Review: VOICE

by Lynn on June 29, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Prairie Theatre Exchange website until July 11: https://www.pte.mb.ca

Written by Ismaila Alfa

Directed by Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones

Set concept by Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones

Costumes by Joseph Abetria

Lighting by Jaymez

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Original music by Ismaila Alfa

Ice River Films

Director, Sam Vent

Cast: Ismaila Alfa (voice over)

Melissa Langdon

Ray Strachan

Voice is a father’s love letter to his daughters on how to be a confident, useful citizen. It’s also a careful guide to being a devoted, caring father.

The Story. Ismaila Alfa is a radio broadcaster from Winnipeg. The catalyst for Voice was a job opportunity in Toronto. He went to Toronto for two weeks to audition for the job. He had to leave his daughters in the care of his ex-wife. He missed his daughters and lamented that they didn’t contact him regularly in the two weeks he was away. Were they ok? Would they forget him? They had their own lives to occupy their time, but still it rankled when he didn’t hear from them in calls or e-mails.

He got the job—as the host of CBC’s radio show Metro Morning although this is not actually said.  Ismaila Alfa would have to relocate from Winnipeg to Toronto and he would not be able to bring his daughters with him, at least not right away. Voice is a means of noting what made Ismaila Alfa the man he is today, his ethics, beliefs, struggles, thoughts and character. It’s also a condensed means of passing on that wisdom to his daughters.

Ismaila Alfa was born in Nigeria and came to Canada as a young boy with his family, via Sydney, Australia. There is a warning to the streamed production that says that the production contains descriptions of racism and police brutality. Ismaila Alfa is Black.

Alfa was guided in his life by his father’s teachings and wisdom and now he is passing that on to his daughters. In his bracing, compelling play, Alfa says: “My Dad told me that if I didn’t feel like this year was way more challenging than last year, I’m not making progress…

“I was born knowing who I am. I didn’t know that I also had to figure out who everyone else thought I was. That was a lesson I learned when I came to Canada…I had an identity thrust upon me even before I needed I.D: who are you and where are you from?”

Race is obviously important to the narrative of Voice. Ismaila Alfa says, “I’m rich with race…Our identity isn’t who made us, it’s what we have made of ourselves with their guidance. My ancestors hold me up but I decided my direction through the maze we call life.” Culture was passed down from generation to generation.  

Alfa has passed on that wisdom to his own daughters. “Lead by example. Adapt. Take every step with confidence but know when to change direction….Patience. Focus. Follow through. You are a gift. Family over anyone…I learn ‘cause I listen.”

I found Voice to be loaded with such wisdom I wanted to write it all down, or at least have a copy of the text with me. You get the sense of how important and urgent it was for Ismaila Alfa to pass on this wisdom to his girls in his absence, even though we know there is the phone, Facetime etc. to stay in touch.

The Production. Voice is performed on two round wood platforms. On one platform there are neat rows of milk crates piled one on top of another, full of neat notebooks and the occasional piece of clothing. They represent Ismaila Alfa’s packing to move to Toronto.  A young woman (Melissa Langdon) in jeans and a casual, top surveys, the boxes. She represents Alfa’s three daughters. We hear the voice over of Ismaila Alfa speaking sometimes in personal musings, sometimes in poetry sometimes in the style of hip hop. The voice is rich and quietly compelling. Ismaila Alfa also composed the music for the piece, various rhythmic drumming, that added an urgency and heartbeat to the piece.

The young woman flips through the notebooks, selecting one by random and reading, then another then another. It’s as if she is getting a different idea of her father through his writings and this leads her to other crates and other notebooks. Almost by some innate sense she removes crates that are piled on top of each other to find one that has his sweatshirt in it. She takes it out carefully and smells it to get the scent of her father into her lungs. Co-directors Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones have created in that image a sense of the daughter’s longing for her father and how she will miss him and how much she loves him. She finds another crate with his jean jacket in it and she puts it on. At another point she finds a pair of earrings that she puts on—they look like they might have been passed down from generation to generation. In any case these earrings seem apt for this character who is in embracing her identity.

On the other round wood platform is Ray Strachan as the father in comfortable pants, a zip-up sweat shirt over a shirt and shoes. He uses his own voice to express different aspects of his character.  His platform is bare. We know the character is moving to another city. The mixed sense of longing and missing his daughter, mixed with the adventure of the new job is there in Ray Strachan’s face, body language and voice.

For most of the duration of the production both spaces are separate. When one platform is illuminated, the other is in darkness. The viewer wants the two characters to interact but first each character must navigate his/her own journey of discovery. The father has to express his feelings and the daughter has to discover her feelings by making her many discoveries of her father through his writing and thoughts. Only after each character has made their journey do they interact.

The sense of longing between father and daughter is so palpable in Voice, the love and bond between the two is so strong. Another wonderful piece of theatre from Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Voice streams on the Prairie Theatre Exchange website until July 11:

https://www.pte.mb.ca

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Monday, June 28-July 11, 2021.

VOICE

By Ismaila Alfa

A love letter from a father to his daughters. Ismaila Alfa has recently moved from Winnipeg to Toronto to become the host of the CBC radio’s morning show, “Metro Morning.” He was not able to bring his daughters at this time. The show is a mix of poetry, spoken word, hip-hop, musings, music, and brilliance and he passes on the good advice he got from his father, now to his daughters. Beautifully done.  

Streaming on the Prairie Theatre Exchange website until July 11. https://www.pte.mb.ca

Wed. June 30, 2021. 7:00 pm

Streamed

A concert + conversation about Dixon Road, an upcoming musical by Somali-Canadian playwright Fatuma Adar.

ABOUT DIXON ROAD

Dixon Road tells the story of a Somali family who immigrate to Canada in 1991 as the civil war begins to tear their homeland apart. They settle in Dixon Road, in a neighbourhood near Pearson airport that is still the heart of Toronto’s Somali community today.

