The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written, composed and performed by Janice Jo Lee

Directed by Matt White

Set and costumes by Julia Kim

Lighting by Paul Cegys

A skewered, jumbled, angry production about racism but it’s confusing about whose racism we are talking about. Janice Jo Lee gives a lively performance.

The Story. Janice Jo Lee plays a multitude of characters in this one person show. Mainly she plays she/her, a woman of Korean descent who lives in Kitchener and doesn’t seem to like it. She has not been lucky in love. Every man with whom she’s had a relationship has been ended badly and each man has been white. This has soured her on white people but she wants to submerge herself into that world but without the baggage of her ethnicity. She conjures a professor who has a system for purging a person of their roadblocks to blend in. There are her friends, also of Korean descent, who have their own issues with white people who try to help, but seem only to add to the invective.

 The Production. Julia Kim has created a set with vibrant props of an easel with flip sheets indicating the professor’s strategy, charts and pyramid formations of action. The professor (a man) wears a pair of glasses with adjustable prongs that either go up or down on the side of the head. He holds a pointer and hits the item on the page explaining at quick speed the various headings of his sequence, each heading is more esoteric than the last. She/her speaks so quickly and often slurs the words as the professor and others it’s hard to understand what is being said.

She/her is upset that white people eat Korean food but don’t take the time to learn how to pronounce it properly. Kimchi is a case in point. She/her explains how white people get the pronunciation wrong. She pronounces it correctly but says they still get it wrong and that one time is the last time she tries to correct their error.

She/her invites a man (white) to come up on stage and engage with her in a scene. A smiling, enthusiastic man eagerly bounds on stage. He stands next to her, smiling. She asks his name. He says, “Davenport.” She says she’ll call him “Mike.” (Huh? I’m thinking?) Davenport then sits down and she/her continues referring to Mike as her new boyfriend to her friends. As with the other men in her life, this relationship fails. She/her reverts to her negative thoughts about whites.

In her program note Janice Jo Lee says that Will You Be My Friend is a satire. I had been wondering a satire of what. Then I twig: it must be a satire of racism but from a person of colour’s point of view. How else to explain her invective aimed at white people not knowing how to pronounce the names of  Korean foods and then completely ignoring a man’s (white)  name when he tells it to you with grace and good will? That must be it because this skewered look at perceived white privilege and racism is coming from a character so clenched with rage at these people she can’t seem to see straight.

Then towards the end of her show she/her? Janice Jo Lee? drops the pretense of doing a satiric show and charges into full on lecture/hector  on racism. She says with firmness: “Matt, lock the doors.” (Thus ordering her director to lock the doors. No sound is heard of any doors locking which must have been a relief to the people who were there for what is billed as a ‘relaxed performance’ when people who need to can come and go as they pleased. We were told at the beginning that as a “relaxed performance” the lights would be up a bit so people could come and go safely. Actually this didn’t happen. The lights were down in the house and only up on stage, making it tricky for the two people who did need to leave and come back mid-show, to do so safely.) This lecture/rant went on for several minutes and then reverted to the ‘comedy’ aspect of the show. At several points in the show Janice Jo Lee played various instruments, ‘sang’ and recited poetry.

Janice Jo Lee plays all the characters, sometimes having a conversation with another character at the same time. Director Matt White has Lee racing around the stage; climbing onto and off various props of differing levels; Lee races up the side stairs and even plays a scene on the upper level of the theatre. Very energetic.

 Comment. Yes indeed, Will You Be My Friend, is loaded with racism, narrow-minded ideas about race and skin colour, but the racism is of the lead character, she/her and not of any white person.  We never actually see the men (white) who have seemingly treated she/her badly and then left her. We are not given a credible reason why they left. Perhaps it’s her behaviour that’s made them leave.  We only have her word for it. That leaves us with a weak argument for the reason, purpose, point of the show. She/her has said that she feels inadequate and ‘other’ in a way in the presence of a white person and they are the cause. That’s like me saying: “I’m overweight and you are slim and fit and I feel inadequate and insecure in your presence and it’s your fault.” Uh, I don’t think so.

So many areas of this show should be re-thought. At 110 minutes it’s 30 minutes too long. Much as Janice Jo Lee is celebrated for her spoken word abilities, all the music, songs etc. should be cut. They don’t add to the thesis.  The whole idea of whose racism is being dealt with here is at issue. In his program note director Matt White approached Janice Jo Lee with an offer to help her with her show. Apparently she was aghast at such a suggestion, saying that he was white and since her protagonist was white how could he think of helping. Mr. White is a gracious man and asked her to trust him to see if their collaboration would work. Since he’s listed as the director, I guess he won her trust. What are the rest of us to make of such an endeavor? After all who does Ms Lee think the majority of her audience is? I think Ms Lee should clarify who/what is being satirized because it’s not clear. What’s with the rant of “Matt lock the doors?” Who is giving the rant and why–the character? The writer/performer? Clarify. Focus. Tighten.

