newton is (and Hooke has disappeared for the most part into the mists of history) and we know of his accomplishments, his gifts are not obvious in the play. Hooke might find promise in Newton’s work, but we don’t see it in the play. That’s a problem.

Unit 102 Actors Co. Presents:

Opened: Sept. 29, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes approx.

www.unit102actors.com

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

Written and performed by Motion

Music and performed by DJ L’Oqenz

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set, costumes and props by Jackie Chau

Lighting by André du Toit

Projections by Laura Warren

Composer and sound design, L’Oqenz

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Beautifully intricate and stylish.

 The Story. ORALTORIO: A Theatrical Mixtape  is a combination spoken work, music and various performances styles focuses on and celebrates the voices of  black women and their experiences through history.

The Production and Comment. It’s created by Motion and DJ L’Oqenz. Motion wrote the poetry/lyrics and performs them in the styles of rap, hip hop, R & B etc. music. DJ L’Oqenz wrote the music and performs as well by creating beats, rhythms, sounds, distortions of sounds and other intriguing bits to the piece by using a turn-table to “scratch’ records and by using a computer.

Thomas Ryder Payne designed the sounds that are not music based. So we hear the lapping of water against a boat, hear the moaning of people, a crack of a whip against skin and immediately we are hearing the plight of people who are slaves being shipped and whipped to another country. Motion stands with her arms out straight and with the sound of a crack of a whip an arm drops then the other.  Very powerful.

DJ L’Oqenz creates the beat of drums that the slaves used to communicate.  That then segues into other beats.

It’s beautifully intricate and stylishly directed by Mumbi Tindeybwa Out. Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape is an oral history in music and poetry of the black experience, focusing on women.

At the beginning of the show, both women are listening carefully to their respective boom-boxes concentrating on twirling the dial to find the music they want to hear. They dial through Bryan Adams, comfortable melodies and then land on CIUT of all stations where they hear music they are desperate to hear but can’t find on regular radio stations. It’s a revelation and gets them both involved.

Motion’s poetry is complex, perceptive, angry, full of throbbing beats that just compel you to listen harder. The piece goes from slavery through time to the establishment of women in rock music, to the petty jealousies and serious consequences.

We are warned that the sound is loud.  It’s no louder than it has to be and the sound is beautifully balanced. Generally each lyric is clear and crisp. If there is a problem it’s that at times the delivery is so quick I missed some of what Motion was saying. I would love a list of the poems and the words in full. Also, some projections (Laura Warren) that are important for the story, appear blurry on the back wall.

Motion is a perfect name because she always is in motion dancing to the various types of music that DJ L’Oqenz has written. As animated as Motion is, that’s as laid-back as DJ L’Oqenz is. She’s cool with sass.

They make a perfect performing duo, playing off each other. It’s a terrific, poetic, angry, pointed piece of theatre.

Heed the beat and see it.

Obsidian Theatre Company presents:

Opened: Oct. 4, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.obsidiantheatre.com

 

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While Mark Crawford is an actor and playwright, I’m focusing on his playwriting hat for this appreciation.

Time got away from me and I wasn’t able to review The New Canadian Curling Club before it closed recently after an extended run at the Blyth Festival and also Bed and Breakfast a few weeks ago, also after an extended run at Soulpepper in Toronto.

So here is an appreciation of the playwright, both plays and the productions.

While Mark Crawford writes entertaining, funny plays they are deceptive because at their center is a serious message. He doesn’t bash you over the head with the message. He envelopes the message in humour, human foibles, quirkiness, and situations with which we can all identify.

In The New Canadian Curling Club a group of people are brought together to learn how to curl who would never have thought of it before.  A do-gooder (who we never see because she had a fall and can’t do the class) of this small, unnamed Ontario town, wants to help some newly arrived immigrants fit in.  And so she has urged many of them to show up to learn how to curl. Mike Chang is a medical student from China. Charmaine Bailey is from Jamaica but has lived in Canada for years. She’s a manager of a Tim Horton’s franchise. Anoopjeet Singh is from India and has lived in Canada with his wife and two sons plus extended family for a few years. He also works at Charmaine’s franchise and is desperate to be made assistant-manager. Fatima Al-Sayeed is newly arrived from Syria with her parents but frets about her brother who is still in Syria. She is constantly texting him.

