Live and in person at the Festival Theatre Canopy, Stratford, Ont.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

From the show’s information:

“A SHAKESPEARE-INSPIRED MIXTAPE

Shakespeare’s influence on Western culture extends even into your favourite pop hits. Whether it be direct lines from his plays appearing in Top 40 lyrics or whole songs inspired by his plots, whether the borrowers be Taylor Swift, Madonna, Elton John, The Beatles, Prince or Radiohead, Shakespeare is still there, lurking in the mainstream, as cool and as relevant as ever. This lively celebration of terrific tunes affords a great opportunity to introduce a younger audience to Shakespeare’s continuing role in popular culture.”

Curated by Robert Markus, Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Lighting designer, Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound design, Peter McBoyle

The Singers: Gabriel Antonacci

Jacob MacInnis

Jennifer Rider-Shaw

Kaitlyn Santa Juana

The Band: Reza Jacobs, Music director, keyboard

Kevin Ramessar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Jon Maharaj, acoustic bass, electric bass

Dale-Anne Brendon, Drum kit, orchestra supervisor

The title of this well-curated, thoughtfully referenced concert of course comes from the opening line of Twelfth Night when the Duke says: “If music be the food of love, play on;…” Music and words are at the heart of this concert.

Rather than incorporating songs that are in Shakespeare’s plays, curators, Robert Markus, Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis have culled music and songs from contemporary sources, be they Broadway musicals such as, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story and The Lion King to the works of singer-songwriters such as Taylor Swift, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Mark Knopfler, Prince, John Lennon and Paul McCartney among others, who referenced either the words or characters of Shakespeare.  

I can’t think of two people more besotted with and devoted to the words of Shakespeare than Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis. To that end, a few years ago they formed their theatre company Shakespeare BASH’d that performs the Bard in a bar. The productions are raucous clear and always do justice to the play. Robert Markus is immersed in the world of musical theatre. He also sang (beautifully) in the Stratford concert Why We Tell The Story and was the star of the Toronto production of Dear Evan Hansen, among many other shows. Together these three curators have made thoughtful selections of readings from Shakespeare’s plays (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Richard III etc.) to accompany and illuminate the well-chosen songs.

The cast of four represented a specific ensemble: Gabriel Antonacci (Romeo Ensemble), Jacob MacInnis (Richard Ensemble), Jennifer Rider-Shaw (Beatrice Ensemble) and Kaitlyn Santa Juana (Julia Ensemble) although each singer was not confined to songs dealing with that character. They often supported each other singing chorus etc.

One got the sense of the beauty and blended harmonies of these talented singers by the first stunning notes of “Sigh No More” in which Benedick’s words to Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing are referenced: “Serve God, love me and mend.”  It was like hearing the perfectly blended voices sighing. That sound was glorious. Jacob MacInnis has a pure, strong voice in his compelling singing of “The King Must Die.” Gabriel Antonacci is full of energy in “Check Yes Juliet” and has is powerful baritone. Jennifer Ryder-Shaw and Kaitlyn Santa Juana have beautiful soprano voices and a nice comedic sense with “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.  

However…

Time and time again for Play On! the singers are drowned out by the over-amplified band, and I noted “Too Loud!” in my program beside so many songs. This did not happen with the other two concerts in the series: Why We Tell the Story and You Can’t Stop the Beat in which both the band and the singers were beautifully balanced in their amplification, with the band supporting the singers, not competing with them. The band is the same for all the concerts. The musical director/keyboardist is not.

For Play On! the Musical Director/Keyboardist is Reza Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs is a gifted musician, but in this case he has allowed the band to overwhelm the singers. It was obvious the singers were often struggling to be heard over the band. And the result is that one can’t hear the lyrics clearly or at all which is unforgivable in a concert in which the words are the focus.

This has to be addressed. The amplification must be adjusted so that we hear the lyrics and the singers clearly and not be overwhelmed by the noise of the loudness. This isn’t the winging of a cranky critic. I’m also a member of the audience. Remember the audience? We are the reason the talent shows up to perform. A lot of hard-working people toiled to create this show. A lot of the audience worked hard to get there on time or at all. Fix the amplification, please.  

Thank heaven for Spotify and YouTube. One can look up each song and actually hear the lyrics being sung.  

Plays at the Stratford Festival until August 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live and in person at the Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy, Stratford Festival, until August 21, 2021        

Written by Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

Set and Lighting Designer, Sophie Tang

Costumes by Asa Benally

Composer and sound designer, Wayne Kelso

Cast: Brefny Caribou

Lisa Cromarty

Christine Frederick

Nicole Joy-Fraser

Jani Lauzon

Kathleen MacLean

Tracey Nepinak

Zach Running Coyote

NOTE: lskoonigani lsksweewak is Cree for The Rez Sisters.

A beautiful, moving production of Tomson Highway’s classic play about sisterhood, the resilience of women in the face of adversity, dreaming and bingo.

