The Passionate Playgoer

The top honour at this year’s Toronto Theatre Critics Awards went to Canadian Stage’s production of The Humans, which won for Best Production and Best International Play. This year’s awards honoured many different plays, with a record-breaking three ties in major productions.

This is the eight year of the TTCAs. This year’s voters were Robert Cushman, Steve Fisher, Karen Fricker, Christopher Hoile, Carly Maga, Martin Morrow, J. Kelly Nestruck, Lynn Slotkin, and Glenn Sumi.

The full list of winners is below. Congratulations!

General Theatre

Best Production of a Play

The Humans by Stephen Karam (Canadian Stage)

Best New Canadian Play

Bears by Matthew MacKenzie (Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre in association with Native Earth Performing Arts and Theatre Centre)

tied with 

Bunny by Hannah Moscovitch (Tarragon Theatre)

Best International Play

The Humans by Stephen Karam (Canadian Stage)

Best Director of a Play

Jani LauzonThe Monument by Colleen Wagner (Factory Theatre)

tied with

Erin Brubacher, Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Evalyn Parry (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille)

Best Design

Nick Blais (sets), Lindsay Dagger Junkin (costumes), Andre du Toit (lighting), and Richard Feren (music and sound), Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth (Outside the March and Company Theatre, in association with Starvox Entertainment)

Best Actor in a Play

Lovell Adams-Gray as Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson (Soulpepper Theatre)

Best Actress in a Play

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory in Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Evalyn Parry (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille)

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Maxwell Haynes as Evan Shelmerdine in The Aliens by Annie Baker (Coal Mine Theatre)

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Carolyn Fe as Precy in Calpurnia by Audrey Dwyer (Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre)

Musical Theatre

Best New Musical

Mr. Shi and his Lover by Wong Teng Chi and Njo Kong Kie (Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic/Point View Art Association)

Best Production of a Musical

Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (Musical Stage Company, presented by David Mirvish)

Best Director of a Musical

Robert McQueen, Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (Musical Stage Company, presented by David Mirvish)

Best Actress in a Musical

Laura Condlln as Alison Bechdel in Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori(Musical Stage Company, presented by David Mirvish)

tied with

Sara Farb as Medium Alison in Fun Home 

tied with

Hannah Levinson as Small Alison in Fun Home

Best Actor in a Musical

Jordan Cheng as Mr. Shi in Mr. Shi and his Lover by Wong Teng Chi and Njo Kong Kie (Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic/Point View Art Association)

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Cynthia Dale as Helen Bechdel in Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori(Musical Stage Company, presented by David Mirvish)

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Derek Kwan as ​Boursicot in Mr. Shi and his Lover by Wong Teng Chi and Njo Kong Kie (Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic/Point View Art Association)

Special Citation

Bob Nasmith, “for his untraditional, decades-long theatre career, and his spirit of adventure and enquiry, which he brings to his unforgettable stage work.”

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From the WEE Festival

At various venues in Toronto, Ont.

These are the final four shows of the WEE Festival that I saw this past weekend. They all had short runs and closed on Sunday.

Mokofina

At Small World Music Centre, 180 Shaw Street, Toronto, Ont.

Produced by LagunArte, Basque, France.

For children 9 months to 5 years.

Children are ushered into a dimly lit room with warm light emanating from the stage. Performer Kristof Hiriart is already on stage making sounds with a strange stringed instrument that rests on the side of his mouth as he taps the string. He segues into making other sounds with his mouth, speaks a kind of gibberish that almost sounds like language, and creates rhythmic sounds tapping the many and various jars, glasses, containers and jugs around him. He also uses jam jars. He dips a finger into a jar and noisily licks each finger. The children are mesmerized.

Flying Hearts

At the Wychwood Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Michelle Silagy and Lynda Hill Theatre Direct. (Toronto, Ont.)

