Lynn

Live and in person as part of the Here for Now Theatre Summer Festival at the Falstaff Family Centre, 35 Waterloo St. N, Stratford, Ont. until July 31, 2022.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

Written by Deanna Kruger

Directed by Rebecca Cuthbertson

Costumes and set by Bonnie Deakin

Lighting and sound by Stephen Degenstein

Cast: Martha Farrell

Kristin Gauthier

A gentle play about loss, grieving and a symbolic birthday photograph and its implications.

The Story. Trish is going through a hard time. She is nearing her 47th birthday. Her father always noted each birthday with a photograph, posed in a certain way, before a specific backdrop as he always did with the previous 46 photographs. But her father has recently died and Trish is having a hard time coping. She spends time at her father’s apartment, ostensibly to begin cleaning it out. Her younger sister Maddy has arrived from out of town to help her in the clearing. They are close but there obviously are issues between the sisters, as there often are in families. Secrets are revealed. Trish was not just close to her father; it almost seems inordinately close to him. Maddy did not have that same relationship. In fact, while Maddy was in Trish’s birthday photograph from the time Trish was eight years old and Maddy was 14 months old, Maddy never had the a photograph taken on her birthday. A bit of sibling jealousy there. And it goes deep.

Playwright Deanna Kruger carefully reveals the secrets and hurts between the sisters and the family, as well as the deep love.

The Production. Bonnie Deakin has designed a simple set of the late father’s apartment. Boxes of stuff are everywhere. A sofa has a rumpled blanket on it. Trish (Kristin Gauthier) has been sleeping there on that sofa. There are some boxes ready to be filled. There is a desk and a bookshelf with some books.

The production begins with Trish making a phone call to someone apologizing for bad behaviour  and hoping the person will meet her on their favourite park bench. She stays on that part bench for some time. The time on the bench is broken up with a clever lighting cue—kudos to director Rebecca Cuthbertson and lighting director Stephen Degenstein. In keeping with the photograph motif, the lighting cue to end a scene is a gentle flash of light as if a flash photo has being taken. This is followed by regular lighting that gently comes up to illuminate the new scene.

Considering the real story of the play as it unfolds, that first scene with Trish asking that someone to forgive her and meet her on the bench seems out of place. We find out who she is waiting for three quarters through the play and the person seems less than central to the story, although the person matters to Trish.  Structurally I think Deanna Kruger might reconsider that beginning and create another scene that is more in keeping with the whole play.

The layers of Forty-Seven are slowly peeled away as both Trish and Maddy (Martha Farrell) deal with each other, establish what must have been a set way each sister always dealt with each other, and have to acknowledge that both are different people now with their own new set of issues. Both Kristin Gauthier as Trish and Martha Farrell as Maddy are confident, compelling actors. Gauthier illuminates the emotional fragility of Trish and Farrell reveals that Maddy is not as in control as she might appear. There are little grievances between the sisters that come bubbling up over Maddy’s stay. But there is kindness and generosity.

There is a wonderful scene that speaks volumes about the ills of old age and in particular, Trish and Maddy’s father. I give credit to both Deanne Kruger and director Rebecca Cuthbertson for this telling scene. Trish has a small shopping bag full of prescription drugs in which she takes each vial of pills from the shopping bag, looks at the label and then puts the vial in a bigger garbage bag. They are her father’s various prescriptions. There must be 20 of them. Trish asks if Maddy needs a tube of  antiseptic cream because the prescription is still good. With very little dialogue, and just the sorting of those many vials of pills we get a clear sense of the pharmaceutical life of a frail senior citizen.

If I do have a concern-quibble, it’s that the pace seemed almost too slow. At one hour and 20 minutes, time could have been shaved, with a slightly quicker pace, that would not have destroyed the delicacy of the piece.

Comment. Deanne Kruger has written an interesting family drama of sisters coping in different ways with the death of their father, as well as dealing with their own difficulties. Trish obviously has issues and has had them for a long time. One wonders, was there no help for her? Was she so stuck that she couldn’t get any help for herself? Stuff to keep you thinking.

Here for Now Theatre Presents:

Plays until: July 31, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission).

www.herefornowtheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Tom Patterson Theatre, until Oct. 29, 2022.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Scott Wentworth

Designed by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Composer and sound designer, Paul Shifton

Choreographer, Adrienne Gould

Cast: Sean Arbuckle

Peter M. Bailey

Nigel Bennett

Wayne Best

Michael Blake

Ben Carlson

Jon de Leon

Allison Edwards-Crewe

Jordin Hall

Jessica B. Hill

Kim Horsman

Hilary McCormack

Seana McKenna

Irene Poole

André Sills

Ryland Wilkie

And others…..

A thoughtful, beautifully created production about finding one’s way, growing up, facing the truth and finding love.

The Story.  Bertram is the son of the Countess Rossillion whose husband has recently died.  Helen is the orphaned daughter of a renowned doctor who worked in the court of the Countess. In a way the Countess raised both Bertram and Helen. Over time Helen came to love Bertram as a future husband. Growing up, Bertram looked on Helen as a playmate, but not as a wife. Because Bertram’s father has recently passed away the King of France became his guardian. Bertram had hopes of going to see the King to get permission to then go to Italy and enlist in the service of the King of Florence. The King of France wanted Bertram to wait another year. This did not sit too well with Bertram.

At the same time, the King of France suffered from a debilitating fistula that none of the court doctors could cure. Helen felt that with her father’s tutelage in medicine she could help him. She went to the court, cured the King and as a reward was told she could choose her husband from any of the courtiers there. Helen chose Bertram. Bertram was aghast and refused. Was it because she was not of the same class as he was? Was it because he wanted to chose his own wife? Was it because he was not ready to marry? No matter. The King was adamant that Bertram and Helen marry, which they did, but Bertram ran off before they could consummate the marriage. He left a cryptic note that said when she got a sacred ring off his finger and became pregnant by him, she could consider him her husband, the implication was that these two things would never happen. Helen was not to be deterred. She set off after Bertram to change his mind.   

The Production. Director Scott Wentworth has envisioned a spare, elegant production. To that end designer Michelle Bohn has lined the thrust stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre with 12 beautiful matching chairs. One could imagine them in the Countess’s (Seana McKenna) dining room.

Michell Bohn’s  costumes are somber but rich looking—since the Count Rossillion has recently passed away, the whole court would still be in mourning, hence the somber costumes. In the case of Parolles (Ryland Wilkie), Bertram’s foppish, blustering, older companion he is dressed in flashy colours with contrasting colored sashes and ribbons. As Parolles, Ryland Wilkie postures and preens until he gets his comeuppance.  

The play is about the folly of youth (hello, Bertram (Jordin Hall) and the wisdom of the older characters (the Countess and the King of France (Ben Carlson)) who do their best to guide the immature folk to grow up. It’s about the maturity and patience of Helen (Jessica B. Hill) to show Bertram the error of his ways in thinking she is not worthy of him. In a tangential story, there is the character of Diana (Allison Edwards-Crewe) who Bertram tries to compromise but in a bit of trickery, doesn’t compromise her. As Diana, Allison Edwards-Crewe stands her ground when facing Bertram. Could one be sexist and say that the young women in the play have more maturity and smarts than this privileged, immature, irresponsible young man? The play does argue the case.