The Story. These ‘sisters’ live to play bingo and dream of winning the jackpot. Marie-Adele Starblanket, Veronique St. Pierre, Annie Cook, Pelajia Patchnose, Emily Dictionary, Philomena Moosetail and Zhaboonigan Peterson, all live on the fictional reserve known as “Wasaychigan” on Manitoulin Island. The winnings from their local bingo games is small potatoes. So far their idea of a big bingo game is in Espanola, about an hour and a half away from Manitoulin Island.

Then they hear about “The Biggest Bingo Game in the World” in Toronto, with the jackpot being $500,000. How can they resist? They ask the Chief for a loan to make the journey and are refused. They work and scrape and find any job to get the money they need for the rental of the van, lodgings and food. And they dream about what they will do with the jackpot when they win, because they are certain they will.

Pelajia Patchnose is perhaps the most commonsensical of the women. She is a no-nonsense contractor who is never without her hammer and project on which to use it. She feels that if they just paved the road they won’t be so cut off. She feels isolated and trapped on the reserve and wants to leave and join her sons and husband who work elsewhere. Her sister Philomena Moosetail is more content but she dreams of going to find the child she gave up for adoption years before when she got pregnant by her married boss. But more than anything Philomena wants to buy a gleaming white porcelain toilet. Marie-Adele Starblanket is married to Eugene, who drinks. She had 14 children with him and now frets about who will take care of them should she die. She has cancer. This bingo trip gives her a chance to hope and not think of dying. Annie Cook dreams of being a singer and the money from Bingo will set her on her way. Emily Dictionary is Annie’s sister, an ex-biker, tough as nails, perhaps stand-offish, yet caring. Veronique St. Pierre hopes to buy a new stove and write a cookbook. She is the adoptive mother of Zhaboonigan Peterson, a young woman who is mentally disabled. She was also brutally raped years before by two white boys. The ‘sisters’ are protective of her.

The resilience of the women to join together and make the trip happen has a certain urgency. It’s clear that Marie-Adele is dying of her cancer so making this trip happen is at the back of everybody’s mind. On the trip they endure bickering, a flat-tire, recriminations, reminiscences, memories, joyful moments, a traumatic event and loving connection.

Bedeviling them is Nanabush, ‘the Trickster’ who appears in various guises to trip them up, confuse them, lead them on and be a ‘spirit-guide-presence’ in their lives. Some see him clearer than others.  

As the play information notes: “Ribald, harrowing and mystical, this seminal work of Indigenous drama celebrates the spirit of resilience and the powerful beauty these women bring to the tough world in which they live.”

The Production.  Good theatre makes you look harder at the details. Director, Jessica Carmichael’s moving, funny production of lskoonigani lsksweewak The Rez Sisters does that resoundingly.  

There is a projection of a large black bird in flight on the wall of the canopy—one form of Nanabush, perhaps? The raised stage under the Tom Patterson Theatre, Canopy is covered in an opaque plastic sheet. There is a raked ‘wedge’ that is on the stage as well that will be used as Pelajia’s roof, a ramp into a hospital and other locations.   That sheet will be flipped, pulled back and used as if it’s symbolically referencing something in Indigenous life and lore during the production. Kudos to Sophie Tang for the set design and lighting (I must confess that ramp gave me pause. Actors have to negotiate that angle. One does hope it’s not onerous).

Marie-Adele Starblanket (Lisa Cromarty) enters, unsteady on her feet, an IV line in her hand and stands on the playing area. She gets under the opaque plastic sheeting and wraps it around her as if she is enveloped in it as if in a hospital.

Actors leisurely enter and take a seat around the playing space. Jani Lauzon as Pelajia Patchnose saunters on, wearing work overalls, a work shirt and carrying her ever present hammer at the ready. She sits on my side of the stage, downstage, quietly knitting and whatever she is knitting is orange. I slowly suck air and let it out at the sight. Orange is symbolic and references the recently discovered remains of Indigenous children in unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools. The knitting is innocuous.  No showy ‘moment’ is made. If you see it and it registers the point is made. Later in the production Pelajia will be on the playing space holding a small skein of orange wool. Again, no ‘moment’ is made, but the impact is profound. History informs this production. Pelajia’s sister Philomena Moosetail (Tracey Nepinak) follows after her—she is in a summery, flowing dress. She sits close to Pelajia. Others follow. I note that Emily Dictionary (Kathleen MacLean) sits away from the others, on a ledge it seems, knees bent, legs spread, one biker-booted-foot flung over the back of a chair and the booted foot is on the seat. She is unsmiling and tough looking.

The play begins on time (hallelujah—I’m noting this trend at the Stratford productions so far). And for this production only, there is no “Land Acknowledgement.” I smile. Well of course there is no land acknowledgement. This cast is Indigenous. They know about that acknowledgement and what the land means. The acknowledgement is not for them. It’s for us the ‘settlers’, the ‘renters’ ‘the others.’

The last character to appear is Nanabush (Zack Running Coyote), the Trickster, who changes appearance from a bird, to a graceful animal, to a spirit. Through the whole production Nanabush is a constant presence, shifting and manipulating time and space and the lives of the sisters. Zack Running Coyote is as slight and willowy as a blade of sweetgrass, as twitchy as a bird observing the world and as graceful and exuberant as a dancer can be. For the most part he is silent and he is mesmerizing.