Somali-Canadian playwright Fatuma Adar brings the history of Dixon Road to life with this new musical.

Join us to take in some performances from the upcoming musical, as well as a conversation between Fatuma Adar and Director Kimberly Colburn about Dixon Road and the inspirations behind the pieces as well as the play.

Dixon Road is A Musical Stage Company & Obsidian Theatre Company Co-Production. Originally developed as part of Obsidian Theatre’s Playwrights Unit and commissioned by The Musical Stage Company with funding from The Aubrey & Marla Dan Foundation’s Aubrey & Marla Dan Fund for new musicals.

Musical arrangements: Adam Sakiyama

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/myseum-intersections-2021-dixon-road-tickets-157826492287

JULY 3- 25, 2021.

There’s a Canary in the Coal Mine!


COAL MINE LOGO_BIRD.png

The Coal Mine, Toronto’s Off-Off Broadview Theatre, is all aflutter to officially announce the opening of The Canary Pop-Up Shop in support of local theatre artists, located at the Coal Mine Theatre, July 3-25, 2021.

Showcasing the off-stage talents of Toronto theatre makers, The Canary Pop-Up Shop offers a curated collected of unique handcrafted goods. Shop a collection of handmade jewelry; upcycled clothing and accessories; home décor and original art; natural skincare and wellness products; macramé, embroidery and quilts; kids stuff, pet beds, stationary, and a variety of delicious nosh.

The Canary will feature the creative side gigs of more than 30 Toronto theatre artists including actors and designers Kevin BundyDiana CoatsworthDeanna ChoiOliver DennisSharon DiGenovaKen MacDonaldMichelle MontiethRena PolleyAnna Treusch, and stage manager and star baker Arwen MacDonell who will be creating an exclusive Canary Cookie available for three weeks only at The Canary Pop-Up Shop!

The Canary will adhere strictly to all COVID-19 public health protocols and workplace safety measures while welcoming visitors. The community’s health and well-being is the Coal Mine’s number one priority.

“The Canary is about reopening our doors to the east end community that we’ve so sorely missed, and simultaneously celebrating the resilience and creativity of theatre artists in this city.” – Diana Bentley Co Chief Engineer 

The Canary’s eclectic selection offers a friendly meeting place in the community, contributes to the livelihood of local artists anxiously awaiting their return to the theatre, and promotes the production of sustainable and beautiful local goods.

THE CANARY POP-UP SHOP

In Support of Local Theatre Artists

Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON

THREE WEEKS ONLY

July 3 – 25, 2021

Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 3pm

www.coalminetheatre.com

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Streaming on the Against the Grain Website www.atgtheater.com

By Gustav Holst

Directed by Miriam Khalil

Conducted by Simon Rivard

Director of Photography, Dylan Toombs

Sound design and engineer, Pouya Hamidi

Costumes by Ming Wong

Cast: Vartan Gabrielian

Andrew Haji

Maher Pavri

Against the Grain Orchestra and Chorus

Arnad Chakrabarty, Sarod and composer

Shahbaz Hussain, Tabla and composer

Sāvitri is a chamber opera by Gustav Holst that had its first performance 100 years ago to the day this began streaming for Against the Grain Theatre, June 23, 2021. The opera is based on an ancient Hindu legend from the Mahābhārata about a wife’s total love and devotion for her doomed husband. 

As I have done with opera etc. in the past, I’m commenting on the story and the production’s  theatricality, not on the music or singing.

 Sāvitri is a contemporary 40 minute film of the outdoor chamber opera by Gustav Holst. The princess Sāvitri, meaning gift from the gods, was born to her parents after they prayed every day for 18 years for a child. The Sun God rewarded their devotion with a daughter, Sāvitri. She was cherished and blessed. She was also very beautiful and that seemed to intimidate men when it was time to marry, so Sāvitri took it upon herself to find her own husband.

She fell in love on first sight with Satyavān a forest-dwelling prince whose family was exiled from their kingdom and forced to live a life of seclusion and hardship. Satyavān  made a living chopping wood. Satyavān is destined to die one year into his marriage. He doesn’t know this

but Sāvitri does. She marries him anyway. She is totally devoted to her husband for that year and they are blissfully happy, but her thoughts are occupied by images of the dark clad God of Death named Yama who is coming for her husband.  Yama is so taken with Sāvitri’s devotion that he grants her a wish, as long as it’s not to spare her husband’s life. She is grateful and also wily. How she gets more life is a wonderful turn of events in the legend.  

The piece works a treat as a filmed outdoor chamber opera. It’s directed by Miriam Khalil, an opera singer in her own right, in her directing debut. Khalil beautifully uses the lush countryside of Prince Edward County, Ontario to create images of Sāvitri, and Satyavān in their beautiful traditional Hindu wedding costumes (kudos to designer Ming Wong) of rich silks in vibrant colours.

Khalil uses arial shots effectively as well, as the loving couple twirl each other in a circle, their costumes flaring out in the air. The devotion and love between the couple is beautifully established as they walk close together along a lush path or gaze at each other as they sit on the ground and talk. The juxtaposition of the loving couple with the imposing figure of Yama coming for his next soul, is quite impressive. This of course makes the proposed final outcome after a year, hard to consider. The shots of Yama, alone in a field, beckoning, his arm out with his open palm extended,  seem gentle and delicate in a way, as a gracious invitation to follow.

The couple are shot in clean focus, devoted to each other and seemingly inseparable. Foreboding is suggested when Yama is captured in shot after shot out of focus, an image whose presence is suggested rather than clearly there. Sometimes Yama appears emerging out of smoke. It’s all very compelling.

I thought the acting by the three singers was fine: Maher Pavri played Sāvitri, Andrew Haji played Satyavān and Vartan Gabrielian played Yama.

Against the Grain is a gutsy opera company that does chamber operas from other cultures. Keep them in your radar.

