The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Evalyn Parry, Anna Chatterton
Photo: Tanja Tiziana

 

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Conceived and created by The Independent Aunties (Anna Chatterton, Evalyn Parry and Karin Randoja)

Written and performed by Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry

(with additional text by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Directed by Karin Randoja

Set by Sherri Hay

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Costumes by Ming Wong

Composed by Karin Randoja

Sound by Aleda Deroche

This welcome remount has Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry repeating their dazzling performances as Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein respectively. The set has been completely changed and while Sherri Hay’s design is provocative, I’m not sure it’s helpful in informing the play.

The Story. Gertrude Stein was an American writer, intellectual, art collector and salon organizer who lived in Paris for most of her adult life.  Alice B. Toklas trained as a classical pianist, but had to stop her career to take care of her mother.  She meets Gertrude Stein in Paris in 1907 and moves in with Gertrude. Gertrude and Alice were together for 39 years.  The play follows their relationship—Gertrude refers to Alice as her ‘secretary’ but of course she was much more. She also refers to her as “the Boss.” They were true partners.

 Gertrude wrote prodigiously and was frustrated when no one would publish her work. She (Gertrude) also thought she was the only woman genius of the 20th Century (hello Virginia Woolf?). Alice was Gertrude’s protector; perhaps muse; the person who remembered the details of their relationship better than Gertrude; who was the guardian of every thing Gertrude wrote and ensured that it was published after Gertrude passed away in 1946.

They knew everybody and everybody knew them.  They collected the paintings of their friends: Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne  and Matisse, to name only four of the many. Mind-boggling.

The Production.  This is a remount of the March 2016 production that also played at Buddies. The set has been completely redesigned this time by artist Sherri Hay and bears no resemblance to the set by Trevor Schwellnus in March 2016.

This time the audience sits on either side of the long playing area.  Modern artsy objects of rods and knobs are either suspended from the ceiling or stand on the floor. They are powered by sand and gravity. Extreme right is a delicate stream of sand that is falling through a shaft of light to pile on the floor.  Alice pulls a plug on some of these rod-knob formations and sand begins to flow down and mound on the floor. The gravity of the shifting sand then changes the configuration of connecting rods, sometimes into a loopy square or a strange triangle. The sand and the mound on the floor are illuminated. The production begins with the bonging of a church bell then more bongs, pings from triangles and the growing sounds of clocks ticking et.  Time factors heavily in the play…the passing of it, etc. One can look at the special devises of the set to see if the sand conjures the notion of time passing. I’m not sure.

I’m not sure if these abstract movable and malleable pieces serve the play

Even though the rod-knob forms might take the shape of a frame, suggesting some of the artwork that hung in the Stein-Toklas appartment, it does not have the same resonance as seeing several actual frames suspended in mid-air (as was the case in the previous production) that gave weight to how much artwork these women had. We hear about their incredible collection and how important it was (Alice referred to the paintings as ‘their children.’ Considering how often the paintings are referenced, I think something more substantial than abstract shapes in the air are needed to suggest the collection.

I realize that Gertrude’s writing was abstract and so the set might fit that. But too often I thought these forms have a mind of their own (they just moved and raised when the sand shifted) and the minds we should be interested in are those of Gertrude and Alice.

The performances are lovely. As Gertrude, Evalyn Parry sports a very short hair cut. She wears an overlarge but stylish coat that accentuates Gertrude’s girth. (Kudos to Ming Wong on her smart costumes for both Gertrude and Alice). Gertrude is always smiling, a contented, sly smile.  When Evalyn Parry speaks as Gertrude it’s with a low purr of an almost monotone voice.  She makes us listen rather than makes us hear her—big difference and her charm wins us over.

As Alice, Anna Chatterton is more emotional and animated. She has a squunched face, as if in a grimace, and just the merest hint of a mustache. She wears a simmering, sleek green patterned dress. When she speaks the voice is sharp-edged, the words enunciated to a crispness.

Karin Randoja directs with attention to detail, wit and subtlety. An erotic scene between the two of them with Gertrude reading poetry to Alice, is delivered with the characters sitting facing away from us, leaving us ‘imagining’ what is happening between the two of them as Alice reacts with breathless, erotic sounds.

The relationship between these two literary icons is loving, close, combative, respectful, and adoring. You get a true sense of how they lived and loved together.

Comment. The script by Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry mixes large chunks of Gertrude’s writing, seamlessly with their own linking dialogue to produce a beautiful, informative play about these two towering presences in the 20th century.