Directed by Lynda Hill

Original music composed and performed by Cathy Nosaty

Set by Jung Hye Kim

Costumes by Jennifer Dallas

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Performers: Jessica Rung and Tylee Jones with Emma Zabloski

For children 2 years old and older.

This is a charming dance/theatre piece incorporating sounds, and textures of earth, water, air and light. The children sit on a green ‘grass’ covering around the playing area while two engaging performers (Jessica Rung and Tylee Jones) dance around the space, float soft materials, feathers, etc. in the air making patterns that captivate their young audience. Light mists of water are gently sprayed above the heads of the audience as they experience the delicate droplets of water. Other times both performers blow bubbles above the audience’s heads as the young people gently grab at the bubbles. There is a show of stars above them. Music is provided by Cathy Nosaty who weaves in and out of the action playing her original compositions on various instruments.

Before the show, on a table in the lobby, the young audience is invited to dip their hands in a bowl of magic ‘gooy sand,’ play with a feather boa, draw and drag their hands in a sculpture made of flexible, soft spokes in preparation for the show inside. Wonderful.

SSST! Secrets of a White Rabbit

At Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont,.

For children 2 to 5 years of age.

 Idea, scenography, objects, play, performed: Michael Döhnert and Melanie Florschütz (Germany)

Music by Michael Döhnert

Costumes by Adelheid Wieser

He (Michael Döhnert) wears a jacket over an undershirt and work pants with pockets. He is serious.  She (Melanie Florschütz) wears a bowler hat, a simple top with Pantaloon pants with deep pockets. She is impish and playful.

He plays the guitar and sings. He pulls a miniature ladder, chair and table out of his collection of stuff to use.  She has her hands in her pockets and they seem to be magic pockets that puff out as if something is in them.  Bits of material peek out from the pockets. She pulls one end of the material out of the right pocket and pulls the material out of the left pocket. Left, right, left the material is pulled as if both ends are connected.  Then she pulls a wonderful white cloth rabbit out of one pocket, at least it looks like material. It could also be some kind of origami structure but malleable like cloth. The rabbit is flexible, quirky and funny. He and she never talk. They communicate with looks, short hand and raised eyebrows. Again, the action is sweet, funny and imaginative.  And the kids love it.

Knock

At the Small World Music Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Magnet Theatre, South Africa

Created by Magnet Early Years Theatre Company

Directed by Jennie Reznek

Lighting by Themba Stewart

Created by the company

Designed by Asiphe Lili

For children 2 -5 years old.

From the good people who also created the wonderful show, Scoop, for infants 6 weeks old to 12 months old.

Knock  explores the creative possibilities of forest wood. The young audience sits on cushions close to the playing area. Different pieces of wood in various shapes are placed along the edge of the playing space. Four performers makes various sounds by tapping various parts of their bodies. A rhythm results. The children are invited to clap, tap and repeat the rhythm.

Rectangles of wood are given to each member of the audience who are invited to knock, bang and tap along with the performers. Petals of thin paper is thrown in the air and cascades down like disks of snow. The children are invited on stage to play with all the bits and piece of wood that were used during the show. The four performers engage directly with these wee members of the audience. One built a castle of blocks. One joined bits of wood to make a formation. Others did their own thing. When playtime was finished one of the performers asked all the kids to help clean up and they did, quietly, efficiently and with out fuss. Terrifc.

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Sondra Radvanovsky
Photo: Michael Cooper

 

 

At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Gaetano Donizetti

Libretto by Felice Romani

Conducted by Corrado Rovaris

Directed by Stephen Lawless

Set by Benoit Dugardyn

Costumes by Ingeborg Bernerth

Original lighting by Mark McCullough

Lighting by Reinhard Traub

Cast: Keri Alkema

Sondra Radvanovsky

Allyson McHardy

Christian Van Horn

Thomas Goerz

Bruce Sledge

Jonathan Johnson

The performances are glorious and almost everything else in this production is not.

