The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Hall, 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr., Etobicoke, Ont.

Created by Ondinnok Theatre (Montreal) and Vox Theatre (Ottawa)

Author and interpreter, Dave Jenniss

Translated into English by Mishka Lavigne

Directed by Pier Rodier

Singer and musician, Élise Boucher-DeGonzague

Scenographer, Julie-Christina Picher

Lighting by Chantal Labonté

Puppet and stage props by Manon Doran and Pier Rodier

Soundtrack designer, Michel DeMars

Creative costume of Pokjinskwes, Danielle Boucher

Mokatek and the Missing Star is a magical piece of theatre weaving Indigenous story-telling, legend, the power of nature and belief in oneself. It’s told through puppetry, music, dance and various objects that captivate the imagination.

From the press information: “For little Mokatek, counting the stars to fall asleep every night is a real pleasure. He likes to tell his days to the one that shines the most in the sky, the North Star. At bedtime, the night of the summer solstice, the star of the North is gone, it has disappeared. This is the beginning of an initiatory journey to find the brilliant star.”

After taking off their shoes, the audience enters a large gossamer tent. The young ones sit on rugs and the older folks sit on benches. There are birch tree stumps around the space. There is a fire pit in the middle of the space with a ‘tee-pee’ of twigs positioned above the ‘fire.’ Nine large balls of cotton batten are suspended in the air, representing the planets. A section of stars is illuminated. The audience is welcomed in song and drumming by Élise Boucher-DeGonzague. I love the ceremony of that.

Dave Jenniss tells the story in English and the First Nations languages of the Abenakis and the Anishinabek in easy to follow references. He hits two stones together a few times.  He takes two twigs and says their names in one of the languages. He piles them one on top of the other. He adds a hunk of birch, gives the First Nations name and adds that to the pile of twigs. Then he hits the two stones a few times over the twigs, creating a spark, resulting in a small ‘fire’. Magic.

Mokatek is a puppet sensitively manipulated and voiced by Jenniss. Mokatek considers the North Star his only friend and is desperate to find him. He is aided by a crow (another puppet) that takes Mokatek on a flying journey over the forest. He is told to watch out for the bear’s foot prints and when Mokatek hears the bear coming he hides. Two large paws appear from out among the birch ‘trees’. Does one need more to suggest a bear? No, I didn’t think so. Jenniss wears the paws. He also wears a beanie hat with bear ears that pop out. The bear sniffs around, eats berries, and leaves. Mokatek comes out from his hiding place, braver now and he eats the berries as well. He meets an ancient fish who represents the great sturgeon and ancestors; there is a moose as well on Mokatek’s  journey.

Eventually Mokatek does re-discover his friend the North Star and in doing that he has completed his journey of discovery; of the wind, water, air, birds, animals and himself.

The writing of the piece is beautifully poetic. Dave Jenniss is nimble and elegant in his movement, his manipulation of the puppet of Mokatek and in ‘playing’ of the animals. It’s beautifully directed by Pier Rodier with economy and a touch of impishness. Just initially showing the huge paws of the bear through the trees is inspired.  The puppets of the fish and the moose are made of birch bits in which the bark is peeling. The result is that we are looking at something from antiquity, which is the point. I love that the fish (great sturgeon) has a bit of green foliage in its mouth.

Mokatek and the Missing Star is a wonderfully imaginative telling of a story of discovery, friendship, determination and maturing. It’s told with sensitivity and great imagination.

The two remaining shows May 16 are in French at 10:00 am and 11:30 am.

www.weefestival.ca

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At the Redwood Theatre, 1300 Gerrard St. E.

Created by Michelle Silagy and Lynda Hill

Direction and dramaturgy by Lynda Hill

Choreography by Michelle Silagy

Original music by Cathy Nosaty

Set by Jung Hye Kim

Costumes by Jennifer Dallas

Lighting Design by Jennifer Lennon

Cast: Allison Basha

Lucas Penner

Jake Ramos

Jessica Runge

The wonderful Wee Festival has opened for another run. Dates: May 11-20, 2019 at various locations. The Wee Festival offers plays, concerts, events and other activities for children 0 to 6 years old over 10 days.

The Wee Festival was created in 2014 by Lynda Hill under the auspices of Theatre Direct for which she was the Artistic Director for 18 years. She has been a tireless champion of bringing the arts to children.

The Wee Festival opened with Flying Hearts, a meditation on air, light, earth and water.

Children and their parents are invited to touch everything on the ‘sensory table’, which is full of odd feeling water, a bottle with feathers in it, strange feeling sand, things that make noise and music, things that tickle and all things that delight.