Initially Gertrude’s writing seems repetitious, elusive, confounding, silly, obtuse and  mysterious. Gertrude says that her writing isn’t repetitious. It’s insistent.  Think of this quote: “Rose is a Rose is a Rose.” Not there is no preposition ‘a’ in front of the first ‘rose’.  The sentences wind around each other.  For all this Gertrude thought of herself as a genius—the only woman Genius of the 20th century. Alice adoringly would have agreed.

Much is made of how a lot of biographical information can be found in the program (in the form of a separate cahier (notebook) full of photographs and a chronology. This saves the piece from being an “and then I wrote” kind of play.

Gertrude and Alice does something better;  it puts a human face on two complex women, one of whom fancied herself a genius—the only woman genius of the 20th century, and might very well have been right. At least Alice thought so.

Produced by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Opened: Sept. 20, 2018.

Closes:  Oct. 7, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

www.buddiesinbadtimes.com

 

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At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy

Based on the film (1989) written by Daniel Waters.

Directed by Jennifer Walls

Musical director, Giustin MacLean

Choreographer, Amanda Nuttall

Set by Brendan Kleiman

Costumes by Erin Frances Gerofsky

Lighting and projections by Melissa Joakim

Cast: Hunter Agnew

Rose-Ingrid Benjamin

Moulan Bourke

Mary Bowden

Aaron Cadesky

Paige Foskett

Becka Jay

Wade Minacs

Justan Myers

Emma Sangalli

Mark J. Umphrey

 

Ensemble:

Taha Arshad

Justine DeSouza

Connor Ferris

Maggie Gallagher

Fay Gamliel

Jacob Moro

Bohdan Onushko

Madison Sekulin

Allison Leia Wall

In spite of an energetic cast with strong voices, lively direction by Jennifer Walls and breathless choreography by Amanda Nuttall, Heathers is hideous. It’s based on the 1989 cult film and seems to follow its checklist of teenage troubles, (suicide, bullying, fitting in, manipulation, cruelty, peer pressure, fear of being gay, attempted rape etc.). It’s all written with a liberal dose of smarminess. It’s not good enough to be satire or smart enough to suggest a solution. The ending is simplistic slop.

Choosing to do this show in this day and age without a scintilla of attention and awareness to what is actually happening to our youth, is plain insensitive. How about this: 1) Take the word HEATHERS. 2) Remove the “S”.  3) Now spell what’s left backwards: REHTAEH. 4) Now add the last name of PARSONS. 5) Rehtaeh Parson killed herself in 2013 because of bullying and on-line shaming, one year before Heathers The Musical was first produced Off-Broadway.

 

Full review to follow shortly.

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At the Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Book, music and lyrics by Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Music director and supervisor, Elizabeth Baird

Choreographed by Barbara Johnston

Arrangements by Bram Gielen

Production designed by Nick Blais, Anahita Dehbonehie and Ken MacKenzie

Video designed by Nick Bottomley

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Rielle Braid

Peter Delwick

Bruce Dow

David Fox

Donna Garner

Kira Guloien

Britta Johnson

The Silver Singers: Edge of the Sky Young Company from Wexford Collegiate

As close as you can come to participating in arousing cult revival meeting-celebration of life without drinking the Kool Aid.

The Story. Dr. Silver, the celebrated, charismatic and controlling religious leader, has died of a heart attack. We are here celebrating his life with his wife Donna, two daughters, Vera and Harmony, his long-time assistant Timothy Sweetman, musicians and a fine choir of fresh-faced high-school singers.

The family has some secrets of questionable goings on. While Dr. Silver has departed this life, he seems to control things from the next one.

The Production. As is typical of Outside the March, one of the two companies producing Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, (The Musical Stage Company is the other one) we are in a site specific to the production. The Heliconian Hall is the site for many classical concerts. For Dr. Silver’s purposes, the Hall was booked for his Celebration of life. As we file in we are given a small hard covered book of the service. We are welcome by soft-spoken people. The back of the left hand is stamped for entrance—always a tricky thing, that, getting skin stamped to mark one. The audience sits on three sides of the rectangular room. Timothy Sweetman) (Bruce Dow) is dressed in a reverend’s robes and welcomes us with a gentle hand out to take ours, giving them a gentle squeeze. I see trays and trays of small Dixie cups with about an inch of a blue liquid in each. I assume the assembled, including the audience, will have to drink from one of these cups. I ask Mr. Sweetman if that is in fact Kool Aid. He gently, kindly assures me it is not.

