The Passionate Playgoer

My last two from SummerWorks, Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Rohinton Mistry’s THE SCREAM

 Written by Rohinton Mistry

Conceived, adapted and performed by Anand Rajaram

Set, costume and make-up by Roxanne Ignatius

Sound by Nicholas Murray

Lighting by Mark Andrada

An man is treated badly by the other people in his dwelling because he is old, has an unsightly skin disease and either imagines or actually hears a scream coming from outside. The old man’s story-telling is masterful (because Rohinton Mistry is a masterful story-teller) and because Anand Rajaram, who is performing his adapted piece, is a wonderful actor.

Rajaram is expressive, nuanced and theatrically savvy. The costume by Roxanne Ignatius looks like traditional garb for an old man from India. The make-up of blotches of red on the old man’s face impressively illustrates the man’s disease. Roxanne Ignatius also created the set. The walls are a riot of faces with the mouths opened in screams. There is a window at the back of one wall through which the old man looks out to the street to see where the scream is coming from.

Nicholas Murray has created a sound scape of rumbling, bell ringing sounds that underscore the whole show that is some of the most annoying, intrusive, overwhelming noise I’ve heard in a long time. Too much of the story-telling is rendered incomprehensible because the soundscape drowns it out. Mark Andrada’s constant blinking, floating lighting effects only adds to the distracting frustration. Is this supposed to be ambient lighting from the street? Why?

To say that this production is overproduced is an understatement. I would love to ‘hear’ this show again without any set, intrusive lighting and no sound effects except the mellifluous voice of Anand Rajaram.

Has closed.

 

Safe and Sorry

Part  of SummerWorks Lab.

Co-created and performed by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Huytton

Directed by Chelsea Dab Hilke

Co-performed by Angela Blumberg

Sound by Kelly Anderson

Film design by Peter Demas

Costume designed by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton

A man with a sporty facial hair design gives a seminar for men on how to pick up women that will give them the impression they (the men) are respectful and only want the women to feel safe in their presence. The intention after the pickup is not for cordial conversation and discussion of life, art and history—it’s to have sex. So the safe and respectful attitude is a pretense. The lecturer, a calm, quiet speaking Lauren Gillis who is intriguing and gently compelling, stands in contrast to the various characters played by Alaine Hutton. Hutton’s characters vary from an awkward, shy mumbler who has no finesse around women and a twitchy thug-like clod who doesn’t look like he would have much use for the subtle line, he’d get right to the point. Angela Blumberg plays a stage hand in pants and white sleeveless t-shirt that brings props on and off, very efficiently. You believe she’s a man too.

The thesis of the piece is put simply in this line: “When I am on a date, where do I put my hand so that it will be obviously sexual, but not creepy?”

The creators then go on to expound on this in the most esoteric and elliptical way. Interesting that women dressed as men are pondering the question posed by men.

Has closed.

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At the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge, Cambridge, Ont.

Written by Reginald Rose

Directed by Marti Maraden

Set by Allan Wilbee

Costumes by Jennifer Wonnacott

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Cast: Neil Barclay

Benedict Campbell

J. Sean Elliott

Kevin Kruchkywich

Jeffrey Wetsch

Terry Barna

Keith Dinicol

Omar Forrest

Cyrus Lane

Skye Brandon

Thomas Duplessie

Jacob James

Brad Rudy

The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn is the voice of the Judge.

Reginald Rose’s bracing 1954 jury-room drama is being given a splendid, gripping, moving production thanks to director Marti Maraden and her wonderful cast.

The Story.  Manhattan, 1957. A jury of 12 white men deliberates in the jury-room over the fate of a teenage boy accused of murdering his father. Most of the jurors are sure the kid did it. One lone man is not sure. He has reasonable doubt. The story involves him arguing with and questioning the other jury-members until they change their minds. It’s rough going along the way, but justice prevails.

The Production.  The curtain is up on Allan Wilbee’s set of the wood-panelled jury room with a long wood table and chairs for twelve. There are other chairs around the room with a bank of windows stage left. Stage right is a wall on the other side of which is the bathroom. When there are scenes in the bathroom the wall recedes revealing the sink and a door to the cubicle and the space of the bathroom. There is a door slightly up left that leads out of the jury room. There is a clock stage right, on the wall that works and shows that time is ticking away as they deliberate.

We hear the voice of the judge give the instructions to the jury. It’s the voice of The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn of the Superior Court of Justice, Central South Region-Waterloo Regional Municipality. I thought having the Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn give the instructions (we never see him, we only hear him), was masterful. It lends a note of solemnity and seriousness. I’m assuming this was a decision of director Marti Maraden. Terrific work here.

The guard (Omar Forrest), the only black character in the play, leads the jury into the jury room. Do I detect a look of suspicion from him to them and then from them to him? My imagination? Not sure.

The men are in suits and ties. Many wear hats. They put their hats on a shelf up stage where they can also hang their jackets. Juror #1 (Jacob James) is the foreman and tries to organize the group so they can get down to business and discuss the case. Jacob James plays Juror #1 with as much authority one can muster when the others either bully or shout him down. Lots of dignity with Mr. James.

The battle lines are quickly drawn. The loudmouth, racist bully Juror # 10 (a ranting Brad Rudy) knows the kid is guilty and assumes the others do too. He lumps the teen into the group of “they” and “them” who are low-lifes, liars and cheats.

Juror #3 (a gripping, incendiary Benedict Campbell) has had a troubled relationship with his own son from whom he is estranged. He felt his son was disrespectful to him even though he beat him up for walking away from a fight. The son retaliated when he was 16 and left. Juror #3 has misplaced his anger from his son onto this teenaged young man on trial. He believes the teen is guilty because he wants to get even with him as a vicarious way of getting back at his son. Campbell gives an explosive, fearless yet heartbreaking performance.

There are the more reasoned jurors: Juror #11 (Neil Barclay) a courtly, fastidious German gentleman who knows the tyranny of the bully and the loudmouth; Juror #9 (a thoughtful Keith Dinicol) is an old man who is meek but not a pushover. He stands his ground with sound reasoning and thoughtful questions; Juror #2 (a wonderful Cyrus Lane) is browbeaten and seems easily cowed by the louder jurors, but he eventually too stands his ground. And then there is Juror #8 (Skye Brandon) who just doesn’t know if the teen is guilty or not. There is so much that does not make sense in the case. He has questions and asks them of his fellow jurors. Many are exasperated with him because he is holding them up from going home or to a ball game. Skye Brandon as Juror #8 is calm, conflicted and so unsure of the truth, but knows that he can’t throw this kid away. Slowly Brandon carefully, respectfully changes the mind of the skeptics. It’s a lovely, strong, compelling performance because it’s so quiet.