Director, Jessica Carmichael has captured the camaraderie of the sisters with nuance and subtlety. Her groupings of the characters often suggest ceremonial gatherings. The groupings of the women when they have to bit farewell to Marie-Adele is one such moment. The space is used well as the sisters negotiate the area. The cast is superb.

But there are also many moments when each character reveals a hidden hurt or disappointment. Pelajia stands on her roof, hammer in hand, surveying the area. Jani Lauzon plays Pelajia with a contained frustration. She sees how to fix a problem but is hampered by the opposition from the men not to help out. Pave the road! That falls on deaf ears. She is always on the lookout for projects to occupy her time and keep the boredom at bay.  Annie Cook enters breathlessly from the post office with her latest Patsy Cline album. She is played with exuberance and a quick feistiness by Nicole Joy-Fraser. She never backs down from a challenge and she sings beautifully. As Philomena Moosetail, Tracey Nepinak creates a character who is so different from her irritable sister, Pelajia. Nepinak plays Philomena as calm, contented and happy with her life on the reserve. Her wants are simple—that gleaming, white porcelain toilet would make it perfect. It’s a beautiful revelation to see what is behind the toughness of Emily Dictionary as played by Kathleen MacLean. When she lets down her guard and talks about her dead lover and her past disappointments the reasons for her tough guardedness become clear.

I have a quibble. During the production the audience is invited to look under their seats and find an envelope in which is an origami black bird and instructions on what to do with it after the production. So during the production we are all distracted from looking at the stage by looking for the envelope, seeing what’s inside and reading the instructions. Can that moment please be left to the end of the production when we don’t miss one second of this terrific effort?

Comment. Tomson Highway has written a celebration of women who are quirky, resolute, funny, irreverent, smarmy, loving and true friends when it’s needed. The Rez Sisters is a joyful celebration of sisterhood in all its prickliness. When it was first produced in 1986 it exploded onto the theatre scene in Toronto, proclaiming Tomson Highway as a new, vibrant voice telling stories we needed to hear. He has been contributing his vivid plays and stories to theatre for 35 years. I was so glad to see this play again.

As I was driving away from the theatre, I noticed the sky was packed with flocks of black birds (swallows? Not crows) flying away overhead. A perfect metaphor/symbol for this moving, emotion packed production.

The Stratford Festival.

Plays until August 21, 2021.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live and in person under a lovely canopy for Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival, Back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

Janet and Louise

Written by Deanna Kruger

Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

Cast: Peggy Coffey

Brigit Wilson

Janet has mysterious ailments. She fainted on the job—she’s a custodian at an elementary school. She broke her arm; gashed her head and seems a bit woozy. Her doctor prescribed art lessons to aid in her healing and try and keep her job, which she loves.

Louise’s art studio is doing badly. There is noisy construction going on outside. Louise is an irritable, prickly soul who has chased any customers away. Janet is her last chance to survive. Both Janet and Louise have issues. They also have a past. They know each other. Louise was Janet’s older sister Rita’s best friend when they were teenagers. Then something happened to Janet and Rita’s parents and Louise was not there to give Rita support. Louise’s marriage also suffered from that lack of support. But something happens during the play that might redeem Louise.

Deanna Kruger has written an intriguing play of two fragile characters trying to hold on to what they can and cope with the obstacles that keep getting in their way. Janet’s mysterious illnesses keep her unsteady. The fainting. She had a mishap with a mudpuddle on her way to Louise’s studio. And she had to endure being berated by Louise for being late for the lesson.

Louise also has her issues. That irritability and prickliness does not endear her to customers or people in general. Her failing business is making her anxious and she is desperate to keep Janet as a pupil. Slowly, they reach out to one another. Slowly information about their past and present is revealed. A twist at the end makes one’s eye pop in surprise and how that is “resolved” is a thing of beauty. Bravo to Deanna Kruger for such an engaging play.

Jeannette Lambermont-Morey has directed this with a sure hand and lots of attention to detail. She has brought out these characters’ frustrations in subtle body language. Peggy Coffey, as Janet is a creation of unsteadiness: on her legs, in her life, with her ailments. She seems fuzzy minded, trying to keep her wits about her. Janet’s first response to difficulty with the art lessons is to quit. Louise can’t let that happen. As Louise, Brigit Wilson is fierce in creating a character with not one shred of sentimentality, but with lots of resentments and anxieties. It slowly becomes clear that Louise has been carrying a burden of regret for a long time. She behaved badly to her friend Rita when they were teens. Louise behaved badly to her husband with whom she had a rocky marriage. Without ‘ceremony’ she makes amends at the end and it’s a terrific moment.

Janet and Louise is another gem of a play that joins the roster of the others in the Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival.  

Here for Now, 2021 New Works Festival

Plays until August 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.

