by Lynn on December 12, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Shorter reviews:

The Wonder Pageant

 At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Kayla Lorette and Ron Pederson

Lighting by Mark Andrada

Costumes by Sim Suzer

Set by Anna Treusch

Cast: Matt Baram

Jan Caruana

Kayla Lorette

Waylen Miki

Paloma Nuñez

Ron Pederson

Kris Siddiqi

Full disclosure: Improv is not one of my favourite forms of theatre. However, when it is done as well as this group of wildly gifted improv comedians then everything is right with the world.

The company of six (with their talented accompanist, Waylen Miki) is ready to load us with holiday cheer. They are dressed in appropriately cheesy Christmas sweaters with one person (Matt Baram) sporting a festive Hannukah version complete with menorah and the words: “Let’s Get Lit.”

Co-creator Ron Pederson tells us the rules: there are none. They have no idea what they will be doing or to whom they will be doing it. It’s obvious they have worked together before because there is a rapport, a short-hand and a keen knowledge of how to riff off each other to create the best comedy sketch. They are quick, smart, inventive and work as a cohesive unit with no one trying to out do the other.

The audience is encouraged to suggest words, subjects etc. for the company to use for their skits. The woman next to me was partial to the words: “sex”, “cocaine” and “booze.” (I want to know what she was smoking before she got to the theatre, but I digress).

There were skits about fidelity, relationships, love, faking singing Christmas songs and any number of things that pop up on various nights.

Brave Jan Caruana ventured into the audience to zero in on an unsuspecting person for inspiration. By talking to that person and getting information about their lives, Caruana and the rest of the troupe would fashion a skit. Caruana approached a woman opposite me on the aisle. She said, “Hi, what’s your name?” “Karen” came the answer. Caruana continued. “And what do you do?” (I subtly smiled and shook my head, thinking: “Oh Jan Caruana, you know not what you do…”) Karen said, “You don’t want to know what I do.” Caruana couldn’t turn back now. “Yes, I do.” Karen said, “I’m a theatre critic for the Toronto Star.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that the look that flashed over Jan Caruana’s face was terror, or even a hint of gas, in any case the revelation that Jan Caruana had approached Karen Fricker of the Toronto Star resulted in the room erupting in laughter—always music to a comedienne’s ears. Caruana gently learned enough about Fricker for her and her colleagues to create a funny and memorable skit. It was all done with wit, consideration, respect and humour.

The evening goes like the wind. Skits invariably end on a high note, just before they over stay their welcome. Perhaps there is a secret code the cast uses to convey the end a skit, but I couldn’t see it. Needless to say Connor Low, the troupe’s stage manager knew instinctively when to snap the lights out for full effect.

The holidays are upon us. It can be a stressful time. The Coal Mine Theatre has the perfect solution to relieve that stress and give you great cheer. It’s called The Wonder Pageant.

The Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 23, 2018.

Running time: 75 minutes.


No Clowns Allowed

At the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Bri Proke

Directed by Katrina Darychuk

Designed by Bri Proke and Imogen Wilson

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Sound by Miss Langley

Cast: Emmelia Gordon

Xavier Lopez

Bri Proke writes about death in a wildly imaginative way. No Clowns Allowed is her first play. I look forward to more.

Death is not really final in Bri Proke’s intriguing play No Clowns Allowed. For example 18-year-old Emile (Xavier Lopez) is preparing for his birthday by decorating his tombstone with streamers, ribbons and a sign that says “Happy Birthday.”  His grave-mate, Sheila (Emmelia Gordon), is not impressed. Her grave is next to Emile’s. His space is neat. Hers is strewn with her empty beer cans. Even in death she drinks. Sheila is one unhappy dead person.

There are hints that both Emile and Sheila committed suicide but it’s deliberately not clear. Sheila was unhappy in her marriage. Her husband ran a bowling alley and spent more time there than at home with her. She drank to ease her depression at the situation. She was angry, perhaps vulgar and now that she was dead she didn’t think her husband thought of her at all. He certainly didn’t come and visit the grave. But even in death she was unhappy. There is a way of solving that. A radio station for the dead offers three pills taken over time that will erase all memory of the life before the dearly departed arrived at their grave site. Sheila is on that road. Emile tries to reason her out of doing it.

Director Katrina Darychuk has directed the production with a sure hand that never lets the emotions of the characters run away with them. She keeps a fine balance with both Emmelia Gordon as Sheila and Xavier Lopez as Emile either joke with each other or spar. The stakes are high. Emile wants Sheila to stay and keep him company, but he also knows that more ‘life’ in death can be rejuvenating.

