The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed  by Lisa Karen Cox, Maggie Huculak, Raha Javanfar, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava and Cheyenne Scott.

Direction by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava

Choreography by Orian Michaeli

Composition by Amy Nostbakken

Set, props and costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by André du Toit

Video design by Kaitlin Hickey and Lillian Ross-Milllard

Sound by James Bunton

Additional composition by Raha Javanfar, Motion and DJ L’Oqenz

Beautifully executed and realized, but for all that rage it’s three years too late.

The Story. From the program: Now You See Her follows six women through four seasons, across a nation, as they confront the forces that conspire to make them invisible. Through movement, words and music, the performers explore their options. Can they stand together against the realities that keep them apart that snuff them out? What will happen if they fail?”

The women vary from a new mother juggling the responsibilities of tending a baby and having a career; a woman with an eating disorder; an Indigenous woman; a celebrated writer of a certain age, a black entertainer and others.

The Production. As with all Quote Unquote shows that have been directed by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava the movement of the six women is vibrant, smooth, athletic and compelling. It starts in childbirth. The women lay on the floor, often writhing in pain; then they do a bridge pose—legs lift up the back as in a bridge.

Each woman speaks her own story for the most part, telling her experience. We hear the pain, disappointment and suffering in the telling.

They are united in their experiences of being ignored and thought invisible. They are glorious in their strength and joy.

There is an extended segment in which women’s accomplishments were ignored in science, the arts, history, finance, business etc. Women’s names were taken off of science experiments, thus denying them the Nobel Prize in a subject for which a man was rewarded. Names beside Nellie McClung were named off for many and various accomplishments.

There is nudity. I don’t know why. A bold singer/performer (Lisa Karen Cox)  gets out of her costume, elated at some news. She gets down to her brief undergarments and takes those off. We soon learn the reason for her elation—after 10 years of diligent searching, her husband has found a black dentist. (The singer is black). She is approached quietly from behind, at the end of the skit, by a naked woman (Amy Nostbakken) who joins her in further movement. (Did she help Lisa Karen Cox get dressed? I don’t know, I always find nudity distracting for some reason.)

Every woman is fit, buff and trim. Surely a theme is that while invisible as people, women have been considered as sexual objects, right? Then why play into that and have them in their under wear and even naked in a few cases? And I must confess the nudity had a whole different context in this show because I was sitting next to Amy Nostbakken’s father. Why the nudity?

Comment. I can appreciate that this show took three years to create, develop revise, refine and perfect. It shows in this polished show. But in that three years, the world passed them by. There have been films, documentaries, television shows and plays citing the many accomplishments of women after being ignored or passed over. Women broke codes that saved lives in the war. Women and their acumen in mathematics sent men into space. Women developed spying devices (hello Hedy Lamarr). While the movement in Now You See Her is so compelling and creates the emotional urgency of the piece, the actual story-telling is old. I know that’s churlish—Quote Unquote is such a vibrant company—but in this endeavor they missed the boat.

Co-produced by Quote Unquote Collective, Nightwood Theatre and Why Not Theatre.

Began: Oct. 16, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.



Arkady Spivak, the wildly imaginative spit-fire who is the Artistic Producer of Talk Is Free Theatre, has a wild idea. He has invited theatre-goers to pay to go on a three day trip called “The Curious Voyage.”  There are several of these mainly three day trips over the course of a few weeks. The participants don’t know each other or who is on their trip.

Day one starts in Barrie, Ontario (a city one hour north of Toronto) where the participants will enter ‘the narrative” and be guided to parts of Barrie to engage in the experience. They spend the night in a hotel.

Day two starts at the crack of dawn where the participants will be taken to Pearson Airport in Toronto to take the day flight to London, England. We land at 9 pm. After customs (where presumably we can’t tell the customs person anything about the purpose of the trip because it’s a secret) we get our stuff and are taken to a hotel in central London. I know the name of it, but can’t tell you.

Day three we are taken on a walking tour of various places in London again in the spirit of the narrative to gather information or clues about the point of the narrative. At a certain time on that day we will be lead to a site specific place in London to see a musical (don’t know the name of it as yet) that I am told is very familiar, performed by a group of Canadian and British actors engaged especially for this voyage. After that there might be some kind of festivities.

Day four, most of the folks fly home. I will stay a few more days to see more theatre.

We are given a guide to ask any questions we might have. I know the name of mine but can’t tell you in case his mother doesn’t know the shady goings on he is up to. My guide has told us to dress very warmly seeming to put the fear of God or cold into us regarding the weather in Barrie and London, Eng. I’ve been to both places and the weather is seasonal, so we are told to dress in layers.

I am told some people just want to have the one day to tour London and see the musical.

I’m doing the whole whack.