Post Alice

Written by Taylor Marie Graham

Directed by Fiona Mongillo

Costumes by Monique Lund

Composer, Mark Payne

Cast: Heather Marie Annis

Ellen Denny

Aubree Erickson

Siobhan O’Malley

From the description of the play: “Inspired by four haunting characters from four iconic Alice Munro stories, Post Aliceis a stunning new contemporary play which asks the question: what really happened to Mistie Murray? And what happens to all our missing girls? Come sit around the fire with four bright and hilarious Huron County women as ghost stories emerge, songs fill the air, family secrets are revealed, and mysteries unravel into those wonderful contradictions which live inside us all. Warning: Mature subject matter, swearing and use of herbal cigarette in performances. “

Post Alice is not a play about ghost stories, per se. It’s deeper than that. Belle has serious health issues and her friends Oneida and Edie and her sister Wen gather to give her comfort. They fret about her health (we find out what the issue is later in the play). Belle is ‘witling’ a large piece of wood and nicks her thumb, which really causes concern, although initially she’s not bleeding. These women have been friends since high school. They know secrets about each other which are gradually revealed.

Belle (Siobhan O’Malley) is anxious about her prognosis but tries to hide it with flippancy and a coolness. Oneida (Heather Marie Annis) has received a letter that she is reluctant to read because it will have information about her cultural background. Her father is Haudenosaunee and was always unwilling to give her any information about her heritage. This letter will fill her in, but she needs her friends around to give her courage to read it. Edie (Aubree Erickson) has flown in in her own plane to be there. Wen (Ellen Denny) is Belle’s sister. There is good natured banter as each woman teases and joshes the others. Truths come out about an incident that happened at a party when they were teens that has certainly affected them into adulthood. And then there is the mystery of Mistie Murray.

Mistie Murray was a friend of theirs in high school who disappeared one day—telling her mother she was going to band practice. There was no band practice and she never returned. What happened to her has occupied these women for years. There are theories and suggestions but the mystery remains.

The play and production are full of references to missing and lost girls. The four women sing a wonderful haunting song (kudos to composer Mark Payne) of what happens to all the missing girls. One immediately thinks of the link to the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, deepening the play, giving it resonance.

Director Fiona Mongillo has created a beautifully nuanced production. At one point a character takes a red shawl that has been draped over a bench and delicately ties it around a pole in such a way that it drapes down and could be symbolic/representative of red dresses that were hung from trees that symbolized a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl. It’s a stunning image.

The acting of the ensemble—and this is a true ensemble—is impeccable; the singing is moving and evocative. Taylor Marie Graham has written an arresting and funny play about women and their friendships, coping with a troubled past and supporting each other.

Here for Now Theatre, 2021, New Works Festival.

Plays until August, 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.  

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Tuesday, July 27—Aug. 15, 2021

Live from Canadian Stage,

Live in High Park, Toronto, Ont.

BLACKOUT

THE MUSICAL STAGE COMPANY

Book by: Steven Gallagher
Music & Lyrics by: Anton Lipovetsky

A captivating new musical from Canada’s leading musical theatre company.

On August 14th, 2003, Toronto was sent into chaos when the largest blackout in Canadian history left millions stranded in the dark and unable to reach or connect with their loved ones.

Inspired by real events, BLACKOUT depicts three stories of connection that unfolded when the city was dark, and strangers banded together to find the light. A preview production of a new Canadian musical by two of Canada’s most exciting voices, Blackout is a story of hope, resilience, and community.

Originally developed through The Musical Stage Company’s innovative musical development initiative Launch Pad, a selection of this new work was first seen in 2019 as part of REPRINT.

www.canadianstage.com

Tuesday, July 27, 2021—3:00 pm

Live and in person at Hear for Now Theatre, New Works Festival, Stratford, Ont.

 Janet and Louise

Janet is determined to get over her mysterious ailments and keep her custodial job, so she’s agreed to take doctor-prescribed art lessons. Louise’s art studio is floundering; there is endless roadwork outside and her prickly personality chases people away. Janet arrives but thinks she might quit. Louise can’t afford to lose another student. Then Janet finds a man’s tooth inside a jar. . . At turns funny and heartbreaking, this new play asks what happens when two strangers confront what they’ve tried so hard to keep hidden.

Written by Deanna Kruger and directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey. Starring Brigit Wilson and Peggy Coffey.

Learn More

Tuesday, July 27, 2021- 7:00 pm.

Live and in person, at Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Post Alice

Inspired by four haunting characters from four iconic Alice Munro stories, Post Alice is a stunning new contemporary play which asks the question: what really happened to Mistie Murray? And what happens to all our missing girls? Come sit around the fire with four bright and hilarious Huron County women as ghost stories emerge, songs fill the air, family secrets are revealed, and mysteries unravel into those wonderful contradictions which live inside us all.

Written by Taylor Marie Graham and directed by Fiona Mongillo.

Learn More

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 7:00 pm

At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Live and in person.  

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway.

About a group of Indigenous women who decide to leave their reserve and go to Toronto to participate in the world’s biggest Bingo game.

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

 Featuring:

Jani Lauzon as Pelajia Patchnose

Brefny Caribou as Zhaboonigan Peterson

Lisa Cromarty as Marie-Adele Starblanket

Christine Frederick as Veronique St. Pierre

Nicole Joy-Fraser as Annie Cook

Kathleen MacLean as Emily Dictionary

Tracey Nepinak as Philomena Moosetail

Zach Running Coyote as Nanabush

July 23 to August 21 | Opening Wednesday, July 28

They have their dreams and their difficulties, these seven women. One yearns for a singing career; another for a white porcelain toilet. One grieves for her lover, killed in a motorcycle accident; another harbours the memory of a horrific sexual assault. The cancer that afflicts one of them is not the only malignancy they confront.

