At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Eugène Ionesco

Directed by Chanda Gibson

Set by Alexandra Lord

Costumes by Yvan Castonguay

Lighting by Glenn Davidson

Sound environment by Ben Gibson

Cast: Sébastien Bertrand

Sophie Goulet

Geneviève Langlois

Pierre Simpson

Christiana Tannous

Manuel Verreydt

The Bald Soprano is Eugène Ionesco’s first play. It was produced in 1950 and after a rocky start has gained ‘classic’ status as a model for the theatrical genre known as “Theatre of the Absurd.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in the suburbs of London, England. They have just finished their dinner. The clock strikes 17. Mrs. Smith says that it’s nine o’clock. The clock strikes seven a few minutes later. Then it strikes five. Mr. Smith reads the newspaper while Mrs. Smith talks about the various qualities of oil that come from the various grocers in the area. The conversation is banal. The doorbell rings and Mary the Maid  answers it. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Martin who seem to be late for dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Smith got tired of waiting for them and ate dinner anyway. When Mr. and Mrs. Martin arrive, Mr. and Mrs. Smith leave the room. Mr. and Mrs. Martin carry on a conversation with each other as if they don’t realize they are married. Rather they say that the other looks familiar and so they then ask each other questions to narrow down how and why they might know each other. The Captain of the Fire Brigade arrives looking for a fire and can’t find one there. Then they all seem to loop back to the beginning only this time Mr. and Mrs. Martin begin the play in the same way that it opened perhaps suggesting that Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Martin are interchangeable. That’s the fun of the play. Truly. Ionesco is messing with our heads, bless him.

It’s all decidedly absurd. Is Ionesco commenting on the absurdity of life? No argument there. Is he commenting on the banality of conversation and relationships? Perhaps. If anything a play written and produced almost 70 years ago certainly is applicable to today when everybody seems to be on their cell phones in order to be ‘connected’ but have no idea of where they are or where they are going because they are bent over and glued to that glowing screen. People don’t know how to engage with others face to face or have a conversation that is articulate. Now that is absurd.

Chanda Gibson has directed a production that is bristling with invention, wit and brains. It pops with humour and irony. Alexandra Lord’s set is stylish and suggests Mr and Mrs. Smith have taste and money to appreciate it. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are so entrenched in their daily routine that Chandra Gibson has them move like graceful robots. Mrs. Smith (Geneviève Langlois) is dressed in a sleek form-fitting dress which she smooths in precise sweeps of her hands down the creases. (Kudos to Yvan Castonguay for the stylish costumes) Mrs. Smith’s arms and legs move stiffly, as per a robot. She sits precisely and crosses her legs in the same way. Mr. Smith (Manuel Verreydt) moves like a robot until his gets to his chair and then snaps his paper open and reads. The movement for Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Pierre Simpson and Sophie Goulet respectively) is just as precise. Mr. Martin crosses his legs and turns to one side for his pose. Sophie Goulet is a touch perky in her movement. Sébastien Bertrand is a very confident Captain of the Fire Brigade. Much is made of his supposed diminutive stature. It works a treat. Christina Tannous is the disdainful Maid and she sings in a powerful soprano voice.

Interestingly every word that is spoken is translated into English surtitles above the stage except when the Maid sings. There are no surtitles at all to tell us what she is singing. From my rough French it sounds as if the Maid is introducing the people in the house, namely Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Everything about this production serves the play and does it with great care. The result is hilarious, and we spend a lot of time pondering it all.

The Soprano/Maid (Christina Tannous) is not bald. But she is pregnant.

Théâtre français de Toronto presents:

Opened: Oct. 23, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an intermission

www.theatrefrancais.com

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

Written by Daniel David Moses

Directed by Jani Lauzon

Choreographed by Brian Solomon

Set and video by Ken MacKenzie

Costumes by Kinoo Arcentales

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Composer, sound and arrangements by Marc Meriläinen

Cast: James Dallas Smith

Michaela Washburn

This is a love story between a celebrated man and a teenage woman. They are meant for each other. She can match his wit barb for barb. They banter as equals and joke and are affectionate. But their story is loaded with incident. It’s Saskatchewan in the 1890s. Almighty Voice is a respected Cree hunter living on the One Arrow Reserve. She is White Girl a young teenage Indigenous woman. He kills a cow but it’s not clear why or if it belongs to his family and is arrested for it. While in jail rumors swirled that he would be hanged for the crime so he escapes with White Girl and was on the run for almost two years during which he killed a Mountie. The hunt therefore intensified.

Those are some of the facts. In 1991 playwright Daniel David Moses created Almighty Voice and His Wife that took the facts and presented them in a way that told a love story that was set against the prejudice, misinformation and ruthless cruelty of a white world that tried to control an Indigenous story. Because Moses is such a good, smart writer the form of the play is arresting and compelling.

Act I seems straightforward in which Almighty Voice (James Dallas Smith) and White Girl (Michaela Washburn) meet and instantly are attracted and fall in love. The age difference is not an issue because she can match him wit for wit. She seems commonsensical and sometimes he seems playful. He is wary, resourceful and watchful. When they are on the run she is as resourceful as he is.

