by Lynn on December 1, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


Measure for Measure

At the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tyler Seguin
Designed by Holly Meyer-Dymny
Composed by Melissa Morris
Cast: Genevieve Adam
Joella Crichton
Deborah Drakeford
Stephanie Folkins
Jacklyn Francis
Leah Holder
Helen Juvonen
Margaret Lamarre
Catherine McNally
Cara Pantalone
Alison Smiley
Victoria Urquhart

An interesting concept to set this play of corruption and hedonism in a Weimar cabaret with an all female cast that had rather mixed results.

The Story. The Duke of Vienna has allowed his city to degenerate into corruption and hedonism and doesn’t know how to fix it. He leaves the ruling of the city to his straight-laced, rigid thinking deputy, Angelo while he says he is leaving the city. In fact the Duke watches from close by to see how Angelo does. Angelo is unbending in his determination to clean up the corruption until he meets Isabella, a young novitiate who comes pleading for her brother’s life. Angelo gets weak at the knees when he sees Isabella and tries to be stiff in his resolve. It’s hard going.

The Production. Director Tyler Seguin has envisioned this production as taking place in the enlightened Weimar, in a cabaret populated by women in various versions of leather bustiers, garters and undergarments. A song (by composer Melissa Morris) explores the many ways that elements of she can be in he, and her in him. The song celebrates the fluidity of gender in some cases. This provides a perfect excuse for the women to perform an all female version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Getting into the spirit of the exercise one wonders why a woman didn’t direct the production. But I digress.

As the audience files in we pass by the ladies of the cabaret who slyly direct us to sit anywhere and buy a drink at the bar. The women take turns singing sultry songs of that time period as we file in and just after intermission. There are songs from The Threepenny Opera for example. This is not a pleasant diversion because too many of these woman sing sharp or flat or off key. I wonder why those who can’t sing are asked too. Tom Qu provides the piano accompaniment.

The acting in this endeavour is also hit and miss but I am grateful for some performances. Deborah Drakeford is a standout as cold, rigid Angelo. Drakeford’s blonde hair has been given a razor hair cut that makes it look like a model out of the Aryan textbook. She is dressed in a black suit, pants and shows and a white shirt. Her delivery is curt, cold and calmly formidable. When Angelo sees Isabella, Drakeford’s eyes flicker a touch, indicating a flash of heat. Drakeford plays with that confidence of a person in control who will not be thwarted.

Helen Juvonen as Isabella is an equal match to Angelo. She is righteous, just, as rigid as Angelo and desperate to prove her case. Genevieve Adam is a lusty, lascivious Lucio. Jacklyn Francis as the Duke gives a convincing performance of a man who is an incompetent leader and a lousy judge of character. Leah Holder as Claudio is a supportive brother, but is desperate that Isabella acquiesce to Angelo’s wishes to be free.

Director Tyler Seguin does some interesting business with the bar stools to create the Claudio’s prison cell. And there is some clever business with shadow play for lewd results.

Comment. This is one of those productions in which you say, there are some interesting performances for which I’m grateful, some that I’m not, and I can appreciate the curiosity of wanting to do it with a female cast. It didn’t blow me away.

Produced by Thought For Food:

First performance: Nov. 23, 2014.
Saw it: Nov. 24, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 4, 2016.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

The Angry Brigade

At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by James Graham.
Directed by: Act I, Eda Holmes
Act II, Kate Lynch
Set and lighting by Christopher Rayment
Costumes by Andrea Creighton
Sound by Ross Hammond
Projections by Cameron Davis
Cast: Andrea Creighton
Matt Dawson
Lauren Saunders
Cameron Sedgwick

A play about a British anarchist group of disillusioned youth in 1971 which seems so distant and unconnected with today’s apathetic youth.

The Story. London, 1971. A group of young anarchists called the Angry Brigade is making their dissatisfaction with the government known when they bomb embassies, the homes of politicians and institutions. Scotland Yard forms a special task force to find this cell and bring them to justice. The first Act focuses on the police, the second on the anarchists.

The Production. British playwright James Graham wrote this play in 2014. While these anarchist groups are not prevalent in England in this day and age, rampaging youth etc. protesting have made their ire known in recent years.

Because the tone of the two Acts differ so much, each Act was directed by a different director. Eda Holmes directed Act I focusing on the police as if it is a comedy of errors or buffoons. In Act II Kate Lynch directs. The anarchists are dogma-philosophy-drivel-spouting, self-absorbed idealists with little sense of the reality of the larger world. They want to shake society of its complacency and think violence is the way to go.

James Graham depicts the police as tea-drinking small-talking twits until they get their mitts on a plan to catch the bombers, then they turn into energized bunnies of activity. Eda Holmes establishes that stiff-upper-lip aspect of the always proper British officer. When the activity ramps up it’s like watching so many wind-up Charlie Chaplin toys.

