The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Good Morning, Viet Mom

 Written and performed by Franco Nguyen

Directed by Byron Abalos

Franco Nguyen is a charmer. He begins his sweet show by saying he’s not Chinese. And repeating it so it sinks in and the audience starts to think about what Mr. Nguyen is saying. He’s Vietnamese. He then pronounces his name correctly as well as the many ways it’s been mispronounced.

This is Mr. Nguyen’s journey and that of his fractured family from Vietnam to Canada. It’s the story of his stalwart mother, his absent father and how he (Nguyen)  negotiates between living his life independently and living his life at thirty years old, while still living at home with his mother.

Initially he admits that he is still living at home with a touch of embarrassment. At the end of the journey the embarrassment is replaced with love and pride. Nguyen has an easy way with his humour. It’s never abrasive or harsh. He is not an angry son, just a frustrated one. He was embarrassed to have to translate for his non-English-speaking Mom, but his telling of the various stories is told with kindness and sweetness.

Lovely show. Director Byron Abalos moves Mr. Nguyen around the set sparingly, but enough for the action not to be static. And Abalos aids in keeping the tone lively but not extreme.  I will look out for Franco Nguyen in future.

Rumspringa Break!

Book by Matt Murray

Music by Colleen Dauncey

Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal

Director, Steve Gallagher

Choreographer, Kirstyn Russelle

Rumspringa Break!  Is about two young Amish sisters, Hannah and Ruth, who want to take a break (Rumspringa Break) and experience the world before they are baptised into the church. They plan to visit a cousin in the big city. When they get there the cousin has gone to Florida. The sisters plan to make this into a positive move and depend on the kindness of strangers to take them in. And they do. And the strangers are drug dealers. And one of the sisters is good with plants and helps bring the drug dealer’s plants back to life. We know what kind of plants they are. And it’s a musical.  And it’s wonderful.

Matt Murray’s book is fresh and original and bursting with humour and insightful musings on the human condition, families, responsibility and love in the strangest places. Colleen Dauncey’s music is tuneful and melodic and Akiva Romer-Segal’s lyrics are fine in establishing the tone, mood and world of that show, although a few of the songs seem out of place and unnecessary.

Giving new meaning to sisterly love are: Georgia Bennett as Ruth, supposedly the clingy, insecure sister who blossoms before our eyes into a confident grower of ‘weed’, who also sings like a dream, and Arinea Hermans as Hannah, the in-control-sister who took care of everybody and resented it, until she was shunted aside. Hermans also sings and acts beautifully. Steve Gallagher directed this (double-duty with Birthday Balloon) again showing a sense of flow, pacing and serving the story.

A smart, inventive story with a terrific score.

Leila Live!

Written and performed by Leila

Directed by Leila’s Mother

Designed by Leila

The charming and diminutive Leila greets those lining up to get into her show, taking selfies along the way. She wears her traditional flowing head scarf, a bold patterned two piece ensemble and her full black beard is nicely trimmed. Once the show started she panned her dark demur eyes over the crowd and fluttered her eyelashes at a few selected men, asking one, “Are you Persian?” He was and then became her willing participant.

Leila tells of her adventures with Jane on the internet. They become fast friends and Leila is invited to a party at Casa Loma. I won’t go further except to say that things don’t work out as planned.

What one can expect from Leila Live! is that you will laugh at the wild sense of humour of Leila and the disarming charm in which she tells her story and plays her audience. We also get a primer in Persian culture and why we Canadians don’t get it, but with Leila’s help that will change.

www.fringetoronto.com

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Review: MUSTARD

by Lynn on January 5, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Anand Rajaram, Rebecca Liddiard;
photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At the Tarragon Theatre, Extraspace Toronto, Ont.
Written by Kat Sandler
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran
Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Lighting designer, Graeme S. Thomson
Co-lighting designer, Nick Andison
Cast: Conrad Coates
Sarah Dodd
Rebecca Liddiard
Tony Nappo
Anand Rajaram
Travis Seetoo

A lively comedy about growing up and leaving the comfort zone.  This  is not about condiments.

