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At the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre, 79A St. George St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Justin Miller and Sandra Balcovske
Directed by Rebecca Ballarin
Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan
Additional props and costumes by Amanda Wong
Sound by Kelly Anderson
Performed by Justin Miller
Accompanied by Steven Conway

Pearle Harbour is determined to inform her Sunday School ‘class’ about the evils of the world and her pointed take on it all.

The Story and Performance. Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School is a show in which Ms Harbour wants to impart the difficulties of living in today’s world. Pearle Harbour is the soft-spoken, sharp-tongued female alter ego for Justin Miller.

There is a pulpit upstage with cotton ball clouds hanging above. There are tables with crafts close to the pulpit where some audience members can sit and doodle. For those not so inclined there are chairs behind the craft tables.

Ms Harbour has thick red hair, full-makeup, especially false eyelashes, lots of black eyeliner and mascara and she wears a slim-fitting skirt and blouse and a jacket with sergeant’s stripes. She holds court over this Sunday school class in which she imparts her many and various attitudes about the world we live in.

While she and sings that everyone makes mistakes and can be forgiven, there are some for whom she can’t be so magnanimous. God is one. She is not particularly impressed with God. His mistakes come under her intense scrutiny. She’s not impressed with the Church, or Kathleen Wynne (almost right up there with God) or Facebook, especially when she gets some hateful, nasty comments and tweets. She has strong words for white privilege, appropriation, LGBTQ issues, equality and all manner of things that affect us today.

And when things get sticky she says: “wwJTd” (translation) “What Would Justin Trudeau do?”—there is a picture of him with a halo holding religious items.

Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School is written by Justin Miller and Sandra Balcovske. The songs are witty and the patter is pointed. Ms Harbour is accompanied on the guitar and also assisted by Steven Conway.

I do think those sections that don’t work should be re-examined and re-worked—You know there is an issue when the audience doesn’t laugh at a bit. The show does have edge and examines important issues, so further examination is in order to smooth out the kinks.

I think Justin Miller as Pearle Harbour has a lot of style and attitude. Pearle has a lot of grace and convincing body language, albeit with eye makeup laid on with a shovel. And that demure attitude adds to the zap of her barbs.

There are scenes in which she zeros in on members of the audience to participate and in both cases the people are accommodating. I always think that’s dangerous when you have to hope that the person who is singled out will engage.

The whole idea of Pearle Harbour holding court in this Sunday School reminds me of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie who held sway over her class of young, impressionable girls and made them assume her ideas and attitudes without question and her attitudes were rather questionable. Pearle Harbour’s attitudes are rather questionable too.

The ending is rather awkward and confusing and I think Justin Miller and his director Rebecca Ballarin should look at it again.

I do have time for Justin Miller and his alter ego Pearle Harbour. The show does touch on issues of today that are troubling and uncomfortable to watch and that means it hits nerves, I just think it should be tightened and rethought in a few places.

Pearle Harbour’s Sunday School plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse at 79A St. George St. until Sept. 18.

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2589371

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At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by François Archambault
Translated by Bobby Theodore
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Sound Design by Verne Good
Set, costumes and projection design by Denyse Karn
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Cast: Michela Cannon
Mark McGrinder
Nancy Palk
Kimwun Perehinec
R.H. Thomson

An exquisite play and production about memory, forgetting, patience, remembering and love.

The Story. Edouard Beauchemin is a celebrated professor, a television personality and fiercely believes in a sovereign Quebec. He knows his history; can philosophise eloquently, and can remember things from years ago. But he can’t remember what he had for breakfast. And once he discourses on a subject, he repeats the same speech, with the same enthusiasm, minutes later, forgetting that he just said the same thing moments before.

We know what is happening to Edouard. His patient wife, Madeleine knows what is happening, and eventually so does Edouard. Edouard and Madeleine refer to it as “his disease”, never the actual name. Interesting detail, that.

Taking care of a person with Edouard’s condition takes its toll and Madeleine needs a break. Madeleine takes Edouard to their daughter, Isabelle’s house so she, Madeleine, can take a few days for herself. This proves problematic as Isabelle, a reporter, has to go and cover a flood away from home. Her new partner, Patrick, offers to take care of Edouard. Patrick has to remind Edouard who he is so often Patrick takes to wearing a post-it note with his name on it. Matters get complicated when Patrick decides to go to a poker game and leave Edouard in the care of his daughter Berenice. Patrick and Berenice have a prickly relationship at the best of times and this arrangement doesn’t help, even if Patrick is paying Berenice to do it. To complicate matters further Edouard thinks Berenice is his late daughter.

The Production. Denyse Karn’s set is stylish and spare. The floor is hardwood. There is a couch, centre and a moveable, square foot rest that is often used as a seat. There is a slight incline across the width of the stage on which is a bench and a lush background of forest and occasional projections of tree branches swaying in a breeze. Nature, plants and trees are important to Edouard. He knows the names of the various vegetations around the property. He finds peace here.

We are introduced to Edouard and Madeleine he is ebullient, articulate and expansive when talking about his knowledge of history, dates and wars. Madeleine is patient and gently teases him about his slipping memory, but is aware it’s serious.

R.H. Thomson as Edouard and Nancy Palk as Madeleine have a comfortable rapport. This is a couple who understand and know each other intimately and lovingly. But we know there is trouble when the smiles and easy teasing stops, Palk looks out in a moment of isolation and her face is a subtle crease of concern.

R.H. Thomson has described the part as climbing a mountain. He does it beautifully. This is a nuanced, detailed, thoughtful performance of a man who is slowly forgetting everything he knows and matters to him. A furrowed brow here, fear in the eyes there, the need to furiously write things down so as to keep the memory, all go into creating a character we want to know and not lose.

You get the clear sense of Isabelle’s unsettled world in the fine performance of Kimwun Perehinec. She is trying to make a new relationship work. She is torn by having to leave to cover a story. She is frustrated by her parents and we sense a tension there. It’s all in this performance.

As Patrick, Mark McGrinder is low key, patient, and hiding secrets from Isabelle. The easy-going nature hides deeper concerns for Patrick. He’s not working and he’s not trying to find a job.

As Berenice, Michela Cannon captures the quick impatience of a generation used to instant results. She furiously taps on her cell phone, texting, checking her messages, rarely looking up, easily impatient and totally uninterested in taking care of a man who can’t remember anything. For a member of the most wired generation of history, Berenice seems oblivious to Edouard’s disease. Berenice does change when she does ‘play’ out the notion that Edouard thinks she is his late daughter. Berenice is calmer, more patient when dealing with Edouard and they develop a kinship. A quibble, but I think that change could use more substance in the play to support it. It just seems to come from no where too quickly.