V shaped formations of tight plastic strips are stretched over our heads across the Hall that look like elegant spools of illumination of red, blue, white and other colours. A grand piano is up at one corner.  Up at one end, suspended above the floor is a huge photo of Dr. Silver I assume, that looks strangely like an older Anderson Cooper (which gave me some pause). At the other end high up the wall is a stained glass configuration. During the ceremony the participants and the choir will raise their arms towards the stained glass as if it represents some celestial being to be revered. Lighting equipment obstructed my viewing it clearly.

The effect of all this is a hip revival hall, it also seems otherworldly at times, with haze and bright light around a door, as if we are expecting someone.

Timothy Sweetman begins the service. He stands in front of a moveable lectern/pulpit and speaks into a microphone. Harmony Silver (Rielle Braid) the youngest daughter puts a record on an illuminated record player. It’s the voice of Dr. Silver talking to us and leading the celebration from the great beyond. From the reactions of the three women in his family, he certainly had a controlling hold on them and everyone else it seems. Harmony, as played by Rielle Braid, is unwavering in her devotion and belief in her father. Her sister Vera as played by Kira Guloien, is not as purely devoted. She is troubled by something. She looks questioning as her father is heard on the record. She knows a family secret and so does the mother Caroline, played by Donna Garner with staunch duty and commitment to her husband.

Something happened five years before that tested the family. Dr. Silver gave his daughters and wife orders on how to deal with the trouble. While the voice of Dr. Silver is the smooth-voiced David Fox who naturally commands respect and attention, Dr. Silver is another matter. As written by the two Johnson sisters (Anika and Britta) he is dangerous, blinkered to any idea that contradicts him and controls his followers. He talks of ‘the beautiful part’, of what is a mystery. Life? Their day? The Conclusion? Something worse?

Anika and Britta Johnson want the audience to be involved, so we sing from the book we received on entering. We rise to make a toast and sit when instructed. Mitchell Cushman guides the choir, the actors and the atmosphere so we are at first lulled into dutiful attention, then we realize that Dr. Silver’s hold on his family is dangerous.

And of course this being the dynamic writing duo of Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson there is music. The entire show is almost sung through. There is a funny, witty song expressing that Dr. Silver is dead which could mean his body or his cells or his molecules are all gone. There are songs of longing, regret, hope, joy and devotion. The music is often stirring with lush orchestrations thanks to Bram Gielen’s arrangements. And the melodies are certainly beautiful. But I have to tell you, that for all their prodigious output, at times the music has a sameness to it, a certain repetitive beat. Whether it’s Life After, or Brantwood or Trap Door  etc. the music diminishes into a sameness. One wishes they would cut songs rather than write more.

They are both gifted songwriters. Sometimes less music better serves the characters and the show.

Comment. It’s always a hoot seeing what these talented companies, performers and writers have in store. I wish there was more ruthless cutting of music that already expressed the same thought a few times before.

Produced by The Musical Stage Company and Outside the March

Opened: Sept. 17, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2018.

Running Time: 93 minutes.

www.musicalstagecompany.com

www.outsidethemarch.ca

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Review: DRY LAND

by Lynn on September 18, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

 

Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel

Directed by Jill Harper

Set by Elahe Marjovi

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Sound by Tim Lindsay

Cast: Mattie Driscoll

Veronica Hortiguela

Jonas Trottier

Reanne Spitzer

Tim Walker

Less a play and more a check list of teenage angst and issues in a production that is not helped by its glacial pace.

The Story. Amy is a pregnant teenage who can’t afford an abortion. She can’t tell her mother. She can’t afford the internet pill that will end the pregnancy. We are in Florida. American health care makes this situation is onerous. Amy asks Ester, another teen, to punch her in the stomach, hard to see if that will make her self-abort. Ester is lonely and needy and does what Amy says. Amy is hard nosed, manipulative and mean.

 The Production. Most of the action takes place in the school in a locker room of the pool. The girls are all on the swim team with Ester (Matti Driscoll) being so good she is trying out of a top swim team. Amy (Veronica Hortiguela) has other concerns. Driscoll is accommodating, awkward, unsure of herself and needs to be liked by Amy. As Amy, Veronica Hortiguela is cold, a bullying, impatient presence, and knows how to push the buttons of Ester. While the timing in the dialogue between Amy and Ester is fine, there is so much information about the two women that I didn’t believe it as a credible play that explored issues deeply. Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel just dropped facts into the mix without developing them. That makes for clunky playwriting.

