Text of CIUT FRIDAY MORNING theatre picks for 2013 and a look to 2014

by Lynn on January 5, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Friday, January 3, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM. A look back at the year that was and looking forward to 2014.


Good Friday Morning. It’s theatre fix time for the first Friday of 2014, with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What do you have for us today?


A look back at theatre in 2013 and a look forward to 2014.


Do you think 2013 was a good year for theatre?


I do….It saw the resurrection of The Factory Theatre after the firing of Ken Gass in 2012 its founding  artistic director.

The new Artistic Directors as of January 2013 are Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams, and they programmed some interesting work.

Some were successful and some missed. But the coup for me was programming ICELAND by Nicolas Billon. It was a hit at Summerworks a year ago and to be able to slot it so soon after its initial success is a coup. It’s a play about the high stages game of money, making it, wanting it, getting it and losing it. As told from the point of view of three people.

It was the year of one of the city’s most successful productions—PASSION PLAY by Sarah Ruhl—made even more astonishing because three theatre companies joined together to produce it: Convergence Theatre; Sheep No Wool Theatre Company and Outside the March.

I think 2013 was the year that Matthew Jocelyn and his Canadian Stage Company turned a corner and produced some of the most provocative theatre in the city.

It was the year of Indie theatre with women being the moving forces behind several projects.

It was the year that Stratford got a new Artistic Director in Antoni Cimolino and I think the message that there was a new direction was sent loud and clear. Audiences returned and the attendance was up.

At the Shaw Festival, Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell stayed the course of doing provocative theatre, discovering little known treasures, and giving a new twist to established classics.

It was the year of the playwright, the actor, the designer; festivals that got bigger such as SummerWorks.

Théâtre français de Toronto had a dandy year doing a lot of intriguing work. And of course the audiences is the huge winner here.


Ok. Let’s talk about some of these in more detail. Passion Play. Why is it astonishing that three companies produced it?


Because people will tell you that theatre by committee doesn’t work. Well the good folks of Convergence Theatre, Sheep No Wool Theatre and Outside the March prove them wrong.

Three directors: Mitchell Cushman, Alan Dilworth and Aaron Willis, each representing the three companies, directed one act of Sarah Ruhl’s play about the Passion Play in which townsfolk recreate the story of the birth of Christ.

The play is seen through the ages—medieval times; Queen Elizabeth I in  England; Hitler’s time in Germany and Ronald Regan in the US. The first part took place outdoors in a park. Then the whole cast and audience walked to a local church to finish the play. A wonderful, inventive, magical, beautifully produced adventure.


You have been hard on Matthew Jocelyn in the past for some of his choices. What’s different with this past year?


We’ve had Mr. Jocelyn on this program and his enthusiasm and commitment to the theatre are never in question.  And he’s just a charming, smart man.

I think the best compliment I got from him was this year when I saw him at one of his openings and he said that he could hardly wait for me to hate the show. I guess my reputation has preceded me. But he’s had a year of hits.

This by Melissa Jane Gibson played at a revamped Berkeley Street Theatre when the place was stripped back to the brick walls, revealing windows that faced the street. It is a play about a woman coming to the end of a year of grieving for her late husband.

He programmed Robert Lepage’s epic play techno-dazzling play Needles and Opium. It did so well it’s coming back in 2014.

Venus in Fur by David Ives also did brisk business and that was also brought back this past December to the smaller Berkeley Street Theatre, where I thought the play was better served.


You note that women have been rocking the Indie Theatre world. What are the details?


I’ve reviewed the three plays that were produced by new indie companies in which the driving forces were women.

There was Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley  Produced by and starring Diana Bentley and Melissa D’Agostino who created Bob Kills Theatre. A woman, Sarah Kitz also directed it; Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, also by John Patrick Shanley, produced by Baro Theatre Company created by Brooke Morgan who also starred in the show; and After Miss Julie by Patrick Marber, produced by Red One Theatre Collective, but the driving force here was Claire Armstrong who was the executive producer and also starred in it.

So these women are making their own luck. They are finding the projects; creating the companies to do them and acting in them as well.


Our two large Summer Theatre Festivals—Stratford and Shaw– have had things to shout about.


This was the first full year for Stratford’s Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino. He began his tenure by promising to put the emphasis back on the actor and the text. Unspoken was that there would be considerably less emphasis on productions with bells, whistle s and techno junk. And he was as good as his word.

There were stellar productions such as Mary Stuart, directed by Cimolino; Measure for Measure directed by Martha Henry; Waiting For Godot directed by Jennifer Tarver; Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Donna Feore.  Taking Shakespeare directed by Diana Leblanc, to name a few. Strong work. And the audiences began to come back. Attendance rose.

The acting company is strong; talented; mainly Canadian and they can speak the language of the play.


And the Shaw Festival? How did they do?


Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell has set the bar high every year and goes further. She does not compromise her vision for the festival and I think her audiences appreciate it. She has a mix of rarely seen gems like Our Betters by W. Somerset Maugham about rich American women who go to England to marry a man with a title.

There was a knockout production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, directed by Eda Holmes. It takes place in two time periods 100 years apart and focuses on the history of a garden.  Terrific production.

Jackie Maxwell directed an exquisite production of Shaw’s Major Barbara.

John Murrell wrote an adaptation of a Shaw play about politics in Europe called Peace in Our Time directed by Blair Williams that was both hilarious and pointed.


And our resident French Theatre Company had a good year too.


Théâtre français de Toronto produced a film nourish musical call le fa le do about a murder-science-mystery by Luc Moquin directed by Mathieu Charette.

There was also another kind of mystery but this time very serious called Two Rooms by Mansel Robinson.

Both beautifully done. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg of theatre plenty.


And what are you looking forward to in 2014?


I’m looking forward to the Next Stage Festival—a winter fringe festival at the Factory Theatre. Indie shows with intriguing playwrights—Nicolas Billon, is one and the casts are first rate.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Ken Gass has to offer with his new theatre company called the Canadian Repertory Theatre. He’ll be on the show in a couple of weeks to talk about his season.

I’m looking forward to London Road at Canadian Stage which is about a serial killer in a suburb of London. And it’s a musical based on verbatim transcripts. I saw it in London a few years ago—brilliant.

A remount of The Ugly One, at Tarragon Theatre, about a man who was  thought to be too ugly to be successful in business, so he has plastic surgery to make him handsome and he is successful, until his looks are passed over for someone else. Chilling.

Mirvish Productions is bringing in a production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which an ordinary man wakes up one day to find he’s changed into a cockroach. We see how he is treated by his once loving family.

This is just a few in what looks like another packed year of theatre.


Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

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