But one dream they hold in common is that of winning “the biggest bingo in the world” – and one day, accompanied by the transformative spirit guide Nanabush, they leave their Manitoulin Island reserve and set out for Toronto to do just that.

Ribald, harrowing and mystical, this seminal work of Indigenous drama celebrates the spirit of resilience and the powerful beauty these women bring to the tough world in which they live.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

Saturday, July 31, 2021 at 7:00 pm

Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, in the Festival Theatre Canopy.

Play On!

A Shakespeare-Inspired Mixtape

Curated by Robert Markus, Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Music Director: Reza Jacobs 

Featuring:

Gabriel Antonacci

Jacob MacInnis

Jennifer Rider-Shaw

Kimberly-Ann Truong 

July 29 to August 15 | Opening Sunday, July 31 

Shakespeare’s influence on Western culture extends even into your favourite pop hits. Whether it be direct lines from his plays appearing in Top 40 lyrics or whole songs inspired by his plots, whether the borrowers be Taylor Swift, Madonna, Elton John, The Beatles, Prince or Radiohead, Shakespeare is still there, lurking in the mainstream, as cool and as relevant as ever. This lively celebration of terrific tunes affords a great opportunity to introduce a younger audience to Shakespeare’s continuing role in popular culture.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy, Stratford, Ont. until August. 1, www.stratfordfestival.ca

NOTE: All the plays in the Stratford Festival season, except Three Tall Women, are edited to about 90 minutes with no intermission and are performed under the Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy. Three Tall Women is performed in two parts (you do not ‘edit’ Edward Albee’s plays) and will be performed indoors, at the Studio Theatre.

Written by William Shakespeare

Director, Peter Pasyk

Set designer, Patrick Lavender

Costume designer, Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting designer, Michael Walton

Composer, sound designer, Reza Jacobs

Choreographer, Stephen Cota

Cast: Eva Foote

Craig Lauzon

Trish Lindström

Jonathan Mason

André Sills

Amaka Umeh

Micah Woods

Bahareh Yaraghi

Shakespeare is back at the Stratford Festival in this raucous, raunchy, bold, joyful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Story. This is a story full of magic, mayhem, mistaken identity, fairies in the forest wreaking havoc on young lovers and lots and lots of sex.  Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, the man to whom Egeus gives consent. Hermia wants to marry Lysander. The matter is taken to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who says that Hermia must follow the rule of law, obey her father in this matter or be put to death. (Yikes).

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away through the forest to his aunt’s house and get married there. They tell Hermia’s friend Helena of their plans. Helena in turn tells Demetrius because she’s in love with him and hopes to make points with him. They all follow each other into the forest. Add to this is a group of sweet yokels known as Mechanicals who are preparing a play for the impending marriage of Theseus and his fiancée Hippolyta; a fairy King named Oberon and his fairy Queen named Titania who keep one-upping each other; a confused spirit named Puck and magic spells gone right (a mechanical named Bottom is turned into a donkey) and spells gone wrong (oh, don’t ask!) and finally, breathlessly, it all works out. This is not a spoiler—it’s summer, it’s the magical forest, it’s hot. Strange things happen there. What did you expect?  

The Production.  Director Peter Pasyk has filled his production with invention, wit, impish humour, bold decisions and wonderful detail. With only eight actors in the production, that means there is a lot of double and triple casting.  The audience sits on two sides of the raised playing area that is in the centre of the canopy. A light mauve silky covering covers the whole stage and whatever props are already there (kudos to set designer Patrick Lavender for his effective set). As the audience settles “Dream” by the Everly Brothers plays over the sound system. I’m smiling. Then that segues into a mere snipped of Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I’m smiling more broadly—such an impish detail. And finally, as the cast enters André Sills lets loose with a rap song that gives the whole thing a contemporary feel to it.

When the mauve covering is removed there is a large moveable trunk on stage with an imprint of the white Tom Patterson Theater canopy on the side. (I assume the same imprint of the canopy is on the other side of the trunk for the opposite portion of the audience to see). Puck, a sprightly, spirited Trish Lindström pulls stuff out of the trunk to do magic. I like that juxtaposition—the trunk with the canopy ‘printed’ on it produces magic ‘stuff’, as does the action under the canopy where we sit.

Theseus (an imposing Craig Lauzon) and his fiancée Hippolyta (a confident, coy Bahareh Yaraghi) have just stepped out of the shower. They wear luxurious, white terry-cloth robes and her hair is wrapped high in a white towel (Bravo to costume designer Lorenzo Savoini for making every single person in that audience want those robes). The couple banters. He’s accommodating. She’s cooler, contained. But then Egeus (Trish Lindström, somber, ill-tempered and balding), Hermia (Eva Foote), Lysander (Micah Woods) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) also arrive, wanting justice. Theseus passes on his judgement about the law and Hermia’s duty to her father. Hippolyta lets him know she’s none too happy with the decree—she turns away with an attitude and Theseus doesn’t miss that rebuff. And we’re off on a whirl-wind journey.