 The Story. Mustard  is a very funny comedy with a deeper sensibility about a floppy doll dressed in yellow pants and pockets of various colours, (hence his name of “Mustard”).

The doll was first given to Thai when she was a baby to try and stop her from crying.  As Thai grew up she would talk to Mustard and the doll took on a life of its own—he would talk to Thai.

Thai is now a lively, single-minded 16 year old. Her family life is in crisis and she acts out violently—she tends to punch people in the face.  Her father has left and wants a divorce.  Her mother, Sadie, is depressed, drinks and takes drugs. She’s not much help to Thai. Thai goes to Mustard for advice and solace.

Mustard tries his best to help her, but he has his own problems.  It seems there is a statute of limitations on how long a boon—the technical name for imaginary friends—can stick around and now the ‘boon-goons’ are warning Mustard he has to go. What to do? A dilemma.

The Production. Mustard  first played at the Tarragon in 2016 and the production was dandy thanks to Ashlie Corcoran’s energetic direction and the sterling cast This revival, with two cast changes, is up to the mark as well.

Anand Rajaram plays Mustard with a wide-eyed curiosity and a serious and sensitive demeanour. Mustard is devoted to Thai and wants only the best for her. But then there is Thai’s wounded mother Sadie, who drinks and takes pills way too often. Sadie is played with bitter sarcasm and a quick wit by Sarah Dodd. Dodd makes it all seem effortless. Every moment in her performance informs the many layers of this character.

As in 2016, the real discover is Rebecca Liddiard as Thai. Precocious, impatient to grow up, angry her father is not there, angry her mother is there but absent in a sense because her mother is so out of it with depression.

There is a special chemistry with Liddiard and Rajaram as there is with Thai and Mustard.  They egg each other on. Sparks fly. Funny and touching.

Comment. So for all its loopy humour, and there’s plenty of it–Kat Sandler writes such incongruous, funny dialogue–there is a serious inner core to the show. Sandler writes about growing up, maturing, finding your own voice and your own happiness without the crutch of a childhood friend that always seems to solve the problems.  There’s a sweetness to the play with Sandler’s typical off-the-wall-loopiness in story-telling.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Jan. 4, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 28, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

The Harold Experience

Presented by The Assembly

Directed by Rob Norman

Musical Director, Ayaka Kinugawa

Rob Baker, a member of The Assembly, an improv group, tells us at the top of the show,  that The Harold is a little known technique of improv, the centre of a routine. Some members of the group go into the audience and chat up the audience and from that conversation comes the subject of the first improvised skit. After that the group riffs on other unrelated topics: feisty racoons (what other kind of racoons are there?), an awkward bridegroom and his ‘virgin’ bride, a long-absent father returned home, a man with lots of receipts.

If these skits are to illustrate the Harold then I can only assume that it means: the result is cringingly unfunny, goes on long past its best STOP time and is amusing to the cast and some of the audience.

I spent most of the time wondering if the cue to end a skit came from musical director, Ayaka Kinugawa, or the lighting person who just mercifully brought the lights down to end a skit. Deadly.

 

Birthday Balloon

 Presented by Mauzy May Productions

Written by Steve Cochrane

Directed by Steven Gallagher

Cast: Craig Pike, Renée Hackett

David and Millie’s marriage is in crisis. She learns that he has cheated on her while he was away working in Fort McMurray and she remained in Newfoundland. There are ghosts lingering in the background. Incriminations bubble up. Anger and hurt prevail with moments of tenderness and compassion. And it is also wildly funny.

Playwright Steve Cochrane has created a compelling story that unfolds gradually revealing two wounded, fully fleshed out and alive characters. Cochrane has captured the Newfoundlander’s speech patterns and the turns of phrase that are killingly funny. For example, Millie says that Dave is “..built like a bag of milk.” A line you can tip your hat to. Craig Pike as Dave and Renée Hackett as Millie are both glowing in nuance, subtlety, detail and heart. Steven Gallagher directs this with tremendous sensitivity. There is a piece of business with a balloon that is breathtaking, both literally and figuratively. Wow!

