REVIEWS on CIUT 89.5 FM: RARE and DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT, A Craiglist Cantata

by Lynn on February 8, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two productions were reviewed on Friday, February 8, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: RARE at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until March 2. and DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT? A Craiglist Cantata, at Factory Studio Theatre until March 3.

The host was Ken Stower.

1) Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our passionate playgoer and theatre critic. Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?

I’ve got two reviews of two very different shows. First is RARE presented by Soulpepper at the Young Centre in the Distillery district. It’s the personal stories and thoughts of 10 remarkable people.

And then the musical: DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT? A Craiglist Cantata, co-produced by Factory Theatre and Acting Up Stage Company.

It’s composed of witty songs that the press release describes as “a contemporary exploration of humanity through the lens of Craiglist—an online classified site that posts millions of ads each month for anything from antiques to casual sex for sale or barter. So two very different shows.

2) Let’s start with RARE. Does it live up to its name?

Rare is that rare piece of theatre that is in a class all its own. The stories come from the particular life experiences of the cast of ten actors, but are universal in scope.

They want to find love; have babies; be independent; be respected; not thought to be stupid; not stared at. They have the same hopes and dreams that we all have with one difference: they all have Down Syndrome. And they all joyously, gently rattle our pre-conceived notions of what that means.

The cast is not made up of professional actors but are professional.

3) How is the show presented?

Rare has been co-created by Judith Thompson and the cast. Judith Thompson is a leading playwright in this country. In the case of RARE she also directs.

The play begins like a scene from the musical A Chorus Line. The cast line up in front of the edge of the stage, each wears a mask and each takes of his/her mask and tells us their name and what they hope for (love, a baby, etc.). This is followed by their comments about their lives; their struggles and challenges; their happy moments and disappointments. It is moving without being manipulative.

Besides being brave enough to tell their stories in front of an audience, the cast has learned invaluable theatre lessons, about trust, generosity, and giving support.

4) How so?

For example, the wonderfully named Suzanne Love, with a buoyant smile, has a stammer which sometimes makes it difficult for her to get her thoughts out clearly. She tilts her head back struggling for the word.

But always during that struggle one of her fellow actors is near her, sometimes with a hand on her shoulder rubbing it gently, helping her through.

In one case it was Krystal Hope Nausbaum, a diminutive red-head, who stroked Ms Love’s shoulder. In another case it was Nicholas David Herd (I believe) who held her hand and stroked it with his thumb, giving her support until she found the words. When he had a difficult time with poignant memory, she in turn stroked his hand with her thumb.

I found that constant show of generosity and support so moving. That said, Ms Love dances with such abandon and confidence she is eloquent, as are they all.

Music as well as moral support is offered by Victoria Carr who does not have Down Syndrome.

I have one quibble.

4) What’s the quibble?

The cast tell us what they are not: retarded, stupid, childish etc. What is missing is a definition of what Down Syndrome is besides the fact that they all have an extra chromosome. They telling us what Down Syndrome means would put it in context. It is unfair to assume we know.

Besides that quibble, Rare is an uplifting, moving, funny, joyous theatrical experience. It is deservedly held over until March 2.

5) And now DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT? A Craiglist Contata. How is it a contemporary exploration of humanity through the lens of Craiglist?

Composer Veda Hille, who also provides the piano accompaniment as well as performs, and Bill Richardson who wrote the play and I presume the lyrics, have taken quirky listings on Craiglist and fashioned witty songs around them.

So there is the person who wants to get rid of 30 stuffed penguins and why. Another woman sings about a stranger she calls her bus-boy-boyfriend whom she sat next to three times and just wants to sniff him again. Let your imagination run rampant, Ken. I guess his cologne was nice.

Another person sings about giving away sponges. They will be on the porch from 1 pm but not earlier so don’t ring the bell. And don’t take the pole next to the sponges because that’s not part of the deal. The family uses the pole to roast marshmallows.

So the songs cover the many and various odd items people sell or give away and why. But almost buried in this quirkiness are songs about people wanting to be noticed and remembered.

“Remember me, I gave you the copy of “War and Peace”. Or you gave me something. It’s subtle and it’s usually couched in clever terms, but the message is there. People are odd, but they want to be remembered and noticed and considered.

5) How does the show do as a piece of theatre?

It comes to us from Vancouver where it was a terrific sell-out hit last year. Veda Hille is a gifted composer with a strong voice. Bill Richardson’s lyrics are eye-popping clever.

Robin Fisher has designed one of the most stylish sets that I’ve seen at the Factory Studio Theatre in a long time. A piano over here. A drum set over there. And a rich wood floor and paneling giving the playing area a sense of space.

The cast of four are very gifted—I want to see all of them again in something else. Dmitry Chepovetsky is impish, devilish and always inventive. Daren A. Herbert has a beautiful voice and moves like a dancer. Bree Greig, pixie-like, fragile, off centre with a powerful voice. And Selina Martin is just arresting.

She puts a spin on phrases, has a keen sense of the humour of situations and is a joy to watch. They are joined by Barry Mirochnick on drums.

But I have to tell you I had trouble with this one. I found it relentless in its cleverness and clever for cleverness’s sake wears thin in five minutes.

Song after song trying to out clever the one previous; trying to be more quirky than the one before then toped in cleverness by the next one. I found an almost smarminess; a self-satisfaction about it.

It was directed with relentless business by Amiel Gladstone, also of Vancouver. Rarely was a song sung without some kind of movement or arm waving or a flurry of activity. Stillness seems to be absent and that’s a shame. I don’t think all that activity helps a song in the long run.

So to be curmudgeonly I didn’t fall for the cleverness of it at all. It is more gimmick than poignant and if there is any humanity, it’s buried under slick cleverness.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

RARE plays at the Young Centre until March 2.

DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT? A Craiglist Cantata plays at the Factory Studio Theatre until March 3.

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