Teaching them (reluctantly) the rules of the game of curling is Stuart MacPhail the do-gooder’s ex-husband. He is a bitter, disappointed man. His marriage has failed and many other relationships have failed too. He is also a racist. One does think of Archie Bunker but without the anger. Stuart is off-handed and insensitive and is aghast when he’s faced with his inappropriate comments. To complicate matters Mike Chang is in love with Stuart’s daughter (both are studying to be doctors) and wants to make points with his future father-in-law.

The whole production was directed with skill and sensitivity by Miles Potter. An authentic-looking curling surface was created by Steve Lucas. We were urged not to touch it because they worked hard to make it look like ice etc.

Coupled with Mark Crawford’s very funny script which is full of quips, pithy comments and odd turns of phrase, is the physical humour of people who have never been on ice before, trying to navigate walking even a few steps.

But at its core The New Canadian Curling Club is about people going through a hard time, trying to fit in, cope and deal with the pressures of living in Canada. Crawford conveys the loneliness and uncertainty when things are not going well; the tenacity of the immigrants who want to come here; the optimism to make it work, the wit, perception and decency. And yes even Stuart manages to become a bit better. Crawford doesn’t give his play a sentimental ending but it’s a true one and well earned.

Bed and Breakfast had an extended run at Soulpepper and closed in August. Again, the banter is smart, funny, barbed at times and even silly at others. But for all its gentleness Bed and Breakfast is about Brett and Drew, two gay men, trying to run a bed and breakfast in a small town that might not take too kindly to a couple who happen to be gay.

Brett had a television show about decorating. He inherited his aunt’s large house in a small Ontario town. Brett spent summers in that house with his adored aunt and was hesitant to let it go. His partner Drew worked in the hotel business, trouble shooting and almost never getting credit for it. When a promotion passed him by Drew decided to move with Brett to the small town, renovate the inherited house and change it into a bed and breakfast that both Brett and Drew would run.

Brett and Drew moved to the small town. They began extensive renovations of the house and got to know the townsfolk. Both men were curious, gracious, funny and accommodating. They thought they were welcome there. Then they came home one night and found “Faggot go home” written large on the outside of their house. Both men were stunned and shaken. They realize there were deep hidden resentments in the town in some quarters. Others tried to calm them of their concerns. It worked out eventually after a rocky bit of time.

Some cynics have said that Bed and Breakfast is about privileged white men trying to change direction in their lives, so it’s not such a big deal being, what with their whiteness and privilege and all. Baloney.

The audience reading “Faggot go home” and the characters reading it is as shocking and frightening as it was for David Collins (an actor of colour) going to his parked car in Stratford, finding a note on his windshield and reading “Hail (sic) Hitler.”  There is no difference. I thought of David Collins and his recent ordeal reading that note, when I read “Faggot go home” in the theatre for Bed and Breakfast.

 Playwright Mark Crawford has created another gently funny play in Bed and Breakfast about quirky characters in odd situations, doing the best they can. Brett and Drew are surprised by their neighbours and so are we as the two find more and more support. Again, Crawford writes about a serious subject enveloped in humour. But the sobering message is clear.

It struck a chord with Soulpepper audiences when the production did so well it had to be held over. Director Ann-Marie Kerr directed with her usual energetic, brimming humour. Alexandra Lord’s set was on two levels which gave Kerr the added advantage of ramping up the speed of the two characters negotiating getting from one location to another, thus ramping up the humour. Both Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia played multiple characters besides Brett and Drew respectively. As Brett, Gregory Prest was the more anxious of the couple, fretting about fixtures, renovations and a lot of other things. As Drew, Paolo Santalucia was the more reasoned of the couple, the more pragmatic, after all he was a problem solver in the thorny hotel business because his thorny issues were with people. Together both actors created seamless characters, each distinct with idiosyncrasies both physical and personality-wise. The combination of a gifted writer with something to say; an equally gifted, fearless director and two talented actors created a compelling, very funny play.

Both The New Canadian Curling Club and Bed and Breakfast are set to have a multiple productions across the country. Look out for one or both productions near you.

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