The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person in the courtyard of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District, Toronto, Ont. Plays until Oct. 3, 2021.

Co-creator and performer, Akosua Amo-Adem

Co-creator and performer, Qasim Khan

Co-creator and performer, Cheyenne Scott

Co-director and dramaturg, Keith Barker

Co-director and dramaturg, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster,

Co-director and dramaturg, Paolo Santalucia

Production designer, Jareth Li

Sound Designer, David Deleary

The co-directors and dramaturgs of The Home Project asked their co-creators/performers, “What is home for you?” While the three directors (Keith Barker, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia) are listed as ‘co-directors’ I don’t get the sense that they all collaborated on directing all three pieces, anymore than I don’t get the sense that all three ‘co-creators’ worked on each other’s’ pieces—seems like an awful lot of creating and directing by committee.  But I could be wrong.

The three co-creators and performers: Akosua Amo-Adem, Qasim Khan and Cheyenne Scott all presented a different take on the question “What is home for you?”  Qasim Khan remembers his boyhood home in Newmarket and how he loved living there. Now as a grown man he is helping his widowed mother move from that home. He’s in the garage sneaking a cigarette, fearful his mother will find him smoking, as if he’s still a kid. She calls him (by his name) several times. He replies he’s in the garage but he has that tone of someone still afraid his mother will find him doing something wrong.

His parents kept all sorts of things from his childhood to they could pass them on to him when he married and had children. Qasim Khan tells us he’s gay—he’s never having children. You sense he never shared that information with his parents. He has been looking for a plush toy he loved as a kid and seems to have lost in that house. That’s all he wants. He sees two rugs his late father hoisted up and placed in the upper reaches of the garage. Much time is spent wondering how his father got the stuff up there and how can he get them down.

Qasim Khan is an animated performer in his piece. His performance could have used close attention to pace, nuance and subtlety. Words gushed out of him and I thought a lot of the humour and detail was lost because of the quickness of it all. He needed a strong director to rein in all that exuberance.

The gifted Akosua Amo-Adem told her story of home through a character named Adwa Opoku, a stand-up comedienne. Adwa Opoku came to Canada from Ghana when she was five years old (as Akosua Amo-Adem did). She talks about the frightening wonders that greeted her family when they arrived at Pearson Airport—an escalator. What to make of a moving staircase that seemed to disappear into the air at the top? The family was terrified of it. Adwa Opoku talked of trying to fit in and being self-conscious when she was younger. She loved the Backstreet Boys and put up a poster in her bedroom to her mother’s horror. She talked of the challenging times of just ordering a Starbucks coffee because the baristas got her name wrong. Adwa Opoku didn’t make it easy for them either. She spelled it but the edge in the tone was obvious. Adwa Opoku is a woman comfortable in Canada but also of the world of Ghana because of her family. She is pulled in both directions.

Akosua Amo-Adem establishes this duality nicely and presents her sense of home on a broader scale than Qasim Khan whose idea of home is his childhood house and things in it that gave him comfort. But I found the idea of the stand-up comedienne’s show a bit rough around the edges. There seemed to be a lot of dead air in Opoku’s comedy set. There was a bit of less than successful comedic business when Opoku called for a chair and she was brought first  a child’s chair and then a high stool. The story of home and being pulled in two directions is important and needs to be dealt with in a way that is not diminished by a comedy routine that is not really funny.  

Cheyenne Scott created the most successful piece of the three. She represented an Indigenous woman (Cheyenne Scott is Indigenous) who had lost her spirit and she set about trying to find it. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Indigenous stories and champion and support Indigenous Theatre  over the past several years and if anything is true, it’s that Scott’s story is not just of a woman looking for her lost spirit. I think her story is a metaphor for the loss of the spirit of the world in terms of upheaval in nature.  There was use of video projections on the back wall of crashing waves on the west coast that destroyed property. She told of fish trying to get home and failing. She talked of birds that succumbed to polluted air. A fox floated leisurely in a swimming pool. Cheyenne Scott also sang and looped harmonies of her own voice. I thought her piece was impressive and more successful in talking about home in a way that we can all embrace because she was talking about the home in which we all live—the earth and the troubled waters around it and the harm of climate change.