The cast sit around the playing area in full view of the audience as they change costumes in front of us, often at break-neck speed. Even the timing of the changes is calculated and smartly ‘directed’ so as not to give away who will play what in the next scene. Costumes are pulled out of carry-all bags by each character’s seat, or situated in places around the set.

Peter Pasyk ramps up the speed in the forest, with Helena (a lively Amaka Umeh) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) now joining the fray.  Lovers try to connect or escape each other. Puck tries to keep the instructions clear about who gets the juice of a certain flower in the eye to make him/her love the person he/she is supposed to love. (I know, it’s complicated—it’s the forest, it does that to you). The Mechanicals try to rehearse their play with Bottom (an exuberant André Sills) wanting to play every part with gusto. And Oberon (a commanding Craig Lauzon), the King of the Fairies arranges for the juice of a certain flower to be put in the eye of the sleeping Titania (a perceptive, knowing Bahareh Yaraghi). Oberon says the result of that juice is that:

“The next thing then she waking looks upon

(Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,

On meddling monkey, or on busy ape)

She shall pursue it with the soul of love.”

What Titania sees when waking is Bottom, transformed into a donkey, and she is besotted.

Peter Pasyk makes a bold decision here. Rather than having Titania play it as falling helplessly under the spell, he directs Bahareh Yaraghi to play Titania as if she is on to the game and the trick, What follows is not so much Titania being in love with Bottom-the-Ass-Donkey as much as she is in lust, sexually aggressive and intoxicated with the physicality of it all. The sex is loud, raucous and a wild twist of limbs. Instead of Oberon being gleeful at his trick, he seems jealous and even embarrassed, and looks away after watching them her straddle Bottom. When Titania is ‘brought back’ out of the spell she lets Oberon know in no uncertain terms that she was wise to him. It’s a delicious moment.  I’m not sure that idea to twist the scene works completely but it’s interesting to see a director be so daring and bold.   

Sex is at the heart of what is going on in that forest. At times the four lovers are under the mauve sheet, thrashing around, gradually losing much of their clothing so that they are in their underwear at the end of it all.

When all the characters get out of that forest and return to ‘normal’ with the partners they should be with, they are clothed, joyful and dancing. They leave the audience joyful and wanting to dance themselves. This production is a dandy welcome back to the Stratford Festival.

Comment. Shakespeare is all about language. He created countless words that we use today. But our world is changing and so is language and its meaning. Words that meant one thing years ago do not have the same meaning today. In the 1890’s the word ‘gay’ meant ‘exuberantly happy’ etc. In the 20th century the word defines homosexual. Over time some words that mean one thing in one context are hurtful in other contexts. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the play the Mechanicals are preparing, one of the characters has to kiss another “through a chink in the wall.” That line is now changed to read “through a kink in the wall.” Being mindful of the power of language the word changes but the meaning of the line does not.

Shakespeare always makes us think about so many things. Welcome back.

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Runs until August 1.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, (no intermission)

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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On-line and on-demand from the Hamilton Fringe, Hamilton, Ont. until July 25, 2021.

The Laughter

Written and directed by Steven Elliott Jackson

Cast: Brandon Knox

Kate McArthur

New York City, 1943. NBC Studios. Lou Costello is getting ready to do his radio program with his comedy partner, Bud Abbott. Their special guest for that episode is a 33-year-old Lucille Ball. This gives writer/director Steven Elliott Jackson an opportunity to explore the serious life of a comedian/enne. At this point in her life Lucille Ball is fed up with the film studio and the system of making lousy movies. Her marriage is in trouble. She’s ready to quit. She comes to Lou for solace. She knows things about him that she can appreciate. Lou Costello tries to make light of how Bud Abbott earns more money than he does and Lou works his guts out for the do and for the laughs. He’s known sorrow. Lou Costello and Lucille Ball empathize with one another. It’s a hard life. But they go on.

In The Laughter, Steven Elliott Jackson gives an interesting glimpse into the world of these gifted comedians that we generally don’t see. Brand on Knox look uncannily like Lou Costello with the quick smile but sad eyes. Kate McArthur is a no-nonsense Lucille Ball who knows how to probe her friend to sell the truth about what is bothering him.  

It’s a Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest The Cops that killed Breonna Taylor

Created by: Roselyne Dougé-Charles, Carly Anna Billings, Liz Whitbread, Patrick Teed.

This is a verbatim play full of the mea culpas of privileged people trying to prove they are allies, and the platitudes from speeches declaring that “Black Lives Matter”, “Equal rights for all people” etc. It is almost a checklist of the anger and rage over the last several months when statues are painted pink in protest over past racist transgression of the person depicted; people are sorry for their insensitive behaviour but no formal apology is forthcoming. It’s an interesting idea to use the actual words spoken. But there is such an obvious cynicism in the delivery, that the whole exercise seems like overkill rather than irony.

