The Passionate Playgoer

Review: BUFFOON

by Lynn on November 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Richard Rose

Costume by Kathleen Johnston

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Anand Rajaram

The Story. Felix is in prison. He gives his story about who he is; how he was born into the circus; how his parents were trapeze artists and what finally lead him to this place. Gripping.

 The Production. Master performer Anand Rajaram makes you work harder. If you see a show entitled Buffoon you look up the many and various definitions of the word. It could be a person whose behaviour and antics are silly and make us laugh. It could be a clown in a circus. It could be a person so emotionally needy they have to show off to get attention. It could be a person laughing on the outside and emotionally tortured on the inside.  When you see Rajaram play Felix in Buffoon you realize all these definitions are apt and don’t even come close to explain what is going on in this deeply layered, unsettling character.

The stage is bare except for a metal chair centre stage. (Strangely there is no set design credit.)  There is a florescent light high up on the back wall. There is a doorway stage right.

Felix (Anand Rajaram) enters through the door. His face is covered in white as per clown make-up. He says its chalk. Costume designer Kathleen Johnston has dressed him in a drab prison jump suit. Felix is awkward, perhaps shy, perhaps fearful. Anand Rajaram as Felix gets our attention immediately. He has the facial make-up of a clown but this is no laughing matter (regardless of the initial titters from a few in the audience. They get the message soon enough).

He was born in the circus. His parents were trapeze artists.  His mother was The Flying Olga, an imperious, glamourous, cigarette-smoking mystery. His father Frank was her partner, catching her as they did their routine high above the audience. Felix was an inconvenience to his mother. She never loved him as a mother should or would. His father was not much better but Felix loved him. ‘Smile the ticket taker brought him up in a sense, gave him books to read. “Moby Dick” was the first one.

Felix observed his parents’ arguments on the act, his mother’s infidelity with another trapeze artist, his father’s devastating capitulation and how Felix found love and his own disappointment.

Rajaram plays each character and they are all clearly, economically defined in Rajaram’s masterful performance. As Olga, Rajaram sits sideways in the chair, his hand delicately holding a cigarette that is sucked on as if it’s a breath of life. As his father Frank, Rajaram stands tall arms and fists clenched to bulging muscle. Felix and his love Aja are equally beautifully defined: she with a flick of her (imaginary) hair, he with wide-eyed wonder that she loves him. They go back and forth in conversation that is always clear. Rajaram goes from character to character with a turn of his body, a different position in the chair, a flick of the hand. Masterful.

The story fluctuates from Felix’s past to his present in prison. When we are back in prison, Jason Hand’s lighting changes and the florescent light illuminates. When we are in the past, the florescent light is off and the lights illuminating his past come on. The storytelling is both funny and heartbreaking.

Richard Rose directs this with the same clarity and economy as Rajaram performs it. Anosh Irani has written such a quietly dense, complex story of yearning, love-denied and love given, a story of a soul looking for acceptance. The character of Felix slowly, carefully reveals himself through his funny observations. Richard Rose in his direction and Anand Rajaram in his nuanced performance never rush a scene. Felix and his story evolve delicately and we are gripped every step of the way.

Deep in the play Anosh Irani takes a sharp turn in the story that catches us up short, but he’s so gifted a storyteller we hold on. And we find out who Felix is really telling the story to. Stunning. It’s a beautifully written story of an isolated soul and his need to belong and be loved and what happens when both are denied, and that even then, when he least expects it, there is hope.

Comment. Anosh Irani is a wonderful playwright as seen in his plays Bombay Black  and Men in White. Add Buffoon to this list. And you won’t find a finer, funnier more soulful buffoon than Anand Rajaram. He gives a master class in performance.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 20, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 15, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Backspace

Written by Stef Smith

Directed by Will King

Set by Stephen King

Costumes by Julia Kim

Sound by Will King

Lighting by Chin Palapine

Cast: Alex Clay

Madryn McCabe

Sappho Hansen Smythe

An interesting idea in a clumsy play given an unfortunate over-stuffed production.

The Story. Polly and Owen are a loving couple. He works in a hospital and she is a corporate lawyer in a stressful job. He brings her a black box that arrived at the hospital in the hopes it would relax her. It does and we soon learn it does much more.

The Production. Playwright Stef Smith is writing about how technology takes over our lives and is addictive in an insidious way. In the case of the black box it gave Polly a feeling of peace and calm that she craved more and more which caused Owen to be very concerned about her health and welfare.