Act II is a total change of pace. Daniel David Moses changes the genre of the play to that of a vaudeville entertainment. But of course it’s anything but light. The terrible issues with which the Indigenous peoples had to contend are presented in stark relief against a ‘humourous’ background. The result is all the more sobering because we have the benefit of 28 years of stories, plays and information about the hideous treatment of Indigenous peoples since the play premiered.

Director Jani Lauzon brings a perspective that few others have. She was the original White Girl in the 1991 inaugural production at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Together with her design team and her two fine actors Lauzon has created a production that is beautiful and evocative. Ken MacKenzie’s set is of a tepee viewed from the ground looking up at its centre. There is a circle from which ‘poles’ fan out holding up the hides that form the tepee. I loved the suggestion of it. Kinoo Arcentrales’ costumes for Almighty Voice and White Girl are works of art in clothing.

There is a fluid elegance to Lauzon’s direction. The loving, impish relationship is beautifully established between Almighty Voice and White Girl. And yet Lauzon has instilled a sense of urgency in Act I and a decided ironic tone in Act II. It’s never forced. She lets the words give the message and the actors put the heart and soul into it. As Almighty Voice, James Dallas Smith is both commanding and boyish. He has more variation and nuance in his performance than Michaela Washburn as White Girl but she too instills her character with a mixture of humour and gravitas.

Almight Voice and His Wife is as relevant today as it was in 1991, which is its own tragedy. It’s an important story, beautifully told in this elegant, poetic, artful production.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Oct. 17, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 110 minutes, approx.

www.soulpepper.ca

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At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Matthew MacKenzie

Choreographed by Alida Kendell

Set and costumes by Alison Yanota

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Cast: Simon Bracken

Amber Borotsik

Lara Ebata

Bridget Jessome

Richard Lee Hsi

Krista Lin

Rebecca Sadowski

Kate Stashko

Raena Waddell

Writer/director Matthew MacKenzie continues to play with the theatrical form to produce some intriguing, dazzling theatre. In Bears a man on the run morphs into a bear who discourses on Indigenous issues and a dangerous pipeline, in a production seemingly danced and full of movement. In After the Fire the play appears to be about the fires in Fort McMurray but then there is also the exploration of marriage, divorce, an accidental death, a cover up, mystery, the environment and so much more.

The Particulars does a sharp turn again into this compelling, very funny, odd, touching piece. Gordon is in distress. He is still in mourning for his wife who died four years before. His nerves are frayed and his senses are heightened because his house has undergone renovations and there is a residue chemical smell that bothers him. He is assured it will go away in a few days and it still is there several days after the project is completed. And there is the scratching. After he gets ready for bed, prays (Gordon is a regular church-goer) and turns out the light, the scratching begins. It drives him crazy. Is it termites? Squirrels in the walls? He doesn’t know. And his garden has aphids that are eating his flowers. Gordon is a meticulous, successful gardener. He has a flowering orchid! Now that takes gardening ability. He is driven to distraction with all these obstacles in his life. He gets more and more agitated with the various particulars in his story.

Matthew MacKenzie also directs his play. This usually drives me bats because the balance so often is off. Either the playwright writes too much and needs to edit and the director won’t tell him, or the director goes off the deep end with invention and the playwright can’t tell him to rein it in.

The balance between the gifted playwright and director is perfect in The Particulars particularly because Matthew MacKenzie is so attuned with Gordon’s off-centre world.  MacKenzie knows how to weave a compelling story and translate that into Gordon’s lopsided, odd, frustrating world in this bold, arresting, moving production.

Gordon (Simon Bracken) appears out of a group of ‘shrouded’ dancers as he scurries barefoot around the space. He is dressed only in a flimsy dressing gown that is open and barely tied and reveals Gordon is only wearing white underpants. Upon further reflection the dressing gown looks like it might have been a woman’s dressing gown and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Gordon is wearing his late wife’s dressing gown to be closer to her. That detail is wonderful and heartbreaking.

Simon Bracken as Gordon wears black-rimmed glasses, has a workman like haircut that is not ‘stylish’ and has a look on his face that is inexpressive. He stares above the audience and does not make eye-contact. His vocal expression is purposefully declarative without much nuance or variation, except to be louder. He speaks slowly and deliberately. His face contorts quite often. The fascinating thing is that how Gordon speaks is at odds with what he says and that juxtaposition is incongruous and incongruity is the basis of humour. The Particulars is initially hilarious until Gordon’s reality sneaks up on you and catches you up short.  Bracken gives a performance of a man who is so odd, so out of contact with people and tenderness and support that your heart goes out to him. While one thinks the performance is almost one noted (deliberately) it is deceptively complex and layered.

The ‘chorus’ of dancers are listed as ‘mourners’ and represent the sounds of the scratching Gordon is hearing; the idea of the aphids attacking his plants; memories of his late wife, etc. They always enhance a scene and never detract. Kudos to choreographer, Alida Kendell.

The Particulars is a masterful piece of work by a gifted playwright and director in Matthew MacKenzie and the equally masterful actor, Simon Bracken.

