(l-r) Julie Tepperman, Jonas Widdifield

At Dirty Talk, 167 Augusta Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Philip Ridley
Directed by John Shooter
Set by Victoria Ius
Lighting by Davida Tkach
Sound by Tim Lindsay
Costumes by Molly Marmaduke
Cast: Marium Carvell
Julie Tepperman
Jonas Widdifield.

Radiant Vermin is Philip Ridley’s first comedy but it is full of his macabre focus on the foibles that make us human but not necessarily good humans.

The Story. Jill and Ollie, young parents of a baby boy, tell us the mysterious way they came to have a dream home and how they renovated it. They were chosen by a mysterious woman named Miss Dee to be given the house with the responsibility to renovate and pay all the bills. It needs extensive renovations. Ollie is sceptical but Jill is eager to have the house and renovate. Jill knows just how to decorate each room—she wants the kitchen for example to look like the model kitchen in Selfridges—the London department store. Jill and Ollie learn it’s easier than they thought.

In their first night in the house Jill and Ollie are disturbed by noises in the kitchen. Ollie goes to investigate; finds a homeless man in his kitchen; gets into a tussle and kills him. Both he and Jill are mortified at what happened but then realize that the kitchen has transformed into their perfect kitchen—the one they saw it in Selfridges. They begin to put clues together and realize that killing homeless people gets a room renovated like magic, and so it begins. Jill and Ollie develop an insatiable need for more. As a line in the play says, “enough is never enough.”

The point of it all is that Jill and Ollie will be responsible for improving their house which will attract buyers for the other houses on their small street. Property values will go up. Everybody wins. But with their insatiable thirst for more, Jill and Ollie are always on the lookout for more homeless people even if they have to lure them to their home. But there is that niggling problem of murder, and how a person’s character is affected when the rules aren’t followed and how a person can talk themselves out of guilt if there is something else more intoxicating, such as acquiring stuff.

The Production. How does one present such a quirky, dark play? If you are John Shooter, the director, you find a funky place to do the play. In this case it’s Dirty Talk a kind of art gallery space in a basement on Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.

We are greeted with a tray of glasses of fruit punch complete with festive umbrellas and small boxes of Smarties. In Victoria Ius’s set design a neon sign saying DREAM HOMES flashes over the entrance to the performance space. Inside the walls are covered with yellow “caution” tape suggesting whatever we are to be cautious about is dangerous somehow. Brown paper is behind that. There is a heavy plastic opaque curtain across the room.

When the performance is about to begin the curtain is drawn aside and a long white room dazzles into sight at the end of which is the façade of white, neat-looking house.

The cast is directed to assume a sense of heightened artifice to present this. The dialogue of the three actors comes out almost without inflection, like a torrent of words and instructions to each other but with few details of a personality other than bubbly. Ollie is played by Jonas Widdifield with a head of wild hair, a sense of urgency that keeps getting ramped up, and a sense that his world is unravelling quickly. Julie Tepperman plays Jill with wide-eyed innocence but will not give in to stopping buying everything she wants. Jill wants more of everything she has now. She’s never satisfied. As matters go off the rails both Widdifield and Tepperman sound frantic and the urgency gets more and more frenzied.

Marium Carver is a commanding Miss Dee who can manipulate anyone into thinking what she wants them to thing. When she tells them news they don’t want to hear Carver gives it with a smile and offhanded way of looking at things. It’s not quite a putt down but it does have its own force.

Comment. Philip Ridley is a British playwright with a dark sense of humour, an eye for the macabre, who focuses on the outsider or the marginalized. In Pitchfork Disney he wrote of a brother and sister traumatised by life, self-imprisoned in their hole of an apartment and afraid of the world. In Karagula he created a dystopian world. In Radiant Vermin Ridley writes about homelessness, greed, consumerism. I think he’s certainly making a statement of how people consider the homeless—vermin. The play reveals why they are radiant. Ridley is an unsettling playwright. I love his quirky perception and focus.

The play certainly isn’t for everyone. But I would recommend it to anyone who likes their theatre with bite and a challenge. To give you an idea….. Last year John Shooter produced a play called Pitchfork Disney and there was a character in it wearing full leather with a leather covering over his head and face, with holes for his eyes, nose and mouth. He would not be out of place at an S and M party.

Fast forward to the opening night of Radiant Vermin. I was waiting in the ‘lobby’ of the place when a tall man came in with his head completely covered in a black mask with only holes for his eyes, nose and mouth. His jeans had neat rips in them. He went into the theatre and came out a little while later and left. I thought this guy was in the play. I didn’t flinch. He was the landlord.