Director Joel Greenberg has created a beautiful production that illuminates the sense of strength from the characters who take charge and help and protect Edouard. And Greenberg also establishes that fragile, delicate situation with Edouard, the person they are trying to protect and with whom they are trying to be patient. Frustration, impatience, anger, tenderness, patience and love are emotions that simmer in this production. The result is subtly gripping. You ache for every character.

Comment. François Archambault has written an exquisitely poetic play about a frightening subject—the loss of memory for Edouard and the loss of the essence of Edouard for his family, as he disappears in clumps because of his fragile memory. Bobby Theodore’s translation is equally exquisite. The words shimmer in the air. The familiarity of the lousy subject pierces the heart.

Being a play of a French Canadian playwright it’s easy to recognize a metaphor. Edouard wanted an independent Quebec and didn’t get it. He wants his own independence and is losing it as well.

Archambault beautifully establishes the changing attitudes of the three generations of his characters. Edouard and Madeleine have seen it all and remember the glory days, both in their lives, and in Quebec and how it has changed. They have an appreciation of conversation, debate, and an exchange of ideas, face to face, with the person to whom they are talking.

Isabelle and Patrick are lost. He has no job or a desire to find one. She has trouble maintaining relationships and she is keeping secrets from Patrick. She tries to lose herself in work. She is at odds with her parents and her father’s ‘disease’ only ads to her frustration.

Berenice is the new generation. In a beautifully pointed speech Edouard captures the essence of what is happening to Beatrice’s generation. They “love, like, tweet and re-tweet” and that constitutes conversation. They don’t seem to have a sense of history or of yesterday. Everything is instant and now. Initially Berenice doesn’t have the patience or good will to deal with Edouard and his difficulties, but then she changes; looks up from her clinking cell phone and sees Edouard as he is.

You Will Remember Me is a beautiful play about so many important issues. Don’t ever forget that and remember to see it soon.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre in a co-production with Studio 180.

Opened: March 9, 2016.
Closes: April 10, 2016.
Cast: 5, 2 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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At the Historic Aztec Theatre 1035 Gerrard St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anne Washburn
Score by Michael Friedman
Lyrics by Anne Washburn
Co-directed by Simon Bloom and Mitchell Cushman
Set by Ken Mackenzie
Costumes by Lindsay Junkin
Lighting design by Nick Blais
Sound by Samuel Sholdice
Puppet design by Marcus Jamin
Starring: Damien Atkins
Rielle Braid
Ishai Buchbinder
Katherine Cullen
Colin Doyle
Sébastien Heins
Amy Keating
Tracy Michaelidis

A production done without electricity, that references The Simpsons, that is often electrifying and always intriguing and provocative because of its dazzling imagination.

Mr. Burns is an epic three act play with songs (who ever heard of such a thing in this day and age of the tweet and quick retort?) that is huge in scope as is this eye-popping production created by Outside the March, perhaps Toronto’s most inventive, daring theatre company working today.

The Story. There has been a nuclear disaster. Mr. Burns owns the reactor that blew up. Imagine it—a post-apocalyptic world without electricity. A group of survivors light their way with flashlights scavenging for food. They pass the time reliving better times, namely retelling each other the minutiae of the dialogue and details of an episode of The Simpsons, namely The Cape Fear episode.. The joy of the character in the telling is palpable until reality appears in the form of a stranger, another survivor. The group is desperate to know about loved ones who lived far way might have survived. The stranger would know because he has a book of names, ages, descriptions of the people, where they came from and what they did for a living.

Act II is seven years later when those survivors are now re-creating those Simpson’s episodes as a living, as a tv/performance group. They are not alone in this endeavour, so competition and money muddies the waters.

Act III is seventy-five years later with references in song to two towers being destroyed and shafts of light taking their place. The tone becomes chilling as a real evil appears—Mr. Burns. He says he will always be there among them, wrecking havoc. Quite a sobering thought.

The Production. The first scene is an effervescent telling of The Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons between Matt and Jenny, devotees of the show. Colin Doyle plays an exuberant Matt as the details of the episode pop out of him like popcorn sprayed in the air. As Jenny, Tracy Michailidis is excited but in a calmer way than Doyle. You get the sense that this retelling is rare joy in their lives as they try and survive.

And for those of us who never watched The Simpsons (because some of us were at the theatre), and wouldn’t know The Cape Fear episode from the Caped Crusader, Anne Washburn impishly takes care of that problem by putting a character in that scene who hasn’t watched the show either. Maria (Katherine Cullen) watches quietly while the other two riff off each other.

Then a stranger named Quincy (Damien Atkins) arrives and the tone and exuberance instantly changes to chilling reality, fear, wariness and trepidation. It’s clear that the previous exuberance over the tv show is how these people kept sane and hopeful. At this point, the survivors reveal their desperation to hear about lost loved ones; to know if they survived and if Quincy knows about them. Damien Atkins is as concerned and anxious to tell them good news as they are to hear it. The anxiety ramps up. Danger is everywhere

Co-directors Simon Bloom and Mitchell Cushman, their creative team and their hugely talented cast pull this off with pure imaginative dazzle. They are producing this piece of theatre without electricity. The stage is illuminated with flashlights and the audience’s imagination. Set designer Ken Mackenzie has fashioned a set that looks like it’s a lost and found of rag-tag props with a makeshift curtain and other stuff that creates the sense that these characters create on the fly. At times the creativity is breathtaking. The use of puppets (kudos to creator Marcus Jamin) alone is stunning. Two giant hands with LOVE on the knuckles of one and HATE on the knuckles of the other, wave above our heads; the digits flutter ominously. There are scenes of poignant emotion when a community is created and embraced. It’s certainly made me curious about this phenomenon known as The Simpsons. D’oh.

Comment. Do you need to know about The Simpsons to get the references? No, Anne Washburn is too smart a playwright to keep part of her audience in the dark. The references are subtly explained. Those who know the difference between ‘d’oh’ and ‘duh’ will ‘get it’ in a different way. There is the challenge to pay attention to something with which we aren’t familiar (the telling of the episode). It’s too easy to shut off over things not familiar. Don’t. Stay the course. All will be revealed if you are receptive to it.

Please see this stunning piece of theatre that is about more than iconic TV show.

Produced by Outside the March in association with Starvox Entertainment and Crow’s Theatre.

Run: May 13 to June 7, 2015
Cast: 8; 4 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes. Approx.

Tickets: www.ticketfly.com

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At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Dean Paul Gibson
Set and Costumes by Sue LePage
Sound by Peter Boyle
Starring: Jennifer Dale
Ellen Denny
Audrey Dwyer
Luke Humphrey
Fiona Reid
Steven Sutcliffe

Christopher Durang’s affectionate mash-up of Chekhov, done with style and humour by a talented cast.

The Story. For years Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia looked after their aged parents. Their much married, movie star sister paid all the bills while she flitted around the world making second rate movies. It was her contribution since she was never home to care for the parents. Now, the parents are long dead and Vanya and Sonia still live in the family home, tending it while Masha is away. They don’t know how to do anything else.