Sāvitri streams on the Against The Grain website www.atgtheatre.com

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A web series streaming on www.sunnydrake.com

Created by Sunny Drake

Web series directed by Sunny Drake and Peter Riddihough

Cast: Raven Dauda

Sunny Drake

Sam Khalilieh

Jani Lauzon

Maria Ricossa

Child-ish is a deceptive title. It is because it sounds like ‘childish,’ suggesting ‘immature and silly.’ This show is anything but silly. Sunny Drake, writer-director-actor, created the show in which we hear the exact words of children about their lives and concerns, but said through the mouths of adults. Drake has been developing the show for four years.

It’s described this way: “Adults speak children’s exact words about love, life, and the world in this fresh verbatim work. Drawn from interviews with over 40 whip-smart and brutally honest children between the ages of 5 and 12-year-old, a dynamite adult cast allows an adult audience to hear kids’ ideas and experiences anew. The results are surprising, hilarious, and moving.”

I saw a workshop of Child-ish at SummerWorks in 2019 and loved it. The piece has grown. It’s now a 4-part web series, filmed out doors in and around a school yard and in an open field, but the premise is the same. We hear the kids’ words said by adult actors as they discuss, kissing, marriage, friendship, death, being shunned by a friend you trusted, climate change, racism and consent.

Drake’s intention was for the words of the kids to be said by adults and not the kids, because he wanted to see if having adults say the words change how we listen.  Do we listen and consider the words more seriously if it’s an adult saying them? The actors don’t perform their dialogue as if they are talking like kids. They say the lines seriously as adults. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that they are speaking for children that make us listen in a different way, more accommodating, more willing to suspend disbelief and accept that we are listening to the wit and wisdom of kids.

We’ve all heard the line, “out of the mouths of babes.” Kids are just funny and smart because they are so serious about what they think and how they express it. I’m old enough to remember Art Linkletter’s TV show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Linkletter talked to and questioned a group of young kids and asked them serious questions and they answered seriously. Invariably they were hilarious answers but we considered and respected what they said. If an adult doesn’t think they can learn wise things from a kid, that adult is a fool.

How does Child-ish work as a web series? I think it works very well because the basic premise from the play is still there, even though I had reservations. As I said, kids are just naturally funny. Their observations are quirky to us but serious to them. They naturally frame their thoughts and observations in incongruous ways and that’s funny. Humour comes from juxtaposing the incongruous. And there are many more observations going on in this four-part series.

Each segment is about an emotion or an idea, like love and all that goes with it, death or loss etc. One segment involved a child who came with her family from Syria and all the difficulty that implied. There was a comment in the same segment about how land was stolen from people and children were taken from their families. The horrors of residential schools are uppermost in our minds of late so this sentence stuns.  This is very moving, and made more so because Jani Lauzon spoke the words. She is of Métis heritage and so the words have particular resonance. 

I loved Episode 3 entitled: You Need To Ask. As in, you need to ask someone if it’s ok to hug them, or kiss them; consent, in other words. Then there is the whole idea expressed by kids about not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings by saying NO! If someone wants to kiss the kid and asks but the kid doesn’t want to be kissed, will the person who wants to kiss them be mad at them and not be friends again? These are huge issues to kids (and adults, come to think of it).

But episode 4 is devastating in its pointedness. It’s called “HELLOOO!!” and it’s kids trying to get the attention of their parents and actually be seen. As in “HELLOOO!!! Get off your cell phone and listen to me!” One kid liked her mom before the mom got an iPhone.  Kids have a lot to say about this and attention must be paid.

The cast of five actors was wonderful, and putting them on swings, see-saws, in sand circles (enclosures) added to the notion they were in the kids’ world. Clever work by directors Sunny Drake and Peter Riddihough. Sunny Drake and Sam Khalilieh play quietly in a sand circle discussing important issues such as what they love in their world, thoughtfully and quietly. Raven Dauda expresses the hurt she feels when a boy she likes, named Antonio, says he doesn’t like her anymore— (there is a running motif of children looking into a toilet asking if Antonio is down there, because when a boy is that cruel, being flushed down the toilet seems fair). Jani Lauzon and Maria Ricossa go up and down on a see-saw, confiding. The camera takes a close-up of Lauzon’s boot and then Ricossa’s heeled shoe (both the kids’ world and the adult world meld in that camera shot).

As for my reservations about the streamed event…. Because I watched the ‘grand opening’ of the series there was all sorts of extra stuff that I found distracting or unnecessary.

I appreciated that a small selection of the 40 kids who were interviewed for the project over the years were represented on camera in various segments. We saw them individually express their gratitude at being included, seen and their opinion valued (lovely). I didn’t understand why most of them wore what looked like party hat/cones on their heads. That blurred the point of taking them seriously. Sunny Drake was in several shots sitting in a comfy chair looking out in a field trying to catch flipped pieces of popcorn in his mouth? Why? This looked childish, rather than child-ish. Odd.

There was a four-part section called “Questions for Adults” in which kids asked adults such questions as: “What would you name a unicorn?” “What makes you giggle?” Why is this here? What does it add?  I thought that was unnecessary, the point was confusing and distracted from the point of the series.

The cast of five actors was a cross-section of different ethnicities with two being perceived as white. I initially perceived that the children-co-hosts were majority white. I have been informed that four of the seven children-co-hosts are people of colour. I welcome the correction and the opportunity to address such an important subject. What a wonderful opportunity to bring kids of different ethnicities into the theatre through this project.

I did love the four episodes of the series. I think the project has grown and what it says about kids and their thoughts is important to hear.

Child-ish streams on www.sunnydrake.com

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Monday, June 21, 2021 8:00 pm

  Launch Party:
Playwrights Canada Press
Happy almost summer! We’re getting ready to have some fun reading in the sun with our latest releases, and you should too!