The show is called Will You Be My Friend. My answer is “no.”

Green Light Arts Productions with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille

Began: Oct. 25, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 110 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch with Maev Beaty and Ann-Marie Kerr

Co-created by Marinda de Beer

Directed by Ann-Marie Kerr

Scenic design by Camellia Koo

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Projections designed by Cameron Davis

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Costumes by Erika Connor

Cast: Maev Beaty

Hannah Moscovitch

Heat-squeezing, stunning theatre produced by masters about motherhood as you generally don’t hear about but should.

The Story. This is mainly a story of modern motherhood as the creators really experienced it. They heard the ‘regular’ stories of motherhood and didn’t buy it, so they decided to do their own piece presenting the truth of modern motherhood.

It focuses on playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s journey to motherhood with input from actor Maev Beaty, director Ann-Marie Kerr and Marinda de Beer. It covers the elation of seeing the ‘baby’ in an ultrasound image; the gory bits of miscarriages; the prolonged labours of labour; the uncertainty of how good a mother you are and balancing work too; coping with being a workaholic; and the heart-busting joy of watching the kid grow, have a vocabulary and a sense of humour that bends you over laughing.

It’s the hard, harsh stuff that is the secret life of a mother because perhaps the multitudes don’t want to hear the ‘other’ side, but should.

The Production. Director Ann-Marie Kerr has directed a spare, elegant, evocative production. She can create the most beautiful of moments and the most muscular, fearless situations without flinching. It is beautifully designed by Camellia Koo in which there is only a black chair plus two ‘tanks’ with water and a screen at the back for projections. The lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy is both muted and illuminating in a  way that makes the audience lean forward to focus on moments that are compelling.

Maev Beaty, barefoot and wearing comfortable pants and a top, is almost shy as she comes forward to introduce herself saying she is playing Hannah Moscovitch her very close friend. Beaty, Hannah Moscovitch, director Ann-Marie Kerr and producer Marinda de Beer have been working on this show for six years. During that time pregnancies were kept secret until they couldn’t be; miscarriages happened; babies were born.

Beaty puts a white piece of paper in a rectangular tank of water and presses the sheet against a glass side of the tank. This is Hannah Moscovitch’s first ultra sound of her growing foetus. Rather than a murky, fuzzy photo of a form of a baby, Ann-Marie Kerr has a projection of a face of a laughing three year old child appear on the paper—this is the face of the person who would become Elijah, Hannah Moscovitch’s son.  This makes the image so personal and immediate. It gives the audience a stake in the process.

There are harrowing turns of events that happen so quietly that the realization hits like a smack. When Hannah has a prolonged labour the same projection of that little boy’s face is illuminated on the tight fist of Maev Beaty as the labouring Hannah Moscovitch.

Maev Beaty lends elegance, poise and grace to every role she plays. Secret Life of a Mother is something else again. As Hannah, Maev Beaty realizes all the doubt, obsession and uncertainty that woman has about motherhood and work. Beaty also conveys the pain, sweat and despair of wanting to push but not being able to in a labour that is so long she takes the audience with her. Beaty’s own harsh recollections are told so calmly and with such understatement they leave you gasping.

The last part of the play is handled by Hannah Moscovitch herself. She is almost reticent but ultimately conveys the confidence and joy she has had from this experience of motherhood

Comment. Hannah Moscovitch’s plays are deeply thought, intellectually rigorous and funny. Secret Life of a Mother is full of self-doubt, the mess and despair of miscarrying, coping with work and motherhood and finally the ecstatic joy of it, the realization that she’s good at it.

Maev Beaty has created a body of work that is rich, varied and so full of compelling artistry you just naturally go see her work, no matter what the project.

Ann-Marie Kerr had directed some of the most sensitive, dangerous, hard-hitting productions I’ve ever seen and again, I would go no matter what the project.

I would swim through oceans of gore to see the work of these three titans of the theatre. And so should you.

The Theatre Centre Presents:

Began: Oct. 20, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

www.theatrecentre.org

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Two by George F. Walker at the Assembly, Toronto, Ont.

Kill The Poor

Directed by Wes Berger

Set by Chris Bretecher

Lighting by Chin Palipane

Costumes by Kathleen Black

Sound by Jeremy Hutton and Will Jarvis

Cast: Al Bernstein

Chandra Galasso

Craig Henderson

Ron Lea

Anne van Leeuwen

Welcome to the scrappy, hard world of George F. Walker and his characters trying to get by.

The Story. Lacey comes home from the hospital limping, bruised and her arm in a sling. She was in a car accident. Her brother died as a result. Who was driving the car? Lacey or her brother? Lacey can’t remember. Who charged into the intersection against the light? The other guy, Mr. David or the siblings? The police are investigating. Annie (the cop) tries to help Lacey remember.  One day Lacey gets a visit from Mr. David with a tantalizing offer. What is going on? Welcome to the world of George F. Walker.