Jill Harper’s staging is find in negotiating the space but the scene changes are positively glacial that makes the production seem endless. Do we really have to listen to a song to end before the scene can move on? Does a change of clothes really have to take that long before a character re-appears and moves us along? I don’t think so.

 Comment. Much is made of the fact that this is Ruby Rae Speigel’s first full length play, that she was 21 when it was first produced and it was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.  That was three years ago and seems to be her only play. She then wrote a film for Netflix. For all Speigel’s good intentions and her going to Yale to be a playwright, Dry Land is little more than a checklist of teenage ills: abortion (check), girls wanting to fit in (check), bullying mercilessly (check), a shocking revelation about a character (check)  a dramatic twist (check) a change of attitude between characters (check). What we don’t have here is the actual play that explains, develops and digs deep to create credible characters to bring all this about. We are to intuit without comment that because Ester was there in Amy’s darkest moment they would have a new understanding and be friends? That because of this Ester has more confidence? That means the audience is doing the work the playwright should have. Sigh.

Cue6 is a wonderful theatre company presenting edgy work. Dry Land is a misstep. I note that almost all the actors have just graduated from a theatre school of sorts and this is their first ‘professional’ job. Better luck next time.

Cue6 presents:

Began: Sept. 5, 20198

Closes: Sept. 22, 2018.

Running Time: less than 90 minues.

 

 

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Review: A Number

by Lynn on September 16, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie Street, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Dahlia Katz

Set, props, costumes by Cat Haywood

Lighting by Brandon Goncalves

Sound by Dahlia Katz

Cast: M. John Kennedy

Nora McLellan

A bold production of Caryl Churchill’s challenging play that would be even bolder without the intermission.

The Story. We are in England, in Salter’s home. He is a widower and he’s listening to his agitated son Bernard and trying to cope with his news: that Bernard found out he’s a clone, actually a number of them. Incredulous. Salter suggests they sue. How did this happen? Bernard certainly wants to know and so does Salter. Then Salter is visited by another clone of his son, (Bernard B2) and the story gets murky. This being Caryl Churchill it’s also gripping.

The Production. Cat Haywood has designed a tasteful, neat set with picture frames on the wall, upstage is a credenza with a kettle and two mugs on it, centre stage is a table and two chairs, stage right is an easy chair with a cushion on it, and stage left is a washbasin full of water. At the extreme stage left are hooks on a wall with shirts etc.

Salter (Nora McLellan—you read that right) sits at the table wearing a shirt and tie, neat slacks and tan shoes. He faces his son Bernard (B1) (M. John Kennedy) who wears a shirt, pants and shoes. His hair is neatly combed with a part on the left side.

McLellan plays Salter as a man. She wears a wig that is short and full and looks like a man. McLellan is tight lipped, contained and reveals a touch of anger at what seems to have happened—that Salter’s son somehow was cloned perhaps at birth, in the hospital. Salter’s body language is also contained and there is no effort to swagger or do any of that clichéd movement suggesting a man. Salter is Bernard’s father and we take on faith and trust that the person playing him is playing him as a man. Salter is as shocked as Bernard 1 is at such a turn of events. Salter never raises his voice—perhaps the business of being a proper British man comes into play, although not a posh one with a plumy accent. To suggest they sue reveals Salter as a father who wants justice. Salter’s behaviour with Bernard (B2) suggests something else. And in true Caryl Churchill fashion, she reveals information slowly and it packs a punch.

M. John Kennedy as Bernard (B1) is unsettled and bewildered by his learning he’s a clone. He’s not angry. Rather he seems flustered. He doesn’t know how it happened. He’s not sure how he really feels about it. It has put him in a world of true confusion.

In a neat bit of theatre at the end of the scene we see Bernard (B1) take off the shirt and put it on a hook then go over to the bowl of water and wash his face and slick back his hair and then mess it up. The part in his hair is gone and he now becomes Bernard (B2). This man is angry, combative, confident and dangerous. The body language is of a person ready for anything.

The movement in this play is so confined as to grip the audience. Director Dahlia Katz does have Salter move occasionally by walking around the easy chair to break up the scene a bit. Perhaps that is a bit obvious since there is no reason for Salter to walk around the chair but that’s a quibble.

Of concern is that they have put an intermission in this short play which is a mistake. Churchill didn’t write it with an intermission and that should have been respected. I have over-heard someone say that this gives the audience a break because it does get pretty intense. Nonsense! This is Caryl Churchill for heaven sake! It’s supposed to be intense. Is the intermission there to sell drinks? Nonsense! It’s a really small theatre—you can’t make that much money on a can of pop. Or I’ve heard the seats are meant for children and perhaps the adults might find it uncomfortable so a break is in order. Baloney! The seats are padded. We don’t go to see this kind of production for comfort but to feel uncomfortable.