Punctuate Theatre in association with the Theatre Centre presents:

Began: Oct. 17, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 26, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.theatrecentre.org

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At Grand Canyon Theatre, 2 Osler St., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Bryce Hodgson

Set by Bryce Hodgson

Lighting by Quinn Hoodless

Cast: Wayne Burns

John Healy

Mark Paci

Elizabeth Saunders

Ed is a tow truck driver going through hard times. He’s trying to stay sober to win back his wife and young daughter. His wife threw him out of the house because of his drinking. In the meantime he is staying with his godmother Bev at her waterfront house. He’s obviously drinking and has been caught driving drunk which he is trying to hide from his wife. His AA sponsor, Jay tries to get Ed back on the straight and narrow and urges him to go to AA meetings.

Bev is a no-nonsense woman, a widow who keeps to herself. She is sweet to Ed but knows his issues. She is wary of strangers especially when Jay comes to see Ed. We are told that there are forest fires raging in the distance. Only towards the end of the play do we learn of Bev’s issues as well. The information seems to come from nowhere and not solidly established.

From the press release: “Set in Kelowna British Columbia amidst the worse wildfire season in Canadian History, Dock Mother God Society is a play that explores modern western community and its relationship to death, family, generosity, resentment, forgiveness and our connection to the land we live on.”

I wish Bryce Hodgson’s play was as clear as that description of it.  I wish Hodgson invested as much detail and care in presenting a clear story as he invested in his wonderful realistic set of a sandy beach complete with toys and junk, a huge tree and an eclectic beach house. There’s precious little exploration of much here, just sound bites that touch on subjects. That leaves the play a mishmash. I wish I knew what the title meant, I think there is a secret longing to be discovered there and there are few hints.

The cast is excellent, lead by the formidable Elizabeth Saunders as Bev. She has a piercing stare that can pin a person to the spot while she looks them up and down. She is measured and jokey but still is a woman with whom you don’t want to mess. Mark Paci brings out the awkwardness of Ed, his angst, his lack of calm and ease. I wish there was more information to flesh him out. Rich (John Healy) and Jay (Wayne Burns) seem more like devices to move the story along rather than fleshed out characters in themselves.

It’s always dangerous when a playwright directs his own play as Bryce Hodgson is doing here. The writing requires a lot more work to clarify the story. Who’s going to tell him that? The director? Hmmm.

Blood Pact Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 10, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 26, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours approx.

www.grandcanyontheatre.ca

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Review: THE JUNGLE

by Lynn on October 22, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

 

At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie

Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

Set and costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Cast: Shannon Currie

Matthew Gin

Wow! Writing that is bracing, perceptive, cutting and puts you right in the world of the two beleaguered characters in a production that is just as hard hitting and ultimately hopeful.

NOTE: A note of explanation first. There is no statute of limitations on a play title so there have actually been two plays entitled The Jungle in the last few years. So to clarify, two years ago in London I saw a play called The Jungle by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson about the refugee camp in Calais in which the action is set in a refugee run restaurant in the middle of the camp.

The production of The Jungle at the Tarragon Extra Space that I’m reviewing is not that play. For our purposes The Jungle is written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie.

The Story. The Jungle by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie is about surviving in the brutal jungle of capitalism, how the wealthy control most of the money and the rest have to work at least two jobs just to break even.

Veronyka is an immigrant from Moldavia to Canada who works in a factory by day and a waitress by night. She budgets each nickel and sends money home to Moldavia so her brother can go to university and she can help support her parents.

Jack is a Chinese Canadian born here in Canada who drives his father’s cab to make a living.  He lives at home. He gives Veronyka a lift in his cab a few times and they form a relationship and decide to get married. Veronyka spends more efforts budgeting not only the money of the couple but also the time they need to spend together. Both Veronyka and Jack are working so hard they rarely have time to be together. Tensions increase between them because of money and family problems.  Jack volunteers for one of the parties during an election and sees how people get ahead. In her own way Veronyka also sees how the jungle works. She apprentices herself to a butcher to learn a trade. The relationship there might be less than formally business-like. It’s the jungle, folks.

The Production and comment. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a very efficient set that spreads across the stage and represents various locations in the story: a living room, a kitchen, a butcher store etc. A tiled wall spreads across the whole back of the stage on which formula are written in various coloured pens that give the audience lessons in Marxist economics as well as more modern ideology on economics. Both Shannon Currie and Matthew Gin write the formula and explain about money, consumerism that explains how the rich make money from the poor and how profit is calculated in a factory.

You would think that that esoteric lesson in economics would make the play and production a bit dry.  But it’s done with such confidence and assurance that we are swept along, held captive.  However it’s the human story of how Veronyka and Jack found and love each other, how they cope with getting out of debt and their sense of being trapped in what looks like a hopeless situation that just draws you in.

The acting of Shannon Currie as Veronyka and Matthew Gin as Jack is so true and compelling we feel everything they do. These two actors have chemistry. The loving relationship between the two characters tingles. When Currie plays Veronyka her Moldavian accent is impeccable. When she is giving part of the lesson in economics it’s in her own Canadian accent.

Guillermo Verdecchia has done a masterful job of directing the play with sensitivity and vision that is just stunning. For example the simple image of Gin tipping a vial of pills onto the floor speaks volumes about what that scene means.