The Production. Chris Bretecher has designed a shabby, spare and functioning small apartment. There are stains on the walls. Harry superintendent (a wonderfully irreverent and sparky Ron Lea) comes to repair the toilet. He berates Lacey (Anne van Leeuwen) and her mechanic/drug dealing husband Jake (Craig Henderson) for leaving the door unlocked. Unsavory people live in the building especially the neighbourhood drug dealer.

Wes Berger directs with a sure hand. He’s a stalwart of George F. Walker plays and know their rhythms, the world and the grunge of it.  The cast is strong lead by a feisty, angry Anne van Leeuwen as Lacey. If there is a quibble it’s that Walker has written her at about level 9, always raging (it’s probably all that pain from the injuries) and so there is no where for her to go in moments of frustration but level 10 and beyond. It can seem like she’s playing the same note although there is nuance in van Leeuwen’s body language. Al Bernstein as Mr. David is quietly threatening. Craig Henderson as Jake her husband is a bit dim, sweet, and limited in his abilities to make a living. Chandra Galasso as Annie the cop is tough and accommodating trying to help Lacey find her way out of the mess.

Comment. Once again George F. Walker champions the marginalized who are just trying to make it through the day under tough circumstances. They skirt the law for a bit of equality in their unequal world.

Presented by Leroy Street Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 2, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 18, 2018.

Running Time: about 75 minutes each with a 20 minute intermission.

www.leroystreettheatre.com

 

Her Inside Life

Directed by Andrea Wasserman

Set by Chris Bretecher

Lighting by Chin Palipane

Costumes by Kathleen Black

Sound by Jeremy Hutton and Will Jarvis

Cast: Catherin Fitch

Tony Munch

Sarah Murphy-Dyson

Lesley Robertson

The mentally challenged is another character that George F. Walker champions against a system that seems stacked against them. Dandy cast again and a production that realizes the twists and turns in this very funny, yet serious play.

The Story. Violet is just out of prison for killing her husband. She feels she was innocent and she just happened to have a knife in her hand when she killed him because he was abusive. Her case worker Cathy tries to control the situation with the flighty and easily excitable Violet. Then there is Maddy, Violet’s daughter who has her own problems, and Leo her angry brother-in-law. Lots of volatile people just trying to make it  through the day in one piece. Just one more facet of the world of George F. Walker.

The Production. We are in the same apartment building as in Kill The Poor.  For this apartment Chris Bretecher has designed a neat, bright, clean apartment, with better looking furniture (really the shabby furniture from before, only now there is a smart covering hiding the shabbiness). The window coverings are better too.

Violet (a wonderfully tightly wound Catherine Fitch) can’t stand loud, prolonged noise, especially the one that is bedeviling her now—a piercing fire alarm. She knows she should leave the apartment but can’t make the decision. Her case worker Cathy (a calm but concerned Sarah Murphy-Dyson) arrives and urges Violet to leave. Agitation in various guises inform George F. Walker’s characters here. Maddy, Violet’s daughter (played by Lesley Robertson with controlled calm, but you can see the cracks) tries to support her mother. But at stake in one instance is whether or not Violet can see her grandchildren (Maddy’s and her husband’s, and the husband is being difficult).  Violet’s anger and her tendency to violence are always simmering. Her next target is her brow-beaten brother-in-law Leo, given a wonderfully crazed performance by Tony Munch. Leo also has his issues—he was bullied by his brother, now dead because Violet killed him.

Andrea Wasserman directs a clear production full of subtleties as well as the full-blown instances of “Walker-behaviour.” The energy and emotion builds gradually and gains momentum and leaves you breathless at the end.

Comment. The mentally challenged is another subject for George F. Walker’s sharp focus. He has compassion for their plight and creates the impossible world they live in as  they try to cope. Walker never judges them except tangentially as we see the political, social and medical systems these mentally challenged people have to negotiate. It’s a coup that these two small companies, Leroy Street Theatre and LowRise Production,  are the beneficiaries of two new George F. Walker world premiers.

An aside: The turn over from one set to another between these two short plays was very tight. Marvin Araneta, the stage manager for Kill the Poor had to quickly strip the furniture, change the curtains, clear the kitchen and re-arrange the table so that Jenna Borsato, the stage manager for Her Inside Life could do her set up. They helped each other. Araneta was working so fast he had to wipe sweat off the back of his neck with a cloth. Borsato opened cans of soup and beef stew and put them in pots ready for their scenes on Her Inside Life. All was done calmly and efficiently. It seemed like a lot of soup and thought that there were only two bowls on a shelf—not enough for all that soup. I commented to Borsato (I was the only one in the small theatre—the rest were out in the lobby) about the two bowls. In true theatre fashion, she smiled and told me to see how it all turned out. I finally realized she didn’t add water so there was enough for two bowls of soup and stew.