Vanya is a middle aged, mild-mannered, philosophical man who is not coping with the new technology or modern attitudes. He longs for the good old days when you licked stamps to put on an envelope you hand-addressed, into which you put a letter that you wrote on paper with a pen.

Sonia is about the same age. A spinster. A more feminist word would not be apt for Sonia. She dotes on her brother and probably finds him to be a perfect partner, and since they are adopted she finds nothing wrong with that attitude. Vanya, always a proper gentleman, is not as accommodating and besides he tells her gently, she doesn’t attract him in that way.

One day Masha returns home in a blaze of melodramatic poses with her boy-toy Spike in tow. He’s a wanna be actor. A buff stud. Cheerful but dim. Perfect for Masha. Vanya is a bit smitten with Spike as well. Nina is the young woman next door. She reveres Masha and wants to be an actress. Spike meets her while he’s swimming in his undies on the property. He brings her up to the house to meet everybody. Finally there is Cassandra, the future-telling housekeeper. She bursts into prophecy when she’s not complaining about having to make lunch for everybody.

There is a costumes party to which they all go. It changes the life of one of them. Masha gives her siblings startling news that changes their lives as well. Chekhov country with a Christopher Durang twist.

The Production. Designer Sue LePage has created a comfortable, well-lived-in home. It’s not modern, but it’s not shabby. You get the sense that the furniture and everything in it has been the same for decades. It’s well taken care of. Vanya and Sonia have spent their time over the years waiting for the blue heron to appear in the morning mist, like an old friend. Theirs is a life of routine. She brings his morning coffee. They savour each sip. They look out at the water in the distance and wait for the blue heron. And then everything is disrupted when Masha blows in from wherever with Spike.

Director Dean Paul Gibson’s direction brings the understated world of Chekhov and the more off-the-wall world of Durang into wonderful balance in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Steven Sutcliffe is quiet and courtly as Vanya. He watches almost everything with a benign acceptance. He has patience for his high-strung sister Sonia; a heightened interest in Spike with a twinge of embarrassment that he should feel that way; a sense of capitulation when dealing with the over-bearing Masha; and finally an explosive release of frustration and anger when the modern world rears its ugly head. Vanya is lamenting the loss of the ‘good old days’ when he sees that Spike is bored and is tweeting. At that point Vanya lets loose with the best speech of the play if not one of the best speeches of the 21st century, not to put too fine a point to it. It’s a speech that goes on for pages about what we have lost of ourselves, humanity, compassion and other things we held dear. As Vanya, Steven Sutcliffe delivers that speech from the heart and soul of a wounded character. It’s phrased and parsed with delicacy, nuance, anger, frustration, and a power we have not seen from this character. And the way Sutcliffe says it is wonderfully moving.

Fiona Reid as Sonia, brings out the heart and angst of a woman who thinks life has passed her by. It’s a life without event. When Vanya gets his own coffee instead of waiting for Sonia as usual, it is the end of the world for her, and she isn’t being overly-dramatic. She dreads Masha’s visit because she feels even more inadequate in her sister’s presence. Masha never lets an opportunity pass without giving a shot to her sister; how mousy she looks, how needy, how hard she (Masha) works. And when Sonia fights back it’s with conviction, bravery and a giddy sense of being empowered. When Sonia assumes the persona of Maggie Smith in a certain film she is formidable. The impersonation is a bit over the top, but that’s what you would expect of Sonia.

Jennifer Dale plays Masha as a glittery movie star past her prime, but still with confident flair. Masha is both imperious and needy. Luke Humphrey plays Spike as a self-absorbed but buoyant bubble head. He knows his affect on people, especially when he’s stripped to his briefs and gyrating his pelvis, but he still has a kind of appealing charm. As Nina, Ellen Denny has the difficult task of not making Nina seem silly or frivolous. Nina is young, innocent and obviously admires Masha tremendously. Denny brings out the sweetness and gentleness in Nina. And finally Audrey Dwyer plays Cassandra with a fearless boldness. When she is looking into the future, “Beware Hooty-Pie!” Cassandra is serious and relentless. To us she’s hilarious. In Sue LePage’s costumes, Cassandra is an explosion of colour and pattern combinations. You don’t mess with this seer of the future.

Comment. Playwright Christopher Durang has let his considerable imagination run free and has done up a mash-up of several Chekhov characters from different plays all meeting in this one. Vanya and Sonia of course are from Uncle Vanya. Masha references The Seagull and Three Sisters. Indeed Sonia bursts out occasionally with “I am a wild turkey. I am a wild turkey,” which echoes Nina in The Seagull saying “I am a seagull.”

Do you need to know Chekhov to appreciate Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike? No. But it does add another degree of enjoyment, but Durang’s writing is so inventive within the framework of Chekhov that taken on its own it’s very funny. This cast does it proud.

Co-produced by Mirvish Productions and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Run: March 14 to April 5, 2015
Cast: 6; 2 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours.

www.mirvish.com

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Review: MOMENT

by Lynn on November 11, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At The SideMart Grocery 1362 Queen St. E.

Written by Deirdre Kinahan
Directed and sound by Christopher Stanton
Designed by Jackie Chau
Lighting by Nick Blais
Starring: Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Gordon Bolan
Deborah Drakeford
Ryan Hollyman
Janet Porter
Andre Sills
Bahareh Yaraghi

A cracker-jack production of a play bubbling with emotion and family angst.
The Story. The Lynch family has its challenges. Teresa Lynch, the matriarch, is forgetful, anxious and high strung. She has a complicated regimen of pills she needs to take. Keeping track of them is difficult for her. Her two daughters, Ciara and Niamh, try to help. Ciara, the youngest daughter, seems to be her favourite, perhaps because she visits frequently. Niamh, the older daughter, visits too, but not as regularly.

The family also has its secrets. There is an absent brother to the two sisters—Nial. Fifteen years before, in only a moment, Nial did something that sent him away to prison. The family has been experiencing the effects of that moment ever since. Now Nial is out of prison and is coming for a brief visit, with his new wife. Emotions are high. Teresa is anxious that everything be perfect for her returning son. Ciara is surprised but curious. She was young when Nial went away and not clear on why. Niamh is furious and agitated. She remembers everything about that moment.

The Production. Designer Jackie Chau has configured the space so that the audience sits around the playing area. There are framed family photos on the walls. In the centre of the room is a well-used dining room table with six chairs around it. Against one wall is a smaller table where endless cups of tea are prepared.