It’s a fascinating idea but Stef Smith’s writing is often clumsy and repetitive—a character repeats a line again and again and again but it soon loses its power. I got to the point in the production thinking that she didn’t know how to write sharper and clearer and so just repeated a line.

The production does not help in clarifying the point. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a small stage so ill-used as the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace stage is in Stephen King’s stuffed set. The set is on two levels. On the upper level is Polly’s desk and chair. To the left of that is a clunky room divider. On the lower level is a couch, a table in front of it, a huge chair to the left of that with a lower table-thing to the side of it. Up from that is a counter beside the room divider. Too much. All this clutter of furnishings left little room for either character to negotiate the space with any kind of ease. The only things that should have been on that set are Polly’s desk and chair and the couch where Polly and Own sat for a few scenes. Every thing else should have been removed because it’s unnecessary. You don’t have an over-stuff chair just because you might put a character on it, ONCE.

The pace of director Will King’s production seemed too slow, what with all the maneuvering of the characters around the obstacle course of the set. He also designed the sound and I found even that too loud. The voice of the black box was blaring. We are lead to believe it was calming. It’s the Backspace. It’s small. Lower all the sound to half blaring.

Madryn McCabe as Polly and Alex Clay as Owen have charm but at times I found them so tentative in their delivery I wondered if they had enough rehearsal.

Comment. Seven Siblings Theatre Company is a small independent theatre company that has been doing challenging plays for several years. I admire their guts and their ambition. Girl in the Machine is not their finest hour.

Produced by Seven Siblings Theatre:

Began: Nov. 14, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 24, 2019.

Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

sevensiblingstheatreco@gmail.com

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Review: THE WAGER

by Lynn on November 20, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Gordon Spence.

Directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas

Set by Michael Gordon Spence

Lighting and projections by Laird MacDonald

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Costumes by Sarah Delignies

Cast: Olivia Croft

Teiya Kasahara

François MacDonald

Michael Gordon Spence

Theatre Gargantua has been creating compelling, provocative multi-disciplinary, physical theatre since 1992. They begin with a subject to explore which is always socially relevant, apply a concept to present it and then distill and focus on it through rehearsals and questioning for two years before they present it.

This year the company presents The Wager which explores the thorny world of misinformation. Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips through social media etc. and therefore access to more misinformation as well. Misinformation is readily available on the internet etc. A trick is how to sift through all this stuff for the truth. What interests Theatre Gargantua with The Wager are the people who don’t believe the facts no matter how many facts with which they are presented.

From the programme: “Why people believe strange things, from the relatively benign flat-earthers to the outright dangerous climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers and fact altering politicians, is the conundrum that initiated our current artistic endeavour. The true story of Alfred Russel Wallace and his ill-advised wager with flat-earthers served as an irresistible allegory for our exploration. “

With the cast playing musical instruments, using the simplest of props—ladders are the prop of favour for this show—projections, and a bracing physicality, the cast presents their thesis.

In 1870 Alfred Russel Wallace, the renowned biogeographer and the co-creator of the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, accepted a £500 wager from John Hampden. Mr. Hampden, wealthy and a flat-earth believer, wagered that money to any scientist to prove the earth was round. Wallace thought it would be easy. With a ladder and a telescope and calculations he presented his findings. All Hampden needed to do was climb the ladder and look through the telescope. He refused. He said that he knew what he believed and nobody was going to change his mind. That stunned Wallace. (By the way: In Jacquie P.A. Thomas and Michael Gordon Spence’s Artistic Director’s note they spell Russell (as in Alfred Russell Wallace with two l’s. Various sources on the internet spell it with one l. I checked various places—of course they could all be copying the spelling from one source to another, but I don’t think so. “Russel” it is).

Hampden’s second was asked to look through the telescope. That person did take a look but could not ‘see’ what Wallace had pointed out proving his theory that the earth was round. More shock and confusion. In the end Wallace won the wager but Hampden spent the rest of his life bedeviling Wallace, almost ruining him. Wallace was none too good with finances (according to the internet—yes, I checked there).

Theatre Gargantua explores the debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism. The doctor who came up with this bogus theory was discredited but parents still refused to have their children vaccinated sometimes with disastrous results.

To many intelligent people climate change is a gigantic hoax, a conspiracy theory.  The growing number of people who chose to ignore the facts, or are not curious about the truth or another side of the story and are close-minded is alarming. According to the company at Theatre Gargantua these beliefs “not only defy logic but could be threatening our existence on the planet. The stakes could not be higher.” Agreed.