Most important, The Home Project got us to think about what home means to us too. I’m sure all three examples had resonance with the audience.

Originated by The Howland Company, in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts and Presented by Soulpepper.

Plays until Oct. 3, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour approx.

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For the week of Sept 27-Oct. 3, 2021.

Sept. 28-Oct. 9, 2021.

IMPACT 21.

A terrific festival of theatre, film, documentaries, and dance taking place in person and on-line in Kitchener, Ont. The offerings are locally from Kitchern/Waterloo, nationally across Canada, and internationally from Chile, Tunisia, Australia and India. I have found the theatre on offer the first time I attended this festival in person before the pandemic, was bracing, challenging, fascinating and a welcome addition to theatre going. Wonderful work in the past. Looking forward to this year.

https://mtspace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/impact21_festival-programme_digital_v20-SEP_web-c.pdf

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. 7:30 pm

The Niceties

Studio 180.

By Eleanor Burgess,

A free reading from Studio 180. A white professor is reviewing an essay with her Black student and both have serious issues. Explosive.

It’s free but you have to register.

Thursday, Sept. 30-Oct. 10, 2021. 8:00 pm

As You Like It

Crow’s Theatre.

A radical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Cliff Cardinal. In the theatre at Carlaw and Dundas.

Friday, Oct. 1-3, 2021. Various times.

What She Burned.

Part of Bees in the Bush Festival, Talk is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

An adaptation of Folktales.

www.tift.ca

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Live, in person at part of the Bees in the Bush Festival at Talk Is Free Theater, inside The Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop St. W., Barrie, Ont. Until Sept. 25, 2021.

www.tift.ca

Conceived by and performed by Michael Torontow

Music direction and accompaniment by Mark Camilleri.

Actor-singer-director Michael Torontow has the guts of a bandit. He approaches work outside his comfort zone that scares him and stares it down. In musicals such as: Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, The Light in the Piazza, Hairspray and The Music Man, for example, he is effortless in his performance.

But then about a year ago? Arkady Spivak, the smart Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, offered Michael Torontow a chance to direct, outside his comfort zone. Torontow grabbed at the chance. The result was a bracing production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The production was then remounted in a local Barrie conservation area—literally in the woods—to great success. It will be done again, this time in the Winter Garden Theatre, in Toronto, Oct. 28-30. Don’t miss it.

Now Torontow has given himself another challenge: a one-person show, singing songs that mean something to him, telling us his story, and starring down his demons.

Torontow is a wonderfully engaging communicator/performer/presence. He sings with his heart: some Sondheim; some classical opera (yes, he studied classical music), something from Once, songs that mean a lot to him. He acknowledges his mistakes (very few in the show) as the result of not being on a stage in 19 months.

He talks about the hard part of acting and even invites the audience to participate with their own suggestions. He does have some interesting words to share on audience participation. He said that in one show he was supposed to invite someone onto the stage with him for a little dance. The director said that under no circumstances does he accept “No” for an answer because that gives permission for the rest of the audience to say no. (Really? And that’s a bad thing? More on audience participation for another post.) Torontow tells a bittersweet story on the ills of the dastardly audience participation. Torontow was wonderful in a play called Every Brilliant Thing that depended heavily on audience participation but in that case audience members could politely decline, and only a few did (if any) because of the nature of the show.

In other words, Michael Torontow presented a personal, lively, charming show of what it means to be an actor in the theatre. He also opened up about demons that he was battling and how he stared those down too.

He was ably accompanied by Mark Camilleri on the piano. But again, a quibble, the piano is amplified as is Michael Torontow. At times the piano was drowning out Torontow. Why does the piano have to be amplified at all? Questions. Questions.

There is no doubt that Torontow [After Dark] is well worth your time.

Talk Is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 25.

