Broadcast text reviews: Elegies: A Song Cycle and Minotaur

by Lynn on March 29, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two productions were reviewed on Friday, March 28, 2014 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. Elegies: A Song Cycle at the Aki Studio Theatre of Daniels Spectrum complex 585 Dundas St. E. until April 13,  and Minotaur at Young People’s Theatre until April 13.

Phil Taylor was the host.


Good Friday Morning, it’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. So Lynn, what do you have for us this week?


Two intriguing shows that seem different but aren’t. More than anything these shows are about coping with difficult situations.

The first is Elegies: A Song Cycle written by William Finn and produced by Acting Up Stage Company. It’s a cycle of songs that commemorate the dead. It’s part of their 10th Anniversary season.

And the other show is Minotaur by Kevin Dyer who wrote it for Polka Theatre (England) and Clwyd Theatre Cymru Theatre for Young People (Wales). And it’s produced by Toronto’s own Young People’s Theatre, which mixes the myth of the Minotaur and modern day. Among other things it questions the whole notion of destiny.


Let’s start with Elegies: A Song Cycle. Commemorating the dead? Isn’t that a downer?


No it’s moving, rather than being depressing. First the definition of Elegy. “A poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.”

William Finn (March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland), has written Elegies: A Song Cycle to commemorate those he has lost, from friends, his mother, pets, neighbours, to the destruction of the Twin Towers. So composer lyricist, William Finn starts slowly, gently with humour, and a bit of irreverence.

For instance, “Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving” is an ode to the idiosyncrasies of the friends who gather for this occasion. And between the drinks and the main course, two guests find the love of their lives and the memory is cherished.

It’s sung by the incomparable Thom Allison with the biggest smile, and the most delicate of phrasing. There’s a song to Passover  described as the ‘feast of no yeast’ and the people who had been there but passed on. Steven Gallagher sings of the loss of a neighbourhood fixture in “Mister Choi and Madame G.” One day they were there and the next just gone. We’ve all lost pets. Finn handles this with a charming twist in his song “My Dogs” which is sung by Joel Gomez with gusto.

Which is not to say there are no songs that squeeze the heart. There are but he balances them.


How does he do that? Does he slip in a sad song and follow it with a funny one?


Finn is a master wordsmith. He can depict a situation that is sobering followed by a song that is sad but funny. For example many of the songs are silly, gentle and irreverent. This is not to say that the songs are all glib and funny. Elegies: A Song Cycle has moments that are heart-squeezing, poignant, moving.

The song “Anytime (I am There)” sung with poignancy and tenderness by Eliza-Jane Scott, in which a woman tries to give her family comfort and how to cope when she is gone. She will be in the sunshine, the daylight and then she does something at the end that takes your breath away.

Some memories are delicate and endearing. There is a song in which his brother takes their ailing mother for a last ride around the neighbourhood to reminisce about the things and sights that gave them joy. The mother is ill. This is her good bye to her surroundings. It’s sung with understated emotion by Barbara Barsky and Joel Gomez.

Finn captures the phrase that pricks the heart but makes you smile knowingly as well because we’ve all been there.


How’s the production?


It is directed with exquisite detail by Lezlie Wade. She knows how to stage her glorious singers so that each song is interpreted as clearly as possible. And her direction and sense of detail are as impeccable. That piece of business at the end of “Anytime”;

Thom Allison sings a song of a man speaking at a funeral, holding it together, until his face creases at the end, and it leaves you limp. It’s details like that that make this show so good.

The cast of five is wonderful. The show is a gem. Pianist John Hughes is a dandy accompanist on the piano, and cause to cheer—it’s not microphoned so he doesn’t drown out anybody.

Elegies: A Song Cycle is a lament for ones that have been lost but it is also a celebration of life


And now Minotaur. Is it based on the Greek Myth?


It is in part. Playwright Kevin Dyer was commissioned by a young people’s company in Wales and in England to write a play that incorporated myth with the everyday life of a kid.

So Freddie, who is 12 and about to be 13, keeps getting phone messages from his father who is fighting overseas perhaps in Afghanistan. His mother is worried because she knows that it’s the boy’s destiny to save his father.

With this information we are told that the boy will have to move a huge rock to find the secret of what his father left him under the rock. His first move was to try but give up. He is urged on by his mother. Freddie moves the rock and finds a sword. Freddie then morphs into Theseus in ancient Greece who had to do all sorts of tests to prove he was a man and to save his father. He has been told that his destiny is to kill the minotaur.

Kevin Dyer channels that notion, but certainly doesn’t let up on all the racing from danger adventures that Theseus gets up to.

There is an evil, very seductive character named Pasiphae who slips effortlessly into both stories, in both time periods; first of Freddie trying to help his soldier dad escape danger in Afghanistan in the present, and then as Theseus helping his father  Aegeus in ancient times. Pasiphae manipulates the stories until she is stopped.

There is also a lot of talk about doing your best, leaning from failure and trying hard all the time. Pretty heady stuff, but these eight year olds are pretty smart and perceptive. I always love going to see theatre with an audience mainly made up of kids that. They are astute, these kids.


How does the production do?


Six actors play 42 characters. There are a lot of quick changes back stage and it can be tricky as you would guess, but it’s all handled with efficiency by the company and the play’s director, Alan Dilworth. The whole space of the theatre is used. We get the sense of the large story of Theseus because of the way Dilworth directs it.

Theseus has to cross oceans, race through forests and into the complex cave of the minotaur in order to kill it and stop a cycle of young boys being sacrificed to the minotaur because of a past plot of revenge. You get a sense of that by the way Theseus covers the area.

There is a wonderful sense of serious urgency in the story. The theatre was packed with young kids about eight years old or so, and they were all silent. That’s a credit to the playwright who writes in the language of the kid and then can put us all into ancient Greek times to time of the myth.


I would think that the actors as well as the story has to hold a young person’s attention. How does the company do?


Dandy. As Freddie and Theseus, Jakob Ehman has the awkwardness of a 12 year old boy, but also a clear sense of character and responsibility. How he copes with the notion of not living up to his destiny is a sign of maturity. I love the subtleness of that distinction in the writing and in the performance. As Pasiphae, Karen Robinson is both seductive, sly and dangerous. She has fun being evil and that’s scary.

As the Mom, Raven Dauda has that protective concern that knows what her son must do, wanting to protect him, but knowing he has to go off to save his father. The whole cast does herculean work playing all sorts of characters, many amoral with no sense of goodness or fair play and others who are loaded with a moral centre.

It’s an interesting show, mixing myth with the contemporary world of today’s youth. The result is a totally engaging show.


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

Elegies: A Song Cycle plays at the Daniels Spectrum, Aki Studio Theatre until April 13.

Minotaur plays at Young People’s Theatre until April 13.



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