But here’s my concern with The Wager? Why do these nay-sayers deserve a production, or investigation or more than a nano-second of query? As soon as Hampden said nothing would change his mind about the earth being flat that was the end of the argument. If people want to ignore the science about vaccinations being useful in eradicating disease or the devastating existence of climate change, that is the end of the argument. To continue to try and change this blinkered way of thinking is the real stupidity. I don’t get the sense that Theatre Gargantua is looking deeper than the concern that nay-sayers defy logic and they are getting larger in number. T’was ever thus. So?

An unattributed quote from Facebook: “In life it is important to know when to stop arguing with people and simply let them be wrong.”

Michael Gordon Spence’s text is thoughtful, well-written and intriguing. I do query the inclusion of a speech by a character who says she is unimportant but that she is calling out a man who is accomplished, notable and a leader in society as someone who obviously did her some kind of (sexual) injury, one assumes.  She must speak up about it. I don’t think this item is appropriate in a show about scientific facts and nay-sayers. Conspicuous by its absence is any comment on the scientific proof of homosexuality vs the erroneous thought that it’s a lifestyle choice. I thought that absence interesting too. I am glad I saw this production, as I always am with this company. It got me thinking past their thesis. I just wish I knew why they created a show about people who don’t deserve one.

Change does not happen because of nay-sayers. Change happens when informed people or even one person says, “no, this is wrong and here’s the proof. You don’t want to believe it without thinking? Get out of my face. I/we have a world to save.” Who knows, if one let’s ones imagination run wild one can imagine that climate change awareness will get a universal boost from—I don’t know—a 16 year old kid from say, Sweden who (let me go out on a limb here) has Asperger’s Syndrome. Now that would be something.

Theatre Gargantual presents:

Opened: Nov. 15, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 30, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes, approx.

www.artsboxoffice.ca

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

Written by Stéphane Brulotte

Translated by John Van Burek

Directed by Majdi Bou-Matar

Set and costumes by Teresa Przybylski

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Soundscape by Daniel Morphy

Cast: Saïd Benyoucef

Adam Paolozza

Background. On December 12, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor was so frustrated by the corrupt government bureaucracy that he set himself on fire. He had three degree burns over 90% of his body and died. It is said that event was the beginning of the Arab spring, protests across the Arab world against corruption.

The Story. Besbouss- Autopsy of a Revolt references Bouazizi’s suicide as Dr. Karim Djebara (Saïd Benyoucef) a forensic pathologist is given the job of doing the autopsy and proving the government did not beat up Bouazizi before hand and is therefore innocent of wrongdoing. Immediately we are alerted that all is not right.

Bouazizi (Adam Paolozza) was selling his wares without a permit. He objected to various departments trying to fix the situation. It was frustrating. He could not get straight answers. He tried to follow the procedure but was thwarted at every turn. In frustration he doused himself with gasoline, lit a lighter and immolated himself.

We are told in Stéphane Brulotte’s playwright’s program note that Bouazizi’s mother called him “Besbouss” meaning: “The one we want to kiss.” The dialogue in the play says “Besbouss” “means covered in kisses.” The term of endearment is clear. As is the irony—would a young man so warranting in kisses be so dramatic as to set fire to himself unless the cause was so important?

The Production.  The production is directed by the hugely gifted Majdi Bou-Matar. While Bou-Matar came to Canada (he lives in Kitchener) from his native Lebanon his heart and mind are certainly focused on the revolution that is happening across Lebanon now. It certainly informs this production.  Bou-Matar brings a vivid sense of imagery to his productions and there is that as well as a muscularity and sensitivity in every aspect of Besbouss-Autopsy of a Revolt.

Designer Teresa Przybylski has envisioned a cold, claustrophobic world in her set design. The walls appear to be made of dull metal and they tilt in to give a sense of closing in on the people in it. A window is high up the wall but one doesn’t sense there is light in there. There is a door up right. A gurney is in the middle of the room and a body-bag is on it. It’s obvious there is a body inside the bag but after careful watching I could not see the rise and fall of a person breathing inside the bag.

Dr. Karim Djebara comes into the room with his medical bag and stands a long time looking at the body bag on the gurney. He sets about taking out his white lab coat from his medical bag. He talks to himself and the body. He carefully unzips the body bag revealing the grey almost naked body of Bouazizi. There are bits of bandages on him and a cloth jockstrap of sorts containing his genitals. He is bald and absolutely still.