Plus, make sure to RSVP for our next launch party! Keep scrolling for more details.     Available now
Take d Milk, Nah? Cover  
Take d Milk, Nah?
by Jivesh Parasram
 
In this funny, fresh, and skeptical take on the identity play, Jivesh Parasram blends personal storytelling and ritual to offer the Hin-dos and Hin-don’ts within the intersections of his highly hyphenated cultures. 

9781770910986 / $17.95
1m
Order now     The Law of Gravity cover  
The Law of Gravity
by Olivier Sylvestre,
translated by Bobby Theodore
 
In this moving story of identity and friendship, two genderqueer teens find refuge in one another as they fight against societal norms and plan for their future.

9780369101693 / $19.95
2 roles
Order now  
When Words Sing cover
When Words Sing
edited by Julie Salverson
 
When Words Sing turns the spotlight on everything that goes into writing for opera, featuring seven contemporary Canadian libretti as well as supplementary interviews, essays, and illustrations.

9780369101242 / $29.95
Order now         Coming soon   WROLThrough the BambooSexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes     More coming soon     Launch party   Launch party book covers and author headshots

Monday, June 21st at 8 pm EDT

We’re celebrating the release of Halfway There By Norm Foster, The Bridge by Shauntay Grant, Take d Milk, Nah? by Jivesh Parasram, WROL (Without Rule of Law) by Michaela Jeffery, and When Words Sing edited by Julie Salverson with contributor Robert Chafe with readings, Q&A, and trivia with all of the authors! Hosted by Karen Fricker of the Toronto Star.

ASL Interpretation, closed captioning, and a written compilation of the excerpts read will be provided.

You must register to attend via Zoom at this link!  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021, various times.

CHILD-ISH

Created by Sunny Drake

CHILD-ish: Adults speak the exact words of children about love, life and the world. Book your web series virtual launch FREE ticket for June 22nd!

Child-Ish Web Series

VIRTUAL LAUNCH EVENT: 22 JUNE 2021 AT 2PM, 7PM AND 10PM EDT

Book your Free Ticket

Following sold-out work-in-progress showings at SummerWorks in 2019 as a theatre play, Sunny Drake brings you the CHILD-ISH web series. 4 episodes, shot at Toronto playgrounds, touring the world digitally in 2021. Join the free virtual launch event on June 22nd, hosted by children, to watch all 4 episodes and meet the people who made them. And … #BeMoreChildish

CATEGORY

WEB SERIES

Wednesday, June 23, 2021, 7:15 pm

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Against the Grain Theatre
Against the Grain Theatre is proud to present: Sāvitri
Based on the ancient Hindu legend from the Mahābhārata, AtG’s Sāvitri is a contemporary 40-minute film of the outdoor chamber opera by Gustav Holst.

THE STORY
The story of Sāvitri is based on the ancient Indian legend of a powerful princess who falls in love and marries exiled prince Satyavān, who is prophesied to die just one year later. As fated, she is visited by the God of Death—Yama—who has come to claim Satyavān’s life. 

Instead of giving into fear and loss, Sāvitri engages Death in a dialogue, inviting him into her world. Death, charmed by her humanity and impressed by her resilience and devotion, offers Sāvitri a wish…
Click the video above to watch the official trailer for AtG’s Sāvitri.
THE CREATORS
Starring Meher Pavri as Sāvitri, Andrew Haji as Satyavān, and Vartan Gabrielian as Yama, God of Death.

Directed by Miriam Khalil and Associate Directed by Simran Claire.

Chamber ensemble conducted by Simon Rivard.

Original Hindustani music played and composed by Arnab Chakrabarty on sarod and Shahbaz Hussain on tabla, which will be bookending the opera.
Meher Pavri and Andrew Haji in Sāvitri. Photo by Dylan Toombs.
WHERE TO WATCH
AtG’s Sāvitri premieres on June 23rd, at 7:15pm ET for a pre-show discussion with the directors and cast, hosted by AtG Collective member Amanda Hadi, and at 8pm ET for a live watch party.
 
Sāvitri will be available on demand until July 11, 2021. 
 
Free registration is open now at: 
againstthegraintheatre.ticketleap.com/savitri
 
Register Now to Watch

Thursday, June 24-Sat. June 26, 2021.

Announcing the Inaugural Decolonise Your Ears New Play Festival The Inaugural Decolonise Your Ears New Play Festival is a three-day virtual festival running June 24-26th, 2021. 

Decolonising theatre means expressing culturally specific ideas, mythologies, music, dance; IBPOC bodies occupying space in celebration of our unique identities, and subverting rigid hierarchies that inevitably harm ‘lesser’ company members, in favour of a more equitable approach. The belief that the Greeks invented theatre is a myth. Theatre has been practiced by folx all over the world since the advent of community, but has in many contexts evolved into an elitist and unwelcoming arena. This must change.

The festival will be Deaf Accessible with ASL Interpretation throughout.  Generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Hamilton Enrichment Fund, Theatre Aquarius (Outreach, Artist Development and Education Department) and the Centre for Community Engaged Narrative Arts      

Thursday June 24 7pm

Unwanted by Melissa Murray-Mutch Quebec 1785. Wanted: a mixed-race man last  seen travelling with a white male. Based on fugitive slace ads of the time, Melissa Murray-Mutch’s new play delves into the history of slavery in Canada and the meaning of home.  Directed by: Marilo Nuñez Dramaturgy by: DM St. Bernard Casting to be announced May 31st Tickets $5-$35

Buy Tickets
            
Friday June 25th 7pm

How Much for Tranquility by Joanne Roberts An anthology of three plays: Anak, The Drive, and White Room, How Much for Tranquility is a coming of age piece exploring dynamics prevalent in Filipino households and sheds light on familial issues that are too often kept in the shadows due to societal and cultural stigma. Directed by Karen Ancheta Dramaturgy by DM St. Bernard Casting to be announced May 31st Tickets $5
Buy Tickets   
Saturday June 26 7pm

The Sheep by Radha S. Menon Birmingham U.K. A mother and daughter’s turbulent relationship reaches a breaking point when the girl finds a blood and shit splattered sheep outside of an abattoir. Her next actions will affect their lives forever.  Directed by Jennie Esdale Dramaturgy by Judith Thompson Casting to be announced May 31st  Tickets $5-$35

Buy Tickets

Thursday, June 24-Sunday, June 27, 2021

Off Broadway

By Torrey Townsend

Directed by Robert O’Hara

Produced by Jeremy O. Harris (he is why you should see this!)

