At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour in collaboration with the company.

From the novel by Victor Hugo

Directed by Michele Smith

Set and costumes by Victoria Wallace

Sound by Johnny Hockin

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Projection design by Elisa Julia Gilmour

Cast: Mac Fyfe

Dean Gilmour

Nina Gilmour

Benjamin Muir

Daniel Roberts

Diana Tso

Theatre Smith-Gilmour works its usual magic by distilling Victor Hugo’s mammoth novel, “Les Misérables,” to its essence:  about life, liberty, being a slave to the law, following one’s conscience and righting injustice.

The company, lead by the always compelling Dean Gilmour as Jean Valjean among others, play multiple parts, create the sweep and life in France from 1815 to 1832 culminating in  the Paris rebellion in 1832, and convincingly realize the frenzied charging of the barricades, all with a cast of just six actors

Michele Smith directs this with attention to the smallest detail and the largest ideas. We are quickly, smoothly drawn into this huge story. How special is that?

Full review shortly.

{ 0 comments }

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Original novel by George Orwell

Adapted by Anthony MacMahon

Directed by Ravi Jain

Set and costumes designed by Ken Mackenzie

Lighting by André du Toit

Composer and sound by Richard Feren

Choreography by Shannon Litzenberger

Cast: Leah Cherniak

Oliver Dennis

Raquel Duffy

Miriam Fernandes

Rick Roberts

Paolo Santalucia

Sugith Varughese

Guillermo Verdecchia

Jennifer Villaverde

Michaela Washburn

Sarah Wilson

A terrific production of George Orwell’s allegory that resonates for our world today in a compelling adaptation by Anthony MacMahon.

 The Story. A bit of back ground first.  George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” in 1945 in England and it’s billed as an allegory for the Rise of Stalin and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

It takes place on farmer Jones’ farm. Some farm animals lament how they are being worked so hard by Farmer Jones. They hate being under his yoke so they decide to have a revolution and over throw him.  They decree that all animals are equal, but over time that doesn’t prove to be the case. The pigs, lead by Napoleon, the head pig, seems to be organizing everything, The other animals are unhappy, overworked and hungry and don’t see how they are equal. Power has shifted from the humans to some of the animals, and so it goes again.

The Production. Anthony MacMahon’s adaptation of Orwell’s book cuts down on some of the characters and details of the novel but it is smart, funny and true to the spirit of the original. As with any classic “Animal Farm” stands the test of time. And while it referenced the Russian Revolution when Orwell wrote it, there are certainly other timely applications that can be made for it in 2018 thanks to MacMahon’s smart adaptation.

That said director Ravi Jain’s production beautifully realizes Anthony MacMahon’s adaptation.

At the top of the show the cast come forward in costume, stand at the lip of the stage, introduce themselves and tell us who they play. When these formalities are done they put on their head gear that depicts the animals they play. For example, Guillermo Verdecchia plays a donkey named Benjamin. The head gear has long ears and the snout of a donkey. Guillermo Verdecchia brings out Benjamin’s smarts and perception with his thoughtful carefully paced dialogue. Oliver Dennis plays Boxer, a hard-working horse with a distinctive face and ears. Boxer is a bit dim, but has a heart of gold. Rick Roberts plays Napoleon a pig and wears a costume of rich pink quilted looking material and a squashed nose.

The body language is very concise and spare.  A bent leg that is forward says all that needs to be said about Benjamin the wise donkey. Boxer walks with stiff, heavy legs as a horse would. Raquel Duffy as Mercy plays a chicken, in a sense the leader of these lovely cluckers. The walk-strut and head movements are jerky, with no doubt we are looking at chickens.  The performances are subtle and not over the top, this lets the audience do the work of imagining the full “humanity” of the animal.

Ken MacKenzie has designed a simple set of wood walls that are the outside of the barn, and doors that separate to reveal the inside of the barn. The hen house with a wired window is elevated and the hens appear behind it. They speak in a high pitched voice about the hardship they are living. In the scenes in which they must produce eggs at a whizzing rate, the eggs plop and are strewn behind them. One tends to laugh out loud here until one realizes the implications of what is happening to the animals as they are overworked to produce for the farm and the benefit of the pigs, that  run the show.

MacKenzie’s costumes are equally impressive. They are witty, funny, evocative and right for the animal/character. For the work animals such as Boxer and Benjamin, the clothes are brown work pants and shirts, boots and the scruffy headgear. For the spiffy, greedy pigs, they wear elaborate pink quilted costumes that look rich and very comfortable. The chickens are in shortish skirts, boots and tops. The flat beak is perfect in completing the picture.

Ravi Jain is a fine director who has a strong affinity for comedy. In Act I a character is killed and the scene is handled as a bit of slapstick. Blood gushing out of wounds is suggested by wads of red string/wool being thrown out of the wings on to the floor in front of the body. Hilarious. I am concerned that the humour might overpower the serious nature of the work but I would trust the audience to be sensitive to the story, the allegory and the application to today.