Radiant Vermin is for people who won’t flinch when they see a guy with his head and face covered by a black mask.

Precisely Peter Productions Presents:

Opening: March 2, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 woman.
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

www.brownpapertickets.com

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At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Artistic Director and Co-director, Jeannot Painchaud
Co-director and Choreographer, Dave St.-Pierre
Set design, Illustrator and Video Projections Co-designer by Robert Massicotte
Composed by Stéfan Boucher
Costumes by Liz Vandal
Lighting by Nicolas Descôteaux
Video projections and co-designer, Rénald Laurin
Cast: Colin André –Hériaud
Selene Ballesteros—Minguer
Pauline Baud-Guillard
Aaron DeWitt
Jonathan Julien
Fédéric Lemieux-Cormier
Alexie Maheu
Jérémie Robert
Jérémy Vitupier
Antonin Wicky
Nora Zoller

Cirque Éloize creates Cirkopolis as a circus show with a beguiling twist. It’s full of wit, humour, grace and invention. It’s a bit repetitive which makes it seem too long, but that’s a quibble.

This is not the big, glitzy, garish world of Cirque de Soleil with a tacked on story. Cirque Éloize has the requisite tumbling, juggling, the impossible contortions, rope climbing, trapeze stuff etc. but with a difference.

We are in the soul-crushing world of a big city that frowns on individuality; in which the work is mindless and so repetitive you could lose your mind. Projections of huge turning gears overpowers people. Men (and some women) in the same coloured overcoat, wearing the same coloured hat bring in piles of paper for another man to stamp and put into another pile. The pace quickens. The piles of paper increase.

The colour scheme is dull until a man takes off the overcoat of another person revealing a lithe woman in a flowing red dress and loose blonde hair. A large hoop is rolled out from the wings. The woman twirls it; spreads out inside it while making it revolve in various patterns over the stage. The movement at times is languid and flowing and other times fast and not quite furious. At all times the visual is one of gracefulness, elegance and artfulness. At the end of the routine the woman delicately propels the hoop to circle the stage. The woman lies on the floor, positioning herself in such as way that she is in the middle of the hoop as its circling path gets smaller and smaller and finally drops around her. The large projection of the city and its gears move forward and out of view. Stunning image.

Soon after this is a variation on the theme of working with a similarly large hoop only this one is a double hoop joined by spokes. It’s a substantial piece of equipment and worked by a beefy (male) group of gymnast in grey undershirts and pants. They flip through, revolve inside, jump from spoke to spoke all the while moving with the rolling double hoop. The work is dextrous, energetic, and seemingly requiring lots of muscle.

While Cirque Éloize has the components of a regular circus, they do them with a twist in Cirkopolis. The grinding office motif enters into the scene with juggling. A team of office workers juggle bowling pins to their colleagues while sliding on chairs, standing on a table, racing from one area to the other. Bowling pins wiz through the air and are caught and thrown with the greatest of ease.Their individuality comes out in the colour of the costumes and their circus acumen.

Ballet is incorporated along with eye-popping feats of balancing when five men toss, catch and flip a graceful woman in a maroon dress. They throw her in the air and catch her by the legs that spread into very low splits. The first time that happens the audience gasps. The second and third time it happens the audience cross their legs in “projected sympathy.” The woman is held aloft by the men who are on their backs on the floor, arms up, in a circle. She walks gracefully from one hand to the other until she has made a circle. What is most astonishing in this feat, besides her ease and poise and their strength, is their sensitivity and tenderness as one hand passes her off to the next hand or how they catch and pass her to the next man for another trick. At the end the men quickly leave the stage for her to come forward and take her single bow. Classy. (sorry not to name the artists, the program is not helpful in being specific as to who does what.)

Interspersed with these feats of athletic prowess are scenes that go back to the drudgery of mindless, repetitive work in an overpowering city but it’s all done with impish humour. There is a lot of winking at the audience with this heart-thumping show.

If I have a quibble it’s that too often various feats are similar. A man balancing and flipping on a contraption as he’s suspended in the air echoes three women doing trapeze work later in the show. Two performers climbing a pole, doing all manner of gymnastic wizardry, sliding down it and stopping just before crashing into the floor, echoes a woman who climbs up a rope and for all intents and purposes does the same thing only solo with lots of rope flipping. It becomes just a touch tedious as the evening progresses and makes the 90 minutes of the show lag.

Perhaps it was opening night glitches but it seemed that in two cases when the stars of a feat came forward for their bows they did it in gloom and not a proper spotlight.

That said, Cirkopolis is a bold show of gymnastic, circus excellence, full of artistry, humour and human dazzle.

