The Passionate Playgoer

The Wee Festival, Toronto, Ont.

The wonderful Wee Festival for very young audiences (and their parents/guardians etc.) has opened this weekend with plays from Quebec,  South Africa, British Columbia, the U.K, France, Germany and Toronto participating.

The festival plays at various venues across the city until May 21.

So far I’ve seen:

 

OGO

From Le Théâtre des Petites Ames (Quebec)

For children 2.5 – 5 years old.

Plays at Théâtre français de Toronto-Studio 21 (21 College St. 6th Floor)

Three strangers have received an invitation from OGO to wait for him at a designated place and he will come and take them away on an adventure. So Olive, Gregoire and Oscar arrive, and wait, and wait, and ditto. They introduce themselves. They make music together; see strange creatures and become friends as they wait.

It’s a beautifully charming, sweet, inventive show that will get the wee kids talking out, offering advice and while not quite yelling out, “HE’S BEHIND YOU!!!” it’s pretty close.

The run is short with the last performances:

Sunday, May 13, at 11 am and 2 pm. (this 2 pm performance is in French and Mother’s Day afternoon Tea will be served after the performance)

www.weefestival.ca

 

Baking Time

From Presentation House and Oily Cart Theatre (British Columbia/UK

 For children 3 years and up.

Plays at the Alumnae Theatre.

Bakers Bun and Bap are making buns and biscuits. They knead dough, toss flour create a dough boat which is passed around the audience as if there is a storm, complete with thunder and get into all sorts of trouble. The show is 55 minutes long because they actually bake buns for the audience and it takes time. The company with two musicians are inventive and engaging, and the buns are yum.

Plays Sunday (May 13) at 2:00 and Mother’s Day Tea will be served after the performance.

www.weefestival.ca

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

Written by C.S. Lewis

Adapted for the stage by Michael O’Brien

Directed by Tim Carroll

Set by Douglas Paraschuk

Costumes by Jennifer Goodman

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Projections by Cameron Davis

Music direction, original music and sound designed by Claudio Vena

Cast: Kyle Blair

Starr Domingue

Deborah Hay

Patty Jamieson

Vanessa Sears

Travis Seetoo

Steven Sutcliffe

Michael Therriault

 A faithful rendering of C.S. Lewis’ book about the beginning of the Narnia world in a production geared towards children that uses technology, puppets and masks effectively.

The Story. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis charts the beginning of the Narnia series of children’s books, about magic, other worlds, and how much damage a wicked queen can cause when she’s slighted and pissed off.

It’s about two children Digory and Polly. Digory has come from the country with his sick mother to live in London with his aunt Letty and Uncle Andrew. His father is off fighting in the war (WWI).  Polly lives next door and befriends Digory.  Uncle Andrew is shiftless, mean, a bully and a bit of a magician. He dreams of going to other worlds and has created magical rings to do it. To see if they work, Digory and Polly use the magical rings to go to other worlds where they meet: Queen Jadis, a real piece of mean work, Aslan, a noble lion who wants to create a world called Narnia where people are good etc. and all manner of other odd creatures.

The Production. I saw the production with about 375 students.  The students from various public schools had come from a theatre workshop (as part of their theatre-going experience) where they made crowns that they wore during the show. I saw Kyle Blair in costume: shorts, nice shirt, knee high socks and shoes, chat up some children in the audience. He took notes while he chatted then when the show began he rushed up the aisle for the next scene.

A configuration of cardboard boxes is piled up centre stage. Several screens hang down from the flies along the back and side walls of the stage, spilling around the proscenium arch and in front of the side walls of the theatre auditorium. I figure that director Tim Carroll will be using projections as he did a few years ago at the Stratford Festival for his production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

When the production begins a group of people on stage introduce themselves as the mystery detectives (I believe) who ferret out mysteries and solve them.

A family is moving. The boy and the girl of the family occupy their time recalling a dream they had. This will segue into the story of The Magician’s Nephew where the boy and the girl will become Digory and Polly.

There is a lot of business of moving boxes around the set to create a wall, a tunnel, a window etc. Cameron Davis’ projections create the impressive perspective of the tunnel the children crawl through. There are wonderful creations of space, the various worlds the children visit and other visions that take us into the story.  There is enough technological dazzle with lots of projections setting the locations to engage the kids but not so much that the play is overpowered.

Tim Carroll’s staging is simplistic—many scenes are delivered directly to the audience rather than to other characters.  But the projections, the puppets and masks are first rate as is the cast. In particular the creation of a bird that will carry the children and a horse is pretty impressive, as is a chair that Uncle Andrew (a soft-talking-oily-acting-spooky-smiling Steven Sutcliffe) sits in that looks like a cardboard box from one direction and an ornate chair from another.