Jain also knows how to realize the chilling aspect of the play.  In Act II the animals are hungry and overworked. Boxer has hurt his leg and needs surgery and meds but can’t afford them. Matters are frantic. The angst is palpable. There is still humour from the chickens, but you can feel the ennui, the fear and the drudgery of it all.

In the book much is made of the fact that at the end one couldn’t tell the physical difference between the greedy, overbearing pigs and the greedy, overbearing humans they once despised, and with whom they are now doing business. In the production Napoleon, now in a spiffy suit and wavy hair, is having drinks with humans in suits and fancy hair. The irony is obvious.

Comment. To some the book of “Animal Farm” is irrelevant.  In this instance I have to quote the program note by designer Ken MacKenzie “Its (“Animal Farm”) greatest flaw, identified by a majority of 7th and 8th graders is that it’s obviously irrelevant to our modern more sophisticated lives. How often, for instance, do we have to deal with shifting leadership and changing values”?

Anybody who is ‘other’ is the enemy—this could be referencing refugees, indigenous people, anyone considered ‘other.’ It seems there is always an underdog and a superior class that is determined to keep the underdog down with rules changing in order to keep the underdog in his/her place.

Napoleon, a ruling pig, is considered to be always right, who is never wrong and won’t be criticized. Don’t we know anyone like that? Boxer gets sick but can’t afford to take off work for medical attention because there now is no medical insurance. He can’t afford the meds to help him.  Aren’t we familiar with that kind of goings on, either here or in another country?

Alas, Animal Farm will never be dated as long as the bully and the slick, charming talker take over and prove all “men” are not created equal. This production is a powerful story, well told.

Soulpepper presents.

Opened: March 15, 2018.

Closes: April 7, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

{ 0 comments }

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

Conceived and sung by Fides Krucker

Choreographed and danced by: Peggy Baker

Laurence Lemeux

Heidi Strauss

Musicians: Rob Clutton

Tania Gill

Germaine Liu

Facilitating director, Katherine Duncanson

Lighting and set co-ordination by Rebecca Picherack

Costumes by Caroline O’Brien

Renowned interpreter of vocal music, Fides Krucker has conceived this show of 15 songs by Canadian writers that charts the often painful, often joyous journey of love from a female prospective. Twelve of the songs were written by women such as: Leslie Feist (“Let It Die”), Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides Now”), k.d. lang (Constant Craving), Sarah McLachlan (“Ice Cream”) and Kate McGarrigle (“Mother Mother”). But those songs written by men:  Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”,  Hawksley Workman’s “Striptease” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” for example offer a different female perspective as well.

The short run of In This Body is part of the Voices³ series of concerts at Canadian Stage. Fides Krucker’s point with her selections from the programme: “This programme’s songs give voice to a particularly Canadian geography of joy, pain, loss, wisdom, humour and hope.”  Krucker’s voice soars and swoops with expression, often changing register mid-song. In its way that change of register adds another layer to the rocky road to love and loss. She interprets the darker side of love with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. As Krucker enters the theatre from the audience she sings the haunting “Soon This Space Will Be Too Small” by Lhasa de Sela, which establishes the mood for most of the evening.

The band: Rob Clutton on bass, Tania Gill on piano, accordion, melodica and trumpet, and Germaine Liu, percussion, provide the music and sound effects that enhance each song. The three dancers: Peggy Baker, Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss have choreographed and dance their own interpretations of the songs that Krucker sings. Heidi Strauss is a tangle of emotion as she interprets in dance the loss of a lover. Laurence Lemieux is elegant and subtle when dancing to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” And the incomparable Peggy Baker is all angles and sinew and she interprets Joni Mitchell’s heartbreaking “Both Sides Now.” Baker is also hilarious as she ‘illustrates’ the points of a song Krucker sings by bringing various things out of a box. She manipulates two dolls that are in a clinch suggesting love; later she drops red rose petals on a doll suggesting it has ‘passed on.” The various things in the box are brought out quickly for funny effect. It’s a shame one doesn’t know the list of songs clearly beforehand and who dances to them for some context. We are given a list of the songs at the end of the show.

While the reason for the show is interesting—to present a female, Canadian perspective on love in all its variations—and the artists involved are all wonderful individually, In This Body proves to be an excess of riches that works against clarity of vision instead of serving it. The show is simply overproduced.

Katherine Duncanson is listed as the ‘facilitating director’, a term I find mystifying since the direction is at best scattered, unfocused and frustrating. Too often Krucker is centre stage singing with one of the dancers behind her interpreting the song in dance. Excuse me, but Peggy Baker, Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss are not background dancers, and that’s what it seems like too often.

At the end of the show Peggy Baker starts off centre stage dancing a plaintive interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” with Krucker a bit off to the side, allowing Baker her rightful place as the focus of the song, but then Krucker moves into Baker’s space, pulling focus. Where do we look? Whose scene is it because it can’t be both of theirs? Clarity and focus are in order.