Emmelia Gordon as Sheila is hard-edged, irritated when she drinks and when she doesn’t. She views Emile as an annoyance. She will defend her space as long as she can. She has a dark sense of humour and an anger to go with it. As Emile, Xavier Lopez is eager to please, wiry, boyish and has a delicate charm that is endearing.

Bri Proke’s play has a quirky, intriguing story. Her dialogue zips along and she has a neat turn of praise. No Clowns Allowed might take place in a graveyard with two wandering ghosts at odds with each other and the world they have departed, but make no mistake, this play is about challenging, difficult, bracing life in all its prickly, shining glory.

Blood Pact Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 16, 2018.

 Running Time: 1 hour


If on a Christmas Night… (Se una notte a Natale)

 At the Columbus Centre 901 Lawrence Ave, W, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Daniele Bartolini

Production designs and interactive environments by Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti

Costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Cast: Franco Berti

Danya Buonastella

Rory de Brouwer

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Raylene Turner

Daniele Bartolini

Heart-bursting, joyful, collaborative, wonderfully immersive, beautifully produced.

Daniele Bartolini, writer-director-theatre creator extraordinaire, is at it again. Not content to rest on his laurels by creating segments of three fascinating days of immersive street theatre in Barrie, Ont. and London, England as part of the Curious Voyage, his latest effort is If on a Christmas Night… that is interactive and immersive, that celebrates Christmas, family, community and Italian-Canadian culture. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas or be Italian to appreciate this wonderful embracing show.

The 30 or so audience members gathered in a large room in the Columbus Centre. We were shown a home movie of an Italian family that was newly arrived in Canada and about to celebrate Christmas. They were staying with an uncle, but they missed their own decorations that were locked in a trunk with their luggage. This set up a sense of longing but also opened us up to celebrate the season.

In a quick thrice the six actors of the troupe transformed that one big room into several smaller rooms using room dividers, doors, flats, curtains, tiles and chalk boards. Each room suggested a room in a house, full of mementos, photographs and old tablecloths.  The whole environment was designed by the wondrously inventive Anahita Dehbonehie and Franco Berti. They create a whole world with such subtle detail your jaw drops.

Our large group was divided into smaller groups of about four or five people. We went from room to room with our group to watch and be involved in small scenes. In one room a young woman (Danya Buonastella) told us in great detail, sometimes tearfully, of her family history of escape from Italy and elsewhere, death, sacrifice, love and finally salvation in Canada. One wanted to do her the courtesy of remembering all the names of who was related to whom and where they all came from. It wasn’t necessary of course; listening hard and appreciating the story was all that was needed.

We found ourselves in a kitchen with chalk boards for walls with a large wood table, the top of which was covered in flour. A round of dough was in the middle. A man (Franco Berti) communicated with us silently—he didn’t speak—he drew on the chalk board that he was an artist. He flattened the dough, smoothed it out to a thin round. Then he carefully flipped it into the air and expanded it to large pizza size as he tossed it. Masterful. He drew pictures in the flour on the table. His need for art was touching. His striving for it was as well. Of course cooking beautiful food is an art too. The man let us see that truth.

Perhaps the most wildly imagined segment involved Rory de Brouwer. In a gush of words he talked intensely about “time” and its importance; how he spent it, reveled in it, used it and found peace in contemplating it. He was in a room full of books and papers to occupy his time. It was the bathroom and I’m not telling you what he was doing there.

Perhaps my favourite room was a dining room with a round table covered in an old, cherished tablecloth. There was a box on the table and in it were questions we were to ask each other to get to know each other. I knew Derrick. Carmen and Lucy were strangers. We had questions such as: “What is your first memory of Christmas?” “Who will you miss this Christmas?” After a while we didn’t pick a question from the box because we were too busy talking and asking each other questions from our curiosity. Wonderful.

The last scene was in one of the rooms and the whole group gathered and sat in chairs arranged around the room. Drinks and various cookies were brought out. We each were given a glass and had either wine, juice or water. We were each told to clink glasses with out neighbours to our left and right, looking them straight in the eye and toasting them. We did this for everybody in the circle. Then we were invited to partake of the sweets.

Daniele Bartolini created this show to connect to and celebrate his Italian roots and his new Canadian community. He’s been here for six years. It is specifically about Italians, new Canadians, Christmas and celebrating. As is true of every story that is specific in its focus the rest of us who are not Italian and don’t celebrate Christmas will find resonance in our own lives that is comparable. It’s about community, celebration, embracing the lives of others, and connecting to strangers who become friends.

This is a wonderful show.

Presented by Villa Charities and the Columbus Centre, and created by DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT)

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 23, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes

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