Dr. Djebara knew Bouazizi years before when they were both younger. He is not happy to be there and has contempt for Bouazizi for what he has done. He is also angry because he has to tow the company line. He has to prove that Bouazizi was not slapped or hit or physically mistreated in any way for the purposes of the autopsy. We learn that Djebara is the go-to man for the government to cover up any wrong-doing. He goes along with it to protect his family, himself and his career. But this job is different. While I look carefully at Adam Paolozza lying in still repose, not breathing, the body then comes to life, twitching, contorting and talking. It’s to his skill as a movement based performer that Paolozza appears not to be breathing on that slab when of course he has to be.

Djebara and the spirit of Bouazizi engage. Bouazizi as played by Paolozza is lithe, agile, graceful, almost balletic and athletic. Paolozza never raises his voice. He doesn’t have to. Djebara engages realizes that his conscience is being tested and raised. It’s an interesting confrontation.

There is a whole aggressive procedure as various types of gels and liquids are spread over Bouazizi’s body to remove the burnt skin so that Djebara can see if there is bruising on. The stuff gets on the walls, Djebara’s pristine white lab coat and various surfaces. I wonder why the play requires this exercise. Since Djebara is the only one in the room doing the autopsy and he’s lied before about the government’s involvement with violence and torture, what difference does it make if he doesn’t do all this smearing etc.? A fault in the play?

Saïd Benyoucef is a celebrated actor in Montreal, performing regularly in French and Arabic. This is his first performance in English. I must confess I found it difficult understanding him when he talked; his accent is so pronounced that I miss a lot of what he says in spite of listening hard. It’s obvious both actors are committed to the project, I just wish I could have understood Saïd Benyoucef better.

I’m grateful that Majdi Bou-Matar is back in Toronto directing—we see too little of his work here. I first saw his breathtaking production of The Last 15 Seconds at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Then at Summerworks a year ago he directed Adrenaline by Ahmed Maree.  Both are harrowing stories of immigrants and people dealing with horrific events in their home countries. Bou-Matar will be returning to Toronto with two shows: Suitcase and Adrenaline in the new year. Don’t miss them.

Comment. Majdi Bou-Matar creates theatre in Kitchener. For about 10 years he curated the IMPACT Festival of international productions in Kitchener. I saw several stunning productions of this past festival from Tunisia, Ecuador, Iran, Six Nations from Toronto (a devastating piece called The Mush Hole about residential schools) and Montreal. The breadth and quality of the productions programmed are astonishing. Majdi Bou-Matar’s determination, artistry and vision are impressive and much needed. Why isn’t Majdi Bou-Matar in Toronto at Harbourfront, resurrecting the moribund World Stage Festival? He would be perfect. Just sayin’.

Pleiades Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre presents:

Began: Nov. 7, 2019.

Closes: Nov.20, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.pleiadestheatre.org

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At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

 

Book by Brian Hill

Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram

Directed by Sheila McCarthy

Music director, David Terriault

Choreography by Julie Tomaino

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Adam Harendorf

Cast: Malindi Ayienga

Noah Beemer

Joel Cumber

Susan Henley

Arinea Hermans

Sierra Holder

Connor Lucas

Jacob Macinnis

Kelsey Verzotti

Shawn Wright

The charming story of a marionette who wanted to be a boy gets  the musical theatre treatment. Lovely production but who was the compose/lyricist thinking about when he wrote these complex, esoteric lyrics?

 The Story.  Of course the show, The Adventures of Pinocchio is based on the book of the same name written by Italian writer, Carlo Collodi in 1881. It’s been adapted here by Brian Hill with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram.

It is about a wooden marionette named Pinocchio who wanted to really be a little boy. Pinocchio was created by Geppetto a master wood caver. He recently lost his wife Alice to illness. They always wanted a son so Geppetto carved the wooden puppet out of a special tree as a substitute son. Geppetto wanted Pinocchio to stay home with him and go to school. Geppetto sold his coat to get the money for an ABC book that Pinocchio could take to school.  Pinocchio wanted to explore the world. So he sold the book to buy a ticket to a puppet show.

Naturally when Pinocchio left home he was so trusting and innocent he got into trouble. He was watched over by a magical Blue Fairy who tried to keep him on the straight and narrow. And then there was the business about his lying. Every time he told a lie his nose grew.  He had to learn to stop lying and be a better “human” being and think of others before he could be human.

The Production and Comment. I liked it a lot. Johanna Yu designed the set and costumes and they are wonderfully inventive. Geppetto chisels at a round hunk of wood and bits and pieces fall away revealing the arms and legs of the marionette inside. Very clever.

