Text of broadcast reviews: WATCHING GLORY DIE and DREAMING OF ROB FORD

by Lynn on May 23, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Two shows were reviewed on Friday, May 23, 2014: Watching Glory Die at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs until June 1, and Dreaming of Rob Ford Created and performed by Mike Daisey at the Big Picture Cinema 1035 Gerard St. E. until May 23.

The guest host was Phil Taylor

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. I didn’t think you were going to use the word ‘fix’ anymore out of respect for our mayor?

I’m bringing back the word for this week because one of the two shows I’m reviewing is Dreaming of Rob Ford created and performed by Mike Daisey a wildly mesmerizing monologist, and drugs and addiction factor heavily, hence the word ‘fix.’

But the first show I’m reviewing is Watching Glory Die, written and performed by Judith Thompson. Produced by Canadian Rep Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs.

Glory is 19 and has been in various correctional institutions since she was 14. She was first incarcerated for minor offenses. The sentence got longer once she was serving her term because of more minor infractions. She began to choke herself and the guards would stop it by going into her cell, often. The warden ordered the guards not to interfere until she turned blue, as she thought this was Glory’s way of getting attention. This was a stupid and fatal error.

The play is based on the sad case of Ashley Smith. She is the troubled teenager who had been in jail for much of her teenaged years on various charges. She eventually hung herself, while seven of her prison guards watched on video monitors.There was a hue and cry and an inquest etc.

How do you put that story on stage?

Three women create Glory’s world. Glory herself, pacing around her small prison cell. Her adoptive mother, Rosellen sits stage left, fretting and worrying about her sweet, innocent daughter. And Gail, Glory’s hard-nosed prison guard.

Gail walks in a lighted border outside Glory’s cell. Gail looks on every inmate as a criminal. Glory is no different to her.

Designer Astrid Janson has created a boxed silver cell for Glory. No window is even suggested. Simple clothing differentiates each character. Glory wears a blue prison shift. Gail wears a dark guard jacket over the shift. And Rosellen wears a sweater. Glory wears her hair down. Rosellen wears hers in a loose ponytail. So little details make all the difference in the

While Glory is often kept in a Therapeutic Quiet Room (read solitary confinement) the soundscape of Debashis Sinha suggests constant noise of one thing and another—that works wonderfully. The projections of Cameron Davis, of rain, shattered glass and other patterns also add to a sense of Glory’s fragile mind.

Any other interesting aspects of the production that caught your eye?

It’s directed by Ken Gass so anything on stage would grab my interest and imagination. Ken Gass directs with a firm sense of the troubled world of Glory.

The projection of glass shattering and the sound of it that follows says so much about what Glory is going through. Gass has guided Judith Thompson in her performance of the three women so we get a distinct sense of each character.

When Glory is alone with her thoughts she is this lost, fragile creature. When she is interacting with her guards she is feisty. She is also obviously mentally ill.

As Gail, Thompson is tough and hardened to the life. And as Rosellen with her voice a bit high, she is the worried mother who has not seen her daughter in more than a year because Corrections Canada keeps on moving Glory from one prison to another, sometimes across the country.

I must confess I am mystified why Thompson wanted to act in the production. She has been a celebrated playwright in this country for more than three decades. Why act in this play as well, I wonder? I think it could have used a professional actress who did not seem as self conscious as Thompson and certainly could have brought out more variation and nuance in each character.

Do you think Judith Thomson is successful in telling this story through her play.

Judith Thompson has a huge heart and fierce social conscience that champions the downtrodden innocent who can’t defend themselves. Her outrage at social injustice is palpable in her plays and certainly in Watching Glory Die. She is quoted as saying that “the impossible is happening in our country” and she is certainly right.

An unsettled man is tasered and killed in a Vancouver airport. A young man wielding a knife on a streetcar in Toronto dies after he is shot nine times by police who were outside the streetcar.

However sometimes Thompson’s outrage gets in the way of creating a balanced picture and that’s what we have in Watching Glory Die. Thompson is damning a prison system that is insensitive to its inmates without once referencing that Glory is mentally ill. The unseen warden forbids the guards to help Glory when she repeatedly tries to choke herself with ligatures, saying that will only give Glory the attention she is seeking.