Niamh arrives, concerned about her mother. She’s been calling all morning and her mother hasn’t answered. To add to her angst, Niamh has arrived with Fin, a friend from the office. He wants to stay and support her. He obviously is sweet on her. Niamh just wants to be left to deal with her mother. Fin finally leaves. After several shouts through the house, Teresa appears, bright, cheerful and off-handed. Niamh is questioning. Teresa had been shopping. No she didn’t take her cell-phone with her. No need. Yes she took her pills, she thinks, but she hasn’t been keeping track regularly. Niamh becomes agitated which makes Teresa anxious.

Ciara arrives, calming, even-handed. Teresa is happy to see her and seems to defer to her at the expense of Niamh. We see how that affects Niamh. She’s wounded every time her mother defers to Ciara. Ciara’s good-natured husband, Dave, arrives with beer and a smile. Then Teresa reveals her bombshell-Nial is arriving shortly with his girlfriend—she doesn’t know that they married the day before.

Director Christopher Stanton has beautifully created that family dynamic before Nial arrives. The two daughters are watchful of their mother in different ways; Ciara is compassionate and comforting; Niamh is anxious and needy. Teresa is just trying to hold on, appear cheerful and normal. She handles Niamh’s outbursts with an off-handed barb. Ciara is always there, helping; Niamh is not. Because the audience is so close to the action, Stanton just makes us look and watch harder. His direction is nuanced and subtle.

Nial arrives with his wife Ruth. No one is in the house at the moment—Teresa needed more pills so they all went. Nial really does not want to be there, but Ruth insists on meeting his family. She knows his history. She is accepting of this man who seems re-habilitated. He is an artist now, on his way to Spain for a showing of his work. We sense his agitation and desire to leave. Ruth is a calming, loving influence.

Then the family arrives and the emotions are ramped up. Teresa is giddy with delight that Nial is there and to meet Ruth. Ciara is happy and welcoming. Dave is charming. Niamh is wary and building with anger. Fin arrives too so all these emotions are bubbling.

Stanton is meticulous in building on these complex emotions so that by the time the end of Act I arrives emotions are so fraught the Teresa loses it (literally), throws up and unfortunately Fin is in the way and gets the major brunt of Teresa being sick. (Too much information? I will explain in the comments).

Act II takes place in the family basement, fifteen years before. We see how that fateful moment happened. The audience then goes back to the dining room of the house and the present where all the hurts, accusations, recriminations that have been pent up for fifteen years erupt.

The acting company is superb. As Teresa, Deborah Drakeford has that tight smile and bright face of a person trying to hold in her anxiety. As she gets more and more on edge she becomes more and more compelling. This is a woman who has had to suppress a lot in fifteen years and as much as she loves her daughters, Nial is her favourite.

As Ciara, Aviva Armour-Ostroff has an easy confidence. Ciara takes care of her mother lovingly, with no angst. She watches carefully and subtly gives her sister looks that speak volumes about what is happening.

Janet Porter as Niamh is like a tightly coiled wire ready to snap. Her movements are quick, agitated, almost frantic. She holds on to her anger like a kid clutching her teddy bear. She has allowed that rage to fester and poison everything about her. Her inability to sustain a relationship is part of the fall out.

As Nial, Ryan Hollyman is affectionate with Ruth but ultimately unsettled, twitchy and so reluctant to be in that house where his world changed in a moment. He paid for what he did, reformed and now wants to move forward with his life.

Comment. Irish playwright, Dierdre Kinahan explores the themes of family and forgiveness in the face of horrific events in Moment, which she wrote in 2009. Interestingly she explores similar themes in her most recent play, Spinning, which I saw in Dublin in October. In it a man has just come out of prison for being responsible for a death. Kinahan explores the man’s obsession with his family, especially his child. And we see a parallel story of a woman trying to cope with the death of her daughter. Can the man be forgiven for what he did? In Moment Nial feels he has done his time and now wants to live his life without recriminations. If that means not seeing his family, so be it. Niamh, on the other hand, resents losing her childhood because of her brother’s crime. She can’t let go of her rage. Fascinating from both angles.

While the language does suggest the play takes place in Ireland (or England) the cast plays it without accent, suggesting of course, that the story is universal. The production is gripping and thought provoking.

About Teresa’s projectile vomiting….While the aim of the scene is to hurl on Fin’s pants, there was residual glop on two audience members sitting behind him—me and my colleague Glenn Sumi of NOW magazine. Glenn’s shoes were ‘anointed’ with whatever it was that was hurled—chicken soup we were told. I got a bit on my arm but more on my pants. I don’t think the estimable Deborah Drakeford was making a comment about critics. We just happened to be sitting there by chance. It made for some lively tweeting and laughs.

It’s a worthy production. See it, but be aware of the splatter zone.

Presented by ARC

First Performance: Nov. 6, 2014
Closes: Nov. 22, 2014
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.arcstage.com

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At Theatre Passe Muraille, Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the novel by Sara Levine
Adapted by Karen Woolridge
Directed by Kate Lynch
Lighting by Christopher Ross
Sound by Mike Fowler
Costumes by Jody McLennan
Puppet Design by Gemma James-Smith

A quirky look at a classic boy’s adventure, turned on its ear and given a gender twist.

The Story. Our Girl wants a better life than the one she has. She becomes obsessed with the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island. Sure it’s a boy’s adventure story, but Our Girl thinks she can try to live her life according to the story’s various “core values” of boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing. We never actually see Our Girl blowing a horn, but I take it on faith.

She works at a pet library—people can rent animals for various occasions. Her boss, Nancy, is a fretting micro-manager. Our Girl has a hectoring, ineffectual boyfriend. Her own mother is not very supportive. A good friend tolerates her but in the end disappoints her in a big way.

In keeping with the parrot’s presence in the original Stevenson novel, Our Girl buys a parrot in the hopes she will teach it to talk and give her companionship. The parrot in turn twitches and quietly squawks. Talking, it seems, is not on this parrot’s agenda. But at various points in the story the parrot channels Our Girl’s boss, Nancy, with her impenetrable accent; her quiet mother; her valley-girl speaking sister; her best friend, and her boyfriend. Is the parrot really speaking? Is it Our Girl’s imagination? Our Girl is so obsessed with Treasure Island and living her life according to what she thinks are its values, she ignores reality. Real life is a challenge to her. Even replacing the birdcage newspaper liner is one of them.

The Production. The production begins with a frantic banging on the outside door of the building of the theatre. Christopher Douglas (I believe), the Stage Manager of the show, rushes down the aisle of the Backspace from the booth at the back, across the front of the stage, off-stage and opens the heavy door. Douglas then charges up the aisle to the booth at the back, ready to continue. Lots of flurry of activity as Our Girl arrives. A curtain is drawn across the stage as she prepares. Then there is another frantic banging at the same door, Douglas rushes down the aisle from the booth, across the front of the stage to off stage to open the door again, and then back up the aisle to the booth. A bit more activity behind the curtain, and then an arm comes out, waiving up to the booth to start the show.

