Short reviews of: Against Nature, A Reason to Talk and How Black Mothers Say I Love You.

by Lynn on May 12, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


In this group of short reviews we have: Against Nature (À rebours), A Reason to Talk and How Black Mothers Say I Love You.

Against Nature is about the world of art, aestheticism, and the inner and outer life of a recluse. A Reason to Talk and How Black Mothers Say I Love You are about the sometimes prickly relationships between mothers and daughters.

Against Nature

At the Citadel, 304 Parliament St., Toronto, Ont.

Composed by James Rolfe
Libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin
Based on the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans
Directed and Choreographed by James Kudelka.
Musical director, Steven Philcox
Set and props by Joe Pagnan
Costumes by Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell for Hoax Couture
Lighting by Simon Rossiter
Projection design by Jeremy Mimnagh
Cast: Alexander Dobson
Laurence Lemieux
Geoffrey Sirett

Against Nature is about Jean des Esseintes, referred to as The Master in this ‘music, dance, theatrical.’ He is an aesthete, a lover of fine literature, poetry, art and music, but loathes the Romantics. His favourite novelist is Baudelaire which says plenty about The Master. He retreats to a country house becoming more and more isolated in the artistic world he has created for himself. He is supported by two devoted servants.

The elegant libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin captures the esoteric, erotic, sensual world of The Master, as does the moody, rich composition of James Rolfe. Choreographer/Director James Kudelka of course is a master of creating the strange, artful world of The Master. It is a world rich and vibrant in the things that fill up his life. There is such a sense of the erotic in Kudelka’s choreography. He establishes those relationships in his direction as well.

Alexander Dobson as The Master has a rich baritone voice and creates the picture of a compelling, intoxicating character. He is ably joined by the equally impressive Laurence Lemieux, an elegant, expressive dancer and Geoffrey Sirett, a dramatic baritone. It was an artful time well spent.

Plays to May 15, 2016.

A Reason to Talk

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Sachli Gholamalizad

Sachli Gholamalizad sits with her back to us in front of a computer and various screens. There is one screen to her left that projects her image so that we can see her face as she types her thoughts. A screen above her head projects what she is typing so we can read it. The largest screen is to her right.

She begins by typing what she is afraid of. She is afraid of life; her body; and most things we have no problem with. She is consumed with doubt. Her face is sombre. Her fingers fly over the keys, correcting errors as she goes. In one ironic moment she types that she is afraid of sex but quickly erases the word.

The cause of this uncertainty is her mother. Gholamalizad has always found her mother secretive, impenetrable when it comes to what makes her mother tick and why decisions were made regarding the family. Her mother and her children (Gholamalizad is one of two siblings) moved from Iran to Turkey and then to Belgium. To try and break through this wall her mother put up between herself and reality, Gholamalizad decided to do a video interview with her mother to try and get answers to the various questions that bedevilled her for her whole life.

Her mother’s image appears on the screen. She is striking in full make-up, stylishly dress, and mainly unsmiling. Her eyes dart from here to there and rarely seem to look in the eyes of Gholamalizad who is off-camera asking the questions.. Since Gholamalizad and her family came from Iran I will assume the language in which she and her mother are talking is Persian. Gholamalizad asks a question in Persian and the translation appears on the screen. Her mother replies in Persian and again the translation in English appears on screen.

Gholamalizad asks why they left Iran. She asks why they ended in Belgium (Gholamalizad has established her acting career in Belgium). As the questions become more and more personal her mother gets more and more evasive. You can see Gholamalizad’s image in the screen to her left, pensive, frustrated, hand on her mouth, as she listens and watches the video with us.

Later she interviews her grandmother; a simple woman with no make-up, not glamorous, but grandmotherly. She tries to remember and sing a lullaby she sang to Gholamalizad when she was a child. Sometimes the grandmother forgets. This time the picture of Gholamalizad on the screen is one of tender love. She smiles as she watches and listens to her grandmother.

Gholamalizad’s journey to talk to her mother and learn more about her is touching, moving, frustrating because we can see of what Gholamalizad is talking when she describes her mother.

The idea of using technology to tell the story is also a wonderful device for establishing how distant Gholamalizad is from her mother and perhaps from us in trying to make a connection. When she takes her bow it is in front of us, standing as herself and it’s touching.

A Reason to Talk is an intriguing, thought provoking piece of theatre with which we can all identify. Gholamalizad digs deep into that connection between mothers and daughters and comes up with a gem of a show.

Plays to May 14, 2016.

How Black Mothers Say I Love You.

At the Factory Theatre, Mainstage, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Trey Anthony
Set and Costumes by Rachel Forbes
Lighting by Steve Lucas
Choreographer, Irma Villafuerte
Composed and sound by Gavin Bradley
Cast: Jewelle Blackman
Allison Edwards-Crewe
Robinne Fanfair
Ordena Thompson

From the sublime of A Reason to Talk to the ridiculous of How Black Mothers Say I Love You.

Claudette has come home, from being away working in Montreal for three years, because her mother Daphne is dying of cancer. Apparently Claudette was called by her sister Val so Claudette came home quickly. We learn from Claudette that there has always been a problem with communication and actually talking to each other between Daphne and her daughters. There is the spectre of another daughter, Cloe, who died years before and it seems Daphne had a special place in her heart for Cloe, seemingly at the exclusion of her other daughters. But the biggest gulf is between Daphne and her daughter Claudette. Claudette is gay and Daphne, the devoted churchgoer and bible reader, thinks that’s a sin and with persuasion Val will find a nice young man and be happy.

Accusations fly through the air and like a bombshell, seemingly from no where, Claudette lashes out at Daphne for leaving her and Val years ago when they were young to go work in another country without explanation, and stayed away for six years. Only now it seems does Daphne say she worked several jobs to send money home so they would have a better life. We learn that Val’s marriage is rocky and she would like a baby. Everybody bickers and fights and all the while we are told that Daphne is dying of terminal cancer and has given up taking any medication to fight it. This too seems a stretch as Daphne is always on the move and certainly bops in church, until she has a coughing fit or two and has to sit down.

Writer Trey Anthony says in her extensive historical backdrop and program note to How Black Mothers Say I Love You, that she wanted to write a play about the thorny reasons why many Jamaican women left their children to seek work in another country and the emotional and psychological ramifications on both the mothers and the children of that decision. Alas, How Black Mothers Say I Love You is not the play that shows the depth of exploration to illuminate the issues.

How Black Mothers Say I Love You is dire on every level. The writing is TV situation comedy at its basic level with seemingly serious issues appear in out of no where, like lint on a lapel. The issues are not substantiated by any previous comment or developed by any rigorous exploration. We are supposed to believe that Claudette was away for three years and neither she nor her mother or sister called each other to find out how anything was. We are to believe that when Claudette found out about her mother’s cancer no comment took place about her physical deterioration (it’s a surprise to Claudette that her mother lost her hair—yes I know they didn’t talk to each other much, but this is stretching incredulousness to a ridiculous point). We are to believe that every argument that comes up in this play seems to take place for the first time. This means that the issues festered for decades and no one said a word. Ridiculous. Ridiculous also sums up the unearned sentimental ending.

Trey Anthony also directs this work without even a rudimentary idea of how to block a scene or when or why to move a character. She has no idea how to guide her cast to be anything other than declamatory. The less said about the acting the better. The less said about How Black Mother Say I Love You the better.

Plays to May 15, 2016.

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