NOTE: As music/opera is not my forte, I am reviewing this as a piece of theatre.

I have also pre-recorded an interview on the opera for CLASSICAL UNDERGROUND, CIUT 89.5 fm, that will be broadcast on Wed. May 23, from 6 pm to 8 pm.

 The Story.  Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) is married to Enrico (Henry VIII) but is not happy. She married Enrico three years before after he divorced Catherine of Aragon. Enrico was desperate for a son but Anna had a daughter (Elizabeth). There is intrigue in the court. She rejected Percy, her first love, to marry Enrico. Now Enrico’s eye is roving to Giovanna Seymour (Anna’s Lady-in-waiting). Matters escalate and it doesn’t end well.

The Production.  It’s that ‘thing’ some artists have that grabs even the uninitiated into an art form and you are just aware of and in wonder at the talent. And so we have Sondra Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena. She is majestic, regal, dramatic and a voice that soars. All the heartache and upheaval in Anna’s life comes out in that performance. She pierces your heart. There is nothing artificial in her acting, it comes naturally. She zeroes in on the person to whom she’s singing and she pins him /her there with a gaze. It rivets the audience as well. The rest of the cast all sing beautifully.

But then there is the production with its lumbering direction (Stephen Lawless), overbearing set (Benoit Dugardyn) and chintzy lighting (Reinhard Traub).

I come from the theatre world where the whole production and play at least give the impression of trying to be on the same page, where word and action fit (to paraphrase Hamlet, “Fit the action to the word and the word to the action.” So I was mystified to hear Anna Bolena sing about how Percy could see how furrowed her brow is in worry and Stephen Lawless just seems to ignore this in his direction. Here is Anna over on stage right and Percy waaaaay over there stage left, not looking at her at all. She’s looking at him. He’s looking elsewhere. This from a man supposedly still in love with her. What’s wrong with this picture?  So often Lawless stages characters so far away from each other it’s hard to imagine there is any relationship between them at all.

At one point Smeton, a musician secretly in love with Anna finds himself trapped in her empty bedroom. He hears people coming and must hide. He can’t exit through the door in which he entered. He frantically looks for a hidden door and finds it and exits. I’m thinking it is some kind of closet. But later he is discovered by guards and is brought back into the room via that ‘closet’ door along with at least 10 other courtiers. Very odd staging, that, not to say an odd set design.

The whole set is enclosed in movable walls that look to be 35 feet high if not higher. Above those are two tiers where people stand looking down on the proceedings. Lawless is careful in placing either one person or a whole host of courtiers always looking down on the goings on. This gives the sense that Anna and anyone else in that court is always under scrutiny. Nice touch.

But every time the location changes those wobbly, unwieldy walls have to be moved and it takes so long and the configuration is so cumbersome it’s hard to tell where we are. When the walls are arranged upstage in a curve I assume the action is outside. How else to explain the delicate dusting of snow falling from the flies. And of course Anne would have been beheaded outside where cleanup would not be that much of a concern.

Bright lighting only seems to be centre stage. So often Anna or Enrico look as if they are brightly lit because they are standing centre and everyone else is not. As one point Anna is directed to lurch in despair upstage along one wall, in shadow. Mystifying.

Ingeborg Bernerth’s costumes are rich and elegant and a welcome relief in all this gloom.

Comment. I can appreciate that opera is a different art form from theatre—the dialogue is all sung. Staging might look clumsy. But there is nothing preventing a clever, inventive director to blur the lines between opera and theatre and make the latter as encompassing as the former; where characters play to each other and not to the air. Where characters engage with each other at least to show there is a viable relationship. I’ve seen opera as lively as that. I expected better of Anna Bolena.  As for Sondra Radvanovsky—wonderful.

Produced by the Canadian Opera Company.

Opened: April 28, 2018.