And there are echoes of other plays in All’s Well That Ends Well. The Countess Rossillion gives Bertram sound advice as he sets off for the Court of the King of France:

                                    “Be thou blest, Bertram! And succeed they father

In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue

Contend for empire in thee, and they goodness

Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,

Do wrong to none; be able for thine enemy

Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend

Under they own life’s key; be checkt for silence,

But never taxt for speech….”

As played by Seana McKenna, the Countess is loving to Bertram. She obviously will miss him terribly. She is not hectoring in her advice but is thoughtful, gracious and is trying to pass on the wisdom of being a decent human being, mindful of his father as a perfect example of how to behave in the world. There is a quiet, compelling grace to this Countess as played by Seana McKenna.

Compare this sound advice with that of Polonius (in Hamlet) to his departing son Laertes:

                                    …There, my blessing with thee,

And these few precepts in thy memory

Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportioned thought his act:

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;

….Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry:

This above all, to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the days,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

This advice is sound too, but because Polonius is frequently depicted as a silly man, we are more mindful of his silliness than the intelligence of the advice.

There are echoes of the immature, young nobleman and his buffoon older friend in both All’s Well That Ends Well and Henry IV, Part 1. In All’s Well That Ends Well Bertram is devoted to the unfaithful buffoon, Parolles, a posturing, posing Ryland Wilkie. In Henry IV, Part 1 Prince Hal is devoted to the blustering buffoon, Falstaff. In both cases, the young men mature and realize they were dazzled by their flashy and funny older friend, and come to their senses.

The real strength of this production is the acting. Bertram seems such an immature young man, but as played by Jordin Hall there is a courtliness in his bearing that adds a layer to the performance. Again and again Bertram is given an opportunity to do better, but gives in to temptation and lying—his refusal of Helen, his denigrating the character of Diana. But there are so many other people around him with intelligence who do have faith in him, that we can’t discount him outright.  Only when he is faced with the terrible consequences of what he has done to Helen does he grow up and be worthy of Helen.

Jessica B. Hill gives her performance of Helen a maturity and regal bearing. This is a wise, thoughtful performance of a character who is intellectually nimble and able to think on her feet. Ben Carlson plays the King of France with a furrowed brow full of the pain of that fistula, but also mindful that he is the King and has to conduct himself as a ruler, no matter how sick he is. When the King is cured, Carlson is robust, energetic and forceful in his decisions.

Lavatch is the Sexton and a comic character. As with any comic character in Shakespeare they speak the truth. As Lavatch, André Sills gives such a brash, bold buoyant performance that it shimmers with energy. The comic truth is spoken with conviction and without apology. Sills’ acting with the elegant, regal Seana McKenna as the Countess Rossillion is to watch two masters sparring with barely concealed delight. Stunning work.   

Comment. All’s Well That Ends Well is one of those problem plays that often makes you wonder if indeed it did end well. Under Scott Wentworth’s careful direction and his committed cast, there was no doubt in my mind.

Stratford Festival Presents:

Playing until: Oct. 29, 2022.

Running Time: Approx. 3 hours, (1 intermission)

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live and in person at ‘1871’ Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St. East, Toronto, Ont. until July 20, 2022.

www.eclipsetheatre.ca

Book and story by Andrew Seok

Additional book by Kyle Brown

Directed by Andrew Seok

Musical Director, Andrew Ascenzo

Choreographer, Nickesha Garrick

Arranger, Andew Seok

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Sound engineer, Jeremy Michelle

Cast: Ashaya Babiuk

Daniela Bauer

Jillian Cooper

Tatyana Doran

Nickesha Garrick

Zara Jestadt

Elena Juatco

Lily Librach

Allistair (Allie) McDonald

Jeff Madden

Sera-Lys McArthur

Annick Robledo

Kimberly-Ann Truong

Tan Vu

The Live Band:

Andrew Ascenzo—Musical director, cello, guitar and piano

Virtual Orchestra:

Andrew Seok—Piano, guitar, bass, drums, trombone, saxophone

Alix Toskov-violin, viola

Andrew Ascenzo-cello

Chris Staig-guitar

Scott Metcalfe-piano

A well-intentioned, very earnest, song cycle about what it was like coping with the pandemic.

Precious little information was given beforehand about this first show, which was intentional according to Andrew Seok, who got the idea for the story and wrote the book. During the pandemic, he wrote to various composer/lyricists to write a song for the show about how they were coping during the pandemic Seok then took the songs and arranged them for the evening. There are offerings from: Andrew Seok himself, Susan Aglukark, Leslie Arden, Jewelle Blackman, Marcia Johnson, Britta Johnson, Chilina Kennedy, Richard Ouzounian and David Hein, to name some of them.

We were all given a card with the show title, ‘Til Then’ that noted there were 17 news songs, three stories and one defining era. And at the back of the card it asks “In the past 2 years, what was your biggest regret? What was your biggest triumph or struggle? What is your happiest/funniest memory?”

The audience was invited to answer one of these questions and submit the card where it might be selected and read during the show. One of the audience comments though was touching and wonderful, regarding “regret.” The writer regretted not going to the hospital to see their ill grandpa because they were afraid of seeing him sick. Touching.

I can appreciate that these are really hard times for theatres but not having a complete program for this show listing the full cast, creatives, the songs, who wrote them and who sings them, was really unfortunate and clicking on a QR code doesn’t do it if you can’t turn on your phone to look at the program.

I call the show, well-intentioned and earnest because the songs touch on loneliness; walking and appreciating nature, trees and birds; trying to cope with isolation; living with another person when you might want to be alone; knowing you are loved; appreciating the life cycle of a cicada; awkwardly getting back into dating and actually talking to another person; and missing funerals and grieving for friends because of being in lockdown.

This is all well-meaning except that we have heard these themes in various forms, for the last two years, either in other original shows, on social media, in sketch comedy, personal essays, etc. In a way ‘Til Then  is actually out of date and derivative because it’s been done and said before about many and various experiences of the pandemic.  One of the songs, “You Are Loved” was reprised it seemed more than the on-line program suggested, almost as if they were trying to convince us.  It’s almost as if the good people of Eclipse Theatre Company actually thought the audience in attendance hadn’t been to a theatre in two years and this material would seem fresh.  That’s just so hard to believe because theatres have been coming back fearlessly in one way or another for at least a year.  

The cast of 14 (!!!) is first rate and all fine singers with eight leads and six ensemble but too often the stage just seemed cluttered with two leads singing and the ensemble directed by Andrew Seok to move in the background, which I thought just pulled focus.

As is often the cast, whether in a bone fide theatre or a church, as was the case here, the balance of sound was off. Too often the microphoned cast is drowned out by the microphoned live band or virtual orchestra. It’s frustrating if one actually wants to hear the lyrics.

Regrettably ‘Til Then is a miss.