During this time the cast from Kill the Poor was leaving. Then Ron Lea and Craig Henderson (from the cast of the show) helped take a large table out of the theatre from Kill the Poor and then brought another large table back into the theatre for Her Inside Life. As the cast for Her Inside Life walked down the steps of the theatre to cross the stage and prepare for their show, Ron Lea, standing at the bottom of the stairs, took the hand of each of the three actresses and kissed it and hugged Tony Munch for luck for their shows and then left. God I love the camaraderie, the open-hearted generosity and the pluck to get the job done of theatre making folks.

Presented by LowRise Productions:

Opened: Nov. 2, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 18, 2018.

Running Time: about 75 minutes each with a 20 minute intermission.

www.theassemblytheatre.com

 

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Review: THEORY

by Lynn on November 5, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Norman Yeung

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Projections by Cameron Davis

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Bilal Baig

Sascha Cole

Audrey Dwyer

Fabrizio Filippo

Asha James

Kyle Orzech

Anthony Perpuse

A bracing play about the dangers of free speech and the fraught world of academia.

The Story. From the press release: “Isabelle, a young tenure-track professor teaching cinema studies, tests the limits of free speech by encouraging her students to contribute to an unmoderated discussion group. When an anonymous student posts offensive comments and videos, Isabelle must decide whether to intervene or to let the social experiment play out. Soon, the posts turn abusive and threatening, leading Isabelle and her unknown tormentor to engage in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that not only have Isabelle questioning her beliefs, but fearing for her life.”

The Production. Set designer Joe Pagnan has created a beautifully evocative set that represents Isabelle’s class room, her office and her home which she shares with her wife, Lee. That Lee is a woman of colour also adds another layer of intrigue to the play.

The students sit at a configuration of desks one behind the other. But looking closer the desks are really ‘longer’ desks upended so the students are working on a smaller surface. That they are upended desks perhaps suggests a world that is unbalanced.

Isabelle, played with almost a swaggering confidence by Sascha Cole, is a woman of her convictions. She talks fast. She knows what she wants and answers each concern with a short, sharp reply. She throws out the curriculum of films in favour of edgier ones created by women and includes one that the students object to because they think it’s porn. They are vocal in their objections that Isabelle does not moderate the on-line discussion group. Students are being harassed and insulted with racial slurs on –line and Isabelle does nothing.

Isabelle’s wife Lee is played by a thoughtful, tempered Audrey Dwyer until Lee realizes that their home is not safe from the anonymous student who is stalking and tormenting Isabelle.

Director Esther Jun keeps the pace brisk until one is breathless at the unraveling of events. The anonymous student hacks into Isabelle’s account at work and her personal phone number at home. Videos are sent to her phone. Slowly the danger rises as do the stakes. Isabelle is visited by a department official (Fabrizio Fillippo presents him as a reasonable man but ultimately not supportive of her) who is not there to defend her but to defend the alleged student who fears he will be expelled. The school sides with the student.

Comment. I’ve seen Theory in various incarnations over the years. This version is by far the best. Playwright Norman Yeung writes convincingly of the modern school system where teachers bend over backwards to appeal to students; try to make them think and assess; act with patience when they whine about every disappointment but in many cases need the prof to step up to the plate and protect them; students are reminded to leave the professor’s office door open. One student who visits closes it. Isabelle says nothing. My heart races—memories of years of working in a University setting as an administrator come flooding back to me. Yeung has also illuminated a university culture that does not defend the professor against a predator student. I sucked air for a long time and exhald slowly at the end of the play. A retire professor in the audience passed by and said, “Thank heaven’s I’m retired from all this.”

Terrific play and production.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Began: Oct. 16, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 25, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Set and costumes by Teresa Przybylski

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Sound by Verne Good

Cast: Clare Coulter

Kyra Harper

Brenda Robins

Maria Vacratsis

Caryl Churchill’s play is about friendship, tea, catastrophe, secrets and just a touch of betrayal. The acting is superb in Jennifer Tarver’s challenging production.

 The Story. Escaped Alone was written by British Playwright Caryl Churchill one of the most prolific, provocative writers working today. It was produced in 2016 at the Royal Court in London, Eng.

Summer afternoon, but as the stage directions say, “A number of afternoons but the action is continuous.”

Three women friends—Vi, Lena and Sally–are sitting in chairs, talking and drinking lemonade, among other things, in Sally’s back yard.

Mrs. Jarrett is passing, notices an opening in the fence and recognizes the women in the yard. Sally says, “Is that you, Mrs. Jarrett?” and Mrs. Jarrett takes this to be an invitation to join them so she does.

The three friends talk in shards of sentences and finish each other’s sentences. They talk of difficult children, marriages in trouble, being locked out of the house and how one got back in. They remember times gone by, stores no longer there. They talk of a television series.