As Digory and Polly, Travis Seetoo and Vanessa Sears respectively are charm itself—he’s sweet and boyish and she is matter of fact and sensible.  As Jadis the Queen, sometimes called a witch, Deborah Hay is formidable, deliciously evil and frightening when put into an adult perspective of every bully who every terrorized anyone. She wants nothing less than to rule the world and would have too if it weren’t for Aslan and the beginning of the land of Narnia.

Aslan is played with nobility by Kyle Blair (in a wonderful lion’s mask) who wears an army uniform with sergeant’s stripes as a nod to WWI. Tim Carroll is acknowledging the centenary of the end of WWI with some of his programming this season. It’s beautifully ironic that a soldier plays a figure who wants to create a land of peace and good.

Michael Therriault is charmingly Cockney as the Cabbie. But when the cabby is asked to sing a song to lighten the mood, Therriault launches into “The Lambeth Walk” a cheesy bit of an insider joke—he starred in Me and My Girl last year leading the rousing “Lambeth Walk” that stopped the show. Why “cheesy”? Because Me and My Girl with “The Lambeth Walk” was produced in 1937 and The Magician’s Nephew takes place at the turn of the twentieth century. Director Tim Carroll’s penchant for cheesy jokes is tiresome and bogs down the pace.

 Comment. he production of The Magician’s Nephew is obviously for children of all ages and heights. C.S. Lewis’ classic book was adapted for the stage by Michael O’Brien and he’s pretty faithful to the book, even using dialogue from the book.

But he frames it with a group of people who say they are mystery detectives and are seeking out people’s dreams –I found this murky so am not clear who they really are.  While the two kids at the beginning of the production are recalling a dream they had, the group of detectives oversee the story. They seem to know what is happening next in the telling and I found that odd.  My quibble is that the framing devise doesn’t make sense here. The Magician’s Nephew is not the result of someone’s dream. It’s the result of the blunder of Uncle Andrew to make magic with these rings without thinking of the consequences.

On one level the whole notion of magic and other worlds appeals to kids and their imaginations.  But for adults it goes deeper. C.S. Lewis was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century.  He taught English at Cambridge and Oxford and also wrote on Christianity and philosophy. So one can look at The Magician’s Nephew as a work about the forces of good (the children) and Evil (Queen Jadis). One can look at Aslan, the lion as a Christ figure who wanted to create a world of good and kindness. The story is rich in themes of this sort that would appeal to an adult audience.  But this production certainly aims for a young audience. If my audience of young kids is any indication, they will love it.

Presented by the Shaw Festival.

Media Premiere: May 9, 2018.

Opening Celebration. May 26, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 13, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

 

 

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Two from the Riser Project

Everything I Couldn’t Tell You

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jeff D’Hondt

Directed by Erin Brandenburg

Set by Michel Charbonneau

Lighting by Andre du Toit

Costumes by Isidra Cruz

Sound and composition by Andrew Penner

Videographer, Tess Girard

Cast: Cheri Maracle

Jenny Young

PJ Prudat

Megan is an Indigenous woman suffering terrible mental distress due to a trauma. Her present therapist, Dr. Cassandra Barry, is no help. She is brittle, impatient and has her own mental issues. Megan wants an Indigenous therapist who is fluent in Lenape to treat her. Enter Dr. Alison Brant. Dr. Brant also has her own mental issues. The three deal with Megan’s mental therapy with patience, consideration and hope.

Jeff D’Hondt’s play is dense with anger, cultural issues, the thorny world of mental therapy and how to help a patient who seems beyond hope because of her rage at the world and her reluctance to be helped.

The acting is strong. PJ Prudat as Megan is a raging fury who is obviously troubled. She does have variation in her anger. Jenny Young as Dr. Cassandra Barry gives her lines in a clipped, deliberately cool manner. No one messes with this woman, who has her own issues. Cheri Maracle as Dr. Alison Brant is stoical, calm and obviously a caring therapist.

While Erin Brandenburg’s production is full of technology, projections, graphics, pulsing lights, and vivid videos at the inner workings of the brain, I found it too distracting for a play that needs careful revision and clarifying. Less technology and more blue pencil to edit please.