Closes: May 26, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes.

www.coc.ca

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

Written by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Anita Rochon

Designed by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Original music and sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Neil Barkclay

Fiona Byrne

Rong Fu

Martin Happer

Jeff Meadows

Sarena Parmar

Sanjay Talwar

Two fine performances by Fiona Byrne and Martin Happer, but the play and the rest of the production are a disappointment.

The Story. Stage Kiss was written by American playwright, Sarah Ruhl in 2011.

It’s about two characters known only as She and He. She comes for an audition for a play about a pair of lovers. She hasn’t been working for a long time because She’s been busy with married life and motherhood. (She and her husband have a daughter who is now 15 years old. But she gets the job. When She reports for rehearsals, raring to go She learns that He has been cast as her lover in the play.  Years before She and He had been lovers in real life but it ended and we sense not too amicably.  She seems to have left without an explanation.

He has continued to work as an actor since then. He is now and in a relationship with a teacher.  So for much of the first Act they rehash old wounds and hurts, and bicker but then they have to rehearse all that kissing. But you know what happens when the play is about lovers and there is a lot of kissing to rehearse. Let the complications begin.

The Production. I think Stage Kiss is one of Sarah Ruhl’s weaker plays and this production doesn’t make up for it. Fiona Byrne as She and Martin Happer as He are the bright lights of the production, but the uneven acting of the cast and Anita Rochon’s unhelpful direction don’t help to elevate this disappointment of a production.

At first Fiona Byrne plays She as flighty with anxiety for coming in late for her audition and trying to hide it and being charming all the same. But when she realizes that He, her  former lover has also been cast, She’s of course unsettled but in control.

As He, Martin Happer is boyish, very confident, he knows the drill about acting and has a lot of background. But he’s unsettled too about She. The old wounds become tender and sore. Both Fiona Byrne and Martin Happer have a lovely chemistry. They know each other’s skin and that works a treat. There’s swagger and yet moments when you can see one or the other is wounded. These two know their way around subtlety and nuance and they can temper and vary a performance.

I found the acting of the rest of the cast to be generally problematic.  Some bellow their lines without variation. Some play for laughs that aren’t earned.

Director Anita Rochon doesn’t help in keeping a strong hand on performances.  For example, Jeff Meadows is a wonderful actor who plays Kevin, a member of the production they are rehearsing. He is directed to be so broad in some scenes that I just didn’t believe the performance. I know this man’s work. He’s better than this seemingly one noted performance.

 Comment.  Sarah Ruhl is a smart writer who delves deeply into questions about being human and sexuality, (in In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play), having a sense of place and point in The Clean House, mixing it up with history in Passion Play and  parenting and sacrifice in The Oldest Boy. But Stage Kiss is one of Sarah Ruhl’s weaker plays.  You can see what’s coming a mile off, so there are really no spoilers or surprises.

In Act I we have a situation that we can see developing in the way it does way before it’s resolved. In Act II we have a resolution that we’ve seen in other plays over the years. And  Act II just seemed so padded to me and that is startling for such an accomplished writer.

So Stage Kiss is a disappointment.

The Shaw Festival presents.

Opened: May 9, 2018.

Closes:  Sept. 1, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

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At the Tarragon Work Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Linda Griffiths with Paul Thompson

Directed by Rob Kempson

Set and costume by Jung-Hye Kim

Sound by Steven Lafond

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Cast: Kaitlyn Riordan

A disappointment in that Kaitlyn Riordan only skimmed the surface of both Maggie and Pierre.

 The Story. Maggie and Pierre was written by Linda Griffiths with Paul Thompson and was first done in 1980, when I saw it with Linda Griffiths.  It covers the time in Canada from 1974 to 1980.  The play is about Margaret Sinclair, a flower child of 22,  was charmed by, fell in love with and married Pierre Elliot Trudeau age 51, the dapper Prime Minister of Canada. They met while she was on vacation with her parents.