Canadian Stage and the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts Present:

Opened: March 1, 2017.
Closes: March 18, 2017.
Cast: 11 talented men and women.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

www.canadianstage.com

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At the Streetcar Crowsnest Scotiabank Community Studio, 345 Carlaw Ave., Toronto. Ont.

Written at directed by Anton Piatigorsky
Set and costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle
Composer and sound designed by Richard Feren
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Cast: Kyle Gatehouse
Julia Krauss

Breath In Between is a play about relationships that are truly tested. The production is interesting.

The Story. I defer to the press release when I’m not sure what a play is about: Breath In Between is “A surreal love story about Roger, the murder of two willing victims who respond to his ad on a website, and Amy, a young woman that Roger meets soon afterwards in a bar.

Breath In Between is a highly theatrical, mysterious meditation on radical intimacy, on the bliss of connection and the agony of isolation, on the ways in which people possess each other and struggle to bridge the gaps between them.”

The Production. The set by Shannon Lea Doyle is simple and very spare. A table and some stools are shifted to suggest various scenes. Roger and Amy meet in a bar and strike up a conversation. He’s poetic and low key. She’s subtly more aggressive. They develop an intimate relationship over time.

They role play—assuming the persona of the two strangers who saw Roger’s ad to kill anyone who wanted to die. When Roger and Amy become the two strangers they wear clear masks over their faces, held in place by an elastic band that fits over the back of the head. It’s an interesting dynamic between Roger and Amy who are intimate lovers and the victims who are killed. I guess being murdered by a man who offers to do the service is another kind of radical intimacy.

Anton Piatigorsky is also directing his production and this is his debut as a director.

He moves his actors with confidence and they are both strong: Kyle Gatehouse plays Roger—he’s sensitive, careful of what he says and does and compelling. As Amy Julia Krauss has an embracing charm, is subtly assertive and shimmers with curiosity about this man and his secrets. The production is beautifully performed and realized.

Richard Feren is the composer and sound designer and I find that too often scenes are underscored with sound that seems unnecessary and intrusive.

Comment. The playwright Anton Piatigorsky also offers his thoughts on his play in his program note: “Fostering intimacy with other people—and within ourselves—is one of the most radical things we can do…It is almost impossible to capture an intimate moment in words—and often it is best expressed in metaphor. Today, on stage, we offer a variety of carefully considered theatrical metaphors, a story of radical intimacy.”

I do see a metaphoric presentation in say, Samuel Beckett—two tramps waiting on a road for a man named Godot. But I’m not sure what the metaphor is in Breath In Between, the playwright’s musings notwithstanding?

And while Piatigorsky says “it is almost impossible to capture an intimate moment in words—and often it is best expressed in metaphor” I would disagree with his thesis. Words through the ages have captured intimate moments. I also offer that surely that’s what acting is about—acting captures intimate moments perhaps better than words do—a touch, a look a sigh capture all that.

In this case, I think metaphor distances us from connection or connecting with Roger and Amy. So I’m confused by what Piatigorsky wants to accomplish and what he wants his audience to glean from his production.

That said, I think he’s an elegant, esoteric often poetic playwright who delves deeply into emotions and how people think. He always gives me something to chew over long after I’ve seen the play. It’s just that I think that deep emotion does not work with metaphoric treatment. It’s certainly thought provoking. But as I said, Piatigorsky leaves you with lots to think about.

Crows Theatre presents:

Opened: Feb. 23, 2017.
Closes: March 11, 2017.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

www.crowstheatre.com

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Short Reviews: Peace River Country and Deceitful Above All Things

Peace River Country

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

Written by Maria Milisavijevic
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and costumes and video design by Curtis Wehrfritz
Sound by John Gzowski
Lighting by Jason Hand
Cast: Layne Coleman
Janet Laine Green
Sarah Sherman
Benjamin Sutherland

From the press release: “Inspired by the real-life story of Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his decades-long battle with the Alberta oil and gas industry, Peace River Country follows the lives of a close-knit traditional family as their land, health, and way of life become increasingly threatened by mega-corporations and big government. How does a traditional Christian family living off the land in rural Alberta gain a national reputation as violent eco-terrorists? This fictional account of real-life events is a timely look at the ties of love and loyalty that bind a community.

The political and environmental impact of Canada’s energy industry, especially in Alberta, has been a central tenet of our national discourse for many years. Peace River Country offers an intimate glimpse into the experience of one close-knit religious community during the booming growth of Alberta’s oil industry, and the extremes one man went to keep his family’s way of life in tact.”