Running time:  one hour.

www.tift.ca

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Live and in person at Pirate Life Theatre, 585 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ont. Until Sept. 26. adventure@piratelife.ca

Adapted from the Herman Melville novel: “Moby Dick”

Adapted by Annie Tuma and Lena Maripuu

Music/songs/performed by Alex Millaire and Kaitlin Milroy collectively known as Moonfruits

Directed by Alexandra Montagnese

Costumes by Gabriel Vaillant

Cast:

Lena Maripuu

Moonfruits

Jamar Adams Thomson

Annie Tuma

Amaka Umeh

The engaging Pirate Life Theatre has taken Herman Melville’s huge tale of obsession, passion and revenge for a whale and the wild sea and tamed it to a manageable, but still exciting, musical that takes place on a pirate ship.

The ‘ship” is a black vessel with an imposing flag of the cross-bones and skull (never mind it was upside down when I saw the show), that floats and bobs in the water by the quay. The audience sits on land in chairs and watches the action unfold on the boat.

Captain Ahab (Amaka Umeh) is obsessed with Moby because on a previous whaling voyage Moby bit off the leg of Captain Ahab and he has hunted Moby ever since for revenge. This voyage is no different. The crew believe they are going whaling for blubber to fill their coffers. Captain Ahab has a different idea but he tells his crew only after they set said. Three years later they are sill hunting Moby, but Captain Ahab is sure they will find him because he has meticulously charted Moby’s trail for years. Obsession is a terrible thing.

Director Alexandra Montagnese keeps the action moving swiftly on the boat and there is clever use of a motorized floating device beside the boat as well. When they spot Moby there is an interesting way of suggesting his size and closeness to the boat. While all the characters are microphone, I found the introduction of Ishmael (Annie Tuma) confusing because we heard Ishmael before we saw him as the famous line: “Call me Ishmael” was given as the character was arriving way out of view. It’s important we see the character before he says that important line for context and clarity.

The wonderful Amaka Umeh is a formidable Captain Ahab: obsessed, driven, blinkered and single-minded to capture that creature who took his leg.

Much of the story-telling was taken over by the lilting, atmospheric music of Moonfruits. Lovely work.

Moby: A Whale of a Tale is an easy outing for the family to familiarize them with this classic book, at picturesque Harbourfront.

Pirate Life Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 26.

Running Time: 1 hour.

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Live and in person under a canopy as part of Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival until Sept. 26, 2021.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

Co-created by Kelly McIntosh, Stacy Smith and Andy Pogson and Severn Thompson

Directed by Severn Thompson

Music by Gaham Hargrove

Cast: Kelly McIntosh

MadeNell

Andy Pogson

Stacy Smith

From the show information:

“It’s the bottom of the inning, a full count with two down. The Kroehler Girls socked two hits and their heavy hitter is a star with the willow, is it enough to bring the title home? 

Furniture and Softball. It’s the early 1950’s and Stratford’s all girls softball team is known for building furniture by day and dominating the ball diamond by night. Can the Kroehler Girls live up to their reputation after a devastating loss the previous season? Times are changing at a breakneck speed in these post-war days and this team, along with their hometown, have to prove they have what it takes. 

A new comedy that celebrates all that is Stratford in the early 50’s: the remarkable furniture company and their legendary softball team.

“We’ll sing you the song of our ball team, it’s the finest team in all the land.
We’ll tell you about all the players and we’ll tell you the truth if we can.”

Honey is an elderly woman with a spotty memory living in a seniors’ home. She’s easily confused but she has a memory from years ago when she played on the Kroehler (pronounced “Kraylor”) Furniture girls softball team. The play then returns to that time….with Honey (Kelly McIntosh) removing her old lady jacket and going back to her younger self.

We see the eagerness of Honey to be scouted to an American soft-ball team. There was an actor named James (Andy Pogson) who was playing up the road for the new Shakespeare Festival, taking place in a tent. He made friends with one of the players of the team. There was the manager of the team. A reporter reporting on it. An eager pitcher (Stacy Smith) and a young girl (MadeNell) who was a kind of mascot.

With only four actors playing many parts there was a lot of putting on and taking off of different hats, or putting them on backward to suggest another character. Without a clear program that listed the actor and all the parts he/she played, it got a bit confusing.