As Veronyka and Jack feel constricted in their world, I found myself getting breathless too and closed in. I had to think “don’t worry Slotkin, you get to go home after this and Veronyka and Jack are still trapped in that world.”

A few times during the production Veronyka brings out meat that she bought that she says is cheap and at the end she cuts up a chicken as part of her butchering preparation. She actually removes the backbone with effort and finesse. This is done for every show. That is one of the ironies for this play and production—a play about poverty, economics and the human cost of living in that system has a plump chicken which I liken to a symbol of how humanity turns the play on its ear. I love that metaphor—a chicken in every pot as a symbol of prosperity; the chicken is used only in one scene and all she does is cut out the backbone. That simple scene also speaks volumes about food, prosperity and doing better.

But then in spite of all the statistics reflecting a system that is so one sided something startling happens that tips the play on its ear. Humanity kicks in. And how that happens is one of the many reasons why The Jungle is one of the best plays and productions to hit this city in a long time—and at the moment we are blessed with a lot of good theatre.

 Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie have written a play that is sharp, smart and perceptive. That juxtaposition of the intellectual formula of how the rich have all the power over consumerism and the human story of two people coping is so fascinating and engaging. It’s a brave, bold play. See it. See it. Ditto.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Began: Oct. 1, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

 

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont

Written by Natasha Greenblatt and Yolanda Bonnell

With the company.

Directed by Jennifer Brewin

Set by Anahita Dehbonehie

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Costumes by Jackie Chau

Composed by Alex Samaras

Cast: Augusto Bitter

Rachel Cairns

Joelle Peters

Anand Rajaram

Rose Stella

Courtenay Stevens

The “Election” in  question is the 2015 Canadian election. Writers Natasha Greenblatt and Yolanda Bonnell and their company have created a production with disparate characters, each with her/his own stories.

Zoe (Rachel Cairns) is a field worker who is being sent to the North to work for the party up there. She had been working in Toronto (can one assume that? Perhaps not, but a major city, and now she is being sent to the northern part of the province). Jake and others (Courtenay Stevens) is Zoe’s boss and we learn later, her lover. This certainly complicates things.  Skye, Menakshi and others (Joelle Peters) are Indigenous women who live in the North. Menakshi does not want to vote. She feels that is a white man’s endeavor that does not help Indigenous people. She is adamant about that. Milly, Abinisha and others (Rose Stella) tries to convince Menakshi to change her mind. Samraj (Anand Rajaram) is a party worker of Sri Lankan decent from India who has issues about his ethnicity. He has tried to distance himself from it—he calls himself “Sam” and not “Samraj. We see him ponder this and work to change his mind. Terry and others (Augusto Bitter) is an intense party worker who is gay and has to fight for his place in the world as well as with the people with whom he comes in contact when he goes door to door.

The company also play “Land voices” in that they verbalize the sounds of nature, door bells, phones ringing etc. It gives another layer to this production.

It’s interesting that the parties these characters work for are not front and centre. Each is invested in their work. What is important is the conviction of each character’s work and trying to get their party elected without actually naming the party. I thought that was interesting.

We see the hurly burly of political campaigning, the ups, downs, the animosity a worker meets at the door of an irate citizen. At one point Terry yells to the person at the door that he has been scared because he’s gay while the citizen reveals the same thing. It’s quite moving. There are many moving moments in this show packed with emotion, anxiety, elation, despair etc. My problem with this show is that while it might be true to life of a political campaign with its many and various characters and scenarios, it’s not necessarily good theatre. Theatre is life lived on purpose so having all these stories, some of which work and some just bog things down, just looks like an unwieldy blob in great need of cutting and focusing. Characters are not well defined and with actors playing several characters with little change in costume etc. keeping track of who is whom is a challenge.

Jennifer Brewin’s production moves the group around the space well and each scene flows quickly. This quickness also adds to the confusion.  I do wonder though if the people in the balcony looking down on the action can actually see it all. It doesn’t seem so. Many people scattered out of that section after intermission and much of the balcony became empty. I wonder if Brewin watched the show from up there?

This is a huge endeavor. Theatre Passe Muraille, Common Boots Theatre, Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Direct all collaborated on this show. It presents the messy world of an election campaign in all it’s many variations. I just wish it was better, focused theatre.

Theatre Passe Muraille presents a Common Boots Theatre production in association with Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Direct. 

Opened: Oct. 12, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx..

www.passemuraille.ca

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At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Several horribly late mini-reviews.

Billy Elliot (the musical)

Book and lyrics by Lee Hall

Music by Elton John

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Musical director, Franklin Brasz

Orchestrations by Martin Koch

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Cast: Marion Adler

Scott Beaudin

Dan Chameroy

Colton Curtis

Nolen Dubuc

Emerson Gamble

Steve Ross

Vanessa Sears

Blythe Wilson

and others…

Donna Feore, director/choreographer is the queen of the Stratford musicals. She creates polished productions that realize the story, go like the wind and leave the audience breathless. Billy Elliot (the musical) and Little Shop of Horrors get the Feore treatment this year.