When Pinocchio appears in ‘human form’ (Connor Lucas) he has chisel and joint marks-tattoos on his arms and legs. When he becomes human, discovering the qualities of honesty, integrity and selflessness, characters remove the tattooed sleeves from his arms and legs.

There is a whale in pieces which when strung together create an impressive creature that nearly eats Pinocchio and Geppetto. Again, terrifically clever.

The Blue Fairy is played by Malindi Ayienga with a matter of fact directness and not one trace of sentimentality.  She guides Pinocchio with a firm hand and voice and if you want to believe the Blue Fairy is the ghost of Geppetto’s wife looking out for their ‘son’ then go for it. In those moments Ayienga plays her with confidence and kindness. Rather than some mechanical device that elongates Pinocchio’s nose when he lies, the Blue Fairy affixes noses of different lengths on his existing nose, depending on the size of the lie.

Pinocchio is played by Connor Lucas with an innocence that is charming. And the transformation when he becomes a boy is moving.  Shawn Wright as Geppetto is loving and sweet as well as full of conviction. In fact the whole cast is terrific. The show is directed with imagination and care by Sheila McCarthy who knows a thing or two about using ones imagination and in finding humour and humanity in a beloved story.

I did have some quibbles.  While I liked the production a lot it is tricky when we are told Geppetto can’t afford more wood for his models so he uses whatever wood he has in the house to make his stuff. He even used the beams in the roof and we are lead to believe there is no more wood. How then to explain a wood door to represent Geppetto’s house and a wood counter top in the house?  Perhaps a blip of a mistake?

Also this show is supposed to be for kids 5-years-old and up and I think Neil Bartram’s lyrics are too sophisticated. There’s one lyric using the word “prosaic.” Now what five-year-old kid will know that? More often than not I get the sense that Neil Bartram is showing off his rhyming skills at the expense of his audience. I must confess I don’t know how old Bartram thinks his target kid audience is.  Also the songs in some cases go on too long. Kids let you know they are unhappy or not interested because they fidget.  At times in my school matinee performance the place seems a mass of fidgeting kids, including me.  I’d recommend this for older kids, but not 5-years-old.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 14, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 5, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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Review: COPY THAT

by Lynn on November 17, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jason Sherman

Directed by Jamie Robinson

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Emma Ferreira

Janet-Laine Green

Jeff Lillico

Tony Ofori

Richard Waugh

A production that goes like the wind but whose story are we listening to as the focus of the play and what is its point?

The Story.  Copy That is playwright Jason Sherman’s look at the fraught world of writing a cop show for network television and how real life sometimes is not a good fit.

We are in the writing room for the show called “Hostages” in which every week the writers have to come up with a story in which good cops save people who are held hostage.

They are lead by Peter who is the senior writer and show runner—the person who sees that the components of the show run smoothly. He’s been doing this kind of work for about 30 years and knows all the angles. Danny is a hip writer in his late 30s. Maia is a biracial young writer who is diligent and eager but not experienced.  She has a hard time getting the men in the room to listen to her. Colin is a novelist transitioning into television writing.  He’s black. You might say that that writing room is ticking all the boxes for diversity. It’s even referenced quietly in one of the speeches. And there is Elsa who is the head of the department who either accepts or rejects these scripts.  She is demanding and changes her mind at will and that drives Peter crazy.  But he thinks he knows how to deal with her.

Then one night Colin is driving Maia home and she’s had too much to drink and lays out in the back seat.  Colin is pulled over by the police. Colin thinks it’s because he’s black and drives a nice car. The police see Maia laid out in the back seat, think the worst of Colin and rough him up when he stands up for his rights. When he shows up for work the next day he is still sore. Naturally he wants to write an episode that depicts what has happened. Peter says it doesn’t fit into the outline of the show. The police on the show are supposed to be good.

Colin writes it any way and then all the politicking, maneuvering, and jockeying for position with Elsa goes into overdrive regarding getting the script accepted. Maia and Colin get hate e-mail from racists and trolls. We see what people will do to tell their story and keep their jobs, as the real world crushes in on them.

The Production and Comment. In Rachel Forbes’s spare set the writing room consists of a bulletin board with cards on it outlining each episode and where they are in the process. There is a whiteboard with each character’s name on it and their distinguishing traits. The writers sit at tables pushed together. Each writer has his/her own laptop. Dress is casual. Peter (Richard Waugh) is in a work shirt and jeans. There is a phone on Peter’s desk.

