The Passionate Playgoer

At the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Written by Minh Ly

Directed by Aaron Jan

Set and Costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound by Steph Raposo

Projection Design by Nicole Bell

Cast: Stephen Tracey

Richard Tsu

Loretta Yu

Ga Ting which means family.

It’s about an immigrant Chinese husband named Hong and wife named Mai who must come to grips with the death of their son Kevin. The couple ran a restaurant in Toronto.

Their son Kevin went to art school in Vancouver. Hong thumbed his nose at his son’s love of art urging him to find a real profession. Hong was a typical hard-nosed father, always nagging at Kevin. Mai seemed to run defense between the two.

What the parents didn’t know was that Kevin was gay and had a boyfriend named Matthew. Kevin dies and the parents have their funeral in Toronto but don’t invite Matthew because they didn’t know how close a friend he was to their son.  They invite Matthew to come to Toronto and meet after the funeral.

Over a rather awkward dinner Matthew tries to tell Kevin’s parents about their son. Hong thinks that Matthew made Kevin gay and Mai blames Hong for not loving their son enough and also blaming Matthew as well for the death.

Director Aaron Jan has realized the many memories the characters have by having many boxes with lids strewn around the stage. With every memory—a meeting, a phone-call—a character takes a box, takes the lid off, we can see that there are little lights inside to illuminate the memory and the character reaches into the box for the thing that will prompt the memory. At times the production looks a bit too fussy with all those boxes and the perfunctory staging of characters endlessly crossing the stage to change location when staying still is more dramatic.

Richard Tse is a hard-nosed Hong, stubborn, unmovable and obviously hurting. Loretta Yu as Mai is combative with her husband and stands her ground. She has spent that marriage being a referee between her husband and son and now she has to interfere on behalf of Matthew. Stephen Tracey is nicely awkward in meeting his lover’s parents but the performance tends to end up preachy and a touch pleading what with the endless lines that ask for understanding and recognition.

I can appreciate that these parents don’t want to believe their child is gay. I can appreciate that they think being gay is a choice and not biological. But writer Minh Ly just dances around and around the issue of the father denying the reality of his son’s gayness and Matthew pleading with the parents to come to grips with that reality. I thought it was a lot of wheel-spinning over tired ground. The play needs tightening and less repetition of the obvious.

Ga Ting continues at Factory Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

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The Next Stage Theatre Festival has begun its 12 day, 12 play festival at the Factory Theatre. (Jan 9-20). The heated tent is up; the hot chocolate and stronger drinks are at the ready and the folks who organize the festival and the volunteers are as helpful and charming as ever.

The shows cover a range of plays, one-person works, dance pieces and even an esoteric magic show. It’s a festival that presents new and notable artists who are stretching their theatre muscles and ours. Here’s a rundown of my first day.

Possessed

Created and performed by Diana Bang

Directed by Dawn Milman

Sarah Kim is lost and unhappy. She begins by performing various rituals that came from an ancient eastern tradition with Korean shamanism added.  She enlists the audience’s involvement to summon the gods in a particular way. Her mother committed suicide at 35 years-old and Sarah conjures the memory of her grandmother, her uncle, her great aunt (her grandmother’s older sister) and finally her mother to help her come to grips with what is bothering her. Sarah feels she must be possessed first to find her way out of her malaise.

Director Dawn Milman has written an intriguing and odd program note suggesting the play asks the following questions: “can an ancient eastern tradition translate to a modern Western context? Is there room for Korean shamanism in our modern society? Is Sarah’s lack of direction in life really due to her shutting the doors to these sacred arts? Can she make amends and heal her life? Will Sarah’s relationship with the spirits cause her to lose or gain status?”

These are all interesting questions and as I said “odd” since the play that Diana Bang has written does not actually address any of them. From what I gleaned from it Sarah is the same age as her mother when her mother committed suicide. That suicide seems to be the defining moment in Sarah’s life (not too surprising). Why did it happen? Why does Sarah conjure up the spirits of her grandmother, uncle and great aunt and her mother to guide her? She says at the end of some frantic conjuring that she can now begin her journey.

While Diana Bang is an engaging performer and the play has a kernel of an intriguing idea, more work needs to be done to clarify it. If this is Sarah’s journey why is the audience engaged by shaking a bell (we are each given gauzy material with a bell sewn into it to shake) to arouse the gods? If the whole question of the mother’s suicide is introduced at the top of the show then shouldn’t that be the focus of the play and not musings that veer off from that?  As I said, there is a kernel of an interesting idea for the play. I would like to see the play develop that kernel.

Strange and Unusual

Created by Nick Wallace and Luke Brown

Directed by Luke Brown

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Cast: Nick Wallace

Vicktoria Adam

Nick Wallace stands in front of us, relaxed, natty in a sports jacket, shirt, tie and nice slacks. He is charming, almost laid back—the better to suck us in to his world of ‘weird things’ and “how-did-he-do-that-magic?” He begins by saying that the world is run by logic and facts. I’m thinking, “well ya got that wrong.” The world is run by trickery, slight of hand, conspiracy theories, ideas that don’t make sense but work, intuition, coincidence that can’t be explained, and magic we buy into.

Wallace uses volunteers in the audience to help realize his illusions. There is a card trick that challenges a person’s common sense. There is a trick that seems to render the participant willing to be blindfolded and have stuff done to them that I won’t explain cause you might faint. There’s another trick involving Oreo cookies, milk and a well-placed something in the cookie that shouldn’t be there. Again, I won’t describe it because you might ‘loose your cookies.’

Wallace is very smooth in his magic and his languid story-telling. There is a ‘wow’ factor to his illusions and his playing with ones imagination and willingness to suspend disbelief. I just have to wonder why a magic show, accomplished though it is, is doing at this festival. And since there were too many technical difficulties on this opening night perhaps the whole endeavor should be rethought and simplified.

 

Allegra Fulton
Photo: Dahlia Katz

 

Dinner with the Duchess

Written by Nick Green

Directed by Geordie Johnson

Set and costumes by Christine Urquhart

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Cast: Allegra Fulton

David Jansen

Rosie Simon

Margaret is a virtuoso violinist who is giving her last interview to Helen, an up and coming journalist. With no fanfare, announcement or celebratory party, Margaret is retiring from performing in the orchestra where she is first violin or performing solo etc.

The interview takes place in the condo she shares with her husband David. Margaret gives Helen the tour of the condo, pointing out object d’art that she picked out and David hates. Margaret’s speeches are peppered with little darts of comments that are self-deprecating, playful and very telling as the play goes on. Helen is invited to dinner that is store bought but David will add his little touches, lemons and their zest factor heavily.