The curtain is parted. There is Our Girl played by Caitlin Driscoll and behind her, on a solid, wooden perch, is a gorgeous green parrot puppet and behind it is Gemma James-Smith, the parrot’s creator and the voices of every character except that of Our Girl.

As Our Girl tells her story—falling in love with the book of Treasure Island—referencing everything that’s happened to her—the parrot quietly tweets and gurgles. Our Girl looks at it and says something like: “A bit distracting.” Our Girl is giving voice, I’m sure, to what we in the audience are thinking. The result is that the parrot’s sounds now become part of the story and not distracting from it. Brilliant!

Director Kate Lynch delicately creates this odd world of Our Girl playing off a parrot and its many voices. Lynch’s collaboration with her two gifted actresses establishes a cohesive whole. It’s a delicate dance deciding when that parrot chirps, twitches, or coughs etc. without pulling focus. It’s to everybody’s credit that the result embraces us into the telling.

As Our Girl, Caitlin Driscoll is open faced, trusting, and has that confidence that to her everything she is doing makes sense even though we know she’s off-the-wall-loopy. Driscoll is such an engaging actress (even when she has scared me in other productions) that we buy into her story, but know she’s deluded. And her involvement with the parrot is a case in point—she treats it as if it’s human, and it is when those voices come out of it. Driscoll gives Our Girl charm so we are not put off by her obsession and loopiness.

Equally as gifted is Gemma James-Smith, not only as the various voices of other characters, but also as the creator and manipulator of the parrot puppet. As the puppeteer James-Smith is totally focused on the puppet without expression. It’s the audience that gives that parrot expression, not the puppeteer. James-Smith has learned puppeteering from a master—Ronnie Burkett is her step-father. The various voices that James-Smith gives to the various characters in Our Girl’s life are distinct, funny and so appropriate.

Comment. My Treasure Island!!! Is a quirky, sweet, entertaining night in the theatre. I must confess, though, I am mystified with that bit at the beginning when it appears that the two actresses are locked out of the theatre. I don’t know what that is all about. It can’t be a set up for humour because the story and its telling is funny on its own.

Sara Levine has taken a decidedly boy’s adventure story and turned it on its head, making it a story with women being the focus. She then has Our Girl imagine that there are subtle layers to the story, worthy of deciphering, only to have the sane voice of one of the characters remind her it’s only a boy’s adventure. Terrific imagination.

Karen Woolridge’s adaptation of Sara Levine’s novel is quirky enough to make me want to read the novel and then Stevenson’s original source material again. Good theatre does that.

Produced by Johnson Girls with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille

Opened: Oct. 28, 2014
Closes: Nov. 16, 2014
Cast: 2 women, 1 parrot puppet
Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.passemuraille.ca

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The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, Oct. 1l, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM.: Night of the Living Dead Live at the Theatre Passe Muraille mainspace until Oct…..Les Misérables at the Princess of Wales Theatre until December 22.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.

 (PHIL)

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn, what’s up for this week?

 (LYNN)

Hi Phil. Two shows, that couldn’t be more different. The first is Night of the Living Dead, Live—based on the cult horror movie of 1968.

 And Les Misérables the hugely successful musical based on the Victor Hugo classic, reimagined.

 (PHIL)

2) As we usually do, let’s go in order. Night of the Living Dead Live doesn’t seem like the kind of play you would normally see.

 (LYNN)

Blame it on our own Daniel Garber. He knew the publicist from his film work and knew that she was also doing publicity for this play of the movie, and I went to see it because of Daniel. And he owes me big time as a result.

 (PHIL)

3) Before you tell us why, tell us about the story.

 (LYNN)

Night of the Living Dead was first a cult horror movie that set the standard for others to come.The play is called Night of the Living Dead Live.

 It’s about a town that seems to be over run with gools, ‘undead’ who lurch around attacking normal people and eating chunks of them.These gools seem to be afraid of fire and can be killed by a gun shot.The sheriff and his side-kick spend their day shooting what they think are gools but also kill normal people by mistake. Ooops.

 A group of normal people find themselves in a house and try to fend off the gools who always seem to be outside that door or window. There are endless endings because the Sherriff comes up with all sorts of ways that these folks could have survived their ordeal—more weapons; if they only got along etc. And with every suggestion the cast regroups and presents the scene again but with a different focus using the suggestion of the Sherriff. It makes for a long evening.

 (PHIL)

4) Why does Daniel owe you big time.

 (LYNN)

Because the whole enterprise is dire. It’s presented by a film company. All the executive producers and producers (in total there are eight of them!) are either in film, television or music videos.

 It’s co-written by Christopher Bond (who also directs), Dale Boyer, and Trevor Martin, all of whom are heavily involved in stand-up comedy, Second City or film.

 There is a program note entitled “About the Play”

Which starts off by saying that Night of the Living Dead Live is a fun and hilarious re-imagining of the classic movie. (They should have been sitting where I was!) Set in 1968 and presented in black and white, it literally feels like the film has been brought to life and placed on stage. The play lovingly examines the movie itself, the period in which it was made, and the film’s undying influence on the horror genre.”

 In a word, drivel. And why are they putting a movie on stage? Why do we need sound effects for every punch, slap or blow? The play re-examines nothing, not the movie or the period in which it was made or the influence on the horror genre.

 What it shows with glaring clarity is that practically none of these people involved in this enterprise has a glimmer of a clue of how theatre actually works.

 I don’t include Michelle Ramsay who does the lights or Richard Feren who does the sound effects. Both these artists toil valiantly in the theatre.

 Christopher Bonds direction is clumsy and awkward. His first scene takes place at the extreme side of the stage where the majority of the audience could not see what was going on. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 There is a scene in a cemetery that takes place up on a balcony also at the side where, again, most of the audience on the other side couldn’t see what was happening. The acting is declarative and broad. It is not a play.

What it is, is a Second City send-up of the movie. And if it had been presented that way I would have happily passed because I’m not a fan of Second City or that kind of comedy. But when they say it’s a play then I review it as a play.

The best part of it was when the lights went out.

 (PHIL)

5) You better explain that.

 (LYNN)

Close to the end the lighting board died and so did the lights on stage. While they were trying to fix it, the cast—all comedians–gave us some patter, told us about how the show came about; told funny stories.

Then with ingenuity Mr. Bond the director said they would turn the houselights on and continue the show with the lights they had. People shone their cell phones at the stage and got light that way. Loved that ingenuity. And finally the show finished, but the only way we would know that was that “The End” was projected on the back wall.

 As I said, DIRE!!

 (PHIL)

6) And now for something completely different,

Les Misérables. Why is this re-imagined?

 (LYNN)

In 2010 this musical, based on the Victor Hugo classic about the lead-up to the French Revolution, celebrated its 25th anniversary playing in London.Its brilliant producer, Cameron Mackintosh, decided it should be rethought, re-staged and re-orchestrated for a new audience.

