Next Stage Theatre Festival: Scheherazade, Stencilboy and Other Protraits and Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid

by Lynn on January 19, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Next Stage Theatre Festival Reviews: Scheherazade, Stencilboy and Other Portraits, Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid.

At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, until January 19, 2014.

The Next Stage Theatre Festival of 10 plays in 12 days, finishes this weekend, January 19. What follows are mini-reviews of three of the last shows I saw.


In the Factory Studio Theatre. Written by Johnnie Walker. Directed by Morgan Norwich. Set by Adam Bourret. Costumes by Brook Alviano. Sound by Gordon Hyland. Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak.  Starring: Heather Marie Annis, Lindsey Clark, Jasmine Chen, Christopher Fowler, Matthew Gorman, Natasha Greenblatt, Omar Hady, Shaista Latif, Kat Letwin, Steven McCarthy, Clyde Whitham.

Taming the beast known as A Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights and compacting it to play in one act as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, is either folly or very confident. Since Johnnie Walker is the playwright and his creative partner is Morgan Norwich, who directs it, perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Scheherazade of course is the woman in the middle of all those 1001 stories. Scheherazade volunteered to marry Shahriyar, the king. This was a big deal as he had married 1000 women-virgins all, before her. He had the wedding night with each woman and come the dawn he had her beheaded. Then the next day he married another virgin.

He was getting even with one of his previous queens who had betrayed him by marrying a virgin then killing her at dawn the next day. Scheherazade decided to save any future virgins from this terribly fate.

The wedding done, Scheherazade was ready to spend the night with Shahriyar but she offered to tell him a story as well. This went on for the night until the dawn when she stopped. She said she would finish the story the next night. So the king spared her. She continued the story the next night and began another. And so on until dawn when she stopped. This went on for 1001 nights. During that time she became pregnant and the king fell in love with her and spared her.

This is the starting point with Walker. He makes it modern with contemporary language and modern situations. Together with Morgan Norwich’s muscular direction, the production is raunchy, in your face, and I must confess, mystifying. Keeping track of who was sleeping with whom and who was having a relationship with whom without a clear program list of actors to characters to identify everyone, didn’t help. We saw the intrigue in the behind the scenes stories but not the actual stories Scheherazade told the king, which I would have thought would be the point. It is difficult telling what Walker’s point is.

I am grateful to Lindsey Clark as Scheherazade. She always lends her characters a thoughtful quirkiness. Here Scheherazade is quietly intelligent and of course brave. She is determined to stop the senseless beheading by distracting the bloody king with a good night story. And she does it for 1001 nights.

And as Shahriyar, Steven McCarthy is confident, swaggeringly entitled, and dangerously charming.

Stencilboy and Other Portraits

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto. Written by Susanna Fournier. Directed by Jonathan Seinen. Designed by Lindsay Anne Black. Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne. Lighting by Michelle Ramsay.  Starring: Richard Clarkin, Brandon Coffey, Sochi Fried.

Lily is running away from her family home, from a guilty memory that is haunting her. In the middle of the night she sees Stencilboy doing his spray-paint magic. By day he works for the city painting over graffiti, much of which he has painted the night before. He’s also an artist. A friendship is formed.

She seeks out a noted artist to paint her portrait. He refuses. He too is haunted by disappointment; a failed love affair; drinking. A relationship forms there. Stencilboy asks her why she didn’t pick him for the relationship. She can’t answer. Stencilboy has the sensitivity of an artist who can see into a troubled soul. He learns her secret. He paints her from memory. Stencilboy meets the artist and helps him out with an exhibition.

Susanna Fournier’s play is rough in parts and very poetic in others. For much of Stencilboy and Other Portraits the story seemed almost clichéd—troubled woman running from a bad memory; a once successful artist now on the skids. But by the end of the play she had introduced ideas that were arresting and intriguing.  The idea that a graffiti artist could also work for the city painting over the graffiti is an interesting idea. That this unlikely man is probably the better artist than the once successful one is also interesting. I look forward to Ms Fournier’s next play.

The cast is fine. Richard Clarkin can make a career out of playing the ruggedly handsome, brooding, disappointed man as he does here as The Artist. Brandon Coffey is an endearing confidence and sense of humour as Stencilboy. And he makes him tender as well. As Lily Sochi Fried is a quiver of emotions all of which work well to reveal a troubled character.

Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto. Written and performed by Amanda Barker and Daniel Krolik. Directed by Jack Grinhaus. Set by Matt Campagna. Costumes by Vanessa Lee Wishart. Lighting by Siobhan Sleath. Sound by Erich Kroespel.

Amanda Barker and Daniel Krolik are appealing performers. They tell of their adventure writing about the downfall of Randy Quaid and his wife Evi. He was celebrated as an actor 25 years ago who now seems more occupied with the conspiracy theories that swirl around him and why unseen phantoms are thwarting him. As his dutiful wife, Evi is right their with him adding the bully power to all who give them trouble. They were so unhappy in the States that they came to Canada to find peace.

Barker and Krolik tell of their excitement when the real live couple of Randy and Evi came to see their show when they first did it at the Fringe. The build up was incredible for the two actors. They were told right before the show by their director, Jack Grinhaus, a fine gentleman and talented director elsewhere,  that indeed the couple were out there waiting to see the show. The desperation was palpable.

I never saw the first go round of this show at the Fringe. Something had to have happened to it as it went to this next stage because in it’s present form, it’s a mess. First we have the giddy anticipation of the arrival of Randy and Evi; then we have the actual play about them; then something mysterious happens and Peter Pan and Wendy are evoked. Mystifying.

Here’s the problem. Randy Quaid and his lady wife Evi aren’t compelling enough, notable enough; or talented enough to warrant a play about them, no matter how short. What has he done that scores of other actors have done and just as unremarkably—he was once hot and now he’s not. He’s a parody of himself, and she is just as pathetic.

They ignore him in his country but when they come here, they get a play written about them and a gooey welcome from all concerned with this effort. Sad.


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