Director Mari Maraden has staged this group of men so that they are almost always moving, either in their chairs or up from the table, away from it, to a window, back to the table and it is all effortless and natural. The relationships are also clearly, carefully defined and established. And with her gifted cast she has conveyed the urgency of the life and death debate so that by the end of the play no one takes it for granted.

Comment. Playwright Reginald Rose has created a microcosm of the world in his play 12 Angry Men. It has the loud-mouthed bully who wants to overpower the meek; the raging man with misplaced anger who can’t see his error; the easily bullied; the outsider with more grace and dignity than his tormentors; the quiet ones in the middle and the lone person who sees the problem of the mob rule and says that this is wrong and goes about changing it. Our present world is angry, hateful, racist and scared. 12 Angry Men is more important than ever in showing that can change when one person stands up and provides another way of thinking that is reasonable and just. Please see it. The production is terrific and important.

Drayton Entertainment presents:

Began: Aug. 7, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 24, 2019.

Running Time: approx. 2 hours 15 minutes.

www.draytonentertainment.com

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At the former Annex Queen Video on Bloor St. West

Created by Mitchell Cushman, Vanessa Smythe and Nick Bottomley.

Production design by Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais.

This is a totally immersive experience from Outside the March. The experience is described this way: “…a new Escape Room-inspired experience set in a VHS video store…The Tape Escape is Outside the March’s foray into the booming world of escape rooms—a series of story-based, puzzle-infused mysteries staged inside of a brick-and-mortar VHS rental store. Step back into the world of the 1990s with this love letter to the lost art of browsing created in an installation of over 5000 VHS tapes. Audiences will experience the show in small groups, solving a series of movie-themed puzzles and mysteries to uncover the untold tales of the store’s staff and membership base.”

Well, yeah, browsing is a lost art because the places we brows (bookstores, video stores, record stores etc.) ARE ALL CLOSING! But I digress.

You can sign up for any or all of the three different stories to follow:

Love Without Late Fees

Six Tapes to Find the One. “Two single renters jump start their relationship by sharing six video rentals.

A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying

Second shelf on the right and straight on ‘til morning. Gene is celebrating her 8th birthday. A beloved relative leads her on a treasure hunt through the nooks, crannies and shadows of the video store. Peter Pan is the guiding force.

Yesterday’s Heroes

Embark into What Was. “Buried somewhere in the walls of The Tape Escape, a whispering voice calls out to you again and again. Venture on a quest through the shelves overflowing with stories to find the one that can’t be recorded over. …..”

I saw A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying and Yesterday’s Heroes. For both I was in a small group and together we followed clues that lead us through the store to the next clue closer to the solution. As each piece is about 45 minutes, that’s how long we had to solve the puzzles and find the clues and solutions. Instead of being locked in a room, unable to get out until the puzzle is solved, we just run out of time without the final piece and we could leave.

With A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying it was like being in a maze of clues and information. The store guides help a lot leading us to the next clue. But while I knew that Peter Pan was the theme it was hard to get a handle on the secret or the mystery.

With Yesterday’s Heroes my group was smart about the clues and curious about the adventure. There were secret rooms with codes to get into them or not. Again, the point of the mystery was buried in clues and journeys into the bowels of the store. And I got more and more frustrated about the exercise. The film of A Christmas Carol was central to the story. I envisioned that we had to find the original, brilliant one with Alistair Sim.

Nope. One of my smart group mates saw a hieroglyphic clue of a frog and other etchings and concluded that the film was the one by the Muppets. To which I said to myself: “GET ME  OUTTA HERE!!!!

The Tape Escape is not theatre, site-specific or otherwise. It’s games playing, treasure hunting and group collaboration. As always the design of the place is inspired and brilliant so kudos to Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais. The story-telling is obtuse, confusing and buried me in minutiae without a glimmer of what we were looking for. Also going down stairs to the bowels of the place is dangerous—a narrow staircase, no banister and low ceiling.

See this if you like games, video games, treasure hunts etc. Otherwise, just watch Netflix.

Outside the March presents:

Held over to Aug. 25.

www.outsidethemarch.ca

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Continuing at SummerWorks, Toronto, Ont.

hiraeth

At the Toronto Media Arts Centre, Gamma Gallery,

Created and performed by Mandy E. MacLean

Directed by Leah Holder

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

The SummerWorks booklet listing the shows is clearer in describing the story, than the actual production is.  The audience sits in fold out chairs in a circle in a small room. And we wait. And wait, and ditto. A young woman rushes in wearing a name tag which I can’t read, carrying a bag of stuff and apologizes profusely for being late. And apologizes and ditto.  She proceeds to perform what seems like a stream of consciousness gush of the various things that she is frightened by: the dark, being herself; loneliness, not being invited to parties etc. She goes into her dark basement but has a flashlight and writes things on the floor in chalk. I can’t read it because the room is dark except for a flashlight that illuminates the floor but only for her to see. I must confess I’m getting frustrated. There is reference to a father who only seems to sit in a chair and stare. At the end we are thanked and asked to fold up the chairs and leave.

I notice now in the light that there is a table close to the door with a box of Tim Bits on a table. Close to the box is a roll of peel off labels and magic marker on which to put your name. I realize this has been a therapy session and it was the young woman’s turn to speak. Had director Leah Holder had some one telling us we need name tags for the meeting, we would have gladly put our names on a label and stuck it on. We would have known where we are and why we are here.

Mandy E MacLean is an energetic actress but her writing of the show needs attention. The story has to be fleshed out and clarified better than here. Also having a title that no one can pronounce or knows the meaning of until we get the program at the end, is not a good idea. Hiraeth means ‘a longing for home’ in Welsh.

Continues until Sat. Aug. 17, 2019.

 

White Heat

Written by Graham Isador

Directed by Jill Harper

Sound and composition by Chris Ross-Ewart

Lighting by Kim Purtell

Cast Makambe K Simamba

Tim Walker

This is part of the SummerWorks Lab and so is still in development.