Search Richard Kind, Dylan Baker, Becky Ann Baker Set for New Streaming Play Off Broadway

Richard Kind, Robert O'Hara, Jeremy O. Harris, Dylan Baker, and Becky Ann BakerRichard Kind, Robert O’Hara, Jeremy O. Harris, Dylan Baker, and Becky Ann Baker
(© David Gordon/Janie Willison)

Jeremy O. Harris will present the streaming premiere of Torrey Townsend’s new dark comedy Off Broadway, June 24-27. The satire will be directed by Robert O’Hara.

Off Broadway is set during the pandemic theater shutdown, and follows the staff of a non-profit theater as they come together on Zoom and scramble to stave off extinction. The show is described as “a scathing critique of an industry desperately trying to reinvent itself in the midst of a pandemic.”

The full cast includes Dylan Baker, Becky Ann Baker, Jessica Frances Dukes, Jason Butler Harner, Hal Linden, Jillian Mercado, Richard Kind, and Kara Wang. Harris produces in association with Lucas Katler, Jana Shea, and Broadstream Media.

Off Broadway will be available free to the public via Broadstream, though email signup is requested.

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Streaming on demand at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, June 17-27, 2021.

Described as “a Triptych of Uncanny Abduction” involving: “a school haunted by troubled children, the mysterious disappearance of a friend in the woods and an encounter with the unknown on open waters,” these three descriptions just grab your interest and the plays do the rest to hold you in their grip.

The three monologues that make up Dressed as People are: Skinless by Kelly Robson, The Shape of My Teeth by Amal El-Mohtar and Repositioning by A.M. Dellamonica. Dressed as People is produced by Parry Riposte Productions, and all the artists are proudly queer. Their previous production was the wonderful The Elephant Girls by Margo MacDonald about a notorious girl-gang that terrorized London, England for 100 years. Two of the three plays in Dressed as People deal with queer themes and relationships.

All three plays are directed by Mary Ellis and they are performed by Margo MacDonald.

Skinless

Written by Kelly Robson

In 1989, while teaching Canadian Literature at a university in Edmonton, a nun and professor, (named Dr. Sheedy or Sister Susan) reveals her past as a young instructor at a haunted school full of troubled children in 1950s Ireland. “Haunted school full of troubled children” isn’t the half of what went on in that school.

Sister Susan calmly engages the students telling them they will study Canadian stories in her English literature class. She says that “students rarely read Canadian books, “now you will be forced to.”

As Sister Susan, Margo MacDonald says that stunning line with such calm and understatement you are caught unawares (MacDonald has a dandy way of doing that in all three plays). She notes a surprise in the students when she tells them she is both a nun and a professor. She is not in the traditional habit and wimple. Here hair is short and blondish. She wears a black skirt, a crisp white blouse and black jacket with a prominent cross hanging down in front of her white blouse.  “You’re surprised to see me dressed as people” she says. This sense of the normalcy of things that seem exotic and different peppers all three plays.

Sister Susan always wanted to be a nun. She did her training in Ireland in the 1950s at a church named St. Mary’s where she taught the girls. She said ‘I especially love the students I can’t help, no matter how hard I try.” One such student kept trying to escape over the wall near the laundry of the church. Sister Susan was always surprised at how the student could get over the wall, what with being so heavily pregnant.

I suck air when I hear this. I know what this place is.  St. Mary’s is one of the notorious Magdalene laundries overseen by the Catholic Church. They were run in Ireland from the 18th Century to the late 20th century. They were also established in other countries. Young women, pregnant and unmarried, would be taken to one of these churches by their fathers, brothers or boyfriends and left there. They would work in the laundry under terrible conditions, working in corrosive materials, lye soaps without benefit of gloves. Their hands would burn until the skin was raw. When they came to term their babies were taken away, never to be seen again. In one instance a mass grave was found with bones from more than 100 corpses. (Echoes of the horrible news of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, also run by the Catholic Church). The young women would remain there because their families shunned them.

In Skinless, Sister Susan said that the young women spent four hours in school and six hours working in the laundry. She was particularly taken with this one young woman who tried to escape. Sister Susan staunchly followed the rules of the Church but still took pity on the girl. The girl was found one night clawing at the ground of a hidden area of the grounds. We found out what was there later and it’s chilling.

Kelly Robson’s writing is vivid, stark and startling. She floats a line in so effortlessly and Margo MacDonald’s delivery is so subtle, understated and lacking in judgement, that the juxtaposition of the calm and the horrifying is like a smack in the face. Kudos to director Mary Ellis for her sure hand. Sister Susan says that as a punishment she would “strap the young woman’s hands skinless.” It’s suggested that this young woman might have had a sister who had been at the church earlier. Sister Susan says, “…one sister leaves home and father starts in on the rest.” Two pregnant sisters arrived “one month apart.” Sucking air again.

A stunning story, beautifully done, realizing all its horror.

The Shape of My Teeth

Written by Amal El-Mohtar,

In 1827 a woman reflects on her best friend’s mysterious disappearance in Mortimer Forest on the Welsh border. She refuses to be left behind.

A woman, long dark hair, tied by a ribbon in the back, wearing a black shawl, tells of her great friendship with her friend Sophie. They were fast friends from girlhood. They know their deep affection for each other is not of the ‘ordinary’ kind. They know their parents want nothing more than for the two girls to marry two brothers and be close as couples. That won’t happen because the women don’t want to marry men.