Margaret is assuming the interview will be easy and unchallenging but with questions that veer away from the usually banal, “how did you get started?” etc. We soon learn Helen has other ideas. Helen is very cool, confident and focused. She is not an easy pushover. She asks Margaret uncomfortable questions. “How did she get the nickname “The Duchess”? Margaret is startled by the question and won’t answer it. We are therefore curious about what is beneath Margaret’s charming veneer.

Geordie Johnson has directed an exquisite production that is simple and elegant. He has an eye for the arresting image—Margaret in silhouette behind gauzy curtains at the top of the production is one such image in a production full of them. The subtle touches of a character’s side-long glance at something being said speaks volumes.

Allegra Fulton fills the part of Margaret with sleek sophistication and classiness that slowly gives way to the cracks in her veneer. This is a character haunted by slights and humiliations. As David, David Jansen is a charming man who is not timid about lobbing a well placed, delicate cutting remark. We see that all is not rosy in that relationship. Rosie Simon is quietly fierce as Helen. She’s barracuda hunting a juicy story. Rumor and innuendo are her sources. Rarely does she quote another source for the truth. Helen is terrifying and Margaret doesn’t stand a chance.

Nick Green has fashioned a fascinating story of an artist obsessed with playing and making music and what she had to endure to get to the top. His dialogue is bracing. Sometimes though speeches seem to come from nowhere, especially at the end of the play, when Margaret is alone and muses on the slights and insults she endured because she was a woman in a man’s game. I think a clearer, cleaner bridge to the rest of the play would help in making those transitions smoother.

I was glad of the chance to see this accomplished cast and director with this intriguing play.

The Next Stage Theatre Festival continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

 

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David was a teacher, professor, educator, author, guest-speaker and mentor among many things to so many in the education profession.

I ‘inherited’ David as a friend because he was my close friend, Larry Swartz’s teacher, professor, mentor, PhD supervisor, writing partner and co-editor among many things. And because of who David was, he too became, in a way, my teacher, professor, mentor, co-conspirator, appreciative joke-teller etc.

His son Jay was his pride and joy. Jay is also a pure example of how love and careful parenting can create a good, caring and loving man. David’s grandchildren filled every space of his heart. He couldn’t boast enough about them and with such perception and clear-eyed knowledge of what makes a good kid. His patience for them was wonderful.

David talked quietly, deliberately, and by God he made people listen hard. I never heard him raise his voice in anger or frustration but you could tell when he became impatient with an ill-placed thought or an insensitive person—his smile would become tight, there was a stare in the eyes that spoke volumes. If he disagreed with an idea he thought was silly, the word “noooo” came out slowly. Those attuned knew to back off. Those who didn’t, well, David could dispatch a silly idea with economy and clarity. When he did that, it was a valuable lesson in so many ways.

When his good and close friend Linda Genesi-Williams had her traditional Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners with her two daughters, her sons-in-law and grandchildren, David sat at the head of the table, Larry sat over there next to Linda and I sat to David’s right. He could give a sincere compliment that would have you floating for days. He could float an irreverent remark that had you instantly doubled over laughing. He was fastidious in every single thing, from carving a turkey to wearing clothes elegantly.

Getting kids to read was one of his passions. Getting the rest of us to think harder and do better was another passion.

David had a heart-attack on Dec. 20. My friend Larry tried to tell me as gently as possible that it didn’t look good. Larry and Linda were with him the whole time. Jay flew in from Minnesota and held David’s hand to say good-bye. Linda e-mailed me on Saturday, Dec. 22, “He’s gone.”

In typical David fashion he didn’t want a funeral. There was a celebratory breakfast with the ‘regular’ group and some cousins. The table was filled with rambunctious children, sad adults wondering what they would do without him and lots of memories. Because David taught us so well, he left us with this acronym for those hard times: WWDD (What Would David Do).

Perfect.

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2018 TOOTSIE AWARDS

by Lynn on December 26, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

 

As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s winners:

PEOPLE

The Guts of a Bandit Award

Arkady Spivak, artistic producer, Daniele Bartolini, site-specific creator and director, and Mitchell Cushman, director.

For the creation of The Curious Voyage produced by Talk is Free Theatre,  that took place in Barrie, Ont. and London England over a three day stint all leading to a production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street at a site-specific building in London.

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

(Renamed from the John Harvey/Leonard McHardy Mensch Award) in honour of Jon Kaplan, the long serving senior theatre writer/reviewer/interviewer for NOW Magazine who died April 28, 2017 and showed us what class, graciousness, generosity of spirit, love of the theatre and its creators and being a mensch was all about.

Natasha Parsons, Director of Patron Services, Tarragon Theatre.

Charming, personable, gracious and goes the extra mile in everything she does. She takes care of staff and actors when they are sick. And even when I buy a ticket on line to see a show at Tarragon for a second time, she always seems to know and puts a reserved sign on my favourite seat in the theatre even though I never asked for such a favour. Classy.

The Damaged Older Daughter Award

Deborah Hay

For the most shattering performance of Goneril I have ever seen, in Lear, directed by Graham Abbey and produced by the Groundling Theatre Company.

As played by Deborah Hay, Goneril was so terrified and damaged by her bullying and demanding parent, Lear, she shook and was almost too paralyzed to speak clearly without stuttering. This was revelatory.

The Labour of Love Award

Maev Beaty

For her stunning performance in Hannah Moscovitch’s Secret Life of a Mother  at the Theatre Centre, playing herself and Hannah Moscovitch about the gut-wrenching trials and joys of motherhood: miscarrying, labour and birth.

The Incendiary Passion of a Wronged Woman Award

Virgilia Griffith

For her breathtaking performance as Billie/She/Her in Harlem Duet  by Djanet Sears at the Tarragon Theatre.

Billie is told by her husband, Othello, that he’s leaving her because he’s in love with a white woman named Mona. We know it doesn’t end well for anybody, but Virgilia Griffith’s performance sears itself into your memory.

She Rocks Award

Sabryn Rock

For her stunning, heart-breaking performance as Nina in The Royale, written by Marco Ramirez, directed by Guillermo Verdecchia and produced by Soulpepper.