Writer, Graham Isador has based White Heat on the recent violence focusing on journalists as they struggle to write the truth, but have to deal with the hateful rhetoric and worse of white supremacists.

Alice Kennings is a journalist for a paper. Her columns are provocative. She has written that it is quite ok to punch a Nazi in the face. There has been a terrible backlash especially from a white supremacist radio show headed by “The Captain” who couches his invective in such a way that his followers harass and threaten Alice.

The Captain is an angry man. His marriage broke up and he is the sole parent to a three year old daughter. He runs a coffee shop to make money. He rages on the radio. He meets Alice for coffee to try and talk about their ideas and differences. The conversation breaks down because The Captain feels he is right and she is wrong and there is nothing to discuss. It’s true, they have nothing to discuss if both are not listening.

The anger of the two characters does prove the point that there is no meeting ground for discussion. Is that the point of Graham Isador’s play? Does he want there to be common ground on which they can discuss? Questions, questions. Interesting subject to ponder.

Makambe K. Simamba as Alice and Tim Walker as The Captain are both impassioned. Simamba has a clear conviction in her clause. She is fearful of the many trolls she endures but staunch in her belief she is right and her opponent is not.

Tim Walker plays characters like The Captain with a barely contained fury. He just builds and builds in his anger. He is dangerous.  Director Jill Harper has Makambe K. Simamba directly address the audience for the most part. And she has The Captain deliver his radio show from various positions in the space. I wonder why? Seems a bit too much movement here. Something to investigate.

Plays at the Longboat Hall in the Great Hall

Runs until Wed. Aug. 13, 2019.

www.summerworks.ca

 

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At the Studio Theatre, Festival Players, Prince Edward County.

Written by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Gavin Crawford.

Brilliant and moving.

The Story. The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) tells the audience what happened when he was seven-years-old when his mother first attempted suicide. His father was taking him to the hospital to see her and said that his mother did something stupid. When the boy learned why she was in the hospital he decided to make a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world that makes life worth living and he would give it to his mother to cheer her up.

Things are rarely that simple. The Narrator began making the list at seven-years-old.

Number 1 was Ice cream. No argument from me.

Number 2 was Water fights.

Number 3 was Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch television. Number 4 was The colour yellow.

Number 5 was Things with stripes.

Number 6 was Rollercoasters.

Number 7 was People falling over.

He continued to build the list as he got older and went to university, met a young woman; fell in love; etc.  Other people added to the list.

The Production. The audience sits on three sides of the rectangular studio theatre. There is a single line of chairs on either side. On the audience side of the rectangle are about six more rows that are on risers so everyone can see. At the other end is a suitcase with stuff in it.

The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) enters the room in worn jeans and a t-shirt. He has a stack of cards which he distributes to the audience with care, respect and consideration. He asks if people will read what’s on the card when he calls out the number. On each card is a number and a word, phrase, idea. During the narrative of the show the Narrator will call out a number and the person with that card replies what the word, phrase or idea is. This is done several times.

He continues with conversations he had with his father—a willing soul poses as the seven-year-old-boy and has to comment on the facts that are being told to him.  The Narrator intersperses the story and says “Number 1.” I reply “Ice Cream” in a loud, clear voice. He continues to call out the next six numbers and the audience members reply with conviction, enthusiasm and good humour.

The Narrator later calls out 253,263 and a clear-voiced young man in the front row read out: “The feeling of calm which follows the realization that, although you may be in a regrettable situation, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He read it with nuance, pacing and humour. He was Dylan Trowbridge, the sensitive director of the piece (and a dandy actor in his own right). Trowbridge keeps the tone easy-going, no rushing and he has Crawford always roaming around the playing space engaging with the audience. The lights are not down dark but are up a bit so that we can see each other.

Gavin Crawford is a personable, funny, considerate man and a serious, engaging Narrator. There are various characters who are played by audience members and they are asked gently if they will agree to do it. One character requires a sock. That is the guidance teacher in the school our sweet seven-year-old-kid goes to. The kid is called into the guidance teacher’s office for a chat and to see how he is doing since his mother is in the hospital. The guidance teacher had a disarming way of making the kids feel at ease. The teacher used a sock as a means of communication.

I have seen Every Brilliant Thing in Edinburgh at the Fringe with Jonny Donahoe, who is listed as a co-writer of the piece. I have seen it in Toronto with Kristen Thomson, twice. I saw it in Barrie, Ontario with Michael Toronto. And now at Festival Players in Prince Edward County with Gavin Crawford. In the first three instances the guidance teacher was played by a woman in the audience and was called Mrs. Patterson. In the Festival Players edition of the show the teacher was played by a man and was called Mr. Patterson. It was the need of a sock, you see. It’s hot summer in Prince Edward County. All the women (except me) in that theatre wear sandals on bare feet. (I wear a mini-socky thing that is invisible in my sneakers) No woman in that audience was going to be able to take of her sock and use it for the scene, so the guy in front of me was chosen to be Mr. Patterson and he took off his snugly fitting sock and did the scene with ease. I thought that decision of both the director? The actor?  to change the character to a man was masterful.

Gavin Crawford is a wonderful Narrator. I have a rather frisky audience. They all know each other it seems. Some even talk back during the show. But Crawford soon gets a handle on that and they stop and got down to the business of listening and eagerly participating.

Comment. Every Brilliant Thing is a play about life and the brilliant things, ideas and attitudes that make life worth living. It’s a play that embraces the audience in a respectful way and makes them act as if they are in a communal effort. Lovely show and it gets you thinking about your own list.

Presented by Festival Players

Began: Aug. 2, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

www.festivalplayers.ca

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SummerWorks shows: The Breath Between, CHILD-ISH Wah, Wah, Wah, and Rochdale until Aug. 18, 2019 at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

My favourite summer festival is SummerWorks Aug. 8-18.  (I’m never here for the Fringe). I love the rough and tumble mix of Indie theatre work, music events, and various arts that play at various venues but centering around the Theatre Centre

For the theatre component there are plays that are both finished or still developing. The developing work is part of the SummerWorks Lab. SummerWorks is a welcoming home to emerging and established talent.

How do I chose what to see? Often I will decide if I like the playwright,  director, actors, the story, or if they are young talent.