 The story is the same: Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child, got caught and went to jail for 19 years. When he was released one of his jailers, Javert, vowed to hound him because he knew that once a thief always a thief. Jean Valjean had a rough time in the beginning of his freedom but someone had faith in him and he reformed and prospered. But Javert was always there waiting for him to faulter. It’s a huge story involving love, revolution, and being true to oneself.

 (PHIL)

7) You say it’s for a new audience. Who are they?

 (LYNN)

I think it’s for a younger audience; who want to know the story but without lots of detail. I get the sense that there is little time to build character or establish moments. This new audience tweets and want their information fast. They want their music loud. And they have it here. The orchestra is microphoned and so is the cast. On opening night I thought it was perhaps too loud And some of the dialogue and lyrics were lost. The music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and the lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer are stirring. That music just comes at you like a wave…and it’s terrific.

It’s directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with a fine sense of the theatrical, not just for glitzy techno stuff to impress. There’s effective use of projection that gives a sense of movement. A group of young revolutionaries march singing “One Day More”. At the same time along the sides of the theatre are projections of a street scene moving back wards giving the sense of the revolutionaries marching forward. Projections are used to recreate the sewers of Paris.It’s beautifully, dramatically lit by Paule Constable; she’s a brilliant designer who achieves the mood and sweep of the story with her effective lighting.

(PHIL)

8) Of course a musical needs singers how is this cast?

(LYNN)

Very impressive and mainly Canadian. Leading the way is Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean. Born in Canada but has made his career in London’s West End. He has a powerful voice but at the beginning he is so enraged at his plight that a lot of what he sings gets garbled. However he settles as the show goes on and he gives a fine performance of a man in search of salvation. And his singing of “Bring Him Home” is sublime.

 As Javert, Earl Carpenter is driven and focused on getting Jean Valjean again. As Fontine, a woman trying to make money to save her child, Genevieve Leclerc, shows a desperate mother at the mercy of a cruel society.  As the thieving Thénardier, Cliff Saunders has the dextrousness and flexibility of a man who is made of rubber. He propels himself backwards and lands, sitting on a table; he hops from chair to chair. He is a mass of comedic creativity and a joy to watch.

 (PHIL)

10) It sounds as if you like it even with your critical comments.

 (LYNN)

I do. I love the piece as a whole. It’s wonderfully theatrical. The directors know how to manipulate an audience in a good sense to be swept up in the momentum of the story. It’s a dandy story with a strong cast and, who knows, you might even want to read the book after seeing the show. Or tweet someone.

And yes, you should see it.

 (PHIL)

Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

 Night of the Living Dead Live plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace until October 27.

 Les Misérables plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until Dec. 22.

 

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The following two reviews were recorded on Friday, December 14, 2012. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: THIS LIME TREE BOWER at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs until Dec. 22. and DICKENS’ WOMEN at the Young Centre as part of the Word Festival until Dec. 15.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

(ROSE)
1) It’s Friday morning and time for our theatre fix by Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn what goodies do you have for us today?

(LYNN)
Two interesting plays in which words are hugely important.

The first is This Lime Tree Bower by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. A terrific storyteller.

And Dickens’ Women, devised and written by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser, Margolyes is a celebrated British actress who also performs the show. Fraser directs.

It’s about many things including various women characters in Charles Dickens’ novels. Dickens of course is another fantastic storyteller.

(ROSE)
2) Let’s start with This Lime Tree Bower. How are words so important here?

(LYNN)
Of course words are important in any play but when Irish playwright Conor McPherson writes them, they just pulse with life, vividness and sadness. The title references a poem from the 18th century that suggests a self-imposed prison. Very evocative.

Three Dublin men tell us their stories in separate monologues. Joe is 17. His hormones are going into overdrive. He’s enamoured of Damien, a new boy in his class but is also besotted with any pretty girl.

As innocent and naïve as Joe is that’s how confident and manipulative Damien is and coerces Joe into an unsavoury situation with a young woman. Joe lives with his father, his 20 year old brother Frank and sister Carmel. Their mother is dead. The father owns a fish and chip shop.

Frank works there with little prospects. Their father owes a lot of money to the local loan shark. Frank tells us with a bit of rushed enthusiasm or perhaps fear, how he’s going to solve the problem of the loan. Frank is sweet in his intentions to help but one marvels at the naivety of the enterprise and the fool-hardy daring. These are good sons if a bit lacking in smarts.

Ray is in his early 30s. He’s a quick talking university professor whose main talent is sleeping with his students and thinking nothing of it. He is oversexed, under endowed with moral fibre and also sleeping with Carmel, whom he treats as an afterthought.

His one current goal seems to be preparing for the day when a noted scholar comes to town for a lecture and Ray has visions of challenging his ideas and stopping the scholar in his tracks.

All three characters display big ideas but they come from a small, naïve world. It’s early McPherson but his abilities as a storyteller are right there.

(ROSE)
3) What makes his stories so compelling?

They are told by characters who are flawed and self-deprecating. We just naturally root for them. Each has a facility for telling a story in his own way. Joe is all bouncing hormones and insecurity but he can talk and tell us what’s on his mind. Frank has his own way with a phrase that. He’s rather poetic and pragmatic too when he describes a gun he has. And Ray is just a blowhard who is such a sad scoundrel that for all his bravado, you know it will end badly too. The stories are told by men who carry their wounds out in the open.

(ROSE)
4) You obviously like McPherson’s work. How about the production?

(LYNN)
I was particularly interested because it was directed by Sarah Dodd in her directorial debut. Ms Dodd is an accomplished actress, and she carries that over in this production. McPherson doesn’t make it easy because he has no stage directions. So the director and cast must find their own way. And they do it splendidly.

Each actor is on a raised platform sitting in his own chair. Ray’s is an overstuffed comfy chair. Frank is in one less comfortable. And Joe has a simple straight-backed chair with no padding. Dodd uses light in various brightness to underscore scenes. She knows how to mine each word for its full intent and she knows how to bring out the emotional best in her three actors.

When the lights go up on the three characters in their chairs, they seem startled at first to see the audience—that’s the characters who are startled not the actors. Then they easy into their stories. I like that subtle bit of stage business there.

As Ray, Gray Powell, a Shaw Festival Stalwart, has that confident air as he tells the story, getting more and more into his own cleverness and erudition. But Powell gives Ray and under current of sadness to all that bravado and that works a treat.

As Joe, Anthony MacMahon has that open-faced, boyishness that reveals the lack of guile of Joe. He tells the story with a calmness and a command of the words. And as Frank, Matt Gorman is a loving son who chooses a common way of solving a financial problem.

He doesn’t exude danger, just an endearing naivety. Terrific story-telling, beautifully told, in a lovely production.