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Other Stuff

Steve Fisher and I are Making a Podcast.

Happy New Year!!!

Steve Fisher and I will be doing a podcast of our theatre thoughts in a kind of Siskel and Ebert thingy beginning soon. It will be hosted, fairly and noncommittally by the silver voiced Tom McGee. Our first podcast will cover the Next Stage Theatre Festival (Jan 3. to Jan 14).

Steve wrote a column until recently for the on-line magazine, The Torontoist, about anything to do with entertainment and especially theatre. He also writes for NOW Magazine. We usually trade thoughts? barbs? in a theatre lobby. Now we will do it on the radio airwaves and hope we keep in lively but respectful.

As announced on Twitter today, Jan. 3, 2018.

Some GOOD #TheaTO news for the new year! Next week brings the pilot episode of “Slotkin And Fisher At The Theatre”, a critical discourse podcast, with host /moderator /producer @mcgeetd! @slotkinletter & I will be reviewing ALL of @Toronto_Fringe’s #NSTF shows. #SlotkinAndFisher

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Other Stuff

 What’s Wrong with this Picture?

 Actresses of a certain age, 50 and up, have a hard time finding suitable roles in plays. Men can go on into old age with starring parts but for women, it’s a struggle. Playwright Brad Fraser noted this dearth of parts for older actresses when he was casting for one of his plays. So he decided to write a play to correct this inequity. Five @fifty  (2013) was the result.

(Full disclosure—I was sent an early draft for comment, along with many others, and I offered comments and saw an early reading.)

It’s about five women friends, two of whom are a couple and one of that couple has a severe drinking problem. Three of the friends feel an intervention is needed to urge the alcoholic to get help and her partner to stop enabling the drinking. The writing is sharp, perceptive, layered and the stories of the five women are compelling.

It had its world premiere at the Royal Theatre Exchange, Manchester, England and its North American premiere at the PAL Studio Theatre in Vancouver when Ruby Slippers Theatre, and Zee Zee Theatre (two indie theatre companies) joined forces to produce it, in 2016. Since then, nothing. Not one theatre, of any size, in Toronto has seen the opportunity to produce a play requiring five actresses of ‘a certain age’, and this city is teeming with actresses, of a certain age, itching to act.

Some time ago I suggested the play to Nightwood Theatre thinking the company’s feminist focus would make Five@fifty ideal for programming. I was told that since the playwright was a man Nightwood could not consider it in a season. However, I was also told a co-pro would not be out of the question. While I didn’t make a further suggestion that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre would be a good match with its queer focus, I would have thought a co-pro with them was a no-brainer. Still nothing. And still the lament is heard frequently that there are not enough good parts for actresses of a certain age. What is wrong with this picture!

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Review: THE LORAX

by Lynn on December 20, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

 At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

 Written by Dr. Seuss

Adapted by David Greig

Music and lyrics by Charlie Fink

Directed by Max Webster

Choreography by Drew McOnie

Designed by Rob Howell

Lighting by Jon Clark

Sound by Tom Gibbons
Puppetry designer, Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell

Puppetry direction by Finn Caldwell for Gyre & Gimble

Staring: Michael Ajao

Laura Caldow

Simon Paisley Day

David Ricardo-Pearce

Ben Thompson

A lively, inventive, raucous show about a rather important subject handled with thoughtful care and conviction. 

 The Story. A group of innocent young people, playing in the woods, stumble upon a monument with the word “Unless” on it. They are disturbed by an irascible person named The Once-ler (Simon Paisley Day) who lives high above them, it seems in a tree, alone. He can’t tell them what “Unless” means because he doesn’t know.  But he tells them the story that led him to this lonely existence.

He was a child of the Once-ler Family. He did his best to work and bring money into the family but didn’t really shape up. The family threw him out to rent his room for more money than the Once-ler made.