So last night I decided on The Breath Between by the AMY Project because I like what they do;  Child-ish because it’s directed by Alan Dilworth and the story is intriguing; Wah, Wah, Wah, is directed by Bilal Baig and it’s created by an emerging talent named Celia Jade Green who has created, choreographed and performs it; and Rochdale because it’s written by David Yee and directed by Nina Lee Aquino—both established artists. And of course the name Rochdale just grabs me because of all it stands for.

And it also matters if the plays are in the same place, as they were at the Theatre Centre so with a tight schedule, the plays are easy to go from one theatre to another. The Theatre Centre has two performance spaces—the Franco Boni Theatre and The Incubator– so I was charging from one to the other.

The Breath Between

Created by the AMY Project

Directed by Kumari Giles and Julia Hune-Brown

Scenic design by Karis Jones-Pard

Lighting by Senjuti Sarker

Created and performed by: Jericko Allick

nevada jane arlow

Taranjot Bamrah

A.C.

Daniella Leacock

Claudia Liz

Alice Cheng Meiqing

Lyla Sherbin

Fio Yang

It’s a terrific company in which AMY stands for Artists Mentoring Youth.  From the programme: “…it provides free performing arts training programs to young women and non-binary youth from black and Indigenous People of Colour and 2LGBTQ and other equity-seeking communities.

AMY breaks down barriers to participation by providing meals and transportation, accessible queer and trans inclusive and anti-racist environments and more.

With the mentorship of professional artists, AMY participants learn to tell their stories with honesty integrity and artistic rigour.”

From the programme: “The Breath Between is a collection of monologues, poetry, movement and music that explores themes of queer resilience and dreams of what new worlds we will make together in apocalyptic times.”

The group of performers paints a picture of a time when people live in temperature controlled domes because climate change has run amok and the temperature outside is unbearable. Everything is out of control. Corporate greed is everywhere. A bottle of water will be $17.

The group decides to travel away in a space ship for a better life and environment. They tell stories of living with racism, anti-gay attitudes and general attitudes of not being welcome. They decide as a group what to do next.

I always think it’s a bold, brave enterprise for non-professionals to tell their stories with honesty and without embellishment.  Some parts of the presentation were a bit rocky but will smooth out with playing. Slow down in speaking. Speak clearly and enunciate and don’t drop your words at the end of a sentence. Your words are important. I want to hear every one of them.

I thought The Breath Between could use some gentle editing to focus on the stories, the world they were escaping and how that world came to be and the world they wanted to create instead. The piece was a bit unwieldy but still intriguing.

CHILD-ISH

Written by Sunny Drake

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set and costumes by Ken Mackenzie

Sound by Deanna Choi

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Movement by Monica Dottor

Cast: Itir Arditi

Walter Borden

Maggie Huculak

Sonny Mills

Zorana Sadiq

It’s part of the SummerWorks Lab so is work in development and exploration.

Sunny Drake is the playwright and his idea was to interview 33 children over the past 2 ½ years ranging in ages from 5 to 11 years old about all manner of topics ranging from love, kissing, death, gender and consent, among others.

Some of the interviewers would also be children. Sunny Drake would then take their words, create a verbatim script and have adult actors perform it. For my performance the actors read from scripts. They are beautifully directed by Alan Dilworth

The result was terrific. First of all, kids are just naturally funny.Their observations are quirky to us but serious to them. They naturally frame their thoughts and observations in incongruous ways and that’s funny. Humour comes from juxtaposing the incongruous.

Added to that are actors who have the subtlety and nuance to take those words and with a turn of phrase or a look, or even shifting pages of the script draw every laugh out of the work. The actors entered into the serious world of the child. They didn’t baby talk or sound condescending. Walter Borden talking about kissing with his eyes wide open and an impish smile says it all. Sonny Mills talking as a kid being gender non-binary and trying to keep secrets from a hovering mother is very funny. Maggie Huculak as that clinging mother, but gentle about it is funny, as is her being a precocious kid. Hilarious.

There are also moments of seriousness when they are talking about death and  uncomfortable moments in their lives. I thought Child-ish was a bracing, funny, thoughtful exercise and look forward to the next segments of the development.

Wah, Wah, Wah.

Created, choreographed and performed by Celia Jade Green

Directed and dramaturged by Bilal Baig

Lighting by Echo Zhou

Sound by Phoebe Wang

It’s created, choreographed and performed by an artistic wonder named Celia Jade Green. Green investigates questions around sexual harassment.

As the program says: “A young, queen woman grapples with the messiness of being violated.”  At the beginning of the piece the young woman wants to tell us what happened to her but hesitates.  She almost reveals her secrets but then backs out.  She tells snippets of having men yell cat calls at her.  When she was 11 years old, riding her bike a man called out something suggestive.  She wanted to stop and face him and tell him “I’m 11.”  The young woman went to Europe after high school and told of being followed by a man but getting away from him. She tells of meeting a young woman in Spain and enjoying her company at a dance club, but when an imposing man appeared at the door, our young woman became fearful again. She had brave thoughts of facing down her ‘oppressor’ but usually backed off.

She hitch-hiked in France, was picked up by two men in a truck and sat between them. The way Green describes the big burly men and how she was squeezed between them has you gripping the arm rest (if there is one) hoping nothing happens.  There is a litany of these stories in which the prospect of trouble looms.  But the one story she has been trying to tell involved a teacher in university.  By this time she is so uncertain that anything happened and wonders if she imagined it.  And realizes that she must do something about it because something could have happened. She leaves us with a sobering question as well and I’m not going to tell you what it is because you must see this show to find out.

Loved Wah, Wah, Wah.  I loved being heartsick for the young woman’s situation and held my breath as she both told and danced the story. Her choreography is graphic, vivid and elegant all at once.  Her story-telling is compelling and has you hooked. And Bilal Baig’s direction also brings out the gripping nature of the piece.

The title is wonderful as in that whiny baby cry of Wah, Wah, Wah. But the reaction to the piece is anything but a childish whine.

Rochdale

Written by David Yee

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set by Mona Farahmand

Costumes by Tiana Kralj

Sound by Jonathan North

Choreography by Brandon Pereira

Cast: Dean Bessey

Ori Black

Julia DeMola

Sofia Gaspar

Claudia Hamilton

Nelvin Law

Sabrina Marangoni

Brandon Pereira

Tomasz Pereira Nunes

Adrienne Ross Ramsingh

Carina Salajan

Margarita Valderrama

Rochdale…a name that is full of history and possibilities for a wild ride?