There was a forest close by, foreboding, perhaps. Intriguing? Definitely. It was rumored to be full of fairies, or the fantastical characters found in stories and books. As the woman tells us as: “What they didn’t know, but would learn soon enough, the forest had no taste for men—girls though…..”

One of the girls suggested they run away and live as they wanted. It was suggested they run away to Canada (I accept this as poetic license since “Canada’ did not exist by that name in 1827). As the women got older their intense love for each other and the efforts to hide it from the outside world took its toll. Sophie did something drastic and leaves her friend behind. But her friend was so passionate, obsessive in her love that she refuses to be left behind.

Amal El-Mohtar has created a story of mysticism, intrigue and mystery. She has created the forest as a place of danger and enticement. Her language is full dazzling descriptions, turns of phrases and coded queer references from the times. On the whole El-Mohtar has written a compelling story of passion and obsession.

Margo MacDonald has imbued the woman initially with a calm, tempered attitude until later in the play when she refuses to hide her passions. She rages at the world in which Sophie has left her and her determined fierceness at the end grabs you.  

Repositioning

By A.M Dellamonica

In the present day, a seasoned entertainer on the lesbian cruise circuit grapples with memories of an encounter with the unknown while on a Pacific Ocean repositioning cruise, headed to Vancouver, B.C. from Sydney, Australia.

Erica Prince is a lesbian comedienne down on her luck and needs a job. She is preparing an audition tape of her act for an agent in the hopes of getting back on the lesbian circuit. Margo MacDonald plays Erica as brash, overly cheerful and inviting. Her hair is very short with streaks of mauve and she wears a short-sleeved shirt and skinny tie and black pants. Her patter seems a bit desperate and mannered. She gives asides to the camera in explanation to the person who will watch it.

Erica was on a previous cruise and there was an incident on her day off. She drank too much and when she woke up, in her cabin, she was soaking wet.  It seems she fell overboard—no she did not jump and tried to kill herself, she assures the camera!–and was saved by a mermaid. The mermaid came to life on board and a relationship formed. (This can’t be a spoiler alert since that relationship was so integral to the story).

Erica admits that she has intimacy issues but the bond between Erica and her mermaid is so strong and intense that it continues. The mermaid has issues as well. They try and solve each other’s problems. Promises are made. Erica needs this cruise job in order to keep her promise to her mermaid.

A.M. Dellamonica has created a fantastical story that makes you think it might be real in a way. Again, her language of coded queer references is not intimidating and add colour to the narrative. Margo MacDonald creates just enough nervous energy in Erica you can’t help but root for her in her quest.

All three stories are a huge accomplishment and well worth your time.

For tickets and more information:

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Streaming as part of the Factory Theatre Audio series: You Can’t Get There From Here until September 25, 2021.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Written by Yvette Nolan

Directed by Cole Alvis

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Nicole Joy-Fraser

Derek Kwan

Meghan Swaby

Playwright Yvette Nolan has taken the title of the series and applied it as the title of this bracing, unsettling audio drama.

The Story. Leah and David are worried about their friend Hanna. They have not been able to reach her by either phone or e-mail for days and they are so worried something has happened to her that they go to her apartment and bang on the door until she lets them in. There are simple references that Leah is Black and David is “Chinese” (as he describes himself). There is the awareness from the three that the sound and sight of people of colour causing such noise might be considered suspicious, so Hanna lets them in quickly. Can I assume that Hanna is Indigenous because Nicole Joy-Fraser who plays her, beautifully, is a mix of Cree and European decent? At one point in the story Hanna says that she saw ‘her people across the room’ and went to join then. I thought that might be a clue that Hanna, like her two friends, might be a minority.

Hanna’s apartment is almost bare. Because of recent events at work (she calls it a ‘debacle’ but with no explanation), she has had enough and is leaving Toronto for Saskatoon. Leah and David are aghast. They feel that she is giving into the bullies who have trolled her on social media (Leah is not on social media), sent her abrasive messages and other unsettling things.

The arguments from her friends to stay are interesting, thoughtful and sometimes whimsical. Hanna’s arguments to leave are also wise and realistic. The people of Toronto are mean and xenophobic. She worked hard to find her little apartment in Cabbagetown (pronounced all snooty as Ca-bahge town). Hanna says that the Toronto she moved to is not the Toronto she lives in and she doesn’t have the fight in her to stay.

The Production and Comment. Playwright Yvette Nolan creates various moments and aspects that are chilling. There are marauding groups of people called “villagers” who one can assume target people who look different from them, such as Hanna, Leah and David. We hear one group late in the play. I think of the disgraceful riot of the Capital Building in Washington. D.C. January 6, 2021. The internet is full of cyber bullies. As are our offices and social areas, all for no better reason than they can. So Hanna has had enough. She is very lucky in her two friends and they appreciate her.

You Can’t Get There From Here is an economical and bracing play that grabs you from the first bang on Hanna’s door and continues to the last smart line. Yvette Nolan deliberately does not explain what ‘the debacle’ is and I don’t think that diminishes the play at all. We live in a world of ‘cancel culture’ where people are forced out of their jobs for the slimmest of reasons.

The acting by Nicole Joy-Fraser as Hanna, Derek Kwan as David and Meghan Swaby as Leah is heartfelt, full of concern and humour. They beautifully establish their friendship and their concern about the world they live in. Director Cole Alvis is attentive to the details and nuance of the piece. And Debashis Sinha has created an evocative soundscape. It got me thinking about my Toronto. Always a good thing.

The Toronto Pigeons

Written by Luke Reece

Directed by Marcel Stewart

Sound by Michelle Bensimon

Cast: Britta B

Trevlyn Kennedy

Luke Reece

This is the last audio play in the You Can’t Get There From Here series for Factory Theatre.

The Story. It’s June 13, 2019 and two pigeons, Trae and A.C., are preparing to watch game 6 of the NBA playoffs between The Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. They will be watching from the top of Jurassic Park in Toronto, on the Jumbotron. They will be scavenging for good eats from garbage cans etc.