Sounds fascinating and I’d love to see that, but Maria Milisavijevic’s play is so lacking in necessary information it’s difficult to make sense of it all. The result is confusing if not frustrating. Thank heaven for Google from which I find: Reverend Ludwig created a farming community with his family and others in rural Alberta. Gas and oil companies created sour wells close to the community. Ludwig alleged that the wells leaked into the land and water contaminating both. He began protesting to the government from the early 1990s until his death in 2012 to no avail.

From the play we get the sense that it’s only the family of four who is involved. There is no community involvement which would have been helpful in establishing true tension. As it is the family squabbles about what to do. I think that’s limiting.

Milisavijevic’s creation of the family’s religious devotion and their adherence to the Bible as a guide adds an interesting touch.

In the play Ludwig is only known as Dad and Dad feels that his grandchild is stillborn because of the contaminated water. We don’t get a clear sense that an autopsy was requested to make sure. Dad’s herd of cattle dies, again, it’s assumed the contaminated grass and water are at fault, yet no vet is called to test the dead animals as to the reason. Later the family raises sheep for wool. If the land and water is contaminated, how is that possible? The family says it can’t drink the water yet again no tests are done to see if their concerns are valid.

Dad turns to violence to be heard by the outside world. Yet while the authorities and the Globe and Mail come to cover the violence, there is no hint that they investigates further to see if Ludwig had a case. Can this be right?

Curtis Wehrfritz’s spare set establishes the vegetation of the farm. The interior scenes are around a kitchen table. Simple and effective.

Layne Coleman is a stalwart Dad. He is proud, committed to his family and desperate to be heard. In contrast Janet Laine Green as Mom is grace and tenderness itself. She is dutiful and supportive of her husband and children. The production shifts back and forth in time sometimes focusing on Dad and Mom’s two young children Jemima (Sarah Sherman) and Joe (Benjamin Sutherland), or later when they are grown. Sometimes Sutherland plays the husband of the adult Jemima. With the subtlest of body language Sherman and Sutherland clearly establish who and what they are (young, mature, married, etc.) Director Richard Rose keeps a firm hand on the shifting times and establishing the urgency of the situation.

Milisavijevic’s previous play Abyss was much more successful in presenting its case and mystery and the result was gripping. Peace River Country however, is a disappointment.

Tarragon Theatre presents.

First performance: Feb. 7, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 19, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.tarratontheatre.com

Deceitful Above All Things

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Genevieve Adam
Directed by Tanya Rintoul
Set by Nancy Anne Perrin
Costumes by Adriana Bogaard
Sound by Deanna Choi
Cast: Genevieve Adam
Imogen Grace
Madeleine Donohue
John Fitzgerald Jay
Joelle Peters
Brian Bisson
Garret C. Smith

This is a stylish remount of Genevieve Adam’s intriguing play that was first produced at Summerworks in 2015. I liked it then and like it now.

Adam writes of the young women who were sent by France to Quebec between 1663 and 1673 to help populate the land—i.e, marry and have children. Two such women were Anne Bilodeau and Marguerite Perron who met on the ship coming over from France. Anne was in love with a local Jesuit priest and unbeknownst to him became pregnant with his baby. Anne had to marry quickly and did, to a local farmer. Marguerite worked as Anne’s housekeeper. Marguerite meets Toussaint Langlois, a courier de bois. She should have been wary of him but Marguerite is fearless. She seduces Langlois as much as he seduces her.

Genevieve Adam writes of a wild, dangerous time in our history. The women had to be wily to survive. The men had to be brave. Adam nicely portrays the various social stigmas and attitudes towards indigenous people, single women, the church, the French and anything that was ‘other’. Her dialogue captures the times and yet is contemporary in attitudes that prevail today.

Tanya Rintoul directs with a sure hand. The sensuality between Marguerite and Langlois is both raw and compelling. Nancy Anne Perrin’s set is simple—two moveable benches. The floor is stained to suggest a splash of blood or the vibrant colours of the country.

Genevieve Adam plays Anna Bilodeau with an arrogance and confident flippancy. Imogen Grace is just as confident as Marguerite Perron, but in a quieter way. The whole cast is impressive.

Favour The Brave Collective and Storefront Arts Initiative present:

Opened: Feb. 16, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 21, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.thestorefronttheatre.com

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by John Millard and Waleed Abdulhamid
Directed by Marjorie Chan
Set and costumes by Joanna Yu
Projection and lighting by Kaitlin Hickey
Sound by Kai Masoaka

While this is a lovely story of friendship and I want to hear all the music again I found the execution of the show to be frustrating.

The Story. John Millard is a Canadian musician, composer and stalwart of the theatre. Waleed Abdulhamid is a Sudanese musician who came to Toronto in 1990. Both men met when they were Artistic Residents at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. While they came from different cultures they bonded over music, a common language for both of them. They taught each other songs they learned in childhood and that blossomed into their friendship, and this partnership in creating this show.