Politics are touched on in the play. We see Trudeau saying to the press “just watch me” when they challenge how strong-armed he’s proposing to become in the FLQ crisis. But it’s mainly the personal side of these two larger than life people.

Maggie is naive flower-child Common sense did not seem to be her forte back then and so was a media darling because she trusted them and said things she shouldn’t have and they pounced to use it. Trudeau voices concern about how young Maggie is and her naivety in dealing with the press.

There is also a reporter who acts as a narrator commenting on the goings on, especially Maggie’s naivety.

The Production. Kaitlyn Riordan plays Maggie, Pierre and the reporter. Director Rob Kempson has set this in the round. Jung-Hye Kim’s set has all manner of props important to the story—a table with a telephone on it, a drinks table, another side table with a hat– situated around the set which would ensure that Riordan plays to all sides of the space. Rob Kempson keeps the pace flowing as Riordan flits from one character to another.

Maggie is played as a flighty, giddy woman. Riordan plays her with her white blouse out of the waistband of her trousers, loose.  As Trudeau she tucks in the shirt into her pants.  As the reporter, she might wear a crumpled fedora to set him off from Trudeau.

But for all the video clips that are out there on Trudeau and Margaret for that matter, I found Riordan’s performance just skims the surface. There is more to Trudeau than just lowering the voice. He had a particular speech patter and way of speaking and he had a way of carrying himself that said, “CONFIDENCE.”. I didn’t think Riordan explored this deeply enough.

His body language was more than slouching in a chair with his feet spread.

Ok, there is always a temptation to compare performances that one has seen before. It comes with seeing a lot of theatre. I try to keep away from that trap. Performances are different. The actor brings his/her own experience to a role.

And while the late Linda Griffith’s performance was so distinctive, I just thought that with all the news reels of Trudeau speaking over his career, that Kaitlyn Riordan would have had a more varied performance as both Maggie and Trudeau.  It was good to hear the play again—Linda Griffiths had such an interesting ear as a playwright and a sharp intellect.  I thought that this production could have done better to realize that play.

 Maggie and Pierre played at the Tarragon Work Space until May 19.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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At Intergalactic Arts Studio, 180 Shaw Street, Studio 103, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Magnet Early Years Theatre Company, South Africa

Directed by Koleka Putuma

Design by Nicola Date

For infants 6 weeks old to 12 months.

Ran from May 15-17, 2018.

Scoop was enchanting and so illuminating about theatre, babies and  adults.

 In one of the rooms of the Intergalactic Arts Studio, six infants and their mothers are invited to sit in a semi-circle on cushions in a warm, comfortable tent. Four performers in white jumpsuits with a colourful pocket sit amongst the babies and mothers and interact with the infants closest to them.

One of the performers begins playing a bowl-shaped stringed instrument. The babies are transfixed. And silent with awe. After a while the four sing, make rhythmic noises, create a percussive snapping patter with wood utensils, slurping sounds, bring out small containers that make rattling sounds, dangle silk material above the infants’ heads that delicately glide over their skin, click a little light on and off around them, put coloured light in a bowl and swirl it around and sing the names of each child.

Each ‘exercise’ is long enough to engage the infant but not so long as to overstay its welcome. Knowing when to shift and move to the next moment is one of the beautiful points to this gifted company and their joyful show. At every single turn the infants are engaged, alert and present in the moment. One mother moved her infant daughter’s legs in time to the music. I wondered it the child would learn this on her own or if she got a sense of rhythm from her mother.

At the end of the show, the infants were encouraged to play with all the things that had been used in the show. And they sure did play.

I’ve seen One Thing Leads to Another geared expressly for infants, that played at our own Young People’s Theatre. At that show the babies were engaged and just enraptured. Magnet Early Years Theatre Company from South Africa has their own spin on this kind of theatre that pricks the interest of our youngest audiences and has them for life.

The run for Scoop was very short and alas is over. But the company’s next show Knock

plays at the Theatre Centre May 19-20. In that the music, noise etc. one can make with wood and other materials is explored.