Frequently Krucker sings and plays the piano along side Tania Gill. Then Gill gets up to play another instrument and at another part of the stage either one or all three dancers are interpreting a song. Again, where is the focus?

The accomplished band provides all sorts of sound effects, for example a tinkling sound for one of the songs made by Germaine Liu as she crunches tin foil it seems, that finally lead me to think ‘this is just too much.’

All the artists involved are stellar in their own right. Fides Krucker’s conception of doing a show about the rocky journey of love in song and dance is a good one. But there is so much going on at all times here that the songs and their message get lost in the jumble of activity. Clarify. Focus. Simplify. Please.

Presented by Good Hair Day Productions and Canadian Stage:

 Opened: March 14, 2018.

Closes: March 18, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.canadianstage.com

{ 1 comment }

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

Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig

Translated by David Tushingham

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set, video, and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Costume by Gillian Gallow

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Akosua Amo-Adem

Alana Bridgewater

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Laura Condlln

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Jakob Ehman

Kyra Harper

Stuart Hughes

Diego Matamoros

Michelle Monteith

A short but tediously repetitive play noting the many and various versions of the myth of Idomeneus presented by a cast that are dressed, made up and act like zombies who  just declare the stories. Deconstructing a myth? I don’t think so.

The Story. Idomeneus by Roland Schimmelpfennig and translated by David Tushingham, is based on a story in Greek mythology about Idomeneus King of Crete and his hard trip home from fighting in the Trojan War after ten years. He set out with 80 ships and their crews and during a terrible storm all the ships and their crews but his were lost.  He prayed to Poseidon, the god of the sea, for help and said that if he saved him and his men he would sacrifice the first person he saw after he landed, in his honour. This was a terrible promise.

The Production. Lorenzo Savoini’s set is a gloomy, dark world with a back wall of grey and the floor is a layer of uneven dirt (or so it appears). Gillian Gallow has designed the grey costumes so that the cast look like they are stone. Even their make-up is grey making them look like zombies or the walking dead.

The cast of ten play a nameless chorus who tell the story, often taking on individual parts of the story in all its variations. You just have to know who Stuart Hughes is when he plays Idomeneus, or Michelle Monteith when she plays Meda, Idomeneus’ wife, or Jakob Ehman when he plays Idomeneus’ son.

Director Alan Dilworth has staged the cast to stand in a line and come forward and declare their part of the story. It is without passion, emotion or engagement. It of course is a director’s choice and it’s deadly in the context of a play.

To ‘deadly’ please add ‘confusion’ when an unnamed character (played by Frank Cox-O’Connell) comments after various declarations of the story, “that’s not what happened”.  I was waiting for him to say: “That’s fake news.” I’m also waiting to find out who he is and how he knows, ‘that’s not what happened.” Such an explanation is not forthcoming.  Is playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig blurring the lines between fiction/myth and fact? Then why pick a malleable myth to do it? I can appreciate taking a fact and twisting it out of proportion to make a point but this isn’t it. This poses another problem with this production—storytelling that makes no sense presented without a sense of drama.

When the scenes change there is a sound (Debashis Sinha) of static as in radio static with a flash of light. Does this mean that we are listening to a radio play? In these quick scene changes director Alan Dilworth has the cast rushing with urgency from one area to another—the reason of which is mystifying—but at least there is a sense of drama if only in the scene changes. Again, why? Truly, folks, I’m trying hard to make sense of this incomprehensible, frustrating production.

The result is a less than satisfying play in a deadly production—no pun intended with that walking dead reference.

Comment. Over the years there have been many interpretations of the Trojan War story and its off-shoots. It’s a myth after all and so you can interpret it in many and various ways. The problem is that Schimmelpfennig has put the many and various interpretations in this one short play—it lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The storytelling is very repetitive and that tends to make the whole thing tedious even more than before.

And it you aren’t familiar with the story of the Trojan War and the many players then confusion will arise. I can imagine the uninitiated with the background of the story wondering of what country is this king, and how many kings are there—there seem to be so many—and who is the daughter of whom and why was she killed? And on and on. I flippantly thought of all the begats in the bible read at warp speed and everybody was expected to keep it all straight.

And what does it say about a production when a full insert in the program outlines “Who Was Idomeneus” giving the story, and the players in some cases and the background? It speaks volumes about the inadequacy of the play by the playwright.

I am also finding that I’m commenting more and more on program notes, they appear so ill placed of late. In the program note for Idomeneus the writer notes that the characters find ‘the “facts” are fluid’ (this is fiction I have to restate) and the writer even takes this comment to equate with the upheaval going on at Soulpepper. Uh, no. No. Absolutely no. This production is frustrating in every single way.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

 Opened: March 8, 2018.

Closes: March 24, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

{ 0 comments }

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Healey

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound and composition by Michelle Bensimon

Cast: Graham Conway

Craig Lauzon

Andrew Moodie

A production that realizes Michael Healey’s beautiful play with care, respect and wonderful acting.

