Short reviews and comment: Blood Links, The Draupadi Project, Munschtime!

by Lynn on April 24, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

Comment: Blood Links

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.
Part of Spotlight Australia

Creator and performer: William Yang
Music composed by James Brown

Surprisingly moving.

Two large screens are up stage. Down from he screens is a small ‘table’ with a half a glass of water and a ceramic cup with Chinese tea, I assume. A square of light is illuminated on the floor to the right of the table.

William Yang walks into the light. He wears a dark suit with the suit jacket with a collar like a Chinese jacket. It’s buttoned almost to the neck, with a red shirt underneath the jacket. His hands are folded in front of his chest. He speaks in a deliberate pace in a clear voice. Over the course of the hour he takes one long sip of tea.

William Yang tells us the story of his family in photographs. William Yang is a celebrated photographer in Australia. His maternal grandparents married in an arranged marriage. His grandfather sailed from China to Australia to prospect. His wife joined him after that. They had children. Photographs of Yang’s grandparents and their children are projected on both screens. Without turning around and with no script in front of him, Yang names the people who appear in every shot. Children soon marry and have children. They are named. The family expands. Some move to California where more relatives appear, have children and marry. All are pictured and named.

Mr. Yang reveals that he is gay and shows pictures of his partner. At one point his sister asks if he has AIDS. He says no. That is the first time any member of his family has commented on his sexuality. Yang also reveals that somehow he lost track of his Chinese heritage and went in search of it. More pictures of more places he has visited.

Imagine it; a slide show of photographs of a man you don’t know, of his ever-growing family, along with commentary and have trouble remembering who everyone is and their relations. Are your eyes glazing over in boredom? They shouldn’t. I found the evening surprisingly moving as William Yang searched for his Chinese roots and celebrated his family. His delivery is so tempered he is compelling.

An interesting addition to Spotlight Australia which started with Jack Charles, an aboriginal Australian, then segued to William Yang who was born in Australia to Chinese parents, but who then went in search of his Chinese roots. I’m looking forward to more in this series.

Presented by Canadian Stage.

Opened: April 19, 2017.
Closed: April 23, 2017.
Running Time: 60 minutes.

The Draupadi Project

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.
Part of The Riser Project.

Written and performed by Sharada K. Eswar
Directed by Karin Randoja
Projection Designer, Melissa Joakim

A story I want to learn more about.

The Riser Project is a new collaborative producing model, created by Why Not Theatre and the Theatre Centre, gives new work a space and support to experiment and grow. The Draupadi Project is one of four productions in this year’s Riser Project.

Writer-performer, Sharada K Eswar writes what she knows. As she says in her program note: “Like many Indian children, I grew up on the vast, varied, and fascinating tales of the Mahabharata….the epic weaves myth, history, religion, science, philosophy, superstition, and statecraft into its innumerable stories-within-stories to create a rich and teeming world filled with psychological complexity.” The Mahabharata is about the rivalry of two branches of a dynasty vying for the throne of Hastinapur. Draupadi is a woman who is hugely important to the story.

From the press information: “Karin Randoja directs Sharada K Eswar’s The Draupadi Project, a half-history, half-mythology, wholly-magical reimagining of the ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharata, as told from a feminist perspective.

Prisoner 1089 is a woman who is imprisoned and the ‘image’ of Draupadi visits her in prison to wrangle with her and give her support and courage in her struggle. An image of a face with reverse shadow and light and exaggerated eyes is projected on a screen behind prisoner 1089. We hear a disjointed voice. It’s the voice of Draupadi.

Since I was sitting in the third row back from the front, and Sharada Eswar begins the performance crouching on the floor, it was difficult to see her and to follow her story. That’s always a challenge, seeing a character clearly who begins crouched on the floor, if the distance between audience and actor is short. It would have been a different matter if I could see her on the floor and heard and focused on what she was saying.

The Mahabharata and its stories are not part of my culture, although I did see the Peter Brook Production of it years ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But Sharada K Eswar’s conversation between Prisoner 1089 and Draupadi intrigued me to want to know more, certainly of Prisoner 1089’s story.

Presented by Tamasha Arts Presents:

Opened: April 19, 2017.
Saw it: April 22, 2017.
Closes: April 26, 2017.
Running Time: 40 minutes.


At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the stories of Robert Munsch
Adapted by Stephen Colella and Allen MacInnis
Directed by Herbie Barnes
Set by Robin Fisher
Costumes by Sage Paul
Lighting by Michel Charbonneau
Composed and sound by Cathy Nosaty.
Cast: Cheri Maracle
Dov Mickelson
Lisa Nasson

The right amount of sweetness with a bit of tartness.

The kid won’t go to bed. Her grandparents who are babysitting go into heavy negotiations. Yes we will read you a story if you go to bed right away. Yes we will bring you a glass of water if you go to bed. Yes we will tell you another story if you promise to go to bed. And on and on. The kid is wily. The grandparents are patient—they’ve done this before with their own kid.

The stories are a cross-section of Robert Munsch’s beloved stories: “Love You Forever: (needing to know that that special love between parent and kid and grandparent and kid will never go way; “A Promise is a Promise” in which the serious business of making a promise must be kept and how to negotiate it if you are a kid or an adult; “To Much Stuff” about the importance of sharing; and “Murmel, Murmel,” the precious importance of children.

Munsch writes about children with whimsy while teaching them life lessons. The cast of three do lively work as they flit and charge about the stage playing multiple roles. Director Herbie Barnes knows the value of colour and pace in creating children’s theatre. It’s a thing of beauty to see the audience of children and their parents be attentive to the story-telling and be so excited when they see and hear a story unfold with which they are familiar because they’ve read the book. Love this stuff forever.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: April 20, 2017.
Closed: May 14, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

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