Kroehler Girls is a sweet look back to an innocent time when these folks played soft-ball and there was a hint of that Shakespeare Festival. But theatre by committee, and that’s what it seemed like with all those co-creators, did not result in a strong play. The constant switching from character to character was hard to keep straight, and the momentum to the playoffs seemed rushed without sustained suspense. The inclusion of music and sound effects overloaded the whole thing. Too much.

Produced by Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival.

Plays until: Sept. 26, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Harvest Stage, Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. Until Oct. 2, www.blythfestival.com

Created and performed by Bruce Horak

Originally directed by Ryan Gladstone

Assassinating Thomson is a murder-mystery, a hymn to art and creating it and a compelling lesson in beautiful story-telling, all created by gifted performer, Bruce Horak.

The show asks: what really happened to painter Tom Thomson when he went out in his canoe on Canoe Lake July 8, 1917. His bloated body was found days later with a gash in his head. How did he die? Was he killed (the title says plenty)? Who killed him? Bruce Horak has theories.  

The set is simple. There is a drop cloth neatly spread out on the stage. The cloth is held down by rocks in the corners and on the edges. On the cloth is an easel with a long narrow frame placed on it. To the side of that is a table with stuff on it and below are tube-bottles.

Bruce Horak saunters out and introduces himself and the show. Horak sets up the story of Tom Thomson and his fascination with the artist and his short career. Thomson only painted for five years but produced hundreds of paintings, mainly of his beloved outdoors, in Northern Ontario. Horak has had a many varied career as an improvisor, writer, comedian, storyteller, painter etc. He says that as is his habit with the show, he will be painting the audience as he tells the story. We find out at the end that he will then auction off the painting and the money will go to a local charity. Lovely.

His palette is on the table to the side of the easel as are his brushes and the tubes under the table are paint tubes that he will use to squirt the paint on the palette. There was something else Bruce Horak said, oh, what was it, what was it….oh yes, Bruce Horak is legally blind. He lost one eye to cancer when he was a kid (a genetic disease) and his father asked the doctors to try and save the other eye and they did. But he has 9% vision in it—like looking through a tiny key-hole. He had us all bend our index finger into the side of the thumb and look through the tiny opening in the finger. That’s generally what Bruce Horak can see. Woow.

As Horak painted, looked, observed us, drew, painted etc. he told us of the tangled story of Tom Thomson and his love of the outdoors. He told of possible enemies, a possible girlfriend, various theories, strange doings with the undertaker, coffins that might be empty and all manner of theories. All delivered with a leisurely yet compelling pace, that of a true story-teller.

He also talked of the theories of art and its components—space, relationships, shadow and light etc. He talked of being obsessed by Tom Thomson, trying to find his burial place. And all the while, Horak painted, observed and talked. He talked of knowing when the painting was finished. Fascinating.

When we was finished, he turned the canvas around to show us what he had painted. Amazing. Then he auctioned the painting off for charity. I did not doubt Horak was actually painting that actual painting, I just thought that since there might be inklings of doubt he might have shown the empty canvas to us at the beginning. I think that contrasted with the finished painting would have ramped up the wow factor. In any case, Assassinating Thomson is a fascinating show of wit, imagination, conjuring and storytelling. When we were leaving at the end, I heard a smarmy soul winging on facts that Horak left out. I did not turn and say, “It’s a play and a work of imagination, get it. Horak said as much. Pay attention. And drive safe.” Sheesh some people think stories are all true! What is true here is that Bruce Horak is one dandy story-teller and painter. See the show.

Presented by the Blyth Festival

Runs until: Oct. 2.

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, no intermission.

www.blythfestival.com

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Live, in person in Lazaridis Hall, Park of the Meighen Forum, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival, until tonight, Sept. 18, 2021.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

Created and performed by Ryan G. Hinds

Music conductor, Mark Selby.

Performer-extraordinaire, Ryan G. Hinds, is on a mission. He is determined to bring musical theatre’s John Kander and Fred Ebb, composer/lyricist royalty, to the top of the mountain of musical-theatre notoriety. Kander and Ebb are known by musical-theatre aficionados but Ryan G. Hinds feels they have not been given their due in the larger context as someone else (whisper “Sondheim”). Hinds feels that song for song and show for show, John Kander and Fred Ebb have contributed witty, gritty, thought provoking shows that should put them at the top of their game.