This is what happens when you put in a break where there shouldn’t be one: the momentum of the play is interrupted; getting the audience ‘back’ in the rhythm of the play after the intermission takes time the production can’t afford. Please trust your audience to cope. Take out the damned intermission!

Comment. This is billed as: “Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project. “ Solar Stage is a company that presents theatre for young audiences. Lunar Stage is their first offering for adult audiences. I love their chutzpah not only for doing a play by the always challenging Caryl Churchill, but also for casting Nora McLellan to play Salter, the father.

It’s a fine production. It will be just gripping when you cut the intermission. Thank you.

Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project:

Opened: Sept. 14, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 85 minutes approx. (but should be 70 minutes without the intermission).

 www.solarstage.on.ca

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The Festival Players, Prince Edward Country, Studio Theatre, Wellington, Ont.

 Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Maev Beaty

Liisa Repo-Martell

This is a beautiful ache of a play and a production. Andrea Donaldson’s direction and the performances of Maev Beaty and Liisa Repo-Martell are exquisite.

The Story. A Beautiful View by Daniel MacIvor is about relationships, the weight of language and silence in that relationship.  Daniel MacIvor wrote this in 2006.

It’s about two women, Liz (Maev Beaty) and Mitch (Liisa Repo-Martell). They meet by accident in a sporting goods store. Liz thinks that Mitch works there since she’s coming out of a tent. Nope. Both are customers looking for camping stuff. They chat each other up—is there a spark? They share information about each other—where they work, what they do. They are both lying.

Mitch seeks out Liz at her place of work—it’s at the airport so you know Mitch is really interested. A relationship results. Over several years it has its ups and downs.  They don’t know or want to know how to describe it. The play takes this further.

The Production.  I’d travel a long way to see a production as good as this one. I guess I did since I went to Prince Edward County, not that far with a car.

Steve Lucas has designed a simple bare set with a few props: two chairs and a pop-up tent with a mind of its own.

Liz (Maev Beaty) and Mitch (Liisa Repo-Martell) begin the play by telling us they are going to relive their history of meeting etc. for us. When Liz saw Mitch coming out of the tent in the store she assumes Mitch works there. This results in awkward, nervous giggles. As Liz, Beaty is the more composed and reserved of the two; she keeps things inside. Her humour is dry.  As Mitch, Liisa Repo-Martell is the more anxious, wired, emotional but not overly so. She has a sense of humour too.

Director Andrea Donaldson is such a sensitive, nuanced director, creating moments of gentle humour that reveal the heart and soul of the play.

For example, as the two women tell the story of their relationship, Liz saunters off stage, looks around a wall to the audience and gives a reaction to what Mitch is saying. The result is a loud laugh from the audience.  Both Beaty and Repo-Martell listen so intently to each other (and so does the audience) that truthful reactions come organically from the performances.  Together they dig deep and reveal the fragile characters of these women; lonely, yearning for companionship, bold, daring, awkward, reticent and then brave.

Both Liz and Mitch lie to protect themselves then learn to be honest with each other in order to build an honest relationship/friendship/ bond.

At its basic level A Beautiful View is about friendship. These women share a bond.

They have the same tastes in a lot of things.  They are both unsure of themselves and how they fit in. The relationship deepens but Mitch quickly says she’s not a lesbian.

MacIvor is exploring words, language and silence and how they confine and define people.  Liz and Mitch struggle to find words that would clearly describe to others what their relationship is. “Friends”, “soul mates” lovers?? One wonders, what does it matter what other people think. Today we use words like fluid for sexuality, binary, transgender.

I think MacIvor might have been foreshadowing that when he wrote the play in 2006.And in today’s world we certainly look at the play with a fresh perspective.

Comment. So once again, the Festival Players scores with a beautiful rendering of dandy play.

Festival Players of Prince Edward County Present:

Began: Sept. 4, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 23, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.festivalplayers.ca

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At the AKI Studio, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Marion Newman,
Photo by Dahlia Katz

 

Written by Jani Lauzon

Directed by Marjorie Chan

Musical director, Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate

Set by Christine Urquhart

Costumes by Snezana Pesic

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Marc Meriläinen

Cast: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Howard Davis

Richard Greenblatt

Marion Newman

Aaron Wells

A fascinating play about Tsianina Redfeather, a Creek/Cherokee who was an opera singer in the early 1900s. The production is a busy swirl of movement but the deep implications of the story rise above the distractions.