 The Story. A naïve young Toronto man named Miles (Graham Conway) comes to the farm of Morgan (Andrew Moodie) and Angus (Craig Lauzon) to gather stories about a farmer’s life. Miles is part of an acting collective who are all gathering stories that will be performed for the collective and formed into a play. Morgan is the main farmer on that property and has a wicked sense of humour that uses Miles’ naivety by telling him to: wash the pebbles on the walk-way, prepare to rotate the crops one afternoon, and to rearrange the eggs under different hens to confuse them so they won’t be upset when the eggs are taken away.   Angus also works on the farm but in a limited way. He and Morgan are boyhood friends, who grew up together, went to war together and when Angus got hurt in an air raid leaving him somewhat brain-damaged with no short-term memory, Morgan felt responsible and took care of Angus since then. Morgan has lived with a secret about what happened for all those years.

The Production. Joanna Yu has designed the rough-hewn outline of Morgan and Angus’ farm-house. The porch and steps are weathered wood. There is a line of stones that border the porch. The kitchen is neat, clean and functional. Many sandwiches are made there up stage at the kitchen counter, and eaten down from there at the table.

Yu has also designed the costumes. For Morgan and Angus the clothes are work pants and shirts, and a vest as well for Morgan. Considering that Morgan does most of the work I think his clothes are a bit too pristine and not worn down enough, a quibble I know, but still noticeable. Miles initially wears a t-shirt and shorts, until he realizes that long-pants will protect his legs from the dangers of farm work

Director Nina Lee Aquino has tackled the play with care and sensitivity. She does not go for sentimentality even though there are ample opportunities for it. She guides her three actors with a firm but gentle hand.

As Miles, Graham Conway is a sweet innocent from the city trying to do his job as an actor gathering stories in the country. Miles is eager, trusting, accommodating and eventually he catches on to the truth about Morgan and Angus.

Craig Lauzon as Angus, gives a beautifully modulated performance of a man floating in a haze of lost memory. He stands in the kitchen, confused, wondering what it was he was supposed to do there. He is never frustrated by this lapse because he’s not aware it’s a lapse. Angus is a gentle giant of a man who eventually is startled into seeing clearly and remembering. It’s a performance of detail, emotion and passion. It’s wonderful.

Andrew Moodie plays Morgan with a matter of fact confidence. He does a good job of realizing playwright Michael Healey’s wit, subtle humour and sense of responsibility Morgan has for Angus. I do wish though that Moodie would not swallow his words and mumble as often as he does. Morgan is a man of few words. They all must be heard and it’s had to do if they are being dropped at the end of a sentence or not enunciated.

Comment. Michael Healey wrote The Drawer Boy in 1999 in which he references in part, the creation of The Farm Show (1972). The Farm Show is the play that was created by Paul Thompson and a collection of Toronto actors who went to the farming community around Clinton, Ont. to gather their stories, distil them and form them into a play. A young member of that collective was Miles Potter who began as an actor and has developed into a respected director. He is the “Miles” in The Drawer Boy.

 Over the years The Drawer Boy has honoured with awards, had many productions around the world and has a well-earned reputation as a play that symbolizes a part of Canada. It’s a play about charity, generosity, forgiveness, friendship, trust, kindness and love. Healey has a wonderful facility with language, humour and human frailties. He doesn’t make fun of someone maliciously—we laugh gently at Miles when he truly believes that they will rotate crops in an afternoon. Even when Morgan’s secret is revealed we realize that Morgan held that secret to save Angus from further anguish.

So in light of the point and message of the play, I found Assistant Director Cole Alvis’s program note disturbing because of an imposed misguided agenda. Alvis cites Jesse Wente comments about cultural appropriation that he made on CBC Metro Morning.

Avis continues: “By casting Craig Lauzon (Ojibway), Andrew Moodie (West Indian-Canadian) alongside queer white emerging artist Graham Conway, this production brings a cultural urgency to the acts of appropriation that live in the play. The opportunity to shape a story based on lived experience is powerful and when a story is told by another the results can be devastating.“ Excuse me? “…this production brings a cultural urgency to the acts of appropriation that live in the play.” REALLY??? This isn’t interpretation;  it’s foisting an agenda on a play that does not support it.

Let me go out on a limb here: an actor’s ability to realize the playwright’s intention through his characters should be paramount as to why he is hired, not his ethnicity or sexual preference. The success of this production of The Drawer Boy is realized because the actors and their director have the talent to do right by the play and the playwright.

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: March 6, 2018.

Closes: March 25, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours.

www.passemuraille.ca

{ 1 comment }

 

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Charlie Kerr
Photo: John Gundy

 

Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr

Directed by Bryce Hodgson

Set by Bryce Hodgson

Costumes by Allie Dunbar

Lighting by Jacq Andrade

Sound by Miss Langley

Cast: Gabe Grey

Charlie Kerr

Libby Osler

Anthony Shim

Such a disappointment when one considers this company’s previous production here was the wild and creative Kill Your Parents in Viking, Alberta. After Wrestling is laboured in its efforts to be funny and no character is clearly thought out. A more critical eye is needed to cut and shape this effort.