 

Speaking and Sneaking

Written and performed by Daniel Jelanie Ellis

Directed by d’bi.young anitafrica

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Choreographer, Brian Solomon

Sound by Jesse Ellis

Lighting by Andre du Toit

Daniel Jelanie Ellis is a wonderful actor/performer who has created a character from Jamaica that exemplifies the dream of moving away to “foreign” (Canada) to reap its many benefits. He was first taken there by his grandmother. She moved back by he remained. Over time he got his citizenship. He made is living doing menial jobs in a grocery store, doing on-line sex and other jobs. His family back home kept asking for money and he felt obliged to help them even though he didn’t have the means.

Daniel Jelani Ellis is an engaging, energetic, very funny actor who puts a lovely spin on the Jamaican patois and also clearly realizes the myth and the reality of living in the imagined glow of “foreign.”

Both shows play until  May 11, 2018.

 

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At the abandoned Furniture Emporium, 1251 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Philippe Ducros

New translation by Christopher Stanton

Co-directed by Christopher Stanton and Tamara Vuckovic

Lighting and venue design by Nick Blais

Set and costume design by Jackie Chau

Video and projection design by Melissa Joakim

Sound by Michael Rinaldi

Live visuals by Lorena Torres Loaiza

Original music by Joelysa Pankanea

Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Carlos González-Vio

Christopher Stanton

A stunning production of this harrowing play that puts you right in the uncomfortable world of the play.

The Story. A man is imprisoned in a transparent cube with nothing but a metal table as a bed. He is there to be interrogated to confess to a terrible crime. He is interrogated separately by a man and a woman. He has remained silent for the most part, but is kept there until he starts to talk . The process is slow, meticulous and unsettling.

The Production. We gather in an abandoned furniture store. We are invited to go downstairs to begin ‘the experience.’ The stairs are steep. The hallway is narrow. The ceiling is low (people over 5’7” be careful). We are asked to fill in a form from the Central Security Intelligence Service called a Site Access Protocol Form. There is a memory component and a psychological assessment. We are asked to individually enter a room and have our photo taken. Next we are asked to wander into the various rooms: one with a chair inside a taped off area; one with nothing in it; one with read lighting and photographs. No room has any windows. It’s all claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine living down there, but know people would/could live down there if forced.

When the production is to begin we are invited to go upstairs and sit in a section on either side of a glass cube in the centre of the space. There is a metal table in the middle of the cube.  We are asked to put on the headphones on the back of each seat to listen to the discourse between characters.

When the lights go up to begin the performance Him (Carlos González-Vio) lays on the metal table. He is bare-foot and wears a grey prison uniform of a top and pants. This sets up the premise that he is a prisoner. Subsequent scenes are indicated with short, sharp blackouts.

At first he is interrogated by Her (Aviva-Armour-Ostroff), a soft-spoken woman who hints at the terrible crime he has committed. She wants his confession. Him sits on the table, head bowed, hands folded together, silent. He has been silent a month. She coaxes him into talking. He doesn’t seem to know what he has done. She does. One wonders if he is telling the truth. As Her Aviva-Armour-Ostroff is never rattled, methodical, quiet spoken and determined.

There are scenes in which he has conversations with his daughter, depicted with a projection on the walls of the cube and a recorded voice of a young girl. Other scenes are with The Other One (Christopher Stanton), the other interrogator. Him does not respond to him at all. The Other One does the talking.  As The Other One, Christopher Stanton is breezy, not lethally threatening, but in that breeziness has a speech about  how they will remove everything individual about him: personality, identity, ideas of ‘self’ that is absolutely chilling.

The interrogation is on-going, relentless and debilitating to Him. As Him, Carlos González-Vio is trapping, formidable in his resolve, crisp and clear in his speech and slowly aggressive. It’s like watching a trapped animal in that cube, always on display, no privacy. And it’s to González-Vio’s credit as an actor and therefore my willingness to believe in his predicament, that I could swear that his beard and hair grow and became messy during his long incarceration.

The direction by Christopher Stanton and Tamara Vuckovic is effective in presenting a compelling situation that raises the ‘squirm-factory’ for the audience.

Comment. One can always count on the “in-your-face” ARC Company to provide provocative, unsettling theatre, in a space that is specific to that kind of play, and Dissidents is no different. This is the English language world premier of Quebecois playwright, Philippe Ducros’ gripping work.

The audience is first put in the mood of being in a claustrophobic place with the ‘pre-show’ so one can appreciate what Him is going through during the production. The relentless, quiet interrogation is of course unsettling. The description of what they will do to him, should he not confess, is eye-popping in its dissection.

Dissidents is for audiences who like their theatre challenging, muscular, meaty and gripping. A quibble….to make the audience leave truly shaken but grateful to leave, I would not suggest the three charming actors take a bow. It almost lets us off the hook that these three actors smile at the bow. While we do want to applaud their efforts no bow would be quite breathtaking, leaving us truly shaken.