Arkady got the idea for this wild adventure when he dreamed up a site-specific production of The Music Man that took place at various locations in Barrie. We got to the locations by chartered bus and by walking. Always thinking bigger, Arkady now has added a component where we fly to a different continent to see a musical. (I think it’s something in the water he drinks….)

I will post on each days adventure being as vague as possible. I can’t write about the musical until the final trip completes its Curious Voyage, around Nov. 11.

My guide says I might have to wear a costume in Barrie (this being close to Halloween), and to bring something that would be dressy as a costume. I wonder if socks with Shakespeare’s face on them will suffice. Going to pack now. More soon, later.


Dion Johnstone
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann


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

Written by Marco Ramirez

Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Michelle Ramsey

Composer and sound designed by Thomas Ryder Payne

Fight director, Simon Don

Cast: Christef Desire

Dion Johnstone

Diego Matamoros

Alexander Thomas

Sabryn Rock

Thrilling and gut-twisting.

The Story. Jay Jackson is a black boxer jabbing his way in fights with other black boxers and winning through smarts, skill and strength. But he wants more. He wants to break the colour barrier. He wants to fight the best white boxer, the heavy-weight champion of the world who is retired. An offer is made. The terms are lousy for Jay but he takes it. He wants his picture on page one in the newspapers not page six where blacks are usually placed. He wants his place at the top of the boxing game. And he wants to win for another reason, more personal and certainly a more sobering reason. His sister Nina doesn’t want him to fight because the cost to their family is too great. “Let someone else do it,” she says.

The story of Jay Jackson, a black boxer, wanting to fight the retired heavyweight champion of the world, who is white, echoes the story of Jack Johnson who fought Jim Jeffries in 1910. The hopes and dreams of blacks rest on Jay winning. But the cost to him and his family is enormous.

The Production.  Guillermo Verdecchia has directed a production that is muscular, nuanced, detailed and simply thrilling. Thrilling!

Designer Ken MacKenzie has one side of a boxing ring upstage centre. We imagine the other three sides. Two poles, one stage left and one stage right, hold the three ropes of the ring side. Behind that are chairs in front of the back wall of the theatre. When characters are not in a scene, they sit in the chairs and watch the action. Audience members can sit on the stage at the extreme stage left and right sides of the theatre. Personally I would think that while the audience is close they get a skewered view of the action.

Jay Jackson (Dion Johnstone) and his main opponent Fish (Christef Desir) jab, punch, parry, weave, bob and engage in aggressive fighting, and they never land a punch against each other’s body. Simon Fon, the production’s gifted fight director has created/choreographed the fights of each of the six scenes that grow more and more aggressive. Both Jay and Fish stand about 10 feet away from each other, facing the audience. Each man jabs his gloved fists forward as if facing his opponent. The other man might back away, or if a punch ‘lands’ the head of the receiver snaps back suggesting contact. Dion Johnstone’s head snaps are subtle suggesting Jay Jackson could take a punch to the head and recover quickly. As Fish, Christef Desir stumbles when he receives Jackson’s hammer-fist in the head.  When Jackson gets going his punches are relentless, made all the more brutal because the audience’s imagination is doing all the work and creating the fight for real. The beauty and power of wonderful theatre.

Guillermo Verdecchia illuminates the percussive nature of playwright Marco Ramirez’s dialogue by having the boxers bang their gloves together in a trio of punches; or they punch themselves in the chest; or others clap their hands or stamp their feet in a concise formation. The rhythm is there, like a drumbeat. It’s seductive and gives warning.

Dion Johnstone plays Jay with a sheen of elegance, drive, laser focus and a determination that is breathtaking. Jay is a man with confidence and smarts on how the world works and what he needs to do to get noticed and still be true to himself.

The cast is superb. Diego Matamoros plays Max, the only white character in the play. He is Jay’s manager of sorts; he organizes the bouts. Matamoros has that harried, hunch-back look of a man on the run, trying to do right by his fighter but knowing he chances are limited. He arranges the fight with the retired white heavy-weight champion of the world but doesn’t seem to have pushed too hard for better terms. Interestingly it’s Max who is small time while it’s Jay who has the class of a champion. I am puzzled at Verdecchia’s penchant for having Matamoros squat down frequently to talk to Jay. I can’t recall if these squats are when Jay is sitting and so Max squats so as not to “look down” on Jay. Still it looked odd.

As Fish, Christef Desir is skittish, like a man who has dreams of beating the best, but not quite the experience yet. Fish has sweetness and a skill that Jay finds refreshing so even though Jay beat him in their fight, Jay hires Fish to be his sparing partner because of his determination.

Every champ needs a person to support and urge them on and for Jay that would be Wynton his trainer and corner man.  Alexander Thomas plays him as a slow walking, slow talking man who’s worked in the fight game a long time and knows a thing or two.