The Production. The stage is full of instrument stands with various kinds of stringed instruments: banjo, an instrument that looks like a mandolin of sorts for Millard and, a box percussion instrument, a long-necked stringed instrument among others for Abdulhamid. There are various microphones as well to amplify the instruments and head mics to amplify the singers. With all that amplification the music is distorted at times and trying to make out the lyric or melody is a challenge. I wonder how wonderful the music would be with no amplification. The theatre is small. It’s not Massey Hall. And we are there to listen as well as hear.

A piece of material that looks like a sail is stretched across the back of the stage. To director Marjorie Chan that sail suggests travel from far away. That image certainly works in context to Abdulhamid’s story.

The names of the various songs are projected onto the sail in English and Arabic. Millard sings his songs in English so are self-explanatory. Abdulhamid sings his in Arabic with no explanation of what they mean. I think that’s a missed opportunity. At one point Abdulhamid sings a mournful song (I don’t recall a title being projected) that is accompanied by projections. First there is an animation of part of an oblong structure in water. Then various animated small bodies float from the various corners of the sail and are placed on the oblong structure, creating a haunting image of people being packed onto a boat and taken from Africa to where ever to be slaves. That there is no comment, pre-amble or explanation is another missed opportunity.

Both Millard and Abdulhamid banter about the difference in their culture’s music. Millard understands the structure of North American music but at times had difficulties with Abdulhamid’s music because the structure is so different—it doesn’t have what we call a ‘down-beat’. Millard notes how hard it was to learn one of the songs because he couldn’t get ‘into the structure.’ The conversation between the two musicians at times seems so insider that one is tempted to say, “hello, we’re in the room with you. Can you include us?” At other times Millard seems a bit unsteady in his telling of his various stories and experiences.

Abdulhamid tells a touching story of how he tried to learn English and how someone did him a kindness and showed him a better way. It’s a lovely story of welcome.

Comment. A few suggestions:

1) Can we please have a list of the songs and who wrote them in the program.

2) Can there please be some explanation or translation of what the Arabic songs mean before the singing of the songs.

3) Please lower the amplification so we can hear the music without distortion or get rid of it completely and trust us to listen.

4) Both musicians use instruments that don’t look like regular instruments. Can we have an explanation of what they are? What is that stringed instrument that Millard uses that is not a guitar but looks like it can be a kind of mandolin? What are all the instruments called that Abdulhamid uses? The show is about the differences in their music. That also goes for their instruments.

5) I would like as much time and effort that went into producing confident, accomplished singing of the songs, to go into the narrative and story-telling. As it was when I saw it there was a lot of awkward stammering and ‘re-editing’ in telling the story.

The music is terrific. The story of Millard and Abdulhamid’s friendship is sweet. But the execution of the show is clunky, frustrating and in need of re-writing and rehearsing,

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille in association with Cahoots Theatre Company.

First performance: Feb. 16, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 18, 2017.
Closes: March 5, 2017.
Cast: 2 men
Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.theatrepassemuraille.ca

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

Written by Guillaume Corbeil
Translated by Steven McCarthy
Directed by Claude Poissant
Set by Max-Otto Fauteux
Lighting by Martin Labrecque
Music by Nicolas Basque
Wardrobe by Philippe Masse
Cast: Laurence Dauphinais
Steffi Didomenicantonio
Tara Nicodemo
Nico Racicot
Alex Weiner

This is an astonishing, challenging piece of theatre.

The Story. It’s about the affect that social media has on five friends. From the press release: “Five Faces for Evelyn Frost examines how social media transforms human relationships while challenging the notions of authenticity and truth.” In this day and age of “fake news” this play is timely to say the least.

Again from the press release: “Meticulously crafting their lives around their social networks, five friends vie to increase their online status and worth, always pushing each other towards the extreme, carelessly flirting with indecency and the irreparable.”

Over time it seems as if they are each trying to one up each other even when they look as if they are socially responsible with causes etc. That makes sense because everything is put on their Facebook pages, Instagram and any other social media platform that will increase their profile.

The Production. The stage is neatly covered with all manner of clothing. Five 30-something characters, stylishly dressed, enter and individually welcome us and say they are glad we are there.

Each then rhymes off music, books, films and art that they like. Each telling gets quicker and quicker, with their lists getting more and more eclectic. They then veer off into nature, and more esoteric things that they enjoy. I’m wondering if this is an on-line profile for dating purposes. We see the cast use a cell phone only in one scene and that’s in the background. Terrific idea NOT to do what one might expect of people self-absorbed in social media.