Ideas are bounced around as Peter either accepts, rejects or questions them. Jason Sherman’s dialogue is rapid fire. The accomplished cast under Jamie Robinson’s skilled direction bats the words back and forth as quickly as a game of ping pong. These are people who have to think on their feet, meet deadlines and produce scripts.  Peter is the pro at this stuff. Richard Waugh as Peter either slouches in his chair or paces the room. Through Waugh’s intense, nuanced performance we get the full sense of Peter’s frustration working with Elsa when he takes her calls and puts her on speaker-phone. Richard Waugh leans against the table stiffly; he clenches his fists; the body language suggests total frustration. His voice is controlled and measured but we see he is anything but. This is a man who has endured this treatment, this undermining, his whole career. It’s a performance that is emotionally charged.  It’s been way too long since Mr. Waugh was on a stage to show us his gifts.

Maia as played by Emma Ferreira quietly endures being ignored by the men, passed over for ideas or treated with an off-handedness when they do listen to her. Maia is young, inexperience and is a devoted student of ‘book-learning’ because that is what she can hang on to until she gets life experiences. She finally gets her dibs in when she unloads on Peter and the room by telling them how they treat her. Jeff Lillico as Danny has that confidence of a man who knows how to play the game in that fast world. Morals are not important. Getting ahead is. He is passionate about his work and the show and bridles when Elsa changes the gender of a character, but he knows how to ride out the rough patches.

Tony Ofori imbues Colin with justified outrage at his treatment. He wants to get even for  the racist treatment he experienced at the hands of the police. He knows how to use procedure to plead his case, but also knows how to take advantage of a situation in getting even. There is passion and frustration in this performance that is bang on.

Janet-Laine Green as Elsa, whether on the phone or in person, is formidable. She is a woman in a man’s world and she needs this show to succeed. She knows how to play her writers. It’s the compliment game of using their names all the time—I guess everybody sees through that, but it is fun to hear her do it. Her talk is quick, to the point and blithely  broadsiding—she changes the gender of a character because a star is interested and just as easily changes other decisions. More than anything she knows how to play one character against another. Working in the television business is a blood sport and Elsa has mastered the game. Jason Sherman beautifully captures that in his quick, brittle dialogue. And the humour is sharp, focused and dark. Copy That is full of Sherman’s particular humour.

Director Jamie Robinson does dandy work of showing the energy and frustration of creating a TV show as the characters interact. They all compromise their morals and beliefs to write for this show, but Peter knows it clearly about himself and knows the consequences.  In a way it’s heartbreaking for him. And while I was grateful for the performances and the direction the play is confusing in its intent and disappointing at the end of the day.

Jason Sherman has realistically depicted a television writer’s room because he’s had extensive experience writing for television.  But there is that other real world, Colin’s experiences as a black man being mistreated by the police, that we are told about, but is not used in the television show because it would be politically explosive to Elsa. The writers comment that for every script the higher ups send them notes and comments longer than the submission so the submission is usually watered down.

If the opportunity of dealing with Colin’s real experiences in the TV show is ignored then what is the point of the play? Is it just to show us what goes on in a television network writing room? It’s too easy a solution. And to quote a line of questioning in the text, whose voice are we listening to and why?  Is Sherman trying to illustrate how TV writing sucks your soul out? Don’t we know that? Isn’t that a cliché? Is he trying to say that TV ignores real life because it’s too challenging or realistic? Well, good TV shows disprove that thesis. So what is it about?  Beats me?

 There are so many revelations and plot twists and surprises at the end of the play that I thought Jason Sherman does not know how to end this play and he’s too good a writer for me to think that, but I do.  Disappointing.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 13, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 8, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with an intermission.

www.tarragontheatre.com

 

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Here is the talk I did on Shaw and Stratford plus the question and answer period after. Hope this works.

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At Georgian Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Book by James Lapine

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Michael Torontow

Musical director, Wayne Gwillim

Choreographer, Lori Watson

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Cast: Aidan deSalaiz

Griffin Hewitt

Alana Hibbert

Richard Lam

Jamie McRoberts

Charlotte Moore

Justin Stadnyk

Amy Swift

Kristian Truelsen

Kimberly-Ann Truong

Plus a young company of eager actors.

This production of Into the Woods is billed as a concert that is ‘slightly staged.’ That doesn’t come close to describing the miraculous production director Michael Torontow has created with his gifted creative team and his cast of accomplished pros and up and coming student young performers.