Billy Elliot (the musical—well what else would it be?)  takes place in the north of England during the miners’ strike during Margaret Thatcher’s years as Prime Minister. Money is tight for the Elliot family—Billy, his brother Tony, his father Jackie and his grandmother. Billy’s father finds the money to send him to boxing lessons every Saturday. But one day Billy blunders into Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class and finds he likes it. She takes him under her wing because he has talent unbeknownst to his father. The strike escalates. The money for Billy’s weekly lessons all but disappears. What to do? The dilemmas abound.

The star of this production is Nolen Dubuc as Billy. His dancing and acting abilities are astonishing. Under Donna Feore’s direction his acting is natural and his dancing is effortless and inspiring for one so young—he’s eleven. Dan Chameroy plays Billy’s father with assurance, heartache and love for his son. The story pulls at ones heartstrings and one can say that sentimentality suffuses this show. It’s hard to deny. Billy’s mother has died but he is visited by her spirit (a beautifully understated performance by Vanessa Sears). He is shown real respect and encouragement by Mrs. Wilkinson played with feistiness and attitude by Blythe Wilson. There are lovely scenes between Billy and his friend Michael who also marches to a different drummer. Michael is played by Emerson Gamble who is both sweet and endearing.

If I have a quibble it’s that scenes involving the police who come to break up picketers in the strike seem like cartoon keystone cops instead of being intimidating. The overall effect however is that we are watching a musical of a kid who does not fit into that rough community, yet that community rallies to see that he has a chance to further his dancing. Bring Kleenex.

Plays until Nov. 24, 2019. (held over to this date)

www.stradfordfestival.ca

 

Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman

Music by Alan Menken

Based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith

Directed by choreographed by Donna Feore

Musical director, Laura Burton

Orchestrations by Robert Merkin

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt

Cast: Matthew G. Brown

Dan Chameroy

Gabi Epstein

André Morin

Steve Ross

and others.

Seymour Krelborn (André Morin) is a meek, shy man who works in a flower shop. He loves Audrey (Gabi Epstein) who also works in the shop, but she has a boyfriend Orin (Dan Chameroy), a dentist who loves to inflict pain, especially on Audrey. Everybody tells her to dump him but she says she loves him.

Seymour buys a strange plant from someone and learns that the thing this odd plant loves to eat is human blood. He names the plant Audrey II after Audrey. Seymour tries to accommodate his plant’s need of blood, first giving it his own, and then branching out. The plant thrives and grows in the flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (A wonderful, kindly Steve Ross). The shop gets noticed because of the size of Audrey II. Business is booking but so is the need to fee Audrey II. The plant wants nothing short of world domination, as a plant might do. What’s to be done? There’s a lot of singing about it.

André Morin imbues Seymour with such a puppy demeanour. He is devoted to Audrey and wants nothing more than to protect her from the overly-excited, self-absorbed Orin. Seymour is kind, determined and devoted. As Audrey, Gabi Epstein is needy, insecure and deluded about Orin’s love for her. Dan Chameroy is so over-the-top as Orin, swivel hips, sucking of the dental gas he uses and loves giving pain one thinks he’s a touch too much.

The production is stylish and Audrey II is a creation to make your eyes pop thanks to Donna Feore’s concept of the production. As Audrey II’s voice Matthew G. Brown packs a lot of attitude.

But in this day and age of sensitive issues being re-examined such as abuse and bullying, I wonder if it’s not wisest to put Little Shop of Horrors away. Orin physically beats Audrey. She takes it because she thinks he loves her and she loves him. Her friends know that isn’t so and they tell her repeatedly. It’s the classic case of a person knowing she should leave him but not being able to. I know Orin get’s his comeuppance but accepting that as right just plays into the easy solution of the piece. Best to put it away.

Plays until Nov. 2, 2019.

 

Private Lives

Written by Noël Coward

Directed by Carey Perloff

Choreographer, Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Christina Poddubiuk

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Music director, Laura Burton

Cast: Sarah Dodd

Lucy Peacock

Mike Shara

Sophia Walker

Geraint Wyn Davies

Elyot Chase (Geraint Wyn Davies) and Amanda Prynne (Lucy Peacock)  can’t live with or without one another. They tried. Really. They were married but bickered and sparred and fought and finally divorced. They both remarried younger partners. Elyot has married Sibyl (Sophia Walker) and Amanda has married Victor (Mike Shara). Both are on their honeymoon and both are at the same hotel for it, in suites next door to each other. They realize this after each couple comes out on the terrace to enjoy a cocktail and the view. And each has a fight with their spouse. When Elyot and Amanda see each other on the next door terrace they rekindle their love for each other and run away to Paris to her flat to hide and enjoy each other. They are older, sort of wiser and still they can’t live with or without each other.

Set designer Ken MacDonald puts us right in that world of money, yachts and sea. Don’t expect a straightforward set for this provocative designer. He creates the world of the play by suggesting so much about it. Large curved white structures suggest that resort they are in. The curved walls also suggest the huge yachts in the bay that are referenced. Also at the back are curved slits in the white walls with flints of blue suggesting the waves of the Mediterranean. The railings that front the suites and the ones that separate them are curved like waves. That motif is also carried over into Amanda’s stylish yet bohemian flat in Paris. Gorgeous.

In Carey Perloff’s production the age difference between the new spouses is pronounced to illuminate how suitable Elyot and Amanda are for each other and how unsuitable Elyot is for Sibyl and Amanda is for Victor.