When Nina was younger she took as her ideal a white, blonde woman in a magazine. She tried to straighten her hair to look like the photo. Her brother Jay saved her when her hair burned. He grew up wanting to be the first black heavyweight champion of the world to make Nina proud of being black. In Sabryn Rock’s performance we saw a woman, proud, straight-backed, wearing pristine, starched, perfectly-ironed clothes, trying hard to be better than the ideal but wanting to be invisible and not attract notice. A performance that left me limp in my seat.

Actually, She Took Us All With Her Award

Clare Coulter

For her riveting performance as Mrs. Jarrett in Caryl Churchill’s play Escaped Alone produced by Soulpepper and Necessary Angel.

Mrs. Jarrett happens upon three ladies in a backyard, drinking lemonade and invites herself in. The performance was intensely focused, compelling and full of quiet rage. Coulter was so concentrated in listening to the other characters that she made the rest of us listen hard too.

He Clarifies Every Message, Even When the Dialogue is Deliberately Obtuse Award.

R.H. Thomson

He played Marshal McLuhan in the last year of his life, in Jason Sherman’s play The Message at Tarragon Theatre.

Thomson showed both a man struggling with the loss of language when McLuhan had a stroke and a man at the top of his game as he discoursed in a stream of consciousness about his thoughts and theories about the world, technology, religion, James Joyce, and punning.

Is There Anything She Can’t Do Award.

Hannah Levinson

For her performance as Small Alison in Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel in which her character was demanding, confident and endearing and her singing of “Ring of Keys was joyous; for her agile performance as Polly Peel (age 11) in The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel at the Toronto Fringe Festival,  book by Julie Tepperman with music and lyrics by Kevin Wong; and her unsettling performance as Iris in The Nether, by Jennifer Haley, produced by Studio 180 and Coal Mine Theatre, in which she played a little girl who appeals to those fantasy tastes of men who are attracted to little girls in the nether world of the internet, yet there is an adult behind the fantasy. Each performance is true, accomplished and startling for one so young (12-years-old).

The One(s) to Watch Award

Ahmed Meree

For his gripping, shattering play Adrenaline which he performed at SummerWorks.

It’s about a Syrian refugee spending his first winter in Canada as he remembers and is haunted by those he had to leave behind. It’s a startling piece of work and Ahmed Meree’s performance left me gasping at its eloquence.

Thalia Gonzalez Kane

Her first play was The ’94 Club that played the Tarragon Extraspace.

The play was about a group of teens in high school and all the sexual pressures that brings with it. The writing was bracing and smart, the ideas were clearly detailed and the characters were distinct and totally believable. Ms Kane is now studying in Ireland. Hurry up and finish there and bring us your next play.

Leora Morris

She directed The Philosopher’s Wife by Susanna Fournier for Paradigm Productions at the AKI Studio. She’s done SummerWorks and other small scale shows here, but her theatrical vision, her finesse in handling even the most challenging work and her ability to create compelling productions are huge. She’s Canadian, was educated at Yale and does a lot of work in the States. We need her here!

Rachel Cairns

She’s played Rosencrantz in the rock version of Hamlet at the Tarragon Theatre, Maggie in Bunny by Hannah Moscovitch at the Tarragon Theatre, #25 in The Wolves at Crow’s Theatre playing the tough but vulnerable captain of the team. In every role Rachel Cairns is distinctive, creative and accomplished.

PRODUCTIONS

The Provocative and Unsettling Award

A Delicate Balance

Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company. Written by Edward Albee, directed by Diana Leblanc, starring a stellar cast.

The long carpet that flips up at the end in Astrid Janson’s set says everything about the family at the centre of the play. On the surface they are well-off, civilized and sophisticated but there are terrors lurking and the family and two friends are about to have the rug pulled out from underneath them. Diana Leblanc’s direction keeps everything delicately balanced as the family’s lives unravel, but you still hold your breath until the end.

It Grabs You By the Throat Award

Punk Rock

Written by Simon Stephens. Produced by the Howland Company. Directed by Gregory Prest.

Simon Stephens writes about the competitive world of education in a grammar school in England. Director Gregory Prest kicked it up a notch so that the confrontations, rock music and pace made you grip the seat.

The Elegant and Heart-breaking Red Dress Award

The Monument.

At the Factory Theatre, written by Colleen Wagner and stunningly, sensitively directed by Jani Lauzon starring Augusto Bitter and Tamara Podemski.

Lauzon likened the idea of women raped and murdered in war, to those Indigenous women and girls who have disappeared across Canada. In the play the man who killed and buried his victims tells the mother of one of the girls where they are buried. Jani Lauzon represented each body with a simple, beautiful red dress, hung on a hanger above the stage. Shattering and so moving.

High-flying and Adored Award

Mary Poppins

At Young People’s Theatre, directed by Thom Allison, starring Vanessa Sears as Mary Poppins.

Mr. Allison is fast becoming the director to go to when you want to illuminate the heart and soul of a show without pandering to sentiment. This was a production that reflected its audience. Mary Poppins is a no-nonsense person who puts the function back into dysfunctional when it comes to damaged families. Ms Sears was dandy.

It Left Me Breathless Award

The Runner

Produced by Human Cargo and played at Theatre Passe Muraille. Written by Christopher Morris, directed by Daniel Brooks and starring Gord Rand.

About Jacob, a paramedic with Z.A.K.A a volunteer group in Israel that collected dead Jews and bits and pieces of them for proper burial. The production was done entirely on a treadmill. Thrilling.

Terrific Enough to See It Again Award

Fun Home

 Produced by Mirvish Productions. Music by Jeanine Tesori,  book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel. Directed by Robert McQueen.

About Alison Bechdel seen at three stages of her life as she comes to grips with her sexuality and her father’s deep secret. The production was ravishing, the cast was stunning.

The Tempest

Produced by the Stratford Festival. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Antoni Cimolino. Starring Martha Henry as Prospero.

Bold, beautiful, achingly moving and so human.

Paradise Lost

Produced by the Stratford Festival. Written by Erin Shields, directed by Jackie Maxwell.

Lucy Peacock played Satan and was “divine”. Based on John Milton’s epic poem of how Satan fell from grace and was shunted to the other place and got her revenge. Erin Shields’ writing is sharp, witty, keenly observed and provocative. A mesmerizing  production.

Every Brilliant Thing.

Produced by Canadian Stage. Written by Duncan MacMillan with Johnny Donahoe, directed by Brendan Healy, starring Kristen Thomson.

A play about life, things, ideas and people that make it worth living in a production that touches the heart and makes us all think of our own list of ‘brilliant things.’