When it was time to go into the theatre the young audience was invited to sit on the ‘grass,’ really a lush green carpet. There were white structures that looked like sails. In the middle of the room was a round white piece of gossamer like material.

At the back of the room were a keyboard and a table with glasses of various shapes and sizes. They are used as instruments that make sound during the show. One can hear the sounds of birds singing and water babbling along a stream of sorts.

The cast of four: Allison Basha, Lucas Penner, Jessica Runge and Jake Ramos enter the space singing a song of welcome. Allison Bascha greets the children and their parents with a smile and joy. Lucas Penner plays the guitar, the keyboard, the glasses and anything else that can produce a sound or music. Jessica Runge and Jake Ramos are dancers and create the sense of air, light, earth and water in dance.

Bringing out a child’s sense of wonder is uppermost when Lynda Hill creates or collaborates on a show. So there are bubbles blown over their heads that they can reach up and touch; the children are asked if they would like to feel a mist on their skin. If they say yes, then a squirt bottle with the most delicate of mists is spritzed above their heads to float down on their skin.  Respect and involving art are offered to every child in Flying Hearts.

It’s a show that engages even the youngest audiences and older audiences too. The public performances played over two days over last weekend. The school performances will conclude May 15.

The Wee Festival is one of my favourite festivals. Check out the schedule of events at www.weefestival.ca and take your kids.

 

 

 

 

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At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Erin Shields

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set by Gillian Gallow

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound and composition by Richard Feren

Cast: Ashley Botting

Jesse LaVercombe

Mayko Nguyen

Sofía Rodríguez

Erin Shields not only turns the table on stereotypical behaviour between the sexes, but also she tips the table over in this bracing play given a striking production.

The Story. Three women on a night out go over the latest episode of a TV show with their favourite character, a hard-nosed woman cop who takes no prisoners in the job. Waiting at home is her accommodating boyfriend who is cooking them an anniversary dinner. The cop forgets it is their anniversary and goes to a bar for a drink to relax after a hard day of law enforcement. The cop in turn watches a TV show at the bar that takes place a hundred years before or even more that depicted women to be subservient and compliant. Nothing seems to have changed over the years. When the cop finally gets home and her boyfriend quietly, perhaps a touch hurt, wishes her a happy anniversary the cop realizes that she forgot the anniversary. Athletic sex ensues. Another story of gender attitudes and stereotypes follows which really ‘tips over the table’ of stereotypical gender issues.

The Production. We get a flavour of the evening by the rock music that plays as we ease into our seats. “Raw” would be putting it mildly. Lyrics such as “fuck-screw the world” One woman sang with and edge:  “Screw me and I’ll screw you too.” One man seductively wanted to “stick my tongue all over you.” “Sex is power. I do it all for fun” sang another woman. I think my favourite is sung by another woman, “Imagine your tongue in between my thighs.” That should get us in the mood. If you flinch you’re a wuss.

Three bar stools are positioned in front of a raised stage with three walls enclosing a room with a window and a door. At the beginning of the production three well dressed women in black and heels sit on the stools facing us. They riff on the TV show with their favourite female cop. Each woman delivers her lines in a quick breathless, confident way. Director Andrea Donaldson keeps the pace of the delivery at rat-a-tat speed, like a machine gun firing one-liners. The women occasionally look at each other but most often they look forward.  The characters’ names are listed in the program but never refer to each other by name. The actresses who play them: Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen and Sofía Rodríguez, are assured, confident and have an almost condescending attitude to anyone around the lady cop. They comment on her physicality, confidence, attitude and bearing etc. They talk about her as a man might talk about a woman in what we would consider a pejorative way, but they do it as women and don’t assume a man’s stereotypical ogling attitude, with crotch grabbing and scratching etc.

They comment on the TV show that the TV cop is in turn watching, again, commenting on the characters. At various points in the dialogue, the women seem to get aroused at what they are watching. Donaldson does a devilish bit of staging for Sofía Rodríguez who gets off her stool and seems to writhe, doing mini push-ups on the stool, with one leg slowly thrusting out behind her. That’s quite a definitive expression of controlled arousal, lemme tell ya.

While the three women are sharing their observations, in the raised room behind them Beautiful Man (that’s how he’s listed in the program) (played  with quiet understatement by Jesse LaVercombe) is doing extreme push-ups and then leg lifts. He is dressed and fit. He wears a full apron. When he speaks, saying “Happy Anniversary” to the unseen lady cop the voice is soft, non-accusatory and rather wistful. In other words what the three women are watching, is the television show with the cop, but what we are seeing is the cop’s boyfriend, the Beautiful Man, at home waiting for her to return.   As the women continue to speak Beautiful Man slowly takes off his clothes. At the end of that segment he’s naked. Blackout. The women take a bow, holding their high heels. They are animated and make moments of flipping their shoes so we get how important those shoes are. They are put on the stools.  LaVercombe comes out in the raised room and takes his bow. Yes he’s fully clothed.

