Two Reviews from Luminato: Leanne Simpson and Ghost Rings

by Lynn on June 21, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Famous Spiegeltent, David Pecaut Square, Toronto, Ont.

Note: Because of my theatre schedule and openings at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, I am only able to see four Luminato events. Here are reviews of two of them.

Leanne Simpson

From the program: “Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Mitch Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist, musician poet and writer, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling indigenous voices of her generation.”

She was introduced as simply Leanne Simpson, not using her middle name. She spoke or sang 10 poems/songs which celebrate or remember nature, a wonderful old tree, the return of salmon to the area where she lives (Peterborough, Ont.) ice fishing, missing indigenous women, stolen canoes and healing a child, hurt by racism.

For the most part Simpson recited her poems. Often they were accompanied by the excellent musicianship of Cris Derksen on cello and vocals, Ansley Simpson on guitar and vocals and Nick Ferrio on guitar and vocals. Occasionally the poems were transformed into song with Leanne Simpson and her sister Ansley beautifully harmonizing.

Leanne Simpson is a compelling, haunting performer. When she is reciting her dense, textured poems she recites them in a soft voice, with her eyes closed and a crease of concern between her eyes. The poems are usually short. The only time she opens her eyes is after the poem, to acknowledge the applause.

While her voice is soft, her quiet rage is pointed. She represents a people who settled the land and then were overcome by colonialism, the ruin of nature and air etc. by those that usurped those indigenous people. When she speaks of a person who is mean, cruel and stupid it’s always with a mention of their skin colour and the colour is always white. She sent a poem to a musician to musicalize and when it was returned as a dance she lamented, “Ahhh white man” until he told her and realized that it was a celebration she missed. When her daughter is traumatized by a racist slur it’s noted that the cretin (my word) who said it was white.

Leanne Simpson is quiet and powerful.

This was her last show.

Ghost Rings

Written and directed by Tina Satter.
Music composed by Chris Giarmo and Erin Markey
Set by Parker Lutz
Lighting by Chris Kuhl
Puppet Design by Amanda Villalobos
Costume Design by Enver Chakartash

From the program: “An energetic pop concert meets contemporary drama, from the critically-acclaimed, Obie Award-winning theatre ensemble, Half Straddle, Ghost Rings follows a narrative of friendship and family told with a mix of deadpan magical realism and a thoroughly feminist worldview. Playwright and performer Tina Satter, songwriters and performers Chris Giarmo and Erin Markey and performer Kristen Sieh offer an unusual, tender, and harrowingly funny melodic performance that contrasts the romantic memories of two friends with Satter’s real-life relationship to her estranged sister.”

In your dreams.

This is an incomprehensible, self-indulgent, drivelling mess. Never mind ‘deadpan’, how about bored and condescending. There is nothing magical or real about this. Initially it sounds intriguing when a spandex-clad Tina Satter talks about her sister, but then veers off to tell us of her band and how she taught herself the drums. (Keep practicing, please). There is a droning conversation between an owl (I think) puppet and a doe puppet. One of the singers tells the other she’s pregnant and the baby is hers (meaning the other singer). I’m thinking, ‘transexual?” Then I see it. Is this a penis I see before me, I think, as I look at the heavily designed tights of one of the singers? At the crotch and up the short area above it is a penis in the design of the tights. Hmm.

No matter. This show makes no sense. The sound often drowns out the lyrics. That the singers don’t enunciate doesn’t help.

By the time the show ends we don’t’ really care about the estrangement of the sisters.

Ghost Rings also plays June 21 and 22.

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