Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. until Dec. 23, 2021.

www.shawfest.com

Holiday Inn

At the Festival Theatre.

Based on the film from Universal Pictures.

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge

Directed by Kate Hennig

Music conducted by Paul Sportelli

Choreographed by Allison Plamondon

Set and costumes by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Sound by John Lott

Cast: Kyle Blair

Kyle Golemba

Vanessa Sears

Jay Turvey

Wren Evans/Julia Thompson

Kristi Frank

Gabrielle Jones

Plus the ensemble.

A feel-good musical given a feel-good production.

The Story. Holiday Inn is based on the 1942 film by Universal Pictures. Jim Hardy is part of a song and dance trio with his girlfriend Lila Dixon and best friend Ted Hanover.  But Jim is fed up with show business and touring and wants to quit so he’s bought a farm in Connecticut and expects Lila to go with him. Lila has other plans. She wants to do one last gig and will do it with Ted as a duo.  Jim reluctantly goes to Connecticut to start his new life and waits for Lila to join him.

At the farm he meets Linda Mason, the previous owner who had to give up the family farm because of her father’s ill health (he later died) and the fact that she was a teacher and could not continue to run the farm as well. There is an attraction between Linda and Jim immediately. There is no attraction between Jim and farming. He has no skill in growing anything.

But by luck, coincidence, whatever, he’s visited by the chorus men and women of his previous act and they decide to put on a show for the upcoming holidays with Linda starring (she also sings in a choir) and an idea for the failing farm is born. Jim will open the farm as an inn but only for the many and various holidays and put on a themed show for each event.

Lila does not return but Ted does and that means competition for Jim with Linda. It seems that in love Ted always horned in and stole Jim’s girlfriends.

The Production. This is a remount of a production they did a few years ago and with a few cast changes I think this production does very well. Judith Bowden designed the pastel-coloured set and beautiful costumes for this feel-good show. Kate Hennig directs and her attention to detail has the audience looking closely. At one point Linda (Kristi Frank) finds one of her father’s pipes in the house and smells it just to keep a sense of her late father. It was a lovely bit of ‘subtle business’

Kyle Blair as Jim Hardy and Kristi Frank as Linda Mason are effortless in establishing their mutually attracted relationship. There is a lovely chemistry between these two. Blair has an easy grace when he sings and moves and Frank is an accomplished singer and lively dancer as well. Gabrielle Jones is smart-talking, dry-joke-cracking as Louise, a woman of many abilities around the place.

Allison Plamondon created the lively choreography.

Comment. Holiday Inn is a feel-good musical written by a master—Irving Berlin.  The show is full of songs that have become standards: such gorgeous songs as “Blue Skies”, “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “White Christmas”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “Cheek to Cheek”. It’s astonishing but of the 20 songs (without reprises) there are at least 15 songs that became a hit.

A Christmas Carol

At the Royal George Theatre.

Based on the Charles Dickens novella written in 1843.

Adapted and originally directed by Tim Carroll.

Directed by Molly Atkinson

Sets and costumes by Christine Lohre

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Original music and original music direction by Paul Sportelli

Music direction by Ryan deSouza

Movement and puppetry by Alexis Milligan

Cast: Jason Cadieux

Peter Fernandes

Patti Jamieson

Andrew Lawrie

Julie Lumsden

Marie Mahabal

Marla McLean

Graeme Somerville

Kelsey Verzotti

Kelly Wong

Graeme Somerville is a wonderful, revelatory Scrooge.

The Story. It’s Christmas Eve and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is in an irritated mood. He hates all that carol singing and giving any money to charity. His nephew Fred comes to wish him a happy Christmas and invites Scrooge to spend Christmas with his family. Scrooge is incensed and he’s aggravated that Fred married for love. Scrooge is irritated that his clerk, Bob Cratchit, wants Christmas Day off as a holiday.  Scrooge is taught a lesson about generosity of spirit and kindness when he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former partner, as well as three spirits of Christmas: past, present and future.

Production. Is this a traditional version of the story? Sort of.

This production of A Christmas Carol first appeared at the Shaw Festival in 2017 with Tim Carroll (the Artistic Director) adapting the Dickens novella and also directing it.

I had issues with that production, such as the attempt of using local references to give the story a Niagara-on-the-Lake homey feel: there are references to the All-Year Christmas store and Greaves Jam store. These references are still in the adaptation and got barely a titter in recognition. And truly, would Scrooge really want anything in his house as frivolous as Christmas decorations and jam? There has to be some respect for the source material.  