But then Mrs. Jarrett has several speeches that shows a world upside down or the result of a catastrophe. She says things like: “Rats were eaten by those who still had digestive systems and mushrooms were traded for urine”. Mrs. Jarrett’s speeches get more and more disturbing angry, and dire.

When Mrs. Jarrett returns to the other three we also see cracks in the relationships of the three women. They all know secrets about each other but here they seem to chip at then.

For example, Sally is afraid of and hates cats but some of the group insensitively plough ahead and mention cats with out considering Sally. Life is not that idyllic in that oasis of a back yard.

The Production. It’s such a tricky play. It’s dense in language, ideas and philosophy. It’s so vague and questions what is real and what isn’t.  How do you direct that?  Director Jennifer Tarver has the audience on either side of the playing area.

Four miss-matched chairs are in Sally’s back yard.  A canopy of paper birds hangs over head. There is the sound of birds singing. There is a pitcher of lemonade. Tarver has created a real world of bird song, real lemonade that the women sip from large glasses and later tea. To suggest the action takes place over different afternoons the women get up out of their chairs, change the positions of them in the yard and then sit in a different chair. At one point Vi (a forthright Brenda Robins) pours tea: first some milk in the cup (I love that smart touch as it might be prepared in England), then the tea, then one lump of sugar. The beauty of this simple bit of business is that the tea she is pouring is not for herself, it’s for Lena, and Vi knows how Lena takes her tea. Lena is played as a timid woman who can’t go out comfortably by Kyra Harper. Then Vi prepares her own cup of tea. Sally is played by Maria Vacratsis who is by turns, gracious to her guests and Mrs. Jarrett, agitated at the thought of cats and slighted that Vi would be so insensitive as to bring up cats in conversation, knowing how Sally hated them.

You can almost feel Clare Coulter as Mrs. Jarrett, listening so hard to what is being said. She turns to each woman as they speak, focusing, laser-stared in concentrated listening to get every word, every gesture, ready to join in and be included.

But there are moments in which Mrs. Jarrett separates herself from the women and only her face is illuminated in Jennifer Lennon’s eerie light and she gives her updating of a catastrophe that has befallen the outside world. These monologues are quiet, measured, and detail horrors that have happened to mankind and the environment. The other women seem protected or oblivious to it.

Comment.  Escaped Alone is the latest Caryl Churchill play to experiment in form and language. The Skriker certainly deals in disjointed dialogue. In Blue Heart characters substitute the word “kettle” where a more appropriate word would make sense, but interestingly we know what her intended meaning is in the sentence. Then there is Far Away perhaps a pre-cursor to Escaped Alone, about a world gone mad and war is everywhere in nature, the air and with humans. Churchill makes us listen hard and assess.

As with all of Caryl Churchill’s plays, I found Escaped Alone compelling and the production certainly had me engaged and questioning.

Soulpepper co-produced with Necessary Angel presents:

Opened: Nov. 1, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 25, 2018.

Running Time: 55 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin

Sound and composition by Waleed Abdulhamid

Cast: John Chou

Cyrus Faird

Huse Madhavji

Chanakya Mukherjee

Gugun Deep Singh

Sugith Varughese

Tahirih Vejdani

Farid Yazdani

A rocky, emotional immigrant story told from the context of a lowly chicken shop in Bombay, India and a cricket team in Vancouver that’s not doing too well.

The Story. Hasan is eighteen and works in a chicken store in a poor part of Bombay,  slaughtering and selling chickens for Baba who owns the store. Hasan is in love with Haseena who is studying for medical school but is too shy and awkward to tell her. Eventually Hasan gets himself in gear and is able to talk to Haseena and express his feelings. He even stands up to a neighbourhood thug biker who is coming on to her. Hasan wants to impress Haseena and one way is through cricket because he’s good at it.

On the other side of the world, in Vancouver, a cricket team made up of people from India play together but they continue to lose. They need a good player. Abdul plays on the team. His brother is Hasan and moves are made to bring Hasan over to play and help the team win.

The Production. Hasan played as sweet if dim by Chanakya Mukherjee, flicks away the flies that are bothering him as he sells the chickens. He wears a bloody apron because he slaughters the chickens and also sells them at the counter.  He confides in Baba (a laid-back Huse Madhavji) that he is enamoured of Haseena (perhaps a too mature Tahirih Vejdani). Baba’s sole purpose in the play is to be someone that Hasan can complain to and confide in. He spends the play leisurely sitting in a chair in the shop, reading a newspaper and lobbing jokes and smarmy replies.

Director Philip Akin moves the characters naturally so that they don’t hold static positions: in a chair reading, behind the counter whining, etc.