 ARC presents.

Opened: May 5, 2018.

Closed: May 20, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

www.arcstage.com

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On a moving Barrie Transit Bus, in Barrie, Ontario. (you read that right).

Written by Darrell Dennis

Directed by Herbie Barnes

Production Manager and Technical Director: Beth Elliot

Cast: Craig Lauzon

A look from the inside of life as an Indigenous man full of heartache, humour and hope.

The Story. Simon Douglas grew up on a reserve in British Columbia. His father was not around. His mother and grandmother brought him up. His grandmother instilled her wisdom in his everyday life. While he says he never went to a residential school and was not taken from his family, life was rocky for him.

His mother had a relationship with a man and they moved with Simon to Vancouver. Simon had to leave his grandmother, his friends and his comfort zone. What followed was feelings of being alone, isolated and unhappy because he didn’t like his mother’s partner. The relationship didn’t work out and Simon and his mother returned to the reserve.

What follows is a litany of problems and disappointments: drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, trouble with the law and dropping out of school, etc.  And while what happens to Simon seems like every cliché one hears about Indigenous life playwright Darrell Dennis addresses this too. He is educated by his grandmother in the ways of life and being a good person. He is loved by a girlfriend who won’t accept his giving up and taking the easy way out. She never gave in to despair as an Indigenous woman and doesn’t expect him to either.  There is hope in this story and self-deprecating humour

 The Production. It takes place on a bus that moves through the streets and surrounding areas of Barrie, Ontario. We are all on the bus when it makes a stop at the bus station to pick up Simon (Craig Lauzon). He is clean-shaven, casually dressed and wears a back pack. He takes out 8 x 10 glossy pictures that he arranges along the top part of the bus where ads might be. Some are the typical Indigenous man in profile with headgear looking serious. There are pictures of his grandmother and friends at moving points in the story, just to put a face to a name.

Simon as beautifully played by Craig Lauzon is often full of despair but not self-pitying. He has a wry sense of humour. He looks each person he talks to right in the eye. The listener is never made to feel uncomfortable, but is invited in to hear a story that is important to tell. Simon paces up and down the bus, the better to look us all in the eye, but the movement is never without reason.

Director Herbie Barnes knows how to modulate the movement of Simon so that the action does seem static, but also knows how to achieve moments of great stillness. It’s a story that is often been told, but not as personably as this telling. The details are not cliché in this telling, they are painfully human and real. At time Simon succumbs to the taking the easy way out to deal with his situation. Often he gets up and tries again. That is one of the many beauties of the play and the production.

Simon gives us a final comment and bids us good bye as the back doors of the bus open and he is gone into the dark night. We are then driven back to our original stop. I would like to have given that young man, Craig Lauzon (and Simon) applause for an insightful performance of a play that unfortunately is as true and troubling now as it was when it first was done years ago.

 Comment. It’s true respect for the work of Arkady Spivak, the resourceful Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, that got me to drive to Barrie, Ont. through torrential rain and seemingly hurricane force winds to see a play, on a bus. As always, it was well worth the trip.

 Presented by Talk if Free Theatre.

Opened: May 4, 2018.

Closes: May 17, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

 

www.tift.ca

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At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Michelle Olson and Quelemia Sparrow

Written and directed by Quelemia Sparrow

Choreographed by Michelle Olson

Set by Shizuka Kai

Costumes by Jessica Oostergo

Lighting by Bradley A. Trenaman

Puppet design by Tamara Unroe

Composed by Wayne Lavallee

Sound by Kate de Lorme

Cast: Gloria May Eshkibok

Tasha Faye-Evans

Taran Kootenhayoo

Jeanette Kotowich

Donna Soares

A worthy play and production that deals with the environment through Indigenous stories.

The Story.  Margie is a lively, energetic young girl who learns the value of clean water, air, a salmon’s journey and being careful with the environment. She deliberately throws her plastic wrapped sandwich into the river. This starts a chain reaction when she meets Staqwi, a salmon who is going to teach her to be more respectful. They are guided by the all-knowing, kindly Grandmother River who tells them ancient stories to instruct them on their way.

 The Production. Shizuka Kai has designed a beautiful, evocative set with a multi-blue-hewed sheet flowing down from a rock structure that spreads on the ground, thus suggesting the river. A circular disk suspends from the flies, stage left. Various fish silhouettes will be projected on the disk as will the silhouette of the Grandmother River.