This current production is directed by Molly Atkinson and uses the same set and costumes  by Christine Lohre, and a lot of Tim Carroll’s original staging, which alas often looks like a high school production—characters throw snow in the air to suggest it’s snowing; a plank of wood balanced on the head of a character is Scrooge’s desk; in another context the plank is a creaky door. It just seems tired rather than creative.

But Molly Atkinson has also added her own director’s touches and there have been some improvements on the original production.  Puppets (mainly created by Alexis Milligan) factor heavily in this production. The Cratchit children are suggested by puppets and are full of detail and beautifully crafted especially the one for Tiny Tim.

The huge apparition of the ‘ghost’ of Jacob Marley–black billows of material and a top hat floating above it and the Ghost of Christmas Past, an overpowering expanse of white cloth with a ghost-like head —are particularly effective. Some puppets that were confusing in the original are not present in the Atkinson version of the production.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Peter Fernandes who, for some reason, makes his entrance on heel skates. I did find this mystifying when this was done in 2017, only then it was roller skates. Again, it’s a long way to go for a weak contemporary joke. And lot of the dialogue for the Ghost of Christmas Present seems like a poor attempt at an Abbott and Costello routine. It wears thin very quickly and I’m mystified by this attempt at humour where it undermines Scrooge’s journey to redemption.    

We get a glimmer of Scrooge’s sad childhood and his heartbreak in love, as played in silhouette by cut-out figures behind a white curtain. The scenes are quick and frankly I thought the poignancy of these moments was lost.

But Scrooge is played by Graeme Somerville, a stalwart of the Shaw Festival, and he’s a revelation. There’s a lot of baggage with this part what with all the various films of the story available, not to mention all the live productions of A Christmas Carol that are out there.

But Somerville plays Scrooge as a person who is irritated at all the cheer around him, since he has had the cheer drummed out of him from life’s various disappointments: his adored younger sister died young. His beloved fiancé Belle broke their engagement because she said that Scrooge loved money before he loved her. Somerville is not playing anger and rage, it’s much subtler and deeper than that. And it’s so refreshing seeing this accomplished actor dig deep into the character to create a fresh, vibrant, moving character.

Scrooge is a person who knows what kindness is because he has been treated to it in the past. He is sensitive enough to see, via the ghost of Christmas Present, that Bob Cratchit and his family are poor and don’t have enough food and that pains him. Scrooge just needed to know in this dramatic way with these startling spirits, that one needn’t be a miserable human being. There is another way of looking at the world.

Marla McLean is a lovely, kind Mrs. Cratchit. And Kelly Wong is joyful as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.    

While I do have some concerns about this production, I would be accused of being a humbug if I didn’t recommend it at this festive time of year. And while I still find some of the silliness of the adaptation irritating and ill-placed, it can’t overpower that A Christmas Carolis a great story of redemption and that kindness and generosity can change a person’s outlook on life. And Graeme Somerville is giving a revelatory performance as Scrooge. A gift.  

So yes, see it.

The Shaw Festival presents:

Holiday Inn and A Christmas Carol play until Dec. 23, 2021.

Running Time: approx. 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

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“Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”

Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 8:00 pm (plays until Jan. 2, 2022.)

Live, in person,

Jesus Christ Super Star

The 50th anniversary of this Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera about a noted religious icon.

At the Princess of Wales Theatre

www.mirvish.com

Wednesday, Dec. 1-23, 2021. 8:00 pm

Live and in person

A Christmas Carol

Adapted from Charles Dickens’ novella and performed by Rod Beattie.

You know the story. You’ve seen the various films. Rod Beattie plays all the parts.

www.theatreorangeville.ca

Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. 12:55 pm.

“Live at the Met” opera showing at the Scotia Bank Cinema.

Eurydice

From the play by Sarah Ruhl.

Music by Matthew Aucoin.

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Live and in person at the Centaur Theatre, Montreal, Quebec. Until Dec. 5, 2021.

www.centaurtheatre.com

Written and directed by Rebecca Northan

Set and costumes by James Lavoie

Lighting by Andrea Lundy

Sound by Bruce Horak

Cast: Mariah Inger

Gabe Maharjan

Amelia Sargisson

Even elves get flustered and lose focus at Christmas when the rush is on. A good sense of humour, lots of silliness helps and Rebecca Northan’s play is loaded with both.

The Story. It’s December 23 at the North Pole. They are short staffed and Nog, an extremely efficient, serious-minded manager elf, decides to take a chance and hire Ginger, who has been fired from every job she’s ever had. But Nog needs someone and hires Ginger. Nog and Ginger are siblings. Matters get sticky and it’s not just the candy treats on hand for breaks.