Elyot and Amanda are irreverent, impishly funny, brash in their attitudes and demeanours. Elyot wears a peach coloured blazer and white slacks when he first enters the terrace to see the vista. Kudos to costume designer Christina Poddubiuk. It says he is confident in his skin, garish but stylish and not afraid to flaunt it. Amanda for her part enters in a flowing boldly designed frock. She too is confident in her skin and stylish as well. She’s not garish in her clothes choices but still bold. There is delicious chemistry between Lucy Peacock as Amanda and Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot. They understand the shorthand between them and their characters.

 Sibyl is in a form fitted suit that looks properly dowdy. She has a slight petulant whine and she doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour. Victor is in a three piece brown suit and tie. He is buttoned up. He talks to Amanda as if she is an impetuous child, complete with hands on his hips with “Now Mandy,” as if reprimanding a kid. He too has no sense of humour. He is all proper. Yes, perhaps Sibyl and Victor are better suited for each other but they are lousy partners for Elyot and Amanda.

Finally there is the part of Louise, Amanda’s maid n Paris. Louise is a ‘sucker part.’ It can’t fail. First of all the character has a cold so the actress playing her—the force of nature that is Sarah Dodd—has a field day sniffling, being adenoidal and sneezing. Then the character has attitude. And finally she speaks only French. When she comes into the flat in after there has been a terrible fight she lets rip with French invective etc. Sucker part. Sarah Dodd is wonderful playing her.

Carey Perloff brings off this production with aplomb.

Plays until Oct. 26, 2019.

 

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

 

 

Mother’s Daughter

Written by Kate Hennig

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Beryl Bain

Jessica B. Hill

Irene Poole

Andrea Rankin

Shannon Taylor

Maria Vacratsis

Gordon Patrick White

This is the third play in Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker trilogy. The first was The Last Wife, about Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. She was formidable in seeking recognition for her two step-daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary and for being a political force in Henry’s court.

Then The Virgin Trial is about the teenage Princess Elizabeth and her various involvements. We see a political animal in the making here; how she was involved in political intrigue and was instrumental in creating it.

And now Mother’s Daughter. It’s about Mary Tudor who was not considered in the line of succession by her half-brother Edward VI because she was Catholic and he felt she might reverse all his Protestant reforms. On his death bed Edward VI chose as his heir Lady Jane Grey. Mary amassed her supporters and deposed Jane and put her in the  Tower. Jane was Queen for only nine days. While history knows Mary as “Bloody Mary” that came after the time line of Kate Hennig’s play.

In power Mary is thoughtful, weighs her decisions carefully and listens to her court of (women) advisers. But Mary is haunted by the ghost of her mother, Katherine of Aragon or Catalina for the play’s purposes.  Her mother’s ghost tries to drive Mary into doing her (her mother’s) bidding about what to do about court intrigue especially Lady Jane Grey. If she has her executed various results will happen. If she doesn’t other results will happen.

The startling painting of “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche that hangs in the National Gallery in London, England tells us what decision Mary made. The painting depicts a blind-folded Jane kneeling in front of the chopping block, the burley Archbishop of Canterbury bends over her with his arms tenderly around her for comfort, her ladies in waiting crying over there by the wall, while over here, waiting patiently, is a man in maroon tights and doublet, with the long handle of an ax resting in his palm. It’s my favourite painting in the gallery.

Kate Hennig explores the idea of politics, women in power, hard decisions and weighing the various scenarios and options in order to reach a conclusion. She has taken an historical event and given it her own interpretation and also made it contemporary. Her language is bracing, gritty, articulate and speaks to power from a woman’s perspective today. This is not a woman playing the man’s game. This is a woman playing her own game in a dangerous world.

Shannon Taylor is a formidable Mary. She’s tempered, nuanced, watchful and patient. Trying to balance what she thinks and the interference from the ghost of her mother Catalina (a wonderful, fearless Irene Poole) is to see a commanding presence in power. Alan Dilworth directs with a sensitive eye and care to detail as he has done with the other two installments.

Closed: Oct. 13, but will have another life when it plays Toronto later in the season.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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At the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music, lyrics and text by Dave Malloy

Directed by Marie Farsi

Musical direction by Andrew Penner

Set, lighting and costumes by Patrick Lavender

Cast: Beau Dixon

Hailey Gillis

Kira Guloien

Andrew Penner

A stunningly atmospheric, beautifully designed and meticulously directed and performed production of Dave Malloy’s complex, playful, macabre song cycle.

Dave Malloy’s song cycle about ghosts, the macabre, two devoted sisters who were betrayed in love, a broken camera, a subway driver, a photographer, a pusher and a victim, among others, was first performed in New York in 2014. Malloy references Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the music of Thelonious Monk, ghost stories, hip-hop, jazz, honky-tonk, mythology and astronomy. The many benefits of whisky are celebrated by the characters who reveal the many secrets of this beguiling, challenging, intoxicating glorious show.

The four characters enter Patrick Lavender’s beautifully designed, evocatively lit space. They each pour a glass of whisky, clink glasses, down the drink and then go to their respective places in the space.