Prairie Odyssey 

(Note: I saw this show at a previous Hamilton Fringe. They are remounting it digitally with interesting projections as backdrops.)

Written and directed by Valeri Kay

Musical director, Charly Chiarelli

Cast: Patti Cannon

Charly Chiarelli

Alison Chisholm

Valeri Kay.

This is a story of resilience in the face of grief and hardship in the 1930s. We get the details from the character of Becky on the occasion of the publication of her mother’s journal that chronicled that time.

The family lived happily and in prosperity in the small community of Chesapeake Bay until Bobby, Becky’s young brother died in an accident. The place held so many sad memories that the family moved to Saskatchewan because of the prospect of free land. Becky’s father would take up farming, something he knew nothing about. The play follows the difficulties of that first harsh winter and the drought-filled summer. Through it the family prevailed.

The cast play various characters and nicely differentiate between them by putting on a new hat or a different bit of clothing.  

Joan/Jehanne

Written and performed by Katherine Teed-Arthur

Directed by Max Cameron Fearon

From the play information: “Jehanne, a nineteen-year-old girl, sits in a prison cell talking to the disembodied Voices who guided her there. You may know this girl as Joan of Arc. It is 1431. She has been imprisoned by the English for over six months already and now her trial has finally begun; regardless of the outcome the imprisonment will soon be over. The Voices who she believes are angels sent from God counsel her.”

This is a thoughtful, interesting look into the mind of a determined, devout woman. Katherine Teed-Arthur has written a compelling play and character that asks so many questions about devotion, the importance of life and belief, dreams, memories, staring down bullies and the longing for home. Katherine Teed-Arthur gives a strong performance as Joan.  

www.hamiltonfringe.ca

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From Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

This Spring, Mike Nadajewski, gifted theater actor, singer, theatre creator, took The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and had his impish, imaginative way with it for on-line viewing.

He adapted the play into delicious bits in which the viewer (audience) watches scenes from the play, acted by Nadajewski and his equally talented wife Glynis Ranney, with many opportunities for the audience to decide how the play should proceed. Nadajewski did not ‘change’ the play. He just gives the audience options to pick how the play should continue.

For example, Jack Worthing (Mike Nadajewski) is in love with Gwendolyn Fairfax (Glynis Ranney) and she with him. He wants to propose but she has a problem with his first name. She doesn’t know his name is Jack. He uses the name Earnest. (Don’t ask…it’s Wilde, go with the flow). She likes the name Earnest. She confesses that she could not accept the proposal of a man named “Jack.” So two boxes appear on the screen and the audience must chose how to proceed. Box 1 says “I must get married at once” and Box 2 says “I must get christened at once.” Depending on how the audience choses, that is the scene that plays next strictly according to Wilde’s text. There are three kinds of proposals from which the audience chooses. It’s great fun, and certainly when you can go back and watch Episode One again changing your choices.

The scenes are filmed in a tasteful drawing room with both Nadajewski and Ranney in elegant garb appropriate for the play. The acting between the two is ‘chaste’ and proper but there is an underlying current of sensuality. As Jack, Mike Nadajewski is the soul of good manners. He looks like a shy puppy as he expresses his love for Gwendolyn. Glynis Ranney, as Gwendolyn is a master of looking demur and batting her eyelashes for full effect. Her side-long looks away from Jack only drive him wilder (every pun intended).

The endeavor is clever, funny and masterful in every way. I trust more episodes are on the way but do check out this first one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJtQRlZEDOU

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IMPACT 21

by Lynn on July 21, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

This is a fantastic festival of local, national and international work that will take place this Fall in Kitchener.

Announcing the Lineup for IMPACT 21!

This year’s festival launch was unlike any other as we shifted online to present the lineup for our first-ever hybrid in person and online IMPACT 21 festival. We welcomed a record number of attendees to our virtual brunch table who shared in our excitement of IMPACT’s biennial return. You can rewatch the launch event here.
Introducing IMPACT 21
Festival Launch Trailer
Theatre is here. Both virtually and in the community, we present 12 days of thought-provoking and immensely creative theatre with brilliant performances from all over the world. With 4 International, 4 National, and 6 Local works, we invite you to join us from September 28 to October 9, 2021, for theatre that challenges, inspires, and connects.
View Our Festival Website Here!
Festival Highlights
Get Your Festival Pass Here!
Industry Conference: How Do We Begin Again?  What if we brought everything back to relationship, and stripped away titles but respected and honoured lived experiences―in ourselves and in each other? What if we could forge connections not out of necessity, but to truly understand one another and build a bridge? 

This year’s IMPACT Co-Instigators are devising an experiment to explore these concepts during the festival. Industry professionals from a range of perspectives will be invited to participate in an exchange that will involve documenting the journey of a relationship stripped of titles, centering lived experiences, and bridging gaps of awareness. We invite you to join us as a witness, as an Instigator, or as someone looking to shift the sector one person at a time.
 