 Like any accomplished cast this group negotiates the space with dexterity and ease. Director Philip Akin establishes the camaraderie of the cricket team, and also creates movement that shows them occasionally to be clumsy—tripping over their gym bags. Sam (John Chou) is the only Chinese person on the team and has a good-buddy relationship with Ram (Farid Yazdani). They have a special handshake and perhaps even a chest thump. They are young, funny and enjoy ribbing each other. Both John Chou and Farid Yazdani have a boyishness and charm. Girls and fun are their aims in life. Cricket is an afterthought but they keep showing up and trying. Love that. Abdul (a quiet but interesting performance from Gugun Deep Singh) is an accomplished player and is the brooder of the group. He feels ‘other’ and left out. He says little. His main nemesis is Doc (a tightly wound and proud Cyrus Faird).

Doc is a doctor who has lived in Vancouver for years but is keenly aware of his immigrant story. He has an unhappy past when he came to Canada and endured racism and is proud of his Zoroastrian background. Doc is a bigot. He hates Muslims of which Abdul is one. Randy (a very courtly, calming Sugith Varughese) is the captain of the team and has to keep the peace between Doc the hot-head and Abdul who is being brow-beaten. It’s to their credit and Anosh Irani that that knot in your stomach is so tight

It’s an interesting layer that writer Anosh Irani has inserted in his play—that within the immigrant group are racists who hate others in the group because they are the wrong religion. So not only does this small group of men have to contend with the racists in the city who might not want them there, but also they must contend with the racists within their culture. Eye-opening.

It’s interesting to see how Hasan comes into his own, getting more confidence because he will go to Canada to help his brother and prove worthy of Haseena. Haseena has a lovely exchange with Hasan before he goes. She is happy he is good at cricket, but she says, “I want you to want more.” Wow.  It’s also interesting to see how the team must adjust and react to Doc’s racism and how Doc has to deal with the truth of it.

Comment. Anosh Irani carefully builds his narrative so that the ending is carefully established. He does inject a small but powerful bit of information regarding Haseena that I think is not earned because it comes from nowhere,  but it sure adds more complication. I liked The Men In White a lot. We should never tire of hearing and learning from the immigrant story.

Produced by Factory Theatre.

Began: Oct. 13, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.factorytheatre.ca        

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Review: BAD JEWS

by Lynn on November 1, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Joshua Harmon

Directed by Lisa Rubin

Set and costumes by Brian Dudkiewicz

Lighting by Itai Erdal

Sound by Dmitri Marine

Cast: Ellen Denny

Jamie Elman

Jake Goldsbie

Sarah Segal-Lazar

A terrific production of a mean-spirited little play, in which the playwright wants to explore questions of assimilation, faith, religion, familial loyalty and tradition but has created odious characters to make his points, thus negating the arguments.  Ick. 

 The Story. Jonah Haber, Liam Haber and Daphna Feygenbaum have gathered for the funeral of their grandfather, Poppy. Jonah and Liam are brothers and Daphna is their first cousin. They are all crammed into Jonah’s studio apartment. When Liam arrives he has his girlfriend Melody in toe. She is blonde, a bit of a ditz but seemingly kind and obviously not Jewish. Liam is crazy about her.

The characters reveal themselves quickly. Jonah is very easy going; doesn’t assert himself; doesn’t make waves and never wants to be involved in any confrontation. Daphna is a loud motor-mouthed manipulator who ferrets out the weaknesses in people and then zeroes in and doesn’t let go of verbally beating them down. She considers herself superior to her cousins because she is studying to be a rabbi, quotes all manner of religious Judaic doctrine and feels her beliefs are pure and better than anyone in her family. Liam is studying a segment of Japanese culture. He seems the least invested in the funeral. He had not kept in touch with the family to find out how his sick grandfather was. He missed the funeral because he lost his phone while skiing. Melody apparently had a phone but that didn’t seem to occur to Liam to use it.

At issue is something their grandfather treasured and both Daphna and Liam want it.

 The Production. It’s always fascinating to see a fearless cast tackle odious characters and not flinch from illuminating these characters’ darkest corners. And so it is with the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts production of Bad Jews now at the Greenwin Theatre, in the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Brian Dudkiewicz has designed a well appointed Manhattan studio apartment for Jonah– bathroom up stage, next to a small kitchen and counter with two high chairs, then the door of the apartment at the end.  While it’s fine for one person, the studio looks cramped with Jonah in his underwear on his double-sized pull-out bed, next to which is Daphna’s blow-up mattress on the floor covered with a sheet and blanket. Also up stage left from Daphna, on the floor, is a folded single deflated mattress ready for “blowing up” when Liam arrives.

Daphna, a very confident Sarah Segal-Lazar, comes out of the bathroom wearing a t-shirt, sweat-pants and socks and begins her grinding complaining of what Jonah (Jake Goldsbie)  is wearing (his underwear); that Liam (Jamie Elman) is expected but couldn’t manage to attend his grandfather’s funeral; how she was really the only person close to her grandfather; to slights both real and imagined. It’s almost non-stop and loaded with “up speak”.