Eclipse Theatre Company  

Runs until: July 20, 2022.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

www.eclipsetheatre.ca

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Live and in person at the Falstaff Family Centre, 35 Waterloo St. N, Stratford, Ont. Plays until July 17, 2022.

https://www.herefornowtheatre.com

Written by Mark Weatherley

Directed by Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Lighting and sound design by Stephen Degenstein

Costumes by Bonnie Deakin

Cast: Lauren Bowler

Daniela Vlaskalic

Mark Weatherley

A punningly funny, wonderfully researched, bracing play about the women entrepreneurs who made and sold ale and then some in the 1300s in England.

The Story. It’s 1340, England. The beer brewers were women. (from the programme): “Agnes and Margaret are two brewers in a small English village…forced to fight the Reeve, the priest, the Aletaster and the Bailiff for the right to chart their own destiny.” In other words, Agnes and Margaret had to use their considerable wits to succeed in this man’s world. How times have not changed.

The Production. Playwright Mark Weatherley has obviously done considerable research into the subject of ale making, the history of it; perhaps even the source of the word “toast” when offering a raised glass in celebration to someone or something; and how customers knew that ale was available for sale at the tavern—a broom was put at the top of a ladder as the sign. Fascinating. The language is a combination of the language of the 1300s (or so we believe) and the language of today.

Agnes (Daniela Vlaskalic) owns the tavern and Margaret (Lauren Bowler) is her co-worker. Agnes is given a fine performance by Daniela Vlaskalic, Agnes is methodical, tenacious knowledgeable about her business and wary of the precarious world she works in. Margaret is rather wily. For every trick that one of the overlords holds over the business, Margaret comes up with a scheme. As played by Lauren Bowler, Margaret is never flustered, rattled or unsettled by the many and various schemes that the Reeve the Aletaster or the Bailiff came up with. One of the male scammers wants to fine the two women for future transgressions. This gives them the idea of selling shares in the tavern for future sales. The women learn well from their ‘teachers’. The women deal with frustration upon frustration when dealing with men who want to cheat them, and we see how Agnes and Margaret beat them at their own game.

Mark Weatherley gives us a peak into ale making of the 1300s; how a mistake can lead to another kind of brew; how in some drinks, hops were added for more taste, and on and on. And he shows the utter tenacity of the women to meet every scheme the men can throw at them.

Mark Weatherley plays all the men in varying degrees of humour, venality, smarmy-charm, and real low-down-scummy. Each character is distinct even when one is off-stage and never seen. He’s a fine comedic writer as well as a compelling actor.

The whole production is directed by Sara-Jeanne Hosie with a sense of how to use the small space and props that always serves the play. At one point a blind is raised to reveal the lush greenery of the actual land outside the window that is so effective. Bonnie Deakin has designed the set with jugs, barrels, what looks like a broom of the time, and other props that look appropriate for 1340. The same goes for the costumes that are rustic and workmanlike.

Comment. As usual, Here for Now Theatre has begun its welcome festival with a fascinating play, Ale Wives, about how women made all the ale in the 1300s in England and what they had to contend with. It whets your appetite to learn more and of course it whets your whistle for a nice brew, too.

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Plays until: July 17, 2022.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1450 Danforth Ave. Toronto, Ont. until Aug. 7, 2022.

www.coalminetheatre.com

Written by Lisa D’Amour

Directed by Jill Harper

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Melanie McNeill

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Tim Lindsay

Cast: Diana Bentley

Sergio Di Zio

Craig Lauzon

Louise Lambert

Eric Peterson

Time changes everything since this play premiered in 2010. Then it was referencing the financial fallout of 2008 in the U.S. Now we can’t ignore how our isolation of the past two years has influenced how we look at this sly, bracing, unsettling play. The production is dandy.

The Story. Mary and Ben have invited their next-door neighbours, Kenny and Sharon, over for a barbeque. It’s noted that it’s so rare for neighbours to interact. No one goes to a neighbour’s anymore to borrow a cup of sugar. So, this sign of neighbourliness is noted and appreciated by Kenny and Sharon and by Mary and Ben, as well.

Mary and Ben own their finished house, though their sliding screen-door to the backyard is ‘wonky’ and gets stuck. They have a patio with patio furniture, although the umbrella doesn’t stay up, and they have a nifty barbeque. Mary works in an office. Ben has just been laid off as a loans officer, but is working on building a website to offer consulting.

Kenny and Sharon are staying in the house next door as it’s Kenny’s aunt’s house. Kenny works in construction. Sharon works at a call centre. They met at re-hab. Mary notes that there is no furniture to speak of in Kenny and Sharon’s house. Practically none. Gradually, as the play unfolds, cracks appear in each couple’s story.

The Production. Director Jill Harper has directed a tight, detail-filled production that serves the play beautifully. The Coal Mine Theatre is so intimate, the audience is so close to the action and the playing area so small that every reaction, gesture and side-long glance speaks volumes.

Ken MacDonald has designed a set that shows the difference in the two neighbouring houses. Mary (Diana Bentley) and Ben’s (Sergio Di Zio) house has that sticky door that needs a simple adjustment and Kenny (Craig Lauzon) does that quickly. Ben doesn’t seem to be ‘handy.’ The top of the sliding door has a spoke-like design that might look a little off, so in some areas the house might need some upkeep that it’s not getting. Perhaps we are to surmise that with two people working (at the time) simple upkeep was not top priority.

Mary and Ben’s patio has a modern barbeque. The patio furniture is efficient and useful but the umbrella won’t stay up and this makes Mary anxious, who is trying to keep the umbrella up. Ben does some fiddling and the umbrella stays up, temporarily. The patio floor seems finished.

The house and patio of Kenny and Sharon’s (Louise Lambert) house suggests that it hasn’t been occupied in a long time. The patio, if that’s what it can be called, is bare. It’s more a desolate backyard. The door leading from the backyard to the inside of the house is simple.

Melanie McNeill has dressed Mary and Ben in preppy, casual clothes. Kenny and Sharon are in ‘grungier’ clothes, not as a fashion statement but because they can’t afford better clothing.

Initially when Mary and Ben welcome Kenny and Sharon, Diana Bentley, as Mary and Sergio Di Zio, as Ben are gracious, buoyant in their welcome but perhaps a bit over the top We can see an effort in being gracious hosts. As Mary tries to keep the umbrella up Diana Bentley gives Mary a tight smile, trying to keep her anxiety in check. As Ben, Sergio Di Zio takes over and gingerly fixes the umbrella but only temporarily.  Tempers flare between Mary and Ben and it’s only the beginning.

Mary and Ben serve steaks and potato salad for the barbeque meal. One wonders if this is showing off, since Ben has lost his job. Playwright Lisa D’Amour has us thinking such things in her play. When the meal is served Craig Lauzon as Kenny dives into the food with such gusto, it might seem that he hasn’t eaten in a long time. He carves his steak with fierceness and chews it quickly and gulps down each piece and the potato salad. He’s finished before anyone else. Director Jill Harper and Craig Lauzon are making a clear and pointed comment about Kenny.