The Once-ler was determined to show his family he could amount to something. He somehow created a Thneed, a knitted grarment that had so many uses I can’t list them all here, so I won’t. The Once-ler sold the Thneed instantly! To make more Thneeds, the Once-ler needed the soft tufts at the top of the Truffula Tree for more knitting, so he cut one down. This aroused the Lorax, a furry creature who “ Speaks for the Trees” and tries to protect them. What followed was a tug of war between the Lorax, who was desperate to protect the trees, and the Once-ler who only saw how much money he could make by producing Thneeds which required cutting down more trees.

The Production.  Director Max Webster is mindful that we live in a time of whizzing, colourful distraction. Our senses are bombarded with sound, light, colour and dazzle. So his production never lags in pace or the “wow!” factor. Rob Howell’s sets and costumes are an explosion of vibrant neon. The Once-ler favours emerald green skinny pants and accessories that also match his green hair. The Lorax is a pear-shaped fluff-ball puppet of orange fur/hair. He is manipulated by three puppeteers: David Ricardo-Pearce gives the Lorax his distinctive voice complete with moral indignation; Ricardo-Pearce manipulates the head and one arm; Laura Caldow manipulates the other arm and projects the Lorax’s pained feelings with her own face, creased in anguish sometimes. Both Ricardo-Pearce and Caldow look directly at the Lorax as they manipulate it. That then focuses the audience’s attention onto the Lorax and not the puppeteers, even though it’s so tempting to watch the mastery of the puppeteers. Ben Thompson works the Lorax’s feet by bending over and working the feet with his hands. I got a sore back watching him scurry offstage, bent over, moving the Lorax along.   The Truffula Trees are multi-coloured and often float in mid-air.

Simon Paisley Day plays the Once-ler with total, serious conviction. This wonderful actor has played comedy, drama, Shakespeare– and now he’s playing a Dr. Seuss character with the same commitment as ever. And he can sing too. It’s because of Simon Paisley Day’s acting that we don’t completely discount the Once-ler as a greedy-guts heartless businessman who has fallen in love with power and money. He is convincing when he says he must provide for his family and his businesses and all the people who depend on him. Too true. But one thinks: ‘Ya don’t have to be such a creep about it!”

The music and the singing are stirring. Almost everyone is microphoned. It all seems like a typical glitzy, blaring musical. But then there are quiet moments of wonderful invention. With all the Once-ler’s expanding business comes pollution of the air and water. A sad grey thin gauzy swath of material is slowly drawn up from the top of building’s smokestack and into the air like a floating cloud, because that’s what it is—a cloud of pollution. A much larger grey sheet is floated by characters who hold the corners, creating a haze of more pollution and smog along the ground. A blue-slatted structure represents the polluted water in which sick fish swim. The audience gets its senses tingly and its imagination engaged. The puppets of birds on the ends of poles that fly over the stage and some of the audience, are cleverly constructed. The other puppets of the animals are unique.  Love that.

 Comment.  Dr. Seuss was skewering big, irresponsible business, its greed and the resultant damage to the environment in his 1972 classic “The Lorax.” Thinking as a purist, the production of The Lorax seems like an overblown way of dealing with such an important subject as the environment. But most of the time I’m not a purist. This is a joyful musical that is so accomplished and exuberant in its story-telling, production and  music-making, that’s fine with me.

David Mirvish presents The Old Vic, Celia Atkin/Tobias Round and Tulchin Bartner Productions.

 Opened: Dec. 17, 2017.

Closes: Jan. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. Approx.

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Hi Folks,

I was chuffed when Intermission Magazine asked me to be their first theatre critic. I love their spirit and spunk. It was an adventure posting my reviews for them, but I’m going back to posting my reviews, comments etc. for my blog, The Slotkin Letter effective now.

All the best for the holidays.