Don’t miss this and the rest of the festival’s offerings.

www.weefestival.ca

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The Wee Festival continues

At various venues in Toronto, Ont.

Mots de Jeux (in French)

Vox Théâtre (Ottawa, Ont)

Written by Sarah Migneron

For children 18 months to 4 years.

Plays May 15, 16.

Three charming performers play three impish children trying to get to sleep. They are in the same bed. They toss and turn. When they wake they play word games, make up songs, engage with their young audience and hold their  attention for the whole of it. After a full day of playing the three naturally are tired and eventually go to bed to rest and be ready for the adventures for the next day.

CutOuts

 Teatro dei Piccoli Principi (Italy)

Created by Alessandro Libertini and Veronique Nah

Performed by Alessandro Libertini

For children 2 years old and up

Plays from May 15-17, all shows are sold out.

We enter the dark space and are greeted by a woman who reminds us we must only whisper.  A man in a ‘lab’ coat of sorts sits reading a newspaper, a scissors in his hand. The floor is strewn with cut out shapes of paper. There is a computer on a table at the back, a large screen centre. There are a few illuminated lamps on tables. Once we are seated the woman says, “Maestro, everybody is here.” The maestro then begins cutting out figures. In the first instance he cuts out a string of figures and unfurls them but it’s done in darkness (at least where I sit at the back) that I can’t see the figures properly.

He takes the string of figures and goes to the large screen in the centre and tacks them to it. He tacks two strings of figures to the screen at which point the screen falls backwards off the aisle holding it. Neither the Maestro nor the woman can fix it in order to prop the screen on it. So the woman stands behind it and hold it up (as best as she can) for the time the Maestro uses it. The Maestro cuts out a tin pie plate and produces a ballet dancer. He puts that on another screen on one of the tables. Ballet dancers seem to be a motif of the show. With clever technology a floating piece of material affixes itself to the figure and thus creates a ballerina in her flowing costume. Another figure is created and revolves as a dancer would. We only see half the figure—is this deliberate or a glitch? I don’t know. The Maestro slowly flips the pages of a book that is projected on a screen—these are sketches of dancers in various poses. The cut outs are clever as is the technology.

Of all the Wee Festival shows I’ve seen so far, CutOuts is the oddest. The description of the show says that the cut outs are influenced by the paper cut outs of Matisse, Picasso and  Hans Christian Anderson. News to me. I didn’t see the connection of any of these cut outs to anything related to these artists. I also thought that the pace and the substance was too sophisticated for an audience of kids who were two-years-old and up. Odd little show.

www.weefestival.ca

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

Written by August Wilson

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set and lighting by Ken MacKenzie

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Music director and sound designer, Mike Ross

Cast: Derek Boyes

Alana Bridgewater

Beau Dixon

Neville Edwards

Lovell Adams-Gray

Virgilia Griffith

Diego Matamoros

Lindsay Owen Pierre

Alex Poch-Goldin

Marcel Stewart

August Wilson’s savvy, gripping play about the African-American musician’s experience in Chicago in 1927 and it’s about the beginning of the Blues. The production is bracing.

The Story. Background.  Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was written in 1982 by Africa-American playwright, August Wilson. He had a daunting idea—to write plays that would document the African-American experience through every decade of the 20th century.

And he did it too.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in Chicago in 1927. It’s set in a recording studio and involves Ma Rainey—called the mother of the blues—her four piece band (all African-American), Irvin, her white manager and Mr. Sturdyvant, the white owner of the record company.

August Wilson usually wrote about African-Americans and how they dealt with each other, within families, relationships with other African Americans etc.  In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom that is the focus but lurking in the background, always present, is how African-American’s are treated by white men in positions of power. In this case the two white men are Irvin Ma’s agent and Sturdyvant, the record company owner.