The Story. To quote the press information:  “After Wrestling is a slacker-comedy turned suicide-mystery in search of love, life, and death.  Hogan and his sister Leah navigate old flames, new relationships, and their mental health in a booze- and grief-fuelled debate after the suicide of Hogan’s best friend Gibby.”

There is a cop named Jaggy who comes to Leah’s house to investigate a complaint. Her brother Hogan is staying with her since his relationship with his girlfriend has broken up. Hogan is also grieving over the suicide of his friend Gibby. But each character has secrets from each other, which in the case of the brother, sister and Gibby is a reeeeeeal stretch.

Or as I would describe it, “desperate to be funny, loud, frantic, drivel.”

After Wrestling by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr is about a group of misfits, also looking for love, but doing it in a frantic, almost frenzied way, that isn’t very helpful.

The Production. Bryce Hodgson’s set of Leah’s apartment is very detailed, with shelves on the wall for spices, etc. and other components of a kitchen up stage. But it is also odd, in that we are looking at it, stacked up, with the living room downstage and behind it is the kitchen, not spread across the stage to see the various components of it clearly.

 

Bryce Hodgson directs this at a high, yelling pitch for the most part. Charlie Kerr also plays Hogan who doesn’t seem to have a credible thought. I have no idea what kind of humour this is supposed to be: slapstick, farce, just witless? Dunno.

After Wrestling by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr is about a group of misfits, also looking for love, but doing it in a frantic, almost frenzied way, that isn’t very helpful.

I thought the play could/should end three times—that’s bad writing. If two characters end a relationship then why bring them together again in another scene to end the relationship again?

The cast deliver what can be seen as stream of consciousness dialogue. Quick, toneless, nonfluctuating voice. Wearying.

Comment. The two writers, Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr, are so desperate to be hip and accessible to millennials they seem to have forgotten to write a play with characters that have depth and believability. There are four characters in it and no one seems to have any kind of real relationship that anyone else knows about.  Leah and Hogan (the brother and sister) don’t even seem to be in the same world they have so many secrets from each other.  They are selfish, self-centred, not fully developed either as characters or recognizable people.

I’ve seen this company, Blood Pact Theatre, before and liked their work. It was for a play called Kill Your Parents in Viking, Alberta.  It was very funny in a wild, weird way, but certainly had credible characters and an intriguing story. I said then of the company:  “this is a group of young, emerging artists, many of them from out west who have settled here.  Make them feel welcome.  We want them back with more mayhem.” I meant it.

But their next production here is After Wrestling and it’s a self-indulgent miss-step. Come back with something better, please.

Produced by Blood Pact Theatre with the support of Storefront Theatre in association with Factory Theatre.

 Opened: March 1, 2018.

Closes: March 18, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

www.factorytheatre.ca

{ 1 comment }

Review: BUNNY

by Lynn on March 1, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

 

Maev Beaty
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Nick Andison

Composer and sound designer, Alexander MacSween

Cast: Gabriella Albino

Maev Beaty

Rachel Cairns

Matthew Edison

Cyrus Lane

Jesse LaVercombe

Tony Ofori

Hannah Moscovitch has written a layered, complex play about obsessive sex, yearning, hiding your true self, friendship and acceptance. Maev Beaty glows as Bunny.

 The Story.  Sorrel was a geeky kid who grew up with two hippy parents. Supper-time banter involved esoteric philosophizing. She wore dowdy clothes. She was a whip smart in school and had no friends. None. Then at seventeen something happened—she blossomed into a beautiful woman that attracted all the men. She counted all the times she kissed a man. It was a badge of honour for her. Then she got a boyfriend and had sex and her life burst open. The intoxication of sex and the men who could supply it  left her dizzy with longing. Often it was attraction or sex or both with the wrong men; a married university professor, a young friend of the daughter of a friend. Once it was the brother of a friend whom she married.

Sorrel accidentally meets a woman, a single parent named Maggie, who becomes perhaps her one true friend. Sorrel is as close to Maggie as she has ever been to another person without there being sex. That friendship is tested late in the play.

Maggie is the one who gives Sorrel her nickname of “Bunny” because she says that Sorrel looked as afraid as a bunny does. It’s a prophetic comment.

 The Production. Bunny’s world premier production was at the Stratford Festival in 2016. As with the Stratford production a few people are repeating their splendid work in the Tarragon Theatre production:  Sarah Garton Stanley directs, Michael Gianfrancesco designs the set and costumes, Alexander MacSween is the composer and sound designer, Maev Beaty plays Sorrel (Bunny), and Cyrus Lane plays the Professor.