There’s a lot that Ginger must deal with. She has to read and record the letters received from kids and what they want for Christmas. Ginger then has to sort the letters into their proper colour-coded bags. She must find her sixth sense to ferret out the letters from kids who were bad. Then she has to keep track of  the presents that Santa receives and intuit if it’s a good or bad present. And she has to answer the old-fashioned-multi-lined-telephone-answering board. And then a mysterious ‘guest’ appears and throws everyone in a tizzy.   

The Production. James Lavoie has created an impressive set that fills the whole stage of the Centaur Theatre, both width-wise and height-wise. Bags of letters and other stuff fill shelves that go up at least 20 feet. There is an upper level to the place and to get to the ground level efficiently and quickly elves etc. use a fire pole.

First Nog (Gabe Maharjan) appears from the upper level, stage left and effortlessly slides down the pole to the ground level. Every movement of Nog is graceful and even balletic from their stance (a modified ‘first position’), to the calm, self-contained posture, always patient and measured. Next we see Ginger (Amelia Sargisson) appear on the upper level. She is energetic, kinetic, emotionally charged and fun-loving almost to a fault. She slides down the fire-pole but ads spin to the endeavor. Sublime. As calm and controlled as Nog is Ginger is excitable, rambunctious and carefree. She tries so hard to control herself. She is mindful that she has been fired from every job. She knows her sibling Nog is taking a chance by hiring her for this important job.  It’s just that Ginger can’t help herself.

The elves are mop-haired and pointy-eared. They wear thick sneakers that have a flip at the front—perhaps for better traction to flit quickly. Kudos to Lames Lavoie as well for the costumes.  

Nog, as played by Gabe Maharjan is so kind to Ginger. The tone is always controlled and calm. That’s how Nog has succeeded in everything. That’s why Nog is so efficient, thoughtful and accomplished. Ginger, as played by Amelia Sargisson, is like a spinning top, movements are so quick as to be in a blur. Sargisson makes Ginger dear and lovable and we wish so hard for her to calm down and succeed and know that might not be possible. We love her anyway.

Both Gabe Maharjan and Amelia Sargisson are such gifted actors that being able to see their work is a present in itself. I can’t reveal too much about Marge (Mariah Inger) the mystery guest, except to say she represents, in many ways, the perils of on-line dating. Mariah Inger is fearless in her own way as Marge. She is both sad and resourceful. She is tenacious and hopeful. She is a mystery guest we don’t mind meeting and cheering on.

Writer-director Rebecca Northan is a master of comedy. She has been doing improvisation for her whole career as well as other kinds of comedy. She is perhaps best known for her one person show Blind Date, but there is so much more to her comedic arsenal.

Rebecca Northan’s production is peppered with echoes of iconic comedic routines or shows. One of Ginger’s first lines is “What a dump” which got me thinking of that same stunning line from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, said by the character Martha, which in turn echoed the same line from a film with Bette Davis. At another point the job Ginger was hired for exploded on her: letters to be sorted fluttered down from the ceiling; at the same time presents shot down the shoot in a cascade to such an extent that she could not keep up. I thought of that iconic routine in I Love Lucy when Lucy had to do quality control on a conveyor belt full of chocolates, until the speed of the conveyor belt went into warp speed and the chocolates shot down…Hilarious. As this show is for people 12 and older, I just made it under the wire to appreciate the silliness and old enough to remember other memorable routines that reference this festive production.   

Comment. When gifted people toil and write a show during a pandemic and then get it produced in Montreal with more gifted people, then it behooves us to go and check it out in support and enthusiasm. Seeing All I Want for Christmas at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal is a total delight. It’s a great way of coming back to the theater after a lousy pandemic kept us home, and it’s a lovely way to celebrate any holiday you want to celebrate.

Centaur Theatre presents:

Plays until: Dec. 5, 2021.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.centaurtheatre.com

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Review: She Visits

by Lynn on November 27, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. until Nov. 26, 2021. (It was a very short run).

www.tift.ca

Written and performed by Maja Ardal

Inspired by “Der Besuch Der Alten Dame” by Friedrich Dűrrenmatt

Directed by Jeff Braunstein

Songs composed by Maja Ardal

Original music and song design by Matt Dawson

Set designer, Diane Frederick

Maja Ardal’s adaptation of Friedrich Dűrrenmatt’s masterpiece (Der Besuch Der Alten Dame)—“The Visit of the Old Lady”—is as relevant now as it was when he wrote it in 1956.