Stephen Sondheim’s complex story of searching for happiness through fairy tales, original story-telling and song follows several characters as they wish for: a child, finding a one true love, or at least one that bides ones time until the next one, Jack wants to keep his beloved pet cow Milky White, hoping for riches, wanting to protect a child too much, freedom and happily ever after. In true Sondheim fashion he gives the characters a happy ending by the end of Act I. Then they have to face the realities of life in Act II and sometimes happiness is not an option. Acceptance is.

A Baker and his Wife long for a child but they find out that the Witch next door put a curse on them because the Baker’s father took some magic beans from the Witch’s garden years before. The Witch will “reverse the curse” (a Sondheim lyric to lift your hat to) if they gather some items, one of which is a cloak as red as blood that belongs to Little Red. There are dashing princes who are more charming than sincere; Cinderella who is not all that keen on going off with a prince; the prickly relationship with the Witch and her daughter; and the interweaving of familiar fairy tales with original stories.

Sondheim’s songs and music are intricate and dazzlingly clever—at times I think too clever and perhaps songs go on too long. This cast of musical comedy pros handle them with aplomb: Aidan deSalaiz is an anxious, emotional Baker and plays him beautifully; Jamie McRoberts plays the Baker’s Wife with devotion and commitment and sings like a dream; Alana Hibbert is the impatient Witch who also over-protects her daughter Rapunzel; Griffin Hewitt is elegantly courtly if a bit wayward as Cinderella’s Prince among others; Richard Lam is Rapunzel’s Prince and Jack’s sickly cow, Milky White, among others; Charlotte Moore is the haughty step-mother to Cinderella and with a change of hat, Jack’s harried mother; Jason Stadnyk is a dim-witted but loving Jack and an arrogant Steward; Kimmy Truong is a perky, confident Cinderella, Amy Swift plays Little Red with sass and Rapunzel with anxiety from being locked up alone; and Kristian Truelsen plays the Narrator and a Mysterious Man. Every single one of them sings beautifully.

But the star for me is director Michael Torontow. This is his first professional directing gig. Arkady Spivak, Talk is Free Artistic Producer has cast Michael Torontow in many of TIFT shows as a singing actor or an actor who sings. Spivak has an eye for talent and knows when to move people to the next challenge. In Michael Torontow’s case it was directing. Spivak does not drop his talent in the deep end and hopes they will swim. He knows they can swim, He gives them challenges that scare them and they overcome them. In the case of Torontow he rose to the challenge and set the bar high for others.

Torontow stages his large cast with economy and efficiency. Scenes are clear and not muddy. Joe Pagnan’s set is simple with the band up and almost out of sight. A large tree that looks like it’s chopped in odd bits closer to the ground is upstage. Little stools dot the upstage area where the cast will sit with their backs to the audience  when they aren’t in a scene. That is masterful. The cast is ‘invisible’ when they are not in a scene so we are not distracted by watching them. There are such cheeky directorial touches: Milky White has a cowbell (silent) around her neck-voila a cow; Cinderella’s mean step-sisters (Griffin Hewitt and Richard Lam) stand side by side holding a curtain rod in front of them with two different coloured curtains cinched in the middle that suggests they are wearing dresses with the waist cinched in; the cast of young student actors act as stage hands that efficiently bring props on and off. Torontow has a clear vision of how to  tell the story with so much happening on stage; he has a sense of the visual picture that is beautifully conveyed. I love his work as an actor. Now I look forward to more as a director. It was a very short run of only four performances. So glad I saw this.

Talk is Free Theatre presented this:

Nov. 14-16, 2019.

www.tift.ca

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A shameless plea

by Lynn on November 14, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Shameless Plea

Hi folks

It’s  CIUT FM’s Fall Fundraising drive from Nov. 11 to 18. We are aiming to raise $100,000. This is crucial for the radio station to survive. The University of Toronto’s funding has been cut which means that CIUT.fm, the University of Toronto’s radio station is affected. We must make up the shortfall to continue.

CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm is the program on which I do my interviews, reviews and commentary. It’s all volunteer. Arts and culture coverage has diminished in the media. We at the radio station and the show CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm believe what we do is important to the culture of the city by interviewing people who create it and reviewing their shows and films. We are your voice. Please donate by clicking the link below and noting the show CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm. Much, much thanks.

https://ciut.fm

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At the Monarch Tavern, Clinton St., Toronto, Ont.