While cracks gradually appear in the relationship between Mary and Ben, the relationship between Kenny and Sharon initially seems tight. Craig Lauzon as Kenny and Louise Lambert as Sharon do have their private asides in public but they seem accommodating. These two have been damaged with their drug abuse and cling to and depend on each other. Clues about their relationship also gradually appear and it’s not as idyllic as one assumes. Craig Lauzon as Kenny is imposing and because he speaks quietly that only magnifies his effect. As Sharon, Louise Lambert is more demonstrative and comfortable with Ben and Mary than Kenny is, but that makes her as interesting as Kenny is quiet. Eric Peterson as Frank offers some interesting information that, even when we think the play might have concluded, unsettles us even further. Eric Peterson plays Frank as a man who would be a good neighbour; who would be helpful with that cup of sugar.

Playwright Lisa D’Amour peels away the layers of this intriguing play slowly but with an ever-relentless pace until its astonishing conclusion.  

Comment. Program notes are always interesting so see what the playwright was thinking when the play was written. The temptation is to take that at face value. Times have changed since Lisa D’Amour wrote her play, wanting to illuminate the financial crisis of 2008. In 2022 we are coming off a two year ‘isolation’ from theater, friends, borrowing a cup of sugar, and the play has a difference resonance. But as with all theatre, each member of the audience will bring their own experiences to the play and get a different outcome than might have been intended. And that will be right as well. There are no wrong answers in theatre.

Bravo to Coal Mine Theatre for another play to unsettle, shake us up and heartily entertain.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Plays until: Aug. 7, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

www.coalminetheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Avon Theatre, Schulick Children’s Plays, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Oct. 29, 2022.

www.stratfordfest.com

Based on the novels: “Little Women” and “Good Wives” by Louisa May Alcott

Adapted for the stage by Jordi Mand

Directed by Esther Jun

Set by Teresa Przybylski

Costumes by A.W. Nadine Grant

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Emily C. Porter

Cast: Marion Adler

Brefny Caribou

Allison Edwards-Crewe

Verónica Hortigűela

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

John Koensgen

Richard Lam

Irene Poole

Rylan Wilkie

Lindsay Wu

Playwright Jordi Mand has taken Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of intense family love that is almost idyllic and given it a modern feel to it. Director Esther Jun has also added her directorial smarts that instills a freshness to the production.

The Story. The first volume (of two) of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women” was entitled, “Little Women” and was published in 1868, the second was entitled “Good Wives” and was published in 1869. The story follows the March family and is the story of four sisters – Meg aged 16, Jo, aged 15, Beth, aged 13 and Amy, aged 12.  The book is loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s life with her three sisters.

The story is set during the American Civil War. The girls and their mother, who they refer to as Marmee, are at home in New England while their paster father is in the South giving religious solace to the Union soldiers. The book tells the story of the sisters’ adventures and life as they grow up. Meg is a governess; Jo wants to be a writer; Beth was so emotionally fragile that going to school for her was not an option so she stayed at home helping her mother tend the household chores; and Amy wants to be an artist. Each sister has their own personalities, sometimes quiet, sometimes boisterous but always caring for each other.

The Production. Teresa Przybylski’s set is fascinating in that the locations in the story have the neon-coloured dazzle that will intrigue kids and it has a certain sophistication that will appeal to adults. For instance, at the top of the set is an outline of building facades that represent the various locations in the story. When the scene is set in one location such as the March home, then the cut-out representing their house at the top is illuminated via Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s lighting. Clever.

Louisa May Alcott’s story of family devotion and selflessness at times seems too good to be true when juxtaposed with the hard, mean irritable times of today, when we have to remind each other constantly to be kind.

There is a scene in the play that takes place at Christmas time and the girls are anxious to tuck into their huge breakfast and are waiting for their Marmee (Irene Poole) to return from doing her charitable obligations. She comes back and tells the girls that there is a terribly poor woman with six children who all sleep in one bed and are freezing and hungry. Marmee suggests that they give up their breakfast except for bread and butter, and take all the food to the poor woman and her children. There is a bit of complaint at this, but reluctantly the girls do what their mother says and they feel better for it. As Marmee, Irene Poole is ever gracious, the diplomat who has to speak reason to her daughters and pass on the sense of charity to them. Poole is lovely as Marmee.

Playwright, Jordi Mand has captured that innocence and decency of the March family but also incorporated that each girl is a person onto themselves: feisty, impatient, selfish, loving, quiet, accommodating and confident to name just a few complex aspects of these four sisters.  Meg is played by Verónica Hortigűela, and is the oldest and most mature of the sisters. There is a calmness and grace to this performance as she tries to be an example to her siblings. Beth is played with fragile sweetness by Brefny Caribou. Beth might have had tender sensibilities, but she also has a sense of herself and her abilities. Amy, the artist, is played by Lindsay Wu with a stubborn streak, a bit of a temper and a touch of selfishness, but there is a watchfulness as well, as one expects of an artist. As Amy’s artistic abilities blossom, so does a calm maturity and even love in the unlikeliest of places.

Jo is the sister who stands out the most. She is played by Allison Edwards-Crewe, with robust confidence and determination. Every thought seems an earnest declaration of how she feels and sees the world. She is impatient with things that are unfair. Patience is a hard thing to grasp for Jo. But one is always reminded with these sisters that they are teenagers and are beautifully played by young adult actors.

The March family’s next-door neighbour is the well-off James Laurence (a kindly John Koensgen). Mr. Laurence gives his piano to Beth because she loved playing it.  His grandson is Laurie Laurence, played by Richard Lam, as unassuming but devoted to the sisters, but especially Jo. One sees the puppy love devotion Laurie has for Jo as they get older and how Jo is conflicted with her friendship for Laurie who wants the friendship to be more. But Jo is determined to be her own person.

Laurie’s tutor is John Brook, played as shy and unassuming by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. Rounding out the cast is Marion Adler as Aunt March who always seems irritated but generous with her advice, and Rylan Wilkie as Professor Bhaer who is a courtly friend and companion to Jo.

Director Esther Jun has created a beautiful production that harkens back to the old-fashioned ways of 1860 but also adds a dash of 2022. At a party attended by two of the sisters some of the music played is rock music and the dancing is as carefree and wild as one expects of such music. After we have experienced this classic of stories, Jun has her cast take their bows to rock music. They walk from upstage to downstage with verge, energy and attitude—there is nothing staid or polite about this bow. The actors then give a personal movement-riff of a bow. Very contemporary for a story written in 1860.

Jun also realizes the beauty and quietness of scenes. In one of the two weddings the bride walks to the church to while the Canon in D by Pachelbel is played, which is lovely enough. But at certain points in the bride’s slow walk a gentle burst of rose petals falls from the flies. It’s not a constant burst. She walks two steps and then there is a burst of petals, then two more steps and more petals. Timing the bursts instead of there being a constant shower of petals is smart and unexpected. Esther Jun’s direction is smart, impish, thoughtful, with unexpected surprises and ultimately lovely in serving the play.

Comment. As Jordi Mand did with her previous play: Brontë: The World Without (the rich story of the Brontë sisters as they try to make a living as writers, all those years ago), Jordi Mand puts the audience for Little Women in two worlds—the world of the March family more than 200 years ago, and the world of today, where each sister resonates with a modernity we can all recognize. Esther Jun’s vibrant production captures that duality, beautifully as well.   

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until: Oct. 29, 2022.