Register Now!
IMPACT Festival Bar – “Face to Face” 
With the help of our friends at TWB Co-operative Brewing, we will be hosting a pop-up outdoor Festival Bar, equipped with a variety of beverages and food trucks, open every night of the festival. Wrap up a night of theatre with good drinks, good food, and great conversation! 
For those unable to join in person, we invite you to unwind with us at our virtual Festival Bar where you can pour yourself a virtual drink and mingle with friends and colleagues from near and afar. Our virtual bar enables you to have close-knit conversations and pop in and out as you desire. 
 
Neruda Closing Night Street Party
As per tradition, MT Space will be partnering with sister organization Neruda Arts to host the IMPACT 21 Closing Night Party! Expect great live music, good hospitality, and the company of old and new friends made throughout the festival. This night will be the celebration of theatre, music, and art that we all need. 

Stay tuned for details! 

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Live and in person until July 31, 2021. Stratford, Ontario. Under the Canopy at the Festival Theatre.

Curated and directed by Thom Allison

Conducted by Laura Burton

Lighting designed by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Peter McBoyle

The Singers:

Alana Hibbert

Gabrielle Jones

Evangelia Kambites

Mark Uhre

The Band:

Conductor, keyboard, Laura Burton

Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, George Meanwell

Acoustic Bass, Electric Bass, Michael McClennan

Drum kit, David Campion

This is the second of four cabarets that are programmed at the Stratford Festival, each playing for two weeks, each with its own theme.

Why do we love musicals? What is their allure for so many? Thom Allison, the gifted curator and director of You Can’t Stop The Beat—The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre and his exemplary cast, explain it all for us in words and songs.

Musicals have provided a magic world in which our imaginations can soar. When there were years of war and strife, depression and hard times, there was the musical with its up-beat story, cheering us, getting us to move on and be resilient. The musical can deal with difficult subjects and engage the audience, often better than straight plays can. Enduring musicals have dealt with such tough subjects as: racism and intolerance (South Pacific), xenophobia (Oklahoma), wife-beating (Carousel), racial intolerance (The King and I) and the rise of Nazism in Germany etc. (Cabaret).

Any good musical sets the tone and atmosphere in the first five minutes and You Can’t Stop The Beat is no different. The sassy, classy cast of Alana Hibbert, Gabrielle Jones, Evangelia Kambites and Mark Uhre establish the pulse and throb of the endeavor with their rousing singing of “Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story. Starting slowly but barely containing the pent-up energy of the song, they then explode into full throttle, each with their own body language that moves the song.

In the world of imagination, one might say that Don Quixote was delusional, lost in his own muddled thoughts. But you would be hard-pressed to believe that after hearing Mark Uhre sing “I, Don Quixote” from Man of La Mancha with such conviction and vigor.

Love gets great representation in the world of the musical—all those sweeping chords and heart squeezing words. Thom Allison  has created a medley of love songs in which the cast shine in their own way: “Twin Soliloquies” from South Pacific sung beautifully by Alana Hibbert and Gabrielle Jones, “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma sung by the whole cast, “If I Loved You” from Carousel with Mark Uhre doing the honours, “Mr. Snow” from Carousel  sung beautifully by Evangelia Kambites.

Musicals and Merman naturally go together. Gabrielle Jones does an impressive impression of how Ethel Merman might have started off singing “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes—full-voiced and unvarying in the force of it. Fortunately, Jones eased into singing the rest of the song, in her own powerful style but with shading and variation.

There is a constant flow of easy banter between the cast as they tease, chide and josh each other. Gabrielle Jones is reminded “Gab we cut that part.” And she replying “But I put it back in ‘cause I wanted a bigger break before my next song.” They are attentive to each other when they sing and listen and that makes the audience do the same.

Thom Allison introduces the sobering nature of musicals by including “Suppertime” from As Thousands Cheer (1933) written by Irving Berlin. The song is sung by a mother who struggles with how she will tell her children that their father and her husband will not be coming home because he was lynched by a racist mob. Alana Hibbert was heartbreaking and tender singing that song. Do we listen to the song in a different way because a white composer/lyricist wrote it for a Black character? Is this cultural appropriation or a gifted musical creator who can express the heartache and inner life of a character that we can all experience? I am glad of the questions.

“Suppertime” provided a natural way into exploring the serious nature of musicals, looking at flawed, damaged, raging and troubled characters. And nobody covers that territory better than Stephen Sondheim.  We have the plucky, darkly funny “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd sung with impish style by Mark Uhre and Gabrielle Jones about the variations one can bake into a meat pie; the company sings “The Little Things We Do Together” from Company itemizing the good and annoying things that make a relationship; Evangelia Kambites does a masterful job of “Getting Married Today,” from Company breathlessly and frantically explaining why she won’t be getting married today. And in a wonderful change of pace, Thom Allison throws a stunning curve ball by having Mark Uhre sing “Could I Leave You” from Follies, a song usually sung by a woman whose marriage is failing. Mark Uhre sings it with biting emotion and cool contempt. It makes us listen to that song in a different way but it leads to the same conclusion. Loved that curve ball.

This wonderful, joyous, thoughtful concert concludes with the cast singing the anthem-like song “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray in which you also can’t stop tapping your toe thanks to the music, the cast and the solid band.  

You Can’t Stop The Beat—The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre plays at the Stratford Festival until July 31, 2021.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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