Instruments hang on the wall for easy access. A drum kit is over here. A piano with a bright covering is over there. There is a small bar and other appropriate pieces. Three of the characters are dressed casually (Hailey Gillis, Kira Guloien and Andrew Penner). One tall gentleman (Beau Dixon) is in a stylish coat underneath is a suit and tie. He plays the piano and assumes the spectre of the late jazz great Thelonious Monk. Andrew Penner plays the guitar while his foot hits a peddle that bangs the drum. And he also plays the harmonica and the kazoo as well, although not at the same time. And he sings. Hailey Gillis and Kira Guloien play sisters Rose and Pearl respectively among others. And they sing beautifully and play various instruments.

Dave Malloy’s two record album of Ghost Quartet is put on a turntable and each song is announced by one of the characters, for example:  “Side one, track one, “I Don’t Know.” The show and the songs are announced that way to lend it a certain theatricality. There are several strands of stories and they are not linear in their telling. We might hear of a story on one side of one record and pick it up later on another side of another record in another track. “Usher” is sung in three scattered parts and refers to “The House of Usher.”

Rose was in love with an astronomer who lived in a tree house. He stole some of her writing and passed it off as his own. Then he dumped her for her sister Pearl. Both loved him to distraction. There was friction between the sisters.

We are given a taste of each story then it’s left for another. If you keep this in mind and go with the flow and not ‘demand’ it all neatly follow then you will be fine. The artistry of Malloy’s writing and his music—not melodic in the regular sense of the word—is the dense storytelling, the many literary references and the challenge of finding each surprise.

While it’s billed as a ‘ghost quartet’ because the characters might be ghosts, the feeling, the atmosphere, is anything but mournful. Hailey Gillis jumps with joy during a few of the songs. Her face is radiant. The joy is infectious. Kira Guloien is sophisticated and more subdued, but no less compelling. She is a strong soprano. Beau Dixon plays the piano beautifully, speaks with quiet authority and is an imposing presence. Andrew Penner sings in a strong, mournful voice and plays many instruments, almost at the same time.  The clarity of the sound is eye-popping and so welcome. You hear every note, every lyric and every word.

The production is directed with dazzling creativity by Marie Farsi. She is not showing off her talent as much as she is illuminating the show, those songs, those characters and everything surrounding it. Patrick Lavender’s lighting is both murky, smoky, ghost-like and stark.

It’s a show you can and will want to see again just to catch what you might have missed. Ghost Quartet is a huge accomplishment for both Crow’s Theatre and Eclipse Theatre Company.

Crow’s Theatre and Eclipse Theatre Company present:

Began: Oct. 5, 2019.

Held over to: Nov. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes approx.

www.crowstheatre.com

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Review: PAL JOEY

by Lynn on October 15, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Book by John O’Hara

Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

Music by Richard Rodgers

Directed by Esther Jun

Musical direction by Dan Rutzen

Choreography by Alyssa Martin

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Cast: Tess Benger

Aidan deSalaiz

Izad Etemadi

Sierra Holder

Derek Kwan

Billy Lake

Michaela Mar

Alison J. Palmer

Kristen Pottle

Giovanni Spina

Justin Stadnyk

Carly Street

Band:

William Dietrich

Naomi Hughes

Ryan Johnston

A deliberately rough around the edges production done really well,  about a charming n’er do well who was smooth but rough around the edges.

The Story.  We are in Chicago in the late 1930s. Joey Evans is everybody’s pal but nobody’s friend. He’s an operator chatting up women he thinks can bankroll him or at least pay for his coffee. He has a line for everyone and almost no one falls for it. Some do but they get wise. He sings in a two-bit club run by a harried manager named Mike. One day Mrs. Vera Simpson, a society dame, comes into the club with her posse of men. Her husband is otherwise engaged making money. Vera is initially offended by Joey then intrigued and then attracted. She sets him up in his own club. But Joey is antsy. The relationship goes south and I don’t mean Missouri.

The Production. Joe Pagnan has designed a nicely pared down set that suggests grunge and later slickness. When Joey Evans (Justin Stadnyk) talks his way into a job at the second rate club that Mike (Izad Etemadi)  manages, the surroundings are simple: a round table and chairs that will be used first for Mike who barks at the chorus girls to step it up and get it together and then later as a table for a celebrated guest—Mrs. Simpson (Carly Street) etc. Later when Joey has his own spiffy club, the idea of class is suggested by a neon sign of his name.

Michelle Bohn’s costumes put us right in that world of the late 1930s. Mike  first works without a jacket. He wears a white shirt, suspenders holding up black pants and light beige socks and black shoes. I loved that note of the beige socks with dark pants and black shoes. It says everything out Mike’s lack of sartorial splendor.

Joey on the other hand is all about flash and appearance. He wears a fedora and a suit with confidence and style. Whatever he lacks in reality he makes up for with a line of baloney. When he talks his way into hosting the show at Mike’s club Joey wears a double breasted tuxedo.