Kander and Ebb have written such shows as Flora, The Red Menace, Cabaret, Zorba, Chicago, The Act, Woman of the Year, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, Fosse. Alas, Fred Ebb died in 2004, so the partnership ended, but what a run they had.

Ryan G. Hinds is too smart and gifted a performer to just do a show of the “best hits of” the two. So he did something clever. As the audience fills into the beautiful Lazaridis Hall of the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ont. we were treated to recordings of some of Kander and Ebb’s biggest hits, just to get it out of the way: Joel Grey singing “Willkommen” from Cabaret, Lorraine Serabian singing “Life Is” from Zorba (the original lyrics not the less mournful revised-feh-ones), Liza Minnelli singing whatever she wants from Cabaret, and something from Chicago.

When Ryan G. Hinds was introduced and entered the room with a flourish and panache we were ready for some reminiscence, smart commentary, gutsy singing and a lesson in musical-theatre history lore.

He didn’t disappoint. Hinds defines flamboyance but with sweetness: high-top silver sneakers, purple velvet leggings, a black top, a silvery glittery jacket, a precious gold necklace, glittery red lipstick and glittery eye shadow. His joy at being in that room in that place is disarming. His devotion to the work of Kander and Ebb is as well.

He sang a cross-section of works both familiar and not to give us a flavour of the brilliance of the work of Kander and Ebb. He had particular fondness for the short-lived Broadway run of Steel Pier. Hinds had actually seen that production on Broadway (and so did I but not together), and noted what he thought was lyricist Fred Ebb’s subtext (ahem) in the words. Fascinating.

He talked of his love of Kiss of the Spider Woman and did a medley from that show complete with wonderful lighting effect of a spider web that spread out behind him on the wall and ceiling. He also talked of the 12-year-old-kid who saw that show many times when it was trying out in Toronto, and the kind woman who talked to him every time he was at the stage door. That kid was him. The woman was Chita Rivera who was starring in the show. Hinds wanted to be in the theatre. Rivera encouraged him. Over the years they became friends. He considers her a mentor. The story is touching. His other show-biz stories are fascinating and funny too. The show is a hug to anyone who loves musical theatre done by Ryan G. Hinds, a man who has large, embracing arms. It had a very short run as part of the Meighan Forum at the Stratford Festival. I hope it has another life.

Plays until Sept. 18, 2021.  

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Live and in person under the Festival Theatre Canopy, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Sept. 26.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

Curated and directed by Sara Farb and Steve Ross

Music director, Franklin Brasz

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Cast: Noah Beemer

Sara Farb

Germaine Konji

Steve Ross

The Band:

Franklin Brasz, conductor, keyboard

Dave Thompson, acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Michael McClennan, acoustic bass, electric bass

David Campion, drum kit

From the info on the show:

“A CABARET OF RESILIENCE

“…a musical journey through a year of enormous change and growth. It explores the isolation, the loneliness, the upheaval and the unexpected silver linings that came out of a time like no other. Join us to reflect on this “great pause” as we move forward and get back to living freely.”

The twenty songs in the cabaret are listed in alphabetical order. They aren’t sung in that order. I think it’s the curators, Sara Farb and Steve Ross being impish and cagy. After all, this past 18 months or so have left us unsettled, confused, angry, fragile-minded and emotional. We never knew from one day to the other what was coming. What better way to encapsulate that ‘confusion’ than by listing the songs to be sung, in alphabetical order, then singing them in the order that made most sense as we carefully picked our way through the ordeal.

The songs at the beginning were wistful, about remembering a better time: “I Remember” from Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim, in which a person remembers sky among other things.  Sara Farb sang with quiet emotion “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” by Randy Newman, in which the lyric talks of ‘human kindness’ that existed so much at the beginning of the pandemic, before the anger set it. Steve Ross sang “If You Can Find Me, I’m Here again from Evening Primrose sung almost with a wink, but not with desperation.