The Story. This is a fascinating play that Jani Lauzon has written. A character named William Morin is a music student who is going off to University on an Indigenous scholarship.  While he is a classically trained pianist his aim is to discover the music of his Indigenous roots.

As he researches and investigates he learns about Tsianina Redfeather, a Creek/Cherokee opera singer who lived and sung in the early part of the 20th century.  The spirit of Tsianina Redfeather seems to oversee William Morin as he struggles to fit in, to find his voice as an Indigenous artist and to discover true Indigenous music that has been appropriated by white musicians and return it to its pure form.

And then Redfeather appears to him and they have an on-going dialogue.  William Morin learns that Tsianina Redfeather also wanted to bring native songs to a white audience and to do it she travelled with Charles Wakefield Cadman, a white American musician who lectured on the American Indian in his travels.  He arranged the music and in a way appropriated it but not in a mean way. Perhaps he was just blinkered. But Tsianina Redfeather went along with it to bring that music and the stories of her people to a larger audience.  Cadman wrote an opera semi-based on Redfeather’s life and it was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 but Tsianina Redfeather did not insist on singing the title role there. She did sing it on tour and in Los Angeles.

The Production. Designer Christine Urquhart’s set is spare. A curtain of opaque strips hands upstage. A grand piano is stage right. When William Morin is at the piano we see a ghostly woman in Indigenous garb (beaded head-band, traditional dress and moccasins) illuminated behind the curtain, watching him. (I do get a little concerned when William plops his backpack on the top of the piano—a no-no for a piano—but he doesn’t do that again

But when William (Aaron Wells) ‘meets’ Tsianina Redfeather (Marion Newman) and digs deeper into her life and the life of other Indigenous artists, the play deals with deeper issues of appropriation, the total dismissing of the Indigenous voice in their music, stories and history.  It’s interesting to see how both William Morin and Tsianina Redfeather deal with the difficulties they meet in their efforts to be heard and to tell their stories.

It’s different: Redfeather is patient, thoughtful and has wisdom in solving the problems; William is impatient, frustrated but firm and eventually he finds his way through.

Marjorie Chan directs and quite often the staging is busy.  New information flees at us as the stage is a swirl of characters circling each other, flitting from one corner of the space to another and clarity becomes an issue. There is a traditional Indigenous reason for characters to circle each other, but it’s just too busy with five characters circling, moving and interacting,

Marion Newman plays Tsianina Redfeather with quiet wisdom that is compelling. And she sings the music beautifully, conveying their message with clarity.  She wears a traditional Indigenous costume with her headband and moccasins made by Jani Lauzon.

There is care in every detail.

Aaron Wells plays William Morin with a growing frustration of wanting to take advantage of the opportunity he has been given until he realizes he will have to find another way to discover his people’s music. Then he becomes driven but focused. And he too sings in a strong tenor voice.

Richard Greenblatt provides expert piano accompaniment as well as playing Charles Wakefield Cadman, a fussy, fastidious man who thought he was doing good by lecturing on the American Indian. Cadman wrote the opera Shanewis (The Robin Woman) which is partially based on Tsianina Redfeather’s life.

There certainly is a lot to consider with this challenging piece.

Comment. Initially I get the sense I Call myself Princess is more a collection of facts, information and history rather than a cohesive play. At times there are speeches by William Morin that seem simplistic whining about the plight of the Indigenous people.

He has a fight with his partner who is a light-skinned black man on who has suffered more.  I’m not sure that kind of dialogue is useful in trying to get a point across. It seems clichéd. But as the play goes on, playwright Jani Lauzon brings up all sorts of thorny issues of appropriation and deals with them in a thoughtful, measured way.

That issue of appropriation and not allowing an Indigenous voice to speak for itself has certainly filled our media of late.  I think of Robert Lepage not casting any Indigenous actors to be in his production of KANATA which is about the history of the Indigenous people in Canada. This is an attitude that is so blinkered it’s stunning.

That kind of cavalier attitude certainly informs Jani Lauzon’s play but it’s not handled as a rant by the character of Tsianina Redfeather. Lauzon has written her as such a wise woman. She has grace and a watchfulness that allows her to pick her battles.

Redfeather speaks up when she disagrees with Cadman regarding the ending of Shenewis and he goes along with her argument and adjusts the ending. Bravo to Jani Lauzon for introducing us to Tsianina Redfeather, her voice, her story and her accomplishments.