Then something strange happens. Rather than ending the show there, it continues with Beautiful Man telling the audience, quietly, almost demurely about ‘her’ life. Beautiful Man is not transgender. Rather Erin Shields continues to disrupt furniture, this time upending that turned table completely. Beautiful Man is speaking as a woman and reveals every insecurity, every doubt, every attempt not to offend that a woman has ever expressed. ‘She’ talks of dressing carefully for a party, perfect clothes, shoes, make-up, lipstick. When ‘she’ is challenged by a man at the party about her abilities as a trained sommelier ‘she’ is demure and polite rather than being blunt, direct and hard hitting (as the cop in the TV show might be). She feels diminished by the clod but does not retaliate in kind. After all, what would people think of her if she did retaliate?

When ‘she’ is walking home alone ‘she’ sees a group of men on a street-corner and begins to imagine all manner of trouble that might happen to her because she’s a woman alone on a street. Her mind does tricks to make her feel inadequate. Erin Shield’s upends the table again by revealing what the men are really thinking of seeing this woman alone on the street and it’s nothing close to what the woman is thinking.

Comment. I saw the first part of Beautiful Man at SummerWorks in 2015. The impact of that first section is funny, very perceptive and eye-opening. If anything the point is stronger in 2019, certainly after #MeToo.  Erin Shields adds more pop to her exploration of gender attitudes with the man having a monologue as a woman, complete with insecurities about her looks, or abilities and how others perceive her.

Shields takes every stereotype about the sexes and makes us examine them afresh because of who is expressing them.

Beautiful Man is a terrific play. I love its big squirm factor.  

Factory Theatre Presents:

Began: May 4, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running time: 90 minutes.

www.factorytheatre.ca

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Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr., Toronto, Ont.

Co-written and performed by Kirk Dunn

Co-written by Claire Ross Dunn

Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Saying The Knitting Pilgrim by Kirk Dunn is a play about knitting is as much an understatement as saying Gateau St. Honoré is a simple dessert.

Kirk Dunn was first an actor who began knitting he says to pass the time while touring in a van with other actors. A recent newspaper article said he began knitting to impress a girlfriend. Whatever. He learned how to knit and became good at it.

When Kaffe Fassett, master knitter extraordinaire came to Toronto Kirk Dunn’s wife Claire suggested Dunn meet him and perhaps offer to apprentice with him. This came to pass. Dunn’s work became more colourful and intricate. Again, Dunn’s wife Claire suggested he take his knitted work to the Textile Museum of Canada.  This brought him to the attention of Nataley Nagy the Past Executive Director of the Textile Museum of Canada. She said his knitted work was a work of art, almost like an expressionist painting. She suggested he knit something that says something about the world. That was the birth of his triptych of tapestries—three panels that illuminated aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—the commonality and differences of the faiths. The panels are about 11’ x 7’ and it took him 15 years to knit. They are astonishing.

Through Dunn’s one person play he shows the audience how to knit, from making the stitches both pearl and knit, casting off and knitting. His manner is mild, thoughtful and inquisitive. He is self-deprecating, personable and full of charm. He comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers. His great grandfather was a minister. His grandfather was one. And his father is one. Kirk Dunn became an actor. Go figure. But religion is part of his life as is faith and compassion. He researched all three religions to be able to create an accurate work of art. He read widely. He tried to answer religious intolerance when he came face to face with it. And all the time he knitted his tapestries.

Jennifer Tarver has directed this with sensitivity, never getting in the way of Dunn and his storytelling, always enhancing it with a movement across the stage here, the projection of an image there. There are baskets of balls of wool and knitting needles and the audience is invited to know.  This is a ‘play’ you want everyone to see for his persistence and his devotion to such a worthy project.

Unfortunately it plays only for three performances over two days, May 11 and 12. The last performance is May 12 at 6:00 pm.

www.ergoartstheatre.com/knittingpilgrim

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At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Written by: Bilal Baig, Maddie Bautista, Samson Brown, Simone Dalton, Nikoletta Erdelyi, Carolyn Hetherington, Radha S. Menon, Ellen Ringler, Grace Thompson.

Directed and dramaturged by Judith Thompson

Choreographed by Monica Dottor

Set by Brett Haynes

Lighting by Sharmylai Taffe-Fletcher

Composer and sound by Olivia Shortt

Performed by: Bilal Baig

Maddie Bautista

Samson Brown

Nikoletta Erdelyi

Carolyn Hetherington

Radha S. Menon

Grace Thompson

The plays and performances are so deeply thought, nuanced and emotional it’s like being hit in the stomach and the heart, leaving you breathless.