Most of the action takes place within a large white circle on the floor of the stage. Sorrel is almost always inside the circle, perhaps it symbolizes her enclosed world. When Sorrel (Maev Beaty) addresses the audience she stands downstage, on the edge of the circle and addresses us in the third person. Referring to herself in the third person suggests a distance Sorrel is establishing between herself and what? Don’t know, but it adds a sadness that I think is right for this character, so consumed with guilt and desire.

At first she is dressed in a dowdy dress and sweater over it. All the men in Sorrel’s life over the course of the play diligently put on the sweater and then stand behind and beside her, all hands smoothing the collar, doing up the buttons, smoothing the sweater. One feels uncomfortable watching this, yet it’s also funny to watch, which is the point. The times certainly has changed our perceptions.

Maev Beaty as Sorrel, goes through her life-story, naming the men and the blossoming desire often wringing her hands in nervousness, awkwardness, a smile, self-deprecating humour, and a lack of confidence that is endearing and breathless. Beaty is such a nuanced, graceful actress, so attuned to illuminating the many layers to Sorrel that she is absolutely compelling.

Beaty realizes Sorrel’s burst of sensuality and desirability that is a surprise to her and yet frightening—she cannot avoid temptation. She succumbs to it. The sex she has is loud, noisy and mutually aggressive with her partners. When she and the Professor give in to their desire for each other he lifts her up to straddle him and presses her to the back wall, both grunting, panting and noisily climaxing. Director Sarah Garton Stanley positions the scene upstage suggesting the secrecy of the moment, realizing the efforts to hide the act but not being able to. Sarah Garton Stanley’s direction is thoughtful, clear and fearless—she realizes the ‘grunt’ as well as the ‘sigh’ of a scene.

As the Professor Cyrus Lane is boyishly charming, flirty and conflicted because he’s married and he’s attracted to this young woman.

While the whole cast is fine, Rachel Cairns as Maggie deserves mention—she is a walking wound. Maggie reaches out to Sorrel in such a needy, open way, and when Maggie gets sick we see a woman hanging on with every breath but letting go at the same time. Heartbreaking.

Comment. In her program note Hannah Moscovitch says that when she was a teen and then in university she was a huge fan of the Victorian novel; was obsessed by then; read them all the time. “Bunny is an attempt to reckon with the novels I worshipped so blindly as a teenager, to scrutinize them, hold them to account. I’ve drawn on the Modernists, on those subversive novelists who consciously queried form.”

Sorrel too loves the Victorian novel. She reads them all the time. She became a professor teaching the Victorian novel.  Every time she reads a novel it’s a Victorian tome and a character asks what she’s reading, Sorrel doesn’t tell the character the title. Rather she holds the book up. I don’t know about anyone sitting close but from the middle of the theatre I couldn’t tell what the title was or even if she held up the book so that someone other than the character could read it. Not seeing or hearing the title is not a problem. It’s part of the mystery of Sorrel and her efforts to keep secrets. She keeps her lovers secret from Maggie as much as possible.

Hannah Moscovitch has written a bracing play full of dazzling language, incite into the passionate, lust-loving heart and trying to keep it all a secret. She has created characters who are full-bodied, human and have such charm we want to be in the room with them. Bravo.

Produced by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Feb. 28, 2018.

Closes: April 1, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

 

{ 0 comments }

Review: HOMEWRECKER

by Lynn on February 28, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W.,  Toronto, Ont.

Written by Daniel Pagett

Directed by Anne Van Leeuwen

Set by Chris Bretecher

Lighting by Steve Vargo

Cast: Blue Bigwood-Mallin

Susannah Mackay

Who is the homewrecker and who is the innocent? If two people have an affair and one is married, who’s at fault? If a man is called an animal should he believe it? These are some of the provocative questions Daniel Pagett asks in his often compelling occasionally frustrating play.

 The Story. From the press release: “When a young woman (Veronica) arrives at a hotel room for an anonymous encounter with a stranger (Craig), she quickly discovers that the man waiting for her is someone she knows all too well. As secrets from their tumultuous past start spilling into the present, an alcohol-fueled battle of the sexes ensues, forcing the two former lovers to confront their deepest desires. …..Homewrecker challenges its audience’s perception of gender, status, relationships and the very nature of love itself.”

Craig has been accused by his estranged wife that he is an animal who gives into his deepest urges. For a time he believes it and that he has not been responsible for his actions. Veronica will definitely set him straight about that and other things. He makes her a proposition involving a lot of money, which she takes on. Who will win the bet?

 The Production. Chris Bretecher’s set of the hotel room, is neat, well appointed but nothing too expensive. This is where Craig (Blue Bigwood-Mallin)  is living since his wife got the house. If they haven’t gotten divorced they are definitely headed that way.  There are a few boxes with Craig’s name on them that indicate what’s inside. All you need are a few to let us know he’s had to clear out of his house. A take-out box of food is on the floor. Craig is hunkering down. When Veronica (Susannah Mackay) arrives, the sparks fly as do accusations and invective.