Interestingly I don’t question if they are telling the truth about all the books they have read, or films they have seen because there are aspects in the telling that seem accurate and true. Or perhaps it’s generational. I don’t know anyone in my circle who makes stuff up about what he/she has read or films seen. Perhaps these 30-something folks take a synopsis of a book or film as their proof that they read the book or saw the film, not sure.

They constantly take selfies of themselves at various parties with various friends, in various pairings and in various poses. There are two references to a striking woman named Evelyn Frost. She is their icon for the moment; their ideal; who they aspire to be until the next icon comes along they want to emulate.

For a lot of 5 Faces For Evelyn Frost it looks like the group is adding to a disconnected list of things they like and share and compete with. But as they ramp up their activity, the show takes a decided dark turn.

And it’s never boring because you are drawn into what things they like and how they express it. One person says he likes Mel Tormé and Jacques Brel. It’s so odd a pairing that it makes sense. The characters are not named but each actor makes his/her character an individual.

There is the smarmy know-it-all who even pronounces the name of the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez as Marquez would, complete with accent and the ‘c’ pronounced as ‘th’ for example. There is the party-girl; the laid-back young man who fancies one of the group and so on.

It’s directed with precision by Claude Poissant. Poissant has the cast react in various subtle ways that make you really look and listen hard. When one character mentions something another reacts with a hint of a frown or sad recollection. The full bodied character emerges from the ‘static’ of spouting lists of things they like.

It’s startling to see that these people who live their lives so publically on social media have an inner, unseen life that is affected by what is being said. Poissant has the cast react to moments as if in a jerky reverie; or later with a dance-like, salsa movement.

Comment. I think Quebecois writer Guillaume Corbeil is hugely talented (translated by Steven McCarthy—himself a talented actor and musician). Corbeil’s breadth of knowledge of literature, theatre both here and in Europe, music, the arts, culture, nature etc. is prodigious.

I love how I’m not sure if these characters have any sense of judgement about the quality of the books, art, theatre, music etc. they like. I love how I question their moral character when they spend time protesting and demonstrating—are they sincere? The playwright makes me wonder and ask. It’s refreshing to hear new voices from Quebec and I’m including the ‘voice’ of Claude Poisson as well as playwright Guillaume Corbeil.

This is a compelling piece of theatre for those who like a challenge, to be engaged and shaken.

Performances are in English until March 5, and in French with English surtitles March 21 to 25

If you don’t speak French do not go to the performance with the surtitles—you need to hear this in English because the information whizzes by and you need to hear it in a language you understand.

5 Faces for Evelyn Frost is a terrific thought provoking play and production.

Presented by Canadian Stage and Théâtre Français de Toronto

Opened: Feb. 16, 2017 (in English to March 5). In French with English Surtitles March 21-25, 2017.
Closes: March 25, 2017.
Cast: 5, 2 men, 3 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

www.canadianstage.com

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

Written by Guillaume Corbeil
Translated by Steven McCarthy
Directed by Claude Poissant
Set by Max-Otto Fauteux
Lighting by Martin Labrecque
Music by Nicolas Basque
Wardrobe by Philippe Masse
Cast: Laurence Dauphinais
Steffo Didomenicantonio
Tara Nicodemo
Nico Racicot
Alex Weiner.

This is an astonishing, challenging piece of theatre.

It’s about the affect that social media has on five friends.

From the press release: “Five Faces for Evelyn Frost examines how social media transforms human relationships while challenging the notions of authenticity and truth.”
In this day and age of “fake news” this play is timely to say the least.

Again from the press release: “Meticulously crafting their lives around their social networks, five friends vie to increase their online status and worth, always pushing each other towards the extreme, carelessly flirting with indecency and the irreparable.”

Over time it seems as if they are each trying to one up each other even when they look as if they are socially responsible with causes etc, and that makes sense because everything is put on their Facebook pages, Instagram and any other social media platform that will increase their profile.

I think writer Guillaume Corbeil is hugely talented (translated by Steven McCarthy—himself a musician and actor.) Corbeil’s breadth of knowledge of literature, theatre both here and in Europe, music, the arts, culture, nature etc. is prodigious.

I love how I’m not sure if these characters have any sense of judgement about the quality of the books, art, theatre, music etc. they like. I love how I question their moral character when they spend time protesting and demonstrating—are they sincere?

The playwright makes me wonder and ask. It’s refreshing to hear a new voice from Quebec and here it’s from the playwright and the director. This is a compelling piece of theatre for those who like a challenge, to be engaged and shaken.

Produced by Canadian Stage and Théâtre Français de Toronto
www.canadianstage.com

Full review shortly.