Kate Lynch directs Act II with a keen eye to revealing the anarchists’ initial gleeful camaraderie that gives way to cracks in that idealism. They break down the physical walls in the house they are staying in, including the bathroom to get rid of restrictions of any sort.

The cast is fearless in its commitment to this piece and their abilities with accent, body language etc. gets a nice workout.

Comment. The police in Act I have diagrams that show points of focus for the bombing. They must find the links from bombings to bombings– joining the dots if you will. In Act I, one anarchist keeps calling the police telling them that the Angry Brigade is keeping a close watch on them. They (the anarchists) know the police’s every move. They know the private phone numbers to call. In Act II we see the other side of the story, from the anarchists’ side. We see the same anarchist making the call to the police, telling the coppers they are being watched.

What James Graham hasn’t actually done in his over-long, long-winded play is connect the dots from Act I to Act II. We don’t see any anarchists actually planning to find and use the secret numbers; we get no hint of how they know who and where to bomb. They spend lot of time ruminating on dogma and philosophy and precious little time planning their destructive forays I don’t get the sense that the anarchist who phones is a rogue, unhappy in her position, so her call comes out of no where.

It’s a really rare play that has so little to do with our complacent times.

Presented by Elevated State.

First performance: Nov. 24, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 4, 2016.
Cast: 4; 2 me, 2 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes


At the AKI Studio in the Daniels Spectrum on Dundas St. E, (I do wish companies would put the theatre name and address on the front of their programs, along with an e-mail address to get tickets!)

Written by Diana Tso
Directed by William Yong
Music composed by Constantine Caravassilis
Movement and musical director, William Yong
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Costumes by Erika Chong
Set by William Yong
Cast: Vania Chan
Phoebe Hu
Jen Hum
Vicki Kim
Oliver Koomsatira
Timothy Ng
Jeff Yung

Musicians: Patty Chan
Cathy Nosaty
Brandon Valdivia

Well intentioned play about ‘the comfort women’ during WWII, performed by a committed cast. Alas so much is left unexplored or explained.

The Story. A poor Chinese fisherman, Zhou Ping Yang, loves a well-born, rich young woman named Li Dan Feng. She loves him too. Her father is a rich silk merchant doing business with the Japanese. To cement an alliance, her father arranges a marriage for his daughter with the son of the Japanese merchant. Li Dan Feng is horrified at this and runs away dressed as a young boy. Japan declares war on China and Zhou Ping Yang and Li Dan Feng are separated. She is discovered by a Japanese soldier and turned over to live and serve in a comfort home—a place where young women are used as sex slaves for the troops. Zhou Ping Yang vows to find her.

The Performance. One must be aware that Comfort is not a typical North American drama. It is fashioned as a Chinese opera of sorts. Because Li Dan Feng and her family love opera they go to a few concerts in which an opera singer performs. The rest of the time an excellent three piece ensemble plays Constantine Caravassilis’ evocative music almost constantly. It underscores dialogue; heightens dramatic moments; and expresses emotions.

Act I introduces the characters, their relationships and their attitudes. The love between Li Dan Feng and Zhou Ping Yang is gentle, loving and courtly. Act II reveals the brutality of the Japanese soldiers towards their comfort women captors. Diana Tso’s descriptions of what the soldiers do to captives and babies born to the comfort women takes a strong stomach.

William Yong directs, created the set with various moving sections to set off different locations and he created the movement. Everything about the production is stylized. The rapes are almost balletic but still brutal in its depiction. The acting is flat and dirge-like from a North American sensibility. Diana Tso’s dialogue is almost uniformly like poetry with esoteric descriptions of a character’s hair and sparkling eyes. When we hear Li Dan Feng express herself we are told later that those are some of her imagined poems. This distinction seems odd in light of the fact that all the dialogue seems like poetry.

At the end of the war and she is free, (sorry for the spoiler alert) Li Dan Feng and a fellow freed comfort woman go to Korea to protest. They stand on a high platform carrying two hand written signs, one in Korean and one in Chinese. It would have been nice to have some kind of translation of what the signs said.

Comment. While the intentions to bring this story of the resilience and bravery of these comfort women to the stage are noble, Diana Tso’s play does not go far enough. The program notes from both Tso and her director William Yong talk about the resilience of women in wartime and how this play gives voice to those woman still fighting for justice and human rights. But the play stops short of doing just that. Li Dan Feng and her fellow comfort women are so brutalized that they wish to die at one time or other. Resilience has little to do with it. When the war ends the play is resolved quickly and one is left to imagine, without concern by the two united lovers (sorry, spoiler alert again). Really? No concern at what happened to her? Really? We don’t get any sense of the lingering horrors and nightmares in these women’s lives except for those two quiet protestors. Many, many opportunities missed to make the intentions of the program notes a reality and not just good intentions.

Presented by the Red Snow Collective.

First performance: Nov. 26, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 10, 2016.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women.
Running Time: 2 hours.

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