Perhaps Jay’s biggest opponent is his sister Nina. As played by the wonderful Sabryn Rock Nina is straight-backed and proud. There is such watchful detail in this performance. (praise the actor? The director? Both? ) At one point Nina takes off her jacket and is about to hang it on one of the ring posts, but first she carefully draws her finger along the top to check and see if it’s clean. Then she drapes her jacket over it. That kind of fastidiousness speaks such volumes about Nina.  She is trying to raise two respectable young sons but it’s difficult when your brother is a boxer revered by their black community who consider Ray their hope. They spare. They jab. In a way the last scene is the most combative with the highest stakes. That Marco Ramirez has invested the scene with a double whammy packs a punch that leaves you winded.

 Comment.  Playwright Marco Ramirez has written a gripping play of ambition, racism pride and the need for a place in the world to be respected for who you are, equally with everybody else. The play poses so many questions: If you have the ability to lift yourself and your community up from being an afterthought would you take every opportunity to do it, no matter how big the risk? If you or your family are threatened, do you walk away? Do you leave it to others to make the point? When the deal is lousy and you know you are being treated with disrespect, do you take the deal because you feel you can win and command respect?  I love the questions. What a thorny, moving, deeply imagined play. How lucky we are to see such a splendid production of it.

An aside. I was walking to the theatre, passing the large underground parking lot just off Mills Street when a gentleman of certain years, who was quickly walking out of the parking lot, asked if I knew where “The Salt and Pepper Theatre was.”

I replied, “Do you mean Soulpepper?”

“Yes” he said.

“Follow me,” I said.

I asked “How come you’re going to that theatre?” I asked because he didn’t seem familiar with the name.

“My son is directing,” he said.

I stopped in my tracks, momentarily brain-fuzzy. “Who’s your son?”

“Guillermo Verdecchia,” he said quietly, with pride.

“He’s terrific!” I said.

As we walked Mr. Verdecchia talked of the stressful drive in from Kitchener. He left at 4:30 pm and now it was 7:15 pm and he worried about parking and finding the place. But all was ok.

I told him of the show I saw written and performed by Guillermo years ago in which Guillermo told of being a young boy in public school, pronouncing his name for the teacher, and the teacher seeming to have difficulty getting his tongue around the music of his name. Guillermo contorted his face and mouth to convey the man’s difficulty. The teacher then said, “I’ll just call you Bill.”  When I heard that, I got heart-sick for that little kid and wanted to say to that ‘teacher’, “And I’ll just call you asshole.”

Mr. Verdecchia had his own story. When he came to this country he was looking for work and got a job. His boss asked his name. He said: “Raphael (sp?) Verdecchia.” The boss tried hard to pronounce “Raphael” but couldn’t get his tongue around the music of that name so he asked “Can I just call you Ralph.” And Mr. Verdecchia said sure. (I liked that the boss asked first).  So for his whole working life he was known as “Ralph” at work. But when he retired he insisted he be known as Raphael to everybody.

Then we arrived at the theatre. I shook his hand and left to get my tickets and he to meet his granddaughter.  And we both went to see a play directed by his gifted son, Guillermo,  about a black man who just wanted respect and a place in the white man’s world.

Guillermo Verdecchia just wanted to be called by his name of Guillermo. Raphael Verdecchia wanted to be called by his own name of Raphael. Jay Jackson wanted to be respected for who he was and what he accomplished. In a way all three are the same story–they were all treated as ‘other’ and they wanted to be treated equally.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Oct. 18, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 90 gripping minutes.



by Lynn on October 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Thomas Hampson, Isaiah Bell
Photo: Michael Cooper


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

Music by Rufus Wainwright

Libretto by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Peter Hinton

Conductor Johannes Debus

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Projection designed by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy

Choreography by Denise Clarke

Cast: Joel Allison

Isaiah Bell

Ambur Braid

Samuel Chan

Gregory Dahl

Josh Fralick

Thomas Glenn

Thomas Hampson

Ben Heppner

Roger Honeywell

David Leigh

John Mac Master

Karita Mattila

Anna-Sophie Neher

Madelaine Ringo-Stauble

NOTE: As with my previous opera reviews, I’m reviewing Hadrian as a piece of theatre and not commenting on the music or the singing.

 A ravishing-looking production, stylishly directed, but I wonder about the repetitive libretto.

 Background. Composer Rufus Wainwright used the novel “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Youcenar as his reference point for his opera. Hadrian was the Emperor of Rome from 117-128 CE. He was the man who built the wall in Britain (or Britannia as it was known then—very impressive is that wall when you see it up close). Hadrian was also known for the conflict with the Jews against the rise of monotheism. The information regarding the wall is absent from the opera. The business with the Jews is there as a plot point. What Wainwright and his librettist Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor are exploring here is Hadrian living as an openly gay man.