Lynn

 

 

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At last! The 2017 TOOTSIE AWARDS are up at: www.intermissionmagazine.ca

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2017 Tootsie Awards

by Lynn on December 17, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

Hi Folks

My 2017 Tootsie Awards will be posted soon on the Intermission Magazine site at: www.intermissionmagazine.ca I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Holidays.

Lynn

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I was in the security line at La Guardia, waiting to go home. A breathless man raced up politely asked to go before us because his plane was boarding. We let him go. He put all his stuff on the conveyor belt and then looked back at the end of the long line. He motioned for the woman there to join him. “Maria….” he said waving her to come. She shook her head. He went through the line and security and presumably to his boarding flight. I looked back and “Maria” was waiting to move forward in line, unconcerned, it seemed to me.

I got through security and the screening and collected my things and moseyed toward my gate. I saw the breathless man in the corridor looking anxiously behind me, for “Maria” who was no where to be seen. I heard him say to himself: “Where are you!? Please don’t be doing this on purpose.”

That stunned me. “Please don’t be doing this on purpose.” What kind of relationship did they have? Did they come together and get separated? She was at the back of the line and he just pleaded his case to move forward because his plane was boarding. But she didn’t follow. Oy.

****

At the corner of Fifth Ave. and 46th or 47th, waiting for the light to change, a mother was reprimanding her eight-year-old son. “You will not be disrespectful to your parents. And you should not expect presents when you are disrespectful to either me or your father”.  She looked straight ahead. She was holding his hand but not gripping it. Her hand was bare. His was in a mitt. He looked like he might be about to cry (I tried not to look too hard here) and so he momentarily brought the edge of his toque down over his face to hide any tears. The light changed. The boy moved the toque off his face and walked across Fifth Ave. beside his mother. His head was slightly bowed in repentance. Then I noticed that mother and child were headed for the Reebok store that was loaded with toys. I think the kid won that round.

*****

I went with friends to the new location of the Bond 45 restaurant after one of our plays. The restaurant used to be on West 45th Street near where the old Bond store used to be, hence the name, but then had to move because of the endless renovation of the corner of 45th Street and 7th Ave.  Bond 45th is now on 46th Street.

After we finished discussing the play etc. we got down to serious matters that affect people in my circle: acid reflux. I said how I was popping Tums after a lot of what I eat. I have a lot of acid reflux and occasionally have taken Zantac but forget so I take Tums.  I just feel uncomfortable until I take a Tums and then I’m good to go.  When one needs advice on this and other matters, who comes to the rescue? Exactly, the waiter. Ours overheard me and chimed in that after he had been drinking heavily (!!!!) he took Omeprazole. He said it changed his life. He got it over the counter at Walgreens a huge drug store chain in the States. A friend at the table was familiar with it because it had an ingredient in some medication he took under a doctor’s prescription. Our waiter said that it was fast and, again, would change my life.

I went to Walgreens immediately after dinner – I never eat that late at night, then I will really have ‘backup.’ I bought Omeprazole and just in case, Zantac. I took a Zantac that night for the back up and was fine. I then started the 14 day course of the Omeprazole and after the first day had not one trace of acid reflux. Amazing. One follows the course of taking the tablets for 14 days, and then does not take that stuff again (if needed) for four months. I’ll try and be careful.

*****

There was a bit of excitement on the way to Walgreens. My friends and I wandered up from 46th Street to Times Square. It was about 11:30 pm and it was so brightly lit you could do open heart surgery out there. There were several Disney characters in full plush costume there as well. The scam here is that one of the characters goes up to a tourist and offers to take a picture with the person and then the person has to pay for the picture.

About three or four police were arresting Mickey Mouse. They surrounded him and one of them had his notebook out. When Mickey took off his jolly head-covering there was a scared diminutive woman about 70 years old, who only spoke Spanish. It seems that none of the police officers spoke it so communication was difficult. We didn’t know what her crime was. We had all sorts of theories: she was an illegal alien who was just trying to make a living and the cops scoped her out; she was the head of a notorious drug cartel operating out of Times Square; they wanted their picture with her. A mystery.

*****

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