What a Magical, Merry Way to End a Theatre-going Year Award

CINDERELLA, A Merry, Magical Pantomime

Produced by Torrent Productions in the East End of Toronto, written and directed by Rob Torr and choreographed by Stephanie Graham his producing partner.

This glorious, simple, irreverent pantomime of that beloved story was a wonderful way to conclude a full year in which I saw 330 shows.

 

 

 

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At the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 1/42, 243 Coxwell Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Rob Torr

Choreographed by Stephanie Graham

Step Dance Choreography by Brittany Banks

Set by Rob Torr

Lighting by Joe Pagnan

Musical direction by Giustin MacLean

Percussion by Chris Sutherland.

Cast: Brittany Banks

Gaelan Beatty

Greg Campbell

Stuart Dowling

JJ Gerber

Erin Keaney

Ryan A Roberson

Shawn Wright

Something weird and wonderful is happening at Coxwell and Gerrard St. E;  it’s a Pantomime of Cinderella and it’s glorious.

 A Note of Explanation. Director-writer-producer Rob Torr and his equally talented choreographer-producer wife, Stephanie Graham, comprise Torrent Productions. They produce an annual holiday pantomime for their neighbourhood and community in the east end of Toronto. Mr. Torr also tears the tickets when you go into the theatre and the lovely Stephanie Graham works the box office as well. I don’t know if they also bake cookies for intermission but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Their aim is to bring the community together, to reach across generations and to do it by producing new musicals mainly in the form of these wacky pantomimes. It must be working. The place was packed with families, children, adults etc.

This is the third year they have produced a panto. My discerning friends have raved about these shows since the beginning. This is my first visit. I am so embarrassed it’s taken me so long to venture that far east to see something as wonderfully silly, beautifully done and joyous as Cinderella –A Merry Magical Pantomime. I promise this lapse will never happen again.

This is a bare-bones-cardboard-set-no-glitz-and-glittery-dazzling-stuff like “other” pantomimes you might have seen. But there is nothing chintzy about this production.  This is true to the form of panto, and for our purposes involves: a winning heroine, a dashing suitor, charming helpers, a sweet but clumsy Fairy, silly sisters who are make-up challenged and a villain to boo, loudly and often.

Rob Torr tells us the rules: turn off all those things that distract, blink, light up, ring, buzz, and take pictures; boo the villain as loudly as possible or he will complain we are wimping out on our responsibilities, stop booing on cue, answer back when instructed, and I guess, even when we aren’t.

The Story. The prince is missing. His valet, Dandini (JJ Gerber), doesn’t seem to have noticed. Dandini is going about the kingdom to announce that the prince will throw a ball in two days to pick his bride. The Villain (Villiain?) (Shawn Wright) seems to know about the disappearance and you know he’s up to no good. A charming, always smiling young man seems to have lost his memory or any idea of who he is and since he’s wearing a uniform with a lot of buttons we call him Buttons (Gaelan Beatty). The lovely and always cheerful Cinderella (Brittany Banks) is the daughter of Baron Hardup (Greg Campbell). She is relegated to drudge work as she cleans and takes care of her two step-sisters called Ivannta and Ineeda (Ineeta?) listed collectively in the program as ‘The Silly Sisters, (Stuart Dowling and Ryan A. Rogerson). There is also a direction-challenged, and language compromised Fairy (Erin Keaney) whose wand always needs charging, but she comes through when it counts.

The Production. It’s hugely entertaining, silly, joyous, clever and irreverent and engages every single person—I know I’m being bold here assuming everyone is engaged, but that’s how I see it. There are jokes, puns and double entendres so deeply inside an adult’s understanding I doubt a kid would get the risqué meaning.

Brittany Banks is so engaging and endearing as Cinderella your heart melts, and she step-dances like a demon!!! Gaelan Beatty as Buttons has a smile so bright and is so charming and accommodating that anyone would love him, even puppies. Giving them all competition in the white-teeth-smile is the agile JJ Gerber as Dandini, always at the ready to do ones bidding. (I want to know what kind of toothpaste they use!!) Greg Campbell as Baron Hardup is so non-plussed, so unflappable you feel safe that no one puts one over on him. Erin Keaney thinks fast on her sneakers as the Fairy and nothing phases her even the malaprops in her dialogue. Stuart Dowling and Ryan A. Rogerson as the Silly Sisters are so outrageous, so funny, so impish I took notes on their make-up and sartorial choices for future use. And Shawn Wright plays the Villian??? Villain?? with such gusto, such malevolent relish and mustard and ketchup you just want to boo him forever.

Rob Torr’s script is just loaded with laughs and even instructive information. Even the subtle plugs for the neighbourhood businesses are clever.  There is a skit about borrowing and lending money, in this case, 50 cents, that would impress even Bernie Madoff.

Why are some characters so deaf? You want to help them by yelling “He’s behind you!!!” and what do we get? We get a deaf character who says, “What? I can’t hear you!” People in Hamilton can hear us yell, “HE’S BEHIND YOU!!!!” and yet characters on that stage, not 10 feet away from us, can’t hear. And by the time they turn around, the person, ghost, villain, villian is gone. So frustrating.

The whole mad-cap evening ends with a rousing song involving among other things rolls of toilet paper and rubber chickens. Life is full. Be good to yourselves, see this.

Torrent Productions Presents:

Opened: Dec. 21, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 30, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours and a bit.

www.info@torrentproductions.com

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Review: PETER PAN

by Lynn on December 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by J. M. Barrie

Adapted by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer

Directed by Severn Thompson

Production designer, Amy Marie Wallace

Lighting by Ken MacKenzie

Music by Landon Doak

Choreography by Reanne Spitzer

Cast: Jocelyn Adema

Andrew Cameron

Graham Conway

Landon Doak

Matthew Finlan

Richard Lam

Lena Maripuu

Mark Pilipiak

Victor Pokinko

Fiona Sauder

Tal Shulman

Reanne Spitzer

Magic happens again as Bad Hats Theatre brings its exuberant production of Peter Pan back to the Young Centre for another year.

 Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer have done a fine job of adapting J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for the stage. It’s pared down, economical in the story-telling and goes like the wind. The book is read by an ‘adult’ (Matt Pilipiak) who provides the context. Peter Pan is still the boy who never wants to grow up; he still leads the lost boys; Wendy Darling and her brothers Michael and John still fly off on this great adventure, and Captain Hook is still bedeviled by a crocodile that ticks as it approaches because it swallowed a clock, along with Hook’s hand. Our belief in fairies is still tested by not in a way we are used too. It works a treat.