Maggie, portrayed with playful enthusiasm by Donna Soares, meets Staqwi a salmon, played with energy and sweetness by Taran Kootenhayoo. For Maggie to actually know the trials and tribulations of the salmon and its journey in the river to the ocean, Maggie is transformed into a salmon. Jessica Oostergo’s costumes for the salmon, of linking silvery disks on its back suggests the scales of the fish and the result is inspired.

What Maggie does when she throws her plastic wrapped sandwich into the river, is brought home when she, Staqwi and two water spirits see a huge pod of floating plastic that is polluting waterways. It traps birds, fish and insects and kills them. The eco system is compromised.

Director Quelemia Sparrow and choreographer Michelle Olson have captured the spirituality of the world of Indigenous folk tales. There is a magical, ethereal sense to the telling that gets the audience into that world. And of course the lesson regarding plastic and pollution is obvious.

It is good to hear Gloria May Eshkibok’s kindly, smoky voice as Grandmother River. I would love to have seen that actress back on a stage but we only have her voice and a projection of her cartoon silhouette. It is still effective.

 Comment. Salmon Girl  tells an important story regarding pollution, nature and the environment. And it tells it to those who could make a difference in our future—children.

Presented by Young People’s Theatre.

Opened: May 3, 2018.

Closes: May 12, 2018.

Running Time: 55 minutes.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

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At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Co-created by Susanna Fournier, Ted Witzel and Helen Yung

Text by Susanna Fournier and Ted Witzel

Scenography by Helen Yung

Audiovisuals by Wesley McKenzie

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Performed and interpreted by: Valerie Buhagiar

Sky Gilbert

Chala Hunter

Richard Lam

Christopher Morris

Craig Pike

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Rose Tuong

A deconstruction of Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play Lulu examining sex, lust, love, death reflection and grief in a production full of mind-boggling self-indulgence.

 The Story. This is based on Frank Wedekind’s mammoth work: Pandora’s Box: A monster-tragedy (aka LULU).  Lulu was an amoral woman who slept her way across Europe leaving a string of dead lovers in her wake. This is the first half of the story.

The second half then takes a more personal approach, to ‘untangle Lulu” from a history of violence, and try and find the ‘erotic love within us’ plus sex, death, love and grief, so says the programme note.

The Production.  On either side of the stage are microphones, a table with some props, and in the middle of the space on a raised platform is a bed.  For a long portion of the show a lot of action happens on both sides of the playing space, making it difficult to see or figure out what is going on if one was on the opposite side of the stage. As none of the characters is identified in the program alongside the actors playing them, I’ll refer to the characters as best as possible. A woman, stage right, sings into a microphone. An image of her singing at the microphone is projected on the back wall of the set.

Lulu (Rose Tuong) is dressed as a comedia dell arte character in a white satin jump suit along with various and many coloured wigs, each one more garish than the next. She is pouty, impatient, off-handed and seems incapable of any kind of meaningful love.  The acting is flat which seems a director’s choice. Christopher Morris is a dandy and suave as one of Lulu’s older lovers. Later he will appear nude except for a gauzy ruff around his neck. The reason is mystifying. Other characters wander on and off, telling the story, rather than showing it for the most part.

The acting style for the first section is deliberately declarative, artificial in that emotions don’t seem to be paramount and at a remove. In the second section when the cast engage with one another, expressing feelings, emotion etc. That too does not ring true.

Comment.  A group of actors have examined, dissected, questioned and pondered German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play: Lulu over the last four years. They have deconstructed six previous versions and this is the seventh.

The story and play are full of all manner of sexual perversion because Lulu was a sexual predator who enticed men wherever she went.  If you didn’t know the story to begin with I think you might be hard pressed to figure out what is going on.  There is no real sense of passion, eroticism or variation to get us into the story. I had to wonder why they were deconstructing anything if we can’t get the sense of what it was they were deconstructing.

The second part: Love and Grief seems to be the more personal component as the cast try and “untangle Lulu”  It’s the actors shifting in and out of the story, with  many trying to relate their attitudes to the original. Often the cast is in the nude perhaps to achieve a sense of eroticism.

Does this retelling and deconstruction work? Let me quote from the programme because it’s helpful to read what the creators really intended:

“We invite you to journey with us and peel back the layers of legacy, so we can meet each other in the pulsing heart of longing, of being and of being together.”

In other words, drivel.

There is another show in Toronto that tries to examine love in its many guises between lovers. It’s called 40 Days and 40 Nights.  In my review I called it ‘twaddle’.

Now I have drivel with  Lulu v. 7//A Femme Fatale.

  Is this an improvement? I don’t think so.