Running Time: 3 hours. (1 intermission)

www.stratfordfest.com

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Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. on Winslow Farm until July 23, 2022.

www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca

Written by Alex Poch-Goldin

Directed by Cynthia Ashperger

Musical direction and original composition by Justin Hiscox

Set, props and sound design by Esther Vincent

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Choreography by Bill Coleman

Cast: Indigo Chesser

Colin A. Doyle

Sochi Fried

Matt Gilbert

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

M. John Kennedy

Sarah McNeilly

Emma Meinhardt

Robert Morrison

Julia Scaringi

Salvatore Scozzari

Madison Sheward

Shelley Simester

A fascinating play about the beginning of the silent film industry in Trenton, Ont. in 1919. Well played and staged.

The Story and production. Since this is a 4th Line Theatre production, that means that The Great Shadow by Alex Poch-Goldin is original, dealing with an actual event that happened in the area. Writer Alex Poch-Goldin has given himself a huge task. First to write about the beginnings of the film industry in Trenton, Ont. in 1919, to incorporate the fear of Communism coming to Canada into the story, as well as noting the importance of the women’s movement at that time, to try and get the vote for women and to be heard regarding equality, is a huge endeavor.

George Brownridge (Colin A. Doyle) was a young Canadian who wanted desperately to make films (silent at the time) that would reflect things that were important to Canada. He wanted to start in Trenton where he planned on building a studio to make them. He first had to convince the local politicians that there was a need for other films besides the ones they were making about the importance of good oral hygiene. These politicians felt that the money from films could build roads. They felt that Brownridge was a young upstart.

Brownridge felt the money from the films should pay for other films and encourage other Canadians to write, direct and act in them.  But when he got the go ahead to make his first film, about the scourge of Communism, he hired a British director named Harley Knoles (Mark Hiscox)  and two American stars  named: Tyrone Power (M. John Kennedy) and Edna Mayo (Sarah McNeilly).  All real people who in fact were making silent movies.

Also making an appearance in The Great Shadow are Hedda Hopper (Shelley Simester), Louella Parsons (Sochi Fried), both rival gossip columnists and Adolph Zukor (Salvatore Scozzari) the head of Paramount Pictures who had a sneaky scheme to prevent Brownridge from distributing any film he ever made.

I think Poch-Goldin’s play does the job well. He’s done a ton of research and of course Poch-Goldin has a wicked sense of humour that one can see in other plays he’s written—certainly Right Road to Pontypool that he wrote a few years ago for 4th Line Theatre.

He has many wickedly funny lines about the great Canadian insecurity that always seems to try and defeat anyone from thinking big and can compete in the world with our neighbours to the South. There are endless lines from the smart-suited politicians who think films about tooth-decay aimed at schools is big thinking enough.  There are the snide remarks of the visiting Americans—Louella and Hedda—about how quaint, small, provincial, and backwater, Trenton is. Both Sochi Fried as Louella and Shelley Simester as Hedda are wonderfully arch and snide to each other and Canadian in general.

There’s a wonderful scene in which two tourists are desperate for something to eat and of course it’s Sunday in Trenton, Ont. and nothing is open. So they begin to negotiate to buy a local man’s (a wonderful ‘simple’ but wily Robert Morrison) sandwich. There are lots of jokes about ‘eh’…..

The fear of Communism is everywhere and so Brownridge is making a film about that…but it seems there might be an insider there to thwart him, when he least expected it. The issue of women’s rights is introduced by a determined Marguerite Snow and the idea almost seems tangential until Brownridge incorporates the matter into a film and also has a neat way of distributing it even though Adoph Zukor has tied up all the distribution to the cinemas across the country. He didn’t count on the Canadian ingenuity of George Brownridge.

As usual, the cast is huge, using a lot of kids in the area and well as local citizens who just love being a part of this summer festival. And of course there are professional actors that one often sees from Toronto and environs.

It was directed by Cynthia Ashperger, with a great sense of how to use a large cast and efficiently use the vast land scape of Winslow Farm, where the show takes place. She has many surprises for the audience especially when an American actress wants to make a grand entrance. The cast of professionals and ‘amateur’ actors is fine and committed.

As George Brownridge, Colin A. Doyle is youthful, enthusiastic and has a nimble mind to solve any problem, using the tricks of the people trying to dupe him, to his advantage. Brownridge is the essence of Canadian—he won’t be cowed by anyone and he knows how to fight back using the lessons of his opponents. Sarah McNeilly is compelling and beguiling as Edna Mayo. Madison Sherwood is staunch and forceful as Marguerite Snow, but could use more nuance and less yelling when voicing her comments about women’s rights. She has a lot of smart things to say. Saying them with more variation would be helpful.  Salvatore Scozzari is wonderful as the slippery Adolph Zukor. There are so many more in the cast that are notable.

Comment. It’s always a treat to go to 4th Line Theatre at Winslow Farm to see a play, outdoors in the barn yard.

This needs to be mentioned. After the Front of House Manager welcomed us and noted some housekeeping rules (turn off the cell phones etc.) she gave a land acknowledgement thanking the Indigenous peoples in the area for taking care of the land. But more important was that she also noted some of the 94 Calls to Action established by the Truth And Reconciliation Commission. If memory serves, here are some of them, and to hear them read out is stunning:

10. We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles …

11. We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education.

13. We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.

16. We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.

And if nothing has been done since they were established, then I think we all must make some NOISE! Leave it to 4th Line Theatre to make a pointed, important statement in the most elegant way.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Plays until: July 23, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, (1 intermission)

www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca

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Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Until August 14, 2022.

www.mirvish.com

Music and lyrics by Max Martin and friends

Book by David West Read

Directed by Luke Sheppard

Choreographed by Jennifer Weber

Music supervisor, orchestrations and arrangements, Bill Sherman

Scenic design by Soutra Gilmour

Costume designer, Paloma Young

Lighting by Howard Hudson

Sound by Gareth Owen

Video Designer, Andrzej Goulding

What if Juliet didn’t die with Romeo. & Juliet is an explosion of creativity that will leave you giddy with joy and breathless.

The Story. & Juliet asks the question: “What would happen if Juliet didn’t commit suicide when she awoke and found Romeo dead beside her? What if she lived to find her own way in the world?” What if she looked at this as an opportunity get away from her hideous parents and go and make a life for herself? This of course would mean that people were messing with Shakespeare’s play and in this case it’s Mrs. Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway.

Mrs. Shakespeare is feeling forgotten living in Stratford-upon-Avon, taking care of the kids,  while her celebrated husband, William Shakespeare, is away in London writing plays and being celebrated. She tells him she can improve on the play Romeo and Juliet by having Juliet live and go on her own adventures.

And so we follow Juliet to Paris (the city, not the guy her parents want her to marry). She goes with her nurse and her best friend May. She meets and kisses a young man name François whose father insists that he get married. Well, this seems like a perfect meeting, Except there are all sorts of complications, characters keep coming in to make trouble. Shakespeare is one of them. Anne Hathaway holds her own.

The Production. & Juliet is a heart-thumping, loud, raucous, brilliant musical. Writer David West Read (who earned an Emmy Award for writing Schitt’s Creek), has come up with the idea. I call it brilliant because David West Read has such a comedic gift, mixing Shakespeare, puns, lines from other Shakespeare plays and ramping up the stakes in each complication.