But this version doesn’t have Nana the dog taking care of them when the Darling parents go out; there’s much less exposition because we don’t really need it. We know the story, or can ‘get it’ with some hints.

Severn Thompson’s imaginative direction is masterful. The result is a production full of exuberant whimsy, energetic child’s play and buoyant singing and dancing by the cast. This is a production devoid all the paraphernalia of a big budget production and of course does not have complicated technology of wires and flying apparatus. Peter Pan (Fiona Sauder) still flies—the cast lift him up over their heads so he is parallel to the floor, he puts his arms out in a flying pose and is carried around the space, flying. Simple.

Fiona Sauder is ‘boyish-confident’ in tights, form-fitting vest, and a short hair cut with her hair flipped out and over her forehead, held in place by ‘product’ I should imaging. This Peter Pan is sweetly arrogant, curious, forthright and very sure of himself. Wendy bosses him and he doesn’t mind. There’s devilishness in Sauder’s performance.

Graham Conway plays a stodgy Mr. Darling and a scaredy-cat Captain Hook who is scared by everything it seems, but puts on a great show to appear formidable.

Many of the cast do double and triple duty. Fiona Sauder co-adapted the script and stars as Peter Pan; Reanne Spitzer also co-wrote the adaptation with Sauder, plays Tinkerbell and Mrs. Darling, and choreographed the production. Landon Doak plays Michael Darling with wide-eyed innocent and composed the wonderful, lively music.  The whole cast seems to play many instruments. Percussion is provided by the rhythmic rapping on a wood box. Others play the piano, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and bells.

The most important aspect of a show like this is the audience’s imagination. A blanket over a trunk with the three darling children sitting close to the trunk with the blanket under their chins morphs into our believing the children are in bed, ready for a story. A ball with glitter on it, tossed around from character to character, accompanied by a chirpy voice speaking mainly gibberish with a few recognizable words, becomes Tinkerbell (Reanne Spitzer is pure delight as she seriously babbles the gibberish and slides in the word or two that makes us understand the whole thought). I won’t specify how they create the crocodile; needless to say you will not look at an ordinary trunk again in the same way.

Young children are invited to sit on blankets on the floor mere inches from the action. The cast come and chat them up before the show starts and as the audience is filing in. After that the show starts and they are off in a shot. The playing is fearless, joyful and exuberant. A perfect show for the holidays.

 Soulpepper Theatre Company and Bad Hats Theatre present:

Began: Dec. 8, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 5, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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A Christmas Carol

At Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Justin Haigh from the novel by Charles Dickens

Directed by Sarah Thorpe

Costumes and props by Chelsea Driver

Musical Director, Pratik Gandhi

Cast: Jim Armstrong

Makenna Beatty

Christopher Fowler

John Fray

Tamara Freeman

Thomas Gough

Christopher Lucas

Margo MacDonald

Tiffany Martin

William Matthews

Amy Marie Wallace

Kholby Wardell

A wonderful story done beautifully.

We live in a city big enough to support various productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but one of the best productions on offer is the one playing at the historic Campbell House Museum until Dec. 22.

Campbell House dates back to the time of Charles Dickens’ and to the world of money-hungry Ebenezer Scrooge and so its old furnishings, creaky floors, and frayed carpet on the stairs lend atmosphere and a presence to the story.

It’s the Christmas Eve in London, England all those years ago that Ebenezer Scrooge learned the truth about the spirit of Christmas. Before that compassion, mercy and kind-heartedness had no place in his life. There was only money. Then he was visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley who lived as Scrooge had lived until he saw the error of his ways in death. He was now going to try and show Scrooge a better way to live. Three spirits of Christmas: past, present and future) would visit him with truths and visions. Would it change him? If you don’t know I assume you’ve been in a cave for about 175 years.

Writer Justin Haigh has written an eloquent adaptation of the Dickens classic, tightening the story in places, condensing scenes without harm to the tone and atmosphere of the piece.

Director Sarah Thorpe is such a sensitive, creative director who uses the gift of setting the story in Campbell House Museum to its full advantage. The audience gathers in a room in the basement of the building, just opposite from the kitchen. A man in clothes of Dickens’s time: pants, shirt, vest and fingerless gloves works diligently at a desk, writing in a book. He is cold and constantly rubs his arms and hands to keep warm. He puts on his scarf and then his coat to continue. He is Bob Cratchit (played beautifully by William Matthews as a well-eaning, anxious, kind man).

Ebenezer Scrooge (Thomas Gough) arrives quickly and smartly. He is dressed in a well tailored black frock coat and black pants. He too begins writing at his desk but keeps eyeing Cratchit who would love to add another piece of coal to the fire. If Scrooge is anything, he is irritable. He doesn’t express joy, or happiness or kindness. He is grumpy to all and begrudges people celebrating Christmas. But he gets his awakening when Jacob Marley (Christopher Fowler) arrives and tells him what to expect. Fowler arrives slowly from the back of the room and in a low, soft voice gives us the details. His face is haunted white.  He walks and moves slowly. He wears a long chain looped around his neck. This is his penance to bear the chains until he can be set free. He is our guide and leads us from room to room at a leisurely pace. With an arm half bent up, the back of his hand facing us, his eyes widen as he looks at us and then flutters three fingers in the air ever so subtly indicating us to follow him.

Up and down the stairs, into rooms that are well appointed or scarcely furnished but with atmosphere. Director Sarah Thorpe has set each scene in each room with economy, theatricality and clarity. We are never confused as to where we are and how important the scene is and what is conveying.

It is heart-breaking to see what Scrooge gave up for loving money full time. But Thomas Gough as Scrooge knows too what he gave up. He goes from an irritated, irascible man ready to foreclose on people’s houses over Christmas with nary a backward look,  to a soften man, tempered and able to find joy again, when he comes face to face with his fate.

The whole cast is exemplary as is the production. If you have never been in the Campbell House Museum, this is a perfect chance to put that right. It’s magical and so is this production.

The Three Ships Collective with support from Soup Can Theatre, presents:

Opened:  Dec. 13, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 75-90 minutes

www.SoupCanTheatre.com

 

A Very Leila Christmas

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace.

Created and performed by Leila

Directed by Leila’s Mother

Original set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Sound by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski

Leila is a force to be reckoned with. She is a Persian performer, singer, comedienne, actress, self-promoter and gracious host. This is her first Christmas and she has thrown her heart and soul into celebrating it, that is when she is not working at the Call Centre for Rogers.