The Story. Claire Onassiopolus is fabulously wealthy. After 45 years Claire is returning home to Gardenia, her impoverished small town with a plan. Alfred Gill, one of the town’s most beloved citizens, is chosen to greet Claire and use his charm on her to see if she can help financially as much as possible. Claire and Alfred had a ‘history’ when they were teenagers so Alfred seems the smartest choice to ‘sweet-talk’ Claire. Various people remember her sense of justice, humanity etc. They soon find out about her keen sense of justice.

After Claire is settled in the town’s hotel, with her entourage of two beefy body-guards, two blind eunuch servants, her pet panther and a coffin, and the leaders of the town wine and dine her, Claire tells the folks what she will do for them. She will give the town $80 million and $20 million do be divided evenly among the townsfolk. On one condition, that they kill Alfred Gill. Pandemonium ensues. Disgust from the town’s folk that she should suggest such a despicable thing. Claire explains.

When she was 15-years-old Claire became pregnant by Alfred. He denied it. There was a bastardy case. Two teens were bribed by Alfred to say they slept with Claire. The result is that Claire was run out of town. She became a prostitute and rich, old Onassiopolus was one of her clients and he married her. When he died Claire inherited his wealth and then she plotted to get her revenge on the townsfolk of Gardenia and Alfred in particular. The people refuse her offer. Claire says she can wait. It’s one of the great lines of dramatic literature and how the town’s folk then react is one of the great character developments in a play.

The Production. Maja Ardal has done a masterful job of adapting  Der Besuch Der Alten Dame—“The Visit of the Old Lady” and is presenting this as a one-person show. She has cut some characters but retained many that nicely tell the story. In the original play the town was called “Gűllen,” the translation from the German is “liquid manure.” I’ve also seen it translated as “horseshit.” So for Ardal to call the town “Gardenia” is inspired irony. Love that.

Ardal is inhabiting the body of a man when she is performing this. She wears a blond-grey wig that is close to the head with the hair held back in a ponytail. Each character she plays is distinct and with his/her own idiosyncrasies.  Alfred Gill is a confident man, a bit full of his own self-importance, and perhaps a bit shy around Claire when he finally meets her after all those years. As Claire, Ardal gives her an imperious air. Claire’s fake right hand is held stiff, and occasionally has to be re-adjusted. She also has a fake leg that requires her burly body-guards to adjust that too. Claire is refined, coy, patient and deadly. She knows what she wants and how to get it. The mayor is an arrogant, bombastic man who keeps patting his corpulence, perhaps to suggest that his girth represents success and wealth. The two blind eunuchs talk in a high voice with a dead stare and an eerie smile that’s frozen. Each representation is clear, precise and detailed.

The production is directed by Jeff Braunstein and it’s wonderful. There are so many small but resounding details that illuminate this dark story. When the town’s people are told they would need some kind of apparatus to calculate how much each person would get if they actually did what Claire wanted, Ardal rattled what looked like a box of Tic-tac and all we heard was the box of mints crash like a quickly manipulated abacus. Ardal played a trumpet in one moment, an accordion in another to juxtapose moments of levity with those of the horror.

Braunstein uses the space very well and it all seems natural. Diane Frederick has designed a dramatic set in which the floor is painted with a spiral formation that looks like a raging swirl of activity. Various props are efficiently placed either on stands or pedestals.  

The moments alone between Gill and Claire are quite touching. She has waited for him to regard her as a person, and while he does not apologize or even seem to have remorse, he does confess to her that he chose security when he was younger and married another young woman of the town. And he might even have feelings for her, aside from the fact that she is rich. Ardal has kept that complexity of the story while presenting it as simply as possible.

Ardal has also composed several songs that are effective and bracing. One song about money is particularly pointed.

Comment. I love “The Visit of the Old Lady” or as it’s known more commonly, “The Visit,” because of what it says about greed, envy, revenge disappointment and love. And make no mistake, it’s a love-story. In She Visits Ardal illuminates that Claire loves Alfred and has for all those years, and has found a dark way of getting and keeping him for herself. I look at how the original play was written after WWII to reflect how decent people turned in their neighbours for money. In today’s world, so full of anger, racism, division, lack of patience and compassion, She Visits still has power and relevance, alas.

This is a terrific adaptation and production. Maja Ardal has hopes that the play will travel. I hope this works out. I’d see it again.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Runs until the evening of Nov. 26, 2021.