Segal-Lazar is always on the move in that apartment, either flouncing from Jonah’s bed down to her mattress across to the kitchen, or the door and back. And the hair… Her hair is long and very curly. She flips it. She gathers it several times and bunches it up as if in a tight ponytail then flips it out again. She does tie it back a few times but then lets it out. It is beyond annoying. Is this a nervous actress who doesn’t know what to do with her hands or a character making a nervous point? The reason becomes clear when Liam arrives with Melody.

Liam and Daphna can’t stand each other. As Liam, Jamie Elman has a quiet, arrogant confidence who can give Daphna as good as she can. He stares her down and quietly listens to her gushing bilge before he let’s her have it with well chosen words. (I must confess that Daphna’s second act extended rant sounds more like the playwright showing off, than an overly confident character just letting loose) Liam’s superiority is also levelled at Jonah. Again Jamie Elman displays a focused attention, yet he’s impatient and we wait for his explosion and it comes resoundingly.

For his part Jake Goldsbie as Jonah almost slumps in an effort to avoid involvement. He says little and does not want to engage. He does rouse himself in defence when Daphna tries to speak for him, saying he agrees with her over an important matter. He puts her straight, but most of the time he’s focused in watching television and tries to ignore what’s going on in his ‘invaded space.’

And then there is Melody, played by a cheerful, buoyant Ellen Denny. Melody believes everybody should get along. She seems sweet. We see why Liam might love her. But then she too reveals a less than appealing side.

Director Lisa Rubin orchestrates and stages the cast of four with ease and confidence. There are times that close proximity in an argument might revert to violence. I liked that careful manipulation of the audience and that confidence in illuminating the characters in all their ugliness. These aren’t ‘bad Jews’ as much as they are just lousy people.

Comment. Bad Jews is Joshua Harmon’s most successful play. It’s not his best. I find it’s hollow in the centre. Similarly his other plays: Significant Other and Skintight are also about superficial characters lost and whining about their lot in life with precious little wherewithal to rise up and cope. In Skintight a successful older businessman wants to marry a 20 year old stud for the sex. The stud stays around for the older man’s money. Sigh.  It might be real life on one level but it makes for wearying playwriting. Joshua Harmon’s best play is Admissions—well written, deeply thought about the thorny issues of race, ethnicity and equal opportunity in being admitted to an elite school.

In Bad Jews Harmon’s intention of exploring assimilation vs. an intense religious devotion in the younger generation is not supported because the arguments come from such obnoxious, superficial people. Liam seems to want to carry on a family tradition regarding the treasure from his grandfather without making the effort to attend his grandfather’s funeral. His decision to marry out of the faith without a second of hesitation makes one question his motives and devotion to being a Jew.

Similarly Daphna’s determination to get her grandfather’s treasure for herself is also hollow. She’s arrogant because it just covers other inadequacies. Melody is a stereotypical blonde bimbo. How offensive and lazy of the playwright.

Finally, Jonah who didn’t want to get involved is so silent and so mysterious that his true grief for the loss of his grandfather, and his gesture to remember him comes from nowhere and is not earned. Bad Jews (what a deliberately incendiary title) is a mean-spirited little play given a terrific production. Oy.

Produced by the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts and presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.

Opened: Oct. 25, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

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God, stretch limousines are uncomfortable, especially at 5:30 am. Wed. Oct. 24, 2018.

I was one of five people picked up at the hotel in Barrie, Ontario, to be taken to Pearson Airport in Toronto for the next part of the Curious Voyage–the day flight to London, England. And no I won’t tell you anything about that group to protect their identities and save them from ridicule for embarking on such an outrageous, wonderful, curious voyage.

Our driver had a sense of humour. He picked us up in the lobby saying he was there for “The Wedding Party” (no this is not the secret musical), and we should get a move on because traffic was bad (at 5:30 am???). He was joking about “The Wedding Party.”

About the limo. It’s long with a bank of leather seating across the back and a long bank of leather seating along the full side of the car. The seats are low. Your legs stretch out  and your seated body is almost at 90 degrees. If you are ‘a certain age’ and creaky or stiff-jointed sitting in this can be ‘interesting.’

On the other side of the car are glasses for drinks, decanters for liquor (empty in our case) and water and a dish of mints. We made great time and were at the airport at 6:30 am. Our flight was at 9:10 am.

Now getting out of this stretch-limo was like an hour yoga class compressed into two minutes. You (I?) have to draw up your legs and somehow swing them out of the open car door. Because the seat in the car is so low it’s like sitting on the ground so you (I) look hard for a handle, strap, lever to hold on to, rock back and forth to get momentum and then haul myself up when my feet hit the ground. Then I (you) have to make sure that all that effort doesn’t tip you the other way so that you loose your balance and fall flat on your face. I’m a Toyota Corolla person not a stretch limo person.

I had hand-luggage and no checked bags. Security was steady but slow and I got through eventually. All I wanted now was coffee and a Tim Horton’s bagel with cream cheese.