 Judith Thompson, playwright-dramaturg-mentor-theatre magician, continues her determined journey to present the stories of people we rarely see or hear on a stage. She created the Rare Company to produce them. RARE was a show with actors/writers with Down Syndrome. She did a production with people in wheelchairs.

Welcome to My Underworld continues that journey with the short plays of nine playwrights presented by seven of them. Welcome to My Underworld is the title of one of the plays and the umbrella title for the whole evening. Each playwright was asked to write a short piece. Thompson linked them together, creating the world of the outcast, misfit, those looking for acceptance, but the plays are also distinct. The plays are not formally titled for this evening, nor are the playwrights formally introduced.

The evening begins with a young girl (Grace Thompson) who doesn’t feel she is real. She hasn’t got a sense of herself as a person. Is she on the spectrum? We aren’t sure. She is vibrant, curious and searching. She creates an imaginary friend named Mara and from there navigates her (under)world which then connects to the other plays.

There is the self-proclaimed ‘party-girl’ (Bilal Baig) who says she’s from Bangladesh who doesn’t want her parents to know she dresses like that, or is like that. There is the older woman (Carolyn Hetherington—a wonderful actress in her own right and now, at 88, a compelling playwright) who has had surgery and the medications for pain are making her hallucinate which could lead to disaster. A transgender person (Samson Brown) is in desperate need of a washroom and is challenged when they use the women’s washroom in a public place and all that entails. A confident young Roma woman (Nicoletta Erdelyi) in a wheelchair recounts how her father was jailed for shoplifting and died in prison from cancer and didn’t receive proper treatment. She illuminates how the world treats disability and those it thinks don’t belong. An anxious woman (Radha S. Menon) is being taken to a senior’s home by a kind man because she has dementia.

While all the plays illuminate a world with which one might not be familiar, they do bring us into their worlds to understand what is happening there. The standout for me is Maddie Bautista’s very funny but ultimately harrowing story of a young girl coming of age. She writes of the no-nonsense Filipina teacher who teaches girls about their developing bodies in speeches sprinkled with quirky expressions. And as one of the girls is aware of her budding body so is a family male friend who asks her to sit on his lap. The tone of the piece gently, subtly changes into something that makes you heartsick because of what happens next. Bautista’s story-telling is gently gripping. I can’t remember the last time I heard silence in a theatre that complete. No rustling. No coughing. No breathing until the end. Shattering.

Judith Thompson has guided these gifted playwrights to write about their ‘underworld.’ She has woven their stories into a narrative that is at all times compelling. She has directed the performers with economy, whimsy and sensitivity. Monica Dottor’s choreography/movement adds that extra level of finesse.

Often pieces are underscored by Olivia Shortt’s elegant playing of a saxophone, providing music and sound effects. I must confess at times I think that inclusion is distracting. Other times it is just right. For the Bautista piece there is only the sound of her voice—no music is needed.

Brett Haynes has created a simple set of a backdrop of a tree with roots painted on the floor. There is a swing up right as if hanging from a tree branch, stars in the branches, a picnic table right and a very comfy chair stage left. Olivia Shortt’s instruments and her little stool are stage left. Sharmylae Taffe-Fletcher’s lighting is evocative and mood changing.

The evening concludes with each performer expressing their hopes for the future. I won’t spoil it with many examples but Olivia Shutt’s wish to read Harry Potter in her father’s native language (he’s an Anishinaabe from Nipissing First Nations) says it all with a squeeze of the heart.

Welcome to My Underworld is a bracing, sobering, often funny, always poignant look at the world of these gifted playwrights. I can’t recommend it highly enough. As that lovely little kid said at the end of a Hayden/Handel concert in Boston recently: “WOW!”

Rare Theatre Company Presents:

Began: May 8, 2019.

Closes: May 25, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours.

www.soulpepper.ca

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

Music by Tom Kitt

Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Directed by Philip Akin

Musical staging by Tracey Flye

Musical direction by Lily Ling

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Michael Laird

Costumes by Alex Amini

Cast: Troy Adams

Brandon Antonio

Nathan Carroll

Ma-Anne Dionisio

Louise Pitre

Stephanie Sy

A gripping, moving show about adult depression: perceptive, creative and it’s a musical. Sung beautifully.