Lulu V. 7//Aspects of a Femme Fatale is pretentious navel gazing with the assumption that the audience will care about such self-indulgence. We are even ‘treated’ to actors commenting how “Ted (Witzel)” or “Suzanna (Fournier)” wanted one or the other to rewrite their portion, that there was not enough Wedekind in that section. If we haven’t seen the process for the previous six versions, why should we care what “Ted” or “Suzanna” felt?  And as a member of that audience I just don’t care because they haven’t met me half way to make me care. .

Because Lulu V. 7//Aspects of a Femme Fatale is so lacking in drama, tension, anything that would hold you regarding narrative, it’s dull, dreary and so full of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction and certainly no varying aspects of a femme fatale.

The saving grace is that it was supposed to be over three hours long and it was only about 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

I so hope there is not a version 8.

A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Red Light District Co-production:

Opened: May 3, 2018.

Closes: May 20, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes.

www.buddiesinbadtimes.com

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l-r Shaina Silver-Baird, Thalia Kane
Photo: Angela Besharah

 

At the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Thalia Gonzalez Kane

Directed and choreographed by Monica Dottor

Set by Monica Dottor

Costumes by Monica Dottor and Thalia Kane

Lighting by Lily Cardiff and Thalia Kane

Sound by Thalia Kane

Cast: Tamara Almeida

Jeanie Calleja

Thalia Gonzalez Kane

Lily Scriven

Shaina Silver-Baird

The play is smart, unsettling, provocative about today’s teen girls and the pressures they have to live with. The production by Monica Dottor is typical of her artistic gift for story telling through word, movement and dance. And the cast is superb.

The Story. Jenn, Tommi, Laura and Sarah are 15-years-old, from a small town and go to the same school. Boys, sex and virginity occupy their time. Jenn boasts about her many sexual conquests, who she’s slept with or to whom she’s given blow jobs. Tommi and Sarah are best friends, perhaps soul mates according to Sarah. Sarah worries that should she get a boyfriend she will be thought a bad kisser, so she and Tommi practice on each other to prepare. Laura has added pressure because her mother, Mrs. Wright, is the school guidance counsellor.

To give themselves a jump-start on life and sexuality Jenn comes up with a game they all play. If they ‘hook-up’ with a boy (have sex) that constitutes a certain number of points. If they give a ‘hand-job’ or ‘blow-job’ that’s another set of points. Jenn keeps score. They call themselves The ’94 Whores because they all were born in 1994.

Some of them have doubts about the game and themselves in the game, their sexuality, their identities and their ideas of self. Jenn seems to be the confident one. Then things escalate out of control. The programme notes that the play is based on real events.

The Production. Monica Dottor is a quadruple threat on this production as: director/choreographer/set designer and co-costume designer. Not one idea is wasted in this tight, provocative, unsettling production. Stacks of books a teen might read in school are arranged around the playing space. A network of criss-crossing wires/strings spreads in the are across the playing space. The characters carefully negotiate through and around this intricate pattern of wires something like negotiating through the various pitfalls, roadblocks of being a teen in our modern world. The pattern of wires/strings reminds me of the patterns in a cat cradle game and indeed Sarah (Shaina Silver-Baird) and Tommi (Thalia Kane) play that game at one point in the play.

Jenn kneels down on the floor facing downstage. She draws a chart in chalk on the floor listing the names of the four girls and the scores due to their sexual encounters as the time goes on. The chart faces upstage towards Jenn. She keeps track of the scores for each girl as they have more encounters with boys and men and perhaps even other girls.

As Jenn, Tamara Almeida is all swagger and boastful but she makes us watchful for any crack in this tough exterior. Lily Scriven plays Laura as a young woman worried that her mother will find out and concerned she might be made fun of because she is still a virgin. The concern, angst and worry is so natural in Scrivener’s performance. Shaina Silver-Baird as Sarah and Thalia Kane as Tommi give tender, sensitive performances of two close friends who are soul mates. As Tommi, Kane is confident in her self-awareness and so understanding for Sarah who is not sure of her own sexuality. For her part, Silver-Baird plays Sarah as confused, fragile-minded and in denial at what is actually happening to her. You ache for all of them.

I have a quibble in logistics. Playwright Thalia Gonzalez Kane reveals the names of the characters gradually as the play unfolds. We hear Sarah and Jenn referred to first by the others. While Laura is referred to by her mother Mrs. Wright, there is nothing up to that point to indicate that Laura is one of the four girls. And only later do we hear the name Tommi mentioned. That’s why the chart that Jenn draws on the floor with the four girls’ names is so important. So I am puzzled as to why director Monica Dottor chose to have the chart face upstage (making it difficult to read the names upside down) and not drawn facing downstage, so the audience could read the names quickly and not be confused as to what the names of the girls were. I have seen a lot of Dottor’s work and it is exemplary. She always engages me in her thinking, but this decision regarding the direction of the chart is puzzling. We find out the names eventually, but learning who was who quicker would have been helpful.