She wanted to impress a co-worker and so invited them all to her small basement apartment she shares with her parents. She took the Rogers job to make extra money. What she lacks in resources she makes up for with garish taste. She is ably helped by designer Joe Pagnan who knows how to make ‘garish’ into a colourful room with style.

There is a big tree with some lights but not in any way decorated. She uses her beguiling charm to encourage us to take ornaments from various boxes that are passed along the rows of the audience. Leila personally hands me a paper menorah with candles on a backdrop in the shape of a Star of David and the words “Happy Hanukkah” on it. Leila is an equal opportunity celebrant of any holiday. We were then expected to go to the tree and place our decoration on it.

Leila’s ensembles are always colourful and eye-popping. This one is red. The pants are form-fitting and have sparkly bits on it. She wears a Christmas sweater of sorts and a long flowing head covering that is wrapped around her neck loosely just under her full beard (!!). It’s been said that actor Izad Etimadi is her alter-ego but Leila’s personality is so big that there is only room for Leila to be in our presence and not she and Izad.

As this is Leila’s first Christmas she is a bit hazy on what happens. She does believe there is a Santa Claus because she has seen him twice, once at a parade in his name. He’s got a parade named after him! They don’t do that if the guy doesn’t exist.

And she knows he brings presents if you are nice. Leila created her own “12 Days of Christmas” of what she wanted, starting with a Gucci bag and escalating from there. I won’t tell you what else because that would spoil the wit and humour of it.

Leila engages the audience with good humour, a wicked wit, charm and generosity. She flirts with the men in the audience and not in a pushy way. She even gets a bit political—how can she not, she’s Persian and that carries with it heavy politics. But Leila knows how to mention things that bother her without belaboring the subject or hectoring the audience. Perhaps it’s the bribe of little bags of cookies she gave all of us.

A Very Leila Christmas is a wonderful romp of entertainment by a most charming, extroverted dazzler named Leila. The run is very short (only three days). It ends on Sunday Dec. 16, 2018. Too bad her alter-ego Izad Etimadi can’t get in the room to see it too (her personality is too big for both of them)—he would love it.

Theatre Passe Muraille and Bad Girl Leila Present:

Began. Dec. 14, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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Review: REVERSIBLE

by Lynn on December 13, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre (Formerly the Panasonic Theatre), Toronto, Ont.

Directed, written and choreographed by Gypsy Snider

Cast: Maria Del Mar Reyes

Vincent Jutras

Jérémi Lévesque

Natasha Patterson

Hugo Ragetly

Émilie Silliau

Julien Silliau

Emi Vauthey

Reversible is absolutely divine. The glorious circus troupe, The Seven Fingers, takes circus and pares it down to its breathtaking essence with a loving narrative of memory, family and connection.

 For Reversible the newest show from The Seven Fingers, director-writer-and-choreographer Gypsy Snider (a name you can tip your hat to) asked her troupe of eight performers to delve into their families’ past and come up with a narrative regarding a character or characters in their lives.

As the characters flip, glide, somersault, juggle, crack whips, unfurl fans with flair, scurry up ropes, poles and silks and hang laundry, to name few, they meet the love of their lives, fall in love, run away from home to be with their ‘own one’ and they do it with a sense of wistfulness.

At the beginning each performer talks into a microphone and gives snippets of the information they learned about their family. One performer (Maria Del Mar Reyes) does it in Spanish. Another (Emi Vauthey) tells us of her Japanese grandmother who fell in love with a Swiss man and left home to follow him to Switzerland where they married and remained happy for the rest of their lives.  Each performer carries that character with them in their routines.

Every circus has jugglers. We ohhhh and awww when they juggle multiples of something that are on fire, or are sharp and dangerous. The Seven Fingers takes juggling and every other kind of circus activity to a different level.  When Natasha Patterson juggles her red, malleable balls it’s as if they are possessed or have a spirit and personality of their own. She not only tosses them in the air in ever increasingly difficult patterns, she also uses the walls of the set as an added aid, thus making us look at juggling in a different light.

Walking up a pole is big in circuses these days. Again, The Seven Fingers troupe takes this to another level. Julien Silliau and his wife Émilie Silliau climb the pole, balance on each other and flip out in death defying patters. One trick shows they are head and shoulders above any other circus. Julien climbs up the pole, his arms are straight out holding on to the pole as he rises up, fist over fist. Émilie stands on one of his arms and as his arms rise up the pole, she steps on his arms as if climbing stairs, balanced, poised, effortless. Astonishing.

The Seven Fingers is a decidedly low tech troupe. Glitz, glitter, dazzling projections, neon costumes and all the flashy stuff of others is not for them. Their costumes are comfortable and form-fitting for the women and loose and baggy pants etc. for the men. Walls factor heavily in this show and Gypsy Snider’s vision for it. The movable walls are made of grungy looking plywood that someone might have taken off a curb pile. In each wall is a door, a window with simple curtains and perhaps a small ‘animal door’ at the bottom. Snider has choreographed a pattern of quick entrances and exits through each door, a flip through windows and even a gasp of a scene when one performer on the floor bends forward so completely she is then easily pulled backwards through the ‘animal door’ at the bottom of the wall. You will not look at a baseball cap in the same way because of the way this troupe juggles, flips and tosses them around the set and over the walls.

Cirque de Soleil?  Feh!!!! The Seven Fingers is the bomb! It’s a circus troupe, like no other and performs with such a beating heart and such whimsy in its theatrics it leaves its audience dazzled as well as moved. Who knew that putting up laundry would be such a moving image? Who knew that creating heaven with smoke and billowing sheets could be so captivating?

You must see this. It’s a gift, no matter the season.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Dec. 12, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 6, 2018.

Running time: 90 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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At the AKI Studio in the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas S. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by Leora Morris

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Christopher Ross-Ewart

Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Susanna Fournier

Danny Ghantous

Chala Hunter

This is a gripping story of a Philosopher who was exiled because he was an atheist, his mad wife who he chained up like a wild dog and the dog tamer he hired to tame her. There also is the dog tamer’s brother. A play and production dense with meaning, historical implication and compelling theatre. 

The Story. The Philosopher’s Wife is the first part of Susanna Fournier’s mammoth The Empire Trilogy that covers 500 years of an imagined empire.