Running time: 1 hour, 7 minutes.

www.tift.ca

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Empty Fishing Net

Live, in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Playwright, Bernardine Stapleton

Adapter, Steve Cochrane

Original concept and music curation by Walter Schroeder

Musical arrangements by Jesse Grandmont

Additional arrangement by Bob Hallett and Paul Kinsman

Directed by Brad Hodder

Musical direction by Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward

Choreography by Victoria Wells-Smith

Set by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound by Pat Dempsey

Costumes by Sara Hodder

Cast: Liam Eric Dawson

Julia Dunne

Kelly-Ann Evans

Philip Goodridge

Vicki Harnett

Seana-Lee Wood

Duff MacDonald

Erin Mackey

Steve Maloney

Melanie O’Brien

Steve Ross

Renée Strasfeld

The music is spirited as is the singing, but the script meanders and needs tightening and a clearer vision as to why you are telling the story in the first place.

The Story. Welcome to another part of “the Rock” (Newfoundland), not a part found in Come From Away.

No Change in the Weather takes place in 1990, in God’s Back Pocket, Newfoundland, an almost deserted part of the island. Peggy O’Brien has died but before she has her ‘real’ funeral, her son Bill and several of Peggy’s friends steal her body in the coffin and take it to God’s Back Pocket, to Peggy’s former shack of a home for a wake. There are coolers full of appropriate beverages for such an endeavor, and enough people with enough stories about Peggy to pass the time. Peggy is our narrator. We get the sense Peggy is controlling most of what is going on there. She feels that every person there has a secret that they have kept inside too long and now is the time to spill their guts and get on with living. Jade, Peggy’s friend was jilted at the alter years before by James “Sonny Boy” O’Brien—Peggy’s son and the cause of much rancor in the family and the community. James was involved in the disastrous negotiations regarding the Churchill Falls Hydro Project debacle.  Jade’s daughter Liza is there. She’s a journalist, who does not know who her father is. Johnny is an alcoholic who is knitting his sobriety scarf. It’s very long. His secret is poignant. Sally Brown seems to be a ‘witchy-woman’ with her ‘ugly stick’ who conjures spirits who are ready to take Peggy to the next ‘world’. But first guts must be spilled and lively songs must be song.

The Production.  The creative team involves some top-notch creators: Gillian Gallow (set) Leigh Ann Vardy (lighting), Pat Dempsey (sound). Why then does this production look so chintzy? The cabin is a non-descript wood wall with a door up there and a step down, Peggy’s casket has some decorations but that’s it.

At times it seems that directing 12 people on a smallish stage was more like director Brad Hodder was directing traffic, hoping no one bumped into anyone. So much of the staging was pedestrian with out depth. And with 12 characters, each with their own issues, that too seemed like it was an effort to pack the show with meaning. One knitted one’s eyebrows towards the end when the last character was introduced that added another political point. One longed for judicious cutting.

No Change in the Weather is a jukebox musical, meaning that the music used is composed of already established songs, many of which are traditional and many created by such Newfoundland/Labrador composers as: Alan Doyle (“Heavy Nets), Ron Hynes (with Murray McLauchlan) (“No Change in the Weather” “Sonny’s Dream”—Hynes alone), Alistair MacGillivray (“Sea People”). The cast sing the score beautifully.

Playwright Bernardine Stapleton and adapter Steve Cochrane have packed the text full of the flavour of Newfoundland expressions, aphorism and turns of phrases. One has to keep up trying to hear/understand it all. As Peggy, Kelly-Ann Evans is sparky, confident, and commands attention—well, yeah, she’s the guest of honour at the wake. Bill O’Brien is a disappointed man and devoted son, and that comes through in Steve Ross’ performance. He’s serious, attentive and briming with concern. Steve Ross sings the plaintive song “Heavy Nets” with all the sadness that song needs—an empty net to a fisherman must be like death. All that comes through in the song.

At 2 hours and 30 minutes No Change in the Weather needs to be tightened considerably. For example, there is a bit of business involving the character of Johnny (Steve Maloney) and a giant hair ball that is stretched long past any semblance of humour. The silliness of what Johnny does in that scene damages the character.

Comment. No Change in the Weather first appeared in 2019 in a tour and has been re-written. More work needs to be done. The piece almost seems like it has a split personality: on the one hand, in Act I there are the jolly, irreverent people wanting to send Peggy off in style and on the other, Act II the angry, grudge-carrying, disappointed people of the community still fuming over a terrible deal and blame James for the debacle. They wrangle, snipe, hurl insults and take their anger out on each other. It’s the story of a resources-rich province with lousy luck in the people who handled their negotiations. The good people of Newfoundland have watched their fishing rights disappear along with the fish upon which they depended. Seven pages of the programme are devoted to detailing the many twists and turns of the history of Churchill Falls. Perhaps the show should have been about that alone instead of spreading it all over the place.  