 

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Catherine Rainville and James Wallis

Choreography by John Wamsley

Composed by Hilary Adams

Cast: Hilary Adams

Zara Jestadt

Nyiri Katakas

Eliza Martin

Kate McArthur

Megan Miles

Michelle Mohammed

Justin Mullen

Nick Nahwegahbow

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Mussie Solomon

John Wamsley

How prescient of the gifted folks of Shakespeare BASH’d to know that their wonderfully thoughtful, funny, emotion-filled production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the perfect show to see on a cold November night right after a major snowstorm.

Let me borrow their mission statement to explain their name and mandate:

​“A “Bash” is a crushing blow. It can be aggressive and done with passion. It can be about making an attempt, going at it all your own. It can also be a wild night.

Shakespeare BASH’d is an actor initiative that seeks to take ownership of their own creativity by producing Shakespeare’s plays in social settings, creating a relaxed, exciting environment for the audience.

Their mission is to present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language, and an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

Shakespeare BASH’d seeks to synthesize the traditional with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, fun, excitement, truth, professionalism, and love.”

 Their productions are presented in a bar—talk about relaxed—and the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street is as relaxed and inviting as they come. The audience sits on either side of the playing area, drink in hand. The action happens between the two sides of the room, and often elsewhere. The lights are always up—they are honest when they say that the staging etc. is simple.

What is not simple about these productions is the care, attention to detail and rigor the company invests in realizing the play that Shakespeare wrote. They might cut the text and change the gender of characters, as they do with A Midsummer Night’s Dream but they are true to the spirit and message of Shakespeare.

For our purposes, Egeus is now a woman  played with righteous indignation by Megan Miles. Egeus wants her daughter Hermia (Eliza Martin) to marry Demetrius (Mussie Solomon) the man to whom Egeus gives consent. Hermia wants to marry Lysander (Justin Mullen). The matter is taken to Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Nick Nahwegahbow). Egeus wants Hermia to follow her dictates or have her put to death. A bit harsh, that.

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to his aunt’s house and get married there. They tell Hermia’s friend Helena (Nyiri Karakas) of their plans. Helena in turn tells Demetrius because she’s in love with him and hopes to make points with him.

They all follow each other into the forest where all manner of magic and mayhem happen. Several local characters, the Mechanicals,  prepare a play for the impending marriage of Theseus and his fiancé Hippolyta (Hilary Adams); a fairy King named Oberon (a commanding Kate McArthur) and a fairy Queen named Titania (a fiery, beguiling Zara Jestadt) live in the forest and vie for the ownership of a little Indian boy; Oberon realizing that there are these two couples scurrying through the forest and they are not all in love with the person they want to really, decides to help things along by sending his sprite Puck, (Michelle Mohammed) to put some love potion in the eyes of the lover who needs it. Puck gets it wrong and puts the potion in the wrong eye-balls and has to make it right; and Bottom (a wide-eyed, impish Julie Nish-Lapidus), one of the Mechanicals, has a spell put on her and her head is turned into that of a donkey. Well, you know, it’s Athens, the forest, it’s hot. Strange things happen.

Co-directors, Catherine Rainville and James Wallis get the proceedings off to a rousing start by establishing the heightened emotions when the cast bursts into the space, ready to celebrate the impending marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. From then to the end the pace goes like the wind without sacrificing nuance and subtlety. The directors and their gifted cast capture the head games caused by vivid dreams, being lost in the forest running after the one you love and trying to escape the one you don’t love. The lovers are intoxicated with love or frustrated by not having it. The stakes are raised when the magical powers of Oberon and Titania come into play when each wants that Indian boy. You get the sense of the dizzying speed of events that the characters are experiencing.

Theseus is played with boyish, smooth charm by Nick Nahwegahbow and he is equally matched by Hilary Adams as Hippolyta, who is no-nonsense but charming in her own right. As the lovers, Eliza Martin as Hermia stands her ground and is compelling. Justin Mullen plays Lysander with urgency and quiet intensity. Mussie Solomon is almost laid-back as Demetrius he is so cool. Nyiri Karakas as Helena is fearless in her pursuit of Demetrius and emotionally fragile when things get out of control with who is chasing whom.

The cast of ten generally play more than one character (there are a few exceptions), and the double casting is wonderful with strong performances in one part becoming meek, mild characters elsewhere.

It’s complicated; mistaken identity; fever pitched emotions; hot love; a mischievous sprite squirting potion in your eyes. How will it end? Beautifully of course. Madcap, mayhem. Perfect for a cold, snowy night.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Nov. 12, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, approx.

www.shakespearebashd.com

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