It was a huge disappointment. David Yee’s play is a mess of stuff. It takes place in 1969 in Toronto and the programme says: “…Rochdale College—an experiment in cooperative housing and alternative education—is about to become very famous for all the wrong reasons.”

The reasons are of course, drug taking and selling; bikers moving in and causing trouble; no order; people refused to pay rent; bills piled up; their governance failed and it was total chaos.

It starts with the chaotic, out of control nature of Rochdale. Whitman has returned to Rochdale after disappearing for two months. She was the head of the governing council and in a sense ran the place and tried to keep it in order. When she disappeared she didn’t tell anyone, and certainly not her boyfriend Dennis. Everybody thought she was dead. When she returns (telling only Dennis why she left) she says she didn’t know which number to call to tell him so she didn’t contact him at all. (Seems lame to me).

The story goes from the wildness of the tenants for most of the play that then segues into some dangerous events when a body is found in a person’s room and they don’t want to call the police for certain reasons.

Then the play shifts into debates about racism and finally when chaos consumes the whole place, Whitman makes a decision. She tells Dennis that her father had followed the rules of living and but was shafted. She wanted Rochdale to be different. She wanted to run the place that would make her father proud. That idea comes from no where and is supported by nothing.

Nina Lee Aquino directs the large cast playing hippies in full regalia of beads, tie-dyed clothes and a constant state of being high.

The play is unwieldy and needs ruthless cutting and more focus.

The Breath Between, CHILD-ISH, Wah, Wah, Wah and Rochdale continue at SummerWorks over various dates until Aug. 18.

www.summerworks.ca

Comment: I love SummerWorks. I love the buzz of the place when it’s full of theatre goers who are eager for a lively, new experience. I love the welcome from all the volunteers and the efficiency of how it’s run.

But, yesterday, of the four shows I saw, three of them started late. The curtain was held to accommodate people who bought their tickets late. In one case they started 10 minutes because tickets were still being sold even thought the show was supposed to start. Fix that please!

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

Written by Sam Shepard

Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Composed and sound by Andrew Penner

Cast: Eion Bailey

Cara Gee

Stuart Hughes

Alex McCooeye

A relentless play and a production with all the noise and supposed anger but it all seems so tame.

The Story. Eddie and May are obsessed and in lust with one another. But they can’t live with or without each other. They met in high school and the attraction was instantaneous, passionate and volatile. Over the years they would cling to one another and then part in a rage.

This time Eddie has driven 2000 miles to come and find her in her motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. There are accusations about Eddie keeping company with someone called “The Countess.” May has also had lovers. Both Eddie and May are intensely jealous. “The Countess” also has her moments. She pulls up outside the motel and torches Eddie’s truck and trailer with his horses in it—Eddie is a rodeo rider. We hear about this from Eddie who sees this outside the window, we don’t actually see her.

On the periphery of the story is “The Old Man” who watches from the sidelines, drinks and occasionally enters the story. He knows lots of back-story about May and Eddie. And there is Martin, a simple, good natured man who is sweet on May.

The Production.  Since ‘volatile’ factors into the behaviour of May (Cara Gee) and Eddie (Eion Bailey), there is lots of yelling, jumping on the bed and fierce door slamming. Kudos to set designer Lorenzo Savoini for designing and the crew building such a sturdy set. When those doors slam with a bang no wall wobbles.

Director Frank Cox O’Connell directs with attention to the stage direction that the play is “performed relentlessly without a break.” The pace is fast, furious, angry, and pulsing with emotion. Eion Bailey as Eddie, is a rugged, unshaven and charismatic. I love the touch of having duct tape hold his cowboy boot together. (Kudos to costume designer, Shannon Lea Doyle for her work). He explodes into the motel room and prowls around it; he hovers over May almost cornering her. The animal instinct from him fills the room. As May, Cara Gee is a disappointment. She either yells without variation or poses. There is not a genuine reaction or moment in her performance. Stuart Hughes plays The Old Man as a bitter, dangerous man who spends his life regretting and drinking. He holds the secrets to the story and he lets them out sparingly. We get a sense of the heat in the play only from Hughes who plays it with his shirt totally unbuttoned. Finally Alex McCooeye plays Martin as a sweet lunk-head, good natured but dim. Still there is something imposing about him and I don’t think it’s because Mr. McCooeye is so tall. He knows how to suggest a silent danger that is effective.

For all of Frank Cox-O’Connell’s efforts to invoke the wild-west attitude of Sam Shepard’s play, the raging emotions, the aggravating heat of the Mojave Desert, I couldn’t help but think that this production was “Sam Shepard-lite.” It takes more than a soundly slammed door to suggest danger. It takes more than screaming and posing to suggest frustration and rage. Sadly it just seemed to be missing here. A Canadian thing?

Comment.  Sam Shepard writes about wild America. His characters are on the margins of polite society, something like our own George F. Walker’s characters here are on the margins. They function but have that sheen of being dangerous. And in Fool For Love Shepard goes deep into taboo country for his play. Always fascinating but so tricky to realize.

Soulpepper Presents:

Closes: Aug. 11, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. No intermission.

www.soulpepper.ca

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At the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Norm Foster

Music and lyrics by Steve Thomas

Directed by Patricia Vanstone

Musical Director, Steve Thomas

Set and costumes by Peter Hartwell

Lighting by Chris Malkowski

Musicians, Ian Copeland and Michael Allen

Cast: Griffin Hewitt

Gabriel Jones

Breton Lalama

Jonathan Whittaker

The Story. Sam and Paula have been generally unhappily married for 35 years. They are calling it quits and dividing up their possessions. He gets the cutlery because he likes to cook. She gets the power tools. There is no real animosity because they both realize they aren’t happy but they don’t blame the other. They both carry their own disappointment so it’s time to move on and separately.

But as they divide up the stuff they reminisce about it. They met in university. He wanted to be a lawyer and she wanted to be a writer. It didn’t work out that way but they did think about that time wistfully. They ponder an old wedding present. What was it? It was a wishing stick. Sam just blurted out that wouldn’t it be great to go back in time and warn their younger selves about what to expect. And that’s what happens. This being a Norm Foster play there are a lot of laughs, funny situations and dialogue that floats a joke with ease. There is not a pat, expected ending. It’s earned.