The Story:  Next to Normal with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, is about Diana who is a wife and mother. She is also under a psychiatrist’s care for depression, bi-polar disorder and intense grief. She is morning the death of her child who died many years before.  Her husband Dan is loving and patient. Her daughter Natalie has a harder time coping with her mother’s illness. Natalie feels abandoned because everything takes a back seat to Diana’s long, ongoing dealing with her illness.

Natalie is a music student and key moments in her life are not celebrated because her mother is not well enough to go and hear her daughter play in concerts.  That takes its toll. There is another mysterious presence that seems to hover over all of them and they deal with it in their own way.

Diana has her husband Dan to support and be of comfort to her. Natalie meets a young man named Henry at school who loves and encourages her too. So these people are not alone. It’s a world with people who love and care for those in trouble.

The Production. Steve Lucas’ set is enclosed by two large walls that come together in a closed V shape almost jutting out into the audience. The walls then open up revealing a two leveled set with a spiral staircase joining the two levels. Furniture is spare.

As with all musicals it seems these days, everybody is microphoned including the off-stage band and it does sound almost too loud with lyrics being drowned out. There must be a better way of balancing the sound.

 There is a sense of urgency in this production, urgency to be calm; urgency to find a solution to medical problems; urgency to be normal or if that’s too hard, next to normal. It’s directed by Philip Akin who keeps the pace going as characters are always in a rush it seems to deal with crises.

Tom Kitt’s music fits the characters better than if the songs are stand alone melodic hits. There is a throbbing thrust to them, almost anthem like. And Brian Yorkey’s lyrics illuminate that murky world of depression and anxiety so that we all can get a sense of how these characters are feeling about the world in which they are living.

This cast is fine led by the wonderful Ma-Anne Dionisio as Diana. She is both fragile and fierce as she navigates the world of mental illness and the many and various pills and treatments she endures.  There is both power and tenderness in her singing.

Troy Adams is equally as strong as Dan, her loving husband. He has been there for Diana for the whole duration of the depression; he has his challenges to cope as well. It’s all clear in the performance. Stephanie Sy as Natalie is weighted down by her own sense of being abandoned by her family as she tries to navigate her own rocky path. Natalie almost has a chip on her shoulder until she meets Henry, played beautifully by Nathan Carroll. Carroll reacts so subtly and yet so resoundingly to Natalie’s efforts to rebuff him. But he keeps on trying to break through her shell. Henry is not a bully. He is a sensitive man who sees a kindred spirit in Natalie.

Louise Pitre plays Dr. Madden who is compassionate and caring. When Dr. Madden has to make a hard decision in Diana’s treatment you can appreciate the complexity of it by Louise Pitre’s reticence and gentleness in recommending it. And Pitre’s ability to listen in stillness makes Dr. Madden all the more compelling.

Finally Brandon Antonio plays Gabe, the mystery presence in that family’s life. He is buoyant at times, persistent and even dangerous. It’s another way of showing what that family is going through.

Comment.   Next to Normal is a Broadway Musical (2009) that won a Tony award for the score and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama among others. It deals with serious subjects—mental illness, bi-polar disorder, intense grief– and you watch characters deal with their demons. There are no real villains here. You just root for all of them.

I love the boldness of dealing with these subjects in musical form. You can deal better in a musical form with subjects that might not be served as well in a play form. Take a look at Dear Evan Hanson which is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre—it deals with teenage suicide and anxiety—also an award winning Broadway musical.  Theatre reflects the world we live in.

I would recommend Next to Normal for anyone who loves musicals with an edge and grit,that treat serious subjects in a serious way.

David Mirvish presents The Musical Stage Co. production:

Began: April 26, 2019.

Closes: May 19, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

 

 

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At the AKI Studio, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Michelle Thrush

Directed by Michelle Thrush

Lighting and scenic director, Sandi Somers

Composer, Sandy Scofield

Sound by JP Lord Sound Design

Michelle Thrush starts off telling us the poignant story of her rocky beginnings with two alcoholic parents and all that entails and how she survived, but the play and production take a sharp, disconcerting turn into stand-up comedy for some reason, changing the tone and attitude, confusing the point.

Michelle Thrush is full of stories. She is from the Cree First Nations. She grew up in Calgary, the daughter of two alcoholic parents. She was raised by her father and she says he never missed a day of work because of his drinking. He instilled in her a good work ethic, a moral code and a sense of decency.

Sometimes she was the only ‘brown girl’ in class. She recounts how a school teacher treated her with disdain and condescension. One sucks air hearing about it. But Michelle Thrush tells the story without bitterness or a need for revenge. She gets a crush on a boy in her class but is warned by her elders about hanging out with ‘white boys.’

Through the storytelling Michelle Thrush has a gentle, almost self-deprecating way, but never defeatist. The humour is understated. Karen Hines has directed this with a delicate hand, keeping movement to only where it seems necessary.