 The Story. Hadrian is mourning the death of his young lover, Antinous. He is sick with grief or with illness. There is also a mystery about how Antinous died and Hadrian wants to know.  He is visited by two spirits: Emperor Trajan and his wife, the scheming Plotina. Plotina offers Hadrian a deal: she will grant him two selected nights to relive with Antinous in exchange for Hadrian learning the truth behind Antinous’ death and that Hadrian destroys the Jews. He agrees.

Hadrian chooses the day he first met Antinous, at a hunt,  when Antinous saved Hadrian from a charging boar. We also see Hadrian and Antinous’ first night together. That affair lasted six years. The love between them is intense. This naturally pains Sabina, Hadrian’s ignored wife. She laments he never had a heart for her, but obviously has a heart for Antinous.

Court intrigue being what it is, we see how Antinous actually died by drowning in the Nile. Hadrian’s grief is profound. Plotina’s deal comes to an end as orders are sent out to destroy the Jews and Hadrian finally dies.

 The Production. Director Peter Hinton and his creative team have produced a ravishing production focusing on the homoerotic. A line of bare-cheeked men face upstage, posed, reminiscent of erotic scenes from Roman art. Choreographer, Denise Clarke has created movement and dance that serve the narrative beautifully.

A huge projection of a bust of Antinous dominates the upstage right side of the stage. This is part of Hadrian’s memorializing of his lost love. Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy’s projections create images of waves of water, stars, the heavens and others suggesting the huge size of this created world.

Bonnie Beecher’s shafts of red light subtly pour down on a mound of ‘red’ sand. Is that symbolic of blood and the depleting of life—either Hadrian’s or Antinous? Don’t know, but that would make sense.  Striking image.

The pace is languid because there is so much music to accommodate—it does not give over to quick entrances and exits. The most compelling scene is the first time Hadrian and Antinous first make love. Hadrian (a buff Thomas Hampson) in a rich robe, undone, lounges on a chaise. Antinous, (a toned Isaiah Bell) in a lighter robe, also undone, slowly approaches the chaise. Upstage are pairs of male dancers that Denise Clarke has choreographed into couplings and pairings that subtly reflect what is happening on the chaise. As the music slowly builds so does the passionate ebb and flow of Hadrian and Antinous’ body language in love making—aggressive, languid, passionate and breathless.

This is Daniel MacIvor’s first opera for which he has done the libretto.  So much of it seems repetitive: “He loves. He loves. He loves.” Or comments on the stars. But then of course his words are serving the music. Just one of the many ways that opera has its own vocabulary and way of using the libretto to accommodate the music.  But then MacIvor has Sabina (a heartbreaking Ambur Braid) comment to Hadrian that she has not been sleeping well and he would have known that “had he been near.” ) or words to that effect (because he’s been elsewhere with Antinous.) It’s a lyric that is economical, spare and so for of regret and sadness. Peter Hinton also has Sabina on the stage, standing alone, away from anyone, accentuating her isolation. Stunning effect.

So much of Hinton’s staging creates visual images that shimmer with emotion. One of the most vivid is Antinous falling off a structure into the Nile, caught by a group of men who then gently undulate the body as if it’s floating. Stunning.

Comment. I of course leave any comment on the merits of the music to others better qualified. But one has to admire Rufus Wainwright’s devotion to the art form of opera. Hadrian is his second opera and much grander than his first, Prima Donna. I’m sure there will be more.

Produced by the Canadian Opera Company

Remaining performances: Oct. 25, 27, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours.


l-rDerick Agyemang, Chelsea Russell
photo: Cesar Ghisilieri


At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest at Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Adaptation of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Adaptation and direction by Leighton Alexander Williams

Set, props and costumes by Julia Kim

Lighting by Logan Cracknell

Choreography by Christopher Clarke

Fight choreography by Phi Huynh

Cast: Derick Agyemang

Andrea Carter

Franckie Francois

Emmanuel Ofori

Demi Oliver

Alicia Richardson

Ryan Rosery

Chelsea Russell

Adrian Walters

Leighton Alexander Williams

A big, bold, sprawling mess of a play and production, and I mean that in a positive way, that explores the black experience using the Jewish experience as a framework and going further.

The Story. Judas Iscariot is on trial for betraying Jesus, his mentor and friend. His mother speaks passionately and glowingly of her devoted son, who might have had a weak moment. His lawyer tries to defend him but the impatient judge dismisses her. The obsequious prosecutor, who seems a bit shaky on the law, is on the other side. Satan and his followers arrive with their take.