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At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the film.
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Choreography by Karen Bruce
Set and costumes by Tim Hatley
Lighting by Mark Henderson
Visual Design by Duncan McLean
Sound by Richard Brooker
Music director, Tom Gearing.
Cast: Alex Andreas
Neil Ditt
Glen Fox
Charles Hagerty
Mark Holden
Rachel John
Beverley Knight
Jaden Oshenye
Stuart Reid
Matthew Stathers

A pop musical based on the movie of the same name, with all the bells and whistles you expect from a raucous pop concert, in which acting generally is secondary. Director Thea Sharrock has a fine sense of the theatrical and how to jolt the audience out of its seats in the scary bits.

The Story. Rachel Marron is a huge pop star. Together with her singer/songwriter sister, Nicki, they are nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in a Movie. But Rachel has an admirer who is stalking her. He leaves creepy notes in her dressing room and no one knows how he gets backstage to do it since security is tight. And he stole a red sequined dress as well. Enter Frank Farmer, the bodyguard. Frank is the stiff, sullen, silent type and he wants no part of this pampered, bossy pop star. Until he learns that she has a 10 year old son named Fletcher. Then he takes the job. He knows The Stalker poses a serious threat to Rachel.

Rachel’s sister Nicki sings in a little club in an effort to get out from under Rachel’s shadow. It has not been easy. At every turn Rachel takes the spotlight, fame, and even Frank. Nicki is sweet on Frank but Rachel is needy and soon Frank softens. But The Stalker is getting bolder and even violent. Can Frank stop him?

The Production. Director Thea Sharrock has done a lot of impressive stage work in London. The Bodyguard is her first musical and it too is impressive. She has a solid sense of the use of dazzle and downbeat. The production opens with flashes of Mark Henderson’s light that bombards the audience, and a blast of a drumbeat that jolts you out of your seat, as if to say, “Hang on. You’re going for a fierce ride.”

Because so much of the production is in fact Rachel singing in her concerts or recording, a chunk of it is presented as a full-on concert with all manner of lights revolving, rotating, etc. and disco balls glittering above. The songs of the film are repeated in the stage musical: “How Will I Know”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “I Will Always Love You.” etc. As Rachel, Beverley Knight—a celebrated London soul singer in her own right—has a powerful voice and pops those high notes with ease. Alas she is not so accomplished as an actress.

Where Sharrock really shines is establishing the present menace of The Stalker (no-name for this guy, just the title—The Stalker.) A flash of stark white light and a thud of drums reveals a man wearing workout gear (it seems) an open shirt revealing a ripped body, his face is menacing and he holds a long, dangerous looking knife. We just know he doesn’t want to be best friends with Rachel. His appearance is always sudden and gripping.

Sharock is masterful in creating the trick of catching The Stalker. At one point The Stalker takes out his gun and points it at the audience. A red laser beam of light shines across the audience as they squirm when the beam is in their sights. In the Academy Award scene when Rachel is singing her song we are primed to expect the worst, when The Stalker will do his deed. What is supposed to happen is that we see a laser beam of light inching up Rachel’s gown. The Stalker! We look for him. Frank Farmer jumps on stage ready and watching to get him. Except that on opening night there was no red laser beam inching up Rachel’s gown. Either it was cut, which is incredible to believe, or there was a malfunction which is more like it, but still incredible. Frank still jumped out, but really there is no reason if he and we don’t see the laser beam. Please fix that for the next performance.

Stuart Reid as Frank Farmer, is properly stoical and stony faced. He doesn’t give anything away. Sharrock keeps that moment from the film when Frank sweeps up Rachel in his strong arms to save her from frenzied fans—a bit cheesy but part of the whole glitzy package.

The best of the lot is Rachel John as Nicki Marron, Rachel’s supposedly over-shadowed sister. Ms. John is a strong, expressive singer and a very good actress. This makes the whole relationship between the sisters a bit skewed. In the story it’s Rachel who out shines her sister Nicki. In the production it’s Rachel Johns who outshines Beverley Knight.

Comment. While I saw The Bodyguard in London two years ago I won’t, don’t compare them because it’s just silly to do so. One takes each production on its own. I have concerns with Beverley Knight’s acting, which is not strong. Her singing is fine. On the whole The Bodyguard is a fast ride, a dazzling light-show, a pulsing pop concert and a show that occasionally scares you out of your seat. Alexander Dinelaris’s book is superficial and a bit cartoonish. It’s all of a piece to provide a not too challenging, fun night in the theatre.