And then something bizarre happens. The quiet spoken but sprightly  Michelle Thrush is ‘take over’ by a stooped, challenging, in your face character who wears a red cape that says “Super Koo Kum” on the back. (“Kokum” means ‘grandmother’ in Cree).

She paces in front of the audience. She asks that the light be put up. She says with a ‘harruph’ that the audience is all white (the ladies behind me who are First Nations roar with delight). She riffs with confidence. “Super Koo Kum” relates how she rented a car to come to Native Earth on Dundas St. and was shocked that the voice of the woman on the GPS was a white woman and she didn’t trust her with the directions.  ‘Super Koo Kum” called the car rental and demanded a GPS with a woman’s voice who was First Nations. “Super Koo Kum” then hauled three “volunteers” out of the audience to help her out. She was going to do a rendition of an Aretha Franklin song (RESPECT) that was funny but somehow disingenuous here. The volunteers were backup. When it was finished there was applause. “Super Koo Kum” then looked at the audience again and praised them for their diversity and inclusion.

Ok, I’m confused. Either she’s chiding the audience for being ‘white’ or she’s praising them for being diverse and inclusive. Which is it? And who is this? “Super Koo Kum” can’t possibly be a trickster because she’s not twisting up the character, she seems to be twisting up the audience. Why? The whole tone of the piece has changed. Do we not consider the seriousness of Michelle Thrush’s story because of this stand-up comedienne character because having them live side-by-side confuses the message? The press information says that this is about story-telling and bouffon (a satiric kind of clown work). I don’t think so. Perhaps “Super Koo-Kum” needs her own show. I think she’s misplace and confusing in this one.

Native Earth and Nightwood Theatre present:

Opened: May 8, 2019.

Closes: May 12, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour.

www.nativeearth.ca

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At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

Book by Joe Masteroff

Based on the play by John Van Druten and the Stories of Christopher Isherwood

Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Musical director, Wayne Gwillim

Choreography by Cameron Carver

Set and costumes by Alexandra Lord

Sound by Paul Fujimoto-Pihl

Lighting by Daniel Bennett

Cast: Isaac Bell

Tess Benger

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

James Daly

Phoebe Hu

Lawrence Libor

W. Joseph Matheson

Charlotte Moore

Margaret Thompson

A robust immersive production that in many cases is revelatory.

 The Story. We are in Berlin at the rise of fascism. The world is dangerous if you don’t fit in, are different, ‘other’. But in the Kit Kat Club everything is beautiful and welcoming in its own sleazy way. Outside aberrant is not acceptable. Inside anything goes.

Cliff Bradshaw, an American who has come to Berlin to write his novel, meets a man named Ernst on the train who seems a bit shady but charming. Ernst sends Cliff first to Fraulein Schneider for lodgings, and then to the Kit Kat Club for entertainment. There he meets Sally Bowles who sings at the club, and things go from there.

The Production. Director Dennis Garnhum uses the Sam Mendes  production of 1998 as his reference point and not the Harold Prince production of 1966. Mendes’ version was immersive with the audience sitting at cabaret tables and the cast would perform both on the stage and around the tables. Don’t worry I won’t compare the productions. (I never know why people would do that since they are so different, and separate and years apart, and I include the Garnhum production too.)

The audience is greeted at the door by a tall, bearded, charming man in fishnet stockings (Isaac Bell). He has just a hint of an accent and a flirty way with words. He tells us to go in and look around. The entrance to the ‘theatre’ is through the cluttered backstage area. We see men lounging. We look in a dressing room with all the stuff for which a show is being prepared. No one is there; they are all inside the theatre.

The audience sits at several long metal tables in the reconfigured McManus Theatre. Set and costume designer Alexandra Lord has created a set of walkways and platforms of the tables and raised runways on which the cast will dance, stomp, act and sing. We have to watch our elbows. There is a raised section to my right where there is a piano and other instruments.  And over there is a staircase going up to the second level of the theatre and the ‘club’.   Various characters/cast members come up to people at the tables and chat them up before the show. Initially it’s disorienting as we try to make out where we are, which is appropriate in a club such as the Kit Kat Club.

The make-up for everybody is garish, purposefully overdone (white face, thick black eye-liner, lipstick). The costumes are scanty for the Kit Kat girls. I love that the stockings for Fraulein Kost (a prostitute in Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house played with saucy confidence by Margaret Thompson) have a few runs in them. The costumes are appropriate for the 1930s in Germany.

The multi-talented cast play all the instruments needed to create the music. (Who knew that James Daly, who plays Cliff, played the trombone among other things?!)