 The Production.  Designer Peter Hartwell’s set is simple and effective. The small band is upstage centre and the action happens around it. There are entrances and exits on the stage left and right sides.  Patricia Vanstone directs with her usual economy and sensitivity to the material.

Sam (Jonathan Whittaker) wears a loose jersey and slim jeans. Paula (Gabrielle Jones) wears dark a leotard and a crisp, big button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. (note: I might be wrong about her leotard I was so distracted by the shirt cause I wanted it. Sorry.) I found it interesting that both actors wear wedding rings even though the characters are breaking up. I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think it was a deliberate move. This couple isn’t angry with one another. They are just ending a bad situation that has kept them unhappy for a long time. Taking off the rings might prove too final at this point in the beginning of the play.

As their younger selves Griffin Hewitt is in slim pants and a preppy shirt and Breton Lalama wears typical student gear that is stylish and comfortable.

When the older Sam and Paula go back in time they pose as liaison guides for their younger selves, but the younger selves don’t know it. Sam and Paula fell in love that first day. They were besotted with each other. One of the songs perfectly expressed how the older Sam and Paula felt about each other—they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. It isn’t a groping salacious song. It’s one of wanting to be tactile; to touch, feel, hold and caress. It’s a lovely song as are they all.

The cast is beautifully balanced and meshed. As Sam, Jonathan Whittaker is laid-back and unsmiling, but he does have a sense of humour. Gloomy is not the appropriate word, but he is a man that might be consumed with unfulfilled dreams and so being inexpressive might be how he protects himself. Gabrielle Jones as Paula is a perfect foil for him. She is take-charge, energetic, expressive and sometimes even volatile. But she also can control her emotions. Both sing well and know how to convey the meaning of each song.

As young Sam, Griffin Hewitt is boyish, a touch uncertain about his course in life and sure of his attraction to Paula. He sings beautifully. Breton Lalama as young Paula is buoyant, lively and direct. You can see that she will grow into Paula. She too sings beautifully.

The information that has kept both Sam and Paula unhappy comes out gradually as the couple re-live their younger selves. A decision is made that seems true to the play and not just tacked on.

The music enhances the story-telling in a deeper way than just dialogue. The songs are jaunty, thoughtful and beautifully express the personalities of the characters singing them. Steve Thomas’ music is lovely, melodic and memorable. That both Norm Foster and Steve Thomas did the lyrics and are true to the characters without being glaringly unbalance is a masterstroke.

A terrific evening in the theatre.

Comment. People are never satisfied! After the opening night of Beside Myself the wonderfully insightful, funny musical at the Norm Foster Festival at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, a forthright audience member went up to Norm Foster, the man at the centre of the Festival and wanted to know if there would be a CD of the music show. He wasn’t the only one. Alas no. I hope they correct this if they do another musical in the future.

The Foster Festival Presents:

Began:  July 31, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, approx.

www.fosterfestival.com

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A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream

Various locations across Southern Ontario

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by D. Jeremy Smith

Composed by Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington

Production designed by Julia Kim

Cast: Steven Burley

Nick Dolan

Nathaniel Hanula-James

Kelsi James

Marissa Orjalo

Siobhan Richardson

D. Jeremy Smith

James Dallas Smith

This is the 25th season of producing Shakespeare in various venues across southern Ontario by this wonderful organization called The Bard’s Bus Tour produced by Driftwood Theatre. A passionate, gifted wonder known as D. Jeremy Smith created the company, adapts the shows, directs them and for the past few years ensures that they are free. Audiences of course are invited to drop some money in a bucket but basically the performances are free.

This year’s offering is A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw it in the wonderful setting in Withrow Park in Toronto for one of its two performances (the production travels around southern Ontario to various venues). The park lends itself to the magical aspect of the play.

The Story. In Athens. A father, Egeus (D. Jeremy Smith) wants his daughter Hermia (a feisty Marissa Orjalo) to marry Demetrius (a strapping, confident Nick Dolan), a man of his choosing. She wants to marry Lysander (boyish, charming Nathaniel Hanula-James). The father balks and says that she marries Demetrius or according to the ancient law of the land, she dies. (Now that is harsh). Egeus is telling this to Theseus (an imposing James Dallas Smith), Duke of Athens. Theseus has just ‘won’ Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons) (played by a commanding Siobhan Richardson) in battle and will marry her.

Hermia and Lysander scurry away through the forest to his old aunt’s for safety. In the forest there are fairies lead by Titania (Siobhan Richardson) and Oberon (James Dallas Smith) who have their own issues. There is a trickster named Puck (D. Jeremy Smith). There is mistaken identity, misplaced love and passion; some mechanicals who are rehearsing a play; more high jinx when one of the mechanicals is given the head of a donkey by Puck. And finally, breathlessly, it all works out. In this production, they also sing about it.

The Production.  D. Jeremy Smith directs this with swiftness, economy and a wonderful sense of using the vast space of the park. While scenes take place ‘down stage’ we can see characters in the distance scurrying across the upper part of the park as they engage in the same scene. This is not distracting. This is inclusive. There is a nice use of ladders as part of the humourous business. The cast handles the language well and the frustration of unrequited and requited love. A fairie king and queen have as much aggravation and intensity in love as the commoners do.

This person D. Jeremy Smith seems to factor heavily in this performance as Egeus and Puck. That’s because the original actor in the parts, Ahmed Moneka, had to be by the side of his wife who went into labour on the day of the show and director, producer, adaptor, dynamo, D.(dynamo??) Jeremy Smith took over for Mr. Moneka. Mr. Smith proved to be an impish, mercurial, whimsical Puck and a forthright Egeus.

I love seeing this company every year. The productions are buoyant, smart, capture the essence of the play even thought they are edited, and joyous. But I think adding music in this case is a misstep. The play is magical and poetic. The music of Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington seems almost monotoned or dissonant when melodic is called for. And some of the cast can’t sing as well as they act. A misstep.

Besides this, the production is full of joy. And the baby was safely delivered.

The Bard’s Bus Tour:

Plays in various locations around Southern Ontario until Aug. 18.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission.

www.driftwoodtheatre.com

 

Glory

At the Dockside Theatre,  Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont.