Isolation and loneliness set in. Noah Beemer sang “Answer Me” From The Band’s Visit with such longing and also hope. Germaine Konji recited her searing poem of “The Smearing of Silent Blood” that conjured the murder of George Floyd and the rage the erupted because of it. It was a poem that nailed us to the seat because of Konji’s impassioned performance.

As the emotions shifted during the pandemic so did the emotions of the songs. “Our Time/Like It Was” from Merrily We Roll Along looked hopefully to a better time full of anticipation and optimism. The group blended beautifully on this haunting combination of two songs from that haunting show.

“Light of a Clear Blue Morning” by Dolly Parton just lifts up the listener to all sorts of possibilities as only Ms Parton can. Sara Farb sang it with clarity and a sense of release as a corner seemed to be turned in the pandemic.

“Time/I Feel So Much Spring” by William Finn from A New Brain carries on this sense of renewal and hope.

There was little patter between singers in the concert but there were inserts of statistics, facts and comments about the pandemic and words from experts that put things in context.

Franklin Brasz conducted the band and played the keyboards beautifully. The sound balance was perfect so that we heard the singers clearly as well as the band who did not overpower anyone. The concert showed a lot of thought in the selections of songs and what they meant in terms of what we have gone through in the last 18 months. And we came through singing, or at least tapping our toe to those who sang to us, beautifully.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Plays until: Sept. 26, 2021.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live, in person in the parking lot behind Bohemia Café in Barrie, Ont. until Sept. 18, www.tift.ca

Libretto by Bertolt Brecht

Musical composition by Kurt Weil

Directed by Richard Ouzounian

Musical direction by Stephan Ermel

Costumes by Kathleen Black

Sound by Matt Dawson

Cast: Dillan Chiblow

Beau Dixon

Jacob MacInnis

Justan Myers

Justin Stadnyk

Jennifer Stewart.

Because this was a preview I am only commenting not formally reviewing. That said, everything about this endeavor was terrific—bracing, unsettling, honest, true and beautifully presented and directed.

Director Richard Ouzounian writes in his program note: “Mahagonny is a mythical American city where people live for greed, lust and violence. Brecht and Weill created it in 1927. It’s astonishing—and more than a bit frightening—to see how much it resembles the world of 2021.”

The piece—Mahagonny-Songspeil is only 30 minutes long and is a precursor to the more extended show Mahagonny. But this show of 11 songs and comment between songs that is pure Brecht, gives you the sharp flavour of what the show is like and what the extended version is as well.

They sing of violence, greed, graft, the underbelly of society, a time and feeling of brutality and abrasiveness. The cast of six and their music director enter dressed (for the most part) in black leather, studs, fishnet stockings, flowing frocks, if that, and also wear black makeup (eye-shadow, eye-liner, Goth-like). The look in many cases is androgynous or gender fluid. Perfect.

The singing by the whole group is excellent, beautifully harmonized and compelling. The cast puts us on notice. We sit mesmerized. It is performed in the parking lot behind a café known as BOHEMIA CAFÉ (how perfect is that?) there was a half-moon over the Bay in Barrie. How perfect is that?

There is no final bow of the singers. And that is perfect too. They sent us a serious message about our world. We don’t then get up close and touchy-feely with a bow of appreciation that will break the tone and change the atmosphere. We can take it. No bow. Perfect. Thank you.

Produced by Talk is Free Theatre.

Plays until: Sept. 18, 2021.

Running time: 30 minutes.

www.tift.ca

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Live and in person at the High Park Amphitheatre in High Park, Toronto, Ont. Until September 19, 2021.

www.canadianstage.com

Written by Jordan Tannahill

Directed by Erin Brubaker

Production design by Sherri Hay

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Movement by Cara Spooner

Composed by Veda Hille

Cast: Remi Ajao-Russell,

Hiyab Araya,

Jack Bakshi,

Chloe Cha,

Felix Chew,

Nia Downey,

Sidonie Fleck,

Oscar Gorbet,

Saraphina Knights,

Iris MacNada,

Iylah Mohammed,

Amaza Payne,

Sanora Souphommanychanh,

Alykhan Sunderji,

Catherine Thorne,

Sophia Wang,

Skyler Xiang

Earnest, well-intentioned, but full of contradictory messages that quickly wear thin with the hectoring. The message of hope at the end comes from nowhere and is not earned.