They all wait for Ma Rainey to arrive for the recording. Sturdyvant thinks she’s being difficult on purpose. Irvin sweats that Ma isn’t there and promises to take care of everything. When Ma Rainey arrives it’s with a police officer. She was in an accident with a cab. The officer can’t believe a black woman could own a car. After many stops and starts the session gets under way but there are issues all during the session.

The Production. Ken  MacKenzie has designed a three level set. The top level is the recording control booth. On the main level there is a stand up microphone  and a piano up at the back. This is where Ma Rainey will sing and record her songs. Down one level is where the four piece band of African-American musicians will rehearse while they wait for Ma Rainey to show up.

Sturdyvant (Diego Matamoros) and Irvin (Alex Poch-Goldin) arrive first. As Sturdyvant, Diego Matamoros is impatient waiting for Ma Rainey. He has endured what he considers her demanding antics and he’s fed up. As Irvin, Alex Poch-Goldin is nervous, twitchy and almost sweating with anxiety about where she is. He is her manager but Ma Rainey is the one in control. And she’s not there and he doesn’t know what to do but he promises Sturdyvant he will “take care of it.”

The band arrives from house right on the side of the audience, then they go on stage, across the first floor of the complex then downstairs to put their stuff in lockers and prepare to rehearse. They are Toledo (Beau Dixon), Slow Drag (Neville Edwards), Levee (Lovell Adams-Gray) and Cutler (Lindsay Owen Pierre). They are all in suits and ties. Good shoes.

They banter, tease and trade good natured barbs initially. It’s noted that Levee has spent his whole pay on a flash pair of shows. Their lives and relationships slowly reveal themselves. Over the performance the allegiances will shift and change.

Levee is brash, confident and angry. He plays the trumpet and dreams of getting his own band and depends on Sturdyvant to record his songs. This is the flashiest part in the production and Lovell Adams-Gray plays Levee for all he’s worth. The smile beams, the body language is fluid and muscular. It is an impressive performance even if he starts at about level 10. There isn’t really anywhere to go after that. A bit more variation would be in order and the performance would still be impressive. I do laugh though when Adams-Gray first tries to play the trumpet—all he produces really is wind and a few hiccup sounds. He looks at the trumpet as if this miss-step is its fault. Subsequent efforts are more successful.

Toledo, the piano player, is the intellectual of the band, always reading, always putting things in perspective. He has Levee pegged as a blowhard and tries to take him down a peg or two. Beau Dixon is strapping as Toledo. He is also quietly intellectual and he is the best musician of the group. He commands the piano, playing as if the notes come naturally from his skin.

Cutler, the banjo-guitar-trombone player is the leader of the band and tries to keep the peace between the volatile Levee and the rest of the group. Lindsay Owen Pierre is all calmness and even temper as Cutler.  Slow Drag (Neville Edwards) on double bass is easy going and doesn’t really interfere. They all have opinions of each other. The dialogue zings through the air. The cast have the slang and the pacing of it down pat.

They all know how to act with their white boss and play the game. Cutler gets up off his chair whenever Sturdyvant comes in to the room; subservient as is Levee. It’s uncomfortable to watch.  That’s how they survive but a subservient smile does not mean they are.

When Ma Rainey (Alana Bridgewater) arrives, also house right along the side of the audience, she is furious and marching in with a purpose as the police (Derek Boyes), her nephew Sylvester (Marcel Stewart) and her lover Dussie Mae (a flirty Virgilia Griffith who played up to both men and women) follow her trying to keep up.

Ma Rainey is nobody’s fool. Alana Bridgewater plays her without a drop of obsequiousness. This woman is beholden to no one. She does not bow and scrape. She stares down her adversaries and nails them. She knows her worth and makes everybody know it too.