(ROSE)
5) And Dickens’ Women, tell us about that. Is it a bunch of scenes strung together?

(LYNN)
It’s part of the Word Festival at the Young Centre celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth. There are marathon readings of his books in the lobby—I saw Cynthia Dale reading from one of his books as I came in to get my tickets. There was a staged reading of two of Dickens’ short stories.

And Dickens’ Women….You can’t have a festival celebrating anything to do with Dickens and not have Miriam Margolyes do her show. She’s been doing this show since 1989. I saw it years ago in London and thought it was wonderful. It still is.

Margolyes has picked scenes from various Dickens novels with women at its centre to show of course Dickens’ incredible, vivid writing ability.

Even the names of characters dance out at you: Mrs. Gamp, Mr. Bumble, Martin Chuzzelwit, Mrs. Pinchchin—you get such a clear picture of what they looked and sounded like.

Dickens also created a world in his stories and here Margolyes puts things in context. She tells us how humiliating it was for Dickens’ family to be thrown in the poor house except him. He went to work as a young boy and never, ever forgot that young experience. His books are full of horrors of what is now known as ‘Dickensian’ London. Grinding poverty, desperation for even a crumb of bread. And as she explains linking his life with his books, no one was safe really from being a character in his books.

(ROSE)
6) Give us some examples.

(LYNN)
Any time you read of a sweet, innocent, beautiful young woman of 17 in Dickens’ novels, you are reading about Dickens’ sister-in-law who died at 17. Before she died suddenly in his arms, she lived with Dickens’ and his wife. He was besotted with her and devoted to her. If he could have been buried with her he would have. A little bit, unsettling, that.

At one time Dickens’ was madly in love with a young woman and he thought she returned the affection but she slighted him. He never forgot the humiliation, and made her a rather unpleasant character in one of his books. Time and again his life finds its way into his books and characters.

And the way Margolyes just weaves it all together is beautifully story telling on its own, but her performance of these characters is a thing of beauty to behold.

In her performance Dickens’ characters lurch, limp, scurry, leer, sniff frequently, slur their words when drunk, which is often, or clip their words if they are snooty, which is frequent.

She makes his words sound delicious and she lays it all out for us like a tantalizing eye-popping banquet.

Dickens’ had a troubled life and Margolyes has devoted her life to bringing Dickens to us. She says she loves and hates him but he’s important to listen to.

And in a world where a tweet is considered conversation, listening to Dickens’ intoxicating words, thoughts, ideas, and characters who speak them, has never been so important.

I can’t urge you enough to see Miriam Margolyes, a diminutive volcano of creativity, perform her show, Dickens’ Women. It has been a short run—opened Wednesday, closes tomorrow—but it is so worth it.

(ROSE)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

THIS LIME TREE BOWER plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs until Dec. 22.

DICKENS’ WOMEN plays at the Young Centre until Saturday, Dec. 15.

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The Weekend in New York.

I’m just finishing up a weekend in New York where I saw four shows, (Dead Accounts, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, Golden Boy and The Anarchists) of which three were in previews, and only Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike had opened.

I’m not one of those breathless bottom-feeder-morons who discourse on previews—the worst are those musical theatre trolls who blog at the intermission of the first preview of musicals thinking they are showing some kind of theatre acumen, while in fact they are only showing they are idiots. So I won’t say a word about the three in preview except the stories and who’s in them.

The Anarchists by David Mamet. Starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger. Directed by David Mamet. A woman in prison for being a part of the Weathermen terrorist group of the 60s, tries to convince her jailer that she should be paroled.

Dead Accounts by Theresa Rebeck. Starring Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes. Directed by Jack O’Brien. A wayward son comes home to Cincinnati from New York. His parents and siblings wonder why. He’s reluctant to say. All he wants to do is eat ice-cream. At the Music Box Theatre.

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets. Starring Seth Numrich, Tony Shalhoub and a cast of more than 20, directed by Bartlett Sher.. About a man named Joe Bonaparte who must decide if he wants to be a classical violinists or a world-class boxer. At the Belasco Theatre.

Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Nicholas Martin, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre of Lincoln Center Theater, is Durang’s tip of the hat to Chekhov. It opened earlier this week.

A brother and sister, Vanya and Sonya live in a lovely farmhouse in Buck’s County. Their sister Masha, an actress who has made her money doing schlock movies, owns the house. The parents were university professors who had a weird sense of humour and named the kids after Chekhov characters. When their parents were sick, Vanya and Sonya took care of them while Masha roamed the world doing her movies.

Now she’s come home with her latest toy boy, Spike, a smiling hunk of chiseled muscle, to tell them she’s selling the house. It is full of Durang’s loopy, witty sense of humour. The echoes of Chekhov reverberate throughout the play. If you know your Chekhov so much the better—Sonya saying repeatedly “I am a wild turkey, I am a wild turkey,” is Durang at his most perverse. If you aren’t that familiar with Chekhov, no matter. The play is hilarious on it’s own..

The cast is stellar. David Hyde Pierce plays Vanya with a droopy-eyed fastidiousness. He’s touching, thoughtful, and so understated he’s a riot. As his sister Sonya, Kristine Nielsen is an insecure woman lamenting her sad lot in life but with a certain jollity. Her doing an impersonation of Maggie Smith in California Suite is one of her many surprises. As Masha, Sigourney Weaver gives her whole performance as if she is a vapid movie star, with little connection to reality, which is true and real for this pretentious character.

As Spike, the chiseled toy-boy, Billy Magnussen is a mass of creativity, inventive bits of comedy, seemingly over the top business, which is not over the top, and is a total delight.

Durang also has a waif-like character named Nina, who, yes, wants to be an actress—Genevieve Angelson is divine. And a maid named Cassandra who, yes, can read the future and no one pays any attention to her, but recalls the ancient Greeks, foresees hurricanes, the arrival of annoying guests, and is adept at voodoo. Shalita Grant is a whirlwind. This cast is a dream.

While Durang has filled his play with his typical kind of humour, he has given each character a kind of aria that let’s them rip about their world. Vanya has a speech in Act II that laments the lack of manners in the modern world, as people tweet and text when they are bored and should be watching a play—this is focused at Spike. He goes on to lament the loss of writing thank you notes by hand, and licking the stamps to put on the letter; the lack of reading; peace and quiet. It’s a rant to our insensitive times and I wouldn’t mind hearing that speech every day for years, as long as David Hyde Pierce says it.

Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike is a love letter to Chekhov, the theatre, comedy, humour and the foibles of humanity. It’s terrific.

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l-r: Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, David Patrick Flemming, Miranda Edwards. Photo by Daniel Alexander

The following reviews were broadcast Friday May 11, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, CIUT 89.5 FM. BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST at Young People’s Theatre until May 17. THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS (And the Repudiation and Redemption of Mike Daisey) until Sunday May 13 at various locations.