He also reflects the world we live in: gender fluidity; being true to oneself; loving the person you want to, not the person you are told you have to love, and there is nothing inevitable in relationships, not even if Shakespeare is involved.

The music and lyrics are by Max Martin and friends and while it is generally called a jukebox musical, where existing songs are used to forward the story, it’s done with such cleverness and wit that it will keep you shaking your head at the smartness of it all. Every single song is perfectly placed in this musical and adds a tweak to the moment.

“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Women by Britney Spears is sung by May (a moving Justin David Sullivan) and gives it such a stunning, revelatory, poignant twist. Juliet (Lorna Courtney) sings “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor that is a battle cry of a woman coming into her own. Lorna Courtney as Juliet is a powerhouse. She a strong singer, a wonderful dancer and an actress with such grace and subtlety.

Stark Sands plays Shakespeare with boyish swagger as one would expect of this character, and sings beautifully. Betsy Wolfe as Anne Hathaway is fearless as a woman also coming into her own. As the Nurse Melanie La Barrie is not only delicious comic relief, she is also wise, wily and magically finds her own happiness when she least expected it. Paulo Szot as Lance is a revelation of humour, irreverence and unexpected macho comedy in leather pants and a codpiece. And of course, this trained opera singer sings like a dream.  

It’s directed with such imagination and wit by Luke Sheppard who keeps the action moving but always in focus. Soutra Gilmour’s set is properly eye-popping for those needing dazzle in their musicals. Jennifer Weber has choreographed this with breathless creativity and explosive energy.

& Juliet will leave you smiling and elated at the end, and you will have new respect for Shakespeare, but especially Anne Hathaway. Alas Juliet’s parents are still hideous.

Comment. & Juliet has played for two years in London’s West End and will open on Broadway in October. It has all the dazzle and pizzazz many need in their Broadway musicals. But it has wit, heart, imagination and thought that will take you deeper into the story and reflects our complex, changing world. Brilliant.

David Mirvish Presents:

Plays until: August 14, 2022

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District, Toronto, Ont. Co-produced by Native Earth Performing Arts and Soulpepper Theatre Company.  Playing until July 24, 2022.

www.soulpepper.ca

NOTE: I received the following e-mail ( Sunday, July 3) from Native Earth Performing Arts and Soulpepper who are producing Kamloopa, written and directed by Kim Senklip Harvey, which I saw July 2: 

 

 

“THANK YOU FOR COMING TO SEE KAMLOOPA!

Dear Lynn,

Thank you for coming out to the theatre to see Kamloopa by Kim Senklip Harvey, co-produced with Native Earth Performing Arts! We sincerely hope you enjoyed the show – and if so, would appreciate your help in spreading the word in getting people back out to live theatre! Join the conversation on social media using #spKamloopa or simply tell your friends what you thought of the show!

We are especially grateful to you for coming to support live theatre and we hope to see you again soon!

— Everyone at Native Earth & Soulpepper”

Hmmmmmm. Troubling and confusing. Those few of us who still write reviews were in fact asked not to write reviews of Kamloopa by writer/director Kim Senklip Harvey, via the press offices of both Native Earth Performing Arts and Soulpepper Theatre company. Press tickets would not be given, as is the norm, in exchange for a review.

As per this e-mail from both Native Earth Performing Arts and Soulpepper press offices:

“Regarding reviewing the show, we are not inviting critics to review Kamloopa. In this way, we are not giving typical media accreditation for review at the opening but would still love to invite you to come and engage with the work as an audience member on any other performance date. There is no requirement, expectation, or traditional ask for a review with this invitation.

We will be focusing instead on uplifting and highlighting the audience’s experiences and responses – particularly that of the Indigenous audience to the show.”

Hmmmmm. “…focusing on uplifting and highlighting the audience’s experience and responses….” But isn’t that what a review is, at its simplest? And isn’t a theatre critic really an ‘embedded member of an audience’ already? Seems like a lot of mis-information of what a review actually is, who it’s for and who writes it.

And as we gladly embrace a world of inclusion, unity and diversity, I must confess that …”focusing instead on uplifting and highlighting the audience’s experiences and responses—particularly that of the Indigenous audience to the show” seems counter to “inclusion, unity and diversity. It seems like preferring one audience at the expense of the other. Now that can’t be right. Why aren’t both audiences embraced equally? Who speaks for ‘the other audience’?

I think of the elegant program note (for Kamloopa) of Native Earth’s Artistic Director, Keith Barker who wrote: “Indigenous stories are vital to the cultural narrative of this country, and Native Earth remains dedicated to sharing the Indigenous experience through live performance. Like the Two Row Wampum Treaty, we believe the only way to move forward in a good way, is side by side, together. These relationships allow us to better understand each other in meaningful ways….”

I felt that the fairest, most equitable way of expressing my opinion, ‘spreading the word’ if you will, was to buy a ticket (not to opening night) and write my review of what I experienced at Kamloopa. Here’s the review:

Written and directed by Kim Senklip Harvey

Set by Daniela Masellis

Costumes by Samantha McCue

Sound and composition by Alaska B

Lighting, video and projection design by potatoCakes_digital

Choreography and movement director, Aria Evans

Cast: Yolanda Bonnell

Samantha Brown

Kaitlyn Yott

A raucous, free-wheeling, wild story of sisterly love, of buying into the clichés held by others and being tweaked by a Trickster to embracing ones’ identity.

The Story. Kilawna and Mikaya are sisters living together in an apartment. They experience the usual sibling frustrations. Kilawna is the older sister, more serious, seems to be the neater of the two and always picks up after Mikaya. She works in an office. Mikaya is irreverent, is a student but often misses class, much to the consternation of Kilawna. Both sisters lament insensitive comments they receive as Indigenous women: Kilawna from her white supervisor and Mikaya from her ‘liberal’ course instructor of Indigenous studies. (While Kamloopa was published in 2018 and won the Governor General’s Award in 2020, I wonder when playwright Kim Senklip Harvey has set the play since the comments from Kilawna’s supervisor would not be tolerated within the last three years, and a white liberal would not be accepted as an instructor for an Indigenous course within the same time period.).

The sisters decide to have an evening out where they meet the mysterious ‘Indian Friend # 1 (also known as ‘the Trickster) who appears in their apartment the next day. The Indian Friend #1 tells the sisters that she is going to instruct them in how to be a proud Indigenous Woman. This involves a road trip (with Kilawna driving) to Kamloopa, the name of the largest powwow in Western Canada just outside Kamloops, B.C.—a celebration of dance, song and Indigenous ceremonies of joy.

The Production. The play opens with Mikaya (Kaitlyn Yott) sleeping on the couch. The kitchen is at the back (set by Daniela Masellis). Stuff is strewn on the floor. Kilawna (Samantha Brown) enters with a laundry basket, sees her sister sleeping on the couch, sighs, and begins to pick up stuff on the floor to tidy. This seems to be a regular routine. Mikaya wakes suddenly from what doesn’t seem to be a restful sleep. Over the course of the play she will also have breathing issues that are more symbolically present than indicate health issues. The breathing issues can be seen as Mikaya being at odds with her Indigeneity until she fully embraces it, and she breathes easier.