From the press information: “JordanTannahill’s newest play takes the form of a theatrical protest song. Led by director Erin Brubacher, a chorus of seventeen young Torontonians aged 12-17 turn the theatre into a site of intergenerational reckoning. Urgent, moving, and confrontationalIs My Microphone On? is both a declaration of war and a declaration of love delivered by a generation facing the perils of climate change.

Fundamentally asking how do we move forward from here?, Is My Microphone On?demands attention for those who will no longer be able to avoid the consequences of the climate crisis, a generation just under the voting age but painfully aware of the legacy left for them. They speak to the adults in the audience, holding them to account, questioning the choices that have not been made, the ones that children will be forced to make, and what kind of future they stand to inherit.

An artistic endeavor developed within the context of the pandemic, Tannahill’s script is adapted from speeches given by global youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, into a choral piece further shaped by Brubacher’s work with the cast, along with key collaborators, production designer Sherri Hay, composer Veda Hille, sound designer Debashis Sinha, and movement director Cara Spooner.

Director Erin Brubacher places her cast of 15 (on the night I saw it) in pools of light along the sides and the front of the amphitheater, facing the audience. For the most part each microphoned participant says a word in sequence to form a sentence or thought. The words are not said by one person, then the next word by the person beside them and so on. One word can be said by a person on this side of the audience and the next one by a person on the other side and the next word by someone at the front of the audience.  This can be disconcerting if you don’t know who is speaking. —I found myself looking around the space to see who the speaker was. Over time, just listening to try and make sense of the words was the best idea. Occasionally a speaker would have a few lines. In some cases the ‘actor’ was forceful. Most of the time the actors were monotoned. Occasionally they were inaudible, even with the microphones. But kudos to Erin Brubacher the attention to the smoothness of the deliveries. There was never a hesitation as to whom should speak next. The words filled the air like so many well played tennis balls that were batted from one end of the space to another.

Many of the cast played instruments that underlined a thought, idea or comment. We were told that every time a certain note was played thousands of species of animals/insects died as a result of climate change etc. The idea of death of trees, plant-life; coral reefs etc. were also marked by sound effects.

The main thrust of the piece was that youths blamed the adults (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa,) for every ill of climate change and suggesting young people could be anything they put their mind too and it wasn’t true and the youth sought a reckoning. They said “we are only going to say this once” and repeated it several times over the course of the evening. Many thoughts, ideas, complaints, hurts, insults, disappointments etc. were repeated. Adults didn’t listen to them when they made suggestions for improvements. The youth weren’t taken seriously; respected.

Is My Microphone On? was full of generalizations that summarily dismissed adults for their guilt and complicity in the destruction of the planet. The world pollution caused by big business and that of the owner of an SUV were equated were treated with the same contempt.

Then playwright, Jordan Tannahill has the youth then bicker amongst themselves. One would not give her seat on the bus to an older person because she didn’t see why she should. Another wouldn’t be nice to an elderly neighbour because the neighbour was a racist. It was hard keeping all the contempt straight.

Composer Veda Hille provides a song they all sing at the end offering hope. It is not supported by the piece and ends on a fake note. (and too often it was hard to hear the words, they were singing so softly).

There is a magical moment though. One youth asks us to “listen.” With that the lights on each youth goes out and an amber glow of light goes up on the lush foliage and trees surrounding the playing space. The air is full of the ‘cacophony’ of nature at night: crickets, cicadas, insects etc. Then a light breeze sifts through the leaves and the branches of the trees making a rustling sound. Even the siren in the distance captured our attention. Magical. Then the lights faded and went back up on the young cast. And they continued the blame game. Tedious.

Even at one hour playing time, Is My Microphone On? seemed padded with all the repeated ideas and invective. Releasing this diatribe might be freeing, but it makes for lousy theatre. The youth say they’ve had enough (please get behind me in this long line of people feeling the same way) and they are taking over. What the piece doesn’t say is what they would do differently. I think it’s important to know.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Plays until: Sept. 19, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour.

www.canadianstage.com

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