Trae is a diehard Raptor’s fan. He thinks of nothing else but the Raptors.  A.C. is more measured in her devotion but still is loyal. Into this scene flies KLAW (is this an homage to Kawhi Leonard), a Kestral from the Kawarthas. KLAW’s family was taken out by a hawk and she flew to Toronto to find a place to be safe.  Both Trae and A.C note how small KLAW is but her talons are lethal and impressive. Trae and A.C. inform KLAW about the Toronto Raptors basketball team. They also inform her of Toronto and how wonderful it is and how everybody is different and fits in.

But truths are told. A.C. informs Trae that he never confronts his problems and uses the Raptors as a distraction. Trae is rude to KLAW and she flies away. I’m thinking that perhaps Trae is so wired for the game, so anxious that his beloved team wins the NBA Championship and so fed up with KLAW’s questions, that he got frustrated and hence, rude. Raptor devotion might do that to a person or pigeon.  

A.C. flies after KLAW to find her to bring her back and eventually Trae goes too—forgoing the game to be a better citizen of Toronto in the sacrifice. It turns out that KLAW does return and just in time to protect her new friends from a predator. Oh, and the Raptors won the game and the championship.  

The Production and comment. I’ve loved this whole series of five audio dramas. They are poignant and tell stories of our diversity and inclusion, or differences and our connection; of sisters who pull together in spite of difficulties, of siblings at odds; loving couples from different continents trying to marry and have children; friends trying to help friends in distress and that goes for pigeons.

I was really impressed by The Toronto Pigeons because Luke Reece wrote it in rhyme akin to rap. (Reece is an award-winning slam poet). It’s smart, edgy, clever, including the strategically placed sound of “pigeon cooing” and is a love letter to the Toronto Raptors as well as the city. I love that notion of home here.

Both Trae and A.C. know the good and the not so good about Toronto but are still fans of the place. They love the noise, the hustle, bustle and secret hiding places for food. They love the chips and dip they find at the games from their high perch. A.C. has a great line that the pigeons are ambassadors of the city—I’ll have more respect for them in future. And their selflessness to go and find KLAW when this important game is playing says a lot about friendship, loyalty and being a good neighbour.

I think The Toronto Pigeons is sweet, smart, funny and wise.

You Can’t Get There From Here, and The Toronto Pigeons plays until September 25 on the Factory Theatre website at

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I watched this on Demand after the showing at FOLDA, www.folda.ca

Creator, artistic director, producer, writer, performer (violin, monologue), Leslie Ting

Pianist, Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Deaf performer (monologue), Thurga Kanagasckarampillai

Co-director, dramaturg, voice coach, Alex Bulmer

Co-director, dramaturg, Tristan R. Whiston

Lighting designer, Patrick Lavender

Projection design, Amelia Scott

Audio engineer, Kai Masaoka

Videographer, Roger Galvez

From the show blurb: “Speculation takes the audience through the stages of grief, vision loss and silence. The music of Beethoven and John Cage, and experimental projections accompany an immersive storytelling of the artist Leslie Ting’s witnessing of her mother’s vision loss and eventual passing.”

There is so much going on in this digitally impressive, busy production. Leslie Ting has divided the work into four parts with such provocative titles as: Part 1, “Reasons for Communication” Part 2 “Impossible to Say”, Part 3 “All That Held Me Back”, Part 4 “Around Our Words.” She  tells us at the very beginning that she and her mother did not get along. Her mother was stubborn, everything had to be her way and she never listened to her daughter or considered her point of view. A stubbornness formed on both sides so that conversation was brief and resentment was long. Towards the end of the piece Ting realized something about her mother that might have explained some of her behaviour.

Leslie Ting’s mother began losing her eyesight in early 2000. Her mother had several operations in one year, took many medications but eventually her mother became blind. Ting was studying to be an optometrist at the time that seems more coincidental rather than seeming helpful to her mother. Ting eventually transitioned from optometry to studying music. She is now a violinist.

Ting also included Beethoven’s loss of hearing in Speculation in which Beethoven continued to compose music but gave up touring as a pianist. Beethoven also seemed to isolate himself because he could not communicate with his friends etc. (They took to shouting even while he used an ear trumpet with little effect). This has less to do with her mother’s loss of sight than it has to do with Beethoven’s determination to create music no matter what. But it is an interesting inclusion.

Ting also includes composer John Cage in her piece as a person who felt that harmony was not relevant in his music. Again, an interesting inclusion.

Ting played pieces by Beethoven and Cage during the Speculation. Physically she is a muscular, energetic player but facially she is expressionless. When she was not playing Ting sat in a chair, light billowing from the sides (kudos to designer Patrick Lavender), and told the story in an unmodulated voice, but initially with a hint of an edge when talking about her mother. Again, her face was expressionless. I found that lack of engagement odd, if not disconcerting. Rather than engaging the audience her lack of expression, both facially and vocally, distanced the audience because of her lack of emotion. Even when Ting told us her mother died in 2010 there was a pause in the delivery, but no physical indication of any emotion.  If this was a deliberate decision by her co-directors, Alex Bulmer (who is herself blind) and Tristan R. Whiston then I don’t think it worked for the piece.

There is a part of Speculation in which Cage’s composition, 4’33 is played—it’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence except for ambient sound; breathing, echoes, breezes, scraping and occasionally a woman saying “Are you serious?” During the piece Ting stood holding her violin and when the woman could be heard saying, “Are you serious?” Ting smiled. Hmmm.