Thwarted!!! Tim Horton’s is in a section of the airport that doesn’t open until 45 minutes before flights going to the States. Sigh. I went to Starbucks for a bagel that came with two packages of cream cheese. It didn’t cost $12 like some of the sandwiches there.

Boarding was smooth but I did look at all the passengers, the flight attendants and some of the people sweeping up garbage thinking they might be involved in this Curious Voyage.

The flight was uneventful and there was no narrative on board. I watched “Paddington part 2” and it was enchanting. Ben Wishaw as the voice of Paddington! How perfect is that. Someone named “Dame Eileen Atkins” played a fortune teller. PERFECT. A dapper guy named Huge Grant played the villain. Brilliant. And Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins played the parents. Divine.

Then “The Post” about the Washington Post when they broke the story about how the government lied about Viet Name. Brilliant.

I read and discarded papers I have been keeping since 2011 (these trips come in handy for getting around to reading that stuff and tossing it).

We landed in London, 9 pm their time. Customs was the longest I have ever experienced in all my years of going to London. I did not tell the customs officer I was there for a secret voyage. He might be secretly involved. I just told him I was there to see some theatre, which was true.

One of my fellow travelers has one of those smart phones to tell us where to meet the driver.  (I don’t have a smart phone. Mine has no intelligence at all and my computer was off so I could not receive the e-mail telling me where the person was who was picking me up. Fortunately others were outside already and guided me to the driver. Just to make sure he was the one I asked to see his sign. He held up his tablet with the names of some of us and mine, “Miss Lynn.” Cryptic.

The ride to the hotel was smooth and comfortable—this was a black van. The check-in was in the basement where the place was decked out for Halloween. There was a bit of narrative that may or may not have been relaxing after a long flight and that was it for the second day. I was to be ready the next day at 1:00 pm sharp, outside the hotel, but to be there 15 minutes early, where the narrative would continue and culminate in this secret musical.

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Reminder: I’m doing a follow-up talk about Stratford and Shaw on Monday, Nov. 5 from 1 pm-3.pm at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St.

This talk will focus on both seasons and how they did, plus commenting on their plans for the future and how that worked out this year.

This is done through the U. of T. alumnae, but you don’t have to be an alumna of U. of T. Please come. It will be fun.

Details here: Anyone interested can google Canadian Perspectives Lecture Series to access registration. The Senior Alumni email address is senior.alumni@utoronto.ca. The phone number is (416) 978-0544.

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Further to the Curious Voyage produced by Talk Is Free Theatre, in Barrie, Ontario. My mysterious guide told me I would be picked up at my address in Toronto, Ont. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 12:30 pm sharp and taken to Barrie, Ontario about an hour north of Toronto.

At 12:15 pm I noticed a black pick-up truck slowly drive a bit past my duplex building and park. The driver didn’t get out of the car.

He was still there at 12:20 pm.

By 12:30 pm he had backed up slowly and parked right in front of my house. Puzzling. I went out and in clumsy sign-language ‘asked’ if he was the person picking me up. He came out of the truck. “Lynn?”

Yes, he was picking me up. I told him I saw him earlier and why didn’t he just knock on my door? He didn’t because my pick up time was 12:30 pm. He was early and punctual.

His name was/is Johnny. He wore a powder blue baseball cap with a straight brim over long black hair held in a ponytail. He was polite and gracious. He put my suitcase in the place behind the driver. I got in the front seat. He told me it was much roomier behind, like ‘business class’. I stayed in the front seat. How often am I going to be picked up for anything in a pick-up truck driven by a courtly man named Johnny? For some reason he looked familiar. I thought he might have been an actor. Nope.

The truck was neat. He was clean-shaven, wore a kind of stud in his right ear, was a fabulous driver and played classical music for the whole trip to Barrie. He offered me a bottle of water that was in the back and a candy he got recently from a Thai restaurant.

I got to the hotel within an hour of leaving my house, shook Johnny’s hand, checked in and waited for my next part of the voyage that was to begin at 2:50 pm. And that previous bit is the end of the amount of detail I’m going to tell you from now on.

While waiting in the lobby at 2:35 pm I noted two women with clipboards talking. With this kind of endeavor one looks at everybody as someone who might be involved in the ‘narrative’. One was part of the narrative.

She established the narrative of good and evil; what is good and what is evil; where is the line? What would need to happen to me to drive me to murder? Questions of morality were established. I figured this all would tie into the final event—the mysterious musical whose name I cannot speak until all the voyages are finished.

Aspects of the narrative were played out in various ‘experiences’ during that day. “What would you do if…?”…situations were posed. For instance you might be asked to break into a house. Would you? Or would you play ping-pong with a young man wearing a huge shark head mask? Would you listen with sympathy to a story of a date night gone wrong from the woman’s point of view or from the smarmy man’s point of view? Stuff like that. That could be your first day of your curious voyage. Now, aren’t you curious?

 

 

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