The Production. A beautiful gospel hymn is sung in the dark—beautiful harmonies, but I wish I could see the choir (director Leighton Alexander Williams has his reasons for us not seeing the choir, fair enough). Then the choir disperses in the dark and the lights go up on a raised dais stage right (for me) with a barefoot man sitting in a chair head down, eyes closed, wearing a creme coloured shirt and pants. stage left. An imposing, serious judge takes his place.

I’m in the second row. A man in front of me is reading a book when the play begins. Do I tell him to put it down cause it’s rude? No. A woman directly opposite is writing constantly in the beginning of the first scene. Are you reviewing it, I wonder; I have some scribbling brethren who write all the time while the play is progressing—have you seen anything???? I want to ask her? Then the guy in front of me leans down to under his seat and brings out a ceramic coffee cup and takes a swig. AHHHH I get it. The people across the way see the title of his book. I have to wait until he puts it under his chair—“Law School for Dummies”. He is the ‘lawyer for the prosecution.’ The scribbling woman is the lawyer for the defense. The judge doesn’t like her and gives her a hard time. I stop thinking rude thoughts about a clod of an audience member who is actually in the cast.

The court is wild with zipping dialogue. Satan is called to testify. He is one striking fellah (Leighton Alexander Williams doing triple duty besides directing and adapting.) His eyes are soft and gentle, the red streaks across his forehead suggest another kind of personality characteristic—‘back off and don’t mess with me.”  He is seductive, has the most incredible body language that can strike terror in anyone and bend backwards suggesting that limbo dancing is his forte.

There is an orgy of sorts complete with sprays of white mist, rock music, drinking, fuzzy brains and debauchery. Leighton Alexander Williams’ staging is impressive because he negotiates the cast of ten around the space with ease and confidence. And his direction is bold and fearless as well. Christopher Clarke’s aggressive choreography is compelling.

Many of the cast have spent much of their time doing film and television and little theatre. Again, this is a bold effort with some making their theatrical debut.

Comment. Obsidian Theatre Company whose mandate is to tell stories of the black Diaspora has established an initiative called “Darktown” “to help develop and provide opportunities for theatre artists. Judas NOIR is part of that initiative and because the piece is part of development, I’m commenting and not really reviewing. What a great initiative. Don’t be put off by the word ‘mess’. Some desserts are called ‘mess’ and they are delicious despite the name.  I’m glad I saw Judas NOIR.

Obsidian Theatre’s Darktown presents BDB Productions:

From: Oct. 12, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.


The Royale

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

Written by Marco Ramirez

Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Michelle Ramsey

Composer and sound designed by Thomas Ryder Payne

Fight director, Simon Don

Cast: Christef Desire

Dion Johnstone

Diego Matamoros

Alexander Thomas

Sabryn Rock

Playwright Marco Ramirez has written a gripping play of ambition, racism and tenacity. The story of Jay Jackson, a black boxer, wanting to fight the retired heavyweight champion of the world, who is white, echoes the story of Jack Johnson who fought Jim Jeffries in 1910. The hopes and dreams of blacks rest on Jay winning. But the cost to him and his family is enormous.

Dion Johnstone plays Jay with a sheen of elegance, drive, laser focus and a determination that is breathtaking. The cast is superb.

Guillermo Verdecchia has directed a production that is muscular, nuanced, detailed and simply thrilling.

Full review shortly.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Oct. 18, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 90 gripping minutes.


At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace,  Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Justin Miller

Accompaniment by Steven Conway

Directed by Byron Laviolette

Design by Joseph Pagnan

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Tent by Haley Reap

Puppets by Jesse Byiers

Part revival meeting, part lecture, part gentle hectoring. Totally entertaining in slightly eye-brow-knitting way.

 We negotiate our way around the outside of Haley Reap’s tent to the ‘creamy flaps of the tent’ (Pearle’s words, not mine). Joseph Pagnan has designed the production so we pass an old typewriter, old suitcases, vintage stuff to get us into the mood. Quite effective.

We are welcomed into Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua tent by Brother Gantry who holds a basket full of ping pong balls. We take a ping pong ball from a basket on the way in. Each ball has a number and “Chautauqua” printed on it. The number corresponds to one of 10 benches. I sit on my bench at the back. Strings of lights cross the top of the tent. On the four walls of the tent are sayings that we will come to know are the backbone of Pearle’s philosophy: Speak Truth, Live Pure, Right the Wrong and Follow the Way. Simple codes of behaviour.

At show time, we hear Pearle singing a hymn outside the tent. She travels around the outside of the tent, fluttering the tent wall on my side and then makes a quiet but arresting entrance. She is in full, high makeup: dramatic eyebrows worthy of the late Marian Seldes, false eyelashes as long and curved as skateboard loops, bright red lipstick, definite shadings on the cheeks and eyelids, wearing an auburn wig of waves and curls. She wears a vintage, form-fitting WWII jacket with a ‘wings’ pin on it, over a white blouse,  a string of pearls, well fitted Capri pants and heels. The smile is disarming and yet makes us wary. The voice is a deep purr.