Technologically Speculation is very busy. There are projections (Amelia Scott) that are blurry to suggest her mother’s diminishing vision; there are streams of bright projections and coloured effects suggesting what will be lost by the loss of sight.  There was a scene of pianist Hye Won Cecilia Lee playing presumably Beethoven’s piano sonatas (I say presumably because there is no actual list of the music played) and all we saw were her illuminated hands. By that time I was rolling my eyes. Speculation was well-intentioned but it’s a miss.

www.folda.ca

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Monday, June 14, 2021

A fascinating creation by Alex Bulmer:

May I Take Your Arm?
follow-at-home show now open
Close-up of paper cuttings have window panels and voids in between the strings and textures. From the void, we see a faint image of the website landing page for May I Take Your Arm?
The doors to May I Take Your Arm? is now open. Simply click the button below to be taken to the immersive, follow-at-home experience. If you want to learn more about the show, or read the visual story before entering, make sure to visit our website by clicking here.
Enter the show

Monday, June 14, 2021, 7:30 pm

Free reading from the wonderful Red Bull Theatre:

An Online Benefit Reading
VOLPONE, OR THE FOX
by BEN JONSON
Adapted and directed by JESSE BERGER

MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2021
7:30 PM EDT | LIVESTREAM
Meet Volpone, the rich old magnifico, whose ingenious schemes and farcical scams dupe his wealthy friends into showering him with gold. This feast of extraordinary language and outrageous characters is a merciless satire that delightfully skewers the selfish manipulations of hypocrites—without excusing the greed and gullibility of their victims. Against scoundrels cloaked in propriety and legal dodgings, the virtuous are practically defenseless—and even the judge is on the make. Is Volpone the sly fox…or the outfoxed?     Directed by Jesse Berger, this online benefit reading will feature André De Shields as Volpone, Jordan Boatman, Sofia Cheyenne, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Clifton Duncan, Amy Jo Jackson, Peter Francis James, Hamish Linklater, Roberta Maxwell, Sam Morales, Kristine Nielsen, Mary Testa, and Shannon WicksFIND OUT MORE First produced by Red Bull Theater in 2012, this new version will feature emendations & elaborations by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (The Government Inspector). VOLPONEwill have visual design by John Arnone, costume design by Rodrigo Muñoz from original designs by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos, original music and sound design by Scott Killian, and property design by Faye Armon-Troncoso.  
GET FREE TICKETS

Thursday, June 17, 2021, 8:00 pm

On Demand Reading of:

DEAR ELIZABETH
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline
Date: June 17th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET Based on the compiled letters between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Dear Elizabeth maps the relationship of the two poets from first meeting to an abbreviated affair – and the turmoil of their lives in between.
GET TICKETS

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Part of the Festival of Live Digital Arts (FOLDA) www.folda.ca June 9-13, 2021.

The Zoo Motel Staff:

Motel Guest (creator, magician etc.) Thaddeus Phillips

Interiors, Steven Dufala

Direction, Tatiana Mallarino

Magic, Steve Cuiffo

Night Clerk, Newton Buchanan

Night Clerk, Miriam Hyfler (I guess depending on the show you chose)

Reservations, Melissa Jernigan

Dancing, Katya & Fernando.

This was a very complex, ambitious show because of the audience’s involvement. There were lots of instructions. We were asked to print off various documents that were sent to us by e-mail attachment.

The documents were:

  1. Your Room Key, on which is your room number
  2. Welcome Brochure
  3. A Zoo Motel Evacuation Map
  4. A blank piece of stationary
  5. An outline drive-in car to cut out.

And there were instructions:

  1. Cut out the items along any dotted lines.
  2. Place your room key in the slot in the brochure
  3. Have all materials on hand for your time at the Zoom Motel.
  4. And remember, find by any means necessary, a deck of cards.

I went and bought a deck of cards. I didn’t have a deck of cards in my apartment.

When I tried to print the various documents the typing was so huge it did not fit on the page. I tried to diminish the printing. It still came out with huge typing. I had no instructions then.

We were told if we could not print the documents then we would have to use another device to read the instructions like a cell phone or a tablet, besides the device were using to watch the event. We also needed a device that had a camera and a microphone so I could not use my PC which doesn’t have either. I plugged in my cell phone to charge it cause it was getting low, as was I with the frustration of it all.

I had the charged phone beside me at the ready to show my key etc. I had the cards at the ready. I waited to begin and we did exactly on time. Love that!

We were checked in by the Night Clerk who wanted to see our documents. My cell phone was not brilliant in showing the documents. That didn’t seem to bother him as much as it bothered me, and if that didn’t bother him then why should we have bothered at all? Hmmmm.

The Night Clerk checked us all in. A man entered his hotel room, the Night Guest.  He looked through the peep hole.  He wore a sleek backpack (that I wanted) when he took it off he was wearing a jacket with what looked like a brain on the back of it. Clever! He took items out of the cupboard, a wonderful red manual typewriter for example.

There were items around the room: a tiny model of the Titanic; Maneki-neko, Otsuchi ‘wind phone’, Mojave phone booth, Starlite Drive-in Sigh. He told us the significance of each as he wove a winding tale. Oh, and he realized that the door to his room disappeared. Gone. He found the peep hole on the floor.

He did various mind tricks especially with the cards. I will only tell you one because there is an interesting point. He showed a bunch of cards face up then more cards face down. He put both the faced-up cards and the faced down cards together in a pile and then neatly spread all the cards in a line across the table. All the cards were now face down. How did he do that? I don’t know. But it was interesting seeing the other people watching the zoo motel—Zoom Motel? Some watched without even noticing the cards were now all face down. The reaction for the most part was muted. I thought that odd.

The tricks got more elaborate. There were reactions this time. The show is about connection, space, family, missing loved ones, perhaps climate change we went from the Mojave desert to a lush garden in Japan.  

The world was created in that hotel room as it shifted, changed, and unsettled our conception of where we were. Wonderfully clever. Beautifully done.

When it was finished Thaddeus Phillips, the creator and the Motel Guest took us ‘backstage’ to show us how things were done, but not the card tricks. Fascinating.

After the show, I pulled up the instructions, this time on my laptop. They fit the screen nicely. I printed them off from the laptop. It printed perfectly. Didn’t work with my PC. Kafka? A mystery? Don’t know.

www.folda.ca

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