 Comment. In the last few weeks we have seen several plays dealing with teenage angst: I and You (facing life and not giving in to illness), Girls Like That (bullying, body image and the dangers of technology), Selfie, again about teenaged angst and the power of the internet going viral).

I loved I and You.  I think The ’94 Club is right up there with it for quality, brains and heart. This self-assured, intelligent, perceptive play is Thalia Gonzalez Kane’s first effort as a playwright. Astonishing. She has created four distinct characters each with her own issues, each credible as teens and none of them is a cliché. The adults referenced are found lacking: parents who don’t seem to care about their daughter’s behaviour, even Mrs. Wright as played by Jeanie Calleja is harried, frustrated and perhaps, as a result, insensitive to the issues of these young women.

Quibble aside, I am grateful to have seen this striking play given such an impressive production. More please. Soon.

Presented by Crave Productions:

Opened: May 2, 2018.

Closes: May 12, 2018.

Running Time: 65 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com/the94club

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At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

Stage adaptation by Mike Bartlett

Based on the Enigma Productions Limited motion picture.

Screenplay by Colin Welland

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Set and costumes by Bretta Gerecke

Lighting by Gerald King

Composer, Dave Pierce

Sound by Jim Neil

Choreographer, Stephanie Graham

Cast: Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Erin Breen

Josh Buchwald

Kevin Bundy

Ellen Denny

Alex Furber

Kyle Gatehouse

Harry Judge

Thom Marriott

Anwyn Musico

Connor Overton

Anand Rajaram

Charlie Tomlinson

A huge undertaking that captures the thrill and emotion of the 1924 Olympics especially the involvement of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.

 The Story. Chariots of Fire is the captivating story of the rivalry between Scotsman Eric Liddell and Englishman Harold Abrahams vying for the title of fastest man alive when they competed in the 1924 Olympics. Both would represent Great Britain.

Abrahams was Jewish and his parents were immigrants. While he earned the right to get into Cambridge the veiled and not so veiled anti-Semitism of the administration of the University was obvious to him. Abrahams was driven to succeed in his studies and to run faster than anyone there. Abrahams was aware of Eric Liddell’s gifts as a runner and endeavoured to beat him. He had a grudging respect for his opponent.

Liddell was a pious man whose parents were missionaries. His devotion to God occasionally got in the way of him giving in to his abilities as a runner. He had to be urged to run rather than giving it up to become a missionary like his parents. His respect for Harold Abrahams was genuine. A crisis at the Olympics revealed Liddell’s integrity, the power of his faith and the duplicity of the various organizers on many sides.

The Production. Several seats were removed from the theatre to make room for a running track that ran through the space and continued onto the stage. The missing seats were relocated to the stage proper where some audience members watched the play, in Bretta Gerecke’s impressive set. A billowing formation of red ribbons hung down from the flies. Perhaps they were representative of the red ‘ribboned’ finish line in many races depicted in the play.

To get us in the racing atmosphere of the play, director, Dennis Garnhum has several actors in 1924 running garb—fitted white shorts and white t-shirts—stretching, bending and squatting in preparation to run. They sprinted. They challenged each other. They raced around the track until the show was about to start and they disappeared. They were all coached by Vickie Croley who coached at Western University.

The lives of both Harold Abrahams (Harry Judge)  and Eric Liddell Wade Bogert-O’Brien) are revealed almost side by side but still separately until they meet at a race. It’s Eric Liddell who has the grace to introduce himself to Harold Abrahams and wish him luck. Grace and graciousness describe Wade Boger-O’Brien’s performance as Liddell. He is thoughtful and carries the responsibility of doing God’s work and will in his everyday.

Harry Judge as Abrahams is sophisticated, brash, determined and touched by Liddell’s decision regarding the Olympics race. While a rivalry brought them together, it’s respect and consideration that makes them friends.

Sam Mussabini who coached and trained Abrahams is beautifully played by Anand Rajaram in a performance full of drive, clear-eyed savvy and compassion. Thom Marriott plays the Master of Trinity with disdain and condescension in a terrific performance.

Director Dennis Garnhum has provided many moving moments in this production: the introduction of the various countries with their flags at the opening of the Olympics, Liddell agonizing over what to do about his race; Abrahams giving credit to Liddell as a person and an athlete.  Garnhum has also recreated the races in an inventive way as well that shows the idiosyncratic way both men ran and won.