Justin Stadnyk as Joey is slim, boyish, charming, always smiling and never flustered. He carries off that charm with style because we know that Joey is all hot air and pretense. Watching him spin a line, first to Linda, played as sweet and trusting by Michaela Mar then to Mrs. Simpson (Carly Street). Mrs. Simpson enters draped in fur and appropriate 1930s sophisticated clothes, with an entourage of two men. She’s slumming when she comes into the club.  Here Joey meets his match because Carly Street as Mrs. Simpson can talk him down and has his number. Toying with this charmer is a game for this bored society dame. Still she is charmed by his brashness and knowingly gets involved with him, gets him new, stylish clothes, sets him up in an apartment and even ‘gives’ him his own club, “Chez Joey.”

Again, Stadnyk as Joey continues in this step up with trusting confidence, not twigging that it could end with one wrong word. Mrs. Simpson has style, smarts and awareness. This is so evident in Street’s singing of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” It’s poignant, thoughtful and knowing—she’s done this before and can’t help it.   For his part, Stadnyk sings beautifully (“I Could Write a Book”) and moves with grace.

Alison J. Palmer plays Melba, a reporter who has seen it all and says so when she sings “Zip” a kind of homage to Gypsy Rose Lee. She’s irreverent, seductive and hilarious with every bump, grind and flip of her hair. The chorus lead by the impressive Tess Benger is a dandy collection of chorus girls (look carefully folks) of deliberately varying degrees of accomplishment.

Director Esther Jun brings her sharp eye and smart brain to this musical about a cad. She does not try and make Joey seem a better person than he is. He’s a charmer with a line that most people figure out. He uses people and disappoints them. He will never be better than he is but he always keeps trying. I guess that’s his charm. Jun fills the production with smart observations and with her design team they put us in that world.

Comment. Pal Joey was first done on Broadway in 1940. It was the last show on which Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart collaborated before Hart drank himself to death and Rodgers began collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein II. The lyrics are smart, the music is beautiful and the book is wonderfully prickly. The result is another dandy production for Talk is Free Theatre.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 11, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 19, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx. with one intermission.

www.tift.ca

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At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jo Simalaya Alcampo

Music composed and performed by MaryCarl Guiao

Directed by Jasmine Chen

Set, costumes and pros by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by MaryCarl Guiao

Cast: Karen Ancheta

Aldrin Bundoc

Belinda Corpus

Hilot Means Healer by Jo Simalaya Alcampo explores the social and political consequences of war and occupation in the Philippines and its impact across generations.

The press information says: “drawn from traditional Philippine folklore, legends, and Indigenous spirituality, this play tells a story of unexpected bonds formed during cataclysmic change.” It takes as a reference point the battle of Manila in 1945 between the Japanese who occupied it for three years and the Americans and the people of the Philippines trying to get their city and country back.”

Manang Flor is an elder wise woman and healer steeped in the folklore and legends of her people of the Philippines.  She lives deep in the forest and often during the play conjures the spirit who lives in the sacred Balete tree for guidance. Manang Flor has taken in a young woman named Alma who’s parents were killed in the fighting. She is pregnant.

 Alfredo is a soldier for the rebels who has been wounded and seeks shelter from Manang Flor. She takes him in but Alma is none too happy about it. She doesn’t trust him.  She thinks he’s hiding something. It’s war time, no one knows who to trust.

Manang Flor tends her garden and knows the healing, medicinal abilities of her plants and flowers. She passes that on to Alfredo. The spirit who lives in the sacred Balete  tree in the forest has a head covering like a crocodile and will try and oppose the occupying army.  It’s the case of good vs. evil, spirituality vs. those who don’t have it.

The production is very impressive. Jung-Hye Kim has designed a terrific set of mainly fabric. The ground looks like uneven foliage and branches that is dominated by a huge tree to one side, with huge roots that spill down from a section above the stage down the to the stage area. The tree and the roots are made of brown material and the design is mighty impressive in conveying the size and importance of the tree. Spirits appear within the roots of the tree and around its trunk.

Jareth Li’s lighting is evocative and certainly captures the idea of superstition and moodiness.

The cast of four: Karen Ancheta as Ligaya, Aldrin Bundoc as Alfredo, Belinda Corpuz as Alma and Carolyn Fe as Manang Flor all acquit themselves well. There is also a very impressive score composed and performed by MaryCarl Guiao which is an extensive percussion design of gongs, drums, a xylophone type instrument and others. It provides both music and sound effects that evoke nature, rising spirits, unrest, and danger. Jasmine Chen directs and is mighty impressive.

Jo Simalaya Alcampo’s play is very ambitious, perhaps that ambition gets the better of them when it comes to being clear about the story and intent. Very often the names of characters and the spirits just whizzed by my ears and escaped me, certainly if it is in a Philippine dialect.   I think the play might be really for Filipinos, about their culture, their history and their stories.

Playwright Jo Simalaya Alcampo says in their program note that although they did not live through the battle of Manila, the story of it was passed down to them by their mother and seemingly also the trauma of it. They are talking about intergenerational trauma and because of that had to tell that story. Is this theatre as therapy? Perhaps. It’s also very artful and theatrical.

This is a complex undertaking talking about a complicated history and while a lot of it seemed confusing to me because of the language and names of the spirits etc. I bet a Filipino audience would find resonance.

Cahoots in association with b current presents:

Opened: Oct. 9, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2019.

Running time: 2 hours. Including intermission.

www.cahoots.ca/shows/hilot

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