David Mirvish presents the Michael Harrison and David Ian (and a lot of other people) production:

Opened: Feb. 15, 2017.
Closes: April 9, 2017.
Cast: 10; 8 men, 2 women (and 15 dancers and singers).
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Set and costumes by John Thompson
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Garth Helm
Cast: Tim Funnell
Alex Furber
Martin Happer
Jeff Miller
Gray Powell
Jonathan Wilson

My Night With Reg is a delicate yet chilling play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic but is timeless because of its handling of male relationships. The production is stylish, beautifully acted and moving.

The Story. London, mid-1980s. Guy is having a flat-warming party (apartment-warming party to North Americans) to celebrate his new digs. He’s invited several old and new men friends. He met the older friends in school and has kept in touch intermittently. John is one old friend and Guy has secretly loved him all those years but didn’t dare tell him.

Guy is single, shy, accommodating to his friends and is the one person they all confide in. John is dashing, charming, rich and very popular. But not as popular as Reg seems to be. All the men in the play are gay and they all have Reg in common.

Over the course of the play there are at least two funerals. Lurking in the background is the spectre of AIDS, which is never mentioned. Because we come with the benefit of hindsight to My Night With Reg we know that the men who died, died of AIDS. Guy often expresses how well he takes care to protect himself. We know from what.

The Production. Everything about John Thompson’s set for Guy’s flat is tasteful, in muted colours. The sofa has two cushions arranged just so. The artwork is conservative and not raunchy. The bar is well stocked because Guy is having a party for friends he hasn’t seen in years. The terrace is being painted by a young fellah named Eric who wanders into and out of the action.

This is a play that can’t be rushed in its production. It is funny, perceptive, subtle and moving. It needs time to reveal the characters, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships to each other and their abundance of secrets.

Joel Greenberg’s direction is full of care and thought. No character is a stereotypical gay man. They are all true to themselves. There is confident affection as friends kiss hello and goodbye. Body language is expansive and joyous in many cases. The acting is superb. Jonathan Wilson creates Guy as a man of shy awkwardness, he is tentative in expressing how he feels, but pulls back when he senses he might embarrass himself. Wilson is a mass of ticks, smiles, shrugs and all consuming sweetness. Guy is the one character we root for from the get go because he’s such a mensch. One realizes how much Jonathan Wilson been missed on a Toronto stage because of this gracious performance.

Gray Powell as John is that dashing, confident man who could appeal to men and women. He has that devil may care attitude. He’s got money. He doesn’t worry about anything except hiding little details of his life from his friends and he handles that with an off-handed aplomb. And yet, you sense a deep sense of regret that he’s attracted to whom he’s attracted. They are all friends there and John really doesn’t want to hurt anybody. It’s just that he can’t help it. It’s a lovely performance of a man who is conflicted.

Jeff Miller plays Daniel with a hint of flamboyance that is more about a man who is confident to be himself, in the company of his friends, rather than a man showing off. Daniel is joyous in his relationship but full of angst that perhaps his lover is cheating, or that a friend of his is cheating with his lover. Daniel experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, and Jeff Miller is such a good actor, he makes the audience feel every plunge and swoop. The whole cast is superb.

Comment. While playwright Kevin Elyot was a prolific playwright and screenwriter, his 1994 breakout award-winning hit play was My Night With Reg. He writes about gay relationships and promiscuity in the age of AIDS. He is never judgemental. His writing is very funny, moving and almost poetic. At one of the funerals the lover of the recently departed says, “The smallest thing will make me miss him.” A feather of a line that pierces the heart.

My Night With Reg starts out to be a play about six friends in the early time of AIDS in London in the mid-1980s. But it develops into a play about relationships and the secrets, lies and hurts that develop when characters hide things from each other. That aspect of the play, the love these men have or had for each, other makes My Night With Reg timeless.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 6 men.
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

www.mirvish.com

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At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Set and costumes by John Thompson
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Garth Helm
Cast: Tim Funnell
Alex Furber
Martin Happer
Jeff Miller
Gray Powell
Jonathan Wilson

My Night With Reg is a delicate yet chilling play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic but is timeless because of its handling of male relationships. The production is stylish, beautifully acted, and moving.

London, mid-1980s. The play is about a group of gay friends who are invited to celebrate the new flat of Guy. He is shy, single, accommodating and the one person these friends confide in. Guy has secretly loved John since their school days. John never noticed. He was too busy being dashing and popular. But not as popular as Reg seems to be. All the men in the play have Reg in common. Lurking in the background is the spectre of AIDS, which is never mentioned, but we come to it with the benefit of hindsight.

The play is funny, perceptive, subtle and so moving. It is directed with care by Joel Greenberg. The acting is superb.

Full review shortly.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 6 men.
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

www.mirvish.com

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