Because these two volatile, emotional people have been involved and are now estranged director Anne van Leeuwen has Blue Bigwood-Mallin as Craig and Susannah Mackay as Veronica almost always on the move, prowling, circle each other. As Craig tries to get close to Veronica, she avoids him. Alcohol and a mutual attraction work to bring them together as they try to keep their distance.  Both Blue Bigwood-Mallin as Craig and Susannah Mackay as Veronica are attractive, compelling actors. Bigwood-Mallin gives Craig a boyish quality and is rather insecure. He has been wounded in this separation from his wife and he’s hurting. While Veronica has also been wounded, Susannah Mackay as Veronica is very feisty, combative and wily. It’s later in this short play that we learn she has also been wounded. I like the nuance of the two performances and the care that van Leeuwen has taken so that her actors give the sense their characters are listening when they reply, not just reacting.

 Comment.  While I can appreciate that playwright Daniel Pagett wants to challenge “its audience’s perceptions on gender, status, relationships and the very nature of love itself” it hasn’t quite done it. Challenging the audience about relationships I will agree with, sure, but the audience’s perception of gender is not challenged with this obviously heterosexual couple. As for status, eh, I don’t think Pagett has made a strong enough argument about that. Little has been made of any status and since both characters hold their own, the status seems a moot point.

Because Craig is so navel-gazing about his wife’s perceptions of him as a person (she calls him an animal) truth to tell I’m not sure his idea of love will challenge an audience. The premise of why Craig has tricked Veronica to that hotel seems a stretch for this man. And while he confides to Veronica that he and his wife had been to all kinds of therapy to save their marriage, the conversation he’s having with Veronica should have taken place with his wife. If I’m thinking that, this poses a weakness in the play.

More concerning is that there are so many twists and turns in the revelations of the characters’ secrets that after time I stop wondering who is lying and who is telling the truth, and just believe they both are lying and ‘playing’ each other.

Every revelation seems to produce a hole in the story. Veronica tells Craig a bombshell of a revelation but I’m thinking, “Nope, the timing is wrong and how come you’re telling him now when you thought you were meeting a stranger for sex?”

That said, Pagett does have a good sense of language and a turn of phrase. I like his imagination (although I thought his last play, Cloud made no sense). His thinking about relationships, and certainly this one is intriguing. And while I have problems with the structure and cohesion of Homewrecker I do look forward to seeing more plays from Mr. Pagett.

Presented by Leroy Street Theatre, Coyote Collective and Scapegoat Collective present:

 Opened: Feb. 23, 2018.

Closes: March 10

Running Time: 55 minutes.

www.prownpapertickets.com

{ 0 comments }

At the Citadel, 304 Parliament St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Richard Sheridan Willis

Set and Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Sound by Rob Bertola

Original Composition by Peter Nunn

Magic designed by Zach Counsil

Cast: Paul Amos

Zach Counsil

Christina Fox

Natasha Greenblatt

Michael Man

Jesse Nerenberg

Rena Polley

Elizabeth Saunders

A worthy, inventive production by the committed folks at the Chekhov Collective.

 The Story. It’s midsummer in Athens. Hermia and Lysander want to get married but Egeus, Hermia’s parent, wants her to marry Demetrius or face the consequences. I think Egeus said “Death”. A bit harsh, that.  So Hermia and Lysander escape to the woods, Demetrius follows and a woman, Helena who loves Demetrius follows him too. There are magical fairies in the woods who get involved and everything gets screwed up, until it’s sorted. A typical midsummer night’s goings on in a woods near Athens.

 The Production. How bold, a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s not done in the summer nor in the great outdoors. Director Richard Sheridan Willis has envisioned a spare, pared down but clear production of Shakespeare’s nightmarish “dream.” It’s produced now, in our winter, indoors in the flowing curtain-encased space of the Citadel. Characters stand at the back behind the gauzy curtains and flip them back to entre and exit. Very dramatic.

This is a production oozing sex. Hermia (Natasha Greenblatt) and Lysander (Jesse Nerenberg) are in love. Lysander in the woods is a bit more sexually charged but Hermia puts him off. Helena (Christina Fox) is in love with Demetrius (Michael Man) and pursues him who tries to get her to back off. Then there are the fairies with their wants and desires. Oberon (a strutting, dashing Paul Amos) is the king of the fairies and wants a changeling boy of his queen Titania (an elegant, regal Rena Polley) and she won’t give him up. Oberon has a fairy minion named Puck, played by Elizabeth Saunders as a middle aged imp with insouciance. This Puck certainly has the hots for Oberon and he knows it.

Director Richard Sheridan Willis plays on that sensuality so that both Oberon and Puck ramp up the heat. Oberon’s affections are still with his regal Titania and Rena Polley plays that up nicely as well, but with more control than Puck is able to muster.