W. Joseph Matheson is a touching, almost shy Herr Schultz. By contrast, Charlotte Moore as Fraulein Schneider, Herr Schultz’s lady-love, is direct, no-nonsense and wily. Lawrence Libor creates a chilling portrayal of Ernst, the man who keeps bringing money into the country for a particular political party that is quickly gaining prominence. Libor has that steely stare, that other worldliness, that would make him perfect for the Emcee in a future production of Cabaret. Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane as the Emcee here sings well and is lively but she lacks the sense of spookiness, that attitude that makes people uncomfortable. There is charm, but there should also be danger and irony and that’s missing here. James Daly has a boyish charm as Cliff. He is watchful of his surroundings and resourceful. You believe he will write an explosive book about that time in Germany.

The part of Sally Bowles is tricky. She is a second rate singer in this seedy club. She is usually played by a first rate talent who has to sing, act and dance and do it convincingly as a second-rate talent. Tess Benger as Sally Bowles nails it. Her Sally tries a bit too hard to be quirky, flirty and careless. Benger sings with a pure belter voice but Sally tries a bit too much to belt. It all works beautifully.

Ok, why do I think director Dennis Garnhum’s production is terrific and even revelatory? Lemme count the ways.

When Cliff meets Herr Schultz at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house and tells him he’s there to write a novel, Herr Schultz (a wonderful W. Joseph Matheson) wishes him “Mazel.” (a Yiddish word meaning “congratulations, good luck” etc.)  Cliff asks Herr Schultz, “What does “Mazel” mean.” W. Joseph Matheson as Herr Schultz  pauses (his back is to Cliff) with a concerned look on his face because that word reveals him as a Jew. Herr Schultz believes he’s German first but he is mindful of how Jews are being treated in Germany. He turns back with a slight smile, having recovered from his moment of concern and gives Cliff the definition. I loved being grabbed by that pause and look of concern.

The Emcee sings “If You Could See Her” (with my eyes). There is a surprise ending to the song if it’s performed on a proscenium stage. The Emcee sings the song to the back of his lady-love expressing that ‘if you could see her with my eyes, you would see why I love her etc. “ At the end of the song the lyric is: “If you could see her with my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all,” and with that the person turns to face the audience and reveals she is wearing a gorilla mask. It’s quite chilling.

In Dennis Garnhum’s production the number is fascinating because as this immersive version is open and around the audience, we see that a person is wearing the gorilla mask from the get-go. The Emcee and the person in the mask move from the stairs around tables and then climb onto a walk-way to finish the song.  So revealing the gorilla mask at the end is not the surprise because we’ve seen the mask from the beginning. As the song goes on it’s funny because of the mask.  But here when the Emcee comes to the lyric: “if you could see her with my eyes…” the person in the mask takes it off revealing her own face, as she looks soberly around the room at the audience and then the MC says,  “She wouldn’t look JEWISH at all.” The moment has even deeper meaning because the person in the mask is Phoebe Hu, of Asian descent, which would have been considered ‘other’ in fascist Germany.

The joy at the engagement party of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider is ruined when Ernst arrives, takes off his coat and reveals he’s wearing a swastika armband. He implies the marriage can’t happen because Herr Schultz is Jewish. Fraulein Schneider is in a difficult situation. What does she do? Her uncertainty is beautifully conveyed by Charlotte Moore.

To further make the point slowly people at the party begin singing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, the anthem for the Fatherland rising up and taking its place in the world. For most of it Fraulein Schneider is silent and conflicted, but towards the end of the song she joins in.  It is half hearted but she knows she has to play that game. So when she declines the offer of marriage the next day it’s been set up with her singing and not just because Nazi Ernst caused trouble. I’m not sure if it’s ever been played like that before, but it is the first time I’ve noticed. Brilliant.

At the end when Cliff is leaving Germany and begins writing on the train he says, “There was a cabaret and an Emcee. There was a city named Berlin in a country named Germany and it was the end of the world. And I was dancing with Sally Bowles and we were both sleepwalking.” I had always seen productions that had Cliff pause at “and it was the end of the world.” This production didn’t have him pause there. Rather Cliff sailed on to the last bit about dancing with Sally Bowles and “we were both sleepwalking.” I loved that new revelation. It’s not the end of the world that is the focus of the speech. It’s that they didn’t know it because they were sleepwalking. Love that!!!

The production ended with everybody marching across the back of the space holding their suitcases as if going to concentration camps, staring into stark lights and then simulating being shot as they stared.

Powerful.

Comment. Dennis Garnhum has created a bracing, revelatory, joyous, gut-twisting production of this brilliant musical. I never get tired of seeing it, certainly when it’s this compelling.