(ROSE)
1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time for a little theatre with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn.

What’s up for today theatre-wise?

(LYNN)
Hi Rose. I have two really provocative plays. First BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Edward Roy, is at Young People’s Theatre and is about mental illness in teens.

And THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS (and the repudiation and redemption of Mike Daisey). at various locations until Sunday. It’s the one person show that monologist Mike Daisey created about the dastardly working conditions in China of Foxcon, the company that makes all the Apple electronics and the accusation of the piece is that Steve Jobs the CEO of Apple, knew.

(ROSE)
2) Let’s start with BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Mental illness in teens—you’re right, mental illness is a provocative subject.

(LYNN)
And Young People’s Theatre is never shy about producing plays that reflect what’s going on in the lives of young people.

I love this theatre to bits for having the guts to address issues that are affecting young people. This year they did plays about bullying, homophobia, overbearing parents, abandonment, and a musical (Seussical) about a loyal elephant who watched over an egg until the chick hatched.

With BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST they deal with mental illness.

(ROSE)
3) How does the story deal with it?

(LYNN)
Three teens, Patricia, Jude and Trey meet regularly to talk about their problems with a therapist named Cathy. Patricia has issues of self-esteem; Jude is schizophrenic; and Trey suffers from anxiety and panic attacks.

Both Jude and Trey are sweet on Patricia. Jude is loquacious, argumentative, needy and pushes all Patricia’s buttons. She thinks that Jude is just annoying. She doesn’t see that he likes her. Trey has to do an oral presentation and is terrified because he has an anxiety attach before doing such things.

He refuses to tell the teacher of his difficulty and hates the teacher for being tough. Cathy the therapist urges Trey to talk to the teacher for consideration. Then Patricia offers to help Trey with his public speaking.

Over the course of preparing, both Patricia and Trey bond.

(ROSE)
4) Does Cathy treat them with kid gloves because they are mentally fragile?

(LYNN)
No and that’s one of the many beauties of Edward Roy’s play. Cathy doesn’t coddle them. She is considerate but firm. Through it all Cathy keeps the three in check and able to function. She insists they respect each other. She knows their tricks and at one point tells Trey to stop using his illness as an excuse of his not trying or being disappointed.

I love the way Edward Roy deals with the mental illness. Cathy doesn’t let them feel sorry for themselves.

She makes them face their issues and deal with them. Arguments are given and dealt with but not in a facile way. And Roy’s dialogue crackles with the lingo of teens, and since the play is for teens this is crucial. I also appreciated that the story does not end all neatly and with everybody happy.

The title, BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST refers to a group of mentally challenged kids who go into schools to talk to young people about their mental illnesses.

Brave and true.

(ROSE)
5) And the production?

(LYNN)
Edward Roy also directs and it’s with a muscular arm. Rock music throbs in the first few scenes as Jude tries to get Patricia to come with him to see some ‘really sick’ graffiti.

Andy Moro has designed a multi-levelled set onto which the three teens bound, hop, jump and dance. He has also done the projections which are busy and beautifully conjure that world of the teen—bursting with movement, images, and things to distract.

There are terrific performances from Miranda Edwards as Patricia—very confident, hopeful and yet anxious to do well in this new school and not repeat the problems at her other school. As Jude, David Patrick Flemming is a ball of fire and energy, attitude, in your face annoying and perfectly so. As Trey, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett is beautifully awkward, insecure, brow-beaten by his father. And as Cathy the therapist, Soo Garay is firm, thoughtful, considerate and fair.

Beautiful performances and a really compelling production.

(ROSE)
6) And now THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS (and the Repudiation and Redemption of Mike Daisey). There’s been a lot of controversy about the show in general. Briefly tell us what the show is about.

(LYNN)
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS is a one man show originally written and performed by a wonderful, prickly monologist named Mike Daisey. In it he tells how he loves any kind of electronic device produced by Apple. He reads about them. He goes to their website to watch demos. Totally devoted.

But then doubt comes in. There are stories about horrible working conditions in China where every one of these devices is made. He decides to go to China to find out the truth.

He has an interpreter. He stands outside the Foxcon Factory in Shenzhen, China—a huge complex that makes these devices. He interviews workers, some as young as 12. He hears about the suicides of the workers because of long hours and grinding repetitive work.

He talks about the workers whose hands are gnarled crippled because of the chemicals used to clean the screens of he iphones etc. He is furious because he says that Steve Jobs knew about these horrible conditions. He had to. He wasn’t a micro-manager. He was a nano-manager.

So from all that comes this show—THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS. Daisey is interviewed on NPR….lots of notoriety. But then it was revealed that Daisey lied.

(ROSE)
7) What did he lie about?

(LYNN)
He didn’t actually talk to any workers. He couldn’t confirm that a person he talked to was 12. He didn’t talk to anyone whose hands were crippled because of the work. So then he was vilified in the press and on the NPR program.

Lots of controversy—if he lied then his show is a lie. Daisey issues an apology saying it’s theatre not journalism. He allows other theatre artists to download his script for free.

Enter director/producer Mitchell Cushman and actor David Ferry who take advantage of the offer and produce their own provocative production of it. Only they add a bit that addresses the controversy and they call it …and the Repudiation and Redemption of Mike Daisey.

(ROSE)
8) Why is the production provocative?

(LYNN)
The run is very short—until Sunday—and each show is in a secret location you learn about by getting a message on your iphone on the day. The first show was in a hackers’s work space.

I saw it yesterday in a garage in the Dovercourt/Queen area—brilliant since Apple started in a garage. We were told to keep our cell phones, pump up the volume, tweet, answer calls etc.

Mitchell Cushman directs this and keeps a tally of the calls and texts. Our total was 32.

David Ferry is not Mike Daisey but he is doing his script. Ferry is vivid, vibrant, raging, engaging and sucks us into that compelling story.

The repudiation and redemption part is Ferry reading many quotes from the press etc. vilifying Daisey for what he did and Daisey apologizing and trying to explain.

I love being unsettled by this show and its implication.

When Mitchell Cushman and David Ferry were on our show a few weeks ago Ferry said that all theatre is a lie. And he said that we know that everything Daisey said is true. Because of the show and the bad press on their Foxcon factory, Apple has improved the working conditions.

People now don’t work 16 hours a day any more. The pay is better. Ultimately, the show does what it’s supposed to—it illuminates a reality and leaves it to us to decide if it’s right or not.

I loved the whole theatricality of this production. Beautifully done.

(ROSE)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can check out Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

BEYOND THE CUCKOO’S NEST plays at Young People’s Theatre until June 17.
Tickets: youngpeoplestheatre.ca

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS (and the Repudiation and Redemption of Mike Daisey) at various locations until Sunday May 13.
Tickets: otmtheatre@gmail.com

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