DOUBLE BILL: (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song & Window on Toronto

by Lynn on May 10, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Created by the Soulpepper Academy.

(re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song

Musical direction by Mike Ross. Set, costume and lighting designed by Ken MacKenzie. Starring: Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Trish Lindström, Ken MacKenzie, Abena Malika, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Jason Patrick Rothery, Mike Ross, Brendan Wall.

Window on Toronto

Directed by László Marton. Set, costume and lighting designed by Ken MacKenzie. Sound by Lyon Smith. Starring: Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Trish Lindström, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Jason Patrick Rothery, Andre Sills, Brendan Wall.

In a way “re-birth” is an apt description for these two shows. (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song was created by the Soulpepper Academy in 2009 for the Global Cabaret Festival. Window on Toronto was created by the Academy last year as part of the Soulpepper Lab Series. Both shows are being re-born in a sense after more developing, honing and polishing.

re(Birth): E.E. Cummings in Song is an assortment of poems by Cummings, the great American poet, set to music. His poems are often whimsical, gritty, dark, child-like, oddly phrased and quirky. His subject matter is just as varied.

There is no formal director for this show, but the multi-talented Mike Ross is the musical director. The ensemble work is crisp, very precise, cohesive and full of invention. Because many of the Soulpepper Academy play musical instruments, each member of the Academy picked a poem from Cummings’ collection and set it to music appropriate for the poem. The ensemble ‘performs’ the ‘song’ using traditional instruments (flute, trumpet, piano, violin, double bass) and not so traditional instruments (a brush stroked on a board, sticks tapped on a wash tub, a toy piano, a ukulele and all manner of things banged and thumped). There is a video of animated fish projected on the back wall. Everybody dresses in rag-tag costumes grabbed from wardrobe, and they all wear gumboots or Wellingtons.

There is such an array of music with a lot of effort to be as whimsical as possible, that I find the whole enterprise suffused with a gentle smugness. There are lots of self-satisfied winks and smiles to the audience at the cleverness of it all. To me it’s cringe-making. The end result is that the ‘performance’ and overloud music makes the poems secondary and almost irrelevant. To make matters worse, you couldn’t make out what the company is saying in many cases.

My heart almost sinks when a double bass is rolled out, a hat put on the top of it, a man holds a book of Cummings’ poems in front of it, and another man stands on a chair behind it holding a small tape recorder. The play button is pressed and suddenly we hear the voice of E.E. Cummings reciting one of his poems in a clear, nuanced, beautifully phrased voice. It is the most genuine, effective moment of this whole piece.

Window on Toronto is another matter. This is equally as creative but without the attitude. It’s a love-letter to the huge range of people that make up Toronto as seen from the window of a hot dog truck in Nathan Phillips Square. Jason is the proprietor and while he sells hot dogs etc. to the passers by he also dispenses advice; gives directions to a harried back-packer who is trying to get to Vatican City; patiently listens to the various tales of woe; acts as a drop-off centre for many and various people and their things (scripts, guitars, cigarettes), and witnesses some of the weirdest, funniest, most poignant behaviour anywhere.

It is directed by László Marton with a firm hand on the proceedings but not so that his direction is overbearing. The pace is fast as people rush, cycle, roll, skateboard, and slink past his window. Some get sick on his counter. Some moon him. Another gives birth. A shy immigrant makes a friend. It’s at once hilarious and touching.

While the ensemble is very talented, I think Ins Choi in many rolls especially the shy immigrant from Korea, is terrific. Trish Lindström is a flirty twenty-something one minute; a crazed woman the next, and then a forgetful senior the next. Lovely work there. Brendan Wall is consistently inventive in his many rolls from the aggressive man who leaves his guitar, to a yuppie who is confused about which one of his friends has cancer. And Jason Patrick Rothery plays Jason, fielding all manner of situations from the window of his hot-dog truck. Rothery sits in the front row, his back to the audience as people wiz by his window and occasionally stop to chat and eat a hot dog.

The work in these two one acts shows an ensemble that is unafraid of a challenge and rises to the occasion. However (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song made me grit my teeth in frustration. The whole thing is so precious I thought there might be a Brinks truck outside the theatre when it was over.

While Window on Toronto is a total delight. You decide.

Double Bill: (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song and Window on Toronto plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until May 28.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Silvia Fulmore November 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Outstanding post, I believe people should learn a lot from this website its real user genial . “You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s.” by Robert Frost.