Naturally the iconic music played from the film, as well as the work of composer Dave Pierce. I even heard that stirring music during intermission in the ladies’ washroom.

Comment. Chariots of Fire a huge undertaking and it showed. (The title comes from a phrase from the hymn “Jerusalem.”) It was a terrific way of ending the Grand Theatre season, which in turn was full of grand theatre.

 Presented by the Grand Theatre.

Opened: April 20, 2018.

Closes: May 5, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.grandtheatre.com

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At the Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Catherine Rainville

Scenic design by Caitlin Doherty

Cast: Geoffrey Armour

Olivia Croft

Sochi Fried

Melanie Leon

Tim MacLean

Michael Man

Megan Miles

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Drew O’Hara

Lesley Robertson

David Ross

James Wallis

Jeff Yung

A crackerjack production thanks to director Catherin Rainville and her cast, of Shakespeare’s thorny play, that alas, is always timely.

 The Story. You have to give it to William Shakespeare. He wrote Measure for Measure about 400 years ago and with #MeToo, #Time’s Up etc. the play is still timely and relevant.

Isabella just wants to enter the convent and devote her life to God. But then her brother Claudio is sentenced to death for getting his fiancée pregnant (It’s Vienna, there is an ancient law on the books that says if you get a woman pregnant you are sentenced to death). Claudio asks Isabella to plead his case to Angelo, the prickly stickler for the law. She is eloquent. He is impressed by that. He makes her a proposition to save her brother and it’s not that they both pray together. Isabella is repelled by the offer and torn about what to do. She lives in a world where women are treated badly by men, not respected, not cherished. They are a commodity. Kind of sounds familiar. No wonder the woman wants to go into a convent.

The Production. Catherine Rainville, the smart, gutsy director of this dandy production, announces that one of the cast members (Cara Pantalone) is ill and can’t appear so Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis will play the roles that Ms Pantalone would have played. Mr. Wallis also gives out the tickets at the door, while Ms Nish-Lapidus seems to be a comforting mother hen to the cast as she paces back and forth before the show starts to check on the front of house and what’s going on backstage. Shakespeare BASH’d is that kind of company where everybody pitches in to do all and sundry. It works a treat.

The production is played downstairs in the bar of the Junction City Music Hall. The audience sits on both sides of the playing area where the action whizzes and goes like a bat out of hell.

Catherine Rainville has created some wonderfully surprising moments in her muscular, bracing production. Duke Vincentio (David Ross), the weak twit of the head of Vienna has made a botch of keeping order so he decides to leave, giving the reins of power to Angelo (Geoffrey Armour). Because Angelo is so straight-laced and follows the letter of the law, the Duke feels that Angelo will straighten everything out. The Duke gives the letter transferring power to Escalus who in turn will give the letter to Angelo.  Geoffrey Armour initially plays Angelo as an obedient accommodating man but when the Duke is out of sight Angelo lunges at the letter, rips it out of Escalus’ hands and reads it greedily to see what his duties are.

That surprises me in a wonderfully positive way. Director Catherine Rainville instantly shows the layers to Angelo; that he does hide many aspects to his personality, huge ambition being one. I wish Geoffrey Armour as Angelo played him with more variation instead of a ramped up sense of tension and irritation.

Under Rainville’s direction the cast is overflowing with inventive business, body language, riské business, humour, and wit. Two of the best in the cast are: Lesley Robertson as Pompey, a slippery, sarcastic operator and Michael Man as Lucio, a sneaky scumbag who never met a person he couldn’t insult or an opportunity he couldn’t work to his advantage. Both do splendid work. Sochi Fried is a standout as Isabella. She is prim without being priggish, pious, eloquent and quick witted. There is passion in her arguments with Angelo and she conveys a gut-twisting moment at the end when she is faced with another difficult decision.

Without giving anything away, I thought the ending could have carried a stronger punch. But David Ross as the Duke doesn’t go for a tougher playing of the ending perhaps because Rainville doesn’t want it played that way? It’s an interesting way of ending this production of this always troubling play.

Comment. I love the guts of Shakespeare BASH’d. They never shy away from troubling plays and they present them for a truly loyal audience. Their shows are usually sold out and it’s easy to see why; the plays are well acted, directed, produced and done with total commitment.

Measure for Measure is certainly one of Shakespeare’s more troubling, unsettling plays and Shakespeare BASH’d have done a splendid production showing why.

 Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: May 1, 2018.

Closes: May 6, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.shakespearebashd.com

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