Produced by Terrabruce Productions, presented by Mirvish Productions.

Plays until: Nov, 27, 2021.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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Quote for the week: “I’m responsible for what I write, not what you misread, misinterpret or misunderstand.”

Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. 7:00 pm EST.

On-line.


Playwrights Canada Press


Press Play Reading Series


Join Playwrights Canada Press in a showcase of readings from newly published theatre artists! Featuring Hannah Moscovitch (Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, Secret Life of a Mother), Maev Beaty and Ann-Marie Kerr (Secret Life of a Mother), Makambe K Simamba (Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers), Nam Nguyen (A Perfect Bowl of Pho) and David Owen and Barbra French (Muse from Long Live the New Flesh). Hosted by Carly Maga. Live captioning, and a written compilation of the excerpts read will be provided. Time for Q&A and trivia will follow each reading. 

Register to attend here.

Tuesday, Nov. 23-26, 2021 at 7:30 pm

Live in person.

She Visits

Written and performed by Maja Ardal

A re-working of The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt about revenge, betrayal and greed. A fantastic play. I can hardly see what Maja Ardal does with it as a one-person show in which she plays all the characters.

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Produced by Talk Is Free Theatre.

Wednesday, Nov. 24-28

Weesageechak Festival from Native Earth Theatre,

On Line,








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Review: CAST IRON

by Lynn on November 19, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

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A binaural audio experience, co-produced by Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre. Streaming Nov. 19-28. www.factorytheatre.ca

Written by Lisa Codrington

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Foley artist, sound designer and composer, John Gzowski

Starring Alison Sealy-Smith

I first saw Cast Iron, playwright Lisa Codrington’s first play, in 2005. At the time I said: “Lisa Codrington is a new vibrant voice that deserves to be heard… bold and daring.” This binaural audio production is the first revival in 16 years. That’s a pity. The play has a lot to say about aging, loneliness, the traditions and hold that ‘home’ has on a person, how memory haunts us and the demons we try to keep inside.

Libya is being bedeviled. She is in a nursing home in Winnipeg and she can’t sleep because the cold wind outside keeps howling. She’s spent time there, alone, when that night she is visited by a man—is he real? In her imagination? Can she confide in him her secrets that have been haunting her for 40 years when she lived in her native Barbados?

Libya goes back into her memory to dredge up the superstitions and folklore she was taught by her grandmother, a feisty woman who wielded a cast iron pan for protection as well as making her famous Bajan Bakes. Libya coveted that pan. But her grandmother held on to it tightly, as one would a secret recipe.

Libya conjured up the memory of her rivalry with her more popular half-sister, Gracie and how Libya was jealous of Gracie’s success in attracting the attentions of an admired local man. Libya remembers how terrified she was of a woman known to her community as “The Red Woman” and how it was rumoured “The Red Woman” would catch children and kill them in the tall shafts of sugar cane with a butcher’s knife. There was a logical explanation of why she was called “The Red Woman”, but Lidya was held tight by the superstition. One particular terrifying event in Libya’s past bubbles to the surface that evening while she is confiding to the stranger. We see how much anxiety she has been carrying around with her for years.

Playwright Lisa Codrington has created Libya as a woman bursting with life, anger, frustration and haunted memories. She speaks in a Bajan dialect that is both musical and challenging if one is not used to it. Alison Sealy-Smith and her director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu trust the audience to ‘get it’ and be attentive to its riffs, idiosyncrasies and colourfulness. On her own, Codrington has a keen sense of language. At one point Lidya says to the unseen/unknown force, “Take my hand and let me go.” It’s a line full of poetry and heart-ache. And it’s stunning.

Sealy-Smith is fearless in playing all the characters in the play. She is determined and forthright as Libya; almost crazed as the old woman in the nursing home, and just briming with jealousy and frustration as her younger self in Barbados. She also plays a young, viral man; stodgy older people and many and various personalities.

Because of the nature of the binaural sound—that it surrounds the room—the sense of activity, racing, rushing through foliage if not sugar cane, is beautifully produced in sound by John Gzowski, the foley artist, sound designer and composer. The sounds are vivid and put us right in the world of the play, if not Libya’s imagination.  