Written and choreographed by Tracy Power

Directed by James MacDonald

Set and lighting by Narda McCarroll

Costumes by Cindy Wiebe

Sound by Steve Charles

Cast: Kate Dion-Richard

Katie Ryerson

Advah Soudack

Andrew Wheeler

Morgan Yamada

The Story. Women can’t and shouldn’t play hockey. Women are too fragile for the rough and tumble of the game of hockey. Women aren’t strong enough for all that cross-checking and high-sticking of hockey. Them’s fightin’ words to the Preston Rivulettes, a women’s hockey team formed in 1930.

Tracey Power’s bracing, gripping, fascinating play about this team of women hockey players certainly captures the ups and downs of the team. Four women: Helen Schmuck, Marm Schmuck, Hilda Ranscombe and Nellie Ranscombe played baseball in the summer but wanted to play a sport in the winter along with their baseball team, the Preston Rivulettes. They chose hockey.  They chose Herb Fach, who managed the local arena, to be their coach. Herb, a dour, irascible, easily aggravated man, reluctantly agreed.

They debuted in the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association after only a few months practice. And they won the first game they played against the Grimsby Peaches. (you gotta love those names). Since the Rivulettes joined late in the season, that first game was also the qualifying game for the Division Championship playoff. And they won that too.

Their track record was astonishing. Their fundraising was not. As the Eastern Division Champions they could then play the Western Division Champs (The Edmonton Rustlers) but they didn’t have the money to travel there, so the Edmonton Rustlers paid their way to the first ever Dominion Championships. (Classy) The Rivulettes lost because too many of their team were sick with the flu.

Over the course of their success WWII interrupted the playoffs or they didn’t have the money or their personal lives took over. But they prevailed and over a ten year span had a record of 346 wins, 2 loses and 2 ties. The team was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Hilda Ranscombe was the star of the team and she would be inducted in the Hall of Fame on her own.

The Production. It’s a terrific story and Tracey Power has captured the ups and downs for the team’s trials and tribulations. She also put the team in perspective of the times. The comments about women not being able to play a sport is something you hear even today. Their tenacity is something you also see happening today as well. Marm Schmuck was very conscious of her Jewishness especially in an anti-Semitic world. When the team played in Montreal she noticed a sign at the door of the arena that said “No dogs or Jews Allowed.” Her other teammates and the coach didn’t see it, and when she told them about it, they were embarrassed at being blinkered. There was a scene in which Marm was listening to the news and heard about the ship the St. Louis that was sailing to North America with 900 + Jews on it (sent from Germany as a gesture but really a propaganda ploy by the Nazis to show that no port would take the Jew in.). The ship was refused by Cuba, the United States, and to our shame, Canada. The ship had to return to Germany where most of the Jews on board died in concentration camps. (Some were taken in by Britain and Belgium).  Power has painted a world of the team and the world the team was in.

She also choreographed it and her work is stunning. The group of four who made up the team are played by the following gifted actresses: Kate Dion-Richard plays Helen Schmuck, Katie Ryerson plays Hilda Ranscombe, Advah Soudack plays Marm Schmuck and Morgan Yamada plays Nellie Ranscombe. Andrew Wheeler plays Herb Fach and he’s terrific too. Fach believed women should not play hockey. But he got this group to prove him wrong and win his respect. Andrew Wheeler is terrific as Herb Fach.

Rather than being on ice skates, Power created flowing, synchronized movement suggesting skating and individual choreographed ‘arrangements’ for each game the women played. Impressive.

James MacDonald directs this with his usual attention to detail and the gripping emotions of the piece. The women had such camaraderie, affection and respect for each other. They had their own lives and issues but they shared them for the most part with their team players. Power doesn’t shy away from serious issues in the play. She deals with them head on.

This is a terrific story and a wonderful production. What a gift.

A Western Canada Theatre Production at the Thousand Islands Playhouse

Began: July 24, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (with an intermission).

www.1000islandsplayhouse.com

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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

 

In High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Liza Balkan

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Rebecca Picherak

Composed and sound by Richard Feren

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Cast: Emma Ferreira

Can Kömleksiz

Richard Lam

Allan Louis

Nora McLellan

Christopher Morris

Natasha Mumba

Rose Napoli

Jamie Robinson

Heath V. Salazar

Helen Taylor

Emilio Vieira

Charming, bright, smart, wonderfully acted and directed in enchanting surroundings, but boy were most of the men in the play dumb. Not Benedick, he was a sweetie and wise, but the rest of them, Oy!

The Story. Beatrice and Benedick have a prickly relationship. They were a couple years before but he dumped her and she’s still smarting. She never misses a chance to throw a smarmy remark his way and he returns it. They of course are made for each other but how to make them realize it? Another plot line is the love of Claudio for Hero and she him. He wants to marry her but is easily duped by the dastardly Don John into thinking Hero is untrue. Oh Lord, what fools these men are! But I digress.

The Production. It’s the 36th year of Canadian Stage doing Shakespeare in High Park. Canadian Stage is collaborating with the Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University.

The two directors, Liza Balkan for Much Ado About Nothing and Severn Thompson for Measure for Measure, are respected actors transitioning to directing and took the Director’s MA Program at York.  After they finish the program, they each direct a Shakespeare in High Park. Both women have been directing elsewhere, but the York training takes them to another level.

The main structure of the set is multi-leveled with walkways off here and there. Joanna Yu’s set is festooned with colourful streamers and other notes of celebration. The army is returning from battle.

Much Ado About Nothing is directed by Liza Balkan who is gifted in realizing the great humour in the play as well as the pathos and the anger. For Much Ado About Nothing Liza Balkan has the cast engage the audience with respect but it’s not all played only to the audience. Characters interact with each other as well. There is nothing phony about playing to each other and the attentive crowd.  The production is lively, energetic and wonderfully funny.  

 Initially Rose Napoli, who plays Beatrice, appears on stage in rustic top and jean shorts and does about 10 minutes of stand-up it seems and discourses on women, politics, men, gender issues etc.  She’s abrasive, funny, powerful and takes no prisoners.  When the play proper starts she has a good handle on the language and the feisty personality of Beatrice. Liza Balkan has directed Napoli to always be on the move, flitting energetically here and there. Beatrice loves sparing with Benedick played with bemused good humour and a bit of warranted confusion by Jamie Robinson. He is less energetic than Beatrice. He’s more tempered, cautious, but still with lots of confidence. And when they realize they love each other she doesn’t need to flit so fast and so often. Lovely transformation.