Pearle is fervent in her efforts to create community, assure us we are not alone and impart wisdom. Several times during the gathering or “Chautauqua”, she makes us recite together the four wise sentences/dictates of a good life. She urges us to say “You Betcha” when we agree with her and we usually do. I don’t want to know her reaction if we don’t agree.

Pearle talks of the worrying world we live it with one leader with orange hair who obviously does not subscribe to her four rules of life. Are we worried? Will we find the way? You Betcha.

She approaches various people in the audience, asks their name, chats with them respectfully, even asking if she can touch then (usually on the arm or the shoulder) and it’s all very non-threatening. People are up for the involvement. And she remembers their names as she goes back to various people for further assurance. One woman at the back volunteers to drink some kind of pure Chautauqua water that Pearle pours slowly into a glass. It has a strange light amber? colour. Do I detect a little fish that poured into the glass? The brave woman drinks a bit of it without terrible consequence. You Betcha.

The audience is trusting, accommodating and it seems on the same wavelength as Pearle regarding the world and its problems. But occasionally that purring voice and charming smile suggest a more sinister, unsettling side to her.

She picks a person to participate in a game. The prize is a crèmesicle. Who would the woman share the crèmesicle with? The woman chooses her friend. Then Pearle says since there is only one to give away (there are two, one goes to another person) Pearle asks the woman if she would eat it herself or give it to her friend (note how subtly the sharing is cut from the equation). The woman gives it to her friend. Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua makes us think about such things.

Brother Gantry (the well-turned out Steven Conway) plays the guitar and  engages with Pearle and not always in a good way. He comes under some scrutiny and sharp words when something goes wrong. Another reason to be wary and respectful of Pearle.

Pearle re-enacts a play using hand puppets that she distributes to members of the audience who will play the various characters. The script for each puppet is in the sleeve of the puppet. It takes a special impish chutzpah to give the puppet of the old mother to Ronnie Burkett, marionette master extraordinaire, who was in my audience. Mr. Burkett does a brilliant job with the puppet and the old-crone voice. Of course! You Betcha!

This is my second? Third? Chautauqua and the format is the same with perhaps some tweaks here and there. It is all scripted, even the planned malfunction of a stubborn light that flickers on and off and then goes off. Pearle is not happy about that and chastises the stage manager, the accommodating Giuseppe Condello. Pearle replaces the bulb herself and voilá there is light! You Betcha. (however in my show Pearle accidentally stepped on a light at the side of the tent and apologized to Mr. Condello who then replaced the light during the show. That was a mistake that was not planned.)

There are of course moments when Pearle, and her gifted alter ego Justin Miller, rise to the occasion and banter with the audience. The quips are good natured with just a little bit of edge occasionally. She is never insulting. It’s all directed with easy care by Byron Laviolette.

Justin Miller has written and created a character that stops us in our tracks; makes us pay attention to what she says and agree with her. She gives us a good time. And lots to think about. Does she ‘speak truth, live pure, right the wrong, and follow the way’? I think so, er, uh, “You Betcha.” And I will too.

Produced by Rebecca Ballarin and Justin Miller.

 Began: Oct. 11, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 28, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes


At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Dominique Morisseau

Based on the book, “The Temptations by Otis Williams”

Music and lyrics by The Legendary Motown Catalog           +

Directed by Des McAnuff

Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

Scenic Design by Robert Brill

Costumes by Paul Tazwell

Lighting by Howell Binkley

Sound by Steve Canyon Kennedy

Projection design by Peter Nigrini

Cast: Saint Aubyn

Derrick Baskin

Marqell Edward Clayton

James Harkness

Jeremy Hope

Jawan M Jackson

Rashidra Scott

Ephraim Sykes

Nasia Thomas

Christian Thompson

A run down memory lane of some of the greatest hits of the rhythm and blues group The Temptations with a smattering of biography. ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations is a show for those who think longingly of the music of the 60s and 70s.

 The Story. This is about the rhythm and blues juggernaut that was The Temptations, from their early days (the 1960s) in Detroit when Otis Williams and his boyhood friend Melvin Franklin formed a singing group. Williams then added Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin and after searching for a distinctive name became The Temptations.

The basic biographical points are made in the broadest strokes. They sang where they could and came to the attention of major music honcho Berry Gordy of Motown Records who signed them and they were on their way. Smokey Robinson initially wrote their hit songs. At the height they were the number one rhythm and blues group. With fame came pressure. Outside relationships were tested. The members of the group squabbled. There was drug and alcohol abuse. All this took its toll on the group and their relationships. David Ruffin was replaced. This caused further rifts in the group, until one by one they either drifted away or died.