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu does achieve that sense of cohesiveness in the band, keeping the banter sharp and quick. These are guys who get by by their wits. She has some lovely touches. Sylvester, Ma’s nephew, has a stammer but she wants him to say something on her record. While he waits his turn, Marcel Stewart who plays Sylvester, squeezes his hat, turns it nervously in his hands and keeps his head down with his eyes up in a shy, insecure stance. But when he leaves he makes a point of shaking the hand of Sturdyvant (I believe). It is such a sweet, gracious moment for this shy character. The body language of he band with each other is easy and laid back; with Sturdyvant it’s formal, stiff and awkward. Tindyebwa Otu makes us watchful for a subtle reaction here and there and makes us look harder at what is happening between people. The ending leaves you winded

Comment.  And with all these relationships August Wilson paints a vivid picture of life for a black person in America in 1920s.  It’s not a simplistic idea of how the black man is kept down by the white man. It’s more complex. Wilson delves into the black person’s sense of self, his place in the word, the sense of his/her worth. His dialogue is intoxicating. He has recreated the rhythm and beat of black slang and the means of expression and it’s like listening to the tap dancing of masters.  Although I often think that August Wilson overwrote what he wanted to say in many of his plays including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.  But the play and this splendid production pack such wallop of emotion you can forgive it.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company.

Opened: May 10, 2018.

Closes: June 2, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes/

www.soulpepper.ca

 

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At the Wychwood Barnes, Toronto, Ont.

Concept and directed by Véronique Côté

Set by Erica Schmitz

Cast: Marie-Josée Bastien and Marianne Morrow

Sisters, one happy, one grumpy. The happy sister comes to visit her grumpy sister but finds the house all tied up with red string that makes entering and moving around a bit difficult.  The happy sister managers to solve this knotty problem. She has a lovely bouquet of flowers for her sister but her grumpy sister is not cheered. She’s too cold, unhappy, doesn’t want to eat and would like to eat a cloud.

The two performers are inventive and creative with their many props. Houses are cut out of slices of bread. Flowers grow by magic. The beauty of a flower is celebrated as flowers fly by on a clothes line. In her effort to cheer her sister the jolly sister asked the unhappy one what the word “sister” meant. The unhappy one said, “half a cookie.” What a wonderful image for sharing.  Loved that.

I thought that at 40 minutes the show seemed a bit too long and perhaps the slow pace might have added to that sense. Still the performers have lovely charm.

Presented by Théâtre des Confettes, Quebec.

May 15 (in English) this is the only performance that has ticket for the public.

May 16, 17 (French) Sold Out.

www.weefestival.ca

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At Wychwood Barnes, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Lindsay Goodtimes and Holly Treddenick

Directed by Monica Dottor

Set by Kelsey Carrier

Sound by Monica Dottor

Lighting by Ian Goodtimes

Costume by Tanis Sydney McArthur

Glorious!!!

This show was for wee ones from 9 months to three years old. (I just got in under the wire). It’s a contemporary circus show about two baby birds who are born at the same time, discover each other, learn to play and fly.

The children sit around a large circle outlined in material. A magical tree made of ropes is in the centre of the circle. A sturdy branch pokes out and a nest is on either side of the branch, held up by ropes.

When the show starts we see movement in the nests. Something is encased in a flexible covering and is moving and bursting to get out. When these birds to break out of their

‘eggs’ they do it to the wonderful “Flower Duet from Lakmé. The birds stretch, move and grow into the world to this incredible music. The two birds are in very colourful body suits, one red and one blue. The rise up and swing on the ropes holding the nests. They communicate with a simple “Tweet, Tweet”. Pretty soon they pull beautiful brightly coloured material out of their nests and throw them into the air to land on the floor. This is followed by long, slinky scarves and feathers. The music of Mozart and Elgar is played and there is a rousing rendition of “Rockin’ Robin” to boot.

It was directed with whimsy, wit and imagination by the always creative Monica Dottor.

What a wonderful addition Tweet Tweetwas to the Wee Festival. It only played this weekend. It was produced by Femmes du Feu. Look out for this group. They are wonderful.

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