Produced by Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre Productions in association with Native Earth Performing Arts.

Opened: Sept. 13, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 30, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours.

www.nativeearth.ca

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At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette

Directed by Craig Hall

Designed by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Alan Brodie

Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt

Original music and sound by John Gzowski

Puppetry directed by Alexis Milligan and Mike Petersen

Cast: Damien Atkins

Kristopher Bowman

Patrick Galligan

Cameron Grant

Claire Julien

Natasha Mumba

Gray Powell

Ric Reid

Graeme Somerville

 

A good adaptation, sound acting but a production loaded with so many projections the audience has no reason to use its imagination, which means it’s rather tedious.

The Story. Sir Charles Baskerville has died of a supposed heart attack on the grounds of his estate. But his friend James Mortimer thinks something is fishy. Baskerville had a look of horror on his face and there were marks in the ground near the body that suggested that a giant creature might have scared Baskerville to death.  Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson are called to take on the case.

It seems the estate owned by the Baskerville family is cursed.  Lots of bad things happen there since a Baskerville gave up his soul if he could have a woman he coveted. This doesn’t scare Holmes who through brilliant observation discovers clues and that a crime has been committed.  Everything hinges on the performance of Sherlock Holmes to pull this off.

The Performance. Art they successful in pulling this off? They are in the acting. As Sherlock Holmes, Damien Atkins is focused and almost in a trance he is concentrating so hard.  You know this is no ordinary man. He is emotionless and very matter of fact in his speech.  His mind is razor sharp as he finds clues, questions their use and gets deeper into the case.  Equally fastidious in his performance is Ric Reid as Dr. Watson. He is emotional, enthusiastic and committed too.  The other members of the cast play several parts and usually are unrecognizable from one character to another.

However, I smile with sad amusement at the efforts of director Craig Hall to be provocative in his direction. While the adaptation is careful to mention that there are places in the landscape that is to barren one can’t find a marker that sets off one area for another. Yet designer Dana Osborne has rock formation after rock formation float onstage to represent endless scenes on the Dartmoor moors. Jamie Nesbitt’s projections also choke the production.  A bank of screens hangs down from the flies along the side and back walls of the stage. Many and various projections are splashed on these screens to establish the Dartmoor moors, the vegetation, the geography of the various locations, and interiors of houses. The audience audibly gasped when a character went from one floor down into the basement of this manor house and the projection indicated one floor of the house lowering down (as an elevator might) to the basement. I sighed. It’s so 14 years ago in London, Eng. (William Dudley’s set of projections for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Women in White comes thuddingly to mind.)

I wish directors could be warned that theatre is an art form that thrives on the audience being able to use its imagination. With overloaded projections as the ones in this show, the audience is not allowed to IMAGINE almost anything.  As an example—at the end of Act I, the lights come up signifying it is intermission. But just in case the audience had never been in a theatre and had no idea of how it worked, the word INTERMISSION is also splashed on the back wall after the lights come up.

Somebody has not faith in the audience to figure it out.  That’s insulting and boring. However, there is a wonderful piece of business in which a villain is sucked into the mire in mist etc. and the effect is spooky, chilling and so effective.

More of that please and less of the projections.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Opened: Aug. 11, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

www.shawfest.com

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Hi Folks, I’m doing a follow-up talk on Stratford and Shaw, November 5 from 1-3 pm at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street in Toronto.

I did one last spring talking about the histories of both festivals, the present artistic directors and their seasons and what they are doing to ensure a future audience. This new talk will see how both festivals did regarding their shows, plans etc. It’s offered through the University of Toronto Alumnae but you don’t have to have gone to U. of T.

The first hour is a talk. The second hour is a question and answer session. Last time it was lively. I anticipate the same in November.

Here is the link for tickets and info: https://alumni.utoronto.ca/events-and-programs/canadian-perspectives-lecture-series

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At the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Robert Lepage

Set design by Robert Lepage

Creative director and designer, (huh??) Steve Blanchet

Costumes designed by Mara Gottier

Lighting by Laurent Routhier

Composed and sound by Antoine Bédard

Images designed by Pedro Pires

Cast: Graham Abbey

Wayne Best

David Collins

Martha Farrell

Oliver Gamble

Farhang Ghajar

Alexis Gordon

Tom McCamus

Eli McCready-Branch

Nick Nahwegahbow

Stephen Ouimette

Lucy Peacock

Tom Rooney

André Sills

E.B. Smith

Johnathan Sousa

Emilio Vieira

Brigit Wilson

Visually striking but why am I in a theatre watching a film?