The Philosopher’s wife is mad and dangerous so he chains her up as he would one of his wild dogs. He needs a dog trainer to tame his wife and so summons one. Thomas arrives with his quiet sister Tereza. The Philosopher didn’t expect Thomas to bring anyone with him, let alone his sister. Then the reality becomes clear. Tereza is the dog trainer, literate and accomplished. Thomas is her illiterate brother. Women are not allowed to have such jobs at that time and so Tereza is careful to assume a subservient attitude until the Philosopher realizes she is the trainer.

Tereza goes about taming ‘the wife’. She is wild, dangerous and growls instead of speaks. It will be a challenging effort to make ‘the wife’ civilized.

The Production. The production is stunning in its simplicity and all consuming atmosphere. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a large raised black platform that is the playing space. Outlines of rivers, terrain and areas of the Philosopher’s domain are etched or indicated on the playing space. The audience sits around the space. Lights are around the inside of the space. Kaitlin Hickey’s moody lighting also pours down but is evocative of the dark, sinister time of the play. Alexandra Lord’s costumes are rustic for Thomas (Danny Ghantous), Tereza (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), and the Philosopher’s wife (Chala Hunter) initially. The Philosopher’s (Susanna Fournier) clothes are befitting a man of learning and money—stylish, well tailored and maintained.

Because the actor originally cast as the Philosopher left the production a few days before the opening, playwright Susanna Fournier took over the part. The original actor is 6’1”. Fournier is diminutive by comparison. No matter.  By force of her will and our willingness to suspend disbelief we believe Susanna Fournier is a formidable, thoughtful, keenly reasoned Philosopher. Aviva Armour-Ostroff as Tereza is a force to be reckoned with. Tereza might have initially stood behind her brother, head bowed and subservient, but when it’s revealed that Tereza is the dog tamer Armour-Ostroff looks anyone in the eye and stares them down, be they imposing Philosopher or his viciously growling, chained up mad wife. Armour-Ostroff firmly wrestles the Wife to the ground and quietly, firmly says “Ok. Ok. Ok.” without a shred of sentimentality. Armour-Ostroff is ably matched by Chala Hunter as the wife, fearless, frightening, and eventually human. Danny Ghantous as Thomas brings out how lost Thomas is. He is sick, an opium eater for various physical ailments and frightened when his sister isn’t there to help and protect him.

Guiding this compelling production is director Leora Morris. The few times she has directed here (she works in Atlanta, Georgia) you are keenly aware of how gifted a director she is. She has put such a  stamp on this production of The Philosopher’s Wife. With Christopher Ross-Ewart’s almost constant rumbling soundscape and the fine use of the moody lighting, Leora Morris has created a world with turmoil just under the surface. At one point the Philosopher’s wife escapes and runs, gasping. The lights blink around the inside of the raised platform while the wife gasps for breath as she runs.  It creates an eerie sound in the gloom. So many images are so evocative.

Political intrigue is everywhere in The Philosopher’s Wife.  This is a world divided. Tereza and her brother are from the south. The Philosopher and is Wife are from the North. The Philosopher has written a manifesto on Atheism which would have been forbidden. He is waiting for the king who exiled him to die and then he can publish it. It’s a world on the edge of upheaval. All this comes out in this bracing production thanks to Leora Morris’ direction.

On a quibbling note, it does seem as if the play could have ended a few times. Perhaps some tightening in the writing is in order.

Comment.  Playwright Susanna Fournier has conjured a mammoth trilogy of plays about empire, history, mythologies, the nature of power and how various systems have bound us, mainly women.

One thinks of plays where women are tamed as if they are wild animals. The taming of a falcon is the metaphor used in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio tries to tame Katherine of her ill temper. Here Fournier has imagined the Philosopher’s wife as a mad dog to be tamed. One also looks at a man who would chain her and think she needed taming. Lots to think about as we wait for the next two installments of The Empire Trilogy.

 Paradigm Productions presents:

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.empiretrilogy.com

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Shorter reviews:

The Wonder Pageant

 At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Kayla Lorette and Ron Pederson

Lighting by Mark Andrada

Costumes by Sim Suzer

Set by Anna Treusch

Cast: Matt Baram

Jan Caruana

Kayla Lorette

Waylen Miki

Paloma Nuñez

Ron Pederson

Kris Siddiqi

Full disclosure: Improv is not one of my favourite forms of theatre. However, when it is done as well as this group of wildly gifted improv comedians then everything is right with the world.

The company of six (with their talented accompanist, Waylen Miki) is ready to load us with holiday cheer. They are dressed in appropriately cheesy Christmas sweaters with one person (Matt Baram) sporting a festive Hannukah version complete with menorah and the words: “Let’s Get Lit.”

Co-creator Ron Pederson tells us the rules: there are none. They have no idea what they will be doing or to whom they will be doing it. It’s obvious they have worked together before because there is a rapport, a short-hand and a keen knowledge of how to riff off each other to create the best comedy sketch. They are quick, smart, inventive and work as a cohesive unit with no one trying to out do the other.

The audience is encouraged to suggest words, subjects etc. for the company to use for their skits. The woman next to me was partial to the words: “sex”, “cocaine” and “booze.” (I want to know what she was smoking before she got to the theatre, but I digress).

There were skits about fidelity, relationships, love, faking singing Christmas songs and any number of things that pop up on various nights.

Brave Jan Caruana ventured into the audience to zero in on an unsuspecting person for inspiration. By talking to that person and getting information about their lives, Caruana and the rest of the troupe would fashion a skit. Caruana approached a woman opposite me on the aisle. She said, “Hi, what’s your name?” “Karen” came the answer. Caruana continued. “And what do you do?” (I subtly smiled and shook my head, thinking: “Oh Jan Caruana, you know not what you do…”) Karen said, “You don’t want to know what I do.” Caruana couldn’t turn back now. “Yes, I do.” Karen said, “I’m a theatre critic for the Toronto Star.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that the look that flashed over Jan Caruana’s face was terror, or even a hint of gas, in any case the revelation that Jan Caruana had approached Karen Fricker of the Toronto Star resulted in the room erupting in laughter—always music to a comedienne’s ears. Caruana gently learned enough about Fricker for her and her colleagues to create a funny and memorable skit. It was all done with wit, consideration, respect and humour.

The evening goes like the wind. Skits invariably end on a high note, just before they over stay their welcome. Perhaps there is a secret code the cast uses to convey the end a skit, but I couldn’t see it. Needless to say Connor Low, the troupe’s stage manager knew instinctively when to snap the lights out for full effect.

The holidays are upon us. It can be a stressful time. The Coal Mine Theatre has the perfect solution to relieve that stress and give you great cheer. It’s called The Wonder Pageant.

The Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 23, 2018.

Running time: 75 minutes.

www.coalminetheatre.com

 

No Clowns Allowed

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

Written by Bri Proke

Directed by Katrina Darychuk

Designed by Bri Proke and Imogen Wilson

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Sound by Miss Langley

Cast: Emmelia Gordon

Xavier Lopez

Bri Proke writes about death in a wildly imaginative way. No Clowns Allowed is her first play. I look forward to more.

Death is not really final in Bri Proke’s intriguing play No Clowns Allowed. For example 18-year-old Emile (Xavier Lopez) is preparing for his birthday by decorating his tombstone with streamers, ribbons and a sign that says “Happy Birthday.”  His grave-mate, Sheila (Emmelia Gordon), is not impressed. Her grave is next to Emile’s. His space is neat. Hers is strewn with her empty beer cans. Even in death she drinks. Sheila is one unhappy dead person.

There are hints that both Emile and Sheila committed suicide but it’s deliberately not clear. Sheila was unhappy in her marriage. Her husband ran a bowling alley and spent more time there than at home with her. She drank to ease her depression at the situation. She was angry, perhaps vulgar and now that she was dead she didn’t think her husband thought of her at all. He certainly didn’t come and visit the grave. But even in death she was unhappy. There is a way of solving that. A radio station for the dead offers three pills taken over time that will erase all memory of the life before the dearly departed arrived at their grave site. Sheila is on that road. Emile tries to reason her out of doing it.

Director Katrina Darychuk has directed the production with a sure hand that never lets the emotions of the characters run away with them. She keeps a fine balance with both Emmelia Gordon as Sheila and Xavier Lopez as Emile either joke with each other or spar. The stakes are high. Emile wants Sheila to stay and keep him company, but he also knows that more ‘life’ in death can be rejuvenating.

Emmelia Gordon as Sheila is hard-edged, irritated when she drinks and when she doesn’t. She views Emile as an annoyance. She will defend her space as long as she can. She has a dark sense of humour and an anger to go with it. As Emile, Xavier Lopez is eager to please, wiry, boyish and has a delicate charm that is endearing.

Bri Proke’s play has a quirky, intriguing story. Her dialogue zips along and she has a neat turn of praise. No Clowns Allowed might take place in a graveyard with two wandering ghosts at odds with each other and the world they have departed, but make no mistake, this play is about challenging, difficult, bracing life in all its prickly, shining glory.

Blood Pact Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 16, 2018.

 Running Time: 1 hour

www.theassemblytheatre.com

 

If on a Christmas Night… (Se una notte a Natale)

 At the Columbus Centre 901 Lawrence Ave, W, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Daniele Bartolini

Production designs and interactive environments by Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti

Costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Cast: Franco Berti

Danya Buonastella

Rory de Brouwer

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Raylene Turner

Daniele Bartolini

Heart-bursting, joyful, collaborative, wonderfully immersive, beautifully produced.

Daniele Bartolini, writer-director-theatre creator extraordinaire, is at it again. Not content to rest on his laurels by creating segments of three fascinating days of immersive street theatre in Barrie, Ont. and London, England as part of the Curious Voyage, his latest effort is If on a Christmas Night… that is interactive and immersive, that celebrates Christmas, family, community and Italian-Canadian culture. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas or be Italian to appreciate this wonderful embracing show.

The 30 or so audience members gathered in a large room in the Columbus Centre. We were shown a home movie of an Italian family that was newly arrived in Canada and about to celebrate Christmas. They were staying with an uncle, but they missed their own decorations that were locked in a trunk with their luggage. This set up a sense of longing but also opened us up to celebrate the season.

In a quick thrice the six actors of the troupe transformed that one big room into several smaller rooms using room dividers, doors, flats, curtains, tiles and chalk boards. Each room suggested a room in a house, full of mementos, photographs and old tablecloths.  The whole environment was designed by the wondrously inventive Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti. They create a whole world with such subtle detail your jaw drops.

Our large group was divided into smaller groups of about four or five people. We went from room to room with our group to watch and be involved in small scenes. In one room a young woman (Danya Buonastella) told us in great detail, sometimes tearfully, of her family history of escape from Italy and elsewhere, death, sacrifice, love and finally salvation in Canada. One wanted to do her the courtesy of remembering all the names of who was related to whom and where they all came from. It wasn’t necessary of course; listening hard and appreciating the story was all that was needed.

We found ourselves in a kitchen with chalk boards for walls with a large wood table, the top of which was covered in flour. A round of dough was in the middle. A man (Franco Berti) communicated with us silently—he didn’t speak—he drew on the chalk board that he was an artist. He flattened the dough, smoothed it out to a thin round. Then he carefully flipped it into the air and expanded it to large pizza size as he tossed it. Masterful. He drew pictures in the flour on the table. His need for art was touching. His striving for it was as well. Of course cooking beautiful food is an art too. The man let us see that truth.

Perhaps the most wildly imagined segment involved Rory de Brouwer. In a gush of words he talked intensely about “time” and its importance; how he spent it, reveled in it, used it and found peace in contemplating it. He was in a room full of books and papers to occupy his time. It was the bathroom and I’m not telling you what he was doing there.

Perhaps my favourite room was a dining room with a round table covered in an old, cherished tablecloth. There was a box on the table and in it were questions we were to ask each other to get to know each other. I knew Derrick. Carmen and Lucy were strangers. We had questions such as: “What is your first memory of Christmas?” “Who will you miss this Christmas?” After a while we didn’t pick a question from the box because we were too busy talking and asking each other questions from our curiosity. Wonderful.

The last scene was in one of the rooms and the whole group gathered and sat in chairs arranged around the room. Drinks and various cookies were brought out. We each were given a glass and had either wine, juice or water. We were each told to clink glasses with out neighbours to our left and right, looking them straight in the eye and toasting them. We did this for everybody in the circle. Then we were invited to partake of the sweets.

Daniele Bartolini created this show to connect to and celebrate his Italian roots and his new Canadian community. He’s been here for six years. It is specifically about Italians, new Canadians, Christmas and celebrating. As is true of every story that is specific in its focus the rest of us who are not Italian and don’t celebrate Christmas will find resonance in our own lives that is comparable. It’s about community, celebration, embracing the lives of others, and connecting to strangers who become friends.

This is a wonderful show.

Presented by Villa Charities and the Columbus Centre, and created by DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT)

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 23, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/if-on-a-christmas-night-se-una-notte-a-natale-tickets

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