As Kilawna, Samantha Brown is serious, resigned at having to pick up after her sister and perhaps burdened by what is happening at work. Kaitlyn Yott plays Mikaya with a lively prickliness as the younger sister. There is a real sense of impatience between the interplay of the sisters as Kilawna tries to rouse her sister to go to class and be more responsible and Mikaya balking at her sister’s nagging.

The sisters seem united in their concern of what white people think of them as Indigenous women. They feel the pressure of what others think of them and all Indigenous people, no matter what the stereotype. Mikaya is the one to suggest a night out. The next morning they discover Indian Friend #1 (The Trickster), a fearless, irreverent Yolanda Bonnell, who takes charge and tells the sisters she is going to teach them how to be true Indians. (Of course, the Trickster is exactly that—a spirit that fools people into believing one thing that might not be true). Most of the robust, raw humour is supplied by an animated Yolanda Bonnell. But this Trickster is a true Indian Friend #1 and also speaks truths to the sisters. She tells them they are going on a road trip (actually about one day’s travel with a camping stop at night) to “Kamloopa, to learn about their Indigenous culture.  Indian Friend # 1 tells the sisters late in Act II they have to stop tearing each other apart and that seems to be the catalyst that sets them on the road to healing, finding their Indigenous roots and embracing the symbolic animals and ancestors on the way. 

Kudos to potatoCakes_digital for the video and projection design. Images of a coyote (Senklip) a grizzly bear and a raven are projected on screens at the back of the set as the three women drive through the beautiful land on the road to Kamloops. Indian Friend # 1 refers to Kilawna as “Grizzly Bear and that image becomes part of Kilawna’s identity as she goes deeper into her cultural discovery.” Mikaya is the coyote with similar melding of images. Yolanda Bonnell as Indian Friend #1 holds out her arms and gracefully turns her body embracing the image of the raven who oversees everything.

Kim Senklip Harvey’s play is rich in Indigenous ancestral images, reference to sacred animals, lines occasionally given in ǹsǝⅼxciǹ are not translated in the play but are translated in the text of the play, which I bought and read before-hand. (The text also has essays about protocols and intention which I didn’t read. The play should make the playwright’s intentions clear to all viewers and their various life experiences.)

The play is dense with irreverent jokes, songs, frequent moments of animosity to settlers and the sisters’ perceived assumption that the settlers are constantly trying to keep them down all the time. Fortunately, Indian Friend # 1 acts as the voice that one hopes takes both sisters away from that constant blaming of others for their insecurity and forward to accept their Indigeneity with pride. Still at 2 hours and 20 minutes with an intermission, Kamloopa could do with cutting to tighten the story.

Comment. The coyote (senklip) is sacred to Indigenous culture (as are all animals) and Kim Senklip Harvey got the idea for the play when she was driving on her traditional Syilx territories and accidentally hit a coyote. The play evolved from there as a celebration of Indigenous women. Kim Senklip Harvey also writes in her programme note: “Crashing into my animal (the coyote) was a calling from the other worlds to help keep Indigenous women alive and that’s what Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story is. It is my humble offer to ignite the power that lives within Indigenous women and peoples. This play…is my love letter to Indigenous women who deserve spaces and stories that honour the multidimensional nature of our very existence…”

Mention must also be made of those on whose sturdy shoulders Kim Senklip Harvey and emerging playwrights are standing—the Indigenous playwrights and artists who have been giving space and voice to Indigenous women and people for at least 40 years (through Native Earth, Soulpepper and other companies): Tomson Highway, Marie Clements, Drew Hayden Taylor, Monique Mojica, Jani Lauzon, Yvette Nolan, Cheri Maracle, Columpa C. Bobb, Daniel David Moses, Tracey Nepinak and Tara Beagan, to name only a few.

The clear focus of this production of Kamloopa is that it is intended for Indigenous women without explanation to other audiences. The group of Indigenous women at my performance were given a shout-out and considered “Honoured Guests” by the cast.  But as with all theatre that is very specific, universal aspects are evident as we reflect our own cultures and life experiences by watching the play. I note there are other cultures that seem to perceive themselves as constant victims of oppression by others as Kilawna and Mikaya lament their lot in life to the oppression of settlers, until Indian Friend # 1 tells them to embrace their Indigeneity.  

Considering that the play is meant for an Indigenous audience I wonder why the play is performed in the rigid confines of a theatre, looking only forward in ‘rigid’ seats, instead of in an inclusive, embracing, fluid circle where, according to my readings and teachings by elders, Indigenous storytelling is told.  

Co-produced by Native Earth Performing Arts and Soulpepper Theatre Company:

Playing until: July 24, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, (including 1 intermission)

www.soulpepper.ca

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Majdi Bou-Matar

MT SPACE in Kitchener, Ontario sent this heartbreaking message on Facebook regarding the unexpected passing of Majdi Bou-Matar, a visionary theatre creator, maker, director, leader and theatre ‘wunderkind’.

“It saddens us deeply to share that our beloved friend, colleague, and founder of MT Space, Majdi Bou-Matar, passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday (June 18, 2022) evening. We are devastated by this news and will be taking time and space to move through this grieving process together at MT Space.

Majdi touched a lot of lives and was truly a trailblazer in our industry—nationally and internationally…We will do everything we can to continue his legacy as he gave us a glimpse into what an inclusive future could look like.

There is much more to say about Majdi, his enormous contribution to our communities, and what we have all lost. We will issue a formal tribute when the shock of his passing allows.”

I was introduced to Majdi Bou-Matar’s wonderful work in April 2011, when Andy McKim, then the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, programmed a production of The Last 15 Seconds from MT Space in Kitchener, in the Backspace of TPM. Andy has a keen sense of seeing talent in people. He recognized in so many people a strong, compelling voice to tell a different story, that needed to be told. Because of Andy those of us hungry to hear all sorts of different theatre stories were introduced to Anusree Roy with her stories of life in India and Majdi Bou-Matar with stories from his beloved Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, just to name two of many.

Seeing The Last 15 Seconds was like an explosion of creativity.  At the centre of that creativity was Madji Bou-Matar. Here is part of my Slotkinletter review of that production from April 8, 2011


“THE LAST 15 SECONDS

by LYNN on APRIL 8, 2011

Trevor Copp, Pam Patel, Anne-Marie Donovan

At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. Co-created by Majdi Bou-Matar, Trevor Copp, Anne-Marie Donovan, Nada Homsi, Gary Kirkham, Pam Patel and Alan K. Sapp. Directed by Majdi Bou-Matar. Set by Sheree Tams and William Chesney. Costumes by Sheree Tams. Lighting by Jennifer Jimenez. Music by Nick Storring. Starring: Trevor Copp, Anne-Marie Donovan, Nada Homsi, Pam Patel and Alan K. Sapp.

Produced by The MT Space (Kitchener-Waterloo) in association with Theatre Passe Muraille.

On November 9, 2005 Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed walked into a wedding celebration in a hotel in Amman, Jordan and detonated the explosives around his waist. Among the people he killed besides himself, were the celebrated Syrian film director Mustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima, the bride at this celebration.