The Story. Coriolanus is a successful general who won many battles for the people of Rome. He is urged to go into politics and become Consul of Rome but just hated the game of having to play up to the fickle population, But his strong mother, Volumnia urges him to do it and he does to a point.

Then he turns on his people when they become too demanding, goes over to his enemy’s side, the Volscians lead by Aufidius  and proposes that they both attack Rome. Then things get messy.

The Production. The big deal about this production is that it is directed by Robert Lepage. His present difficulties aside of being culturally blinkered—by not casting indigenous actors for an upcoming show on the history of Indigenous people in Canada, Robert Lepage is a rock star of a director. He has a true international reputation as a daring visionary as a director.  He has a visual sense that creates images that are arresting and mesmerizing. He’s really big on using technology, such as filmed/videoed sequences, animation, images on images.  His story-telling has a sweep. And Shakespeare’s Coriolanus certainly has sweep.  It’s a story that deals with wars against opposing factions, a fickle population, backstabbing politicians, people angling for power and a pushy mother. It is loaded with the stuff of drama. Coupled with Lepage’s arresting images it definitely grabs the audience.

As the audience files in there is a large bust of Coriolanus centre stage. The eyes are closed and the background seems to shimmer.  As I look at that bust and note that this might be an animation of sorts, I know that when the show starts those eyes will open and an inanimate bust of the man will speak and be animated in his speeches. And lo and behold it’s true.

The bust comes to life when the lights go up on the stage and Coriolanus delivers his thoughts. André Sills plays Coriolanus with vigour, edge, impatience and stature. You can see him trying to contain his anger as he tries to curry favour to become Consul.

When he goes over to the other side, Lepage has Coriolanus get into a sports car on stage and take off at high speed. The speed is suggested when the background whizzes by: from urban to rural, through a dark forest (for a second there I thought of Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Show driving through a similar dark forest, the car breaks down and they seek help in the spooky castle of Dr. Frank N Furter. I know I didn’t blunder into the wrong production because the good Dr. Frank N Furter is up there in my row, disguised as Dan Chameroy), to another town—and comes to stop outside Aufidius’ headquarters.

Lighting designer, Laurent Routhier,  creates a lighting effect on the wheels of the car that give the impression the tires are spinning at break-neck speed and when the car slows down the lighting on the hubcap also slows and we can see the revolve clearly. That’s the kind of dazzling mind Robert Lepage has and the kind of artistry lighting designer Laurent Routhier has as well.  That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

There are speeches delivered between characters as if they are in a radio studio doing an interview. There is a scene between guard who are texting each other with the text illuminated on the set for us to make out their humour, banter and use of emojis. Often there are scenes in bars—lots of politicians doing lots of drinking here. It’s all very him.

All this hipness and technology is thought to appeal to a young, tech-savvy audience. Some wags have called it a production for the ages. Hmmm.

The stage seems raised, with the action set in a frame. Scenes begin and end with the walls from the sides closing in and walls from the ceiling lowering and from the floor rising up to meet in the middle.  The effect is like watching the end of a scene in a film. I thought that odd. Why am I watching a film when I’m in a theatre watching a play? Is this how someone thinks you have to engage a young audience? I don’t think so. Just make them use their imaginations as with that car and you will grab them.

The acting is fine, certainly with André Sills’ bold performance (as mentioned above). Lucy Peacock plays Volumnia with a tight smile as she tries to control her impatience with her stubborn son.  At times her voice can sound shrill with a quiver because of effort. That’s no necessary. Peacock can be steely in her resolve as Volumnia and that makes the character formidable.  Volumnia is smart, tenacious and wily as played by Peacock, but she should just relax the voice.

As Aufidius, Graham Abbey is strapping and watchful. It’s an interesting touch that Aufidius might have  deeper feelings towards Coriolanus than just those of  enemies.

Tom McCamus plays Menenius Agrippa, a friend to Coriolanus, as a world weary politician who always seems to be in a bar. Very telling that.

The result here is that while the acting is fine, it looks like all the action happens downstage in that filmic frame, without variation. As a result, the whole feel of this production is flat, that we are at a remove from the action.

Comment. I can appreciate Robert Lepage’s vision in making this production so modern—filmic, moments of television and radio; setting scenes of intrigue in bars, emojis. But I think the point of suggesting this is a film when it’s done in a theatre, defeats the purpose and doesn’t serve the play.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened:  June 23, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours, approx.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

 

 

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