Reviews: The Next Stage Theatre Festival

by Lynn on January 10, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.


Presented by Sex-T-Rex

Created by Sex-T-Rex                                                                                 Directed by Alex Toller                                                                             Cast: Jon Blair

Conor Bradbury

Julian Frid

Kaitlin Morrow

Seann Murray

The beginning of the wild, raucous, joyful swashbuckling story is right out of The Princess Bride. A grandfather baby-sits his grand child and shows him a video game that was big in his, the grandfather’s, day. As they look at the screen, both are transported back in time when three friends fought battles for people’s honour and for doing right against dastardly people. The story involves two nations that have been in constant war against each other. There are fire-breathing dragons, fires that kill best friends, a damsel in distress, and two swordsman who pine for their long-dead third friend.

The physicality of the show is athletic, bold, muscular and inventive. The sword fights are fast, furious and hilarious. Dragons are created out of swaths of material. Fire is created by reconfiguring the material into bursts of flame. The gifted actors are serious and breathless in their various quests to right wrongs, get the bad guys and one driven woman, slay dragons and do all manner of swordplay. It’s buoyant, funny, dazzlingly creative and a joy from top to bottom. A friend at the same performance said she had not seen “anything this silly in a long time. God bless them.” Amen.


Presented by Rabbit in a Hat Productions

Written by Alix Sobler

Directed by Paul Van Dyck

Costumes by Christine Urquhart

Set by Chandos Ross

Lighting by Steve Vargo

Composer and sound by Richard Feren

Fight and intimacy choreographer, Jade Elliot

Cast: Parmida Vand

Erica Anderson

Glenda Braganza

Alanis Peart

Allan Michael Brunet

Jason Deline

When Jonno begins his radio show with: “Why hello there. Happy Wednesday” then goes into a long esoteric essay; the reference to Jian Ghomeshi is unmistakable. We see Jonno, smooth-talking, charming, coming on to various women, turning on them, choking and hitting them. There is even a character named Mr. Donkey Long Ears, referencing the floppy-eared toy that witnesses it all.  Even though Jonno is a white American, we know who Playwright Alix Sobler is talking about.

The play aspires to be about the abuse of power by men over women; the power to be physically, sexually and emotionally abusive to women. Arrogance, hubris and having a seemingly untouchable place in his company drives Jonno to prey on defenceless women.

What is there to say about such a huge story (as the Jian Ghomeshi case was)  today? What new insight does the playwright want to reveal? Alas, one concludes Sobler doesn’t have anything new or provocative to say. The three women Jonno ‘hits on’, resort to philosophising about his background, his behaviour, his need to control. They engage in pop psychology but without much credibility. The characters are not properly fleshed out for us to ‘trust’ their assumptions. At no time does anyone actually ask Jonno why he hits and chokes the women, and liking ‘rough sex’ doesn’t cover it. The only one Jonno does trust is Mr. Donkey Long Ears and even he does not really take Jonno to task, except to remind him of “what happened in Denver,” which we assume must have been pretty serious. The acting is unremarkable so again, the argument is not strongly made. All in all, a disappointment.

 The Surprise

Presented by Christel Bartelse/Dutch Girl Productions

Written and performed by Christel Bartelse

Directed by Andy Massingham                                                                Sound by Sam Earle                                                                                    Choreography by Shawn Byfield

Ginger is very excited. She’s planning a surprise birthday party for a special person and the audience are corralled into being the guests who will shout “Surprise!”,  blow horns and even give her gifts. Ginger has supplied the party hats, the horns, name tags on which to write our names and even a bag of chips. It’s all festive and a bit frantic as Ginger checks to see if the guest has arrived, rehearses us in our expressions of greetings when the guest arrives and checking other details.

And while one does expect a good laugh from a clown show, The Surprise is unsettling. Three audience members have been selected to present the guest of honour with presents.

Unfortunately these gifts are less than appreciated by her because each one reminds her that she is getting older and she doesn’t want to. As a result this also makes the giver of the gift rather embarrassed it would seem to me. Clowning with a touch of cruelty makes this one of my least favourite forms of performance.


Moonlight After Midnight

Presented by Concrete Drops Theatre

Written by Martin Dockery

Dramaturg, Vanessa Quesnelle

Cast: Martin Dockery

Vanessa Quesnelle

A man sits in a chair downstage. A woman enters the room upstage and sees him. He turns to her and tells her not to act as if she knows him. They begin role-playing going over and over in minute detail how a role changes, or shifts, how the relationship morphs into something else. She asks him questions because she has pre-knowledge of him we don’t know yet. He is evasive and coy. Getting a straight answer out of him is a challenge for her and after a while a chore to listen to for me.

They obviously know each other so why the games? Perhaps it’s how they passed the time when they weren’t in that hotel room. Who are they?  (They are not identified in the program with names) After a while of the endless role-playing I didn’t care. It’s one thing for two characters to engage in an activity they find interesting, it’s quite another to also engage the audience into sticking with them as they split hairs about points in a debate. At one point in this endless hour’s show I wrote one word on my program: “drivel.” We find out who they are in the last few minutes of the show but man, is it a long slog.

Vanessa Quesnelle plays the woman with an understated, quiet engagement. Martin Dockery as the man is another matter. From constantly ploughing his fingers through his hair, pulling at his nose and stroking his chin, I was aware it’s been a long time since I saw an actor as annoying as he is.


The “F” Word

 Presented by SaMel Tanz

Choreographed by SaMel Tanz in collaboration with the dancers

Cast: Ella Avila

Melissa Hart

Lilly Giroux

Kimberly Khawa

Holly Pocket

Irena Ponizova

Samantha Schleese

The “F” in the title stands for “feminism.” The show looks at how women are perceived in the work-place and society; how body-image comes into play; how they dress and what is appropriate.

The company is composed of women. Some dress in dresses and some in pants to suggest men and women. All are beautiful dancers. The various segments clearly investigate aspects of feminism. All are smart, accomplished and illuminating. One in particular is stunning. A man and a woman are on stage.  A waiter arrives with a tray on which are two glasses of water. One glass is full and the other is half full. He gives the full glass of water to the man and the half-full glass to the woman. Is there any better way of illuminating the inequality of the sexes in perception in society, in the work place, in relationships etc. than that.

A terrific dance piece that says everything about the subject with clarity and punch. Loved it.



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