The Grand Theatre presents:

Began: April 9, 2019.

Closes: May 18, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.grandtheatre.com

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At the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Mark St. Germain

Directed by David Eisner

Set by Yannik Larivée

Costume by Alex Amini

Lighting by Siobhán Sleath

Sound by Christopher Stanton

Cast: Linda Kash

A detailed look into the life of the dynamo known as Dr. Ruth (Westheimer) performed by the equally dynamic Linda Kash.

The Story. This is a story of resilience and tenacity. In 1997 Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Linda Kash)  is newly widowed from her third husband Fred and is packing up to move. She reminisces about her life from being born in Germany to loving parents; the coming of the Nazis and being sent to Switzerland when she was 10 for her protection; surviving the loneliness and desperation to know how her parents were; to becoming a freedom fighter and sniper in Israel; to studying psychology in France; emigrating to the US and finishing her education focusing on sex education; notoriety on the radio, the talk circuit; marrying three times, having two children and continuing at full speed it seems.

 The Performance. It’s moving day for Dr. Ruth (as she was known to one and all because Westheimer was too hard to pronounce for some). Yannik Larivée has designed a set full of packing boxes on top of each other for the move and mementos here and there to which Dr. Ruth will refer.

Linda Kash as Dr. Ruth scurries on smartly dressed (kudos to Alex Amini for the design) in comfortable shoes, stylish slacks and a vibrant blouse. She’s on the phone tending to details about the move. Linda Kash speaks in a clipped, clear voice with the familiar Dr. Ruth German accent. She speaks quickly but is not abrupt. And she’s smiling with every call, except the one in which she tells one of her children she won’t change her mind about moving. When Dr. Ruth ‘sees’ the audience, she blossoms. She has a whole group of us eager to hear her stories.

Much of Dr. Ruth’s life was full of sorrow, danger, uncertainty and endless adversity. She met all of it with that smile. Her grandmother told her always be cheerful, optimistic and trust in God. I can appreciate it; but constant cheerfulness is suspect it seems to me.

Director David Eisner has staged Becoming Dr. Ruth to within an inch of its life. He has

Linda Kash climbing up those levels of boxes to get something way up there to show us, then quickly climbs down only to flit to another part of the stage and climb up something there. At the time, Dr. Ruth would have been about 67 year old. Oy, what a workout that Eisner man is giving her and Kash does it all with grace, aplomb and that smile. The humour is delivered with a razor sharpness in timing, nuance and finesse. Both David Eisner as director and Linda Kash as star know the ins and outs of a funny moment. They also realize the poignancy in this long life filled with challenges that would defeat a lot of other people. But Dr. Ruth isn’t a lot of other people. As played by Linda Kash she’s a tenacious dynamo who not afraid of anything or anyone and when she talks about sex she’s glowing and it’s definitely not hot flashes.

Comment. Mark St. Germain does in Becoming Dr. Ruth what he did with his previous play, Freud’s Last Session, he has taken a real person, fashioned a situation and told their stories in a way that gives us the nuts and bolts details that sum up a life. With Becoming Dr. Ruth he has revealed the life of this seemingly unlikely expert on sex. This dandy production illuminates Dr. Ruth’s life further.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Presents:

Began: April 30, 2019.

Closes: May 16, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no interruptus.

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

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We need your help to safeguard our radio station, CIUT fm.

Time for the spring shameless plea to become a member of CIUT fm 89.5.

But with a difference.

Membership Drive Goal: $100,000


This membership drive is one of the most crucial fundraising drives in our history. CIUT-FM needs you to make a financial donation to help insure that Toronto’s only campus and community radio station on the FM dial remains financially sound. We want to continue to bring you the innovative, fresh and unique music and spoken word programming you have become accustomed to hearing each and every day.

 

Please donate today. Say Yes to Campus and Community Radio. Say Yes to CIUT-FM

Anyone who makes a financial donation between April 6th and May 31st will be eligible for the grand prize draw of a one week stay in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Includes return airfare and hotel accommodation.

There are rumblings that the provincial government will ask students to decide where their student fees should be spent and where to withhold. Ontario campus newspapers and radio stations are possible targets for this withholding. The amount of a student’s fees that goes to help pay for newspapers and radio stations is less than $5.00 a year. That’s less than a latte.

 I love doing reviews, interviews and commentary on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm but if there is a cut in our budget I fear for its survival. We are all volunteers. We do it because we love it and think radio gives voice to people’s concerns.

Please make your voice heard. Please donate to become a member of CIUT fm. Please refer to CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm when you donate.

 Donate on line at: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=282862

 

Thanks so much.

Lynn Slotkin.

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