Emma Ferreira plays Hero as a gentle, loving soul. She shows lots of backbone when she ‘reappears’ as ‘another Hero.’ She is firm, confident and stands her ground with Claudio who is repentant. Allan Louis as Leonato is courtly, gracious, but hot-headed when he thinks his daughter has been untrue—not maligned, but untrue. OY.

Christopher Morris is a gracious Don Peter and a calming presence. Natasha Mumba is a wonderfully oily, creepy Don John unapologetic and angry at the world. Emilio Vieira does a lovely turn as Claudio, easily influenced, quick to judge and just as quick to realize he’s wrong. You just wish that the character would learn a few things from his mistakes….but that’s men, eh? (ooops, sorry, digressing again). Nora McLellan plays Dogberry dressed as a scout master it seems—khaki shorts and shirt tucked in and a wide hat. She has all the wonderful officiousness of a man with a little power and a wonderful set of malapropisms. McLellan is very serious and therefore very funny.

There are wonderful dances during the production and at the end choreographed by the gifted Monica Dottor. Loved this production.

The cast of 12 play in rep with Measure for Measure.

Comment. Lord what fools these men be, with apologies to Shakespeare. Claudio is told by the shifty Don John that Don Peter (head of the regiment in which Benedick and Claudio were a part) was wooing Hero for himself and not Claudio. And Claudio believed him and was in a rage. When the truth came out, Claudio calmed down and proposed to Hero and she readily accepted (oh dear!).

Then Claudio is told by the dastardly Don John that Hero is unfaithful and he can prove it by showing Claudio that Hero is seen talking to a man at her window at midnight the night before the wedding. Don Peter was there too as a witness. Claudio then brings this up at the wedding, just before he is to accept Hero. He humiliates her in front of everyone. He doesn’t talk to her in private to get her side of the story. (I guess if he did ask her side she would tell him that it wasn’t her at the window and could he really see that well since IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND DARK!!!). And Hero’s father, Leonato also takes Claudio’s side and further humiliates his daughter in public. Only Benedick is thoughtful and reasons out various sides of the story.

The truth outs, but boy is it painful to women. And Hero marries Claudio in the end when he is contrite for a few seconds. I fear for that marriage.

The natural setting in the park, surrounded by trees with the terraced hill where the audience sits and eats their picnics, is magical. Sure planes fly overhead, dogs bark, kids playing elsewhere are loud, but when the show starts, nothing matters. The audience is silent. I note some people can’t help recording the show on their devices. Attentive ushers quietly scurry down the aisle to get the attention of the person, and in a smiling sign language of hands making a box and a shake of a head, the person puts the device away.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Began. July 4, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 1, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission.

www.canadianstage.com

 

Measure for Measure.

High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Rebecca Picherak

Composed and sound by Richard Feren

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Cast: Emma Ferreira

Can Kömleksiz

Richard Lam

Allan Louis

Nora McLellan

Christopher Morris

Natasha Mumba

Rose Napoli

Jamie Robinson

Heath V. Salazar

Helen Taylor

Emilio Vieira

A terrific production, both directed and acted, of a woman trying to survive quietly in a world full of men with power who want to compromise her.

 The Story. It’s Vienna and morals are going to hell in a hand basket.  Duke Vincentio has allowed this to happen and doesn’t want to come down on the people with stringent laws to get things back on the right track because then they won’t like him.  So he says he’s leaving the city and is putting Angelo, his second in command in charge.  Except the Duke doesn’t leave but disguises himself as a priest so he can see how things are going in the city.

Angelo is a by-the-book man.  As lax as Duke Vincentio was about the law, that is how stringent and blinkered Angelo is. He is unmovable when it comes to the law. So he resurrects a law that says if a man gets a woman not his wife pregnant, he must die. (a bit harsh, that.) A man named Claudio got his fiancé pregnant.  Angelo condemns him to death.  Claudio’s sister Isabella is about to become a nun and is urged to go to Angelo to plead her brother’s case. She is so eloquent that she charms Angelo but he doesn’t budge. However he asks her to come back the next day. She does and Angelo suggests that he will save her brother if she sleeps with him. Let us all gulp in unison. She tells this to Claudio who is horrified. But then….he reasons that the sacrifice of her chastity is less than him losing his life. I love her line: “More than our brother is our chastity.” The play is full of moral dilemmas.

The Production. It’s wonderful.  Severn Thompson directs this with such confidence in bringing out those moments that make you gulp. There is a lot of humour, especially with a character named Lucio (a randy, sly Emilio Vieira) who is a shady character and is at home in the seamier side of Vienna.

Isabella is played by Natasha Mumba with conviction, pride and a sense of dread when she has to consider what Antonio wants from her. That wonderful line: “More than our brother is our chastity” was cut and I missed it because it says so much about Isabella and her hard convictions. She is preparing to be a nun. She is a woman. Who are we to condemn her convictions? But Mumba is so fearless and convincing in conveying Isabella’s convictions and beliefs that I can deal with the cut.

Antonio is played by Christopher Morris as an arrogant, matter of fact man, who is clear and firm in his reasoning. He is not pure evil because Christopher Morris illuminates his own convictions. He is steely when he challenges Isabella when she says she will report him, and he says who will believe you? Angelo has the law on his side and also power over this strong woman.  As the Duke Allan Louis is as shady as the others in the play but is more subtle. There is a lilting humour when he is in disguise as the priest. When the Duke reveals his own feelings for Isabella and takes her hand. When she hears his comments she immediately drops his hand. Such a resounding moment, in a production full of them.

Comment. Since the Duke knows what’s going on one can assume that Antonio gets his comeuppance. But this is Shakespeare.  He’s not finished when Antonio is exposed. The Duke also is charmed by Isabella and makes her an offer too.  The whole idea of men having the power even though women have brains and can try and stand up to them, is so clear in Shakespeare.  What a brilliant writer.  I wonder that because Shakespeare wrote with such authority about how men had such power over women and how smart women were in dealing with that overwhelming power, that perhaps Shakespeare was a woman.

But I digress.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Closes: Aug. 31, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.

www.canadianstage.com

 

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