My only regret with Lisa Codrington’s work is that we don’t hear/see it enough. More please.

Produced by Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre

Plays: Until Nov. 28, 2021.

Running Time: 70 minutes

www.factorytheatre.ca

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Vector illustration (EPS)

Playing live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. until Nov. 20, 2021.

www.tift.ca

Created by Hermes Gaido, Alfonso Barón, Nicolás Poggi and Luciano Rosso

Directed by Hermes Gaido

Choreographed by Nicolás Poggi and Luciano Rosso

Performed by Alfonso Barón,

Luciano Rosso

From the program information: “Un Poyo Rojo is a physical theatre piece, that started in 2008 (in Buenos Aires, Argentina) and has successfully toured worldwide. (It played Canadian Stage in 2019). With Luciano Rosso and Alfonso Barón bravely directed by Hermes Gaido, the piece playfully critiques concepts of masculinity through dance and theatre and boldly explores contemporary languages.”

For the Barrie visit, Luciano Rosso returns to Ontario with the show (he played Canadian Stage in 2019) and his partner this time is Alfonso Barón.

Every part of this bracing, funny, inventive show is part of the performance, even the warm-up. The set is simple: a bench with two bottles of water on it; a towel draped across it is in front of two lockers. On top of the locker are bottles of water and a “boom-box”.

Fifteen minutes before show time, Luciano Rosso and Alfonso Barón enter barefoot, wearing black sweat pants and undershirts, carrying more water. They warm up on either side of the stage, and do different exercises.  Luciano Rosso the taller of the two, favours a combination yoga-aerobics. Downward dog flows into planks that flow into deep pushups, not with the hands flat on the floor, but fisted, which is so hard. Alfonso Barón favours stretches, jumps and lunges.

They are in their own world and don’t interact during this ‘personal time.’ But as soon as the lights on stage go out and then up again to begin the show both performers had each other in their sights, in their spaces and even in their arms for the whole of the one-hour show.

Initially they play men in a gym who size up and then one-up each other with various contortions; hip—swiveling; head rotations. Then they segue into various dance routines from hip-hop, to ballet, modern. They vamp, strut, vogue, pose, and flounce as if on a fashion run-way, first as a man, subtle, bored, posing and then as a woman with an over-accentuated flounce, sucked in cheeks, and a condescending ‘look.’ The lines of masculinity are blurred and so are the lines of gender. They are not sending up gender issues; rather I think they are illuminating our changing world (And during the 11 years Un Poyo Rojo has been touring the world, the world has changed drastically). They turn the dial on the boom-box and tune into various radio stations (each city visited actually uses the radio stations of that city—it’s not on tape). When they hit a station with music, they start to move to that music, until the station is changed.

They change clothes in front of us and add more humour. Luciano Rosso does some business with a mouth full of cigarettes, two of which he twitches separately, that left me gasping with laughter.

And then there is the intimacy. Towards the end of the show both men are flying into each other’s arms, being flipped, held, and even kissed. It’s intimate, but not erotic. The trust each man has for the other to be there and not let him fall, is stunning. I think every single acting student should see this show so see how this closeness and trust is negotiated and realized all without the presence of an intimacy coach.

Un Poyo Rojo could be translated as “a red rooster” or a shifting of letters in the creator’s names to come up with a kind play on the names. Whatever one decides about the title, know that it’s a breathtaking show of physical dexterity, whimsy, dance, blurred lines and is very, very funny.

(Note to self just watching Alfonso Barón and Luciano Rosso warm up—start exercising! )

Talk is Free Theatre, presents:

Plays until: Saturday, Nov. 2021.

Running Time: one hour.

www.tift.ca

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Written by Steven Levenson based on the play by Jonathan Larson

Music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Cast: Andrew Garfield

Robin de Jesus

Alexandra Shipp

Judith Light

Vanessa Hudgens

Bradley Whitford

Jonathan Marc Sherman

This pulsing, driving film captures the focus and obsession of the late Jonathan Larson as he struggles to prepare his first musical for a workshop and he hopes, greater things. It’s also director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love-letter to the Broadway theatre, something he knows about personally having written; In The Heights and Hamilton. This is his feature-film debut. Initially the busy camera work, the jump-cut editing and the eye-popping filmed shots seemed like the frenetic energy of Hamilton in which Lin-Manuel Miranda has to top himself with every frame. The film settles down and we know we are in the presence of a skilled, sensitive director.  