Rosellen refuses to believe that Glory is trying to kill herself saying that that is Glory’s way of showing she wants to live. Rosellen also refuses to acknowledge Glory is mentally ill. Surely that is the centre of the problem and Thompson leaves it unsaid.

Instead we have Gail who is so stupid she gives in to Glory when Glory wants to ‘play’ with Gail’s glasses. And of course Glory doesn’t give them back when asked repeatedly and breaks them. This increases Glory’s jail time. What did Gail expect Glory to do?

While Rosellen doesn’t see her daughter for a full year, we never hear any comment about getting a lawyer, or calling the papers or anything to bring attention to her daughter’s situation. I can appreciate that Gail and Rosellen are isolated in their own way, but making them stupid as well weakens the play.

Gail is described in press information as having a conscience and being conflicted when she sees Glory choking and must obey orders and not help her.

She doesn’t seem too upset when the inevitable happens. She holds on to the line she was only following orders. She laments that she will be fired and probably the only job she’ll get is as a crossing guard. Witless woman.

Well intentioned though she is, I feel Judith Thompson has created an unbalanced, weak play about a serious subject.

And what is Dreaming of Rob Ford about?

It’s is written and performed by American superstar monologist, Mike Daisey. Daisey is the man who wrote and performed The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

That’s the show he wrote exposing Apple for terrible working conditions in China and got into trouble when it was revealed that he made stuff up and a lot of what he said was not true.

Mike Daisey met Mitchell Cushman when Cushman wanted to adapt and produce his own version of the show in Toronto a few years ago. Daisey says he was impressed with Cushman’s script.

So Crow’s Theatre, of which Mitchell Cushman is associate Artistic Director, is building a new arts complex in the city’s east end. To raise awareness of the area and the performing/theatre possibilities there is something called The East End Performance Crawl along Queen Street East and environs that is running to June 1.

Quirky performances will be in various places, such as a yoga studio, and Jilly’s the strip club for example. The kick off event is Mike Daisey giving a free-wheeling extemporized monologue about Rob Ford, drugs, addiction, Canadians and embarrassment, among others. I bet the well turned out crowd who went last night, including Conrad Black, thought that was rather novel.

How did the show work?

Daisey sits at a desk with a glass of water beside him, a writing pad in front of him, and a handkerchief he uses to wipe his face a lot. David DeGrow’s dramatic lighting makes Daisey look forbidding. He talks around a subject then hones in referencing it. He tells us the usual about Canadians, polite, quiet, civilized. Americans, and he counts himself in that group, are wild marauders who rip and tear everyone out of their way.

Daisey is astonished at how many people showed up to learn even more about a man the majority never want to hear about ever again. And to give you an idea how rough and ready this whole enterprise is, the show takes place in The Big Picture Cinema that was an abandoned porn film house in its previous life. Words flow out of him at a clip; articulate, scatological; perceptive and very funny.

He wonders what Torontonians felt like when Gawker—a gossip site—broke the story about the Ford video tape. He says the heart and soul of the city was ripped out because of Gawker. He says he finds it amusing that anyone would think that Ford would resign. Daisey yells, “He’s an addict. They lie all the time.”

Daisey spins a story that winds and turns and winds back on itself and ties it all together. It’s a bit long at two hours with no intermission, but he is a wild-man of stories and if you are up for a challenge, see him.

What else is coming up?

This performance crawl looks intriguing. Something called TEASE at Jilly’s in which groups of five people experience five short intimate encounters with some of Toronto’s interesting performance artists.

The Ballad of the Young Offender by SideMart Theatrical Grocery, from Montreal but relocated here. About Rock and Roll and fear mongering.

In Case We Disappear—part standup, part confessional, part spoken word. You can get a full schedule by going to the Crow’s Theatre website.

Next week Stratford Festival opens as well with King Lear, Crazy For You, King John, Mother Courage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream among others….check the Stratford site.

And next Friday I will be interviewing Jackie Maxwell, the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival.

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

Watching Glory Die plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, upstairs until June 1.

Dreaming of Rob Ford created and performed by Mike Daisey plays at the Big Picture Cinema, 1135 Gerard St. E. until tonight, May 23.

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