 The Production. Director Des McAnuff has a love of the rock, rhythm and blues music of the 1960s and 70s. He has directed various shows that celebrate that music: The Who’s Tommy, (based on the Who’s 1969 rock opera) Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s rock opera) Jersey Boys (about the 60s group The Four Seasons), ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations (on its way to Broadway) and Summer (about 1970s pop star, Donna Summer, also on Broadway). Excluding Summer which I haven’t seen, McAnuff has a blueprint for how to do these shows which he has repeated with ain’t too proud The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The production is a bombardment to the eyes and ears. Robert Brill’s set is a constant movement of panels flowing in from and out to the wings or up to the flies and down to mid-air. Howell Binkley’s eye-popping lighting would not be out of place at a rock-concert, with beams and shafts of light lasering into the audience, sweeping the stage or blinking all over the space. Peter Nigrini’s projections that travel across the top of the moving set pieces, are a constant reminder of where these men started (Detroit) to the places to which they toured (Los Angeles, London, Paris, New York, back to Detroit. There are projections of notable historical events as well (the Detroit riots, the murder of Martin Luther King, etc.)  Interestingly there is almost no indication of when this took place, I assume because we are supposed to know.

And then there are the Temptations themselves with their blended harmonies, their soaring voices and the synchronized moves. Otis Williams, the ‘leader’ (a laid-back Derrick Baskin), Paul Williams (James Harkness), Melvin Franklin, (Jawan M. Jackson with his deep voice and imposing stature), Eddie Kendricks, the creator of their moves, (played by the engaging Jeremy Pope) and David Ruffin the showman with the powerful voice who never missed an opportunity to do the splits, (played by the energetic Ephraim Sykes).

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo looked at hours of videos and film of The Temptations performing to get a sense of their choreographed moves and then he created his own vocabulary for the group for this show. He started with the initial swaying, synchronized moves, referenced when it was decided to engage the female fan base by delicately outlining a woman’s body as they sang. That delicacy lasted one song. Then Trujillo’s moves became more muscular, aggressive, athletic, with fist punches and pelvis thrusts. Was he foreshadowing the moves of later singers who would ‘borrow’ the Temptation’s routines? When Detroit erupted in violence, the choreography of the group was angry and defensive. That reference to the political climate is touched on and then the group moves back into focusing on its own problems. Song after song saw choreography that became more breathless and sweat flinging. Of the whole creative team Trujillo’s shows a real imagination and creativity of how to create fresh choreography of the group, but still put them in a wider world.

For the most part, the acting is irrelevant, except for a lovely, detailed performance from Rashidra Scott as Josephine, Otis’ long suffering wife.

Comment. The show is billed as: ain’t too proud The Life and Times of The Temptations. That’s wishful thinking. Writer Dominique Morisseau is a very gifted writer but you wouldn’t know it from her paltry book for the show. She drops little dots of information really to act as a link for the songs. There is precious little character development no matter if we connect the dots. For example Otis Williams’ unhappy relationship with Josephine is handled in about three scenes—she gets pregnant and they marry; he tours and communicates by phone from the road; and when he does come home she says she’s met someone else and he’s sorry it didn’t work out! All in about three scenes.  The ‘times’ of The Temptations are given short-shrift. Aside from references to the riots in Detroit and the death of Martin Luther King we don’t know if anything in the outside world touches any of these men. There are practically no dates projected or otherwise that tell us the time frame of the Temptations trajectory. Are we supposed to know by osmosis? How about those of us who liked the music of The Temptations but focused our musical world on Broadway musicals. A little context please. I don’t blame Morisseau for this. She is adhering to the McAnuff blue-print-formula for creating this kind of musical.

As with Des McAnuff’s previous show Jersey Boys you begin to wonder if this is really a concert of The Temptations’ greatest hits—we hear: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “My Girl”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Shout,”  “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” (and of the 31 songs, some are sung by The Supremes, the Temptations’ contemporaries). But then that sketchy book gets in the way. It then becomes the monotony of, “And then we sang, and then we recorded and then we won this award, and then we found another singer”.

In sum, the singing in the show is terrific. The dancing is energetic and intoxicating even when it’s more and more aggressive. But the intensity of the efforts of all concerned to make us like the show is overwhelming and rather tedious. We are bludgeoned into submission.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Oct. 16, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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by Lynn on October 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Amaka Umeh
Photo: Dahlia Katz


At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Sarah Delappe

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Set and Lighting by Jareth Li

Costumes and movement coach, Sarah Doucet

Sound and composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Rachel Cairns

Aisha Evelyna

Ruth Goodwin

Annelise Hawrylak

Ula Jurecki

Brittany Kay

Heath V. Salazar

Haillie Seline

Amaka Umeh

Robyn Stevan

A beautiful production that realizes the cohesive connection of the players on this soccer team as well as their individuality. That team is a microcosm of the world they live in.