From the film info: “The film follows Jon (Andrew Garfield), a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?”

tick, tick…BOOM! reveals Larson as a man obsessed. He’s obsessed with almost being 30 and has not made it as a musical-theatre maker. He notes that Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story when he was 27-years-old. This is true, but nobody calmed Larson by saying that Sondheim’s mentor was Oscar Hammerstein II who lived next door! Sondheim had a foot in the Broadway door because of his mentor/neighbour.  So Larson obsesses about writing his sci-fi musical that he is preparing for a make-or break workshop at Playwrights Horizons. Larson has been told by Sondheim (Bradley Whitford, wonderfully twitchy and kind) himself at a previous workshop of new work, that there needs to be another song at a certain point in the musical, and when Larson finally sits down to write it, he’s stuck. Larson is obsessed that his agent Rosa Stevens (Judith Light) has not returned any of his calls. Larson is stressed that his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) wants to talk about their future but he can’t think of anything but finishing the needed song.

Through it all Larson’s friends rally round him, cheering him on. His corporate friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) offers solace and comfort. Susan tries to understand but needs him to notice her needs. Larson is a charming, energetic host of parties in his small ‘hole’ of apartment. But always, there is the workshop.

Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson bursts with charm, energy, conviction and focus. And he sings from his guts.  Larson is single minded and uncompromising. He insists on a four-person band and not a piano at the workshop, and he’s right. Sondheim shows up at the workshop adding more pressure to him. And he waits for his agent to call him later with all the offers of a production he knows he will get. Judith Light plays Rosa Stevens, Larson’s agent, as a harried, hard-nosed force. But she has compassion for him when she has to deliver the bad news about the musical’s future. She tells him to ‘write what you know.’ And what he knows is his life and how difficult making art is.

Larson has worked for eight years on this sci-fi musical and he can’t envision doing that for a new musical. He’s despondent that he will be a waiter for the rest of his life. Then he gets a message on his answering machine. It’s Sondheim (and that really is Stephen Sondheim’s voice on the message). He liked the musical. He believes that Larson is talented and has things to say. And he, Sondheim, would love to talk to him about the work, if it’s ok with him. A life-line. Faith. That’s all one needs in art, someone who believes in you. Larson continued after that….tick, tick…BOOM! is the result.

Steven Levenson’s script captures the grit and grind of making musical-theatre. He captures the charm and obsession of Jonathan Larson. Director Lin-Manuel Miranda illuminates Larson’s life and the musical theatre in this stunner of a film, a love-letter to the musical theatre. It opens up a world of the musical to embrace those who love that theatre form, and also offers winks and nudges in insider information and scenes that will charm the musical aficionado.

Sondheim’s musical (music and lyrics, with book by James Lapine) Sunday in the Park with George is about Georges Seurat (1859-1891) a French post-Impressionist painter. Seurat was obsessed with creating art. The culmination of Act I is the painting he was creating: “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” A stunning, moving reenactment done to a song called “Sunday.”

In tick, tick…BOOM! there is a scene in the diner where Larson works. It’s Sunday. It’s busy with people who want brunch. Larson is harried. A guy wants the bill. Another wants more coffee. An impatient man spells his name as if there should be a reservation and there isn’t any. And it’s all done to a song called “Sunday” Written by Jonathan Larson (and Stephen Sondheim). It copies Sondheim’s song.

Lin-Manuel Miranda makes this a focal point in the film. It’s huge. There are wonderful effects to open it up. The people in the diner sing the song. And it’s so obviously a kiss to the musical theatre if you know the man who wants the bill is Joel Grey; the man who wants more coffee is Brian Stokes Mitchell; the impatient man is André de Shields; the profile of the woman with the red curls is Bernadette Peters who was in Sunday in the Park with George, and Chita Rivera is the woman in the black hat, and on and on. all giants on the Broadway musical theatre. Glorious.

Larson’s obsession with finishing his song is echoed with George in Sunday in the Park with George being obsessed with “Finishing the Hat.” George forgoes everything, including his girlfriend Dot, to finish the hat in the painting. Jonathan does the same with Susan his girlfriend, to finish his song. Connections.

tick, tick…BOOM! paved the way for Jonathan Larson to write Rent, his huge Broadway hit. It ran for 12 years on Broadway. Larson didn’t live to see his success. He died from an aortic dissection on the morning of the first preview. Shattering. The film tick, tick…BOOM! is a celebration of Larson’s life and the musical theatre. See it.

Nov. 14 tick, tick…BOOM! Plays in movie theatres.

Nov. 19 tick, tick…BOOM! Plays on NETFLIX

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