The Last 15 Seconds details who these people were; their histories; their hopes, dreams and frustrations. It also creates an imagined conversation after the fact, between Mustapha Akkad and Rawad Abed.

Mustapha always wanted to be a film director when growing up in Syria. His father wanted him to be a doctor. But he supported his son’s wish and gave him $200 when Mustapha left for America to study film and begin his career. To fund his passion for making films celebrating his people and their history, Mustapha produced the Halloween series of horror-slasher movies.

Rawad Abed grew up in a family of women in Iraq. On the day he was born Rawad’s father was killed in one of the four wars the boy would experience by the time he was 15. His childhood friends died in various killings, his family’s neighbours perished too. Hate for occupying forces and frustration at the situation festered in Rawad, until he decided to do what he could to lash out; he and his bride would be suicide bombers and die together in that Jordanian hotel. Only his wife couldn’t bring herself to do it at the last minute.

The Last 15 Seconds is a harrowing, gut-wrenching story to be sure, but it is told with such artful elegance and vivid imagination by MT Space Theatre, that it is both compelling and incredibly moving. Using movement, dance, video projections, vocals, acting, and text, it shows us so many aspects of these stories and none of them is a black and white condemnation.

In one conversation between Mustapha and Rawad, Mustapha directs Rawad as if in a film, to explain his position as a martyr. Time and time again, Mustapha urges Rawad to be truthful, passionate and clear.

In another scene, Rawad explains his actions because he wanted to be a hero like Salahadeen, one of the most celebrated figures in Muslim history. Mustapha challenges him by saying that his suicide bombing proved nothing and helped nobody. And that Mustapha’s next film, had he lived, would be a celebration of Salahadeen’s life.

Trevor Copp as Rawad and Alan K. Sapp as Mustafa are very fine. The cast of five as a whole is terrific.

The images created by director Majdi Bou-Matar and his company are breathtaking. Rawad, first starring at Mustapha sitting at a table, and then ripping at his clothes to detonate the explosives, segues into a projection on the back wall of the wedding banquet with many tables of celebrants, that then dissolves into chaos, noise and falling bodies.

Piles of clothes that are dropped on the floor represent either bodies of the dead or their clothes. Women frantically pick through the piles looking for their loved ones often results in the terrible discovery. Very moving.

Mustapha’s mother, stroking his face and chest, as she says good-by to him as he goes to American, wishing him to make a difference by thinking with his head and heart, is delicate and so effective. Image after image takes a terrible thing, creates art, and makes us look and understand.

The women play members of both Rawad’s and Mustapha’s family’s with a simple change of costume. In the end both family’s are shattered by the suicide bombing and we grieve for all of them without hesitation.

This is theatre at its heart-squeezing, compelling best and guiding the vivid creation is Majdi Bou-Matar. Theatre Passe Muraille under Andy McKim, in its quiet, tenacious way is producing this important kind of theatre as a matter of course.”

I looked out for Majdi’s work after that. Here are some of the reviews of the productions I was lucky to see:

Adrenaline

(SummerWorks, Aug. 2018 at the Theatre Centre).

Written and performed by Ahmad Meree—(another brilliant discovery, all because of Majdi Bou-Matar)

Directed by Majdi Bou-Matar

Set by Majdi Bou-Matar

Sound by Colin Labadie

Original music by Colin Labadie.

Done in Arabic with English surtitles.

Jaber is a young Syrian man spending his first New Year’s Eve in Canada. He’s cold.  He thinks back to the previous year’s New Year’s in Syria where he was with his family, mindful of the possibility of bombs dropping or soldiers invading their home at any moment.

In the safety of Canada he sits down to a meal of pizza and coke and talks to his parents and his young brother. They are cleverly depicted: his mother is a stand-up fan with a large scarf around the curve of the fan and wrapped around the neck of the fan. His father is a jacket neatly hanging on a coat tree and his brother is a round gas tank with a red hockey sweater over it.

Jaber talks to his parents and brother in turn with tenderness, humour and a loving wistfulness. The firecrackers that go off to bring in the New Year here have a chilling resonance for Jaber as they also sound like bombs in his native Syria.

We see a family that loves each other and how Jaber tries to maintain that love and connection. Then the reality of the situation sinks in. We cannot hear these stories  enough of survival, determination and the horrors that refugees and immigrants have endured.

This piece of work is stunning in every single way—from the gripping writing to the inventive direction of Majdi Bou-Matar to the arresting acting of Ahmed Meree (who also wrote it). I would travel anywhere to see theatre this good. Fortunately the Theatre Centre is closer.”

“Besbouss

(Nov. 19, 2019, at Streetcar Crowsnest.)

“The production is directed by the hugely gifted Majdi Bou-Matar. While Bou-Matar came to Canada (he lives in Kitchener) from his native Lebanon his heart and mind are certainly focused on the revolution that is happening across Lebanon now. It certainly informs this production.  Bou-Matar brings a vivid sense of imagery to his productions and there is that as well as a muscularity and sensitivity in every aspect of Besbouss-Autopsy of a Revolt.

I’m grateful that Majdi Bou-Matar is back in Toronto directing—we see too little of his work here. I first saw his breathtaking production of The Last 15 Seconds at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Then at Summerworks a year ago he directed Adrenaline by Ahmed Maree.  Both are harrowing stories of immigrants and people dealing with horrific events in their home countries. Bou-Matar will be returning to Toronto with two shows: Suitcase and Adrenaline in the new yearDon’t miss them.

Comment. Majdi Bou-Matar creates theatre in Kitchener. For about 10 years he curated the IMPACT Festival of international productions in Kitchener. I saw several stunning productions of this past festival from Tunisia, Ecuador, Iran, Six Nations from Toronto (a devastating piece called The Mush Hole about residential schools) and Montreal. The breadth and quality of the productions programmed are astonishing. Majdi Bou-Matar’s determination, artistry and vision are impressive and much needed. Why isn’t Majdi Bou-Matar in Toronto at Harbourfront, resurrecting the moribund World Stage Festival?”

For my annual TOOTSIE AWARDS for excellence, I awarded Madji Bou-Matar:

”A Man of Many Talents Award (Dec. 2019—Tootsie Award)

Majdi Bou-Matar

Majdi Bou-Matar is a director-artistic director, curator, creator of art, originally from Lebanon but now relocated to Kitchener, Ont. where he ran MT Space. His productions are arresting in their vision with a deep sense of story-telling. I first saw his production of The Last 15 Seconds in the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille (thank you Andy McKim). Jaw-dropping. I looked out for his work ever since. For the past 10 years he was the Founder and Artistic Director of the IMPACT Festival that brought a diverse roster of plays and productions from the Middle East, across Canada and South America to Kitchener. I finally was able to see many of those productions. Again, jaw-dropping in their impact. He is slowly doing more work in Toronto.”

The loss to the theatre of this gifted man is incalculable. Majdi Bou-Matar told stories we needed to hear and experience. He took us into another world to understand the harrowing world of the immigrant, the refugee, people who were displaced and aching at leaving their homeland. He did it in a graceful, gripping, muscular way that was also embracing. His vivid images will never leave my memory.

Is loss is devastating.

Lynn Slotkin

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