The Story. The Wolves is a soccer team of high school girls in Middle America. As they go through their group warm-up and stretching routine they gossip, talk about the news of the day, usually get the information wrong, inadvertently reveal secrets and confidences and regret the lapse afterwards, wonder about the new girl and how come she’s so good if she says she’s never played on a team before and they try to stare down their opponents and psych themselves up if they feel the other team is better. There are jealousies, grudges, on-going feuds and a startling event that changes them all.

The Production. Jareth Li has designed a pristine, beautiful soccer pitch of short brilliant green grass. We are naturally told not to step on it to protect it. The team in shorts, spandex etc. jersey’s with the number on the back and smart running shoes, marches out at the top of the soccer pitch, down along the stage left side then forms a circle in the middle to do their all important stretching. It warms them up and makes them flexible. Becoming familiar with the young women by their numbers and their foibles keeps the audience limber as well.

The team is lead by their imposing captain, #25, a serious, no-nonsense Rachel Cairns who later gives over to heart-breaking emotion at the end. She leads the team in the warm-up routine of twists, stretches, lunges and balancing. They are in perfect synch and one can imagine their coordinated moves in a game. This speaks volumes for the exacting staging of director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (plus movement coach Sarah Doucet).  Number 13 is the irreverent joker of the team and Heath V. Salazar plays her with an edge and daring.  She never backs down from a fight that she usually initiates. The goalie  #00 (a watchful Amaka Umeh)  has very little to say but seems to know all the secrets of every player. Her anxiety before a game makes her rush off to ‘hurl’. One of the star players is #7 who is both confident and combative as played by Aisha Evelyna. She has a secret that she doesn’t want shared and of course it slips out. The anger and hurt in Aisha Evelyna’s playing of her makes one suck air slowly. Robyn Stevan plays Soccer Mom in a small part of a mother who comes to wish the team well. This is a woman who puts on a cheerful attitude and a winning smile in the face of a traumatic event. It’s an emotionally gut-wrenching performance.

In fact that traumatic event changes everybody on that team. The body language, the awareness they have of and for each other again attests to Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s detailed, sensitive direction. The lines wiz through the air with precision as each player replies or subtly reacts. The playing is intricate and complex, like a game of soccer.

The team seems a microcosm of a world they live in; war, racism, violence, unfair competition, death, disappointment and loss. The team is multi-ethnic and the cast reflects that as well, including actors who identify as female and non-binary. They also illuminate joy, friendship, camaraderie, inclusion and compassion.

Comment. This is Sarah Delappe’s first play. Astonishing. She captures the language, short hand, swearing, idiosyncrasies, turns of phrases and awkwardness of some of these young women and the tough-minded confidence of others. Each young woman strives to be an individual and of course they are, but Delappe has us know them only by their jersey number and never by a name. I loved that irony. Delappe is challenging her audience as well as her characters. The Wolves is a terrific play given a wonderful, compelling production.

The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 12, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Tickets: (647) 341-7390 


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At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Mac Fyfe

Set and lighting by Chris Clifford

Sound by Andrew Dollar

Costume by Angela Thomas

Cast: Bob Nasmith

A remount as good as when this production first played earlier in the year.

The Story. A man reviews his life playing the tapes he recorded marking key events. And he eats bananas in the process.

The Production. This delicate, thoughtful, moving production played earlier in the year to great acclaim and has been remounted for those who missed it. Mac Fyfe directs with care and attention to detail. Time is spent watching. Krapp gets an idea. He takes a set of keys out of his pocked. He goes to his desk and opens a drawer and takes out a spool of tape to put on the tape machine. He also takes out a banana, looks at it, ponders, easily peels it, throws the peel on the ground,  then places one end of the banana in his mouth and stands there thinking. He bites down on the banana. He walks to the side of the desk sliding on the banana skin. This recounts the humiliations of everyday life that trip us up even in the simplest of things.

Bob Nasmith as Krapp, is white-faced, toothless and compulsive as he listens to his tapes documenting even the most mundane things in his earlier life.  Sometimes there is sweet regret as he recalls a lost love. Sometimes he is aghast at his pretentious younger self. It is the life of lost opportunities, emotional connections that were disconnected that weigh on him resulting in his solitary life.

Comment. Samuel Beckett’s play is so full of sly detail, hidden heartache and why Krapp is alone and forgotten. Mac Fyfe realizes all of it in his sensitive direction and Bob Nasmith’s frail but resilient Krapp illuminates one of Beckett’s towering characters. Don’t let this production pass you by.

Singing Swan Productions with the generous support of Theatre Passe Muraille and VideoCabaret presents:

Opened: Oct. 4, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 45 minutes.