There is also a group of “mechanicals” used for a different kind of comic relief with four of the young lovers double cast here. Bottom (Zach Counsil) is the only one singly cast—Mr. Counsil has enough on his plate providing the magic and fight choreography. The humour is less successful. There is a tendency to push the humour, especially Mr. Counsil, a bit less exuberance at everything might be in order.

Set and costume designer Shannon Lea Doyle has created a wonderful sense of the wood by having a huge swath of multi-coloured material arranged along the floor of the playing space. Beautiful.

Comment. I love the tenacity of the Chekhov Collective. It’s a group of theatre makers who wanted to study and perform Chekhov and obviously they are branching out with Shakespeare. They are committed to doing theatre seriously and with commitment. Sometimes they take on roles they might not generally be cast for. That’s part of the adventure.

The beauty of the production; its spareness and clarity thanks to director Richard Sheridan Willis and his cast, make it worthy and worth your time.

 The Chekhov Collective presents:

 Opened: Feb. 22, 2018.

Closes: March 11, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes.

www.thecheckhovcollective.com

{ 1 comment }

l-r: Herbie Barnes, Tracey Hoyt.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Drew Hayden Taylor

Directed by Patti Shaughnessy

Set by Robin Fisher

Costumes by Sage Paul

Lighting by Nick Andison

Sound by Beau Dixon

Cast: Herbie Barnes

Tracey Hoyt

A mildly amusing play that only gives lip-service to serious Indigenous issues without examining them in any way. Tedious.

 The Story. Arthur Copper (Herbie Barnes) is an indigenous man who has lived near this lake his whole life and knows every curve and rock of it. He says he might paddle his way around it blindfolded just following the smells. He has great respect for nature and the lake, its ebb and flow, the cycles of growth and decay and renewal. He has decided to plant wild rice in the lake as per his traditions of years of yore and his people will have food.

Maureen Poole (Tracey Hoyt) and her husband bought their cottage on this lake decades ago. They love the serenity, quiet and beauty of the place. They planned to retire there. Their children learned to swim there etc. She has been wrangling with Arthur Copper because he is spoiling their lake with his choking plants. They spar. The authorities are called. Matters escalate.

The Production. Robin Fisher has designed a lovely set that establishes the quiet, sweep and beauty of the lake. A blue backdrop suggests the water. Stage left is Maureen’s deck, her bar-b-q, her deck chair, a table with an ever-present bottle of Chardonnay and a big glass in which to put it. Stage right is a canoe and other stuff for nature. Beau Dixon’s lovely sound design conjures birds, loons, nature, loud boats, noise and country life. Very evocative. You can almost smell the scents of which Arthur mentions.

Each character is in his/her own space, Arthur is in the canoe and Maureen is sitting in her deck chair on her deck. Most of the time each addresses the audience, confiding in them. Occasionally they address each other and are somewhat civil to each other with Arthur being more accommodating to Maureen than the other way around.

Patti Shaughnessy has directed this so that the proceedings are low-key, no yelling. As Arthur, Herbie Barnes is a charmer. He has an impish sense of humour, knows how to make nature work for him, is in his element when on the water and seems to have the upper hand when dealing with Maureen.

As played by Tracey Hoyt, Maureen is officious, pretentious, self-deluded yet sad in her own way. Ms Hoyt has a tight smile and a curt way of talking—as if everything she says is not for debate. She is stymied by Arthur and angry at it. When Arthur and Maureen did have a conversation regarding his wild rice planting, all she could say was that he had ruined the lake, that people could not swim, fish or boat on the lake because of the thick plant-life. Arthur countered with the history of his people in the area.

Both characters have experienced loss and each felt sad for the other. But playwright Drew Hayden Taylor does not make it so cloyingly sentimental that these two characters develop a close relationship. Nope thank heavens. They maintain their prickly distance.

 Comment. As with any play by Drew Hayden Taylor the laughs are fast, furious and labored (the title gives a hint to that). He tries so hard to instill seriousness in Cottagers and Indians having Arthur drop references to hot-button topics: residential schools, unfair treatment of Indigenous peoples in the courts, terrible living conditions, the destruction of their lands for fishing and hunting, but never dealing with them in any way other than superficially. It makes the play seem so slight. And for all the importance of the wild rice to Arthur, as food for his people and to sell, you would think it would be a given that when Arthur and Maureen did talk to each other about their differences, that the topic of why Arthur was planting wild rice might have come up between the two of them. But it doesn’t with any kind of seriousness. That too weakens the play.

Arthur reminds Maureen that she only comes to the cottage four months a year. He says that while she wants the lake to remain as it was decades before when she bought it, that is not realistic. So he planted wild rice for food and for the lake to flourish as he thought it should.

It’s obvious that Drew Hayden Taylor has written two funny characters but with Arthur we laugh with him and with Maureen we laugh at her. That makes the play lopsided along with its other weaknesses.

Not a happy night in the theatre.

Produced by Tarragon Theatre.

Opened: Feb. 21, 2018.

Closes: March 25, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

{ 0 comments }